Fiorentina’s defense is good. The midfield is bad. The attack is, with one glittering exception, bad. This isn’t the sort of team makeup you’d expect a world-class 21-year-old attacker to be thrilled with, and it’s certainly not the sort of team makeup that you’d expect would convince him to stick around forever. Clearly, something needs to change if the Viola hope to keep Federico Chiesa.
Look, Fede signed a contract extension less than a year ago and is on the books until 2022, which is a fair reflection of what Fiorentina has done for him. He’s spent nearly his whole life in the city, nurtured as the son of a club legend in the Viola academy. He completely skipped the series of loans that most young players undergo to find their feet and instead rumbled right into the first team, where his exploits impressed but were never central; that’s what happens when you’ve got guys like Borja Valero, Federico Bernardeschi, Nikola Kalinić, and Khouma Babacar running your attack. When they were all unceremoniously dumped, though, the club turned to Chiesa to lead them. It was a massive responsibility for a 19-year-old and showed a tremendous amount of faith from management. Chiesa, of course, has proved them more right than they could have dreamed.
That’s all just prologue, though. Chiesa isn’t some teenager known only to Football Manager fanatics and Primavera obsessives anymore. He’s one of the key players for an Italy side that’s trying to reinvent itself. He’s got admirers in England. He’s climbed into the rank of wunderkind just below Kylian Mbappe and can count the likes of Christian Pulisic, Marcus Rashford, and Kasper Dolberg as his peers.
And that’s the problem. All those players are young and talented, but none are counted on to carry their side alone. While they’re all counted on to make big contributions, they also have room to grow without the burden of being The Guy. They can all afford an off night or two, secure in the knowledge that their teammates can pick up the slack. They aren’t saddled with being the face of the franchise. These are all luxuries that Chiesa can’t afford because, week in and week out, Fiorentina’s tactical plan is to defend well and hope to shake some magic out of their star. If they can’t, it’s probably going to be a long 90 minutes.
If Chiesa wants to keep up with his talent, to keep growing, he needs to be around other players who can bring the best out of him. He needs midfielders who can feed him the ball in dangerous spaces. He needs strikers who can finish the chances he creates. He needs other attackers who an opponent has to account for, thus preventing a defense from triple-marking him every time he’s on the ball. And Fiorentina, as currently constructed, offers none of that.
As far as we can tell, Fede is a quiet, sweet-natured young man who avoids the spotlight and loves his family and his football, but his frustration with his teammates is frequently visible on matchday. Blessed with a dad who knows a thing or two about how best to maximize a footballing career, there’s no way that father and son haven’t had some serious talks about what the next phase is, and where it is. After all, senior knows that junior can’t grow if he’s faced with the same brief every week, which is get the ball and get kicked. He needs help.
And that’s where the burden falls squarely on Stefano Pioli and Pantaleo Corvino. You’d think that the mister has plenty of options in attack: an Argentine international at number 9 in Giovanni Simeone, with a choice between Premier League/Belgium veteran Kevin Mirallas and explosive World Cup runner-up Marko Pjaca on the other wing, as well as Valentin Eysseric and young guns Riccardo Sottil and Dušan Vlahović. Instead, he’s put together a team that can’t offer much threat other than Chiesa; the best attacking players after the number 25 this year have been a bustling box-to-box midfielder who’s usually only visible for about 40 seconds per game and a swashbuckling leftback. The so-called attackers have managed just 3 goals between them and have, if anything, regressed under the current mister.
Corvino isn’t blameless either, though, as another period of doldrums has called into question the quality of his work this past summer. While all of Pjaca, Mirallas, Gerson, and Edimilson Fernandes are clearly talented players who can fulfill a range of functions, none of them fit together in the slightest, and the failure to replace the qualities of Milan Badelj, Riccardo Saponara, and Babacar looks like it will consign the side to an also-ran. Sniffing out talent isn’t enough; a top DS has to find talent that fits in the team context, and Corvino sure looks like he’s fallen flat on that front.
And the penalty may be that Federico Chiesa walks away in the next year or two. As possibly the most naturally-gifted attacker wearing the Italy shirt right now, he needs a chance to stretch his wings and soar, unencumbered by a club team that doesn’t help him. If something doesn’t change soon, we wouldn’t be surprised if Fede shipped out in 2020, and we wouldn’t be able to blame him.