Alessandro the Great

Posted on 11/11/2010


After a fairly lacklustre round of games this weekend, I shall instead cast my mind back to last week in order to write this my maiden post on Pondering Calcio on the latest record achieved by the great Alessandro Del Piero.

I’m thinking, of course, of the goal against Lecce last Sunday that saw Pinturicchio becoming joint top Serie A goal scorer of all time at Juventus along with fellow legend Giampiero Boniperti. The same Boniperti who facilitated his move to juventus in 1993, and earlier this year with joking reluctance testified that the record won’t be shared for long.

And no. 178 was – typically – a very classy goal indeed: After being set up by Krasic (who else?), he did a smart dummy to fixate the defender and then coolly slotted home with his left foot in the near top corner. A vintage ADP goal that – although they have been a bit far between recently, especially from open play – underlines all the qualities of the man: His calm, skill and that lethal shot.

Although Ale will probably never be considered as big a star as his predecessor at Juventus, Roberto Baggio, not to mention icons such as Platini og Zinedine Zidane, he has arguably done more for the Juve cause than those three combined if you look at his tenure at the club. The aforementioned honoraries spent five seasons apiece at Juve and are thus (currently) three seasons shy of the Captain’s reign of eighteen seasons at the club. Of course you can’t measure such things in quantity alone but the figures by themselves surely reveal the immense impact the little guy has had on the big club.

From his comfortable overtaking of the no. 10 jersey from Baggio in a move that many doubted, through his injury in 1998 which caused him to make up for a lack of pace with cunning, his 17 (sic) trophies won the club, his back-to-back capocanonieri titles of serie B and A in ‘07 and ‘08 and his status today as a mature and intelligent bandiera (much like his friend Francesco Totti at Roma – bar the mature and intelligent bit!), Del Piero has been a model professional and an icon for every child with a passion and a dream for almost two decades.

Criticism of his style of play has surfaced over the years from coaches and fans alike, mostly referring to his lack of pace and sometimes ball-hugging manner, but he has only ever responded on the pitch to those negative voices. Except maybe in the national team. Although he’s actually joint fourth in the all time scoring chart of Gli Azurri (alongside Baggio) and has notched up 91 caps, he has struggled to make a truly legendary impact. It was a wonderful goal he scored against Germany at the 2006 WC, and he surely played an important part in the success in Berlin, but sadly he never really ignited the Azzurri like he did the Bianconeri.

I suspect it is down to his role. Ever since he replaced Baggio at Juve, people were crying for him to be a classic trequartista as he clearly had the technique and flair for such a role. The trouble is: he is not a trequartista! He is a secunda punta, a second striker who thrives in a free role in a 4-4-2 as has been the regular formation at Juventus over the years. Roaming the area behind the prima punta (viz: Trezeguet) he has scored and created countless goals from (especially) left, right and centre at Juve.

For various reasons, however, in the national team he has in later years often been deployed as either a trequartista or a winger, neither of which is his natural position and appeared as a sub more often than not. This is one of the reasons why he is not quite up there with the mega-stars of the game, another being his failing ever to win the Ballon d’Or, which is, retrospectively, an outrage. But then again, if there is a trend to his career, it’s a remarkable consistency rather than extraordinary seasons. And this is also what makes him so dear to all juventini: He is a standard bearer, a legend not only for his many goals and appearances but for his tenacity and spirit. He keeps on delivering the goods. Through thick and thin he is rallying supporters and team mates alike, urging them to give their all for the Juventus cause.

So, maybe Del Piero is not in the all time top ten of players in the world of your average football fan. Still, in my humble opinion, he is one of the absolute giants of the game, and I consider myself blessed to have been able to follow his career closely, as I wish I could have followed the ones of his legendary ancestors at Juventus, such as Hansen, Boniperti, Platini et al. – and I didn’t even get to mention his incredible set-piece skills, which must rank right up there with the best in the world as well!

And tell me, honestly, could anyone ask for a better quotation from their Captain than “I’m proud to be a Juventino, to be a “bandiera”, like you often define me to be. In reality I’m just a small part of a big black & white “bandiera” (flag) that grows with the years and if you look closely your name is part of it too… To continue making this “bandiera” grow we need everybody: let’s stay united.”

Recently Del Piero stated that he could go on playing till he’s 40. I for one am hoping he will and thus inspire the new Juventus to replicate his unique humility, dedication and ambition – on and off the pitch.

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