One can’t help but feel this is a watershed moment in Italian football. How fitting that on the same day we should lose stars like Alessandro Del Piero, Pippo Inzaghi, Marco Di Vaio, Alessandro Nesta, Gennaro Gattuso, Clarence Seedorf, Ivan Cordoba, Gianluca Zambrotta and Kakha Kaladze. These are the players many of us grew up watching. Their exit is a reminder of how much time has passed for us all. Il tempo passa...
I fondly recall watching Juventus fight back from 2-0 down to beat Fiorentina 3-2 in 1994 with what remains the greatest goal Del Piero has ever scored. Long ball over the top, he let it go past his shoulder between two defenders and volleyed with the outside of the boot to curl into the top corner. Majestic. “This kid is good,” we all grinned at the television. That was the exact time Juve realised they could afford to let Roberto Baggio go. Maybe Sebastian Giovinco’s wonder strike for Parma last week was the mirror to that moment. Alex leaves on a high and can now teach a new generation in America just how special football can be.
Nesta and Di Vaio are also heading to the MLS, which has become a sort of retirement village for calcio stars who don’t feel ready for a desk job just yet. They will join the likes of Bernardo Corradi and Matteo Ferrari out there in North America. Gattuso’s destination is not yet known, but a return to Glasgow Rangers would indeed be special. He always was a generous soul and to help their rebirth would be typical of Rino. Kaladze hangs up his boots to go into the world of politics, bringing freedom to his native Georgia.
There will be emotional scenes at San Siro and the Juventus Stadium this afternoon. Tears are to be shed throughout the land – even the world – as the stars of our youth say goodbye. I still see the images of when they first appeared on the scene. Nesta before he learned to straighten his hair, Gattuso stomping around clean-shaven like a stroppy toddler, Zambrotta a winger in a Bari jersey and Seedorf with his flailing dreadlocks. The older you get, the faster time seems to move.
Many of them will return to Serie A as Coaches, I am sure of that, but I can’t help feeling they are needed right now. New defenders in particular are hard to come by in Italy and badly require teachers like Nesta.
Arrigo Sacchi and Baggio were put in charge of youth development in the Italian Federation, but imagine an academy of football excellence with classes on defending run by Nesta, Fabio Cannavaro and Paolo Maldini. Gattuso can drive the desire to win at all times, even in a meaningless friendly, into them from an early age. Inzaghi can be professor of being at the right place at the right time, although he might need his own lessons on how to avoid the offside trap. And Del Piero should be their headmaster, an example of how to command respect and admiration from colleagues and opponents alike. Alex leaves Juventus setting that example to the next generation – dignity and class.