At 39 years of age and with a body that no longer appears to be suited to the rigours of professional football, this season could well turn out to be the final one in the career of the legendary Alessandro Del Piero.
In his second season in the A-League the Italian forward has shown that he remains as gifted and decisive as ever on the football field, notching five goals and three assists in the ten matches in which he has appeared, while often seeming to be operating on an entirely different plane than any other player on the pitch.
Sadly, though, it has been a campaign disrupted with disappointing regularity by injury. In total, Del Piero has only managed 622 minutes of game time in the first half of the season, having played a full 90 minutes just twice (plus an almost-complete game against the Victory).
After starring in Sydney’s opening game, the former Juventus hero limped off in the Round 2 match against the Roar, then missed the next fixture against the Wanderers.
He came on for the final half hour in the following game against the Glory then enjoyed three Rounds of regular participation, which netted him two goals and an assist, before once again suffering a calf injury against Newcastle. And his season has continued along a similar pattern.
It must be immensely difficult for a veteran who has achieved so much to find the motivation to embark on recovery session after recovery session (though Del Piero’s professional attitude is unimpeachable).
And the great man has achieved almost everything there is to achieve in football.
Born in the small town of Conegliano, Veneto, Del Piero joined the youth academy at Padova in 1988, aged 13.
The talented young forward made his debut for Padova in Serie B at the age of 16, and within a year he was snapped up by Italy’s most successful and popular club, Juventus.
It was not long before the gorgeous dribbling skills and delightful, curling shot was touted as the future of the club.
Despite having names like Roberto Baggio, Gianluca Vialli and Fabrizio Ravanelli ahead of him at various times in the striking pecking order, the teenage Del Piero was able to make regular appearances in the first team and earn a reputation as an exciting talent and a scorer of stylish goals.
His elevation from prodigy to genuine superstar occurred in 1995, when Juventus decided to release Baggio, at the time regarded as one of the world’s finest players, in order to allow Del Piero to develop as the side’s creative spark in attack.
One of the most famous goals of his career came in the following year, when he scored a late winner against River Plate to win the Intercontinental Cup for Juventus.
From there, his career continued to soar, and he shone in both Serie A, where he rivalled Ronaldo on the goalscorers’ charts, and in the Champions League.
His progress was curtailed in 1998 when he suffered a severe knee injury which kept him out for months and ultimately robbed him of the extra turn of pace that had served him so well in his early career.
Del Piero was never quite the same player after the injury, but he was able to adjust his game to ensure he remained a huge commodity for club and country.
By the time he was released by Juventus in 2012, ‘Pinturicchio’ had spent 19 years with the club, refusing to leave even when they were relegated due to the Calciopoli scandal, and become their greatest ever goalscorer. He won eight Serie A titles (two were later revoked), the Champions League and, of course, the World Cup with Italy in 2006.
Calling him a legend of the game is by no means hyperbole, then.
Del Piero never came to Sydney with the hope of prolonging his glory years. He loves playing football and wanted his young family to experience a different kind of lifestyle away from the intensity of Italian football.
And by all accounts, he is enjoying his time in Australia immensely. But in footballing terms, his motivation to continue playing when his body is creaking and groaning with the effort will surely be tested for the remainder of this season.
This could well be Del Piero’s last dance, so it’s best we enjoy every moment of it.