SAINTS’ chances of landing Alessandro Del Piero appeared to be slipping away last night.

The Italian footballing superstar, pictured right, had given club chiefs fresh hope he would opt for a free transfer move to St Mary’s when it appeared he narrowed down his myriad options to either Saints or Australian side Sydney FC.

But as The Daily Echo went to press all the indications were that he would turn down a move to St Mary’s with Liverpool making a late play to stop him from moving Down Under. The door was being kept open for Saints to make one last, concerted push, possibly via an improved offer to lure him to the south coast.

But, unless that was forthcoming, it seemed as if they would miss out with Sydney and Liverpool going headto- head to become the likely final stop in the glittering career of the 37-year-old Juventus legend.

Saints’ major draw card in trying to land Del Piero, pictured below, was the offer to play in the top flight in England but Liverpool could match that as well as Europa League football.

Saints’ initial offer was less that of Sydney but Del Piero has proved it isn’t all about the money after rebuffing reported interest from the Middle East and China that would have earned him almost double what Sydney are offering.

The playmaker and his representatives are, however, acutely aware of the player’s marketability.

His earnings from off the field endorsements are thought to be virtually as great as from his on the field prowess and the chance to effectively become the face of the Australian A-League must be a tempting offer.

He would be the highest profile player to make the move to the league, previous marquee signings having included Dwight Yorke and Robbie Fowler.

A move to Saints or Liverpool would arguably be a greater footballing challenge.

Del Piero would be a superstar in Southampton and a big draw wherever he went, but would be up against a whole heap of other footballing greats in the Premier League .

To hold down a regular starting berth in the Saints team, as well as the Liverpool side, would likely be a tougher proposition than at Sydney. The Australian side are thought to be offering Del Piero a $2m a year contract for one season with the option of extending it a further year.

Saints’ initial offer was a clever one – about 1m euros a year, plus substantial bonuses, for two years.

That deal would have pushed Del Piero within months of reaching his target to still be playing football at the age of 40, at which time if he desired a move abroad and a big final payday it would still surely be possible.

However, Liverpool’s possible late intervention added yet another hurdle to be overcome.