Del Piero down under

Former Italy and Juventus forward Alessandro Del Piero has turned down the chance of joining Liverpool in favour of a move to Sydney FC.

“I’m happy to announce that a few hours ago I signed a deal with the Sydney Football Club,” Del Piero said on Wednesday. “So for the next two years I suppose I can say that I’ll be Australian. I’m starting a splendid and fantastic adventure. I couldn’t have chosen a better situation or a better place. Liverpool is a great club but Australia is a exciting country.”

The two-year deal is reportedly worth $2 million per season, which will make Del Piero not only the highest paid player in the A-League but also the highest paid athlete in Australia’s four football codes, including rugby league, rugby union and Australian Rules.

“We touched all the continents,” Del Piero said. “This choice is far away in terms of kilometers but it’s very close in terms of philosophy. … I can’t wait to go and discover a country that everyone describes to me as fantastic.”

“The only question I asked was if we can win, and they responded ‘yes,”‘ Del Piero said.

Liverpool, in all honesty, could hardly offer the same assurance and they were out of the running.

“I’m not going there for a vacation. I’m going there with total dedication. It will be a big change for me after 19 years with a team which I will continue to support,” Del Piero said. “I’ve done all I could have done here and there couldn’t be a better choice for me.”

Meanwhile, Liverpool continue their pursuit of an out-of-contract striker who is willing to join them. With Del Piero, Michael Owen and Ivan Klasnic securing new clubs over the past 24 hours, they’re down to the scrapings at the bottom of the barrel now with the likes of Eidur Gudjohnsen, Florent Sinama Pongolle and Emile Heskey. They wouldn’t would they.

Incidentally, mention of Klasnic, who yesterday joined Bundsliga outfit Mainz, brings me to this comment from Mainz football director Christian Heidel.

“Klasnic has always been our plan B and after the (Hertha Berlin’s Adrian) Ramos transfer fell through we called Ivan on Saturday morning,” he told reporters.

Probably not the resounding vote of confidence the new man was looking for.

Fever pitch

A decision on whether the Stadio San Paolo will be ready to host the Napoli-Parma game will be made next week.

The playing surface in Naples is in a dire state after the club claimed that the grass had been affected by a virus and against Fiorentina at the weekend there was barely any grass to speak of.

Coach Walter Mazzarri admitted that the state of the pitch was an embarrassment.

“That pitch is something really disgraceful, you can’t play like this,” he said in the wake of his team’s 2-1 win over Fiorentina.

“They have assured me that within 15 days the situation will be better. Against Parma, after the international break, the layer of grass should be almost perfect. We shall see. Otherwise I will have to take my team to train on the beach at Castelvolturno.”

Here are some photos of the beach, sorry pitch at the Stadio San Paolo.

Also, as part of World Soccer Daily’s endless quest to inform and illuminate, here’s action from a match played last year in Ukraine in which the conditions were testing, to say the least. Whereas Napoli pitch resembled a beach, this is more of a swamp.

Spanish pair honoured

Spain captain Iker Casillas and team mate Xavi have been jointly awarded the nation’s most prestigious sports prize, the Premio Principe de Asturias de los Deportes, the jury announced on Wednesday.

Real Madrid goalkeeper Casillas, 31, and Barcelona playmaker Xavi, 32, have helped Spain to three consecutive major tournament wins in the past 4 years, and were put forward for the award by FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

They have been friends since they played alongside each other at the Under-20 World Cup in 1999 despite playing for arch rivals Real and Barca and the jury said that was one of the reasons they had been selected.

Indeed, their friendship had “helped resolve disputes between players of different clubs, promoting fair play and the philosophy of the team as the basis for sporting success,” the jury wrote.

“It’s true that there was tension at times but friendship comes before everything else,” Xavi said at Spain’s training camp in Madrid after learning of the award.

“It’s recognition of our work but also of this generation of players, some of whom have been friends for 15 years,” he added.

Blatter said the award reflected the “fantastic work” done in Spain’s soccer academies, both at club level and with the national teams.

“It’s something that goes beyond what they have achieved in football,” he said, in an interview with Marca.

“Casillas and Xavi are an example on the field of play but also as people when they are away from pitch.”

Previous winners of the award include Sebastian Coe (1987), Seve Ballesteros (1989), Steffi Graf (1999), Lance Armstrong (2000) and Rafael Nadal (2008).

The Spanish football team won it in 2010 following their World Cup victory in South Africa.

Danish pastry

According to reports in Italy, the debut of Juventus signing, Nicklas Bendtner, could be delayed due to the striker being overweight.

They are reporting that he has been placed on a strict diet in order to shed extra pounds which he has picked up due to not playing since the Euro 2012.

Juventus next play in two weeks and the Italian press suggest that even an intensive fitness regime might not be enough to get Bendtner in shape by that deadline.

Overpaid, overweight, over the hill?

Meanwhile, Wayne Rooney has admitted that he once returned to pre-season training at Manchester United seven pounds overweight. Only  7? Cry those people who saw the wide lens shots of a bloated Rooney emerging from the sea a few years ago.

In extracts in the Mirror from his book, My Decade in the Premier League by Wayne Rooney, the England forward writes: “Early July: the first day back at pre-season training. I’m like most blokes, I put on a few pounds after a holiday. Even if I don’t train for a week, I put on two or three, but when I get back to Carrington for the first day of work, I’m in for a shock. The scales in the club gym tell me I’ve put on a few more pounds than expected – seven. Seven!”

Rooney does concede that during the close-season he “drank a few bevvies” and admits that he “gains weight quite easily.” But he claims that it is not a problem getting back to the requisite weight. It’s all reminiscent of the training regime of Rooney’s good friend, the boxer Ricky Hatton, who famously used to binge on junk food and Guinness between bouts before embarking upon a punishing weight loss programme as a fight approached. The boxer got away for it for a while but his decline, when it came, was precipitous.

Looking at Rooney during Euro 2012, the thought occurred that we were watching a player who was no longer at the peak of his physical powers. That suspicion is strengthened by his admission that the rigours of playing football are taking their toll on him.

“Physically I’ve taken a bit of a battering over the years; being lumped by Transformer-sized centre-backs or having my muscles smashed by falls, shoulder barges and last-ditch tackles, day in, day out, has left me a bit bruised,” he added. “When I get up in the morning after a game, I struggle to walk for the first half an hour. I ache a bit. It wasn’t like that when I was a lad.”

Rooney is 26. At the same age, Paul Gascoigne, the player with whom Rooney is most frequently compared, was finished as a top class footballer.

Lightning Bolt

Usain Bolt, who has often spoken of his desire to undertake a trial at Manchester United, may be given an opportunity by Sir Alex Ferguson to strut his stuff at Old Trafford.

A lifelong United fan, Bolt has already been to the club since his success at the London Olympics, telling the crowd ahead of last month’s 3-2 win over Fulham that they needed to persuade Ferguson to sign him.

“He’s been to Carrington a couple of times and he did help Ronaldo with his sprinting,” Ferguson told Inside United. “He’s a bit of a character and a big United fan.

“But it’s interesting he says he would like to play in a charity game. It could be brilliant, and next year, when we play Real Madrid Legends again, there could be opportunities to bring him in and see how he does.”

Ronaldo not motivated by money

Cristiano Ronaldo has dismissed suggestions that his current unhappiness at Real Madrid is motivated by money.

“My feelings have caused a lot of commotion,” Ronaldo wrote on his Facebook page.

“I am accused that I would like to have more money, but one day it will become clear that this is not the case.”

“At this point, I just want to guarantee to the Real Madrid fans that my motivation, dedication, commitment and desire to win all competitions will not be affected.

“I have too much respect for myself and for Real Madrid to ever give less to the club than all I am capable of. Abrazos [hugs] to all madridistas.”

However, Ronaldo’s Madrid team-mate Alvaro Arbeloa has urged the club to do all they can to make their star player happy.

“If Cristiano is sad and needs the support of his team-mates then of course he is going to get it. And if it is the support of the fans, I am sure they will give it,” Arbeloa told Marca.

“In Real Madrid we are a family. When one member is not as happy as he should be we help him.”

Happy families

Speaking of happy families, Barcelona secretary Toni Freixa has contrasted the mood at Madrid with the domestic bliss experienced at Camp Nou.

Freixa was asked whether Lionel Messi is treated better than Ronaldo, which he answered by stating that the Argentinian ‘deserves everything,’ while adding that a new contract was not yet on the agenda.

The Barca spokesman told those in attendance that “here at the club we are all very happy”.

Freixa’s timing could have been better, though, as no sooner had he spoken about the fraternal spirit coursing through the veins of the Catalan club, than up popped Cesc Fabregas to vent his frustration at the limited playing time he has enjoyed this season.

Fabregas has yet to complete a full 90 minutes so far, and he was an unused substitute against Real Madrid in the second-leg of the Spanish Cup last week.

“There’s no such thing as a great substitute in the world of football – I couldn’t tell you what makes a great substitute,” Fabregas told Marca.

“But that doesn’t mean I’m a bad team-mate. If I feel bad, I won’t show it in front of my team-mates to learn and enjoy, not to sit wracking my brains.”

Fabregas, who made his dream move to Barcelona just over a year ago, is reported to be meeting with coach Tito Vilanova this weekend for what are described as ‘clear the air’ talks.

The grass, it would appear, is not always greener.

Quote of the day

“If this continues, we will soon have conditions like in Mexico, where players have already been hunted to death. There have also been cases like this in South Africa…Cars are scratched, a player has had his leg broken, another suffered a broken nose in a disco. In Dreden, 11 graves were dug as a threat. The inhibition threshold (of fans) seems to be lowering, while the hysteria grows.”

Ulf Baranowsky, managing director of Germany’s professional footballers union, is horrified by the hounding out of Kevin Pezzoni by Cologne fans. His final sentence in particular hits the nail on the head.


The Turkish football federation have requested their players wear black armbands during Friday’s match with Holland after Eskisehirspor defender Ediz Bahtiyaroglu died at the age of 26 from a heart attack on Tuesday.

Bahtiyaroglu completed a training session at his club on Tuesday evening, before returning to the house he shared with a team-mate.

He collapsed later in the evening, and medical help arrived at the scene too late to save the defender’s life.

“He had not gone through heavy training or anything. The certain cause of death will be determined after we receive the results of the autopsy,” club doctor Mehmet Ali Armagan told reporters.