|By ADAM LUCIUS
Senior Sydney FC players deny the large shadow cast by Alessandro Del Piero is proving a distraction and leaving overawed players rigid with stage fright.
As the Sky Blues began their search for a new coach after Ian Crook's abrupt departure, the players returned to training on Monday under caretaker boss Steve Corica vowing to turn their season around.
And they insist the intense spotlight on Del Piero - on and off the pitch - is not a negative, despite Crook admitting he was not fully prepared for the increased scrutiny on the club.
"When you bring a world superstar to the club and to the league and the country, that's part and parcel of it," defender and former captain Terry McFlynn said.
"Crooky had a lot more to do with that than we do as a playing group.
"He shielded us from that and bore a lot of the brunt.
"Alessandro's been great for us as players. For someone who has won absolutely everything in the game to be such a humble and respectful guy [is amazing].
"He's a great man and his football and talent speaks for itself.
"We've really embraced having him here."
But while the players could do without the off-field circus surrounding Del Piero, it seems they struggle when the former Juventus captain is not on the pitch.
The Italian missed the 7-2 loss to Central Coast in round five and left the field on Saturday with Sydney up 2-0 against Melbourne, only to watch them slide to a 3-2 defeat.
The Sky Blues clearly missed Del Piero's calming influence, but goalkeeper Ivan Necevski argued his absence did not cost them the game.
"It is not an individual sport, there are 14 or 15 guys that can come in and do a job," he said.
"Alessandro's one of the greatest players the game has ever produced and is a massive influence on and off the pitch, but he didn't have 90 minutes in him and had to come off.
"We have to adjust and start playing like we do when he's on it."