Jonathan Ikoné has not had a good time with Fiorentina this year. After struggling with injuries through the first part of the season, he’s made 21 appearances for the Viola. He’s scored twice in the Conference League but has yet to notch a goal in any domestic competition. Indeed, his most notable goal contribution didn’t happen: a deeply memed open-goal miss against Monza last month. And, following a missed penalty in the monumentally stupid Supercoppa Italiana, I’m genuinely worried about him.
Let’s be clear: I have never met Ikoné and know next to nothing about him, so my opinion about his mental status is based on the flimsiest ground imaginable. I’m always hesitant about psychoanalyzing someone based on their televised job performance and their Instagram posts: humans are, as a rule, far more complex than that. But it seems like he’s someone who’s really struggling right now, not as a player, but as a person, and it’s hard to watch.
He’s already gotten attacked on social media by the disgusting idiots who wander those spaces spewing racist bullshit or whining about how players cost them money (perhaps the most pathetic behavior I can imagine). It’s not the first time for him and probably won’t be the last, but that doesn’t mean we should normalize this kind of conduct, mostly because it takes a toll on someone over time beyond the baseline toxicity of social media.
Now, though, that social media stuff is spilling over into the real world. His representatives held an emergency meeting with the Fiorentina brass following the unhinged hatred he received online, and while we don’t know how it went, we do know that Ikoné’s social media accounts and Fiorentina’s have unfollowed each other, which is the 21st century way of announcing an impending breakup.
I’m not sure what that’ll look like. Jorko’s got a contract in Florence until 2026, so riding it out until the end of the season and going their separate ways isn’t an option. Maybe DS Daniele Pradè can get him out the door on a loan for the rest of the season, then reconvene over the summer when everyone’s emotions have subsided enough to allow for a more nuanced discussion. Maybe there’s someone looking at him as a buy-low option. The mercato is tough to predict.
His playing position is a big part of the problem, of course. A dribbly 1-v-1 winger runs on confidence more than most roles, as it’s perhaps the most individualistic outfield brief around. When that kind of player is plunged into self-doubt, they simply cannot perform because it makes them hesitate, second-guessing every decision and giving defenders the instant they need to recover their positioning, thus negating any advantage the attacker has gained.
The team context is equally at fault. Outside of Nico González, none of the attackers on the roster this year have consistently impressed, which increases the pressure on all of them to perform. That pressure increases when Nico’s unavailable, especially since so many observers have cast Ikoné as his direct replacement. They’re both left-footers who play on the right, sure, but they’re far from fungible.
I shouldn’t have to explain why it’s bad that Ikoné’s in a bad mental space, but the Proper Football Men© will opine that he’s soft if he can’t do the job, that he’s paid enough so he should just get on with it. “Imagine getting paid to play a children’s game,” they grouse, “and then saying it’s too difficult.”
That such thinking is flat out stupid is obvious. People, including athletes, perform best when they’re not stressed out. Teams, then, should really focus on ensuring their players’ happiness and confidence in order to maximize their performance. Piling onto someone who’s struggling is the opposite of that, so don’t expect to see Vincenzo Italiano openly criticize Ikoné, because the Viola mister likely understands that basic principle.
Even that’s not really the point here, though. The point is that, when you see someone suffering under the weight of expectations that they themselves and others have placed upon them, your first instinct shouldn’t be to add to the burden. Watching someone struggle time and again shouldn’t make you feel good, generally speaking, and if it does, you probably ought to be talking to someone about it.
That’s how I feel about Jonathan Ikoné right now. I don’t really care about if or how he plays for Fiorentina anymore. I don’t care if he never scores another goal. What I care about is that he gets himself into a situation where he feels safe and happy. I hope that’s in Florence, but my feelings aren’t important here. I just want the guy to be okay.