Profile: Waiting for Pinturicchio
February 18, 2001
On March 20, 1994, Juventus
met Parma in Serie A at the Stadio Delle Alpi. The home fans were far from
confident. Parma, the Cup Winners' Cup-holders, were level on points with
them and in form, while Juve were without their talisman Roberto Baggio.
In his place, coach Marcello
Lippi opted for Alessandro del Piero. True, he had scored the previous
week against Genoa, but he was only 19, short, and had only recently signed
from Padova, where he managed just one goal in 14 outings.
What followed was astonishing.
Del Piero gave a masterclass in playing off a front man, darting and buzzing
around defenders, creating chances and, most gloriously, scoring goals.
When he made it 4-0 with
three minutes remaining, Del Piero completed his hat-trick. Suddenly, he
wasn't just a Juve reserve, he was the future of Italian football, the
man who would, probably sooner rather than later, step into Baggio's boots
for both Juve and the Azzurri.
That was the day when the
Del Piero legend was born and, for four years, he lived up to the hype.
On Sunday, the hype returned.
At the end of one of the
hardest weeks in his career - it began with the death of his 61-year-old
father from cancer - Del Piero came off the bench against Bari to score
his second goal in two games to keep alive Juve's title hopes. And the
goal may well be a turning point in his career.
Del Piero has had a hard
time with injuries over the last two years and, this season, he has struggled
to win a regular place in Ancelotti's first team. But last week's goal
against Napoli, and this latest contribution, will have gone a long way
to staking a claim for a more prominent role in his manager's plans.
"He scored a decisive goal,"
admitted Ancelotti. "Not just for Juventus but also for himself. It shouldn't
be said that with this goal Del Piero has re-emerged, because we already
knew he was re-emerging last year when he came back after his injury.
"His goal against Bari was
certainly a great goal, and vital for Juve - but, above all, decisive for
himself. It's Alessandro's second consecutive goal and long may it continue.
We will see whether he will be on the bench again next week."
Del Piero said: "I'm happy
with this goal as it shows that I'm in good form. The goal obviously came
in a particularly difficult week for me. I also read what our supporters
wrote to me. As for my goal, I think the Bari players were waiting for
a cross, but I never thought of doing that. I ran to the goal-line and
"And now we have to think
about the Scudetto. That's all. Next Sunday night we will meet Milan and
we have to be focused. I still believe we can win the Scudetto."
The season after his explosive
debut, Del Piero made a solid, if unspectacular start to the campaign.
But as Christmas approached, Juventus were beginning to wobble.
At home to Fiorentina, Juve
fell two behind before half-time. With league leaders Parma facing lowly
Brescia, things looked bleak indeed. Gianluca Vialli pulled one back on
73 minutes, and three minutes later he levelled the match.
And then, three minutes from
time, Del Piero scored a goal that will never be forgotten by those who
saw it. As a long ball dropped at the edge of the box, it seemed he would
have to bring it down. With defenders approaching, though, Del Piero casually
lobbed a volley over the keeper and in.
The next week, he scored
twice in a 4-3 victory, Parma drew, and Juve went top. Juventus won the
title by ten clear points. Further Scudetti followed in 1997 and 1998.
And Del Piero was just as
influential in Europe, helping the Bianconeri to three successive Champions'
League finals between 1996 and 1998, becoming the all-time leading scorer
in the competition.
That 1997-98 season, Del
Piero's form was extraordinary. In 32 games he bagged 21 goals and earned
the nickname Pinturicchio, after the Renaissance painter noted for his
He was an iconic figure,
an emblem of the creative verve that Italians felt had been missing from
the national team for too long. And he was only 23. Then, on November 8,
the day before his 24th birthday, Del Piero injured his knee in an away
game at Udinese.
He returned, but the magic
had gone. In the 1999-2000 season, Del Piero only managed three goals from
open play, and his place as the inventive focus of the national side was
taken by Francesco Totti.
When Del Piero scored against
Sweden in Euro 2000, it was his first goal from open play for the national
side for almost two years. Of course, people realised it would take time
for him to regain his earlier form, but just how long would it be?
The fans began to turn against
their former hero. When Italy only drew 2-2 in a World Cup qualifier in
Hungary, Del Piero was held widely responsible. National coach Giovanni
Trapattoni seemed to spend every training session defending Del Piero,
explaining he would be back to his best given time.
So long has everyone been
waiting for the old Del Piero, that Juventus owner Gianni Agnelli began
to refer to him as 'Godot'.
Vladimir and Estragon, of
course, kept waiting, maintaining their vigil by the roadside for a Godot
who never arrived. We've waited a long time for Pinturicchio, but it seems
that, finally, he might be here.