By Calvin Palmer
One of the highlights of Euro 2012 has been the vintage and sublime performances of Italy’s Andrea Pirlo. I use the term “vintage” for good reason because Pirlo is a throwback to how football was played in the 1970s.
As a Stoke City fan, I can’t help but see the similarity between how Pirlo plays the game and one of the most skillful and creative players ever to wear the red and white stripes of the Potters. I am of course referring to that wayward footballing genius, Alan Hudson.
Pirlo like Hudson has the skill and talent that is granted to only a few players in any given generation. He is not the kind of player who covers every blade of grass but he is always available to take a pass from a teammate. On occasions when he is put under pressure in the middle of the park, his skill is such that an attempt to dispossess him usually results in a free-kick. Hudson’s playing style was exactly the same.
The consummate skill of Pirlo is combined with an amazing footballing vision. He may be involved in a couple of interchanges with a colleague and then will suddenly unleash a 30-yard pass that splits the defence and puts a teammate clean through on goal. Hudson’s footballing vision was similar.
Pirlo also has the appearance of a player from the 1970s, with his shoulder-length hair rather than sporting a haircut straight out of the pages of The Beano or a hairstyle that is kept in place with a bottle or two of hair gel.
Where the similarity between Pirlo and Hudson ends is their respective international careers. Pirlo has been a regular for Italy since 2002 and has 88 caps. Hudson’s appearances for England were restricted to just two games – the memorable 2-0 defeat of West Germany in 1972 and the 5-0 drubbing of Cyprus in the same year.
At the peak of Hudson’s playing career, England were coached by Don Revie, the former manager of Leeds United. Revie’s old style management and preference for players who never stopped running immediately put him at odds with Hudson and Hudson was not the kind of person to keep his opinions to himself. Consequently, Hudson’s international career ended almost as soon as it started.
What was lost to the international stage was enjoyed by Stoke City fans for two glorious seasons, from 1974 to 1976, during which Hudson played the best football of his career.
Hudson returned to Stoke City for the 1984-85 season and helped the club avoid relegation from the First Division. The legs may not have been as strong but the skill and vision were still there.
If I had to choose between Pirlo and Hudson, I would go for the Italian. Earlier I referred to Hudson as a wayward genius. Pirlo seems more psychologically together to cope with the pressures of the game. Pirlo also has a better goal-scoring record than Hudson.
For me, and a great many others, Pirlo is already the player of the Euro 2012 tournament. In tomorrow’s final against Spain he has the opportunity to consolidate that accolade.
When Italy held Spain to a 1-1 draw in the Group C match, I saw them as the dark horse of the tournament. They have continued to impress me with every game and I see no reason why they cannot go on to beat the reigning champions and emerge as Euro 2012 winners. All it will take is Pirlo’s artistry, hard work and a little luck.