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Juventus say emotional farewell to their beloved Alessandro Del Piero
Juventus fans wave tearful goodbye to the forward who has given 19 years of service to the new ? and unbeaten ? Serie A champions
Monday May 14 2012
It might just have been the longest substitution of all-time. There were 57 minutes on the clock when the board went up showing No10 at Juventus Stadium, calling time on Alessandro Del Piero's last home appearance for the Bianconeri. Approximately 60 seconds later, after turning to bow to the supporters in each stand, Del Piero reached the sideline, to be replaced by Simone Pepe. But it would be at least a quarter of an hour before anyone remembered there was a match in progress.
Del Piero had been congratulated individually by every one of his team-mates on his way off the field, but now Juventus's fans wanted the same opportunity. At first he walked over to take his place on the bench, stopping to sign one young fan's autograph as he went, but no sooner had he sat down than the 40,000 in attendance were calling him back to his feet, demanding an encore.
Twice he stood to wave, but quickly it became clear that even this would not be sufficient. And so he descended from the bench and set off on a lap of honour, walking around the edge of the pitch and collecting the scarves which fell at his feet like flowers on the stage of a virtuoso musician. Supporters openly wept as Del Piero fought back his own tears. He would later admit he pretended to tie his shoelace at one point, so we wouldn't see him cry.
Many supporters continued their futile protest against the decision to let their captain leave, begging for one more year, but while this season has shown Del Piero still has the qualities to contribute it is also hard to imagine a more perfect parting. After 19 years which have included lows ? not least the 2006-07 season spent in Serie B ? as well as highs the man whom Gianni Agnelli once nicknamed Il Pinturicchio was bowing out at the very top.
He had given those supporters one last goal to remember him by, fooling everybody as he shaped to fire one way from the edge of the D before crashing the ball into the opposite corner [http://www.101greatgoals.com/gvideos/a-goal-in-his-final-game-alessandro-del-piero-v-atalanta/" title="]. That strike, in the 28th minute, had helped his team to complete their unbeaten league season ? becoming the first-ever Serie A side to do so in a 38-game campaign. Previously Milan had gone unbeaten over 34 games in 1991-92, and Perugia over 30 games (though they failed to win the league) in 1978-79.
Monday's newspapers carried all the statistics you could ever wish to know about a remarkable career. In 19 years, Del Piero has played 704 games for Juventus, enjoying a total of 48,785 minutes on the pitch. He has scored 289 goals, hit the woodwork 68 times and missed 12 penalties. He has won 387 games, drawn 197 and lost 120. He has been shown 50 yellow cards, and just two red.
To an extent all those figures are premature, with the player still set to play a role in the Coppa Italia final against Napoli on Sunday ? as long as he can shake off a knock picked up during a challenge with Riccardo Cazzola in the first minute of the game against Atalanta.
But in any case those numbers feel meaningless. Del Piero's career is not to be expressed in statistics as much as memories ? of the shy but talented teenager who announced his arrival from Padova with a goal against Reggiana back in 1993 [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6XxlKJR-BU" title="], of the young man who marked his father's passing by scoring a beautiful goal against Bari in 2001 [http://ghostgoal.co.uk/2011/01/27/del-piero-bari-vs-juventus-2001/" title="], of the 30-something who finally put all those international disappointments behind him by scoring the second goal in Italy's 2006 World Cup semi-final win over Germany [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=la4xKzK_ISA" title="].
If so many tears were shed for Del Piero on Sunday, it is not for the goals that Juventus will now miss ? though make no mistake, he has been crucial on occasion this season, not least in providing a late winner against Lazio ? but because his departure marks the end of an era, both in the team's history but also fans' lives. "He will always be our captain," said the club's president, Andrea Agnelli, at full-time, but what really hurts is the realisation that cannot be the case.
Similar emotions were being played out on Sunday at San Siro, where fans displayed huge shirt-shaped banners bearing the names and numbers of Alessandro Nesta, Pippo Inzaghi and Gennaro Gattuso [http://twitpic.com/9kx67u" title="], all of whom have almost certainly played their last game for the club. The image of Inzaghi's face, contorted with joy [https://twitter.com/#!/ATempoDiSport/status/201710062048256001/photo/1" title="] as he celebrated his 126th goal for Milan (at a rate of one every 144 minutes) in the second-half of that game said more than words could about what it has meant to him to play, and score for this club.
Inzaghi has been frustrated with how he has been used by Massimiliano Allegri this season, and he ? like Del Piero ? feels he still has something to give. "It's tough to stop with 316 career goals, I have Baggio ahead of me on 318," he said at full-time. "Used in the right way, I can still give a lot in the last half hour of a game ? Maybe I'll copy [Thierry] Henry: I'll go to America and come back for a few months to Milan. I'll speak to Galliani and then we'll see."
Milan would beat Novara 2-1, while Juventus overcame Atalanta 3-1, but in both cases the matches had become almost side-shows to the farewell parties ? with the Rossoneri also saying goodbye to Clarence Seedorf and Mark van Bommel. Juventus's match was technically still ongoing during Del Piero's lap of honour, but nobody was watching. In those minutes it felt as though even the players on the field were aware ? nudging the ball about without any great purpose in a match that had otherwise been perfectly competitive.
There were matches of significance this week ? Lecce's relegation confirmed as they lost at Chievo, while Udinese completed the quite unthinkable achievement of claiming third place. Despite having the sixth-smallest first-team wage bill in Serie A ? roughly one-eighth the size of Milan's, despite selling Alexis S?nchez, Gokhan Inler and Cristian Z?pata in the summer and despite losing key players such as Mauricio Isla to lengthy injuries, they had somehow outstripped Lazio, Internazionale, Napoli, Roma and the rest.
Yet where last season's fourth-place finish was met with unreserved celebrations, here too was a hint of melancholy. Antonio Di Natale is yet to decide whether he will return for another season or retire, as he first threatened to do following last week's win over Genoa, and the manager Francesco Guidolin sparked concern over his future too at full-time. "I need a rest, I am very tired," he said. "I don't know if my health will allow me another season like this one, if I'll even be ready by July."
And so the supporters are left with uncertainty, just as they are over Del Piero's next step. The forward has confirmed his intention to keep playing, noting that "I have my whole life to be a director" and hinting at an interest in English football but adding that he has nothing lined up as yet. "It has been 19 years since I had to worry about transfers," he said. "The only thing I want to underline right now is the relationship that has developed between me and the people here at Juventus over the last 20 years."
Two decades which are now coming to an end. But not before the mother of all celebrations in Turin.
? The festivities went on long into the night in Turin, with the team moving on from their Scudetto presentation on the pitch to an open-top bus parade through the city. La Stampa's best guess was that there had been "Maybe 300,000, maybe 400,000" fans in attendance for the latter, the newspaper noting that the authorities had struggled to come up with any sort of estimate.
It is clear, though, that a fight is brewing between the club and the Italian Football Federation, after the parade bus too turned out to have been branded with all the titles Juventus has won, including those which were stripped as a result of the Calciopoli scandal. "The important things today are the celebrations and the emotions," said the federation's president Giancarlo Abete. "But it is clear that the number of Scudetti won by Juventus is 28 ? The third star? If it is the classic one, linked to the number of Scudetti won, then it cannot be added to the shirt."
? One further concern the federation may have after Sunday is over the fitness of Giorgio Chiellini, the Juventus centre-back hobbling off with a thigh injury which will certainly rule him out of the Coppa Italia final but possibly also Italy's Euro 2012 campaign. The defender was included in Cesare Prandelli's provisional 32-man squad for the tournament, but a final 23-man list must be submitted by 29 May.
? It was certainly an interesting squad submitted by Prandelli (you can see the full list here: http://football-italia.net/18774/italy-name-32-players-euro-2012) ? including as it did the Siena forward Mattia Destro, Bologna's Alessandro Diamanti and most notably the Pescara midfielder Marco Verratti, whom many are already hailing as Andrea Pirlo's heir. The one question is whether he has left himself without a natural prima punta to lead the line up front, having overlooked the likes of Alessandro Matri, Daniel Pablo Osvaldo and Giampaolo Pazzini.
? Returning to Serie A, Lazio recovered from a goal down to beat Inter 3-1 and take fourth ? a spot which will secure them automatic qualification to the Europa League group stage unless Napoli defeat Juventus in the Coppa Italia final. In that case they, like Inter, will go into that tournament's preliminary rounds. Either way the Nerazzurri, having finished sixth, will have the earliest start next season, with a third-round qualifier as soon as 2 August. It is expected their team by then could include Ezequiel Lavezzi, the Napoli forward having been whistled and jeered by his own club's fans after their 2-1 win over Siena on account of his reported interest in a move.
? Despite winning, the Lazio manager Edy Reja is not guaranteed to remain with the club next year. The club's director of sport Igli Tare would say only that his future would be decided "in the next few days".
? At the other end, Genoa had Alberto Gilardino and Giuseppe Sculli to thank for the goals which meant they would have stayed up even if Lecce had won. The team's owner, Enrico Preziosi, promptly promised a complete overhaul, saying: "I don't intend to abandon ship, but there is probably a need to change the equipment, and maybe the commander." Because that has worked out so well for him before.
? Of course, the standings could yet change when the verdicts are passed down in the ongoing match-fixing investigations being conducted in Cremona, Bari and Naples. Fifty-two players and 22 clubs ? including Atalanta, Siena and Novara in Serie A ? were charged in the sporting trial as part of the former investigation last week (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/09/italian-football-match-fixing-trial). The expectation is that further individuals and clubs will also be implicated, and a criminal trial may also follow. A glum note to finish the season on, but one that must be faced head on for Italian football to move forwards.
Results: Catania 0-2 Udinese, Cesena 2-3 Roma, Chievo 1-0 Lecce, Fiorentina 0-0 Cagliari, Genoa 2-0 Palermo, Juventus 3-1 Atalanta, Lazio 3-1 Inter, Milan 2-1 Novara, Napoli 2-1 Siena, Parma 1-0 Bologna.
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