In 1978 Pelé had retired and Bogicevic and Tueart had arrived, expressly to serve the ball to Chinaglia. As the goals rolled in, his critics became sharper. Most soccer pundits said Chinaglia scored only because Cosmos megabucks bought players who would serve him. He was no good heading the ball or with his left foot. He was just an average center-forward with a big mouth.
"That's plain stupid," says Tueart, who scored 10 goals himself last year. "I've played in Italy and I know that it's the toughest place in the world to score goals, the most defensive-minded in Europe. To score 100 goals in 200 games there is the equivalent of a goal a game in England. George's achievements rank with anyone's. People here are ignorant of the European game and they should be more humble." Chinaglia answers the rest of the charges himself. "I score about 40% with my left foot," he says. "I've got video tapes of all my goals. Let the critics watch them."
Chinaglia has had a malformation of the top of the spine from childhood, which gives him not only his bullish look but also reduced flexibility in the neck. It's not an excuse. "I won Soccer Bowl '77 with a header," he says, "and got one in Soccer Bowl '78. What do people want? For me to be a bloody bird?"
The one honor in the U.S. that has escaped Chinaglia is the Most Valuable Player Award, which is voted by the players. All last season he was in a race for the scoring title with English loan player Mike Flanagan of the New England Tea Men, finally beating him out 34 goals to 30. Nevertheless, the MVP went to the humble, hard working Flanagan.
"I could have scored 100 goals and they wouldn't have given it to me," Chinaglia says sourly. "I don't know what the hell I have to do. But phooey on the MVP, I'll take scoring champion again. If it's a choice, I want the goals."
And he gets them by dogged practice. "I work every day on new angles, new attacks," he says. "You must be thinking and not fall into a rut. There is no patented Chinaglia goal."
Says Firmani, "George has something that is the essence of a striker. What a striker does is create space for himself. There is a defender in a position that he wants to use, and he must lure the man away. It's like physical chess. And George is the master of deception. He also is splay-footed. Most strikers are pigeon-toed. So George can kick with the inside of his foot, and keepers aren't looking for that." Chinagliata.
In the Chinaglia kitchen, where Connie, her mother and George's mother hold court, Chinaglia is the padrone, relaxed and smiling. They all begin chiding him about a thread hanging from his shirt. He banters back. His mother and retired father are having a nearby house refinished, and Chinaglia's in-laws are visiting. "We're kind of low on relatives right now," George says. "Sometimes we have a lot more around here."
His daughter Cynthia and son George Jr. arrive home from school, and Chinaglia's love is obvious and intense. He kisses them on the lips. The children seem uncomfortable, but there is no escape. If Chinaglia loves you, he loves you.
Chinaglia turns up the piped-in music and grabs 2-year-old Stephanie, twirling her through a '50s bebop, his eyes closed, lost in the music.