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Alex, Prince of Turin

On the 8th of November 1998, Del Piero was forced to take an eight month break from soccer due to a terrible injury. In that period he started college, supposedly met the love of his life and signed the biggest contract in the history of the sport. Alex still plays for Juventus, still considered, although 25 years of age, as a talent not fully fulfilled. Perhaps that time will...

Alex did not have a successful World Cup in 1998
Three strikes, you're out
Will Del Piero really become the star of the upcoming European Championship? That is what he most desires. He finally wants to make his mark on the international stage.

Surely he does not have the best memories of Euro '96. He then played only 45 minutes in the match against Russia, Sacchi benched him in the other games.

Just before the World Cup at France '98, Del Piero was in great shape. He had scored 20 goals in the league and led Juve to their 25th scudetto. The final match of the season, the Champions League final against Real Madrid was supposed to be the perfect end of a fantastic year. But Alex was unlucky, he was injured few days before the final and was unable to give his best performance on the pitch.

The knee injury proved to be more serious then at first realized and prevent Alex from preparing well for the upcoming World Cup. He disappointed in the tournament, not scoring a single goal and remained in the shadow of the experienced Roberto Baggio.

Del Piero's best international tournament so far was the trial cup before the World Cup in 1998, the Tournoi de France. He then scored 3 goals in 2 matches and became top goalscorer of the tournament.

Alex was badly injured in November 1999
The day before his birthday
After a disappointing World Cup tournament in France, Alex went through some tough moments. The criticism from the press didn't bother him as much as the accusations fom Zdenek Zeman. The coach of Roma at the time claimed that it was a common practice at Juve to provide players with doping substances. In particular he singled out Del Piero and Gianluca Vialli as two players whose muscular mass had increased at a rapid pace.

Zeman's accusations caused an extensive investigation of many clubs and players in Italy, a few players were actually caught. Although none of the big names in the sport were found to have violated the regulations, it is surely a period Alex would like to erase from his memory. But the worst was yet to come.

On the fateful day of November 8 1998, Juventus hosted Udinese for a league match. That was the day before Del Piero's 24th birthday on the 9th. He was supposed to spend the day in a pleasant mood, receiving presents, drinking champaigne and having birthday cake baked by his mother, Bruna. Instead came a terrible knee injury, tears and uncertainty of the future.

In the 89th minute of the match, Del Piero started a run towards the Udinese goal, entered the penalty area and shot at goal. The shot wasn't great but he experienced a fierce tackle from defender Marco Zanchi. Alex didn't get up for a good while, he left knee was in agony. He was taken off the field on a stretcher and few then suspected he would be gone for 8 months. Juventus, leading the Serie A at the time, experienced the worst season in 10 years and finished 7th in the league.

A specialist from Colorado
The injured Juventus forward travelled to Lyon for a medical consultation. The French doctors sustained that his injury was serious and required surgery. They were in agreement that Del Piero should travel to Vail in Colorado and undergo surgery by the world famous surgeon Richard Steadman. He specializes in sports injuries and has been undertaking complicated knee operations for years. His list of past clients includes skiers Marc Girardelli, Picabo Street and Deborah Comagnoni, tennis player Steffi Graf and soccer players Nicola Berti and Lothar Matthaus.

The preparations for sugery lasted four days. Finally Dr. Steadman fixed what had been damaged during a two hour surgery. The doctor was of the opinion that everything had gone well and Del Piero could pick up where he left of after 6-8 months of rehabilitation. Alex traveled to Vail a second time and the doctor was positive that he was recovering well and would be ready to play the Champions League final in Barcelona on the 25th of May. Unfortunately, Juventus was eliminated in the semi-final and there was no reason for Alex to rush back into play. He could spend time on things outside the soccer world.

The contract of his dreams
Alex' contract with Juventuz, worth over $3 million per year, ended in June 2000. Europe's biggest clubs made frequent requests to buy Del Piero. Manchester United were willing to offer $30 million to the club and a wage of $4.5 million for the player to earn annually. But Del Piero preferred to stay In Turin.

Claudio Pasqualin was the man to speak Alex' case and negotiated with Luciano Moggi for a new contract. The talks lasted for a long time but Pasqualin finally got his way and secured Del Piero a contract worth $5.5 million a year. At the time no other player earned this kind of money in soccer.

But his wage at the club is roughly just half of Alex' income. Sponsor contracts with Adidas, Pepsi, Luxottica and Cepu make up the rest and accumulate to about $11 million a year.

Alex and Stefano
The bachelor
Being rich, handsome, intelligent and single, Del Piero was considered the most attractive man in Italy. In spite of this, unlike many of his collegues, he was never surrounded by beautiful women, he didn't hang out in night clubs, he didn't provide gossip for the tabloids. He preferred the quiet family life, the company of his mother Bruna, his mather Gino and his older brother Stefano.

Stefano Del Piero also tried his luck on the pitch in his days, playing for Sampdoria and Pro Gorizia. Later he made sure his younger brother became a player. "I was sick often as a kid", Alex recalls. "My mother worried about my health and didn't want me to play soccer. She didn't want me to sweat and catch a cold, so she would only let me play goalkeeper. I couldn't disobey because the window of our house in Conegliano overlooked the soccer field so she would easily find out. After some time, Stefano explained to her how I was unhappy playing goalkeeper and saw to it that I was allowed to run around the pitch. That is how I started out playing soccer."

In November 1999, Alex revealed in an interview with Guerin Sportivo that he had fallen in love, but he wished not to say anything else about it since he wanted to keep his personal life private. Since that time, no one has managed to find out the name of his chosen one, what she looks like and what occupies her time. Some have speculated that Alex, tired of all the rumours about his private life, made up the story to get the reporters off his back.

Del Piero's companion Angelo Di Livio
Thus it is not certain whether Del Piero met someone, however it is certain that he lost a friend. Angelo Di Livio, his compatriot during many years at Juventus, left for Fiorentina. "Alex is addicted to the phone. He constantly talks on the phone and people call him all the time. When I close my eyes I can see Del Piero on the phone. It is because of him I have come to despise phones. But besides that he is a very cheerful boy. He hasn't let the money and fame change who he is."

Although Di Livio is 8 years older than Alex, they have many things in common. They met in 1991, both at the time playing for Serie B club Padova. After two seasons, they both transfered to Juventus. Del Piero's debut in Serie A came only a week after Di Livio's. Their physical characteristics are also very similar, both are 173 cm tall and weigh 73 kgs.

After Di Livio's departure, Alessio Tacchinardi became Alex' new roommate on the road. Perhaps Alex spends less time on the phone these days, as he as enrolled at the University of Urbino in October and is majoring in sociology.

Alex and Pippo are still friends
July comeback
The long awaited day of Alex' comeback to soccer finally came on the 10th of July 1999. He attended his first training with the team after a long break. The first spectators to witness his return to the game were the citizens of Cesena. Juventus played Rotor Rostelmash in the Intertoto Cup in Cesena, and Alex replaced Kovacevic in the 2nd half to score a goal.

Finally, on the 29th of August, the league started up again. Considering his health issues, 1999/2000 was a very successful season for Del Piero. As the only player in the squad he played all 34 matches. But he was heavily criticized for his lack of goals. Throughout the season he scored 10 goals, 8 from penalties. Some people claimed he now played more for the team than for himself and pointed to his many assists. Others thought it was caused by a conflict with Filippo Inzaghi. Both players called a press conference to underline that there were no problems between them.

The confirmation of Alex' comeback finally came at the very end of the season. On the 7th of May 2000, he scored a great goal from a header vs Parma. From this point onwards, most people were in agreement Alex had returned.

This article is adapted from "Alessandro Del Piero, Ksiaze Turynu", Pilka Nozna Plus nr. 6, June 2000. The images are not original.