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Andrea Pirlo is the dominant Italian footballer of the last 20 years.

Creating opportunities for others to score and spectacular long range free kicks are the hallmark of his game.  Pirlo’s vision and passing ability is now much admired, but as a young prodigy in Brescia it was a different story.

When he walks onto Berlin’s Olympiastadion pitch for the Champions League Final next month wearing the famed black and white stripes of Juventus, he may cast his mind back on how he has consistently proved people wrong.

Almost nine years earlier in Berlin, Pirlo was wearing blue, as the Azzuri won the FIFA World Cup 2006 against France.  Pirlo was crowned man of the match that day despite lining up against Zinedine Zidane, arguably the best midfielder in the world at the time.

Both finals are a far cry from the bullying that took place when he played for Brescia junior teams.

In his excellent autobiography I Think Therefore I Play (Alessandro Alciato), Pirlo details occasions when he was reduced to tears by his own teammates when they would not pass the ball to him, or even talk to him.

Hurtful comments from his “teammates” watching parents would result in his father watching matches from the other side of the field.

The young Andrea then had to face a similar baptism of fire when he was called into the Brescia first team squad at the age of 15.  Competing for a starting position against senior professionals was physically and mentally tough.  His teammates in both the junior and senior squads saw him as a threat.

While Pirlo was a prodigy, it is his attitude to challenge that has defined his footballing career.  This attitude should be a focus for all young players.

“Even in those early days, I was someone who had to deliver; who always had to maintain high standards.  For everyone else it was OK to have an average game.  If I did, it was a failure.”

Pirlo no doubt did have poor or average games, but it was his attitude to his own performance that resulted in him constantly improving.

This attitude is the cornerstone for why he has stayed the distance in the highly demanding arena that is elite European football for 15 years – virtually unheard of in the modern era.

In mid-2011, aged 31, his contract with AC Milan was up for renewal.  Pirlo had been with AC Milan for a decade and played almost 300 Serie A games for the club.

His reward was an offer of a one-year extension playing as a left sided midfielder rather than his preferred position of a deep-lying centre midfielder.  AC Milan told him that he was the wrong side of 30.

Pirlo believed he could continue to achieve at the highest level and elected to sign a three year contract with Juventus.

History shows the player was right, AC Milan wrong.  Four consecutive Serie A titles with Juventus and victory over Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinal this week are testament to his self belief.

So when Juventus take on the genius of Lionel Messi, Neymar and mighty Barcelona on the morning of Sunday June 7 (NZT) don’t be surprised if Pirlo comes out on top.

High standards result in dreams being achieved.

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