Being the supporter of a team outside of the big four has it's hardships. You're ridiculed by fans of teams who wear stripes, your trophy history is mocked, you constantly find yourself on the odd end of things. Sometimes you are blessed to have a true talent, someone that really makes a difference and changes the course of a season, and of course, the managers from Spain and England can smell the talent, one ludicrous cash payment later and they're off shooting magazine covers with Ronaldo.
However once in a while you are allowed to have a player so fiercely loyal, the team shirt nearly tattooed to their body, and these are the role model players, these are two of them...
Stevan Jovetic and Manuel Pasqual, two fiercely loyal players dedicated to the cause and to the shirt. A kind of player who holds his colors high and chooses the love of the fans over the bigger house and the cars.
A person who is allowed to be called a legend at Fiorentina is the one who year after year refuse to turn their back on the team. Players like Antognoni who led the team from 1972-1987, Gabriel Batistuta, 9 years in purple and still calls Florence home, and Angelo Di Livio, who refused to leave the team when it went bankrupt and led the charge all the way from C2.
What makes this so unique is with a new younger generation of players, clinging the colors to your body becomes increasingly rare. Fiorentina is one of those teams who feel the sting of seeing their best players wear stripes. From Roberto Baggio, whose move to Juventus caused riots in the street, Luca Toni, who set a Serie A record, hung around for a season after his Inter negotiations broke down and moved to Germany promising he'd never play for another Italian team. Felipe Melo, who was one of the most influential midfielders of the 2008-2009 season and gave Fiorentina hopes of seeing a longtime Dunga-like incarnation, only to take the 25 million and run to Turin. Of course we come to the future divorcee Riccardo Montolivo, blinded by Milanese showgirls and shopping.
But with the signature of two vastly different players, one that is the darling of Europe, one that has fought back to strength despite the jeers and criticisms of his own fans, we have a new story to write.
Manuel Pasqual was a midsummer pick up from Arezzo, he lit up Serie B in the 2004-2005 season and had already been eyed by the big four before Corvino swooped him for a cool 5.5 million euros. In his first season in Florence Pasqual became known for his rocket of a left foot. Many of Toni's goals originated from his side, and in the summer he became hot property as Italy and especially Juve poured over the left back. He barely missed the cut for Lippi's World Cup team as he was left in favor of Fabio Grosso, and in the 2006-2007 season he once again put on sterling performances but never again to be noticed by the national team.
But in 2007 something happened. Maybe it was the pressure, or the disappointment of missing out on the national team but Pasqual started a steep decline. The left foot became weak, he became prone to losing balls and exposing the defense only being saved by the tight knit Gamberini and Ujfalusi, and the jeers started. He was accused of being slow, inaccurate, the weak side of the defense and by the end of the season he was the mark on the Champions League bound team. 2008-2009 didn't start any easier, as Pasqual was benched in favor of Vargas, the new leftback from Catania who was supposed to make the left more offensive. Yet it was quickly discovered Vargas had a deficiency when it came to defending, and, already being threatened with walking papers in January, he was moved forward and Pasqual regained his spot by default.
By February 2009 Pasqual came roaring back. A goal against Cagliari, a regained footing, and things seemed to be on the upswing. In the successive season, Pasqual once again held his ground with a scintillating Champions League campaign where he held one of the best defenses in the group. His stock was again rising and in the summer, the ever-present Juventus and Napoli were once again calling, and Pasqual despite the promises of a major pay raise, refused to leave his position in Florence.
However this past season Pasqual, in a representation of the overall team, once again lost his footing. He was once again singled out for being weak and his name was once again transfer-listed by Corvino. Through a rough winter transfer campaign, he held his spot and was once again on the wings come February where he took part in the mini-viola resurgence.
Despite only being weeks into the current season, Manuel has already showed the grit that harks back to the days when he first arrived in Florence. With a cross on the first day, and a wonderful pairing with Behrami, Pasqual has proved why he deserves his long stay in the Renaissance city.
What is there to say that hasn't already been said about Stevan Jovetic? The bane of Liverpool and Munich, the object of salivation from Madrid to London, he is one of the brightest rising players in Europe and despite an upsetting missed season, he has come back to show that he hasn't skipped a beat.
Jovetic, watched already by Manchester United and Real Madrid, arrived in Florence in March of 2008 and the team made it clear what their intentions were. The team was looking for a future, and more importantly a flag and symbol, and they were ready to make him what they made his idol, Batistuta. Jovetic was convinced and in early June he signed for the viola for 8 million from Partizan Belgrade despite the eyes of grander stadiums.
JoJo's first season was mixed, although he wowed with exciting dribbles, and the talent was there, the goals weren't coming. It took all until a foggy February day in Bergamo, without an injured Adrian Mutu, Jovetic sliced the ball into the top bar from the penalty spot and ran towards the purple faithful with Kakaesque arms raised to the sky. He scored his first action goal weeks later in a rapid counterattack in Catania. By summer, Milan, Inter and Juve, who were buoyed by having just taken Felipe Melo, were assaulting the Fiorentina grounds for his signature.
2008-2009 would be the year the Jovetic love would take full swing. November 29th, 2009. Artemio Franchi Stadium. Florence. Fiorentina are playing against Liverpool, arguably one of the toughest opponents the viola could imagine at the Franchi. Liverpool were already in a stalwart year but that didn't make them nonetheless weak. It only took 28 minutes, Jovetic was ahead with Mutu, nobody saw him, everyone was concentrated on the ball bouncing between Marchionni and Zanetti, and then Zanetti finding JoJo just ahead slid the ball up the corridor, Jovetic just on the onside line sprung the trap and beat a rushing Pepe Reina with a ball into the lower left post. Fiorentina took the lead. Liverpool ramped up and tried to push forward for the equalizer, but the wingers were terrifying them, and only 9 minutes later, Marchionni found an unmarked Vargas who controlled the ball on his chest and found JoJo flying across the left side where he back-heeled into the near post. 2-0. All of Europe took notice.
JoJo's Liverpool magic found him on the wanted list everywhere from Germany to Russia and in Serie A he was still dazzling in Mutu's absence. But on a painful night for Florence JoJo would be the sole bright spot of the future. Fiorentina had been pitted with Bayern Munich in the round of 16, they had suffered a humiliating 2-1 referee influenced loss in Munich, and it would take a spot of magic to move on. After Vargas put Fiorentina up 1-0, JoJo was on the right end of a mis-controlled Gila ball and slammed it right by Neuer and Florence began to believe it could dream again. Bayern put one back, but mere minutes later, Jovetic stormed up the left side mesmerizing Ribery and the Bayern defense and flicked the ball to Gilardino who headed it back and Stevan once again scored his brace. It was only the unfortunate Robben screamer that ended Fiorentina's Champions League dream, but JoJo left his mark.
In the 2010-2011 season, Jovetic was to be the focus of the team as Mutu still was unprepared physically and mentally for the season. He was one of the stars of the preseason and Mihajlovic was heavily pointing upon him to lead the charge to Europe. But a simple training game later, a collision with Mario Bolatti, and a ruptured meniscus, left the 20 year old Jovetic spending his season between doctors in Munich and the stands in Florence. The team noticeably suffered in his absence.
Stevan has now come full circle, he has become the undisputed symbol of the team, and he's hungry to be back among the best. His season has started brightly as he brings a new depth of exciting runs, dribbles, and far off shots that was so sorely missed. He celebrated his comeback with a new JoJo-Cerci partnership and two goals against Parma. In the absence of Gilardino he is time and time again the man pushing forward, and now he's been rewarded with new pay, a marriage to the project, and most of all the unrivaled love from his fans.
Stevan and Manuel...here's to many more happy years together.