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Friday, December 28, 2012
The hardest farewell

ESPN staff

ESPN FC's network of correspondents are dedicated to bringing you the best news and features from around the globe, and here are some of their favourite moments from 2012. • Adam Digby, Italy Correspondent Laden with scarves, he basked in the adulation of the Juventus fans. It was a final lap of honour for a man who had become their hero during his long and distinguished career. He had played before them on more than 700 occasions in the previous 19 years, but now it was over. While many claim that no player is bigger than his club, or the game, Alessandro Del Piero was just that on this one May afternoon. As the 37-year-old slowly made his way around the field, taking his time to thank the 41,000 in attendance, the game that was still taking place had become little more than a sideshow. In some ways, the fans had not really come to see the match - the previous week's victory over Cagliari had already secured the long-awaited league title. They had come to bid farewell to a player who had remained loyal through good times and bad, just as they had. Del Piero had opted to remain in Turin when Juventus were relegated in 2006 and resisted Fabio Capello's attempts to move him on. The supporters stood by their idol as he struggled to rediscover his form following countless injuries, even as the rest of the country pinned their Euro 2000 final defeat on his inability to finish a number of gilt-edged chances against France. He was one of them - a player who embodied the spirit of Juventus in their eyes. Seen as the apprentice to Roberto Baggio in his early days, he had gone from being a natural successor to Baggio and his predecessor Michel Platini to surpassing the achievements of both men. The club's all-time leading goalscorer and appearance maker, he holds 19 other individual records and, were it not for the uncertain status of the two titles revoked during the Calciopoli trials, would have a record eight Scudetti. However, no amount of silverware or cold statistics can highlight his significance to the club and its fanbase as aptly as the farewell he received when he called time on his glorious career. In many ways, it was just another typical performance from the man dubbed 'Pinturicchio' by the great Gianni Agnelli, painting a final delicate masterpiece at the end of yet another successful campaign and capping it with a well-struck goal from just outside the area. After what must have been one of the most drawn-out substitutions in football history, in which Del Piero bowed to each corner of the ground before shaking hands with every member of the Juventus squad, came the most powerful outpouring of support I have ever witnessed at a sporting event. Twice, the modest captain stood from his seat on the bench to acknowledge the crowd, but they let him know that they wanted more than just a wave of farewell. And so, with a hint of embarrassment he began his lap of the pitch, forced to pretend to tie his bootlace so onlookers could not see his tears, while a standing ovation continued unabated for almost 20 minutes. Del Piero plays in Sydney now, but at Juventus the number ten shirt, once filled by arguably the greatest Juventino of all, remains empty. His departure was the hardest of farewells, but we at least had the opportunity to say goodbye. For that, we can always be thankful.

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