x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Age is no barrier for Alessandro Del Piero and Francesco Totti

The Italian duo faced each other on Wednesday night, possibly for the last time, in a Coppa Italia quarter-final.

Juventus’ Alessandro Del Piero scored in the Coppa Italia win against Roma, a side that featured 35-year-old Francesco Totti.
Juventus’ Alessandro Del Piero scored in the Coppa Italia win against Roma, a side that featured 35-year-old Francesco Totti.

Serie A is often caricatured as the league of evergreens. Or at least that's the nice way of putting it. Sometimes it gets labelled the league of has-beens, the pasture of fading veterans, a place so conservative in its footballing outlook that it will instinctively prefer a footballer well into his 30s than to take on a new idea, or give youth a chance.

So last week, for the Coppa Italia meeting between Juventus and Roma, the spotlight inevitably fell on the 37 year old making what, these days, is a rare start for Juve and the 35 year old who had just made history for Roma.

Alessandro Del Piero and Francesco Totti have for the best part of a decade and a half been defining figures in Italian football, and for much of that time they were the Capulet and Montague of the national team, the focus of debates about whether they were compatible in the same XI, both operating in the space just behind the front of the attack.

A forgivable sense of nostalgia hung over Wednesday's tie. It seemed very possible this was the last time in a competitive match that Del Piero and Totti would both appear in the starting line-up on the same pitch. And, as if scripted, there was a twist. Totti had entered the match on the crest of a wave.

Three days earlier, against Cesena, he had broken the long-standing milestone for the number of goals scored by one individual for a single Italian club, his 211th strike for Roma beating the landmark set by Gunnar Nordahl for AC Milan more than half a century earlier.

Those sort of loyalty records are much harder to create in an era where players move so much more and, in Italy, there is only one real candidate to challenge Totti for that sort of milestone.

And it was he who stole the record-breaker's thunder. Del Piero, whose 19th season as a Juventus player will be his last, is mainly used a substitute in Serie A now, but given a starting berth in the cup game, he responded with zeal.

He scored his 205th Juventus goal in the 3-0 win, almost as if to remind Totti that he intends to continue breathing down the neck of the Roma man, at least until May.

It was a nice goal, too, and not only because there was the feeling it might be one of the last Del Piero scores in black and white stripes