Ahead of the Conference League Final against West Ham and with reports Napoli have made him their prime target to replace Luciano Spalletti, Vincenzo Italiano is the man of the hour.
It had been since the 1960s that the Viola had not experienced the Final of a UEFA competition, let alone two shots at winning silverware. They had taken an almost immediate lead in the Coppa Italia showdown with Inter, only to be caught on the counter-attack by the far more clinical side. That is something worth keeping an eye on for tonight against West Ham at the Eden Arena in Prague, but it is also the reason why Italiano has caught the attention of Napoli.
At a time when the default assumption about Serie A is that this is a defensive, negative league, coaches like Italiano and Spalletti really provide a great advertisement for Calcio abroad. Fiorentina are the top scorers in the Conference League and that is all the more incredible when you consider the number of absolute sitters his strikers have missed over the last few months. Nico Gonzalez is the only consistent forward available to them, while Jonathan Ikone, Christian Kouame, Luka Jovic and Arthur Cabral seemed to be for a while in a competition to see who could be the most frustrating to watch.
The tactical foundations that Italiano has laid down are perfectly sound, especially compared to what preceded him at the Stadio Franchi. One can only imagine what he could achieve with his approach to the sport and the likes of Victor Osimhen and Kvicha Kvaratskhelia at his disposal.
At right-back too, what a difference it would make when being able to count on the defensive discipline of Giovanni Di Lorenzo rather than Dodo or howler-magnet Lorenzo Venuti. In the centre, swap out distracted Lucas Martinez-Quarta for Amir Rrahmani and you can see the possibilities.
In a way, the Conference League and Coppa Italia Finals represent auditions for Italiano to put himself forward for the Napoli job, and that ought to frighten Fiorentina. There are certainly similarities in philosophy with Spalletti, such as believing attack is the best form of defence, that you can chop and change the team while always maintaining a clear identity and planned movements, accepting the risk of conceding on the counter-attack so that you can take the game to the opposition. Plus they share the same haircut, so just squint and they look awfully similar…
This was Italiano’s first ever European competition and he has reached the Final, while at the same time rotating the squad sufficiently to get to the Coppa Italia Final and a creditable eighth place in Serie A. If he had forwards able to hit a barn door with a banjo, who knows what he might’ve achieved this season? Perhaps he could even convince Kvaratskhelia to vary his runs more rather than always cutting inside to shoot, therefore making the Georgian practically unstoppable.
Napoli have looked at high-profile candidates to step in for Spalletti, like Julian Nagelsmann and Luis Enrique, but this is the ideal time to gamble with Italiano. They already won the Scudetto, the city will continue partying for a full year and the pressure is off. He wouldn’t change the existing tactical structure very much at all and take over a squad that is well-drilled in these attacking patterns. Throughout the campaign, the former Spezia boss has shown he rotates his men far better than most coaches with vastly more experience in multiple tournaments.
Even if Fiorentina lose the Conference League Final to a West Ham side built with a vastly superior budget, that doesn’t shake his suitability for the Napoli bench. It only confirms he could achieve far more with a quality squad.
Twitter: @Susy Campanale