Del Piero – now the hard work begins

Sydney FC have broken the bank for an aging player of immense talent and international profile. Now they have to play it for all its worth.

The morning after the morning after. The shock and elation has died down, now comes the reality: Alessandro Del Piero will be playing for Sydney FC for two seasons, maybe three. Even writing it down seems faintly ridiculous.

Club CEO Tony Pignata, chairman Scott Barlow, owner David Traktovenko and agent Lou Sticca have pulled off the impossible. Now they have to make the impossible work.

Barlow wouldn-t confirm the club would be paying the Italian $2 million a season but did admit those figures weren-t far off. That is a massive investment for any football club in Australia, never mind one that has reportedly lost about $5 million a season.

The financial woes of Hyundai A-League clubs are well known so for Sydney to break the bank so publicly, so globally, still represents a huge risk, no matter what superstar they might have signed.

So now the club - or, more specifically, Traktovenko - have stumped up so much money for Del Piero, they have to make him work for them, on and off the pitch.

As I said in a recent post, you have to give credit to the way Sydney have handled this from the start; it was a risky play but the media exposure this story has generated from the first moment the rumours got out would have been way beyond the club-s usual marketing budget.

On Thursday morning they broke onto the front page of Sydney-s Daily Telegraph, in the midst of NRL finals.

And never mind the dollar-worth of having their shirt shown on every major sports channel around the world, as Pignata shook hands with his new signing. Privately, Sydney-s money men must be wishing they-d held off on a shirt sponsor just a little while longer - Webjet only signed a two-year deal, worth a reported $600,000 a season, little more than four weeks ago.

The other immediate impact was closer to home, as the Sydney FC membership lines went wild, with the club having to hire four extra staff to keep up with demand. At the end of the day, the Sky Blues had 800 more members and the corporate boxes were being snapped up.

“We also received a lot of inquiries for packages ranging in price from $1095 to The Legend's Club ($1625) to a private suite, which goes for $43,000 and change," team spokesman David Mason said.

That-s a pretty good down payment but it-s only the beginning - increased shirt sales and record crowd figures are also expected. Sydney FC average 11,816 last season; now they-re talking 20,000 a game, with 35,000 hoped for the first home game against Newcastle Jets on 13 October. And then there-s the roll-on for other A-League clubs, who can also expect big rises when Del Piero comes to town.

And now the club can also look overseas, extending their reach further than any A-League club has ever managed.

The Italians still love Del Piero and his decision to come to Australia has already broken that market; just look at the comments in John Ianntuono-s last blog, or consider the fact that when the deal was confirmed late Wednesday night, half of our spiking website traffic originated from Italy.

There have been reports that Sky Italia could show some Sydney home games or that the club might take a tour back to their new no.10-s home.

Or if not Europe, how about a lucrative trip to Asia? Del Piero remains hugely popular in Japan, so much so that he reportedly retains a team there, and presents Sydney with a massive opportunity to really make an impact in the local market.

And then - oh yeah - there-s the football. Sydney FC coach Ian Crook will now have even more focus on his first season in charge at the club. Many already expect the team to perform better under the Englishman than they in recent seasons but it-s not necessarily an easy thing to slot a superstar into your side.

Crook has been quick to downplay suggestions that Del Piero makes his side title favourites and explain that he won-t be too proud to ask the for Juventus and Italy striker for input on how the team can get the best out of him.

Del Piero made 19 appearances for Juventus last season, most of them off the bench. How will the 37-year-old adapt to the rapidly improving but still sometimes agricultural nature of the A-League? Playing devil-s advocate, what happens if it all goes to pot on the field or Sydney don-t make the finals?

It-s hard to imagine him doing anything other than ruling it and improving it in a way we-ve never seen before, but still, the question deserves to be asked.

And then there-s the legacy, part of the “project” that Pignata used to hook his man. In the place of youth investment, Sydney have gone all out for the big bang, and must now make good on Barlow-s claims of using Del Piero to build for the long-term.

What will that look like? As well as a hoped-for financial legacy, will the club make the most of all Del Piero-s experience and knowledge to aid their own coaching and development programs, and to improve the structure of the football department?

Sydney FC have broken the bank for an aging player of immense talent and international profile. Such a big investment always carries an equal risk but regardless, they have an individual who has every fan in the country checking the fixture list to see when their club hosts the World Cup winner in Sky Blue. We can hardly believe our luck - now it-s up to Sydney to play it for all its worth.