Have the Sky Blues played a more symbolic match than Alessandro Del Piero’s home debut? Maybe not.
Sydney FC have played in front of bigger home crowds. Think David Beckham and Los Angeles Galaxy. Sydney FC have played in more important games. Think the FIFA Club World Cup, and a couple of Hyundai A-League grand finals.
But have the Sky Blues played a more symbolic match than Alessandro Del Piero’s home debut? Maybe not.
It’s a game which can shift perceptions, perhaps permanently, for a club which aims big but which has so far fallen short on many of the benchmarks which matter. Which is why the visit of Newcastle Jets to Allianz Stadium has the club full of nervous anticipation. Everyone, from the boardroom to the bootroom, knows how significant this can be.
Del Piero does, that’s for sure. Having survived his debut in wet and windy Wellington, he’s been cautious, and methodical, in his preparation for his first appearance on home soil. “ADP” has tailored his training week to build sharpness and minimise fatigue.
Truth is, we won’t see the best of him, physically, for a number of weeks. But in the context of that timetable, he’s moving well and increasing his intensity. There’s every reason to believe his influence on the match can be pronounced. Which, of course, is what everyone wants to see.
Exactly how much is everyone? For Allianz Stadium to be filled to its 44,000-capacity requires every member, and every corporate box holder, to show up. There’s no way the club can accurately predict that.
But what chief executive Tony Pignata does know is how many of the 33,000-odd tickets available for public sale have been shifted, and that’s where the signs have been so encouraging. They’ve been going out the door at a rate of 1,500 per day.
Weather-permitting, the club is set to surpass it’s previous record attendance for a home-and-away game (33,458). That’ll be something worth holding on to. The first major return on the club’s biggest single investment. Depending on how the game pans out, it won’t be the last – more on that in a moment.
But it’s not only how many, but who. Julia Gillard may have knocked back an invite, but the chairman’s lounge will be full of politicians and business leaders.
In the bleachers, there could be as many as 15,000 first-timers. And in a record media contingent – the club has this week fielded interview requests from England, Poland, Germany, Spain, Singapore, Japan, Indonesia and China – will be a crew from Gazzetta dello Sport who have flown from Italy to detail Il Pinturrichio’s every moment, and every movement.
If that sounds like pressure, don’t fear for Del Piero. He doesn’t see expectation as a burden, but a comfort. Almost two decades at Juventus, and three World Cups, have immunised him against even the most forensic level of scrutiny.
Word is he has been impressed by his new workplace. In one sense, that’s to be expected. Del Piero played most of his games for the bianconeri at the cavernous, much-unloved, Stadio della Alpi. By contrast, Allianz Stadium is intimate and atmospheric.
A near-capacity crowd will only make things better. ADP knows he’s the star of the show, but he’s happy with his stage. Most likely, he’ll be the least-nervous person inside the stadium.
Which brings us to the point. For this expensive, courageous, experiment to work, Del Piero needs to leave the fans wanting to come back for more. Which makes the scoreboard less important than the quality, and texture, of the game.
With Emile Heskey and as many as 1,500 travelling Jets fans on one side, and Del Piero and a brand new audience from the nation’s most fickle sporting market on the other, the stars have aligned for football to leave an imprint. Potentially, an indelible one.
For that to happen, we need both teams to embrace the spirit of the occasion. That means Ian Crook and Gary van Egmond setting up attacking gameplans that accommodate the different attributes of their two marquees. They say they will. Let’s see.
In an ideal world, we’ll end up with a high-score draw, punctuated by an overhead goal from Del Piero, and a 30-metre rocket from Heskey. In this game, in this country, we’ve suffered through so many missed opportunities. But just this once, we can dare to dream. Can’t we?
The views in this article are those of the author, not Football Federation Australia or the Hyundai A-League