Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Lorenzo Insigne transfer: Toronto FC agree to MLS-record contract, but will it be worth it?

After a season during which Toronto FC finished second to last in the Eastern Conference, the winds of change are blowing through the Six. Bob Bradley, after leaving LAFC, is back in as coach and sporting director meaning that he will be responsible for everything from the roster decisions to the lineup. As Toronto figures out what to do with their designated player spots, they’ve started by signing Italian international Lorenzo Insigne from Napoli with him joining during the summer transfer window.

Napoli can turn the keys of the attack over to Victor Osimhen while not needing to worry about how to replace Insigne during the current season with him there through the summer. As a 30-year-old currently contributing for Napoli with four goals and four assists over 14 starts, a deal had to be too good to turn down for Insigne to sign on the dotted line. But the terms could dwarf any contract handed out in MLS history.

For context, the deal is reported by CBS soccer insider Fabrizio Romano to be about a $12.5 million base salary. Carlos Vela and Javier Hernandez make about $6 million annually before bonuses. On Toronto, Alejandro Pozuelo is at $4.6 million while Jozy Altidore is at $3.6 million. But when designated players carry a similar cap hit, the full salary doesn’t matter if ownership is willing to front the money. 

But even with that, there is the concern of if Insigne will be worth it. By making this move, Toronto will be in championship-or-bust mode similarly to the LAFC project that Bradley was dismissed from. They have some history of making this work with Sebastian Giovinco’s run in the league ending in an MLS cup, setting the league points record at the time, and a combined 120 goals over 114 appearances.

That’s quite the bar to clear for anyone, but there are more miles on Insigne’s legs at this point too. Giovinco only cleared 2,000 minutes played three times before coming to MLS, compared to Insigne accomplishing that eight times not including international appearances. Giovinco was also two years younger while making the switch to MLS.

There is also the question on what Insigne’s motivation is for making the move as it could also signal the end his international career. Winning in MLS isn’t as much of a motivator for a player who is already competing for the Scudetto, which is why such an eye-popping salary needs to be offered. As the league looks to sell itself of a stepping stone to Europe, Insigne could be a throwback to the days when MLS was considered a retirement league.

While this isn’t to say that Insigne will be a bust in MLS as he could be one of the most talented players to step foot in the league, there is immense bust potential in a move like this. Toronto already has made plenty of front-office mistakes, including holding on to expensive players for too long, and they could repeat that again if this move isn’t managed correctly. Also, setting the bar so high for someone new to the league could set  them up for failure and you only need to look at Javier Hernandez replacing Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the LA Galaxy in 2020 for an example of what can go wrong in Year 1.

Toronto wants to skip the rebuild period of getting to the top of MLS which can be done but will Bob Bradley run them into the ground for short term gains?

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