MICHAEL HADLEY - Monday, July 2, 2012
Soccer is often described as the "beautiful game," but to many players things are a bit more muddied. For every superstar, there are thousands of young men searching for any chance as simple as a trial.
Each player has his own story, his own incredible history of trotting the globe in search of work.
Giuseppe "Joe" Funicello is as unique as anyone could possibly find. Born in Agropoli, Italy, Joe moved to the United States with his parents to attend primary school. By age 16, he had moved back to Italy to work out and train with Salernitana, but never received the playing time he had hoped for in the original move.
More of the same came when Funicello moved back to the US, working out with the New York MetroStars, but only seeing real playing time for their Under-20 squad.
After a successful run to U-20 national finals, the offers stopped coming.
"There was no more soccer," Funicello said, "What was I going to do? I wasn't going to get a first team contract from [the MetroStars]."
So what was a young soccer player to do? As an Italian citizen, Funicello had a European Union passport, so it was back to Europe, England specifically, despite not knowing a more than a few people in the entire country.
"I bought a one-way ticket to England," Funicello explained, "and told my mom where I was going."
Living in England, Funicello found himself sleeping on a friend's couch and working late night shifts at a London's Gap store. From there he was able to save enough money to have a videographer film his English non-league games to create a video highlight reel to get himself noticed.
"I got a highlight reel together of all my games and was signed by Real Maryland," he noted of his experiences. "A close friend and [former] teammate was able to show my video to the coach. The coach saw the video and invited me in for a trial and I signed shortly after."
The 22-year old eventually hired an agent and went on trial with the Icelandic club Thor Akureyri, playing 13 games in the 2010 season. He then found his way into the Finnish soccer league with IFK Mariehamm in Finland's first division.
Funicello's luck would run out when a fractured bone in his knee left which left him watching the action rather than participating in it. After recovering, he left for Vaasan Palloseura where he again was injured, this time tearing ligaments in his ankle during his second practice with the team.
But when Thor Akureyri made it to the Europa League by virtue of a second place finish in the Icelandic Cup, Funicello thought the opportunity to play European soccer at a high level was too much to pass up. He left Finland for his old squad in Iceland, rejoining them before their summer-based season began.
"It's going to be an experience, this is something you dream of, to play in European competition," he remarked of his new/old home in Iceland. "That's why I came back, for this opportunity."
Thor will play in the opening round against Bohemian FC of Ireland, and they currently reside in first place in Iceland's second division, sitting at 16 points after six games played.
Funicello's unconventional path through his professional soccer career isn't all that sets him apart from his peers. Despite not being a full US citizen yet - he has the paper work going and plans to take his citizenship test in July - Funicello has operated a sort of scouting agency for what he calls "average Joes" looking to kick start their professional careers.
"It's called Soccer Visa," Funicello said in his deceivingly thick American accent, "I'm going to be helping players get their professional careers started. I have a lot of contacts in Iceland where they like American players, and so I'm going to hold combines and I'm going to help these players get to Iceland or other Scandinavian counties."
All of Funicello's work in the United States, along with his childhood in Connecticut, has clearly given the Italy-born defender an American attitude about soccer. Even his time abroad only rounded some of the edges forged during his years learning the game here.
"I learned to play the game in America," he said sturdily, "I grew up playing the game in America. America gave me my drive, my passion; it taught me the foot skills I know, the game that I love."
"That's why I want to play for America - Italy is where I would like to be, but my ultimate goal is to have at least one cap for the US National Team. If I play in Italy, second division, there's an opportunity."
There is a definite drive about Giuseppe Funicello that sets him apart from so many young soccer players with similar aspirations in life. Moving to a country to live in a hostel while playing at an amateur-level would be difficult for someone twice his age, but Funicello figured out a way to make it work.
After knee problems sidelined him and ankle injuries interrupted the move to a new club, Funicello could have again given up and returned home, steering his ship to safer and more familiar waters. But the soon to be US citizen refused to give up, creating his own business venture along the way.
And what of the fullback's future in soccer?
"I'm getting fit. Keep your eyes out because I'm hungry."