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Afterthoughts: ALESSANDRO DEL PIERO – The Atlas of Juventus

Alessandro Del Piero. The name alone makes me feel all warm inside. Whenever I read or indeed write those three words (or any one of the two three-letter abbreviations that have become synonymous with this remarkable individual — ‘ADP’ or simply, ‘Ale’), I immediately feel proud and very lucky to have been able to follow a Juve and calcio legend like him. To have shared with him — in a very small way — his life and achievements in Bianconero.

Like our Juventini elders must feel about Giampiero Boniperti and Gaetano Scirea, we can feel truly blessed having witnessed the Capitano of this era, as he took upon him the responsibility to guide his Old Lady through good times and bad.

On the field, he embodied both elegance and grinta. Off it, he was ever the incarnation of the Juventus values of heart, class, and dignity.

His records as a player speak for themselves, and are unlikely to be beaten for a few decades. Should we go over them? Just the Juve ones? All right then:

  • Juventus All-Time Leading Scorer (289 goals)
  • Juventus All-Time Leading Scorer Champions League (44)
  • Juventus All-Time Leading Scorer UEFA Competitions (52)
  • Juventus All-Time Leading Scorer International competitions (53)
  • Juventus All-Time Leading Scorer in the Italian championships (208)
  • Juventus All-Time Leading Scorer Italian Super Cup (3)
  • Juventus All-Time appearances holder Serie A (478)
  • Juventus All-Time appearances holder in the UEFA club competitions (129)
  • Juventus All-Time appearances holder in international competitions (130)
  • Juventus All-Time appearances leader (705)

Not too shabby.

However, when I think of him, the records and highlight reels are only part of the story. They will never encapsulate his true significance, as they do not portray all the emotion behind those wonderful moments, the baggage that is quintessential to understanding just how important they are.

Alessandro Del Piero. For me, he was just a talented kid when he entered the team in 1993. And I was kind of sad and irritated when we subsequently let Roby Baggio go. After all, il Divin Codino was one of the reasons I loved Juve so much back then, before the bond had become eternal and inseverable.

He grew on me, obviously. It soon became obvious that we indeed had a golden boy on our hands, a true champion. And the titles didn’t take long to arrive. Three years after his arrival, at 22 years of age, he had pretty much won all there was to win. And he didn’t look like slowing down.

Then came his injury. Just as he seemed to have reached top level, that cold afternoon in Udine changed everything. It changed his playing style, and it changed his character. The boy became a man. He came back. Again and again. Through the haze of great displays, injury backlashes and mad coaching decisions emerged the player that would become the Legend.

Never was this more obvious than after the whole Calciopoli ordeal. For a decade, the club and the fans, myself included, had been enjoying such immense success that we all were almost lulled into a sleep of saturation. A sleep of thinking that we were ‘there’. Of thinking that success was a birthright. Of thinking that losing a Champions League final was a tragedy rather than looking at being there as an achievement in the first place.

Who was there when we were all brutally awakened from that slumber? Who was there when we realized once again that we needed to fight for our proverbial lives, no matter the hardship endured? Who was there to reassure us that this was an obstacle to be overcome, yet another mountain to be surmounted? Alessandro Del Piero.

Which is why, for me at least, the last six years of his career are the ones to truly define him as an icon. They did not bring the same amount of silverware as he had grown accustomed to, even if they did bring a fair bit of personal success: the back-to-back capocannoniere titles in B and A, that standing ovation at the Santiago Bernabéu, and even a second Italian footballer of the year award. But above all, they showed the world the personal qualities of the man behind, or perhaps more accurately beyond, the player. The dedication, the will, the stamina (a quality picked up in the latter stages of his career), and the superior calm that he transmitted wherever he went.

I am tempted to use the image of Atlas carrying the world on his shoulders in describing those late, tumultuous years of his Juve career. From drawing that game in Rimini on the very first matchday of Serie B, to lifting the Serie A trophy in the Juventus Stadium, Ale was ever the man to carry the weight of the expectations and the disappointments. Frankly, I doubt we would have ever come back to the top had those broad shoulders of his not supported the burden. Perhaps more so in the seasons prior to this one, his last, but nonetheless one where he played an imperative role too.

And to see him lift that trophy… was there ever a more emotionally laden moment? Even if ever so bittersweet? I won’t lie. I cried. But not the same, triumphant tears of a few days earlier when we secured what will forever be the most important Scudetto in the history of the club. I was sad that day. Really, really sad.

I followed some of the celebrations afterwards, saw the bus ride, stared at the television set. Until a banner in Italian popped up, saying something to the effect of: “Without Del Piero, I don’t know who I am”.

I decided to take a long walk, biting my lip. I was at my parents’ house, way out in the Danish countryside. I kind of walked aimlessly around for a good hour, determined not to let that big lump in my throat ruin my joy of a historic unbeaten season. I failed. At least for a while. I remember looking up at the not yet darkened sky, seeing one shining star. One star. Not two. Not three. Not an argument with the FIGC over embroidered shirts. Just ONE, very bright star against the completely serene blue sky of my childhood surroundings.

It was probably a planet (Venus?) or the northern star (Sirius?). I didn’t care. For me, that night, it was la Stella del Capitano. My guiding light.

I remember hoping that my own son would at some point be able to experience such emotions as I went through, and somehow also hoping that he might not be weighed down by them to the same degree as I was. That he would be smitten, but not too much so, with the calcio bug. It is a Faustian bargain, after all.

Eventually, after many a cigarette and many a deliberation over what had passed in the last year, the last 19 years, and ultimately, the 32 years of my existence on this planet, I decided that it was time to go back to my parents place. And write my umpteenth piece on Alessandro Del Piero.

Now, as then, I write his name in full, as to assure myself of his existence. As a reminder that this name is more than a name, that He exists. De facto. To convince myself once more that however much I have idealized and idolized him, he is not a fictional character I made up solely to project the very essence of Juventus into the image of one man.

Luckily, he is no mirage. He was, is, and will be forever the soul of this club. He symbolises all that is great about Juventus, all that makes football transcend the mere game. Never have I experienced a more emotional, dedicated and less ‘modern’ footballer –- in the Ibrahimovician sense of the word — than Ale. Although always careful with his words, you never doubted their depth when they arrived. And even if he was a diplomat (often much more so than those surrounding him), he did not hide his feelings. He just allowed them time to be digested. At all times, good or bad.

 

★ ★ ★

 

I realise now that I just used the past tense. That is by no means fair: Ale is alive and well, ready to embark on a new adventure. It’s just that… I can’t really come to terms with him not being at Juventus. It simply does not compute. But the man wants to play, rather than be a dignitary just yet, and… the club saw things differently.

Anyway, I don’t want to dwell on that. I hope Ale will have a good time out there, before his inevitable return to the fold. So let me resume to the present tense once again, even if it feels somewhat strange.

For you see my friends: all the shenanigans about his departure will never affect the legacy he has built. Like Boniperti and Scirea, Alessandro Del Piero IS Juve. He is everything you could ever have hoped for in a player. All you could ever dream about in a Captain, and all that you ever wished for and aspired to be as a kid. He is the very definition of a bandiera – and that will never change. Not even if he has a few poor seasons – or good ones! – in Japan, the EPL, the MLS, or wherever.

For, whatever will happen henceforth, he is and remains:
 

Alessandro Del Piero

il Capitano

la Bandiera

In which, and whom, I am somehow inscribed

As are You.

My Hero, our Hero

The Atlas of Juventus.

Standing on the shoulders of giants

He saw us into the future.

And I feel sorry for everyone not able to grasp his greatness

But understanding, nonetheless

For it is truly immeasurable.
 

ALESSANDRO DEL PIERO

IS all that,

And much, much more.
 

Grazie, Capitano! You will remain in our hearts – always.

 

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