National Writer: Charles Boehm

"Worldwide superstar": Lorenzo Insigne arrives at Toronto FC as Italian centerpiece 

Toronto FC are accustomed to big-ticket signings, from Torsten Frings to the “bloody big deal” of Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe to Sebastian Giovinco’s head-turning – and glory-heralding – arrival.

Club president Bill Manning contends that the Reds’ capture of Lorenzo Insigne, the stylish Italian creator who finally arrived in The 6 over the weekend after signing a Designated Player pre-contract with TFC in January through June 2026, reaches another level entirely.

“The minute we signed Lorenzo, our profile was raised. We’re seeing interest in our club from abroad, in some ways like we've never seen it before,” Manning said at the Monday afternoon press conference that officially introduced Insigne to Toronto media. “And that's both with agents, it’s with players, it’s with other clubs, it’s with media. This is a player who was a European champion less than a year ago, a big player in Italy, has played many Champions League games.

“We've had a number of very good players sign with this club, but no one of his magnitude.”

As Manning later noted, the COVID-19 pandemic hit TFC hard, perhaps harder than anyone in MLS, requiring players and staff to spend long stretches in the United States, away from loved ones and familiar routines. It destabilized a championship contender that had reached three of the previous four MLS Cup finals, playing a central role in the backsliding that prompted a 2022 reset under new head coach and sporting director Bob Bradley, who joined after charting LAFC's first four MLS seasons.

With Insigne, who multiple reports say will not only command the highest salary in MLS history but smash the previous record by double or thereabouts, Toronto are not only luxuriously reinforcing their attack. They are driving home the point that they don’t merely rebuild; they reload, in a fashion that few in MLS can match.

“We have a lot of ambition at our club, and we're really looking over these next four, five years for Lorenzo to be a foundational piece,” said Manning, who went on to strongly hint that other head-turning acquisitions are in the works this summer. “And we’ll make sure that we put good players around him and I think we have the right coach that – the best is in front of us right now.”

The Reds’ new superstar looked every bit the part on Monday, stepping in front of the cameras sporting a fresh cut, gleaming jewelry and a dapper white blazer bearing his initials. An icon at SSC Napoli who hasn’t played for any other club save a few loan spells at the start of his first-team career over a decade ago, Insigne is leaving behind almost everything he and his family know to embrace this new North American adventure.

He sounds ready to be the face of the franchise.

“It's been very difficult to leave Napoli, the city and the team, but it's a choice that I had to make. And it's been a life choice for me and also for the future of my kids,” said the 2020 European Championship winner, who will benefit from the Italian fluency TFC captain Michael Bradley picked up during his time in Serie A, via a translator.

“When I first met the president, he struck me as a really great person and the project that he explained to me about the team and the organization has struck me. So I made a decision not for the money but to find a new life for my family and my kids, and for their well-being. The project is certainly a challenge and I would like to be part of winning the championship.”

Though Insigne dismissed the suggestion that Giovinco’s TFC exploits influenced his decision, there are shades of the Atomic Ant at play, from their similarly diminutive frames to their quicksilver attacking qualities to the potential to inspire the region’s large population of expatriate and hyphenated Italians.

“If you live in Toronto, you know there’s a very large Italian-Canadian community here. And when Italy won the Euros, there was a big impact in this town,” said Manning, explaining the origins of Insigne’s recruitment. “I saw that, I recognized it; you could feel the pulse. And I started dreaming, just started thinking about what do we need to do to right the ship and really put together another run to win, to win championships.”

As it turns out, the agent who brought Giovinco to Canada was also involved in Insigne’s move.

“I felt we needed a foundational piece, literally a worldwide superstar, and I felt we needed a world-class coach,” continued Manning. “Lorenzo was at the top of my list, and I think the media had some fun with it, but I went to see what players were coming out of contract, and Lorenzo was on the list. I made a phone call to an old friend, Andrea D'Amico, and he called me back about an hour later. He called Vincenzo [Pisacane], his agent, and Andrea told me it's destiny. Things started to snowball.”

Insigne’s learning curve will be steep. He joins a side treading water in 11th place in the MLS Eastern Conference standings and 23rd of 28 in the overall table, with Bradley having blooded a host of young academy products in a trying first few months in charge. The Reds are not too far off the pace, but there’s work to do.

“I played for 10 years with Napoli and with the Italian national team, I won the Euro cup, so I don’t have any problem with being under pressure,” said Insigne, 31, with a hint of defiance when asked about the great expectations awaiting him. “And I’d rather have my actions speak for me on the pitch. So I can’t wait to practice and be there for the team.”

Bradley didn’t delve too deeply into the question of how best to deploy TFC’s new jewel, though he sounds confident that the first six months of his Reds tenure have laid a decent foundation upon which to build the kind of powerhouse Torontonians are accustomed to.

“He brings personality to every team that he’s on,” Bradley said of Insigne. “He’s a player that you have to get on the ball, you have to make sure that he gets the ball in good positions, with options to look forward, to make passes, to create chances, and that you can also get him close enough to goal to take advantage of his ability to finish, he’s capable of scoring goals as well.

“So we’ll find a good balance. We've worked hard all year to develop football ideas and having him in the middle of it all will be so important to the way we continue to grow.”

Insigne will be eligible to debut July 9 when Toronto host the San Jose Earthquakes (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US; TSN in Canada), two days after the MLS Secondary Transfer Window opens. The Reds play twice beforehand, and now eagerly await his integration after captaining Napoli to a third-place finish in Serie A's 2021-22 campaign.