Giorgio Chinaglia was one of those headstrong stars who came to New York in athletic middle age and could handle the pressure, much of it self-induced.
Think Reggie Jackson, Keith Hernandez, Mark Messier, Earl (the Pearl) Monroe.
Giorgio had the chutzpah to stick his 6-foot-1 frame as close to the goal as he could, and defied anybody – keepers, defenders, referees or, for that matter, his own coaches – to dislodge him.
Playing striker for the New York Cosmos from 1976 through 1983, he had the coraggio – translated more as gall or impudence than mere courage – to declare himself responsible for scoring goals. Anything else was somebody else’s job.
Just put the ball near the No. 9 on his jersey, and he would do the job.
He will always be the career leader in scoring for the North American Soccer League, inasmuch as the league is defunct.
Giorgio died at home in Florida on Sunday, at 65, of a heart attack. A friend said he had distress earlier in the week but checked himself out of the hospital. That would be Giorgio. Why should he regard doctors be any differently than he did Hennes Weisweiler, his German coach with the Cosmos, whom he openly defied.
“My job is to score goals,'' Chinaglia told me in 1981. “Other players may play both ends of the field, but they don't score as many goals. That is what the game is all about.” And he meant it.
Giorgio was the first world-level player I got to know when I was discovering soccer in 1980. He had a vaguely sinister presence even on his own team because he had the ear of ownership, and more or less flaunted it.
I saw him score two in a 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Fury in 1980 – first on a header, and then with a shot out of the pivot with 18 minutes remaining. He faked to his left as if to use his power foot, his right, but then he swerved to his right to score at close range with his left foot.
“Usually, he will set up for his right foot,'' keeper Bob Rigby of the Fury said about the second goal. “But you know Giorgio, he is an instinctive player. The great ones don't think. They just do it. He is more dangerous with his back to me because I can't tell what he will do. He has an uncanny sense for what is right. ''
Giorgio just didn’t care what people thought. He was born in Tuscany, in Carrara, known for its marble, and in Italy was regarded as something of a straniero, an outsider, because his family had run a restaurant in Wales and he had come up through the pro club in Swansea.
He later was a star for Lazio -- by now the tifosi called him Long John, because he was tall, and spoke English. He played for the underperforming national team in 1974, and when he moved to the Cosmos he was criticized by Italian fans for defecting. That was Giorgio. He went his own way.
The Cosmos were made for him, the way New York was waiting for Reggie and Hernandez and Messier and Earl the Pearl.
Later he did television in Italy and helped run Lazio and sometimes gave striker-like feints that he might be in the mix of leadership if the Cosmos ever truly materialized again. Instead his heart gave out. But never his gall.
PS: Some serious soccer buffs might see this. Your own memories/tributes/critiques of Giorgio would be welcome right here:
4/2/2012 01:03:43 am
I only really know about Giorgio what I saw in the ESPN film about the Cosmos. GV, you make him a little more human.
4/2/2012 02:25:05 am
Thanks for the memories. i was a suburban NYC kid in the '70's who discovered soccer because of the Cosmos. It was both a compliment and criticism to call it (scoring a goal) a "Chinaglia." Both a poacher and ridiculously dangerous threat, he simply had a nose for the goal that was unmatched. What an ego, what a presence, what a machine. He electrified every stadium. RIP.
Peter A Ambrose Jr
4/2/2012 05:40:44 am
Your article is much appreciated.As a suburban CT kid outside of NY in the early 70's and the son of Italian immigrants, Georgio was a favorite of my Dad.He would share stories about how back in "the old country" ,Georgio was worshiped by Lazio fans( like a Mickey Mantle), but was despised by Roma fans( Like a Wilt Chamberlin)My dad would comment how the Cosmos had players from all over the world, but it was Georgio who would score the big goals. Given he had 7 goals in one playoff game, I'd say he also scored the little goals as well. I will miss listening to him on the morning drive on Sirius Radio . His favorite on air phrase was"No question about it".I think he was really talking about his legacy.
4/2/2012 12:10:20 pm
George: I think you summed him up so well. So many times my friends and I would make the drive from Springfield, Mass. to the Meadowlands to see the Cosmos and of course, the No.9. I started wearing Pony soccer boots because of him. I studied his runs off the ball as well as his "one-touch" shooting ability in the box. We would debate his greatness, because as the saying went, "anyone could score with all of those superstars setting you up", but I knew that wasn't true. He was perfect for New York, the Cosmos, and one other thing; he was perfect for that stadium turf. He knew how to handle the quick hard ball bounces and get a shot off quickly. So Jozy Altidore, take a cue, go back in time and take a look at "soccer's super scorer." You might learn a thing or two. Thank you George. RIP No.9
4/2/2012 03:00:06 pm
Thanks to all of you for the comments. If you had a chance to see that video, it's clear that Giorgio could move quite well in the final 25 meters - but the defenses seem porous. Is it possible defenses have become tighter in the last 30 years? I know it's a highlight film, but my quick reaction is, you You don't see strikers making angled romps like that. Optical illusion or reality? GV
4/3/2012 02:40:08 am
You have to take into consideration the fact that the NASL had the 35 yard offsides rule (except for a brief period early in the 1982 season when FIFA threatened to declare the league unsanctioned. Yes he scored lots of goals and yes he dominated the NASL, but the quality of the football, especially that of most of the Cosmos' opponents was meager.
4/3/2012 03:08:12 am
Not sure which stands out more, the porous defences or the Series A stands filled to the rafters.
4/3/2012 02:35:38 am
George, I think you were too kind to Giorgio. He meddled with the Cosmos front office, getting a job for his man servant, Pepe Pinton. Chinaglia had coaches fired and was constantly criticizing other teammates, including Pele and Franz Beckinbauer. Could you imagine Horace Grant or Bill Cartwright of those dynasty Chicago Bulls teams complaining that Michael Jordan and Scotty Pippen never passed them the ball?
4/3/2012 03:24:56 am
Thanks to all, including Sig. Mule.
4/3/2012 03:54:32 am
Porous defenses ? ! ? What are talking about ? The Chinaglia tribute video shows only highlights from his Lazio/Serie A days. No league of import has ever been more MISERLY. Goals per game, then, ranged from 1.7 to 1.9 --the lowest of any major league ever (most euro leagues now average 2.5 to 2.7). Only the magic of editing (and Giorgione !) made the defenders look like falling ten-pins. What a brute force of nature. RIP
4/3/2012 07:47:44 am
Thank you so much, George. What a nice farewell to the most entertaining European football player ever. He was FUN!
4/3/2012 07:55:46 am
Alex....You got it right. Chinaglia was a great scorer in Italy. He was well established as one of the best in the game. And he did it against some of the best defenses in world football. But I do think it's fair to take his NASL goal scoring record with a grain of reality. Those goal numbers were gaudy because most of the opponents were not up to the same standard as the Cosmos. Which is putting it kindly......For me, Giorgio Chinaglia will always be the face of the NY Cosmos and the North American Soccer League. And all the good and bad that implies.
4/3/2012 08:26:51 am
4/3/2012 10:10:17 am
I love all sports deply -- except soccer. I can watch them all and/or talk comfortably them all, not just the North American Big Four, but NASCAR, tennis, golf, winter sports, figure skating .. but not soccer. I've just never connected with it.
4/3/2012 10:17:21 am
*And deeply, for that matter.
4/3/2012 12:07:10 pm
As someone who is too young to have witnessed Chinaglia first hand, but old enough to resent the failure the Cosmos ultimately represent, my feelings are mixed.
4/3/2012 02:29:05 pm
George you are best and thanks for the memories. As a season ticket holder in the Cosmos' Meadowlands era, i saw the man a few times and like all New Yorkers experienced the Giorgio years While not my favorite - i reserve favorites for Franz and Carlos - Giorgio was a bitter - sweet trip. A love -hate relationship it was because he was so good and such a disruptiven force and unfortunately in many instances a negative force. I can still see him with his back to the goal gesturing to a midfield with his arms spread - give the ball and i will score - a la Rick Barry from the same era and another sport. And if i may add - if you are out there Jim Trecker, how about hearing from you? and so God Bless you Giorgio and RIP.
4/4/2012 04:18:55 am
Giorgio might have been the most unforgettable Cosmos player ever. Pele the most celebrated, Franz the most admired, Bogie the most baffling! One way or another, Giorgio put a huge stamp on the NY sports market and on the early days of big-time soccer. It was a time of big personalities, and Giorgio's---all sides of it---was big. I knew him for 35 years and experienced him up close and personal Unforgettable, yes.
4/4/2012 04:45:09 am
No arguments about Jim Trecker's comments above. He was there, and knows. However, I would add Carlos Alberto as the coolest Cosmo. I recalled his farewell in a post a while ago:
4/5/2012 02:09:36 pm
Thxs Jim, well done. (fascinating it is that you read the request)
4/6/2012 11:50:19 am
Great to hear from Jim Trecker who was in as good a position as anyone in the USA to know and judge Chinaglia's impact. Giorgio was always joy to photograph in action and always interesting to talk to privately. I enjoyed knowing him and seeing him from time to time. I have to wonder what he would command on today's international transfer market. If somebody like Andy Carroll went for 35 million pounds from Newcastle to Liverpool I have to think Chinaglia in his prime would command a lot more than that and would end up at an even bigger club. Of course in 1976 the Cosmos were that bigger club.
4/4/2012 08:04:09 am
I wonder if anyone can add a Chinaglia tribute video exclusively from his Cosmos Days? In addition, videos of Chinaglia talking to the press would help flesh out his legacy.
4/7/2012 09:32:50 am
Thanks to all. Many people know John McDermott (comment above) as one of the great photographers of soccer, and anything else.
4/19/2012 04:06:45 am
I've come to embrace soccer rather late in life but your description of Giorgio's placement to his opponents goal reminds me a lot of Phil Esposito and the way he scored for the Boston Bruins.
8/26/2012 07:51:40 am
2/2/2013 08:42:19 pm
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From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.