Winston Churchill once said “If you are going through hell, keep going”. Henry Ford said “Failure is simply an opportunity to begin again. This time more intelligently.” Michael Scott said “Sometimes I start a sentence and I don’t know where its going. I just hope to find it along the way.” We are currently somewhere in those quotes, somewhere.
Let me first start off by stressing this. The Rocco Commisso era is not over, and I don’t believe from everything I have been told that it will be over once the Viola Park is built. Do I agree with everything Rocco and company have done? No, not even close. I have remained positive on where we can go as a team even after facing the brunt of Rocco’s attack because I am an optimist and I love this club. So, with so much negativity surrounding Rocco, his leadership, the players and the club in general, what happens next? Hopefully some learning by our leadership followed by a few changes. Let’s look at a few that should be made.
Rebuild Fan Relations and Sentiment
I know, I know, we learned from the days of the Guelfi e Ghibellini that the people of Firenze will always be split. This Fiorentina fan base proves it even in modern times. Knowing this, Rocco must take a concerted approach to speak clearly to all the fans, being transparent around decisions made and answer the questions without pride and anger getting in the way. I know it must feel unfair to be judged when he has invested a lot of money into Fiorentina, but as the owner of a very proud and respected calcio club in Firenze Rocco is responsible for uniting the fans around the jersey, not necessarily him.
Will fans ever agree with everything he does? Heck no, but that goes with owning this big, beautiful club. Fans have equal power and an equal right to the club as the owner and Rocco knows this. When I first met him at the Mediacom headquarters, he spoke very highly of those fans who sat in front of the Della Valle storefront in Firenze. He told ViolaNation that had it not been for those loyal and proud fans speaking up that he may not have been able to push through a deal so quickly and as cheaply as did.
Rocco should make all his future public statements and actions around the unification of the fan base, ensuring more and more people understand (not necessarily agree with) his vision. Do away with all the press conferences and staged interviews, which only discuss the same, negative narrative, accusing others of dissent and patting himself on the back. It is ok for Rocco to be fallible; everyone makes mistakes. Build up, stop tearing down.
Connect Better with the Local Fans
Previous Fiorentina leaderships have always had and prioritized a connection to the Fiorentini within the club. Today under Joe Barone, not only do we not have a local connection, but we have pushed out and vilified those that connected the Fiorentini to this leadership group. Many local fans want a Fiorentini inside the organization. This shows a desire to be one with the local community and creates a sense of trust from the fan base for the club. Hire someone local.
Build and Maintain Professional Relationships with the Local Journalists
This one is very, very weird. The relationship between a sports club and its local media is critical to a club’s success. Journalists will always and should always be allowed to be honest and direct in their evaluation of the club’s performance. Fiorentini journalists are no exception. They have a reputation for being critical, but are always fair.
In a healthy club/media relationship Fiorentina would provide an environment of transparency and access which hopefully results in mutual trust. The expectation should never be fealty. In a perfect journalist world, they should be the only ones who can call their baby ugly. If a rival team’s journalists write articles condemning their club or speaking il of their players/executives, they are the first to defend them. The current administration DOES NOT understand this and instead attacks their own, then demands support from the same people they put down.
Recent events following this weekend’s Inter Milan match at the Franchi exemplify why Fiorentina need trusted partners, but this bridge has been burned 1,000 times over in every press conference attack made and in the limited access that local journalists have. The club reaches out during bad spells for favors to keep the articles positive and limit the number of negative comments. It is always done with the idea of suppression, rather than transparency and openness.
Fiorentina need the support of their local media and the local journalists need the access to the club. It is a symbiotic relationship. Almost all journalists have been shut out from information inside the club and now must get information from other Serie A clubs, player agents or market experts. Why? The relationship with the local media can no longer be this combative. Stop asking for favors and make a genuine attempt at a connection. In truth, someone else should be hired to establish a trusting relationship with the Fiorentina media.
Antognoni, Batistuta, Valero, etc
Real Fiorentina men have stepped up to be part of the renaissance and reconciliation. Men who have sweat, bled, scored and won for this club over the years, some with the coordinates of the Ponte Vecchio tattooed on his arm. These men have tremendous value to Fiorentina and Fiorentini in many aspects of football, business and relationships, but they have all been cast aside.
I’ve heard it all, Batigol wants more money than he is worth, Antognoni is not a good public speaker and is limited in what he can do and Borja is just starting out. The truth is there is a real fear factor in how these men would overshadow the current leadership and that has prevented necessary steps from being taken.
Fiorentina need street cred. When Rocco introduced Fiorentina at the block party in Arthur Avenue in 2019, he used Giancarlo Antognoni’s 1982 World Cup win as a story to establish credibility in what he was doing in bringing Fiorentina to NYC. From what I recall, Rocco hosted a watch party on Arthur Avenue for that World Cup win, and he then told the story about how the street erupted into celebration of what Antognoni, Zoff and Rossi did for Italian Americans in that neighborhood in the Bronx.
To me it seems very short sighted to cast out one man and to completely shut out the other two, especially when Rocco needs help. Fiorentina lacks Serie A minds. Fiorentina lack people with a connection to the community. Who better than these Fiorentina legends? Take your pick of which one.
The Right Investments Made by the Right People in the Upcoming Mercato
Rocco told me in our first meeting at Mediacom that he prefers to be loyal to his people. He doesn’t like to remove people, rather give them every chance to earn their place in his organization, but if they fail, he will move and quickly. Loyalty is commendable, but results matter. Fiorentina need to look back on the results of their buying and selling. Yes, we did a great job selling Dusan and Chiesa for big money, but we have very little to show for it. Worse yet, there is an arrogance and a refusal to admit the faults in their choices.
Prade deserves credit for bringing in Burdisso, but we may be at a point where the pupil moves to take the role of the teacher. Maybe we need a new group all together making player choices. The biggest error is never buying players who fit in to the coach’s system, especially now that we have a coach who was just extended this past summer. I personally do not believe Italiano is one of the biggest issues plaguing this club today. He is one in which we should invest around.
Supporting Joe Barone
It is my opinion, based on what I have been told that Barone will never leave this project. He was part of Rocco finding Fiorentina and negotiating the sale. They have worked together with the Cosmos for many years and there seems to be no separation in sight. You don’t have to agree with this statement, but people should come to the realization that he wont be replaced. Rocco will not make this change. What needs to be done is an honest attempt to surround him with the right football, Fiorentina and Fiorentini minds... Simple.
I was once told that Rocco will spend his money, but he will not spend his money foolishly. He will not keep paying a salary for people who he believes do not carry a purpose or a certain skill set that he deems necessary. Those things are all understandable, but if we have learned from our past mistakes we should be at a point where our idea of what skill sets we need and who brings value into the organization should also change. For example, if Fiorentina is going to continue to keep people in important positions with perceived deficiencies, at least surround them with others in the club who add strengths that they lack.
Mark Stephan is a true gem and the current Fiorentina CEO. He is more than capable to be the person who manages the finances, contracts and organization of Fiorentina. He is not involved in the day to day or personnel decisions, but maybe he should be due to his impeccable business record inside of Mediacom. Unfortunately, Mark is too valuable to Mediacom to let him be fulltime with Fiorentina.
Is it time Fiorentina looked at hiring a Serie A businessperson? If the answer is yes, this person needs to be able to manage the company with autonomy and without the fear of not saying “yes” to everything Barone and Prade want. We need an “I understand your position, but you need to think about these things too” person. Fiorentina do not need more yes men.
In closing, I took more positives out of Saturdays game against Inter than it seems most did. We finally saw some emotion out of the players, even if Jovic directed his emotions against the fans. We went toe to toe against a very good club and it took several bad calls from the referee to not get a result.
The path forward is not an easy one, but it can be. If Joe and Rocco are willing to put aside their pride and start again with the best of intentions this could still be the best and most fulfilling thing Rocco Commisso has ever done, and that says a lot for a Forbes 400 man. Remember back to the hope we all felt that first day he came to Firenze at the Franchi. I know he told me that was one of the best moments in his life. He deserves good things, but so do the fans. This club is and always will be owned by the hearts of its many loyal fans. This doesn’t work if it is only Rocco’s way. It can’t, but can he accept that? If he can you will see a Fiorentina company, squad and fanbase unified in a way it has not been in decades. Isn’t that just intelligent and grand?
Sempre Forza Viola.