Del Piero is a religion in Italy. The 37-year-old called time on nearly two decades with Juventus at the end of last season—signing off with a goal in his last home match and walking away having helped the Old Lady to an unbeaten league season and the Serie A title.
So beloved is Del Piero that fans demanded a lap of honor at Juventus Stadium. As the great man circled, scarves rained down from the stands and tears were shed for a footballer who has seen them through good times and bad.
This from the Guardian, summing up Del Piero's legacy:
In 19 years, Del Piero has played 704 games for Juventus, enjoying a total of 48,785 minutes on the pitch. He has scored 289 goals, hit the woodwork 68 times and missed 12 penalties. He has won 387 games, drawn 197 and lost 120. He has been shown 50 yellow cards, and just two red.
Del Piero's contribution goes beyond numbers. Former Juve president Gianni Agnelli dubbed him Il Pinturicchio, meaning "the little painter," and there has always been an artist's flair to the way he goes about his craft.
Del Piero's is the kind of talent you can't teach. Like his former Juve teammate Zinedine Zidane, Del Piero in his prime was part footballer, part sorcerer. He tried things nobody else did, and saw things nobody else could.
We're lucky if we see a handful of players like that in a generation. And it's for that reason we treasure their every appearance and plead for the likes of Zidane and Del Piero to keep playing as long as their bodies will let them.
Zidane said goodbye at 34, some would argue prematurely. Del Piero has already outlasted him and remains influential enough on the field that his army of adoring fans at Juventus were begging for one last season with the Bianconeri.
It wasn't to be. On the day Del Piero's contract ran out at Juve, he issued an open letter to confirm their worst fears:
It ends here, my contract with Juventus expires today. It’s not news, but knowing it is official still has an effect on me. It is not a sad moment for me, there are no regrets or nostalgia.
Not anymore. That’s because I’ve had time to think back over everything that happened in my last Bianconeri season, going further back and reliving the greatest dream I could’ve dreamed. (Football Italia)
Del Piero had them at hello. He had them at goodbye, too. "The players pass by, but Juventus remains," he continued, and with that his place in Juve legend was cemented still further. Quite the way to go out.
From there, the question turned to where he'd go next, for one last hurrah. In July, Del Piero talked up the MLS (Goal.com). There were also rumours he might be bound for China or Japan.
But in the end, Del Piero bucked the trend of big-name footballers in their twilight years to choose Australia. The Italian signed has signed a two-year deal with Sydney FC worth a reported $4 million, and becomes both the highest paid and highest profile player ever to grace their shores.
"I am extremely happy to be joining Sydney FC," Del Piero said, as per the BBC. "This is a very big moment for me because I want to continue my career in a new part of the world where I can make a major contribution and help grow the game I love."
Del Piero, it appears, will be cast as Australia's David Beckham and attempt to do for the A-League what Beckham has done for the MLS—building its profile both at home and abroad, and making it a more bankable production as a result.
Soon enough we'll get an early read on how great Del Piero's influence can be. Sydney's first home game is on Oct. 2, against Newcastle Jets, and the Sky Blues will surely be guaranteed a crowd far in excess of the 10,232 they pulled for the same fixture last season.
Sydney Football Stadium holds 45,000. Can they fill it? And even if they get an initial bump in numbers, can they sustain it?
We've had the Beckham experiment. Now it's time for the Del Piero version. And as Juve fans will tell you, when it comes to their footballing messiah, things usually end well.