Toronto FC have their guy.

The 2017 MLS Cup champions announced a historic move on Saturday, landing Italy national team star Lorenzo Insigne as a Designated Player. Insigne, who turns 31 in June, will officially join Toronto on July 1 via a four-year deal after his time at Serie A side Napoli concludes.

Speaking with media on Saturday, TFC president Bill Manning stressed how the forward is the centerpiece behind a long-term vision of hyper-charging the club commercially and competitively as the 2026 FIFA World Cup nears, an event that’s co-hosted by three Concacaf nations: Mexico, the United States and, of course, Canada.

“Lorenzo Insigne is going to be a player that people want to come see,” Manning said. “I'm sure BMO Field will be packed and we will give them a world-class player in Lorenzo and maybe others as we rebuild this team. We think the World Cup here in Toronto in 2026, there's going to be a transformational moment for this sport in this country and we want to be at the forefront.”

Insigne is Toronto's "anchor"

This outlook comes after a 2021 season where Toronto struggled, finishing second-from-bottom in the Eastern Conference standings and parting ways with head coach Chris Armas after just 11 league games. Javier Perez served as a caretaker manager of sorts, then the Reds made waves in late November when landing Bob Bradley as head coach and sporting director after he departed LAFC.

Bradley was the first piece to the puzzle, Manning said, then comes Insigne’s arrival after Napoli’s season ends in May. They’ll also keep pursuing additional moves with the roster amid a transformation.

“We have a number of irons in the fire, for lack of better words,” Manning said, “and we think over these next few weeks there will be a number of other transactions such that leading up to opening day you're going to have quite a different complexion of this team compared to what it was a year ago.

“It may take until the summer window for some players to join us, but we're looking at this actually long-term and how we want to position our club certainly with Lorenzo as an anchor, as we go forward. Bob at the helm now has a real vision for how we're going to play football and what he'd like to see.”

Insigne arrives with a hugely impressive pedigree, having scored 114 goals and contributed 95 assists 416 appearances for Napoli. While playing for his boyhood club, which he captains, Insigne has won two Coppa Italias and a Super Cup. Annually, they’re a Champions League and Scudetto challenger.

Internationally, he played a pivotal role as Italy won last summer’s European Championship. And with 10 goals across 53 caps, he’s a centerpiece for head coach Robert Mancini’s team as they chase a Qatar 2022 World Cup spot.

Impact on MLS

That résumé rivals most of the world’s elite attackers, and Manning believes this signing points toward what’s to come across Major League Soccer. There’s already incredible momentum ranging from young talents to entrenched international-level stars, though further levels exist across the global soccer landscape.

“Our league has grown to a point where a player like Lorenzo, a world-class player in the prime of his career, is willing to come here and to play the next four seasons and potentially longer,” Manning said. “I do think other teams will take notice and I think that's where our league is going to go.

“You've seen teams in our league purchase players for 10, 15, up to 20 million dollars. You've seen world-class players come here maybe a bit past their prime. I think now you're going to start seeing players coming in their prime, the resources in this league are unparalleled across the world in terms of our ownership. For me, it was the next step.”

As for convincing Insigne to choose Toronto, Manning pointed to the Italian community’s vibrancy in their city. Also, Toronto is well-regarded worldwide and offers a quality of life that proves enticing for global stars.

This commercial and sporting angle has proof of concept, too, stemming back to when Sebastian Giovinco arrived in 2015 from Juventus. Giovinco won the league’s MVP award that year and was a centerpiece of collective and individual success under former head coach Greg Vanney, who now leads the LA Galaxy.

These moves aren’t cheap, though, with Insigne reportedly receiving $15 million in salary (average pre-tax) per season. It’s a significant investment that ties into Toronto’s long-term vision, a move that Manning believes shows an ability to “swing for the fences” and recapture buzz in the city.

Insigne was their No. 1 target in board meetings when laying out this plan, and talks progressed over weeks and months via intermediaries and his camp.

“Having a world-class player, we needed to make a financial commitment as part of a bigger piece of the puzzle on what we felt was going to be exciting for our fans, exciting for this community and have a commercial factor such that we can build our business around,” Manning said.

“We're very comfortable with the level of commitment we've made to Lorenzo and we're very comfortable with our ability to take the commercial value out of what he's going to bring to our team and continue to grow our club. It is part of an overall budget that we have made these types of commitments in the past when you pull them all together.”

What's next?

Manning also assured Toronto will be roster compliant when Insigne joins in July, with their three Designated Player spots currently held by midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo, winger Yeferson Soteldo and forward Jozy Altidore. The latter two have been linked with outgoing moves, and Manning said time is on their side as transactions formalize as the 2022 MLS season nears.

Amid each layer, a message emerges: Toronto are intent on reclaiming their place in the MLS pecking order. Insigne, arriving on a free transfer, will pave their next chapter.

“Lorenzo is a player that still wants to play at a very high level, and I think our ambition as a North American club appealed to him in this journey of his coming overseas, that we are a club that still takes its football very seriously,” Manning said. “We will surround him with players that not only will he make better, but also will help form a championship club.”