In the lead up to the 2013-14 season, join us as we count down the best 15 players in the A-League, as voted for by Goal and Sportal.com.au journalists and writers.
It should come as no surprise that Alessandro Del Piero has been voted by our experts as the best player in the A-League. Goal Australia and Sportal.com.au journalists were asked to pick 10 players they would like to have alongside them in the ultimate park A-League kick-about, where positions are unimportant, and few could go past Del Piero as their ideal team-mate.
Sydney FC's signing of Del Piero before the 2012-13 A-League season was a landmark moment in the short history of Australia's developing national competition and while the Italian veteran was unable to lead the Sky Blues to the finals in his maiden campaign in the harbour city, he left an indelible mark on the league.
|Alessandro Del Piero
|Sydney FC [2012-]
Having scored 264 goals in 628 appearances for Juventus in all competitions in 19 seasons with the Turin-based club, Del Piero was convinced to leave his native Italy and move halfway around the world to continue his career with a club it is likely he had never heard of before player agent Lou Sticca and Sydney FC CEO Tony Pignata first made contact. Despite some concerns about his aging legs, Del Piero quickly made it clear he had ability few A-League players could even dream of.
In Sydney's first home game of last season, and with his team trailing Newcastle Jets 1-0, the veteran striker won a free-kick just over 20 yards from goal, before dusting himself off and curling his shot over the wall and into the top corner of the net. While Sydney went on to lose 3-2, Del Piero had announced himself to the Australian football community and would continue to show his combination of class, technique, power and nous - exemplified in his maiden goal - to finish with 14 goals and six assists at the end of the season.
Heading into his second term with Sydney, Del Piero has been made captain by head coach Frank Farina and will be critical to the Sky Blues' hopes of claiming their first silverware since the 2009-10 season.
While many would have expected Del Piero to have more skill and better technique than other A-League players when he arrived in Australia, it was the Italian's ability to regularly find time and space, which made him stand out from the crowd. The now 38-year-old was the focus of every opposition defender but was still able to create space for himself with his top-class ball control and tight dribbling.
Despite sometimes moving at what appeared to be a snail's pace, Del Piero glided past opposition players at will and if he was ever hemmed in, regularly found a way to earn a free-kick to ensure Sydney retained possession. Because of his ability to protect the ball, Del Piero's team-mates always looked to pass to him when under pressure, knowing he would be able to get Sydney out of trouble.
In the final third, Del Piero's importance was underlined by the fact he played a direct role in 20 of the Sky Blues' 41 goals last season.
To select one moment from Del Piero's inaugural A-League season is difficult as the veteran striker appeared to provide a highlight just about every time he stepped onto the pitch.
Ironically, of the 10 games Del Piero scored in last season, Sydney only won four and some of his most memorable moments, such as the free-kick against Newcastle and his fine double away to Brisbane Roar, came in defeats. On that night at Suncorp Stadium in November, Del Piero launched a rocket past Roar goalkeeper Michael Theo in the first half, before waltzing through Brisbane's defence after half-time to score a classy second, but Sydney still lost 4-2.
As such, it is hard to go past Del Piero's four goals and an assist in Sydney's 7-1 demolition of Wellington Phoenix in Round 17. In an absolute master-class, Del Piero began by chipping the ball over Wellington's defence for Joel Griffiths to score the opening goal. From then on it was all the Italian, as he turned sharply in the box to double Sydney's lead before dispatching a spot kick minutes later. Del Piero's hat-trick goal was the pick of the bunch as he stood up Leo Bertos on the left side of the penalty area, cut inside onto his right foot and curled a shot into the far top corner. Having led Sydney to 5-0 at half-time, Del Piero added a sixth goal, and his fourth, just after the hour mark, twisting past Andrew Durante to again pick out the top corner of the net.