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VN’s end-of-season roundtable

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There’s no shortage of stuff for Viola fans to ruminate on from this past year, and our staff is here to chew through it.

Washington DC, National Academy of Science, Boardroom with Founders’ Portrait, Albert Herter
We’re thinking of renovating our conference room.
Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

To begin this on a positive note, what’s your favorite memory of this past season?

NickyNutella: For me it has to be the big win against Juventus before Christmas. In the midst of a very up-and-down season it was the ultimate Christmas present. Not only did they beat Juve, they did so pretty soundly. Yes, Juve was down a man, but wins are wins and we don’t get a lot of those.

Ben: What else other than the 3-0 win against Juve? Seriously, what else? We never won two matches in a row this entire season, and that was certainly the most memorable win. Because I expect that to be pretty much everyone’s answer, I’ll add another great moment: Vlahovic’s curler against Benevento for a first-half hat-trick. Thanks for keeping us up this season, Dusan.

Mike: I will remain consistent with what was said in the podcast. I am going with the 4-1 victory over Benevento and watching Dusan score a very impressive hat trick. It was amazing to see him score three different goals (positioning, poaching, all-world) but I was most impressed with his growth (hold-up play) and his intensity in getting back on defense. Add in an unpredictable Eysseric chip shot and you get one hell of an impressive game.

Tito: The 3-0 win over J******s was amazing, but I think the return leg was even better for me. I was worried the Notts County cosplayers were going to run riot against the Viola in a revenge showing, but Fiorentina came out and contained them brilliantly, fully earning their point and maybe even deserving more. The relief was almost enough to make up for the ulcer I might’ve given myself stressing about it.

Now that we’ve got all that positivity out of the way, what was the biggest letdown this year?

NickyNutella: In all honesty I could probably write 55 paragraphs about all the letdowns this year from management to players, but that’s too easy. The biggest let down in my eyes this season was the attitude of the players. I wrote a whole rant on it that can be found here, but the sentiment still remains. These mediocre players who’ve accomplished nothing in football (excluding Ribéry and Borja) have the audacity to act like divas? You get to have a say in coaching decisions and club matters when you actually finish in the European places. When you’re fighting relegation every season your opinion doesn’t hold much weight. As the great Herb Brooks said in the movie Miracle, “why don’t you focus on your own game, plenty there to keep you busy.” Luckily for us, Gattuso is coming in and he doesn’t really do drama. He’ll straighten that locker room right up and it couldn’t come at a better time.

Ben: Pretty much everything? I think both of the losses against Sampdoria for me were crushing, in different ways. The first one was when I realized we weren’t a good team, and the second one was when I realized this season was a lost cause. The blame has to go everywhere in the club because this season was atrocious. The only two men I’ll spare are Beppe Iachini and Cesare Prandelli, who both did about as well as one could expect given the cards they were dealt.

Mike: The January mercato. Following the Juve win, both Prandelli and Dusan spoke publicly on what was needed. Neither were given the support they asked for. In their place, we received Kokorin and Malcuit, a decision that easily cost us at least 10 points in the table and lots of negative PR.

Tito: Everything is a good answer, but the coaching carousel was just depressing. This is Fiorentina, not Palermo. Honorable mention goes to Fiorentina Femminile for not doing nearly enough to reload after losing Alia Guagni and Ilaria Mauro and Tatiana Bonetti and Lisa de Vanna and Paloma Lázaro and...

What grade would you give Giuseppe Iachini and Cesare Prandelli this year?

NickyNutella: I’d give Iachini a D+ and that is inclusive of both of his stints. Now I know what my friend Mario felt like as a Palermo fan with these coaching carousels. The team didn’t get relegated so that’s the only reason this isn’t an F. However, if you play bad enough to get fired you really can’t get a high score. His tactics were outdated and he was outclassed in most games. I’d give San Cesare a C+ for his efforts. Not only was he thrown into a horrible situation, but he was also treated so poorly by the club on the way out. He was instrumental in the development of Dušan Vlahović so that earns him major points. He is a club legend and it’s sad how things ended. He’ll always have a special place in my heart!

Ben: I wrote an entire article praising Prandelli a few weeks ago, because with him I think this season would have been a lot more boring (on the pitch) and exciting (with relegation). Would we have stayed up if Beppe had stayed on? Probably, but if it weren’t for Prandelli putting Dusan Vlahovic in a position to succeed it would have been a lot closer. I wish we could have seen Prandelli properly backed in the January transfer market instead of the shambles he received. Still, the results he got weren’t at the level of the squad, so I can’t give him higher than a B-. I’ll give the same grade for Beppe. Although the start of the year was horrible, it’s not Beppe’s fault that Daniele Pradè refused to get him the players he wanted to fit his 3-5-2 system. Even worse, Federico Chiesa was sold without Beppe’s knowledge on the last day of the window! Then Beppe came in, took the job a second time when the club was filled with turmoil and did what he does best. It wasn’t pretty, but we survived, and I expect Beppe to go down as a cult hero for his managerial career here. Still, the footy was putrid to watch and the results weren’t amazing, so B-.

Mike: I give a lot of credit to both Beppe and Prandelli. Going back to the beginning of the year, Prade was pretty public about not wanting to retain Beppe and he surely didn't support him with the requests Beppe made on the team. Instead, Chiesa was sold out from under him after being assured that would not happen.

Prandelli took over a situation that was not good. Both the media and the fanbase forced Rocco’s hand to replace Beppe prematurely. Timing was poor, but Prandelli was a critical part of this club’s ability to stave of relegation. His development of Dusan, and I will also argue LMQ, was exactly what this club needed. He did lose the affection of a couple of his players, which was a part of his decision to leave.

In a tough year, one that seems was always only destined for relegation or not, I will give Beppe and Prandelli a B-.

Tito: Beppe was woeful at the start and mediocre at best at the end, so I’d give him a C-. Draws against Spezia, Parma, Genoa, Cagliari, and Crotone are simply not acceptable, and the team was as hard to watch as ever, and the defensive frailties his defense showed seem like evidence of some very poor work. A record of W4 D7 L6 isn’t good enough, especially with a squad as expensive as Fiorentina’s.

I’m inclined to go easier on Prandelli, who inherited a squad that was clearly confused and discouraged and began instilling a sense of purpose and identity in it within a month. He also unlocked Dušan, which wound up being what kept the Viola in Serie A. It was far from perfect, of course, but there were positive signs; with such a broken team, that’s all you can really ask for, so I’ll give him a B.

And what grade would you give Daniele Pradè and the rest of the front office?

NickyNutella: Is there a grade lower than F? He might be one of the most inept Sporting Directors in the history of calcio. The man simply did nothing to fix the glaring issues in the team and then to make matters worse, signed a known troublemaker in Aleksandr Kokorin. His inability to extend Fiorentina’s young stars have caused a mass exodus and will continue to impact the club in a negative manner. His time has come up and Rocco needs to remove him ASAP Ferg.

Ben: After the January transfer window ended, I thought the reason our spending was so low was because Rocco didn’t want Pradè to waste any more of his money and was sending him packing at the end of the season. Now that the dust has settled and Pradè somehow still has a job, the winter window looks like maybe the worst transfer window I’ve ever seen from Fiorentina. Bringing in two players, both of which combined to start two games and looked horrible, is atrocious. Factoring the fact loan of Alfred Duncan to a direct relegation rival is even worse. The only reason I’d give the window a D- is because Youssef Maleh looks like a great pickup and a sleeper to contribute next season. With the summer window in mind, I’ll give the front office a D. Callejon was horrible, but LMQ and Jack Bonaventura were both solid purchases. I’m ready to turn the page, and with Nicolas Burdisso coming in I’m a lot more excited for the future.

Mike: I am trying to take into consideration the air of positivity right now. I have been very critical of Prade’s job. Beppe spoke openly right after the summer mercato that Prade told him he would have Chiesa. He sold him on the final days and replaced him with Callejon. LMQ was a very good signing. Without Jack, we would have been in a lot of trouble. Overall, his summer mercato was well below average.

January, January, January... January!!!! Could Kokorin have won over fans hearts with amazing performances, forcing people to forget that he is an ex-felon who badly beat old men in two separate incidents? Maybe. But he didn't because he was never fit enough to take the field. I could give Prade a pass on Kokorin, we will call it the Ron$%#o pass, had he performed well, but Prade purchased what amounted to be firewood. Malcuit cost the club several points. His performances were very poor, putting it mildly.

Making matters worse, he loaned out key players to relegation rivals in January that made the fans sweat down the stretch. Prade gets an F for this season. That said, I expect much better things from him this mercato. Things could only look up!

Tito: Brutal. Martínez Quarta looks like a stud, Jack was rock solid, Maleh looks fine, and it was really nice to have Borja Valero back. But replacing Chiesa with Callejón is a legendarily bad move. Giving up on Lirola, Duncan, Sottil, and Cutrone isn’t as bad but sure wasn’t good. And the Kokorin deal remains immensely upsetting to me for way more than just calcio reasons. This team was struggling above the relegation places in January and did nothing to help itself; indeed, it shipped out some potentially useful pieces instead. It’s a D from me.

Let’s take a look at the players themselves. Who’s your season MVP, most improved, biggest surprise, and biggest disappointment?

NickyNutella: For me the team’s MVP has got to be Bartłomiej Drągowski. In my recent recap of Fiorentina’s goalkeepers I raved about how great he was. I simply do not think we remain in Serie A if it wasn’t for his heroics in certain games. Most improved is easily the young Serb, Dušan Vlahović. He took the league by storm bagging 20+ goals and finally giving La Viola the center-forward they’ve been missing for years. He’s on everyone’s radar now, but here’s to hoping Gattuso can keep him at the club for a little bit longer at least. Biggest disappointment is the hardest of the bunch to pick as there are many worthy contenders. For me, it was between Sofyan Amrabat because of his poor attitude and Germán Pezzella because of his poor play. I am going to go with the latter because he really seemed to regress this season. We are so used to him marshaling that back-line with such command and calmness. He was directly responsible for a few Fiorentina losses and had some absolute howlers at the back. Moreover, considering all the locker room drama one has to wonder where he was as a Capitan. Overall such a disappointing year on and off the pitch for the skipper.

Ben: In our season preview I said that I wouldn’t be surprised if any of our strikers scored between 1 and 15 goals. 21 for Dusan? That’s definitely surprised me. Vlahovic is now one of the most sought-after young strikers in the world, and I give him a ton of credit for improving his mental game to start contributing on the pitch. My biggest surprise would be Vlahovic as well, but if we’re talking negative surprises my vote goes to Jose Callejon. I don’t know how he disappeared so much this season, only playing well in one game (home vs. Cagliari) the entire year. For a guy who was one of Serie A’s best players for most of the last decade, I’m shocked at how much he’s fallen off. Considering Gattuso let him leave last summer, I expect him to depart this summer. Maybe he’s still got enough in the tank to contribute in a top-5 league, but we didn’t see it this season.

Mike: MVP and Most Improved goes to Dusan Vlahovic. No matter which way you cut it, his performance or value all jumped this year. He not only scores, but he does all of the simple yet important aspects of the game very well now. Biggest Surprise goes to Jack. I downplayed his importance to this club. He proved me wrong. Without him we would have really struggled to stay up. Biggest Disappointment goes to our captain, German Pezzella. I am not trying to hit him hard on this. Part of why he gets this is because of how his success has positioned him in the eyes of Fiorentini year over year. He did not live up to his own expectations, which is why I chose him.

Tito: MVP is Bart. He wasn’t perfect (although if you can name a goalkeeper who is, you’ll be the first) but he was the only thing keeping Fiorentina out of the drop zone for much of the year and made a lot of results look more respectable than they deserved. Also offered the best beard in the sport.

Most improved is Vlahović; I’ve written at length about his improvement this year, so it’d be pretty silly to go anywhere else.

Biggest disappointment is Callejón. As the second-highest earner on the team and the summer’s marquee signing, you want more than a single league assist in just 20 appearances and 6 starts. For a guy who’s literally got the word “bueno” in his name, it was muy malo, muy malo indeed.

Looking ahead, what do you think about the direction the club’s going right now?

NickyNutella: I’d say my feeling at the current moment is cautiously optimistic! I was pretty dejected and pessimistic most of the season, but I still have faith in Rocco. He’s come out swinging and for the most part it’s for the betterment of the club. The hiring of Gattuso really helped put me at ease as he’s exactly what we need. The club lacks grinta and he’s the perfect guy to restore order to the chaos. If we get rid of Prade and continue to bring talented players, I’d go as far as to say I am more excited for this season than I have been in years.

Ben: There were several extreme low points for me during the season. The first one was after Cesare Prandelli resigned, and finally Rocco’s press conference a month ago. After that press conference, I was feeling as down about Fiorentina as I ever have. Since then, thankfully, Rocco has made just about all the right moves. The impact of Nicolas Burdisso coming in to assist Daniele Pradè cannot be understated, and while I’m not 100% sold on Gattuso as a technician, his ability to light a fire under these players’ asses should go a long way. In addition, from the Mercato rumors, we seem to be fully backing Gattuso. While someone like Sergio Oliveira doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, I’m glad to see Rocco getting Rino the guys he wants. Gattuso knows a lot more about Calcio than me, and I’m excited to see how a midfield of Oliveira, Amrabat, and Castrovilli work together under him (knock on wood). After two dire seasons under Rocco, it seems like he’s as fed up as we are from the transfer fees being floated around for players like Oliveira and Goncalo Guedes. Let’s start winning some matches, please!

Mike: I had moments where I fell off the optimistic wagon. I’m back! I feel very good about the club’s direction. We have learned and Rocco is hungrier than ever. We have seen progress with the Centro Sportivo. We have heard of progress with the stadium. Hiring Gattuso early on, right out from underneath Juventus and Lazio was a huge accomplishment, something we would have never done without Rocco Commisso. We are now tied to names in the mercato that we would have never been tied to years ago. We have changed around management structures quite a bit and brought in more soccer minds with existing relationship (Burdisso). The only thing I have not liked is not bringing back Antonio Cincotta. The women’s team is already behind the 8-ball picking up talent for the squad. They are now not only without a coach, they are without an identity. I hope this is not a mistake that comes back to bite us.

Tito: Because I’m the sort of sucker who supports Fiorentina, I’m doing the same thing I do every summer before the transfer window opens, and that is believing that this club has turned the corner and is well on its way to returning to being a contender, because I’m Charlie Brown and I’m definitely going to kick that football this time.

This time, though, it might be different. I feel like this is the first real summer in the Commisso era that the team’s had everything lined up: year one was a scramble after buying the club just before the window opened, and year two was the GLOBAL F***ING PANDEMIC. Rino looks like the right coach for the project and seems to have a good relationship with Rocco. Pradè’s diversifying the scouting department. Links to good players like Sergio Oliveira and Nicolás González seem concrete. I’m going to wind up on my back after kicking air again, but not for a little while longer.

Let’s wrap this thing up. What’s your big takeaway from this season?

NickyNutella: The biggest takeaway from me this season is just how much the game has changed from when I started watching. Back in the day the game was about respect, loyalty, and accountability. Now the players run rampant, social media is a cesspool, and the respect for history as faded a bit. The whole Prandelli scenario really left a poor taste in my mouth about the culture of the club. Winning starts from with in and if we’re ever to return to those days of yesteryear, we need a major clean-up on aisle three.

Ben: This season will be forgotten pretty quickly, by me and the rest of the fandom. Dusan’s breakout was great to see, but the season was a slog in general. For footy as a whole, having no fans in the stadium was frustrating, I cannot wait to hear the Curva Fiesole at full voice in the next few months. I’m not going to dwell on this season however, because the last two weeks have been exciting and I want to see the club continue on this upswing.

Mike: A season can be a roller coaster with lots of ups and downs, which was made more difficult this year due to the pandemic. Fans were forced out of the stadiums which have proved to be a lifeblood for them year over year. What happened this past year was not only an unnatural medical event but also an event that damaged the important relationships fans have with their club. Message boards got more and more negative, comments became more and more hateful, all because fans couldn’t be in the stadium to either support their club or voice their displeasure for it. I hope for everyone’s mental health that this relationship will be instantly fixed come August/September. It will surely be an emotional event seeing fans and players interact again, one I can’t wait to be a part of again.

Tito: Everything goes out the window during a pandemic. The transfer market was bizarre and everyone—Rocco, the staff, the players, the fans, the press—seemed extremely on edge all year, leading to some ugly incidents. I’m willing to write off a lot of what happened as inexplicable responses to extraordinary circumstances and really try to get a handle on this team’s direction next season.