Alessandro Del Piero will remain in the A-League for another season and Sydney FC are all the better for it. His masterclass against the Phoenix proved he is one of the A-League’s most influential stars.
At Allianz Stadium on Saturday afternoon, Del Piero silenced a range of critics with a stunning 81-minute performance.
At various times this season the 2006 World Cup winner has been labelled too old, too slow and overpaid by a club which has struggled to make the most of the Italian’s undoubted talents.
And while the former Juventus talisman has shown glimpses of his best, he was increasingly being spoken about in negative tones as Sydney’s season wore on.
How foolish we were to doubt him.
While it won’t necessarily save Sydney’s season – and allowing for the fact that Wellington were truly dreadful – Del Piero showed just why he’s the highest-paid player in any football code in Australia.
Perhaps his most telling contribution was not his four goals but the assist he laid on for Joel Griffiths after just 10 minutes.
The deftness of his touch to play in Griffiths with a perfectly weighted lob over the Phoenix defence was truly something to behold.
But what will have pleased Sydney coach Frank Farina all the more is that it took Del Piero so little time to strike up a relationship with Sydney’s new striker Griffiths.
If the former Newcastle Jets star can continue scoring goals and fellow newcomer Tiago Calvano can help shore up a leaky defence, Sydney are suddenly looking far stronger than they were before the January transfer window opened.
And on Saturday they looked a substantially better side than the team which laboured to an undeserved 2-1 win over Melbourne Heart a week prior.
Such is the difference an early goal can make and therein lies the reason Del Piero is worth every cent he’s paid to influence proceedings on the pitch.
While the Phoenix can feel hard done by for Del Piero’s second goal –there’s no way Andrew Durante should have been penalised for his collision with Jason Culina inside the penalty area – there was nothing their defence could do to keep a rampant Del Piero at bay.
One of the criticisms aimed at him this season has been that he’s too slow, yet rarely have those critics acknowledged that the Italian is the best in the league at evading tackles.
And on Saturday, Del Piero showed just how crucial a skill that can be, as he first dropped the shoulder to evade Ben Sigmund and curl home with his left foot, before bamboozling makeshift defender Leo Bertos to smash home with his right soon after.
Just for good measure Del Piero then embarrassed Phoenix skipper Durante in the second half, turning him inside and out before drilling home an unstoppable strike off the underside of the crossbar.
Who says he needs pace? The Phoenix defence looked more like Easter Island statues as a 38-year-old many have claimed is past it continually dribbled his way towards goal with devastating precision.
And suddenly Sydney FC looked a team transformed.
It wasn’t just Del Piero’s display but the calm defending of Tiago, the hustle and bustle of Griffiths up front and the continuing renaissance of Jason Culina in midfield which suggests they could still have a say this season.
Farina played his part too, fittingly substituting Del Piero late on to allow the four-goal hero to receive a standing ovation from fans, and the Sky Blues look a hungrier side under the former Socceroos coach than they did his predecessor Ian Crook.
And what of these critics who have continually claimed Del Piero isn’t worth the money?
They’ll have to skip replays of the match unless they want to see a marquee man at the top of his game who is clearly worth every cent he’s being paid.