On May 30, 2010, Cesare Prandelli, the longest serving manager in the illustrious history of AFC Fiorentina, left to replace Marcello Lippi as the head coach of the Italian National Team. Despite a disappointing 11th place finish the previous season, Prandelli left the Florence based club in great shape. Since taking over La Viola in 2002 following their infamous bankruptcy, the Della Valle family, and club director Andrea in particular, had developed a reputation for discovering talented young players to fill out the squad. In his five years in Florence, Prandelli twice guided the club to Champions League qualification (it might have been four times if not for match fixing penalties), including one trip to the round of sixteen in ’09-’10. When Sinisa Mihajlovic took over for the ’10-’11 season, there was a sense of optimism that the team could continue to develop and challenge for the Scudetto without the distraction of European football.
Fast forward to May 2012. Delio Rossi has replaced Mihajlovic as manager, but the club has only gone backwards. With three games remaining, the team sits in 17th place and needs two points to secure their place in Serie A for another season. Down 2-0 at home to newly promoted Novara after less than a half hour, Rossi withdraws 20-year-old attacking midfielder Adem Ljajic to change his side’s shape. As Ljajic walks toward the bench he sarcastically applauds his coach, who responds by physically assaulting the player. For a club that had just a few seasons earlier beaten Liverpool at Anfield, this seemed to mark the end of their disappointing freefall toward obscurity.
Obviously the manager was fired immediately. They survived the season, but lost their talismanic captain Riccardo Montolivo to AC Milan on a Bosman in the summer. Instead of persisting with a broken and depleted system, the Della Valle family decided to view this as an opportunity to start from scratch. New sporting director Daniele Prade brought in an ambitious young manager in Vincenzo Montella, and completely overhauled the squad in a way that is rarely, if ever, witnessed. Along with Montolivo, many key players from the previous seasons were shipped out to clear space and help fund the new signings. Matija Nastasic made a big money move to Manchester City, Alessandro Gamberini and Valon Behrami were sold to Lazio, Marco Marchionni moved to Parma on a free transfer, Juan Manuel Vargas went on loan to Genoa, Alessio Cerci was sold to FC Turin, and Lorenzo De Silvestri went on loan to Sampdoria, among many others. Most importantly however, Fiorentina were able to keep hold of €30m rated striker Stevan Jovetic despite strong interest from Chelsea.
So many fresh faces arrived in Florence this summer that 17 of the 26 senior players are new. Among the arrivals was a quartet of midfield playmakers in Alberto Aquilani, David Pizarro, Borja Valero, and Matias Fernandez, as well as former Italian international striker Luca Toni, Argentinian international defender Gonzalo Rodriguez, and Italian international goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano. After making a slow start to the ’12-’13 campaign, which was to be expected after the overhaul, Fiorentina have begun to gel with devastating results. They play an entertaining, attacking 3-6-1 based on a midfield packed with technically gifted players.
Fiorentina traveled to the San Siro last weekend to face an AC Milan side featuring their former captain Montolivo at center midfield, on the back of three consecutive league wins. Youthful 35-year-old Luca Toni led the attack in the absence of the injured Stevan Jovetic, and Fiorentina thoroughly outplayed a struggling Milan side to grab a well-deserved 3-1 win. The result leaves la Viola in fourth place, although considering their form and the imminent return of Jovetic, it’s conceivable they could pass Napoli and Inter Milan to move into second place behind Juventus very quickly. Vincenzo Montella seems to be doing a difficult job extremely well. He is turning an expensive rebuilding project into a formidable team, early enough that they’re in a position to mount a serious title challenge this season.