Giovinco may be happy in Toronto, but Chinese interest is reason for concern
Toronto FC didn't waste any time responding to Tuesday's news that star forward Sebastian Giovinco's agent had received a "huge offer" from an unnamed Chinese Super League club, saying there had been no contact regarding the player from any team in China.
Whether or not that's the end of it remains to be seen.
By all accounts, Giovinco is happy as a clam in Canada. Why wouldn't he be? He's the best player in MLS, maybe ever. He lives in one of the safest, most culturally diverse big cities in North America. He and his young family have embraced Toronto, and although the locals have returned the favor, they respect his privacy enough to give him the relatively normal life that eluded him in his hometown of Turin, Italy, where he played for Serie A giant Juventus. Oh, and let's not forget that Giovinco is also the second-highest-paid player in the league; the $7.16 million in guaranteed compensation he raked in last season was just $52,000 less than former Ballon d'Or winner Kaka earned with Orlando City.
Yet nobody should blame TFC fans for being worried.
When players like Oscar and John Obi Mikel, age 25 and 29 respectively, are leaving Chelsea for the crazy money on offer in China, it would be silly to think that Giovinco is untouchable. Everyone has a price. That goes for MLS and Toronto FC, too. The Reds have said repeatedly that Giovinco isn't for sale. No doubt the league would hate to lose him. But if Giovinco is at all interested -- don't forget how unsettled another Chelsea player, Diego Costa, reportedly became when the CSL came calling -- keeping him might become a challenge.
Money isn't everything, of course. But Giovinco just turned 30 and, like all players, he knows his career won't last forever. Sometimes an offer is simply too good to refuse.
It's also worth noting Giovinco wasn't thrilled about a few things toward the end of last season, like not being among the three finalists for MVP honors despite a strong case to win the award for the second straight year. He rued the state of the BMO Field pitch after half a year of ground-sharing with the Canadian Football League's Argonauts. Like any player, he's always going to consider his options.
If it comes to the point where Giovinco had his heart set on leaving, it would be foolish to force an unhappy player to stay instead of accepting the hefty transfer fee, wishing him well and reinvesting in the roster.
But losing Giovinco would also be a huge blow for the club and MLS, not least because of the timing. With the European transfer window set to close in a matter of days, it would be next to impossible for TFC to find a replacement. It would also hurt perception-wise: Giovinco's 2015 arrival supposedly ushered in a trend of in-their-prime designated players joining MLS. Outside of the LA Galaxy landing Giovani dos Santos, that hasn't really happened.
There is some good news for skittish Reds supporters, though. Losing Giovinco wouldn't undo the progress that Toronto FC made last year, nor would it prevent them from competing for MLS Cup this season. Greg Vanney's roster is well balanced. Fellow DPs Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley aren't going anywhere. TFC has always been willing to spend money and would surely add a third big-money man in the summer. And let's not forget that the Seattle Sounders, who beat the Reds on penalties in last month's MLS Cup final, hoisted the hardware despite selling striker Obafemi Martins to Shanghai Shenhua on the eve of the 2016 campaign and then losing Clint Dempsey to an irregular heartbeat down the stretch.
That's just how it is in MLS, where things rarely go according to plan.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.