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Lorenzo Insigne is just the latest game-changing signing made by Toronto FC

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The club has a long history of pushing the envelope when it comes to the type of players it attracts

SSC Napoli v Empoli FC - Serie A Photo by Franco Romano/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Toronto FC as a club has had an incredibly bizarre history. At any one point, they are somewhere between being a model franchise for the league, or contrarily in some kind of club crisis.

It is no secret that TFC spent the better part of 2021 in the latter, forced to start the year in Florida, the coaching hires, the Jozy Altidore exile, all those losses. The year had all the markings of the disastrous late 2000s, the true dark period in the club’s history.

So what did Toronto FC do to ring in the new year? Only go out and make one of the biggest signings in league history. Today, it was made official that Lorenzo Insigne will join the club on a four-and-a-half-year deal on July 1, 2022. The deal pays him a reported 11 million euros per season, plus a 4.5 million dollar bonus.

The Napoli attacker hardly fixes every issue that plagued the club in 2021... partially because some of them were legitimately caused by a plague. But it is a signal of intent, and more than anything a call back to what this club has done when it is at the height of its powers, flexed its MLSE muscles and made game-changing signings.

Toronto FC was a trailblazing club from the second they first kicked a ball at home in MLS action, courtesy of a fanbase that redefined what support could look like in the league. Seattle, Portland, Atlanta all followed in the footsteps of the European-like atmosphere that echoed through BMO Field from day one.

But it took the club almost a decade to match that fervour on the field. The chief architect behind it all? None other than Tim Leiweke, the man whose ambition created the designated player rule in the first place when he brought David Beckham to the LA Galaxy in 2007.

The Insigne signing is Beckham-esque in what it does for the league. Whereas Beckham was a globally recognizable star who brought with him fanfare and attention, Insigne is a top European star, very close to his prime, having just won the European Championship with Italy. The clubs Toronto FC beat out for that signature were reportedly all from top leagues.

So how did Toronto FC make it happen? By slowly pushing the envelope to this point. It started, as aforementioned, with Leiweke and “the bloody big deal”. Toronto FC not only went out and signed Jermain Defoe, a European striker playing in a top league, but perhaps more surprisingly Micheal Bradley, an American international in his prime.

When Defoe didn’t work out, they took it one step further, signing a younger and hungrier Sebastian Giovinco. They doubled down by adding yet another young American international, Jozy Altidore. The pair delivered the club its first MLS Cup in 2017, along with a slew of other moments and accolades. Giovinco became TFC’s first MLS MVP.

When Giovinco left, Toronto FC flexed its muscles again. They went out and not only took one of the best players in the Belgian league but the captain of one of its top clubs. They did so from a Genk team that really did not want to let the player leave, only making acquiring Alejandro Pozuelo more impressive. With Poz, another MLS MVP, TFC would reach another final.

There are unquestionably also those that didn’t quite work out. The Yeferson Soteldo transfer looks to be one filed under the Defoe category. On the field, things were okay, but most rumblings are that the player isn’t exactly comfortable in his current environment and at this point is incredibly unlikely to start the 2022 season with Toronto FC. In failures, there are learnings as well.

All of these learnings, how to negotiate a deal, what would make a top player want to forgo playing at a higher level to take on the project have clearly been put into use over the years. Money is unquestionably a motivator, it could even be the biggest motivator, but it is far from the only factor. All of these signings have given the club both the credibility and the creativity that it took to sign a player of Insigne’s calibre.

Toronto FC has once again changed the game, and if it is anything like the last few times a lot of special nights at BMO Field will follow.