Toronto FC’s quest to sign Lorenzo Insigne began with a simple list

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Sometimes it’s worth making a list.

Announcing the signing of Italian star winger Lorenzo Insigne, Toronto FC president Bill Manning said the hunt for Napoli captain began last summer amid concerns over the club’s management. the struggling MLS.

Knowing that the owner of the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment team held a board meeting in September and seeing local interest in Italy’s race to the European Championship, he began looking for possible player targets.

“I actually went to the Transfermarkt website and researched the Italian national team to see which players were leaving their contracts,” Manning told reporters on Saturday. “And Lorenzo was one of the few players to leave the contract. I started noting players that I thought were world class that I thought would have business value in this market.

Manning, who presented a five-year plan to the MLSE board when he was hired in 2015, said he then shared his “vision on what we need to do to reinvigorate our club and Lorenzo Insigne was the first name on this list “.

Months later, Manning has her man.

Insigne has signed a pre-contract to join the Major League Soccer club on a four-year contract effective July 1. The Napoli captain will be 31 when he takes on the colors of Toronto.

Insigne has played at the highest level, from the Champions League to the World Cup.

He has made 416 appearances for Napoli, scoring 114 goals with 95 assists in all competitions. In 11 seasons with his native club, he won the Super Cup (2014-15) and Coppa Italia (2013-14 and 2019-20).

Insigne has scored 10 goals in 53 appearances for Italy, helping the Azzurri claim the European title last July in a penalty shootout win over England.

With Napoli’s season ending May 21, Insigne will have time to recover ahead of the second half of Toronto’s campaign. But it will still face a busy year if sixth-ranked Italy qualifies for the World Cup in Qatar, which will require playoff wins over No.67 North Macedonia and then either Portugal. n ° 8 or Turkey n ° 37.

Manning called the Insignia deal a “transformational signing” for the club and the league – part of the franchise’s plan to take charge ahead of the 2026 World Cup, which Canada is co-hosting.

The signing is a blow to the fences, with Toronto looking to revert to its winning ways. Champions in 2017 and finalists in 2016 and 2019, TFC finished 26th out of 27 teams last season with a dismal 6-18-10 campaign.

“Toronto FC has really been out of the market for two full seasons (due to the pandemic),” Manning said. “And we lost a buzz. We have lost the buzz in this market.

“Lorenzo Insigne is going to be a player that people want to come and see,” he added.

At five feet four inches and 132 pounds, Insigne is small but packs a punch. He can play offensive all over the court, but is often deployed as a left winger where he can use his speed, ball skills, and powerful shot to good effect.

Insigne made a cameo appearance via a social media video posted by TFC.

“I want to say hello to all the fans in Toronto,” he said in Italian. “I am excited for this new adventure. I want to thank the club and we will meet again in July.

“All for one,” he added in English, quoting TFC’s motto with a smile and a thumbs-up.

After securing the blessing of the MLSE board of directors, Manning turned to Italian agent Andrea D’Amico – who represented Italian star Sebastian Giovinco when he moved to TFC in 2015 – for help. help as an intermediary. D’Amico knew Insigne’s agent and made the first call.

Former MLS vice-president Lino DiCuollo also played a key role in negotiations on the pitch in Italy as Toronto sought to keep Insigne away from his beloved club in his hometown.

The talks haven’t exactly gone under a cone of silence – more like a sieve with Italian media providing plenty of updates on their star player’s next destination.

Manning said TFC’s “ambition” as a North American club, coupled with the city’s sizable Italian community, has won over Insigne.

His contract offer too, which has apparently surpassed those of other clubs, including Napoli, who currently sit third in the Serie A table at 12-4-4. Insigne would become the highest paid player in MLS by a considerable margin.

Los Angeles FC forward Carlos Vela topped the league salary scale last season with $ 6.3 million, before tax. Badge would earn more than that – after tax.

With its Byzantine salary cap rules, the MLS is still a league of haves and have-nots. Second-year forward Ifunanyachi Achara earned $ 66,724 with Toronto last season.

On the bright side, Toronto didn’t have to pay a transfer fee to acquire Insigne as its contract expires. The club paid a fee of $ 10 million each to acquire United States midfielder Michael Bradley and England striker Jermain Defoe in 2014, with both players earning an additional $ 12.68 million in their first seasons.

Bob Bradley, appointed Toronto head coach and athletic director at the end of November, coached Vela in Los Angeles.

As the quest to sign Insigne began before Bob Bradley arrived, Manning said the new coach was ok with the acquisition.

“He told me no one liked the stars better than him,” Manning recalls.

In a statement, Bob Bradley – the father of the Toronto captain – called Insigne’s ability to create chances for himself and his teammates “special.”

“Lorenzo is the kind of player you come to watch because there is always a chance that he will do something unforgettable,” he added.

Insigne will join Toronto as a designated player, which means that only a portion of his salary – it was $ 612,500 last season – will count towards the team’s salary cap budget.

This means TFC will have to move one of their existing designated players – Spain playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo, US forward Jozy Altidore and Venezuelan winger Yeferson Soteldo – to make room for Insigne.

Both Altidore and Soteldo should move on, freeing up more space for new talent. Manning said the team will resolve the DP deadlock before Insigne arrives.

Toronto can buy back one of them, without damaging its salary cap. He can also sell them, with a return to Brazil for Soteldo.

Toronto has had success with little Italians in the past. Giovinco, who joined Toronto from Juventus, scored 83 goals and added 64 assists in 142 appearances in all competitions before leaving in 2019 for (financially) greener pastures in Saudi Arabia with Al Hilal SFC.

The five-foot-four, 130-pound Giovinco, known as the Atomic Ant, practically ran the table in its first year in North America. He won MVP honors as well as the Golden Boot as top scorer, was named top newcomer and voted on the league’s top XI.

Toronto paid Giovinco $ 7.115 million per season, which dominated the league at the time.

TFC must now rebuild around Insigne, defense being a glaring problem after allowing 66 goals, the franchise’s worst of 2021. With marauding full-back Richie Laryea joining English Forest of Nottingham, TFC has yet to another hole to be filled.

“It’s important that we give Bob the pieces he can be successful with,” said Manning, promising more player moves before the season kicks off on February 26 and during the summer transfer window.

Bigger names have joined MLS in the past, but it’s safe to say that Insignia is closer to its prime.

David Beckham was 32 when he made his Los Angeles Galaxy debut in 2007. Swedish star Zlatan Ibrahimovic was 36 when he made his Galaxy debut, scoring twice in his first game.

Born in Frattaminore, a stone’s throw north of Naples, Insigne moved to his hometown Napoli in 2009, making his Serie A debut at age 19 in January 2001 and his senior Italy debut in September 2012.

Insigne came from a large family with modest financial resources. He got up at 5 or 6 in the morning to work “as a peddler” then trained in the afternoon.

“Sometimes I would fall asleep in the locker room and the coach had to come and wake me up,” he said in an interview in 2018.

Insigne’s Neapolitan roots run deep. Growing up there, he named his dog Pocho – after Argentinian Naples star Ezequiel Lavezzi whose nickname was El Pocho.

Before joining Napoli, he tested with Turin and Inter.

“But I was always fired because I was too small,” Insigne said. “I had considered giving up but my desire and my passion were too strong. I wanted to be successful as a professional footballer and now I’m here.

Insigne, who has two sons with wife Genoveffa (Jenny) Darone, wears number 24 with Napoli, a number currently owned by Canadian TFC winger Jacob Shaffelburg.

MLSE is no stranger to big ticket items.

Raptors star Pascal Siakam is making $ 33 million this season. Maple Leaf forwards Auston Matthews ($ 10.47 million), Mitch Marner ($ 10.36 million) and John Tavares ($ 9.35 million) total $ 30.178 million this season.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on January 8, 2022.

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