Last summer, Italy’s legendary center back Giorgio Chiellini surprised the sports world when he left his beloved Juventus to join MLS side Los Angeles FC.
Regarded by many as one of the most iconic defenders of the last 20 years, Chiellini, now 38, recently talked about his impact with the United States and his first season in North America’s top flight of soccer.
“I was lucky to find a club like LAFC who wanted me, a very organized club with first-level ownership and management and last but not least, a very good team that could help me win other trophies,” said Chiellini in our interview on Tuesday.
Chiellini’s resume is, to say the least, remarkably successful. He boasts a record nine consecutive Scudetti with Juventus, five Coppa Italia and five Supercoppa Italiana trophies. At the international level, he reached the UEFA Champions League final twice but both times fell short at the hands of Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid.
It wasn’t until 2021 that the Pisa, Tuscany native achieved international glory as the captain of the Italy national team that hoisted the UEFA European Championship, a prestigious piece of silverware that had eluded the Azzurri for 53 years.
Last summer, 517 appearances and 22 years after his professional debut as a teenager, Chiellini left Italian soccer to start a new chapter in the U.S., bringing along his distinctive winning habits: With LAFC, he clinched both the MLS Cup and the MLS Supporters’ Shield in his inaugural season, a veni, vidi, vici type of situation for one of the most acclaimed center backs in world soccer.
Chiellini, who is represented by Milan-based agency Reset Group, believes that the North American soccer product is steadily growing. He sees in the league’s solid structure the factor that can gradually turn it into one of the world’s most attractive club competitions.
“The league will be growing in the next few years, the average level is increasing a lot, the teams are prepared and the clubs are organized,” said Chiellini. “Every match is sold out and the interest in soccer is rising year by year.”
He has, however, identified a limit in the status quo that he thinks is currently interfering with the league’s ability to attract the world’s best soccer talent.
“We need more flexibility in the salary cap and we have to find a way for clubs that want to invest to do it, like it’s possible in other sports,” he added.
When asked to draw a comparison between American and European soccer, Chiellini mentioned that there are unbridgeable cultural differences in the way this particular sport is perceived across the two continents.
“Here (in the U.S.), the most important thing is the show,” said Chiellini. “The experience starts many hours before the game and you go to the stadium to have fun, not just for the result.”
Chiellini highlights that the league’s strict financial regulations, which monitor things like salary expenditures, take some pressure away from clubs, who are not forced to consistently achieve sporting results to justify their spending. As a result, he has felt first-hand that MLS soccer players operate in a much different work environment with respect to what he experienced in European soccer.
“The lack of relegation gives more stability and peace of mind to the club and fans,” he explained. “The pressure during the regular season was smaller, but close to the end and during the playoffs it became higher.”
Chiellini, who holds a degree in Economics & Commerce and a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Turin, has always nurtured other passions alongside his innate love for soccer. In last year’s interview to Italian finance newspaper IlSole24Ore, he talked about the importance for professional soccer players to invest their money early in their career to make sure they can maintain a similar living standard once they retire.
One of the perks of signing with a U.S.-based team is that he has been able to enrich his investor awareness, with the city of Los Angeles playing a huge role as one the world’s major investment hubs.
“For sure this experience will stay with me for the rest of my life. It has taught me a lot, stimulating my curiosity and my search for new investment opportunities,” Chiellini said.
“It took me three to four months to understand the city, but I’m sure that when I’m back in Europe, I’ll be a more informed investor, especially in the sports business.”