TORONTO – The Azzurri needed a lift. Ironically, they turned to their most diminutive star.
After three years of waiting and wondering if the book on his international career had been closed, Sebastian Giovinco finally has his answer.
The four-time World Cup champions will host Ukraine in Genoa for a friendly match on Wednesday, October 10 before traveling to Poland for a UEFA Nations League match in Chorzów on Sunday, October 14 with Giovinco in search of his 24th and 25th senior caps.
The elation was impossible to contain for the 31-year-old.
“I’m very happy to be back with the national team, very happy,” smiled Giovinco. “I was surprised, to be honest, but I’ve done a good job here in Toronto and it’s always a pleasure to get called in. I can’t wait to get there.”
Giovinco last appeared for his country on October 13, 2015, coming off the bench to provide the game-tying assist against Norway. A day later, he would return to BMO Field to score one the most memorable goals in Toronto FC history, sending the Reds to the MLS Cup playoffs for the first time in club history.
Yet despite his successes on both the international and domestic stage, Giovinco remained the odd man out, puzzling many Italian fans.
“I thought he should’ve been considered for Italy in the past when he may have been snubbed, but for them to welcome him back into the national team is well deserved. The season he’s had, 17 goals and 19 assists in all competitions, is deserving of it.” Toronto FC President Bill Manning declared. “I’m really proud that the national team has invited him back in and is giving him credit for what he’s done here at TFC.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he thought his days with the national team were over,” Manning continued. “I’m sure he’s extremely happy. It helps validate his decision to come here because his own country is recognizing what he’s done. He’s still playing at an extremely high level. They’re calling him in to help.”
The man affectionately known as “The Atomic Ant” is no stranger to the big stage, making a name for himself with Italy’s most successful club, Juventus, and boasting 150 appearances in Serie A on his impressive résumé. Giovinco also represented Italy at UEFA Euro 2012 and the 2013 Confederations Cup.
His decision to play in Major League Soccer, however, was a point of detraction for some, including previous Italian managers Antonio Conte and Gian Piero Ventura.
“There are coaches in the world who follow our league and are progressive; they understand the quality of our league. Then there are people who are stuck in the world of old, thinking of what MLS was 15, 20 years ago,” Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko explained. “[Italy manager Roberto] Mancini clearly has seen what the top players in our league can do on the international stage. You can look at the performances at the World Cup this summer and past World Cups, the production in Major League Soccer translates to any pitch in the world in any competition.”
With Mancini at the helm, Giovinco has a new lease on life in the famous blue of his beloved Azzurri and is determined to make the most of it.
Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney sees no reason why he won’t do just that.
“He’s clearly been called in because he has a skillset that they feel is important in the way they want to play, something a little bit different than the players in the pool, or they feel he’s just flat out better,” Vanney told TorontoFC.ca. “This is a great opportunity for him to prove that he can still do it at any level and be an important piece.”
“When he was last called up [in 2015] and played those two games, I thought he played very well. He was impactful, helped create goals; he was important in earning results. I was surprised that he didn’t get looked at beyond that, so it’s another opportunity for him to show how his skillset and capabilities will fit into Mancini’s vision for his team.”
Much like Giovinco, Vanney understands the weight of an international call-up and the importance it holds for every player, himself earning 37 caps for the United States national team.
“There’s a lot of pride that comes with putting on that jersey because you’re representing much bigger than yourself,” Vanney stated. “Ever since you first kick a ball and understand what it means to play, you want to represent your country at the highest level.”
And if he proves a few doubters wrong along the way? Consider that a bonus.
“I hope he goes in there and proves mostly for himself, but also for our club and our league, that you can come still to MLS and be a viable player at the international level,” added Vanney. “A lot of players have proven that, there’s no reason why he won’t.”