Written by Shaun Biondi (@shaun_biondi):
The people of Florence live and breathe for Fiorentina but are those at the club doing the same? The past couple of seasons for the Viola have been average to say the least and Paulo Sousa paid the price for that.
When Sousa first joined at the start of the 2015/16 season, the club could look forward and perhaps up, given the pedigree and experience that they had obtained in a coach like him. Sousa was a winner at Basel and he had a team that performed admirably in the Champions League group stages given the relative budget compared to group rivals. Sousa’s main objective when he joined was to take the team to another level. He took over from Vincenzo Montella who had been at the helm of the club since 2012 and guided them to consecutive fourth place finishes 3 seasons in a row and also, the Coppa Italia final in 2014.
The transfers made by Sousa and the club gave the club some optimism as they had brought in the likes of Nikola Kalinic, Mario Suarez, Jakub Blaszczykowski and current main stay - Davide Astori. When Sousa first started though, he made the decision to change captain, which didn’t get him of to the greatest of starts. Manuel Pasqual who had been at the club for a number of years was somewhat shown the door. He decided that Gonzalo Rodriguez was the man to lead the club and although Rodriguez was highly regarded by the fans, it still wasn’t the most popular decision.
The first half of Sousa’s campaign went very well and they had some great results and halfway through the season, they were top of Serie A. However, they were dumped out of the Coppa Italia in the round of 16 by newly promoted Carpi in December before the Christmas break and soon after, the form dropped to an average level and they started to draw many games that on paper - they should have won. Despite this, the club finished 5th and were put out of the Europa League in the round of 32 by Tottenham.
In the 2016/17 season, the club brought in a lot of young talent as well as cashing in on players such as Mario Gomez and Marcos Alonso. The latter causing discontent with the board at cashing in on someone who most would have considered to be a key member of the squad. Despite the transfer dealings, it was the younger members of the squad who would be having the bigger impact through the season. Federico Bernardeschi and Federico Chiesa were shining brightly throughout what would be another disappointing season. Chiesa came with a reputation as he was the son of club icon, Enrico Chiesa. Although, he was a young player, he should great maturity throughout the season and handled the pressure of his fathers name and turned in some great performances.
Bernardeschi was the main point of Fiorentina’s future and for many, he was a legend in the making. While the younger players were having an impact and shining brightly, Borja Valero seemed to be at the very top of his game. While the club tried to play an attractive brand of football - the fans sometimes didn’t respond very well to this and often jeered, this did not help Sousa with pressure mounting over his position due to poor performances and again, losing games that on paper - they should have won. Sousa chopped and changed systems and the players looked disillusioned and as though they did not have a clue what Sousa was trying to get from them. When games weren’t going their way, Sousa brought off players like Bernardeschi and Valero and was jeered and scrutinised by the fans.
Fiorentina were in a slump. They had a tough draw in Europa League in the round of 32 when they drew Borussia Monchengladbach but they went to Germany and won 1-0 which gave the Viola a spring in their step. They were in a great position to progress from a tough tie and at the return leg, they crumbled. They were 2-0 up and cruising and went on to lose 4 goals and the tie 4-3 on aggregate. Sousa’s contract was finishing at end of the season and his chance at a renewal seemed to disappear in front of his eyes.
Overall, Sousa’s time at Fiorentina will not be deemed a success, despite the additions to the club, they never went up to the next level and that disappointed many.
During the summer, with Sousa not given another contract, their was confusion surrounding the club. Who would lead the team? Many names were linked with the job and the fans demanded answers. Stefano Pioli, formerly of Inter Milan, was the man chosen to lead the club into the 17/18 season on the 6th June and fans weren’t too happy with this either. The uncertainty of the owners stance on the club and the ambition, fans protested and soon enough, the club were supposedly up for sale.
When the transfer window opened, all sorts of rumours were floating around and fan favourites were being linked with moves to rivals. The key players to the squad were being sold. Josip Ilicic was sold to Atalanta who had qualified for the Europa League, Borja Valero and Matias Vecino were sold to Inter Milan, Ciprian Tatarusanu signed for Claudio Raineri’s Nantes and Federico Bernardeschi, the poster boy for Fiorentina and Florence, had signed for rivals Juventus. There are also continuing reports that Nikola Kalinic is moving to AC Milan.
With all these players who have been a huge part of the squad over the last couple of seasons leaving, what position do Fiorentina find themselves in? Mid-table mediocrity or are they going to have a renaissance of their own and turn out to have a wonderful season under Stefano Pioli?