Fiorentina will probably not win the title this year. Let’s get that out of the way early on. Now that we’re halfway through November, staring down the barrel of another dreary international break, why shouldn’t optimistic minds turn towards trophy-laden dreams? But, as Nick Hornby once wrote, it’s the hope that kills you. We’re not yet a third of the way through the season and, most worryingly of all, talk of a title drastically realigns the targets set out in the summer. Sure, winning Serie A would be nice. But it’s not likely to happen. And that’s no bad thing.
Do you remember the heady heights of summer? When Florence was filled with the masticating missives of the masses, the kind of anger which hearkened back to the Baggio sale and the Ciompi revolts. Montella, Salah, Prade. Blimey, people were cross. Amid managerial changes, underwhelming transfers, reduced budgets, fan protests, legal wrangling, and an ever increasing sense of pessimism, the fourth place finishes of the previous years were slipping further and further away. Mid-table mediocrity seemed to beckon. The sky was falling. Everything was awful.
But it all seemed to work out. Paulo Sousa came in, made some changes, and signed a couple of players. What was expected to be a coughing, spluttering season began with a comprehensive win over Milan. Stumbles against Torino and Basel were forgotten after the slaughtering of Inter at the San Siro. Steadily, Sousa began to engineer a climb up the table and - before anyone had really noticed - Fiorentina were sharing the top spot with some of the pre-season favourites. After an atrociously apathetic and egregious summer, the autumn was suddenly looking a lot better.
It is only autumn, however. Up to this point, several players have taken turns at holding the reins. Nikola Kalinic became the striker Mario Gomez was always meant to be. Borja Valero moved a few metres up the pitch and rediscovered his mojo. Josep Illicic’s subtlety effective looming reaped results. Vecino and Badelj played well enough to keep the summer’s big signing, Mario Suarez, out of the team. Marcos Alonso began to play as a False 3 and began to dictate games from the left wing back role. At various points, various players have taken games by the scruff of the neck (to borrow a hideously English phrase) and helped drag Fiorentina to the top of the table.
And there’s no doubt that this is the best squad Fiorentina have had for a long while. While a few of Montella’s XIs might have been stronger, the Italian manager rarely had such depth at his disposal. That Sousa can turn to Giuseppe Rossi, Khouma Babacar, or Mati Fernandez means there’s no a variety of options available for different scenarios. Even if all three of these players were available to Montella, the competition for places on match day now means they have to work even harder to break into the starting side.
So, Fiorentina have their best squad in ages, are already top of the table, and have overcome a hideous summer campaign. Why the pessimism? Sustainability. Quite often throughout this season, Fiorentina have relied on good fortune to grind out results. A number of times, opposition players have been sent off and have afforded La Viola the chance to dominate against ten men. While this is great for the legs, it’s happened enough to provide a number of false positives. As well as this, there have been times when the team has played poorly and needed a moment of magic to dig them out of a rather lacklustre hole. The game against Inter was probably an example of the first issue, while the most recent Europa League tie against Lech Poznan was demonstrative of the team’s occasional tendency to appear out of ideas until someone (in this case, Illicic) produces something special out of nowhere. While Fiorentina’s season has been fantastic so far, the team can’t rely on this kind of approach. Sooner or later, your luck runs out.
Added to this, the competition at the top of the league is stronger than it has been for a long time. Inter and Roma both invested heavily in the summer, as did Juventus. Even though Juve have enjoyed a terrible start to their season, their squad remains the strongest in the league. All three teams are yet to hit their respective ceilings and all possess a huge amount of unfulfilled potential. Fiorentina, meanwhile, are perhaps making the most of the resources they have available. The current standard has been enough to top the table in November, but there remains a sense that several of the other teams have another gear they can kick into as they hit the final stretch. It’s no surprise that teams who spend the most usually win the league. It would come as no surprise to see Fiorentina eventually overtaken by the teams whose spending was two, three, or four times as high.
Fiorentina have played well so far. There’s been a little bit of a reliance on early red cards, meeting teams at the right time, and questionable refereeing decisions. That’s not to diminish the team’s good work, but it does provide the problem of how exactly to look at the possibility of winning the title. This is perhaps the best opportunity Fiorentina have had for decades. If the team is to win a title, now is that moment. But back in the summer, this kind of talk was entirely out of the question. Back then, the chance to compete for third or four place seemed like something of a pipe dream. As soon as people start to dream of the title, then third place would seem like something of a let-down.
Fiorentina will probably not with the title but there’s no shame in that. After such a tumultuous twelve months, the chance to even compete is indicative of a broader success. A third placed finish would be more than breaking expectations. Dreams of a title, however tantalisingly close, will only undermine the team’s hard work. If it’s the hope that kills you, then a warm hug of healthy pessimism can show Fiorentina’s success for what it really is; an excellent start to the season.