It's been another great season for Sebastian Giovinco. Seventeen goals and 15 assists for the "Formica Atomica" helped lead Toronto FC to the MLS Eastern Conference final, a sumptious Canadian derby showdown against the Montreal Impact.
The diminutive Italian has been absolutely on fire once again this season, and after watching Toronto ruthlessly dismantle NYCFC, the other conference finalists will be shaking in their boots at the prospect of facing him.
And yet, once again, Giovinco's name was conspicuously absent on the Italy squad released this past weekend. He was last called up for the European qualifiers against Azerbaijan and Norway by Antonio Conte, but then before Euro 2016, Conte snubbed him. The current Chelsea coach cited the fact that Giovinco played in the MLS as his reasoning behind the snub.
#EuropeanQualifiers #WC2018 #Ventura has announced his #Azzurri squad for the games against #Liechtenstein and #Germany #Nazionale pic.twitter.com/i1NMwJs2Pb— Italy (@azzurri) November 5, 2016
There was a hope that Conte's departure would pave Giovinco's way back into the arms of the Azzurri, but unfortunately, it appears new manager Giampiero Ventura shares the same prejudice against the MLS. Per ESPNFC, Ventura said:
"Giovinco is a different story. I have done everything to help him but the reality is that he plays in a league that doesn't count for much," Ventura said. "And the number of goals he scores is less important because with the quality he has got, he is bound to make a difference in that league."
Now, before we go on, let's not kid ourselves. Yes, Serie A has a higher level of quality than the MLS. We're not going to debate that. However, the real question is whether the gap in quality is so large that one can justify snubbing one of the most consistently outstanding players in the MLS. The answer, simply, is no.
Ventura believes that the problem is with mentality. That a player who plays at a lower level will lack a spark. But a professional athlete is a professional athlete. The desire to succeed doesn't depend on which league or which team you play for.
Perhaps a good example would be Nani for Portugal. Nani's last couple of seasons for Manchester United were painful to watch. Bad form and injuries made it look like his career was over. However, after Nani was loaned back to Sporting Lisbon in Portugal, he rediscovered his confidence. Now, he is a European Championship winner with Portugal. In his case, moving to a lower league helped him to raise his game again.
The point here is that form and confidence are more important than where you play. By nature, trying to compare quality of play between leagues is subjective, hard to measure and it leaves a lot of quality players behind. After all, people like to say that the English Premier League is the best league in the world, and yet, English clubs fail to perform in Europe and the national team is a regular laughing stock on the international stage.
So, the quality of the league really doesn't seem to dictate performance. If that was true, the incredible story of Iceland would never have happened.
It should be said that Giovinco is not an exception here. Out of 29 players called up, only four play outside of Serie A. It's a favoritism that is easy to understand, especially considering how proud Italians are of their style of football.
However, let's look at who they called up in Giovinco's stead.
Simone Zaza has yet to score a single goal or notch an assist for West Ham since his transfer, and he was hardly productive at Euro 2016. Gianluca Lapadula has only scored once for AC Milan in six appearances (four of which were off the bench) and Leonardo Pavoletti has scored three in eight appearances for Genoa, which isn't terrible but far from prolific.
It's not as if Giovinco is competing against Alessandro Del Piero or Pippo Inzaghi here. It may sound harsh, but the Italian squad is not exactly spoiled for choice on the striker front these days. Italy did well at Euro 2016 thanks to the masterclass tactics of Antonio Conte, not because of a massive influx of talent up front. Would it really hurt to give Giovinco a run out against European minnows Liechtenstein?
No, it wouldn't.
All stats taken from WhoScored