Reading some of the reaction to Alessandro Del Piero’s Hyundai A-League debut, you’d believe the Italian and his Sydney FC teammates were talking different languages.
While many praised Del Piero's contributions, much of the focus was instead in his colleagues’ difficulties matching their marquee signing’s football intelligence, who struggled to get into the game a result.
But the somewhat predictable reaction to the Sky Blues’ opening fixture also served to set the narrative for the early part of their season; how can Ian Crook and his squad make the most their star man?
Listen and learn, is the advice of Jess Vanstratten, who played alongside Del Piero during his stint with Juve in 2007/08.
The former Gold Coast United goalkeeper has been watching his former teammate’s switch to the A-League with interest, and believes it will take time for the local players to understand how to play with confidence alongside the former Italy great.
“They need to listen to Alex,” Vanstratten told footballaustralia.com.au. “I’m sure he’ll have a massive input. He’s touched on it himself; it’s going to take time because he needs to get to know the players.
“In his interview with Les Murray, Alex said there are too many players doing too much, over-running or not being in zones where they can be found easily.
“You can’t expect a player like Alex to all of a sudden come to the A-League, which isn’t Serie A, and settle in. it will take time for everyone to get used to each other.”
After leaving Australia to play in one of the best leagues in the world, Vanstrattan appreciates that some Sydney players might be a little star-struck, but says things will improve once they focus on playing football, rather than trying to impress their famous teammate.
“They can’t listen to the media too much; people are already saying these players aren’t good enough and Del Piero’s above everyone else.
“Of course he’s better. He’s been playing his whole life with other players at his level. Some of the Sydney players probably see Alex and think they have to do more to gain his respect.
“They need to forget that and learn from him, especially the midfielders and strikers who will play around him. He’s alluded to it – the players are a bit too generous.
"He’ll let them know what he needs. If you watch a team like Barcelona,the ball’s doing the work and all you have to do is get into position where you can be found easily; not over-running or doing too much and always being in a position to support.”
It’s a problem, Vanstrattan says, the Newcastle Jets might also experience, as they try to accommodate their own-big name singing into their system.
Marquee signings can bring a lot to club and team, but to be successful, the focus must remain on the system the coach is trying to put in place and improving players’ decision-making.
“It’s an issue with the marquee system because it suddenly feels like it’s all about one player. But football is about 11 players and you can’t get carried away with the ‘star’.
“The players need to be confident enough to look at Alex and think, ‘He’s not the best option here’.
“Of course they’ve got to get him involved as much as they can but he’s not always the no.1 option. It might be passing through Alex or going around him and that’s where the Sydney players have to get the confidence to think, ‘Alex is screaming at me for the ball’ but say, ‘no, I know what the best option is’. The player on the ball has to make the right decision at the time.
“But when you play with good players you learn things and improve your game by emulating what they do. In the long run I think you’ll see a turn around.”