Alessandro Del Piero talks Champions League, MLS and his Juventus legacy
When Juventus last appeared in the Champions League final, the team was captained by Alessandro Del Piero. The year was 2003, Del Piero was appearing in his fourth European Cup final in seven years and Juventus seemed destined to contend for European titles for years to come.
But Juve's fortunes turned with the Calciopoli scandal in 2006, in which the club was relegated to Italy's Serie B as a result of allegedly manipulating referee selections. The club failed to reach another Champions League final until knocking out Real Madrid in the semifinals last week. And Del Piero believes his former club stands a good chance of defeating Barcelona on June 6 in Berlin despite being near-unanimous underdogs.
"It's an even chance," Del Piero told ESPN FC this week. "Barcelona is a team of very strong individuals, especially in attack. They are very, very dangerous. They are very strong, and they got to the final with ease. Juventus defeated the defending champions, Real Madrid, and showed they are a team that is very compact and very solid. They know how to defend and how to score goals. In a single-game final, the motivational aspect will be very important."
Del Piero, Juve's all-time leader in games played (705) and goals (289), last performed for the club in 2012, then moved to Australia and India, before settling in Los Angeles.
Yes, Del Piero is an L.A. resident, having moved his family there in August. Now 40, he attended the presentation for a proposed Los Angeles FC stadium on Monday but said he is not involved with the team at this stage. He also said he is not ruling out another stint on the playing field.
This is the first interview he has granted since settling in L.A., translated from Italian.
ESPN FC: How do you like Los Angeles? Why did you choose the U.S. and L.A. in particular to live?
Alessandro Del Piero: I'm very comfortable here. I've been coming here on vacation for many years with my wife and kids. And after this experience of going around the world we have decided to come here. We moved here last August, the kids are in school and I'm here with my business because we are doing our work here. I go to Italy, Asia, all over the world for sponsors and for the events I am involved in.
ESPN FC: You were at the stadium presentation on Monday. Do you have a role with the team, and what do you think of the future of soccer in L.A.?
Del Piero: I went only as a friend because I know some of the owners. So we haven't talked about a role for me. It's been beautiful to see to the birth of the team in these months and to follow up close everything that's happening since Chivas [USA] left. I didn't want to miss the chance to see the launch of something as important as a new stadium. As they said yesterday, they are bringing enthusiasm, jobs and great attention for Los Angeles. I believe Los Angeles will finally have two big teams and I'm convinced that soccer can still get much better in the U.S. and also in Los Angeles.
ESPN FC: What is your impression of soccer in MLS and the U.S.?
Del Piero: Very physical soccer, demanding because of the road trips, which are very long. There are high-quality players. I'm thinking of Kaka and David Villa, the latest to arrive, and, obviously, the national team players, like [Clint] Dempsey, [Michael] Bradley, Jermaine Jones. I believe the level has improved a lot in recent years. The investments are paying off and the attention they are bringing to soccer [is] great. I'm optimistic about soccer in the U.S.
ESPN FC: You seem to be in good shape. Would you like to continue playing, or are you thinking of a role as coach or in management?
Del Piero: I don't know. I just finished in India with the launch of the league. I continue to work out. I follow a training program and stay in shape. There are friendlies to play in the coming months for charity and so, we'll see. One thing is certain: In my heart I want to keep playing. We have to see if I can get the right situation. The options I have now are not right for me at this time. There are places in the world I could go, but there are other considerations, including family. So I apologize to people who are interested in me but maybe I'll find the right situation in the next month or two. We'll see.
ESPN FC: After 19 seasons with Juventus, you played in Australia and India. Was there interest in you from MLS teams?
Del Piero: I talked with teams in the U.S. However, there is a right time. Also, here the league goes from March to October and that is something unique. I had serious offers. Too bad we weren't able to find the solution, for several reasons. Also, because my career was unique, almost 20 years with the same team, it's difficult. Who knows, maybe the time will come. We'll see.
ESPN FC: Your impressions of soccer in Australia and India?
Del Piero: In both Australia and India, they are places where soccer is not the No. 1 sport. It was really interesting; in Australia, it was the No. 5 sport and now it's second or third. In the two years I was there, the media impact was incredible. We surpassed sports that were established in the culture in Australia; we went from 7,000 to 20,000 average crowds in Sydney, breaking records for merchandising, in a stadium that also hosts rugby, which is the mother of Australian sport. And broadcasting, they sold rights to Italy, European, Arab countries.
So, I have strong feelings and I was so happy it concluded with the win by Australia in the Asian Cup, a big event in Asia. After two long years, I'm happy about everything and today the soccer structure has finally made great progress and I'm proud of my contribution.
India was a much different experience. After many months, they launched the championship and in four months they got fantastic television ratings. They broadcast to Europe, Australia, Asia, and there were good crowds in the stadiums. The first year for the league, it quickly gained success. And I feel great pride, both for Australia and India. I stay in contact with the federations and the teams I played on.
ESPN FC: With your technical ability, you would have fit in well with Barcelona or other Spanish teams. Was there ever a chance of that happening?
Del Piero: I was in contact with Spanish teams in the past. But the choice always came down to Juventus for several different reasons. In truth, my soccer is close to Spain's technical soccer.
ESPN FC: How was the experience getting to the Champions League final four times?
Del Piero: The experience was positive when we won, negative when lost. But it was always stimulating; to get to the final is an incredible thing. It's a very difficult path, very tough. You play against the best teams, so having the possibility of getting to play in the final is an extraordinary thing. Obviously, if you get there and win it's beautiful, because nobody wants to lose the final. I'll always remember the great things, the organization for games like this, the media attention is incredible, to live these moments was really rewarding.
ESPN FC: Did you believe Juventus would continue regularly reaching the Champions League final?
Del Piero: We had some great years, then players changed. But despite this we still got to the top. But it's not easy. Just look at recent years. The best teams get to the finals but many times it's not the case. Because the other teams improve and become stronger, they mature, the players change and so, to get to the final is not easy.
For us, it was very beautiful, it was great. I'm very proud of my playing career, even the times we weren't able to win. Because it happens. Whenever you go into a game you never know if you're going to win or not. To be able to win the Champions League was very important for me and my teammates. We fulfilled our dream.
ESPN FC: Let's talk about your projects. You are doing clinics for youngsters.
Del Piero: We are starting to solidify things here. The experience I had in Australia was fantastic, we had great success and we wanted to do it here. We've done three clinics here and it's a lot of work, demanding.
ESPN FC: A few other memories, please. Could you talk about the 2006 World Cup final in Berlin?
Del Piero: Berlin 2006 is the maximum a player can have. The World Cup is the most prestigious event there is. I was filled with pride, to be able to fulfill a childhood dream. It's only played every four years, millions follow it. It takes two years to qualify and in just a short time; it's like playoffs in America, we say it's like that. And you have to be perfect in everything, not just physically, but mentally, psychologically and also the team and the organization has to be perfect.
We're very proud, it's something that remains in my heart forever. I saw Italy win it when I was a boy, and then to be able to win it is extraordinary for me. You know how important soccer is in Italia, Europe. And to win it is difficult to describe, you have so much joy and it's in your heart.
ESPN FC: Italy failed to advance out of its group in the next two World Cups. How do you view the national team and Italian soccer in general, the problems?
Del Piero: I believe very much to maintain the level we reached, to win the World Cup, is a unique thing. It's generational. Players like me, [Francesco] Totti, we had [Fabio] Cannavaro, [Alessandro] Nesta, [Paolo] Maldini; they represented the history of their clubs and they were the strongest in their roles. It's not easy to get that.
ESPN FC: What are the solutions? The Juventus model, the club owning the stadium; the influence of Roma's U.S. owners?
Del Piero: Part of the solution, part of it is the clubs, the league, the supporters working together. It's a cultural movement. It's not an easy time for Italy, not only for soccer but for many families it's a very difficult time. We need to do the right thing for the people, the supporters, the responsible thing. Getting to the [Champions League] final and winning the Cup would give a new burst of enthusiasm. Other teams got close, Napoli and Fiorentina were in the semifinals of the Europa League. There is this will to improve. This is a step forward toward again creating the spectacle and winning, like it was in the past.
ESPN FC: Final question: What stands out the most about L.A. to you?
Del Piero: L.A. is really great. It's beautiful here and there is a chance to do many great things, both personally and for my family. Obviously, the climate is fantastic. It's the spirit, you breathe a different air, a captivating air. The city is electrifying. It energizes you, it's inspiring. I want to do great things for me and for the people who work for me and the people who follow me.