Alessandro Del Piero said almost two decades with record 28-time Italian champion Juventus have prepared him for the pressure of being Australia’s biggest soccer import.
A day after being greeted by about 500 fans at Sydney airport, the former World Cup winner conducted his first news conference in Australia since joining A-League team Sydney FC on a two-year contract. The 37-year-old was introduced by club chairman Scott Barlow as “the most important signing in the history of football in this country.”
“I know there’s a lot of expectation, and I love that,” Del Piero told reporters. “I played 19 years with Juventus, and in Juventus you have to win every match, every year. All my life I played to win and I’m here to win.”
Sydney beat competition from clubs in England, Switzerland and Scotland to sign Del Piero, who became a free agent in May after scoring 289 goals in a record 704 matches for Juventus. He’ll get about A$2 million ($2.1 million) a season, making him the highest-paid player in Australia’s four football codes, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
Del Piero fielded questions first in English and then Italian at today’s news conference, saying that he welcomed the challenge of trying to help grow the A-League, which replaced the National Soccer League as Australia’s flagship competition seven years ago.
“First of all I am here for Sydney FC,” Del Piero said. “Then we hope about the A-League growing up, day by day. This is hard work, but one of the objectives of all the people who work in soccer.”
Sydney has been a pioneer in bringing high-profile players to the A-League. The club, which won the championship in 2006 and 2010, made former Manchester United striker Dwight Yorke its first marquee signing in 2005 and also brought Brazilian World Cup winner Juninho to Australia in 2007.
During his time with Juventus, Del Piero won six Italian Serie A championships, one Champions League title and the Intercontinental Cup. He also played 91 games for the Italian national team and his 27 goals put him in a tie for fourth place on the country’s all-time goalscorers’ list.
In 2004, he was named in the FIFA 100, a list of the 125 greatest living soccer players selected by Pele as a part of the governing body’s centenary celebrations.
Del Piero will train with his new teammates for the first time tomorrow. Sydney plays its final pre-season tuneup in five days against the Newcastle Jets and opens the 2012-13 season on Oct. 6 against the Wellington Phoenix in New Zealand.
Del Piero said he worked with a personal trainer and a youth team for the past two months to maintain his fitness.
“I do everything I can to stay in better condition, now I need to go with the team,” he said. “The most important thing is to stay focused on the present. It’s a big change for me.”