Time will tell whether Sydney FC’s signing of Italian and Juventus legend Alessandro del Piero on a two year deal is an inspired one, but it is hard to get excited about the A league welcoming a soon to be 38 year old footballer, no matter how brilliant his career.
As stated previously you can no longer pull the wool over the eyes of the fans. They know what top quality football looks like as they can now watch it every day in the comfort of their living room. The fans may flock to Sydney FC’s first home game in order to be able to say that they saw a legend of the game in the flesh play football, but if he does not perform and show more than rare glimpses of the talent that earned him such an esteemed reputation they will soon decide not to return.
What is worrying is how little football del Piero has played in the past few years, a fact that so many A league clubs seem to fail to look at when recruiting ageing players. Last season at Juventus he started just 4 Serie games and one Coppa Italia match, and was used as a substitute on 19 occasions, of Juventus 43 games. Go back a season and he started 6 UEFA/Europa League matches and 19 Serie A games and was subbed off in eleven and used as a substitute in fifteen, when Juventus played 50 matches;So he played less than half their games. in 2009/10 he started 18 Serie A games and was subbed off in eleven and subbed on in five. He started two UEFA Champions League and Europa League games, again Juve played 50 games in this season. So he has started just 42 games of his teams 143 games in four years! He did however take the field in 88 of those 143 games.
When one considers that he will be 38 in November and has played 513 games for Juventus it is understandable that he would slow down playing in such a high pressure league, but one hopes that he does in fact have something left in the tank.
The Hyundai A league has seen older players with good reputations before, and to date only Dwight Yorke has left with his reputation enhanced, even some of the younger returning Socceroos have come back home and failed to live up to expectations. The truth is the A league cannot afford for another high profile player to underachieve.
The club will tell you that he will generate income off the pitch, but the only place the fans are interested in is on the pitch, and that is why they pay to come and watch each week. If the big name is continually being wheeled out in spite of below par performances the fans are well aware of the fact. Not even having these players being awarded man of the match awards when they are so undeserving will not fool the fans. It will simply come down to how they perform, and if they do not deliver consistently the fans will toe with their feet.
These older players may have the name, but just as lower division clubs in Europe have young players on loan and then boast that they are a former player so too should the A league look to entice up and coming talent rather than over-the-hill players. England’s James Milner was on loan to Swindon Town, David Beckham at Preston North End, Frank Lampard started at Swansea City, John Terry was loaned to Nottingham Forest, all of these smaller clubs fans are proud to have helped these players on their way to stardom, and all of the fans of these clubs will tell you which players they signed when they were past their best.
Football is a simple game and as long as clubs in the A league look to make a quick return on a player on his past reputation, the league and the clubs in question are walking a tightrope. Hopefully Sydney FC make it to the other side, and if they don’t let’s hope they have a safety net!