This post was guest-blogged by Nick Barbieri. Follow him on Twitter (@probablybarbs).
Alessandro Del Piero ended a 19-year spell at Juventus this past May, playing admirably in a Coppa Italia final which saw his side pinned against Napoli. Many things were lost that day (including the match itself), but undoubtedly the biggest was the loss of the greatest Juventus player of all time: with his contract expiring and not renewed by the Juve management, ADP had just played his last game in Bianconero.
As Turin bid farewell to one the most iconic # 10s the game has ever seen, Del Piero’s throne was left without both a technical and numerical heir apparent. Indeed, the second-most important question on everyone’s lips at the time (the first being “where will Del Piero play next?”, to which we finally obtained an answer earlier this week) was: WHO should inherit the magical number # 10 at Juventus?
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Much has been said about the # 10 kit at Juventus: from the personnel of the Club to the players, and right down to the fans. It has been a massive talking point this summer. The Club had considered retiring the jersey, but this proposal was ultimately put to rest by Alessandro Del Piero himself, and rightfully so.
I do not want the # 10 kit to be retired. It wouldn’t be right. When I was a child I dreamed of being able to wear it one day, and I would like others to do the same. There must plenty of little kids with the same dream I once had.
Alessandro Del Piero
Indeed, while he may have been the best # 10 in the history of la Vecchia Signora, Del Piero would never have reached that pinnacle had he not inherited those two cyphers from someone else. Thus although the man is certainly a step above the rest in terms of his Bianconero career, it may be a stretch to suggest such a renowned lineage be halted. Nor does ADP wish for it to be.
Taking the reins from predecessor Roberto Baggio in 1995, a young Alessandro Del Piero stepped up to take on the role of the # 10 at a club which has boasted others such as Liam Brady, Omar Sivori, Fabio Capello, and Michel Platini. Del Piero never looked back upon accepting it, leading Juventus through thick and thin as a true # 10 should, from start to finish. His numerous accolades speak for themselves, but the fact of the matter is that being successful does not necessary justify the attainment of the Numero Dieci. The one who carries it, is one who embodies not only their club and what it stands for, but football as a whole. This is particularly why there has been the emergence of a ‘NUMBER TEN player’, that is, one who fits the bill technically, but not necessarily symbolically.
This is also why, when pondering about those to follow into Alessandro Del Piero’s (numerical) footsteps, the current SYMBOLS of Juventus were naturally considered.
GIANLUIGI BUFFON: All the Right Reasons
A Juventus player since 2001 and its current captain, Gigi Buffon jokingly declared at the end of last season that he would take the # 10 should it become available. Though certainly unconventional for a goalkeeper (the last one to have done so in Italy is Chievo’s Cristiano Lupatelli in 2001), it is clear the bond between Gigi and Alex has led to admirable intentions on behalf of the former. And in terms of leadership, Buffon is second to none: he controls the back-line with an organization that contributed to the fewest goals being conceded in Europe’s top five leagues.
I’m happy for Alex. He’s won eight league titles and contributed to each in a special way. This Scudetto bears his mark too, the mark of a leader, one who never gives up (…) But if I absolutely have to say something, I’ll say this: if Alex decides to leave next year, I have reserved the # 10 for myself (smiles) Whatever happens, Del Piero will always have Bianconero tattoed on his skin.
In being a leader and pillar for your side, one’s contribution is so great that their absence is truly felt. Though it seems the days of injury are over for the former Parma goalkeeper, during the time of Buffon’s injury woes Juve’s defense looked a right mess at times. Granted, the elements composing it were also weaker during that time, and both the squad’s formation and head manager were different as well, yet the contrast was noticeable. Without Gigi, the backline simply lacks the extra element the Azzurri #1 provides, tirelessly ensuring his defensive partners are in a position to perform at their best.
Additionally, the goalkeeper’s impact in the dressing room is as imposing as his presence between the posts, and it is no surprise he has been given the captain’s armband both at Juve and for the Azzurri. Like Del Piero, Buffon too stuck with Juventus through thick and thin, accepting to play a year in Serie B purgatory even after winning the World Cup and undoubtedly cementing his position as best goalkeeper in the world.
CLAUDIO MARCHISIO: From Principino to King?
Born and bred in Turin, Claudio Marchisio integrated the Juventus academy at the tender age of seven, and now has naturally been pinpointed for the role of the club’s # 10. Like Michel Platini, Marchisio is a midfielder and a strong one at that. Having been with Juventus nearly two decades, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that he represents the Bianconero heart & soul — as well as lo Stile Juve — finely. While not (yet) the decorated three-time Ballon d’Or winner Platini became, what Marchisio lacks in skill is accounted for by his dedication and representation of the Turin-based club.
Life continues by looking to the future, but the memory of what Alessandro Del Piero was will last forever (…) He was the greatest player in the club’s history alongside Giampiero Boniperti. Now let us hope that we can find a worthy successor and that could be Claudio Marchisio.
Former Juventus President, Giovanni Cobolli Gigli
What prevents Marchisio from becoming the next # 10 of Juventus is that he has grown accustomed to his now trademarked # 8, and the midfielder himself has voiced his comfort with his role. Recognizing the difference in position & role between himself and Alessandro Del Piero, the man who is known as Principino has responded accordingly by retaining his own identity. “Antonio Conte and the club will decide, and until they ask me something I would not ask the question but I am very attached to my number eight.” Marchisio said.
As it stands, Marchisio is a man of all trades who has shown his capabilities as a leader and understudy as Captain. What is advantageous of his position is that he is able to interact with his midfield companions, but is granted the ability to contribute defensively and offensively. This was shown as he demonstrated grinta and scoring prowess by the bucketload, to the tune of stamping his name on the stage of world football. For this reason in particular, perhaps he would be as good a fit for the number as Platini was, or perhaps even better. However one has to understand his point ov view, and hold nothing against his decision to respectfully decline the opportunity.
SEBASTIAN GIOVINCO: The ‘Next Alessandro Del Piero’?
Since his youngster years at the Primavera level, Giovinco has been labeled the heir to Alessandro Del Piero. Unable to live up to these (perhaps unrealistic) expectations in his previous stint at the club — mainly through no fault of his own (under Ranieri and Ferrara, he simply was not granted the playing time & experience that would have nurtured his potential and have been a catalyst for his growth) — it seemed almost romantic that the lad was reunited with Juve after leaving for Parma, almost as if he were fated to fill a vacant role within the squad. Indeed in a Tuttosport interview, Gianfranco Zola has reopened the topic of discussion, dubbing Giovinco as the ‘heir to Del Piero’ yet again.
A seconda punta with creative capabilities and the ability to strike a ball well within play or from a dead-ball situation, the comparisons to Alessandro Del Piero have naturally been made, right down to the petite stature of the two (ADP is 1.73 m, Giovinco 1.64 m). Super-Seba took on the # 12 kit during pre-season and carried it into his league debut with Juve, but has also openly stated that he would accept the responsibility of the # 10 should Antonio Conte grant him the permission to do so. In fact, Giovinco has remarked that while he’s fine with his current # 12, he would be happy to be “downgraded” two notches.
The problem is, realistically, that while Giovinco may be similar in style and position to his potential predecessor, he is not the leader who the rest of the squad can look to for support and guidance. Not yet at least.
One could argue the circumstances were the same for Alessandro Del Piero, who took the number from Roberto Baggio as a young wonderkid tipped for success. There is no question he exceeded expectations, but there had to have been doubts raised over giving the number worn by a Ballon d’Or winner to someone relatively unproven. Sebastian Giovinco may be the same, but for a player never having played a real season for Juventus, giving him the # 10 would be based on potential alone (despite his unquestionable maturation at Parma & in the Italian national team). This is in slight contrast to Del Piero who was essentially a couplet of potential and merit, albeit not as convincing as Baggio at the time he took over his role.
As it stands, Sebastian Giovinco may well be the most talented attacker in the squad, but skill is not necessarily justification for being rewarded with such an iconic and representative shirt number. If it were, it would have no doubt been awarded to the ‘top player’ director Giuseppe Marotta has tried (and failed) to bring to the club before the end of the month (the # 10 kit was reportedly promised to Robin van Persie as a lure for the ex-Arsenal forward, but unfortunately he chose redder, more Mancunian venues). It goes far beyond just raw talent, and as it stands, Giovinco should not have to be carrying an extra burden when he already has a lot of work to do with his formative club. Nor does he necessarily deserve it, having no Juve merit to his name (yet) as Alessandro Del Piero had.
Conclusion: A Numerical Sabbatical Is In Order
Exhibition of talent and poise is what has led to the expression ‘NUMBER TEN PLAYER’, a player who is similar in playing style and position to the actual # 10 at the club, but who perhaps lacks the other characteristics which supersede skill alone. This can often occur for the simple reason that the number is already taken (as will be the case with Robin van Persie’s arrival at Old Trafford, with Wayne Rooney already occupying the role) or, as I am arguing, because a player (like Giovinco) has the talent but lacks the characteristics present in club leaders.
While there is the opportunity for someone to take the # 10 kit, it seems as though there exists a sheer spiritual presence, emanated by memories of Alessandro Del Piero. While not physically present, his legacy will forever live on, and simply taking the number he once wore is more difficult than meets the eye. It truly is ‘his’ number, and most people, players and fans included, find it difficult to accept Del Piero will not occupy it this upcoming season. I believe that for this reason, Buffon would find actually taking the plunge and accepting the number as his own more difficult than he cares to admit.
In my honest opinion, I firmly believe that instead of the retirement of the number the next best thing should be proposed: a period of mourning. The loss of Alessandro Del Piero was monumental, and to pay homage to a legend would be to at the very least place a season-long hiatus on all # 10 Juventus kits across Italy (even the Juventus Store — despite the foreseeable marketing losses — should remove it from their shirt customization options). With several candidates not immediately taking the number upon themselves, it would seem that a thought process spanning over the course of the season would be best. Not only would it allow the opportunity for the most likely ‘heir apparent’, Sebastian Giovinco, to show his worth, but it would be a way of truly recognizing the absence of Alessandro Del Piero in a squad which unfortunately is not his own anymore. At least technically.
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Alessandro Del Piero is still the # 10 at Juventus, whether he is there or not. As Andrea Agnelli said, “He was and always will be our captain”, and truer words could not have been spoken. ADP has been captain for nearly the span of my life, and moving on will take time, and a lot of it. It is already enough that he will not be on the field (or at the very least, on the bench), and to imagine someone else taking his number right away is disheartening. I believe a year of habitation is needed, that is, a season’s time for getting used to a Juventus without Del Piero. Only then, will the time be right for the metaphorical torch to be passed on to whomever wishes to hold it high.
Originally published on JuveFC.com.