On 8th November 1998, on the eve of his 24th birthday, Juventus football star Alessandro Del Piero broke his left knee playing in the Friuli Stadium, Udine. This particular injury divided his professional life into before and after phases. He travelled to Colorado for surgery, and on 26th November his knee was operated on by Professor Steadman. This interview was made on 13th December 1998, by which time he was back in Italy.
Alessandro Del Piero is sitting in an armchair. He is dressed all in black in a shirt, loose pants, and a jacket. He seems to be in a good mood and not too tired, despite the fact he’s just returned from the United States.
How did it go in Colorado?
Great. It was a wonderful experience. I was able to watch the operation on my knee live as they were performing it. I could understand what was happening to my body.
Why did you go to the United States to have surgery?
The doctor who operated on me is one of the best in the world for my type of injury.
Did you receive a lot of telephone calls?
Yes. Many. The Agnelli brothers called me as well – Giovanni “L’Avvocato” Agnelli and Umberto Agnelli. I also received many letters.
That incident was a terrible experience, wasn’t it?
These are the risks of the job. Of course I was disappointed, but I know I have to be reactive. You need to do everything with determination and will.
When you found out you’d be out for a long time, what were your thoughts?
I tried to think about it as little as possible. I kept myself busy before the surgery as well. Now most of my days are taken up with rehabilitation.
Do you feel alone in this situation?
Not at all.
Is the team supporting you?
Not just the team. Many other people are as well.
Will you stay in Turin in this period?
Yes, because I am doing rehabilitation here.
What kind of relationship do you have with Turin?
A good one. I’ve lived here for many years, and I know its rhythms and the people’s mentality. I get on well here.
What kind of city is it?
In a certain sense, it is hidden and a bit mysterious. That’s the first impression. It is also a really beautiful city with an incredibly strategic position. The centre is gorgeous. Then there are the hills and the Po River.
What other cities do you know?
I know Padua well as I was there for five years. Naturally, I know my hometown Treviso well.
Are you able to get out and about now?
Yes, but I try to avoid the hours when it gets really crowded.
Has your life changed since you’ve been in Turin?
Quite a lot because Juventus is a really big organisation. Playing for such an important team with such a large following means you are always at the centre of attention.
Wasn’t [Michel] Platini your idol when you were growing up?
Yes. He played for Juventus as well. I also really followed [Paolo] Rossi and [Marco] Tardelli.
Did you think you would reach this level?
At a certain point in my life when I found myself up against certain high-level players, I started to realise I could perhaps compete.
You played with [Gianluca] Vialli and [Roberto] Baggio?
When I played with them, I told myself I had a lot to learn but that with determination and grit, I could perhaps do something good.
When did you realise you were at a turning point?
There wasn’t a clear turning point. It happened in stages, though it was quite fast.
Do you remember any key moments?
There were so many.
When did you score your first goal?
The first year I played for Juventus. It was 19th September against Reggiana.
How did you feel?
An inner joy that I can’t explain. Each goal is a truly unique experience.
Is scoring what counts the most for a player?
It is important in order to win. That is the most exciting thing.
You scored twenty-one goals during the last championship. How does that make you feel?
It was a wonderful, great feeling. There was a lot of satisfaction and success. It was perhaps the best season of my life.
Are you superstitious?
How does it feel to be a football star?
It is something to be proud of and is gratifying. But I believe one should do what he loves to do. Of course it’s nice to be considered an idol, especially for children. They are the most honest in their opinions.
What kind of life do you lead?
A low-key life. I am very busy, and I have little free time. I live a normal life just as I was raised to.
What kind of relationship do you have with your parents?
We don’t see each other very often, but we have a close telephone relationship. We get together when we can, and I will probably go home for Christmas.
Do you live alone?
What kind of relationship do you have with [coach Marcello] Lippi?
Are you sad to see him leave Juventus?
Certainly. Because he has helped us achieve great victories.
What is your relationship with Baggio like?
Good. We were close this year. There’s mutual respect between us.
So there’s no jealousy at all?
As far as I’m concerned, absolutely not. And I don’t believe there is any on his part either.
Not even during the World Cup in Paris?
That was a great situation.
Who are your footballer friends?
I don’t like to give out that information because I think relationships should be private. I don’t like to flaunt or publicise them.
What do you think about this year’s team?
I am very confident. Unfortunately I can only be a fan, and I’m sorry about that. I will work hard to get back as soon as possible.
Have you ever thought about changing teams?
No. Up to now, I haven’t even had the opportunity.
What kind of relationship do you have with your team?
The team means a lot. And football has a large following in Italy.
How does it feel to miss a goal?
Not good, but unfortunately it happens.
What role do sentiments play in your life?
They are very important.
You hide your private life and your relationships?
I try to, at least. I don’t like to talk about my business. Though I do realise that many people are interested in what I do.
Do you have sports idols?
I love all kinds of sport. I especially like basketball. Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan are two of my idols.
Do you play other sports?
No, aside from a bit of tennis and volleyball in the summer.
Do you like spending your money and shopping?
Not particularly. Of course I like to live according to my needs. But I’m not always after new clothes or a new car.
What type of clothing do you like?
I most like casual, sporty clothes.
Are you really authoritative?
No, but I’m determined. I like making decisions.
Do you often get angry? Do you get angry about your work?
Not very often.
Do you get on with your teammates?
Generally speaking, yes. But there are positive moments and less positive moments. All problems can be overcome if handled the right way.
Are you religious?
Yes, even if I’m not much of a practicing Catholic.
Do you like to listen to music?
A lot, all kinds of genres – from dance music to rap. I don’t like opera. U2 and Michael Jackson are my favourites.
What about the cinema?
I really like Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. Their films are always a sure thing.
What do you think about Italian films?
Lately I’ve liked films by Pieraccioni and Benigni.
Do you like to read?
I like detective novels that aren’t too heavy.
Can you tell me about a desire of yours?
To feel better. Even though I know it will take a long time.
Will you go to the matches?
Yes. When I can.
13th December, 1998