Giorgio Chinaglia dies: New York Cosmos striker known for talent, mercurial moods

Giorgio Chinaglia, the Italian-born soccer phenomenon of the old New York Cosmos who was known for as much for his tempestuous moods as for his goal-scoring right foot, died April 1 at his home in Naples, Fla. He was 65.

He had complications from a heart attack, according to a statement released by the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame, where Mr. Chinaglia was enshrined in 2000.

Mr. Chinaglia (pronounced kee-NAL-ya) was a prolific scorer during his career in the North American Soccer League from 1976 to 1983.

“As a striker, a scorer, he is among the greatest the game has ever had,” Cosmos coach Julio Mazzei told the New York Times in 1983. “He is like a homerun hitter in baseball.”

He held league records for most goals scored in a game (7), most goals scored in a regular season (34), and most goals scored in a career with more than 260. He helped the Cosmos win four league titles.


New York Cosmos’ forward Giorgio Chinaglia gives the victorious No. 1 sign during the Soccer Bowl in Washington on Sept. 22, 1980. Chinaglia died in his home in Florida on April 1. (AP)

Mr. Chinaglia developed a polarizing reputation. In interviews, he spoke his mind (usually in the third person) and seemed to care little if his words offended his coaches, fellow players or fans.

Mr. Chinaglia’s Cosmos teammates included Pele, the Brazilian widely regarded as one of soccer’s greatest players,­­ and Franz Beckenbauer, the graceful German World Cup champion.

His relationship with both players was rocky. In one episode, Mr. Chinaglia complained to Pele that the Brazilian was not supplying him with enough passes to score goals. Pele replied that Mr. Chinaglia was not picking good angles for his shots.

“I am Chinaglia,” he told Pele. “If Chinaglia shoots from an angle, it is because Chinaglia can score from that angle.”

Unlike Pele and Beckenbauer, Mr. Chinaglia had come to New York at the peak of his career. He had scored 98 goals in his seven previous seasons playing for Lazio, Rome’s soccer team.

He boasted of being Italy’s highest-paid soccer player and that he had a fan club with 21,000 dues-paying members. Mr. Chinaglia often said that among Italians, he was more popular than the Pope.

“Everyone wanted to marry Chinaglia, to be part of Chinaglia’s clan,” he once said.

The adoration began to wane after the Italian national team lost to Poland, 2-1, in the 1974 World Cup in West Germany. Led by Mr. Chinaglia, the Italians were a favorite to win the gold medal. Many fans singled out Mr. Chinaglia for the blame, and he received threatening phone calls late at night.

When the Cosmos came calling, Mr. Chinaglia quickly accepted the offer. He adapted his new life in America with flair. He bought a manse in Englewood, N.J., that had 14 bedrooms. He decorated his study with two LeRoy Neiman portraits of himself and a replica Louis XV desk with clawed feet. He wore a silk robe in the Cosmos dressing room and kept a bottle of Chivas Regal in his locker.

Despite his goal-scoring prowess, Mr. Chinaglia was regularly booed at Cosmos games.

“The Italian-Americans hate me for leaving Italy,” Mr. Chinaglia told Sports Illustrated in 1979. “The Germans hate me because I criticize Beckenbauer. The South Americans can’t stand me because I said some of their players were lazy.”

Mr. Chinaglia preferred to silence the critics with his right foot. His percussive kick was said to send soccer balls toward goalkeepers at nearly 70 miles an hour.

In 1980, he scored a record seven goals in one match against the Tulsa Roughnecks. When the game was over, the crowd chanted his name and Mr. Chinaglia cried at the rare display of affection.

Giorgio Chinaglia was born Jan. 24, 1947, in Carrara, in Italy’s Tuscany region. His father was a steelworker who later moved his family to Cardiff, Wales. There, the elder Chinaglia trained as a chef and opened a restaurant.

A prodigious soccer player, Giorgio Chinaglia joined the Welsh Swansea team as an apprentice in his early teens. When he turned professional, he returned to Italy to play for Lazio. In retirement from soccer in 1983, he bought part ownership of Lazio and served as a team executive.

He was married first to Connie Eruzione and later to Angela Chinaglia. He had five children, three from his first marriage and two from his second. A complete list of his survivors could not be determined.

“I am not a pioneer, an emissary or an ambassador of soccer,” Mr. Chinaglia once said. “I play because I enjoy it.”

For those who watched him on the field, his passion was clear after he scored a goal. He was known for his ebullient celebrations, with his fists held high and smiling broadly as he leapt into the arms of a teammate, upon whom he smacked a kiss on the lips.

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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