After leaving a week or so for the dust to settle, and in a follow-up to the dissection of Fiorentina’s season in last week’s piece, it’s time to go all psychoanalytic and take a good, hard look at the squad, in an attempt to predict what the summer and next season may hold for the Tuscan outfit and its loyal supporters.
Let’s begin with the obvious – Fiorentina has had a very good season, finishing fourth in that final coveted Champions League spot, so a major overhaul is not needed. The team has a lovely balance of youth and experience, with players such as Dario Dainelli and Martin Jorgensen providing a committed base of reliable professionals to fall back on, blending well with the up-and-coming youngsters such as Stevan Jovetic and Zdravko Kuzmanovic. Indeed, the squad that Cesare Prandelli and Pantaleo Corvino have has been assembled gradually and in a very shrewd manner, signing a reasonable amount of players each summer and giving them time to bed into the side. Fiorentina’s relative success over the last few seasons provide further evidence to the theory that a sensible approach is the best policy when building a team – buying a host of players in one transfer window and hoping they gel instantly rarely works.
Interestingly, only three players of the current side were at the club before Prandelli’s arrival four seasons ago, and when you analyse the qualities of those players, you begin to understand how the Orzinuovi-born Tactician has taken Fiorentina from the brink of relegation to Champions League football in such a short space of time. Dainelli, Jorgensen and Marco Donadel, the three in question, may not be the three most talented footballers in the Viola squad (particularly the former and the latter), but they have a dedication and a loyalty to the club’s cause that is very difficult to find in the transfer market. Dainelli can be a little suspect at times in the heart of the defence, but you could never accuse him of not putting his body on the line for sake of the team, and Prandelli understands this – highlighting the importance of Danielli’s contribution and influence by making him captain.
Jorgensen has a composure on the ball that marks him out from his teammates, underlined by his cool finish against Lecce in the penultimate game of the season – the strike that confirmed football in Europe’s top competition next season. His pace may be rapidly declining, and in truth he has become a bit-part player this season, racking up just 10 appearances, but don’t be surprised if Prandelli and Corvino offer the Dane a contract extension in the coming weeks. Donadel is another player whose future has come under speculation this season due to Felipe Melo’s emergence, but it would come as a shock if Prandelli let one of his most committed players go. Football is a squad game these days, and that squad must have a diversity of players, including the hard-workers and Donadel is definitely one of those.
While Prandelli has been canny enough to see the use in keeping on these faithful servants, it doesn’t mask the fact that the players who now wear the club’s shirt numbers are very different to those four years ago. There is a backbone of quality players that have now been at the club for three of four years under Prandelli’s stewardship that have well and truly raised the bar. Sebastien Frey, Alessandro Gamberini, Riccardo Montolivo and Adrian Mutu are the four stand-out stalwarts, but they have more than decent support in Manuel Pasqual, Per Kroldrup, Massimo Gobbi, Mario Santana and Kuzmanovic. With that quartet providing the spine to the team, Prandelli has a dependable and extremely talented base to work from – Frey has a wonderful shot-stopping ability, Gamberini is the proverbial rock at the back, Montolivo pulls the strings from midfield and Mutu has the raw technique to win games by himself. When a team has such strength in every department of the pitch, the fans can always be confident of success. For examples of this, two matches this season come to mind – the 1-1 draw away to Lecce, where if it were not for Frey’s heroics, Fiorentina may well find themselves in the Europa League this coming campaign whilst the same could be said if it were not for the inspired second-half display by Mutu in the 3-3 Game of the Season away to Genoa, in which the mercurial Romanian grabbed a hat-trick.
Whilst sustained success is built upon steady improvement with trustworthy charges to call upon, it is crucial in not allowing the side to go stale and in keeping all its members on their toes with new signings each summer. It’s important to keep improving in the modern game – as rivals will be doing the same – just as it is equally important to ensure these ‘freshening-up’ signings are the right ones. Without a doubt, the transfers made by Corvino and green-lit by Prandelli last summer were good buys – all five of the players brought in have come into the side and become arguably their most integral members. On the face of it, Alberto Gilardino seems the outstanding success, with 19 league goals this season, but that would not be fair to the likes of Melo and Jovetic. Melo, in fact, was named in our Team of the Season, as his performances in the engine room next to the more creative Riccardo Montolivo have captured the eyes of many (including covetous glances from Europe’s finest, if speculation is to be believed). Jovetic, playing in the hole following the injury to Mutu, has lit up Serie A towards the tail-end of the season, and at just 19 years of age, he can be very proud with the significant part he played in Fiorentina’s run of seven wins in eight games in the final third of the campaign. Juan Vargas perhaps even more so had a telling part to play in this run as he shifted from a suspect full-back to an inventive left-winger, as Prandelli changed his tactics in the wake of Mutu’s absence. The least convincing of the quintet was Gianluca Comotto, who still made 28 appearances and looked assured at right-back.
The transfers were successful, but Corvino paid top dollar for these players, with an estimated total of €47.5m shelled out for their services – Gilardino (€15m from Milan), Vargas (€12 from Catania), Melo (€8m from Almeria), Jovetic (€8m from Partizan Belgrade) and Comotto (€4.5m from Torino). In a sense, you get what you pay for, but in today’s market, where flops such as Ricardo Quaresma command a fee of around €20m, the transfer dealings done in the summer of 2008 have to be regarded as fantastic business on behalf of Corvino, Prandelli and the financial team behind the scenes at the Artemio Franchi. One way to underline their success further is to think of how much some of these players would now be worth – Melo would probably not go for less than €18m now – making €8m look an absolute snip. If Fiorentina has half as successful a summer as they had in 2008, they will be looking very strong come the start of the 2009/2010 campaign.
But in discussing the business done by Fiorentina last summer enlies the fundamental point – will la Viola become victims of their own success? The wage structure at Fiorentina has previously meant that no player can earn more than €2m a year in wages, and while that figure may increase slightly with Champions League revenue for another season, it’s hard to see the constrictions not having an effect on the club’s progress. When a player can earn six times at much at a club like Inter, it may prove extremely difficult for Fiorentina to hold on to some of their stars this summer if bigger, richer clubs come calling.
One player they could possibly look to let go is Mutu – controversial and upsetting as it may sound. The flamboyant forward is extremely talented, but since his injury the team has taken on a new 4-2-3-1 formation that is even more effective without him. Mutu has the quality to play in this formation and would be a valued asset if he stayed – but if Corvino needs cash to fund other transfers, clubs would be interested in taking Mutu for a high fee, and considering his injury record, expensive wages and age, it might be the right time to sell. Jovetic seems to be blossoming in his place – bringing the Romanian back in may well inhibit the progress of what looks like a special player in the making.
The defence, while on paper looks a tad weak, has actually done very well this season with 17 clean sheets in all competitions and just 38 goals in the league conceded telling its own story. Perhaps a new centre-back to provide competition for Dainelli and Gamberini would be a sensible idea, and with Luciano Zauri heading back to Lazio after a loan spell and Vargas now an undisputed attacking player, there is a dearth of full-backs to compete with the first choice Pasqual and Comotto. Nonetheless, the defence has been solid and there is no reason to suggest why it should not continue to be so, therefore perhaps Prandelli should focus on the attacking side of the team. A back-up striker to Gila is imperative – when the ex-Parma man is injured, there is no-one currently to occupy his target man/poacher role, with the frankly poor Emiliano Bonazzoli also heading back to Sampdoria. Expect Fiorentina’s transfer team to address these problems, coupled with a few more exciting signings to give themselves a better crack at Europe and perhaps even cup success next season, whilst maintaining their position in the top four sides in Italy. Stability is the key, and fortunately for the Viola tifosi, Prandelli and Corvino seem well aware of this fact.