Giorgio Chinaglia, Fugitive From JusticeBy: Martha | July 14th, 2007
Depending on how long you’ve been following Italian football, you may not be familiar with the great Giorgio Chinaglia. Suffice to say he was voted Lazio’s best ever player during their centenary celebrations, and was also the highest ever scorer in the NASL, the short-living, wildly successful (for a while) American soccer league that his New York Cosmos utterly owned during the late 1970s. (Yes, there was a guy named Pele on that team, as well. Chinaglia is famous for telling him to stay wider, because when Pele moved inside, he made it so the two of them could be covered “easily.”) He was an utter, undeniable genius and also a raging asshole, something that allowed him to fit in perfectly with the mad Lazio of the early and mid-1970s but also caused him a lot of problems, among them being essentially booted out of the Azzurri setup tragically early after he reacted to being substituted by throwing his jersey on the ground and destroying the locker room in frustration.
If you’ve seen the brilliant Cosmos documentary Once in a Lifetime, you’ve seen Chinaglia in action: He’s unapologetic about his past, and couldn’t possibly care less about the dislike he’s left in his wake. (Honestly, it occurs to me that he was the 1970s’ Zlatan: Grew up in the wrong country — he was born in Italy but grew up and played professionally for the first time in Wales — totally unpredictable and misunderstood, brilliant but hated … It’s a reach, probably, but only a small one.) During the press build-up to that movie’s release, I got to do a 20-30 minute one-on-one interview with the man himself and, needless to say, it was pretty much the greatest moment of my life. He’s a bit of a prick, yes, but it’s less because he’s a bad person than because he’s held in such esteem at this point in his life that it’s just not worth it to him to soft-peddle anything; he says what he thinks and doesn’t care even a little if you disagree, or if what he says hurts or offends anyone. In other words, he’s completely awesome, but not the sort of person to whom you’ve ever want to say “no.”
Anyway, in addition to his vaguely controversial past, Chinaglia is currently embroiled in an impressively controversial present, facing trial in Italy for “market rigging, money laundering and attempted extortion,” all tied to a bid to buy Lazio in 2005. In that year, he reappeared in Italy, claiming to represent a consortium that was prepared to buy his former club, but he never named any of the money men, and it’s suspected that they were members of a Naples crime syndicate. God damn. I know this is an example of everything that’s wrong with Italian football, but it’s so not surprising to me that Chinaglia was involved with these people — he’s so freaking cool he’d just assume he was untouchable, either by the mob or the law.
The trial is schedule to begin in October but Chinaglia, who has an American wife and has lived in New York for years, won’t be there to enjoy the show. And, assuming there’s no sudden money laundering extradition agreement between the US and Italy, he won’t be going anywhere even if he’s found guilty.