Still some distance away from returning to the Champions League, the decision makers at the Stadio Artemio Franchi have some big calls to make this summer if Fiorentina are to make any progress in the coming years
Before their own derby with regional rivals Empoli in round 32, Fiorentina knew they had a wonderful opportunity to close the gap on fellow European hopefuls AC Milan and Inter, as they both dropped points in the Derby della Madonnina.
Even without that incentive, the Viola were expected to overpower a struggling Azzurri at the Stadio Artemio Franchi, yet a 2-1 defeat gave another indication that the Florence-based club continue to move backwards.
One week later, they produce a completely contrasting performance and see off Inter 5-4, and the four is kind to the Nerazzurri, showing that maybe there are some signs of life at the Artemio Franchi.
After four consecutive qualifications for the Europa League, Fiorentina find themselves in eighth position, still behind round 33 opponents Inter in seventh and a massive 16 points away from Champions League riches they covet.
With a Chinese-owned Rossoneri awaiting substantial investment and Inter already flexing their financial muscle, the Viola have a decision to make if not to be left behind.
The strides taken by Roma and Napoli have seen them become the closest challengers to all conquering Juventus, while Lazio and Atalanta have been far more convincing as long-term European hopefuls.
However, while the Nerazzurri and Biancocelesti are in touching distance, ousting them next season will see Fiorentina exactly where they have been the last half decade – treading water outside Europe’s premier club competition.
Impressing with their playing style under Paulo Sousa last term, the Portuguese takes the brunt of criticism when struggling to impose themselves on ‘weaker’ teams, but in truth the overall inability to break into the top three rests higher up.
Fiorentina’s rise to within 2 points from third under Vincenzo Montella in 2012-13 came, not only from coaching aptitude, but excellent recruitment that saw Borja Valero and Alberto Aquilani arrive to brilliantly complement David Pizarro.
Passing the life out of many Serie A sides, Stevan Jovetic and Luca Toni added the finishing touches to what was arguably the league’s most entertaining team.
The following season began a cycle of poor re-investment, as a third of the €30 million received from Manchester City for Jovetic was wasted on Mario Gomez. The German effectively replaced the still productive Toni, who walked away to Hellas Verona for free.
In comparison, Napoli used €65 million generated from Edinson Cavani’s sale to Paris Saint-Germain to restructure the whole team, long and short-term, and brought in a world renowned coach in Rafael Benitez.
Gonzalo Higuain’s arrival alongside Jose Callejon, Raul Albiol, Jorginho and Faouzi Ghoulam in the space of six months, would eventually secure another €90 million into club coffers – even if they were loathed to lose the Argentine.
As the Partenopei pulled away in the race for Champions League qualification, Viola fans must have cast a reminiscing thought to the days when Gabriel Batistuta was leading the Fiorentina frontline.
Even with a 16 point gap between the Viola and third-placed Roma last season, both Montella and Sousa are right to feel satisfied with their work given the tools at their disposal the last four years in Florence.
Surely Fiorentina fans ask themselves where €25 million received for Marco Alonso last summer went? But, more importantly, how can they move forward without significant investment from the current owners.
If they are not looking to delve into their own pockets or follow Milanese models and seek overseas investment, the revenue can only be generated from the existing squad. However, beyond Federico Bernardeschi there is little to raise funds required for a Napoli-like overhaul, regardless of whether Sousa is trusted to carry an improved group of players forward.
While some may point to the examples of Juventus, and hopefully the Giallorossi, in club-owned stadia, it is largely irrelevant if you have already lost a decade or more of disinterested fans through mediocre football – something a talent Bernardeschi alone cannot fix.
With European football still no more than an outside shot this season, the Fiorentina board need to have some honest conversations with each other in the coming weeks and decide whether they do want to start putting together a Scudetto challenging side this summer.