When I wrote this article on Fiorentina’s pursuit of Domenico Berardi and Jonathan Ikonè two days ago, I wrote assuming that all readers were well aware of why Berardi is the perfect player for Fiorentina right now. When I looked back through the Viola Nation archives, however, I was surprised to find that this hadn’t been explained in further detail before. If I were to pick one player who realistically would join the Viola to sign tomorrow, it would be Mimmo. Both on and off the field, he fits Fiorentina’s project like a glove. Since it’s Thanksgiving break and I’ve got some free time, I’ll explain why.
Who is he?
Because all you readers are very informed in the world of Calcio, I’ll keep this one brief. Berardi was born on August 1, 1994, making him 27 at the time of writing. He’s plays on the right-wing and has been with Sassuolo since 2010. He did spend a couple of years at Juventus on a sketchy co-ownership deal, but he was loaned out to Sassuolo for those two seasons anyways. In total, he’s appeared for the Neroverdi 302 times, scoring 111 goals and adding 71 assists. That’s .6 goal contributions per game, which to put in perspective, is higher than Federico Chiesa has ever put together in any season in his career. Although Chiesa is still yet to enter his prime, Berardi’s track record of success in Serie A in this past decade is only matched by an elite few. His club success has translated to the international stage as well, as he’s played 23 times for the Azzurri since making his debut in 2018. He was ever present in Italy’s Euro 2020 campaign, tallying two assists in six matches.
Why is he a good fit on the field?
On paper, Fiorentina’s roster is fairly complete except for two glaring holes. The first is a backup striker for Dušan Vlahović, and the second, more important deficiency is the lack of a right-winger who can contribute positively. As seen from his statistics above, Berardi contributes like few others. His last two seasons have been some of his best, as he’s scored 31 goals and notched 18 assists in just 61 matches.
What’s as important as his goal contributions is the type of player he is. Italiano wants his wingers to be playmakers but not in the classic “dribbling around and picking a beautiful pass” kind of way. Rather, he wants them to be direct, picking up the ball, carrying it forwards, and making the smart play quickly and decisively. The first part of that is what Callejon lacks, the second Sottil. Berardi has both. According to fbRef, he’s in the 75th percentile for progressive carries and 95th percentile for progressive passes. This all while being in just the 15th percentile for dribbles completed. So, we know Berardi is a player who could thrive in Italiano’s system.
The fact he’s left-footed as well also offers a major advantage, as that’s what Italiano ideally wants from his wingers. Because Alvaro Odriozola is as much a winger as a defender, having Berardi cutting in and open space would allow Odriozola to maraud forward and unleash his full potential. In addition, Berardi’s whipped, inswinging crosses would be great targets for the heads of Nico Gonzalez and Dušan. I’ve added a video below which is a great representation of his playstyle. Notice how you’ll hardly see putting a move on a defender to try and beat them, rather his focus is drawing a defender out of position to play a pass or to burst by them with pace.
As I mentioned in my earlier article, there’s a chance teams start to figure out Italiano’s style in the second half of the season and make it more difficult for the Viola to rack up points. Adding Berardi in midseason is exactly the type of acquisition that would keep teams guessing and make game planning against Fiorentina a headache. Trying to keep all three of Gonzalez, Vlahovic, and Berardi in check would be a nightmare. Berardi is the perfect player to elevate Fiorentina towards a proper European challenge and the revenue which would come with qualifying,
Why is he a good fit off the field?
We all know Fiorentina’s declined in relevance in the last decade. Revenues are down since the 2008/09 season, which is not a good sign, especially considering that many other clubs’ revenues have shot up in that period. With a new stadium very unlikely to happen, the best the club can do to try and increase revenues is to qualify again for Europe. If Fiorentina were to finish 7th and landing in the Conference League, a run to the quarterfinals would bring in only about €6 million in prize money, as well as a small amount of TV money. On its own, this would only be worth about one solid player in the Mercato. However, the real value of the Conference League would be the increase in Fiorentina’s relevance and prestige. Nearly all of the top players in the world are playing in European competitions, because of the quality of the competition and the global platform it gives players to broadcast their skills. If we want players like Nikola Milenkovic, Lucas Torreira, and Nico Gonzalez to be playing in purple for the next 3-4 years, qualifying for Europe is a necessity.
That’s where Berardi comes in. Signing him would be a statement to the rest of the continent that Fiorentina means business. Players at the level of Torreira or Gonzalez want to play with other great players, and Berardi fits that description. Bringing him in would satisfy our current players, and give Fiorentina a good chance of finishing in the top 7. In turn, that would facilitate further good players coming here, and create a cycle of talent coming in which would only see the club improve. I see Fiorentina’s realistic ceiling as a club being that of Napoli, who have been constant contenders for the last decade both in Italy and Europe, while also realizing they need to sell stars occasionally to stay competitive. Bringing in Berardi goes a long way towards that goal, and could be a sign of long-term success to come to Fiorentina. While the €30 million spent on his transfer fee may not be recouped in a future transfer, it would benefit the club in many other ways which are more difficult to quantify.
Finally, Berardi’s signing would also be a huge benefit to both the fans and Rocco Commisso. Commisso’s stewardship of the club has been far from perfect, but the fact of the matter is Fiorentina is in a better place today than when Rocco took over the club in 2019. We all know Rocco wants to be loved, and the approval of both the Fiesole and the Florentines is important to him. That being said, the club is in a very awkward situation with Vlahović right now, and if Dušan does force his way to Juventus, a lot of people will be asking questions as to why Vlahović was not sold to Atletico Madrid last summer. Fans will then be a lot quicker to recall other failures of Rocco’s, such as the club’s treatment of Giancarlo Antognoni and his continued employment of Joe Barone and Daniele Pradè. Investing in a high-profile Italian international for a club-record fee would get Rocco plaudits from all corners of the fanbase, myself included.
If he’s so good, why might this happen?
Fiorentina is very much in the second or third tier of European clubs, so it’s surprising that a player like Berardi, in his prime, may go to Florence. The first reason why is Rocco Commisso’s pockets. A rumor like this would have no legs if it weren’t for the fact we all know the club could afford to spend the euros required to bring in Berardi.
We also know Berardi wants to leave Sassuolo, as was been publicly revealed by the Neroverdi management in August. That goes a long way towards any successful negotiation, as it's not a good look for any club to refuse to let their all-time greatest player leave when he wants a new challenge.
Finally, it’s been reported for months, by many sources, that Berardi is willing to accept the Viola as a destination and has agreed on personal terms with the club. While you could use his friendship with Marco Benassi as one explanation, there’s another real explanation that makes sense: he wants to stay in Italy. If that’s the case, the only other team which needs/ could afford Berardi would be Lazio, and maybe Milan or Roma. Rumors on those fronts have been quiet to this date, with Fiorentina rumored to be the only club in for him. Being the sole bidder in an auction could explain why Joe Barone and co. bid only €15 million for him this past week.
Will it happen?
This is the big question and one that we don’t know. Sassuolo’s CEO Giovani Carnevali has come out and said that the club won’t sell Berardi in January and that Fiorentina’s aforementioned first offer was not good enough. I don’t fully believe Carnevali here. While the club obviously doesn’t want to lose Berardi in January, the drama of having your best player publicly want out can have far-reaching effects both in the locker room and fandom. Fiorentina will be able to push their own drama off with Dušan off as long as the club is winning, but Sassuolo is not in that situation, with only 15 points from 13 matches. Should a bid in the €35 million range come in, I have no doubt they would accept.
Joe Barone and co. could certainly be playing the long game here, trying to test Sassuolo’s will gradually before securing Berardi for closer to €25 million, but that’s a dangerous game to play when so many other clubs would be in need of such a talented player. Berardi wanting Florence, however, goes a long way, but the most important factor in whether this deal gets done is Rocco Commisso’s ambition. Fiorentina’s rumored backup option, Jonathon Ikonè, is a great player and would elevate this team in some of the same ways as Mimmo. However, he’s still not Berardi, who’s acclimated to Italy and guarantees a dozen goal contributions should he join. While I’d be happy with the club playing any European football next year, signing Berardi would put the Viola on a faster track towards the Europa or Champions League, rather than the Conference League. With Rocco returning to Florence this Saturday, we should expect developments on this saga throughout December. But what is safe to say at this point is that if Rocco decides he really wants Berardi, it will get done.