Alessandro Del Piero has not needed an introduction for a
very long time. The natural successor to Michel Platini and Roberto
Baggio at Juventus, he is now the club's all-time leading
marksman and a player revered around the world. And even now, at
33, he still bubbles with a 20-year-old's vitality.
Yet in spite of his enduring qualities, the Italian legend faces a struggle to earn back his place in the national side. It is a struggle he is hungry to win, too, and on the playing fields of Serie A every Sunday he takes a wry pleasure from sending Azzurri coach Roberto Donadoni reminders of what he can do.
Francesco Totti called time on his own Italy career at 31 and several younger forwards have staked strong claims, but Del Piero remains desperate to represent his country at UEFA EURO 2008. He refuses to believe that his time has passed, despite failing to win a cap since the goalless draw with France on 8 September 2007.
That match was hardly a positive memory, either. Asked to play wide on the left, the Conegliano native voiced his frustration after he was taken off seven minutes before the end. "I only want to play as a forward for the national team," he told reporters.
Juve record holder
Del Piero certainly looks more at home up front, and it would be unfair to accuse him of demanding everything on his own terms. Immediately after tasting glory at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, he slipped on his work overalls to help lift relegated Juve out of Serie B, chiming in with the valuable contribution of 20 goals.
This season, new coach Claudio Ranieri did not hesitate to pair him with long-time accomplice David Trezeguet. After eight years together, the two men enjoy a perfect understanding and are the most successful strike duo in Juve's history, having shared 231 goals between them. That puts them some distance ahead of previous record holders Omar Sivori and John Charles, although the latter pair took just five seasons to plunder their impressive haul of 196.
Great strikers usually tend to drop back a notch towards the end of their careers, exploiting their increased vision in a supporting role. The opposite has been true for Del Piero, however, as it has for Totti, his erstwhile rival for Italy's No10 shirt. Both have become more and more attack-minded as the years have passed, and today Del Piero boasts 237 goals in 542 matches for Juve in all competitions, a figure that includes 86 match-winning efforts. Former top scorer Giampiero Boniperti now lies a long way back on 182 strikes, which he notched between 1947 and 1961.
'He loves his job so much'
Del Piero's prowess in front of goal has made him an iconic figure at Juventus, where former President Giovanni Agnelli likened his shooting to the brushstrokes of an artist by giving him the nickname Pinturicchio, after the Italian painter. "When I joined Juventus 15 seasons ago, I never imagined I'd score so many goals," the man himself has said, and it should also be noted that his goal-scoring feats include 27 efforts for the Azzurri in 85 appearances.
Rumours circulate every year that Del Piero is finished, but every year he silences his critics with moments of sheer class. "He'll go on playing for a long time," believes former Juventus and Italy tactician Marcello Lippi. "He's going to surprise you. He'll end his career later than expected because he loves his job so much."
In the current campaign, he has already fired in 11 Serie A goals, including the winner in his team's 1-0 victory over Totti's Roma in Turin. All that remains now is to convince Donadoni that he should be on the flight to Switzerland and Austria this summer.
To that end, Del Piero has even taken to addressing
the coach directly via television, declaring playfully in a recent
interview: "My dear Roberto, I'm asking you to think hard.
Take a good look at how I'm doing."
Just in case that did not do the trick, the cheeky forward then made Donadoni an offer he could not refuse: "And if you need a nice bottle of wine, I can send you some."