Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Fiorentina sign a player, develop him and nurture his talent until he becomes one of Serie A’s hottest prospects only for – guess who? – Juventus to snap him up. It is a film that appears to have been on repeat for several years now and shows no sign of letting up any time soon.
The latest blockbuster is the Dusan Vlahovic story, as you are no doubt aware. Over the past 18 months or so the young Serbian striker has emerged as one of the most prolific and deadly finishers in the game. Just when Viola fans thought they had found a man to get them into Europe, their old nemesis appears to have stepped in. Cue the boos for the pantomime bad guy.
You don’t need to rewind too far for a similar story when Federico Chiesa made his move north. And, in case you’d forgotten, Federico Bernardeschi was once thought of as a star in the making in Florence before heading to Turin himself. Even goalkeeper Norberto Neto made his name in purple before setting sail for a lovely couple of years on a pitchside bench at the Allianz Stadium or whatever it was called at the time. Their fates may all have been very different but, to followers of the Tuscan club, they were symptoms of the same ailment – an inability to protect your best players from Juventus, the talent-snatchers.
Anyone with an ounce of Calcio knowledge will understand how much this stings. At a club where players have their symbolic “hunchback” removed when they arrive from the Bianconeri, sending your finest products in the opposite direction is never easy. Seeing your favourite son in the arms of La Vecchia Signora is not something you ever get used to.
The more pragmatic will point out that it is better to take big money now than less money in the summer or absolutely nothing at all when his contract runs out in 2023. £62m or so is a lot of money to go out and buy a replacement if you do it well. But the bigger question is, how to stop history from repeating in years to come? Fool me once, shame on you, but fool me several times and counting, shame on me.
Fiorentina owe it to Vincenzo Italiano and the exciting team he is constructing to at least try to stem the flow of talent. It is virtually impossible to hold on to players who want to leave, but any acquisitions should be sounded out on their hopes for the future as well. It is not enough to sign footballers who want to be in Florence for a season or two, you have to try to get people who want to stay. Rare, perhaps, but not impossible to find.
A big step, of course, would be getting the team to perform on the pitch. A Viola side regularly involved in European football and battling with the big boys (for younger readers, such a thing did once exist) would be a much more attractive prospect as a longer term home. This season, at last, the club is up towards the top end of the table which represents an opportunity they can’t really afford to miss.
Based in such a beautiful city, there is enormous potential there which could be tapped into. They will never be a giant, perhaps, but they could at least hold their heads high in such lofty company. The new training facilities, a stadium more in line with modern-day expectations and a long-term plan for remaining a significant force in the Italian game would all make them a harder club to leave. At the moment, you feel, they are getting treated as a bit of a doormat.
When you have seen Roberto Baggio leave for the Bianconeri, nothing can really hurt you. Dusan Vlahovic is a fine player, for sure, but in terms of his emotional significance to Fiorentina fans, he will never be fit to tie the Divin Codino’s hairband. The young forward’s impact, if he goes, will disappear like a small stone’s ripple in the River Arno – not the seismic aftershocks that 1990 transfer entailed.
Nonetheless, the Tuscan club owes it to its fans to try to make this the last time it gets its pocket picked by the Turin giants – especially late in the January transfer window. Smart strategy and a successful team would go some way to making the Stadio Artemio Franchi a go-to destination for players rather than some kind of dingy hotel they can’t wait to see the back of. The Viola have a proud track record of unearthing talent and that is surely something to build on. Now they have to show they can establish long-lasting relationships with their players who buy into what they are trying to achieve. Do that, and all these departures will be no more than another figure to jeer when they return in those much-despised black and white shirts.