Monday, September 17, 2012
Del Piero's 'Project Sydney' underway
While the rest of his family remained in their hotel room sleeping off their 20-hour journey, Alessandro Del Piero began to win over hearts and minds in his new home. A man known as much for his off-field affability as his on-field achievements, Del Piero's test is now due to arrive as he settles into life as a Sydney FC player.
The Juventus icon will carry a heavy burden at his new club, as he arrives as the A-League's biggest name signing. Though the likes of Dwight Yorke, Juninho and Robbie Fowler have travelled to Australia for the next stage of their careers before him, few players in world football can truly boast a comparable résumé.
Speaking without any signs of jetlag, Del Piero moved swiftly from English to Italian, creating a light-hearted atmosphere on what could have been a tense occasion. He made jokes and seemed at ease with his new surroundings, despite never having visited Sydney or Australia previously.
"For my family, the first priority is to see a kangaroo," he joked. "I promised my son. I had to say something to my sons and to the biggest one I said 'okay, Tobias we're going to Australia' - he's only four-years-old. And I had to say to him 'okay, we can go to a special zoo where there's kangaroos'. And he said 'okay, I'm happy'."
Jokes aside, Del Piero was made aware from the moment he landed in the country what his arrival signified in the grand scheme of things.
He landed amid much fanfare as thousands of Sydney FC, Juventus and Italy supporters crowded Sydney International Airport on Sunday morning to greet their hero. The crowds continued to grow 24 hours later at Del Piero's official unveiling by the club, and that following is expected to swell further this weekend when the 37-year-old is announced to the crowd at a special fan event at Allianz Stadium.
But as the dust settles on his arrival, and familiarity among the Australian public sets in, the real work for Del Piero will commence.
The Italian has made no secret of his desire to leave a legacy on world football, which is the primary reason for his decision to turn down Liverpool, Celtic and FC Sion to move Down Under. The player himself has termed the experience "Project Sydney", and with his ability to make even elder statesmen of the game swoon he is sure to succeed in his mission of boosting football's profile. And a noble mission it is.
However, in order for Del Piero to have the impact in the antipodes he so craves, he will need to deliver on the pitch as well as off it. Stars have travelled to distant lands in the past with similar goals, but with varying degrees of success. The A-League's prime example of a player to arrive with a big name but little to show on the field was former European golden boot winner Mario Jardel. In his prime, Jardel was nearly unstoppable inside the six-yard box, but he arrived in Australia overweight and lacking the desire to get his career back on track.
That's not to suggest Del Piero has arrived in Australia looking similarly out of sorts. Far from it. Indeed, he played 23 times for the Bianconeri in their Serie A winning season last term. But for his legacy to be lasting and positive, he will be required to show people around the country the creativity and flair that has won him a World Cup and six Scudetto titles.
And he will have his work cut out in many respects. Sydney FC stumbled their way through last season, and appeared stifled by Vitezslav Lavicka's tactics. Lavicka has since made way for Ian Crook, who has signalled his intentions early by bringing in Del Piero, Panama international Yairo Yau and championship-winning defender Adam Griffiths.
Despite the potential, Del Piero revealed that he had many people in Italy - including his former Juventus team-mates - who were sceptical about his move to Australia. But the forward remained determined to see out his vision of boosting the profile of the game in the Southern Hemisphere.
"Most of my friends said to me 'okay, Ale, you want a change but there's a lot of places closer than Australia'," Del Piero explained. "And I said 'yes, but I chose the best place I can choose for this moment'. I think this now and I'm sure I'll think this at the end of the season.
"It was easy (the decision) because the project explained to me by (chief executive) Tony (Pignata) and (agent) Lou (Sticca) is very interesting. Passion is very important for me, and I feel passion in their words and for all this project. Sometimes I decide with my feelings, but this decision is not only with my feelings - it's with the head and the feelings."
It is evident Del Piero has made a considered decision. He spoke at length on Monday about the manner in which he plans on influencing football and the community at large in Australia - revealing a keen understanding of the culture he is about to become a part of in the process.
"I know it's a young league but I think about the Australian people, there are a lot of Italians who have immigrated. A lot of English, Greek, Croatian and the other Yugoslavian people. In everybody I think there is soccer blood and we hope to wake up that," he said.
His desire to create something of genuine value after his career has ended in what is for him is an unknown land is admirable. His bravery deserves to be applauded and his reputation respected as he looks to lift the A-League to a new level. Judging by the glint in his eye during his first public appearance in his new home, it's difficult to see this talented footballer doing anything other than succeeding.