Golden Boy to Godot & back again
After several tormented years Alex Del Piero has finally
found his form. With the departure of Zinedine Zidane, even
more hopes now rest on his slim shoulders. Susy
Campanale writes this open letter on behalf of the fan
who never gave up on him.
|Lippi and Del Piero, the
two key men in Juve's success in the mid-90s
Dear Alex, I know you don't like that name anymore and prefer
to be called Ale, but you first appeared to me as Alex and
I can't let that image go. The sight of you volleying in an
impossible ball against Fiorentina to finally overturn the
2-0 deficit for a 3-2 victory, is perhaps my fondest memory
of watching Football Italia on Channel 4.
It's moments like that which remind me why football is called
the beautiful game. But I'm afraid you've lost sight of that
beauty, clouded by the insults, scandals and pettiness of
it all. I saw you on my television screen Alex, telling us
all how you like to kiss football in that silly advert. I
thought it ironic that they'd chosen you as you seem not to
enjoy playing this sport anymore. I can't say I blame you
if you don't, after all over the past few years you've been
pelted with stones from all sides.
"They all talked about creatine, referees doing us favours,
all of it unsubstantiated," you said. "When you're
at the top it's obvious that the pressure increases, but you
can't let it get to you. All you can do is concentrate on
the game." It as as if the 1998 World Cup, Euro 2000
and everything in between was somehow all your fault. I never
stopped defending you, not even when the crowd around me was
baying for your blood. In France you were pitted against Roberto
Baggio, a man still blessed with an aura of infallibility
in Italian eyes. I think if he weren't a Buddhist they'd probably
try to make him Pope. Coming back from an injury, how were
you ever going to win that battle? Now you have an even more
impossible task, fighting a ghost. In 1997 you and Ronaldo
were considered the world's best players, bar none. Your injury
was no less serious than his, but your comeback is still developing,
his lasted just seven minutes.
We still don't know how long it will take the Inter star
to get back to his old self, or indeed if he ever shall. People
still remember him as Il Fenomeno, but now your image is of
the man who fired an easy shot wide in the Euro 2000 Final.
To paraphrase a Hollywood agent upon hearing of James Dean's
death, Ronaldo's injury was "a great career move."
Back in 1997 you were known as Pinturicchio and Baggio was
Caravaggio, the student to his master painter. Like all artists
you go through different stages of your career but it's indelibly
linked to your life. Creativity cannot be taught, it comes
out of your soul. That's why the pointlessness of kicking
a ball for a living must have struck you when for so many
months your father, Gino, battled against an incurable illness.
All this talent, all this money and adoration, but it can't
buy you back what matters the most.
I saw it in your eyes when you went to go past players, Alex,
you were doing it because you had to. Some of the Press referred
to you as an empty shell, perhaps the most accurate description
of all. When going through an emotional crisis even the easiest
things become impossible. It's like reading a book and discovering
you've reached the bottom of the page, but can't remember
how you got there. With football you can't just start the
page again, the moment has passed and you'll never get it
|Ale scored a record breaking
10 goals in 10 matches in the Champions League campaign
It was Juventus Honorary President Gianni Agnelli who dubbed
you Pinturicchio, and it was he who also gave you the ominous
title of Godot. Anyone who has read Samuel Beckett's play
'Waiting for Godot' could see all the subtleties in that moniker.
Two men wait by the dusty roadside for Godot, not knowing
what he looks like or why they should need him. The worrying
part is that the audience and characters begin to doubt his
very existence, but they keep on waiting because they don't
know what else to do. No one knew how long it would take you
to recover fully from your injury, Alex, so there was no big
name replacement brought in and the pressure interpreted the
character of Godot as representing Got, others Death. Which
were you meant to be, Juve's saviour or the proof that it
was time to move on?
When the Bianconeri sealed an option for Bari's 17-year-old
Antonio Cassano, my thoughts moved to the latter interpretation
of your new epithet. You even said that you considered giving
up. "I am convinced that I can return to what I was before,
and I want to do it at Juventus," you said back in January.
"If this should not happen soon then we'll have to discuss
it. Basically, if I am unable to express myself in the way
I would like on the pitch, then I and the club will be able
to make a decision on my future. At the end of the season
I will consider the positive and negative aspects of staying
After the Bianconeri's end of season performance when Juve
came close to Lo Scudetto with you at the helm, Del Piero
is one of the few names not on the transfer list. "If
no one is talking about me then that means the club wants
to keep me here," you claimed. "My relationship
with Juve is very strong and my confirmation is given."
It's quite a change from only a few short months ago. "At
that time I had put myself open to that possibility [of leaving
Juventus] and it was right at that stage to do so. However,
it all fell into place and therefore the problem was resolved."
You began to enjoy yourself once more, just as you did in
the early days when you'd perform magnificent tricks on the
field just for the fun of it. How many stranded defenders
did you leave in your wake, curling the ball round your foot
as if it were under a magic spell? Cassano has that pure schoolyard
indulgence in the game, but it's not too late for you to recapture
it. The ball is not your enemy.
You said that was what made Giovanni Trapattoni such a joy
to work with and his enthusiastic influence since taking over
the Nazionale has surely rubbed off on you, Alex. "Many
things have happened and matured since Trap left Juventus,
but after eight years I found the same person with the same
charisma and desire for football. Italy has to win games,
giving the fans a good show and enjoying ourselves in the
process. We can't always get all three things right - sometimes
you can't achieve any of them." When the entertainment
factor falters, it's the fantasista like you that gets the
How fickle the fans are, eh Alex? A few months ago anything
you did, even the most spectacular move in football history,
would have been met with derision. The tifosi even booed you
all the way through an Italian friendly match. Now you're
back on top of the world and they're queuing up to pour praise
upon you, even if it wasn't anything particularly special.
I've seen the Juventus fans move from chanting 'Del Piero's
the best thing there ever was' to hanging skeletons on the
gate with a sign marked 'No more nepotism,' all in the space
of seven days.
|Lippi returned to Juve and
linked up with Del Piero again
I read an interview on how you emerged from your long period
of crisis. "It was something that happened slowly, on
the pitch and off it, with a whole series of things that happened
to me. The real turning point was the game at Bari where I
played well and scored a difficult and important goal. Being
hugged by my teammates, knowing that they were as happy as
if they had scored it themselves, showed me that the situation
had finally changed."
When you went out on the pitch as a substitute that day,
everyone could see there was something different in your movements,
like a giant weight had been lifted from your shoulders. Your
father had been hospitalized that day and died soon after.
There is only one things worse than a loved one passing away,
and that is to see them suffer.
You kept it all to yourself, Alex, even when the Press and
fans demanded to know what was wrong. You kept churning out
the usual cliches that all football players say in interviews,
that you felt fine and would soon be back to your old self.
So much of what has happened in these months now makes sense.
Your crisis of faith in the world and your place in life
was matched by our wavering belief in your abilities. Perhaps
now we have both emerged stronger from this dark forest and
you have finally found your path. I will be sitting by that
dusty roadside, because I have seen your face Godot, and I
know that you are worth waiting for.
Welcome back Alex.