Twelve months ago an air of excitement was swelling around the banks of the River Arno – and it wasn’t just emanating from tourists visiting the historic city of the Renaissance. It was understandable too. Fiorentina – denied a Champions League place at the final hurdle by Milan – added Mario Gomez, Joaquin Sanchez and Josip Ilicic, to name a few, to an already talented squad. There were even whispers that maybe the Scudetto would make its long awaited return to the city.
One year on that enthusiasm has diminished somewhat and the Coach is erring on the side of caution approaching the start of 2014-15. “At the moment there are four or five teams stronger than we are, but it’s up to us to give our best so that we can compete with them,” Vincenzo Montella said on Sunday.
Perhaps it’s a calculated move. He’s aware of the rigours of a long season and how plans can go awry. Fans dreamed last term of the Giuseppe Rossi-Gomez combination leading Fiorentina to a top three finish, but instead both were hindered by injury. Rossi was supreme until a January knee injury ruined his campaign, and managed 21 Serie A appearances – with 16 goals – whilst Gomez totaled just 15 in all competitions. Fiorentina finished fourth once more.
There were ever so fleeting moments of magic, notably September’s 5-2 win at Genoa. Both scored doubles in that Week 2 win and it suggested the start of something special. A fortnight later against Cagliari Gomez clutched his knee, only to return in February. He managed 90 minutes just once and by April his season was over – subsequently missing Germany’s World Cup triumph.
Montella’s team is noted for their fluid football and having started the term based around their star pairing, they later morphed into a trident attack – a result of injuries taking their toll.
Rossi, who also missed selection for Brazil, says he is raring to go: “I can’t wait to play to be honest. I am doing my own custom programme at the moment, but I feel great.” It’s a sentiment echoed by Gomez: “I feel good and the injury is behind me now. I’m doing everything to be in top condition for the start of the season. Last year I gave my all, even if I didn’t play very much. This term I want to play regularly and give back to Fiorentina.”
Should Rossi find his pre-January levels and Gomez return to his predatory best, the Viola have at their disposal one of Serie A’s deadliest attacking duos. Then there’s the third piece of the puzzle.
Juan Cuadrado did go to the World Cup, following his brilliant season at the Stadio Artemio Franchi by starring for Colombia. His value has risen and so too the number of suitors across Europe, notably Barcelona. Club patron Andrea Della Valle has spoken of Cuadrado’s desire to stay being a determining factor. Should he exhibit that, the club will aim to ward off others. If he does remain, a trident of Rossi, Gomez and Cuadrado is some prospect. “I’d love to see a Fiorentina with me, Rossi and Cuadrado together,” the German claimed.
The remaining five weeks of the transfer window could be centred on Cuadrado. Fiorentina are yet to seriously dip their hand in the water, but should the Colombian leave the opportunity will present itself.
Despite Montella’s hesitation, Pepito and Super Mario are targeting a Champions League place. “Fiorentina want the Champions League,” the Italian admitted. “But to do this we have to work hard in pre-season. We still have six weeks to prepare for the new season but we’re motivated to do well.” For Gomez: “Third place is not only a dream, but a possibility.” It may be the goals and performances of their deadly duo – or trio – that push the Viola into Europe’s premier competition.
They’re all a little wiser and experienced after last season’s commendable but frustrating campaign and now fans will be hoping they see full value from their stars, both fit and firing again.