The Della Valles have, for the past year, publicly proclaimed their desire to make Fiorentina “younger and more Italian.” Corvino echoed these statements at the beginning of June, when he explained that the Viola mercato would be aimed at bringing in making the squad “younger and, if possible, more Italian.” Given the catastrophic ennui of this past season, a rebuild of the team certainly makes sense. And rebuilding through youth, rather than through cheap veterans, plays to Pantaleo Corvino’s strengths. But this thing about making the Gigliati more Italian is shortsighted, lacking in self-awareness, and generally just dumb.
There are a number of reasons for this. We could talk about Fiorentina’s greatest recent success, which followed a team that featured very few Italians. Alternatively, we could look at Corvino’s areas of expertise—the Balkans, South America, western Africa—and conclude that it makes more sense to focus on finding talent in those areas where the Crow does best.
We could look at recent history; in the past decade, the Viola have excelled with world-class guys like Sebastien Frey, Adrian Mutu, Tomáš Ujfaluši, Stevan Jovetić, Adem Ljajić, Juan Cuadrado, Borja Valero, Gonzalo Rodríguez, David Pizarro, and Nikola Kalinić (to name a few); none of them are Italian. In the same span, the list of outstanding Italian players is a lot shorter. Luca Toni. Alberto Gilardino. Alessandro Gamberini. Giuseppe Rossi, for the brief moments he was healthy. Federico Bernardeschi. Maybe you could count Riccardo Montolivo or Alberto Aquilani.
There’s a reason for this, and it’s discussed at length in Kuper and Szymanski’s Soccernomics, although they apply it to the Premier League. To paraphrase their findings and translate them to Serie A, it’s because Italian players are more expensive. This is partly because the league insists on having a certain number of academy prospects—usually Italians—per team, which artificially inflates the value of those players. More than that, though, the obsession that teams have with being more “Italian” leads them to overvalue players from the peninsula.
That’s not the major reason, though. Let’s look at what should be the best players in Italy: the ones who play for the national team. Of the 23 members of the current Azzuri squad, 13 play for Juventus, Napoli, AS Roma, Inter Milan, AC Milan, and Lazio; and 4 more will probably be joining one of those clubs this summer. Italian talent is clearly clustered at certain clubs, and those clubs are the ones with the money. Fiorentina is on par, perhaps, with Lazio, but the others are all far and away richer, which means they have more money to spend on players in general, but also on top-notch Italian players in particular.
The Viola simply can’t compete with bigger clubs for talent like that. It’s like trying to beat Barcelona circa 2012 by keeping the ball: they’re better at it and will run you off the pitch if you compete along the same lines. Instead, Fiorentina needs to be looking for talented players who are from unfashionable footballing nations (Josh Perez?), as well as building up a strong youth academy. Unless the Della Valles start spending a lot more money, it’s pointless to try and beat Juve at their on game.
That’s why it’s so frustrating to hear them spout this drivel about making the club more Italian. It’s Fiorentina. From Florence. The heart of the Etruscans, on whom the Romans initially modeled their republic, and the Renaissance. Which is about as Italian as you can get. The fans don’t want more Italians. They want more wins. Let’s focus on that instead.