There aren’t very many people in the world who believe that Vincenzo Montella is the man for this Fiorentina job anymore. Over his 21-match tenure in the league dating back to last year, the team has taken 15 points. They’ve won just 3 matches. They’ve lost 12, including streaks of 5 (opening his term as the mister) and 4 (which could get a lot longer). His squad has scored 16 goals and conceded 25 goals, keeping just 5 clean sheets. They’ve scored more than 2 goals in a match just twice. They’ve lost to soon-to-be-relegated or recently promoted sides Empoli, Hellas Verona, and Lecce.
More than the results, though, the play on the field has been simply awful. For a 4-match stretch, his 3-5-2 with Federico Chiesa and Franck Ribery up top looked pretty clever. Every other decision he’s made looks bad, from his starting lineups to his substitution patterns to refusal to use his entire squad. The players seem defeated and confused, rarely connecting passes together and generally looking like strangers. Heck, he’s done everything he can to alienate Chiesa, who’s far and away his best player. With fixtures against top-5 clubs Inter Milan and AS Roma looming to close out the year, it’s fair to wonder why he’s still in charge.
While the growing use of #MontellaOut on social media would indicate the fanbase’s discontent, Daniele Pradè and Joe Barone haven’t pulled the trigger yet. Indeed, Pradè recently chose to back the embattled coach ahead of the upcoming fixtures. Owner Rocco Commisso has been vocal in support of Cousin Vinnie as well, although his recent statement that he “didn’t come here to lose” would indicate that the big boss is losing patience too.
Why, then, is Montella still the man on the touchlines? We’ve come up with 4 reasons, and also 4 counter-reasons.
1. Why throw a new coach into the fire?
If the matches against Inter and Roma are foregone conclusions (and they certainly look that way), why bring in a new manager just to have him lose his first two matches in charge? It makes more sense to let Vinnie take his lumps, then bring his replacement into a position from which he can actually get some positive results and ramp up some momentum. That would be enough to re-enthuse both the players and the fans, and would keep the shine on a new mister just a little bit longer.
On the other hand, if Vinnie somehow produces a miracle and gets a result or two, the club will be obligated to stick with him for a little bit longer, even though, based on his sample size in Florence and his previous few stops, he simply isn’t effective anymore. The dead coach bounce is real and could well energize the players in these upcoming matches. Too, it makes sense to give the new manager as much time as possible to implement his ideas; waiting until the team’s stuck on a 6-match losing streak and deeply demoralized is far from ideal.
2. Rocco wants to establish stability.
Italy has some famously itchy trigger fingers among team owners. While Maurizio Zamparini has stepped down from Palermo, Napoli’s Aurelio di Laurentiis, Sampdoria’s Massimo Ferrero, Empoli’s Fabrizio Corsi, and Udinese’s Giampaolo Pozzo are among the many carrying on his legacy. Commisso, on the other hand, is smart enough to understand the value of stability, even if it means some turbulence in the short term. Especially after he backed Montella in the summer, he doesn’t want to develop a reputation for keeping the axe sharp; that could help bring in better managers in the future.
Stepping across the aisle here, it’s fair to say that the only thing worse than an owner who sacks employees left and right is an answer who sits idly by and does nothing while those employees run things into the ground. I’ll be honest: this is a bit of a stretch, and it makes a lot of sense to focus on creating a solid reputation here. Let’s also not forget that the Della Valles were famously patient: guys like Siniša Mihajlović and Paulo Sousa stuck around long past their expiration dates, setting the team back considerably.
3. Pradè and Barone still believe.
Part of that stability is having a chain of command, and Rocco has firmly established one. Pradè and Barone are in charge of the day-to-day, soccer-related stuff, claims Commisso, and everything he’s said indicates that such is the case. It’d be a bad look to cut the brass’ feet out from under them, as it would demonstrate that he doesn’t trust them to make the right choices.
Looking from the other side, though, the chain of command does terminate with the owner, and if the club’s scuffling really badly, he’s the one who has to take charge and make a necessary change. Pradè knows how to run a team and Barone’s sharp as a tack; nobody’s arguing that empowering them to run things, instead of having Rocco in the office every day, is a mistake. But this is one of those rare circumstances in which sewage doesn’t necessarily flow downhill, and it’s on Rocco to decide when enough is enough if he isn’t satisfied. And it also seems fair to say that he isn’t satisfied.
4. This year was always going to be rough.
Commisso said when he bought the club that he eventually wanted to compete for championships, but he explicitly declined to set a hard goal for this season. Despite his motto of “fast, fast, fast,” he’s shown lots of patience as the owner of one of calcio’s most iconic outfits. When you know that everything’s going to be tough while you onboard your new office staff and put together a coherent long-term plan, it makes sense to leave a lame-duck manager in charge to serve as a scapegoat. Then, at season’s end, it’s easy to bring in a new manager to spend all summer working with the brain trust to develop a strategy both on and off the pitch.
Then again, while we’re very okay with prioritizing the long-term over the short-term, all of this goes to pot if Fiorentina get relegated. It nearly happened last year, after all, and while there’s more talent in the squad this time around, bad morale and management can easily offset that. Even if Fiorentina avoids the drop—and that’s not a certainty the way they’re playing right now—it’s a lot more difficult to convince good players to join a side that’s consistently near the bottom of the table. There needs to be some sort of progress to ensure buy-in from players (current and prospective) and fans.
5. There aren’t any replacements the brass like.
While we’ve heard rumors that Cesare Prandelli (and maybe even Gabriel Batistuta) are options to replace Montella, that could just be nostalgia rather than news; San Cesare hasn’t had a successful run as a coach in a looooong time, and it’d make a lot of sense to bring in someone with a proven track record. It sounds like Gennaro Gattuso is en route to Napoli, so that bullet’s been dodged as well. Luciano Spalletti seems a natural choice, given that he’s a Tuscan and hangs out in Florence, but he can be, hm, a bit prickly and self-destructive at times. Eusebio di Francesco hasn’t expressed any interest in the job. Fabio Liverani, Roberto de Zerbi, and a host of other qualified candidates are currently working elsewhere. Conversely, big names like Marcelino or Unai Emery probably aren’t interested in turning around a failing team for a paycheck that doesn’t come close to their previous one. If you’re going to sack the manager, you have to make sure you have the correct replacement lined up. If Pradè and Barone don’t see that replacement available, it’d be mighty dumb to rush into another mistake.
While we freely acknowledge that Pradè and Barone have access to a lot more information and expertise than we do, though, it’s fair to wonder why Spalletti or di Francesco wouldn’t be a good manager for at least the mid-term. The former’s got experience at the highest levels and could probably get the best out of this group, while the latter’s work with Sassuolo gives him a projectable floor and a decently high ceiling. Even if it’s just for a year or two, something has to change here before the whole project wilts.
For every argument one way, there’s a counter-argument. As fans, we obviously want the team to succeed, and to start succeeding right now. An owner, though, has different interests; for Rocco, part of that is long-term sustainability. Shaking things up and firing a coach he backed not a month ago could undermine that. There’s only one real conclusion here, and it’s that Montella, either now or in the next month or so, has to go if this team is going to seriously compete in Serie A.