Andrea Pirlo retains his reputation as one of the finest midfielders of his generation, and his honours list doesn't half prove it.
A two-time Champions League winner with AC Milan, Pirlo was also a pivotal player for Italy when they claimed the 2006 World Cup, and went on to reach another Champions League final with Juventus late in his career.
He remains a defining player of his generation, and he is widely beloved among modern football fans. But even Pirlo struggled with some of the tactics used to stifle him on the biggest stage from time-to-time.
In his 2014 autobiography I Think Therefore I Play, Pirlo remembered one such occasion in the 2010 Champions League knockout stage, when Park Ji-Sung was assigned to man-mark him by Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson.
Andrea Pirlo remembers midfield tussle with Park Ji-Sung
Pirlo had come up against Park before, when the pair lined up on opposing sides of the 2005 Champions League semi-final. Despite Park's goal in Eindhoven in the second-leg, PSV were eliminated on away goals, and Milan would go on to lose the final to Liverpool in Istanbul in infamous circumstances.
That summer, Park moved to Manchester United, and the club would be drawn against Milan twice in the following five Champions League seasons.
Though Park was on the fringes of the side when United reached the 2007 semi-finals, he played a far more important role in the clubs' meeting in the 2010 round of 16.
In his autobiography, Andrea Pirlo remembers the tactics opposition managers would use to stifle his influence in midfield, saying that specific players were often assigned to "tail" him, saying he felt "pity" for those given nothing to do but control him:
They're players - more than that, they're men - who've been asked to go out there and act without dignity, destroying instead of creating. They're happy to come across as utter crao as long as they make me look bad, too
Pirlo's comments come across as almost derogatory, but the opposition players filled a vital role in their team's chances of defeating the Italian legend.
He goes on to note that even Alex Ferguson was not averse to such tactics, and recalls Park Ji-Sung being assigned to shadow him in their 2010 matchup:
The midfielder must have been the first nuclear-powered South Korean in history, in the sense that he rushed about the pitch at the speed of an electron. Back and forth he went.
He'd try to contribute in attack and if that didn't work, he'd fling himself at me. He'd have his hands all over my back, making his presence felt and trying to intimidate me. He'd look at the ball and not know what it was for. An unidentified rotating object, to his eyes.
They'd programmed him to stop me and that was the only thing he was thinking about. His devotion to the task was almost touching. Even though he was already a famous player in his own right, he consented to being used as a guard dog, willingly limiting his own potential.
The comments read quite harshly on Park who, though nowhere near the creative level of Pirlo, was a fine midfielder who had a knack for popping up with a goal on the biggest stage.
What Pirlo fails to mention in his autobiography was that Park - and United - walked over that star-studded Milan team. After a tight 3-2 win at the San Siro in the first leg, United would romp to a 4-0 second-leg win at Old Trafford, with Park himself getting on the scoreboard while Pirlo struggled to impact the game.
🔴 Wayne Rooney scored twice when @ManUtd beat AC Milan 4-0 #OTD in 2010 👊#UCL | @WayneRooney pic.twitter.com/ahIprZldKP
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) March 10, 2021
The industrious Korean midfielder would finish his career with a Champions League medal and two final appearances - not bad for someone described as a "guard dog" in Andrea Pirlo's cutting remarks from 2014.