16 – Alessandro Del Piero
To anyone bearing the Bianconeri badge upon the heart, Alessandro Del Piero is nothing short of a titan. Captain of the most successful Italian club for more than 10 years, record-man in terms of goals scored and loyal enough to descend with the club to Serie B after Calciopoli – the very least that can be said about this man is he stands for some of the best values in football, from loyalty to the flag and belief in the meaning of one’s icon to fair-play and correctness on the pitch.
The above would be sufficient compliment for most football players, but Del Piero is so much more. He is one of the most effective No 10s in the last 30 years of Italian football, a sensational seconda punta with an extraordinary range of skills – dribbling, assist-man, long-range striker, team-worker, dead-ball specialist. His finalising skills are probably the most advanced, albeit normally the most understated (if only because poaching tends to be less spectacular than step-overs). As the second most prolific goal-scorer still active in Serie A, Del Piero is a lethal finisher through and through, and his career spans 15 years as an almost unquestioned starter for Juventus. His game also stands as an important bridge between the epiphanic offensive era of Roberto Baggio and the more technical one of today.
As a fantasista of very high pedigree, this man would stand much higher up in this list if it weren’t that his contributions to the national team have fallen very short of his performances at club level. With only three goals in all his major tournaments, Del Piero has proved ephemeral in the moments when it really mattered. Fabio Grosso, who is not even on this list, has done more for the national team in a single tournament than Del Piero did in the seven that he took part in. Paolo Rossi did more – and scored as many goals – in one game. Furthermore Del Piero seems to have reached every single one of these tournaments (except, perhaps, for Euro 96) on the crest of great club performances and bearing great promise. Not only has he disappointed in all of them, on occasions he even proved detrimental (his failure to finish in the final of Euro 2000 effectively costing the Azzurri the trophy). This is a shame because the man is clearly a meteoric talent, but ultimately the World Cup does stand as the most important stage in football, and it speaks volumes that Del Piero’s best tournament, Germany 2006, is one where he played 169 minutes in seven games.
Top 20 Azzurri players of all time