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Is Fiorentina a stepping-stone club, and if so, should we be mad?

Now here’s a good philosophical line of questioning for the international break.

ACF Fiorentina v FC Torino - Serie A
‘Cause I been thinkin’ ‘bout forever.
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Which of these statements is true?

(a) Fiorentina is the best club in the world.

(b) We are perhaps a bit biased.

This isn’t a trick question. It’s pretty clear that both (a) and (b) are true. And that’s okay, because we’re human beings and cognitive dissonance is one of the greatest gifts we possess as a species. Usually, though, these statements don’t run into each other in such a way to force us to investigate them too closely.

Recent events (and an typically interminable international break) have us circling back around to a question we’ve addressed previously (hi, Johnny Bee!), going way back into the mists of time (hi, Lorenzo!). But with Fiorentina currently in a really weird place, it’s time to ask again exactly how big a club the Viola really are. We’ve looked at the financial piece, which is certainly helpful, but doesn’t explain the entire picture.

So first of all, let’s just come out and say it. Fiorentina are not a Barcelona, Real Madrid, PSG, Bayern Munich, Manchester City, or Manchester United. This means that, if the right offer arrives, they’re going to sell; see their willingness to unload Nikola Kalinić to China for megabucks, even if the deal didn’t actually go through. However, the Viola aren’t Ajax or Porto, either: a big club in a small country that routinely sells talented 22-year-olds for huge profit and rarely brings in high-profile veterans. If anything, Fiorentina are the opposite, as their penchant for 29-year-old reclamation projects demonstrates.

So what do we do with someone like Carlos Salcedo, who’s openly admitted that Florence isn’t his final stop? He’s been very honest about his desire to play for a regular Champions League club, which he readily acknowledges isn’t Fiorentina. That said, he also wants the Viola to trigger his purchase option so that he can grow in a relatively stable environment in a major European league for a few years before making the switch. If everything works out that way—and it’s hard to say if el Titan will ever be good enough for one of the monster teams, so this could be a moot point—and provided that Fiorentina get a fair fee for him, it’s hard to find anything wrong with this. If anything, it’s refreshing to hear a player be honest about his career, rather than reciting the rote “It’s always been my dream to play for, uh, wherever the hell this is” line.

There are a number of players like this in Florence right now: Milan Badelj has been very vocal via his agent about his desire to play elsewhere. Cristian Tello has spoken about how a Barcelona return would be the happiest moment of his life. Heck, even Federico Bernardeschi is rumored to have turned down a contract extension recently.

To recap: most of the players who end up in Florence are there because they’re 1) veterans who are trying to get their careers back on track, 2) younger guys getting their first chance for a club that regularly competes in Europe, or 3) players who simply don’t have the quality to play for a club with a higher profile than Fiorentina. The first two categories are guys who will always be thinking of leaving, while the third category is guys who you don’t necessarily want to rely on as starters. That seems to answer the question about whether or not Fiorentina is a stepping stone club. The players clearly understand this, so why can’t the fans?

That’s a rhetorical question, obviously. While the players are paid to represent the club (and some of them go way above and beyond in doing so, like Borja Valero), the fans have chosen this club of their own free will. That’s especially true of all of us here, who aren’t Florentine by birth and have made a conscious decision to follow this beautiful and messy team. We have to love the crest more than the players, because it’s the only way to stay a fan when, for example, the club sells its long-serving captain and then forces out his popular replacement the following year. If we, as fans, didn’t have an irrational love of Fiorentina, then we’d look at these decisions a bit more objectively and be pretty disgusted.

So should we be disgusted that the Viola are generally a narrow bridge across which talented footballers pass? I think, honestly, that’s not the right way to think about it. In our rational minds, we know that, given the financial state of the club, Fiorentina aren’t going to be able to compete with the Barcelonas and Bayerns of the world any time soon. Heck, competing with the likes of Arsenal or Dortmund or (horribile dictu) Juventus is supremely irrational.

But that doesn’t mean that we don’t want to, and I think that it’s here where the real insight is to be found. We want Fiorentina to win, but know it’s not possible. So is it that we really want the Gigliati to suddenly obtain the financial resources to do a PSG or a Manchester City and become a major player on the world stage? Or are we willing to simply see Fiorentina consistently punch above their weight? To me, that’s the real question.