SUPER PIPPO, THE LITTLE PAINTER AND THE OLD LADY.

It was a routine result for Juventus. A result that ensured they kept up with Lazio in the race for the 99/00 Scudetto. Both of their strikers on display had scored. One hitting a hattrick and the other rounding things off in a comfortable 4 nil win away from home. To the outsider looking in, Juve were in strong position; Scoring goals, not conceding and sitting nicely at the top end of the Serie A table. However, behind closed Delle Alpi doors, a situation was unraveling. Rivalry, envy and fall outs within the camp which had been escalating for months were about reach public boiling point.

Alessandro Del Piero was the Juventus talisman, number 10 and an icon of the old lady. Skilful, creative and deadly from set pieces, il pinturicchio (the little painter) had become the top dog in Turin since the departure of the great Roberto Baggio. In February 2000, Del Piero had recently returned from a near year long injury lay off and was gradually working his way back to full fitness. However, he was struggling to find the net and question marks had been raised as to whether the once prolific front man had seen his best days in Serie A.

Around the same time and by stark contrast, his strike partner Filippo Inzaghi was in blistering form, scoring at a vast rate which would see him end the season as the club’s leading scorer. Super Pippo was a fox in the box, tenacious and what he lacked in skill he made up for with sheer willingness and goalscoring knowhow. Signed from Atalanta by manager Marcelo Lippi, Inzaghi would offer a great foil for Del Piero and the pair would hit it off instantly in their first season together. Del Piero, a scorer of great goals also became a great creator of goals. Inzaghi’s ability to take up intelligent positions and his single mindedness to find the net complimenting Del Piero’s vision superbly. With extra Supply also coming in midfield from Edgar Davids, Didier Deschamps and Zinedine Zidane, the newly formed partnership smashed a combined 39 Serie A goals, 59 in all competitions. It would see Juve become a formidable force enabling them to lift the title and reach the Champions League final where they would, unfortunately, succumb to Real Madrid in a tight affair.

With the partnership flourishing, Del Piero’s injury the following season came at the worst possible time. Juventus would only manage a 7th place finish in the 98/99 Serie A season. Poor form in other areas coupled with the absence of their star man would be to blame. And although Inzaghi offered some solace with a excellent 20 goal haul, the finish would subsequently see Marcelo Lippi lose his job a manager and be replaced by Carlo Ancelotti.

Inzaghi had arguably been in the form of his life that season despite Juve’s poor points return. Sections of the Italian media were beginning to see him as the rightful heir to the No.10 at Juventus and that this period could be the handing over of the guard. But, with Del Piero still not even 30, Juventus backed their main man by awarding him a gigantic new contract. A contract that made him, by far, the highest paid player at the club. To the board and fans, he was still the king of Turin. An accolade Inzaghi envied.

Despite his apparent lack of goals early on, Del Piero’s return and presence around the dressing room the following season coincided with Juve bouncing back to form. Whilst injured, Del Piero had watched on as Inzaghi prospered and leading up to his comeback was excited that things would be better than ever with the pair once again lighting up Serie A. Him being the talisman and Inzaghi the secondary foil. But by now, something had changed in Inzaghi’s mindset and those around the club sensed it. A silent battle slowly began to develop. A battle to become number 1. Inzaghi felt it was his time and tensions would soon surface. He now seen Del Piero as too big of a figure at Juve. A figure who had preferential treatment from club’s hierarchy that some of his performances didn’t merit. In addition he outlined how he had proved he could be the the club’s go to man the previous season and hinted that Del Piero may, in fact, be over the hill. Sentiments that were being echoed in some parts of the media. Del Piero, in return, believed the hype was going to his compatriot’s head and started to feel Inzaghi was becoming too selfish, greedy and was putting goalscoring before the team’s results. With several reported training ground bust ups and the pair not even on speaking terms, they lined up together away at Venezia two months into the new millennium.

Things started off well, Del Piero converting a first half penalty after Inzaghi was fouled in the area. Going into 2nd half however, sparks were about to fly. Looking for that illusive goal from open play Del Piero practically tackled Inzaghi to shoot much to the latter’s clear distaste. This was mirrored when Inzaghi skewed a chance wide when it looked easier to square to his striking partner for a clear tap in. Then when another carbon copy situation presented itself a few moments later, Inzaghi opted to round the hapless Venezia goalkeeper and slot home rather than find his teammate who was better placed. Every goal to Inzaghi was an event, celebrating them all like they were his last. The close-to-tears screams of delight with sheer exuberant joy and this celebration was no different. Perhaps it was even enhanced by a tinge of relief as the wrath of Del Piero was narrowly avoided. Inzaghi would soon get his second of the match and then with time running out complete his hattrick which would compound Del Piero’s clear annoyance and tip him over the edge. With the ball seemingly falling to Del Piero to score, Inzaghi nipped in to steel the goal leaving the former undoubtedly angry. Inzaghi milked the applause and earned himself the matchball. A win for juve, a treble for Super Pippo but the little painter was about to paint a bleak portrait of their relationship in the press post match. He would reveal that Inzaghi was ‘lucky to score’ and that he would no longer pass to his strike partner unless it was absolutely nessessary.

With the rift now public knowledge, the Italian printed media had a field day, running the feud as a main talking point and all the television stations jumped on the bandwagon. Some were making jokes about the situation and bookmakers were even offering odds on the striking duo passing to each other in the next match.

Juventus would win that next match thanks to an Inzaghi goal but would end up losing out on the 99/00 Scudetto by a point to Lazio. Whether the pair’s obvious differences were the unwanted distraction responsible, no one can say for sure. Their relationship wouldn’t improve. Inzaghi would follow manager Carlo Ancelotti to Milan the following year and become a club legend with the Rossoneri but ironically still playing as a second fiddle striker, this time to Ukrainian striker Andrei Shevchenko. Del Piero would go on to cement his place as Juventus’ greatest ever player, readjusting his game, forming an outstanding partnership with Inzaghi’s replacement, David Trezeguet and even opting to stay with the club during the Italian match fixing scandal which would see Juve relegated to Serie B. A repayment for loyalty that Juve has shown him years earlier. The little painter and Super Pippo would often cross paths again with the Italian national team and even lifted the World Cup together in 2006, albeit with both playing limited roles. But one wonders what may have happened in the prime of their careers at Juventus had ego, resentment and jealously not halted one of Serie A’s deadliest partnerships in its tracks.

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