Serie A Story – Fiorentina

Serie A Story tells you everything and anything about your favourite club and their record in one of Europe’s toughest leagues.

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In the autumn of 1926, the two old Florentine clubs of CS Firenze and PG Libertas merged as one – Fiorentina. Luigi Ridolfi, a National Fascist Party member, initiated the merger as an opportunity for the city of Florence to have a club able to compete at the highest echelons of Italian football. It took just three seasons, spent in the depths outside of Serie A, before the club affectionately known as la Viola got to eventually pit their wits against the countries’ heavyweights, a place they went on to cement with only four clubs having played more Serie A seasons to date. It was also the year they opened their new (and current) stadium – Stadio Artemio Franchi. In its time it was looked upon with great envy throughout the top league – a masterpiece of engineering which catapulted the status of the newly promoted Gigliati as they went on to sign numerous big name players as they prepared for their first foray into Italy’s elite.

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An impressive first season saw the Florence side romp to a stunning fourth place finish, which was promptly followed by relegation the very next season! There was an immediate return to the top flight however, followed by the club’s first trophy – the 1941 Coppa Italia, but the Second World War would interrupt la Viola’s steady progess. Once football was resumed, the 1950’s proved to be a highly successful era as experienced Tactican Fulvio Bernardino guided the club to their first Scudetto title (1955-56) as well as two European Cup finals (losing both). Bernardino’s five year spell still stands as the longest stint by any at the Artemio Franchi.

The swinging sixties started with a bang with Hungarian Coach Nandor Hidegkuti leading the club to its second Coppa Italia before securing the inaugural European Cup Winners’ Cup. He failed however to bring a second Scudetto title to Florence, with several second place finishes the best he and his replacement could muster. The rest of the decade looked set to fizzle out for the Gigliati, with the club’s third Coppa Italia seemingly the highlight. Yet the 1968-69 season proved to be a thrilling one in Serie A, with la Viola securing an unlikely Scudetto title with a remarkable last day victory at Turin giants Juventus. It was a stunning yet surprising end to a successful decade for the club but it would prove to be the final time Fiorentina etched their name onto the Scudetto trophy.

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The seventies would be remembered for the Fiorentina Ye-Ye – nicknamed for its youthfulness, but it was an inconsistent and uneventful decade. Flaviopontello2The club was rescued by rich property merchant Flavio Pontello – a new owner who brought in numerous stars and breathed new life into the club. It also saw the start of an explosive rivalry with the Old Lady as the Turin club pipped the Tuscan outfit to the Serie A title, thanks to a disputed penalty on the final day of the 1981-82 season.

Again, Fiorentina spent years yoyo-ing up and down the table, flirting with relegation whilst securing good league finishes. Pontello’s cash splashing era came to an end when he found himself in a mountain of debt by the start of the eighties, and the maverick owner was under major pressure from his own fans following the sale of their much loved striker Roberto Baggio to arch-rivals Juventus. The Bianconeri had beaten their Florence counterparts just months earlier in an ill-tempered UEFA Cup final, meaning the sale of the Gigliati legend and crowd favourite caused violent protests which eventually forced Pontello out of the club.

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The club was acquired by multi-millionaire film maker Mario Cecchi Gori at the start of the nineties and the famous producer went about funding moves for various hot prospects, including the likes of Brian Laudrup and Gabriel Batistuta. After three fairly average years, Gori passed away, and his son Vittorio took charge – to devastating effect. He fired Coach Luigi Radice, despite an encouraging start to the season, and replaced him with Aldo Agroppi who promptly turned a club that was making steady progress into a sinking ship. And sink they did – relegated on the last day of the 1992-93 season as the club plummeted into crisis.

However, a very familiar name would come to its rescue. Claudio Ranieri took the reins and a dominant Gigliati secured an immediate return to the top flight – mainly thanks to the club being able to keep the big names of Batistuta and Francesco Baiano at the club. Ranieri’s rein went on to be highly successful and put him on the map as a world class Coach. He eventually found himself at Valencia following a rewarding four year spell in Florence, but not before he had secured a third place league finish in 1996 along with the Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italia. He will also be remembered for bringing in a young Manuel Rui Costa, who would go on to become a legend in Tuscany, as well as big names such as Andrei Kanchelskis and Marcio Santos.

The nineties ended with expert Tactician Giovanni Trapattoni leading the club to the top of the Italian tree as they challenged the big boys for the title, before eventually having to settle for Champions League qualification. Trapattoni secured some memorable victories in Europe, mainly against English sides, as both Manchester United and Arsenal succumbed to la Viola.

However, like Ranieri, Trapattoni left for bigger and better things as the Italian national team beckoned, with highly rated Turkish Coach Fatih Terim taking charge at the start of the new millennium. One of his first acts as Coach was to sell the club’s star player and tifosi idol Gabriel Batistuta to rivals Roma, as the Argentine was desperate to fulfill his dream of landing a Scudetto winners medal – which he managed in his first season in the capital. Terim was a success at the Artemio Franchi with the Fiorentina fans taking the eccentric ex-Galatasaray boss to their hearts, but the larger than life Turk had a turbulent relationship with the owner which eventually led to his resignation. He landed the top job at Milan and took with him Portuguese crowd favourite Rui Costa, but not before the club secured their sixth and final Coppa Italia under new Coach Roberto Mancini.

This trophy triumph was to be followed by disaster, as club owner Cecchi Gori revealed the club’s spiralling debts. They were relegated in 2002, but it was to get even worse. Bankruptcy forced the club into administration followed by the Lega Calcio refusing the Gigliati entry into Serie B for the 2002-03 season – meaning the club effectively ceased to exist.

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A hero emerged in shoe and leather entrepreneur Diego Della Valle, and he re-established the club as Associazione Calcio Fiorentina e Florentia Viola. As it was essentially seen as a “new” club, they were to start the 2002-03 season in what was then called Serie C2 (now known as the Lega Pro Seconda Divisione). Inspired the incredibly loyal Angelo Di Livio la Viola romped to the Serie C2 title, which sparked a fortuitous double promotion thanks to the Catania Case – a downright confusing episode which saw the number of teams in Serie B increase due to Siena’s fielding of an ineligible player in the final match of the season, a match which ended in a 1-1 draw that sent Catania down. However confusing and bizarre the whole situation was, Fiorentina were back in the second tier on ‘Sports Merits’ and the club re-incorporated as ACF Fiorentina once more.

The club was again the beneficiaries of an unusual situation as no fewer than six teams were promoted to Serie A (due to its expansion). As la Viola finished sixth in Serie B, a play-off victory over Perugia (who had finished 15th in Serie A) would signal the end to their two year exile from Italy’s top league.

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A breathless few years ended with the side narrowly avoiding relegation on the final day of the 2004-05 Serie A season and maintaining their top flight status. Following a period of eight Coaches in just four years the club hired former Roma Coach Cesare Prandelli for the following campaign, who led the club back up the to the top of the Italian hierarchy with a stunning fourth place finish with a team that boasted 31-goal sensation Luca Toni, Sébastian Frey, Stefano Fiore and Tomas Ujfalusi.

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However, Fiorentina again lived up to their reputation of attracting turmoil as the club was embroiled in the infamous Calciopoli scandal. The Viola were again staring down the barrel of another year outside the top flight but were eventually reinstated to Serie A, albeit with a 19-point penalty. However, helped by the stunning forward partnership of Toni and new signing Adrian Mutu, the club secured an excellent sixth place finish and qualification for the following season’s UEFA Cup.

They managed to reach the semi-finals of the competition, eventually succumbing to Scottish giants Rangers, but a fourth place finish in the league went a long way to healing those wounds with the resulting qualification for the Champions League at the end of the 2007-08 season.

The club was knocked out in the Group Stages in December 2008, following a tough draw that included French Champions Lyon and German giants Bayern Munich. The club currently occupies the fourth and final Champions League place with 12 games remaining – a welcome sight of consistency for the Viola tifosi following a decade of troubles and turmoil. Prandelli has steadied the ship and with the progression of his young charges, could this historic club hit the summit again in the coming years?

It’s been 40 years since their last title and stranger things have happened – especially to Fiorentina.

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