When reports surfaced about Fiorentina preparing a big bid for Sporting Kansas City starlet Gianluca Busio, we were equal parts skeptical and intrigued. More than either, though, we were just confused, as MLS isn’t exactly our area of expertise. Fortunately, it’s very much the area of expertise for Chad Smith (not the Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer as far as we know, but we’re not certain), editor at our sister site the Blue Testament and all around excellent dude.
Viola Nation: Not a lot of 17-year-old kids playing in the top tier. What’s Busio’s origin story? How’d he wind up at Sporting Kansas City? What’s been his career trajectory thus far?
Chad Smith: Gianluca Busio joined the Sporting Kansas City Academy by way of North Carolina. He was just 13-years-old when he chose to leave his family and move across the country to join Sporting. His father was born in Italy and is the reason he holds an Italian passport. He went on to sign his first professional contract at just 15-years-old (and 89 days). At that time, he was the second youngest player to ever sign a MLS contract.
At this point, he’s more potential than first team contributor, though his contributions in 2019 were far greater than his debut season. He played in 22 MLS games (10 starts) and notched three goals and an assist in just 923 minutes. He also made five appearances (all starts) for Sporting’s second division team, the Swope Park Rangers, for 416 more minutes and added an additional goal.
If he sticks with Sporting KC, he’s set for a potential breakout year in 2020 when he could be getting a lot more minutes as a starter.
VN: What does he do best on the field? What does he need to work on? Any signature moments?
CS: Busio is a fantastic creator on the field. He has quite the imagination, even if everything doesn’t quite come off yet. He went from looking like a boy among men when he debuted in 2018 to looking like he belonged in 2019.
He has primarily lined up at attacking midfielder but Sporting essentially play with two box-to-box midfielders who are both given the opportunity to create. I personally can’t help but wonder if he’d be better suited as a secondary striker underneath a strong center forward as he has a nose for goal but his midfield role leaves him far away at times.Where he has struggled in SKC’s system is with the demands that Head Coach and Sporting Director Peter Vermes put on players in regards to fitness and non-stop pursuit of the ball from his midfielders. Busio isn’t as tenacious as some of the other guys, though he’s adding that to his game.
As for a signature moment. He scored in three consecutive games early in this past season (two goals of which salvaged a point), including one where the team was almost entirely backups as SKC prepared to face C.F. Monterrey (Mexico) in the CONCACAF Champions League decisive second leg.
VN: Making a transatlantic move as a teenager isn’t easy. From what you can tell, would Busio do well with such a drastic life change? He’s obviously got the family connection, but the experiences of guys like Josh Pérez and Cody Sundquist (who struggled a bit in Italy before heading back to the US) is a cause for concern.
CS: I think he would probably be fine. It seems he’s been grooming himself for this since the moment he decided soccer would be his life’s pursuit. He already left home at 13 to move across the United States. This would obviously be a longer journey but his father is Italian, so I imagine he’s been before. Also, when I interviewed him last preseason, he seemed determined to get to Europe within the next couple years. For being a “kid” he acts a lot more like an adult than many of the “grown-ups” I’ve met in my life.
VN: Peter Vermes claims he’ll hold out for $10 million, which is a lot of money for a dude who can barely get into an R-rated movie. Is Vermes serious, or is he just trying to drive up the price a bit? Is this standard behavior for him?
CS: In the past, Vermes has been known as a bit of a wheeler and dealer. He’s always making interesting trades within the league. He’s even successfully sold some players abroad. However, his biggest miss is probably with another young American, Erik Palmer-Brown. EPB was linked to Juventus and went on loan to Porto where he was to be sold but eventually it all fell through and he walked on a free transfer to Manchester City.
I think Vermes has learned from the EPB situation and he will ultimately sell Busio. Whether he’ll get $10 million or not, I’m unsure, but I do think he’s serious. In the past, other Sporting KC staff members have been quoted as saying $10 million wouldn’t even be enough, though that feels a bit like bluster. The current offers feel too low though and I believe he’ll hold out for more.
VN: What’s the feeling at The Blue Testament about selling Busio? Are folks desperate to keep him or hoping to sell high? How about in the wider fan base?
CS: I’ll start with the wider fans. Casual fans will no doubt be upset when Busio is eventually sold. However, I think the more hardcore fans and the staffers at The Blue Testament are more accepting of the eventual sale. I don’t think it’ll happen in the winter but it could come in the summer window or after the 2020 MLS season. Sporting have him under contract through 2022 and I see him leaving with at least 18-months left on that deal.
As much as Busio looks like a star, if he wants to go abroad Vermes won’t stop him. MLS is learning that they must sell some of their young stars to recoup the cost of their academies and even their first team operations. Sporting KC have invested heavily in their Pinnacle training facility and for the foreseeable future, this is how they’ll help pay for things.
And all of a sudden, boom. Now you know a lot more about Gianluca Busio. Thanks, Chad!