Having started with the goalkeepers, we’re forging ahead in our search for Fiorentina’s greatest XI. Our next object is central defense, which isn’t generally a spot you associate with the Viola but has seen a lot more quality there than you’d think. Without further ado, then, let’s get down to brass tacks. As a quick note, I’ve chosen to exclude guys like Claudio Gentile and Pietro Vierchowod, who are all-time greats but didn’t stick with Fiorentina for long enough to really be considered club legends. You can find the first poll, in which we looked for the top goalkeeper, here.
1. Davide Astori
Originally born in Lombardy, Astori grew up in the AC Milan academy before moving to Cagliari, where he broke into the first team and eventually earned the armband, turning down a move to Russia due to his attachment to the team. After a year at AS Roma, he joined Fiorentina in 2015 and immediately established himself as a key player, partnering Gonzalo Rodríguez and quickly becoming a fan favorite due to his excellent long passing and elegant defending. After taking the armband from Gonzalo in 2017 after the Argentine moved on, his leadership was on full display as he talked down an irate fanbase. He earned 14 caps for Italy, which may not sound like a lot but is a genuinely impressive number for a guy who mostly played in provincial sides during the era of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. His death remains perhaps the most shocking tragedy in Viola history; the outpouring of grief from his teammates past and present spoke to his inspirational personality, but it’s worth remembering that he was a genuinely fantastic defender as well: assured, cerebral, always a step ahead of the opposing striker, and willing to step all the way forward on occasion, as evidenced by his 3 goals and 3 assists. While he made 107 appearances for Fiorentina (compared to 179 for Cagliari), his status as captain and the club’s obvious commitment to him—he was about to sign an extension that would keep him in Florence for years, and he was the only veteran not sold by Corvino in 2017—no one will argue that he’s not Viola through and through.
2. Dario Dainelli
It’s easy to forget that Dainelli was a Viola mainstay from 2004 to 2010 and served as the captain for the final five years of that stint, considering that none of the players on the squad are still around. Dainelli, however, keeps chugging along; he just signed on with boyhood club Livorno this year and will begin the Serie B season, aged 39, doing what he does best: always making the correct decision. Never the most athletic, he mixed brains and brawn better than just about anyone I’ve ever seen. He stuck to his man like a burr and knew exactly when to challenge and when to stand off and wait for help. He was probably the best player at the back in 2006-2007, when Fiorentina conceded a league-low 31 goals. He always reminded me a bit of Tim Duncan: large, sure, but without looking particularly threatening, and mostly as good as he was (is) because of his willpower, his very existence designed around his flagrant disregard for his opponents’ desire to score. While he may not have the physical talent of the other guys on this list, he was, at the very least, every bit as effective for Fiorentina as they were.
3. Ugo Ferrante
The Vercelli-born man grew up in the Pro Vercelli academy but came to prominence with Fiorentina, for whom he made 179 appearances between 1963 and 1972. He also earned 3 caps for Italy and was on the World Cup squad that lost to Brazil in the final in 1970, although he never made it off the bench; he missed the 1968 edition due to injury. Getting back to his Viola career, he was the defensive leader of the 1969 scudetto-winning team, and won the Coppa Italia and the Mitropa Cup in 1966. Despite a rugged 6’2 (188 cm) frame, he was a graceful player, the sort of sweeper who anticipated danger and cut it out rather than reacting to threats with a crunching tackle. In fact, he wasn’t sent off once in his entire Viola career, which is damn near incredible. As you might expect from such a sterling disciplinary record, he was a real gentleman on the pitch, noted for his sportsmanship and compassion. He died in 2004 of throat cancer, aged just 59, in Vercelli, but he’ll always be remembered as a Fiorentina great.
4. Alessandro Gamberini
“Gambit” joined Fiorentina in 2005, following hometown club Bologna’s relegation. The €3 million the Viola paid turned out to be one of the best bargains the club has ever seen, as Gamberini went on to make 225 appearances (25th most all time) for Fiorentina before leaving in for Napoli in 2012. He spent his final year as the club captain, setting a strong-minded example after the Riccardo Montolivo foolishness, and was generally quite popular with the fans due to his aerial prowess (even though he was rarely the biggest guy out there) and his knack for a perfectly-timed tackle. He ended up with just 8 caps for Italy, but when you look at the other defenders of his era—Fabio Cannavaro, Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta—you can’t really hold that against him. Perhaps the truest testament to his quality is that he just retired at the start of this season, aged 37. It’s not like he was washed up, though: he made 23 appearances for Chievo Verona last year and was a big part of why they stayed up. Perhaps that’s the perfect testament to him, though, as he was always a quiet, reliable, and unfussy player who did exactly what the team needed with very little fanfare. While his double against Torino in 2007 may be the highlight, there’s no doubt that he was the glue that held those magical Cesare Prandelli teams together at the back, and that’s enough to earn anyone a spot in the club annals.
5. Daniel Passarella
It’s not a stretch to say that Pasarella may be the best South American defender of all time; he’s almost certainly the best Fiorentina have had for an extended period. He didn’t join Fiorentina until he was 33, but the four years between 1982 and 1986 were some of the most thrilling we’ve ever seen from a Viola defender. While he was one of the great hardman sweepers in history—dominant in the air despite his modest height, possessed of razor sharp elbows which he didn’t hesitate to deploy, and brilliant at organizing a defense—his game wasn’t just about throttling opposing attacks; his marauding runs forward saw him score 34 goals during his time in Florence, including 11 in the 1985-1986 season. Headers, free kicks, penalties, and long-range blasts: if you were a goalkeeper, the last thing you wanted to see was Pasarella bearing down on you with space to pick a shot. Despite a fractious relationship with the Argentinean national team, including legendary arguments with Diego Maradona and Carlos Bilardo, he earned 77 caps for la selección and scored a ridiculous 22 goals. Simply put, he’s one of the 5 best players to pull on the purple shirt, and almost certainly the top defender.
6. Gonzalo Rodríguez
One of the headliners of the summer mercato in 2012, we were all cautiously optimistic that the ex-Villarreal man could stay healthy enough to contribute to a revamped Fiorentina defense. Instead, Gonzalo immediately took control of the back line and established himself as the club’s best defender. An all-action player who belied his relatively unassuming physique with graft and guile, he was an automatic starter until his unceremonious dismissal from Fiorentina in 2017. His 203 appearances are good for 33rd most in club history, but that doesn’t really do him justice. He would have earned cult status in Florence for just his defensive displays, but there was a bit more to him than that: he also scored 25 goals—often at key moments—during his stint in purple, earning himself the nickname “Bomber Gonzalo.” Off the pitch, he’s also one of the most beloved players in club history, as he settled down and started a family with a local gelato shop owner. Oh, and he’s the coolest Viola player this side of Socrates, as evidenced by his other gig as a rock star. Even if you confine his greatness to exploits on the pitch, he doubtless belongs in this company. When you factor in everything else, he may stand head and shoulders above it.
Who is Fiorentina’s greatest-ever centerback?
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7. Someone else I’ll name in the comments