Toronto FC has big hopes for tiny Italian attacking midfielder/striker Sebastian Giovinco. The Major League Soccer club made their second major player-signing announcement in less than a week at Air Canada Centre on Monday, after announcing the signing of U.S. international Jozy Altidore on Jan. 16. Giovinco will finish his contract with Juventus in Serie A before joining TFC in July as a designated player.
TFC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko called signing Giovinco a “historic moment.”
Giovinco, 27, becomes TFC’s fourth designated player currently on the books, but also, reportedly, the one they’ll pay the most. Reports swirl around a contract for $7 million a year for four or five years. With those wages, Giovinco will be one of the highest paid athletes in Toronto.
It is also evidently clear Toronto FC has to pay a premium to land top quality European talent in its prime. According to Bezbatchenko, Giovinco was sought by many of the top clubs around the world. Having Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment’s deep pockets and the desire of CEO Tim Leiweke has been instrumental in even getting conversations started with the likes of now-departed Jermain Defoe and Giovinco.
“We’re doing everything we can to deliver a winning side,” said Bezbatchenko. And it is a coup for Toronto to land Giovinco who has a terrific winning pedigree, talent, and technical skills. He will fill a critical void in Toronto’s attack.
The 5-foot-5-inch Giovinco can score goals, create on the pitch, take free kicks, and play in a number of attacking positions explained Bezbatchenko in Monday’s press conference. And as Giovinco signs as a free agent, TFC does not have to pay a transfer fee to Juventus.
Giovinco scored 40 goals and had 31 assists in 190 Serie A games. He is, no question, one piece of the puzzle for TFC to become a playoff team. Toronto FC have been lacking the creative attacking midfielder and it is a difficult task to find the right player for the role.
TFC head coach Greg Vanney wants to play Giovinco “in the heart of the field” underneath Jozy Altidore up top. He wants somebody to “create in the attacking third of the field.” This will give Michael Bradley more confidence in his role and improve the link up between the midfield and strikers.
And Vanney has no qualms about his size, or lack thereof. Small players can excel in MLS. Just look at former TFC player Joao Plata with Real Salt Lake. The 5-foot-2-inch Ecuadorian led the perennial playoff team in scoring with 13 goals last year. It’s about the player, not his height.
The odd man out appears to be Brazilian striker Gilberto who took some time to round into form last season but one who is now a proven MLS performer (7 goals in 28 games). It remains to be seen how TFC handles the situation with talk of a new collective bargaining agreement possibly allowing for four DP spots.
But where the rubber meets the road is what takes place on the pitch. Signing a European to big DP money is hit and miss. Toronto FC has had its share of clear misses with the likes of Defoe and Spaniard Miguel “Mista” Ferrer in 2010. In fact, the league as a whole can relate to the tricky challenge of finding the right DP. Spending money does not guarantee success in MLS.
Can Giovinco adapt to the rigours of MLS? How will he deal with the league’s physical style of play, something that is very different from Italy’s Serie A? And what about the long flights, different time zones, and even the throng of reporters in the locker room after the game—something that reportedly unnerved Defoe. This is a big step for the Italian.
On the surface, Giovinco appears to be a far more jovial character than Defoe. No doubt the comparisons will continue to be made. Giovinco’s style of play and position on the pitch will make him more involved in the action, whereas Defoe would often be isolated up top requiring service.
Last season, after TFC added Bradley, Defoe, and Gilberto, the main question was could then coach Ryan Nelsen manage the side into a cohesive unit given his lack of coaching experience? That big question still remains with Greg Vanney. How will he manage Giovinco, Altidore, and the rest of the squad?
Vanney came into the picture abruptly last season and did not achieve the desired result. He was initially hired as academy director with TFC. The Reds were well placed to make the playoffs at the time of his arrival, but going 2–6–2 (W–L–D) ended those hopes.
TFC’s biggest weakness is still their defense, especially centrally. With the bizarre departure of promising Canadian central defender Doneil Henry, the Reds hole at the back got bigger. First choice pairing of captain Steven Caldwell, 34, and youngster Nick Hagglund need quality backups, and TFC is reportedly attempting to address that.
But a new season and a clean slate can only bring optimism. The problem is TFC has been here before and it hasn’t ended well. TFC hasn’t made the playoffs in its eight-year MLS history, but if the big-name players they bring in live up to their potential on and off the pitch, the Reds should break the duck in 2015. That would go quite nicely in their soon-to-be newly renovated 30,000-seat stadium.
Follow Rahul on Twitter @RV_ETSports