Marked man … Alessandro Del Piero endures rough-house tactics against Melbourne Heart. Photo: Brendan Esposito
HE MAY have been left with an array of bruises in a similar shade of blue to his Sydney FC shorts when he last played Melbourne Heart, but Alessandro Del Piero is not fazed by the extra attention he is receiving from A-League defenders.
Del Piero has been the recipient of some tasty challenges in recent weeks and expects a similar reception from the Heart when they make the trip to Allianz Stadium on Sunday. But he says he is not bothered by the physical approach he is receiving in the A-League.
Throughout his career, Del Piero feels he has always played with a target on his back. Whether it was former Serie A hardmen Marco Materazzi and Gennaro Gattuso or their A-League equivalents, over-zealous challenges have been a constant throughout his decorated 19 years with Juventus.
''I don't know, sometimes my legs say that, but I don't know. It happened all my career like that, it's not a problem for me.'' Del Piero said.
Il Pinturicchio (the little artist) joked he tried to call Heart coach John Aloisi to prevent a similar bruising reception from his markers. He limped off the field after 70 minutes in their last encounter after aggravating a hamstring injury and missed the following match against Wellington Phoenix. But he insists he is not burdened by the physical battles.
''I tried to call John Aloisi before the game to say something but every game is a hard game … also the last game against Heart,'' Del Piero said. ''I do my best, for sure, I want to do my best and think only about our place and my teammates and what happened on the field, stayed on the field. That's it.''
It was Frank Farina's first match in charge of the club when the two teams met in round nine and the former Socceroo coach is predicting his star player will receive similar treatment. Farina does not believe opponents are trying to hurt Del Piero, but says he is targeted like any playmaker.
''Possibly [he is being targeted], but that's up to the referees to interpret that and to handle that. I don't think teams actually go out and say, 'We're going to kick the living crap out of someone' or whatever,'' Farina said. ''But, they will muscle up on key players and Alessandro is a key player for us and they will most probably be looking at nullifying him the best they can.''
Sydney's marquee man has been shifted into the trequartista role - the playmaker between the midfield and the strikers - by Farina and has supported the change. Del Piero could again start in that position but will likely shift between the forward line in an attempt to expose holes in Heart's defence.
''At the moment we need that. We change the shape and we use all of our energy,'' Del Piero said. ''But, in Perth, I play half and half because we change a lot with Jason [Culina] and sometimes he goes forward and I go trequartista and sometimes I go to forward and he plays trequartista.''
Twenty-year-old Peter Triantis is set to retain his position supporting Del Piero in the midfield and 17-year-old Aaron Calver is likely to retain his spot in the centre of Sydney's defence. The Italian veteran has been impressed by the two youngsters and believes they have the ability to progress further in their careers. ''They play very good, they help us they do great work and they need to improve, they can improve,'' Del Piero said. ''This is important and they're training with this mentality. [They] will be better day by day.''