Alessandro Del Piero to play in Australia for Sydney FC. It’s incredible simply to type that. This is a huge deal for Australian football. For Australian based fans of the player, like myself, it doesn’t get much better.
The Juventus legend on Wednesday announced he will join the A-League club for two years, earning $2m a season. Money well spent in my opinion. There are not too many names bigger in the football world. On Thursday, Del Piero occupied the front and back page of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph at a time when the two biggest sports – Australian rules football and rugby league – are entering their post-season Finals. The A-League rarely occupies those positions.
When news of the negotiations came through some people doubted he would sign for an Australian club. Others were sceptical of what he could offer. Initial fears were allayed by joy and enthusiasm when it was clear he signed on the dotted line. And for those not too familiar with the man, his words in the Press conference left them reaching the same conclusion others have known for years – Del Piero is a class act.
The move has been compared to David Beckham’s stint at Los Angeles Galaxy in the MLS. Like the Englishman, the 37-year-old has a chance to leave a legacy on the sport in this country, something he reiterated this week. “I’ve got the desire and determination to help the sport grow, that’s a big drive for me. I want to play in front of full stadiums. It’s a great honour that there is so much excitement about me coming to Australia. I will give everything I can.” He called it ‘Project Sydney’.
Pinturicchio’s move to Australia has offered the A-League a shot-in-the-arm. While steadily growing over its first seven seasons, there was a feeling of stagnation. The homecomings of Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton were a boost last season, but Del Piero is by far the biggest star to venture down under.
When the A-League commenced in 2005-06, Sydney FC were dubbed ‘Bling FC’ and the glamour club. They secured former Manchester United striker Dwight Yorke as their ‘marquee’ player – one who is paid outside the salary cap – and World Cup winner Pierre Littbarski as Coach. The duo would lead Sydney to success in the inaugural season, but then departed. They won the title again in 2009-10, but failed to recapture that early magic off the pitch.
Their newest marquee is already creating a positive buzz. Sydney FC membership numbers reportedly shot through the roof yesterday, with fans eager to secure their spot to see the great man. They begin away in New Zealand against Wellington on October 6. A week later the No 10 makes his home debut at the 45,000 capacity Allianz Stadium against Newcastle, before squaring off versus Western Sydney in the first ever Sydney derby.
Del Piero is the second Italian World Cup winner to play in Australia. The first was Francesco Graziani, who had a brief spell with APIA Leichhardt in 1988. He is also the first since Romario’s guest stint for Adelaide United in 2006. Yet Del Piero will be the one to make the greatest contribution to the game in this country. He has the technical ability to keep fans entertained and Sydney have already promised creative licence on the pitch to work his magic. Now that the seemingly impossible has become a reality, I for one cannot wait to see Del Piero live in Australia.
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