Toronto FC quest to sign Lorenzo Insigne started with a simple list

In announcing the signing of Italian star winger Lorenzo Insigne, Toronto FC president Bill Manning said the hunt to acquire the Napoli captain started last summer out of concern at the struggling MLS club’s direction.

Knowing team owner Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment had a board meeting in September and having seen the local interest in Italy’s run to the European championship, he started researching possible player targets.

“I actually went to the Transfermarkt website and I looked up the Italian national team on what players were coming out of contract,” Manning told reporters Saturday. “And Lorenzo was one of the few players that was coming out of contract. I started writing down players that I thought were world-class, that I thought would have commercial value in this market.”

Manning, who had presented a five-year plan to the MLSE board when he was hired in 2015, said he then shared his “vision on what we need to do to reinvigorate our club and Lorenzo Insigne was the first name on that list.”

Insigne has signed a pre-contract to join the Major League Soccer club on a four-year deal to begin July 1. The Napoli captain will be 31 when he dons Toronto colours.

Insigne has played at the highest level, from the Champions League to World Cup.

He has made 416 appearances for Napoli, scoring 114 goals with 95 assists across all competitions. In 11 seasons with his hometown club, he has won the Super Cup (2014-15) and Coppa Italia (2013-14 and 2019-20).

Insigne has 10 goals in 53 appearances for Italy, helping the Azzurri to the European title last July in a penalty shootout win over England.

With Napoli’s season ending May 21, Insigne will have some time to recover in advance of the second half of Toronto’s campaign. But he will still face a busy year if sixth-ranked Italy qualifies for the World Cup in Qatar — which will necessitate qualifying playoff wins over No. 67 North Macedonia and then either No. 8 Portugal or No. 37 Turkey.

Manning called Insigne deal a “transformational signing” for both club and league — part of the franchise’s plan to load up in advance of the 2026 World Cup, which Canada is co-hosting.

The signing is a swing for the fences, with Toronto looking to return to its winning ways. Champions in 2017 and runners-up in 2016 and 2019, TFC finished 26th out of 27 teams last season with a dismal 6-18-10 campaign.

“Toronto FC’s really been out of market for two full seasons (due to the pandemic),” said Manning. “And we lost a buzz. We lost a buzz in this market.”

“Lorenzo Insigne is going to be a player that people want to come see,” he added.

At five foot four and 132 pounds, Insigne is small but packs a punch. He can play in attack across the field, but is often deployed as a left winger where he can use his speed, ball skills and powerful shot to great effect.

Insigne made a brief appearance via a social media video posted by TFC.

“I want to say hello to all the fans in Toronto,” he said in Italian. “I’m excited for this new adventure. I want to thank the club and we’ll see you in July.”

“All for one,” he added in English, quoting the TFC motto with a smile and thumb’s up.

After getting the MLSE board’s blessing, Manning turned to Italian agent Andrea D’Amico — who represented Italian star Sebastian Giovinco in his 2015 move to TFC — for help as an intermediary. D’Amico knew Insigne’s agent and made the first call.

Former MLS vice-president Lino DiCuollo also played a key role in the on-the-ground negotiations in Italy as Toronto looked to pry Insigne away from his beloved hometown club.

The talks were not exactly conducted under a cone of silence – more like a sieve with the Italian media providing numerous updates on their star player’s next destination.

Manning said TFC’s “ambition” as a North American club, coupled with the city’s sizable Italian community appealed to Insigne.

So did its contract offer, which apparently trumped those of other clubs including Napoli, which currently stands third in the Serie A standings at 12-4-4. Insigne will reportedly become the highest-paid player in MLS by a considerable margin.

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