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When sacking the manager didn’t quite work out for Fiorentina

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A look back at when Vittorio Cecchi Gori made a rash decision to fire his manager, with a disappointing outcome

Vittorio Cecchi Gori
Vittorio knows the way forward
Photo by Grazia Neri/Getty Images

Right now we are going through a period where the majority of fans would like a change of manager at Fiorentina, but we also have an owner who has made it clear that he doesn’t like to fire people.

A previous owner, Vittorio Cecchi Gori, didn’t really have this issue, and back in the middle of the 1992/93 season, he was responsible for one of the most surprising managerial sackings in Italian football.

Now for those of you who know your Fiorentina football history, upon hearing those dates you may realize that this was in fact the season in which the Viola were relegated from Serie A for the first time in over 50 years. When he decided to get rid of Luigi Radice however, Fiorentina were still riding high in the league table.

Before the Christmas break, Fiorentina travelled to Parma on December 13th, and were lying in third place just one point behind Inter in second. AC Milan were top, and looking pretty unstoppable. They had yet to lose a game, and when they came to Florence earlier in October they inflicted a 3-7 beating to Fiorentina. In reality, it was looking like Fiorentina were in a race for the runners-up spot.

In Parma, having beaten Juventus in the previous match, Fiorentina were backed by a massive army of travelling Viola fans. Around 1,000 of these were without a ticket for the game but Parma, to avoid any problems around the ground, allowed them to purchase last minute tickets. After a goalless first half in the fog, Francesco Baiano gave those fans something to celebrate less than ten minutes after the break. The Belgian defender Georges Grün spoiled the party after just five minutes, and Fiorentina, despite throwing everything at Parma in an attempt to get the winner, had to be content with the draw.

One man who wasn’t happy with the point was Cecchi Gori “We’re behind Milan but we continue to lose points and Parma is just the latest episode of this series. If we don’t finish in second place it will be our own fault”

A player who was singled out for blame was Fiorentina’s top scorer, Gabriel Batistuta. The manager Radice didn’t hide his disappointment “It’s a pity about the mistakes made by Batistuta in front of goal.” Bati for his part, didn’t deny his off day “Nothing went right for me. I’m sad about the chance I missed at the start of the second half.” He was referring to when he was through on goal, alone with just the Parma goalkeeper, Marco Ballotta, to beat, but unusually for him he somehow managed to put it wide.

It wasn’t all bad news that Sunday however, Inter had lost at Lazio, meaning that Fiorentina were now level on points with them in second place, along with Torino. With a three week break to look forward to, hopefully Fiorentina could come back refreshed and reenergized for their home clash with Atalanta at the start of January.

One of the surprises of the season so far, Marcello Lippi’s Atalanta were only one point behind Fiorentina coming into this game. The fans in the Curva Fiesole seemed to be wary of their team slipping up after coming this far. Their banner at the start of the game was a message for the players “Thanks guys for a happy Christmas, but continuity is fundamental”.

Unfortunately for those fans, Batistuta would have another off day, and when Atalanta took the lead eight minutes after the break, Fiorentina just couldn’t find a way through to even salvage a point from the game. Marcello Lippi, who after losing here with Cesena two years ago meant losing his job, took particular satisfaction from this win. With what seemed an obvious reference to how the Fiorentina players had spent their holidays, including an authorized New Year’s Eve party, he told reporters that his team had spent the whole break in training and had arrived here in Florence on Friday to prepare properly for this match.

While this defeat did see Fiorentina slip down the table, level in sixth place with among others Juventus, they were still only two points behind Inter for that runners-up spot. Which meant that nobody was really expecting such an uncontrolled reaction, even from someone as unpredictable as Vittorio Cecchi Gori.

After the game, he went to the dressing room where he made Gigi Radice aware in no uncertain terms that he put the blame entirely with the manager for this result. While he also threatened to fire him there and then, by the time he spoke to reporters shortly after, there seemed to be a chance that he had lost his temper but would probably reconsider. He did confirm the confrontation with Radice, and continued to point the finger at the manager, saying that he had ignored his advice, and that his insisting on his zonal defense tactics had cost Fiorentina this game. However when asked whether or not Radice had actually been sacked he replied “Not yet. I have all night to think about it. May God enlighten me”.

Radice himself spoke to the press, confirming what had happened, and did admit that his position as manager was also mentioned during their heated discussion, but he didn’t want to say anything else before a final decision was made.

Members of the squad, in particular Stefano Pioli and Fabrizio Di Mauro, did try to convince Cecchi Gori to reconsider, but after claiming that he wouldn’t make a decision until the next day, later that evening the club made an official announcement. Just before ten o’clock that night it was confirmed that Gigi Radice was no longer the manager of Fiorentina.

Cecchi Gori’s outbursts didn’t end there, the following evening he appeared on the famous Italian TV football discussion programme “Il Processo del Lunedì” where he showed his anger at criticism he’d received from certain journalists. He spoke of how much Radice and his assistant that he had just sacked were earning. He then went on a rant talking about how it was him that had to pay them, how he made that money from the films he made, the best movies that everyone goes to see, how he works from morning until night, how he also needs to look after the football side of things now that his father is unwell, he sacrificed his New Years to give the players a party, and how he now feels insulted and attacked.

He then went on to claim that when he had bought Stefan Effenberg, Radice didn’t know who he was and when he had brought in Brian Laudrup he told him that maybe it would be better if he spent his time thinking about Ice Hockey. The presenter, Aldo Biscardi then introduced Radice himself on the phone line. When the now ex Fiorentina manager replied that Cecchi Gori had said things that weren’t true, Vittorio had already heard enough and announced that he was leaving the studio, saying that he was wrong, everyone else was right and that he wouldn’t be appearing on the program ever again. With the studio in uproar, he removed his microphone and stormed off.

Aldo Agroppi was announced as the new manager just a couple of days later. He had already managed Fiorentina back in 1985/86, but had spent the last couple of seasons commentating on football on Italian TV. His last experience hadn’t ended well, almost coming to blows with the Ultras over his poor treatment of club captain Giancarlo Antognoni. The past was put behind them though as the Viola fans came out in force to welcome their new manager.

Unfortunately, the change on the bench didn’t improve things for Fiorentina, in fact, it went in the complete opposite direction. With Agroppi in charge, the team only managed ten points from fifteen games, before he too was shown the door. After a 3-0 defeat at Juventus, where Roberto Baggio scored his first goal against his former team, leaving the club just a point above the relegation zone, Mario and Cecchi Gori decided to hand the reins over to the Primavera manager Luciano Chiarugi with Giancarlo Antognoni alongside him.

This new pairing however were unable to steady the sinking ship. After three draws and another defeat to Atalanta, Fiorentina went into the last day of the season not only needing to win their match but also relying on other results going their way.

Fiorentina for their part, put six goals past Zdeněk Zeman’s Foggia, 6-2 the final score. But when Udinese equalized away to Roma with ten minutes remaining in the season, they claimed a play-off spot with Brescia to remain in Serie A, who had won their last game with Sampdoria, these results condemning Fiorentina to a place in Serie B for the following season.

Vittorio Cecchi Gori was no longer in his place in the stand by the time the final verdict came through, he had left after hearing the first insults flying in his direction from both the Curva Fiesole and Ferrovia. It was left to his father, Mario, to make excuses for his enraged son “Of course my son has also made mistakes, but they came from too much enthusiasm and too much love for the club”

So with two managers sacked in one season, that first one, Luigi Radice, was the surprising one and possibly a major reason for the team falling apart. An impulsive decision is not always the wisest one, which is maybe the reason that Rocco Commisso is now taking his time, but I imagine this is more to do with finding the right replacement than actually believing Giuseppe Iachini is really the man for the job.