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'I am Chinaglia'

"I am Chinaglia. If I shoot from a place, it's because Chinaglia can score from there"

Deprived of its context, a statement such as the above may seem egotistical, although no more than anyone would expect of a revered Italian striker in the 1970s. However, when we consider that it was in fact one of a series of reprimands regularly given to the great Pele, it is apparent we are dealing with a very special type of individual.

Giorgio 'Long John' Chinaglia was a larger-than-life character on and off the field. Physically imposing, blessed with an astonishing eye for goal and movie-star looks, he possessed a self-belief that would cast a shadow over a team comprising some of the finest players on the planet at the legendary New York Cosmos. Despite this, Chinaglia's beginnings were humble. His father, unable to find work amid the economic malaise of post-World War II Italy, moved his family to Cardiff, where he found a job as an iron worker.

The young Chinaglia's gifts were obvious to scouts in South Wales, but so too was the megalomania that was to characterise the fraught relationships he would have with authority throughout his life. The Italian did not play for his hometown club, Cardiff City, after he felt insulted that he was offered only a trial, but in 1964 signed for Swansea Town, as Swansea City were then known. His temperament was clear almost immediately as he reacted angrily after being assigned the menial chores of an apprentice when he believed he should have been in the first team.

His problems in South Wales only grew as he discovered his life-long vices of smoking, gambling, drinking and womanising. However, his days at Swansea were finally numbered when his father, so frustrated at his son's lack of first-team football, apparently entered the office of manager Billy Lucas and threatened him with an axe. The rumours about Chinaglia spread throughout the lower leagues and, as a result, no one would take him off Swansea's hands. As a result, the family moved back to Italy so that the young striker could complete his national service and begin rebuilding his career with the small Tuscan side Massese.

Chinaglia credited his national service with his newfound dedication to football, and within three seasons had found himself at Lazio and under the tutelage of mentor Tommaso Maestrelli. In seven seasons, he maintained a near one-in-two strike average in an era in which the 'Italian style' of defence was being firmly cemented in the public consciousness (and Lazio's defence of the time was regarded as the meanest of all). Nevertheless, Chinaglia's extraordinary potential was realised as he spearheaded the march to their first league title in 1973-74 and finished as Serie A's top goalscorer - a feat that gave him an almost Godlike status among the obsessive Lazio fans and won him the vote as the club's finest ever player at their centenary awards.

While his determination to succeed had brought spectacular results, his divisive personality continued to cause problems on and off the pitch. On it, he was constantly aggravating opposition, fans and colleagues alike; off it, he fell out with team-mates and coaches, not least during his spells away with the Italian national team, with which he had an all too short career having insulted the manager and smashed up water bottles in the changing room following a substitution against Haiti. With a growing number of enemies in Rome due to his colourful private life, he became sufficiently paranoid to begin carrying a gun in his car; when he was offered a way out of the city by the iconic New York Cosmos, he took it.

Many would have baulked at the idea of playing in the North American Soccer League at a time when it was perceived to be part pub-football/part circus, but the typically headstrong Chinaglia saw an opportunity to carve out a niche for himself in the new footballing world. In New York, he partnered - and often outshone - Pele in what was one of the most spectacular strike partnerships on the planet. Becoming a star the like of which had never been seen in football in the United States, the Italian had the ear of Cosmos owner and CEO of Warner communications Steve Ross, serving as a dressing-room spy and confidant.

This friendship with Ross saw a dramatic growth in both his influence on team affairs and also his notorious ego. In addition to regularly criticising and instructing a disbelieving Pele on how best to use his abilities for himself and the team, the Italian forward successfully lobbied Ross to move on several senior club officials, and even have the manager replaced. Among some of the greatest players the game has ever known, including Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto, Johan Neeskens and, of course, Pele, it was Chinaglia who reigned supreme.

This power was not solely based on his bond with Ross - far from it. It was based on goals. With the benefit of creative heavyweights alongside him, and buttressed by an unprecedented freedom, Chinaglia was prolific. Over seven seasons, the man they called 'Long John' had an average of almost a goal a game in over 200 league appearances, sending the all-important Cosmos brand into the stratosphere, and enabling them to embark on a number of lucrative globe-trotting tours.

Of course, the Cosmos ultimately disbanded along with the NASL - not helped by the huge wages that Chinaglia and his closest friends were claiming at the time - and the Italian retired soon after. However, the spectacular soccer bubble that was the Cosmos is widely credited with sparking the grassroots interest of the sport in the States, who have now qualified for every World Cup since 1990. For all his ruthless self-centredness, that is in no small part due Chinaglia's exploits.

He was found dead at his home in Florida this weekend having previously complained of chest pains. Chinaglia remains the highest scorer in American league soccer history and by some distance the worst free transfer Swansea ever made.

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