TORONTO - Italian playmaker Sebastian Giovinco wanted a new home. Toronto FC needed an attacking talisman.
Add a five-year contract that ends in with six zeros and an adoring Italian community and you have a soccer match made in heaven.
No wonder the five-foot-four Italian international was all smiles Friday at his official unveiling at the Air Canada Centre.
Asked about the reaction of his former Italian and Juventus teammates to his North American move, Giovinco flashed a mega-watt smile before drawing laughs through his interpreter with the answer: "The truth is they all wanted to come and join us."
The 28-year-old is not short on charisma.
Wearing a Toronto FC scarf, white T-shirt that showed off tattooed arms, and artfully ripped jeans atop red running shoes, Giovinco looked confident and relaxed in what was essentially TFC's fourth crack at talking up its new acquisition.
His signing was originally announced Jan. 19, with a July arrival date. Then, on Monday, Juventus and Toronto announced he was joining the MLS club immediately. And Thursday, Giovinco was treated to a hero's welcome as he landed in the Ontario capital.
With only 10 of his 130 career Juventus appearances coming this season, Giovinco wanted a new "project." Toronto, saying he was at the top of its wish list, was happy to accommodate.
Asked whether he was treated fairly when it came to playing time with Juve, the player known as the Atomic Ant — he likes the nickname — was guarded.
"For any player, it's very important to expect that he would play more," he said through his interpreter. "But I believe maybe there was a reason. But at this moment, I don't want to speak of Juve. I prefer to speak about Toronto FC."
For a Toronto team still smarting from the early departure of England striker Jermain Defoe, having a European star who wants to be here is much appreciated. Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment is paying for the privilege, with Giovinco's annual salary expected in Orlando City star Kaka's US$7-million-plus range.
With an expiring contract, Giovinco was a target for big European clubs drawn by his skills and lack of a transfer fee. While Toronto likely overpaid to get him, the lure of a totally new challenge plus the chance to step out of the wings into a starring role helped sell the Italian on Toronto.
"There's something different about coming to North America, it's a different life experience," said Toronto GM Tim Bezbatchenko.
In Giovinco, Toronto is getting someone it hopes will be an offensive sparkplug, connecting with Michael Bradley and others in the midfield and triggering goals from striker Jozy Altidore. The Italian is also a threat from set pieces.
Off the field, Giovinco is a likable, easy-going character with a good sense of humour, according to Bezbatchenko.
"Andrea (agent Andrea D'Amico) says you could make a cartoon after him," the Toronto GM said. "And he plays like that. He plays with joy, he's fun to watch."
Connecting the designated player dots of Altidore, Bradley and Giovinco will cost an estimated $17 million alone in 2015, making a mockery of the Major League Soccer salary cap, which was $3.1 million last season. Only $387,500 of a designated player's salary counted against the cap last season.
The club hopes that investment pays off this season with a playoff berth, a goal that will be aided by the fact that six of the 10 teams in each division make the post-season as opposed to five in 2014.
While Toronto never lost when Defoe scored last season, each of his 11 league goals came at a cost of $561,818. And the club missed the playoffs for the eighth straight year.
The Toronto team is currently training in Florida. Giovinco will join his new teammates when they return home next week.
Showing his eagerness to get started, Giovinco plans to train throughout the weekend before the team holds its first full practice here Wednesday.
Toronto fans will have to wait to see him play. Due to stadium renovations, Toronto plays its first seven games on the road with its home opener not until May 10.
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