Why Turin's wannabe hometown hero was right to spurn north London for North America
It’s good to know that, even in 2015, a transfer story can still take you by surprise. Football fans on both sides of the Atlantic were left stunned this week by the news that Sebastian Giovinco was going to join Toronto FC this summer. While it has been evident for a while that his lack of playing time at Juventus would see him heading for the exit when his contract expired in June, his decision to move to Canada during the prime of his career is a huge surprise.
A Turin native, he has been underused by the Bianconeri and played fewer than 200 minutes across seven Serie A matches this term. It was a similar story last season, as 11 of Giovinco’s 17 league appearances came as a substitute, restricting his impact on the club’s record-breaking campaign to just two goals and one assist.
The lack of faith in him at his hometown club is nothing new, and to see a player once touted as the heir to Alessandro Del Piero leave on a free transfer is to witness the end of a relationship that once promised so much. Comparisons to the greatest striker in the grand Old Lady's history were perhaps always a stretch, but there is no denying Giovinco’s quality – the standard of the clubs linked with his signature over the last 18 months is testament to that.
Leaving the Old Lady
Now the burning question has to be why would a highly-rated 27-year-old – a regular in Italy squads, no less – opt for a move to North America, when big Premier League clubs like Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur were allegedly interested?
While the simplest answer is the rumoured $7 million annual salary, a look back over Giovinco’s career to date perhaps hints at an altogether different underlying reason.
Giovinco joined the Juventus youth sector aged nine, rapidly progressing through the age groups and quickly building a reputation as a prodigious talent, helping the club win a number of prestigious competitions.
Playing as a traditional No.10, he floated between the lines and was able to score or create goals with frequency and aplomb. This saw him garner nationwide attention, as calls for a first-team debut quickly grew louder.
That dream would eventually be realised in May 2007, when Juve’s promotion back to Serie A was almost secured after their Calciopoli-enforced relegation the previous summer. Once their return was finalised, the club arranged for him – and team-mate Claudio Marchisio – to spend the following campaign with Empoli, hoping they would both earn valuable top-flight experience.
Giovinco blossomed with the Tuscan minnows, netting six goals including a delightful injury-time free-kick that would see them snatch a memorable 2-2 draw with title contenders Roma.
Buoyed by his spell at Stadio Carlo Castellani, he returned to Juventus hoping to be given a major role, but there appeared to be very little thought given to his development. With sporting director Alessio Secco out of his depth, the Bianconeri made a number of baffling decisions on the transfer market and Claudio Ranieri was given a disjointed squad of players to choose from.
The partnership of David Trezeguet and Del Piero still reigned supreme, of course, but Vincenzo Iaquinta and Amauri had also arrived, often meaning Giovinco would deputise for Pavel Nedved on the left flank.
Despite his unfamiliarity with the role, Giovinco would often do well and turned in a memorable cameo against Chelsea in the 2008/09 Champions League, almost helping La Madama to overcome the English side in the last 16. They lost narrowly, however, and their performances in Serie A ultimately cost Ranieri his job, with Ciro Ferrara appointed as his successor.
The former defender promised to use Giovinco as backup to Diego in his preferred trequartista role, but his diminutive frame proved his undoing. Standing just 5ft 5in tall and weighing around 60kg, he lacked the physical stature needed to compete with modern day midfielders, and his struggles were further compounded by a lack of pace.
Despite possessing good acceleration from a standing start, he struggled to escape the attention of his markers and failed to make any significant impact.
The arrival of a new management team in the summer of 2010 saw Juventus at last have a cohesive strategy for their young players, and a loan move to Parma was seemingly the ideal solution for Giovinco. It eventually became a co-ownership deal, and the 2011/12 season saw him finally realise his vast potential as he weighed in with 15 goals and 11 assists. He took great delight in continually finding the net against Juventus.
Giovinco scored four goals in three games against the Bianconeri, who then spent a staggering €11 million to bring him home, believing he was finally ready to impress in their colours. Once again the club appeared to have no clear role for him and all the progress made at Parma was quickly undone.
The playmaker didn’t help his own cause, regularly criticising Juventus for a lack of action, while his agent talked up the possibility of him leaving once again, with north London often touted as a plausible destination. Yet he remained with the club, winning two league titles largely as a reserve. But with his contract winding down, it quickly became apparent he would not be handed an extension.
After being given a rare start in the Coppa Italia last week, he served up a timely reminder of his ability by scoring twice in a 6-1 thrashing of Hellas Verona. With Premier League clubs seemingly chasing his signature, perhaps the failed adventures of international team-mates like Mario Balotelli, Fabio Borini and Pablo Osvaldo soured the idea.
Others like Érik Lamela, who shone in Serie A but has so far struggled to make an impact at Tottenham, could also have helped convince Giovinco that Canada was a more suitable destination than England.
The dream of hometown glory remains unrealised, but Toronto FC and his lucrative long-term contract guarantees him superstar status. There, wearing the No.10 shirt in a city with a large Italian community, Giovinco will be the headline act he could no longer hope to be for Juventus.