Watching him as he steps up to take one of his famous free-kicks you wouldn’t think table tennis played a huge role in making Alessandro Del Piero a world class footballer.
The Sydney FC skipper, who sends waves of excitement through A-League crowds every time he steps up to the mark, on Thursday recalled how during his time in the Padova youth squad it was the evening’s spent playing table tennis that really shaped him.
He says it was during these matches that he learned how to rein in his emotions and remain composed under pressure.
And standing on the penalty spot in Italy’s triumphant 2006 World Cup final, he says it was the lessons he learned in that tiny recreation room as a teen that kicked into gear.
And they’re lessons he says which still resonate every time he steps up to take a free-kick.
“Every time I would step up for the last point my hand would be shaking because I was thinking too much about the result or what would happen if I miss,” he said at the launch of the English edition of his book, Playing On, on Thursday.
“It was at this specific moment that I decided to change this and I said ‘why lose your energy for stupid thoughts’.
“I started to put all of my heart into playing a simple ping pong game and not worrying about the result.
“So in the end it wasn’t only a ping pong game it was a state of mind.
“The pressure of big moments is sometimes what’s the difference between a great player and the best players.”
Del Piero, who’ll face Wellington at Allianz Stadium on Saturday, insists despite the fact he turns 40 next year and his contract at the Sky Blues will come to an end at the conclusion of this season, he has given no thought to what he may do next.
“I want to be focused on this moment, on the present and on what I want to do now in the short term,” he said.
“When the season finishes, I’ll be 39 and a half.
“Honestly I really don’t know what will happen next year. Probably something will happen but I have to check my body and my mind and my heart.
“I hope to play again and play more.”