The Italian's job: Del Piero ready to get Sky Blues back on track
Back ... Alessandro Del Piero training on Thursday after shaking off an injury. Photo: Nick Moir
Alessandro Del Piero turns 38 on Friday - but the only present he wants is for Sydney FC to claim all three points in Saturday's ''Big Blue'' against Melbourne Victory.
The Italian star missed last weekend's miserable 7-2 hammering at the hands of Central Coast with a hamstring injury but has been passed fit to play at Allianz Stadium.
His inclusion cannot come quick enough for the Sky Blues, who were outclassed without their marquee star. Asked if there was a ''main area'' Sydney could improve on, Del Piero joked it was impossible to pick just one.
''The main area? What? Maybe everything if we saw the last match,'' he said after training after on Thursday. ''We talked a lot, I don't think too much, but a lot about last Saturday. It's a really bad loss for us. We are really disappointed about what's happened. But Saturday, we have another match.
''If we think too much about what happened last Saturday, maybe we go on the field with some fear or something and it's not positive. That's why we have to take time to analyse everything and do better, for sure.''
Sydney looked forlorn without their No.10 in Gosford. He's scored three goals in four games and without him, and with captain Terry McFlynn warming the bench, there was a lack of leadership when the match was up for grabs in the second half. Instead, Sydney copped four goals in 11 minutes, turning a potential thriller into a nightmare that will haunt the club for years.
However, Del Piero said the response had been ''very good'' in training. ''We understand about last Saturday and that it's something unusual. But it happened only last Saturday, not another time,'' he said. ''We are working to [correct] that. We are working for a win. Next Saturday, I hope, is the perfect situation. That's why I try to joke because if we think about it too much, maybe there will be much pressure on us.''
Historically the biggest rivalry in the A-League, the match is arguably Australia's version of the Derby d'Italia - the game played between Del Piero's former club Juventus and Inter Milan. The veteran is hoping there are no omens in Inter's 3-1 win at Juve last weekend.
''I understand that Saturday's match will be the most important,'' he said. ''That's why we have, I hope, a focus on our teammates and our game. I want to go into Saturday's game with a lot of energy and passion.
''I understand it's a new atmosphere for a game in Australia. I know what is happening in a game like this in Italy and Europe but not here. I'm also curious and excited about what will happen.''
Del Piero didn't take part in the main session of training on Thursday but that shouldn't be a cause of alarm to those wondering if he'll play. Like the other forwards, he was instead participating in some attack-specific skills and combinations.
He'll have to get used to working with Panamanian striker Yairo Yau, too, for they've not yet started a match together. However, Yau was the pick of Sydney's players against the Mariners, scoring once and setting up the other, and his pace could complement Del Piero's precision.
Though Del Piero stopped midway through the session to put a compression strap on his left hamstring, the forward is hardly worried about being hampered by the injury against Victory.
''[I'm] feeling good day by day. I'm happier today because I am training with the team all the time,'' he said. ''We have to check tomorrow with some stronger work, but I have a good feeling for Saturday.''
The former Azzurri star also brushed off concerns about whether the injury would affect him in the coming weeks. ''No, I stopped for a precaution [last week] and it's the right way, definitely,'' he said. ''And I think for Saturday it will be OK.''
Del Piero might not know much about Australian football but he already knows that Victory are the league's biggest club and has been doing his own scouting on Ange Postecoglou's side.
He spent Tuesday in the opulent Lavazza marquee at the Melbourne Cup, crossing paths with Wellington Phoenix players who played against Melbourne Victory the night before. After having no luck with his Melbourne Cup pick - Ethiopia finished dead last - he didn't mind hitting up the New Zealanders for some tips about how to get the better of this week's opposition.
''I have to win in the soccer, not the betting,'' he laughed. ''I saw Victory's last win [3-2 against Phoenix on Monday] and I spoke on Tuesday with some guys from Wellington and they tell me the same - they are good team, a very good team.
''But we are at home. We need our fans and our crowd and we need to win. That will give us enough energy on the field.''
Describing it as ''very important'' that the team bounced back to winning ways, Del Piero said Sydney were prepared to get physical with Victory if that's what it took.
''Maybe, yes,'' he said. ''Every game is different but I think Saturday will be a strong and physical match also.''