Giorgio Chinaglia passed this weekend - one of the few times he ever did. Well, if I'm gonna bash Paul Gardner when he's wrong, I need to praise him when he's right, and this was a fantastic article about the good and the bad of Giorgio Chinaglia.
Possibly it's because I'm a medium-grade sociopath, but it's always been hard for me to make the sudden adjustment to saying nice things about dead public figures, simply because they have died. Why will no one speak ill of the dead? On the off-chance close family members will be reading? Or perhaps for fear of invoking supernatural retribution - if one pick a member of the Soccer Hall of Fame who would make it a point of sending spiritual torment to critics beyond the grave, it would surely be Chinaglia.
Maybe I just feel weird about death being a good PR move. (JFK and Michael Jackson would probably disagree.) But there's something weird and dishonest about reading George Vecsey seemingly imply that the only reason people disliked Chinaglia was that he wouldn't track back on defense.
The insufferable former New York Cosmos great has resurfaced as a broadcaster and senior vice president of ChampionsWorld, the company that organized Manchester United's summer exhibition tour of America. Never mind the conflict of Chinaglia's singing ChampionsWorld's praises on TV without mentioning his financial interest, or the fact that he's a third-rate commentator lacking the most basic of insights. What's most galling is his blatantly revisionist history of the NASL -- he'd have us believe that every team played to sold-out stadiums -- and willful denigration of MLS (whose players, he told Sports Illustrated in 1998, "couldn't shine our shoes.") .... And just because you can make money on one-off exhibition tours doesn't mean you know jack about running a viable league -- and actually growing the sport -- in America.
This of course was very, very unfair. Chinaglia could not, in fact, make money off ChampionsWorld.
Well, maybe you had to see him in his prime - but those who did are painting a very shadowy picture. Even the jolly stories of the good old days of the NASL have an air of tawdry tackiness to me. Stories about how Chinaglia ran the Cosmos and everyone else had to, in the words of Shep Messing, "kiss his ring" - well, how that's any more charming than tales of locker room cancers before and since is something that completely eludes me.
"I hope you didn't mind me telling that story about you calling out Pele," I [David Hirshey] said to Chinaglia. His eyes twinkled with that familiar blend of menace and mischief.
"If I did," he replied, "you wouldn't be standing here."
But maybe it's the on-field stuff that is all that matters. That's what people paid for, that's what people wanted to see. And Chinaglia delivered. He won't be the first one to be remembered for his accomplishments and not his flaws. There are no more lawsuits now, no warrants, no ugly recriminations. The good that men do live on after them, and the evil is interred with their bones - if you score enough goals. If Chinaglia is any indication, Pele and Maradona may rest secure, knowing their legacies will glow even more brightly once inconvenient mortality is out of the way.
That doesn't feel right to me. If all you do is sum up someone as a series of numbers on a stat sheet - that's just as hollow and unjust as only focusing on his flaws. Greatness is only a part of the picture. Once you achieve greatness, what do you do with it? Isn't that part of the story?
What do our heroes teach us? That it's stupid to have heroes in the first place?
To me, Chinaglia seemed like an enemy. He wanted to keep American soccer small enough for him to control, and if he couldn't do it, he would curse it to his dying day. Which he probably did. Everything I've seen, read or encountered of him made it clear that Chinaglia was out for himself first, fans and teammates nowhere. I suppose it isn't helpful anymore to point out that if Chinaglia had his way, American soccer would be a poorer, more desolate place.
Maybe we lost a hero this weekend. Maybe we lost an icon. Maybe we lost a legend. But we sure didn't lose a friend.