Wellington Phoenix FC 2, Sydney FC 0
Westpac Stadium, Wellington, October 6 2012
It has become tradition that I fly down to Wellington for the first Phoenix game of every A-league season, and I was planning to do so again this year long before Alessandro Del Piero had ever heard of a football club called Sydney. Once he signed on the dotted line though, it became instantly clear that this game would be his A-league debut, and as sure as night follows day this annual blog post was no longer going to be about the Wellington Phoenix. No, from that point on it was set in ultra-fast setting concrete with double reinforcing and every strength enhancing additive known to man that this little babble was going to be exclusively about one man and one man only.
Two things tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to jackhammer their way through that though. The first was the rest of the Sydney FC team, who put in an utterly lacklustre performance. The second was the Phoenix, who played as well as I’ve ever seen them and just completely bossed the game. Those two things left the Juventus and Azzurri legend starved of opportunities to shine and, in all likelihood, scratching his head wondering what on earth he’s gotten himself into.
It’s not every day you get to witness a real life legend of football in action. If you are restricted to waiting until one of them comes to play a game in New Zealand, you can tend to die waiting. Alessandro Del Piero is arguably the greatest player ever to have set foot here. He’s certainly the second best football player (after Francesco Totti of course) I have ever seen in the flesh. He’s also something of a personal hero.
I have said here before that I have always had a very, very, small, (tiny), soft spot when it comes to Juventus. This dates back to their Champions League heroics in the formative years of my developing passion for Italian football. I remember well his exploits from as many as 16 years ago during the Old Lady’s 1996 Champions League campaign that culminated in them beating Ajax on penalties in the final. His goal in the 3-1 final loss to Dortmund in 1997 is also extremely memorable for me. But it was his contribution to Italy’s World Cup semi-final victory in 2006 that will always be his finest hour in my eyes. With the score at 0-0 going into extra time, he came on as a substitute and sealed the 2-0 victory with a beautiful finish that broke German hearts and gifted me one of the sweetest victories I’ve ever experienced.
One New Zealander remarked on Twitter after last night’s game that he had “looked like a Capital Masters One player”. Many Italians on my Twitter feed, who were able to watch the game live on Italian television, were instead passing sadly brutal judgements about the A-league. I won’t hear a word of any of it. Del Piero played a very unselfish game (a couple of times I caught myself yelling “if you want something done properly, DO IT YOURSELF”) and showed flashes of his old brilliance which was all you could possibly have expected from a 37 year old playing for a new club for the first time in front of a midfield performance that the Ngaruawahia United reserve side would have been disappointed with. Sydney’s below par showing was not a reflection on the A League. It was a reflection of Sydney’s poor preparation for the game. I’m obviously a huge fan of Serie A, but if more people of all walks of life looked in their own backyard before they pointed fingers the world would be a better place.
I just hope he’s not too gutted by the comprehensive nature of his side’s defeat. This was clearly the start of a long journey for him and as long as he doesn’t lose heart, he will be carving up in no time. As for me, I’m just happy that I will now one day be able to tell my kids I saw him play.
A grassroots football enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent club on earth - A.S. Roma. More info (including e-mail address) can be found here: http://in-the-back-of-the.net/about/