Alessandro Del Piero celebrates his 45th birthday today, so Football Italia decided to rank his five greatest lesser-known goals for the Bianconeri, not an easy task considering he scored 290 for Juventus over a 19-year period.
5. Napoli, Stadio San Paolo, Serie A, 1994-95
Alessandro Del Piero’s year zero. A young, bushy-haired Del Piero started the season as Juve’s fourth choice attacking option, behind Roberto Baggio, Gianluca Vialli and Fabrizio Ravanelli. By the end of it, he’d done enough to convince Marcello Lippi and the Juventus triad of Luciano Moggi, Roberto Bettega and Antonio Giraudo that life without Baggio would be just fine.
This goal against Napoli was the very first in the ‘zona Del Piero’ collection, that corridor of grass where he would get the ball on the left, cut inside and majestically curl the ball into the far corner of the net.
It would be another year before the term entered the footballing lexicon, but here was the prototype.
Life for Del Piero would never be the same again.
4. Lecce, Stadio delle Alpi, Serie A, 2003-04
Del Piero hadn’t enjoyed the greatest of seasons. Juve were coming to the end of Marcello Lippi’s second cycle at the club, and Del Piero had struggled with injuries, restricting him to 22 league outings that season. They had relinquished their Serie A crown to Carlo Ancelotti’s Milan as Lecce, already safe from relegation, rolled into the delle Alpi in late April to contest in a seven goal thriller.
David Trezeguet had given Juve the lead, before the away side steamrolled into a 4-1 lead by the 52nd minute. Del Piero came on at halftime for Fabrizio Miccoli, and late in the game, the Juve captain, deep inside the Lecce box, controlled a Enzo Maresca header by swiveling his body and instantly killing the pace of the ball with his right instep in one fluid motion, before slotting the ball past Vincenzo Sicignano with his left.
It was a meaningless goal in an ultimately meaningless game, yet it was still the standout moment.
3. Manchester United, Old Trafford, Champions League, 1997-98
Juventus and Manchester United was arguably the Champions League’s first rivalry. The sides met for three straight seasons in the late ‘90s, producing iconic moments that captivated audiences and only added to the glamour of the recently reformatted competition.
Juve travelled to England in October 1997 to face United looking to cement top spot in the group. They’d swatted Dutch side Feyenoord aside 5-1 on the opening night and knew a win at Old Trafford would put them in a comfortable position.
Del Piero had scored the winner in the corresponding fixture a year prior, lashing home a penalty in the 37th minute.
This time it took him all of 50 seconds to score. Latching on to a neat through ball from Portuguese defender Manuel Dimas, Del Piero ran in behind the United offside trap, and faced with the onrushing Hening Berg and Peter Schmeichel, pivoted with his left foot and slotted it home with his right, leaving the big Dane scrambling on the Old Trafford turf. You could hear a pin drop.
Juve would lose the game 3-2 and indeed top spot in the group to United, but it was Del Piero’s finest season in the competition; he finished top scorer with 10 goals, the only time a player reached double figures in the 24-team incarnation of the tournament.
2. Brescia, Stadio Olimpico di Torino, Serie A, 2010-11
The legs were slowly going, but the brain was still sharp. The period post-Claudio Ranieri and pre-Antonio Conte are dark times for Juve fans to recall. Bad results, bad managers, and even worse signings (Christian Poulsen, anyone?) set the tone for a miserable two years.
Del Piero, now in his 17th season with the club, had been through it all at this stage: European glory (and defeat), injuries, relegation, promotion, back to back Capocannoniere titles. He was now the old sage trying desperately to bring the club he loved back to the pinnacle of the game.
Yet Del Piero was 36, and even someone as talented as he couldn’t pull the Bianconeri out of their current mediocrity alone. However, goals like this one against Brescia did lift fans out of their perennial glum, if only for a fleeting moment.
Receiving the ball from a young Claudio Marchisio just inside the Brescia half, Del Piero set off on a run deep into the heart of the Little Swallows. As Del Piero inched ever closer to the periphery of the penalty box, and realised his only options were Milos ‘one trick’ Krasic and Alessandro Matri, he decided to take matters into his own hands.
Del Piero, now running as fast as his legs could carry him in March 2011, shifted the ball on to his right, skipping past a Brescia defender in the process, before shielding the ball from everyone (including his own team mates), opening up his body and curling the ball with his left foot from the edge of the area into the bottom corner of Michele Arcari’s goal.
A brief, glorious respite from the misery.
1. Sampdoria, Stadio delle Alpi, Serie A, 1997-98
This goal encapsulates the very best of Del Piero 1.0: explosive pace, mazy dribbling abilities then only rivalled by Ronaldo, sumptuous ball control and ruthless finishing. This was Del Piero’s pinnacle as a footballer.
The 1997-98 campaign remains the highpoint in Del Piero’s career. There is a case to be made that he was the world’s best footballer, certainly in the top 2, by May of 1998. He scored 32 goals in all competitions, his best ever season, and propelled Juve to another Scudetto and a third consecutive Champions League final.
Juve were battling it out with Ronaldo’s Inter for domestic supremacy when Sampdoria came to the delle Alpi in February. Ronaldo had guided Inter top by Christmas, but in the New Year Del Piero found an extra gear and Juve regained top spot.
Watching Del Piero here is a sight to behold, he tears Sampdoria to shreds, scoring the opener and laying on the third for Daniel Fonseca. Del Piero scored the first, rampaging through defenders with alarming ease before smashing the ball under Samp keeper Fabrizio Ferron.
Despite usurping him as Italy’s newest golden boy, Del Piero was never as good as Baggio, but this season was as close as he ever got. The injury against Udinese the following season robbed him of the explosiveness on display here, which relegated him from a world-class player to a very good one. He would never be the same.
However we can still marvel at the greatness of that season, and how close Del Piero flew to the sun.
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