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Game basks in the glow of A-League’s newest superstar

The place card at yesterday’s media conference summed it all up: ”Alessandro Del Piero – The Star”.
Nanjing Night Net

That he is, to say the least. Of course, that ”star” technically referred to the hotel where Del Piero was staying, but rarely has there been such a fitting double entendre.

Those outside the game have dubbed it the ”Del Piero effect”, and the moniker looks likely to stick. He is proving a one-man publicity machine like no other.

Wonderfully, and somewhat frustratingly, Football Federation Australia could not engineer a marketing campaign for the A-League half as effective as this signing. Newspapers and news bulletins are bulging with football at the height of the NRL and AFL finals series.

It is an extraordinary scenario, and long-suffering fans are wondering when they will wake up.

We have all sat there, in coffee shops and pubs, staring glumly into our lattes and lagers wondering what could be done to shift the local game from its idle state. That long-craved spotlight, however fleeting, is here.

What stood out about Del Piero yesterday was his impeccable demeanour. Two decades at the height of arguably the world’s toughest league could give rise to all kinds of arrogance, perhaps justifiably.

But his humility was most refreshing. There was no big-noting. The closest was when he offered a gentle reminder that for all the expectations that exist here, they are not even close to what he has had before. Yet even that was delivered so subtly that the reporter who asked laughed.

When pressed about the 2006 World Cup and the infamous last-second penalty earned by Fabio Grosso, groans and jeers were audible from the fans standing at the rear of the room. But Del Piero’s reply appeased all with a mix of humour and honesty.

His English is better than most expected, but even he fist-pumped when the media conference evolved into Italian. This circus will take a bit of getting used to for everyone, not least the man himself. One gets the feeling the first time he will truly be comfortable will come later today when he trains for the first time at Allianz Stadium.

In the midst of such exuberance, it is hard not to be sucked into thinking Del Piero is the panacea for all the game’s ills. If only.

However, while football still battles myriad issues, his arrival is a pointer to the potential within. It is another reminder in the slowly growing showcase that the game has the capacity to go where other codes cannot.

It is a moment in time to reflect on what is possible if the game pulls its collective finger out. What if the next Del Piero is running around in western Sydney? Can we find him? Can we turn him into a star of the A-League and then Europe?

The Australian public is clearly hungry for heroes, perhaps hungrier than it thought. Del Piero should serve to inspire us to find and cultivate our own, not fill us with the dread of what happens when, inevitably, his time is up. Such was the pull of the Italian that at yesterday’s media conference, journalists from all sectors of the media and walks of life were drawn to him. Those media outlets seldom kind to football, oft-defined by repeated, disparaging references to ”soccer”, were among those keenest to embrace Del Piero mania. How the tide can turn.

It was only last month that the game was back on its knees, beholden to dramatic headlines and explosive images about the ”ethnic” problem. Now, parents who might have wondered whether to sign their families up for Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers memberships have been scrambling for tickets.

The worry now is not what will happen if you go to an A-League match. The worry is what you’ll be missing out on if you don’t go.

On that note, tickets go on sale this Friday for Sydney FC’s first home match of the season, against the Newcastle Jets. They are expected to fly out the door. If you want prime position to watch Del Piero unleash his magic, don’t wait until game day. A sell-out is not out of the question.

The spotlight? We could get used to this.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.