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April 1, 2012

Cosmos legend Chinaglia dies at 65


By Michael Lewis Editor

He was one of a kind.

He defined the word strike in striker.

And he could make an outrageous statement or prediction and then go out and turn boastful words into reality and goals, many, many goals.

He was Giorgio Chinaglia, the best goal-scorer in all of American soccer when he literally terrorized opposing teams, defenders and goalkeeper when he super-starred for the New York Cosmos from 1976-1983.

Considered by many to be one of the most controversial players and personalities who have toiled on American soil, Chingalia passed away at the age of 65 in Naples, Fla. on Sunday. Chinaglia died of complications from a heart attack he suffered last week, according to friends and family.

Needless to say, his death shocked many former teammates and the soccer community.

"Terrible day," said Charlie Stillitano in an email about his partner on "The Football Show," on SiriusXM.

"It was very sad to hear about his death this morning," former Cosmos teammate Erhardt Kapp said. "Giorgio was such a great goal scorer but what was incredible about him was that he had such a will to win. He was extremely hard on himself, teammates and staff, but that was because he hated to lose.

"He was one of a kind and will be extremely missed."

Two other teammates expressed similar sentiments.

"It's really sad," former Cosmos and U.S. international striker Boris Bandov said.

"It's a sad story, a sad story. It's a big loss for soccer," said another ex-teammate, Fred Grgurev, who spoke with Chinaglia as recently as Thursday. "We can talk about him in many ways. He definitely made history here."

His ego and personality could not be contained by just Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., where the Cosmos ruled the American soccer world while earning four Soccer Bowl championships -- the North American Soccer League's version of the MLS Cup during the days of Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, John Cruyff, and of course, Giorgio Chinaglia.

He was demanding of himself as he was of his teammates.

“I am a finisher," he once said. "That means when I finish with the ball, it is in the back of the net."

Which he did 193 times for the Cosmos. He finished his eight-year career with the Cosmos as the NASL's all-time leading in goals. He once scored seven goals in a playoff game as the Cosmos earned championships in 1977, 1978, 1980 and 1982. He scored the game-winning goals in the first and last title encounters.

"We had so many characters and Giorgio was the main character," Bandov said. "He was the leader of the team. He demanded a lot.

"To be center forward, you have to be a little selfish. He was the best captain you could have. When he went out he wanted the top of everything. . . . We would be with him at a hotel and he would demand the best wine, the best food."

Chinaglia was just as demanding on himself, never satisfied with his goal production.

"If he had one, he wanted two," Grgurev said. "If he had two, he wanted three. If he had five, he wanted more. No question about it. He was always very hungry."

Some of his critics claimed he was selfish as well, demanding the ball all the time.

"To be a center forward, you have to be a little selfish," Bandov said.

Added Grgurev: "You can be the best player on the field. If you are a center forward and you don't score, you are not successful. That's the reason why he acted the played the way he did.

"No question about it. He was a force every which way. Even at Lazio."

That's where Chinaglia forged his reputation.

Born in Carrara, Tuscany in 1947, Chinaglia moved with his family to Cardiff, Wales in 1955. He started his pro career with Swansea Town and eventually moved to Massesse and Internapoli in Serie C and eventually to Lazio. He enjoyed his greatest Italian success with the Rome-based club, connecting 98 times in 209 matches. He helped Lazio move into Serie A, winning the league title in 1974.

"They came out of nowhere from the second to the first division," Grgurev said. "No question he was the most important player in Lazio history."

He also represented Italy 14 times, scoring four goals.

No question Chinaglia was passionate about the game. In a rout of the Lancers in Rochester in 1979, Cosmos defender Santiago Formoso sat on the ball late in the match. Needless to say, the crowd was in an uproar.

Bandov remembered Chinaglia running "all the way so he could kick him on the butt because he didn't want to disrespect other teams."

Chinaglia endured some problems off the field.

In October, 2006, Chinaglia was sought after by Italian authorities, who issued an arrest warrant for him and eight others on charges of extortion and insider trading at Lazio. He remained in the United States since then.

As lethal as he was with his feet, Chinaglia was just as sharp or might have been sharper with his tongue. No one was safe from Chinaglia's barbs and criticism, whether it was about his teammates, coaches or soccer officials.

In 2006, he was at the Regency Hotel in Manhattan to talk about the documentary, "Once in Lifetime." Instead, he gave his opinions of the New York Red Bulls and Major League Soccer. He was hoping that he would get a front-office position with the Red Bulls, who had been purchased by Red Bull earlier that earlier. His former Cosmos teammate Franz Beckenbauer advised Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz on the deal. However, nothing materialized for Chingalia, who was bitter over being overlooked.

“We’ve got morons who don’t know what the hell they’re doing,” Chinaglia was quoted by of the MLS front office at the 2006 gathering. “Some people think the front office is more important than the people on the field. How is that possible? That’s unheard of. The actors are the players that go on the field. There’s not one person among the 50 people who work in the MLS office that has played soccer. Not one.

“MLS did a good job the first five or six years, now they’re not going anywhere. Now they have to change their business model, their business plan,” he said, “People in New York City won’t come and watch college soccer kids playing. Do people understand that? This is New York, I cannot talk about other cities. In New York you’ve got to give them the best. If you give them the best, the people will come.”

The Red Bulls were stung by his criticism as well, especially after they played the Columbus Crew to a dull draw in 2006.

“The thing is, it cannot go on like this,” he said at the time. “There’s 200 people, 1,000 people going to the games. I heard today there were 7,000 people [at Giants Stadium Wednesday]. There were no 7,000 people. Don’t get me wrong, I want New York to do well, that’s why I get upset. It’s a shame what they put on the field.”
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