Melbourne ready to welcome Del Piero

It's too much to say some Victory fans will cheer if Sydney's no.10 scores, but Alessandro Del Piero is set for a rousing welcome in Melbourne.

When Sydney FC walk out to face Melbourne Victory at AAMI Park this Saturday, they might find the crowd a bit friendlier than usual.

Most of those in Sky Blue shouldn-t take it as a compliment; other than the usual vociferous Victory support, Melbourne is turning out for one man - Alessandro Del Piero. And his loyal fans will even forgive him turning out in the wrong shade of blue.

Del Piero's Melbourne debut been a long time coming for the city's football-mad Italian community and huge Juventus supporter base. They almost got their wish in 2008, when Victory hosted the Bianconeri for a friendly but called up to the national team, Del Piero was a no-show.

But now, after all the hype around his initial signing with Sydney, an appearance at the Melbourne Cup circus and 17 rounds of the season already gone, Il Pinturicchio finally arrives in Melbourne to play football.

One man who knows the pull Del Piero has in the Victorian capital is Fox Sports commentator Michael Zappone.

“There-s certainly a huge Italian and Juventus support base in Melbourne,” Zappone says, “and that goes back to the old Brunswick Juventus, a team in the National Soccer League, which was set up by Italian migrants.

“The club fell over in the ‘90s but football amongst the Italian community is very strong here and there-s always been a huge swell of support whenever Juventus have come.

“They came once in the ‘80s with Paolo Rossi; they played at the MCG against the Socceroos - I remember going to that as a kid and they had a huge crowd for that one as well.”

Bumper crowds have followed “ADP” wherever he-s gone in Australia - even when he hasn-t been fit enough to play - so it-s no surprise his first trip to Melbourne looks set to be a sell-out.

Thirty thousand at AAMI Park might not be so intimidating for a player of Del Piero-s experience but it will make for an impressive spectacle for Australian sport. And the make-up of the crowd might differ from the usual A-League fans.

“Normally the only time we see AAMI Park full is for a Melbourne derby, so it will be a unique experience because I think you-ll see a lot of people there in Juventus jerseys and Melbourne victory fans,” Zappone says.

“Victory have been averaging 18-19,000 for their home games but the pulling power of Del Piero would bring an extra 10,000 in - people that wouldn-t normally go to an A-League game, they-ve followed the Italian game or Juventus for years but this will be their first A-League game ever.

“That encapsulates what the Del Piero effect means for the sport and we-ll see an example of that on Saturday night.”

Lou Sticca, Del Piero-s local agent and the man responsible for bringing him to Australia, says it won-t just be Melbourne-s Italian community that will be out to watch the legend in action.

“There a lot of different fans- not just Italian but Juventus fans, and a lot of Asian fans that support Alessandro,” Sticca says.

“The Italian community is the obvious one but I think there-ll be a cross-section of football lovers that want to watch him. Look at a lot of the faces in the crowd at some of the other games he-s been at; it-s pleasantly surprising at the different types of fans that will come out and support him.”

The only question now is how will that adoring public react should their hero score for the opposition?

Victory inflicted a painful 3-2 defeat on Sydney back in round 6, but it-s a different Sky Blues team that travel to Melbourne this weekend, with Frank Farina-s side on a high after last week-s thrashing of Wellington Phoenix.

How would the Del Piero faithful take it if Sydney-s no.10 were to extract some revenge?

“He-s had big crowds wherever he-s been but AAMI Park will be rocking,” Sticca says. “As much as there will be people there supporting him, there-ll be a very strong Melbourne Victory base booing him, which is something he-s used to. It certainly won-t be intimidating for him.”

Although Zappone thinks the home crowd might just be a bit more forgiving this time.

“I-ve already seen some comments on Twitter saying they-ll be cheering for Victory but also for Del Piero and that they want a 3-2 scoreline in favour of Victory with a Del Piero brace!

“I can completely understand that because I-m a Juve supporter myself, I grew up watching Del Piero. A lot of people have enjoyed what he-s brought to the A-League and a lot of people like me have watching him or 20 years and he-s a player we have a very close affinity with.”

Whatever the final score, you get the feeling that just having the opportunity to finally welcome their hero to their town will be enough for many in that capacity crowd on Saturday night.