Il caso Giovinco: Italy's loss is MLS's gain

By Paul Kennedy

Sebastian Giovinco isn't going to the Euros. Italy's loss is MLS's gain. More particularly, Toronto FC gets to turn Seba loose on MLS defenses all of June and early July when he'd otherwise have been tied up with Azzurri duties somewhere in France.

Giovinco is on course to have the two most productive years in MLS history -- 22 goals and 16 assists in his 2015 MLS season and eight goals and five assists in 12 games in 2016.

Lots of folks were upset about the Giovinco snub by Italy coach Antonio Conte -- including the player himself.

"I was upset," Giovinco told reporters in Toronto on Wednesday. "I need to keep improving so I can find my place back on the national team. I've said before, the league is continuing to grow and it's a beautiful league. As long as I continue to have fun then I'll keep playing in MLS."

The latter comments were in response to Conte's statement that longtime Italian national team star Andrea Pirlo, who now plays for New York City FC, and Giovinco weren't good enough because they had moved to MLS.

Conte said nothing was left to chance in terms of evaluating potential squad members, and he had talked with Pirlo, who like Giovinco last played for Italy in October 2015.

"We evaluated him and Giovinco," said Conte. "It's normal that if you choose to go and play [in MLS] then you can pay the consequences in soccer terms. We evaluated them technically. We didn't leave anything to chance. Anyone who thinks otherwise is wrong. We went everywhere to have clear and precise ideas."

Pirlo's exclusion is no surprise. He's 37 and not the player he was even two years ago when he was Serie A Player of the Year with Juventus.

That Giovinco wasn't picked was more of a surprise, given Italy's lack of top-of-the-line forwards. None of five players called in to the expanded squad set to play Scotland on Sunday has more than 12 caps or four international goals.

Napoli's Lorenzo Insigne (12 goals) had a standout season and Graziano Pelle (11 goals) recovered from a long mid-season dry spell at Southampton. But the other forward candidates are Ciro Immobile (only seven goals for Sevilla and Napoli), Simone Zaza (five goals for Juventus) and Eder (just one goal for Inter Milan after a January move from Sampdoria, where he did score 12 goals in the fall).

But Giovinco was by no means a shoo-in. He didn't go to the 2014 World Cup and only made two appearances for Italy in 2015, both as a sub in October. He wasn't called in for two Italy friendlies the following month or for friendlies in March against Spain and Germany.

(Nor was Giovinco the only player passed over. In a league dominated by foreign strikers, a case could have been made for Genoa's Leonardo Pavoletti and Torino's Andrea Belotti.)

Giovinco's move to MLS got him back in the Italy picture, but it couldn't get him to the Euros. To say Conte dismissed Giovinco (and Pirlo) because they play in MLS would be wrong. Otherwise, he wouldn't have sent assistant Marco Scarpa to evaluate them. If anything, Conte bent over backward to find a way to take both players whom he coached at Juventus.

Conte's evaluation is the reality we all know. The level of play in MLS isn't what it is in a major European league. (Even Pelle didn't get his first Italy call-up until October 2014, after his move to the EPL from the Dutch Eredivisie, where he scored 50 goals in 57 games for Feyenoord.)

One aspect of "Il caso Giovinco" that hurts MLS is its calendar. Giovinco was just starting his season with Toronto FC as the Italian evaluators were watching. MLS play is at its worst at the beginning of the year. That just happens to be when most of the major leagues are ending their seasons and national team coaches are making their decisions for summer championships, in this case Euro 2016.

We'll have to wait until the fall to see what Conte's successor -- he is off to Chelsea after the Euros -- thinks of MLS and how Giovinco is doing.
2 comments about "Il caso Giovinco: Italy's loss is MLS's gain".
  1. R2 Dad, May 25, 2016 at 4:50 p.m.

    Italians playing outside of Serie A never get to play for the azzurri--it has always been so.

  2. beautiful game replied, May 25, 2016 at 6:06 p.m.

    So true R2DAD, when Giuseppe Rossi played in Spain he was overlooked until he came to play in Italy. On another note, this Atomica Formica story has no legs; the final WC squad selection is two years from now; lots can change.

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