Del Piero happy with A-League expectations

 

Former Juventus star Alessandro Del Piero says he has no fear of the expectations attached to his arrival in Australian and the hope his star power will revitalize the A-League.

Del Piero calmly answered questions in English and Italian in his first Australian news conference on Monday, saying he welcomes the pressure that will go with being the A-League's biggest name. 

He told reporters "I know there will be a lot of expectation and I love that. I played 19 years with Juventus and in Juventus you have to win every game, every year." 

The 37-year-old Del Piero has joined Sydney FC for a reported $2 million a year as the biggest signing in the history of the 10-team A-League. 

He passed up offers from Southampton, among other clubs, to play in Australia and said he hoped to make a difference to Sydney FC and to the A-League. 

"It was (an easy decision) because the project here is interesting," Del Piero said. "I said 'yes,' but I choose the best place I can choose for this moment and I think this now, and I'm sure I will think this at the end of the season. 

"Sometimes I decide with my feelings, but this decision was not only with my feelings, it was with the head and with the feeling, and I'm sure that's OK." 

Del Piero said he was determined to contribute to Sydney FC. 

"All my life I play for winning. I'm here for winning ... I'm here because I trust in the win," he said. 

"First of all I am here for Sydney FC. Competing for Sydney FC. Then we hope, about the A-League growing up day by day ... and this is hard work." 

Del Piero said he was aware that Australia's football culture has been based on post-war immigration from Europe. 

"In everybody there is soccer blood and we hope to wake up that," he said. 

Del Piero, a member of Italy's 2006 World Cup-winning team and who scored a club-record 286 goals for Juventus, is expected to help bring greater exposure -and spectators - to the struggling A-League, which has suffered from declining crowds and the folding of two teams in the past two seasons. 

His impact was immediate and hundreds of fans turned out at Sydney Airport on Sunday, some waiting for hours, to welcome him on his arrival. 

Del Piero's decision to play in Australia is being compared with David Beckham's impact on the game in the United States when he signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy. 

Sydney chief executive Tony Pignata, who traveled to Turin nearly two weeks ago to get Del Piero's signature on the contract, said he was pleased with the response of fans - more than 2,000 club memberships have been sold since Del Piero's contract was signed. 

Pignata also said 15,000 Sydney FC jerseys with Del Piero's No. 10 and name on the back had been manufactured and were selling fast, with orders from around the world. 

Tickets for Sydney's first home match at the 45,000-seat Sydney Football Stadium on Oct. 13 have not yet gone on sale. A Sydney official said although the match was unlikely to be a sellout - "that's a big call" - it could be the team's biggest first-match crowd in its history. 

Del Piero is due to train with his Sydney teammates for the first time on Tuesday and his first official public appearance in Sydney is expected next Sunday - Sept. 23 - when the players will be handed their jerseys for the upcoming season. 

His first game for Sydney could be against Newcastle next Saturday, a preseason match scheduled to be played in the Central Coast town of Budgewoi north of Sydney. However, if Del Piero plays, it is expected to be moved to a larger stadium at nearby Gosford. 

Sydney plays its first-round match of the new A-League season at Wellington, New Zealand on Oct. 6. 

Average attendance in the A-League dropped from a high of 14,600 in 2007-08 to as low as 8,400 in 2010-11, although it increased to 10,500 last season. 

North Queensland Fury folded in 2010 and Gold Coast United in 2011, but the league will return to 10 teams with the addition of the Western Sydney Wanderers this season. 

Regardless of what he does on the field on his aging legs, the deal has made Del Piero the highest paid athlete in Australia's four football codes, which also includes rugby league, rugby union and Australian Rules. 

The A-League's other past marquee signings, who are outside the team's salary cap, have been former Manchester United star Dwight Yorke, who also played for Sydney in 2005-06, and former Liverpool forward Robbie Fowler, who played with the now-defunct North Queensland team then Perth Glory from 2009-11. 

AP

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