Sydney: Former Italy and Juventus great Alessandro Del Piero could play his last match for Sydney FC, and potentially his career, this weekend as the A-League regular season comes to a climax with the playoff picture far from clear.
Del Piero, whose two-year contract expires at the end of the season, is hoping to lead the Sky Blues to a win, or at least a draw, against Perth Glory at the Sydney Football Stadium (SFS) on Sunday that would earn them a spot in the postseason.
The Italian is 40 in November and although his impact on the league’s profile has been immense since his arrival in 2012, the Sydney glamour club look unlikely to shell out A$2 million ($1.88 million, Dh6.90 million) for another year of his services.
“It could be (my last game) honestly at the moment,” Del Piero told reporters on Thursday.
“We have already had a chat with the owners and with (chairman) Scott (Barlow) and we are ready to talk at the end of the season. We will do the best thing for everyone, but I don’t think about that at the moment. Sunday will be a great game because there are many different things around this game.”
Sydney need a point against cellar dwellers Perth to secure one of the six places in the playoffs, which decide the league champions in the tradition of Australian sport.
Brisbane Roar have already secured top spot in the regular season standings and the Premier’s Plate that goes with it but their match against the defending champions Central Coast Mariners on Saturday will have a bearing on the playoff picture.
The Mariners, Western Sydney Wanderers, Adelaide United and Melbourne Victory could all finish second and avoid the opening round of playoffs depending on results this weekend. Adelaide are at Emile Heskey’s Newcastle Jets, who could still reach the playoffs if Sydney slip up, on Friday night, while Victory fly to New Zealand to face Wellington Phoenix on Saturday.
Wanderers, whose fairy-tale run to the final in their inaugural season last year was arguably as important as Del Piero’s arrival, are in the driving seat in second place with the same points as the Mariners but a superior goal difference.
The Sydney side, who will bid farewell to Japan’s Shinji Ono at the end of season, go to bottom club Melbourne Heart on Saturday for what will certainly be Harry Kewell’s final professional match and could well be his club’s last with their current name and colours.
Premier League Manchester City, who led the consortium, which bought the Heart in January, are expected to change the name to City and the kit from red and white stripes to sky blue to match the parent club.
Former Leeds, Liverpool and Galatasaray forward Kewell decided to bring an end to his career in the match because the Wanderers are from the western Sydney suburbs where he was raised.
Appropriately, after an injury-ravaged career, the 35-year-old Socceroos great was only passed fit to play after recovering from a rib injury.
“He’ll want to go out on a high, I’m sure. He’s had a fantastic career,” Wanderers coach Tony Popovic said.
“It’s been a pleasure playing with him and watching him over the years. I hope he has a good game, but I’d be happy with him playing well and us getting the three points.”