Following a series of stories that Stefano Pioli agreed to become the next manager of Fiorentina, it looks like he is all but confirmed following negotiations with Internazionale. It appears that Pioli was the club’s first choice, ahead of Eusebio Di Francesco, considering Luciano Spalletti, long a dream for Fiorentina fans and management alike, was never within the club’s price range.
Although he has had limited success, Pioli has a few significant selling points in his favor. After the Paulo Sousa experiment, it was obvious the club wanted an Italian manager with Serie A experience. He is tactically flexible - he has previously gone between 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, 4-5-1, and 3-4-2-1 formations, showing a tendency for pragmatic football that can be attacking but without any strong ideological commitment. The most common argument I have heard in favor of his appointment of course, is that he is a former Fiorentina player - a defender, Pioli played for la Viola from 1989 to 1995. As a result, he is already familiar with the fanbase and their expectations.
Bringing a Fiorentina veteran back into the fold is a good thing. But does he bring enough else to restore excitement after such a boring season? The 51 year old coach is a true journeyman - since retiring in 1999 to coach the Bologna youth team, he bounced around calcio without much success until his arrival at Lazio in 2014. He had arrived to the blue side of Rome following two bottom table seasons at Bologna, where the fans appreciated his attempts to make the most of a poor squad. Although Pioli was able to have a few memorable runs at Bologna and he kept them in Serie A, he left with a 33% win percentage, even if few people blamed him.
In 2014/2015, Pioli took Lazio to third place, 5 points ahead of fourth place Fiorentina, scoring 71 goals in the process, one less than champions Juventus. This was the Pioli that Corvino and the Fiorentina brass are looking for - he arrived at the capital with skepticism, but brought Lazio back to third place for the first time since Delio Rossi in 2007. More importantly, Pioli did this by emphasizing entertaining football and giving a chance to young players.
The good times were not to last however, and Pioli was sacked before the end of the following season, getting dismissed in April 2016 following a big home loss against Roma. Like at Bologna, Pioli failed to sustain any success. He soon had another chance - in November 2016 he was hired by Inter after a disastrous start by Frank de Boer. Pioli appeared to turn Inter’s season around but the team collapsed soon after - he was sacked six months into the job, following seven games without a victory.
And here is the problem - it’s easy to absolve Pioli of much of the blame for the three last jobs he was fired from, but then what? At Bologna he had a miserable financial situation, at Lazio, much of his squad was sold under him following one impressive year, and at Inter he inherited dysfunction. It’s not his fault that Serie A can be a circus. But the fact remains, he has been coaching for almost 20 years now, and his only real success at the top level is one year at Lazio. He is coming off of two years since then where his team has imploded under him.
As miserable as the football Fiorentina could play under Sousa, the locker room never imploded the way it did at Lazio and Inter - in fact the last time the club saw that much internal drama was the year of two other Lazio veterans in Sinisa Mihajlovic and Delio Rossi. While Pioli has on the surface avoided any public spats with players the way Sousa has, where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and fire follows Pioli wherever he goes. The media has been discussing how Pioli is good with young players, but it is hard to see what sort of long term impact he can have when he never lasts at a job long enough.
There are worse coaches out there, but making Pioli their first choice, Corvino and the Della Valle brothers are giving the fans a message - their ambition is survival, to make due with what they have. Although Pioli has a reputation as a manager who encourages positive football, his priority is pragmatism and changing the formation for what he has, suggesting he will have limited input on the squad design.
What is more worrying, however, is that the appointment of Pioli was not based on any tactical reasons, but it is primarily because he is an Italian who played for the club. Fiorentina has been making an effort to include more Italian players on the squad lately - on the surface this is to comply with financial fair play, but it might not be a coincidence that this effort was made as cost cutting has increased and the level of play has gone down. Together with the appointment of Giancarlo Antognoni to a management role - a welcome move for such a legend, it is clear that many of the otherwise welcome moves made by management these days are ways to deflect criticism as it becomes increasingly clear that Fiorentina does not currently have the budget to compete.
Perhaps Pioli, despite not being the sexy choice, will end up being the smart choice. But together with recent comments from Corvino and Andrea Della Valle, it is hard to not see this as another attempt by management to tell us to be grateful for what we have, and not to expect much more.