It’s Not Fun To Be A Fiorentina Fan Right Now
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Fiorentina is having a terrible summer. While many of Italy’s top teams have reinforced considerably, the Florentines have managed to decimate their own squad and infuriate their supporters in equal measure. To look at the summer as a whole, it’s awful. Dreadful. Rotten. But when you closely examine each wretched piece of business individually, things look even worse. So, let’s do exactly that.
First thing's first: selling Federico Bernardeschi to Juventus for $47.24 million. There aren’t many clubs Viola fans hate more than Juventus, for many reasons. Selling the most talented player in the team — a local(ish) kid who’d come up through the ranks and donned the 10 shirt, at that — to Juventus seemed both unconscionable and inevitable.
Last year, Bernardeschi was Fiorentina’s best player and potentially on track to become a club legend. Now, fans have hung a message outside the player’s home. “Who wouldn't like to spit in your face?” the message read, “you shitty hunchback.” Whereas Fiorentina fans rioted when Baggio was sold to Juventus, the exit seemed to be just another part of a particularly awful summer.
But Berna was not the only member of the starting XI to exit. Borja Valero, the team’s midfield lynchpin and a man who loved the city of Florence, was sold to Inter for a paltry sum. Loved by fans, the Spanish midfielder was one of the best passers in Italy and will stroll into the Inter starting lineup. Though he was getting old, the minimal sum received for the player seems barely worth not having at least two years’ worth of his talents on the pitch.
What’s more, Matias Vecino could soon follow Valero to the black and blue side of Milan. According to reports in the press, it’s almost inevitable that Inter will activate the $28.34 million release clause in the Uruguayan’s contract. Neat and tidy, a scorer of goals, and a player about to hit his prime, Vecino should have been a key part of the Fiorentina set-up. Instead, the years of effort put into developing the player will benefit Inter instead.
Allowing players to walk out of the door is something of a recurring theme in Fiorentina’s summer. Gonzalo Rodriguez, the club captain and best central defender in the team, was allowed to leave for nothing. Like Valero, he was getting old. Like Valero, he unquestionably loved the city of Florence. Like Valero, he was adored by supporters. Like Valero, the club management seemed to make little effort to keep the player and were happy to see him go. In his stead, the perpetually average Davide Astori will now become the Fiorentina captain and senior center back.
But there’s little indication of who will partner him. Last season, Fiorentina relied on a swath of loan players to bolster the squad. Hardly any of these have been retained. Among them, Carlos Salcedo and Cristian Tello have been sent back to their clubs. While, in truth, neither was very good, they were decent enough squad players. With so much work to do and so many new players who will need to settle in at the club, keeping around a few familiar faces could have proved incredibly useful.
But why stop there? If you’re having a fire sale of the starting 11, what other departures could cause the most upheaval? Well, there’s the goalkeeper. Romanian spellcheck nemesis Ciprian Tătărușanu has been bundled off to Nantes. While Marco Sportiello was purchased back in January nominally with the intention of replacing Tătărușanu, he barely started after his arrival. If he was set to be the starting keeper, why not allow him to play in the league and become familiar with the Fiorentina defence? Oh, because they’ve all been sold.
— Federico Gennarelli (@Belisario88) January 18, 2017
There seems a callous disregard for the need to maintain a decent enough squad for the season. While it’s true that Fiorentina won’t have any European competition to worry about, they will need more than eleven players. Right now, they’re struggling to get bodies on the field. It’s why selling Josip Iličić seems so strange. For all his flaws (such as having all the mobility of a tired tree and none of the consistency), Iličić was a useful player.
Again, Riccardo Saponara was signed in January with a view to replacing Iličić’s output. But he’s hardly an improvement. Last year, Fiorentina could have sold Iličić to Leicester for something in the region of €20 million. This summer, they sold him to Empoli for hardly a quarter of that. It’s bizarre.
And we’re still not done. All summer long, Nikola Kalinic has been linked with a big money move to Milan. The streakiest of streaky strikers, getting €30 million for Kalinic would be decent enough business. But — at one point — Fiorentina will actually need to stop selling players. Technically, it is still a football club. The sale of Kalinic, should it happen, is perfectly understandable in isolation. But given the exodus it follows and the seeming inability to secure anyone of similar quality as a replacement, what’s the point?
And that’s the issue here.
What is the point?
It’s a known fact that the Della Valle family, which owns the club, is incredibly open to selling. They came in, saved the club from financial ruin and relegation, oversaw a return to the top flight and even spent a period investing heavily. Remember when they bought Mario Gomez? That was fun. It was also a fairly devastating failure.
After that brief period of repeated fourth-place finishes, exciting football and free-flowing finances, the Della Valle purses have tightened. A new stadium — an absolute necessity — is approaching the final stages of planning. But will the owners wish to oversee such a project given how little interest they seem to have in investing in the side?
So far this summer, they’ve conducted a fire sale of monumental proportions. Fans are abject, beaten down into a cynical pulp and left utterly unenthused. Right now, the owners seem to be in a passive aggressive standoff with the supporters, which will not end well.
Fiorentina have just sold one of the best wingers in Italy to Juventus, and now they want to replace him with Lazar Markovic? pic.twitter.com/oCxZW1abpt— Mik (@MikLFC) July 26, 2017
The manager is a fine reflection of this. Having fallen out spectacularly with Montella — the man now overseeing Milan’s monied renaissance — the club replaced him with Paulo Sousa. As well as playing spectacularly boring football, Sousa never managed to connect with the fans. His departure this summer was unavoidable, a predictable breakup. But it provided an opportunity to give the fans something to cheer about.
There were mutterings of an ‘Italian-isation’ of the club, hence the purchase of young Italians such as Saponara and Sportiello. With the right coach, Fiorentina could develop a new generation of homegrown talent, a move which would be financially prudent and encouraging for the fans. But then they sold Bernardeschi, the very embodiment of young Italian talent, and hired Stefano Pioli, the most bang-average of bang-average coaches around.
That’s not to say Pioli is bad. He is a perfectly serviceable coach. But he’s not a nurturer of young talent. He’s not someone who is going to craft an incredible attack or forge a steely defence. He’s not going to oversee a revitalization of the club. Pioli is a firefighter, someone brought in to achieve the bare minimum when things are looking bad. No one is excited by his arrival and it seems just another move by the owners to spite the fans.
— Francesco Tassi (@francesco_tassi) June 8, 2017
Amidst all this is Pantaleo Corvino. Reappointed as the club’s sporting director, he’s often at the center of jokes which suggest that he does nothing but buy young Balkan talent that he can sell at a high price. Stefan Jovetic would probably be the best example of the type. But for his occasional hit, Corvino has a huge number of misses.
Already this summer, Fiorentina’s approach to replacing the departing stalwarts has been to bring in unheard of players, aged between 18 and 23, hoping that one of them might turn into something special. It’s another way in which the supposed ‘Italian-isation’ has been quickly abandoned. Corvino seems to be just another confusing detour to the club’s overall direction.
And where does that leave us? A decimated first XI. A slew of young, untried replacements whose only job is to be good enough to sell at a profit. The club’s best players sold to their biggest rivals. A manager who no one likes. Owners who seem intent on annoying the supporters. Fans who are too pummeled by the actions of their club to be angry. Money in the bank and no one to spend it on. An unbuilt stadium. Nothing to get excited about. Nothing to see here.
In fairness, there are the occasional moments of optimism. The club has supposedly turned down Napoli’s big bid for Federico Chiesa, the other young wonder kid. The new kit is quite nice. Khouma Babacar might get to start more. But that’s about it. Really, this is a club in desperate need of good news.
Right now, it is not fun to be a Fiorentina fan. No fun at all.