Jake Allingan explains how Alessandro Del Piero and Emile Heskey's moves Down Under will benefit A-League football.
Everyone’s seen the adverts; a catchy song which aims to suck people towards Australia is played over a compilation of idyllic video clips showing off the country’s – there no other word for it – phenomenal backdrop.
Dolphins soar underneath the setting sun, which seems to smile as it takes its final glance of the day at its most beautiful dominion. Kangaroos bound effortlessly across a breezy field, chattering to one another about how lucky they are to be native to this land of wonders. Alessandro Del Piero and Emile Heskey smile at the camera whilst enjoying a slice of toast lathered with Vegemite…
Hold on a minute. That’s not typical Australia. These two footballers aren’t iconic features of a breathtaking environment. But we could soon see them featuring together on these adverts in an attempt to drag tourists to their new home, and perhaps to hand the A-League new fans.
They could come in droves, in what could be called a pilgrimage. Del Piero is known as one of the finest footballers of this generation, whilst Heskey has managed to build up a cult following bordering on reverence – although maybe not purely for his football skills.
Both players have started to pull the rope which will bring the curtain down upon illustrious careers, careers which have been blessed to include countless international caps as well as European success.
Del Piero’s transfer to Sydney FC comes with a free worldwide reputation which football fans globally can proudly say they have contributed to. Ask yourself this; have you ever uttered a compliment about the Italian to a friend, noted just how potent his finishing is or remarked that he just has something about him which causes instant respect to emanate from you? The answer will probably be something along the lines of “yes, more than once, as a matter of fact.” That’s tribute to the brilliance of Alessandro Del Piero, a footballer who deserves all the praise heaped upon him.
Such is the influence of the man upon football that critics have taken it upon themselves to christen a certain type of goal a ‘Del Piero Zone’, or Gol Alla Del Piero. It references the type of finish which has become synonymous with the striker, cutting in from the left side of the pitch before ordering the ball into the top corner – because ‘ordering’ is how it should be described. The ball does what it has been told to with military precision, respects its master so much that it doesn’t even think of disobeying.
In Newcastle arrives another striker who plays on a different type of pitch to Del Piero. Their styles are contrasting and while both look to set up goals as well as score them, they couldn’t do it differently if they tried. Whilst the handsome Italian uses every inch of his feet to provide for his team-mates, Emile Heskey utilises his bulk and power to do so. They are polar opposites in many things, height being but one of them, and each plays to their strengths. The former Aston Villa striker is 6 ft 2, allowing him to head the ball into the space he has created, or else hold it up whilst he waits for support.
Winning the UEFA Cup, as it was then, capped a tremendous season for Heskey and his Liverpool team in 2000-01. It would prove to be the summit of his career, rewarded for his achievements with not only a European medal but also Charity Shield, League Cup and FA Cup honours. Since then he has gone on to ply a successful trade on both domestic and international stages, his name becoming almost a requirement for fans of the Premier League to hear on ‘Match of the Day’.
Two players with a good history behind them, then, but two players who have come to terms with the fact that there is now more football in their past than in their future. Thus they packed their suitcases in search of football away from their homeland for the first time in their careers, and both arrived at the same conclusion: Australia.
Money could be an influence in this, as well as the knowledge that the game is easier in the Southern Hemisphere than in Europe, allowing them to squeeze out everything (including the dregs) which they can from their career. With regards to money, Del Piero has been made Australia’s highest ever paid footballer – including rugby and Aussie rules – but it’s unlikely the players opted to emigrate for economic reasons. After all, both have earned enough throughout their playing careers not to need one last cash boost in the finale.
And then you look at where they are playing, eating, living. Sydney is one of the most beautiful cities in the world; who wouldn’t want to live there? In the vicinity is Bondi Beach – keep an eye out on your TV for an Italian footballer being made an honorary lifeguard – and some of the finest restaurants this planet has to offer. Newcastle isn’t as awe-inspiring, but it definitely surpasses Birmingham in the ‘best places to live’ poll.
But both players have admitted they had something else in mind when completing their moves south. “I hope I can help grow football at the grassroots level and also provide advice to young players at the Jets,” said Heskey. The Englishman may be a key figure in the footballing revolution which is happening Down Under and his decision to move in order to help this is testament to what is happening in Australia.
“I want to continue my career in a new part of the world where I can make a major contribution and help grow the game I love,” remarked Del Piero. A mark of the man he is, that he wants to help a sport - which he has already nurtured throughout his career – to become a truly worldwide game.
The influence which he will have can be seen already. When presented with his shirt (number 10, of course, if you were wondering), 2,000 people showed up to witness the immaculately presented Italian receive the blue colours of Sydney FC.
What’s fitting is the fact that Sydney’s first home game – and likely Del Piero’s too – will be against Heskey’s Newcastle Jets. This time last year, 300 tickets had been sold for the club’s first game at the Allianz Stadium – this year, over 5,000 have gone.
The arrival of these two globally recognisable names in Australia means a lot more than a pay cheque. They will act as a fertiliser in order to help the A-League flourish and attract more fans and well known names. They will raise the league’s reputation, make it recognisable around the football world.
Alessandro del Piero and Emile Heskey have not joined their new teams just to see out their careers – they have joined them to make a difference, and to benefit the game of football throughout the globe.