The contract which lured Alessandro Del Piero to Sydney FC is the most lucrative signed in Australian sport and an investment in the future of football in the country, club chairman Scott Barlow said today.
The Italian World Cup winner, who was released in May after 19 years at Juventus, said in Turin on Wednesday that he was joining the A-League club in a two-year contract that Australian media reported was worth $A2 million ($NZ2.57 million) a year.
"Last night's signing of Alessandro Del Piero is a big moment for this club and, we believe, a historic moment for football in Australia," Barlow told reporters on the pitch at the Sydney Football Stadium.
"I wouldn't like to go into the details of the contract," he added. "But this does represent the largest professional sporting contract in Australian history and the numbers that have been discussed aren't too far off the mark."
Del Piero, 37, is undoubtedly the biggest name to join an Australian club and his signing was warmly welcomed in the local media.
"He's ours!", screamed the back page of the tabloid Daily Telegraph, while inside a column penned by Socceroo and Del Piero's new team mate Brett Emerton was headlined "Our greatest day".
"It's hard to express how big this deal is for the city, the club and the league," the former Blackburn Rovers midfielder wrote.
"Alessandro is one of the all time greats of world football and his signing will really put us on the map in an even bigger way than Dwight Yorke and Robbie Fowler did before him."
Thursday's newspapers also illustrated the challenge that faces soccer in Australia's crowded sports market with stories about rugby league and Australian Rules still dominating the back pages.
Soccer, once riven by ethnic rivalries, has progressed since the formation of the A-League in 2005 but still trails the rival codes in popularity.
NEW TV DEAL
Football Federation Australia (FFA), whose task it is to close that gap and who are in the process of negotiating a new television deal, also welcomed the arrival of the 91-cap international.
"Undoubtedly, this signing will have an immediate impact on attendances, membership, TV ratings and corporate support for the club and the A-League," said FFA chief executive Ben Buckley.
"The A-League's image and reputation will grow across Europe and Asia, in particular.
"While this impact is not as immediate as the other commercial measures, the benefits will ultimately flow to the brand value of the A-League, its clubs and our corporate partners.
Barlow said he hoped Del Piero's arrival would inspire a new generation of supporters for Sydney FC, who averaged 11,861 fans per match at the SFS last season.
"Alessandro had many, many outstanding offers from big clubs around the world but in weighing up those opportunities, he felt Sydney FC was the right one for him," he said.
"I think that he chose us says a lot about this club and a lot about football in this country and how it has moved on in recent years.
"He's 37 but he's a world class football player and still able to play at the very highest level and that's evidenced by the fact that there was so much interest in him from clubs in the English Premier League, Serie A and others.
"Beyond the footballing perspective, clearly he is a major icon of the game and he can have an impact on us as a club both on and off the pitch."
Del Piero is expected to arrive in Sydney in eight or nine days, Barlow said.
The new A-League season begins in early October with twice champions Sydney FC opening their campaign in New Zealand against the Wellington Phoenix on October 6.
Factbox of major signings in Australia's A-League after former Italy international Alessandro Del Piero signed for Sydney FC:
DWIGHT YORKE (Sydney FC, 2005-6)
The former Manchester United striker was the first major marquee signing for the A-League when Sydney FC brought him to Australia for the competition's first season.
Paid $1 million for his contribution, Yorke made an immediate mark by scoring the first goal for the club in the A-League and helped them to become the inaugural champions.
After playing 19 matches and scoring seven goals in his one season, the Trinidad and Tobago international left Australia to return to English Premier League with Sunderland for a fee of $A500,000 ($NZ641,000).
JUNINHO (Sydney FC, 2007-8)
The Brazil midfielder joined Sydney FC after being sacked by Flamengo and, although struggling with injuries, played 14 games for the club.
Salary cap issues meant he was not offered a new contract and, despite interest from other A-League clubs, he decided to retire from the game after being released.
ROBBIE FOWLER (North Queensland Fury 2009-10, Perth Glory 2010-11)
Former Liverpool and England striker Fowler signed for the A-League's North Queensland Fury to play in the now defunct team's debut season.
Fowler played two seasons in the A-League, transferring from the Fury to Perth Glory for the 2010-11 season.
He made 50 appearances in the A-League and scored 19 goals before leaving Perth at the end of the 2010-11 season citing family reasons and ending up at Thai club Muang Thong United.
HARRY KEWELL (Melbourne Victory 2011-12)
Seen by many as the face of Australian football, Harry Kewell was a huge signing for Melbourne Victory and the league.
The former Liverpool forward, who left Australia as a teenager to move to Leeds United, penned a three-year deal with Victory prior to the 2011-2012 season.
Kewell scored eight goals in 25 appearances and was expected to play this season but quit the club in June, again for family reasons. Kewell is now a free agent.
BRETT EMERTON (Sydney FC 2011-present)
Brett Emerton signed for three years at Sydney FC in 2011, turning back offers from English Premier League clubs to return to his home country.
The second of two Socceroo stalwarts to sign in 2011 following Kewell's arrival at the Melbourne Victory, the midfielder played 26 games in the 2011-2012 season.
'Emmo', as he is affectionately known, scored four times for the Sky Blues and was credited with five assists. Emerton is expected to line up against Wellington Phoenix for the first match of the new season on October 6.
ALESSANDRO DEL PIERO (Sydney FC 2012-13)
Alessandro Del Piero's move to Sydney FC is undoubtedly the highest profile signing in the seven years of the A-League.
The 37-year-old, whose contract was reported in local media to be worth $A2 million ($NZ2.57 million), was part of Italy's World Cup winning team that beat Australia in the quarter-finals in Germany in 2006. He won 91 caps for Italy
A winner of six Serie A titles in 19 seasons with Juventus, Del Piero was also part of their 1996 Champions League winning side. He scored a club record 289 goals for the Turin side.