Toronto FC sells Sebastian Giovinco to Saudi club Al-Hilal

John Molinaro joined Sportsnet Central to talk about the sale of Sebastian Giovinco and talks about how the club can move forward without a player of his calibre.

TORONTO – Sebastian Giovinco’s days as a member of Toronto FC are over.

TFC announced Wednesday evening that it has sold Giovinco to Saudi Arabian club Al-Hilal, a move that ends the Italian forward’s tenure as one of the greatest stars ever to play in Major League Soccer.

The transfer of Giovinco to Al-Hilal will see TFC receive a nominal transfer fee, a source told Sportsnet. Giovinco has signed a three-year deal with Al-Halil, believed to be worth US $11.5 million per season.

“This was an extremely emotional transaction for our club. We’d like to thank Seba for all he did for TFC during his time with the club. He gave our fans many thrilling moments during his four years, especially during our championship season in 2017,” TFC president Bill Manning said in a news release.

“He leaves Toronto as the greatest player in club history. We wish Seba and his family nothing but the best as he begins a new chapter.”

However, Giovinco called out TFC management in a lengthy message posted on his Instagram account after the deal with Al-Hilal was announced.

“Recently, after refusing to exercise the club option for 2020, I was offered terms that I deemed unacceptable. They may say I left for a more lucrative deal, but this is not the case. Their offer and lack of transparency is a clear message. It seems management prefers to focus on things other than the pure desire to win. After having grown the brand and elevating the overall reputation of TFC both at home and abroad, it seems I no longer serve a purpose. I would have accepted less to stay in Toronto. Therefore, I reluctantly announce that my tenure as a TFC player has come to an end,” Giovinco wrote.

Giovinco, 32, was in the final year of his five-year contract and was frustrated with recent negotiations with the Toronto, especially with the start of the 2019 MLS campaign a little more than a month away. He earned US$7.115 million in 2018, which made him the highest-paid player in the league.

The Italian stoked the fires about a possible transfer move earlier this month when he told local reporters there was “serious talk” about another club being interested in him.

“I try to honour my contract. We’ll see what happens. I want to stay here, but I hear something already this season [that] somebody wants to offer me to another team. [It] can be my last [year], or not. We’ll see,” Giovinco said.

The Italian also stated he wanted to remain in Toronto, and that his contract status wouldn’t affect his attitude or commitment on the pitch during the upcoming MLS season.

“I’m a professional. [I’ve] demonstrated to everybody I’m a professional. I care about my team, I care about myself. For me, nothing changes,” Giovinco said.

But things did change, and it all came to a boil this week during TFC’s training camp in California, with Giovinco spending several days away from the rest of the team as negotiations took place between his agent and club management.

Amidst the contract talks, TFC turned down one transfer offer for Giovinco from a club in the Middle East. In the end, though, TFC decided to sell off the Italian, instead of potentially letting him walk away at the end of the 2019 MLS season as a free agent without getting anything in return.

The loss of Giovinco, dubbed “The Atomic Ant,” is a bitter blow and a big loss for TFC and for Major League Soccer. The Italian was a key figure in transforming the Reds from a league laughingstock into a championship-winning team, and he helped raise the international profile on MLS.

Giovinco took MLS by storm since arriving in Toronto via a transfer from Serie A side Juventus, firmly establishing himself as one of the best players and most dangerous scorers in the league. He leaves Toronto with 73 goals and 57 assists in 125 MLS regular-season and playoff games over four seasons.

He played a starring role in TFC’s historic 2017 campaign when they won the Supporters’ Shield, Canadian Championship and MLS Cup, and set the record for most points (69) in a single MLS regular season.

His best year in MLS was his first in 2015, when he scored 22 goals and tallied 16 assists, and he was named league MVP as he helped TFC secure its first ever playoff berth. The following year Toronto lost to the Seattle Sounders in the MLS Cup final.

By his high standards, Giovinco had a down year in 2018, but he still managed to score 13 goals and added 15 assists in 28 regular-season games. Toronto failed to make the playoffs, but it did reach the finals of the Concacaf Champions League, with Giovinco scoring a competition-high four goals to earn a place on the tournament’s all-star team.

It’s already been a busy and eventful off-season thus far for TFC.

Earlier this month, Spanish playmaker Victor Vazquez was sold to Qatari club Al-Arabi, Dutch international Gregory van der Wiel was sent home from training camp after an altercation with coach Greg Vanney (and it’s expected that he’ll never play again for the Reds) and defender Nick Hagglund was traded to FC Cincinnati.

All of which leaves newly-installed general manager Ali Curtis with plenty to do ahead of the start of the MLS season in the first week of March, and TFC’s round-of-16 series in the Concacaf Champions League in February.

Besides filling those holes on the roster, Curtis will also have to take a look at the big picture in terms of re-building the team for the long haul. One of the biggest decisions he faces is what to do with captain Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore who, like Giovinco, are in the final years of their respective contracts.

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