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Stefano Pioli won’t be sacked any time soon, no matter what we think

Say what you want about the Della Valles, but they’re as patient as anyone in Italy with managers.

ACF Fiorentina v Juventus - Serie A
What is it with Viola coaches and turtlenecks?
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Following a 0-3 loss to hated Juventus, the calls for Stefano Pioli’s job have increased in pitch and volume. That’s what happens when your team, tapped as a Europa League certainty and possibly even a Champions League dark horse, is in the midst of a 2-month winless skid and has scored 4 goals in its past 7 games, resulting in a putrid 12th place in the league, trailing the likes of Parma and Sassuolo. At any other club in Italy, this would be grounds for the sack. At Fiorentina, though, it’s not.

Diego and Andrea Della Valle have always given their managers plenty of rope, whether it was well-deserved or not. Let’s look at the circumstances surrounding the departure of all 10 managers they’ve brought aboard since buying the club in 2002. I’m only counting full-time bosses, not caretakers like the immortal (and undefeated) Vincenzo Guerini.

1. Alberto Cavasin, 29 October 2002 to 10 February 2004 (26 matches)

The first boss the DVs brought aboard scrapped to 1.27 points per game, which isn’t great. He ostensibly got the axe for 2-1 loss at Triestina, dropping the Viola to 14th in Serie B. Given the quality he had in the side, it was simply not good enough. A team led by Angelo di Livio and Enrico Chiesa deserved better. You could, however, make an argument that this was the last time Diego and Andrea really exhibited an itchy trigger finger.

2. Emiliano Mondonico, 10 February 2004 to 25 October 2004 (34 matches)

The late Mondonico was an immediate improvement, earning 1.76 points per game and securing promotion to Serie A via a playoff with Perugia after leading his charges in a blitz up the standings to 6th place. His stint in the top league wasn’t especially good, as the Viola dropped to 14th in Week 7; he only won a single match to start the season, putting the side at serious risk of dropping right back down. Faced with declining prospects, Mondonico resigned.

3. Sergio Buso, 25 October 2004 to 25 January 2005 (15 matches)

Originally brought aboard from Venezia (where he’d been an assistant to Prandelli) as the goalkeeping coach, Buso took the reigns after Mondonico’s resignation. Although he briefly righted the ship with wins over fellow relegation strugglers Reggina and Lecce, a loss against Juventus and a 6-0 shelling at the San Siro against AC Milan heated up his seat, and a run of 4 points from 5 matches saw the Della Valles hand him his marching orders after a 1-2 loss at the Artemio Franchi to AS Roma (winner scored by a certain Aeroplanino). The result left the Viola in 15th, even worse than when he’d taken over, and off he went.

4. Dino Zoff, 25 January 2005 to 30 June 2005 (19 matches)

Despite being a Juventus legend, the board appointed Zoff as Buso’s replacement. His tenure was rocky at best; the former Azzurri number one lost his first 3 matches, lost against against Tuscan rivals Siena and Livorno, and oversaw the absolutely bonkers 7-7 draw in the Coppa Italia. His zona mista system wasn’t popular and Fiorentina only avoided relegation with a 3-0 win against Brescia on the final match day. Shortly afterwards, he was let go, having taken 1.05 points per match.

5. Cesare Prandelli, 1 July 2005 to 3 June 2010 (240 matches)

San Cesare is probably the best manager the DVs have had. When he was hired, he was one of the brightest young coaches in Italy, having led some tremendous sides for Venezia and Parma. He’d even earned appointment as the Roma boss, but the death of his wife from cancer led him to turn down the job; when he took the Viola position, he’d been away from the game for 2 years. There wasn’t a lot of rust apparent, though: he took Fiorentina from relegation strugglers to 4th place and Champions League qualification. Calciopoli snatched that prize away, though, and replaced it with a 15-point deduction for the subsequent year. San Cesare responded by leading his team to 6th place and the UEFA League—without the deduction, they’d have been 3rd—and 4th place and the Champions League in 2008. The 4th-place finishes and Champions League qualifications unraveled in 2010, when the team finished 11th in large part due to a drugs ban for star Adrian Mutu. Nevertheless, the Azzurri came calling for Prandelli, who finished his career as the longest-tenured and most winning coach in club history. Despite not getting a win in his final 8 matches, he’s as fondly remembered as any mister in Florence.

6. Siniša Mihajlović, 4 June 2010 to 7 November 2011 (52 matches)

Brought aboard to provide a more disciplinarian approach than the avuncular Prandelli, Mihajlović didn’t really impress out the gate, although the loss of Stevan Jovetić to injury certainly didn’t help his cause. The rather dire approach, however, made him no friends in Tuscany: his team took until January to score more than 2 goals in a single match and finished the year in 9th place, scoring just 49 goals and conceding 44. Despite rumors that Inter Milan were going to hire him, he stuck around for another season that was even grimmer than the first. When he was sacked after a loss to Chievo Verona, Fiorentina were in 13th place and had scored just 10 goals in 11 matches. 1.38 points per game wasn’t the worst return for a Viola career, but combined with his abrasive personality, negative tactics, continual links to jobs elsewhere, and reputation for alienating senior players, it’s a miracle that he lasted as long as he did.

7. Delio Rossi, 8 November 2011 to 2 May 2012 (28 matches)

Despite some early promise that saw the club climb to 10th, Fiorentina were in 17th when Rossi attacked Adem Ljajić in the dugout after the winger sarcastically applauded the coach for subbing him. That’s the sort of incident that gets you fired immediately—which is what happened—and sticks with you for the rest of your career. Not only did he leave the club in disgrace, but he’d won just 1.08 points per match. Rossi was never the answer, and didn’t he demonstrate that spectacularly.

8. Vincenzo Montella, 11 June 2012 to 8 June 2015 (153 matches)

Following an impressive run at Catania—where he’d replaced Mihajlović—Montella was a breath of fresh air: a young and attacking coach who brought back memories of Prandelli. The results were similar to San Cesare’s as well, as the Aeroplanino turned Fiorentina into the toast of Europe for their brilliant passing play that ran through the likes of Borja Valero, David Pizarro, and Alberto Aquilani. Three straight 4th-place finishes brought the hope back to Florence even though the loss of the last Champions League place saw the Gigliati in the Europa League each year rather than the Champions League. A falling out with the Della Valles was his downfall, though, as the manager, always a bit on the supercilious side, repeatedly clashed with ownership about investment in the club, insisting that the DVs needed to shell out a bit more to take the next step. In response, he was relieved of his duties and replaced with Sousa. Cousin Vinny’s 1.8 points per match were fantastic, but his attitude towards his bosses was always likely to end in his sacking.

9. Paulo Sousa, 22 June 2015 to 30 June 2017 (95 matches)

The elegant Portuguese had no Italian experience and had mostly made his reputation at Hungary’s Videton and Switzerland’s Basel. Despite his reputation for defensiveness, he mostly left his predecessor’s tactics intact, much to the delight of fans, and even led Fiorentina to first in Serie A when the winter holidays began, leading to all sorts of foolishness. It was pretty steadily downhill after that, though, as opponents figured out his style and he showed no ability to evolve; while squad depth was certainly a problem, a lot of the resultant 5th place finish was on the mister. The following year was even worse, as the enduring image of the team was the Viola centerbacks aimlessly passing the ball back and forth. Despite some genuinely embarrassing results—4-0 at Roma, a 2-4 meltdown against Borussia Monchengladbach in the Europa League, a 1-2 loss to Empoli in the derby—he was allowed to carry on through the end of a disappointing season that saw the Viola finish a listless 8th, capped by a 4-1 loss at Napoli and a 2-2 draw against Pescara. With his moaning to the press (“the dream is over”) and soporific tactics, he surely should have been released months earlier.

10. Stefano Pioli, 6 June 2017 to present (54 matches)

Tapped for his ability to develop youth (as well as a low salary), Pioli had a rough time at Inter the previous year, and his entire reputation rested on a good season with Lazio. Handed the youngest squad in Europe, he not surprisingly had some trouble out the gate, and there were rumors about his job security after just 3 months. However, his dignity and leadership in the face of Davide Astori’s death, along with the record-setting run his team embarked on thereafter, saw the fans come to love him. Despite choking away the final two matches of last year and completely booting themselves out of the Europa places, there were massive expectations placed on his side at the start of the year. Despite a decent start, his brute-force tactics seem to have been figured out by everyone, and the Viola’s form over the past 2 months is as dire as anything we’ve seen since Delio Rossi.

The closest comparison to the current state of affairs is probably the tail end of the Mihajlović era or Sousa’s second season. The team, while not devoid of talent, looks limp and disinterested. There’s almost zero chance that this group can qualify for Europe and the fans are starting to get mighty antsy.

The Della Valles are admirably patient with their coaches, especially seeing how many Italian owners are hilariously over-eager to hit the reset button; it’s tough to find a quality manager during the season, as those guys tend to stay employed. That alone would probably assure Pioli of keeping his job until season’s end. However, given the other factors at play—his solidity throughout the Astori episode, the team’s mandate to develop youth more than win, ADV’s explicitly low expectations for the year—it seems safe to say that he’ll continue until May. After that, if the team hasn’t shown any improvement, he’ll be let go.

At that point, we can start seriously discussing the benefits of Julen Lopetegui or Leonardo Jardim or whoever else is available. Heck, we can talk about it whenever we want. But make no mistake: history shows that the DVs will leave Pioli in place unless he does something drastic, like lose 5 in a row or disrespect them in the media. So let’s take it easy on all the manager rumors, because they’re almost certainly not happening for months yet.