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The impact of Alessandro Del Piero in Australia

13845822804_66bd7a183b_oIt’s official. Alessandro Del Piero is to leave Australian glamour club Sydney FC after two years down under.

The Juventus legend and the A-League club failed to agree terms to a new deal, and have both mutually agreed to part ways at the end of the season. Where he goes next is anyone’s guess, with the rumour mill most likely pointing to a reunion with former boss Marcello Lippi at Chinese heavyweights Guangzhou Evergrande, or a move to Major League Soccer side DC United.

Del Piero’s arrival at Sydney FC in 2012 was regarded as one of the nation’s biggest sporting coups. At $4 million a season, the Italian was the highest paid player in the league’s history by far – which meant every performance would be heavily scrutinized and critiqued. While the club’s feats in his duration spent here haven’t been particularly successful – with the club failing to make the finals last season, and getting knocked out in the first week of the finals this time around – Del Piero has been an immeasurable success on and off the pitch.

On the paddock, ‘Il Pinturicchio’ was always a class above the rest. At the ripe old age of 39 the little magician was still pulling the strings and orchestrating almost every meaningful attack for the Sky Blues. Despite his non-existent pace, he’d lost none of the technical prowess and skill that made him such a feared attacker in world football for nearly 15 years.

Who can forget that stunning home debut free kick he netted against Newcastle Jets in front of 35,000 expectant spectators that brought the house down, or his magnificent four goal virtuoso performance in the 7-0 romp against Wellington Phoenix in the same season. More recently he played a focal point in the stunning 5-0 away win to close rivals Melbourne Victory on Australia Day.

Del Piero will leave Sydney with a strike rate of 24 goals in 48 games and a countless number of assists. More importantly perhaps is not the numbers, but the way the side played when ‘ADP’ was missing. Lacklustre, dire, bereft of any creativity – these were words that were usually associated with Sydney’s performances when their talisman was absent. Del Piero was the inspiration and the stimulus to this side and it will be intriguing to see how the club replaces the jewel in their crown.

Sydney fans will remember and cherish the performances of Del Piero for a long time to come that is certain. The fans and even the league will not likely see a player of his ilk or caliber for some while, and most fans have (begrudgingly) admitted how much of a privilege it was to watch Del Piero live or on television – even if it was for the opposition team.

Off the field, Del Piero’s signing was an even bigger triumph. Sydney FC’s average home crowd has risen by 57%, while almost all the other clubs in the league saw an improved crowd figure when the Sky Blues came to visit their home ground. The number of Juventus jerseys at each game with the ‘Del Piero 10’ on the back of them was huge, with Del Piero delivering a pulling factor that no other sportsman has ever achieved in this country. His signing catapulted Sydney FC and the A-League onto the world stage.

Team Crowds without ADP Crowds with ADP Change
Adelaide 10,034 14,780 +47.30%
Brisbane 15,365 21,274 +38.46%
Central Coast 9,801 6,430 -34.39%
Melb. Heart 9,088 10,122 +11.38%
Melb. Victory 21,645 23,121 +6.82%
Newcastle 12,460 14,093 +13.11%
Perth 9,058 9,603 +6.02%
Sydney 11,861
18,660 +57.32%
Wellington 7,340 12,057 +64.26%
Western Sydney 14,503 18,930 +30.52%

Sydney FC also received a massive boost in membership numbers – cracking the 10,000 mark for the first time – and a dramatic rise in shirt sales as a result of the ‘Ale effect’. He was a box office hit everywhere he went, and his gentlemanly persona and warm, affectionate personality won him many admirers.

Sydney fans need not worry, however. Del Piero will still maintain an ‘ongoing relationship’ with the club, as stated in their farewell statement. What that entails is still up in the air, but fans are hoping that the recent rumours of ‘Ale’ becoming their new coach hold some truth (especially after the dreadful football served up by his predecessors Frank Farina and Ian Crook in the past two seasons). An advisory role looks more likely at the moment, however, while Del Piero has also been named as a global ambassador for the AFC Asian Cup held in Australia next year.

The legacy that Del Piero will leave behind will have a lasting effect on the growth of football in Australia. Undoubtedly the most prominent and celebrated player to feature in Australia football on a permanent basis, Del Piero has set a new standard for high level marquee recruits in the league. Sydney FC chairman Scott Barlow put it spot-on when he said that Del Piero’s contribution to the league “has inspired a whole new generation of Sydney FC football fans and future players”.

One regret will surely be that Sydney FC was not able to give him a proper goodbye, with his announcement coming after they were eliminated from the finals series. Fittingly, the Australian fan base will have one more chance to give Del Piero a proper farewell when he lines up against his former club Juventus for the A-League All Stars match in August. It is clear that while Australia embraced the wily old star, Del Piero too loved his time in Australia and will remember the two years spent in Sydney fondly. That much is evident when he affectionately signed off his departing message with the Australian slang ‘See ya mates’.

Grazie Ale, this country will be forever grateful for the impact and contribution you’ve made on football in Australia. Thanks mate!


Photo Credit: calciostreaming

About the author

avatarMarco is an avid A-League fan, and a contributor to Ultimate A-League.

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