ALESSANDRO Del Piero might have excited the masses upon his arrival but awkward reality is that the Italian star may go into the A-League season without playing a single trial game.
Tonight was meant to be Del Piero's first match in Sydney colours, a friendly against Central Coast at Allianz Stadium set to be played behind closed doors, only for the Mariners to pull out yesterday.
Mariners coach Graham Arnold personally made the call to withdraw, citing widespread fatigue among his players after a weekend trip to Queensland where they defeated Brisbane 1-0.
With just 10 days left before Sydney's first match, away to Wellington, there is concern Del Piero will be severely lacking match-fitness leading into the clash.
He last played way back in May, when his 19-year Juventus career ended with the Coppa Italia final, a game his side lost 2-0.
The 37-year old has been training for the past few months with a local amateur club in Turin in an effort to get fit but has only spent the past week training with his new teammates in Sydney. It now seems the first match the $2 million-per-year signing will play in is against the Phoenix with coach Ian Crook confirming there would be no time for another friendly.
''Arnie [Arnold] called me and let me know and I've been in this situation earlier in this pre-season so I know it's not easy but sadly it's at the wrong time for us,'' he said. ''I have to be honest in saying there's probably no time to get another game sorted out before the season starts.
''At this late notice, it's just going to be too tough because other teams have their warm-up games already sorted out.'' The last time Sydney played in a practice match was against Newcastle at Leichhardt Oval, almost three weeks ago. They were also due to play Newcastle in Budgewoi last weekend - another match that ended on the scrap heap. Instead, Crook will work out an intra-club match, possibly calling up youth team players to fill out the numbers.
The Sky Blues are pleased with his progress but they wanted at least one match from him before making his proper debut. But Del Piero looks likely to play 'cold' next Saturday.
''I think he's played against some pretty decent opposition in his career so I'm hoping he'll be ok,'' Crook said. ''The difficult thing is that you want to give players game time, regardless of who they might be. He wants game time as well, that's the important thing.''
Arnold said he called off the game as he did not want to risk his players so quickly after the weekend's clash.
''Originally the game was booked for Thursday but had to be moved to Wednesday due to the Del Piero factor,'' Arnold said. ''We played in Maroochydore on Sunday against Brisbane in very warm conditions and that has sapped the energy of our players. We also copped a few slight injuries and after travelling back yesterday we had a light training session this morning. The players have not recovered sufficiently for me to put them in a high-risk situation.''