Fiorentina now, Fiorentina then — comparing the league leading Viola
It was another time, another world. Although its power had been a little diminished, Serie A was still a home for many of the finest players on the planet. Its teams had been involved in nine of the last 10 European Cup/Champions League finals, winning four of them. Indeed, an all Italian final was not so far around the corner. It was against this backdrop that Fiorentina last topped the table.
So it is unfair, probably, to compare Paulo Sousa’s side of 2015/16 with that of Giovanni Trapattoni back in 1998/99. Apart from anything else, the side of yesteryear went much deeper into the season in its leader’s role — being crowned winter champions and holding top spot until February. It would also only be right to point out that it was a team which was living beyond its means as financial collapse was just a couple of years away due to the economic disarray left by Vittorio Cecchi Gori.
Still, with all these things considered, how do the two teams stack up? Is there any way that the current crop could compete with that of 17 years ago? The answer, of course, is probably not. But, let’s have a look anyway.
GOALKEEPER — It’s a straight fight between Francesco Toldo and Ciprian Tatarusanu here with the Italy international surely having the edge. He was in the form of his life in this period, culminating in his heroics for his country at Euro 2000 against the Netherlands. And yet, the Romanian has also been performing well this term. For club and country he boasts seven clean sheets out of 10 matches, a ratio that any keeper would rightly be proud of. Nonetheless, I’d be inclined to narrowly give the edge to Toldo — at that time he was a most inspiring and athletic shot-stopper with his overall influence making him a narrow preference. RATINGS: TRAP’S FIORENTINA 7.5, SOUSA’S FIORENTINA 7.
DEFENCE — Looking at it now, it was a rugged old back line that generally turned out for the Viola back at the tail end of the 21st Century. Pasquale Padalino had the look of a boxer while Tomas Repka was no shrinking violet in that regard either. They could often rely on the swashbuckling runs of Moreno Torricelli and Jorg Heinrich on either flank to give forward impetus. While the likes of Giulio Falcone provided solid, if unexciting, cover. It was a well-drilled if occasionally impetuous unit.
The modern day defence, however, is a little harder to define, although it has been producing the goods. At its heart is a player with the ball skills to easily slot into many a midfield, Argentinian Gonzalo Rodriguez. He provides the brains while, in general, Nenad Tomovic and Facundo Roncaglia have provided the brawn. David Astori has also slotted in nicely to a three-man back-line which has been the tightest in the top division so far. On that basis, they enjoy a sneaky advantage at the moment. RATING: TRAP’S FIORENTINA 7, SOUSA’S FIORENTINA 7.5.
MIDFIELD — There was a beautiful mix of steel and style in the Fiorentina side of the late 1990s. The likes of Sandro Cois and Christian Amoroso were ball-winners of some repute but they enjoyed the support of one of the most elegant playmakers of recent times in Rui Costa. Luis Oliveira was also sometimes asked to play in a deeper role with his dancing feet while both Torricelli and Heinrich could move to more advanced positions from their defensive duties. It gave a lovely balance of pace, power and precision to the heart of the team.
If Rui Costa was the brains of Trap’s Viola, it is Borja Valero who makes Sousa’s side tick. He has returned to top form this season and a change of manager also seems to have had a positive effect on Milan Badelj who has been producing his best football in a purple shirt. With Marcos Alonso also in the form of his life and Kuba Blaszczykowski slotting in well it has made midfield a real driving force of the team. They are quick to close down, accurate in their passing but also a little more direct and deadly than they were under Vincenzo Montella. Luxury back-up like Mati Fernandez and Matias Vecino have made an irresistible mix so far. RATING: TRAP’S FIORENTINA 8, SOUSA’S FIORENTINA 8.5.
ATTACK — It was up front that the Florentines of old would see their Scudetto challenge stand and fall. Gabriel Omar Batistuta was a one-man wrecking ball who snapped Serie A defences like sticks of dry spaghetti. He was ably supported by the crafty if crazy Brazilian Edmundo. With Lulu Oliveira also able to slot into that attack it made for a force which few teams could cope with. But when Batigol got injured, dreams of the title collapsed with him.
The scoring responsibilities are more evenly spread nowadays. Nikola Kalinic has been a surprisingly pleasing addition to the squad with his endeavour and determination making Mario Gomez seem like a distant memory. Josip Ilicic has also continued his fine form of the tail end of last season with Khouma Babacar and Federico Bernardeschi playing lovely cameo roles. With Giuseppe Rossi waiting in the wings, they could really make a big leap forward. But, for now, they have to bow down to the old boys. RATING: TRAP’S FIORENTINA 9, SOUSA’S FIORENTINA 8.
COACH — It’s hard not to think of the scale and scope of Giovanni Trapattoni’s career and see how it dwarfs that of Paulo Sousa at present. However, if we look at how they both adapted to Florence, we start to see more similarities. Both arrived in Tuscany with a reputation linked closely to Juventus, but both did plenty to win over the locals. Trap’s defensive skills were well-known but his Fiorentina proved pleasing in attack as well. Sousa is more of a tactical chameleon but he has shown good skills so far in creating a side which plays on the front foot which is exactly what he has preached from the outset. It’s too early to put him too close to Trap but he has set out well. RATING: TRAP 8. SOUSA 7.
TOTALS. TRAP’S FIORENTINA 39.5. SOUSA’S FIORENTINA 38. So it’s a win for the old boys, but not by as much as I admit I expected at the outset. Clearly, there are some stern tests in store for this current side — Napoli and Roma to mention just a couple — but they have started well. The full return of Rossi could yet tweak up their rating a notch, as could sustained success for their coach. Serie A is not as tough as it once was, but it looks wide open so far this season. There is still time for the traditional big guns to recover but, in the meantime, it is free for other sides to dream and Fiorentina are among their number. They’ve been waiting 47 years for the Scudetto, after all, so they are surely entitled to do so. Their challenge will likely meet the same fate as it did back in 1999, but it has been an enjoyable journey so far.