The Atomic Ant - Giovinco
A fitting name for the 5’4 Sebastian Giovinco – a player with untameable explosiveness, sublime technical ability and a heart double the size of the man himself. Giovinco will be looked upon in years to come as the man that changed the MLS. Beckham, Lampard, Pirlo et al all have added stature and class to the league but all came at the back-end of their careers. Giovinco arrived at 27 years of age – a period considered to be a footballer’s prime.
Why? Many people ask why Giovinco would sacrifice the prime years of his only football career to leave Juventus of Turin, a glorious club steeped in history and tradition to sign with Toronto Football Club (TFC) in the MLS. First, let’s not look beyond the obvious – Giovinco became the highest paid Italian player in the world when he signed a 5 year contract worth a reported $7 million dollars per annum with TFC. Furthermore, he had endured a career filled with peaks and troughs with Juventus, having being sent out on two successful loan spells with Empoli and Parma only to be recalled and 'rewarded' with mediocre playing time.
No matter the league, no matter the salary, a footballer endures similar emotions to everyday people, albeit on a different scale. When Juventus showed a lack of confidence in Giovinco through leaving him out of the squad or signing so-called bigger global names such as Nicolas Anelka, Carlos Tevez and even Nikolas Bendtner, his confidence waned, thereby leading to discontentment and the subsequent departure of an impact player who may have evolved into an Italian hero.
Nonetheless, Juventus and Italy’s loss was TFC and Canada’s gain.
Giovinco has been nothing short of a phenomenon for TFC. 39 goals in 61 games (64% scoring average) doesn’t even begin to express the monumental impact the little wizard has had on the Canadian club. Leading them from 6th in the East and 12th overall to 3rd in the East and 5th overall is significant. Spearheading their play-off assault on the MLS with 4 goals in 3 games including a second leg hat-trick (only the fourth in MLS play-off history) versus New York City Football Club is in a grandeur of its own.
Ultimately though, it's the example Giovinco has set for his colleagues which is the driving force that has made TFC such a formidable force. He has always been an under-card; the son of an industrial family proclaimed as being to small to make it on the biggest stage. While the MLS may not be in the elite class of the English Premier League or the Italian Serie A, it is an ever-emerging entity and Giovinco is the boss. His desire to prove the world wrong has rubbed off on his team – the perennial bottom-feeders of the MLS. They are now serious contenders for the Championship due to a silent arrogance, an expressive desire and all led by mighty mouse himself.
This man is in a class of his own by MLS standards and is too uncontrollable on the pitch to be shackled for a full 90 minutes – the reason why TFC must be classed favorites to win the MLS Cup this year.
Technically, the Atomic Ant elevates himself above any other player in the MLS due to his speed of thought. Watching his movement, you realize that he is always a step ahead, making dynamic runs and disguising passes through his mental intelligence in understanding and exploiting opportunistic situations. When Giovinco has the ball at his feet he is elusive. His darting movement can cause defenders to look clumsy and immobile and he is always direct - running at the opposition goal whenever the opportunity presents itself. Above all, Giovinco is a lethal finisher. He seems ambidextrous and interchanges feet frequently to keep the opposition in a realm of the unknown. His greatest asset, and a very unique one to boot, is his minimal back-lift when shooting. He barely raises his striking foot which enables him to catch goalkeepers flat-footed thereby reacting slow to his fierce shot.
Some food for thought for Giampiero Ventura, the manager of Italy. Giovinco was mistakenly left out of the Italy squad for Euro 2016 - a move which may be internally rued by former manager, Antonio Conte. "It's normal that if you go and play there (MLS), then you can pay the price in footballing terms" Conte stated, confessing to leaving Giovinco out of the squad due to him playing in what he considers a sub-par league. Agreeably, it is rare for an elite world footballer to move to the MLS in the prime of their career. However, would Giovinco's confidence and potential contribution to the squad been higher than Simone Zaza, Ciro Immobile and Stephan El Sharaawy - three fellow strikers who failed to make a telling impact on the tournament? My answer would be a resounding yes.
With World Cup 2018 in Russia around the corner, Ventura should remember that there is nothing more valuable than a striker who is on a mission to prove the world, including his own countrymen, wrong for doubting him.
In the meantime, there is the small matter of an MLS Cup run to pursue for the diminutive virtuoso.