Toronto FC is downplaying word from Sebastian Giovinco’s agent that the deep-pocketed Chinese Super League is interested in the star striker.
“We’re committed to the player … It’s very much not in the plans to sell him,” general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said Wednesday.
The GM said expressions of interest in his players from agents or intermediaries are a regular occurrence â€” “I’d say that happens, at least a soft form of approach, once every two to four weeks.”
The team response is standard, according to Bezbatchenko.
“Thank you for the interest. We’re not looking to move any of our players. At the same time, if they have a formal offer on the table, we will consider it.”
Bezbatchenko said there has been no such offer for Giovinco, who turns 30 on Thursday. And if there was, “it would be very difficult to move the best player in the league.”
The five-foot-four Italian known as the Atomic Ant won MVP honours in 2015 in his debut season in Major League Soccer and had 39 goals and 31 assists over his first two seasons in North America.
Including post-season play in 2015 and ’16, Giovinco has assisted on or scored 78 of Toronto’s 126 goals (61.9 per cent).
Agent Andrea D’Amico made headlines Tuesday when he told Sky Sport Italia that he had received an “important offer” from China for his client. Bezbatchenko says D’Amico told him the same thing. He told the agent to have a club contact him directly if there is a formal offer.
“There’s nothing formal, nothing real yet,” the GM said.
Still such interest is flattering for MLS, Bezbatchenko added.
Giovinco did not talk to the media on Wednesday. But before the China transfer interest story broke Tuesday, he told reporters he is happy in Toronto.
And why not? He earned US$7.116 million last season â€” second only to Orlando’s Brazil star Kaka (US$7.168 million) â€” can live under the radar with his family in Toronto, and has terrorized MLS defenders.
Giovinco is entering the third year of a five-year deal in MLS. There is a club option for an additional year in 2020.
Given Toronto did not pay a transfer fee to Juventus for Giovinco, the MLS team could make a bundle by selling him. But it would then have to replace a huge chunk of its offence, not to mention its identity.
The source of the interest has added spice to the story. Chinese clubs have been opening the vault of late to acquire foreign talent as China looks to become a world player in the sport.
Argentine striker Carlos Tevez signed with Shanghai Shenhua last month, agreeing to a contract said to be US$40 million over two years. Chelsea forward Diego Costa was reportedly offered US$37.9 million a year to join Tianjin Quanjian.
Other players to sign in China include Brazilians Oscar, Hulk, Ramires and Paulinho, Colombian striker Jackson Martinez and Argentine forward Ezequiel Lavezzi.
Toronto coach Greg Vanney was unfazed by the Chinese interest in his star forward.
“These things happen. Especially when you have good players or special players,” he said. “And it seems like China is very active in the market of just buying up players from all over the place.
“So it’s not really surprising. But until something really gets into like a real discussion, then I take it for what it is â€” it’s kind of noise and it’s the game, it’s just part of the game.”
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press