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Fiorentina may not have a stadium by the end of the season

Years’ worth of poor planning means the Viola could be on their way out of the Stadio Artemio Franchi before the Conference League quarterfinals.

Aerial Views Of Serie A & Serie B 2022-23 Venues
I ain’t got no home in this world anymore.
Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

From the Torre di Maratona to the helicoidal stairs, the Stadio Artemio Franchi is undeniably one of Italy’s most iconic. It’s also falling apart, which is to be expected from a concrete edifice originally built in 1932 and that hasn’t been renovated since 1990, and that’s made it something of a political football. Despite Rocco Commisso’s best efforts to either buy the Stadio Artemio Franchi outright or build an entirely new arena in the suburbs, Fiorentina remains a tenant in the venerable city-owned stadium.

Florence mayor Dario Nardella has proposed a solution, albeit not one that particularly pleases the Viola brass. He intends to refurbish the Franchi using a combination of city, state, and federal funding to avoid hiking taxes on the residents. The vision is for a renovated stadium that will keep architect Pier Luigi Nervi’s most recognizable flourishes in place while improving the structural integrity. It’s not just the stadium that would be updated; a car park with 3000 spaces and a tram stop will make the arena more accessible for fans as well.

The project has already been delayed time and again. It was supposed to begin by 31 December 2023, and, as you’ve noticed if you’ve watched Fiorentina play recently, the stadium is not even remotely under construction. Nardella has managed to push the start date to 31 March 2024 with an eye to finishing it by December 2026, but he remains concerned about how to pay for the project: construction is being funded in part by loans from the federal government, and a failure to start or finish work on schedule means that Florence will lose the €150 million it’s earmarked for this venture, which will in turn end it before it’s begun.

These financial issues are serious enough to potentially derail the entire refurbishment, but the more immediate problem facing Fiorentina is where the team will play while the Franchi is under construction. There are a few options in Tuscany, but aside from Empoli (which turned down an arrangement to share the Carlo Castellani), none of them meet Serie A and European requirements, which would put Commisso on the hook for the necessary improvements.

Nardella, Tuscan regional president Eugenio Giani, and prefect Francesca Ferrandino met today with Commisso’s right hand man Joe Barone and Empoli mayor Brenda Barnini in hopes of hammering out a stadium-sharing agreement, but Barnini reiterated that she has no interest in bringing the Viola down the Arno. Despite her flat refusal, Giani and Ferrandino preached patience and hoped for more constructive meetings in the future.

That future is time-sensitive, though. If construction has to begin by March, Fiorentina will be barred from the Franchi quite soon. It’s particularly concerning to the team’s financial future, as the income from European games (both in the Conference League now and possibly in the Champions League next year, if current form holds) would have to be split with the temporary landlord, taking a substantial bite out of the club’s economic forecast.

Perhaps Nardella can find a way to delay the start of construction until the end of the season and give Florence and Fiorentina a few more months to find a solution. Temporary grandstands at the Rocco B. Commisso Viola Park or the Carabinieri stadium out near the airport are possibilities, but not very appealing ones. The entire situation remains deadlocked, with every interested party in possession of mutually-conflicting needs. It is, in short, a mess.

It’s also a mess that could have been avoided with a bit more planning. Commisso’s well-publicized desire to spend €300 million on the stadium was defeated at every turn by bureaucracy, and now Nardella’s managed to secure funding from the government but may not be able to use it in time. Fiorentina might get kicked out of its own stadium in the middle of the season because no one could figure out where else it could play. Armando Ianucci himeself couldn’t have scripted a more perfectly interlocking mechanism of bureaucratic bumbling.

What happens next? Who knows? Smart money is on all parties involved finding another temporary solution, pushing the buck another couple months down the road, and revisiting this whole thing again; that’s the firmly-established pattern in this exercise in futile repetition. It could be, though, that this is the first piece of concrete falling off a stadium, the one that eventually leads to complete collapse. If that feels ominous, well, welcome to the Stadio Artemio Franchi.