Pirlo: Conte changed my mind

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The midfield maestro hinted at international retirement after Italy’s dismal showing at this year’s Fifa World Cup, but has been called up to the Azzurri squad for their upcoming Euro 2016 qualifiers following an injury to Milan midfielder Giacomo Bonaventura.

Pirlo then admitted that only new Italy coach Antonio Conte – his manager for the last three years at Serie A champions Juventus – was the only person that could convince him to make a U-turn on his previous decision.

“The only person who could change my mind was just Conte,” Pirlo told reporters at a press conference on Thursday evening.

“I know there is an important project for these two years, I know him and I am certain that there will be much to enjoy.

“For me, nothing has changed, the desire is the same. Every now and then I will be there, sometimes not, but there’s no problem.

“How did he convince me? It was the least I could do for him, I have known him for three years.”

Some critics have questioned whether the 35-year-old still has what it takes to deliver at international level, yet Pirlo insists he is still motivated to continue playing for his country.

“My age? I do not consider it myself, I have the same enthusiasm as always,” he said. “If I see that I have less enthusiasm, I will stop, but now I do not think so.”

Italy take on Azerbaijan in their second Euro 2016 qualifier on Friday night – the same country against which Pirlo made his debut in 2002. And the skilful midfielder feels nothing much has changed since then, apart for a certain World Cup victory in 2006.

“More or less I am the same,” he said. “Maybe I was at the start of a long career with the Nazionale, but I dreamed of playing and winning a World Cup.

“I am fortunate to have experienced victories like those I dreamt of.”

After their match-up against Azerbaijan, Italy then travel to Malta for their next qualifier scheduled for Monday, 13 October.

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