It is little wonder that Juventus fans worship Alessandro Del Piero. Having been with the Turin club since 1993, the 35-year old is the Bianconeri’s all time leading goal-scorer. The World Cup winning striker is the club’s icon having won numerous scudettos, lifting the Champions League and staying loyal in the aftermath of the Calciopoli scandal. Yet as Juventus did a Liverpool last season by slipping to seventh in Serie A, is it not time to consider life after Del Piero? His new boss Luigi Delneri, who moved from Sampdoria this summer, has hinted that Claudio Marchisio will inherit the captaincy one day. This prompted speculative rumours that Del Piero would be joining the MLS retirement community. Is retaining this legend of Turin and Italian football sensible as the club seek to restore their fortunes?
From a young age it was abundantly clear that the man from Conegliano was set to be an exceptional player. Small and diminutive, he possessed excellent dribbling skills and a deadly right-foot shot. He was able to play across the attack but demonstrated a penchant for drifting out left and then cutting in on his favoured right peg. The striker flourished after the departure of Gianluca Vialli and Fabrizio Ravanelli, settling into a deeper role behind Filippo Inzaghi. He later and still to this day forms a potent partnership with French forward David Trezeguet. Besides mingling with Noel Gallagher, the private Del Piero has largely shunned the showbiz world. His unpretentious character is evident on the pitch too where he has been a patron of fair play in contrast to a multitude of divers and cheats.
Despite boasting a supreme goal-scoring record Del Piero has faced trying stages in his esteemed career. During Fabio Capello’s reign at the club his starting opportunities were greatly restricted in favour of Zlatan Ibrahimovic but he still managed plenty of goals as an impact substitute. Having suffered a series of niggling injuries his presence in the side has not been persistent and slowed him down. This partly explains why he has been shunned by the Azzurri since 2008.
Last season in particular was one to forget for Juventus and their captain. After being tipped by former coach, Marcello Lippi to break Inter Milan’s stranglehold on Italian football, they went through two coaches, exited the Champions League at the group stages and finished seventh in the division. Del Piero only managed seven league goals last term in a team which was bereft of youth, pace and vitality. As the club’s most iconic attacking player, pundits focused on his continuing presence compromising the chances of young, exciting prospects like Sebastian Giovinco. Even the 24.5 million euro play-maker, Diego has been linked with a loan move back to Wolfsburg.
A fleeting glance at the Juventus squad should mitigate against Del Piero being made the scapegoat for the club’s chronic under-usage of youth. At 36-years old Fabio Cannavaro has moved on but Trezeguet, Fabio Grosso, Mauro Camoranesi and Nicola Legrottaglie remain. While Delneri may be understandably looking to the future he has stated that the likes of Del Piero and Gianluigi Buffon cannot be written off. “For me they are two winners on whom you can count. They represent class, experience and character.” As Delneri is expected to stick to his favoured 4-4-2 formation, he will be careful not to exclude the talent of Del Piero. The veteran still has something to offer as he showed in Juventus’ second leg 1-0 victory over Shamrock Rovers to take them through to the Europa League play-off round. Appearing in the second half, his masterful 35-yard free-kick settled the tie. His quality on the ball may not be fading but he will have to get used to a super-sub role once more.