As every football fan will tell you, it’s the hope that kills you.
In the 2015/16 season, Fiorentina fans were evidence of this age old adage. A tremendous start to the season, which saw them ranked as genuine title contenders at Christmas, gave them hope of a first Scudetto since 1968-69.
Within a month that hope had given way to despair, perhaps exacerbated by their disastrous winter transfer dealings, and the acquisition of 4 players, of whom only one, Cristian Tello, could be regarded as having had any positive impact on the squad.
Fast forward 12 months, and there is an uneasy air around the city of the Medici family. That Paulo Sousa remains in charge, for now, has come as a great surprise to many Viola watchers. His clear disenchantment with the failure of the owners, the Delle Valle family, to back the Scudetto charge was a constant talking point and perhaps a distraction to the players. Further, Sousa’s somewhat reluctance, or perhaps intransigence, to utilise or find a Plan B rankled with many fans.
Fiorentina’s inability to finish any higher than fourth in Serie A in recent years has, once again, come under the spotlight. However, one should not be surprised when those in control of the club are ill-inclined to make any significant investment into the playing side despite the huge amount generated by the sales of the club’s best players over the past five years. Indeed, it remains to be seen whether even the £5.5million obtained from this week’s sale of Mario Gomez to Vfl Wolfsburg will be given to Sousa to strengthen the squad.
As usual, ahead of the upcoming season, Fiorentina will be regarded as a top 7 team by many Serie A observers, yet when one compares their net spend in recent years to those clubs in and around them, their consistency and performance is astonishing. Their inability to compete for the signatures of the top players against the likes of Juventus, Napoli and also the Milan and Rome based clubs, makes their performances in recent years even more staggering.
That is not to say that they are punching above their weight. Their consistency has brought with it the opportunity to compete regularly in the last stages of the Europa League which, coupled with the prize money generated by regular top 4 finishes in Serie A in the last 3 years, should be enough to attract better players than the likes brought in during the most recent January transfer window.
However, the owners’ unwillingness to invest, coupled with a constant requirement to balance the books to comply with UEFA Financial Fair Play requirements has seen them have to sell their best players, including Stevan Jovetic and Juan Cuadrado. As a result, the Viola are always looking for emerging talent with a potential sell-on value or those looking to resurrect their career, rather than those who are at the top of their profession.
A closer look at the transfer sums spent by the top 7 Serie A clubs in recent years shows that Fiorentina’s spending is way behind that of their competitors. Their highest transfer fee paid recently is £12.75, for the disastrous Mario Suarez, yet even that amount lags way behind the sums spent by Juve, Napoli, Milan, Inter & Roma on the likes of Gonzalo Higuain (by both Juve & Napoli), Carlos Bacca, Geoffrey Kondogbia & Juan Iturbe.
Whilst many of their purported top 7 rivals are signing or being linked with top players, Fiorentina again seem to be focusing players who are likely to see them finish in mid-table, save for the transfer of Cristian Tello from Barcelona. There were players available over the summer, such as Ricardo Saponara of Empoli and Franco Vazquez of Palermo, who have would greatly improved the Viola squad.
The Viola have missed out on Vazquez who has joined Sevilla, and although Saponara remains available, they will likely face competition for his signature from the Milan clubs should Empoli decide they are willing to part company with the 24 year old playmaker from Forli.
Quality midfield reinforcements remain necessary however and, put bluntly, acquiring players of the level of Tino Costa, who spent 6 months on loan from Spartak Moscow in the second half of last season, are not the answer. As much as Costa tried hard, he was simply not good enough for a side seeking a top three finish. The midfield problems will again raise their head this season given the likely absence of the injured Borja Valero for at least the first few weeks of the season. Whilst the Colombia international Carlos Sanchez has come in on loan from Aston Villa, one questions whether a player from the English Championship is really someone who Fiorentina should be looking at, irrespective of whether he is an international player.
It could be argued that the squad has been weakened by the departure of Argentina regular, Facundo Roncaglia however, Roncaglia’s form was indifferent last season although he kept his place in the starting line-up thanks to the limited quality of his only competitive replacement, Nenad Tomovic.
The replacement of Roncaglia with Verdan Corluka would have been an improvement, but the Croatian’s intended transfer from Lokomotiv Moscow fell through earlier this week. That will not be a surprise to Fiorentina fans who now seldom believe any transfer rumour until the witness the sight of the player being paraded at the Franchi in the club’s purple colours.
Yesterday’s acquisition of Sebastien De Maio from Anderlecht is a welcome addition, although again the question will remain whether Fiorentina have acquired someone who is of equivalent ability to club captain Gonzalo Rodriguez.
In attack, Mario Gomez has moved on after an unspectacular stint at the Viola, and the return of Giuseppe Rossi from his loan spell at Villareal will be watched closely by many. There is much goodwill towards the former Manchester United striker after some horrendous injuries, but his performances last season suggested he is unlikely to reach the levels of which he once capable. A lot of the attacking pressure will once again rest on Nikola Kalinic and Josep Ilicic, and the former can ill afford to suffer a similar goal drought as that which affected him the second half of last season.
It was evident, from their performances in the second half of last season, that the Viola squad lacks the depth to maintain a challenge on two fronts. More worryingly for many fans however, was the loss of momentum due to the winter break which suggested that several players were either resting on their laurels after topping the table for much of the Autumn period, or simply fatigued by their limited number of quality players and the size of the squad.
The main challenge for Sousa, this season will be to identify how he can introduce more unpredictability into Fiorentina’s game. It was evident that many Serie A opposing coaches were taken a little by surprise at Sousa’s possession based style which, when coupled with fast counters, saw the Viola emerge as Scudetto contenders. However, by January most opponents had realised that if you defended deep allowing Fiorentina to have the ball in front of you, they would eventually run out of ideas.
This an area that Sousa will have been aware that he needed to address. If the Viola get off to an indifferent start, and opening games don’t come much tougher than away at arch-rivals Juventus, then the tifosi will have no hesitation venting their displeasure, although the Delle Valle family will likely be the subject of any ire, at least initially.
It could be an interesting season for Fiorentina, and one well worth keeping an eye on. We will likely know by Christmas whether there will be an inferno building at the Franchi.