Prize recruit Alessandro Del Piero is poised to play his first minutes for the club behind locked gates, while coach Ian Crook makes no apology for taking a softly, softly “selfish” approach with the Italian superstar.
Del Piero met his initially shy Sydney teammates for the first time at training at Sydney’s Allianz Stadium on Tuesday, participating enthusiastically in passing drills in a near hour-long session in warm conditions.
And the club announced that their pre-season match against Newcastle scheduled for Saturday has been cancelled “following the unavailability of Budgewoi Sports Ground”.
It means Del Piero can’t go into match action before a practice game against Central Coast Mariners at Allianz Stadium on Wednesday next week which will be played behind closed doors despite the massive fan interest in the new $2 million a season striker.
Sydney chief executive officer Tony Pignata said Del Piero would definitely play some part in the game, though it could be as little as 20 minutes.
While potentially thousands of fans would be clamouring for a look at Del Piero before the A-League season starts next month, there appeared little prospect of the club changing their stance.
“It was always scheduled to be behind closed doors, whether it was Del Piero (playing) or not,” Pignata told AAP.
It’s our last (pre-season) game … part of the FFA schedule is you have one closed game.”
Crook wouldn’t rule out starting the Italian legend on the bench for the opening round A-League game against the Phoenix in Wellington on October 6.
And he made it clear the club’s best interests would come before supporters’ wishes if he thought they conflicted.
“The one thing I’m not going to do is I’m not going to bust him for everybody else’s joy and pleasure,” Crook said.
“That’s where I’m going to be a bit selfish towards ourselves and say ‘no.’ Alex (Del Piero) will play when we and him feel he’s right.
Having only just met Del Piero he was looking forward to a lengthy discussion with him on Wednesday about the task.
“Tomorrow will be a really good indication, because we’ll sit down just with him and we’ll have a chat and get his expectations of where he thinks he is (in his preparation).”
Crook was conscious of not treating Del Piero differently to his team mates.
“I’ve said all the way along, every single one of them in there starts with 100 per cent of my respect and all they can do is lose it and he’s in the same bracket as anybody else,” Crook said.
He said his new marquee man would play in either the No.9 or No.10 positions and would have a natural leadership role as a senior player, but midfielder Terry McFlynn would remain the captain.
He described the atmosphere among the players at training on Tuesday as “buzzing”.
Having experienced the long flight from Europe and the adjustment to the hard local grounds, former Tottenham and Norwich player Crook empathised with what Del Piero was going through.
“I was talking to him this morning and he’s waking up at three o’clock in the morning,” Crook said.
“I think the next 10 days are just going to be a case of getting him adjusted to Australian life and Australian time and our club training.”