In Turin, Alessandro Del Piero is more than a household name.
Household names do television commercials and product endorsements. Granted, Del Piero’s face is dotted around the northern Italian city, in advertisements for sunglasses and fashion. But the Sydney FC star transcends regular definitions of stardom in his home country with a three-storey gallery in the heart of the ritzy shopping precinct that surrounds Via Piero Gobbetti.
It is in many ways a shrine to his excellence. A photo exhibition – composed entirely of portraits and action shots of the legend – occupies the ground floor of the stark white space.
But it is also Del Piero’s contribution to the city that was very good to him during his stellar career with Juventus for two decades.
Its construction and operation is his way of giving back, even when a lucrative deal with an Australian A-League club lures him away from home.
Last week, Del Piero opened the space, called ADPlog, to the Wallabies, sending his brother Stefano – himself briefly a professional soccer player – along to host the team and facilitate a jersey exchange with Australian captain Ben Mowen.
Del Piero spoke to the Wallabies from Sydney over Skype, joking warmly with them and welcoming them to his home town.
“We do not privilege one sport over another,” Stefano said through a translator. “Alessandro likes rugby, and ADPlog represents a centre for excellence for not only sport but also in art and music.”
A few days in Turin, the home of Juventus, reveals that Del Piero’s antipodean experiment is building surprising connections between Australia and Italy.
While many Australian soccer administrators might have limited their expectations of his A-League stint to Australia, Del Piero’s presence in Sydney appears to be having a far greater impact. “You can see [Sydney FC] jerseys on the street, and especially in the small shops around the stadium,” Stefano says.
“The Sydney FC jersey is sold next to the Juventus one and the Inter Milan one. Juve supporters are starting to buy the Sydney jersey to go to the stadium when they watch their team.”
Del Piero’s adoring public was devastated when he signed a $ 4 million deal to play in Australia. Stefano says they still hope he returns sooner rather than later, but they are also happy to see him embraced in Sydney.
“Supporters here in Torino are really sad that he is living in Australia, but his presence there has made people proud that the Sydney FC is growing,” he says.
“He is helping football grow as a sport there as well. Before it was maybe seen as a minor sport and now it is growing in visibility.”
On Saturday, Stefano planned to watch his younger brother captain Sydney FC against Melbourne Victory, before switching over to watch the Wallabies play Italy.
ADPlog hosted the Italian team in its gallery space a few hours after the Wallabies left. Once again, Del Piero was there on Skype to wish another team the very best.
“It is a beautiful thing,” Stefano says after the Italians have cleared out.
“One of the goals of ADPlog was to strengthen relationships across all sports and countries. What happened this morning was really special.”