Here comes Chinaglia, steaming across the penalty area in front of the goal as stately and tall as an Italian Line cruise ship. The Cosmos are playing San Diego in their first game of the season. Giorgio Chinaglia (pronounced Kee-NAL-ya) is shadowed by a pair of Sockers' defenders. Behind him the rest of the star-studded Cosmos—Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto, Vladislav Bogicevic, Marinho and Dennis Tueart—are patiently working the ball toward the San Diego goal. Chinaglia doesn't look back, because at this point in the game the people back there have only one purpose—to put the ball on his unerring right toe. Chinaglia will do the rest.
He is the Hank Aaron and Phil Esposito of American soccer—even the Babe Ruth, if you listen to Chinaglia—the only top European soccer player to leave home at the very pinnacle of his career to come to the U.S. to play. Chinaglia was the North American Soccer League scoring champion in 1976 with 19 goals in as many games, and again last year when he broke the decade-old 30-goal record, getting 34 in 30 games. Including regular league games, playoffs and world-tour exhibitions, Chinaglia scored 60 goals in 59 games last year, 12 of them game winners. In eight games this season, he has nine goals, making him the league's alltime scoring leader among active players with 77 goals and 183 points.
Suddenly the lazy-looking Bogicevic pushes a neat pass between a pair of San Diego defenders, and the ball bumps across the grass to Chinaglia's right foot. Somehow the double coverage has disappeared, a tribute to Chinaglia's cunning, and he gathers in the ball alone, pounding toward the end line, 10 yards to the left of Socker Goalkeeper Alan Mayer.
The goal madness is on him. His features are contorted with furious concentration. His blue eyes are as cold as the marble from Carrara, his hometown in Italy. As he lumbers along, one can see that he doesn't have the classic configuration of the soccer player—all lungs and legs—but is built more like a tight end—wide shoulders with a bullish hunch and a narrow waist. His curly brown locks lie tight to the scalp. Gone is the flowing hair; the essence of Chinaglia's world is style, and the hirsute rock-star style is passè. Chinaglia's nose is long and aqualine, a gunsight for regarding inferior breeds of men, such as keepers, fans, coaches and team managers. His teeth are even and white. He is a handsome man in repose, but now he is all rage.
May 20, 1979
Under the lights, 16,393 San Diego fans are on their feet, howling. Mayer rushes out from his net, arms spread, knees bent, to cut down Chinaglia's angle. Chinaglia's eyes are on the ball. His personal radar locates the goal for him. He has dribbled the ball to the end line, trying to get off a shot around Mayer. It's impossible, one thinks. From where he is there can't be more than the width of a ball showing between the uprights.
A Socker defender has rushed into the goalmouth behind Mayer, standard procedure. The players are expecting Chinaglia to realize he is beaten and to chip the ball over Mayer's head to a teammate waiting in front of the net. Mayer meanwhile is brave and businesslike. He knows that only a brash rookie, or Giorgio Chinaglia, would try a shot under the circumstances.
From 1969 to 1975 Chinaglia ruled Italian soccer on the field and sometimes off it. Millions read of his doings, opinions and beliefs daily in Italy's five soccer tabloids. His fan club boasted tens of thousands of believers, who held pitched battles with nonbelievers in the streets. When he finally left Italy to come to the Cosmos, he had to be smuggled out of the country for fear that his departure would cause rioting in Rome. He scored 98 goals in 209 games for Lazio, an enormous achievement in a league in which 1-0 is a typical score.
On this night in San Diego, Chinaglia again shows why he is a legend. When his big right foot begins its swing, his toe passes out of bounds over the end line and comes back in to connect with a slam that can blast the ball as fast as 70 mph. The shot comes in low and so swiftly that, although Mayer is already diving sideways, it grazes his shirt and crashes, true and straight, into the netting on the opposite side of the cage.
Hysteria explodes in San Diego Stadium. Chinaglia's mask of rage dissolves, his eyes roll heavenward. God, for Chinaglia, is not so much a supreme deity as a business partner who deserves a pat on the back for a job well done. It is in moments like this that Chinaglia savors the release of the tensions and frustrations that have been building in him over the last three seasons. They flow out of him almost visibly.
Chinaglia claims that he is able to hear the snick of the ball sliding along the nylon weave netting of the goal, to see the trademark revolve as the ball goes over the white line. He cherishes these details. And Chinaglia is counting. He is an admirer of baseball, because it has so many statistics. He rehearses his own like an actor learning lines. First goal of the 1979 NASL season; 332nd goal lifetime; 149th goal with the Cosmos.
And then he raises his arms, clenching his fists and smiling hugely, running full tilt down the field past the San Diego fans toward his teammates trotting up to congratulate him. He whispers his own name, "Kee-NAL-ya."
Kee-NAL-ya. If I don't believe in my own powers, who will? Kee-NAL-ya. If I am controversial, so what? Kee-NAL-ya. I am a man again because I have snatched the goal from defeat. Kee-NAL-ya. I am a master, a legend, and don't you forget it.
It is like Ali's chant, "I am the greatest," a reaffirmation of the man, the forging of the ego in bronze. Kee-NAL-ya.
On the morning before that game, Chinaglia, normally a seething mass of butterflies on game day, is curiously relaxed, self-satisfied. He wears a jacket of the thinnest and most expensive leather, handmade loafers and custom-tailored jeans. He walks to the poolside of the Islandia Hyatt House as if challenging the air, ready to battle it if it gives the slightest hint of resistance. And he has reason for satisfaction.
Chinaglia is a multimillionaire who began investing in New Jersey real estate and condominium construction back in 1972 when he first visited America on a playing tour. He resides in a 12-bed-room mansion in Englewood, N.J., flanked by a swimming pool, a private tennis court and enough Detroit iron to open a dealership. He endorses shoes, soccer balls and Italian food. He has an office on the 19th floor of the Warner Communications building in Manhattan, where the entertainment-oriented company that owns the Cosmos has its headquarters. From there he deals, wheels and stirs up trouble. He vacations in Acapulco with Steve Ross, the Warner board chairman and his good friend, or he may be found at Cosmos President Amhet Ertegun's place in Aruba, kicking the ball around on the beach with the likes of Mick Jagger. When he was offered $840,000 for three years with the Cosmos, he took it. He has been instrumental in getting a coach fired, a club president banished and a host of players traded. He has slugged one teammate and publicly derided others, including Pelè and Beckenbauer. He is fond of 21-year-old Scotch and limousines and suites when he travels—after all, Pelè had suites when the rest of the team was doubling up, so Chinaglia must have them, too.
In the Cosmos' Giants Stadium locker room, he wears a striped silk dressing gown. "Chinaglia does not wear a towel," he has said. He is, after all, Chinaglia. And yet behind the posturing and pronouncements, he is a likable man, a person of warmth and intelligence.
Now he sits by the pool, in the thin spring sunshine of Southern California, reading a magazine article about the finances of the pop-music business and smoking a cigarette. "Hey, listen to this, Bobby," he yells at Bobby Smith, an American defender and three-season Cosmos veteran. Smith is sunbathing while being interviewed by a local reporter. "Here's a guy who quit school in ninth grade and just made six million dollars in discos. Chee, boy, that's what I love about America. That's impossible in Italy." Chinaglia's voice is rasping and yet light, something on the order of Brando's in The Godfather.
"Well, gee, George, that's really great," says Smith in a mock snarl. "Look at me, I'm an American and I'm just trying to get $40,000 out of these turkeys. Give us American players a break, huh?"
Chinaglia rolls his eyes and holds his head as if he had suddenly developed a splitting migraine. "Oh, Bobby, Bobby, I've told you before, you must go in and ask for $400,000, not 40. That's just to get their attention. These people can't see trees, only forests."
The Cosmos are a more relaxed bunch this year, the fuses on the powder kegs of their egos seem a little longer. But Chinaglia still broods. "Forget last season," he says. "The fans couldn't care less what you did for them last season. Scoring champion? Don't make me laugh. Every season it's like starting all over with them. I've never felt so much pressure before a season. I don't think I've ever gotten the recognition I deserve. So I have a lot to prove."
In 1978 Chinaglia set himself the task of breaking the 30-goal record, which he did. This year he has other goals, but he won't say what they are. "Oh, my God! Can you imagine what people would do to me if I said what I've set for myself? I'd be crucified!"
"Hey, George," Smith yells, gesturing at the local reporter, "this guy wants to know if there's any unrest on the Cosmos this year."
Chinaglia jumps up and throws himself across Smith's reclining body, making as if to grind his cigarette out on Smith's chest. He looks craftily up at the reporter and says, "No. All lies."
Bogicevic, the haphazardly brilliant Yugoslavian midfielder, who assisted on 12 Chinaglia goals last year, says of his teammate, "People who put down George are simply jealous. The man is a great, great soccer player. They just can't take his wickedness. But that is George."
Dennis Tueart, the speedy English International winger who also assisted on 12 Chinaglia goals in 1978 and racked up 10 of his own, says, "Like any superstar who has a big ego, people can't wait to see him fail. They're asking for it. The same thing happens in England. Scoring leaders are egotistical people, and everybody waits for you to fail on the field so they can deride the kind of life you lead off of it. But George thrives on it. It is a challenge to him, like walking a tightrope."
"He's the only playing general manager in sports," whispers one ex-Cosmos front office man who, fearing the long arm of Chinaglia's wrath, doesn't want to be identified. "No, no one ever said anything in George's hearing that they didn't want to get back to 29 [the 29th floor of the Warner building is where the executive offices of Steve Ross are located]. Even other players don't tell him things they don't want the bosses to know."
Terry Garbett, the Cosmos' longtime English midfielder, puts his finger on the problem: "There's no player in the league who has the power to stir up trouble like George can. Boy, does he have it."
But Chinaglia is as tenacious a friend as he can be an enemy. In February, in Freeport, the Bahamas, Chinaglia arrived at customs with his old friend Alberto, the celebrated Brazilian sweeperback. Spring training was starting and Chinaglia was in a hurry. He proudly became an American citizen last August, so he breezed through immigration. But Alberto, whose English is minimal, was having trouble. Chinaglia homed in like a heat-seeking missile.
"What's the problem here?" he demanded, descending on the official behind the counter.
"This man is a Brazilian citizen, and he needs a visa to stay in the Bahamas for more than 30 days," replied the man stolidly. Alberto was suddenly uninterested in the argument. He had been through it all before around the world, and besides, George would handle it.
"Doesn't matter," said Chinaglia, with a wave of his hand. "He is a professional soccer player. He was in the World Cup. We send somebody over later to handle details, huh?"
The immigration man regarded him. "And who, exactly, are you?"
Chinaglia drew himself up to his full 6'1", glared down his gunsight nose as if he'd sighted something dead on the road, and roared, "I am Chinaglia!"
"Giorgio Chinaglia?" said the immigration man.
"Giorgio Chinaglia!" the man repeated. "Could I have your autograph?" Suddenly gracious, Chinaglia complied. Alberto's problem was taken care of later.
Chinaglia is a compulsive controller of situations. In taxis and limousines he's a nonstop backseat driver. He's the guy who orders dinner for everyone in Chinese restaurants. Recently, because of an injury to Cosmos Captain Werner Roth, Chinaglia has become interim captain, a position he relishes if for no other reason than that he can harangue his teammates to pay their incidental expenses when they check out of a hotel.
Chinaglia is as intense off the field as he is on it, where, as Eddie Firmani, the Cosmos coach, says of him, "If there were a dozen naked girls in the end zone George wouldn't see them." A Chinaglia shower, for instance, is not just a shower. It is perhaps the most refreshing shower in the history of the world. When he waits for a limousine, he really waits.
And when he plays, he plays. "George really cares about the game," says Tueart. "He's intense in a way that helps all of us. I mean, if it weren't for George, playing in America would just be a bloody lark, wouldn't it?"
One must be careful not to peg Chinaglia as a comic-opera Italian stereotype. He is an original. In Italy they coined a word from his name to describe his impact on that country's soccer—chinagliata. It means the unexpected, the unpredictable, the unorthodox. Chinaglia is a complex character, a driven man who is finally learning to mellow a bit after three furious seasons in the U.S. It isn't easy for him; it is a style he's developing. He used to speak of himself in the third person, as if he were royalty, "Chinaglia thinks," he would say, or "Chinaglia says." But that has been abandoned.
As one drives toward Chinaglia's New Jersey spread, the homes get bigger. On the roads are Ferraris, Mercedes, Cadillacs. Swinging into the driveway leading to Chinaglia's 22-room Mediterranean-style mansion, the visitor sees a sign—BEWARE OF THE DOG! It is typical Chinaglia. He doesn't own a dog.
Inside all is hushed and tasteful—thick beige carpeting, subdued colors, French antiques glinting dully with lemon oil.
Chinaglia is in his study, a book-lined room with dark paneling. He sits behind a desk that Napoleon might have coveted—gilded heads of screaming eagles protrude from the corners. He is on the phone with his business manager, Peppe Pinton, arguing over royalty checks from Spalding, for which Chinaglia endorses a signature line of soccer balls. "They're outselling the Pelè models," he says with a chuckle, his hand over the mouthpiece.
It is a long way from Carrara, where Chinaglia was born on Jan. 24, 1947. Chinaglia's ancestors could have quarried Carrara marble for Michelangelo. In the 20th century, Carrara has earned the reputation of being the home of Italy's most hardheaded anarchists, stubborn people who despise being ruled by anybody except themselves. And yet, when its young men were pressed into military service by Mussolini in World War II, they fought so fiercely that they became part of his shock troops. One begins to understand Chinaglia.
"When I was nine we left Italy," he says. "Like a lot of people after the war, my father couldn't find work and had to go abroad." With his mother and father and his younger sister he landed in Cardiff, Wales. "All four of us lived in one room," he says. "My father was an ironworker and it was tough. I used to take the milk left on people's porches and drink it for breakfast. I didn't look at it as stealing, exactly. I just borrowed it."
When he was 13 Chinaglia was playing soccer in the youth league, and was spotted by Trevor Morris, the coach of Swansea Town, a third-division team. He had come to look at a Welsh lad, but went home with Chinaglia, who in the time-honored tradition of European soccer, became a player-apprentice. His duties, aside from endless practice with the senior squad, were to clean cleats, sweep out the stands and run errands.
"By that time my father had scraped up enough money to buy a restaurant in Cardiff," he says. "I was glad for the soccer, because it took me away from washing dishes and waiting on tables. I hated waiting on tables."
At age 15 Chinaglia was playing for Swansea Town, and getting the magnificent sum of seven pounds a week. "It must have gone to my head, because I hated to train after that," he says. "I never felt satisfied. But I've always been that way, I guess. When I was eight, I played soccer with kids 12 and 13. I always looked for older kids. What was the sense of doing anything on your own level?"
Morris, however, was disappointed. He took Chinaglia aside and told him, in that marvelous British phrase, to get 'stuck in," to play with intensity, to train harder and stop being petulant and lazy. There is a story that Chinaglia once attacked him with an ax, but Chinaglia has always denied it. "He was fired two years before I left the team. That should tell you something."
Both because of his growing talents and because he had to do his compulsory Italian military service, the Chinaglias moved back to Carrara when Giorgio was 19. "Thank God for the army," he says.
"Otherwise, I'd probably still be in Wales, slogging it out in the mud and drinking ale. The Italian army has a special regiment for soccer players, so all I did in the service was to train all day, and when my club had a game, get a pass."
Because he had played abroad professionally, Chinaglia was barred from joining an Italian first-division team for three years. He began learning the painful, bloody lessons of Italian soccer on a third-division team in Carrara. The system was called Catenaccio, a bruising, ultra-defensive brand of soccer which gave a center-forward like Chinaglia a lot of aching shins and precious few goals. It made him devious on the field, impervious to pain, at home with double, even triple coverage.
The next two years were spent with a richer club, Internapoli of Naples. Here Chinaglia began to be noticed. The goals started to come, 25 in 66 games, a minor miracle in the Italian third division.
When his quarantine ended, Chinaglia was bought by the Rome squad, Lazio, the oldest team in the soccer-mad country. Lazio would be his home, his love, his theater and his soapbox from 1969 to 1976.
"Lazio was a mess when I arrived," he says. "They were in the second division most of the time. Once in a while they'd move up to the first, which is where they were when I arrived. But they were poor, as soccer teams go, so they would be forced to sell the young players, the ones that they had trained since childhood, to get the transfer fees." Aside from his tremendous scoring feat of nearly 100 goals in 200 games, Chinaglia began to move in on the management at Lazio, interfering with the directorate on questions of selling and buying players. He helped build a strong team, but earned himself enemies in the process.
In 1971 Lazio sank back into the second division, but the year brought Chinaglia a singular honor. He was the only player in modern Italian history to be selected from a second-division club to start on the national team. In 14 International appearances for Italy over the years, Chinaglia would score 11 goals.
"Italian soccer is the bloodiest sport outside of bullfighting," says Brian Glanville, the London Times expert, who was in Rome during Chinaglia's great years. "Lazio was one of the worst, too. It was odd, though. When a donnybrook would break out on the field, Chinaglia would stand aside. It was clear that he wasn't afraid; the man would take incredible punishment just to set up a goal. It was more as if he were above it all.
"Once the English side, Arsenal, came to play Lazio, and after the game they somehow all ended up drinking in the same bar in Rome. Well, the expected happened, and they got into an awful brawl. Chinaglia just stood apart smoking a cigarette, looking into the distance. The Arsenal lads had to flee when Lazio fans came into the street swinging crowbars."
On the field and off, Chinaglia split Italy. Most loved him, but some hated him with a passion. "It's impossible to tell you what it is like to have 52 million people always aware of your every move," he says. "It was wild. Everybody wanted to marry Chinaglia, be part of Chinaglia's clan. There were fan clubs everywhere, 21,000 members of the one in Rome. On slow news days, the Rome papers would send reporters to my house just to get my comments on anything. The quotes were always on page one...the Pope, he was on page three."
Chinaglia is credited with changing the Italian game from picky and stylish to direct and open. He was nicknamed "Long John," both for his size and for his British playing days.
"I went to Rome with George after his first Cosmos season," says Shep Messing, a former Cosmos keeper now with the Rochester Lancers. "There is nothing in America to compare with it. He was like a god. People in the streets would remove their hats and touch his sleeve, crying, saying, 'It's not the same since you left.' We went to Jackie O's, an exclusive Rome disco club, and it was like the President had arrived. There was the corner booth waiting and flunkies everywhere running errands."
These days Chinaglia is booed in Giants Stadium. "The Italian-Americans hate me for leaving Italy," he says. "The Germans hate me because I criticized Beckenbauer. The South Americans can't stand me because I said some of their players were lazy. But all those things are the truth. Should I shut up about them? Pelè and Beckenbauer never say anything critical. 'Everything's fine, wonderful.' Chee, don't make me laugh.
"If I have any power at all, I use it to make us better. We can be the greatest team in the world, and if I must suffer the fans' anger for trying to achieve that, so let it be. I deserve the recognition here—34 goals in 30 games, huh? Nobody likes to be booed."
In 1970 Chinaglia met Connie Eruzione, the daughter of an American Army sergeant who had retired to Italy. "I saw this girl sitting in a cafe in Naples reading American magazines," he says, "and we just started talking. Nine years later, I still don't know what happened."
What happened was that Chinaglia married pretty black-haired Connie and they now have three children, Cynthia, 7, George Jr., 5, and Stephanie, 2. Connie wasn't fond of Rome and the madness that went with being a national idol's wife. "We never went out, you know, because George was constantly mobbed," she says. "We went dancing one night and it ended as a fistfight. If George scored goals against Roma, the big rival of Lazio, I'd get pushed and elbowed in the street the next day.
"Our apartment was robbed. We got threatening phone calls in the middle of the night saying George would be kidnapped—the wave of terrorist kidnappings in Italy was then beginning. It was terrible. George bought a pistol and wore it all the time. And the soccer in Italy is so serious that Lazio would go into seclusion in the hills for a week before a game. George would leave me there in the apartment with the gun."
Chinaglia, who was paid $300,000 a year, more than any other player in Italy, made some unfortunate investments. "Business in Italy is difficult," he says. "There are incredible tax laws and corporate setups. I just couldn't see what I owned. I lost a bundle."
Chinaglia toured the U.S. with Lazio in 1972. "When we were in America, I saw my wife's eyes sparkle for the first time," he says, "and I saw that a businessman here could get things done without interference." Chinaglia quietly began to divest himself of his Italian holdings. He bought a construction company and began investing in New Jersey real estate. The Americanization of Chinaglia had begun when he married the girl reading the U.S. magazines. By 1975 it would be nearly complete.
The 1973-74 season was a triumph. Lazio won the Italian Championship for the first—and only—time in its 74-year history, and Chinaglia was Italy's scoring leader. But things began to turn sour with the selection of the 1974 World Cup team.
"In Italy we call it geopolitic," Chinaglia says. "The powerful soccer clubs of Milan and Turin in the north control the Italian League. When one of them wins a championship, then six or seven of their players are on the National Team that year. That's only right. The year that Lazio won, there was only one player on the selection—me. I spoke out about it, and they were gunning for me up north. It was a terrible affront. Ferruccio Valcareggi, the National Team coach, was under tremendous pressure from the Italian soccer Establishment. Today, we are friends, but then it was a different matter."
In a game with Haiti, Valcareggi pulled Chinaglia off the field in the second half. Chinaglia argued furiously with the coach and finally made a well-known Italian gesture and stormed into the locker room, which he trashed in fine style. Millions of Italians had watched the scene on television and were shocked. So precise and detailed were the reports of his behavior that the papers noted that he broke eight water bottles in the locker room. Debates still occur as to whether the bottles were full or empty.
Chinaglia looks innocent. "What water bottles?" he says, shrugging. "And I didn't make the so-called gesture, either. When a player comes off he is applauded, and I just flicked my hand so, to show that I didn't want praise, that this was all a political matter."
But the love affair with Lazio and Italy was over. "Italy had become too confining," he says. "My family wasn't safe, my businesses were a mess, and maybe Italian soccer had become too small to hold me. I needed a place for vision—how you say?—a bigger canvas." Besides that, important figures in Italy's soccer Establishment had come to fear and distrust Chinaglia's explosiveness. His welcome was wearing thin. In 1975 Connie and the children moved to Englewood; Chinaglia played one more season in Italy. When he finally left Rome, it was on a private jet at an unannounced hour. The fear was that tens of thousands of angry fans massing in the city to protest his departure would try to bomb the plane or throw themselves under its wheels. Whatever he had done in Italy, he was still a god, and the country was in mourning when he left.
Clive Toye, then president of the Cosmos, remembers Chinaglia's arrival well. "It wasn't at all like Pelè, whom I chased around the world for two years to get him to play for us," he says. "Chinaglia walked in on his vacation in 1975 and told us he wanted to come. Either that, or he'd buy his own franchise. He came to us. We didn't rob Europe of that one."
"Why should I be sad?" Chinaglia said at the time of his departure. "I'm going home to my wife and kids. When I drive across the George Washington Bridge, it will be to my first home in my life."
The Italian newspapers still telephone Chinaglia regularly in New Jersey; he is still newsworthy in Italy. And perhaps he has mellowed. "I am a loyal man," he says. "Part of me will always be with Lazio. It was my whole life, my being. Now the same is true with the Cosmos. Everything I do is for the team."
But in his bar-rec room in Englewood, the walls are covered with black and white framed photos of his goals, Italian goals. Chinaglia remembers each one lovingly—the exact date, the weather, the goalkeeper who was beaten and the score. He runs his eyes over them. "There are many jobs in soccer, many techniques to be mastered," he says. "But, my friend, don't ever let them kid you. Putting the goddam ball in the net is the game. It is the toughest thing in the world to do."
In 1976 Chinaglia, heading a group of investors, tried to buy an NASL franchise. Although the group had plenty of money, Commissioner Phil Woosnam turned it down. "I was mad as hell at the time," says Chinaglia with a smile. "But I'm glad now. Life is full of surprises, of course, but right now I think that when I quit playing, I want to stay with the Cosmos, help run the team. It's my home now. But I hope that won't be for a long, long time."
Says Glanville, "When George is 60 he'll be playing on some small sandlot team in New Jersey if he can still walk. The game is his first love on earth. He was in London a few years ago, and I was to meet him, but found that I had to coach my son's soccer game that day. When I called George, he just said, 'So? You mean Chinaglia can't play, too?' I told him he could, but the fee was 20 pence for the Association.
"I picked him up at the hotel, where, as usual, he was in the bar smoking and sipping Scotch. He came out and played with these teen-aged kids and he loved it. He worked just as hard as he ever did at Lazio. When it was over, he said, 'I won't pay the 20 pence. You shouldn't have to pay to play the best game in the world.' It was typical Chinaglia."
On game days, Chinaglia usually doesn't speak to anyone, including his family. He walks and paces and broods. At the stadium he changes his shoe laces, whispers instructions to his cleats. "After 16 years, you'd think I'd be over that by now," he says. "But that's the beauty of it. That's what keeps me coming back."
Although Chinaglia won the 1976 league scoring title with those 19 goals in 19 games, he didn't make much of a dent in the hearts of the fans or in the press because at the time attention was focused on Pelè. When Pelè reported for training the following year, he was grossly out of shape, and Chinaglia fumed, "He may be a legend, but right now he's just one more player I have to carry until he's in shape."
When Beckenbauer, the classic German sweeper back and one of the great names in soccer, joined the team, Chinaglia blurted, "He won't put fans in the stands. We've already got a sweeper and he doesn't score goals. I think we should have used the money for American players or Cruyff [the Dutch World Cup hero]. Cruyff scores goals at least." Chinaglia predicted that Beckenbauer would play at midfield, even though he had starred at the sweeper position. Many thought that Chinaglia was talking through his hat. Beckenbauer played midfield. And the Cosmos are dickering with Cruyff. Don't doubt with Chinaglia.
Coach Gordon Bradley and Chinaglia fell out almost immediately that year because Chinaglia wanted Pelè pulled further back out of his way so that he could score more goals. Pelè stayed up front, where he wanted to be. And the goals didn't come for Chinaglia. Tony Cirino, an Italian soccer expert who had followed Chinaglia's career, said, "They're ruining him. They don't get the ball to him enough, and they use him as a decoy, to take two or three defenders away from the flow. It's like taking a great operatic soprano and making her sing 'Happy Birthday.' "
Chinaglia brooded and worried. He confided to friends that by the end of the season, Bradley and Toye would be gone. Toye snapped, "Pelè and Beckenbauer are living bloody legends. Chinaglia is lazy, moody and virtually uncoachable."
"I'm uncoachable, it's true," Chinaglia fired back, "that's because I know more than the stupid coaches. That's, how you say, presumptuous? It's true."
The Cosmos were in a shambles, limping along, the heady brew of egos, nationalities and disparities kept at the boil by Chinaglia.
In midseason Toye resigned, remaining silent about the affair, a silence he still maintains as president of the Chicago Sting. Bradley was fired three games later, after he benched Chinaglia. Chinaglia gloated, and Pelè, saying he'd never seen the likes of it, wept amidst the wreckage.
Eddie Firmani had coached the Tampa Bay Rowdies to the championship in 1975. Three days after Bradley's departure, he quit the Rowdies and became the new Cosmos pilot. He was an old friend of Chinaglia's who had played for Inter-Milan before going to Wales. A very old friend. The implication was clear—Chinaglia had intrigued with his buddy Steve Ross to sweep out the old guard and hire Firmani, who knew the kind of ball service Chinaglia required. "Sure, Firmani is a friend," Chinaglia protests, "but he also happened to have the best record of any coach in America. Steve Ross isn't stupid. He's not going to hire and fire on my say-so. You think those people have a billion-dollar corporation because they listen to soccer players? That stuff is even over my head. But, sure, I voted for Firmani."
Firmani moved Pelè out of Chinaglia's way, and the goals began to come, nine of them in the playoffs, including a header against the Seattle Sounders, which won Soccer Bowl '77. But Chinaglia didn't have the scoring championship, finishing fourth with only 15 goals to Los Angeles' Steve David's 26.
In 1978 Pelè had retired and Bogicevic and Tueart had arrived, expressly to serve the ball to Chinaglia. As the goals rolled in, his critics became sharper. Most soccer pundits said Chinaglia scored only because Cosmos megabucks bought players who would serve him. He was no good heading the ball or with his left foot. He was just an average center-forward with a big mouth.
"That's plain stupid," says Tueart, who scored 10 goals himself last year. "I've played in Italy and I know that it's the toughest place in the world to score goals, the most defensive-minded in Europe. To score 100 goals in 200 games there is the equivalent of a goal a game in England. George's achievements rank with anyone's. People here are ignorant of the European game and they should be more humble." Chinaglia answers the rest of the charges himself. "I score about 40% with my left foot," he says. "I've got video tapes of all my goals. Let the critics watch them."
Chinaglia has had a malformation of the top of the spine from childhood, which gives him not only his bullish look but also reduced flexibility in the neck. It's not an excuse. "I won Soccer Bowl '77 with a header," he says, "and got one in Soccer Bowl '78. What do people want? For me to be a bloody bird?"
The one honor in the U.S. that has escaped Chinaglia is the Most Valuable Player Award, which is voted by the players. All last season he was in a race for the scoring title with English loan player Mike Flanagan of the New England Tea Men, finally beating him out 34 goals to 30. Nevertheless, the MVP went to the humble, hard working Flanagan.
"I could have scored 100 goals and they wouldn't have given it to me," Chinaglia says sourly. "I don't know what the hell I have to do. But phooey on the MVP, I'll take scoring champion again. If it's a choice, I want the goals."
And he gets them by dogged practice. "I work every day on new angles, new attacks," he says. "You must be thinking and not fall into a rut. There is no patented Chinaglia goal."
Says Firmani, "George has something that is the essence of a striker. What a striker does is create space for himself. There is a defender in a position that he wants to use, and he must lure the man away. It's like physical chess. And George is the master of deception. He also is splay-footed. Most strikers are pigeon-toed. So George can kick with the inside of his foot, and keepers aren't looking for that." Chinagliata.
In the Chinaglia kitchen, where Connie, her mother and George's mother hold court, Chinaglia is the padrone, relaxed and smiling. They all begin chiding him about a thread hanging from his shirt. He banters back. His mother and retired father are having a nearby house refinished, and Chinaglia's in-laws are visiting. "We're kind of low on relatives right now," George says. "Sometimes we have a lot more around here."
His daughter Cynthia and son George Jr. arrive home from school, and Chinaglia's love is obvious and intense. He kisses them on the lips. The children seem uncomfortable, but there is no escape. If Chinaglia loves you, he loves you.
Chinaglia turns up the piped-in music and grabs 2-year-old Stephanie, twirling her through a '50s bebop, his eyes closed, lost in the music.
Roberto Lovati, the former Lazio goalkeeper, now the coach of the team, who has spent 30 years with the club, says, "In a stadium filled with 60,000 Roman fans who hated his guts, Chinaglia was capable of scoring once to tie and again to win, each time running toward those packed stands—oranges, bricks, cushions being hurled at him, alone, fists in the air—shouting, 'Look at me! I am Giorgio Chinaglia! I beat you!' "
Chinaglia has made the same challenge to America. Calmer, wiser perhaps than he once was, he views the future warily. But one mustn't forget Chinagliata, for behind the arrogance, the pronouncements and the mounting number of goals is a man looking for our love, but on his own terms. What he may do next to try to win it is anyone's guess. But he will be out there, courting us with his big right foot.