“Do we have three or four hours so I can tell you what happened in that 35, 40 seconds?”
I have just asked Alessandro Del Piero, the legendary former Juventus and Italy forward, what was going through his head as he stepped up to take a penalty in the 2006 World Cup final shootout.
“That walk from the middle of the field until the penalty area is a looong walk. You try to concentrate but a lot of things come into your mind. I mean, it’s the most important moment in your life,” Del Piero, who scored a record 289 goals in 705 appearances for Juventus, tells me in an exclusive interview.
“That heavy weight, I tried to convert in a funny way. I tried to say ‘well, there are only, what, 2.5 billion people watching this moment? You’re playing for a country that of course will not remember if you’re going to miss a penalty, you know in Italy they’re not passionate at all! So what’s going to happen if you miss it? Nothing.’
“So, I tried to laugh at myself in this situation.”
Del Piero can afford to talk about the “most iconic moment” of his career in a light-hearted way. He scored the penalty and Italy lifted the World Cup for the fourth time.
Since retiring from playing in 2014, Del Piero’s life is no longer consumed by soccer.
“As a football player, you focus 100% on what you have to do. Your life is focused on training, recovery, game,” Del Piero says.
“When you finish that, you change everything. You change habits, you start missing the locker room, the teammates. I will never be satisfied 100% (with retirement) because I love to play football – but that is the beauty of life.
“In my career of course I did my best – with mistakes – but my best. I didn’t take one step back from responsibility or from making a new and better effort to reach the result.”
Now based in Los Angeles, the man included in FIFA’s list of the 125 greatest living soccer players is kept busy with broadcast media commitments and business investments. He owns an Italian restaurant, n10, in Los Angeles and Milan, and is an investor in sunglasses brand AirDP.
He is also an investor and advisory board member at STADS, an Israel-based virtual sports marketing platform aiming to be the world’s first online network for sports advertisements. Del Piero was introduced to the company after meeting CEO Yoav Shalmor in Tel Aviv.
“As soon as I retired from being a football player, I have always been looking for new opportunities and of course, it’s better if it’s something related to my game,” Del Piero says.
“I saw the transformation of the media and advertising during my career. When I started there were three or four main sponsors for a club, now there are hundreds of sponsors for a club. So it grows tremendously and of course STADS caught my attention.”
Founded in 2018, STADS was set up with a mission to solve the “inefficiencies” in an advertising industry “in need of digital transformation”, Shalmor told me.
The company wants to be a one-stop platform for the entire media buying process, linking brands and rights holders to reach audiences through perimeter advertising in sports stadiums. STADS uses a data-driven approach with an algorithm that suggests the best matches to reach an advertiser’s target audience, offering them a more effective ad spend.
“We’re removing the ‘shooting in the dark’ aspect of sports venue advertising,” Shalmor says.
“Advertisers can form decisions based on analytics and potential exposure of each game in different territories around the world.”
The company, which works on a commission model for deals made on the STADS platform, has just renewed contracts with European heavyweights Borussia Dortmund and AC Milan.
Currently focused primarily on European soccer, Shalmor has big plans.
“Our future ambition is to provide access to brands to advertise in any stadium around the world,” he says.
On his own approach to investing, Del Piero says he needs to “believe in the concept” and trust the people involved before committing to a company.
“I’m lucky that during my career I had the chance to earn a lot of money. There’s a point where you try to figure out how and in which way to invest the money,” he says.
“Sometimes it’s kind of risky when you go into markets like food or restaurants … but most of the time I’m really, really safe in terms of how to do the investment. I’m not looking for the big ticket, the big jackpot. But sometimes yeah, you play at the casino, and you see how it goes.”
As to whether he would spin the wheel in the world of football again, Del Piero isn’t ruling out a future role as a coach or technical director. His former teammate, Andrea Pirlo, was appointed first-team coach at Juventus earlier this month.
“(Becoming a) technical director and coach is of course something in my mind,” Del Piero says.
“I was very surprised (by Pirlo’s appointment) because it’s very early for him to be in that position. I’m surprised because I thought Juve would go in a different way. This is a big challenge for everyone but the club is very strong and the team is very good and Andrea is a great guy.
“I don’t know his mind in terms of what he wants to do inside the pitch, but I know him personally so I believe he will be well prepared and ready to take this opportunity and to convert it into success.”
For now, Del Piero is firmly focused on making his investments a success.
“When it becomes business, it’s business. I take it very seriously,” he says.
“Do you want to play a friendly game with me? It’s not that friendly. Yeah, let’s laugh (before), but then the moment the referee whistles, I want to win. This is my mentality … it’s natural to have a challenge and try to win.
“This is (the same with) business because you believe in it, you spend time with it, you dedicate effort, you have a team with you. So you need to be very serious and focused on what you’re doing.”