Florence, and Italy in general, is a location synonymous with the Renaissance. As the birthplace of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, Dante Alighieri amongst others, Florence is a city associated with the arts and culture.
With the uniting of Italy, the independence of the Republic of Florence was lost, but the attachment to the region was never lost by the people. Their passion and fervour have taken different forms than the medieval art-forms, with people’s affections aimed towards their local football team. In much the same way that the people of Catalonia identify heavily with Barcelona, Fiorentina is more than a football team for the fans. Viola represents Florence, and an independent identity.
The deepest of tragedies
Fiorentina are a side on the recovery from the deepest of tragedies. At the beginning of March earlier this year, club captain and inspirational leader Davide Astori was found dead in a hotel room prior to a match against Udinese. His death, caused by cardiac arrest, sent shockwaves throughout Italian football. It was more than the loss of a teammate for the Fiorentina players, but the loss of their leader. Italian legend Gianluigi Buffon described him as one of the best sporting figures he knew, and manager Antonio Conte labelled him as a great player but especially a fantastic guy.
The Fiorentina players could be forgiven for allowing this tragedy to curtail their development. It would be understandable. And yet, the rebuilding process underway in the Tuscan capital continues, and appears to be stronger than ever.
Building around youth
Built upon a young core of players, Fiorentina have started the season impressively. An opening day 6-1 victory over Chievo followed up with a narrow 1-0 defeat of Udinese has seen Fiorentina open the season with six points from six. A small sample size definitely, but the manner of the victories makes for more interesting reading when the squad is analysed closely.
According to SmartSoccer, Fiorentina have the youngest squad average age (23.3) out of any side in Europe’s top five leagues. The average age of the starting eleven in both league matches so far? 23.09. Even a brief glance at the transfer activity over the summer window highlights the focus on youth. Alban Lafont (19), Dávid Hancko (20), Gerson (21), Marko Pjaca (23) and Edimilson Fernandes (22) all joined the club in the summer.
The squad was already youthful to begin with. Nikola Milenković (20), Marco Benassi (23), Giovanni Simeone (23), Federico Chiesa were all key players the previous season, with Benassi a first-team regular and Simeone leading the goal-scoring charts with 14.
Manager Stefano Pioli did a remarkable job in keeping the core players of the squad at the club over the summer, with rumours linking the majority of their stars away. Milenković has been linked with a move to Everton, although they opted for Yerry Mina instead, and Juventus and Bayern have also been mentioned as being interested in the young Serb. Chiesa was given a price tag of £62million to hold off the advances of Liverpool, both Manchester sides, Chelsea, Juventus, Napoli and Inter Milan, whilst Simeone was the subject of a €40million bid that would have seen him join his father Diego at Atlético Madrid.
Keeping a young squad together will only serve to aid their development. It remains unlikely that the stars of this Fiorentina team will stay together for long, but there is hope in the Tuscan air whilst they remain.
Returning to where they belong
The start of the current season has been one of positivity for the Viola. Two victories from two games represents the ideal start, and seven goals across those games shows the attacking potential that this young side possesses. Bigger tests are still to come, including an away trip to Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli side in their next league match, but a push to reinstate themselves into European competition seems within their grasp this season.
European competition is where a side like Fiorentina belongs. The Stadio Artemio Franchi can be considered amongst the most atmospheric in Europe when filled with proud Florentines, and their fans follow their team with a passion that extends beyond footballing loyalties.
Fiorentina represents more than a football club. It represents an identity, one which has been taken away in favour of national unity. The people of Florence, whilst officially Italian, are strongly Florentine, a city driven by their identity. Long gone are the days of the influential Republic of Florentine, but, especially within football, entities from the “main” Italy are disliked. Similar to the Catalan sentiments towards Spain, the people of Florence use their football club to express their beliefs and passions about their beloved city.
A defining season
With the money that is available to the bigger sides in Europe, it is unlikely that Fiorentina will be able to ride their talented youngsters to success. When Juventus, Bayern, PSG and the rest come knocking, with often guaranteed league titles and an inevitable chance at European glory, it will be hard to both club and player to resist.
This season feels like a defining one for this group. Still coming to terms with the loss of Astori, there is a mental strength within the majority of this squad unmatched anywhere else. Whilst the squad is together, a European push is essential. Unburdened by continental football this season, a successful season is potentially in the offing for the Viola.
As their young, talented players make their way throughout Europe’s elite sides, Fiorentina hope that they can establish themselves amongst the best. Much like the artistic renaissance of fifteenth-century, a new wave of influence may be heading across Europe, one which originated in Florence.