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Former NASL Soccer Star Giorgio Chinaglia Dies at 65

Italian soccer star Giorgio Chinaglia has died aged 65 at his home in Florida, friends and former colleagues have confirmed.

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Chinaglia was a big-time goal-scorer for the New York Cosmos, and before that, the Italian team Lazio. At the height of his fame Chinaglia performed a novelty song, "Football Crazy". It included the line 'I'm better than the rest'.

By all accounts, Chinaglia did have a big ego. But he had something else: the talent to back it up.

Giorgio Chinaglia joined the New York Cosmos in 1976. Unlike some of the team's other stars, including the Brazilian Pelé, Chinaglia was at the peak of his career when he arrived. Two seasons earlier, he'd been the top scorer in the Italian league, playing for one of Rome's teams, Lazio. And he made an impression on a then-9-year-old living in Italy, William Troop.

"He was this huge character on the field, like, literally, physically this huge character," remembers Troop. "He was, I think, just over 6' at a time when soccer players just weren't that tall."

William Troop is an editor at The World, but he's also a Lazio super-fan. Chinaglia was a huge guy who towered over his teammates and demanded that they pass him the ball, and he had the power to win games for Troop's team.

"He only had eyes for the ball, and the goal and how he was going to get it in there. And you really could feel it as you were watching that this man was obsessed with scoring and winning," says Troop.

When Chinaglia brought those skills to New York, soccer fans here went crazy for him too. In 1978 a newspaper article compared him to Reggie Jackson, the Yankees clutch hitter. 'The enigmatic Chinaglia is the "home run threat"' read the article.

With the Cosmos, Chinaglia was playing alongside some of the greatest names in soccer: the Germany's Franz Beckenbauer, the Brazilian defender Carlos Alberto, and, of course, Alberto's compatriot Pelé.

But Chinaglia's self-belief knew no bounds, as the soccer writer David Hirshey recalled in a documentary about the Cosmos called Once in a Lifetime.

There was a memorable episode in the Cosmos locker room when Chinaglia said he was disgusted that Pelé wasn't giving him the service he needed to score goals. Pelé, you can imagine, is not used to teammates criticizing him, fired right back: you shoot from no f–– angle. And Chinaglia jumped off his stool and shouted 'I am Chinaglia: if I shoot from someplace it's because Chinaglia can score from that place.' And Pelé was near tears, shook his head and walked out of the locker room.

It wasn't the first time Chinaglia's ego had reared its head. In 1974 he was playing for Italy in the soccer World Cup. During one game the coach took him off the field and substituted him for another player. Chinaglia swore at the Italian coach, remembers William Troop:

"He just stormed off the field without talking to anybody, just went straight into the dressing room," Troop says. "That kind of stuff, you see a lot of players doing that today, it's more common now. Back then I don't think anybody had done that, ever."

Giorgio Chinaglia left his mark on soccer, perhaps as the prototypical petulant star. But also as an out-and-out goalscorer. After his playing days ended, Chinaglia built a new career as a broadcaster. On a show called Sports Snack, on the Italian American Network, he made this argument to his co-host Charlie Stillitano: win and no-one will mind too much how you behave.

"It's the results at the end of the day that count," he said.

Chinaglia's song, Football Crazy, also included these lines:

Yes I'm the best. I'm the best in all the world. I'm the strongest of them all.