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How Fiorentina’s wage bill stacks up to the rest of Serie A

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The Viola remain solidly in the league’s upper middle class in terms of salaries, but that doesn’t mean much in the table.

Workers remove the archway structure of Serie A TIM ahead... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

After gleaning some (perhaps strained) insights about Fiorentina’s squad-building from the Gazzetta Dello Sport’s annual list of player salaries (paywall), it’s time we turned our gazes to the larger picture and take a look at how the Viola’s spending on player wages. I’d also suggest reading the excellent Calcio e Finanza’s report (in Italian) if you want a more generalized look at the league, since this piece will be more about how Fiorentina shape up compared to the other 17 teams in the division.

I’ll throw in two caveats here. The first is that all these figures are base salary. Some of these numbers could increase a lot depending on how the teams and players perform. The second is that, since this only include wage spend and not transfer fees, it paints a partial (but very useful) picture of clubs’ financial outlays.

Data from Gazzetta dello Sport, Gazzetta dello Sport again, and Calcio e Finanza

First, let’s take a look at the league as a whole. There are some pretty distinct tiers here, although Juventus is so far ahead of everyone else that their dominance makes a lot of sense. If you pay a lot, you generally have better players. If you at least double every other team in Serie A, you’ve given yourself an enormous boost before anyone kicks a ball. More than anything, this explains the lack of parity that’s so frustrating to fans. It’s not a tactical advantage or some sort of winning culture unless you want to count pitchforking cash at any problem that arises.

I’m fairly interested in the fact that the teams spending the most on wages are largely trying to slash those numbers, with the exceptions of Inter Milan and Lazio. The Nerazzurri have splashed on various expensive veterans with high salaries (e.g. Arturo Vidal), while the Aquile are trying to keep last year’s impressive core together by offering pay bumps. That makes sense, given the financial uncertainties brought on by the coronavirus; most organizations want to spend less while they’re making less, especially since they know their places in Europe are likely secure regardless.

The middling teams (Fiorentina is at the top of this group) are mostly standing pat, which is interesting. You might expect them to slash wages as well, as any financial bugs could hurt them more than the big clubs. I can see two reasons why they’re mostly in a holding pattern. For the more cautious, it’s probably easier to pay your top players a bit more rather than have to replace them during an uncertain mercato. For the more ambitious, paying a bit more could give them a chance to qualify for Europe and its attendant riches while bigger outfits stay put. Getting that calculus correct could mean a surprise season and bonanza, while getting it wrong could set teams back much farther than it normally would.

It’s also not too surprising that the only clubs spending big on new salaries are the ones that were just promoted. Benevento had the highest payroll in Serie B last year and still added a lot of veteran talent, but Crotone and Spezia were both middling in terms of wages and have had to scramble to catch up.

And, as is tradition when we do these now, let’s all just marvel at Atalanta. La Dea are a genuine scudetto threat despite a squad that earns about 20% of their competitors for the top spot. They’re the best-run organization in Europe and deserve way more credit than they get. I’ll also add that it’s pretty stupid to say, “Why doesn’t Fiorentina just do what they’re doing?” If it were that simple, every team in the world would be copying them. Frankly, there’s a generational confluence of vision, talent, and circumstance that cropped up in Bergamo at the right time, and the neither the Viola nor anyone else can follow suit.

And, now that we’ve brought the Viola back into it, let’s take a look at how they stack up. The increase 10% increase in salary from last season is, as we discussed yesterday, due to DS Daniele Pradè’s obvious desire to add veterans on free transfers. Since there’s no fee going to another club, the accepted practice is to pay Bosman signings more than players bought from elsewhere.

That’s not to say that Fiorentina haven’t paid a fair amount of money in transfer fees this offseason. While Lucas Martínez Quarta is the only official new signing, payments for Alfred Duncan, Pol Lirola, and Christian Kouamé were all due as well, meaning that the Viola have shelled out a fair amount this summer. Combined with the high wages for veterans Giacomo Bonaventura, Borja Valero, and José Callejón, nobody can accuse Rocco Commisso of cheapskatery.

The real question, of course, is if this club can match its wage spend with its place in the table. As investigated by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski in Soccernomics (go read that now if you haven’t), wage spend generally correlates to a team’s place in the table more than anything else. Fiorentina’s spending the 7th-most on salaries in the league this year. Considering that Atalanta is just an absurd outlier, that means the Viola ought to finish around 8th. Anything less could look a lot like under-performance, although Torino and Cagliari are close enough that seeing them push past our boys in purple wouldn’t be mathematically mind-boggling.

So, according to these metrics, Fiorentina should finish no lower than 10th if they want a successful season. The top half, then, is the target—exactly as Rocco said, which makes you think he’s got a decent handle on this stuff (although that may have also been a ploy to take the pressure of the team as well). Anything less will mean that Giuseppe Iachini has failed to get the most out of his charges, that Pradè’s spent unwisely, or both.

Fiorentina have remained at the top of Serie A’s middle class in terms of wage spend for about a decade now but have undershot their mark over the past couple of years. Without a serious increase in performance to vault them into the European spots, the only hope to really improve is to create new revenue streams (stadium, anyone?) that can be pumped back into the club. Even with Commisso working to ram that through, he’ll want the team to get it together on the pitch too. If they can’t, he might look to find some other folks to spend his money and build this team.