Standing just five feet eight inches tall, Alessandro Del Piero certainly would not be described as a man mountain. He would however, in terms of stature on a football pitch. The Juventus legend is the club’s all-time record appearance holder and goal scorer (having just played his 600th game), notching up over 250 goals.
Del Piero burst onto the scene with lowly club Padova. It was only two years later in 1993, that the Turin giants picked up the player who was to become their talisman over the coming years. The young Alex certainly did not waste any time, notching up his first goal in only his second appearance. Having made his opening two appearances from the bench, Del Piero was then handed his first start against Parma and fired a hat-trick, introducing himself not only to the Juve faithful, but to the whole of Serie A.
Dubbed ‘Il Fenomeno Vero’ (The Real Phenomenon, a response to Inter fans’ nickname of Il Fenomeno for their Brazilian striker Ronaldo) by the Juve fans for his remarkable talents, he was playing regularly in the team by the tender age of 20. By the end of the 1997/98 season he had clocked up 133 games contributing 41 goals. Having won the Scudetto twice in 1995 and then 1997, Del Piero recorded his best season to date scoring 21 Serie A goals, coupled with a fantastic return of 10 goals in the UEFA Champions League (the top scorer that season). The wavy long hair and distinctive designer stubble were now recognisable across the globe and it was thought that the talented Italian would go on to become one of the finest, if not the finest striker in world football.
Following such a rewarding start for the side from Turin he was dealt a huge blow at the beginning of the 1998/99 season. During a 2-2 draw with Udinese, the Juventus No.10 severely injured his knee, which forced him to miss the remainder of the season. La Vecchia Signora limped along to a lowly 6th place finish, relatively poor considering the achievements of seasons gone by. This was a sign, if ever one was needed, of how much the Old Lady now depended on the goalscoring exploits and all-round genius of the pint-sized Italian striker.
Various players have come and gone through the doors of the Stadio Delle Alpi and Del Piero has formed formidable partnerships with some of the world’s best players. Zinedine Zidane, Filippo Inzaghi, Pavel Nedvěd and David Trezeguet just some of the beneficiaries of il Pinturicchio’s talent. These partnerships helped him flourish and provided Juve with an ultra-creative forward line. The triad of Del Piero, Zidane and Inzaghi was, and still would be, amongst the most potent in world football. Much like Zidane, Del Piero would drift around in pockets of spaces between the midfield and forwards creating havoc whilst doing so.
Dribbling, flair, creativity, acceleration, touch, vision – all attributes which the Juve captain has in abundance. One attribute that has not been mentioned, and one that he will long be remembered for, is his prowess from dead-ball situations. Not only has he created many goals by delivering wicked balls from corners and free-kicks from wide areas, but a large proportion of his goals have been as a result of penalties and free-kicks (many of the latter have been spectacular). The way he strikes the ball from set-pieces is varied depending on the positioning and distance from the goal. It speaks volumes for his flawless technique when striking a football.
Once il Fenomeno Vero had regained his full match sharpness and was back playing regular football in the 1999/00 season, the star of Turin really came of age. Now proudly wearing the captain’s armband, Del Piero turned into an inspirational leader for the club he loves. Since the 2001/02 season the little forward has recorded 10+ goals in each and every season bar one (2003/04) where he only managed 22 appearances due to niggling injuries throughout the campaign.
Del Piero cemented his place in the hearts of the Turin clubs fans following the Calciopoli scandal. Juventus were stripped of their last two Serie A titles and relegated to Serie B. Following this news Del Piero announced that he would be staying at the club to captain the team and asked other players to stay, stating: “The Agnelli family deserve this, as do the fans and directors.” Juventus won Serie B at the first attempt and Del Piero contributed 21 goals in 35 appearances in their brief spell in Italian football’s second tier.
The Italian icon’s international career has had it’s up and downs. His first appearance came in March 1995 against the minnows of Estonia. His contribution for the Azzurri has never been as consistent or as striking as his achievements in the black and white of the Old Lady. However, the iconic striker has still been capped 91 times, scoring 25 goals in the process. Scoring almost a goal every three games at international level is no easy feat considering many of these caps have been from the bench.
Del Piero made his first major tournament appearance at the 1996 European Championships. The Azzurri were largely disappointing throughout and did not qualify for the knockout stages of the competition. At the 1998 World Cup, his position in the team was taken by fans’ favourite Roberto Baggio. The Azzurri once again failed to live up to expectations and were knocked out this time by host nation France at the quarter-final stage. The European Championships of 2000 saw Del Piero featuring on a more regular basis. It was his fine left footed strike into the near top corner against Sweden in the sgroup stages that highlighted his worth to the side. However, after some impressive displays on the way to the final, he was soon to turn from hero to villain after squandering two great opportunities to score in a final that they eventually lost 2-1, thanks to a golden goal in extra time. This was as close to winning a major competition as Del Piero would come in the next four years as the Azzurri once again failed to live up to their hype. They lost in the last-16 to South Korea in 2002 and then failed to make the knockout stages of Euro 2004 finishing behind the two Scandinavian teams of Sweden and Denmark.
The World Cup of 2006 was where he would fulfill a childhood dream. In the semi-final against Germany, Del Piero made his mark after coming on as a substitute and scoring the winning goal in a 2-0 win during extra time. The Azzurri scored a late goal in the 119th minute before Del Piero, in typical fashion, clinically dispatched his chance into the far right top corner to seal Italy’s place in the World Cup final.
The final went all the way to a penalty shootout, which the Azzurri won to claim their fourth World Cup title. Del Piero was one of the players to convert his penalty during the shootout in Berlin. The Azzurri failed to repeat the feat of winning a major tournament two years later when they were knocked out of Euro 2008 by eventual winners Spain.
It remains to be seen how much longer this unquestionably gifted footballer continues to play the beautiful game. One thing that we do know is that he will be remembered by millions of fans across the globe as one of football’s genuine artists.
Past Lessons in Calcio