Viola recovering after difficult few years
16 September ~ "I'm glad he did not arrive in the end. In my 25 year career in this business, I have never seen anything like this," Fiorentina's sporting director, Daniele Prade, told a local radio station of Dimitar Berbatov's failure to sign the club. "We will ask his attorney for a refund for the tickets paid," he added. Everything was in place – travel arrangements, a medical booked in – but a late change of heart resulted in the player joining Fulham. The snub may rankle but Fiorentina have had a very prosperous summer. The Viola appear to have designs on making an impact in Serie A once more.
Fiorentina have endured a turbulent couple of years since the departure of Cesare Prandelli, who left to take charge of the Italian national side after their poor World Cup performance in 2010. The appointment of Sinisa Mihajlovic proved to be a disaster. His replacement, Delio Rossi, was dismissed after substituting Adem Ljajic against Novara and then taking a swing at him. Captain Riccardo Montolivo allowed his contract to expire before departing for AC Milan, while the club finished 13th after flirting with relegation for much of the season.
With the aim of recapturing the spirit of the Prandelli era, when Fiorentina finished fourth twice and played in the Champions League, a revolution has taken place this summer. Their director of sport, Pantaleo Corvino, was replaced by Prade, a shrewd transfer market operator, as the club set to work on renovating the squad.
Almost an entire new team has been been brought in, including midfielders Alberto Aquilani from Liverpool and Manchester City's David Pizarro, plus Chilean Matias Fernandez from Sporting Lisbon. Stefan Savic will provide competition for the new Argentinian centre-back pairing of Facundo Roncaglia and Gonzalo Rodriguez, acquired from Boca Juniors and Villarreal respectively. Borja Valero has also arrived from recently-relegated Villarreal and looks a shrewd signing while Mounir El Hamdaoui, formerly of Ajax, has been added to provide attacking impetus up front.
The failure to land Berbatov has resulted in a return for the prodigal son: 35-year-old Luca Toni has joined after ending by mutual consent a brief spell with Al-Nasr in the UAE. He departed for Bayern Munich five years ago after scoring 49 goals in 71 appearances during the most prosperous spell in his career. This move is the 15th of his 18-year career. His best days may be well behind him but his presence will be celebrated across the city and throughout the Stadio Artemio Franchi. "I'm going home, I'm happy," Toni revealed in an interview with Tuttomercatoweb. He also scored on his second debut for the club, a trademark header in a 4-0 friendly win against former club Al-Nasr.
The new-look Fiorentina will be overseen by one of Toni's peers. Vincenzo Montella has been appointed as manager after an impressive season in charge at Catania, who he led to 11th with their highest-ever points tally, after a brief spell as caretaker manager at Roma. Montella has already managed the impressive feat of retaining Stevan Jovetic, the Montenegrin playmaker who is the side's creative fulcrum. Valon Behrami and 19-year-old prospect Matija Nastasic have both departed but holding on to Jovetic was a pressing concern after losing Montolivo.
With a solid defence and formidable midfield, questions remain regarding their attack as Fiorentina lack a striker akin to Montella in his pomp. Having scored 189 goals in 383 domestic games, he recently said that he would have enjoyed playing in the current Viola side. Prior to recent rebuilding, owner Andrea Della Valle stated: "The city that invented football deserves a team worthy of its history." The subsequent turnover of players has been both considerable and impressive. Only Jovetic and Manuel Pasqual remain from the heady days of their 2009 Champions League campaign. Whether the current batch can emulate players such as Gabriel Batistuta, Rui Costa and Sébastien Frey remains to be seen, but a return to European competition looks a very real possibility. Scott Johnson