The Juventus camp was buzzing with optimism. Diego had arrived from Werder Bremen for €24.5 million, Felipe Melo had landed for not much less than that from bitter rivals Fiorentina. There was talk of an exciting new tactical approach from young hotshot coach Ciro Ferrara who would get the team to play a fast, short passing game, not unlike the one that saw Pep Guardiola's Barcelona blow away the rest of Europe last season. There were even rumours that he would play Diego and Del Piero at the same time with Sebastian Giovinco waiting in the wings in what would be the most adventurous attacking trident this side of Flash Gordon.
Such excitement, such promise.
But by the beginning of October, all that early hope had turned to dust. Ferrara's struggling side were losing two-nil against Palermo at the Stadio Barbera, Diego had been substituted and the team tipped as this year's most likely style icons were reduced to lumping long hopeful balls into the box in the vain hope that one of them might land on the head of Vincenzo Iaquinta or David Trezeguet. Fantasy football? The Old Lady looked more like Bolton Wanderers than the Blaugrana.
A frustrated David Trezeguet as Juve go long in Sicily
Perhaps even more worrying than that is the fact that the Bianconeri have scored just 12 goals in eight Serie A games. And, after a hugely promising start to the campaign, the form of Brazilian playmaker Diego has dipped alarmingly and his fellow countryman Felipe Melo is barely recognisable from the player who steamrolled his way through the Roma midfield and slotted the ball home to make it 3-1 in week two.
Inevitably, pundits and commentators have started looking around for a saviour to Juventus' season. And even more inevitably, many fingers have pointed in the direction of club captain and all-round legend in his own injury time, Alessandro Del Piero.
The only problem with this is that the messiah is still having problems with his injured left leg and won't be back until the middle of November. But, assuming he recovers from the longest lasting muscle problem in the history of physiotherapy, has the 34-year-old superstar still got the motivation, the stamina and the ability to turn Juve's season around?
The answer is... possibly. But probably not.
Del Piero has had time to perfect his moody stareConsidering he hasn't really set foot on a football pitch in a meaningful way since he chipped that embarrassing penalty down Aston Villa 'keeper Brad Guzan's throat in the final of the Peace Cup back in early August, Del Piero should be more than fully rested and raring to go. Lets just hope that his decidedly average second half of last season was down to weariness and not something more terminal. Serious questions have been raised in the last few weeks about the mysterious nature of his current injury with some pondering whether it might be the beginning of the end.
But lets assume that isn’t the case. A fit again Del Piero, even in the autumn of his career, could be just the boost the Bianconeri need to revive their ailing fortunes. Even if he only comes on to replace Diego, his trickiness, shooting ability and short passing skills in and around the box can still turn a game. And then there's his prowess from free-kicks. Even now, there are not too many players anywhere on the planet who are more lethal free-kick experts than Del Piero. If Ciro Ferrara is going to continue to shut the door in the face of Giovinco, then the clubs' all-time leading goalscorer is not a bad alternative to have on the bench.
Of course, if Diego's sluggish form continues, there is every chance that a fit again Il Padrino could even force his way back into the starting X1. Judging by his comments at the start of the campaign, this could be the least of his ambitions
"The championship and the World Cup are two objectives that go hand-in-hand," stated Del Piero optimistically.
"Surely, I can reach the national team through Juventus."
In order for Del Piero to make Marcello Lippi's squad for the World Cup in South Africa next year he would have to rediscover the kind of form he has only shown in patches over the last two or three years. But before we file this idea in the impossible section, it should be remembered that he has surprised us before, on more than one occasion, as it happens.
Everyone wrote him off after he ripped his knee ligaments in 1998 and although he never regained the sharpness of pace that used to take him past defenders at will, he gradually learnt to become a different kind of support striker. He even managed to come back from his confidence-shattering performance in the final of Euro 2000. Little Pinturicchio is tougher than anyone has ever given him credit for.
But if Juventus need their ageing skipper to patch himself up and save their season, it would be a serious admission of failure as far as the coach and the transfer policy is concerned. Even if he managed to take them to their '28th' Scudetto, the heads of Ciro Ferrara and Alessio Secco would surely have to roll.
Too much, too young? Ferrara feels the heat
There is a growing belief in the peninsula that the problem may lie with the inexperience of the coach. For Ferrara, like Roberto Donadoni, Leonardo and even Italy Under-21 boss Pierluigi Casiraghi, it could be a case of too much, too soon. Even without Del Piero, he has one of the most talented squads in Europe to play with and has hardly managed to get them out of second gear. There is something not quite right about the current Juve.
Even if Del Piero comes to his rescue, you sense that from here, only winning a trophy will save Ferrara's Juventus career.
Gil Gillespie, Goal.com