IN IT FOR THE GLORY, NOT THE HONOR MENTION: THE DEL PIERO DIARIES
Alessandro Del Piero has cemented himself in Serie A and football history, as a whole in a career spanning over 23 years. Best known for his trademark freekicks and exceptional strike partnership with David Trezeguet, the legendary Juve No. 10 is a real footballing icon who has transcended eras unlike many of the elite. It could have all been so different if Alessandro’s mum had her way as she wanted him to become a goalkeeper so he didn’t have to sweat and would be less likely to pick up injuries. In hindsight, can you imagine all that talent wasted?
Juventus’ reign as the dominant force in Italy has become monotonous at this point but during the late 80s as well as the 90s, scintillating sides such as Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan, followed by Fabio Capello’s glorious first spell at the club had changed the status quo by knocking Juve off their perch. This was truly an unprecedented period for Italian football as they set the standard for excellence with teams like Sampdoria as well, winning league titles with the introduction of players like Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini during the early 90s. The Italian marksman’s start as a professional footballer at Padova in 1991 had collided with this era where he played in the senior team after a couple of seasons in the youth set-up. Del Piero made 14 appearances and scored one goal, which was enough to see his services acquired by La Vecchia Signora as they gauged his impeccable talent.
At first, Del Piero played in Juve’s Primavera, helping them to win the U20 Scudetto. Climbing the ladder up the Bianconeri ranks, a young Alessandro made his senior debut against Foggia as a substitute and scored his first goal of many. In the following game against Reggiana, he did what he does best again off the bench. However, what really rocketed him to stardom was his hattrick against Parma in his first ever start. What a way to introduce yourself at one of the biggest clubs in the world. Del Piero operated as a second striker, thanks to his silky footwork and great attacking vision but in his way was another legendary No. 10 before him- the great Roberto Baggio. The competition was stiff, to say the least.
This was something Del Piero was going to have to overcome if he wanted to become not only one of Juve’s, but Italy’s pillars. ‘The Divine Ponytail’, as Baggio was referred to as was an enormously tough act to follow as the 1993 Ballon d’Or winner was also Italy’s golden boy. Del Piero caught a lucky break when Baggio got injured. He teamed up in a trio, formed alongside Fabrizio Ravenelli and Gianluca Vialli which proved to be a lethal combination. Del Piero pounced upon his chance and absolutely flourished, helping Juve win their first Scudetto after nine years. Juve’s newfound striking sensation had scored his debut goal in the Champions League in 1995 against Dortmund in typical fashion as he cut in from the left after some excellent footwork and lobbed the keeper at his far-left corner, making a habit of heroic introductions.
Del Piero went on to win every possible competition he could with Juve, including 6 league titles and the Champions League, making him one of Italy’s most decorated players in history. In 19 seasons for Juve, he made a staggering 705 appearances and scored 290 goals across all competitions. Del Piero holds the esteemed record at the club for most goals scored and most appearances by a player. To say he was worthy of donning the iconic No.10 jersey, wore by legends such as Michel Platini and Roberto Baggio must have seemed bizarre when he first received the honour, but looking back, it all makes sense.
What solidifies Del Piero’s legendary status with the Juve faithful is the fact that he was a bandiera for the club. The word ‘bandiera’ means flag in Italian and is a term that is often used to address players who have spent a majority of their careers at a single club. Del Piero’s loyalty towards Juventus was never in question.
He was Juve through and through, even when Juve were relegated due to the Calciopoli scandal as Del Piero chose to stay with the club and play in Serie B out of loyalty and love for the club. His famous words were as classy as the player he was.
” A true gentleman never leaves his lady.”
He stuck with Juve through the good times as well as the dark days and eventually lifted the title in 2012, 6 seasons after the Calciopoli saga.
Del Piero was an extremely gifted player, possessing fantastic feet, ambidextrous, as clinical as can be in front of goal and always put his own spin on everything he touched. Whether it’s his sublime free-kick taking ability or him showcasing his silky back heels and flicks in attacking moves, Del Piero stamped his own identity on the game. His famous toe punt volley against Fiorentina in 1994 is regarded as one of the best Serie A goals ever and is the prof behind the praise.
Behind his one-of-a-kind footballing ability, he oozed class and it is because of the kind of man he was that made him a universally adored icon. Del Piero wasn’t ever chasing big pay checks or fancy cars but was focused on playing his best football for his favorite team, a dream every football fan out there has.
“Money is not everything. My ambition was football itself, not the money I’d make from it. If that brings me and my family a more comfortable lifestyle, then that’s fine. But I don’t spend my time between games and training sessions thinking about figures”.
Del Piero was named captain in 2001 after Marcello Lippi returned to Juventus in his second spell at the club. With the likes of David Trezeguet and Pavel Nedvěd recently joining the Juve ranks, this created one of the most iconic Serie A attacks and reformed Turin’s dominance on the scudetto.
Juventus’ head honcho seemed to age like a fine wine. Del Piero was always able to influence games, even from the bench in his twilight years at Juve. There was always speculation in the papers about Del Piero being unhappy being on the bench. Whether you choose to believe the stories or not, he was always the model professional and let his performances on the pitch do the talking. As someone who has seen his greatness shine through Italian football with my own eyes, I’m sure he would do anything for his club, even if it meant letting the younger players take over and taking a step back.
Despite spending his golden years at Juve, a club that has very hostile ties with other sides, as is the nature of domestic football, Del Piero is a figure in Italy he who is respected amongst all club supporters. Selected by none other than a certain Pelé to be in his 125 greatest living players and a true gentleman with humble origins who never once overstated his own abilities, it is impossible not to tip your hat to Alessandro. When he used to score against any team, after the initial frustration felt by the opposing supporters, there would always be a clap and the term “fair enough, it is Del Piero” was branded across all stadiums in Italy; such was the respect he commanded.
He was instrumental in Juve’s success, but he was clutch in the Azzurri colors as well. Del Piero was of course a part of the 2006 World Cup winning squad. Del Piero’s biggest moment was when scored the second and final goal in the semis against Germany in extra-time, having come off the bench to cement Italy’s place in the final. The former Juventus skipper was also instrumental in getting Italy into the Euro 2000 final. He played a fantastic hand during the tournament but famously missed two golden chances in the final. In both the major finals Del Piero took part in, Italy played France. The French national team was full of familiar faces like Zidane, Lilian Thuram and David Trezeguet, who famously sealed Euro 2000 with his spectacular golden goal. Il fenomeno vero (The real phenomenon) played 91 games for his country and scored 27 goals. While he wasn’t at his brilliant best at all times for Italy, he had his fair share of moments of magic.
The deadly striker spent the final seasons of his career in India and Australia with Odisha FC and Sydney FC, experimenting with different footballing cultures and getting out of his comfort zone. He retired in 2014 and is now a Sky sports Italia pundit, a fitting role for an immensely gifted ex-pro.
No one in Turin would let Del Piero walk past without asking for a photo or an autograph as he was a superstar in an era where his posters would be across everyone’s bedroom walls. The mere mention of him would bring a smile and a nodding head gesture full of pride, unless they were a Torino fan. That iconic tongue celebration, that captain’s armband wrapped slightly higher than most players would have worn it, those white Predators and the turned-up collar were all typical of the Italian’s swagger.
What Del Piero represents for Italians and football fans across the world is an old philosophy of an undying loyalty and romance towards a single club. Del Piero’s bond with Juve was beyond just the beautiful game. As the curtains closed to his illustrious career, all one can say to Alessandro Del Piero is ‘thank you for the memories’.