TORONTO — Lorenzo Insigne has already said goodbye to his legion of Napoli fans in his home finale. And Sunday, Napoli wraps up its Serie A season away to Spezia with a third-place finish guaranteed in the standings.
Toronto FC wait and watches. But the MLS club has been busy, preparing for Insigne's arrival.
Toronto president Bill Manning says the Italian star forward, who is married with two sons, is expected in late June after international duty with Italy and a short break.
Toronto, which already had a sterling reputation for looking after its players off the field, hired Paola de Cristofaro as manager of player care in March to help ease the Insigne family's transition to North America. De Cristofaro, an Italian-Canadian who spent 10 years in Rome and speaks fluent Italian, has been in touch with the family regularly.
"Their schools are already picked out. His residence is already picked out," said Manning. "There's been a lot of work done there. Getting English lessons, that's already being worked on right now."
"There's been a lot of communication," he added.
Toronto has a lot invested in the Italian star forward, who turns 31 on June 4. Insigne will enter MLS as its highest-paid player, overtaking Chicago's Xherdan Shaqiri who currently tops the 2022 MLS salary list at US$8.153 million.
Insigne's first game is expected to be July 9, two days after the MLS secondary transfer window opens, at home against the San Jose Earthquakes. TFC will have played 18 of its 34 regular-season games by then.
Manning says Insigne has been preparing — watching all of Toronto's games.
"He wants to really get a feel for how the team's playing," he said. "I know Bob (head coach and sporting director Bob Bradley) and Mike (assistant coach and technical director Mike Sorber) and the technical staff are watching all the Napoli games.
"He's a professional. Bob has coached big players before. (Insigne) is going to be a foundational piece for our team moving forward."
Manning says the Italian will play a key part on and off the field.
"He's a leader. He's got some personality to him. And on a team like ours, last game we had six players 21 and younger that were out there in the starting lineup," he said, referring to the 1-0 home loss to Orlando City. "So this is a team that can look up to guys like Lorenzo Insigne.
"Obviously they have (captain) Michael (Bradley) and Jonathan Osorio. This is a guy that's going to be able to come in and help raise the bar. For a team like ours that is going through a major transformation, that is such a big step in the right direction."
De Cristofaro reports to Tania Pedron, TFC's director of administration and operations, who also speaks fluent Italian. They likely will have other players to help settle this summer.
"We've carried less roster spots because we were going to add three players (including Insigne) during the summer. That's always been our plan," said Manning. "Just the way the roster (salary) cap is coming together, we actually may be able to add a fourth."
Little things can become big for players who arrive from other countries. Like a driver's licence.
Canada doesn't have reciprocal programs with some countries, meaning depending on where you come from you may have to go through tests no matter how long you've been behind the wheel.
TFC will also work with the embassy in question to try to cut red tape for the player. The club also has had go-to realtors to help find a roof for new players, be it a star like Insigne or a draft pick.
Former German international Torsten Frings lived in a condo at Maple Leaf Square, across the street from Scotiabank Arena, during his time in Toronto. Other players choose homes in quiet neighbourhoods where they often can blend in and live a quiet life compared to the fishbowl they experienced in Europe or elsewhere.
Born in Naples, Insigne began his pro career with Napoli in 2009 and made his Serie A debut at the age of 19 in January 2010. After loan spells with Cavese (Serie C), Foggia (Serie C) and Pescara (Serie B), he returned to Napoli.
He received his first call-up to represent Italy in September 2012. His cap count now stands at 54, with his last appearance in the 1-0 loss to North Macedonia in March that knocked Italy out of World Cup contention.
Toronto has already unearthed an attacking gem this season in Spanish newcomer Jesus Jimenez, who went into weekend play tied for second in league scoring with seven goals. Manning believes Insigne will make Jimenez even more dangerous.
"(Jesus) has had a really good run and I think teams are now focusing on him … Lorenzo's going to open up a lot of space for a lot of other players on the team, but Jesus for sure," said Manning.
Bob Bradley, who favours a 4-3-3 but is flexible in formation, has been thinking ahead for some time now on how to get the most out of his strike force.
Like Insigne, Jimenez has worked on the left flank during his time in Poland with Gornik Zabzre. Bradley sees the two playing off each other — a factor that played in Toronto's decision to sign Jimenez in February, a month after landing Insigne.
"We felt that his intelligence as an attacker would fit with the team … and then there was a thought that some of the things that Jesus likes to do — at times he likes to drift left — that those things would fit also with Insigne," said Bradley.
Like other Toronto players, defender Shane O'Neill is looking forward to Insigne's arrival. But he says there are more immediate concerns.
"Haven't really thought too much about it," said O'Neill. "I think everyone's just focused on the now because at the end of the day, regardless of who is coming in during the summer, you've got to build a foundation. And then hopefully you can take that foundation to the next level.
"But we need to build a foundation here first and make sure that we're going in a good way when he gets here."
Insigne was feted by home fans before Napoli's final home game of the season, a 3-0 win over Genoa last Sunday that saw Insigne score from the penalty spot. His teammates lined up in a guard of honour as Insigne walked out onto the pitch with his sons at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona and was presented with commemorative gifts.
The game against Genoa, the 336th of his Serie A career, saw Insigne exit in the 88th minute — allowing the crowd of 50,871 to reward him with one last ovation. He has 96 league goals for his hometown club, 11 of which came this season
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 21, 2022.
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