When it emerged a week ago that Mario Goetze has decided to leave Borussia Dortmund for Bayern Munich this summer, we were offered a reminder of the allure of the Allianz Arena now that there's the promise to play under Pep Guardiola next season.
The pull of Pep is powerful -- so powerful that you get the impression his tiki-taka can lead almost any player into temptation, even those who play for a coach as charismatic as Juergen Klopp.
"Goetze was the player Guardiola wanted to sign," Klopp explained before the first leg of Dortmund's Champions League semifinal against Real Madrid. "So if it's anyone's fault, it's mine. I cannot make myself 15 cm shorter and learn Spanish. Goetze wants to work with that extraordinary coach that is Guardiola."
Imagine for a moment just how flattering it must be to receive his call and how difficult it is then not to answer it. Andrea Pirlo knows what Goetze went through. Writing collaboratively with Alessandro Alciato in his biography Penso quindi gioco -- I think therefore I play -- which has been serialised in La Gazzetta dello Sport and Il Corriere dello Sport and was released in Italy today, one of the revelations the Juventus and Italy international playmaker makes is of an attempt Guardiola made to sign him.
The starting point for this story curiously enough is Pirlo's passion for a particular video game console.
"After the wheel, the best invention is the PlayStation," he claims.
To say Pirlo picks up a controller every now and again is an understatement. Though he can't precisely recall how many football games he has played on it, he estimates that it's "at least four times" more than in real life.
Many of them came against his good friend Alessandro Nesta during the nine years they spent together at Milan. One wonders now given one is at Juventus and the other with the Montreal Impact whether they still play each other online.
"Me against Nesta was a clasico of our time at Milanello," Pirlo remembers. "We'd get in early, have breakfast at 9 then close ourselves off in our room to challenge each other, train, have lunch and then it was back in our room again until 4 in the afternoon.
"Our battles were pure adrenaline. I chose Barcelona, Sandrino did too. Barca against Barca. The first player I'd take was Samuel Eto'o, the fastest out of everyone, though I often lost. I'd become furious, I'd throw the joystick, demand a rematch and lose again, but I couldn't use the excuse that the coach of his team was better than mine: Pep Guardiola for him and Pep Guardiola for me. At least on the bench we started equal."
Amid a flurry of button-pushing one day, Pirlo claims that he and Nesta once jokingly considered kidnapping Guardiola when Milan played Barcelona in the annual Gamper Trophy at the Camp Nou on Aug. 25, 2010. However, they abandoned their plan because they thought they'd fall out over who got to keep him and that they'd probably have had to saw Guardiola in half.
"He would have suffered, the poor guy," Pirlo laughs. "And anyway the idea of abducting a person came to him first rather than to us, in the sense that Guardiola was to kidnap me that same night."
Barcelona and Milan had played out a 1-1 draw. An exquisite volley by a stretching Pippo Inzaghi had taken the game to penalties, which his side would lose as goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto saved three of their four spot kicks.
At the end, all the talk was about Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his future at Barcelona. There was a media frenzy. Some Milan players had also sought him out to persuade the Swede to move to San Siro, which of course he would in a few days' time.
Pirlo, meanwhile, had disappeared.
"Profiting from the manhunt underway and the fact that the attention on him had relaxed for a moment in all that chaos, [Guardiola] invited me to his office."
A "007 in flip-flops" was waiting for Pirlo as he left the dressing room at the Camp Nou. It was Pep's assistant Manuel Estiarte who "in his previous sporting life had been the greatest water polo player of all time, the second man in practice to walk on water.
"'Andrea, come with me,' [Estiarte said], The mister wants to meet you'.
"Without a [water polo cap] on his head," Pirlo japes, "I found it hard to recognise him. Anyway, I looked at him and could smell the scent of chlorine. 'Ok, vamos.'"
They entered Pep's office. There was red wine on the table, a good start for Pirlo who, when he's not playing PlayStation or football, runs his own vineyard, which produces 15-20,000 bottles a year. Guardiola thanked him for agreeing to see him in perfect Italian. The pair had nearly played together at Brescia. Pirlo had been recalled on loan by Inter so they could sell him to Milan just as Pep had joined from Barcelona in the summer of 2001.
"After a couple of minutes, he'd already got to the point," Pirlo recalls. "As a footballer he had imposed the play. As a coach he had learned to attack. 'We're very strong,' [Guardiola said], 'I couldn't ask for better, but you would be the cherry [on top]. We're looking for a midfielder to alternate with Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets, and that midfielder is you.'"
The meeting lasted for about a half-hour. Guardiola did nearly all of the talking. He revealed Barcelona had already spoken to Milan about the prospect of taking him and that they'd said 'no', but he would try again. For the most part Pirlo sat in stunned silence, nodding occasionally. Many things crossed his mind, but one stood out. "I immediately thought about Sandrino. He would die with envy when I told him about it.
"Like Real Madrid, more than Real Madrid, I would have gone walking on all fours to Barcelona," Pirlo admits. "At that moment they were the best team in the world, must I add anything else?"
He describes their play as "a kind of Rolex with the battery of a Swatch" for its refinement and how they keep going.
As the time for Pirlo to go approached, Guardiola told him that they'd be in touch. He wished him a safe trip back to Milan and hoped it wouldn't be for long. "I left his office dazed," Pirlo reflects.
Almost the last player to get on the bus, he spent the journey to the airport with his nose up against the window while his teammates and those outside chattered about Ibra.
"We were travelling in opposite directions. The world knew about him, [but] about me, no."
Negotiations went on for a little while longer, Pirlo says, but Milan weren't prepared to let him go, at least not then, as they would a year later after Massimiliano Allegri had made it clear that he'd have to adapt to a new position on the left of midfield if he wished to stay. Pirlo didn't and so he joined Juventus, becoming the conductor of an orchestra that took the Scudetto off Milan and is on the brink of winning back-to-back titles.
I guess the question to ask after reading that chapter of his biography is one historians love to pose, and that's 'what if'?
In a parallel universe, had Guardiola gotten his wish, then Pirlo might have been playing for Barcelona, albeit under Tito Vilanova, in Wednesday night's Champions League semifinal second leg. He might, although it seems unlikely even if Pep were still to retain an interest and Juventus were prepared to sell [which one safely assumes, they're not], play for Bayern in the future, a highly doubtful scenario, admittedly, given his age, how much he likes Turin and the small matter that they have Bastian Schweinsteiger and happened to spend €40m on Javi Martinez last summer.
In football history, it's yet another illustrious case of sliding doors. Pep managed to get Goetze, it's true, but when he reflects on his coaching career, one assumes that he'll remember Pirlo, at least according to the story in the playmaker's biography, as the one that got away.