As bleak as this summer has been for Fiorentina fans, we have been here before. In 2012, the club pressed the reset button following a failed two year renewal project under Sinisa Mihajlovic and Delio Rossi. Longtime Sporting Director Pantaleo Corvino was let go in March to be replaced by Daniele Prade, while talent scout Eduardo Macia was promoted to Technical Director.
Their first major act in June was to bring in a new coach, the young Roma legend Vincenzo Montella, coming off his first full season as a Serie A coach with Catania. This move polarized fans - Montella was well regarded and brought in a philosophy of exciting football, but the club was less than a year removed from the failure of another inexperienced coach and Serie A legend, who also happened to coach Catania the year before being hired by Fiorentina.
The early transfer window saw a firesale; most transfers out were deadwood that would not be missed - Houssine Kharja and Felipe remain infamous names in these parts - but midfield icon Riccardo Montolivo left for Milan on free transfer. Fans had already soured on Montolivo - it was an open secret Milan tapped him up, and he spent the previous season dogging it after he was deservedly stripped of the captain’s armband, but this was a humiliating blow, to have the club’s most talented midfielder openly leave for a big, wealthy club on a free transfer, a move that still impacts how Fiorentina deals with expiring contracts. Other significant losses included captain Alessandro Gamberini and midfield engine Valon Behrami, both sold to Napoli, as well as promising defender Matija Nastasic, sold to Manchester City, although the latter sale saw the acquisition of Stefan Savic.
Fiorentina managed to keep ahold of emerging club icon Stevan Jovetic and Adem Ljajic, but before August, the team lost far more than it gained, and the midfield and defense appeared to be incomplete. The club managed to make a few smart but flawed signings in July - goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano was a lifelong Viola fan and excellent PR coup; Facundo Roncaglia arrived for free after a standout performance for Boca Juniors in the Copa Libertadores, but the defender was unproven in Europe; Juan Cuadrado, a tricky Colombian winger/wingback arrived on loan from Udinese where he had the reputation of being an enigma but one posed for a late breakout, and Matias Fernandez was another skilled South American with proven talent but made available for cheap due to his fragile nature. Even after these moves, however, there was still more questions than answers as July ended.
The one constant rumor was Alberto Aquilani, the talented midfielder once considered a better version of Montolivo at Roma, before a move to Liverpool derailed his career, and the Aquilani transfer had fallen apart so many times it was hard to keep faith, especially absence any other big moves. Then came August 1, 2012.
Out of nowhere, the club announced it had purchased Borja Valero from recently relegated Villarreal for €7M. At the time, Spaniards had the reputation of being unable to adapt to Serie A, but this was a risk well worth it - Borja, a Real Madrid youth product, was regarded as one of the best playmaking midfielders in La Liga; he was voted the best Spanish player in the league in 2010, and the year after that was one of the standout players as Villarreal finished in 4th place - their relegation in 2012 was more the result of the squad stretched thin and plagued by injuries than a lack of quality, and Fiorentina was quick to take advantage.
It soon was announced that a second player was included in the Villarreal deal for an additional € 1.3M, who was later revealed to be Gonzalo Rodriguez. Reflected in that price, Gonzalo left Villarreal with suspicions his best was behind him. One of the best defenders in La Liga, especially during his years paired with Diego Godin, Gonzalo suffered a horrific leg break in 2011. He returned a shell of himself, and with much of his athleticism previously sapped by other injuries, Villarreal was ready for him to return to his childhood club San Lorenzo for free before Fiorentina swooped in with an offer to take him.
On August 3, both signings were made official, alongside Aquilani, suddenly giving Fiorentina a wealth of midfield talent unprecedented in even the relative glory days of the Prandelli era. Prade would follow this up by recruiting David Pizarro, the veteran deep lying playmaker that Prade and Montella both knew from Roma, finalizing what would briefly become the most skilled midfield in Serie A, along with the addition of defensive reinforcement Nenad Tomovic, purchased in a co-ownership deal from Genoa.
As a final move, to compensate for the lack of a true #9 on the squad, club legend Luca Toni was brought back at the end of the transfer window on August 31st, following an aborted attempt to bring in Dimitar Berbatov in what would be one of the few bad memories of the summer of 2012.
Fiorentina would start the 2012/2013 season with 17 of the 26 senior squad players new to the club and would finish in in 4th place, far more successful than some of the predictions at the start of the transfer window.
Five years later, Fiorentina heads into August with even more uncertainty. There are reasons to suggest we may not see the same reversal of fortune in 2017 - we have raised more money this time but show less of a desire to spend any of it, and it doesn’t appear that August 3, 2017 will be the day that three core players sign their contracts. But the lesson here is, there is still plenty of time left for the unexpected.