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At present, Alessandro Del Piero is Sydney’s gift to the A-League. With the Sky Blues unable to find any consistent form so far this season, Del Piero’s presence has proved to be a great marketing tool for opposing clubs.
As Shaun Mooney illustrated in his statistical breakdown of the A-League’s attendences, “the Del Piero effect” has generated considerable increases in attendances at Sydney’s away games as well as games at the SFS.
Indeed, Sydney have only won two of their eight games on the road. Fans in Brisbane or Melbourne, for example, can admire Il Pinturiccio’s feints and dummies, but still walk away with three points. Win win.
You’ve got to feel for Tony Pignata and the board at Sydney FC. It wasn’t meant to be this way.
The excitement generated by Del Piero’s signing in September was palpable. Memberships and shirts sold at unprecedented rates, while Western Sydney Wanderers and Newcastle Jets both scrambled for their own marquee players.
Sydney’s audacity quickly redefined the role of the marquee player.
Four months on, however, and the Harbour City club remains anchored to the bottom half of the table, with an interim coach and a string of injured players.
True, Sydney were able to scrape past Melbourne Heart at home on Sunday, but the performance did little to suggest that they are a top-six side.
Worse still, commentators are already predicting that Alessandro Del Piero’s time at Sydney may be ending soon, with ominous reports in La Gazzetta dello Sport further feeding the rumours.
Of course, for the moment they are still rumours. Del Piero has a little over a month to decide whether he will commit for another season, which is likely to be his last as a professional footballer.
It will be hard to criticise Del Piero if he does decide to leave at season’s end. The ultimate professional, he has remained jovial and approachable in his ambassadorial role, while putting in polished performances in trying circumstances.
Indeed, it was his cross that set up Rhyan Grant for the winner against Melbourne Heart on Sunday, deep into injury time.
Yet he looks tired and frustrated at his fellow players and the coaching staff. His outburst at Ali Abbas on the weekend was, one feels, a sign of his growing dissatisfaction.
When Del Piero arrived, we were assured by the club they had their own internal structures in place, which their star signing would simply have to fit into.
But considering interim coach Frank Farina has been given the freedom to bring in his own fitness coach in Anthony Crea, and football director Gary Cole was sacked midway through the season, it appears the board are still thinking on the run.
If Farina fails to make the finals, it’s likely the club will look for a replacement – their eighth coach in just nine seasons.
When former coach Ian Crook resigned in November, I wondered whether Sydney FC would have started the season better without the pre-season drama. Certainly, the pressure to perform would have been far less intense.
Now is not the time for such hypotheticals, however. With just over two months of football remaining before the finals, time is running out for Sydney to properly capitalise on their marquee man.
The signing of Joel Griffiths may help relieve some of the pressure from Del Piero. So far he has been deployed up front and in the midfield by Sydney, but his best position is as a seconda punta: the ‘second striker.’
Perhaps Griffiths will provide a better foil than Yairo Yau, who is not a natural centre forward.
While Del Piero’s individual skills are sublime to watch, it would be nice to see him play in a functioning football team. Good players always perform better as a cog in a wheel, rather than having to carry their teammates.
The contrast in the way Tony Popovic has integrated Shinji Ono into his squad at Western Sydney Wanderers could not be more stark.
Should Sydney FC fail to keep Del Piero for a second season, it would be disastrous for the club’s public image.
In any event, the longer Sydney fail to perform with Del Piero in the squad, the more the romance wears off. It would be sad to see Del Piero leave early in his contract, but who could blame him if things don’t improve?
‘Project Sydney’ is fading fast.