Toronto FC striker Sebastian Giovinco sold to Saudi Arabian club Al-Hilal FC

TORONTO – The Sebastian Giovinco era in Toronto is over.

Toronto FC, unwilling to meet the Italian international’s contract demands, has sold Giovinco to Saudi Arabian club Al-Hilal FC. The news was confirmed by Toronto FC Wednesday night.

Toronto had already turned down one bid for the Atomic Ant from a Middle East club. But facing an impasse in contact negotiations, it got what it could for Giovinco on Wednesday with the January FIFA transfer window about to close.

The former MLS MVP had missed pre-season training this week in California with a club spokesman saying the 32-year-old Italian international had been excused due to “leg tightness.”

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But Giovinco, whose MLS contract was expiring at the end of the 2019 season, was unhappy with the progress of contract negotiations. His camp rattled the cage. And a winning bid with money to spend emerged.

TFC had been in daily talks with Giovinco’s agent about a new deal, according to team president Bill Manning. The Italian was the top earner in MLS last year at US$7.115 million.

Manning said he had offered a new deal that would have put him in the top six or seven in the league, which last season meant at least $5 million a year.

“They (the Giovinco camp) don’t like it,” Manning said in an interview Tuesday night.

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Giovinco, who wears his heart on his sleeve, had made it clear he wanted the matter resolved. Toronto wanted a happy Giovinco but was not going to fling money at him, given his age.

Plus it knew he was able to sign a pre-contract with another club come July.

Contract negotiations had been “heightened” by external pressures, according to Manning, with the presence of so-called soccer brokers, well-connected promoters who look to strike deals that agents then attempt to consummate with the clubs in question.

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At his best, Giovinco was clearly Toronto FC’s finest player ever and perhaps the best player in MLS. Juventus’ loss was MLS’ gain as he came on board in 2015, terrorizing defenders with his pace and guile.

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He could finish with both feet and was deadly from set pieces.

In four seasons with Toronto, Giovinco had 68 goals and 52 assists in 114 regular-season games (111 starts). He won MVP honours in his debut 2015 season, when he was directly involved in 65 per cent of Toronto’s 58 goals with 22 goals and 16 assists.

TFC made the playoffs for the first time that year, reached the MLS Cup final in 2016 and won it all in 2017, capturing the MLS championship, Supporters’ Shield and Canadian Championship.

Last season, he had 13 goals and 15 assists in 28 games as Toronto suffered through a down year.

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