Giovinco could offer TFC an element of fantasy


Sebastian Giovinco, right. (Massimo Pinca/AP)

In case you missed it, Sportsnet reported Saturday evening that Toronto FC has come to terms with Juventus and Italian national team midfielder Sebastian Giovinco on what’s believed to be a four-year deal worth $7 million per season.

Giovinco is in the last year of his current contract with Turin-based Juventus, and while TFC declined to comment when contacted by Sportsnet on Saturday, they have called a press conference for Monday afternoon at Air Canada Centre where they will make an official announcement.

How big is this for Toronto FC? Giovinco is not going to be the saviour of the Reds, but this is a big signing—very big.

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How did this all come about?

It didn’t happen overnight. Toronto FC had been tracking Giovinco for some time, and club officials visited Turin at least twice in 2014, Sportsnet has learned. Things heated up when Giovinco’s representatives flew into Toronto to talk about a deal, and toured the MLS club’s KIA training ground in Downsview this past week before completing the deal on Friday. Giovinco had offers on the table from teams in Europe, but his representatives were impressed with TFC’s training facilities and, more important, they offered “a truckload of money,” a source told Sportsnet.

“Giovinco’s agents couldn’t believe it. They were skipping around the training ground,” the source said.

On Friday, the day of the Jermain Defoe and Jozy Altidore announcements, Sportsnet confirmed through a source within MLSE that Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley agreed to restructure his contract with the Reds in order to help them sign Altidore. It’s not known if Bradley also did that with an eye to aiding TFC land Giovinco. But he was consulted beforehand, and a source close to the midfielder said “he is very happy” about the Italian’s arrival in Toronto.

Bradley, by all rights, should be very happy. In Giovinco, Toronto is getting a marquee signing who is still in his prime years (he turns 28 later this month), a talented creator and a dynamic player who can make things happen on the pitch with his dribbling ability, passing range and free-kick prowess. A versatile player (he can slot into midfield, play on the wing or up front), he’s also not afraid to take defenders on, a difference maker with quick feet and agile football brain.

The Italians, God bless them, have many words for the term playmaker, the best one being the wonderfully descriptive fantasista. In its simplest definition, a fantasista refers to a player who finds open space on the field, creates and scores goals, and provides his team with a touch of playmaking genius.

But it means so much more: a fantasista is a fantasy-maker, one who can invent something out of nothing. Toronto FC has long been lacking a creative spark in attack. Giovinco should provide that spark and a bit of fantasy.

I use the word “should” on purpose. Nothing is a lock, meaning there’s no guarantee Giovinco, nicknamed LA Formica Atomica (The Atomic Ant), will be a success in MLS and take the league by storm.

It’s important to note that Giovinco has never played professionally outside of Italy, and that other big-name European players who have come to MLS in the past have floundered or left early, in large part, due homesickness and failing to adapt to a new culture and lifestyle—Jermain Defoe is the most obvious example.

Still, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic, the least of which is that Giovinco is on the right side of 30 and still has plenty of game left in his legs. Also, he’s shown to be a model professional and hasn’t caused any kind of fuss during this season as he’s been relegated to the bench and made only seven Serie A appearances for Juventus.

An added bonus for Toronto is that this move likely spells the end of Giovinco’s career with the Italian national team, for whom he’s scored one goal in 21 games, and represented at Euro 2012 and the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup. It’s not so much that coming to MLS is perceived as a “lower league” in Europe (although that certainly won’t help his cause with Antonio Conte), but has more to do with the fact that Azzurri managers have historically ignored and overlooked Italian players who ply their trade outside of Serie A, be it in La Liga, the Premier League, Bundesliga, or wherever.

What’s more, Giovinco is exactly the type of creative, attacking force that Toronto FC needs. This signing fills a big roster hole, and addresses a major problem area for the Reds, and gives someone Bradley to work off of and link up with as the nerve centre of the midfield.

And while it certainly doesn’t hurt that Giovinco can help TFC tap into the city’s large Italian population and possibly draw more fans to what will soon be an expanded BMO Field, this move isn’t about that. If it were about marketing and selling him to Toronto’s vast Italian community, then surely TFC would have gone after a much a bigger name than Giovinco—such as Alessandro Del Piero who, for his track record of success and cache, will turn 41 later this year.

The Italians are also known for their age-old, quirky proverbs. One of my favourites is the one they use to describe someone who is all sizzle and no steak: Tutto fumo e niente arrosto—all smoke, and no roast.

It doesn’t apply to Giovinco.

John Molinaro is Sportsnet’s chief soccer reporter. Follow him on Twitter

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