Fiorentina’s Moena retreat has come to an end. After four comfortable friendly wins over minnows, the Viola now head back to Florence, with a friendly against Espanoyal rumored for next weekend at the Franchi. A Coppa Italia match follows the weekend after, and then the Serie A campaign begins on August 22nd against Jose Mourinho’s Roma.
With such a short period of time until the season begins, Fiorentina has made just one purchase (Nicolas Gonzalez) after one of the most disappointing seasons in the clubs history. Fiorentina, and especially General Director Joe Barone, are under pressure to bring in players to improve the squad and tailor it to Vincenzo Italiano’s needs.
In recent weeks, it’s become clear that Barone is the most powerful employee at Fiorentina. He was a constant at the club’s retreat in Moena, following the squad with a watchful eye and answering constant questions from the press. He’s also been making headlines through his public feud with club legend Giancarlo Antognoni, who contentiously parted ways with Fiorentina two weeks ago.
Rather than Daniele Pradè or Nicolas Burdisso, Barone is the one offering updates on Dušan Vlahović’s renewal and Fiorentina’s Mercato in general. Since Vincenzo Italiano’s hiring, one theme has been constant in Barone’s message to the fans: patience. He’s said repeatedly that he and Vincenzo Italiano want to fully evaluate the squad in Moena before purchasing any players, which means waiting until August for any new signings.
Barone’s rationale makes some sense. The Viola’s roster is still bloated, and there are plenty of spots around the field where Italiano’s judgment should be received before any decisions are made. There are both youngsters (Aleksa Terzić, Youssef Maleh) and veterans (Alfred Duncan, Riccardo Saponara) on the fringes of the first team, and it’s necessary for Italiano to evaluate the talent at his disposal rather than hastily purchasing players.
I’d argue that given Italiano’s playstyle, there are a couple of spots (winger, creative midfielder) where purchases are necessary regardless of the current roster construction. If Barone disagrees, that’s fine. Even after Moena, there’s still plenty of time to put together a quality roster for Italiano to work with.
However, Barone’s made some comments (these last week to Tgr Toscana) that leave me confused, both for Fiorentina’s future as well as his own strategy for winning over the fans.
“We’ve always talked about keeping the team until (July) 31st for the first phase of the retreat. Then, we will meet with the staff to speak about players and go into detail on which roles the squad needs improved. At the moment Italiano is very happy with the squad and the guys in the squad. We shouldn’t forget that there are many national team players returning on August 1st for the second phase of preseason”
Both Barone and Rocco Commisso tend to be to-the-point with the media. If this is the case, I’d like to remind him that these “national team players,” bar Gonzalez, are the same who kept the Viola in danger of relegation well into April. I wrote an article last month about my feelings on the Viola’s needs for an incoming Mercato, and Tito gave a great overview of how bloated this roster is. Barone has said that he sees the table as his report card. If so, letting the same core group of players who gave him a failing grade last year run it back is questionable, to say the least.
Maybe Barone is right. It’s been pleasantly surprising the see the attitude with which Italiano carries himself at training. It’s safe to say the squad itself has had as large a role as general mismanagement in the poor results of the last few years, and maybe the right motivator is just what’s necessary to get this team to play to its potential. After all, Barone and Italiano know a lot more about the squad than I or any other fan could ever know. Then again, we also know that Beppe Iachini and Cesare Prandelli did not see the squad as complete. Italiano also said yesterday that the squad needs five wingers, and the only way the current squad has four is if Ricky Saponara counts as one. Purchases are needed, and Barone’s valuation of the squad will skew how many are made.
In reality, I think his response is a mixture of both. I’m sure Barone feels the squad is more complete than I or many other fans believe, while also recognizing that just a new manager is not enough to turn around the clubs’ fortunes. While in most cases, the last two seasons’ underwhelming results would have resulted in a cleaning house, Barone clearly has Rocco Commisso’s trust to build the Fiorentina of the future.
At Moena last week, a group of ultras spoke to the roster after practice, with a main theme being to treat this year as “year-zero” and urging the players to give everything for Florence. As I said before, this is an attitude I wholeheartedly agree with. There are valid excuses for the results of the last two seasons. If the club begins to win again, many of the fans’ grievances will be forgotten. For his part, Barone has said that he was at Moena in part to “understand the errors we have made in in the past.” While I will wait for results before casting judgment, Barone’s legacy in Firenze lies on him getting the next couple of weeks spot-on.