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Alessandro Del Piero. More than 20 years. Over 700 games. 289 goals. Countless celebratory cheers and laughter, screams of joy, tears of anguish and pride. A lifetime of memories. A true role model. And a complete legend.
Legends don’t retire or die. Hence, they are called legends.
When I recollect memories of my childhood, football plays a prominent part. I can tell you precisely where I was during each World Cup final. My Dad was a crazy soccer fan. I wanted to grow up and become a professional soccer player, but of course, girls weren’t even allowed on the same field as boys where I grew up. While I will settle for being a lawyer or professor, the love for the sport remains.
My favorite sports club outside my country of origin is Juventus in Italy. The craziness started in 1990, when I was only 5 years old. I vaguely remember watching some tapes of the 1990 World Cup and Italy playing in blue. I liked the color blue so I started cheering for the team. And then there was Roberto Baggio, scoring one of the best goals I’ve ever seen on the World Cup stage:
I became a crazy Baggio fan and would collect newspaper and magazine clippings about him. He had just transfered to a club called Juventus in Italy for the largest transfer fee in history at the time, and went on to win “World Player of the Year” in 1993. He was sought after by many clubs, including Manchester Utd, but finished his career in Italy. He was classy — not hot-headed and arrogant like the “stars” today, but a player with boundless energy, talent and creativity, who came back many times after being written off due to injuries.
I had a shaky moment when Baggio left Juventus for AC Milan in 1995. I didn’t know whether to follow him and build allegiance with a new club or whether to stick with Juventus. Fortunately, this young “golden boy” called Alessandro Del Piero made it easy to continue supporting Juventus.
At first, I didn’t like him. He was a good player, almost as good as Baggio, but it wasn’t a case of “love at first sight.” He was replacing my favorite! In my mind, there could never be another Roberto Baggio. And I was right. Del Piero has carved his own place in football history. He doesn’t need to be another Baggio, because he is Del Piero.
I grew up watching Del Piero spin his magic for Juventus and Italy. In the last 19 years, Del Piero has played 704 games for Juventus, enjoying a total of 48,785 minutes on the pitch. He has scored 289 goals, hit the woodwork 68 times and missed 12 penalties. He has won 387 games, drawn 197 and lost 120. He has been shown 50 yellow cards, and just two red.
But statistics do not do him justice. Over the last 19 years, he has stuck by Juventus, refusing to leave even when the team was relegated to Serie B following a controversial match-fixing scandal. At Juventus, he wasn’t just an important player — he was the only player that mattered. He worked hard to get the team promoted to Seria A again and rebuild the squad over many seasons. He shunned offers from big name clubs at the peak of his career. He continues to embody honesty, integrity and loyalty like no other athlete. A European Cup and World Cup winner, Del Piero may not have the fame of David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, but there is little doubt that he is one of the best footballers of this generation.
On Sunday, at the age of 37, Del Piero played his last game for Juventus, scoring his last goal for the club, and like a true captain, lifted the scudetto that Juventus won at the end of the season, unbeaten in Italian Serie A.
For Juventus, there will never be another Alessandro Del Piero.