A-League's footballing circus flew into Wellington this afternoon and their main attraction - Alessandro Del Piero - didn't disappoint.
The former Juventus striker, who played 19 seasons for the Old Lady, has joined A-League glamour club Sydney FC on a two-year A$4 million contract and, as luck would have it, the Sky Blues open their season against the Wellington Phoenix at Westpac Stadium tomorrow night.
There was a diehard contingent of football fans at Wellington Airport today who wanted an opportunity to get a photograph, autograph or just wish the 37-year-old luck. He happily obliged.
Softly-spoken and incredibly polite, the man who has made a name for himself playing as a 'trequartist", an Italian term for someone who roams in between the midfield and the strikers, said he was fit to start tomorrow's game.
"I try to play - first of all - good, then we watch the minutes," he said.
Football's wide-ranging popularity was evident with how much fanfare he had received since arriving in Australia recently, and he said it was nice to be recognised in this part of the world.
"I'm really happy about my first 20 days [in Australia] because a lot of people come to the training or stop me in the hotel ... to take a picture or autograph, and I'm really happy about that," he said. "There are a lot of Italian immigrants and they are happy, too.
"It's all new for me ... I'm very curious and I'm very excited and I want to know what it means to play in the A-League and especially in Wellington. Some of my teammates tell me about it, but I want to know, myself."
Del Piero is one of three off-season marquee signings by A-League clubs, to go alongside Emile Heskey who has joined the Newcastle Jets and former Japanese international Shinji Ono who has linked with new boys the Western Sydney Wanderers.
Del Piero has amassed 91 caps for the Italian national side and bagged a World Cup winner's medal with the Azzurri in 2006 but Phoenix skipper Andrew Durante said his side wouldn't be overawed tomorrow night, particularly Manny Muscat who will likely be defending the Italian.
"I don't think that'll be a problem," Durante said. "Once we cross that line there's a lot of dedicated and focused players and I think Manny will have most of the job on him and we all know what Manny's like. He'll tackle anyone and win the ball, it doesn't matter who it is. So that won't be an issue.
"Obviously [Del Piero] will have the respect that he deserves because he's a quality player but I don't think anyone's going to be starstruck at all."
Durante and Ben Sigmund's partnership at the heart of the Phoenix defence may be kept busy tomorrow, particularly if Del Piero brings his trademark vision and passing game to Westpac Stadium.
- APNZBy Daniel Richardson @danrichardson21 Email Daniel