Upon arrival in 2005, Fiorentina Coach Cesare Prandelli claimed he possessed a seven-year plan to bring the Scudetto to Florence. Four years on and this claim was looking less far-fetched, as Fiorentina entered the season 2009/10 with lofty aspirations after another fourth placed finish and a Champions League berth. La Viola had a promising opening to its campaign, overcoming a tricky tie with Sporting Lisbon to make it into the lucrative group stages of the Champions League. Meanwhile, domestically the club started solidly with the sort of form that would leave it well in European contention come the business end of the season.
La Viola’s 2-0 victory over Liverpool on match day two of this season’s Champions League heralded a return to the big time for a Fiorentina side fashioned from the ashes of their financial implosion of 2002. Just as Gabriel Batistuta had tormented Arsenal’s famed back four at Wembley a decade before, Stevan Jovetic danced through Liverpool’s centre-halves to claim a well deserved brace and a landmark victory for la Viola. Such a victory should have been a sign of Fiorentina’s willingness to assert itself once again as a force both domestically and abroad, but the effect has been the opposite.
Poor domestic form, compounded at the weekend with a 2-1 loss to a Juventus side in the midst of their own problems, has left Prandelli’s team in 10th, as close to Lazio in 17th as they are to Palermo, the team currently occupying the much sought after fourth Champions League place. Despite its indifferent league form, Fiorentina has performed well in Europe, recording five wins, two of which came against Liverpool. Nonetheless, the team’s harsh defeat in Munich leaves them staring at European exit which would effectively spell the end of their season. This writer senses that if la Viola are to be playing Liverpool again next season, it will be in a Europa League showdown.
Some Fiorentina fans have pinned the blame for their club’s stuttering season on Prandelli, and while the dissenters are still a minority, their voices are growing louder. Prandelli, however, has not been blessed this season. In midfield, Riccardo Montolivo, Marco Donadel and Cristiano Zanetti have underperformed on a number of occasions. The steel that summer departure Felipe Melo brought to their midfield last season had its drawbacks, namely 12 yellows and three red cards, but Melo rarely let Fiorentina be overrun in midfield the way they have been this year. In his absence Montolivo has been stifled, failing to register an assist in Serie A. Meanwhile, Adrian Mutu’s tribulations, first with the Court of Arbitration for Sport and now with his drugs ban means Prandelli has been deprived of one of his most creative players. The Liverpool match aside, Jovetic has failed to deliver the incision of Mutu on a sufficiently regular basis. The Montenegrin starlet has recorded just four goals in Serie A this season, Mutu had managed the same in half as many games. Alberto Gilardino can often cut an isolated figure up front, and while Fiorentina have undoubtedly been unlucky with their finishing, particularly against Roma and Milan, you get the feeling that an experienced counterpoint for Gila such as Mutu would have given them a better chance.
In defence Prandelli has lost the services of Gamberini too often, with Per Kroldrup often underwhelming in his role as deputy, deficiencies Pasqaule Corvino has attempted to cover with winter signings. Barcelona prodigy Keirrison and Adem Ljajic (once destined for Manchester United) have been brought in to provide a much needed attacking threat in Mutu’s absence, but both – like Jovetic – are raw and cannot be expected to fire Fiorentina back up the table single-handedly. Similarly, the captures of Mario Bolatti and Felipe appear very astute but will not necessarily help the team greatly in the short term.
For his part, Fiorentina supremo Diego Della Valle has continued to support Prandelli and Corvino throughout their awkward season, with the recent controversial defeat to Bayern Munich shifting the focus away from la Viola’s poor domestic form. Indeed, should Fiorentina progress past the Bavarian giants on Tuesday night, Prandelli will be able to point to the result as further evidence of his team’s continued progress. Whether or not Prandelli will be able to complete his seven-year vision, however, will become clear in the wake of the World Cup. Despite this season’s indifference, Prandelli appears to have become the heir-apparent for the Azzurri job after drawing regular praise from Marcelo Lippi. If this is a season of transition for la Viola, the loss of Prandelli in the summer could well be a crippling blow.