Originally published on November 17, 2011.
It is a season of change at Juventus. The work of our management is bearing fruit, we have a wonderful new stadium, Conte has returned and brought back grinta and tactical organization. The team is doing very well in Serie A. And yet, there is impending sadness at the end of this 2011-12 season. For indeed, it may very well be the last one of the most iconic and representative player this club as ever known.
It is perhaps why Alessandro Del Piero has chosen the foreign press, Spanish newspaper El País, for this interview. Perhaps because everyone in the Italian peninsula already knows about his childhood, his idols, his moments of glory, of sadness, of joy. Or perhaps so that the questions posed to him, may about something *else* than that press conference by Andrea Agnelli earlier this month.
A truly great piece of reading, once again fully translated by JuventiKnows, which brings a certain air of nostalgia to Turin and all across the world. Just a few words put on paper, epitomizing the greatness of a man that we’ve had (and still have, for a little while longer) leading our beloved club.
It’s a beautiful sunny day in Turin. It’s Thursday. All the internationals are away with their NTs. Not Alessandro Del Piero, a starter in Juve’s training match vs. Savona. He doesn’t dribble & run around like he used to, but it is wonderful to see him fighting for every ball. The opponents await for the end of the first half for an opportunity to take a photo with him.
Del Piero just turned 37 years old, 18 of which he spent at Juve. This will be his last season in Turin. As we show him a childhood picture, him posing with a ball that’s almost as big as he is, there is a distinct glow in his eyes.
Do you remember where you were in that picture?
“Yes I remember perfectly, this was behind my house. I wasn’t even a year old yet. You can clearly tell what I wanted to do… It’s a picture that I remember with great fondness. Also because in this technological day and age, there are no more pictures like this one.”
Did you keep that soccer ball, or something else from that era?
“No soccer balls, no. But I still keep the posters that were on my room’s walls. And three trophies that I won at bocce in Summer tournaments. My first cups were of bocce, not soccer.”
You liked playing bocce?
“Yes, because I was alone on the beach and also very shy. I still am, but back then it was to the extent I found it difficult to hang around the other children.”
What posters did you have?
“Posters of Juve, Platini and singers that I listened to with my brother, with whom we shared a room. We listened to Michael Jackson, Genesis, U2, Dire Straits … I also have a fantastic bike that my brother and I bought when I got into first grade, it’s 50 years old. It’s in my mother’s house. It was a blast, it was one of those with the brake pedal. I used it like a motorcyle.”
How have you changed since those years?
“I am more confident and have learned to overcome my shyness a little. But I’m still a son of this land [Veneto]: very reserved, quiet and pragmatic.”
Have you ever had a sticker album?
“No, it was too expensive. At home we didn’t have much money. I only got my mother to buy me a couple of stickers. I put them on my bike.”
Your father was an electrician, your mother a cleaning lady. If not soccer, what would you have chosen?
“I haven’t got the faintest idea. I remember in class one day, we had to choose a profession and I chose three: electrician (like my dad), truck driver (because I like to travel), and cook (because I like to eat). My dream was to be a footballer but I never actually wrote that down.
What gets you excited?
“Aside from seeing my children grow up [he's got three], sports feats in general and certain movies.”
The last sporting feat you got excited about?
“I followed the Rugby World Cup, except for the final match because we had practice that day. The national anthems, the preparation of the games… it gave me goosebumps.”
Do you watch sports on TV?
“Of course, whenever I can and whenever they let me… Because between ‘Dora the Explorer’ and the ‘Teletubbies’…”
Your children don’t watch too much television, do they?
“There is no danger for that, no. But that half hour we put them in front of the TV? A Godsend!”
How many hours did you spend playing street soccer as a child?
“As much as my homework (which I completed as fast as I possibly could) and the daylight hours permitted. Winters, especially in the North, are long and the sun usually sets at 4:30pm. Without light, our parents wouldn’t let us out. For that reason I played alone a lot in the street, in the countryside, at home. When evening came, my father took the car out from the garage to give me space. In the summer I went wild. I came home only for dinner.”
What’s the recommendation your mother made you the most?
“‘Be careful, do not sweat, do not run…’. And I told her: ‘But Mom, why go out then if I cannot run?’. When I turned 13 and started playing and travelling to Padova (I had to take two trains), she told me not to talk to strangers.”
Your first boots?
“Littbarski Adidas ones I received for my birthday. I was extremely fond of them.”
Whom did you ever ask for an autograph?
“I don’t think I’d ever been able to, I was so shy! I honestly don’t know what I’d have done with an autograph. For me, the real joy would have been *seeing* my idols, but in this lifetime neither Juve, Platini, nor Bono or U2 would ever have passed through San Vendemmiano [his native town, population: 10,000].”
Did any coach ever forbid you to dribble?
“No. I had excellent teachers. I remember my first compliment like it was yesterday. I had beautiful, turquoise trackpants. I never took them off. One day, I went to play soccer with my local team and the coach gave us technical drills to do: bringing the ball up and down, fast, with many touches with the right and the left foot, making feints. I must have been doing well because the coach said, ‘Well done lads, just like that, as the boy in turquoise pants is doing.‘ It stuck with me. He was my first coach, the kind who know that at a young age what’s important is learning to have fun and building team spirit.”
Mazzola always says dribbling is frowned upon in Italy.
“I like to see a nice dribble, but the genius of a player doesn’t come from knowing how to dribble, defend, or score. But rather, knowing to choose the right move. The hard part is thinking in terms of what your team needs.”
Today we saw you slide to the ground in order to retrieve a ball… How do you still do it at 37 years of age?
“Because I don’t feel like a 37 year-old guy. I still am driven by the passion of that round thing they call a ball. There are times when you need to be able to do any and everything, even throw yourself to the ground to retrieve a ball, or run because you need to run. It’s fine, and I’m really happy to have all of this inside me.”
What has soccer given you?
“Everything that I’ve become. It systematically cradled my nights when I went to sleep. It has made me fulfill my dream.”
How does the game look as seen from the bench?
“Bad. Most benches are frozen, just like the fields almost. Oh no, it is much better to be on the pitch, really.”
Does it weigh on you?
“You prepare yourself to play, you want to play. If you can’t, you aren’t happy. But you also know that’s what team management is all about.”
A friend you have in soccer?
The goal for which you screamed the most?
“The one in Germany vs. Italy at the 2006 World Cup. Or the one of Tokyo 96.
Is winning the World Cup the biggest thrill?
“Yes. I won it at 32 years of age after spending 14 as a protagonist. To collect such a fruit, without having the brazenness you had when you first started playing, it gives you a lot more satisfaction.”
The defense that gave you the most problems?
“Cannavaro, Nesta and Thuram. I found it very annoying to play against them because of their anticipation ability.”
The stadium that impressed you most?
“For the emotion and for what it has represented in my career, I hold in my heart the Bernabéu. The ovation the crowd gave me [in November 2007, when he scored two goals] is akin to winning a trophy. Also Old Trafford, which for years has been the emblem of football, not to mention the atmosphere of Glasgow and Anfield. I have chills just thinking about it.”
The last time that you cried?
“I was not able to cry not even when my father died. I was left speechless. I wish he were here now so I could thank him for what he’s taught me without realizing it.”
You signed for Juventus in June 1993. How were the club headquarters?
“Beautiful. They were located in Piazza Crimea back then, a tiny square in Turin, inside a mansion from the 1800′s that looked like a castle. Coming from a small town it was all so new and big for me…”
What has been the hardest and most difficult time for you?
“My first year in Padova. I was a small child far away from his parents. Integrating was difficult. I lived in a house filled with just beds.”
Who struck you the most between Lippi, Capello, Trapattoni and Ancelotti?
“Perhaps, Lippi, because he was my coach longer than all the others and because with him I have won everything. I have worked with him at 360 degrees.”
When you came to Juve you found Vialli, Ravanelli, Baggio… what advice did they give you?
“I didn’t mingle with them. I lived it all through the eyes of a little kid. What I did was observe and look. The reason I’ve learned so much is because I’ve spent my life observing.”
How were Inzaghi, Vieri and Trezeguet?
“Inzaghi scored goals even when he didn’t want to. He turned, the ball arrived to him and… bam! Goal. Vieri was power incarnate. Trezeguet had a wonderful way to shoot. He was very tall. Looking at him he didn’t seem to have coordination. In actuality, he had an incredible shot.”
Ibrahimovic said he almost came to blows with Guardiola. What was he like here in Turin?
“He almost came to blows with another player.”
“Nooo! I would have kicked his ass. (laughs) Zlatan on a day-to-day basis, is a quiet person but he is very demanding. He wants to perform at his best and others to do the same.”
You inherited #10 from Baggio. Is he best player with whom you have played?
“Yes. Along with Zidane. And Jugovic. But Zizou and Baggio, technically, were a delight to watch.”
Where would you like to finish your career?
“It’s not something I’d like to answer. I want to end this parenthesis of my career with a light mind, no hassles. What will be… will be.”
How long will you play?
“Until I’m 40.”
How come your physique has changed so much?
“It changed November 8, 1998. I was out 12 months, walked around with crutches for 4. It changed my career and made me a better player. Before I was a tough guy, fast, good technically, following only instinct. Later I tamed too much of that, now I am trying to find a balance.”
How did you feel sitting in front of a tribunal that accused you of doping?
“I felt angry and bewildered. It was a trial that had no reason to exist. And that much has been proven. For me, football is a game of 11 vs. 11 played on a green field.”
Do you regret anything?
“No, but I might have liked replaying some of my old games with the mind that I have today. Nevertheless I am happy for everything that has happened to me.”
★ ★ ★