If ever there lived a more complete footballer than Alessandro Del Piero, I have yet to come across him. Both a role model on and off the pitch, Il Pinturicchio—as he has come to be known—is indeed a living legend of the game.
Del Piero was born in Conegliano, Italy, in 1974. The World Cup winner affirms that it was during his younger years that he really developed his passion for football, playing alongside his brother and friends in the backyard regularly. In an interview with The World Game, Del Piero joked about how his mother was adamant King Ale play goalkeeper and goalkeeper only, to reduce risk of injury.
Yes, one of the most prolific forwards in footballing history did indeed start out as a goalkeeper.
However—much to his mother's dismay—Del Piero's talent with the ball was becoming clear, and when Ale turned 13 he was scouted by Padova, who would go on to become Del Piero's first professional side. Yet, his cameo at Padova in Serie B only lasted a span of 14 matches. Turin had come calling, Juventus were calling...a legend was about to be born.
During the 1993 winter transfer window, Alessandro Del Piero signed for Italian giants Juventus. At just 19 years of age, the €2.5 million fee sparked headlines around the world. After arriving in January of 1993, he went on to score five goals in 14 appearances, including a hat-trick against Parma in his first starting debut for the Bianconeri.
He went on to become practically synonymous with Juventus: winning the UEFA Champions League in 1995-96, eight Scudetti (two revoked due to Calciopoli), UEFA Super Cup and Coppa Italia.
He captained the club through most of its success.
During the Calciopoli scandals and amidst Juventus' relegation to Serie B, the free-kick specialist remained loyal to the Old Lady. Big-money offers from top European clubs around the world were compounded by the walking out of a number of his teammates. Del Piero claimed that, as captain, the thought of leaving Turin didn't even cross his mind.
In the 2006-07 Juventus season, he plied his trade in the Serie B, leading the Turin giants to promotion to the top flight and becoming top scorer along the way.
However, I think it naive to simply consider "King Ale" for his talent on the football field. Sure, winning International titles, domestic leagues and cups sets Del Piero apart from many of his counterparts, but so, too, does his off-field demeanor. It is unmatched by any footballer in the modern game.
Just looking at what Del Piero has achieved off the pitch to realise he indeed has a genuine care and concern for those around him. Just last year Del Piero raised €220,000 through his Ale10 Friends For Japan charity t-shirts for victims of the 2011 Japanese earthquake.
In addition to this, he supports ADISCO (donation of umbilical cord blood) and 1GOAL (education of underprivileged children). Currently, Del Piero is working in assisting the Italian Association for Cancer Research in raising money to cure cancer. In an interview with The World Game, Del Piero discussed his intentions going forward with the program:
I started with this campaign because I am an involved person, but definitely in my position I think it is correct, it is a responsibility for people to send a right message to help those who need it. We try to find money, money for the research because we hope to destroy cancer.
He is involved with charity at every turn and is no doubt an ambassador for football wherever he goes.
His individual credentials include the Serie A golden boot (2007-08), Champions League top scorer (1995-96, 1997-98), Italian footballer of the year (1998, 2008), Sportsman of the Year (2010) and inclusions on the FIFA 100 list of greatest living footballers and the UEFA Golden Jubilee Poll.
Del Piero made his first international appearance for the Italian senior team in 1995. With the Azzurri, he was capped 91 times and scored on 27 occasions. He played a crucial role in Italy's 2006 World Cup success, netting against Germany in the semifinal and scoring a penalty in the Final (vs. France).
He retired from international duties as the fourth-highest goal scorer the national team has ever seen (tied with former teammate Roberto Baggio).
"Il Pinturicchio"—his football unsurprisingly draws comparisons to great artists—holds, in essence, every record possible at Juventus, including most appearances, goals scored and trophies won. Aside from Juventus he is one of few players to score in all competitions he has ever appeared in and the only Italian player to score two goals at the Santiago Bernabeu (for which he received a standing ovation).
A fan of Oasis, U2 and the Rolling Stones, Del Piero has recorded some of his own albums, not to mention his appearance in the Oasis video for the song "Lord, Don't Slow Me Down." His voice is something of a gift, reluctantly attesting to the fact that he woke a 12-year-old girl from a coma after assuring her things would be okay.
After the conclusion and success of the 2011-12 Juventus Serie A campaign, the Bianconeri chose not to renew Del Piero's contract, bringing to an end a 19-year black-and-white story for the inspirational captain. He affirms he is not bitter about the choice to not renew his contract, maintaining he was privileged to have ever worn the black-and-white kit.
At 38 years of age, the former Juventus captain's illustrious career is indeed coming to a close, but don't close the curtain on this great career just yet. The Italian has one last legacy to leave, a legacy that has been born in Australia with his new club Sydney FC.
A king on and off the pitch: Alessandro Del Piero, a true legend of the game.
Post Script: It is only in very rare circumstance that I go back and add to articles, but I thought I my let you all know that Del Piero himself signed a copy of this article when I caught up with him. Check out the uploaded picture!
"Legends of Football" will be a weekly article on Bleacher Report reflecting on the greats to have ever stepped foot on the pitch. If you would like to request a player/s to be covered, feel free to leave them in the comments below.