x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Del Piero: the man Juventus can count on

The Old Lady's veteran is back in goalscoring form with six in his last seven games.

Alessandro Del Piero, figurehead of Juventus, clearly does not have much of a head for figures. "How many goals have I scored?" he asked upon returning from Amsterdam, after helping Juve beat Ajax in the first leg of their last-32 Europa League tie.

By his reckoning, he has already passed the great milestone of 300. By other tallies, a goal at Bologna today will take him to his triple century. A meaner view, and that held by the statisticians at Gazzetta dello Sport, the respected chroniclers of Italian football, is that he needs another two to reach the landmark. Whatever the real figure, the chances of his celebrating it this afternoon are not beyond the wildest imaginings.

Del Piero is coming back into goalscoring form, and being the totem for his club that he is, so are Juventus. Victory over Ajax gave Juve successive wins for the first time since November, coming on the back of last weekend's 3-2 win in Serie A over Genoa. They went into the weekend only a point off fourth place, so a victory over Bologna could put them back on course for what the club regard as essential for next season: a place in the Champions League.

The captain's verdict is that a corner has been turned after the crisis of Christmas and New Year. "We are feeling much happier about things," said Del Piero. "What we achieved against Ajax was a good team victory. We are looking tight and compact again. We defended well as a unit and attacked with togetherness. The same was apparent against Genoa, and we all feel proud of these successes. Credit must go to the new coach, too."

Alberto Zaccheroni, who took over from the sacked Ciro Ferrara at the end of January, will be pleased to hear that. Having the support of a talisman like Del Piero is a prerequisite for any Juve coach. At 35, and in his 17th season at Stadio Delle Alpi, Del Piero wields great influence, and it is no coincidence that the early part of the season, as Ferrara's reign lurched towards its early conclusion, Del Piero's supply of goals ran dry. He had been an important contributor the season before; led the Serie A goalscoring charts in 2007/08 and been top scorer in Serie B in 2006/07 to guide Juve out of their punitive season in the second tier. His current run, the umpteenth renaissance of his career, has yielded six goals in his last seven outings in all competitions.

That, in turn, has sent the statisticians rustling through the archives. Del Piero reckons his total goal tally as a professional amounts to 301, with the following breakdown: 270 in the colours of the bainconeri; 27 for Italy; three goals for the national Under 21 team and one when he still played, as a young teenager, for Padova, from whom Juve wisely recruited him. Other records have the Juve figure lower by two and the Italy figure at 26, the discrepancy being goals reclassified because other players were deemed to have got the final touch.

"Perhaps," joked Del Piero, "I should get those wise councillors from England to give me a hand. They have a Dubious Goals Committee' there who decide on contentious issues like these every month. That sounds a good idea for our football in Italy." In the meantime, Del Piero is happy to declare: "Let's agree I have scored 298 goals as a Juventus player and 299 in my career. And next time I score we can celebrate the 300. Hopefully that will be soon. And then when, and if, I score again after that, we can celebrate the 300 goals I have scored since I came to Juve."

While emphasising the team as a priority, Del Piero is candid enough to admit that all this counting and recounting of his official goals tally was important to him. "I won't be hypocritical," he added. "Goals matter to strikers, and I'm not ashamed to admit that it motivates me to keep that tally moving." sports@thenational.ae