At 18:00 CEST today, Fiorentina kick-off against our dreaded and hated rivals Juventus. Not only is Juve the club that has poached our brightest talents in recent seasons, it has the most unlikeable chairman in calcio and has an arrogant vibe that I dislike all-around.
For the first time in recent memory, it’s the Viola coming into this one with more momentum, having taken 18 points from their first 11 matches. Juve has notched just 15, and will struggle to place in the top four that has been a given for the last decade.
With the Viola’s good vibes recently, it’s important to see just how far we’ve come. On Matchday 12 of last season, December 16, 2020, Sassuolo came to Franchi. This is not the Sassuolo of this year, rather it was one of the most talented teams in Serie A playing some seriously fun Calcio under Roberto de Zerbi. While there form would fall off in the late winter, at this point the Neroverdi were riding high with 22 points, just one behind Juve for a place in the top 4.
The Viola, on the other hand, were limping in, fresh off a ritiro enforced by Rocco Commisso. Cesare Prandelli had still yet to win a match in his first four, and the Viola were in 17th place with just 9 points. 3 points below them sat Torino, and the relegation zone, with the club in the midst of its toughest stretch of fixtures. As Tito said in the preview, “This squad feels like it’s about ready to collapse completely.”
I remember where I watched this match- I was sitting in the car, waiting for the dentist to call me in. I remember being slightly frustrated that Dušan Vlahović was starting yet again, given that his last four performances under Prandelli had been listless and petulant. After just 15 minutes, Domenico Berardi slipped a beautiful through ball in Hamid Traorè (who should’ve been a Viola player in 2019), who slotted it away to give Sassuolo a 1-0 lead. I remember shutting off my phone, and heading in for my appointment, certain that the Viola were losing to the better team yet again and headed for the relegation zone.
Looking at those empty seats in the background of the above picture gives me a surreal stir. Even with the Curva having been back for just one home match, I can’t fathom that nearly an entire year of calcio was played behind closed doors. The lack of atmosphere seemed to seep into the Viola players, who had been lifeless and without passion the entire season.
Walking out of the appointment, I turned on my phone and was shocked to see the score 1-1. I raced home to catch the final 20 minutes, which I was pleasantly surprised in our dominance and determination. All of a sudden, the season didn’t feel completely lost. In hindsight, it absolutely was, but that’s the beautiful part of being a stupid Fiorentina optimist. No matter what, I’m always going to believe that the squad will turn the corner maybe not the next match, maybe not that season, but eventually it will.
Rewatching the match that night for the player grades, I was taken aback by Dusan Vlahovic’s mentality. How was the same kid who’d been stomping the ground every time he missed a chance now hugging his teammates and hardly celebrating after scoring his first goal in nine matches? The prelude to this match had been Dušan’s low as a Viola player, with many, including myself, questioning why he hadn’t been sent on loan to Verona the summer prior. Since this match, Dusan has scored 28 goals in 33 matches, and is now set to be sold for a ridiculous figure in the next two windows. Gianluca di Marzio even reported today that Arsenal is willing to spend €80 million on him, an outrageous figure that would fund Fiorentina for the three mercatos. This match was his breakout, and can help remind us that maybe there’s some player who we’re frustrated in (Riccardo Sottil), who’s just one small adjustment away from being a great player. Player development is certainly not a linear path.
The same applies to the growth of a club. I never bought the argument that Fiorentina needed 2-3 seasons to be back challenging for Europe after last season, rather it needed investment in the right places and a new front office. We haven’t gotten all of that, but we’re certainly looking on the right track for a European challenge, with one of the best young coaches in Europe. I haven’t seen the word relegation mentioned once on Viola Nation this season, and that’s all you need to know about how much better this season. Let’s be thankful that the very dark clouds of the past seem to be behind us, and beat the hell out of the Gobbi at the Allianz tonight.