The Sopranos taking over Lazio? You couldn't make it up

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If Sopranos creator David Chase is on the look out for a new take on the Mafia story then he could do no worse than ponder a series around the colourful life of Giorgio Chinaglia.

Tony Soprano actor, James Gandolfini, is already a dead-ringer for the larger-than-life Chinaglia who by even Italian standards is at the centre of an incredible story concerning a plot by the Napoli branch of Italy’s crime family to buy Lazio.

All the elements are there for another hit show: characteristic lead character, shady underworld, intimidation, flight from the law, all set against the irresistible backdrop of Rome, with Naples and New York, and Hungary, thrown in for good measure.

Giorgio Chinaglia, or is it Tony Soprano?

A police operation “Broken Wing” – in honour of Lazio’s eagle crest - has revealed that Chinaglia or “Long John” as he is known, was the frontman for the exotically-named Casalesi Clan’s move to take over the Roman club in 2006.

The clan were looking for a way to launder some of their ill-gotten gains and targeted ailing Lazio and their president Claudio Lotito as an easy touch.

An offer Lotito couldn’t refuse amounted to Chinaglia claiming he represented an Hungarian pharmaceuticals company in their bid to obtain a controlling interest in Lazio while members of the  irriducibili ultras allegedly hung around the owner’s house looking mean and moody.

Just so Lotito knew they meant business, he received a letter threatening his wife and abusive messages were left on his voice-mail.

Chinaglia skipped town, leaving everyone to shake their heads and laugh the whole thing off as the big man’s over-sized ego got the better of him until an arrest warrant was issued for extortion and insider-trading on Lazio shares.

Anyone who has read “Once in a Lifetime” or seen the documentary of the same name, on the rise and fall of the New York Cosmos, will be familiar with Chinaglia.

He was their brash top goalscorer, opinionated headline grabber and the man who once made Pele cry with his constant complaining.

Scoring for New York Cosmos vs Fort Lauderdale Strikers, 1980 

Brought up in South Wales no less, the powerfully-built striker (think of a young Christian Vieri) was the hero of Lazio’s title-winning side in 1974, scoring 193 goals in seven years in the Eternal City.

The team was made up of some eccentric characters, not least Luciano Re Cecconi, who wound up dead when he entered a friend’s jewellery shop brandishing a fake gun and was shot on the spot. 

A Tony Soprano-like temperament got Chinaglia into no end of trouble, most notoriously when he told Italy coach Ferruccio Valcareggi where to go after being substituted against Haiti during the ’74 World Cup.

A love of all things American, including apparently carrying a Magnium.44, took him across the Atlantic in 1976 although it doesn’t look like he will be making a trip in the opposite direction very soon.

As he told Sky Italia in a phone interview on Tuesday: “I haven’t a clue what’s going on. I don’t know any of the people involved and there’s no way I am coming back to end up in prison for something I never did.”

Best buds: Chinaglia and Pele, 1976 

It’s not the first time Chinaglia has been involved in a takeover bid for Lazio.

Back in 1983 he was asked by a group of American-Italian businessmen from New Jersey to lead a bid for the club which he successfully did – no questions asked then.

A three-year tenure in charge ended with relegation and near-bankruptcy so this time around Lazio have gotten off lightly.

By the by, it’s not as if Giorgio, who is an American citizen, is on the lam as he can be reached at the Sirius Satellite Radio Station in New York where he hosts The Football Show every Wednesday.

There’s even an e-mail address although don’t expect a reply if you are from the Italian authorities.