A year after his arrival on Australian shores, it’s worth remembering how successful Alessandro Del Piero has been as a player.
Across nineteen years as a player for Juventus, he scored a club record 290 goals in 705 appearances – the most of any player in the club’s history. By the age of 22, he had won everything possible at club level. The number of Serie A titles is debatable because of the Calciopoli scandal, which saw Juventus stripped of their honours in 2004-05 and 2005-06. Regardless, Del Piero still managed to sweep six, which includes an unbeaten season under Antonio Conte in 2011-12. There are numerous domestic cup titles, as well as European Cups, with a Champions League triumph in 1995-16 backing up from the UEFA Cup runners-up place achieved one year earlier.
His record isn’t shirked on the international stage either, with his ninety-one appearances for the national team including three Worlds Cup and four European Championships – he never won the Euros, finishing runners-up in 2000, but went one step further in the biggest one of all, the 2006 World Cup, where Del Piero scored the second goal in the semi-final against Germany and converted his penalty in the final against France.
His legacy is extraordinary. “I am moved by Del Piero, as he represents something indelible,” said his final Juventus coach, Conte. In the way the Italian stood by the club throughout so many scandals – the doping allegations, Calciopoli and relegation – he become embodied in the club’s history, so much so Marcelo Lippi, who coached him both at Juventus and in the 2006 World Cup, says “throughout the world Juventus is Del Piero. When you say his name it means Juve.”
And yet somehow inexplicably, incredible, he is a Sydney FC player. Quite how this legend, a player Pele ranks amongst the 100 best of all time, ended up in the Harbour City still beggars belief but nevertheless his arrival was a boon both for the A-League in commercial terms but also for the quality of play. Even just as a coach Del Piero, with his experience, would be Sydney’s greatest asset but thankfully he remains the league’s best footballer.
It is hard for a team not to become dependent on a player so heads and shoulders above the rest in quality but even so Sydney FC’s overreliance on him last season bordered on the ridiculous. There were times when it felt Sydney were so dysfunctional they didn’t deserve Del Piero’s class – but they had him, and boy, didn’t it show. There was the stunning free kick on his home debut against Newcastle Jets, then the winning goal in the first ever Sydney Derby against the newly formed Wanderers, then so many match-winning goals it is impossible to list them all, although you must make special mention of the four he scored against the Wellington Phoenix.
Del Piero’s goal tallies are even more unbelievable when you consider he’s rarely played as the out-and-out centre-forward at any of his clubs. Instead, he is the quintessential trequartistas, the term associated with the player that drifts between the lines and upon whom the licence is to create. So often Del Piero was deployed in this position and glued the team together, frequently foraging into deep midfield positions to help bridge the defence to attack, but also providing creative inspiration by dribbling past defenders in advanced positions with consummate ease. Del Piero is the team’s best goal scorer, best playmaker and best midfielder.
Now, though, Farina doesn’t want Del Piero to have so much responsibility. “Alessandro is most dangerous in the final third,” Farina told the Sydney Morning Herald. “That’s where he creates and where he scores goals. There’s no point having Alessandro picking the ball up 10 metres into our own half where he’s not going to be able to do what he does best.”
The future, it seems, is at the tip of a 4-3-3, still with a brief to wander as he pleases but a greater focus on creating and scoring goals. Farina has geared Sydney FC’s pre-season around the mantra of playing out from the back in the sort of positive possession-based philosophy that has become so popular in the A-League. With Nicky Carle, an outstanding technical playmaker returning from the UAE, being redeployed in a deep-lying midfield role, the hope is that Sydney will be able to build attacks out from the back without necessarily relying on Del Piero having to drop so far away from the positions he is most dangerous.
Del Piero has already had the expected impact on the league’s marketability and popularity – now, the onus is on his club to maximise that extraordinary playing ability.