SYDNEY (AP) — Sydney FC has received an instant boost from its signing of Italian football great Alessandro del Piero, with huge numbers of fans logging on to its ticketing websites and fan forums on Thursday.
The interest was so high that the A-League club extended its deadline for club membership renewals by 48 hours, hoping to cash in on the arrival of the former Italy and Juventus forward and recoup some of the reported $4 million it will pay the 37-year-old over two seasons.
Football Federation Australia chief executive Ben Buckley said Del Piero's signing would enhance the A-League's global image and accelerate the growth of the competition.
"Undoubtedly, this signing will have an immediate impact on attendances, membership, TV ratings and corporate support for the club and the A-League," Buckley said. "All clubs will benefit when Alessandro comes to town. His stature in international football is well known, but it's his desire to put back into the game and create a legacy in Australia that's so impressive."
For now, Sydney fans will circle Oct. 13 on their calendars — Del Piero's first home match, against Newcastle. He will make his A-League debut a week earlier in New Zealand, against Wellington Phoenix.
Del Piero is expected to arrive in Australia in about a week.
"For the next two years I suppose I can say that I'll be Australian," Del Piero told a news conference Wednesday in Turin, Italy. "I'm starting a splendid and fantastic adventure. I couldn't have chosen a better situation or a better place."
The deal will make Del Piero the highest paid athlete in Australia's four football codes, including rugby league, rugby union and Australian Rules. He reportedly turned down offers from English Premier League clubs Liverpool and Southampton and was also linked with moves to the Middle East, China, Argentina, the United States and Switzerland.
"We touched all the continents," Del Piero said. "This choice is far away in terms of kilometers but it's very close in terms of philosophy. ... I can't wait to go and discover a country that everyone describes to me as fantastic."
The A-League, which has had two teams fold in the past two years due to financial problems and dwindling attendance, needs Del Piero as a draw card.
He was a member of Italy's 2006 World Cup-winning team and scored a club-record 286 goals in all competitions over 19 seasons with Juventus. He managed just five goals — and only two in Serie A — last season in limited playing time.
"We're honored to have Alessandro sign for Sydney FC," club chief executive Tony Pignata said, sitting next to Del Piero at a press conference in Turin. "It's a momentous occasion."