Fiorentina’s hunt for a viable, long-term manager feels like a permanent state of affairs now. None of the men prowling the touchline since (maybe) Stefano Pioli’s first season have had anything resembling a coherent and effective style, leaving a once-proud club adrift in the lower reaches of the table. While Maurizio Sarri has long been the favored name to turn the Viola around, Calciomercato (via Football Italia) suggests that Porto boss Sérgio Conceição is another candidate.
The 46-year-old has connections to Italy, having played in Serie A from 1998 to 2004 with Lazio, Parma, and Inter Milan. He retired as a player in 2010 and immediately took an assistant job at Standard Liége in Belgium. He rose through the ranks in Portugal, taking jobs at Olhanense, Académica, and Vitória de Guimarães (where he turned Bruno Gaspar into a €4 million fullback) before venturing to Nantes.
It was in France that he first turned heads, leading the les Canaris from 17th place to an incredible 7th in just half a season and reportedly having the club president bar him from joining Leicester City, who eventually settled on Brendan Rogers instead. Conceição instead went home to Porto, replacing Wolverhampton Wanderers boss Nuno Espírito Santo in 2017 and piling up silverware since: he’s won the Liga NOS twice as well as the Taça (the domestic cup) and the Super Cup.
Most recently, he’s flashed across Italian consciousness as the tactician who bounced Juventus out of the Champions League after a wild second leg that saw his charges hang on with 10 men and even get a goal to overcome some chump winger’s brace. Despite Conceição’s obvious success, he’s yet to sign a new deal with the Dragōes and is set to be out of a job at the end of the season.
He’s built a fantastic team at Porto using a very fluid 4-4-2 with the fullbacks charging forward and the wingers drifting into central spaces. He likes having the ball (top possession in the league) and wants to move it quickly with short passes to stress opposing defensive structures. Without the ball, he presses with a front five, hoping to force opponents into mistakes, and also uses a very high defensive line.
Nikola Milenković, Igor, Lucas Martínez Quarta, and Sofyan Amrabat all look tailor-made for his system, while Gaetano Castrovilli, Dušan Vlahović, and Erick Pulgar would also probably thrive under him. While Conceição has preferred a 4-4-2 at Porto, he’s also used a 4-3-3 and a 4-2-3-1 at past stops, so he’s got a bit of flexibility. His experience with relegation strugglers—Porto are the first big team he’s coached—has also lent him a certain pragmatism that indicates he can adapt his concepts to fit specific players and situations.
The first question, of course, is whether the interest from Fiorentina is real. To start with, Calciomercato isn’t always particularly reliable on these things. As we’ve so often seen since Rocco Commisso bought the club, his vast wealth is often used by agents as a negotiating tactic to scare clubs into line. With an expiring contract, this could well be the case for the Porto boss as well.
Too, Conceição loves Porto, which he refers to as “home,” and may not want to leave for emotional reasons. More cynically, it’s fair to wonder why he’d walk away from a club that he’s built in his own image over the past three and a half years, that’s experienced tremendous domestic success and is pushing on in the Champions League, to accept a job at Fiorentina, which is, right now, a fundamentally broken club.
Perhaps Conceição is looking for a new challenge outside of Portugal, feeling he’s won all he can win there. Perhaps the opportunity to forge one of Italy’s most iconic teams into a winner is just the sort of project he wants, especially with Rocco’s millions to back him. Or perhaps it’s all just smoke and mirrors from the Viola to prod Sarri into signing on, or from Conceição’s camp to find a new deal or a new employer. Whatever the cause, it would be a massive coup to snag one of Europe’s brightest managers for next year. Let’s all just hope there’s fire behind the smoke.