Toronto FC and Sebastian Giovinco want to stay together. But at what price?

TORONTO — The Giovinco sweepstakes are well under way with Toronto FC, which has turned down an offer from a Middle East club for the mercurial Italian, bargaining with its star striker's agent over a new contract.

The MLS club has already made its own offer in a bid to retain Sebastian Giovinco, whose existing contract expires at the end of the season. Given the 32-year-old Giovinco is MLS royalty — he topped the league in salary at US$7.115 million last season — the numbers are big.

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But not as big as before, apparently, and the Giovinco camp is not happy.

"They don't like it," Toronto president Bill Manning said in an interview Tuesday evening. "Ali (GM Ali Curtis) and myself and Andrea (Giovinco agent Andrea D'Amico) have talked. Right now we haven't progressed, I would say, (to) where we are comfortable."

Talks are ongoing daily. It seems both sides want to keep the marriage going. But at what price?

Manning says the team's current offer would keep the Atomic Ant in the top six or seven in the league — which in 2018 would means a salary of at least US$5 million (Toronto teammate Jozy Altidore, whose contract is also expiring, ranked seventh in 2018 at $5 million).

Manning says both sides hope a resolution can be reached sooner than later. Giovinco, a proud and emotional man, has made it clear he wants the matter resolved. And Toronto wants a happy Giovinco.

Plus he can sign a pre-contract with another club come July.

But knowing Giovinco has fewer years in front of him than behind, Toronto is not going to just fling money at him.

In evaluating player salaries, Manning says the club looks around the globe — "established soccer countries" — to see who gets what so it can "essentially pay what market rates are for players."

He said TFC did just that last season in determining the value of Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio, whose contract was expiring and who was drawing interest from elsewhere.

The club signed the 26-year-old Osorio to a new, more lucrative deal last August. At the time, Manning said it would make Osorio "one of the highest-paid Canadian players in the world,"

"I would say this is the same thing. We're tying to get a gauge for 'Hey, what's the world market value?'" Manning said.

The deep-pocketed Middle East skews those figures, he acknowledged. Which is why it could be a haven for the Italian if he decides to cash in. Toronto's Spanish playmaker Victor Vazquez decamped recently to Qatar's Al-Arabi SC.

Adding to the loud transfer chatter was the fact Giovinco missed training. But a club spokesman said Monday that Giovinco's agent had asked to take the forward to a doctor in Los Angeles "to evaluate some leg tension he's been experiencing."

"He'll be back with the team (Wednesday)," said Manning.

TFC is training at the University of California, Irvine.

Contract negotiations have been "heightened" by external pressures, according to Manning.

Complicating matters are so-called soccer brokers, well-connected promoters who look to strike deals that agents then attempt to consummate with the clubs in question. With the January transfer window about to close, they are working overtime.

"When you do transfer deals a lot of times brokers are involved. But it's silly time right now with the window closing," said Manning.

Manning says the club has also started talks with Altidore's representative. It has not yet with captain Michael Bradley, who has been away with the U.S. national team.

At his best, Giovinco is a pocket-sized wrecking crew who can score with both feet from a variety of distances. He terrorizes defenders who have to pick their poison — deal with his dancing feet or foul him, knowing he is deadly at set pieces.

In four seasons with Toronto, Giovinco has 68 goals and 52 assists in 114 regular-season games (111 starts). He won MVP honours in his debut 2015 season, when he was directly involved in 65 per cent of Toronto's 58 goals with 22 goals and 16 assists.

TFC made the playoffs for the first time that year, reached the MLS Cup final in 2016 and won it all in 2017, capturing the MLS championship, Supporters' Shield and Canadian Championship.

Last season, he had 13 goals and 15 assists in 28 games as Toronto suffered through a down year.

On another personnel matter, Manning said the club is speaking with the agent for Dutch international Gregory van der Wiel, who was sent home last week after an altercation with coach Greg Vanney.

"Right now Gregory is here in Toronto. We are speaking to his representatives and trying to find a solution that works," Manning said.

The solution is not expected to include a return to TFC.

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Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

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