Lorenzo Insigne is moving closer and closer to the pitch at BMO Field.
Having arrived in town on Friday evening, greeted both at the airport and in Little Italy by fans, Insigne was in attendance for Toronto FC’s 2-1 win over Atlanta United on Saturday and on Monday he was introduced formally to the media in the BMO Club on the east side of the stadium.
“This is a big, new adventure for me and my family,” were Insigne’s first words through a translator. “We are for the first time away from Napoli, but it was a great choice. When I first met the president, he talked briefly about Toronto as a city and about the team. I cannot wait to play after the great game that I saw on Saturday and to meet the rest of the fans. I can't wait to be at service of the coach and start training and play.”
The months-long process that TFC President Bill Manning initiated after last summer’s European Championship came to fruition with a simple text in December from Andrea D’Amico, an Italian agent who served as the club’s liaison in Italy, having previously helped bring Sebastian Giovinco to Toronto.
‘It was a picture of Lorenzo with a Maple Leafs hat on, it said, ‘Today Lorenzo said yes,’” recounted Manning. “We had to keep it quiet for another few weeks and then in January, he signed the papers.”
“It's been a long six months we've been waiting, but we were ready to take the next step as a club, to get a world class player in the prime of his career,” he continued. “We were ready for that and I think this town is ready.”
For a player who has spent virtually his entire career with SSC Napoli, his hometown club, a move across the ocean was always going to be a big decision.
“I think it was a little skeptical, to be honest,” said Manning of the initial reception of Toronto’s interest. “But when they saw the size of our organization, that we weren't just a soccer team, I think that added to doing a deal like this.”
“When they did their research on Toronto and the large Italian-Canadian community, that was part of a feel good story for them. And at the end of the day, it was selling him on a project, on coming over to North America instead of staying in Europe,” he laid out. “I felt that he did not want to sign with another team in Serie A, so I knew we had that in our favour. And so then it was us and a couple teams in the [English] Premier League that we were going after him.”
“This move for his family was just as important as the football, as the soccer, and that's what really helps Toronto,” Manning added. “When we recruit players in this market, our city and where we live is a big part of it.”
Insigne is pleased with his choice.
“I could have stayed in Europe. I'm 31, so I still have many years in front of me, but I wanted to choose the happiness and the well being of my family. I won a lot with Napoli and I lost as well, but I wanted a change and, more importantly, a challenge,” he said. “I've heard people saying that soccer in North America is not real soccer, but I've seen it and it's not true.”
“I'm really grateful for the opportunity that the President gave me, the whole organization has given me, and the love and the effort that everybody is putting into this,” Insigne continued. “I’m very thankful and I want to repay the love with my actions and my performances.”
“When I first met the president, he struck me as a really great person and the project that he explained to me about the team and the organization has struck me,” he added. “[It] is certainly a challenge; I would like to be part of winning the championship.”
Toronto, like Insigne, in his monogrammed blazer, has made a great first impression.
“We've been here just a few days, but both for me and my family, it's a great city and we still have a lot to see,” said Insigne. “A very good impression about the people, the culture, and the lifestyle. It's been very difficult to leave Napoli, the city and the team, but it's a choice that I had to make. It's been a life choice for me and also for the future of my kids, to enlarge the family as well.”
“I'm very happy about the challenge that I chose,” he explained. “When I got to Café Diplomatico, I told this to the President as well, it really felt like Napoli and that made me feel like home.”
“As the President told me when we first met, Toronto is a very welcoming city and I really feel the love of the city and the fans. That makes me very proud of the choice that I made,” Insigne continued. “I really want the people to love me and to understand me better with my actions on the pitch.”
“I know that I’m a forward, but I always think about the team,” he stressed. “Often I had some fights with my dad about my role in the team because he wanted me to act more like a forward, but I really feel that the winning of a team enhances the winning of a single player.”
Tutti per uno, or as Insigne closed the afternoon, "All for One."
An upcoming match against the San Jose Earthquakes is the date circled on the calendar for Insigne to step on the pitch at BMO Field.
“July 9 is the target,” confirmed Bob Bradley. “I believe that he'll start training in and around the first, so just need to see when we get going, how he feels, find the right way to move him forward.”
“Lorenzo brings personality to every team that he's on,” anticipated the TFC coach. “He is a player that you have to get on the ball, you have to make sure that he gets the ball in good positions with options to look forward, to make passes, to create chances. And then you can also get him close enough to goal to take advantage of his ability to finish.”
“We'll find a good balance,” continued Bradley. “We've worked hard all year to develop football ideas and having him in the middle of it all will be so important to the way we continue to grow.”
For his part, Insigne will be happy to play anywhere on the pitch, barring one exception.
“I just really love playing,” he smiled. “Of course left winger is my natural role, but whatever the coach chooses I'm happy. Being a goalie, I don't have the physical abilities to do that, but I just love the game, so I just want to be there for the team.”
Insigne met his teammates after Saturday’s win and will be looking to integrate into the side as quickly as he can.
He will be helped in that by the TFC captain, Michael Bradley, who is fluent in Italian having spent three seasons with AC Chievo Verona and AS Roma where the two squared off on several occasions.
“Michael helped me a lot, he can speak Italian very well,” said Insigne. “We exchanged numbers and he told me that he can help me adjust, especially about the language. We played a couple of times against each other back in Italy. As I remember it back then, and as I saw it on Saturday, he's a great player. He helps the whole team, so I'm looking forward to playing with him.”
Expectations are high, but Insigne is no stranger to that.
“I played for 10 years with Napoli and with the Italian National Team, I won the Euros, so I don't have any problem with being under pressure,” he replied, asked about delivering for his new club. “I would rather have my actions speak for me on the pitch.”