With Fiorentina approaching a new era under Vincenzo Italiano, James Brooke looks at what the 2021/22 season can hold for La Viola
Like many clubs in Italy, Fiorentina have had to endure their fair share of chaos over the years. But even for a club as well versed in upheaval as La Viola, the past 12 months have been tumultuous.
Appointing four different managers over the course of a year has never been conducive to success in football, but the manner of some of the appointments and subsequent dismissals of those chosen to lead the team by owner Rocco Commisso has created a somewhat farcical feel to a football club that deserves better.
Beppe Iachini did a fine job in the second half of 19/20 but his profile always seemed at odds with Commisso’s ambitions for the team from Florence and it was no surprise to see him relieved of his duties in November with the team struggling to get going.
In came Cesare Prandelli, whose first spell at the club had ended with him landing the top job with the national team a decade ago but his magic has waned in the intervening years and although his was always seen as a short-term appointment, he failed to have any real impact and walked away in March citing mental health struggles.
Given that Iachini had taken over a similar situation with success less than a year earlier, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to see him handed back the reigns. Nevertheless, his reappointment less than five months after being handed his p45 smacked of a club treading water.
The ever-willing baseball cap wearing Iachini deserves credit for once again steering the club away from the very real threat of relegation, but the reality is that without the goals of burgeoning superstar Dušan Vlahović, they would likely be preparing for a first season in Serie B for 18 years.
Rino Says Si/No
This summer’s appointment had to be a good one from Commisso’s point of view. Fans had long expected a big name to take over following a season of stagnation and although rumours of Maurizio Sarri’s arrival turned out to be wide of the mark, everyone of a violet persuasion had every right to be delighted with the hiring of Gennaro Gattuso.
After some teething problems early in his coaching career, the Calabrian had done a good job in trying circumstances at Napoli and felt like the right man to build a long-term project in Florence.
Instead, the ink on his contract barely dry, Gattuso left the job after just 22 days, with a rift between the club and the coach’s agent – the all-seeing Jorge Mendes – the likely cause of death. So much for a long-term project!
The fourth (and hopefully final) appointment of the last 12 months came in the shape of the exciting Vincenzo Italiano. Having taken modest Spezia into Serie A for the first time before comfortably keeping them there last season, the former Hellas Verona midfielder has had tongues wagging in Italy and immediately promised to give his new employers a clear identity of intense, aggressive, attacking football.
As far as plan B’s go this looks to be a good one and with the matter of who will be in the dugout for the season opener against José Mourinho’s Roma now settled, the most pressing piece of business is to ensure that Vlahović is still at the club come September 1st, preferably with a new contract that reflects his importance to the team.
If keeping hold of the super Serb up front is Italiano’s top priority, then holding on to an equally super Serb at the other end of the field comes a close second.
Fortunately, it looks like Fiorentina may be winning the battle of keeping centre back Nikola Milenković, even though the 23-year-old looked likely to move to England amidst links with Tottenham.
He would have join the experienced trio of Martín Cáceres, Franck Ribéry and Borja Valero in leaving Tuscany this summer, with the latter announcing his retirement a year after returning to the club from Inter.
23-year-old Argentine international Nicolás González is so far the only major addition to the squad, arriving from Stuttgart for €23 million. Fiorentina beat off interest from the Premier League for the speedy winger and his signing represents a real coup for the club given the current footballing ecosystem.
Having just won the Copa América with his country, González can hopefully begin to fill the Federico Chiesa sized hole that was left gaping last season.
Europe on The Horizon?
Possessing a squad with an average age of just over 25 and with a coach who has a single full season of topflight management under his belt, it may be wrong to expect too much of Fiorentina in 21/22.
But fans have been frustrated with consecutive finishes of 10th and 13th. Having seen provincial sides like Atalanta and Sassuolo disrupt the historically established clubs, they will be hopeful that the appointment of one of the country’s most highly thought of young managers can propel them back into contention for continental competition.
Whether that is possible will largely hinge on if they can stave off interest in the much-vaunted Vlahović who will be desperate to show that his 21-goal season was no flash in the pan.
Another with a small point to prove is Gaetano Castrovilli who in 20/21 failed to fully kick on from his eye-catching debut Serie A season the year before. Having eventually been included in the Azzurri’s successful Euro 2020 squad, he has all the tools to be a game changer for Fiorentina. Now aged 24, expect him to step up a gear and show why he deserves a place amongst Roberto Mancini’s galaxy of elite midfielders.
More should rightfully be expected of last summer’s signings Sofyan Amrabat and José Callejón, while Bartłomiej Drągowski remains one of Serie A’s most underrated goalkeepers.
With the bones of a young and talented side and with a larger budget than most of their domestic peers, the pieces are in place for the bullish Italiano to succeed where his predecessors have failed. If not, come springtime fully expect Iachini to dust off his baseball cap and calm the waters of another stormy season.
Predicted Finish: 8th – A steady campaign of improvement under Italiano culminating in just missing out on the European places.
Key Player: Dušan Vlahović – No qualms about this one, the Serb has grown into one of the most admired strikers on the continent following his match winning displays last season.