Giorgio Chinaglia’s story is exactly the kind of tale that made us here at Lost Boyos want to write this blog. In the week that has passed since the sad news of his death, we’ve heard plenty of anecdotes involving money, girls, Chivas Regal, and no shortage of goals. In our second Los Boyos feature- looking at foreigners to have played west of Offa’s Dyke- we pay our own tribute to possibly the most famous foreigner to have played football, albeit briefly, in Wales.
“Had the privilege of knowing and working with Giorgio Chinaglia. Several lifetimes packed into one extraordinary man.”
Gabriele Marcotti (@Marcotti, April 2 2012)
“I am Chinaglia. If I shoot from some place, it’s because Chinaglia can score from that place.”
Giorgio Chinaglia, as told by David Hirshey
Born in Carrara, northern Italy in 1947, it was at age nine that Giorgio’s father Mario uprooted the Chinaglia family to South Wales in search of work in the steel industry, although he would eventually open his own restaurant. Growing up in South Wales’ rugby heartland, Giorgio shunned the oval-ball game of his adopted homeland for the round-ball so beloved in his native Italy – apparently for fear of getting cauliflower ears.
It was to prove a excellent choice. Chinaglia represented Cardiff Schools and after scoring a hat-trick against Wrexham schools was offered a contract by (old) Division Two Swansea Town in 1962.
In 1964, after spending his time in the Swans’ reserve and Welsh League sides, Chinaglia was given a first team opportunity in a League Cup tie with Rotherham United that ended 2-2. That same season, Chinaglia made his league debut in 0-0 draw with Portsmouth. Swansea were eventually relegated to Division Three.
Relegation brought about a change of manager for the Swans with Glyn Davies replacing Trevor Morris. The new manager started Chinaglia in the side’s second game of the season against Bournemouth. Swansea lost the game 2-1, but Chinaglia scored his one and only goal for the Swans.
Davies, however, soon lost faith and despite another difficult season Chinaglia’s role would again be a limited one. His sixth and final Swansea appearance was in a 6-1 defeat at the Vetch that saw the team sink to 24th and last place.
Swansea lost just four of their 13 league games from New Year’s Day to the end of March to move away from the relegation places, and ended the season going unbeaten in their final five matches to finish in a safe 17th-place. Chinaglia was released that summer, the decision perhaps owing more to his attitude than his ability, and the rest is history.
From Swansea, he returned to Italy to complete his military service and played in the Italian lower leagues with Marrese and Internapoli. His big break came with a move to Lazio in 1969. Chinaglia scored 21 times in his first two Serie A seasons, but Lazio were relegated in 1971 to Serie B.
Chinaglia was Serie B top-scorer as Lazio were promoted back to Serie A at the first attempt. In the following four seasons, Chinaglia scored 9, 24, 14, and 8 goals in Serie A – quite an achievement in those defensive-minded days of catenaccio. The 24 goals scored in 1974 saw him finish as the league’s top-scorer and were a major factor in Lazio ending that season as Serie A Champions for the first time in their history.
As well as domestic honours, Chinaglia won 14 international caps for Italy during his Lazio days. He made his debut as a substitute against Bulgaria in 1972, scoring the equalising goal and then scored three more in his first two starts against Yugoslavia and Luxembourg. He didn’t score again for his country and, despite playing in two of Italy’s three games in the 1974 World Cup, British fans remember his international career best for his part in Fabio Capello’s winning goal in a famous Wembley win.
It was in 1976 that Chinaglia, at the peak of his career and rumoured to be Serie A’s top earner, made the unlikely decision to move to the US and sign for New York Cosmos. It was his time in New York, and more specifically through the excellent book and documentary Once in a Lifetime, that brought Chinaglia to the attention of the Lost Boyos. In the book and film, Chinaglia is painted as the villain to Pele’s hero – the Alain Prost to Ayrton Senna to contextualise using another great sports documentary of recent times.
Unlike Prost, though, there is something about the charismatic Chinaglia that draws our interest. We (it wasn’t just us, right?) are happy when Chinaglia is still succeeding years after Pele has retired and is still seemingly unaffected by the opinions of fans, players, or anyone that is not himself. The book and film highlight wonderfully how the rivalry between the famous front pair played out. Chinaglia was not, of course, realistically in Pele’s class, although he was loathe to admit it himself.
Chinaglia remained professional though and even headed the winning goal in Soccer Bowl ’77, Pele’s last ever professional game, to seal his first NASL triumph and ensure the great Brazilian’s career ended in glory. Chinaglia won four NASL championships in all, was top-scorer on five separate occasions, and at the league’s closure in 1984 was the league’s highest ever scorer. He was voted the league’s Most Valuable Player in 1981.
His post-playing career saw him return to Lazio as president for a controversial and unsuccessful two-year period. He eventually returned to the US, where he now had citizenship, and worked successfully in the media and later worked again with the Cosmos. He remained in the US until his death in Florida last week.
In 2000, Chinaglia was admitted into the US Soccer Hall of Fame. His few brief appearances with Swansea are unlikely to be enough to secure a place in the Welsh equivalent. However, his time in Wales and his achievements after leaving Swansea mean we are more than happy to celebrate his life here.
For a much more detailed insight into Giorgio Chinaglia’s time with Swansea, read these two articles from Swansea City magazine, The Jack, from 2011 and from last week’s Western Mail, both by Mario Risoli, author of Arrivederci Swansea. For more on his time with New York Cosmos, see the link to David Hirshey’s article at the top of the piece, or this article from the New York Times.