It is always tempting to believe that there is someone out there who could do a better job than your current Coach. It is human nature for fans to have a sense of entitlement and expectation as to where their club should be in the standings. However, owners of clubs should have a long, hard think before pulling that trigger. Firstly, the players may like and respect the man in charge, and this will transmit in the way they play – or more crucially, don’t play – for his successor. On a more obvious level, the Coach you replace him with may simply be inferior to the one you had. Fiorentina learned both of these lessons in the most brutal way possible in 1993.
Luigi Radice will never be mentioned in the same coaching bracket as Capello, Lippi or Trapattoni. Nonetheless, he was a much-respected coach who had arrived at Artemio Franchi in the summer of 1991. He set about building a squad of exciting attacking players. Francesco Baiano had revelled under Zednek Zeman’s attacking license at Foggia and could expect more of the same. Stefan Effenberg was a ball-playing midfield general of world-class repute, albeit a man who gained a reputation for controversy over the years. Brian Laudrup, who had come with Effenberg from Bayern Munich, was an exciting wide player with the ability to run with the ball, create, and score goals. Massimo Orlando was a dynamic midfielder who had been at the club since 1990. And then there was Batigol. Gabriel Batistuta had been one of Radice’s first signings and the accolades that have been showered on him over the years speak for themselves.
Draws with Genoa and Lazio were followed by a performance where Viola optimised every bit of their attacking craft. Lajos Detari must have regretted opening the scoring for Ancona as Laudrup in paticular set about casually dismantling them. 7-1 against anyone, even relegation fodder, is impressive. However, Detari and co. would go on to play a significant cameo later in the season. If you were allowed to lose 7-3 to anyone, it was the Milan side of the time – head and shoulders above everyone else and leaving others scrapping for second. Wins over Pescara and Sampdoria got them right back on track and imperious home form saw them stay in touch with all bar the Rossoneri. When they drew at Parma and Inter lost at Lazio, Viola were second in la classifica. However, it was downhill all the way from here.
Carlo Perrone’s cool finish for Atalanta on 3rd January 1993 was against the run of play in a game in which Fiorentina created chances but just could not score. The death of Mario Cecchi Gori the previous November had left his son Vittorio at the helm. It had already been suggested that Radice was not the preferred Coach of the ‘new’ owner and with that loss, the guillotine was called for. The new man was Aldo Agroppi, who had once been the emerging Italian coach of the 1980s. However, after coaching la Viola for the first time in 1985/86, it had never quite worked out that way. His last two assignments had been relegation battles, won with Como in 1988 and lost with Ascoli, who finished dead last in 1990.
The attacking quality Fiorentina possessed should have made this an altogether different type of task. However, a 4-0 humiliation at struggling Udinese was a warning of the impending nose-dive down the table. Igor Kolyvanov’s strike at Foggia meant they had a losing record for the first time in the season. A two-goal lead at Luigi Ferraris against Genoa was frittered away. A breakaway goal by Diego Fuser sealed a win for visiting Lazio and then the same Ancona team who had been battered at the start of the season turned the tables for a 2-1 win, Massimo Agostini sandwiching a Baiano reply. A win against rock-bottom Pescara and a come-from-behind win against Cagliari showed enough of the players still cared for Viola to stay well clear of danger. But repeating an earlier trick, Brescia came back from two goals down to draw at Artemio Franchi.
It would prove a crucial result. The salvaging of points against Napoli, Parma and Udinese (all from losing positions) again suggested the problem was tactical more than motivational. But Viola, with Agroppi, now replaced with temporary Coach Luigi Chiarugi, were in the awful position of needing to win and hope on the last day. Fiorentina fulfilled their part of the bargain, racing into a six goal lead against Foggia, Batistuta notching strikes fifteen and sixteen of the season along the way. What ultimately relegated them was Stefano Desideri’s equaliser for Udinese at Roma, along with Florian Radicioiu’s penalty sealing a Brescia win against Sampdoria. Both got what they needed to force a play-off between themselves and send Viola down.
As the bad news from the other games filtered through Luigi Di Biagio and Dan Petrescu notched consolations against a deflated Viola, who knew their own efforts had been in vain. Batistuta’s diary entry for that day makes especially poignant reading: “We are deeply in the drama. Fiorentina has beaten Foggia (6-2) and my two goals were completely useless. We’re precipitated ourselves into Serie B 55 years after our last and only relegation. In spite of my new personal record of 16 goals this season, three more than a year ago, my morale is on the floor. It is the day of the most useless double score of my career. I immediately fly to Argentina and promise to stay with Fiorentina even in Serie B.” This he did, and under Claudio Ranieri, their return to the top-flight was as emphatic as it was predictable.
A glance of the individual standings for 1993 paints an interesting picture – Batistuta with 16 goals, Baiano and Effenberg with 12 and 9 assists respectively. Massimo Orlando impressed sufficiently to be picked for Gazetta dello Sport’s team of the year. This was a team that should never, ever have been relegated. But maybe the lesson here is that nobody is ever “too good to go down”, as well as the obvious observation that whatever misgivings you may have about your current coach, the grass isn’t always greener. As for Agroppi, he never coached again. One hopes Viola’s tifosi had calmed down sufficiently to see the irony of his re-invention as an expert for Italian television a few years later.