Join Now  | 
Home About Contact Us Privacy & Security Advertise
Soccer America Daily Soccer World Daily Special Edition Around The Net Soccer Business Insider College Soccer Reporter Youth Soccer Reporter Soccer on TV Soccer America Classifieds Game Report
Paul Gardner: SoccerTalk Soccer America Confidential Youth Soccer Insider World Cup Watch
RSS Feeds Archives Manage Subscriptions Subscribe
Order Current Issue Subscribe Manage My Subscription Renew My Subscription Gift Subscription
My Account Join Now
Tournament Calendar Camps & Academies Soccer Glossary Classifieds
The many sides of Giorgio Chinaglia
by Paul Gardner, April 2nd, 2012 9:55PM
Subscribe to SoccerTalk with Paul Gardner

TAGS:  italy, new york cosmos, obituary


By Paul Gardner

Which Giorgio? The Giorgio I enjoyed being with, the easy-going one with the boyish smile and the sense of humor? Or the Giorgio I admired, the goal-scorer, the player who could always be relied upon to liven up any game because, with him on the field, the thought of a dour defensive struggle seemed impossible? Or the darker Giorgio, still the smiling schoolboy, but one who carried the lurking menace of the schoolyard bully?

When Chinaglia arrived in New York, I got the second interview. I waited in a sidewalk cafe on 6th Avenue, while, many floors above, he went through a session with RAI, Italian television. Plenty of time for me to ponder what his arrival meant for the Cosmos -- simply more goals, I thought. It was to mean a hell of a lot more than that, but in ways that I never dreamed of.

There was a huge hint in that first interview, one that I did not grasp, not until much later. During our rambling interview, Chinaglia recounted his life as an Italian boy growing up in Wales -- not easy, you could tell. It had clearly left him with something of a chip on his shoulder as far as Brits were concerned -- a feeling that increased when he couldn’t find a British club who wanted to sign him as a youngster. He had to return to Italy for his talents to be recognized.
He took back to Italy his heavily Welsh-inflected English and it was in that accented speech that he told me several times, with increasing emphasis, that he was a close friend of Steve Ross.

I thought that unlikely. Friend -- from where? That was the first I’d heard of it, and I dismissed it as, well, as name-dropping. I was really much more interested in Chinaglia the player -- so we talked mostly about his career, how he would fit in with Pele and so on. And that satisfied me.

That was in May 1976. Shortly afterwards, Chinaglia played his first game for the Cosmos at Yankee Stadium, a 6-0 rout of the Los Angeles Aztecs. Chinaglia got two goals, Pele got a couple as well, and things looked great.

But not for long. While Chinaglia went on scoring, there was chaos in the front office -- much of it, we learned, fomented by Chinaglia. His anti-Brit bias was working overtime as first Coach Gordon Bradley was fired (replaced by the South African-Italian Eddie Firmani), followed by the ouster of GM Clive Toye, the man largely responsible for the creation of the Cosmos.

Clearly, Chinaglia did have exceptional influence within the club -- something that would be underlined in a most unpleasant way, when, during a practice session, Chinaglia delivered a powerful punch to the face of teammate Julio Cesar Romero. Any doubts about Chinaglia’s power were erased, because nothing was done about the incident, Chinaglia was not fined or suspended and, perhaps more significantly, the other Cosmos players never uttered a peep of protest.

Colleague David Hirshey, then writing for the New York Daily News, called Chinaglia “the only playing general manager in the league” and that was about the measure of it.

But the amazing goal-scoring went on, and that was what I focused on, which meant I continued to see Giorgio in a totally positive light. Giorgio told me, “To me, a 0-0 game is always boring, even if it’s a great game,” and that was the way I felt about things. And still do.

With Giorgio around, there weren’t many 0-0 games. His amazing record of 242 goals in 254 games saw to that. I can recall only one shouting match with Giorgio -- after a 1979 game in which he did not score. The Cosmos locker room was in a self-congratulatory mood, even though they’d just lost a game, 1-0, to Argentina. But the Cosmos had played, I thought, a negative, defensive game -- which was not at all their style. Maybe, if they’d been their usual attacking selves, they could have beaten Argentina. So why, I asked Giorgio, were they celebrating?

Giorgio yelled at me, told me I should shut up, that I didn’t know what I was talking about, that holding the world champions to just one goal (it was scored very late in the game) was a huge achievement, and I ought to know that. And so on.

The following year came an amazing game at Giants Stadium, with the scoreline Cosmos 8 Tulsa 1. Giorgio got seven of the Cosmos goals. I’ll stick by what I wrote at the time: “Those seven goals against Tulsa -- none of them, as it happens, particularly memorable or brilliant, but all of them dispatched so quickly, so cleanly, so mercilessly -- are a true measure of Giorgio’s precious ability to put the ball in the net.”

There were darker days to come for Giorgio, when he retired and tried to make a splash at the owner/impresario level. That was never going to work at the Cosmos, which was a dead duck before Giorgio, briefly, took over. But maybe things would go better in Italy, with his old club Lazio. They didn’t. His role in an attempt to buy the club ended up in the law courts, with accusations of laundered money and Camorra involvement.

What, in the end, to make of this conflicted man, so brilliant on the field, so harried by his inner demons off it? A man who craved, and for a short while, got, power. But that ended when the Cosmos collapsed. After that, the Chinaglia that I liked and admired, was just a memory.

But I’ll stick with that memory, the boyish smile, the extraordinary goal-scoring that I admired and that made so many people happy.

But not everyone, of course. It was never within Chinaglia’s ability, maybe not within his wish, to please everyone. There was always a group who booed him, whatever he did (“ethnic idiots,” Chinaglia called them). But that was Giorgio, or the various Giorgios struggling within this turbulent man. It was Giorgio with his inner demons. And I still have no idea how to separate them, or whether it’s even possible. Ciao, Giorgio -- sogni d’oro.

  1. Justin Connealy
    commented on: April 3, 2012 at 10:36 a.m.
    Though I was from the DC area, my bedroom walls were adorned with posters of the Cosmos...Pele, Beckenbauer, and Chinaglia. I started playing soccer when I was 5 and picked the #10 to wear, but a couple years later I switched to #9 because of Chinaglia. We had season tickets to the Diplomats, but I was always a Cosmos fan at heart (as a kid, who didn't cheer for a winner?). I remember my parents took me to a match up at Giants Stadium (must have been '81) and I can still remember being in awe of the whole experience (I think he scored that day, but I can't be certain). My passion for the sport began during those days, and I guess it would be appropriate to give some credit to the man who wore #9.
  1. Andres Yturralde
    commented on: April 3, 2012 at 10:53 a.m.
    Man, I wish I would've been around here during the time of Pele, Chinaglia, and the rest of the Cosmos. What a party! Thanks for this piece, Paul.
  1. Patrick Norberto
    commented on: April 3, 2012 at 12:15 p.m.
    I remember many nights at the old Giants Stadium watching Giorgio score at will against hapless defenses and the crowd, always in excess of 60,000, chanting his name in unison: KEE NAHL YA KEE NAHL YAKEE NAHL YAKEE NAHL YA!!!(Sorry for the phonetic spelling! Wanted to get the flavor and accent of my fellow Cosmos fans and me.) Great memories of a great time for New York Soccer.
  1. I w Nowozeniuk
    commented on: April 3, 2012 at 2:49 p.m.
    Giorgio was unique,especially with the passion he had for scoring and being a winner. Very few strikers have the audacity and clinical finishing touch as Giorgio had. He deserves every accolade for all his performances on the pitch, mille gracie Giorgio for every roar at Giants Stadium.

Sign in to leave a comment. Don't have an account? Join Now



Recent SoccerTalk with Paul Gardner
That Goal    
It was Pele who started the "soccer is beauty" theme. He titled his autobiography -- one ...
Tab Ramos paints a rosy American future in the changing U-20 World Cup -- but a U-18 World Cup would make more sense     
Tab Ramos has been talking in glowing terms of his team and its adventures at the ...
What's this? A goalkeeper penalized for rough play?     
Meet Sorin Stoica. Maybe you've seen him in action during MLS games. Not a highly paid ...
Scots wha hae! Thoughts on the sad and ominous decline of Scottish soccer    
I note, with considerable exasperation tempered by sadness, that Scottish soccer is experimenting with a marvelous ...
Celebrity coaches -- who needs them?     
I am still finding it difficult to come to terms with the extraordinary way in which ...
Wenger must stay -- even the stats agree     
Arsene Wenger should stay. That's what I think. And I think that way because I respect ...
Violent Goalkeeping (Part 2): FIFA must radically rethink the goalkeeper's role    
Last time, I asked: "What action has soccer taken to at least reduce the incidence of ...
Violent Goalkeeping (Part 1): Players at risk as soccer ignores its own rules    
Goalkeepers, we are told, need protection. No doubt we all agree. Up to a point.
The triumphant return of Bruce Arena    
Well, take that Jurgen Klinsmann. Never at any time during his five years in charge of ...
MLS games compare well with EPL but referees in both leagues reluctant to call PKs    
During this past weekend, I watched -- on television, of course -- 15 games. Well, not ...
>> SoccerTalk with Paul Gardner Archives