“You’ve made my dream come true. More than anything, today I just want to say thank you.” This was Alessandro Del Piero’s message to his fans just over a week ago, shortly after raising the Serie A trophy at the Juventus Stadium. It was a fitting finale to his glittering Serie A career.
Del Piero leaves Juventus after 19 years. He made his debut on September 12, 1993, and left the field for the final time on Sunday, May 20, 2012 – 705 appearances and 289 goals later. Calciopoli notwithstanding, Pinturicchio won the Scudetto on eight occasions to equal the all-time record, also conquering Europe and then the world with club and country. A set-piece master, Del Piero netted 42 free-kicks for the Old Lady. Yet the legacy he leaves in Turin cannot be expressed simply in numbers and trophies. Just as the special patch worn during the Coppa Italia Final stated, the relationship between club and player was simply ‘one love’.
That love was tested in 2006 in a way no past Bianconero legend had to encounter. When the shadow of Serie B loomed Del Piero responded with a phrase to go down in club folklore alongside Giampiero Boniperti’s “at Juventus, winning isn’t important, it’s the only thing that matters.” When the Conegliano native uttered “a true gentleman never leaves his lady” it cemented his unique place in Juventus history.
Dignified by his class off the field, he was held in high esteem for performances on it. When Ronaldo was given the ‘Phenomenon’ nickname at Inter, Juventini replied in kind by dubbing Del Piero the ‘Real Phenomenon’. This came during his most successful season, when Alex netted 21 goals and led Juve to the Scudetto and Champions League Final – a competition he ended as leading scorer. Even before that memorable campaign Del Piero was busy astonishing the football world.
Pinturicchio aided the Primavera team to the 1994 Viareggio Cup and 1993-94 championship and also made his senior debut that campaign. From goal No 1 versus Reggiana to downing Parma with a hat-trick, the youngster showed great promise but announced himself the following season. There he netted memorable goals against Napoli – the first from the ‘Del Piero zone’ – Fiorentina and Lazio along the path to Scudetto glory. His burgeoning talent sent him on course to becoming one of the world’s best and was part of the reason Roberto Baggio left for Milan.
Del Piero picked himself up after relegation to become Serie B and Serie A Capocannoniere in consecutive seasons, matching Paolo Rossi. His display at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in 2008 caused a rare standing ovation from the Real Madrid faithful. Even when Juve struggled post-calciopoli they could turn to their inspirational leader.
At 37 he continued to prove decisive for the Bianconeri – his free-kick against Lazio steering Juventus a step closer to that elusive Scudetto. And when he finally departed his Turin home he did so to adulation and a show of emotion reserved only for the true greats. He also left a winner, finally able to revel in a long-awaited championship.
Del Piero not only had to help Juve overcome their demons, but his own. The devastating injury suffered in 1998 strengthened his resolve and the heartache of the Euro 2000 Final in Rotterdam was erased by the joy of Dortmund and Berlin six years later.
An inspiration to a generation of Juve fans, Del Piero is to the latest breed of black and white what John Charles, Boniperti, Gaetano Scirea, Michel Platini and Baggio were to theirs. Fans will have another icon to admire in the future and while there cannot be another Alessandro Del Piero, he shall forever be fondly remembered as the true gentleman who always loved his lady.