A year ago today, ViolaNation was invited to meet with and interview the owner of the club by both Fiorentina and the owner himself, Rocco Commisso. Realizing the rarity of such an opportunity, that was easily the most nerve-racking two and a half hour drive of my life. Not only was I meeting with the owner of Fiorentina, one of the most successful people in the world, I was also transporting a Yeti cooler filled with about 15 pounds of gelato, which I was desperately praying wouldn’t melt. In my town just north of Philadelphia there is a large Calabrese community. As word of my meeting spread many people wanted to send gifts and share stories. Two of my dear friends, Guiseppe and Fabio, entrusted me with gelato from their award winning store to bring as a gift to a fellow Calabrese, a man who inspires both pride and respect. The gelato arrived intact and Rocco and company enjoyed the hell out of it.
During our meeting we spent over three hours reviewing all of Rocco’s priorities; the mercato, an inherent officiating bias towards certain teams inside of Serie A, rampant racism in sports, the future of the club and the importance of building a new stadium and Centro Sportivo. So what has happened since? Let’s take a look.
Fiorentina has been through two mercatos since we met. In January Fiorentina were estimated to have committed 70-80 million euros to new players. Fiorentina started off in their patented casually slow way but finished with a flurry of moves. Fiorentina surprised everyone in securing the signing of trophy midfielder and Rocco Commisso favorite, Sofyan Amrabat, beating out the likes of Napoli for him. Fiorentina also secured loans for several players including much needed strikers Patrick Cutrone and Christian Kouame, a relentless workhorse in midfielder Alfred Duncan, a hulk of a human being in center-back Igor, and a curious shot on the little known Kevin Agudelo. Flash forward to the present and all still remain, with the exception of Kevin Agudelo, whom Fiorentina still retain rights to purchase outright if he impresses at Spezia this season.
Fiorentina have already made a few moves during the summer transfer window; they’ve resigned fan favorite Borja Valero and brought in Jack Boneventura, both on bosman contracts. Any bigger signings would be expected as we get closer to the close of the transfer window on October 5th.
Rocco has recently talked about turning over 80% of the club since he has arrived. That trend may continue with Fiorentina stars Nikola Milenkovic, German Pezella, or Federico Chiesa, who is looking the most likely to leave during this window. Center-Backs Milenkovic and Pezzella could also potentially be on their way out, but only if they push for a move away from Firenze and if teams meet the asking price for each.
Serie A bias towards top teams:
Rocco expressed his frustration last year following the Juventus game where it saw multiple calls go against Fiorentina. Since then, both for Fiorentina and for all of Serie A, very little has changed. If last week is any indication, Juventus still gets preferential treatment when it comes to penalties and VAR (the ball clearly striking Bonucci’s arm against Sampdoria). VAR still remains a mystery for Fiorentina after seeing a Chiesa cross hit Berenguer’s arm last week and VAR refusing to stop and review it. There is no consistency for when VAR is used and when it isn’t. What is consistent is who benefits from VAR. One thing is for sure with Serie A and officiating, it doesn’t matter if it is broken or not, they aren’t fixing it.
Racism in sport:
Flash forward about 8 months from when we met, racism became a global headline following the suffocation death of George Floyd. Racism has always been one of Rocco’s biggest grievances within the sport and I found that out first hand as I sat in Mediacom’s headquarters. Rocco was clearly and understandably enraged by the treatment of Dalbert by the fans in Bergamo, This was the most raw emotion I experienced from Rocco the entire meeting.
I still remember it vividly. During our conversation on this topic Rocco asked me to stand up and walk with him. Rocco took me around to the other side of his board room, showing me the pictures on the wall of “his team” at Columbia. Rocco told me, “Look at my team here. We were a diverse group made up of players from 16 different nations representing 5 continents. This is my team. This is the type of inclusion in which I believe.”
This topic is certainly nowhere near close to being fixed, but it is finally starting to get the focus it deserves. Serie A made a decision to start the season with all team’s captains wearing an armband stating “Keep Racism Out”. While it is a very small step, it is actually one of the first times I can remember Serie A taking any type of definitive action.
While Serie A deserves credit for joining in and doing what is right, I will not celebrate them until they show more willingness to evolve. Serie A has a long history of being a laggard in the war against racism but having leaders like Rocco Commisso who is unafraid to lead the charge will hopefully propel them light years ahead of where we are coming from.
Future of the club:
From the start I’ve been guilty of eternal optimism when it comes to Fiorentina and Rocco Commisso. Why would i change now? Well, I wont.
In my opinion, the best thing that has happened to Fiorentina in the past 15 months happened this past week. What is it you ask? After almost 6 months of being away from his club, his son, and those who love him in Firenze, Rocco made it back into Italy. Having Rocco back to negotiate his own deals is by far the best thing that could have happened for all of us. This is in no way, shape or form a knock on Joe Barone, who we love almost as much as Rocco, but Rocco is Rocco. There is no substitute for one of the wealthiest men in the world. He sits atop a media empire that prints cash for him - because he is a savvy investor and Mediacom always ranks tops in customer service, not because of some of the stunts seen in HBO’s Emmy award-winning show, Succession. Rocco is simply a commanding presence. The way politicians have politicked in Firenze up until now will not be able to continue. Rocco will not back down. Despite what proud people may say outwardly, Firenze needs Rocco and his money.
In the end this could easily become Medici vs Savonarola part two. Unfortunately for the many Savonarola followers in Firenze, Rocco just got back from his banishment and brought back with him a stack of wood and some matches.
The future of all three squads inside of the Fiorentina structure are stocked and reloaded for another successful campaign in 2020-21. Fiorentina Femminile have pulled out all the stops to completely revamp the squad post Alia Guagni, Ilaria Mauro and Alice Parisi. This squad looks as good if not better than any in recent memory. Their potential under Mister (now Direttore) Antonio Cincotta is limited only by their execution on the field. Currently they sit tied for top of the table with a full nine out of nine points.
The men’s team seems poised for a year of improvement following a top 10 season in 2019-20. Spirits are high following all three points taken in their first game against always tough Torino. The only thing that could potentially derail this team is the previously mentioned transfers of Federico Chiesa, Nikola Milenkovic and German Pezzella. Recent teams have looked to all three of these men for leadership and losing all three could be demoralizing. I am honestly left scratching my head at this situation. I understand Chiesa still pushing his way out, he hasn’t seen himself staying in viola for several years now and maybe he would look better in the prison stripes of Juventus, but Milenkovic and multi-year captain Pezzella trying to leave the city has me bumfuzzled.
Either way things go with these three, this club under Rocco has a very bright future. Money made from sales would be reinvested into exciting, young talent. Gaetano Castrovilli recently earned the number 10 jersey and has a long-term contract in place. Young and upcoming stars like Christian Kouame, Dusan Vlahovic, Sofyan Amrabat, Patrick Cutrone and Bartlomiej Dragowski round out a very exciting nucleus. The list could go on.
Rocco has made substantial investments and will continue to do so. It has recently been released that Mediacom is paying 25 million euros each season as the main sponsor, placing it near the top of all sponsors in the league. It should be no surprise to anyone that since Rocco has been back he has been on a rampage to get a new stadium and Centro Sportivo built, an endeavor that will cost him roughly 330 million euros. We will talk about these two topics in a separate article since calling out the foolishness of most involved requires much more time, thought and room.
Looking back on a year of Rocco’s work following our first meeting provides many reasons for optimism. Sure, there were many things Rocco needed to learn too. Through his comments this week on his projection for the team’s finish, “top half”, we see that he has learned how to temper his and the fan’s expectations. Growth!
Rocco has clearly placed his footprint on all things Fiorentina, Firenze and Serie A. So far all three are much better because of it.