Alessandro Del Piero at his first Australian press conference. Photo: Brendan Esposito
No player in any domestic football code will know the weight of expectation on Alessandro Del Piero's shoulders when he makes his debut for Sydney FC next month, but the $4 million man wouldn't have it any other way.
As he fronted the Australian media for the first time at the Star casino in Pyrmont, Del Piero said predictions that he could propel Sydney to their third A-League title did not faze him one bit.
"It is clear that there will be a lot of pressure to produce, but I think this is just the first step,'' he said. ''I am used to this, and I love that. I played 19 years with Juventus - and in Juventus you have to win every game, every year. Fortunately a lot of the time that happened - but all my life I play for winning. I'm here for winning … I'm here because I trust in the win."
Few players have revelled in the spotlight as much as Del Piero over the course of his brilliant career. Expectation is something he has grown up with - right back to when he broke into the first team at Padova at just 16.
After all, this is the same player who went on to score in a Champions League final, rammed home 27 goals for the Italian national team and scored a hat-trick on his full Serie A debut in 1993 at the age of 19.
However, when asked about what he hoped to achieve by the end of his two-year stint, at which stage he will be 39, Del Piero did not want to put a cap on it.
''I don't know now. I have a lot of things to do in two years,'' he said. "The most important thing is to stay focused on this moment, the present. It is a big change for me. I want to work in the present because I don't know what happens later."
Those involved in the deal to bring Del Piero to Australia have dubbed the move ''Project Sydney'', and the Italian is determined to provide the A-League with the boost it has been missing since it began in 2005.
''It is a very interesting project. Sometimes I decide with my feelings, but this was with my heart, head and feet,'' he said. ''First of all I am here for Sydney FC and competing for Sydney FC. Then we hope [it is] about the A-League growing up day by day, and this is hard work.''
Asked how those closest to him reacted to his decision to choose Sydney over other clubs that wanted his signature, including Liverpool, Celtic, FC Sion and Olympiacos, Del Piero said they took some convincing.
''Most of my friends said: 'OK, you want to change, but there's a lot of places closer,''' he said. ''I said, I know, but that I chose the best place.''
The change in conditions from the European winter to the southern hemisphere summer has caused problems for many players coming to the A-League, even Sydney's Australian marquee signing Brett Emerton said it was an issue, but Del Piero seemed relieved by it.
''It's different from Italy,'' he said. ''It's not -5 or -10 degrees. There [football in summer] does not happen. This is good for me.''
Convincing the eldest of his three children, five-year-old Tobias, about moving to Australia involved invoking the promise of spotting local wildlife.
''I promised to my son we'll see kangaroos … my son said: 'Ok, I'm happy,''' Del Piero said, declaring he wanted his family to embrace the Australian lifestyle as much as possible. ''We hope to 'live Australian' in every part of every situation.''
He said he was aware the country had a rich football history, largely as a result of the postwar immigration. ''I know there has been a lot of Italian, English, Greek, Croatian and Yugoslavian immigrants … [people] from all over the soccer world.''
The reception he had at Sydney Airport on Sunday morning, with more than 500 fans turning out, was unlike anything seen for an individual footballer in this country, and Del Piero said he was delighted by the welcome. ''Yesterday was fantastic, I really appreciated it,'' he said. ''The fans, this was perfect for me … It was a surprise but a good surprise.''