By Jack Tucker
Euro 2020 winner Federico Bernardeschi is all groomed to wear an MLS jersey, with Toronto signing him on a free transfer after leaving Juventus upon his contract expiry.
The Canada-based side recently added Lorenzo Insigne to their ranks and could look to add his fellow Italian international teammate to the squad to help rectify their problematic season. Sitting 12th in the Eastern Conference, The Reds are seven points adrift from the play-offs in a lacklustre season by their standards.
The Canadian franchise is looking to build their squad to get back to their former glory, where they won the 2017 MLS Cup and reached 2019 final, and the signing of the former Napoli man and Bernardeschi could signal a turnaround for Bob Bradley’s side.
Whilst Insigne is coming off the back of a decent season with Napoli, Bernardeschi hasn’t capitalised on the promise he showed at Fiorentina. Since he arrived in Turin in 2017 due to a mix of bad form and having a higher quality of player in his position, he made 12 league appearances from the bench.
Having shown a glimpse of the quality and reinventing himself as a left-back under Andrea Pirlo since Massimiliano Allegri’s return, the 28-year-old has been playing in several positions and not settling in one of them. He made nine appearances on the right side of midfield, seven on the left, and even three as a defensive midfielder, according to WhoScored.
Versatility is a key attribute for a player, but making an impact when being relied upon in those positions is another thing. And the Italian has failed to make the grade in that regard, only mustering up four goal contributions for Juventus in all competitions last season (two goals, two assists).
Despite offers from Napoli, Seville, and other top-flight European clubs, it looks like Toronto will beat them to Bernardeschi’s signature. However, the deal hung in the balance of Alejandro Poluelo joining Inter Miami, which he has, meaning The Reds have a ‘Designated Player’ slot free.
A ‘Designated Player’ allows a club to possess a player whose salary is outside the league’s cap. Each club in the MLS has three of these allocations, typically used to sign high-reputation players or tie down a vital player to a bumper contract. This is also known as the ‘David Beckham Rule’ as it was introduced in 2007 to allow the former Manchester United legend to sign for LA Galaxy.
As Pozuelo has now officially joined Inter Miami, Toronto is now pushing more than ever to get the deal over the line and what a coup it would be.
Despite having a tough time at Juventus, the Italian is a creative force at his best that would be an invaluable asset to any team. At 28, he is in his prime years with regular football is needed to express his quality. And the MLS would provide him with that opportunity to be a pivotal player.
Bob Bradley’s side plays in a 4-4-2 formation, which looks to use width to stretch the pitch and passing plays between the wingers, full backs, and central midfielders to put balls into the box for Jesus Jimenez and Ayo Akinola.
With Insigne coming in, we could see Akinola swapped out for the 31-year-old. And with Bernardeschi poised to replace Pozuelo on the right side of midfield, Bradley will utilise the experience of the Italians to help his young team (second youngest squad in MLS) and encourage a more fluid, tighter, ball-to-feet style of play.
When at Fiorentina, Bernardeschi was the creative mantle with 40 chances created in the 2015-16 season and scored 11 goals and assisted four in 2016-17.
Alejandro Pozuelo has been Toronto’s main creative spark with 35 chances created this season, where he has helped himself to four goals and four assists - the second most contributions in the team behind Jesus Jimenez (eight goals, three assists).
Losing such an integral player is rough. But in Bob Bradley’s case, they are moving on from him to make room for the former Fiorentina man, suggesting they are confident that the player coming in is a significant upgrade on the 30-year-old.
Bernardeschi is going to bring title-winning and international experience to the Canadian side. With a history of being creative and technical at the highest level and rapport with new arrival Lorenzo Insigne, this could be the catalyst to turn a season around for a young team struggling.
Tactically, we could see a more fluid approach in the attacking third to utilise the versatility of the former Juventus man and Insigne. This new dynamic to the system would create unpredictability in the attack as the Italian international can operate on both sides and centrally.
Whether deployed centrally or on either wing, Bernardeschi’s intelligence and ability to play incisive progressive passes combined with the quality of Insigne and Jimenez would make Toronto a force to be reckoned with going forward.
If the Canadian franchise can get this deal over the line, it shows a sign of intent. This young team needs guidance. And with Bernardeschi and Insigne, experience and ability can be added to a team that desperately needs it.
With the 28-year-old, however, they’re also getting a new creative spark. A winner for the club and the country, Bernardeschi is someone who has produced whenever needed. He is a player who needs a fresh start to become the backbone of a team.
He still has a lot to offer and at his age, he should be in his prime and can offer Toronto years of service ahead.
As LAFC add their national team captain Giorgio Chiellini and Champions League winner Gareth Bale to their roster, the competition in the MLS is only getting stronger with the need to keep up.
They have reacted by signing someone having 121 goals for Napoli and closing in on a player who is sought after in Europe for his versatility and creativity. If this Italian contingency can produce as they did in Europe, then the glory days of Sebastian Giovinco may as well return to the BMO Field.
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