Fiorentina are a club who had experienced terrible underachievement prior to their Champions League season last campaign. This term, with Cesare Prandelli leaving them to take over the national team’s vacant job as coach, things looked bleak for Fiorentina.
Sinisa Mihajlovic was appointed in Prandelli’s place after excelling at Catania, and it was hoped he could lead Fiorentina up the table in much the same way. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen as planned.
Mihajlovic found himself in an awkward position upon his arrival. His players were quite clearly reeling from Prandelli’s exit – after all, he was a well-respected tactician who had masterminded the club’s qualification for the Champions League. Fiorentina had a talented squad, but at first their hearts were still with Prandelli.
Mihajlovic’s luck was apparent very quickly, when one of his star players Stevan Jovetic broke down with a cruciate ligament injury that would rule him out for the season. Immediately, one of Mihajlovic’s most important players was taken from him and the club were in no position to buy a replacement of equal quality. That was at the start of the season – a couple of months ago, goalkeeper Sebastien Frey suffered a similar fate.
So Mihajlovic deserves credit for turning around a seemingly sinking ship. Fiorentina could have been in a shock relegation battle but the Serbian boss’s astute motivational skills have helped his charges climb to mid-table. The likes of Juan Manuel Vargas were under-performing drastically during the first half of the season despite their big reputations. Mihajlovic, without publicly embarrassing them or transfer-listing them, has replaced such players with the likes of Adem Ljajic, of whom little was expected but much has been gained.
The case of Alberto Gilardino is also interesting. Mihajlovic has been forced to field Gilardino all season because he is the only senior striker at the club, and despite his lack of goals and confidence crisis he has remained in the starting XI. Mihajlovic, whose ability to inspire confidence into players was all too apparent at Catania, has clearly spent the season with his arm round Gilardino, reaffirming his faith in the mis-firing striker and reassuring him the goals will come. And slowly but surely, he has found the back of the net.
Prandelli left a legacy of training young players, and Mihajlovic has continued this with his team selections. When Fiorentina were at their worst this season, he resisted temptation to throw in the youngsters at the club for fear of totally destroying their morale. As results steadily improved, the likes of Alessio Cerci, Michele Camporese and Khouma Babacar have been given a chance in the team and, for the most part, have impressed.
Mihajlovic’s biggest success is probably regarding Adrian Mutu, however. The exiled striker was always going to create a problem for Mihajlovic when his suspension had expired, but the coach placed his faith in the controversial player. Mutu was welcomed back with open arms and integrated into the squad because it was obvious he had the talent to improve Fiorentina’s league position. However, it wasn’t long before Mutu’s next sin which must have Mihajlovic pulling what is left of his hair out.
“I always defended him, but now I really can’t. His behaviour is indefensible,” said Mihajlovic. “He disrespected everyone – the club, his team-mates and me.”
The coach had been forced to display his compassionate side all season with his team not getting the required results, but the action he took with Mutu would have gained the respect of the other players. Mutu had stepped so far out of line it was impossible for him to come back, and Mihajlovic effectively ended his Fiorentina career. The other players knew their new coach was not a man to be messed about, but was a man that would help them through tough times.
Under Mihajlovic for the rest of the season, you would think Fiorentina can only go in one direction. If he can bring in some of his own recruits before the end of the transfer window and in the summer, Fiorentina should be a force next campaign.