|By JOHN GRECO
His coach was not prepared to make it official, but star signing Alessandro Del Piero uttered the four words Sydney FC fans have been waiting to hear ahead of the A-League start: "I'm ready to play."
The Sky Blues travel to Wellington to face the Phoenix for the season-opener on Saturday, with all eyes on whether Del Piero will be right to make his first appearance for the club.
There are doubts over the fitness of the Italian legend, who is only just getting into full training with his team-mates and has managed only 70 minutes of action in an intra-club game last week.
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With the club set for a blockbuster home clash against Newcastle and their new marquee man Emile Heskey on October 13, there were some suggestions Del Piero might miss the Phoenix trip to ensure he is 100 percent for the Jets at Allianz Stadium.
But the 2006 World Cup winner said he is finally over his jetlag and is confident he can play a part in the season-opener on Saturday.
"I have to take time with the team but at the moment it [my fitness] is good," Del Piero said at the A-League season launch at Parramatta Stadium on Tuesday.
"I'm OK for the first match and I want to improve day-by-day.
"The 70 minutes I played last week is good news for me and for the team.
"We will have to see what happens with the flight to Wellington but I'm OK, I feel good, and this is the most important thing."
Asked about the possibility of Del Piero playing against the Phoenix, Sydney coach Ian Crook said: "We'll probably make a final decision on Thursday but I'm leaning towards him playing.
"But we need to understand this isn't a guest stint with Alessandro, it's a two-year thing and a long-term project.
"We certainly don't want to break him, there will be a lot of thought going into it."
Del Piero said he had enjoyed getting to work with his new team-mates since his arrival and he had spent some time with Sydney's young players to try and pass on his experience to them.
The 37-year-old admits the club's disruptive pre-season means the squad needs time to gel together but wasn't playing it safe in his prediction for the season.
"I know it won't be easy but I believe we will," Del Piero said when asked if the Sky Blues would win the title.
"We play to win each match and win the title.
"I'm not here to take my time but to play and play to win."
Del Piero was joined by fellow marquee stars Heskey [Newcastle Jets] and Shinji Ono [Western Sydney Wanderers] at the season launch, with the latter duo both confident of making their debuts this weekend.
While admitting he still needed to work on his fitness, Heskey, who arrived in Australia on Friday, is expected to start on the bench in the Jets home clash with Adelaide on Sunday.
Former Japanese international Ono has only been in Sydney for just over 24 hours but has already completed two sessions with the Wanderers and is keen to face the Central Coast in the club's A-League debut on Saturday.