Del Piero shines as other stars fade
Italian football - no, make that world football - has become used to paying homage to Alessandro Del Piero. That does not mean that with each new occasion for bows and applause, it should tire of doing so.
Del Piero enjoyed the happy coincidence of reaching a new, record goal-scoring milestone while striking the decisive goal in Saturday's 2-1 away win for Juventus against AC Milan, their fiercest domestic rivals.
A significant number of the home fans gave him an ovation. And his 179th goal for Juve - eclipsing the previous high of Giampaolo Boniperti, the centre-forward from the 1940s and 50s - also fell on the weekend where the reputations of other Serie A icons were … well, they were simply falling.
Earlier in the day, after the game rolled out its red carpet for Del Piero, who turns 36 in a week, Francesco Totti received a red card playing for Roma, his contribution to a much-needed win overshadowed by a badly-timed display of temper. Suspension will now rule Totti out of Sunday's capital derby against Lazio, the league-leaders.
Meanwhile, Antonio Cassano, once supposed to be the natural successor to Del Piero - for his gifts, his invention, his eye for goal - found himself in the umpteenth controversy of his spasmodic, restless career.
Sampdoria, the club that seemed to have given Cassano stability and a platform for excellence after one of his deeper troughs, have fallen out badly with the player.
Cassano apparently insulted Riccardo Garrone, the club president, having failed to attend a club function. The row was serious enough that the Genoa club applied to the league to have Cassano's contract terminated, although yesterday there were signs of possible rapprochement, at least from Cassano.
Then there was Adrian Mutu, who once played alongside Del Piero at Juventus. Mutu has a record of blemishes as vivid as Cassano's, the latest of which is an alleged assault on a waiter, and another of which is the 10-month doping ban from which he returned to action for Fiorentina in their goalless draw at Catania.
Football almost everywhere has a mixed cast of characters, its Mutus and Cassanos, which is why it eagerly celebrates a figure in the mould of Del Piero.
Like Ryan Giggs in the English Premier League, he is an emblem of the equation that says discipline, fidelity and professionalism will be rewarded with longevity and success.
To say there is absence of egotism about Del Piero would be inaccurate. He has not built his monuments at Juventus without appreciating the influence and indeed power he can wield at the club, but in comparison with, say, Totti at Roma, he has a more understated way of establishing that authority.
That authority would be beautifully exhibited in the goal he scored at San Siro. Juventus were already ahead against Milan when, 20 minutes into the second-half, Momo Sissoko, the substitute, broke from close to the halfway line and found himself in a one-on-one duel with Christian Abbiati.
The outcome was messy, ending in a clumsy air shot from the midfielder. Luckily for Sissoko, whose game is not based on finishing, there was his captain, advancing behind him. It was as if Del Piero calmly said: 'Here, give it to me. I'll show you how to do it.' Bang. A precise drive to put Juve 2-0 ahead.
When Del Piero was substituted five minutes from time, some of the Milan fans in the curvas whistled, by instinct, but many others applauded him in a gesture transcending local enmity.
A few may have believed they were seeing him there for the last time: Del Piero had said, in a television interview before the match, that this might be his final outing for Juve away at Milan. Evidently, he was joking: "My next aim is to reach 200 goals for this club," he beamed.
Published: November 2, 2010 04:00 AM