Leading the Soccer Revolution
Friday, July 14, 2006
Those of you who enjoyed this year's World Cup action on television or played soccer in junior high might want to think about sending Giorgio Chinaglia a little note, just to thank him for those fine experiences.
Chinaglia is, after all, one of the people most responsible for sparking an American passion for the world's sport. Or at least that's what he says and what audiences of "Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos" (see review on Page 30) are asked to believe.
The documentary recounts the tale of a soccer team as it became, in 1977, champion of a North American professional league that would crumble in the years to come. But that year, that moment, the movie tells us, the New York Cosmos captivated the hearts and imaginations of a generation, spawning a legion of soccer moms all too happy to cart their kids from travel teams to summer camps to club tournaments three states away.
Never heard of this Chinaglia character, you say? Well, you should've been paying closer attention.
Perhaps, understandably, you were blinded by the brilliance of his teammate Pelé, who left Brazil in 1975 to play with the Cosmos under a three-year, multimillion-dollar contract. But it was striker Chinaglia, himself a recruit from Italy, who was a player and -- according to his version of the story -- a franchise executive, trying to stack the team with high-priced superstars and unload the "morons" and "idiots" standing in the way of victory.
Sure, he made more enemies than friends in the process, but maybe that's just the price of greatness.
At any rate, Chinaglia is on the phone from New York, so we can thank him in person for his contributions and walk down memory lane a bit with this Italian bear of a man.
Thanks for taking the time, Mr. Chinaglia. Could you tell us about your early days with the Cosmos . . .
"Well, it wasn't all that good. Uh, could you hold on a second? Hello? Mike! Hello?"
"He's talking to somebody in Germany. I'm sorry," says a weary-sounding media handler. "It's gonna be a second."