TORONTO (Reuters) – Napoli captain Lorenzo Insigne has signed a pre-contract to join Toronto FC on a four-year deal after his contract with the Italian club expires in June, the Major League Soccer (MLS) side said on Saturday.
Insigne helped Italy to win the European Championship in July and his signing represents a coup for the MLS team after several European clubs were linked with the 30-year-old striker, who has 114 goals and 95 assists for Napoli in all competitions.
Toronto, MLS Cup winners in 2017 and runners-up in 2016 and 2019, are banking on Insigne to turn around a team coming off a miserable campaign during which they finished with the second-fewest points in the league.
“We want to be a champion and we know him being the captain of Napoli, what he brings to the table for us, and he will be the anchor for this team over the next four seasons on how we’re going to rebuild ourselves into a champion,” Toronto President Bill Manning told reporters in a video news conference.
Insigne will see out the season with his hometown club Napoli, who are third in Serie A after 20 games — six points behind leaders Inter Milan but having played a game more.
The diminutive forward will be added to the Toronto roster as a “designated player” — whose wages are not bound by the salary cap. Insigne is reportedly set to earn $12 million per season.
MLS teams can sign up to three designated players and Toronto’s quota is already filled by Alejandro Pozuelo, Jozy Altidore and Yeferson Soteldo.
The rule allowed MLS teams to sign several European stars such as David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney in the past.
While most Europeans joining the MLS have done so towards the end of their careers, Insigne’s move is reminiscent of former Italy international Sebastian Giovinco’s move to Toronto in 2015 at 28, which made him the highest-paid Italian footballer in the world.
The midfielder made a name for himself in the MLS, bagging the Golden Boot, MVP and Newcomer of the Year awards before guiding Toronto to the MLS Cup in 2017. He also averaged 20 goals a season during his four-year stint.
Manning called Insigne, who will easily be one of the most prominent players in MLS when he arrives, a transformational signing for not only Toronto but the entire league.
“This is a player in the prime of his career who just came off wining the European Championship… and has continued this year to play at a very high level,” said Manning.
“We’ve had a lot of famous players and amazing players come into this league but a player with his credentials and of his calibre in the prime of his career I’m not sure we’ve seen yet.”
(Reporting by Rohith Nair and Manasi Pathak in Bengaluru and Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Ken Ferris and Clare Fallon)