Toronto FC: Giovinco Wrongfully Snubbed from Italian National Team

May 21, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto FC forward Sebastian Giovinco (10) takes the field with his son before an MLS game against the Columbus Crew at BMO Field. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports
May 21, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto FC forward Sebastian Giovinco (10) takes the field with his son before an MLS game against the Columbus Crew at BMO Field. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports /

When manager Antonio Conte announced the Italian national team 30-man roster for Euro 2016, Toronto FC forward Sebastian Giovinco was understandably surprised by his snub.

While Toronto FC striker Sebastian Giovinco has been dominant since coming to Major League Soccer last season, the chance to represent their country on the international stage is very important. However, that opportunity to represent Italy will have to wait, after it was announced he will not be on the roster for Euro 2016.

Since joining TFC, Giovinco has been worth every dollar spent by GM Tim Bezbatchenko, already overtaking Dwayne De Rosario for the franchise record in goals scored. That he has done this in less than one and a half seasons, is truly remarkable.

During the 29-year old’s time in Toronto, he has twice been called up by Italian manager Antonio Conte to play in Euro 2016 qualifying matches. Along with Andrea Pirlo, they became the first players from MLS to play for Italy, starting the debate into the Italian squad for Europe’s premier football competition.

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Pirlo left Juventus, the top team in Italy’s Serie A league, to join New York City FC, just like Giovinco did with Toronto FC. Both players saw a move to the MLS as an opportunity to showcase their play as starters, while giving themselves a chance to prove they were capable of playing for Italy.

It also does not hurt that they are also getting paid handsomely, but ultimately it cost them their chance to play for Italy internationally. Conte recently spoke about the decision to leave Giovinco and Pirlo off the roster and was not shy about providing his reason why:

"“We evaluated [Pirlo] and Giovinco,” Conte said. “It’s normal that if you choose to go and play there then you can pay the consequences in footballing terms.“We evaluated them technically, we didn’t leave anything to chance. Anyone who thinks otherwise is wrong, we went everywhere to have clear and precise ideas. I picked the 30 who I think will give me the most guarantees.”"

It is understandable why Pirlo was left off the Italian roster, there were doubts about whether he would play for Italy again, given his age of 37. However, his decision to retire after the 2014 World Cup was tied in to if the new manager would want him.

Conte took over from Cesare Prandelli, who resigned after Italy’s early elimination from the World Cup which was enough to convince Pirlo to reconsider retiring. Interestingly, Conte had coached both Pirlo and Giovinco from his time as Juventus managers.

When asked about not being selected to represent Italy, Giovinco was not shy about expressing his disappointment, although he now wants to move on from it:

"“I was upset about it, but it’s useless to think about,” he said through an interpreter after training Wednesday. “I need to keep going and I need to keep improving so I can try and find my place back on the national team.”“It can be right, it can be wrong but it’s not really my place to say,” he said. “I think that he knows what’s best.”“And there’s really no sense in continuing to talk about it,” he added."

Instead of Giovinco, Conte has elected to go with Graziano Pelle of Southampton, Eder of Inter, Torino loanee Ciro Immobile and Juventus back-up Simone Zaza to represent Italy up front. While Giovinco may not play in top quality leagues, he is still on the same level or better than those who were picked over him.

Speaking with Michele Bertone–a long time follower of Italian soccer for most of his life– he offered this explanation about Giovinco not getting selected:

"There are no Italian strikers who can play with the ball at their feet and dictate play the same way he does, it is not Giovinco’s fault if the league is not at his level. When he joined Toronto, the Italians saw him as a sell out for going to a “retirement league” to early in his career while he should be contending in Europe.The Italian media portrays him as a failure and so they snub him from any opportunity because what will happen if he does well at euros? Suddenly all these other players start joining the MLS and the European countries lose talent. The players know they can accept large contracts and immediately become a superstar."

He is not the only one that shares this opinion. Mike DeCoucy from Sporting News had this to say about the exclusion of the Atomic Ant: 

"The 30 members of the Italy team come from Serie A, France’s Ligue 1 and England’s Premier League. One, striker Eder, was born and raised in Brazil and entered the Italy national team to some nativist controversy one year ago.There is no arguing that MLS is beneath the level of Serie A or the Premier League or any of Europe’s top half-dozen leagues. But for all the profound talents that have entered MLS in recent years — Kaka, Didier Drogba, Clint Dempsey, Jermain Defoe, Gio dos Santos — none has had the impact Giovinco has delivered."

European journalists have not let Conte off the hook about the decision to leave Giovinco out of the team, as they have pressed the Italian manager to explain his decision. Is this situation a warning to other Italian players of the consequences of leaving Europe to go play in MLS, where they can get more money and playing time?

Toronto FC
May 18, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto FC forward Sebastian Giovinco (10) tries to control a ball during the second half in a game against New York City FC at BMO Field. The game ended in a 1-1 draw. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports /

Even if Giovinco did make the team it probably would not have been as a starter, although it would not be a bad idea to have someone with his skill set available as a sub late games, when Italy needs a goal. Scoring has been a problem for the Azzurri, so to leaving a player of his calibre off the team could come back to bite them

One factor that may have also played into Conte’s decision, is the fact the the start of the MLS season is much later, with other leagues already in the middle of their seasons when international teams are conducting their evaluations. However, given the body of work Giovinco has shown since joining MLS, he should still have been a strong consideration for the Italian roster:

"“I know Giovinco well, and he’s not going there just to earn money,” Conte said at the time. “It’s a great opportunity, one as a player I would have grabbed.” Conte added that it could be a disadvantage as far as national team contention to be so far removed, “but I always keep an eye out, anyway.”"

If this decision was based mostly on where Giovinco plays, then Conte looks to be out of touch with how quick the league is rising. While it still has a long way to go in terms of being compared to European leagues, there have been waves of players seeing the growth of MLS.

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If the Italian national team struggles to score like they have in the past, while Giovinco continues his strong play with Toronto FC, than Conte will have to live with that choice. From the Turin, Italy native’s perspective, he will get over the decision and continue to prove people wrong, hopefully earning an opportunity to play for Italy again in the future.