Sebastian Giovinco and the big fish-small pond quandary

​​It is ironic to say that a league that incorporates both the United States and Canada is a small pond, but, in the general scheme of world football, that is what MLS is. For a lot of footballing folk back in Europe, MLS still occupies a space somewhere between satire and a retirement home, a place where ‘the Yanks’ use funny words to describe the most basic of footballing terminology and players just a little past their sell-by date venture to earn that one last bumper pay check.

With this being the mindset of a lot of Europeans, the transfer of Sebastian Giovinco to Toronto FC was one that puzzled many a mind. The Atomic Ant was entering into the prime stages of his career—why did he want to throw it all away to venture out into the abyss that is MLS when fame and glory awaited back home? It was for many a backwards step for a player whose career had failed to deliver on early promise.

Yet on closer inspection it was the transfer that made perfect sense for Giovinco, because once again he would become the big fish in the small pond. He was to shoulder the weight of a club’s expectations and, as any good ant can do, carry many times his own weight. Giovinco is the Undisputed King of his club and from past experience we know this is when his talent comes to the fore.

We’ve all seen the videos on Twitter, Facebook, etc. of Giovinco waltzing around MLS defenders who look as sure on their feet as every college student at 2am on a Wednesday night. Is this the true Giovinco or has the competition set before him stacked the deck in his favour? And how did the boy from Turin end up far from home in the Great White North?

Born and raised in Turin, a city that houses two of Italy’s most historic clubs, young Seba, as he has also come to be known, quickly rose through the ranks of the Juventus youth system. As all who follow Juventus know, calciopoli would hit La Vecchia Signora hard, but it proved a silver lining for the young Giovinco as it was in the depths of Serie B that he would make his bow for the club.

All fans are on the lookout for their next great hope, someone who they can place their trust in and see standing beside them for years to come. Juve are and were no different; their fans knew that the great Alessandro Del Piero would not go on forever and they needed to crown an heir. For a long time that heir came in the guise of Giovinco.

Before then, however, the Atomic Ant would take his silky skills to Tuscany and Empoli on loan. It was there, out away from the pressures of the big cities, that Giovinco introduced himself to Serie A. Scoring six and assisting four in 37 league games was not bad for the youngster, and his numbers were all the more impressive given that Empoli ultimately succumbed to relegation that season. Nevertheless, his talent was clear—he had the touch, vision, the ability to swerve on seemingly his own axis, and accuracy in dead-ball situations.

In fact, it was this accuracy from the placed ball that garnered one of the few highlights for the Azzurri that season. 2-1 down at home to Roma with the clock ticking into added time, Empoli won a free kick wide on the right. Giovinco stood over it. And, with everyone gathered in the area expected a cross, he lofted the ball high and goalward. Giallorossi shot-stopper Doni backtracked, the fear no doubt rising in his heart as ultimately the ball sailed over him and into the top left corner. It was a beauty from a man who would score many more like it throughout his career.

After the year in Tuscany, Giovinco would return to Turin in the hope of taking up his mantle as Del Piero’s heir. Yet things would never fully click for him back at the Bianconeri. Not being the fulcrum of the team, Giovinco found it hard to get game time and thus consistency required. This was evidenced in the fact that, for Juve, Giovinco would play a total of 132 matches, consisting of 6173 minutes on the pitch. Now compare this to his current team Toronto, where he has played 52 less matches but has already totalled some 6789 minutes on the pitch some 616 minutes more.

Struggling for game time, he ventured out on loan once more in 2010, this time to Parma. And it was back in the provinces that he excelled: it was with the Gialloblu that he would win the first of 23 international caps. Personally, I was lucky to see Giovinco in the flesh during his Parma spell and what I saw was a player on another level to his teammates. Everything went through him — if in doubt, give the ball to him and even if not, give it to him anyway. He for the large part controlled Parma’s rhythm and tempo during his two-year spell at the club. Indeed, sometimes he was so good that he looked bad. A paradox, yes, but one that makes sense when you watched him on the pitch, at times his footballing intelligence was a step or two ahead of his teammates, whose lack of movement or understanding made his final ball look below par.

He impressed so much in Parma that Juve were willing to spend some €11 million to get him back. However, with the team once more not built around him, Seba struggled to adapt. Now he finds himself in Toronto going to town on what many consider a second-tier league. Some would say Sebastian Giovinco’s career is one of wasted talent, but is it really? The best moments of his career have always come when he has been the big fish, and nowhere is that truer for him than in MLS. Maybe, instead of saying he is of unfulfilled potential, we should just enjoy the talent he brings to the table when he is the top dog.

Words by Kevin Nolan: @KevinNolan11
Kevin is an Irishman who loves to watch calcio no matter how lowly the level, Parma being his team of choice. Besides the @GentlemanUltra, he also writes for @ItalianFD.