As we get ready to watch the year change to 2020, it’s fair to say that we here at Viola Nation are no less immune to the end-of-the-decade list than anyone else. That’s why we’ve put together a very scientific list of Fiorentina’s best XI, pulling players from the 2010-2011 season to this one. Like we said, this list was made using science, so it can’t be argued with, because we believe in science at this website. Without further ado, here is your Fiorentina Team of the Decade in a 4-2-3-1 that requires minimal silliness.
Goalkeeper: Ciprian Tătăruşanu
The big Romanian signed on a Bosman from Steaua București (back before they changed their name to FCBC) in 2014 and immediately took over for Neto, who’d defected to Juventus. We were all a bit skeptical initially: although he was Romania’s number one, he’d never played outside his home country. He quickly put those concerns to rest, though, with a string of steady performances between the sticks. “Steady,” in fact, is probably the best word describe him: he never made a mistake and occasionally made unbelievable saves. Forced out in 2017 to make space for Marco Sportiello (whoopsie), he moved to Nantes on a free and is currently holding down the starting job for Lyon. In his 3 seasons with the Viola, he made 101 appearances, keeping 36 clean sheets and conceding 119 goals; those numbers would be higher if he’d gotten a competent defense in front of him. Quiet and reminiscent of a stickbug, he was never anything but above average at worst.
Leftback: Manuel Pasqual
Fiorentina’s all-time runner-up in appearances deserves this spot and nobody can say different. As a captain, he was inspirational, showing up every day for work and putting in a shift while seeming like a man who just loved living in Florence. On the pitch, he brought the exact same mentality every week: he would get forward on the left and cross the ball. No matter who was in the box, no matter whether or not the cross was the right choice, he crossed the ball. Of course, he stacked up 10 goals and 25 assists in his 190 appearances, so he was clearly doing something right. Despite management trying to force him out in favor for Massimo Gobbi, Juan Manuel Vargas, Marcos Alonso, and various other options, he stuck around until the team shamefully refused to renew his contract and he moved to Empoli so he could stay in the city. He’s looking for a deal now, by the way, and wouldn’t need a lot of money at this point (hint, hint, Daniele and Joe).
Centerback: Gonzalo Rodríguez
Brought in for a fee of €1.5 million from recently relegated Villarreal, the Argentine immediately struck up a formidable partnership with fellow newbie Stefan Savić and later with Davide Astori. Gonzalo almost immediately endeared himself to fans, scoring 6 Serie A goals in his inaugural season in Italy. It wasn’t just the scoring output, though: Bomber Gonzalo was a fantastic defender, a gung-ho stopper who flew around the back of the pitch making full-blooded tackles and clearances. He became a real part of the town’s fabric, too, settling down with a local gelateria owner and having a daughter. The year after wearing the armband, he was run out of town as management tried to get younger and returned to San Lorenzo. He wound up his Viola career with 203 appearances (2nd most of any Argentine for the club) and an eye-popping 25 goals and 6 assists from the heart of defense.
Centerback: Davide Astori
This isn’t just an emotional choice, although it’s impossible to talk about Astori without feeling a twinge; the late captain was an outstanding defender. Although he never earned as many caps as he should have—as a contemporary of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, and Andrea Barzagli, that’s what happens—he was such a pleasure to watch: a composed, elegant figure who was at his best hanging back and sweeping up behind a more adventurous colleague, he was also fantastic on the ball (both pinging long passes to the wings and occasionally blitzing forward with the ball at his feet). He made 109 appearances for the Viola and would surely still be adding to that if not for the unthinkable.
Rightback: Juan Cuadrado
Yes, we know that he rarely played as a defender for Fiorentina; rather, he was a winger or even occasionally a center forward. However, he arrived as a fullback and is currently filling that role with Juve, so we’re allowing it. Anyways, he was as fun as any player we’ve had in Florence in years: a whirling, dazzling dribbler whose greatest love was beating the man in front of him with skill and quickness while looking absolutely thrilled to be doing it. He wound up making 106 appearances in the purple shirt, scoring 26 goals and chipping in 21 assists. He also taught Giuseppe Rossi how to dance, which endears him to me even more.
Defensive midfield: David Pizarro
A free transfer from AS Roma in 2012, who thought that the then-32-year-old was washed up, Pek was never the biggest or the strongest (and may well have been the slowest) but made up for it with craft and guile. The finest regista in Serie A this decade after Andrea Pirlo, the little Chilean’s ability to run a game from just in front of the defense, frequently getting over a hundred touches a match, was magnificent. Rather than just passing sideways and backwards, though, he launched perfect passes to the wings a dozen times a match and slipped away from markers to keep possession. In 110 appearances for the Viola, he only scored 4 goals to go with 11 assists, but make no mistake, he was simply integral to the funnest Fiorentina teams of the decade.
Central midfield: Borja Valero
Il sindaco’s exit from the team—sold to Inter Milan for a pittance when Pantaleo Corvino decided to undo all of Daniele Pradè’s work in 2017—still rankles the faithful. Valero (a former West Bromwich Albion player in case you hadn’t heard) was the first of the Villarreal exodus to reach the team in 2012; by the time he’d left after half a decade, he was THE defining player of Fiorentina over that period. A brilliant passer with a fantastic knack for finding space and moving the ball forward, the only tool he lacked was a nose for goal. Even so, his deep understanding of the game was a joy to watch. He made 212 appearances for the Viola, scoring 17 and assisting 45. More than that, though, he was the team’s brain, and a beloved part of the city’s landscape: besides his tattoo of the geographic coordinates of the Ponte Vecchio, he and his family had become Florence’s first family. He’s a Viola legend.
Left wing: Federico Bernardeschi
Look, I don’t like it any more than you do, but Berna was an insanely effective player for the Viola: 23 goals and 12 assists in 93 appearances, often as a wingback under Paulo Sousa, is a fantastic return for anyone, much less a youngster who’s carrying the full creative load for the team. While his exit—next Antognoni, my ass—leaves a taste of gastroenteritis, his shooting, passing, pace, and work rate made him quite a player. The fact that he can’t crack the rotation with the Juvenuts speaks to his off-pitch decision-making rather than his ability on it. Even though he was a bit clumsy at times, he was very good for this team.
Attacking midfielder: Josip Iličić
Tall. Lumbering. Ungainly. Rife with potential for slapstick. There’s a reason we nicknamed Josip Iličić “Lurch” after the Munsters’ butler. We were all fairly excited when he joined from Palermo in 2013 for a cut-rate €9 million; after all, he’d formed some very exciting attacks alongside the likes of Fabrizio Miccoli, Javier Pastore, and Edinson Cavani in Sicily. In Florence, however, he was always a round peg in a square hole: at his best floating around an inside-right position from which he could curl passes in behind or shoot with his brilliant left peg, he occupied the same areas that Bernardeschi, Fernández, Valero, Joaquín, and Rossi all gravitated towards. Too, Vincenzo Montella never had much use for a 10, leaving Josip in, well, a lurch. That didn’t stop him from stacking up 37 goals (joint-most this decade for Fiorentina) and 18 assists in his 128 appearances for the Viola, and as we’ve seen, he’s been utter class since joining Atalanta for a discounted €10 million in 2017. He was nevertheless often the only attacking spark in some of those dire Paulo Sousa sides and probably deserves the nickname Lurch less than the one Nige Mannering has bestowed on him: the Future King of Slovenia.
Right wing: Federico Chiesa
Far and away the youngest player on this list (and the only one still in the side), Chiesa’s been a lone bright spot since Stefano Pioli took over. Having risen through the Fiorentina academy under the watchful eye of his father Enrico (hey, did you know he was a Viola forward too?), he’s risen from touted prospect to automatic starter for the Azzurri. Still just 22 years old, he’s already got 128 appearances for the club, tallying 25 goals and 20 assists; given his sporadically electrifying connections with Luis Muriel and Franck Ribery, you wonder just how much more productive he’d be with some more threatening partners up front. Even when he’s going it alone (and selfishness is one of the knocks against him, although it’s probably a better option for Fede to try and beat 3 men than for, say, Edi Fernandes to try and beat 1), he’s the sort of player you just can’t take your eyes off, since he’s capable of producing a moment of get-out-your-chair-and-shriek-did-you-just-see-that magic at any given moment.
Striker: Khouma Babacar
It’s a bit ironic that, given all the strikers who’ve arrived in Florence with so much hype over the past decade, the most consistently productive one was an academy product who never really got an opportunity to nail down a starting spot. The Babacar Named Desire, though, outlasted everyone and consistently scored goals no matter the situation: outrageous bombs from distance, tap-ins to round off passing moves, thumping headers, and firing on the turn in the box are all in his toolbelt. He scored or assisted every 122 minutes in Florence (even better if you count his debut season in 2008) despite being forced to come off the bench most of the time. Between his love for the club and the city and his work on the pitch—the man was simply a goalscoring machine, boasting a goals-per-minute ratio better than Mauro Icardi and Ciro Immobile for several years—he’s a worthy member of this XI and, along with Iličić, the club’s joint-highest scorer this decade.
Neto: The Brazilian made 101 appearances for the Viola, earning 34 clean sheets and conceding 113 goals. He was one of the more impressive young goalkeepers in Serie A after taking the reins from Artur Boruc, making few mistakes while displaying impressive reflexes and quickness. By forcing his way to Juventus, though (where he made all of 22 appearances in 2 years before being offloaded to Valencia), he lost most of the goodwill he’d built up in Tuscany. Still, he was a tremendous goalkeeper for a couple of years there.
Stefan Savić: Most iconic for that incredible mustache, the big Montenegrin was a makeweight from Manchester City in the deal for Matija Nastasić. He settled in very quickly, showcasing tremendous intelligence, surprising pace, and unexpected versatility. Equally comfortable in a back 4 and a back 3, he seamlessly integrated himself with every defensive partner who came his way: Gonzalo Rodríguez, Nenad Tomović, Facundo Roncaglia, and José María Basanta all benefited from his assured work. The €25 million that Atletico Madrid paid for him seems like a bargain now, and 108 appearances for the Viola wasn’t enough to fully appreciate him. Or that mustache.
Juan Manuel Vargas: By 2010, everyone had figured out that el Loco wasn’t much of a fullback. He was, however, a tremendous winger, described by Alberto Gilardino as the best crosser of the ball he’d ever played with. 14 goals and 15 assists in his 110 appearances for the Viola this decade don’t tell the story, as he was pretty washed up by the end of his tenure. But he was as thrilling as anyone on those magical Cesare Prandelli teams, capable of absolutely belting shots from distance and bowling-ball runs down the wing, and was probably the best wingback in the world at the start of the decade.
Alberto Aquilani: Another Pradè reclamation project, the silky playmaker had washed out at Roma, AC Milan, and Liverpool and seemed to be on the way to anonymity. Instead, he became the third tenor in the most beautiful midfield we’ve seen in purple in my memory. 15 goals (including that hat trick against Genoa) and 11 assists in 105 appearances is a decent return for a central midfielder. He was the least influential of the tenors, however, and really lost a step in his final season in Florence. On the other hand, we’re damn thrilled he’s back in town and coaching the U18s.
Matías Fernández: Always the odd man out behind Valero, Pizarro, and Aquilani, Matigol was consistently bothered by physical issues during his 4 years in Florence. Nevertheless, he scored 7 goals and laid on 28 assists in his 131 appearances. Always capable of a bit of magic, whether that was wriggling past defenders to slip in a pass or a perfectly-taken set piece, he was the team’s best player in 2014-2015 as Aquilani and Pizarro slowed down, leaving him to carry a massive creative burden. In a more just world, he’d have spent another few seasons without any injuries and running the Fiorentina attack from a number 10 spot.
Adem Ljajić: Signed for €8 million from Partizan in 2010, the mop-topped teenager was dripping with both potential and Nutella when he arrived. In his 3 years in Florence, he grew into one of Serie A’s best young wingers, the sort who gets the ball, dusts his man, and then makes something happen. In his 88 appearances, he scored 16 goals and added 14 assists, including 11 and 5 in the 2013-2014 season which cemented his reputation. He moved on to AS Roma for just €11 million; it’s a shame that his lasting legacy with the club is his assault by Delio Rossi, since he was instrumental in Montella’s first year.
Stevan Jovetić: Ted’s Precious only spent 2 seasons this decade with Fiorentina, but they were both bangers. 27 goals and 8 assists in those 63 matches is quite a return, especially for a guy who wasn’t really an out-and-out striker. More than that, though, the heir to Adrian Mutu as Fiorentina’s superstar secunda punta was capable of dazzling at any moment with a cracking strike from distance, a glide past a marker, a perfect first touch. It’s an absolute shame that he’s never reached those heights since leaving Florence, as he was perhaps the funnest young forward in the league for a moment.
Valon Behrami: The midfield pitbull was at times the only redeeming quality in those listless sides from the start of the decade. Completed his transition from bleach-haired, fancy-looking winger to hardman in the middle in Florence and was the only guy who looked like he gave a damn under Siniša Mihajlović and Delio Rossi.
Milan Badelj: The regista has consistently been underrated, and his slight decline this year has only reinforced his detractors’ beliefs. But the player who supplanted Pizarro in front of the back line was simply fantastic, never complicating what could be kept simple in either attack or defense. His quiet excellence was wasted under Sousa, but he was so much better than people remember.
Matías Vecino: Another midfielder who was more steady than spectacular, the Uruguayan transitioned from a playmaking 10 to an iron-lunged worker in the middle. Never the most impressive in the final third, he was nevertheless crucial in keeping possession and progressing the ball forward. Another good player who was wasted on Sousa.
Joaquín: The ageless Spaniard was supposed to be on the downside of his career in Florence. Often thrust into an unfamiliar wingback role, he responded with some truly memorable performances, occasionally looking like the best player on the pitch and winning matches single-handedly. And single-handed describes his exit, too, as he broke his hand punching a chair while trying (and succeeding) to force a move away. Utter class on the pitch, though.
Giuseppe Rossi: For a man who was on the Viola books for 4 years and was a protagonist whenever he was on the pitch, it’s sobering when you look at his numbers; 19 goals and 8 assists in just 42 appearances simply isn’t enough. If he’d spent more than a full season’s worth of games on the field, he’d be a legend. As is, he’s a mythic force, the sort of what-if who can keep you up at night. No matter what, though, we’re always going to love him.
Nikola Kalinić: The Slim Reaper was a frustrating player at times, running hot and cold in front of goal in his 2 seasons in Florence while never showcasing any ability to dribble, sprint, or shoot from outside the box. Even so, he piled up 33 goals and 9 assists in his 84 appearances. That first number is good for third-most of the decade after Khouma Babacar and Josip Iličić; remember that next time you see him as the butt of jokes from AC Milan fans.