Fiorentina vs Juventus: More Than Just a Game
Inter-city rivalries can be just as bitter as any local derby.
They seem to contain a dash more venom because they are not based purely on geography.
Back in the 1980s the clashes between Milan and Napoli were among the most gripping spectacles in Serie A. In more recent times, there have been few fixtures with nastier aftermaths than Roma’s encounters with Inter.
However, the mother and father of all long-distance feuds remains Fiorentina against Juventus. It has a history that goes back decades.
In the formative years of their club, Florentine fans used to get irate at the number of people from other parts of Tuscany who would travel to the Renaissance city to support the Bianconeri.
Then, in 1982, that simmering distaste went through the roof.
Juve and Fiorentina were locked in a neck-and-neck battle for most of the season, which went down to the final day. The Viola were in pursuit of a rare third Scudetto, and La Vecchia Signora wanted a 20th crown in order to stitch a second star to her triumphant shirt.
Both teams were level on points as the Tuscan side prepared to travel to Sardinia to take on Cagliari, while the Turin troops headed to Catanzaro.
What unfolded still makes Fiorentina fans livid.
They had a second-half goal disallowed and could not get beyond a 0-0 scoreline, while Liam Brady converted a penalty to give Juve their victory.
Those decisions infuriated the Viola and still do to this day.
“Meglio secondi che ladri,” they said. “Better to be second than to be thieves.”
It signalled a bitter twist in relations between the two clubs, which hit another peak nearly a decade later.
Roberto Baggio was Fiorentina’s golden boy, but it became increasingly clear the club’s owners—the Pontello family—were keen to cash in on their prize asset.
When his destination became clear, all hell broke loose. Turmoil erupted on the banks of the Arno and fans laid siege to the club’s headquarters.
In the meantime, Juve were edging out Fiorentina in a UEFA Cup final filled with animosity.
The Baggio transfer to the Bianconeri went through, but it had an interesting epilogue.
When the Turin side travelled to Florence for their first clash after the deal, they came under a heavy police escort.
In the game, Juve were awarded a penalty, which Baggio declined to take.
Up stepped Gigi De Agostini, who failed to convert, and the Divine Ponytail was later substituted, leaving the pitch with a Fiorentina scarf around his neck.
Many Juventini never forgave him.
For much of the 1990s, it became the only game that mattered to the Viola. Even a depressing league campaign could be made more bearable by beating the Gobbi (the Hunchbacks).
As for Juve, they were probably too busy winning domestic and European titles to worry much about the boys in purple, but the Viola still remained an annoying kid brother they constantly had to put in place.
Recent seasons have seen a constant to and fro of players between the clubs which has eased some of the conflict. Of the current sides, Juve players Felipe Melo and Giorgio Chiellini both boast a Viola past.
Marco Marchionni, Cristiano Zanetti, the long-suspended Adrian Mutu and coach Cesare Prandelli are among the Fiorentini with Juve history.
But that does not mean this Saturday’s clash will be friendly. You only had to listen to the anti-Viola chants from Juve supporters at the weekend to understand that.
Both sides have had their disappointments in Serie A and could give their season fresh impetus with victory.
Alberto Zaccheroni still harbours hopes of a Champions League finish despite a disappointing display against Palermo.
Fiorentina would love a tonic before facing their make-or-break tie with Bayern Munich in Europe.
The gloves will be off in the Stadio Artemio Franchi.
History tells us the build-up and aftermath are likely to be as gripping as anything which might take place out on the pitch.
Especially if Alex Del Piero takes a flying leap to win a controversial last-gasp penalty.
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