Antonio Conte made history with his progressive nature at Juventus, and on Saturday he did the same with the Azzurri. For the first time ever, two players based in North America's Major League Soccer were called up to represent Italy during European qualifiers against Malta and Bulgaria.
Conte may not have fully realized the extent of power and influence he wielded regarding the future of MLS, but the tactician made an important statement when he selected both Sebastian Giovinco and Andrea Pirlo.
It was the first time since opting to make the move across the pond that Giovinco or Pirlo were called up by Conte. The selections garnered international headlines, with football fans on this side of the Atlantic aware of the significance of Conte's decision. They saw the implications of Jermain Defoe not being called up to represent England in last year's World Cup and the fallout that occurred as a result.
“I am very happy. Given my performance I kind of expected the call," Giovinco said through a video released by Toronto FC. "It means that I have worked well up to now. But the hardest thing is to remain in the squad and I hope to keep playing this way.”
It was particularly important for the Atomic Ant to be called up, with little doubt as to what Pirlo brings to the table. The maestro is in the twilight of his career and has already accomplished everything for club and country that one dreams about, but the same could not be said of the younger Giovinco.
Through 25 matches in MLS, Giovinco has 17 goals and 13 assists, which is already a single season record in both categories for TFC. The striker is having an MVP year in his inaugural MLS season, and for him not to be recognized by his country would have been devastating for the club and the league.
For a player to put up the numbers that Giovinco has since arriving in Toronto, and still be ignored by his national team would have sent a strong message about the requirement to remain in Europe.
At 28 years old, the diminutive striker opted to take the chance and ply his trade in a foreign land, with a club that isn't even a decade old yet. It’s a decision that had him ridiculed across the peninsula.
“Most of them were saying, ‘You’re afraid to challenge yourself. It’s simple to go into an easier league. That’s why you’ve chosen Toronto,’” Giovinco told the Globe and Mail in a recent interview.
However, Giovinco might be laughing the loudest at the moment - even after the injury he suffered in Toronto FC's match against Montreal on Saturday. He won't be available for the Azzurri because of that adductor problem, but he has managed to become the highest paid Italian player on the planet, a hero in a city of millions, and was still able to earn the call to represent his country.
Many were quick to write off Giovinco and even Pirlo when they declared they'd be playing in MLS, but with the added exposure of the league in Europe because of new television contracts, and bigger names coming over, the league is becoming increasingly relevant every season. Conte's calls for both Giovinco and Pirlo may have been the league's biggest endorsement yet.
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