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Istanbul loss made me want to retire

Andrea Pirlo sparkled in Italy's midfield at Euro 2012 when his cheeky penalty helped knock out England. In a Sportsmail exclusive, the Juventus star, likely to face England once more at Brazil 2014, lifts the lid on his glittering career in extracts from his new book...

I thought about quitting because, after Istanbul, nothing made sense any more. The 2005 Champions League final simply suffocated me.
To most people’s minds, the reason we lost on penalties was Jerzy Dudek – that jackass of a dancer who took the mickey out of us by swaying about on his line and then rubbed salt into the wound by saving our spot kicks.
But in time the truly painful sentence was realising that we were entirely to blame.
How it happened I don’t know, but the fact remains that when the impossible becomes reality, somebody’s f***ed up – in this case, the entire team. A mass suicide where we all joined hands and jumped off the Bosphorus Bridge.

When that torture of a game was finished, we sat like a bunch of half-wits in the dressing room there at the Atatürk Stadium.
We couldn’t speak. We couldn’t move. They’d mentally destroyed us. The damage was already evident even in those early moments, and it only got more stark and serious as the hours went on.
Insomnia, rage, depression, a sense of nothingness. We’d invented a new disease with multiple symptoms: Istanbul syndrome.
I no longer felt like a player, and that was devastating enough. But even worse, I no longer felt like a man. All of a sudden, football had become the least important thing, precisely because it was the most important: a very painful contradiction.
I didn’t dare look in the mirror in case my reflection spat back at me. The only possible solution I could think of was to retire. And what a dishonourable retirement it would have been.
I glimpsed the end of the line: the journey was over. The story was finished and so was I. I walked with my head bowed even in the places I hold most dear. It wasn’t to avoid sympathetic glances, just that when you don’t know where you’re going, looking ahead makes you tired and worried.

People talk about performance anxiety. Well, ‘non-performance’ anxiety is the perfect description for those of us who simply vanished from the pitch sometime during that final.
The match in Istanbul was on May 25 and the Italian championship had yet to finish. We had to go back to Milanello to carry our cross for four more days, right up until Sunday, May 29, when we played our last Serie A match against Udinese.
That parade of shame was the toughest punishment. A cavalcade of disgrace with us placed front and centre.
It was a brief, intense, s****y period. You couldn’t escape or pull the plug on a world that had turned upside down, and you were forever surrounded by the other guilty parties in this theft of our own dignity.
We always ended up talking about it. We asked each other questions, but nobody had any answers.
I could hardly sleep and even when I did drop off, I awoke to a grim thought: I’m disgusting. I can’t play any more. I went to bed with Dudek and all his Liverpool team-mates.
The game against Udinese ended 0-0, goals a perfect stranger. A nightmare is a nightmare because you know it’ll start when you close your eyes but won’t stop when you reopen them, and so the torment went on.

Personally, I’d add that horrendous result to the club’s honours board. I’d write it slap bang in the middle of the list of leagues and cups they’ve won, in a different coloured ink and perhaps a special font, just to underline its jarring presence.
It would be embarrassing but, at the same time, it would enhance the worth of the successes alongside.
There are always lessons to be found in the darkest moments. It’s a moral obligation to dig deep and find that little glimmer of hope or pearl of wisdom.
You might hit upon an elegant phrase that stays with you and makes the journey that little less bitter. I’ve tried with Istanbul and haven’t managed to get beyond these words: for f***’s sake.

Copyright - Daily Mail

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