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A new, quiet Rocco emerges in the face of Pessina’s latest Franchi volley

The Viola owner seems to be opting for a lighter touch in public, but there’s still plenty going on under that placid exterior.

ACF Fiorentina v Torino FC - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

It seems pretty clear now that Andrea Pessina, the Superintendent of Archaeology, Fine Arts, and Landscape for Florence, is trying to troll Rocco Commisso and Fiorentina. In a public interview (summed up by streamed on Facebook yesterday, he claimed that the Stadio Artemio Franchi is “very well preserved.”

In fairness to Pessina, he was explaining that the arena hasn’t been altered since Pier Luigi Nervi put the finishing touches on it in 1931. While that’s true architecturally, nobody can deny that the stadium is literally falling apart in front of us. Commisso has already highlighted this, holding up a chunk of concrete that fell off the second level near where he was sitting in the season opener against Torino, and a recent video of the stadium’s visible decomposition raised some waves as well.

Of course, when the New York Times runs an article about how the new ownership is trying to tear down an iconic stadium, everyone rushes to condemn the slightest change to the status quo. Pessina seems to be jumping on that train and looking to ride it into his 15 minutes of fame; claiming that the Franchi is “very well preserved,” even in a slightly different context, feels like an attempt to generate fresh headlines.

Look, at this point we all know that the Franchi is falling apart. Either fixing it or abandoning it on matchday is the only responsible thing to do at this point, as it’s only a matter of time until somebody gets badly hurt as 40,000 screaming fans occupy it, putting that “very well preserved” concrete under so much stress that more of it falls off and hits someone or simply gives up the ghost and collapses. This isn’t a matter of architectural preservation anymore; it’s a matter of public safety. Human lives are worth more than any building, under any circumstances.

I’ve made my opinions on this matter clear over the past couple of years, but I’ll add them here so that nobody’s wondering about my biases. I love the Franchi and agree that it’s of tremendous cultural value. I’d love to see mayor Dario Nardella and Rocco figure out a long-term deal that will allow the Mediacom magnate to pump money into a refurbishment while allowing the team to earn money from its home field, which is probably the only way to generate the finances necessary to reliably compete at a higher level.

However, I agree with the majority of Florentines that, if such an agreement can’t be reached, the Viola are better off building their own facility in Campi Bisenzio. A stadium that barely has working toilets and is shedding blocks of cement during matches simply doesn’t suit its purpose anymore. Nervi’s entire philosophy was about creating buildings that helped large numbers of people accomplish a goal. While he was interested in architectural beauty, the primary interest of those Brutalist architects was functionality. Were he alive today to see it, Nervi would likely add his voice to those already decrying the dilapidated state of his masterpiece and calling for swift action.

Let’s not forget that, per the NYT’s own article, a majority of Florentines are in favor of a new stadium for Fiorentina. An arena is meant for the people who use it, not for scholars to study cantilevering. Again, I really hope that a compromise is possible, but Fiorentina’s responsibility here is to the fans who show up for matches and to its own financial interests; the sad truth is that’s what modern, capitalist football requires. If the team moves out, leaving the city with a disintegrating husk of a stadium that it can’t afford to fix, that isn’t Fiorentina’s problem.

Instead of rehashing all this for the umpteenth time, though, what fascinates me about Pessina’s latest grandstanding is Rocco’s response. Specifically, he hasn’t said anything. Previously, a provocation like this would’ve drawn an eruption like the last time he publicly discussed the stadium (“I want to destroy the Franchi.”).

To me, this means one of two things. The first is that Commisso’s so discouraged with his experience owning Fiorentina that he’s completely lost interest and simply can’t be bothered. While I’m not part of his inner circle and not even VN’s premier Roccologist (take a bow, Mike), I find this unlikely. Every source close to the club has indicated a willingness to spend big on a striker this January, and the club’s willingness to spend is well documented. He’s also not the type of guy who gives up on things easily; generally, if you build a multi-billion dollar business, you don’t wilt under pressure.

The second option, then, is that Rocco’s changing his strategy entirely. In the US, team owners often make big public statements about new stadiums in order to hold municipal authorities’ feet to the fire. As an American, it’d make sense that Commisso wanted to try that. Too, he’s discussed being 71 years old and wanting to see immediate results in his new project. Barreling forward and hoping to bluff his way through the famously slow and complex machinery of Italian government was a decent ploy, but it clearly didn’t work.

Instead, now he’s staying quiet and working behind the scenes. We’ve heard rumors that the Viola brass is turning inwards and trying to figure out what’s been going so wrong for the team over the past couple of years, which is exactly what we’ve been hoping for. Sporting Director Daniele Pradè is likely in the crosshairs, and even Barone may be on the block. That nobody has substantiated any of this to the media is, for me, an pretty strong clue that Rocco’s pulled up the drawbridge and isn’t going to be so public anymore.

As someone who enjoys his brashness and willingness to confront the entrenched parties in Serie A, I’ll regret that. However, if it means that he’s not going to let trolls like Pessina bother him as much, it’s probably in everyone’s best interest that he go dark. I don’t think that his apparent quietude is the result of anything but furious work behind the scenes, and I’m hoping that we’ll get to see the fruits of that labor in the coming years. Maybe that’s naive, but if you’re a Fiorentina fan, hope is pretty much all you have these days.