Alessandro Del Piero is undoubtedly one of the most iconic players in the Italian game. Yet far from relying on his lengthy list of past achievements, the man nicknamed Pinturicchio, after the 15th-century master painter, has thrown himself fully into his role as Juventus captain, setting a fine example to a new generation of up-and-coming talents.
If Del Piero is viewed through his statistics alone, one could get the impression we are dealing with a relentless scoring machine, a misconception that would fail to take into account the 34-year-old's outstanding creative contribution and leadership skills.
The forward started out in Serie B with Padova, signing for La Vecchia Signora in 1993 after being turned down by AC Milan. He has not looked back since, going on to score a staggering 250 goals, including 159 in Serie A and 41 in the UEFA Champions League. He has also made a record 578 appearances for Juve (Gaetano Scirea is second on 552), fired 27 goals in 91 appearances for his country, taken part at three FIFA World Cups™ - including Italy's Germany 2006 triumph - and four UEFA European Championships.
Not that the player himself believes entire careers can be summed up using mere facts and figures. "I will never get used to the coldness of bare statistics," he said. "I can remember all of my goals. They all mean something to me, to the extent that when asked I dare not choose a favourite for fear of devaluing the others. I can also remember the joyous scenes after every goal, when team-mates ran over to embrace me."
Team comes first
A measure of the player is that he has never put his quest for goals ahead of the needs of the Bianconeri. Indeed, after Juventus were awarded a penalty against Verona, and with photographers all set to capture his 250th goal, he instead chose to let strike partner Vincenzo Iaquinta, who was in need of a confidence boost, take the spot-kick. Del Piero would reach this milestone a few weeks later against Reggina.
A family tradition in the Del Piero household is the player describing his strikes to his son in great detail, even if it sometimes means waking him up after evening matches. Captain of Juventus since 2007, Del Piero has exuded a great air of tranquillity ever since his child's birth, and coach Claudio Ranieri feels that he "is enjoying the best days of his career".
Despite his veteran status, his fierce will to win remains intact, even after having to overcome the death of his father, serious injuries and the relegation of his beloved Juventus. On every occasion he has been able to bounce back with the same elegance he showed in 2006, when he announced he would be staying with the Turin giants in Serie B; even after winning the FIFA World Cup.
This set-piece magician is now in his 16th season at Juventus and is as confident as ever, as demonstrated by the free-kick scored against Champions League group rivals Zenit from an astonishing 37.8 metres. "When I was a child I was dazzled by free-kicks taken by Maradona, Zico and Platini," said Del Piero, who scored his first one against Brescia on 29 January 1995.
"When Del Piero is lining up a free-kick, I stand directly in line behind him so I can see how he does it. And I learn so much from him in training," said 21-year-old Sebastian Giovinco, who showed he was on the right path by scoring one of his own in Sunday's 2-1 win at Lecce.
That said, young Giovinco still has at least 249 goals to go before he can match his mentor's status in Juve folklore. And Del Piero is not finished yet: "Every goal I score, every record I set brings me a special feeling," enthused the legendary No10. A sentiment shared by Juventus fans everywhere.