Fiorentina have been in a slow and steady decline throughout the last couple of years. This summer, however, the Tuscans’ supporters are suffering more than ever as the club look set for a torrid campaign
Watching Borja Valero hoist aloft his new Inter shirt for the world media was the clearest symbol that an era of optimism, that began with the reign of Vincenzo Montella in 2012, is well and truly over for Fiorentina.
That was the year that the Spaniard arrived in Florence, alongside Luca Toni, Alberto Aquilani and Juan Cuadrado, and the side became one of the great entertainers of Italian football. Coming into touching distance of Champions League riches.
Just over a year later, La Viola were overpowering Serie A juggernaut Juventus 4-2 at the Stadio Artemio Franchi, and nothing but joy could be seen on the faces of the Della Valle family, who had bought the club after bankruptcy in 2002.
However, nearly four years on from that wet afternoon in Tuscany, the owners have decided they will sell the club, should a serious interested party arise, due to level of fan demonstrations against their recent stewardship.
“Having seen how unhappy the fans are, we are ready to step aside and sell the club,” they announced on June 26.
While brothers Diego and Andrea Della Valle may be disappointed by growing protests by Viola followers, you can hardly blame them for their disillusion with the club over the last 12 months, and is hardly the actions of fully committed custodians.
After a relatively positive debut campaign by former coach Paulo Sousa – finishing 5th – you would have been forgiven for believing the club were already on the market, with little investment in the side, as the €27 million received for Marcos Alonso disappeared.
While the Portuguese’s tactics also drew their critics, the Fiorentina fans knew that he was operating with one hand behind his back. Something that became clear when another recent Viola hero Gonzalo Rodriguez, and captain, could not agree a new deal with the club hierarchy.
The capitulation to Borussia Monchengladbach in the Europa League when leading 3-0 at home (4-0 on aggregate) was a catastrophe on a continental level, a fitting end to an awful campaign and understandably the final straw for supporters.
Despite director Pantaleo Corvino insisting that replacements of equal quality will arrive, the current management has all the hallmarks of owners cutting costs and simply ‘running’ until buyers are found.
You can highlight the money spent over the last half decade without being able to break into the top three, but that was a risk they had decided to take, rightly or wrongly, and now it is the fans that are suffering.
The pain is not over yet either, with star striker Nikola Kalinic and Italian starlet Federico Bernardeschi looking set to depart the Tuscan giants. Fans often turn on those they have worshipped appearing to turn their backs on a club, expecting some unreasonable show of loyalty, but not in Florence.
Rather than take offence, in attempts to keep Valero in Florence, they begged him to stay en masse outside his city home. If Bernardeschi were to join Juventus as rumoured, you will not see rioting in the streets, as were witnessed when Roberto Baggio made the same journey in 1990.
Using 19-year-old Federico Chiesa as the marquee name modelling new strips for next season, was seen as a sign Fiorentina are focusing on youth. It is a sign that the Viola are looking for the cheapest possible labour market, and to keep their outlay on players minimal. In 12 months Chiesa could well be gone too.
It would be great to see Corvino be true to his word and have La Viola competitive again come August, in a similar way in which Gabriel Batistuta quickly filled the void left by Baggio in Florence, but under the current ownership it is hard to see that happening.
If Fiorentina supporters thought 2016-17 was bad, an even more traumatic campaign is appearing on the horizon.