If you’re a Fiorentina fan (and if you’re hanging out on our weird little corner of the internet, you probably are), you’re very familiar with one of the best parts of being a fan: falling head over heels in love with a player who nobody else gets the way that you get. I’m not talking about loving Adrian Mutu here, which I unabashedly do. I’m talking about loving guys who, when you mention them, make other calcio fans screw up their faces and say, “Wait, who?”
My all-time favorite entry in this category is, as many of you know, Massimo Gobbi. A journeyman who spent most of his time at leftback but could play in midfield or even on the wing, he spent 3 years in Florence under Cesare Prandelli, mostly backing up Manuel Pasqual. He scored 2 goals, had 1 fantastic celebration, and is perhaps best known for getting sent off against Bayern Munich because Arjen Robben is a shameless cheater.
He was, in short, a perfectly adequate but unremarkable player, the sort who gets a single cap in a meaningless friendly but plays in the top flight until he’s 38 because he knows what to do and where to be. I have no idea why I love him so much, but I do. The heart has its reasons that the brain can’t explain and all that.
Lorenzo Venuti, though, isn’t in that category, because I know exactly why I love Lollo. After growing up in the Fiorentina academy, he spent 5 consecutive years out on loan, toiling away in the lower reaches of the game. He looked like the sort of player who’ll be on the books forever but never crack the first team before finally cutting the cord when he’s 27 and spending the next 10 years in Serie B and Serie C.
Lollo shattered that narrative when he played his way into the squad 2 years ago and earned himself an extension. Since then, he’s elbowed past prize signing Pol Lirola and the vastly experienced Martín Cáceres to earn himself a spot in the first XI. For a guy who’s been part of the Viola system since 2004, there can’t be any better feeling.
As a player, he’s more solid than anything. The lowest rating he got this year was a 5, largely because he doesn’t really make mistakes and always works hard. That sort of positional discipline and intelligence make him really valuable to coaches who prioritize reliability, but Venuti’s a bit more dynamic than that as well. He can skip past a defender or two, he can play in a dangerous cross, and he’s surprisingly good cutting infield and letting fly from distance. At 26, it feels like he’s still got some unplumbed depths of talent.
Of particular interest to me is his work without the ball. He showed several times last year that he’s got a real knack for tracking an opposing winger or fullback up the pitch and winning possession, which could make him really useful in an up-tempo system like Vincenzo Italiano’s expected to use. Combined with his always-surprising utility around the box and above-average pace, he could be a perfect fit for next year’s Viola.
More than that, though, is the fact that he seems like a genuinely lovely man. For one thing, he’s always smiling; it’s tough not to like a guy who constantly seems excited to be where he is. He’s not some vacant, happy-to-be-here airhead, though. He’s got an impressive reading list that reflects a healthy outlook on life, some rad tattoos, and the courage to be an unapologetic doofus. With the throne of best-dressed Fiorentina player also vacant since Bryan Dabo moved on, Lollo’s a strong contender as well.
As the only academy product currently in the first XI (pending Riccardo Sottil), he’s probably not going to reach the levels of Federico Chiesa, or even Federico Bernardeschi. Heck, he may not be the starting rightback next year. But Lorenzo Venuti is the kind of competent player every manager wants in the squad, and he’s the kind of character that every supporter wants in the squad. It’s just nice to know he’s out there, reading a book and smiling, ready to come in and do a job at a moment’s notice.