Del Piero's rapturous Aussie welcome! Italy legend mobbed after touching down in Sydney
11:51 GMT, 16 September 2012
Former Juventus and Italy forward Alessandro Del Piero has already made quite an impression in Australia as he begins preparation to make his A League debut for Sydney FC.
The player who Australian football
officials hope will help revitalise the sport in the country has touched down Down Under to start a two-year contract
Wearing a Sydney FC scarf and signing autographs for fans who had waited up to five hours, Del Piero arrived to a raucous welcome at Sydney airport.
Italian job: Del Piero is lost in the crowd after touching down in Sydney
The 37-year-old – who will earn 1.3million a season – emerged from the Australian customs area with his family late Sunday morning and was met by hundreds of chanting and cheering fans lined up behind metal security barriers. And His arrival was televised live across the country.
'I am here not for the end of my career but for the start of my new career,' said Del Piero, the biggest signing in the history of Australian football.
His arrival eclipses the league previous marquee signings: former
Manchester United star Dwight Yorke, who also played for Sydney in
2005-06, and former Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler, who played with the
now-defunct North Queensland team then Perth Glory from 2009-11.
Del Piero made a few comments in Italian and was taken from the airport to a downtown hotel where he planned to rest with his wife, Sonia, and their three children after the 20-hour trip from Italy via Singapore.
And Del Piero will join his first training session with his new team-mates on Tuesday.
Piero-mania! The fans push forward to get a glimpse of their hero arriving with his wife (below)
Del Piero, a member of Italy's 2006 World Cup-winning team and who scored a club-record 286 goals for Juventus, is expected to help bring greater exposure – and spectators – to the struggling A-League, which has suffered from declining crowds and the folding of two teams in the past two seasons.
His decision to play in Australia is being compared with David Beckham's impact on the game in the United States when he signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Sydney chief executive Tony Pignata, who traveled to Turin nearly two weeks ago to get Del Piero's signature on the contract, said he was pleased with the response of fans – more than 2,000 club memberships have been sold since Del Piero's contract was signed.
Pignata also said 15,000 Sydney FC jerseys with Del Piero's No 10 and name on the back had been manufactured and were selling fast, with orders from around the world.
Tickets for Sydney's first home match at the 45,000-seat Sydney Football Stadium on Oct. 13 have not yet gone on sale. A Sydney official said although the match was unlikely to be a sellout – 'that's a big call' – it could be the team's biggest first-match crowd in its history.
Aussie rules! Del Piero begins training with his new team-mates on Tuesday
Del Piero's first official public appearance in Sydney is expected next Sunday – Sept. 23 – when the players will be handed their jerseys for the upcoming season.
His first game for Sydney could be against Newcastle next Saturday, a preseason match scheduled to be played in the Central Coast town of Budgewoi north of Sydney. However, if Del Piero plays, it is expected to be moved to a larger stadium at nearby Gosford.
Sydney plays its first-round match of the new A-League season at Wellington, New Zealand on Oct. 6.
Average attendance in the A-League dropped from a high of 14,600 in 2007-08 to as low as 8,400 in 2010-11, although it increased to 10,500 last season.
North Queensland Fury folded in 2010 and Gold Coast United in 2011, but the league will return to 10 teams with the addition of the Western Sydney Wanderers this season.
Regardless of what he does on the field on his aging legs, the deal has made Del Piero the highest paid athlete in Australia's four football codes, which also includes rugby league, rugby union and Australian Rules.
Hero's welcome: The Italian's car was mobbed as it made its way out of the airport