Straight from the dark heart of Italy
Delio Rossi held up his hands. “I am not Padre Pio, but a football coach,” he said. Miracle work, it seemed, was not his calling.
Yet after taking the Fiorentina job in November, some supporters were indeed shouting: “Santo Subito.” Rossi, they claimed, should be made a saint immediately, for he had exorcised a demon and delivered them from evil. Sinisa Mihajlovic was finally gone.
For 18 months the Fiorentina faithful had whistled, insulted and protested against the Serb. So when their prayers were answered after a 1-0 defeat to Chievo, it was thought Rossi would lead the club back on to the righteous path.
Sunday night’s events appear to indicate, however, that Fiorentina are still on a road to perdition, and that for all his faults, Mihajlovic wasn’t the only problem. Things go much deeper.
Condemned to a 1-0 defeat at home to bottom club Lecce, anger proved hard to contain in the stands. Owner Andrea Della Valle had left his seat in the Tribuna d’Onore out of superstition at half-time. With hindsight, it was a lucky escape. When the full-time whistle was blown, his executive president Mario Cognigni and one of the club’s advisers Paolo Panerai were spat at and subjected to a series of bad-tempered chants. Security had to be called and they were escorted to safety.
Fiorentina ultras then tried to break into the dressing room. They were held back, but a crowd outside the Artemio Franchi estimated to be 500-strong lingered for two hours after the game and demanded that their message be heard and taken on board. A delegation of seven ultras sought and obtained a meeting with Cognigni, chief executive Sandro Mencucci, communications director Gianfranco Teotino and team manager Vincenzo Guerini. After quarter of an hour or so, they re-emerged without any trace of satisfaction on their faces. The question is: what did they talk about?
According to Monday’s Il Corriere dello Sport, the ultras outlined three specific concerns. The first was that the club doesn’t appear to have total control over its players. All too often this season, there have been indications that there’s a culture of indiscipline and lack of professionalism among some of the players in the Fiorentina dressing room. Admittedly Houssine Kharja was somewhat harshly punished for arriving late for training because of his commuting to-and-from Milan where his family live. Stevan Jovetic, Adem Ljajic and Khoumar Babacar made the headlines too after they were banned from driving for not having the right paperwork. Fans can live with that.
What they can’t live with, though, is hearing about key members of the first team partying until the small hours in Florence’s nightclubs before games in a difficult season. Juan Manuel Vargas was caught in October. Alessio Cerci and Andrea Lazzarri were spotted in November. They were each named and shamed in the local press, then fined.
Cerci in particular has come in for criticism for not “respecting the city.” Asked to move his illegally parked Maserati by a traffic warden, he allegedly refused to do so until after he had finished his dinner. His case wasn’t helped last week when, in response to being dropped for Fiorentina’s Coppa Italia clash against Roma, his girlfriend launched a tirade on her Facebook page once they were knocked out. “No Cerci? No Coppa Italia!!! Ahahaha… bye bye Delio [Rossi] and bye bye Fiorentina fans,” she wrote.
The second issue on the ultras’ agenda was the Della Valle family’s growing distance from the club. The third centered on a lack of investment. The two are not mutually exclusive. For the last two years, Fiorentina’s owners have perceived a distinct lack of gratitude for resurrecting the club they had bought in 2002, which was then playing under a different name in Serie C2 and still reeling from the effects of bankruptcy. They felt let down, first by coach Cesare Prandelli, who decided to take the Italy job in 2010, then by Florence’s mayor Matteo Renzi, who shelved their plans for a new stadium with hotels and retail space. There was genuine disillusion.
Diego Della Valle, Andrea’s brother, wrote an open letter outlining the situation: “I need to know with extreme clarity what the city and the fans want and expect for the future of Fiorentina, to understand if there is still the motivation for the owners to continue down a common path of sporting passion, to build the best possible future and to restore all the pleasure of going to the stadium to spend an entertaining afternoon. If there aren’t these conditions then, as we have said before, the owners are ready to step aside.”
Amid growing protests from the fans, the moment had come to ask if their time and money could not be spent better elsewhere. Last January, for instance, they committed £21.5 million to the restoration of the Colosseum in Rome, while transfer expenditure at Fiorentina throughout the season was £13.3 million, the lowest outlay since the club returned to Serie A in 2004.
As the disenchanted Della Valle brothers withdrew into themselves, the team’s best players began to lose faith and perhaps came to believe that Fiorentina’s ambition didn’t match their own. Captain Riccardo Montolivo revealed he wouldn’t be signing a new contract after his existing deal expires in 2012 and was stripped of the armband. Alberto Gilardino’s “fire had gone out”.
While it’s useless to keep players who no longer want to play for the club, it’s also counter-productive in Gilardino’s case to sell one of Italy’s best centre-forwards to Genoa for just £7 million, as Fiorentina did last week, partly because, with Santiago Silva about to be sold back to Argentina, Fiorentina didn’t have a replacement lined up and would now be forced into playing Jovetic and Ljajic up front.
With no natural strikers in a young and inexperienced squad, is it any wonder that the fans’ raised a few eyebrows? This is a club that, in recent memory, has had Luca Toni, Giampaolo Pazzini, Adrian Mutu and Gilardino leading the offensive line. Now too much was being asked of Jovetic. As for Ljajic, on being played out of position, he missed sitters against Roma and Lecce.
To make matters worse, negotiations to sign the much-maligned Amauri from Juventus hit a snag over the players’ excessive wages demands. Then came a report that Valon Behrami, one of Fiorentina’s most committed players in a dispirited bunch, had been cheekily asked for in part-exchange by Juventus.
Interviewed on Sunday night, a shaken up but conciliatory Andrea Della Valle promised action. “It’s true we deserve more. The fans deserve it too, naturally. They do what they think is right the protest is understandable if it’s civil. It was a cold shower that we didn’t expect. With another three points we would have been nearer the European places. Now we have to roll up our sleeves and make up for our mistakes. The market still offers us two weeks of trade and we’ll do something soon.”
Fiorentina currently lie 13th in Serie A. It’s hardly a disaster, but also no real improvement in terms of results than those they achieved under Mihajlovic, even if the team’s style of football has sometimes been easier on the eye. Rossi insists that for the rest of this season “blood and tears” will need to be wept by his players. What Fiorentina need more than ever, though, is to start smiling again.
Fiorentina have been going steadily backwards since the night Bayern knocked them out of the CL a few seasons ago. Gilardino wasn't doing much so selling for 7m isn't too bad. What is bad is the fact that Amauri seems to be coming in to replace him. He's even worse! Jovetic won't be hanging around much longer at this rate.
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