Giovinco still has his soul, but what’s his motivation?
So, we all know no matter how much management is talking it up, Sebastian Giovinco’s not coming to MLS and Toronto FC for the challenge, it’s all about the money. Nothing unusual about that, players move to all sorts of teams in all sorts of leagues for the sake of a good pay cheque, which just makes sense, but it’s definitely brought out some interesting reactions at either extreme end of the career vs paycheque argument.
Taking the more idealistic side a bit too far was Goal.com’s Carlo Garganese with the conclusion that he’s basically given up on his career for the sake of the cheque, abandoning hope of reaching the heights he might otherwise have reached, or getting into the Italy team on a more regular basis for the mundanity of MLS, throwing it all away for the mad cash he’ll make with TFC. I don’t necessarily disagree with it, though the conclusion that he ‘gave up his footballing soul’ is a bit on the melodramatic side.
Many people disagreed with that premise, or at least the wording of it, but it was SB Nation’s Kevin McCauley who swung the pendulum all the other way. He vigorously defended Giovinco’s decision to ‘get money’, and his right to do that, suggesting that chasing the paycheque is just as noble a motivation as any other, going as far as to call him a hero. Greed is good and all that. Again, fair enough, where he went too far for me was in his defiant defence of MLS as an in no way inferior destination in and of itself, with all sorts of dubious arguments thrown out to back that up.
The main reason that moving to MLS constitutes selling your soul is that it’s not in Western Europe — going to Russia for a huge paycheck is also selling your soul.
That was him presenting the straw man he was arguing against. Erm, no, it’s not about western Europe, it’s about the top world leagues, which generally just happen to be in Western Europe. That’s where you can test yourself amongst and against the best players in the world, where you can push yourself to climb the ladder to get to as high a peak as you can, where you can keep yourself very much in the mind of Italy Coach Antonio Conte. The sort of goals that people should be striving for, the stuff that would romantically be called a footballing soul.
Holding the point of view that there’s something wrong with a European in their prime going to play in MLS for lots of money requires one to hold related points of view that are equally stupid. Namely, that there’s something noble or romantic about choosing to play for the provinciale, which loosely translates to ‘lame clubs that no one outside of that local area cares about’. In the eyes of these people, playing a little bit more but ultimately still sitting on the bench a lot for a team likeFiorentina, Wolfsburg or Everton, or being a star for a team like Genoa or Torino, is a better sporting pursuit than making a metric crapton of money while playing in front of a sold-out 30,000-seat stadium. This is a bad opinion, and you should stop having it.
Erm, I like MLS, but let’s be realistic here. In what universe is any team in the league not ‘a lame club that no one outside of that local area cares about’? I have doubts about the whole sold out 30,000 stadium thing, I really don’t think that will happen, but even if it does, it’s way below the teams mentioned there. Not least because all those other teams are in much more competitive leagues, and very much at the right end of the footballing career ladder. Would it be a step down from Juventus? Sure, but doing well there would be a very effective shop window, to keep himself in the mind of Conte, or potentially proving Juventus wrong and earning a transfer back up the ladder to a bigger club. Doing well for Toronto FC isn’t going to improve his standing with anyone. Suggesting otherwise is nothing more than ridiculous reverse Eurosnobbery, or to put it another way, a bad opinion you should stop having.
He gets to be the star of his team and he doesn’t have to pretend to care about Coppa Italia, or qualifying for the Europa League.
Right, I’m sure the MLS Cup, Voyageurs Cup, Supporters Shield etc will hold much more allure and prestige than that lousy Coppa Italia. Qualifying for the MLS playoffs, or the CCL has always been more of a dream than the Europa League to any Calcio obsessed Italian.
Anyway, he’s taken a downward step for the sake of a lot of money. I’d agree more with Garganese’s take on it, but hey, people make decisions for all sorts of reasons, who am I to criticise? What this is more about is a different related question that will have a big effect on just how successful Giovinco might be here. What’s his motivation now?
Whatever you might think of the decision to chase the money, you can’t deny this is taking a step back career wise. Athletes are generally, necessarily hyper competitive. Since a young age he’s been with Juventus and whether with them or on loan at Empoli or Parma, breaking into the Juventus first team on a regular basis has been a very obvious goal to motivate him, as has the prospect of moving from a fringe player to a regular player with the Azurri. No matter how well he does with TFC, it won’t get him a move to a higher level than the offers he reportedly had this window, and as noted here by John Molinaro, players playing anywhere outside Serie A are less likely to get picked for Italy, never mind those that leave for MLS. He has undoubtedly jumped off the career ladder, where the next move, to bigger and better things is it’s own motivation.
If it is all about the money for Giovinco, and again if so, fair enough, good luck to him, then he’s made it already. I’m certain given the options he had and the amount of money TFC had to put up to seal the deal that this wouldn’t be your typical MLS deal with option years that the club can exercise or not at their discretion. It’s going to be years before he’s once again negotiating with Toronto. Perhaps there are performance related bonuses in the deal, but it’s going to be a while before money will be really serving as a motivation for him.
Here’s another way that signing that big long term deal might be problematic; usually, that career ladder means that even if you sign a big deal, there’s the chance of a transfer to a bigger club and a bigger deal ahead if you do well. With this even if Giovinco plays well and attracts the attention of bigger clubs, in Italy or wherever, they’ll be looking to slot him into their existing pay scale. He’s now making more than anybody at Juventus, or any other Italian player in the world. Moving back up that ladder would mean taking less money, who’d want that?
This really is a new kind of DP for MLS. Until now, DP’s have generally been in one of 3 categories. Those at the end of their careers, looking for a last paycheque, a new adventure, the chance to play in a league where they can still dominate as they’re used to, even those guys have often struggled with fitting in to MLS. Then there’s the up and coming young players, ie Matias Laba or Gilberto who may see it as a stepping stone to bigger things, which provides all the motivation needed to stay at the top of their game. Recently, we’ve seen the start of the star in their prime, or in Landon Donovan the star who decided to stay, but it’s been American players who can very much stay in the USMNT picture and might like the idea of building the game in their own country, on top of the money of course, again all the motivation you might need.
We’ve all heard the benefits to this new type of DP signing, ie he’s still young, still relevant, a proven top level player with plenty of effective years ahead of him. But how will those things affect his desire to play? MLS has it’s challenges, the travel, the turf fields, the level of teammates and opposition, the refereeing and more. It’s probably more of a mental test than anything, I’m comfortable in saying Giovinco has the skills to be able to do very well, but he will have to keep working hard and put the effort in to do that. Jermain Defoe might well be the closest equivalent in terms of talent, age, and lack of any real connection to MLS before coming here, and look how that worked out? Really good when he was motivated, but take away the England World Cup dream, that something to strive for and he quickly realised that this wasn’t for him and it all went wrong.
Will the same happen to Giovinco? As of yet we have no way of knowing, it’s going to come down to his personality, his character. By signing this deal he’s taken away any external motivation that might have pushed him through the dark times that will inevitably come as he adjusts to his new surroundings. Hopefully racking up personal milestones against inferior players or chasing trophies will serve to keep his inner drive going.
To say he’s sold his soul is undoubtedly over the top, but to quote Pink Floyd, he’s swapped a walk on part in the war for a lead role in the cage. Let’s hope he’s fine with that once that realisation fully sets in.