The fleeting Italian influence of Borini and Chinaglia

The city of Swansea has a strong Italian heritage dating back to the early 1900’s, but the modern day link is connected more with ice-cream than football, despite Swansea now representing Wales in the cosmopolitan environment of the English Premier League. In fact, throughout their long and established history in the professional game, Swansea City have surprisingly only fielded two notable Italian footballers, but both made a significant impact for very different reasons despite only making a handful of appearances for the club.
The modern Italian hero for Swansea City fans is Fabio Borini. The young striker arrived on-loan from Chelsea at a crucial time in the clubs push for Premier League promotion last season, and his form in front of goal combined with his creativity and telepathic relationship with his teammates made the 20-year-old from Bologna an instant success. Borini offered the perfect lift to Brendan Rodgers tired side as he repaid the faith shown in him by his former Chelsea youth team boss, and rewarded his temporary club with six goals in his nine appearances, the most memorable of his nine games being against Reading in the victorious play-off final.
But Borini’s achievements in the game to date barely make him worthy of lacing the boots of the first Italian striker to become a terrace hero in the Welsh city, although Borini’s influence at Swansea City was far more notable than the impression made by the other Italian at the Vetch Field during the 1960’s. Born in the Tuscan province of Carrara, Giorgio Chinaglia began his professional football career at Swansea Town in 1964 but made only six senior appearances before returning to his homeland two years later. In time, Chinaglia would become a legendary figure at Rome giants Lazio, play for his country at the World Cup and become one of the New York Cosmos’ greatest ever players.
The two Italian strikers share similar yet contrasting stories. Both scored their first senior goals in the professional game at Swansea City in their respective brief spells with the club at the same stage of their careers. But while Borini enjoyed the spotlight and glamour of making headlines at a club pushing to join the elite of the world game, Chinaglia joined a struggling Swansea Town side in the third tier of the Football League, but both become instant terrace heroes with their distinctive style of play and continental flair. However, while Borini scored on the field, Chinaglia scored in local pubs, clubs and casinos during the swinging sixties and quickly became the clubs resident playboy.
Borini arrived at Swansea City on-loan from English giants Chelsea. Disciplined and already wise to Brendan Rodgers, Borini quickly settled during his brief time in South Wales. However, it was a different story for Chinaglia as the striker arrived in Cardiff at the age of 13 as his family moved away from an Italian economy struggling to recover after the war. His father Mario opened a restaurant in the capital and after the young Chinaglia impressed on the football field for the Cardiff Schools team, he was invited to join rivals Swansea Town in 1962 as an apprentice.
His background proved crucial in his failures. Despite earning a professional contract with the club, Chinaglia was easily distracted as he came of age and his lack of discipline during his time at the Vetch Field eventually forced his release. He rarely trained and found little motivation to play for the clubs reverse side, but on the few occasions that he did focus on his football, he became an instant favourite with those on the North Bank. Playing under the management of both Trevor Morris and Glyn Davies at the club, Chinaglia’s poor attitude saw him return to Italy in 1966 as the club released him at the end of his contract after yet another financial fine for the wayward talent.
By comparison, Borini’s return to Italy from Swansea City was a move the club would have done everything to avoid. Despite making less then ten appearances, Borini had proved to be a crucial component of the clubs promotion to the Premier League and the striker had done enough to warrant being a part of the club’s rise into the top-flight. While the city of Swansea celebrated, news emerged that Borini had signed a pre-contract agreement with Italian side Parma earlier in the season and would return to his native homeland to sign a lucrative five-year contract with the club. Agreed long before Swansea City had requested his services on-loan, Borini left South Wales wondering what might have been, while 45 years before, Chinaglia had spent his last few months at the club touting himself to Italian sides for a pre-season trial as a means to a permanent exit from the club that no longer wanted him.
Chinaglia returned to Tuscany the following season with Massese before his performances caught the attention of their Serie C rivals Internapoli. Scoring consistently, he earned his big break in 1969 when Lazio took a chance on the emerging star. He repaid them by becoming a legend for the club over the next seven years with an average return of a goal every other game and his performances earned him a place in the Italian squad for the 1974 World Cup finals. Borini has yet to earn a full International cap for his country, but he has represented Italy at every age group and still remains eligible for the Under-21 side.
However, legendary status for Chinaglia was not restricted to Lazio and in 1976 he joined the soccer revolution in North America and signed for the New York Cosmos. His incredible goal-scoring feats continued as he scored close to 200 goals in almost as many appearances over the next seven seasons and stayed with the team as the soccer gamble in the States collapsed and re-emerged as an indoor league in 1981. Chinaglia was later elected into the United States National Soccer Hall of Fame for his achievements. His success being at the other end of the football spectrum in a career that began with his release from Swansea City.
For Borini meanwhile his career remains in its infancy. However, like Chinaglia, the first steps of his career have been spent both starring for, and quickly leaving, Swansea, and the Parma prodigy has now ironically arrived at Lazio’s Roman-rivals Roma on-loan. Although he has yet to hit the target for the Giallorossi, his performances have echoed his English football upbringing and the young striker offers a different dimension to a team already breaking away from the traditional Italian-style of play under the management of former Spanish star Luis Enrique. The status of Serie A and its order of European merit has been a source of debate in recent months, but the sport and its leading clubs remain a pivotal part of Italian society and Borini could yet enjoy a long period of success in his homeland.
Long-retired as a player, Chinaglia, 64, now resides in the United States as a naturalised American but remains involved in the game as a pundit through his regular media work. However, Borini is still learning his trade and his lucrative contract at Parma could prove to be a wise investment, especially if he should follow the same path of the only other Italian striker to wear the white of Swansea City. Both strikers may have spent only a small part of their career at the Swans, but their respective time with the club has proved a valuable education in their professional lives, while Borini may not have ruled out an eventual return to complete some unfinished business.
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