As Sebastian Giovinco tells it, money was not the most important factor in persuading him to sign for Toronto FC. The forward’s reported $7m per year salary – almost three times what he was earning at Juventus – has caused quite the stir back home, but he insists that wages were not even discussed during his initial meeting with executives from the Major League Soccer club.
“Lunch lasted an hour. We did not talk about money,” said Giovinco during an interview with Gazzetta dello Sport this month. “I decided to join before I knew the numbers.”
Before he knew the financial figures, at any rate. Giovinco will readily admit that another integer mattered very much to him indeed. “(Toronto) won me over by giving me their No. 10 shirt,” he explained. “A number that I never had at Juve.”
He had spent most of his life working towards that jersey. Giovinco was just six years old when he joined his first training session at Juve’s soccer school – noted even then as a standout talent. By 19 he had helped the club to win both an Under-20 league title and the prestigious youth soccer tournament at Viareggio.
Wearing the No. 10 shirt throughout his years in the Juventus academy, it was natural enough for Giovinco to aspire to one day do the same thing for the senior team. He was hardly the only one who believed it was possible. Such prominent figures as Gianfranco Zola and Hernan Crespo proclaimed the youngster to be Alessandro Del Piero’s natural heir.
Juventus’s supporters willed it to be true. Their club’s history has been defined by great No10s, from Omar Sivori to Michel Platini, Roberto Baggio and Del Piero. As the latter player approached the end of a magnificent career in Turin, what could be better than seeing him succeeded by a homegrown talent blessed with a similar skillset?
On the surface, the two men seemed to have much in common. Like Del Piero, Giovinco was an expert free-kick taker who could beat a goalkeeper from 30 yards with precision and power. Neither man was blessed with brilliant pace, but each made up for it with superior vision and technical ability.
What Giovinco lacked was physical stature – standing just 5ft 4ins tall and weighing in at not much more than 125lbs. Del Piero, too, was also below average height, but at 5ft 8.5ins even he towered over his would-be successor. When Giovinco struggled to immediately integrate himself into Juventus’s senior team, many observers concluded that he was simply too small to succeed at this level.
Juventus sent the player on loan to Parma in 2010 in the hope that he might grow (professionally, if not physically) from the experience. Giovinco responded by scoring seven goals in his first season with the Ducali, then 15 in the next. He won his first caps for the Italian national team along the way. Juventus reclaimed him after allowing Del Piero’s contract to expire in the summer of 2012.
Some fans called for Giovinco to be given the No. 10 shirt immediately upon his return. He had worn it during his second season at Parma, and would do so for his country, too, within weeks of completing his move back to Turin. But Juventus were not ready to bestow such an honour, instead leaving that number empty and giving Giovinco the No. 12.
From the outside, it might seem like a trivial matter. But to Giovinco, it was a tacit indication that the club he had grown up with still did not truly believe in him – even after Antonio Conte had granted the player 31 appearances in 2012-13. His opportunities dwindled from there.
In the end, Giovinco had simply not been good enough to hold down a place in Juventus’s first-team. His small stature is undeniably a hindrance in an increasingly physical modern game, but could have been compensated for if he possessed elite acceleration or that intangible quality some forwards have of finding open spaces.
None of which is to suggest that he is a bad player. On the contrary, his time at Parma showed that he can be a very good one – simply not quite good enough for a team such as Juventus. There is every reason to believe he can thrive in MLS, a league that still tends to prioritise athleticism ahead of craft.
Giovinco played his best football as a second striker at Parma, more advanced than a typical trequartista but still tucked in behind a powerful leading man (Jozy Altidore looks like a nice fit in that regard) who could create the space for him to move, scheme and create. Most of all, though, he played his best football when he felt the full support of those around him. He has found that in abundance in Toronto so far.