ON October 14, when Delhi Dynamos play Pune City in the third match of the Indian Super League season, it will mark a reunion of sorts for two men who were first rivals, and then teammates for a decade.
David Trezeguet and Alessandro Del Piero (right). Pic/Getty Images
Alessandro Del Piero was Mr Juventus for nearly two decades, while David Trezeguet, whose golden goal for France at Euro 2000 broke Italian hearts, spent his most productive years in club football in Turin.
They were both part of the Juventus team relegated to Serie B after the Calciopoli scandal, and involved in the subsequent renaissance that has seen the club nicknamed both La Vecchia Signora (The Old Lady) and La Fidanzata d’Italia (The Girlfriend of Italy) take back its place on the uppermost perch of Italian football.
Del Piero was well on the way to becoming a Juve legend by the time Trezeguet transferred to AS Monaco from Platense in Argentina as a teenager. In 1995-96, he scored six Champions League goals as Juve won the trophy for only the second time.
A season later, he was a substitute in the final, but while his back-heeled goal was eye-catching, the favourites were no match for an inspired Borussia Dortmund team that won 3-1. In 1997-98, Del Piero topped the Champions League goal-scoring charts, with 10 from 10 matches. Again though, there was only heartbreak in the final, with a Predrag Mijatovic goal enough for Real Madrid to prevail.
It was that season that saw Del Piero and Trezeguet first cross paths. Trezeguet’s away goal at Old Trafford had been enough to dump Manchester United out in the quarter-final, but Juve were far too strong in the last four, with Del Piero registering a hat-trick in the home leg.
In the following two seasons, even as Del Piero struggled with a serious knee injury, Trezeguet knocked in 38 goals for Monaco in 73 games. The decisive intervention in the Euro 2000 final — a match in which Del Piero was also a substitute, with Dino Zoff choosing the Roma duo of Francesco Totti and Marco Delvecchio up front — put Trezeguet firmly in the show window and it was Juventus that got his signature later in the summer.
In 2002-03, with both men playing influential roles, Juve once again reached the final of the Champions League, losing on penalties to their bitter rivals, AC Milan. They haven’t been back to the summit since. By the 2006 World Cup, their fortunes had declined to such an extent that neither was in the starting XI for the final. Del Piero came on in the 86th minute and tucked away the fourth of Italy’s penalties in the shootout. Trezeguet, who came on in the 10th minute of extra time for Franck Ribery, missed his kick, joining Zinedine Zidane as the scapegoat for the loss.
After the separation from his beloved Juve, Del Piero went off to Sydney FC in Australia, scoring 24 times from 48 games across two seasons. Trezeguet, whose star waned much earlier, has been a bit of a nomad since his Juventus farewell. His travels have taken in Hercules in La Liga, Baniyas in the UAE’s Pro-League and River Plate and Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina.
Now, the two men with their halcyon years receding into the distance are at the forefront of what India hopes will be a football revolution. Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and others were part of the North American Soccer League (NASL) in the 1970s, while Zico, now coach of the Goa franchise, was the most iconic name to join Japan’s J League in the early 1990s.
The NASL folded after 17 seasons and it would be more than a decade before Major League Soccer took its place. The J League was instrumental in driving Japan to the top of Asian football.
No one should expect too much from the ISL’s icon players. If there was magic left in their legs, they’d still be playing in the top European leagues. This, like Zico’s last playing adventure with Kashima Antlers, should be seen differently. These once-great players are apostles for the beautiful game. For the sake of Indian sport as a whole, one can only hope that millions take up the gospel.
Dileep Premachandran is Wisden India’s editor-in-chief