Giorgio Chinaglia, the former Lazio legend and one of the faces of the NY Cosmos passed away today from a heart attack. He was 65 years old.
From Swansea City, a third division club in 1955 where he stole milk bottles to New York City as part of the NY Cosmos via Lazio where he became a legend for his goalscoring exploits, Chinaglia was a larger than life figure, rather full of himself, but always entertaining. He was also a phenomenal goalscoring machine and when he came from Lazio to NY in 1976, he was the highest paid soccer player in the world, earning the princely sum of ..... wait a minute ..... $85,000 per year.
Chinaglia scored 98 goals for Lazio and was the NASL's top scorer with 242 goals in 254 matches. The Lazio striker also represented Italy in the 1974 World Cup. He became a naturalized US citizen in 1979 and was inducted into the Soccer Hall of Fame in 2000. At the time of his death, he was co-hosting a two hour soccer show with Charlie Stilatano, The Football Show, on Sirius Satellite Radio.
Bob Iarusci, one of his closest NY Comsos friends had this to say about Chinaglia, "I can honestly say that I can't recall a time when he went more than two games without scoring a goal. And he scored against everybody. It's one thing to score in the league games but another to go to Montevideo and score three against Nacional or go to Buenos Aires and score against Boca Juniors. I think he and Gerd Muller were the greatest I've ever seen ...... he was a machine."
He was also meddlesome, polarizing, and insanely jealous of Pele. Gavin Newsom in his inside look at the NY Cosmos in Once In A Lifetime gives the scoop in a locker room brawl between the two which reduced Pele to tears. Forthright as ever, the Italian accused Pele of not providing him the service he needed to score goals. Pele, the mild mannered low key Pele had had enough, criticizing Chinaglia for his selfishness in the penalty box. "You shoot from no f**king angle." Chinaglia never one to back down from a confrontation, hopped down from his stool, screaming, "I am Chinaglia. If I shoot from some place it's because Chinaglia can score from that place."
While Pele and Franz Beckenbauer left the Cosmos before it folded up, Chinaglia stayed on having bought a controlling stake in that club. The Cosmos by that time had been in decline for five years and was part of an indoor league having failed to attract the sort of attendance that saw 60,000 filling Giants Stadium at their peak. However he had no capital or administrative expertise to back up his rhetoric of saving the club. Bankrupt, the NY Cosmos was expelled and two weeks later without its flagship the NASL suspended its operations on March 28, 1985.