Like many football fans, Andrew Durante hopped on the internet and watched Alessandro Del Piero highlight reels when he learnt the Italian legend had signed for Sydney FC.
But while the Wellington Phoenix skipper wouldn't mind getting Del Piero's shirt after Saturday's season opener, he made it clear there will be no star-gazing during the 90 minutes at Westpac Stadium.
“When I heard he'd signed I went back and watched a few of his old clips because he's an amazing player and it's fantastic that they've been able to attract him,” said Durante, who will rub shoulders with Del Piero at the league launch in Sydney today.
“Not just for the club, but for the whole of the league, you can already see what impact he's had and a ball hasn't been kicked. It'd be nice to grab his shirt, he's a quality player and someone I watched growing up. But while there's that respect factor for Del Piero and what he's achieved, when we cross the line it's all about getting results. If the ball's there to be won then I'm sure it'll get won.”
Sydney coach Ian Crook will afford Del Piero a free playmaking role and Durante said Phoenix enforcer Manny Muscat, now playing as a defensive midfielder, would be handed the task of shackling him.
“I think Manny's more than up for it and it will be a good challenge for him. Manny will go in there as if it's just any other player, as he should and as most players will.
"The hype of Del Piero coming over is going to mean a pretty big crowd, so that's exciting. As long as we keep our emotions in check we can get a good result and start the season well.”
A former league winner with the Newcastle Jets, Durante believed this Phoenix squad was the most balanced in the club's short history.
And after three straight seasons qualifying for the playoffs, the centre back went as far as to say: “I think this could be the year.”
Fellow key players Ben Sigmund, Paul Ifill, Tony Lochhead, Leo Bertos and Mark Paston were “not getting any younger so we'd love to do it this year. I think we've got a good enough squad to be in that top one or two.”
The Phoenix bounced Sydney out of the playoffs last season and a win is important given the club's international contingent will be absent for the round two game against the Heart in Melbourne.
Phoenix general manager David Dome said ticket sales indicated a crowd of about 13,500 was on the cards.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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