Ahead of their inaugural season in Major League Soccer, Montreal Impact's management promised the club's supporters a Designated Player. On Sunday night, their words became a reality as Italian forward Marco Di Vaio arrived to a hero's welcome at Trudeau airport.
The value of signing a Designated Player in MLS is far reaching and can greatly influence a club's progress both on and off the pitch. The early signs indicate the enormous potential of Di Viao's arrival. The Italian turns 36 this summer, but he is as far away as you could imagine from the stereotypical idea of a top European player heading to North America to wind down his career.
Di Vaio turned down offers to stay in Europe in order to pursue a new challenge in Montreal, a decision that bolsters the Impact squad in its weakest position with a goal scorer who has an exceptional record playing at the highest level of the game.
"The club has kept its promise to its fans and the market here," said Impact Sporting Director Nick De Santis. "It was important that we get a Designated Player but we needed to take our time and do our due diligence in bringing a player that filled all of the aspects we are looking for.
"We needed to make sure he was not only a good player on the field but also could handle all the responsibilities that come with a Designated Player."
The Impact management has placed great importance on bringing the right types of characters to the club. The two former Italian internationals already with the team are testament to that. Matteo Ferrari and Bernardo Corradi have embraced their new club both on and off the pitch. Their class has shone through during matches, but just as important is the leadership they have shown within the locker room which has helped the expansion club build an identity. Di Vaio will be no different.
"With Marco we are getting someone that has a strong character," added De Santis. "He has a strong will to help this club move forward. He has scored very important goals throughout his career and has been healthy for the last four years, playing 30 games a year at the highest level."
The signing of Di Vaio brings to an end an exhaustive search by Montreal's management in their bid to sign the club's first Designated Player. According to De Santis, they got their man. Di Vaio was in their sights since they started planning for MLS, but things really started moving over the winter, when De Santis travelled to Italy along with Impact President Joey Saputo to meet with their target.
That meeting was a chance for the Impact officials to see for themselves if Di Vaio was the sort of person they were searching for, but it most importantly, it was an opportunity for them to sell their vision to the former Juventus striker.
"He wanted to get a good sense of who we are and what we are trying to do here. Our mentality and vision was important to him. He feels it will be an environment where he can adapt a lot easier than going somewhere else, because of who we are and what we have built. His family needs to be happy. For us that is the same for every player. When a player is happy, he comes to training every day happy."
So what sort of Impact can Di Vaio make in Montreal? His off-field influence is guaranteed. On the pitch, it will be interesting to see how quickly he can adjust to the North American game. De Santis believes he has all the tools to be successful quickly.
"We have to be realistic to the fact that he is coming in mid-season and there are different conditions, but we feel confident that with the players in place, with the way we want to play and with the culture that we have, he will have an easier time to adjust.
"If I go back to two years ago when we started looking at what type of players and who we would want to go after, he was the first one on my mind," explained De Santis.
"MLS forwards need to have a certain type of profile," he continued. "They need good movement and warrior mentality. They have to fight every day and have the ability to score goals in all different positions, in the box, outside the box, with his head, with his right foot or left foot. We thought it was a long shot and we are very proud that we managed to get Marco because he was one of the players that we wanted from day one."
Marco Di Vaio has all of the qualities needed to be a success in Montreal. His arrival is another major step forward for an ambitious club, and he might not be the last big-name addition with the Impact still actively pursuing other signings. For an expansion team, the Montreal Impact are certainly making the rest of MLS pay attention.
Marco Di Vaio is eligible to make his Major League Soccer debut on Wednesday, June 27 when Montreal Impact take on Toronto FC. The match will be broadcast live on TSN at 7:30pm et/4:30pm pt.