It’s been a couple of days since Fiorentina parted ways with Vincenzo Montella in favor of Giuseppe Iachini, but a lot of folks have been focused on the holiday more than on the staffing of Florence’s finest. For all of you wondering just who Iachini is and what to expect from the Viola under his watch, here’s a quick cheat sheet.
Who was he as a player?
Iachini was born in Ascoli on 7 May, 1964. He made his professional debut as for his hometown club as a 17-year-old in 1982, going on to earn 102 appearances before moving to Hellas Verona in 1987. From there, he joined Fiorentina in 1989, staying for 4 seasons and making 149 appearances (alongside the likes of Gabriel Batistuta, Roberto Baggio, Dunga, Stefano Borgonovo, and Stefano Pioli) before leaving for Palermo in 1994. He spent the final four years of his playing career in the lower tiers, eventually hanging up his boots with Alessandria in 2001.
Never the strongest or the quickest and not exactly possessed of amazing technique, Iachini managed a 19-year career on the strength of his tenacity, intelligence, and discipline. A combative defensive midfielder whose primary job was harrying opponents and winning the ball, he ended his career with just 20 goals in 504 appearances, along with 70 yellow cards and 9 red cards. He represented Italy at the 1988 Olympics, helping the Azzurri to a 4th-place finish, and made 3 appearances for the U21s; he never got a cap with the senior side.
What’s his coaching career been thus far?
It started rather oddly. He took charge of Serie A’s Venezia in October 2001, just after he retired and had picked up an assistant coaching position at Piacenza, but hadn’t obtained his coaching license yet; he was technically an assistant to Alfredo Magni, but wound up getting banned for 6 months by the FIGC due to his lack of certification.
After taking his courses at Coverciano, he took his first official head coaching job at Cesena in 2002, leading them to the Serie C1 playoffs. Successful stints at Vicenza and Piacenza in Serie B showed promise from the young tactician, but he first really caught attention in the 2007-2008 season, when he led Chievo Verona to win the second tier and earn a quick return to the top flight, although he was sacked for poor results after a few months.
He took charge of Brescia the following year and earned promotion to Serie A via the playoff, but was again sacked before the halfway point of the season, although he returned under two months later to see out a year that saw the Rondinelle drop right back down. He took over Sampdoria the following season and took a listless Blucerchiati side that was in danger of dropping out of Serie B, inspiring them to eventual promotion via the playoff.
He took Palermo to the top spot in Serie B and promotion in 2013-2014, but got the sack the next November before Maurizio Zamparini re-hired and re-fired him about fourteen times over the next year. He kept himself employed in Serie A with Udinese and Sassuolo as a short-term solution. Most recently, he had a several month spell at Empoli but was ultimately unable to reverse the poor results and got the axe in March.
What’s his style?
Iachini has a reputation as a very defensive manager whose speciality is strict organization at the back. He’s nearly always used a 3-5-2 formation, often using two real strikers up top rather than the recent trend (see Montella’s Viola this year) of using an attacker who’s rarely been cast as a center forward. The plan is usually to jam up the middle and push opponents to the wings, from where they’re welcome to cross against a big, rugged back three.
His sides tend to prioritize a rather rigid setup, practicing defensive positioning and quick transitions in training more than anything else. Rather than pressing high up the pitch, the forwards usually drop back and cut passing lanes into midfield, which makes sense with how deep the rest of the side usually sits. Much like Pioli’s pressing strategy, the wingbacks and outside midfielders will occasionally wait until the ball goes to an opposing fullback before closing down, hoping to force an aimless thump forward, but they generally stay compact and way back the pitch. The midfield works hard to keep its shape and jam up the engine room, while the wingbacks (when not pressing) drop very deep to form a back five. Iachini seems to prioritize big, athletic defenders who can win 1-v-1 battles, especially in the air.
Going forward, he’s tended to favor pretty basic principles: quick transitions to spark counterattacks, relying on individual skill for goals, and a focus on set pieces. Working from a deep block means that long passes into the channels are a frequent focus. Another favorite trick is to focus possession on one wing, then hit a quick switch to the other side to allow a quick, technical wingback attack an opponent 1-v-1. His teams aren’t really designed to control the ball, but have shown a knack for circulating the ball quickly with the defenders and the holding midfielder to attract pressure and then hit on the counter from there.
That said, he’s launched enough outstanding strikers’ careers—Mauro Icardi, Paulo Dybala, Andrea Belotti, Eder—to be considered completely negative, and he’s always played with two out-and-out strikers. He’s also a cagey enough tactician to make clever in-game tweaks to his schemes when the opportunity arises. In Serie A, he’s never worked with a team that wasn’t either just promoted or fighting against relegation, so it can be tough to separate his tactics at this level with the situations he’s been working with.
He also wears a baseball cap all the time, even with a suit, which is either unforgivably bad or utterly brilliant.
What’s Fiorentina going to look like under him?
That’s the quadrillion lira question, isn’t it? We can assume that he’ll keep the 3-5-2 in place. The defenders fit his template perfectly: Germán Pezzella and Nikola Milenković are big, aerially imposing men who can repel just about anything thrown into the box, while Martín Cáceres has the pace to sweep up behind. At wingback, Dalbert will likely be an attacking focus with the aforementioned switches, while Pol Lirola (who Iachini briefly coached at Sassuolo) and Lorenzo Venuti will fight for the other spot unless Federico Chiesa gets dropped all the way to wingback; given the deep positioning the wide men usually assume, that’s unlikely, as it’d take Fede very far from goal.
In central midfield, Erick Pulgar and Milan Badelj will likely continue their usual roles. It will be interesting to see if Gaetano Castrovilli gets license to continue operating further forward as more of a trequartista or if he gets the same brief as the more-defensive Pulgar; judging from last year’s Empoli, don’t be surprised if Castro is allowed a bit more freedom, particularly drifting wide in attack, much as Rade Krunić did in comparison to Afriyie Acquah. The combative, disciplined approach to midfield play looks like it’ll suit Pulgar more than anyone, although we could also see the fantastically hardworking Szymon Żurkowski get a chance too.
In attack is where we’ve got the biggest questions. Federico Chiesa will likely stay up top, but Iachini will probably want a big, traditional forward to pair with him. Kevin-Prince Boateng, despite his wealth of experience and hold-up play, isn’t prolific enough, so will likely drop to a bench role. Dušan Vlahović seems the most logical choice, but we’ve also heard that Pedro will have a chance to impress the new boss and could well figure prominently. What happens when Franck Ribery returns is also a fascinating thing to consider; he’ll likely slide in as a supersub when the team needs a goal (the role we’d hoped for when he signed in the summer) either in attacking midfield or at striker, with Chiesa sliding to wingback.
Altogether, expect Fiorentina to sit very deep, soak up pressure, and hit using their pace on the counter: Chiesa, Dalbert, Castrovilli, and Vlahović can all turn on the jets, which should be fun to watch. Don’t expect to see a lot of possession, though, so get used to the defenders simply hoofing it whenever there isn’t an obvious forward option. More than anything, get used to seeing the Viola play with a cohesive plan, which should feel new, even if that plan is better suited to a relegation straggler than to one of Italy’s most decorated clubs. He’s not who we wanted, but Beppe Iachini should be able to pull this unmotivated group of players together, get them moving in the right direction, and provide a springboard for bigger and better things.