Let’s face it, things were never going to be easy for Paulo Sousa, it could be said this whole stint was doomed from the start. It could be said that due to Sousa’s affiliation with Juventus he should never have landed such a role in the first place. It could also be said that his pragmatic approach to the game after both Vincenzo Montella and Cesare Prandelli was a result of Delle Valle trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Paulo must now realise that wearing Fiorentina emblazoned gilets and roll-necks can only get him so far with the fans.
It may be ridiculous to even attempt to defend Sousa after what has been an utterly demoralising fortnight. With no more needing to be said about the events gone by, I have decided to approach this topic from hopefully a somewhat alternative stance. Being a British Arsenal fan in my early 20’s, all I’ve known is manager loyalty, which makes it hard for me to join the baying mobs eager to see Sousa driven out of Florence in scorn.
Lets flash back to Christmas 2015 when Fiorentina sat pretty at the top of Serie A after a remarkable first half of the season. Sousa’s pragmatism combined with the swashbuckling ingenuity of his 3 man back line set tongues wagging amongst Fiorentina fans, and dare I say it for the sake of the side Sousa’s affiliation with the Old Lady was somewhat irrelevant to the fans if they were to continue such a title charge.
Sousa’s admiration of the Italian champions was never something he had hidden nor was it something which would warm the icy cold hearts of Florentine’s. His suaveness and urbane appearance coupled with success at Basel and Maccabi Tel Aviv stood him in good stead to be considered destined for a move to a big European team. Largely indicative of Corvino’s player scouting, Sousa represented a choice from left-field, subverting from the norm and presenting a gamble on the future of the club.
After mentioning the incredible start to life in Florence for Sousa, it would only be fair to note his disappointing collapse in the second half, leading Fiorentina to once again stare through the bars of the Champions league playpen enviously watching Juventus, Napoli, and AS Roma toy with their riches.
However flash forward to February 2017 and the acidic relationship with Fiorentina and Sousa seems to have reached an incurable end. Rabid criticism labelled at Sousa has been targeted at his lack of tactical nous and flexibility, not forgetting his propensity to allow his team to throw a 3-0 aggregate lead at home; even after seeing Arsenal thumped 5-1 at the Allianz Arena, this still hurts.
The board’s transfer policies however are unbelievably unconducive to success at Fiorentina. After was what seen after a largely productive January transfer window, Corvino was again blind to what his side needed the most. Bargain bin transfers in the summer in the form of Milić and Sanchez to name just 2 did nothing to strengthen La Viola. His penchant for scouring the under-scouted nations in southern Europe, which had previously bore fruit in the form of Jovetić, is simply wildly unreliable. Due to no fault of his own, Sousa was forced to endure another season Marcos Alonso-less and without any Serie A level full backs, a lack of which had forced his hand in the previous season after having to play Bernadeschi as a wing-back out of necessity.
It could be argued that such transfers are at a parallel with Fiorentina’s current financial position, but such an argument does nothing to excuse Corvino’s half-assed plugging of positions with Balkan cast-aways. Primavera buys such as Dragowski and Hagi are fantastic prospects which can be sold on for high profit in 5 years time... but what about now?
My sternest defence of Sousa comes in the form of his perceived lack of impactful substitutions. In the midweek game against Torino, Sousa had the option of bringing on the painfully ineffective Tello and the frankly one-dimensional Babacar. The rest of the subs were made up of largely defenders; in this situation it seems harsh to label such criticism at a man who has so little at his disposal. Sousa can only work with what he has, and what he has is clearly very little. The side’s reliance on Federico Bernardeschi, while taking nothing away from the diamond in the rough, is worrying. He and Chiesa have provided fans to take away some glimmer of hope from this season, but the pressure placed on the youngsters shoulders says more about the lack of first team quality rather than Sousa’s mismanagement. Both have benefitted massively from Sousa’s tutelage, and if we were to credit Sousa with anything its the belief and confidence he has instilled in both of them.
Of course I would be wild to void Sousa of all of the blame, his ability to send a team back out onto he field determined to throw 3 points is absurd, but I can't help feel his lack of support from above hampers his ability to really turn a game.
Yes Ranieri may bring the feel good factor back to the stands and in turn bring in an upturn in form; however its hard to see any manager satisfying Fiorentina’s ambitions with such an ambition-less board. Sousa is a manager with potential, and though it may be unforgivable some to look beyond his Juve past, without owners willing to work for the here and now, its easy to see Fiorentina knocking on the door of the top 3, or maybe even the top 5 for years to come with no answer. Maybe, and it’s painful to say, Fiorentina right now are where they belong. How Corvino must be waking up in hot sweats every night wishing he could have just taken the Kalinić money and ran...