x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

For Alessandro Del Piero it is time to say goodbye

As the forward prepares to bid the Old Lady farewell, he will still have suitors.

Juventus FC forward Alessandro Del Piero, left, is 36 years old, and is older than the Juventus president, Andrea Agnelli.
Juventus FC forward Alessandro Del Piero, left, is 36 years old, and is older than the Juventus president, Andrea Agnelli.

Among supporters of Juventus, and even among more neutral Italian followers of football, a high degree of indignation has welled up in the wake of Tuesday's announcement by the Juventus president, Andrea Agnelli, that Alessandro Del Piero is playing his last season there.

Del Piero signed a 12-month contract extension earlier this year, with a pay cut, and it was an open secret that this probably would be his last campaign for the Turin-based club known as the Old Lady.

But coming as an apparent footnote to a set of financial announcements outlining an operating deficit of nearly €100 million (Dh507,600m), the Del Piero news landed with an ugly clang.

The many admirers of the 36-year-old striker would have liked something more formal and dignified.

Del Piero has kept his own counsel. All great sportsmen reach a point of expiry in their careers; few find the approach comfortable.

He finds himself at a Juve that have gone through major transformations during the period when he slipped from being a first-teamer to a regular substitute: he is now at the fourth different stadium that he has called home during his 18 years in Turin.

He is older than Agnelli. He is a former playing contemporary of his coach, Antonio Conte. He is much more loved by fans than either.

He remains, however, a useful part of Conte's armour. He came on as a substitute at the weekend for the Serie A leaders to try and unlock a stubborn Chievo defence. He would go closer than anybody to scoring the game's only goal by hitting the post.

How much he will play, going forward, is uncertain; he has yet to score in five appearances.

What we can be sure of is that is that Del Piero will never again play with Juventus in the Champions League, a competition he often distinguished during his prime.

It will be intriguing to see what he plans next. He once told this reporter that he liked Turin "because it's so laid-back", but that his mind has often wondered "about a different challenge abroad".

Other standouts of his generation have enjoyed swansongs in elite competitions with other big clubs - Raul at Schalke 04, David Beckham at Milan.

There is sure to be interest in Del Piero, now that Agnelli has flagged up his looming availability, from the ambitious clubs of the Middle East, among others.