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Insigne to Toronto: What does it mean?

Toronto FC recently made headlines with the announcement that Italy star Lorenzo Insigne will be joining the club this summer when his current contract at Napoli expires.

A European champion at the peak of his abilities, Insigne’s move is challenging the perception that MLS teams cannot attract the world’s top talent.

We’ve delved into the data in an attempt to understand what Insigne to Toronto could mean.

What has Insigne achieved?

Insigne is a formidable goal threat, often cutting in from the left wing to curl the ball goalwards with his stronger right foot. Over almost 400 games for Napoli and Italy, he has scored more than 100 goals and provided almost as many assists, despite rarely being played as an out-and-out striker.

Insigne is the most valuable player ever to move to MLS

Toronto president Bill Manning admitted that he decided to pursue Insigne after using the soccer website Transfermarkt to identify world-class players who would soon be out of contract. The site also provides a market valuation for every player and – adjusting for exchange rates – the Italian is the most valuable signing ever by an MLS team.

Even with his current contract so close to expiry, Insigne’s services are deemed to be worth $27.2million, marginally more than David Beckham’s value when he moved to LA Galaxy in 2007.

Insigne will shatter the MLS salary ceiling

Insigne’s talents do not come cheap, with his reported base salary far in excess of the league’s previous top earners. Zlatan Ibrahimovic set the record in 2019 when LA Galaxy were giving him a guaranteed $7.2m per year, while last season the list was topped by the $6m that the same club were paying Javier Hernandez.

While the exact figure for Insigne’s remuneration won’t become public knowledge until the next MLS salary report in September, the figure is expected to be an eye-watering $13m per year. Even if the true number turns out to be lower, he will surely be the most well-paid soccer star in the country by a comfortable margin.

MLS is a league on the rise

While the size of this deal has made headlines, it has been made possible by the speed at which the MLS has been growing, both in size and prestige. The average value of an MLS player has tripled in the last decade from just under half a million dollars in 2012 to almost $1.5m last season; one of the fastest rates of growth in world soccer.

However, it still has a lot of catching up to do, even with illustrious signings tipping the scales. For example, the average player in Mexico’s top league is currently worth $1.9m, while in the Italian Serie A – where Insigne currently plies his trade – it is much higher: over $9m.

In the richest league in the world – the English Premier League – this number doubles again to over $18m, funded by lucrative global broadcasting deals. For the MLS to compete internationally, it will need more players of Insigne’s quality.

Will the Insigne to MLS deal work out?

This signing represents a significant gamble by Toronto, but will it pay off? We can examine the precedent set by other notable arrivals, specifically the 50 most valuable MLS signings in the last five seasons according to Transfermarkt.

To quantify their effectiveness, we have compared the change in points won per game from the 20 games before each player arrived to the first 20 afterwards.

Overall, around half of these 50 triggered a noticeable improvement in performance in their new team’s next 20 matches. However, there were also around a quarter whose arrival makes things worse, so a marquee signing is not guaranteed to deliver an immediate boost.

Of particular concern to Toronto is how rarely the biggest signings make an instant impact. Only three of the 10 most valuable arrivals in our list saw their new team win more points in the first 20 games after their arrival than the 20 before.

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