Alessandro Del Piero has given
Juventus a lift in recent games but his inspirational
performances are a double-edged sword for club president Andrea
Agnelli, who is coming under pressure to rethink his decision
not to extend the 37-year-old's contract.
Del Piero, in his 19th season at the club, has had such an
impact off the bench in the last two games that fans are also
debating whether coach Antonio Conte will finally hand him a
starting place in Sunday's match against Napoli.
Juventus are unbeaten in Serie A this season, although a
series of recent draws has left them trailing leaders AC Milan
by four points with nine games each to play.
Milan, who have 63 points from 29 games, have shown few
signs of slipping up although they may be vulnerable on Saturday
as they face a difficult trip to Catania only three days
after a demanding Champions League match against Barcelona.
Seventh-placed Catania battled back for a 2-2 draw at Napoli
one week ago and are hoping to qualify at the very least for the
Del Piero has made only 16 Serie A appearances for Juventus
this season, of which 13 have been as a substitute and most of
those too late in the game to make any impact.
Conte gave Del Piero more of a chance against Inter Milan
last Sunday, bringing on the playmaker in the 53rd minute with
the score at 0-0.
Del Piero quickly changed the face of the game, scoring the
second goal in Juventus's 2-0 win. He also scored and played a
key role in the 2-2 draw against AC Milan on March 20 which took
Juve to the Italian Cup final.
Those performances had observers wondering why Conte has not
made more use of Del Piero, especially in the potentially costly
home draws against Siena, where he stayed on the bench, and
Chievo, where he was brought on with only 12 minutes left.
The misfiring performances of preferred strikers Alessandro
Matri and Mirko Vucinic have added to the mystery.
Del Piero, whose Juventus career included a season in Serie
B in the wake of the "Calciopoli" scandal when the club was
demoted, has won admiration for refusing to complain about his
bit-part role and his future.
He diplomatically ducked the issue again despite impressing
"There's nothing to add at the moment except that my future
at the moment is Sunday evening's game against Napoli," he said.
"I don't want to miss a moment of this adventure, the
objective at the moment is to keep in touch with Milan."
Defender Giorigio Chiellini added: "Alex is a great champion
and always will be, and we as players can just observe and
accept his choice.
"I think that the end of the season will be the time for him
and the club to sit down and talk and make a decision together."
Napoli, joint fourth with 48 points, are battling to finish
third which would earn them a place in next season's Champions
League qualifying tournament.
However, their draw against Catania, when they squandered a
two-goal lead, has left them three points behind third-placed
Lazio, who visit struggling Parma on Saturday.
Andrea Stramaccioni makes his debut as Inter Milan's third
coach of the season as the crisis-torn club, champions five
seasons in a row from 2006 until 2010, host lowly Genoa on
Inter's defeat at Juventus last Sunday cost Claudio Ranieri
his job, left them 10 points adrift of Lazio in third and
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