NEWS
Thursday November 9 2017
Happy birthday, Del Piero

Today is the 43rd birthday of Juventus legend Alessandro Del Piero, a World Cup winner with Italy in 2006.

Born in Conegliano on November 9, 1974 the forward grew up in Saccon in the commune of San Vendemiano.

Del Piero’s father, Gino, was an electrician while his mother, Bruna, implored the young Alessandro to play in goal for the local youth team, reasoning that if he sweated less he’d be less likely to get ill.

Fortunately for the world of calcio, his older brother Stefano, who briefly had a playing career of his own, pointed out that Alex’s skill meant he’d be better up-front.

Indeed, legend has it that Del Piero used to practice his skills by repeatedly kicking a tennis ball off the light switch in his garage to turn it off and on - presumably Del Piero Sr had plenty of spare fuses.

At the age of 13, Del Piero joined the youth system of Padova, who were based around an hour away from his hometown and he made his first team debut at 17 against Messina.

The following season the youngster scored his first ever professional goal, scoring in a 5-0 win over Ternana, and his prodigious talents soon caught the eye of bigger clubs.

Both Milan and Juventus were interested, but having grown up supporting the Bianconeri Alex only had one destination in mind and after 14 Serie B appearances he made the move to Turin in 1993.

“My first night in Turin I couldn’t close my eyes,” Del Piero told Sky last week. “It was a moment of total euphoria for me, I didn’t sleep very much. Then you start to realise where you are, with the proximity of teammates of such a high level.”

The youngster initially split his time between the first team and the Primavera squad, making his full debut for the Old Lady on September 12 and scoring his first goal a week later against Reggiana.

Del Piero would make 11 Serie A appearances that season, scoring five goals - including a hat-trick against Parma on his first start - as well as winning the 1994 Viareggio tournament with the youth team.

That convinced incoming Coach Marcello Lippi to place more trust in the young forward for the following campaign, particularly when Roberto Baggio was injured in November.

Del Piero featured in 29 of the 34 Serie A games that season, scoring eight goals as Juve won their first Scudetto since 1986.

His stunning volleyed winner against Fiorentina remains one of his most fondly remembered goals, the youngster smashing the ball with the outside of his boot as it dropped over his shoulder.

The club decided to put their faith in Del Piero, and with Roberto Baggio departing that summer he became the Pinturicchio to Baggio’s Raffaelo.

Del Piero inherited the iconic number 10 shirt and his six Champions League trophy helped Juve lift the trophy for the second and, so far, last time.

After winning the Under-21 European Championships that summer, the 1996-97 season brought another Scudetto, but a stunning backheel in the Champions League final wasn’t enough to avoid defeat to Borussia Dortmund.

The following season saw Pinturicchio at the peak of his powers, scoring 32 goals in 47 games across all competitions as Juventus once again won the Scudetto.

However, Del Piero picked up a hamstring ahead of the Champions League final with Real Madrid and despite playing the full 90 minutes he was again on the losing side.

Perhaps still struggling with his fitness, Del Piero failed to live up to his billing at the 1998 World Cup as Italy went home in the Last 16.

The 1997-98 season started with two goals in eight Serie A games, but Alex was about to suffer the first major setback of his career.

In the course of a 2-2 draw with Udinese, Del Piero attempted a left-footed volley while being closed down by a Zebrette defender.

It was an innocuous collision, but Del Piero’s knee bent and buckled and he was stretchered off with a cruciate ligament injury, missing the rest of the campaign.

For the following two seasons Del Piero struggled to regain his form, missing two good chances as Italy lost the Euro 2000 final.

He only truly returned to being decisive toward the end of the 2000-01 season.

In February of that year, his father passed away and after coming off the bench to score against Bari, a visibly emotional Del Piero was held tight by Gianluca Pessotto after securing a 1-0 win.

Juve missed out on the Scudetto to Roma that season, but with Del Piero back to his best and striking up a deadly partnership with David Trezeguet they subsequently won two in a row under the returning Lippi, as well as another lost Champions League final.

Fabio Capello brought a further two Scudetti in 2004-05 and 2005-06, but the Coach was never convinced by Del Piero’s small stature and he was often substituted or benched during his tenure.

Nevertheless, he set up Trezeguet with a fantastic overhead kick for a goal against Milan which proved crucial in winning the 2005 title.

With Lippi now in charge of the national team, Del Piero was called-up for the 2006 World Cup and featured against the USA and Australia.

It was not until the semi-final that his impact would be truly felt though.

With Fabio Grosso having given Italy the lead against Germany in the 118th minute, the hosts pushed desperately for an equaliser.

Fabio Cannavaro won two quick headers, before moving the ball on to Alberto Gilardino. The striker ran at the defence, and spotted Del Piero coming up on his left.

The ball was slipped through to Pinturicchio, and he curled ball into Jens Lehmann’s top corner to put the result beyond doubt.

Del Piero also made his contribution in the final, scoring in the penalty shoot-out after coming off the bench.

The joy was short-lived though, as Juventus were stripped of their two most recent Scudetti and relegated to Serie B as part of the Calciopoli scandal.

Many players left, and Del Piero had offers from the likes of Manchester United, but the captain decided to stay and try to bring the club back to Serie A.

“A gentleman doesn’t leave an Old Lady,” he said simply at the time.

With Gianluigi Buffon, Trezeguet, Pavel Nedved and Mauro Camoranesi also staying, Juve bounced back at the first time of asking; with Del Piero as Serie B top scorer.

Though Del Piero followed that up by becoming Serie A Capocannoniere and received a standing ovation from the Bernabeu in 2008 after scoring twice, the next few years saw the Bianconeri struggle to reach their former heights.

Del Piero became the club’s all-time top goalscorer in March 2010, but Juve could only finish seventh in Serie A, a position they again occupied in the following campaign.

Everything changed, however, with the arrival of Del Piero’s former teammate Antonio Conte as Coach.

The Bianconeri won Serie A undefeated, and though he was mainly used as a substitute the veteran forward scored a crucial winning free-kick against Lazio.

However, it was announced during the course of that campaign that his contract would not be renewed, and Del Piero bade an emotional goodbye to the Juventus fans in the final Serie A game of the season against Atalanta - a match he scored in.

He also captained the team in the Coppa Italia final loss to Napoli, with his last action in a Juve shirt being to take the team under the Curva to salute the fans.

Del Piero moved on to Sydney FC, spending two seasons in the A-League with an average of a goal every two games before ending his career with Delhi Dynamos.

It is Juventus though, with whom he will forever be inextricably linked.

With 290 goals in 705 games, Del Piero is both the top-scorer and top appearance maker in the history of the club, and he won six - eight including the Calciopoli titles - Scudetti in Turin.

His trademark goal, cutting in from the left and bending it into the far top corner, is still known in Italy as the ‘Gol alla Del Piero’, and he’s third on the list of all-time free kick goals in Serie A, with 22.

Del Piero is also an Italy great, with his 27 goals leaving him fourth in the overall list and his 91 caps making him the 10th most-capped player of all time.

Alessandro Del Piero:

Games: 777
Goals: 316
Italy caps: 91
Italy goals: 27
Honours: Serie A [1994-95, 1996-97, 1997-98, 2001-02, 2002-03, 2011-12], Serie B [2006-07] Coppa Italia [1994-95] Champions League [1995-96] World Cup [2006]