The Premiership doesn't deserve Pirlo
English football doesn't respect its elder statesmen
JUVENTUS v BARCELONA
(Sunday, 2am, Singtel Mio TV Ch 111)
Andrea Pirlo flicked back his hair as if preparing for a photoshoot.
He stifled a yawn and then decided to curl a free-kick for his country.
The ball cannoned off Joe Hart's crossbar and the goalkeeper went ballistic.
He skipped around like a kangaroo on hot coals and screamed at terrified ball boys.
"Hey! Hey!" he bellowed. "Give me the f****** ball back."
Meanwhile, Pirlo checked his hair and strolled back to the halfway line for a quick cappuccino.
That was England against Italy in the World Cup last year. Sitting high in the Arena da Amazonia in Manaus, Brazil, it was like watching a preening peacock surrounded by headless chickens; a real man among clueless boys.
Pirlo reminded the world once again why a craftsman of his calibre has no place in the English Premier League.
On Sunday morning (Singapore time), he will also demonstrate why the game's finest eldest statesmen are treated so shabbily in England but revered elsewhere.
The 36-year-old will line up for Juventus in the Champions League final knowing that Barcelona, for all their attacking brilliance, will still fear the old bloke with an outstanding beard.
At some point during the Berlin contest, Pirlo should eyeball fellow pensioner Xavi Hernandez. Their combined age is 71. Their combined value to the fundamental tenets of the Beautiful Game is priceless.
Their presence will confirm that only England is not a country for old men.
When Xavi leaves Barca after the final, Pirlo becomes the last man standing in his position, the last of the little men who controlled the show from the centre circle. Before the inverted wingers came along to cut inside, the small guys in the middle penetrated with their passes.
Xavi, Pirlo and Paul Scholes were members of an exclusive mutual appreciation society. They understood, respected and championed each other's unique qualities.
Xavi and Pirlo were always revered in their respective countries. But Scholes wasn't. He was often faulted for what he didn't have.
He lacked pace for the fast and furious Premier League. He didn't dribble, run or cut inside enough. His international career was largely wasted out on the wing. Scholes was everything English football needed, but not really what it wanted.
It's no coincidence that in the lead-up to the Champions League final, Pirlo stressed again his admiration for the retired Manchester United midfielder.
The introverted Englishman was the best that the Italian ever played against. And Pirlo played against them all.
But Scholes retired prematurely at international level, unloved by England managers and often underappreciated by Three Lions supporters raised on the blood, sweat and teary-eyed cliches thrown at the Premier League.
Similarly, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Rio Ferdinand all stepped off the Premier League stage last month, despite Lampard and Ferdinand being the same age as Pirlo. Gerrard is a year younger.
In stark contrast, Pirlo speaks of another two years at the top level before finishing with a pension plan in Major League Soccer.
No one mocks his decision. No one questions the state of his "engine" (a pre-requisite for any wannabe midfielder eager to forge a career in the EPL).
His legs aren't examined to see if they're "gone". His performances aren't analysed to see if he remains a "box-to-box" archetype.
After all, he couldn't cut it in the EPL. He's too old, too slow and too laboured to even consider those wet Wednesday nights at Stoke. He always was.
Pirlo certainly was when England's automatons turned up to run him over in Manaus. He was in for a rude awakening against younger, faster opponents.
The bearded old man made 108 passes and was successful with 103 of them - an early record at the World Cup.
And his inspiration continues to trump the perspiration of others.
Another Serie A crown sits easily on his coiffured head, not a hair out of place, and now a day out in Berlin beckons for the football throwback.
He continues to float above the fray, gliding across the surface in a fashion simply not possible in English football.
Pirlo would've been a prisoner in the pinball machine.
Of course, the Premier League's general lack of respect for declining senior citizens is not without irony.
The EPL craves scampering hares over old tortoises, but a slow and steady Italian may yet win the race for the Champions League.