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Season review: Wingers

Quite the range of outcomes in this positional group.

ACF Fiorentina v Heart of Midlothian: Group A - UEFA Europa Conference League
Radio + Cheese
Photo by Lisa Guglielmi/LiveMedia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

It it felt like Fiorentina had too many wingers on the roster this year, well, yeah. This is the largest positional group on the team, with 6 guys getting real first team minutes this year. Part of that was injuries, of course, and part of it was trying to stagger minutes through 3 competitions, but that’s still too many options. And with the club (probably) out of Europe next year, this group needs to shrink.

Nicolás González

ACF Fiorentina v West Ham United FC - UEFA Europa Conference League Final 2022/23
Still might be the moment of the season.
Photo by James Gill - Danehouse/Getty Images

Fiorentina’s irrepressible star started slowly but finished strongly. He missed a fair amount of time early in the year due to a back injury and the team struggled in his absence, leading to accusations of malingering to stay fit for the World Cup (which he ultimately missed). Despite that tension, he stayed focus—a real testament to his mental strength—and came back stronger, reminding everyone just how good he is. And yeah, that’s really good. His off-ball work, dribbling, and aerial ability make him a unique attacker and, without a doubt, the player of the season.

Stats: 42 appearances (28 starts), 14 goals, 2 assists, 6 yellow cards

What’s next: The inevitable rumblings about his departure are already up and running, but it sounds like he’ll stick around, barring a mega-offer, and serve as Fiorentina’s main threat. His primary brief will be getting healthy for next year and maybe adding a few more assists to his game, although having some time to develop chemistry with a striker ought to help him there.

Final grade: A- If a couple more of those long range efforts had gone in, we’d be looking at a season for the ages. As is, he was still magnificent.

Jonathan Ikoné

ACF Fiorentina Arrives in Prague - UEFA Europa Conference League Final 2022/23
About to fall down an open manhole or discover a cure for the common cold, probably.
Photo by Sebastian Widmann - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

Fiorentina’s roiling sphere of chaos was up to his usual tricks. He can do unbelievable things—ask Inter Milan and Hellas Verona how they like him—at a level that makes him look like one of the 5 best wingers in the world, but unfortunately he’s possessed by a demon that takes control of his legs sometimes and makes him dribble straight into touch. Backwards. Like a toddler. That variability made him a useful piece for Vincenzo Italiano but not a reliable one, and he seemed to drift down the pecking order in the final month of the season as his unpredictability became a bit too much for Cousin Vinnie to deal with.

Stats: 51 appearances (35 starts), 6 goals, 7 assists, 8 yellow cards, 1 red card

What’s next: Hopefully getting locked inside of Viola Park and practicing his shooting for 12 hours a day, although he’s Chaos Jonny, baby. It don’t matter.

Final grade: B- He was incredibly frustrating to watch sometimes but he was pretty productive. If he wasn’t so clearly capable of more, it would have been a good campaign.

Christian Kouamé

After years of struggling in Tuscany, he returned from a loan in Belgium and staked a claim for a rotation spot, reinventing himself as a direct winger. For the first couple months of the the year, he was the team’s best attacker, and even when he dropped off a little, his non-stop running defensive contribution made him a useful piece. It’s a testament to his infectious energy and remarkable mental fortitude that Italiano brought him back into the team in the biggest games of the season, and that he was in the team at all this year. And his social media presence, with self-designed graphics, surpassed Arthur Cabral’s.

Stats: 43 appearances (29 starts), 5 goals, 7 assists, 6 yellow cards

What’s next: He’s earned his spot for next year as a versatile attacker who can play anywhere across the front 3, and we’ll likely see quite a bit of him. Just the most remarkable turnaround for a guy who seems like a generally sweet person and I couldn’t be happier for him. With a contract up next summer, don’t be surprised to see him sign an extension some time this year.

Final grade: B From afterthought to starting in European finals, nobody’s done more to change their Viola stock than Cris this year.

Riccardo Saponara

US Sassuolo v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A
If this is your final action with a team, you done good.
Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

The Cheese was a revelation last year as a silky winger, using his outrageous technical ability to bamboozle lower-half opponents time and again, and he did more of the same this time around. His fantastic partnership with Cristiano Biraghi down the left was one of Fiorentina’s most productive, but we’re all going to remember the bangers. Oh those Rickinara bangers. His physical limitations meant that he wasn’t always the right choice, but his trickiness and unreal first touch made him a delightful change of pace from the other wingers, who are generally quick and direct.

Stats: 39 appearances (20 starts), 6 goals, 6 assists, 4 yellow cards

What’s next: His contract hasn’t been renewed (and what a farewell appearance), so he’ll catch on somewhere in Serie A and continue to be the most delightful player in the league. Fiorentina will miss his ability, sure, but also his genial presence on the sidelines. Grazie per tutto, Ricky. Sei un vero uomo.

Final grade: B- More athletic defenders overpowered him, but the Cheese was too tricksy not to make a positive impact, and his highlights were about as high as you can get.

Riccardo Sottil

For a brief moment at the beginning of the season, it looked like Serie A’s handsomest player had taken that next step. He was still one of the league’s most dangerous dribblers, but looked decisive in the final third. But before we could crown him as the permanent starter, a back injury knocked him out for the bulk of the year. He made a few cameo appearances later on and seemed to verge on regaining his form, but back injuries are tricky and he remains what he’s always been: tantalizing, gorgeous, and maddening.

Stats: 26 appearances (12 starts), 1 goal, 3 assists, 1 yellow card

What’s next: At 24, he can’t make it on the promise of a limitless ceiling anymore. There are rumors that he’s on the block and could leave Florence, which makes sense given the logjam at winger. Still, there’s no doubt that he could wind up being an Italy international and utter superstar if he fulfills his potential, so maybe it’s better to give him one more year; he’s under contract until 2026, after all.

Final grade: D+ He’s shown all the talent in the world, but only in flashes. Mister Next Year needs to put together a complete season more than anyone else on the roster. I hate to penalize him for injury, but his inconsistency is so consistent now that it feels like part of the package.

Josip Brekalo

Brought in from Wolfsburg in January for a paltry €1.5 million, the Croatian winger (and noted homophobe) was injured when he arrived in Florence and never really got healthy. He had a couple of nice moments but ultimately never looked like anything more than a decent depth piece, although again, his injury troubles may have been the problem more than anything else. It’s hard not to wonder, though, if Fiorentina grabbed him on the cheap because he was good against them for Torino last year and not really for any other reason.

Stats: 11 appearances (3 starts)

What’s next: He’s got as much to prove as anyone next year. If he can rediscover the heights he hit with Torino, he could be a very good depth option, but it’s also not difficult to see him as another long-term loanee until his contract runs out in 2026.

Final grade: D- Don’t want to fault him for the injuries but even when healthy, he didn’t demonstrate much of anything.

Here are our reviews of the goalkeepers, centerbacks, fullbacks, defensive midfielders, and attacking midfielders. We’ll wrap this up with the strikers.