x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Italian legend is building up Down Under

It is hoped Alessandro Del Piero's move to Sydney will have the David Beckham effect on the A-League, writes Ian Hawkey .

Former Italy and Juventus forward Alessandro Del Piero, right, signed for Sydney FC.
Former Italy and Juventus forward Alessandro Del Piero, right, signed for Sydney FC.

Alessandro Del Piero's scheduled touchdown in the big, broad land of rugby, of cricket and of Rules - in Australia, they use a shorthand for the all-action sport the rest of the world, slightly baffled, refers to as Australian Rules Football - is being previewed as an event of national importance.

Or at least it is among the country's football community, which, in spite of the recent advances in major competitions by the Socceroos, still suffers an awkward poor-relation feeling next to the other sports in which Australia can call itself, regularly, the world's best.

The arrival of an Italian superstar as a player in the A-league, even if he is 37, is seen as a threshold.

Del Piero, who left Juventus after 19 seasons in June, will even earn the kind of salary at Sydney FC that Shane Warne would have envied.

His progress will be followed closely, not just by the large Italian community in Australia, but beyond. Sydney hope to sell 30,000 replica jerseys on the back of his joining their roster.

Comparisons are being made with David Beckham's 2007 move to Los Angeles Galaxy and America's MLS: within the A-League the belief is that its profile will be raised thanks to Del Piero.

That notion would appeal to the player. He had plenty of offers of employment, which is not surprising because he was still competitive for Juve last season and his skills with a dead ball are such that he should contribute goals even if his speed and energy levels are not what they used to be.

While he was still in Turin Del Piero asked for a DVD about Beckham to be sent to him. He was interested in the marketing phenomenon that is the former England captain.

Del Piero has always measured himself next to his contemporary icons. Being the "Beckham of Oz", a pathfinder for a sport that needs to punch above its weight in its locale, evidently stirred his interest more than possible gigs in Switzerland or even the English Premier League, did.

There remains nostalgia for Del Piero at Juventus, many of whose supporters thought last autumn's announcement by the club that they would not be renewing his last contract was premature and a little brutal.

He is still honoured each weekend with banners and black and white jerseys bearing his name. Doubtless, some Sydney FC paraphernalia will soon be making their way to Turin.