How Toronto FC pulled off its biggest transfer yet

When outlets announced that Napoli star and Italian international Lorenzo Insigne could sign with Major League Soccer side Toronto FC, I shrugged it off. I dismissed it as a regular rumor that would disappear when the week ended.

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Yet the rumour evolved into legitimate reports. Sources like 90min, the Guardian, and Onefootball reported the story as fans raised their eyes in surprise. And soon, it was made official. Canadian side Toronto FC, who were egregious last season, confirmed the transfer in an ecstatic tweet on January 8th.

It was surprising. Yet some will argue whether it was a welcome one or not. Toronto FC supporters practically leaped out of their seats when news of the move went public. Napoli fans were a little more downcast.

Yet why would Insigne, the captain of Napoli, his hometown team, leave for an under-par club a continent away? Why did Napoli let one of its best players depart? And what drove Toronto to complete the deal?

The background

To accurately track Lorenzo Insigne’s journey to Toronto FC’s BMO Field, we need to backtrack to the intense Euro 2020 final. Insigne started the match in the left-wing position. With Lazio talisman Ciro Immobile limited to a sole shot, it was up to Insigne to pick up the slack.

Insigne logged five shots on target and forced a save from an extraordinary Jordan Pickford. His 82 touches and 51 passes fueled Italy throughout the game and propelled Italy to an energizing penalty shootout. Insigne attracted attention from a Toronto FC organization rebounding from a disappointing season.

“I looked up the Italian national team on what players were coming out of contract, and Lorenzo Insigne was one of a few players that were coming out of contract. I started writing down players that were world-class and would have commercial value in this market,” Toronto manager Bill Manning told the Toronto Sun.

After amassing just 28 points in 34 MLS games and losing the Canadian Championship final, Manning decided it was time for a change. A tremendous change. The focus would be on the defense, but Manning had his eye on an offensive star.

In came new blood, mainly from the reserves and youth squads. Yet there was a target that Manning had his eyes set on since the middle of July.

That target was embroiled in a drama rocking Naples to its core. The organization at the head of I Partenopei was not willing to offer Lorenzo Insigne over five million euros, according to GetFootballNewsItaly. The November article already named Toronto FC as the leader for Insigne’s services. Manning’s persistence would be rewarded soon.

Wage deals were at the centre of the chaos conquering Insigne’s world, but Insigne could not do much about it. The captain had to put his head down and work. And work he did.

Insigne made a name for himself with his creativity and playmaking. He is not the goalscorer for his side; that honor belongs to Victor Osimhen. His pacy play in the final third and shiftiness causes headaches for defenders. It was what Manning wanted.

When you fast-forward past the signings of Ferran Torres and Jonathan Ikone, clubs like Inter Milan, Juventus, and Newcastle are all showing interest in the Napoli captain. Yet, as we all know, it would be the relatively small Toronto FC who would sign Insigne.

The details

Insigne is already shattering records with Toronto FC even before he donned one of their Adidas-made kits. He is set to earn around eleven million euros per year. That is double what the previous record-holder Zlatan Ibrahimovic (6.3 million euros per year) made with Los Angeles FC and surpasses Napoli’s contract offer by a mile. In fact, his salary by itself is more than the salaries of over 17 MLS clubs.

Insigne will join the Torontonian club as a Designated Player, allowing Toronto to sign him without any salary cap worries. He will link up with Toronto on July 1, 2022, after Napoli’s club competitions are finished. Napoli will not receive any transfer fee.

The impact

The creative winger signing for Toronto will make his new team one to watch in 2022. The Coppa Italia champion will fit like a glove in Toronto’s typical 4-2-3-1 lineup. He will likely displace Jacob Shaffelburg or out-of-favor Yeferson Soteldo as a left-winger or attacking midfielder.

Although he will not have an enormous impact defensively, Insigne will boost Toronto FC’s goalscoring with his creativity in the final third. Players like Jozy Altidore and Jonathan Osorio stand to benefit from Insigne’s pacy play.

Napoli will have to rely on Osimhen’s clinical finishing and goalscoring after Insigne’s departure. Osimhen, who missed a big chunk of time with facial fractures, scored nine goals in fourteen total games. Yet Osimhen usually operates as a target forward. To replace Insigne’s creativity and brilliance, Napoli could look to Hirving Lozano. Yet, until Lozano shows he can fill Insigne’s spot, Napoli will need to look to the transfer market. Napoli will see a glimmer of what the future looks like while Insigne recovers from an abductor tear.

Insigne, just like Thierry Henry, David Beckham, and Ibrahimovic, made waves with the signing. It is not often that a player with many accomplishments like Insigne decides to move to the U.S. 

As Toronto continues to aim high by targeting players like Andrea Belotti and Carlos Salcedo, the new making of Major League Soccer is coming. This version, which entices prestigious and well-known players to its clubs, will be led by Insigne. He will look to make the most of it.

The Author

Deolu Akingbade

I'm an African football analyst who loves cheering for the Super Eagles and Atletico Madrid. I am 13-years-old and am featured in WorldSoccerTalk as well.

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