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Judging Pradè is more complicated than we want it to be

The sporting director has been the most popular scapegoat for the Viola’s recent struggles, but he’s far from the only issue at the club.

ACF Fiorentina v SSC Napoli - TIM Cup Final Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

Fiorentina is an inherently broken team. The players, while not lacking in individual talent, simply don’t fit together in a coherent fashion; there are either three or no players whose skill sets overlap at any given moment. Through three (albeit underwhelming) managers, the team has pretty steadily underachieved despite some substantial financial outlays. The blame, then, must lie at the feet of the man responsible for spending that money: sporting director Daniele Pradè.

Let’s look at the basic facts first. Since re-joining the front office at the start of last year, he’s spent €93.44 million and brought in €69.44 million. Some of these values aren’t complete; for example, Federico Chiesa’s transfer fee hasn’t all arrived yet, so I’m not counting it as income yet. I’ve also decided not to include Erick Pulgar and Aleksa Terzić, who were both Pantaleo Corvino purchases. That does leave this chart slightly incomplete, which I fully acknowledge.

The grades aren’t very scientific, but everything else is spot on.

Looking through these signings, it’s pretty striking that, of the 5 players who cost more than €10 million, only one (Sofyan Amrabat) has settled in as a starter. Christian Kouamé has looked sharp, particularly when paired with Dušan Vlahović, but has been largely confined to the last 10 minutes of games and was tipped for a move to Torino or Leeds United. Pol Lirola and Alfred Duncan were rarely used well by various coaching staffs and have already moved on, forcing the club to eat a loss. The Pedro affair remains outrageously mysterious.

The loans have been just as bad. The Patrick Cutrone deal remains one of the more embarrassing I can recall. Rachid Ghezzal and Milan Badelj were stopgap options at best, and were usually among the worst players on the pitch; Antonio Barreca looks like he’ll fall into that category as well. Kevin Agudelo never got a real chance and has been lively with Spezia. Igor is the only one who’s been good, although Dalbert was generally above average.

Snapping up veterans on free transfers remains Pradè’s greatest talent, and he’s actually done quite well there. Franck Ribery still has plenty of magic in him, even if he pretty clearly hinders the rest of the team at times due to his desire to put his foot on the ball rather than sprint forward on the break. Pietro Terracciano is one of the best backup goalkeepers in the league. Martín Cáceres and Giacomo Bonaventura have been better than advertised as perfectly adequate starters. Borja Valero’s arrival was more a righting of an ancient wrong than anything else. José Callejón’s struggled, but even so, he’s the only out and out failure of the bunch thus far.

So there it is. Out of 24 signings for the first team (sorry, Dimo Krastev fans), only 7 can be called outright successes: Amrabat, Igor, Ribery, Terracciano, Cáceres, Bonaventura, and Lucas Martínez Quarta. Pedro, Lirola, Duncan, Boateng, Badelj, Ghezzal, Cutrone, Agudelo, Callejón, and Barreca can all safely be termed failures. That’s a really bad ratio, and should be enough to get anyone the ax. Case closed.

Except, of course, that it’s not. Part of the reason so many supporters are frustrated with a lot of the club’s transfer activities is that players Duncan, Lirola, Pedro, Cutrone, and Agudelo are all, at the very least, useful. Pradè and his people are clearly identifying talent well and, despite spending perhaps a bit more than they ought to, aren’t breaking the bank to reel in the players they want. Why’s it gone so wrong?

A big part of that is the chaos that’s pervaded the club for the past half decade. Nobody’s lasted more than two seasons as manager, and the stylistic whiplash from Paolo Sousa to Stefano Pioli to Vincenzo Montella to Giuseppe Iachini to Cesare Prandelli is really something. While Pradè’s been involved in hiring a number of those managers, you can’t judge him too harshly for buying players who didn’t fit a scheme that the team had only implemented months before and that would inevitably change again; anyone who claims that Beppe was the long-term solution to the conundrum on the touchline is lying to you or to themselves.

Again, Pradè is far from a blameless victim here. As the man at the top of the org chart, he’s responsible for creating a culture of calm, methodical, and well-prepared stability. Instead, the club has veered back and forth between being a counterattacking side and a possession-based side. It’s impossible for him to sign the right players when the definition of “right” changes every six months, and that’s not entirely on him.

I don’t have any real solution to this problem. I still think that Pradè probably has to leave at season’s end if Fiorentina want to progress, and finding his replacement is, to me, going to be what defines the early years of the Commisso era. I’m willing to give Rocco something of a pass on his first two seasons in charge, as the natural hubbub around acquiring a new club is enough to throw things off-track for anyone and the coronavirus pandemic is so disruptive (and dangerous, so keep wearing your masks and stay inside) for everything, not just soccer.

It’s very hard to effect a culture change at a large company, which Fiorentina is. It’s even harder when there are various entrenched interests and no real way to clean house and bring in some creative new minds. This culture of mediocrity dates back a decade or more; I’d argue that, aside from the lighting-in-a-bottle nature of Montella’s first tenure, the Della Valles weren’t all that interested in sinking time and money into the Viola, and it showed.

Blaming Pradè for everything wrong with this team is like blaming your recently-developed IBS on the McDonald’s you ate for lunch. Sure, that Quarter Pounder probably didn’t help anything, but swapping it out for a Filet-O-Fish isn't going to make any difference. The only remedy is to make sweeping changes in how you behave, and until that happens, we’re going to keep getting previously-frozen Pradè patties.