Fiorentina's Failures: Have the Viola Lost Their Heart under Sinisa Mihajlovic?
When you follow Fiorentina, you are used to losing games. Over the years, Viola fans have had to make an art form out of taking consolation in defeat or finding excuses. This season, however, even that is proving hard to manage.
Three Serie A games without a win is not their worst run in history. Indeed, it was not so long ago they were not even in the top division at all. Nonetheless, for anyone who holds the Tuscan side dear, there are some signs for serious concern coming out of the Stadio Artemio Franchi.
It is not the defeats themselves that have hurt so much as the manner in which they have been suffered. It used to be that there was enough spirit, passion and panache in their play that the final result seemed almost unimportant. Such was the sparkle in their performance that to triumph was simply a pleasant by-product.
That is not the case any more.
It was always going to be hard for whoever took over from Cesare Prandelli. In his years in charge he built a side, which was a top-four contender in Italy and a sometimes-thrilling performer in Europe. But he was more than just a coach.
To understand what the new Italy boss meant to Fiorentina you have to fully comprehend the club and its followers. The fans are an outspoken, contrary and generally hardheaded bunch. But once you win them over, you stay in their hearts forever.
Giancarlo Antognoni, Roby Baggio, Manuel Rui Costa, and Gabriel Batistuta have all been revered in the Renaissance City. There was a similar love for their recently departed boss. Everyone seemed happy to be "Spectators at the Prandelli Show" as one banner often declared.
Now the club must search again for its very soul.
It is no use hoping for another coach to emulate the old one, it will simply never happen. Instead, Sinisa Mihajlovic has adopted an almost polar opposite approach. He has been critical, controversial, and occasionally confrontational. The trouble is that, so far, it has not worked.
Maybe too many of the players miss Prandelli. Certainly this was "his" team, moulded in his image. Even Mihajlovic has admitted he is playing with the old coach's tactics due to the personnel at his disposal. It sometimes looks like a team going through the motions.
Like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz, they appear to have no heart.
Too many of last season's top performers have been drifting aimlessly through matches. Riccardo Montolivo looks distracted by talk of his contract, Juan Manuel Vargas is yet to hit peak condition, and Alberto Gilardino is seeing so little of the ball he may need to be given an introduction the next time it passes his way.
Marco Marchionni has lacked zest, too, and you get the feeling that last season a couple of the shots that slipped past Sebastien Frey would have stuck to his gloves. It has been that kind of year.
Among the new boys, Alessio Cerci has buzzed with industry but it looks like Gaetano D'Agostino may already have been judged a failure in the playmaker's role. While all Artur Boruc has been able to do is complain about his lack of opportunity.
Something needs to click inside this team and it needs to happen soon. A draw with Napoli was just about palatable but defeat to Lecce and losing a lead to Lazio—one only gained with a dubious penalty—were disastrous. The fans have been understandably upset.
Things don't get any easier for the Viola as they are scheduled to face two sides within their reach in the league in the next few days. Away trips to Genoa are not the kind of match anybody relishes while a home clash with Parma is also a potential banana skin.
This was supposed to be the time for gathering points before the Viola meet Roma, Milan, Juventus, and Inter in quick succession in a seven-match spell in November and December.
The usual sounds have been emanating from the Fiorentina ownership about Mihajlovic being safe in his post with no plans to replace him. They have shown patience in the past and have vowed to do so again. But it is hard to think that further poor results might not force their hand.
Now is the time for the key players to get over Prandelli's departure and get on with the job of winning games. The new era was never going to be easy but nobody expected it to be quite this hard. The room for excuses is already fastly disappearing.
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