Major League Soccer

Lorenzo Insigne to Toronto FC & the start of 'MLS 4.0'

Chris Smith
Lorenzo Insigne won Euro 2020 in July & is now joining Toronto FC
Lorenzo Insigne won Euro 2020 in July & is now joining Toronto FC / GES-Sportfoto/GettyImages

It still seems barely believable, but Lorenzo Insigne is joining Toronto FC.

That's right, an integral part of Italy's European Championship-winning side and the captain of one of Serie A's leading lights is coming to Major League Soccer at just 30 years old.

Journalist Fabrizio Romano removed any doubt from the situation, tweeting photos of the winger in a Toronto jersey - subsequently sending TFC Twitter into meltdown.

For a long time, MLS commissioner Don Garber has preached the need for the league to become a big player in the global selling market. That has largely been achieved.

Over the past couple of years, homegrown players have been sent to Europe for increasingly larger sums - from Alphonso Davies joining Bayern Munich to, most recently, Ricardo Pepi's switch from FC Dallas to FC Augsburg. The likes of Tyler Adams, Gianluca Busio, Tanner Tessman, and Chris Richards have all walked similar paths.

This is known to many as 'MLS 3.0'. The third iteration of the league's growth after establishment as 'MLS 1.0', and David Beckham's arrival heralding movement of more veteran stars to the league as 'MLS 2.0'. Fittingly, Garber also credits Toronto FC joining MLS in 2007 as part of the latter.

So, is this what 'MLS 4.0' looks like? Clubs bringing stars from Europe who are firmly stood on top of the hill, not tumbling down the wrong side of it?

Well, before we get ahead of ourselves, it's important to note this isn't the first time Toronto have persuaded a star of the Italian national team to join their ranks.

TFC's capture of Sebastian Giovinco from Juventus in 2015 shocked the wider footballing community, not least because the diminutive forward was still in his 20s. With an annual salary of $7m, he became the highest-paid player in MLS ahead of Orlando City's Kaka. His effect on the pitch was transformative, scoring 83 goals in 142 games to lead TFC to seven pieces of silverware, including 2017's MLS Cup.

But it's only when you stand back and look at the lengths Toronto have gone to in order to sign Insigne that the true scale of their ambition becomes clear.

It was as recently as November that a move to Inter looked all but done, with the reigning Serie A champions willing to offer Insigne the improved terms Napoli would not.

Tottenham Hotspur then emerged as the leading Premier League suitor, with sources telling 90min the London club were willing to offer Insigne close to $170k per week - a $35k improvement on the terms put forward by Inter. Sources also confirm Borussia Dortmund had a passing interest but never came to the table with an actual offer.

In December, everything changed. Toronto dwarfed every other offer put to Insigne, slapping down $13m per year ($250k per week) and making it painstakingly clear they were desperate to complete a deal.

That tipped the scales. Sources have confirmed to 90min that other offers from around Europe would have been likely, but that Insigne was impressed by Toronto's desire to bring him across the Atlantic. The Italian felt wanted, and that was enough for him.

Is this the start of MLS clubs not just selling talented homegrowns to the European market and letting the world know they exist, but also bringing stars of the game the other way in their prime, rather than as a shadow of their former selves?

This might not even be the last time Toronto pull that stunt this winter, with Torino striker and Insigne's Italy teammate Andrea Belotti also linked with a move - as is veteran defender Domenico Criscito. Highly-rated Mexican center-back Carlos Salcedo could join from Liga MX giants Tigres, and even liked a social media post linking him to Toronto.

For this to really be 'MLS 4.0', it'll take more than just Toronto throwing their weight around. The likes of Atlanta United and Seattle Sounders need to get involved, too. The LA Galaxy will continue to taste success with veterans like Chicharito, but even they must be impressed (and a little envious) of Toronto's business.

Ambition can take individual clubs a long way in MLS. Perhaps this time it'll lead the league into a new age too.