Today quite possibly the most important player signing in MLS’ recent history was unveiled in Toronto. La formica atomica, Sebastian Giovinco was introduced as another marquee signing for the flagging Toronto FC. Last year it was a “bloody big deal” when Jermain Defoe was introduced, and it turned out to be a “bloody big flop”. Giovinco has the ability to be different, and if he is, it may well be the signing that catapults MLS to becoming the league it so desperately wants to be.
It’s one thing to sign established US National Team players, even if some of the shine has worn off of them in Europe. The backbone of most national teams does play in their own domestic leagues, so this evolution of the USMNT is not surprising. It’s one thing to sign young, dynamic South American players to form the creative impetus of most teams, when the security of playing in MLS is far greater than playing in Argentina, Colombia, Chile, etc. It’s one thing to sign established European names when their prime years have passed them by. David Beckham was a watershed signing in terms of marketing and name value, Thierry Henry proved those stars in the twilight of their career still have a chance to be stars over here, yet even David Villa is on the down slope of his career, even though he may still be an MVP caliber player.
It’s another thing entirely to sign a current Italian national team player with plenty of interest domestically and who is still in the prime of their career to play in MLS. Sebastian Giovinco will be 28 when he comes to Toronto FC in July, which is a stark change to the typical European star that comes over at 31, 32, 33, etc. Giovinco should still be in Antonio Conte’s plans for the Azzurri, which means an established Italian national is going to ply his trade somewhere other than Europe for maybe the first time ever.
Giovinco is also the type of player who should thrive in MLS. He is the creative midfielder/trequartista type that finds their successes early and often in MLS. The league has seen players like Diego Valeri, Federico Higuain, Pedro Morales, etc. come into the fold and almost immediately have success. He will be viewed by how many goals the strikers (specifically Jozy Altidore) score ahead of him, and also what he’s able to do with the ball at his feet like Henry or players of that ilk have done in the league before. How Greg Vanney adapts his team for Giovinco remains to be seen, but Toronto FC should be built around his abilities, and his strengths are sorely what that team lacked last season.
If the move is a success, more players of his ilk will now consider MLS as not only a viable option for their careers, but a desired one. Yes, he has been on the bench recently for Juventus and his career has hit a snag on both domestic and international fronts. Yes, MLSE overpaid him dramatically compared to what he would have seen in Europe. But, as with Michael Bradley, the change has to come from some impetus, and usually money is that impetus. Perception of players change from league to league too, and Giovinco’s perception is different in Toronto is different than it is in Toronto, or Firenze, or even Bologna.
Hopefully this big deal is a better one than Defoe turned out to be for Toronto FC and MLS. Because if it is, MLS may have found a new watershed as they attempt to be one of the biggest and best leagues in world football.
Sure the money was right (three times as right), but change has to come from somewhere. And it may be for the best for everyone in the league past, present, and future.
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