We’ve tabulated the votes for the men on the pitch, so now it’s time to turn our attention to the technical area and figure out who’s the greatest mister in Fiorentina history. Some of them have had tremendous success elsewhere, while the tenure for the Viola was a career zenith for others. Regardless, they’ve all done some rad stuff in Florence. Without further ado, here are your five candidates.
Following a brilliant career as an attacking midfielder, most famously for AS Roma, Bernardini became the coach there a few years working his way up through the ranks. He didn’t take the reins at Fiorentina until 1953, inheriting a team with some excellent players—Leonardo Costagliola, Sergio Cervato, Ardico Magnini, Giuseppe Chiappella, and Renzo Magli were all studs—but it was a team with a lot more at the back than going forward and wound up finishing 7th in his first year. The next four years, though, saw his charges finish 4th, 5th, 1st, 2nd, and 2nd. A brilliant tactician associated with the “WM elastico,” he anticipated the defensive innovations of Nereo Rocco and Helenio Herrera’s catenaccio by insisting that one winger drop deep into midfield while one midfielder dropped into the backline. When coupled with attackers like Giuseppe Virgili and Julinho Botelho, it was a potent system that brought the Scudetto to Florence for the first time and probably should have followed that up with the European Cup. Bernardini wound up winning the Coppa Italia and another Scudetto with Lazio and Bologna, respectively, but he coached more games for Fiorentina than any other team and is already in the team’s Hall of Fame.
Giancarlo de Sisti
A Fiorentina legend as a player from 1965 to 1974, de Sisti returned as the manager in 1981 in relief of Paolo Carosi, who’d led the side into the relegation zone. By getting the best out of Giancarlo Antognoni and company, de Sisti turned things around to the tune of a 5th-place finish that year. The following season, the Viola were all set to win the Scudetto until a 0-0 draw at Cagliari, coupled with a deeply questionable penalty for Juventus against Catanzaro, left them in a furious and unjust 2nd. Finishes of 5th and 3rd in the subsequent seasons clearly indicated that this was a team to watch out for, but de Sisti’s Viola career ended in 1984, when he was diagnosed with a sub-dental granuloma (not a brain abscess). Team owner Ranieri Pontello insisted he return after 45 days rather than giving him the six months that doctors suggested, and that was that. A brilliant defensive coach whose sides were always tough to break down, he’s perhaps the most perfect personification of the Fiorentina sides who’ve come so close to glory only to see something bizarre go wrong at just the last moment.
No, he never won anything, but Montella revitalized Fiorentina at a time when it seemed like the club was doomed to mid-table obscurity for the foreseeable future. When he took over following the Delio Rossi debacle in 2012, he was rather unproven, having retired from a stellar career just 3 years prior and with just a failed stint with Roma and a decent year at Catania to his name. In Florence, though, he introduced some truly mesmerizing football based around packing the center of the pitch with passing quality, personified by Borja Valero, David Pizarro, and Alberto Aquilani. The Three Tenors each had the strongest seasons of their careers under Montella, inspiring fans across the world to tune into Viola matches and see the free-flowing, positive football being played in Tuscany. The three consecutive 4th-place finishes he attained were the best 3-year stretch for the club since the early 1980s. If Giuseppe Rossi hadn’t blown his knee, if Mario Gómez hadn’t Mario Gómezed, we might be talking about a Scudetto-winning Fiorentina from those years; as is, it was a series of near misses and gloriously watchable and likable squads. It all came crashing down when Cousin Vinnie quite fairly insisted that the Della Valle brothers spend more to take the next step—this was back when Italy had lost its 4th Champions League spot due to years-long malfeasance in the Europa/UEFA League—as he was working miracles to keep the team so high in the standings despite a comparatively minuscule budget. Not long afterwards, he was out of a job. His career has tanked since then with poor showings at AC Milan and Sevilla leaving him without work, but he was brilliant in Florence.
The longest-serving manager in Fiorentina history (and just hired by Genoa), San Cesare created the sides that made a lot of us here fall in love with Fiorentina. Following successful stretches with Hellas Verona and Parma, he’d been appointed manager of AS Roma when his wife was diagnosed with cancer, which kept him out of work to care for her for two years. He returned with Fiorentina, tasked with bringing the club back to the top spots of Serie A by the Della Valle brothers. San Cesare did just that, qualifying for the Champions League in 2008; it was the first time the Viola had taken part since 1999 and just the fourth time in club history. Only various deductions for Calciopoli-related idiocies kept the club from finishing higher than fourth under his watch, but it was more than that. It was the way his teams played, with a flair and a joyous attack, that really made him such a beloved figure. As winner of Serie A coach of the year in 2008 and the Panchina d’Oro in 2006 and 2007, he’s got personal accolades as impressive as any Viola manager’s. When you add to it what a generally excellent person he is—he wrote the preface to Il Campione Innamorato, a book about homosexuality in sport, as a rigorous defense of accepting everyone into athletics—he’s tough not to love.
Although his place in footballing lore is secure after leading Leicester City to the Premier League title, Tuscans already knew that Ranieri was brilliant. He masterminded the return to the top tier in 1993 by winning Serie B and then built on that success by winning the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa in 1996. In the 1995-1996 season, he led the Viola as high as second, including a 15-match unbeaten run, and looked like he’d get his unfancied charges to keep the pressure on eventual winners Milan, but a late season crumble saw them end in fourth. He also had an impressive UEFA League run the next year that ended with a loss in the semifinals to eventual winners Barcelona (although the 1-1 at the Artemio Franchi was pretty cool). When you think of Gabriel Batistuta and Rui Costa in purple, you think of Ranieri on the touchline. He was just inducted into the Fiorentina Hall of Fame, and he’s always going to have a place of honor in any Viola fan’s heart.
Who is Fiorentina’s greatest-ever manager?
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Someone else I’ll add in the comments