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Sebastian Giovinco of Toronto FC looks on during the Tigres vs. Toronto FC CONCACAF Champions League soccer game at Universitario stadium in Mexico, on March 13, 2018.Daniel Becerril/Reuters

If you are at all nostalgic about soccer in Toronto, recent events at Toronto FC must feel like a nice, sticky memory bath. The chaos; the ill will; the sheer dim-wittery.

On Wednesday, the team sold its best player with no immediate plan to replace him. The season begins in three weeks.

This may yet prove to be some wild, outside-the-box thinking, but as a general rule sports franchises try to avoid this sort of thing.

Had it been a happy parting, it would still be a monumental cock-up. Of course, it was not. As he left, Sebastian Giovinco began doing that furious hand-sweeping-under-chin thing they favour in Italy and I believe is meant to be quite insulting.

In an Instagram post, Giovinco said his desire to stay in Toronto “clashed” with management’s evident desire that he not stay in Toronto. He accused them of “a lack of transparency,” and of using him.

“They may say I left for a more lucrative deal, but this is not the case,” Giovinco wrote. “It seems management prefers to focus on things other than the pure desire to win.”

TFC president Bill Manning snapped back on Thursday, telling The Canadian Press: “I think it’s a player who didn’t get his way.”

Maybe, but being in the right doesn’t help the club any.

Giovinco has played for Juventus and the Italian national team. At his height, he was the best player in the history of Major League Soccer. He’s still only 32.

Now he gets to play out whatever remains of his prime for Al-Hilal of the Saudi Pro League. This is a little like if Connor McDavid decided to play hockey in Brazil.

That his TFC career ends this way is a shame, given what the player represented to the club.

When Giovinco arrived in Canada four years ago, Toronto FC was not just bad. It was epochally bad. Even the smart things they did turned out stupid. The team was a Rube Goldberg machine of failure.

The most recent disaster had been the high-volume signing and higher-volume falling out with English striker Jermain Defoe. Defoe liked everything about coming to Canada, except the Canada part. After a little bit, he was ‘injured’ and returned home to England to do infinite rehab.

You can’t say that the team’s reputation was on the line with the Giovinco signing – it had no reputation to speak of. But had the move imploded, it’s unlikely any top player would ever again have answered a call from the 416 area code, never mind considered coming to Toronto.

Shockingly, it was an enormous success. Giovinco was spectacular. The team got good. It made a final in 2016 and won a championship the next year. Huzzah.

Last season was an inexplicable struggle. Then the wheels began coming off. Or rather, exploding off as if they have been mined and detonated.

General manager Tim Bezbatchenko – the man who’d built the championship side – up and quit at the new year in order to move to Columbus, Ohio.


(Bezbatchenko’s from Columbus, but still.)

Taken seemingly unawares, Toronto hired Ali Curtis – whom we’ll generously call a sports executive without portfolio – to replace him. To this point, Curtis’s mandate appears to be “Can someone please tell me which parking spot is mine? Someone? Please?”

Toronto’s two most (only?) cultured players were Giovinco and midfielder Victor Vazquez. They’ve both been sold in the past two weeks.

Under Curtis’s not-yet-one-month-long tenure, Toronto FC has gone from a fringe contender to an incipient catastrophe. If you go up to the team’s training facility, you may find Curtis tearing up the practice fields with a back hoe. Because landscaping isn’t cheap.

You begin to wonder if this is all Toronto FC’s fault. Was the team too successful for its own good?

TFC’s short-term role in the Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment plan was to win at any cost. The thinking of then MLSE president Tim Leiweke was that if Toronto FC could be made champions, people would believe the Leafs could, too.

On that score, mission accomplished.

The problem with winning after a long streak of losing is that people begin almost immediately to bore of you. Disasters are unique, but one success feels like any other. You find out too late that it was the struggle that kept them interested.

The problem with losing after you’ve finally won is that the suits begin to wonder what, exactly, are they paying you so much for. You’ve already done your job. Why don’t you have the good sense to leave?

Giovinco didn’t have that sense. He seemed to think that his services to the empire had earned him a career sinecure. Instead, he found himself on the business end of an austerity move.

Unlike Toronto’s other super earners, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, Giovinco was also the wrong nationality in a North American league.

Toronto FC still would not have done this to Giovinco if it thought it would roil the city.

It won’t. People are too busy with the Leafs and Raptors now. Using TFC as partial cover, those two franchises were finally able to figure it out.

By Thursday, local sports generalists had already moved on to the Raptors vs. Bucks for the NBA’s Eastern Conference lead. By Friday, they’ll be on to the Leafs debut of defenceman Jake Muzzin. By April, no one in this town will be able to recall it has a soccer team. Toronto FC will be allowed to revert to its old, completely bonkers incarnation with limited fuss.

MLSE also would not have let Giovinco go if it thought it reinforced the belief that all Toronto teams are dysfunctional.

But no thinks that any more. Between John Tavares and Kawhi Leonard, there is a new faith that they are capable of luring big stars who have other options.

Perhaps more than any other athlete, Giovinco helped bury all those corrosive ideas about local sports culture. And now, as a way of saying thank you, MLSE gets to bury him.