By Jeremy Lim
Juventus' all-time leading scorer and appearances holder. A World Cup Winner, and an elite member of Pele's Fifa 100. You can imagine why idolising Alessandro Del Piero, the Bianconeri's iconic former captain, encapsulates the fan experience of being a Juventus supporter. Just imagine my excitement, and initial disbelief, when I heard I would have the opportunity to meet him, right here in Singapore.
Del Piero's storied career at the Italian champions came to an end this summer, when, after 19 years of dedicated service, including shunning the prospects of leaving the club following the match-fixing scandal which engulfed Italian football and eventually led to Juventus' enforced relegation in 2006, president Andrea Agnelli opted against handing the legendary striker a contract renewal.
It was via such circumstances that the 37-year-old landed on the shores of Singapore, on a transit flight en-route to Sydney, where he will wrap up his illustrious career for good down under. Arriving at Changi Airport in the early hours of the morning, I paced around in trepidation at the location the tip-off had stated he would emerge from in the passenger hall, adrenaline peaking to stave off the exhaustion from a night spent tossing around in bed caused by mounting anticipation.
"What to say to a legend like him? Gosh, I just hope I don't embarrass myself." The thoughts running through my mind were cut off when, all of a sudden, a familiar figure materialised in the distance; his wife, and if she was there, then that could only mean one thing.
Decked out not in a Juventus kit, but in a cardigan - doing the sight of my captain, my childhood idol, equal justice - strolled forward the one and only Del Piero. Only this time, there was no tunnel, no stadium. None of this was on television. Here he was, in the flesh.
I have had the honour of meeting Fabio Cannavaro and Edgar Davids in the past, but never once during my interactions with the former did I tremble, as I did then, ever so slightly. Here was the man who did so much for our beloved club, yet expected so little in return.
Exuding that sense of fortune so easily associable with him despite being evidently jet-lagged, he turned around upon hearing his name being called, and upon spotting me advancing as confidently as one could possibly do in his presence, broke into a beaming smile.
Pardoning the cliches, the following lasted only a matter of seconds, but it seemed to stretch an eternity. Forgetting what I was meant to say despite rehearsing my lines for the umpteenth time earlier, Del Piero broke the silence by offering his hand and rocking some English: "Ciao. How are you?"
The simplest of gestures, no other present in the arrival hall that day could have fathomed what my football hero's acknowledgement meant to me. Initially overwhelmed by the moment, as if a rabbit caught in the headlights of an onrushing car, the spotlight now extended to me, practicing warm inclusion as I basked in a personal sense of triumph and glory. Signing my jersey and posing for a photo with second-nature efficiency, it all ended as quickly as it had begun, but not before Del Piero uttered a final 'see you.'
Sydney FC fans must already understand how lucky they are to be the ones watching him strutting his stuff till the end of his playing days; after all, over 500 fans turned out at the Australian capital's airport to greet him with chants invlolving Juventus and their club.
But it was via my personal encounter in his company that I fully understood what true appreciation of the person that Del Piero is meant; it not lying merely with regarding his unprecedented sporting feats nor insurmountable genius on the pitch, but also with taking into account his personal demeanour as a down-to-earth human being not disimilar to those condemned to ordinariness off it.
So, to Mr. Del Piero, who did me the honour of presenting me with keepsakes that will never fade from memory, I say thank you, for making my experience as a Juventus fan so far come full-circle. While he would be as quick as always to deflect the pleasure to being his, I know this time it is I who will be getting the last word in: "No, it was all mine."