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The Del Piero effect in Australia: ambassador of football, or expensive luxury?
The former captain of Juventus is now a football ambassador in Australia. As captain of Sydney FC he’s contributing to the development of football in a land where Cricket is the national sport. But at what price?
by Nick Oag
Alessandro Del Piero: Juventus captain, all time record goal scorer, all time appearance holder and a FIFA World Cup Winner. Sounds familiar right? Well ADP has well and truly moved on from his Juventus life, and is settling in very nicely to his new role at his new club Sydney FC. “Il Fenomeno Vero” has moved on from his legend status at Vecchia Signora, and, as the highest paid player in A-League history, has looked right at home wearing the armband at the Sky Blues.


Despite the geographic distance, Del Piero is still making the headlines in Italy and Europe. He’s seen as an ambassador of Italian football abroad, and that’s why every goal, every dribbling, every assist reaches Italian media in the blink of an eye. Like last Sunday’s performance: he scored twice (from the penalty spot and with a free-kick) and served an assist, contributing to his team’s lopsided 4-1 win against Wellington Phoenix.

 

But these things are known to the general public. What most fans ignore are the consequences and repercussions that a legend  like him has on a developing movement like the Australian football one.


Within the A-League each club is allowed one international ‘marquee’ player, including Emile Heskey, William Gallas, Shinji Ono and Del Piero. Their salary is paid by the Football Federation of Australia (FFA), thus allowing each club one player without having to worry about ridiculous wages demanded by some such stars. This marquee player rule has been brought in to attract better players to the A-League, and increase the attendance of the fans, and so far the FFA can say that it has worked very well.


Del Piero, 39, has enjoyed superstar status as the Australia club, receiving acool $2 million per season, and scoring what is regarded as the best goal in A-League history on his debut. He has also broken the club record for goals in one season, 14 (in 27 rounds). Yet it is also fair to say that the former Italian front man has undergone a somewhat rapid decline since his heyday, but he is still by far the best player in Australia.


His sheer class and cool head make him an asset that any club strives to obtain. His first year accolades are pretty impressive: Sydney FC Player of the Year Award, Sydney FC Golden Boot, Sydney FC Members Award, PFA Team of the Season, A-League goal of the season for 2012–2013. Thus proving why he is the best player in the A-League.


The Del Piero effect in numbers The signing can be seen as a stroke of genius by Sydney, but some people doubt whether the marquee men are truly worth it. The short answer is yes. As we take a look at some of the numbers we can see why people would believe so: Sydney FC have recorded 3 of the 10 biggest crowds whilst Del Piero has arrived at the club, a rise in average attendance for Sydney FC games from 13 000 to 18 000, and all other clubs saw a significantly increased attendance for any Sydney FC game. There has also been an increase in people switching on Sydney FC games on the living room couch. Del Piero has an attraction factor that no one else in the A-League has ever had.


Unfortunately interest has been declining in the Italian legend, people are getting used to his presence, and they are also less appreciative of what he has done for Australia football (or soccer as we call it here). His high profile nature and generally low work rates make him a player that can be easily scrutinised. Why should the FFA pay so much for one player when they have struggling clubs like Melbourne Heart and Wellington Phoenix which could really do with an injection of Del Piero’s money?


Ironically, “Pinturicchio” will be captaining the A-League All Stars in a friendly match against his old club, Juve. The game will take place on Sunday the 10th of August at Homebush in Sydney. It will be the first game against his old club, and I have no doubts he will receive the respect he deserves from his former teammates. It is a game I eagerly await, not only to see Gigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo’s beard, but to see how Del Piero measures up against his former club.


Del Piero is still undecided on his next season of football, as he is out of contract this year and has showed little intention of staying down-under. He has been rumoured to be moving to either the MLS or the J-League. Some sources even report that ADP wants a coaching job at the Sky Blues (at the same salary, of course). But nothing has been confirmed nor denied: Del Piero is playing his cards close to his chest, and won’t give anyone a sniff of his future plans.


Alex Del Piero has been a massive success for the A-League, and his importance for Australian football cannot be understated. Nobody knows how long it’ll last, but when Australia will have to wave goodbye to him, it will do so to the greatest player in A-League history.

Tuesday, April 8 th, 2014
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