We’ve been expecting the official announcement for a few days now, but it’s still unspeakably jarring to see AC Milan announce the signing of Alia Guagni after the player and Atletico Madrid agreed to terminate her contract. Guagni, 34, is likely to suit up for the Rossonere when the league resumes in a couple weeks.
If you’re new to the women’s game, you may not be familiar with Guagni. We can fix that, though, with a pretty simple sentence: she’s the best player in Fiorentina history. A native of Florence, she rose through the ranks of amateur teams back when the league hadn’t “professionalized” (and yes, those are the biggest scare quotes I could find) before helping lead Fiorentina to a string of trophies as the captain and unquestioned star of the club.
When she left for Atleti last year, it was a painful but fully understandable decision; the structure of the women’s game in Italy prevented her from maximizing her earning potential, leaving one of the three best rightbacks in the world stuck playing on a semi-professional contract. It was a miserable situation brought about by the FIGC’s shambolic handling of the women’s game in Italy.
After an injury-ravaged spell in Madrid, where she made just 23 appearances, it seemed like she was coming home. The fairytale ending, however, wasn’t to be; for reasons that we’re not entirely certain about, she picked Milan over Florence. While there are any number of reasons she might’ve made that choice—higher salary, a chance at European competition, Fiorentina’s precipitous tumble over the past two years—her father thinks it’s a bit more personal.
Andrea Guagni has been unloading on Joe Barone, criticizing the Fiorentina boss for breaking his promise that “there would always be a place for Alia” with the Viola. According to the elder Guagni, Barone, along with Daniele Pradè and Elaina Turra, turned down the chance to bring back the iconic defender, forcing her to look elsewhere. A furious Andrea has turned to the press (hat tip to FirenzeViola’s Dimitri Conti) and to social media (Facebook) to vent his anger.
Jacopo Uccelli, president of Go Women’s (Fiorentina Feminile’s only official supporters’ group) also took to Facebook looking for answers, albeit with a much gentler tone. Summing up the general confusion amongst the fans, he asked for clarification about why Fiorentina didn’t sign Guagni, taking care to emphasize that he isn’t looking to throw blame at anyone so much as understand why the club didn’t seize the opportunity to bring back a legendary favorite before wishing Guagni a bittersweet second farewell.
While Fiorentina have yet to release a statement—and if/when that happens, we’ll update this story—there are several reasons they may have passed on her. The first is that, as Turra assembles a young team to grow together with new coach Patrizia Panico, a player of Guagni’s age and status simply doesn’t fit the blueprint. It could be that her slightly acrimonious departure in 2020 left some bad blood between her and the club brass. It could be any number of financial or tactical reasons.
No matter what the reason, though, this is a really ugly situation for everyone involved. From what we can tell, Guagni really wanted to return to Fiorentina to finish her career. Despite her injury issues over the past year, she’s still got plenty left in the tank and should immediately resume her position as one of the league’s top players. Bringing her back felt like a joyfully obvious reunion. Instead, we’re left grasping in vain as she dons the red and black stripes.