‘Not many people like me but I don’t give a shit’Giorgio Chinaglia
The year was 1976. New York Cosmos general manager Clive Toye touched down in Rome wearing a razor sharpe pinstripe suite and a smile. He was accompanied by a bottle of the finest red wine, a case of 10 Cuban cigars and an open cheque book, the remit – sign Giorgio Chinaglia. Having claimed the signature of the great Pelé a year previous, the Cosmos needed a big man to compliment the Brazilian in the striking department. This would significantly strengthen their attack but also further enhance the reputation of the American game. Chinaglia’s time at SS Lazio appeared to be coming to an acrimonious end despite the striker leading the club to a famous Serie A title in the 1973/74 season, becoming a genuine club great. Adored by the blue side of the Italian capital, the often outspoken Chinaglia, was a figure of hate with the Roman half. That hatred had began to boil over into an unsafe territory, hardly helped by Chinaglia’s facist salute goal celebration in various matches. His hero like status at facist dictator Benito Mussolini’s club of choice meant Chinaglia and his family had become the target of kidnap by various mafia lead terrorist groups and he needed a way out of Rome, preferably out of Italy. Toye later claimed it to be the ‘easiest signing of a star’ he ever made but, in their very first meeting, there would be a sign of various difficulties to come – Chinaglia brazenly leaning into the glovebox of his Porché and revealing a gun. Episode 2 of the BIG MAN UPFRONT Miniseries takes a look at the strange world of Giorgio Chinaglia and how the controversial striker went on to become arguably the greatest striker in the history of the North American Soccer League (NASL)
Giorgio Chinaglia was a broad 6 ft 2’ Italian Centre forward who spoke English with a Welsh accent. Born in Carrara, Tuscany in 1947, his family relocated to the unlikely setting of Cardiff in Wales because of the devastating affect of World War II on the Italian economy.
He took a liking to football and being noticeably bigger than the majority of his peers he signed for Swansea Town (now City) in 1964, playing in division 3 (now league 2) of the Football League. Unfortunately for Chinaglia, things didn’t pan out at Swansea. He only made 6 appearances in 2 years scoring just the once before being released at 19 years old. With Military service still compulsory in Italy and the call up looming large, Chinaglia took the decision to move back to Italy with no apparent interest from any British football clubs.
Military service was to be a turning point for Chinaglia’s career however and one he himself credits as his saviour claiming..
‘I’d still be in Wales, slogging it out in the mud and drinking ale’
Luckily for the burley striker the Italian military had a special regiment for footballers in which they could train every day and play competitive matches. He would learn the game properly and, without any outside distractions, develop a style that was never the most pleasing on the eye but extremely effective. It lead to goals and Chinaglia took the regiment by storm. When his service ended there were no shortage of Italian clubs willing to take him on but here lay a problem. A strange ruling banned Chinaglia from playing in Italy’s top league, Serie A, for 3 years because he’d already played professionally in another country. Fortunately, special dispensation was granted allowing him to sign for Serie C side Massesse. Not the money spinning deal he’d hoped for but two effective seasons followed by two equally productive years at fellow Serie C side Internapoli meant his ban was now up which now allowed him to sign for a top club. SS Lazio came calling.
In Giorgio Chinaglia’s 6 years at Lazio the club experienced a relegation, a promotion, an Italian cup win and a Serie A title. A mixed bag that would sum up the big man’s career in many respects. In those times however, one thing remained constant- the prolific rate in which Chinaglia bagged his goals. He was the talisman of the Lazio forward line, often selfish and singleminded, all he cared about was finding the net and didn’t mind who he upset along the way. He earned himself the nickname Long John because of his striking resemblance to Serie A great and Welshman John Charles. He was adored by Lazio fans, hated by opponents and often, his own teammates. Never shy in saying what he felt, Chinaglia was very critical of the Italian tax corporate laws which lead to various failed ‘business’ ventures.
During Chinaglia’s time at Lazio, he was also part of the Italian national team set up but would only end up making 14 appearances. Controversy was never far away as far as Chinaglia was concerned, playing in a World Cup Finals group match in 1974 against Haiti, Chinaglia reacted terribly to being substituted launching a foul mouth tirade at then Italian coach, Ferruccio Valcareggi. Storming down the tunnel, he would destroy both sets of dressing rooms and leave the stadium before the match ended, an act that effectively ended his brief international career. What’s worse, Italy actually won the match 3-1.
By 1975, Chinaglia’s much maligned international career was over but within Lazio, they looked after him. After all, his goals had delivered a scudetto nobody thought possible. He was club captain and with that came fame and notoriety that was right up his street. He was the centre of attention, the main man that everybody wanted a piece of, often seen mixing with celebrities and cultural icons of Italy but also hangers on, shysters and freebooters looking for gain. He’d also be seen with major players in Rome’s criminal underworld, leading to activities that became a distraction on his football.
By 1976, things were coming to a head for Giorgio Chinaglia. A very chaotic social life as well as very public disagreements with his own teammates, his power inside Lazio had become toxic – A price paid for the club looking after him so well. Lazio’s board of directors knew there was no alternative. Chinaglia had to go and Clive Toye stepped off the plane.
To be continued.