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Signing with the enemy

When old flames join the old lady

Roberto Baggio, the one and only
Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

As Fiorentina fans, we all know that our most bitter rivals are not found in Florence itself. A one team city, we don’t have those big derby games that you’ll find in Rome, Milan, Turin, Genoa or even Verona.

There are of course those games against other Tuscan teams, when they manage to make it to Serie A for a brief period. Empoli, Livorno, Siena, and if you can remember that far back, or maybe in a Coppa Italia game, there is always the historical enemy of Pisa. Some people will mention Bologna, the Derby dell’Appennino, and unfortunately it is a game that has had it’s own trouble down through the years. However these games pale into insignificance when compared to a Fiorentina versus Juventus game. I’ve been to quite a few of these matches and the atmosphere is definitely very different to any other game.

So there have always been difficulties in accepting a player moving from Fiorentina to Juventus, or vice versa. It can be hard for a former Juve player, or manager, to shake off that Gobbo tag. I even witnessed this with someone like Angelo Di Livio, a hero for many when he stayed with Fiorentina after the club went bankrupt and folded. He signed up with the new owners knowing that having just returned from a World Cup, he would now be plying his trade in Serie C2, the bottom rung of the professional football ladder. While he may have been lauded and applauded by most, I remember being in the Curva Fiesole and if he was on the bench and warming up behind that goal, there were people screaming and chanting insults at him, all because he was a former Juventus player. For the most part though, and by most fans, players that have had a bianconero past have been accepted, especially when they show commitment to our cause. Players such as Adrian Mutu and Fabrizio Miccoli come to mind. This also goes for managers like Cesare Prandelli or Paulo Sousa.

A player making the opposite move however, leaving the city of Florence to wear that hated black and white jersey, will very rarely be forgiven by the Fiorentina fans. Of course the most famous incident and one that always springs to mind whenever a player makes that move, is when our beloved Roberto Baggio left for Turin. This brought about scenes which I honestly don’t think we will ever see again in Florence. Violence on the streets, and while nobody suffered as Girolamo Savonarola did, cars burned out.

Even a legend and hero like Baggio was booed and jeered when he returned to play at the Franchi with his new team. The choreograph display by the Fiesole however showed just how much he really meant to those fans. You can see Roberto in the line up before the game, mesmerized by this beautiful image of the city outline in purple and white. The enemy raising his arm to salute former friends. Throughout the game though, those fans made the betrayal they felt heard in no uncertain terms. No mercy was shown whenever he touched the ball. Something might have changed however when it looked like their former idol had refused to take the penalty he had just won for his new team. When eventually Baggio was hauled off, those jeers and whistles continued and bottles were even thrown as he left the field, but for some it just wasn’t possible to hate their ex hero. Some applause could be heard over the taunts, and when Baggio reached down to gather a Fiorentina scarf that had been thrown onto the pitch, that applause only got louder. Now looking happier, Roberto waved to the crowd as he made his way to safety down the tunnel under the Fiesole.

These events, the trouble Baggio’s leaving caused and what happened on his return, have never been repeated since. There was never really any danger of fans tempers exploding on the streets when the likes of Felipe Melo left, or the Brazilian goalkeeper Neto. Fans take a particular joy in the fact that Juventus paid big money for Melo only to see him voted their worst player of the season. They revelled at the sight of Neto spending most of his time on the bench after leaving to join a team with Gianluigi Buffon as number one. So many of these players are seen as failures by Fiorentina fans, having left in search of glory. Of course when a player refuses to sign a contract extension and wants to leave to join our hated rivals, then as Federico Bernardeschi found out, you will be severely insulted by the fans before you leave and even more so when you do come back to play as an opponent.

This is the faith that awaits Federico Chiesa, should his much talked about transfer go through. I guess he’s lucky that he hasn't been playing in front of a packed Franchi right now, and you’d wonder if Beppe Iachini would have risked throwing him into the lion’s den if that were the case, and would he have been brave enough to make him captain? Already it has emerged that the Fiesole fans advised the club not to allow Chiesa to wear the special captains armband in honour of Davide Astori, thankfully the club agreed. So one can only imagine the reaction of the crowd if they were at the loss to Sampdoria.

There will never be another Roberto Baggio, and there won’t be any cars burned out in Florence if Chiesa’s move to Juventus does become official. Times have changed, and even if we are talking about one of Italian footballs brightest talents, and although Chiesa has come through the ranks at the club where he started as a 10 year old boy, Rocco Commisso will not have to worry about what Flavio Pontello went through when he took the Juventus money for the legendary Baggio .

Florence has throughout history been defined as a divided city. Guelfi against Ghibellini, Medici against Pazzi. This can be brought forward to more recent times, a stadium divided between who supported the previous owners, Diego and Andrea Della Valle, and who wanted them out, just as with Vittorio Cecchi Gori before them. There is one thing however that unites the people of Florence, and about which no Fiorentina fan will ever argue, our hatred of Juventus. Another guarantee is that if you make that move, you are setting yourself up to become yet another exile of the city. After all, if a man like Dante Alighieri was forced to leave Florence, and died without ever seeing his home again, then what hope does a mere footballer have? Unless of course, you happen to be Roberto Baggio.