Last week, I tuned into the Bundesliga fixture between Mainz and Frankfurt—and much to my bewilderment, Edimilson Fernandes was slotted into the center of the Mainz back three. Not only that, but the former Fiorentina midfielder was holding it down (albeit against 10 men for most of the match). Even though Mainz just got clobbered by Dortmund, Fernandes has been a mainstay in the heart of defense for over a month now, and he’s performed better than he ever had with us. While I can’t blame the Viola brass for not giving Edi the opportunity to show his talent as a centre-half, this situation does bring back sour memories of Fiorentina managers (new and old) being frustratingly stubborn in their misutilization of some of our more versatile alumni.
Some patterns begin to emerge when we give this issue a bit of thought. You all surely remember our woes on the left wing for the past few years, with the revolving door of Valentin Eysseric, Kevin Mirallas, Cyril Théréau, Cristian Tello, Gil Dias, and whoever else made a brief appearance only to eventually fade into obscurity. Then, after we signed a prolific left-winger in Franck Ribéry (who would subsequently become our most valuable player), we abandoned traditional wingers altogether in favor of two false nines and no real striker. While this formation fooled the first few opponents it faced, consecutive losses against newly-promoted sides Hellas Verona and Lecce have revealed it as more of a party trick than a strategy that will make us competitive in the league. Not only that, but we’ve lost Ribéry for the foreseeable future. Now more than ever, Vincenzo Montella needs to step up and implement innovative tactics.
And so the stubbornness of post-2015 Fiorentina is made obvious—across three managers, we have had an embarrassing lack of tactical innovation. If anything shows even an ounce of success (for example, a draw against Juventus), we’re treated to the same exact line-up for weeks on end. It’s unsurprising that we’ve called for Montella’s head multiple times so far this season, but he’s only another chapter in something that’s becoming embedded into Fiorentina’s history.
The best evidence of this is the success of certain Fiorentina alumni after their departure from Florence. Take Ante Rebić for example; the few chances he got in purple were all over the place, but when given some consistency at Frankfurt, he lit the Bundesliga on fire. Playing talented players out-of-position seems to be a Fiorentina special: in the past few years alone we’ve poorly utilized Josip Iličić, Carlos Sánchez, Ianis Hagi, and plenty of others—looking back, it’s really no surprise that Gheorghe Hagi condemned Fiorentina and pushed for his son’s departure, as his future seems much brighter at Genk.
We all know that this team’s talent far exceeds its current place in the table. It’s been five years, three managers, and two owners since we’ve seen a strategically-sound formation on the pitch for any significant length of time. Gaetano Castrovilli seems like the next big thing for the Azzurri midfield. Federico Chiesa is the most talented young winger Italy has seen in some time. Nikola Milenković is being tapped up by the likes of Barcelona and Manchester United. This team is loaded with talent, and we’re going to lose it soon if things keep going the way they currently are.
And so a word of caution for Rocco Commisso and Vincenzo Montella: Fiorentina is losing its respect as a former perennial qualifier in European competitions. That said, the talent we have is more than enough to expect a Europa League spot. There are quite a few players on Fiorentina’s books being criminally underutilized (David Hancko, Bryan Dabo, Pedro, Tòfol Montiel, et cetera), and if you don’t do something with them, they’re surely going to succeed elsewhere.