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What’s going on with Fiorentina’s wingbacks?

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No matter the manager, the Viola’s roster has holes that need fixing should the club return to Europe

SS Lazio v Genoa CFC - Serie A Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

So, how about the last few days, huh? Gennaro Gattuso’s unceremonious departure after 22 days highlighted the naiveté of the Fiorentina upper brass as well as the sliminess of Rino and Jorge Mendes. Now, it’s time to move on.

Fiorentina has still not found a new mister, although Vincenzo Italiano is far and away the favorite. Whether Italiano is appointed does not change the fact that as constructed, the Viola’s roster has many holes that need fixing this summer. Nico González’s agent confirmed today that his client is just a medical away from joining, which is a welcome addition to a depleted winger corps. Besides González (and Riccardo Sottil’s return), the Viola could still use another winger (Pedro de la Vega?) to complement those two and one of José Callejón and Franck Ribery.

Moving to the midfield, another quality addition is needed to complement Sofyan Amrabat and Gaetano Castrovilli. While Erick Pulgar had an excellent second half of the season, there are players out there with better technical and physical ability who would improve the Viola. This is the spot which most depends on the identity of the new manager- will this player be a regista like Stefano Sensi? Or an attacking #8 like Sergio Oliveira? (Too soon?).

In defense, at least one high-level center-back will need to be purchased to offset the departure of at least one of Nikola Milenković and Germán Pezzella. As for the wingbacks, the Viola have plenty of question marks, which may or may not be answered this summer.

Right-back

Pop quiz time: When was the last right-back was a strength for Fiorentina? If you answered “I don’t remember,” then you’re right! Seriously, if any of you have suggestions in the comments, let me know. Last season, Fiorentina went through four of them. Kévin Malcuit has returned to Napoli after a brief four-month stint with the Viola. While he only started two matches for Fiorentina, I have to give him credit for the worst individual performance of any player this season against Parma. It’s safe to say he never plays for the Viola again. Meanwhile, Martín Cáceres had a poor start under Beppe Iachini as a center-back but put in some solid shifts as a wing-back under Cesare Prandelli. However, the Uruguayan is now 34 and out of contract this summer. Given the reported interest of Cagliari and others, it seems unlikely he returns. Even if he does, he cannot be expected to be a heavy contributor.

A surprise contributor this season was Lorenzo Venuti. I’ve already talked at length about him, so I won't go into a ton of detail. While I think Lollo’s a good player, and one who can be a dependable starter in Serie A, that’s not good enough for a team that wants to be knocking on the door of 7th place come next May. Fiorentina will need difference-makers in every part of the field, and while Venuti is consistent, he’s not dynamic. I like him as a rotation option for both left and right-back, but I’d still prefer another talented right-back besides him. Who that player is remains a major question. When Gattuso was announced, reports came out which said Rino was hoping to keep Pol Lirola in Firenze as an option at right-back. While Lirola’s been a flop for Fiorentina so far, he was great in his loan move to Marseille, starting each of Les Phocéens last twelve matches, and appearing in 19 matches in total. He’s rediscovered the form which was the reason the Viola purchased him two years ago as one of the best young right-backs in Europe. Marseille was unwilling to pay the €12 million option on his loan, so supposedly he’s returning to Firenze in 10 days. I would have been happy with him starting at right-back this season, too, until this Instagram story the other day.

You can’t quite see it without clicking on the link, but Lirola says he’s working out “to come back stronger next season with Marseille”. News flash Pol: you’re still a Fiorentina player, and that’s a very unprofessional thing to say. This may be the start of a pattern after his dumb Covid party a couple of months ago. Hopefully, Marseille pays up and Lirola can go on his way, but if they’re not willing to spend €12 million for him (which he’s certainly worth) then this deal won’t happen. Atalanta is also rumored to be interested in him, so we’ll have to wait and see.

As for new signings, Gianluca Di Marzio has reported that the Viola are interested in Chelsea right-back Davide Zappacosta. The 29-year-old quietly put together a solid season on loan with Genoa last season, and has one year remaining on his current deal with the Blues. While his transfer fee would be affordable (no more than €10 million) his current salary of €4.6 million per year is laughable. I can’t speak too much on Zappacosta’s fit until we hire a manager, but I’m lukewarm in general. For a player who relies on his athleticism, being 29 is the big turn-off. However, his talent is undeniable, and his versatility (he can play on both sides) would be a bonus. But for the price, there are certainly better options out there... looking at you Gonzalo Montiel or Nahuel Molina.

Left-back

There are less players to worry about here, but also less quality. Antonio Barreca left after a pitiful loan spell in which he mustered three Serie A appearances, leaving Cristiano Biraghi as the lone left-back on the roster. The issue with Biraghi is two-fold. Firstly, his attitude leaves a lot to be desired. There are many rumors about his fallout with Cesare Prandelli, which were somewhat confirmed following his post-match comments after losing to Napoli on May 16th. Secondly, he’s not very good. A strong start to the season under Beppe faded under Prandelli and did not improve after Beppe’s return. He didn’t offer enough defensively, and we all know about his crossing.

As I’ve discussed before, Fiorentina has a couple of interesting loanee options in Aleksa Terzić and Luca Ranieri. Neither is ready for a starting role, however, so the search must go on for legitimate competition. Enter Junior Firpo. The Viola eyed him last summer, and rumors are popping up again of Fiorentina’s interest, although it’s not as reliable as the Zappacosta rumors. Similar to Zappacosta, I can’t comment too much without a manager. I do think Firpo would be a great signing (and his salary is reasonable) but the Viola will face stiff competition to land him. Regardless, I’m prepared to be disappointed about Biraghi being our starter next season.

Conclusion

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from Fiorentina this past year, talent does not equal success. While part of this failure is due to Daniele Pradè’s mismanagement (Joe Barone and Rocco Commisso are not innocent either), the players themselves certainly deserve a share of the blame. For Fiorentina to be a competitive team again, not only will the Viola have to field 11 talented players on the field, but also ones who are committed to the club and have a winning attitude. While our best current options at wingback are Biraghi and Lirola respectively, I have doubts about the ability of both to fit into a new Fiorentina given the recent events discussed above. That’s putting aside the fact that neither has looked good for Fiorentina recently. Despite the need for upgrades, I’m unconvinced that management will actually invest there given other needs. Luckily, the Mercato hasn’t even started, so there’s plenty of time to prove me wrong.