These are interesting times for Fiorentina. The club's fortunes could go either way. On the one hand, there's been positive development this season and the addition of a striker like Giuseppe Rossi hints at ambition. On the other hand, Vincenzo Montella's fine work has won him many admirers, and there's plenty of rumours surrounding where the former Roma striker will be next autumn.
It's a big change from last year's Viola. On the bench, both Sinisa Mihajlovic and then Delio Rossi looked helpless and hopeless and the Florence side looked very much like a sinking ship. Captain Riccardo Montolivo's departure to Milan seemed to emphasise the fact that this was a team going in the wrong direction.
The arrival of the young coach from Catania's bench was the first positive sign that the Viola's board were working to stop the rot. L'Aeroplanino, or the little aeroplane, as Montella was known during his playing days, is one of Italy's most exciting young coaches, and landing his signature was seen as a coup.
Serie A has been a fascinating spectacle this season and results have been hard to come by for every team. But despite stiff competition, Montella has moulded one of the peninsula's most feared outfits—with a fraction of the resources available to other coaches.
This Fiorentina side is compact, well-organised and strives to play attractive football. On top of that, Montella has turned them into a side that expects to win.
“We are very bitter," said the coach following their shock defeat to Bologna recently. "We were unable to bring home the result."
The 38-year-old then went on to stress the high standards he has set for both himself and his team.
The goals came from mistakes, which were small but consecutive, and that is not good enough for a team that wants to aim high. We had controlled the game. We always want to give our best, but we have to understand whether this really is our best.
The sort of talk usually reserved for managers at Europe's most successful clubs is now regularly being heard coming from a team that only a decade ago had ceased to exist following bankruptcy.
There's certainly enough talent in the squad to expect results. Since taking over the club, Andrea and Diego Della Valle—heirs to the lucrative Tod's fashion label—have invested wisely on the whole, returning Fiorentina to a position of stability and competitiveness in Italy's top flight.
A mixture of youth and experience has made the Viola a strong unit on the whole, and individually, the likes of Stefan Savic, Stevan Jovetic, Borja Valero and Adem Ljajic are among the most exciting prospects in the country.
Add them to seasoned veterans like Manuel Pasqual, Luca Toni—back scoring goals in purple after several forgettable seasons away from Florence—and David Pizarro, and you've got a formidable team. When Rossi returns to fitness, Montella will have a starting 11 good enough to challenge any in the division.
There are doubts about Fiorentina's prospects, however. Jovetic has been linked to Europe's top clubs—his international teammate, Mirko Vucinic, just invited him to join Juventus—and there's always the possibility that other young stars could be persuaded to leave in the summer.
Montella, likewise, might be lured away at the end of the season. He has been strongly linked to the Napoli job since last year, a possibility made more likely by the fact that the Azzurri boss Walter Mazzarri has still not signed a new contract.
Napoli's coach is a contender to take over at Roma this summer, just like the Giallorossi's former striker, so events in the capital will likely have some effect on where Montella ends up. Should he leave, Fiorentina will need to make sure that all this season's momentum is not lost.
Viola fans might be feeling some deja vu, because all of this has happened before. The future looked bright for Fiorentina in the recent past, when Cesare Prandelli was on the bench and they were challenging for Champions League qualification.
Prandelli, of course, left to take over the national side and so the slide began. This time, the Della Valle brothers must make sure they don't make the same mistake with Montella. And if they can avoid the pitfalls, the Florentines will be one of Italy's best sides in the years to come.
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