(Reuters) – Alessandro Del Piero confirmed the worst kept secret in Australian football on Thursday when the former Italy and Juventus great said he would be staying for a second year at Sydney FC.
Signed last September in the most lucrative deal in Australian sport, the 38-year-old striker has had the impact both on and off the field that the A-League club banked A$2 million ($2.06 million) a year on.
Despite reported interest from clubs in Brazil and the United States, Del Piero said there had never been any real doubt that he would stay on.
"It was a big challenge for me, for my family, to take a long trip here and change everything in our life," he told a news conference against a backdrop of the Sydney Opera House.
"My family and I have had a great time here. The weather, the city, everything is good. But first of all, I’m here to play. It’s a challenge. I work to win the challenge, I want to win again next year."
Del Piero’s 11 goals in 18 games have just been the icing on the cake for Sydney FC as the quality of the World Cup winner’s performances have helped haul the club from a miserable start to the season and into the playoff hunt.
His mere presence in the A-League has also generated huge media and fan interest in football, which sometimes struggles for profile in comparison to Australia’s dominant football codes of rugby league and Australian Rules.
"All the metrics are there – crowd numbers, viewing numbers, merchandise. The club has received a spike in all those areas," club chairman Scott Barlow told the news conference.
"It’s the influence Alessandro has around the club, the opportunity it provides to some of our younger players to train and play alongside Alessandro every day. We really value that side of him."
Twice champions Sydney travel to Melbourne Heart on Saturday for a match both sides need a win to stay in the race for the playoffs.
The postseason looked like a pipe dream for Sydney FC in December when the team were bottom of the 10-team league but a 7-1 win over Wellington Phoenix, in which Del Piero scored four goals, sparked a resurgence.
"At the moment, we are going well, but it’s not enough," added Del Piero. "It’s a great moment for me and Sydney FC. We have six games to go and we have to put our energy into making the playoffs."
($1 = 0.9718 Australian dollars)
(Additional reporting by Michael Sin, editing by Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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