Toronto FC’s quest for a superstar began back in September.
TFC President Bill Manning was concerned with the direction of the club last summer and in presenting his vision for the next five years to the MLSE Board the acquisition of Lorenzo Insigne was one of the items at the top of the list.
“Lorenzo was our prime target from day one,” said Manning during the post-announcement conference call. “I had an opportunity to present to our board in September. They liked the vision and that allowed me to then take the next step working with Andrea D'Amico, as our intermediary in Italy, to see if there would be interest and there was.”
“Talks commenced via Andrea and another gentleman named Lino DiCuollo, who we engaged as our advisor and progressed to a point where in November, we had a full MLSE board meeting, where we laid out a financial plan for Toronto FC, which included signing a superstar,” he recounted. “In January, on New Year's Eve after midnight, I was able to be in direct contact with [Insigne’s] representatives and we were able to iron out the last few pieces and come to agreement. There was willingness on both sides to achieve this.”
That vision became a plan, but not before a little internet sleuthing to see what was possible.
“I don't know if it's a glamorous story, but I just started thinking about when I first arrived here at this club and conversations I had with [MLSE Chairman] Larry Tanenbaum and [former MLSE CEO and President] Tim Leiweke. What appealed to me was this was a club that had ambition, this was a club that wanted to be among the class of MLS and within our region in Concacaf,” laid out Manning. “We had a fantastic run there for a good four or five seasons and I really just went back to the drawing board and said, ‘What do we need to do for a new five year plan?’”
“In 2015, I laid out a five year plan, so the time was right and I started laying out my vision for where we needed to be as a club, both competitively and commercially,” he continued. “Watching the European Championships, seeing the fervour in the Italian community here when Italy won, I actually went to a transfer market website and I looked up the Italian national team on what players were coming out of contract and Lorenzo was one of the few players that was.”
“It became clear to me – with his credentials, where he's at in his career, the type of personality that he is – he was the right guy,” added Manning. “This was a relationship that was built on a vision – D’Amico told me it's destiny from the very beginning. When he had his first phone call with [Lorenzo’s] agent Vincenzo [Pisacane], Andrea called me back and said, ‘Bill, it's destiny. We're going to make this happen.’”
Some four months later the deal was announced and TFC have their new Italian superstar.
Insigne will officially be available following July 1, 2022 and though it is not unusual for a player to take some time to get acclimated to North America, Manning said TFC will do everything in their power to welcome him to Toronto.
The Serie A season concludes at the end of May, so the player will have several weeks to get settled and begin working out with the team.
The club has some experience in that regard and one can already sense the anticipation in the community.
“We have some experience with Italian players,” smiled Manning, referencing Sebastian Giovinco. “We have such a large Italian-Canadian community that is going to welcome him and his family with open arms. We will have someone on staff that is a liaison for him and his family, as well as some other players that we're going to bring into the market, just to make sure that they have everything they need during this transition.”
“For any player coming you want to make things easy and we're very, very good at that. We will make sure that transition is seamless,” he continued. “Lorenzo is a footballer though. He has said to me he goes to training and then he goes home to his family and those are the two most important things in his life. We will assist Lozeno and Jenny and the boys to make sure they have everything they need here. I think they're going to feel right at home – home away from home.”
That sense was one of the factors in attracting Insigne to Toronto.
“One of our biggest selling points is our city,” said Manning. “His representatives felt that love and that culture when they had a chance to visit with us here in Toronto – certainly that was conveyed to Lorenzo.”
That, and the ambitions of club and player aligned neatly.
“We aspire to be a championship team, we want to win Concacaf Champions League and play in the FIFA Club World Cup,” Manning highlighted. “Our ambition as a North American club appealed to him in this journey of his coming overseas: that we are a club that takes its football very seriously.”
“They wanted to see what type of a club we are,” he continued. “They know we're serious about winning. That helped us. Major League Soccer is growing. The players that have come here, including Sebastian, have had very, very good experiences. That really played well for us.”
“He's played in Napoli his whole career, so emotionally to move and embark on this new journey was probably a hurdle as well,” Manning admitted. “We needed to make sure that he knew we were serious and that we were willing to make the type of financial commitment for him and his family to come here.”
“When we had the opportunity to pitch him, we had an amazing video that our team put together that I felt was the essence of Toronto, the essence of Toronto FC, and the essence of Major League Soccer and MLSE,” he added. “There were times that I was a little stressed because there was a lot of interest from other teams and other significant offers, but I felt all along that we were in play, that we were, if not leading the race, we were right there.”
“We made a connection, we made a real connection,” Manning closed. “And I think some great things are going to happen here with Lorenzo in a Toronto FC jersey.”