It’s time to start pinning down the attacking personnel Fiorentina’s greatest XI, and that has to start, of course with the trequartiste, the enganches, the number tens. Out of all the entires in this series, this one will probably be the most difficult, as there’s no shortage of quality even when you don’t count guys like Socrates, who were all-time greats but only passed through Florence. As a point of interest, I’m including Roberto Baggio with the strikers, because adding him to this murderers’ row of talent would make it too dang hard to pick just one.
1. Giancarlo Antognoni
The fact that he’s still known as il unico dieci (the only ten) by Fiorentina fans should tell you all you need to know about Antognoni. He spent 15 years wearing the shirt and racked up 406 appearances, which is the most in club history. He scored 71 goals in his time in Florence, but that doesn’t even get close to capturing his majesty. His passing, balance, dribbling, and shooting from distance were all top-notch, but it was his knack for swerving passes through the tiniest gaps in a defense that really set him apart. His silverware haul is awfully small—just the Coppa Italian and the Anglo-Italian Cup, both in 1975—but again, sometimes the numbers simply don’t capture the essence of the brilliance. He was similarly impressive for Italy, earning a mammoth 73 caps and scoring 7 goals. While injuries slowed him a bit, there’s no doubt that he’s one of the best midfielders in Italian history, reflected by the fact that he was the Viola captain for an astonishing 11 years. That he returned to the club to serve as club director only underscores his status as one of the few bandiere worth the name.
2. Rui Costa
If you’re too young to remember Antognoni, the Viola 10 shirt means Rui Costa for you, even if you didn’t really see him play much; such is the gravity exerted by the Portuguese maestro that it still kind of feels like his number. Bought from Benfica for just €5.5 million in 1994, he left 7 years later for the princely sum of €42 million to AC Milan, and that was clearly well below his market worth. In between those two events, he stacked up 279 appearances for the Viola, adding 50 goals and 14 assists. That doesn’t really speak to his majesty, though, as he pulled the strings for those glorious 1990s teams with his incisive passing, slithery dribbling, and incredible anticipation of space. Without him, Batigol would have still scored goals, but not nearly as many. He won the Coppa Italia twice (1996 and 2001) and the Supercoppa (1996) and wore the armband in his final season. He piled up 94 caps and 26 goals for Portugal, but that’s not important. What’s important is how wonderful he was in Florence. Even today, if you see someone rocking the purple 10 with Rui Costa on the back, you know that person is probably pretty damn cool.
3. Miguel Montuori
One of the first of the oriundi, Montuori was born in Rosario, Argentina to a Neapolitan father. After getting his start with Chilean outfit Universidad Católica, he moved to Fiorentina in 1955 and spent 6 years in Tuscany, wearing the armband for the last one. 170 appearances and 72 goals later saw him retire aged just 28 after he took a clearance to the face that detached his retina, leaving his vision blurred and his career finished. While he’s often regarded as one of the great tragic figures of football who never got a chance to fulfill his potential, we’d rather remember the incredible efforts he produced than anything else. Part of his legend, too, is that he was the first non-native born player to captain Italy, which was no small accomplishment in that era. While his goalscoring prowess puts pretty much any midfielder in the world to shame, he was a complete player who could facilitate for others by moving wide or even play up top. His dribbling was probably his greatest attribute; he was one of those guys who seems to have the ball glued onto his foot, despite the rugged treatment he regularly received from opposing defenders. He was perhaps the biggest star of the teams that won a Scudetto (1956), a Coppa Italia (1961), and a Cup Winner’s Cup (1961), as well as some other, lesser-known silverware. He was inducted into the Fiorentina Hall of Fame in 2016 and deserves your vote as much as anyone.
4. Egisto Pandolfini
Born in Florence and raised in the Fiorentina academy, Pandolfini broke through with neighbors Empoli—after the management at the time decided he was too small to ever make it in the top flight—before returning to the Viola in 1948. He was sold on to AS Roma in 1956 to make room for the likes of Montuori, but don’t let that distract you from the 142 appearances he made for the Gigliati or from his 35 goals. While his pugnacious midfield partner Giuseppe Chiappella may have been the beating heart of those teams, Pandolfini was the soul, pulling the strings in the middle and laying on a succession of chances for the likes of Alberto Galassi to finish. Those editions of the Viola were rather defensive—Sergio Cervato, Renzo Magli, and Chiappella have all showed up in this feature previously—so Pandolfini frequently shouldered the entire creative burden alone. He never got enough help to win any silverware (the team’s best finish with him was 4th), but he was a startlingly good player, a busy and accurate playmaker with an eye for the long pass. His quality was enough to earn him 20 caps and 9 goals for Italy, including 2 trips to the World Cup. There aren’t any readily available highlight videos of him, but he’s certainly one of the best 10s this club has had.
Who is Fiorentina’s greatest ever attacking midfielder?
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