Italian champions Juventus have parted ways with their totemic captain after almost two decades. Gareth McKnight wishes him bon voyage
You couldn't blame Juventus fans for smiling. An unbeaten 2011-12 season in Antonio ConteÃ¢ÂÂs first campaign in charge brought a Scudetto and the return of Champions League football; they have a gleaming new stadium and ambitious plans to strengthen the playing squad this summer.
However, behind the smiles there will be a sadness in the hearts of all true Bianconeri supporters this season, as they prepare for life after the exit of a club legend. Alessandro Del Piero has left the Turin giants after 19 years of unequivocal service, loyalty and scintillating performances.
Tears in Turin at his final Juve game
At 37 years old, the veteran attacker is now surplus to requirements at Juventus: a new world-class centre-forward is top of the clubÃ¢ÂÂs transfer wish-list this summer. Del Piero leaves the Bianconeri in slightly bitter circumstances after being refused a one-year contract to end his career; he will now instead leave the club for one last swansong elsewhere.
Looking back over almost two decades of compelling performances for the Serie A side, it's easy to see why Del Piero is a club legend. Having joined the club from Padova in 1993, he has been there ever since through thick and thin.
The high-points were many Ã¢ÂÂ Del Piero has been part of six Scudetto triumphs, a Coppa Italia and four Supercopa Italiana wins, plus continental glory in the 1995-96 Champions League campaign. He also stuck around after his beloved clubÃ¢ÂÂs first-ever relegation to Serie B in the wake of Calcipoli Ã¢ÂÂ and was the league's top scorer as Juve came straight back up. In a sport which no longer demands loyalty over ambition and financial gain, he is a shining light to all youngsters.
In his prime, Del Piero had no shortage of suitors, and he has openly admitted that the likes of Manchester United and Barcelona made attempts to lure him away. However, despite the proposed transfer fees and wages, nothing could tempt him from Turin.
However, he now has to seek pastures new. The evergreen attacker has stated that his hunger and love for the game has not diminished and is eager to find a new challenge, one that he can commit himself to for the next year or two. He will hope to follow the example of Real Madrid legend Raul, who left the Santiago Bernabeu after 16 years to star at Schalke and bring joy to a different group of fans.
Del Piero has already stated that he will not join another Italian club, but his choice of destinations seems to grow by the day: he has been linked with moves to England, Germany, United States, Mexico, China, the Middle East and even Argentina.
The stylish frontman will not be prioritising one final payday; instead he will be eager to find a footballing project that he can get his teeth into and showcase his abilities. Although the years are starting to take their toll, Del Piero will still prove a difficult opponent wherever he ends up: he scored some important goals for Juve last term in cameo appearances.
At his peak Del Piero was virtually unplayable, with a guile and poise that tortured defenders all over Italy and throughout Europe for the best part of two decades. He holds the Juventus goalscoring record with 289 goals in 705 games, while winning 91 caps for his country, scoring 27 times and winning the 2006 World Cup.
Juventus fans have lost a hero, an icon and a fine player Ã¢ÂÂ but as Del Piero has admitted in the following open letter to the club's faithful, he will always be one of them. Addio e buona fortuna, Alessandro.
A fitting ending: Del Piero lifts the league trophy again on May 13
Del Piero's open letter to the Juve faithful
"It ends here: my contract with Juventus expires today.
Ã¢ÂÂItÃ¢ÂÂs not news, but knowing it is Ã¢ÂÂofficialÃ¢ÂÂ still has an effect on me. It is not a sad moment for me, there are no regrets or nostalgia. Not anymore.
"ThatÃ¢ÂÂs because IÃ¢ÂÂve had time to think back over everything that happened in my last Bianconeri season, going further back and reliving the greatest dream I could have dreamed.
"All the memories, the joys, the triumphs and Ã¢ÂÂ to be honest Ã¢ÂÂ a few recent moments of bitterness... Today all these images flash in front of my eyes and at a certain point blur into one marvellous embrace of my final game in Turin.
Ã¢ÂÂThat is the photograph that encapsulates everything, the instant I want to bring with me always, the one that since May 13 has been printed on my heart. It cannot be cancelled.
Ã¢ÂÂA while ago, before going on vacation, I emptied out my locker at Vinovo and walking out of the training ground I stopped where for many months you waited for me hoping for a photo, an autograph or just a hello... under the snow, the ice, the rain, the burning sun. But this time I am the one saluting and thanking you, just as you did with me.
Ã¢ÂÂThe players pass by, but Juventus remains. My team-mates remain, who I wish the best and will always cheer them on.
Ã¢ÂÂAbove all what remains is the fans, you who are Juventus. That jersey that I loved and will always love, that I desired and respected, without breaks or discounts.
"I am happy that others after me can wear the shirt and above all the Ã¢ÂÂ10Ã¢ÂÂ that has always had my name on it since they started printing names on the Bianconeri jerseys.
Ã¢ÂÂI am happy for whoever will wear it next year and happy that somewhere Ã¢ÂÂ in Italy and all over the world Ã¢ÂÂ someone is dreaming of wearing it.
Ã¢ÂÂI would be proud of someone wanting to follow my path, just as I dreamed of doing so with other champions, other examples, other legends.
Ã¢ÂÂFrom tomorrow I will no longer be a Juventus player, but I will always be one of you. Now a new adventure begins and I am as fired up as I was 19 summers ago.
Ã¢ÂÂArrivederci. Thanks for everything.