Why LAFC signing aging Italian Giorgio Chiellini makes sense

For the first 4½ seasons, LAFC followed a well thought out strategy of finding and signing talented, if little known, South American players and complementing them with MLS veterans. And it worked: the squads put together by general manager John Thorrington were young and successful, winning a Supporters’ Shield, reaching the CONCACAF Champions League final and making the playoffs three times.

Given that track record, Monday’s announcement that the team had signed aging Italy centre-back Giorgio Chiellini on an 18-month deal is… unusual. But Thorrington said the chance to add the legendary former Juventus and Azzurri Captain was too good to pass up.

“It was a breeze,” he said.

“The reason this might not fit LAFC’s mold is because there is no Giorgio Chiellini mold. He is unique in what he did, how he did it. He has, over the past 15 years, demonstrated the unique ability of someone who can pass that experience, that wisdom, on to other people on his team to improve on.”

Although details of the contract were not disclosed, Chiellini was signed with targeted money, meaning his salary must be above the maximum MLS budget of $612,500 but below the $1,612,500 required by a specific player tag would require. Despite having one season left at Juventus and Italy failing to qualify for the autumn World Cup, a source close to the player said the club had released him from his contract, which reportedly earned him $2.6m a year would have to sign early with LAFC.

Chiellini is two months away from his 38th birthday and has not started more than 16 league games in a season since 2018/19. But Thorrington isn’t looking for him to play 90 minutes every week. What the team really wants is for him to mentor and inspire a young, talented backline that could be critical to LAFC’s success for years to come.

Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini (left) challenges the ball from Inter Milan's Nicolo Barella.

Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini (left) challenges Inter Milan’s Nicolo Barella for the ball during their Italian Super Cup final match at the San Siro stadium in Milan January 12, 2022.

(Luca Bruno/Associated Press)

“I introduce myself as a player in MLS and Giorgio Chiellini comes into my dressing room. It would be incredible. It would just give you a boost,” Thorrington said. “And not just his presence, but the fact that he’s a highly intelligent guy. He has a tactical acumen like no other player I’ve seen in recent history. And he has a real ability to communicate that to the others.

“Giorgio will make everyone better. Giorgio is in this building every day, he will add value.”

A former teammate and longtime friend agreed.

“He’s a guy who can teach the other players. For different reasons,” said former Juventus and Italy striker Alessandro Del Piero, one of the greatest players in Italian football history. “His knowledge because he’s a champion and because he has the attitude to be helpful.

“He will be a really good asset if they work with him in this way.”

Chiellini is the seventh player LAFC has signed from a European club squad. Of the other six, only strikers Carlos Vela and Adama Diomande looked positive, but none of the others had Chiellini’s CV.

A two-time World Cup starter with 117 international matches, he captained Italy to the European Championship and won 20 national trophies with Juventus. Massimiliano Allegri, his last manager at Juventus, called him the best defender in the world.

He joins a team that has seven defenders under the age of 26, including Senegal teenager Mamadou Fall, Ecuador international Diego Palacios, Colombian Eddie Segura and local players Tony Leone and Erik Dueñas.

“He’s an incredible professional,” said Del Piero. “He took care of every detail of his body and his performance. He will help as best he can.”

There might be a catch: Chiellini has never played outside of Italy in his 22-year career and for some big-name European players – the kind LAFC previously avoided – stepping out of their comfort zone and moving to MLS proved challenging.

“It’s never a hit. It all comes down to the attitude of the player and what that player’s personal goals and reasons are for being here,” said Dave Sarachan, a former MLS manager and assistant coach who worked with David Beckham, Robbie Keane and Steven, among others Gerrard worked together.

“It’s up to the organization to fully screen the player and their motives and their personality.”

Thorrington said the team did. The player has been on LAFC’s radar since last year when Will Kuntz, the assistant general manager, met Chiellini’s brother at a conference. When Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup in March, efforts to reach an agreement intensified on both sides.

“The tenor of the conversations quickly shifted from ‘that’s something interesting’ to ‘that’s actually something we can do,'” Thorrington said. “These negotiations and talks went smoothly. It was a guy who met the profile of someone who we thought could be really helpful. And I think Giorgio was really excited about the type of opportunity that we presented.”

Del Piero, who moved to Southern California after retiring and opened trendy Westside Italian restaurant N10, said he helped sell Chiellini along the way.

“We’ve been talking for a while and he’s really excited to be coming,” Del Piero said. “It’s the right decision in the right place.”

Should Chiellini ever get homesick, Del Piero said he was always welcome at the restaurant.

“He certainly won’t miss the Italian food,” he said.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/soccer/story/2022-06-13/lafc-strategy-giorgio-chiellini-signing-makes-sense Why LAFC signing aging Italian Giorgio Chiellini makes sense

Emma Bowman

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