Even with recaps and previews coming out of his ears, Tito Kohout, the Site Manager of Viola Nation, was kind enough to take the time to answer some questions I had about Fiorentina. You can read my responses to Tito’s enquiries on https://www.violanation.com/.
Q: How has Fiorentina been altered under Rocco Commisso’s leadership and what are the next steps?
It sounds outrageously cheesy, but the biggest change compared to the Della Valles is that there’s a sense of hope and growth around the team. Rocco and his right hand man Joe Barone have made a clear effort to reach out to the fans: they’ve showed up to games and other events, which the DVs never did. The push for a Fiorentina-owned stadium (more on that later) isn’t new for this team, but Rocco and company have moved really quickly and shown a desire to get the thing done that’s brand new. The team’s been refreshingly honest in its club statements, addressing the stadium issue and transfer rumors alike with entire frankness in a way that feels very unlike the usual Italian obfuscation.
The other big difference to me is how the club seems to have a distinct organizational structure. While the decision to keep Vincenzo Montella and DS Daniele Pradè on board from the old regime raised some eyebrows, it’s been really nice to see Commisso serve as the owner and number one fan rather than getting involved with the day-to-day stuff. He obviously cares about the team—look at how he went off on the refs after getting screwed against Juventus—but he’s happy to leave the running of the club to Barone and Pradè. The management team—Barone, Pradè, Giancarlo Antognoni, Dario Dainelli, Joe Commisso—seem to work well together and have a distinct vision for how to build the team. That hasn’t been present in a long, long time.
Q: With Fiorentina now mathematically safe from relegation, how will the last four games of the season be approached?
A: That’s the septillion-lira question, isn’t it? There are two options going forward that I can predict. The first is that Fiorentina decide they want as many points as possible and push to win out and finish in the top half of the table. The second is that Giuseppe Iachini tries to showcase some attacking football to prove to the brain trust that he deserves to stick around for next season. There could be some combination of these, but cutting Franck Ribery’s minutes should be a major consideration because he’s old enough to be half the squad’s dad and has an injury record longer than he is tall. Really, though, these last four games should be an opportunity for the club to showcase some type of development, either in terms of personnel or tactics. That’s what I’m really looking for.
Q: Beppe Iachini doesn’t seem like he’s going to be staying in Florence next season. Who do you want to see replace him at the helm and why?
A: Well, there’s a chance that he’ll stick around if he can put together a run at the end of the year, but there has been a lot of chatter surrounding his replacement. I’d live to see someone like Marcelo Gallardo in Florence; he’s had success at River Plate and might be ready to move on after 6 years in charge. His two-seconds-or-less philosophy makes for some really fun watching. There’s always a risk with bringing in a coach who doesn’t speak Italian, but he’s the sort of name I think would be worth looking at. The same goes for someone like Jesse Marsch (although I worry that he’s more a product of the Red Bull system than his own brilliance), who’d bring a cohesive tactical identity to a club that’s been mighty bland for years.
Realistically, I think that Luciano Spalletti is a pretty good shout. It still feels crazy that he’s never coached Fiorentina, given that he’s from Certaldo (an hour south of Florence), but he’s reportedly asking for a lot of money and his contract situation with a certain black-and-blue outfit remains tricky. There’s been a little buzz around Hellas Verona’s Ivan Jurić, especially since he may not be extending with the Mastini. Really, as long as it’s someone who’s demonstrated a cohesive style and has some track record of success.
Please please no Daniele de Rossi. Please.
Q: Fiorentina’s on a five-game unbeaten run that’s seen it go from a relegation battle to a point away from the top half of the table. What’s been working for La Viola?
A: Iachini’s been chopping and changing quite a bit over these past games, but the two wins in a row have come from moving Federico Chiesa to wingback instead of as a striker (where he simply doesn’t fit) and rolling with a 3-5-2. That’s really been the key, I think, as the three games before that were all draws that showcased a lot of scuffling, awkward soccer. Chiesa at wingback has been great, as it’s moved him deeper and let him have a bit more room to build up a head of steam. Having three central midfielders lets Gaetano Castrovilli burst forward without worrying as much about leaving the midfield open, which was a huge problem when he was playing in the middle of a 3-4-3. Ribery’s got license to drop deep to pick up the ball because either Patrick Cutrone (who’s been on fire, scoring 4 in July) or Christian Kouamé can remain up top to serve as the focal point. Getting Alfred Duncan more involved has also been helpful, as he’s really quite good on the ball. There’ve also been some minor tactical tweaks, like ordering the outside center-backs to step forward on the ball more and be more vertical with their passing.
The tl;dr version is that Iachini finally figured out where to put his players. Crazy how much of a difference that makes, eh?
Q: As any Serie A fan knows, getting a new stadium is not easy. How’s the process coming along for Fiorentina?
A: Hahahaha kill me. The last I heard, Fiorentina is planning to build a new stadium in Campi Bisenzio (a suburb northwest of the city), but things have been quiet on that front over the past month or so, which I assume means that negotiations with Florence mayor Dario Nardella are working very quickly. Given the pressure that Viola fans are putting on the municipal government (Scooter brigade! Renegade backhoe! Joe Barone!), Nardella’s probably feeling the heat despite his zenned out responses to everything.
I’m not going to speak for the entirety of the Fiorentina support (or even for the VN editorial staff), but I really want a remodel of the Artemio Franchi. I love Pier Luigi Nervi’s work and I think that the Artemio Franchi is his best one (not that I’m biased or anything). That stadium has seen so much history that losing it does feel like a blow to the history of calcio. That said, it desperately needs updating; it’s literally crumbling away before our eyes and probably isn’t going to be safe for fans in another decade. The really important thing, though, is getting that stadium and getting the revenue it guarantees. Especially for an ambitious club of Fiorentina’s size, I cannot overstate how much that means.
Q: Obviously no one likes losing their best players. But is it time for any of Chiesa, Castrovilli, and Vlahovic to move on?
A: I don’t think so, and that’s not just me trying to hang onto the talent. Chiesa has looked rejuvenated over the past two games, but he’s still uneven with his decision-making in the final third a lot of the time and can get visibly frustrated with himself and his teammates. I think that another few years in Florence would only increase his value, both for himself and the club. I imagine that he’s waiting to see what happens this summer with regards to a coach and incoming transfers: if Commisso shows further ambition, it’ll probably convince Fede to sign an extension. Otherwise, he’s probably leaving.
Castrovilli’s still only in his first year in Serie A and is similarly unpolished in several facets of his game, most especially his decision-making near the goal. He’s also developed a bond with Ribery that should keep him around for awhile longer, and that’s without mentioning his recent comments about wanting to wear the 10 and be like Antognoni.
Vlahović (and, to my podcast co-host Mike, I’m so sorry) is probably the only one I wouldn’t be horrified to see leave. Don’t get me wrong: the sky is the limit for him. There are not a lot of players with his combination of size, athleticism, and technique. His feel for the game and, more than anything, his finishing are very suspect right now and need lots of development. I think he’s closer to a loan move to a lower-half Serie A club than a transfer to, like, Real Madrid, but if someone comes calling with a massive offer, I don’t think Pradè would hesitate to pull the trigger, especially since Cutrone and Kouamé have looked miles ahead of him since the restart.
I think the only likely high-profile departure will come from the defense; captain Germán Pezzella is one of Serie A’s most underrated defenders, I think, and has been rumored to be a replacement for Kalidou Koulibaly if Napoli sell (although they’re such dissimilar players that I’m not wholly convinced). Nikola Milenković would probably cost upwards of €50 million and would still be a steal; guys with his size are not supposed to be so athletic, and his reading of the game, comfort level on the ball, and passing have improved dramatically this year after a season or two of stalling. He’s the one I’m most worried about leaving, because he’s just fantastic and could wind up being one of the world’s best in another couple of years.
Q: So what are your thoughts on this game? Prediction time!
A: I really have no idea what to expect out of this one. Part of that is because the Nerazzurri haven’t seen this team with a bit of time to digest Beppe’s ideas (the league draw earlier this year was while Montella was still the mister and the Coppa defeat was less than a month after Iachini was appointed). Too, there’s the matter of form: Fiorentina are hitting their stride, albeit against pretty poor sides, while Inter are (and I say this with respect) flailing right now. I don’t think that Fiorentina sitting back, soaking up pressure, and getting a smash-and-grab win is the least likely outcome.
That said, I also know that Antonio Conte probably ordered a pallet’s worth of hair dryers after the AS Roma game, so this Inter group will be plenty motivated and focused. In terms of talent, they’re just better than Fiorentina, and I don’t think it’s disrespectful to say that Conte is a more accomplished coach than Beppe. The smart money is on Inter, with their backs against the wall, grinding out three points.
I’ll call it either a 1-1 draw or a 2-1 Inter win, then, because I’m really not sure at all on this one (which means il Biscione’s probably going to score about 17). Lautaro Martínez always gives the good guys trouble and I’m worried about Christian Eriksen’s dead ball skill, so those seem like the most likely avenues of attack for y’all; I actually think that the defense matches up well with Romelu Lukaku, although he’s so dang good that I’m not convinced they can entirely stop him. I do like Fiorentina’s chances of hitting on a counter, especially with Cutrone scoring like he is right now, and I think that both teams will likely concede a bunch of fouls.