May 21, 1979
If ever an athlete appeared to emulate Machiavelli's Prince in an attempt to consolidate power, it was Italian-born soccer star Giorgio Chinaglia, who led the New York Cosmos to four North American Soccer League (NASL) titles between 1977 and '82. A center-forward with neither exceptional quickness nor grace, he scored an astounding 193 goals in 213 NASL regular-season games, not including seven in one playoff match. Though he played alongside international stars such as Pel�, Carlos Alberto and Franz Beckenbauer, Giorgione, as he was nicknamed, aroused the most passion among fans.
During the Cosmos' run of championships, Chinaglia (kee-NAL-ya) made no apologies for wielding his influence. He publicly castigated teammates, Pel� among them, when he found their effort lacking; on lavish vacations with Steve Ross, the Cosmos' owner, he recommended roster moves and coaching changes. At first the fans accepted Chinaglia's backroom maneuvering, but he came to be perceived as a fat cat whose meddling blurred the line between labor and management. It didn't help his approval rating that, at a time when the NASL was awash in debt, he would arrive at postgame interviews wearing a silk dressing gown and then depart to his 22-room mansion in Englewood, N.J., where he had hung two portraits of himself by LeRoy Neiman. "Someone had to make things exciting," he recalls. "Remember, I was not just another player. I was Chinaglia, the one and only. I made the impossible happen."
At least he did on the field. After retiring in 1983 as the NASL's leading career goal scorer, Chinaglia, intoxicated with ambition, purchased a majority interest in the Cosmos, convinced that he could rewrite its balance sheet the way he did the record books. Yet by that time America's interest in pro soccer had dwindled. Within a year, the league folded and Chinaglia returned to Italy.
Now 51, Chinaglia is still playing the power broker in the soccer world. He's in the process of purchasing a club in Budapest and serves as the director of sports for both a television station and a newspaper in Rome, where he lives with his wife, Angela, and their children, Donald, 15, and Anthony, 12. Giorgio also remains refreshingly unstinting with his opinions. Asked, for instance, to compare the NASL to its contemporary incarnation, Major League Soccer, he says simply, "The players in MLS couldn't shine our shoes."
He remains, in other words, Chinaglia, the one and only.