Pele was the face of the Cosmos, but in many ways Chinaglia was their real star

On this week's World Is A Ball, Team 33's Raf Diallo looks back on the New York team's greatest player

New York Cosmos, Giorgio Chinaglia, Pele

New York Cosmos' Pele (c) looks on as teammate Giorgio Chinaglia (l) runs at the Seattle Sounders defence. Picture by: Peter Robinson / EMPICS Sport

Ah, the 1970s! When all lads had long hair, sideburns and wore flared trousers.

Oh and treated disco dancefloors like John Travolta did in Saturday Night Fever to the sounds of the Bee Gees.

Those first two sentences are of course all factually incorrect but either way the '70s was an interesting time if you were a soccer fan in the US during that decade.

It was the era in which the short-lived North American Soccer League enjoyed its greatest degree of prominence with European and South American superstars like Pele, Franz Beckenbauer (both New York Cosmos), Johan Cruyff (Los Angeles Aztecs and Washington Diplomats), George Best (Aztecs, Fort Lauderdale and San Jose) and Bobby Moore (San Antonio) starring there in the twilight of their professional careers.

Ireland and Leeds United great John Giles was another and he shared his memories of his time with the Philadelphia Fury as part of a detailed article by Newstalk Sports' Cian Roche on the former NASL franchise. 

You can listen to Cian's interview with John on this week's Team 33 podcast which can also be downloaded on iTunes:

Pele's 1975 move to the Cosmos was viewed as a game-changer at the time as the player regarded by many as the best of all-time looked to give American soccer a real shot in the arm in a place (still) dominated by other sports.

It's a story which is threaded to one of the best football documentaries of all time, Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos (2006), but when you look back at the Cosmos, it was one of Pele's team-mates that really made a mark on the pitch.

Former Italy international striker Giorgio Chinaglia, who passed away four years ago at the age of 65 plundered goals galore in his seven-year spell with the Cosmos.

The Italy-born forward who was raised in Swansea, Wales from the age of 8, had enjoyed a decent career in Serie A, scoring almost 100 goals for Lazio between 1969 and 1976.

Those goals had also seen him win 14 Italy caps during that period, setting up future England manager Fabio Capello to score the winner for the Azzurri in their first ever Wembley win and also travelling to the 1974 World Cup in Germany.  

 

He took to American soccer like a fish to water, finishing as NASL top scorer in 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981 and ending up as Most Valuable Player in that latter year, while smashing in just shy of 200 goals in almost as many appearances.

Unlike his team-mate, Pele, who had effectively been in retirement before joining Cosmos, Chinaglia at 29 was still in his peak years when he moved Stateside.

But aside from overshadowing Pele and Beckenbauer - who both performed more than adequately for the Cosmos - on the pitch, the Once In A Lifetime documentary, also revealed the testy relationship Chinaglia had with the Brazilian in particular. 

"He's the only professional player I've heard in my life that would make criticisms of Pele," says Englishman Clive Toye, who co-founded the NASL, in the documentary, while Chinaglia himself suggested that he didn't mind the World Cup-winning great on the pitch - he even used the term "lovable" - but had problems with him on it.  

Indeed one of the anecdotes recalled in the film is an incident where Chinaglia almost drove Pele to tears in the dressing room after a row about their actions and interactions on the field.

The ego clash between the pair was put to an end once the older Pele left Cosmos in 1977, which left Chinaglia to be the star forward in a side that would win three more championships.

But although Pele remains the face of the Cosmos, the Italian made the greatest mark.

You can read more from Raf's The World Is A Ball series every Wednesday on Newstalk.com. To find past articles, head to the Team 33 show page. 

In 2014, we spoke to New York Cosmos' club historian David Kilpatrick and renowned New York Times sports columnist George Vecsey to remember the '70s era Cosmos and to talk about their legacy: