Giorgio Chinaglia was one of the stars of the 1970s-era NASL. (Andy Mean/Icon SMI)
Now we know: Giorgio Chinaglia, the larger-than-life forward for the New York Cosmos and Lazio, is larger than death as well. Chinaglia was 65 when he died of a heart attack on April 1, 2012, in Naples, Fla., and he was laid to rest there soon afterward. But there was some internal family debate over the circumstances of his funeral. Chinaglia had always told his son, George, that he wanted to be buried in Italy, and on Monday at 3 p.m. local time there will be a funeral service at the Cristo Re basilica in Rome.
Chinaglia will be buried for the final time in the family plot of his beloved old Lazio coach, Tommaso Maestrelli.
“I was in touch with Maestrelli’s son, and they’re very excited about it,” says George Chinaglia, who will be part of the ceremony in Rome on Monday. “Maestrelli was like a second father to my dad. If you talked to my mom, she’d tell you she’d get mad because he spent all of his waking hours over at [Maestrelli’s] house discussing the game, strategy and everything else. They were very close.”
With Chinaglia as the star player and Maestrelli as the mastermind manager, Lazio won its first-ever Serie A title in 1973-74. Maestrelli died of cancer just two years later, at age 54, and that same year, 1976, Chinaglia left to join the Cosmos in his prime. He was a force of nature in New York, winning four league titles and retiring in 1983 with an NASL-record 243 goals.
But Lazio and Italy never forgot Chinaglia either. In 2000, he was named Lazio’s greatest-ever player, and after his passing the fans at Lazio honored him in epic style.
“I went over there for the one-year anniversary [of his death] this past April, and it was a very powerful thing,” says George. “He was just completely, overwhelmingly revered by so many people in that country. I mean, he was like a superhero to them. I can’t tell you how many people, men and women, have named their children after my dad just because of how much they loved him.”
As of Monday they’ll be even closer to him. The great one, Giorgio Chinaglia, is returning to his homeland one final time.