Should He Stay or Should He Go? returns to lead the way in speculating the future of another Serie A Coach. This time Cesare Prandelli comes into our sights with possible opportunities away from current club Fiorentina looming on the horizon.
“I’m happy in Florence, I love the people, the city loves me and there are no problems.” So says the mastermind behind Fiorentina’s push for a second successive top four finish, Cesare Prandelli. His comments will no doubt be music to the ears of la Viola supporters, but one wonders if the Orzinuovi-born Tactician is underselling his talents. The loyalty he has verbalised this week is admirable, but does Prandelli owe it to himself to fulfill his potential as a top-level Coach should a bigger club come calling? Or would he be better suited to stay where he is and remain faithful to the fans that adore him and continue the Fiorentina fairytale?
The reason why Prandelli’s future has become such a hot topic in the Italian press at the moment is, of course, the perilous situation that Claudio Ranieri finds himself in at Juventus. As things currently stand, la Vecchia Signora lie just three points ahead of Fiorentina in the table with three fixtures still to play, so there is a distinct possibility that Prandelli’s men could leapfrog the Turin outfit before the end of the season. The rumours in the newspapers before Juventus’ difficult away game to the in-form Milan this weekend were that if the Bianconeri lost the match, Ranieri’s time would have been up in the dugout of the Stadio Olimpico di Torino. However, thanks to a second-half equaliser from Vincenzo Iaquinta, Juventus managed a credible 1-1 draw, and if the pre-game speculation proves to be correct, Ranieri’s job is safe for now. But with the board and supporters becoming increasingly frustrated by the team’s performances, the question remains of how long is it before the metaphorical axe that is seemingly above Ranieri’s head comes crashing down on his Juventus career? And if the board in Turin are genuinely looking at Prandelli as their next manager, there would be no better way to underline his credentials than supersede the Bianconeri for third place.
Even if Ranieri is sacked but not replaced by Prandelli, the shrewd Tactician could find himself in the frame for other top jobs in the coming year. With Carlo Ancelotti’s future at Milan a source of some uncertainty, Prandelli could be an outside bet for that position, and there may also be covetous eyes observing his success from abroad. So what is it about the former Verona, Parma and Roma boss that is drawing so much attention?
To begin with, the man gets results, and in football this is the priority. As much as football enthusiasts want to see the game played in an aesthetically pleasing manner, the crucial element for any Coach is to get points on the board, and Prandelli has the knack for winning. His record in his four seasons with Fiorentina in Serie A speaks for itself. During his first season, he took over a struggling side that had flirted with relegation, made some key signings like goal-machine Luca Toni from Palermo and current stopper Sebastien Frey from Parma, and galvanised the team into a fourth-placed finish. Unfortunately for la Viola, the Calciopoli scandal then followed taking their initial success away from them, and they had to start the following season with a 15-point deduction. Despite this disadvantage, Prandelli guided the team to a UEFA Cup spot – a remarkable achievement. Toni had been his talisman, giving a fantastic return of 31 goals in 34 games during the 2005/06 season and then forming a devastating partnership with Romanian forward Adrian Mutu in the following campaign. These statistics explain why many doubters raised an eyebrow when Prandelli allowed the World Cup-winning striker to leave for Bayern Munich during the summer of the 2007/08, believing it would affect the club’s ambitions greatly. This proved not to be the case, as without any external penalties impinging on the team, Fiorentina finally reached the Champions League, finishing fourth.
However, to suggest that Prandelli’s side are solely effective and fall down somewhat in the entertainment area would be unfair. The style of play this season was initially affected by the departure of influential midfielder Fabio Liverani, but the team slowly managed to overcome his loss whilst still accumulating points. Currently Prandelli employs a flexible 4-2-3-1 formation, with hot-shot striker Alberto Gilardino spearheading the attack, ably assisted by a creative tri-partite currently boasting Juan Vargas, Stevan Jovetic and Zdravko Kuzmanovic. The team is full of invention but insured by a strong defensive unit – 11 clean-sheets this season speaks for itself. This blend of attractive play and good results is exactly what a club’s board and its supporters look for in a Coach, and is one of the major factors in explaining the rise in Prandelli’s stock over the last few years.
Another is Prandelli’s success in the transfer market. His signings have generally been very astute, from young up-and-coming players such as Riccardo Montolivo – now entrusted with pulling the strings in the heart of the Fiorentina midfield – to bringing in former greats such as Mutu and Christian Vieri whose best days are seemingly behind them, and giving them a new lease of life. Furthermore, when Prandelli has spied a genuine top-class performer that he can convince to come to the Stadio Artemio Franchi for a fair price, he has taken the opportunity – Gilardino being the prime example. He also understands the constraints to which his club have to adhere, allowing top players such as Toni (and possibly Mutu this summer) leave the club if an acceptable offer comes in, without disassembling or massively disrupting his team.
All of these statistics may serve only to eulogise Prandelli, without highlighting any flaws, but perhaps therein lies the point? Prandelli seems to have learnt his trade in his early years at Verona and Parma, with Fiorentina currently reaping the benefits, but does his finely-tuned approach to management now warrant a crack at the big time? Fiorentina fans will despair at the view that their club does not have the financial backing to compete on a regular basis with the top three clubs in Italy, not to mention the superpowers of England and Spain, but unfortunately it is the truth. In time, with regular participation in the Champions League and new investment, the situation could change – but how can a club that employs a wage cap of no more than two million euros a year per player contend with a team that pays its top stars six times as much? To fully realise his potential, it is hard to refute the argument that Prandelli must move on. However, being the loyal man that he is, comfortable in familiar surroundings close to his family, it is probable that he will be pacing the Fiorentina dugout for another season at least.