Richard Thomas investigates the Juventus-Fiorentina rivalry and is convinced that a new, controversial chapter is waiting to be written over the next fortnight.
It would be the understatement of the century to say there is no love lost whenever Juventus and Fiorentina go head to head. To put it simply, fans of the two clubs cannot stand one other. But why?
The cities of Florence and Turin lie approximately 400 kilometres apart, meaning geographical proximity can hardly be considered a factor. Neither, even the most ardent Viola fan would admit, do the two clubs boast remotely comparable trophy hauls. Juve have won 29 official Scudetti to Fiorentina’s comparatively meagre two. The Bianconeri also have nine Coppa Italias, two European Cups, three UEFA Cups and one Cup Winners’ Cup to their name. The Florence outfit have six, zero, zero and one respectively. While still a total that is the envy of the vast majority of clubs around the peninsula, the Viola have not slugged it out for honours with their old foes on a particularly regular basis.
Perhaps this is the root of the hatred in another sense though. On one of the few occasions Fiorentina have managed to go toe to toe with the Old Lady over the course of a season, they, to this day, feel they were robbed of a rare moment of glory. The year was 1982 and heading into the final day of the Serie A season the two sides were level on points at the top of the table. The Viola were chasing their third Scudetto and travelled to Cagliari, while the Bianconeri were after their 20th and prepared to take on Catanzaro. The rest is, as they say, history. The men from Tuscany had a seemingly legitimate second half goal chalked off and could only muster a goalless draw in Sardinia. Over in Calabria meanwhile, Catanzaro had strong appeals for a penalty turned down before Juve themselves were awarded a dubious one. Liam Brady tucked it away and, before you could say ‘ladri’ - thieves in Italian - the Old Lady were champions once again. What is it with Fiorentina and referees?
Viola fans have never quite gotten over this perceived injustice and events since have only escalated the ill-feeling between the clubs. Fast forward to 1990 and a certain Roberto Baggio had become the new darling of the Artemio Franchi, only for that pesky Old Lady to stick her nose in where it wasn’t wanted once more. Taking advantage of the Viola owners’ willingness to cash in on their star man, Juve paid a then world record €10m to land the player and with it, send the city of Florence into a state of anarchy. Full scale rioting occurred and around 50 people were injured.
On the off chance that this wasn’t enough to incense everyone with a persuasion for purple, for good measure the Bianconeri beat their old adversaries in that season’s UEFA Cup Final while the saga was ongoing. It didn’t end there though – when the sides faced each other in Florence the following season, Baggio refused to take a penalty awarded to Juve against his old side and later even left the field with a Viola scarf around his neck. Acts that needless to say did not go down well with fans of the club who paid his wages.
More recently, the two clubs were once again at loggerheads in the summer of 2012 when the Old Lady made a late attempt to hijack Fiorentina’s attempts to sign Dimitar Berbatov from Manchester United. In the end the Bulgarian chose to move to neither of them but this did not stop the Viola then issuing an official statement attacking Juve’s ‘reckless and arrogant actions’ and claiming that the Turin club ‘knew nothing of the values of honesty, fair play and sporting ethics’.
Quite a shared history then, and one which makes the prospect of these two grand old Italian footballing institutions locking horns not once, not twice, but thrice over the next fortnight all the more mouth-watering for the neutral. After facing off at Juventus Stadium in Serie A this Sunday, the two sides will meet again in Turin for the first leg of their Europa League Last 16 tie four days later. A week later comes the return at what is sure to be a rocking Artemio Franchi, after which another new and fiery chapter will have surely been written in one of Italian calcio’s most bitter rivalries.
The scene is perfectly set for this. As has so often been the case down the years, Juve come into the games as clear favourites and in the hunt for trophies once again. The Scudetto is theirs to lose once more and in the League game at least Fiorentina will be reduced to the role of trying to halt their rivals’ title charge as opposed to challenging to win it themselves.
This is not to say Vincenzo Montella’s side don’t need the three points – far from it, they need them very badly if they are to maintain any hope of catching Napoli in third place and securing Champions League qualification. They have shown they are capable of getting them too, being the only team to beat Antonio Conte’s winning machine in Serie A so far this season.
The Viola will also have the chance to really hurt the Bionconeri in Europe. Victory against the Old Lady over two Europa League legs would end their hopes of playing a final that they themselves are hosting. It would also clear a sizeable obstacle on the Florence side’s own potential path to glory. Juve meanwhile are the tournament favourites and their motivation is clear.
Both sides have it all to play for and as this much anticipated three-part drama approaches, the two chief protagonists have been cast in their familiar historical roles. The Bianconeri are on another relentless march to glory and will not want their old adversaries getting too big for their boots, while the Viola will be desperate to finally rise from the shadows of their illustrious rivals and write their own little piece of history. Oh, and they have recently had some well-publicised grievances with referees. Now where have we heard that before?