Fiorentina vs Empoli – Derby dell’Arno
Some rivalries are born out of competition for titles and some from supporters’ groups made from different ends of the same population. And some rivalries simply arise from two clubs being too close together. This is the basis for the derby dell’Arno, the rivalry between Empoli and Fiorentina.
Stadio Artemio Franchi and Stadio Carlo Castellani are 27 kilometers apart if you fly straight, with both stadiums and cities built near the Arno River. That is the most these two Tuscan cities have in common. While Florence is famous for its politics, art, and culture, Empoli is best known for lending its name to a brand of artichoke.
To understand the nature of this derby, it is important to understand Empoli. From its beginnings as a Roman town, it was an agriculture center and a trade center between Florence and Pisa. Absorbed into the medieval Florentine empire, the city was organised around a castle which meant it was a target for invading armies. After it gained independence from Florence in the 16th century it still relied economically on the larger city but was throughout its history known for its trade. Despite its location and favorable land, it has always been a minor part of Tuscany compared to its famous neighbour.
The club’s history similarly lacks distinction. The Azzurri were originally founded in 1920 with the merger of two local clubs, but the modern version of the club finally ascended to Serie B in 1983. Despite the lack of top-flight pedigree, in 1985 the club was promoted to Serie A. As would become common in its history, the stay was short (two seasons) before Empoli tumbled back down into Serie C.
As it slid up and down the leagues, the Azzurri found some success. Under Luciano Spalletti the club won the 1995-1996 Serie C Coppa Italia before being again promoted to Serie A two seasons later. After the 2005-2006 season, the club finished 10th in Serie A and, due to a match fixing scandal, could have taken a UEFA Cup place had they acquired a UEFA License. The following season they finished in the top seven and qualified for the UEFA Cup. However, that would prove to be the club’s highpoint.
Empoli have a reputation for youth development and savvy loan deals. During their UEFA Cup play they acquired future stars like Ignazio Abate, Claudio Marchisio and Sebastian Giovinco on loan.
Fioretina conversely have a number of trophies to their name. The Viola have won scudettos in 1955-56 and 1968-69 as well as six Coppa Italia titles. Fiorentina also came up against Real Madrid in the historic 1957 European Cup won as well as won the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1961.
Conversely, the modern era was defined with financial mismanagement. In 2001 it was revealed the club was tens of millions in debt to the point that it entered judicial administration. Fiorentina ceased to exist and had to be refounded the next season as AFC Fiorentina. Under Cesare Prandelli the club saw unprecedented success and a return to Serie A from Serie C2.
As for the rivalry itself, the two clubs didn’t play each other until the Coppa Italia quarter-final in 1986. Empoli won the home leg 3–2 but suffered a blowout loss in the return match 3–0. As a small consolation, Luca Cecconi of Empoli was the tournament’s leading scorer with nine goals.
The two sides faced off for the first time in Serie A in the subsequent season. In November, Empoli notched a win at home with a 1–0 scoreline and secured a draw at Stadio Artemio Franchi. The next season saw both matches end in scoreless draws.
As the two clubs came and left Serie A, they would play 10 more times in league play and three times on the Coppa Italia. The last time these two met was November 2011 in the fourth round of the Coppa Italia, a 2–1 victory for Fiorentina.
Overall, Fiorentina lead the derby with 12 victories, three losses and five draws. Fiorentina have always advanced in the Coppa Italia when playing Empoli and have a goal difference of +18 in the derby. It is a truly one-sided rivalry.
In the 2014-15 season, on this coming Sunday, Empoli’s prospects do not look likely to improve. While they will certainly struggle to stay up, Fiorentina look to keep their hopes for a top-three finish alive. That said, just the prospect of playing their much larger neighbors again in Serie A should inspire the fans to renew this recent rivalry.