In 2015, after nine years with his hometown club Juventus, Sebastian Giovinco was considered hot property in footballing terms. In fact, he was labelled one of the top 100 footballers on the planet. That includes the likes of FourFourTwo, The Guardian and French newspaper L’Equipe. The reality was that Giovinco struggled badly to nail down a permanent place in the Juve side.
There can be no doubt that the pint-sized playmaker had been given opportunities. In 2012-13, Juve boss Antonio Conte handed Giovinco the number 12 shirt having bought the second half of his transfer rights from Serie A rivals Parma until the summer of 2015. He did play a hand in Juve’s 2013 Serie A title success, but was more of a bit-part player in their second successive Scudetto.
It’s true that Giovinco coveted the famous number ten shirt of former Juve icon Alessandro Del Piero. The number 12 jersey may have frustrated him – a shirt that suggested he was too good for the reserves but not quite a big enough player to become a household name. By the time the 2014/15 Serie A campaign came around, Giovinco was cutting an irritable and isolated figure in Turin. After seven games without a goal to his name, it was clear that the dream of emulating Del Piero was over.
Even so, his next move would still raise plenty of eyebrows. Canadian MLS outfit Toronto FC came calling, offering Juventus a modest €7m and Giovinco annual salary of a similar sum ($7m) to entice him ‘across the pond’. The deal made Giovinco both the highest-paid player in MLS history at the time and the highest-paid Italian player ever, although compatriot Andrea Pirlo would eventually smash both records 12 months later with his switch to New York City.
Giovinco had four long, successful years in the Major League Soccer (MLS) with Toronto. He was brought in from Juventus as a marquee signing, in a bid to build the MLS brand and increase the exposure of Toronto FC across the city. Marquee names like Giovinco have certainly helped cement the MLS as one of the major sporting forces in the US. In Las Vegas, which has long been considered the heartbeat of sports betting Stateside, the MLS now ranks up there with the likes of the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB as the most popular markets. “Sin City” has even got a professional soccer team of its own – the Las Vegas Lights – although they currently play in the league below the MLS, the USL Championship.
Within his first season in Toronto colours, Giovinco claimed the MLS’ Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. He finished the year as joint top-scorer with Kei Kamara and registered as the league’s top assister too. Cynics might suggest that Giovinco opted to drop down a standard to become a big fish in a small MLS pond, instead of pushing himself to his limits in Serie A. They might well be right, but that doesn’t mean that Giovinco didn’t work his socks off in a Toronto jersey.
In fact, you could argue that Giovinco’s drive and dynamism helped Toronto become serial winners during his stay. They twice finished in the Eastern Conference Playoffs, won the MLS Cup once in 2017 and were three-time winners of the Canadian Championship. Although his relationship with Toronto soured at the end, with the club unwilling to hand the Italian a contract extension due to his age, Giovinco then opted to move to Saudi Arabian outfit Al Hilal. In his first season, he scored ten goals in 29 competitive appearances, helping Al Hilal to the AFC Champions League – the Asian equivalent of the UEFA Champions League. Giovinco is one of only a handful of stars to have scored goals in three different continental club competitions – UEFA Champions League, AFC Champions League and CONCACAF Champions League.
Once again, Giovinco opted against a conventional move back to his native Italy or indeed anywhere else in Europe. Plying his trade in the 28th strongest league in the world is hardly a ringing endorsement of Giovinco’s confidence in his own abilities, but yet again the finances involved in the deal were arguably above and beyond what he could have secured in Europe. Giovinco is a player with undoubted magic in his boots. As a genuine maverick, it doesn’t seem to bother Giovinco that he has enjoyed so much success at such modest levels.