The January transfer market is the biggest bait-and-switch in soccer. Teams dream of a new signing or three to either turn things around or help them reach the next level, but the reality is that January transfers are difficult to push through and frequently underwhelm. Even so, Fiorentina fans are going to hang their hopes of Champions League qualification or Conference League glory on Daniele Pradè’s work over the coming month.
What will that work look like, though? That’s the real question. To find out, I’ve looked at the deals he’s done during his time at Fiorentina. I’ve mostly ignored his first stint with the club from 2012 to 2016, as the ownership structure is so different, so I’m looking back no further than 2019. That gives us 3 full winter mercati to look at, which should be enough to draw a few conclusions.
All the business
Here’s all the first-team winter window transfer business Pradè has overseen since the 2019-2020 season. All numbers are from Transfermarkt. As ever, the caveats about officially reported fees should be taken with a grain of salt, but this should give us a pretty good baseline.
Looking for trends in the incoming department
The main trend is that Pradè really isn’t into doing a lot of business in January. The only year he really dipped into the mercato was 2022, and that was more because Dušan Vlahović forced a move away; the team clearly needed some reinforcements, both to continue competing for Europe and to give the fans something to cheer, so management was forced to spend some cash on Arthur Cabral and Jonathan Ikoné.
For the most part, though, Pradè’s January purchases fall into two categories: cheap pickups on the margins of the first team and cheap pickups for the following season. The former has produced a few successes—Alfred Duncan, Christian Kouamé, Igor, Antonio Rosati—but none of them (besides Rosati, whose entire life is a greatest hits reel) really made an impact in their first season; in fact, they all took a year or two to get their feet under them. Except, again, for Rosati.
However, I’d argue that most of those additions have backfired. Aleksandr Kokorin is the most obvious failure, but Patrick Cutrone, Kevin Malcuit, and Josip Brekalo were/are negatives. That makes sense, given that most teams aren’t going to part with key players for low prices halfway through the season. The only guys who’ve been even moderately successful within their first year of arriving in the winter window—Arthur Cabral and Jonathan Ikoné—were hardly unmitigated successes, and both still some time to find a groove.
That second category (cheap pickups for the following season, by which I mean buying a player and loaning him back for the remainder of the year) hasn’t had many successes either. Sofyan Amrabat is obviously the star here, but it took him a couple years and an assist from ownership to really get going.Youssef Maleh and Abdelhamid Sabiri didn’t work out for various reasons. If you want to throw Kouamé into this bucket as well, given that he was injured when Fiorentina bought him, you can improve the success rate of this approach.
In theory, it’s a slightly more fruitful approach than outright buying, since it doesn’t disrupt the selling team too much and gives it time to find a replacement, but it’s also harder to set up deals like this because high level soccer prioritizes instant gratification, which in turn means that a few months can change the perception of a deal considerably, resulting in negative consequences for one side. Look no farther than Amrabat’s current situation for an illustrative example.
Man Utd boss Erik ten Hag has reportedly already made the decision to let Sofyan Amrabat go at the end of the season— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) December 21, 2023
Clearing out the dead wood
Even if he’s not usually making headline signings, Pradè does keep himself busy each January, mostly by shipping out guys who aren’t really in the first team picture. Aside from Vlahović, he doesn’t sell stars or even starters, because (let’s all repeat it together) it’s hard to push through transfers in the winter.
Instead, Pradè whittles away marginal players, guys who just haven’t made an impact through the first half of the year. This allows him space to focus on summer signings, sure, but I’d argue that the more important benefit is financial. By offloading surplus players and at least a portion of their salaries, he saves a fair amount of money. Guys like Marco Benassi and Erick Pulgar are the poster boys here, but for a team at Fiorentina’s level, this kind of penny-pinching is more sensible than cheap, especially without European competition to goose the club through FFP regulations.
It’s also helpful to get younger guys into places where they’ll play more minutes and hopefully develop, of course. Luca Ranieri is the shining example, but maybe Niccolò Pierozzi or Gino Infantino can follow in his footsteps. It also can’t hurt the social dynamics to subtract guys who aren’t playing and could disrupt, for want of a better word, the vibes. Still, I’d argue that the primary goal of moving those outside the first team plans is more about economics than anything else.
Let’s check the crystal ball
As you’ve probably concluded, Fiorentina’s unlikely to add any big names next month, so forget those dreams of Joshua Zirkzee or Boulaye Dia. While we’ll likely see some additions, they’ll be around the edges. Maybe a rightback to fill in for Dodô while he finishes his recovery. Maybe an extra striker for when Christian Kouamé’s at AFCON. Maybe 4th or 5th midfielder. Maybe a youngster or two for Italiano to have a gander at for a few months. Nothing major.
The plus side, of course, is that we aren’t likely to see Nico González leave. He and the other regulars are as safe as they want to be; unless they request a move away and make it ugly (unlikely at this point), they’ll last through at least the end of the year. That may feel like a small comfort, but it’s a significant one, and not one that fans of teams Fiorentina’s size can reliably enjoy.
The wild card here, of course, is the team’s progress. Currently sitting in 5th place and sniffing around Champions League qualification, perhaps Italiano can make a case for further reinforcement to help secure the club’s highest finish of the Rocco Commisso era. That might be enough to get the president to dig through his couch cushions and come up with a bit more cash. With so much chaos at the top of the league, this could be a unique opportunity to grab the highest finish since the halcyon days of Vincenzo Montella.
I wouldn’t count on that, though. Since his initial splurge after buying the club, Rocco’s cinched the purse strings a bit tighter. Some of that has been to fund the Rocco B. Commisso Viola Park Center for Players Who Can’t Calcio Good and Want to Learn to do Other Stuff Good Too, but the fees received for Vlahović, Federico Chiesa, and various other big sales haven’t been directly reinvested into the squad, and it’d be awfully strange for the brass to reverse that policy in January.