Old Yet Gifted Italian Footballer Paradoxically Confirms Australia’s Status as a Footballing Backwater

Alessandro Del Piero is saying ciao to Australia, and not in the ironic Double Bay wannabe-cosmopolitan way.

He’s genuinely Italian, and that’s how they say goodbye.

As far as I am concerned, only European people should use the word.

I won’t stand for hairdressers and yuppies throwing “ciaos” out like they’re hopping onto their vespas and shooting-off down a Tuscan laneway.

It may have sounded sophisticated in 1992. But not now. It’s 2014 and the Internet is now is charge. Italy isn’t exotic. Fucking Borneo, that’s exotic. Say goodbye top me in Kanyan, and I’ll be impressed. Ciao belongs with focaccia, Kepper pants, and other things than were cool twenty years ago.

But I digress. The point of this article is to talk about the legacy of ADP, who has recently called time on his days playing for Sydney FC.

And while I am not a religious man, I think it’s fair to say Australian football fans have genuinely been blessed to have been able to watch Del Piero live, in the flesh, every weekend, for the past two years.

What is this, 1998?
What is this, 1998?

But like having the ability to fart on cue, our blessing has also been our curse.

Delps, as is he affectionately known by nobody other than myself, is arguably one of the best football players of the past 30 years. He starred at the highest level for one of the world’s biggest clubs for the best part of two decades, and won almost everything on offer, including a World Cup.

His decision to sign for Sydney FC was understandably heralded as a major coup for the A League. The spectacle of having a player of ADP’s status playing in Australia would finally bring the local game the attention and recognition it so dearly craved. It would finally put us on the world map, and show all the doubters that we should be taken seriously.

In many ways, Del Piero’s signing has done all of that.

For the past two seasons he has lit-up the A League. Although his influence has admittedly waned over the past year, he has been a joy to watch.

While his teammates have been mediocre, Del Piero has dazzled with his free-kicks, deceptively mazy runs and uncanny ability to find space. And not only have his skills put defenders on their bums, they’ve also put bums on seats, with A League attendances enjoying a boost thanks largely to his presence.

ADP’s attitude has been impressive; a mix of Italian grace and not-so-Italian humility – the latter quality typified by his plain, black football boots. An unassuming, workmanlike touch that belied his refined, artistic footballing prowess (and also providing a sharp contrast to his teammates’ bright orange and pink boots).

He was so good he didn’t need flashy shoes.

These should be sufficient
These should be sufficient

But while the fact that a 39-year-old man can light up the A League does say a lot about ADP’s class, it also says a lot about the calibre of our premier footballing competition.

While the standard of the A League has improved exponentially over the past nine seasons, the introduction of a genuinely brilliant, yet aged, football star provides a yardstick with which we can truly measure our progress. And while Australian football is certainly doing better than the old NSL days, we still have a fair way to go.

Could a 40-year-old man walk into the NRL and be a superstar? I don’t know. Probably not.

ADP has been an unqualified success for Australian football, but as much as he has been great – it gives the haters another to beat soccer down with. Thankfully Australian soccer fans are used to beat-downs, so it’s all good.

Like a child who has been viciously bullied its whole life, their senses are acutely attuned to capture any slight and the retaliation reflex is sharpened and easily triggered.

Bullying can hurt
Bullying can hurt

And thus, I guarantee the first instance of some hack knocking ADP will be met with an immediate flurry of emails saying “soccer is not a pussy sport,” etc.

Delps’ departure will no doubt leave the A League exposed. We’ll still have the flashy fluorescent boots, sure, what about the quality? The humility? The grace?

Let’s hope Australia has done enough to avoid falling back into the football ‘backwater’ – and can instead reside in a denser, more diverse body of water that is of scientific interest and, therefore, worthy of preservation.

By Ben Shine

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