Sadly, my teen years were depressingly quite a few years ago now, but as a football mad youth there was a wealth of Italian footballing talent to adore during the 90s.
Baggio, Schillachi, Ravenelli, Vialli, Signori, to name but a few. But there is one man who I have always had a little soft spot for; one man I loved watching more than any other, one man whose team I would choose on FIFA or PES since I saw him exquisitely score an outrageous flick in a UEFA Champions League Final. That man is Alessandro Del Piero.
At the time of writing, the diminutive little Italian may have played his last ever professional game of football – he has just announced he is leaving Australian League side Sydney FC, after his contract expired.
While his presence in the A-League will have undoubtedly done wonders for the growth of the sport Down Under, most fans of the majestic Del Piero will feel a little pang of regret that he hasn’t ended his career in the colours he wore for so long, The Old Lady of Italian football, Juventus.
Whatever words I write cannot adequately describe Del Piero’s effect on the team he represented for so long, and the club’s fans that adored him. For 19 years (11 as club captain) he delighted the footballing world with exceptional goals, mind-boggling skills and, what every club would love to see more often in the modern era of the game, loyalty.
He was one of the few players who elected to remain with Juventus as they fought back from Serie B, after the match fixing scandal, and return The Old Lady to its rightful place at the top of Italian football.
During his time at the Turin club, Del Piero made a staggering 705 appearances for the Italian giants, scoring a club record 289 goals. He also won 8 Scudetti (although two were revoked after the Italian match fixing scandal), 1 Coppa Italia, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Supercup…if truth be told I could write a 500 word list containing his numerous awards, but that only scratches the surface of how he played the game.
While those awards give you a hint of the quality of the man, they do not do justice to the thrill of watching him. It’s not an opinion held just by me:
He [Del Piero] is different to Zinedine Zidane. He likes to play, he feels it in his soul. Between him and the Frenchman, I choose him.
That high praise comes from arguably the greatest number 10 of all time, Diego Maradona.
Despite what was unquestionably a relationship of huge success between Del Piero and Juventus, things weren’t always smooth sailing. In 2004, Fabio Capello replaced Marcello Lippi as manager, rather surprisingly; Capello was not a fan of Del Piero and his unquestionable skills. He regularly found himself on the bench as he suffered a troubled relationship with the stern Capello – Del Piero still managed to score 14 goals that season and prove his worth as Juventus won their 28th league title.
The one area of Del Piero’s career that you can legitimately question is his international career. Despite collecting 91 caps for the Azzurri, and scoring 27 goals, his performances were not as consistently high as they were for his club. He often found himself in and out of the Italy team, partly due to form, injury and a wealth of talent in Del Piero’s position. During his international career he has had to compete with the likes of Roberto Baggio and Francisco Totti.
Despite all that, he managed to play in an astounding seven international tournaments (a record he shares with the great Paolo Maldini) and win the biggest prize in football, the World Cup.
Now that Il Pinturicchio has decided to leave Sydney FC, there is every chance we won’t see him kick a ball professionally again. In the NFL, some players are so intertwined in their team’s history that even if, at the end of their career, they have earned their final payday elsewhere, they sign a very short term contract back at the team they love and retire as a player for them.
While Del Piero man not have been a one club man in the end, he will forever be associated with Juventus and if there is any good grace remaining in the modern game, Del Piero will somehow be offered the opportunity to retire in the black and white stripes of the club he served so beautifully for nearly two decades.