Sebastian Giovinco is one of the biggest stars in Major League Soccer and yet he can stand on a busy street in Toronto with few people recognizing him. Not since David Beckham suited up for LA Galaxy has a player had such an impact on the league; however, in a city better known for games played on rinks, courts, and outfields, the soccer star blends in to his Yorkville atmosphere when off the pitch.
But on the pitch, he becomes a God.
The Italian forward exploded into MLS in a way that no one could have predicted. Signing for a then-abysmal Toronto team, he joined former Serie A teammate Michael Bradley at a club that barely made a paragraph on the back page of local newspapers. Giovinco arrived in Toronto from his position as Juventus bench warmer and took the city by storm. And in his relatively short time at TFC, he has won literally every award MLS has to offer (save the Golden Glove), took his team to the final (where they only lost in a penalty shootout), and has been an integral part of turning around club culture (going from zeros to absolute heroes).
TFC may still be years behind in popularity compared to the Maples Leafs, Raptors, or Blue Jays, but the Reds have gained a respectable visibility in the sport-centric metropolis, thanks to the signing of Giovinco. And while he may be able to do his grocery shopping without a mob of selfie and autograph seekers, it doesn’t mean his impact hasn’t been felt on the pitch in the city. Or the continent.
Currently, Toronto FC is the best team in the league; some even have speculated that this might be the best team in MLS history. Giovinco is at the centre of it all, stunning fans and opponents alike with his precision free kicks, perfect ball placements, and unparalleled playing style.
It’s safe to say that North America has fallen in love with the tiny Torinese, which then begs the question: why hasn’t Italy?
While he graces the occasional La Gazzetta dello Sport article, interest in Giovinco for Italy seems more of a morbid curiosity than of support of a brother abroad; doing well in Toronto is a novelty, not an achievement.
This sentiment has been echoed by Italian national coach Giampiero Ventura. “[Giovinco] plays in a league that doesn’t matter much,” Ventura has said.
“And the number of goals he scores is less important because with the quality he has got, he is bound to make a difference in that league. The problem is that if you play in that type of league, and you get used to playing in that type of league, it becomes a problem of mentality.”
But is European superiority over MLS mediocrity slowly evolving? There might be change in the air, especially after David Villa – Giovinco’s closest rival in MLS — received a call up for the Spanish national team this week.
This call up should open the floodgates to speculation and conversation, not only if Giovinco is next, but if MLS is being taking more seriously than before. MLS is not comparable to the top European leagues, but that doesn’t mean it should be. What should be equated is what Giovinco is doing compared to his Italian teammates and how he would fit into the squad.
And that’s the biggest reason why Giovinco should be considered for the Azzurri, not for his individual talent, but rather, for what he has done with, for, and because of, Toronto FC.
Giovinco is an undisputed star for the Reds, but he is not the only star in Six and that’s what Ventura should be considering, not his individual talent on the pitch. Working with the likes of Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and Victor Vazquez, Giovinco has become a leader among other leaders and it works for him. After two years of the notion of carrying the team, Toronto are now in a place where Giovinco is part of the team, rather than a one-man team himself.
With that in mind, maybe the problem isn’t Giovinco’s mentality, but rather Ventura’s.
It’s Giovinco’s growth as a player — more than any awards or honours — that should be of interest Ventura. Giovinco is not running circles around other players in MLS, he’s working with them to make the whole team an incredible work of art.
If the Atomic Ant got the call, Italy wouldn’t be gaining an expert free kick taker or fancy footwork forward; they would be gaining someone who knows how to bring out the talent of a team. If Ventura is not looking deeper than superficial-geocentric talent, it shows his nativity of a coach not to consider personal growth of a player.
That’s not to imply that Giovinco should make the national team, absolute. Rather, it’s to suggest that a complete rejection based on his current location is ludicrous. His merit as a contemporary, overall player needs to be thoughtfully considered, rather than outright dismissed.
Giovinco is a good Italian player, regardless of his current postal code. What he does in Toronto is thanks to his nature as a footballer, not due the faults of those around him. We’ve seen what he can do in Italy, both for the national team and his brief stints at Empoli and Parma, and he’s only improved since then.
The future of the Azzurri should be more than just how successful a player is in Serie A. The team should be built on a matrix of variables and experiences, not just the same surface depth it has been in the past. Pulling from additional resources will result in a well-balanced, comprehensive, versatile (dare I say—diverse!) team, a trend that’s been adapted by international soccer all over the world.
Hopefully Ventura realizes there’s more Italian talent than beyond what is found within a narrow Serie A gene pool. Again, this is not to rally for a guaranteed spot for Giovinco in the national team, nor is it a criticism on the current squad. Rather, it is a suggestion to change entrenched mentalities and that the future of Italian football shouldn’t depend whether played in Torino or Toronto.