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Reports: Paulo Fonseca is willing to coach Fiorentina

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While not the flashiest name, Fonseca is about as good a manager as one could expect for this current Viola side.

AS Roma v SS Lazio - Serie A Photo by Silvia Lore/Getty Images

As Fiorentina continues to wait on Gennaro Gattuso’s decision to take the Viola hot seat, the Italian press is taking full advantage of the situation. Rumors are swirling over Gattuso’s rejection of Fiorentina, Maurizio Sarri’s return into the fold, as well as a litany of foreign managers such as Rudi Garcia and Marcelino being considered for the Viola bench.

I’m going to call BS on most of these. Why, for instance, would Gattuso waste any time in the lead-up to the Azzurri’s Champions League-deciding match against Verona to not just think about his future, but reject Fiorentina? And why would Maurizio Sarri, who certainly has the pedigree to coach Arsenal or Spurs, consider coming anywhere near Fiorentina if Daniele Pradè is still the Sporting Director?

To be clear, I do expect the manager's situation to be resolved, and soon. While I would still consider Gattuso the favorite, it’s certainly realistic that clubs such as Lazio or Juventus would consider him, and in that case, it’s easy to see him rejecting the Viola.

On that note, Fiorentina needs a backup plan, and news arrived this morning which I consider far more realistic. Multiple reports have the Viola considering current Roma manager Paulo Fonseca as being the backup option preferred by Comisso, a move which would make sense for several reasons.

Despite an unillustrious playing career in the lower reaches of the Portuguese Primera Liga, the 48-year-old Fonseca first burst onto the spotlight as a manager during the 2012-13 season, when he led upstart Pacos de Ferreira to 3rd place in the Primera Liga and a Champions League playoffs qualification spot. He left before they lost 3-8 to Zenit St Petersburg, taking charge of Portuguese giants Porto (of Juventus-slaying fame). However, he would only last nine months with the Dragões and would return to Pacos and then later Braga, with which he won the 2015-16 Taça de Portugal.

A move overseas to Shakhtar Donetsk followed, where he stayed for three seasons, winning the Ukrainian double every time. Fonseca gained two seasons’ worth of Champions League experience, including a loss in the round of 16 against his future employer, Roma, in 2018. Fonseca joined the Giallorossi in June of 2019, but arrived without much fanfare. This was due to him being seen as far from the first choice for the role, as there had been rumors about Antonio Conte and Gian Piero Gasperini, among others, signing on. The apathy towards Fonseca from Roma’s fanbase was even more palpable this season, as despite a good first-half, fans were quick to turn on him after a dip of form in Feburary. Since then, the club has fallen from the Champions League spots all the way down to 7th place, which they only hold over Sassuolo by two points. While it’s easy to consider Fonseca a failure due to his mediocre results in Rome, upon closer viewing there’s a bit more complexity to the situation. Mainly, it’s pretty hard to argue that Roma is underachieving in seventh place, as their squad is not at the level of any club above them. And despite the Giallorossi’s shellacking at the hands of Manchester United, getting this Roma squad to the Europa League semifinals is a pretty damn good achievement. Needless to say, Tiago Pinto and Jose Mourinho will have their work cut out for them to return Roma to the Champions League.

So, how would Fonseca at Fiorentina work out? I’d argue surprisingly well, and I’d prefer him to Gattuso. Why, you might ask? The main reason is due to player control and tactical flexibility. Firstly, it seems that if Gattuso were to arrive, he would demand a large say in the comings and goings of players. While I’d be fine with that condition with someone like Sarri, giving the inexperienced Gattuso control scares me even more than allowing Daniele Pradè to hand-select his favorite 30+ year-old declining wingers (Is that you Daniel Sturridge?).

Tactically, Fonseca has traditionally favored 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1, but shifted last summer to a 3-4-2-1, with a short-passing, up-tempo style. Fonceca’s 3-4-2-1 would be ideal for players such as Gaetano Castrovilli and Giacomo Bonaventura, who could play off Dusan Vlahovic. Igor and Lucas Martinez Quarta’s ball-playing ability would come in handy on the left and right side of the ball-playing back three, as those positions are crucial in the build-up. In fact, the top two passers (by quantity) on Roma’s team this season have been Roger Ibanez and Bryan Cristante, both of which are constantly recycling possession from the back.

Take all these tactics with a grain of salt, as Fonseca has gone returned to a four at the back formation in recent weeks to try and alleviate Roma’s dip in form. However, his tactical flexibility is far superior to that of Gattuso, and it’s impossible to ignore the talent discrepancy between the two squads when considering their respective places in the table.

As a result, I think Fonseca and Fiorentina could be a great match for each other, provided Rocco Commisso is willing to properly back him in the transfer market. Fonseca can’t really expect a position much more prestigious than the Viola, and the same goes for us. We’ll sit back and see where this one goes, but it sure makes a lot of sense. That is, until five more names appear in the Italian newspapers tomorrow morning, and Fonseca has supposedly rejected us. Thanks Italian sports media!