Renowned photographer Gianni Giansanti, known — among other things — for photographing Pope John Paul II for nearly three decades and numerous other figures & events (including Aldo Moro’s death, Formula One racer Jacques Villeneuve, and African tribesmen), spent one year following Alessandro Del Piero in his daily life from 2000 to 2001. What resulted from this experience is absolutely gorgeous PHOTOBOOK entitled “Semplicemente Del Piero” (‘Simply Del Piero’), which captures ADP during moments of pure spontaneity & relax, without the artificiality of having to pose for a poster, team photo, or advertising campaign.
Giansanti followed Del Piero through his holidays to Miami with Sonia, he visited him at home, he followed him during his ritiri with the Azzurri and his practice sessions at Juve. Though the photographer passed away in 2009, his book on Del Piero remains one of his most beautiful pieces, one that truly captures the soul of our iconic captain.
In addition to the photographs — a few of which we are republishing here — Del Piero included his own thoughts into the book and which we have translated for you below. Thoughts about his childhood, Juventus, the Italian national team, life. They are a beautiful (and very early, considering that ADP’s first book — “10+. Il mio mondo in un numero” — would not be published until 2008) window into the musings and contemplations of a man at the peak of his footballing career.
This book is a gem, and a very rare one at that (all the online Italian book resellers I visited list it as “sold out”). If you ever come across a copy, get your hands on it immediately!! I cannot recommend it enough.
In the meantime, please enjoy these excerpts brought to you special for “ADP Week”!
★ ★ ★
In 2001 I followed Del Piero, champion of sport and life, an intelligent and measured man, around for a whole year. From his UEFA Champions League matches up to his holidays in Miami, I was there, in order to produce a book that would be published before the 2002 FIFA World Cup. It sold almost 20 million copies in Italy and went through 4 editions in Japan, making it the top best-seller alongside the book on David Beckham.
I try to live a bit in the private life of the person I’m following, participate in the subject’s moments that are real: it is the only way to come up with something different, to show his audience who he really is. It is also the most beautiful way: the subject is not posing, or trying to produce his ‘best possible image’. You are photographing him during moments of relax, capturing his soul, all the while ensuring that no photo he does not approve of will make the final cut.
- Gianni Giansanti
Mom. Dad. Stefano. Work. School. The Parish. The Pitch. Football. When I think back of my childhood, I think of a normal provincial Italian childhood, far from the chaos and luxury of the big cities, immersed in an air of quiet and modesty. Yes, money was scarce, Mom & Dad had to make sacrifices to keep the family afloat. But it was normal after all. It still is: millions of people have had a childhood like mine. And yet, there was something different from the very beginning. Something encumbering, indispensable. Something immense: football.
For as much as I try to remember, no one was so fixated on football during my childhood as me, to the extent of being unable to live without it and never thinking about anything else. Maybe my brother Stefano, but he was bigger than me, he played in real teams, so to my eyes he was “safe” – he would never be deprived on football. Me on the other hand, I had to conquer that ball every day, and it was never enough. After the four-hour matches that we played over at campo grande, 18 vs. 18, I would come home and continue to play by myself. And when I went to bed, I’d think about the matches the next day had in store. It is also for these reasons that, back then, I dreamed of being a footballer when I grew up. A footballer, I thought, is never left without a ball. A footballer plays constantly.
Then, Stefano went on another road. He did it all: he left home to play in the youth academies, first at Sampdoria, then Udine, but around the time I embarked upon the same adventure at Padova, he started to look beyond the footballing world. And conceptualize his future without a football. My Dad had lovingly followed the both of us, constantly and untiringly, traveling mile upon mile with his FIAT 127 to take me to my next practice and, right after that, running off to go watch his games.
My Dad was discreet, reserved, quiet. He wasn’t one of those parents tugging the fence or the goal net, screaming at you and telling you what to do. He smoked a countless amount of cigarettes, silent as the grave, but he was there. And even though he discussed me and my brother only with my mother, far away from our ears, in order not to make us feel self-conscious, his eyes revealed the pride he had in his two sons. And this was important. Yes, Dad helped us, he gave us confidence, to us both, and did it the right way. But Stefano, who was my idol, at a certain point shifted the center of his focus from football and gave room to other interests and affections. Those that football, with its inescapable encumbrance, had — up to that point — overshadowed.
Subsequently of course, I understood his choice. I appreciated the great dose of altruism and sense of responsibility that it represented, and it taught me something. But back then, it threw me off balance, confused me, and even today, during certain moments, I cannot but think of how beautiful it would be if Stefano had been a footballer too. And I almost feel guilty. As if his sacrifice had been necessary so that I… No, I don’t even want to say it. That’s not how it is. Life goes how life goes, and Stefano has proven you can achieve greatness even outside of a football field, and he still is my idol. To this day.
What I just pondered is an alternate version of my childhood however. During my real childhood, HE was the footballer, and I was the little kid who always kept a football close by, for fear of — you never know — being left without. The beautiful years thus passed in this way, in the little pitch that my Dad, during Summertime, lit up with his light bulbs (he was an electrician), because we wanted to play all the time, even at night. It was a beautiful childhood, and my maniacal obsession for that spherical piece of rubber made it so.
I am now 27 years old, I am the captain of Juventus, I earn a boatload of money, and my life is exactly how I had dreamed back then. But the most important thing of all is that I never strolled very far away from that little boy. Every now and then, after a practice session at the Comunale, after the fitness drills, the scrimmage, the free-kick practices, I have the proof. Exhausted, I let myself fall on the pitch, take a deep breath of the freshly-cut grass, and I feel happy. Exactly as I felt back then, when my afternoon had been filled with football so much that, for a long magical moment, the fear of being deprived of it had vanished.
Juventus. Youth. My destiny is tied to this team from its very name, because as a Bianconeri fan since my early childhood, I arrived at Juve when I was young and have not left since. Even though football today seems like a never-ending series of news-breaking transfers, and playing for the same team forever has become extremely difficult, it seems like that is exactly what destiny has reserved for me, and I will do my utmost not to throw the opportunity away. One life, one team: there is a profound beauty in this motto, one which shines with ancient simplicity. When that life is your own and that team Juventus, I say: you must be crazy to not want to keep the two together.
I have now reached my 9th year at Juve, truly and deeply understanding the real greatness of this team and club. The fabulous moments I have lived here (but even the sad and painful ones) have taught me to love the shirt for all it represents, well beyond any commonplace stereotype. The knee to the ribs that Tacchinardi gave me after the famous 3-2 goal against Fiorentina, which launched us towards the conquest of the 1995 Scudetto, taught me how much victory is a magnificent collective obsession at Juve. The contract I signed after my injury, in a moment when — by all extents and purposes — I was still not a “footballer” again, taught me the significance of trust and personal esteem. There’s also the professionalism, the legendary tradition, the love of Bianconeri fans all across the world: everybody knows these things, but to live them and feel them with your own skin is an incredible feeling, I can guarantee you.
But, overall, my Juve became an interior force when I played in all the big stadiums of Italy. When you enter a pitch wearing the Juventus shirt, opposing fans will boo you with as much air they have in their lungs. They are unforgiving with any mistakes that you make, and denigrate you with rage. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, what you think of the world: if you’re playing for Juve, you’re a gobbo maledetto for half of Italy. Because for practically an entire century, when it was finally “the” year for this or that team (at a time you weren’t even born), the team that always managed to steal the Scudetto right from under their noses (or at least, making them sweat for it till the very last matchday) was Juventus.
When you play for Juventus, you must keep these things always in the back of your mind, and especially so if, like me, you’ve become a symbol for Juve. These things can give you an enormous advantage, an extraordinary force. Indeed, no one ever thinks about the fact that — because Juve is always there, fighting, while all the other teams change — it is the angriest team of them all. No one ever thinks that, having won a Champions League final, Juve have also lost two. That even though they won 3 Scudetti, they have also lost 4 — and by lost I mean fought for and lost, that is: seeing them vanish at the very last moment, after having believed in ultimate victory all year long. No one ever thinks that, for all these motives, if you’ve played for Juve for 9 years the concepts of rage, grinta, and desire to win are already inherent in you. Without the need of a supplement provided to you every Sunday, in the form of the sporting hate of opposing fans: boos that give you an incredible charge and multiply your forces 100-fold .
It is better that way. Because if I stay at Juve forever, all these Sunday nemeses will be an added stimulus so I can non mollare mai. Playing for Juve, I can fully adhere to an amazing phrase I once heard in a John Madden interview, back when he was coaching the Oakland Raiders, the most hated and booed team in the NFL: “If they boo me it means they fear me. Nothing would be more absurd than if I entered a football field and did not hear a single jeer.”
I have a debt towards the Azzurri shirt. The most beautiful things I have done, I have done with Juve, not La Nazionale. With the Italian national team I have not played a really memorable game yet. I failed during a tournament which should have been “my” World Cup (France 98 – Ed.) and took part in a Euro competition in a substitute role which, when it called me to action, failed to score the goal which could have given us victory. If I wanted, I could find ways to justify all that, and claim that — after all — I still gave my contribution to the national team. That I still managed to score a goal here and there, some of which were important ones. But I don’t want to do that. I want to believe I have not yet given to La Nazionale everything that I should have. And that I can’t afford to finish my career without repaying this debt.
Obviously I am not talking about work rate, motivation, sacrifice: these are things that all players give on the field, especially when the wear the Azzurro. I am talking that about that extra 10% people expect from me and which I’m aware I must provide: invention, creative plays, decisive goals. I am talking about things which are very difficult to execute, difficult to even conceive when you’re facing a mob of extremely strong and prepared opponents jumping at you, with the clear objective to prevent you from doing just what you need. I am talking about instinctive & primitive actions, the kind you do without thinking, so you may steal from your opponent that fraction of a second — an instant, nothing more — during which he will ask himself “now what is he gonna do next?”. And just as he’s asking himself that, you’ve already done it.
I know that without it, despite all the determination, motivation and sacrifice which allows me to grab a 6.0 — perhaps even 6.5 — in the pagelle, my performance will be considered insufficient. there’s little to it: it just isn’t enough. Because people coming to watch me want to see me do certain things. And if I don’t do these things, then I disappoint them, for as much as my work on the pitch may have been useful. And if I disappoint them, I disappoint myself, and I cannot be content with something that disappoints other people. It seems like I’m carrying out a sentence… maybe I am, but it’s exactly how it works for me: I sentenced myself to being unable to just be “content”.
Besides, it is a sentence that comes from my own hand, and I accept it, even though to judge oneself — and to do so with severity — is difficult. In this I have to say, the help of the people close to me has been fundamental. One of these is my brother Stefano. Another is Angelo Di Livio, whom I’ve had the chance to have close to me for many years, ever since my time at Padova. In the Juve training camps, during away matches, in the ritiri with the Azzurri, we’ve always roomed together. Sharing your room means talking, confiding, sharing many other things. As a result over the years, ours has grown into a true friendship.
Well, it’s also been thanks to our long conversations on the eve of important matches that I learned not to be indulgent with myself. It is precisely through the diversity of the tasks the coach would ask from each of us that we helped recognize each other’s responsibilities: his were to give consistency and intensity to the play (as no other player can), to always run, up & down that never-ending white line of chalk (how do you do it, Soldatino?), aware he could never afford to get tired, and also never be satisfied to have done enough. Mine were to be decisive; to answer to the high expectations related to my performance. Expectations which are the reason of my popularity, but which also give me obligations that are not his. Obligations I must fulfill.
At Juve, I know to have done so — I fulfilled those obligations. Not always, obviously, but enough so that I don’t feel indebted to anyone. With La Nazionale on the other hand, I know I have not succeeded yet. And since I consider everything that is happening to me as a gift, a stimulus, a call from destiny… knowing that I still have not succeeded simply means I will soon.
Yes, I will succeed soon. In Japanese, they say mamonaku dekiru.
BONUS: Zizou & Sonia’s ‘Autogrill’ picture
It’s night time. I’m on the Torino-Milano highway. Zizou, Sonia and I are coming back from Milan after an Adidas event. We fled the scene quickly — no buffet — so that we could return home early. But when you’re hungry you’re hungry! We find a place to eat, one of those characteristic “Autogrill” service stations on the side of the road, and we stop.
The place is deserted. Inside, only the cashier and the lady running the bar. I take my usual look at the window counter: there’s a panino con la cotoletta and various other items. Ultimately our choice falls upon a slice of pizza Margherita, the kind that are left over when it’s really late, with the edges that taste a bit like chewing gum. But, as I said, when you’re hungry you’re hungry: just have a look at Zizou! I ate the fastest: my paper plate is already crumpled up, right next to some car keys casually tossed out on the table, all the while the lady behind the counter is making coffee, completely indifferent to our presence. My teammate is still very focused on his pizza, whereas I… already shifted my interest elsewhere.
Click. Gianni Giansanti’s camera, which he always covertly wore around his neck, captures that moment. We weren’t posing, did not expect a photo. We discovered it only after he had it developed.
This is one of the photos I love and care about the most. It contains almost everything: love, friendship, simplicity, normality, thoughtlessness, tenderness, the desire to be together, feeling lucky, full of life. The memory of a night in a motorway service station with Sonia, Zizou, Gianni, a pizza, and a camera, looking at us through the eyes of a person truly capable of seeing what an image like this can hold.
to my family for what I am today
to my teammates in Bianconero and Azzurro from yesterday and today