Seeking glory in blue shirt

Alessandro del Piero, the all-time leading scorer of Juventus, has had a glittering career that has lacked only major success at international level. He could put that right as he features in his third World Cup in Germany, writes Andy Hampson.

Skilful Italy and Juventus forward Alessandro del Piero, renowned for his dribbling and finishing, is one of the most productive and consistent performers in Serie `A' and has excelled at the top level for more than a decade. Now the all-time leading scorer of Juventus, he has scooped six Italian titles and a Champions League medal in a glittering career that has perhaps lacked only major success at international level. He could put that right as he features in his third World Cup this summer.

Del Piero is a creative and attacking player who is effective playing behind the frontline strikers as well as further forward. He is also recognised as one of the world's best dead-ball specialists.

Del Piero was born in Conegliano in the province of Treviso but such was his footballing talent — he was spotted playing for hometown San Vandemiano — he left home at the age of 13 to join the youth programme at Serie `B' club Padova.

He broke into the Padova first team in 1991 and two years later was snapped up by giants Juventus, his boyhood idols, in spite of interest from AC Milan.

Del Piero made his Serie `A' debut against Foggia in September 1993, scored his first goal in his next game against Reggiana and then grabbed a hat-trick against Parma on his first start. Juventus claimed their first Scudetto in eight years in his first season and success continued to follow. There were further titles in 1997, 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2005 and another one seems well on the way. He helped Juventus win the Champions League in 1996 and he has also lost three finals in 1997, 1998 and 2003.

Del Piero's versatility makes him a fearsome weapon, but for some reason he has never quite lived up to his reputation in an Italy shirt.

Expectations were huge for the 1998 World Cup but injuries and the form of Roberto Baggio kept him quiet, and he is still remembered for missing two fine chances in the Euro 2000 final. The 2002 World Cup and Euro 2004 were also disappointing.

He is nicknamed Pinturicchio, in reference to the modest painter, a tag which stuck following a joke by the late industrialist and Fiat owner — and outspoken Juventus fan — Gianni Agnelli. When Del Piero was an emerging talent, Agnelli compared him unflatteringly to Roberto Baggio by drawing a parallel between Pinturicchio and the great artist Raphael.

The 1998-99 season was a miserable one for Del Piero, starting with erroneous drug allegations being levelled at him and ending prematurely after suffering a knee injury. The injury came the day before his 24th birthday in a match against Udinese in November 1998.

He was sorely missed thereafter as Juventus toiled to finish sixth in Serie `A'. The player's critics say he never fully recovered from that, although he was back in action and scoring goals the following campaign.

Del Piero is engaged to Sonia Amoruso, who owns a boutique shop in Turin named Satu. There have been numerous reports that the pair are to marry soon but Del Piero is protective of his private life and it is unknown if there are firm plans.

Del Piero was raised by his mother Bruna, a housekeeper, and his late father Gino, who was an electrician. His elder brother Stefano, nine years his senior, was also a footballer with Sampdoria but his career was curtailed by injury. He now deals with Alessandro's financial affairs. Del Piero also has a younger sister called Beatrice.

With his first pay packet at Juventus, Del Piero bought a blue Lancia Delta Integrale, a vehicle that he still owns.

He is sometimes also seen driving a Ferrari 550 Maranello.

Factfile: Position: Striker Club: Juventus DOB: November 9, 1974 Italy Caps: 86 Italy Goals: 26 Italy debut: v Estonia, March 1995 Moment to remember:

Del Piero had the honour of scoring the goal that saw Juventus crowned world champions as they beat River Plate 1-0 to win the Toyota Cup in Tokyo in 1996.

Moment to forget:

Del Piero has also had some pretty low moments on the pitch. He played for only 45 minutes during Euro 1996 and he was not in the best form for the 1998 World Cup. His most harrowing memory, however, must be the Euro 2000 final. With Italy leading France 1-0 in Rotterdam, Del Piero came off the bench in the second half and missed two gilt-edged chances to wrap victory. Italy paid for his profligacy as France equalised in injury time and then won after extra time.

"I've not suffered a defeat like that since the under-nines. It's possibly the worst night I've ever experienced."

— Birmingham manager Steve Bruce after his side's 7-0 FA Cup defeat at home to Liverpool.

"I'm getting turned off by myself. I'm sick to death of my own whingeing."

— Bruce again.

"Jealousy is the weapon of the incompetent and frustrated. It just makes me rewind the cassette of my life and remind me who I was and where I got to."

— A philosophical Jose Mourinho. "You're not special anymore."

— Fulham fans' taunting chant at Mourinho as their side won 1-0 against Chelsea.

"Robbie Keane told me he had to play because he wanted to go to Germany. A month later, I realised Ireland hadn't even qualified for the World Cup."

— Tottenham manager Martin Jol displays an alarming lack of international football knowledge.

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