Tuesday January 2 2018
Borja Valero versus the Viola

Tears could be shed when Borja Valero visits his beloved Fiorentina, but there can never be bitterness for the Mayor of Florence, writes Giancarlo Rinaldi.

Roberto Baggio could not bring himself to take a penalty, while Manuel Rui Costa always seemed to play a little below his own immense standards. And Gabriel Batistuta, of course, burst into tears when he scored a goal. Playing against Fiorentina, for any former Viola legend, can do strange things to a man.

The mischievous gremlins in the Serie A computer have already thrown up a clash for Borja Valero with his old employers, of course, on the opening day of the season. But that comfortable victory in Milan was never likely to be as emotional as a return to the city he made his family home for five years. He was, after all, dubbed the Mayor of Florence by fans, such was his obvious affection for the capital of Tuscany.

Departures of their favourite players are something the fans in the Stadio Artemio Franchi have become used to over the years. A transfer window rarely passes without some big money move inside or outside of Italy. Even within that context, however, the Spaniard's exit was one of the more troubling ones for the Florentine faithful.

It wasn't the length of time he stayed, the number of goals he scored or the quality of his performances that endeared the Spaniard to the home support. It was something more intangible and a little harder to define that won their hearts. It went beyond ‘attaccamento alla maglia’ - loyalty to the shirt - and touched on deeper emotions. This was an outsider who, from almost day one, seemed in tune with the city, its inhabitants and its history.

A whole heap of little things stacked up to form such a special bond. His young son Alvaro singing the club anthem, his wife Rocio Rodriguez taking part in races in the city and, of course, that tattoo of the co-ordinates of the Ponte Vecchio on his arm. Rarely a day seemed to pass when there was not some sign - on social media or in person - of the close connection between the gifted midfielder and his adopted home.

Everything suggested that the story would conclude, like a sunset over the Boboli gardens, with the product of the Real Madrid youth system closing his career in purple. It appeared to be what both he and the club wanted but then, towards the end of last season, cracks began to show in that fairytale finale. Overnight, it felt like a glorious Chianti had turned sour.

We may never know the full story of what went on, but we can surely pull together enough of the pieces to have a pretty good idea. Fiorentina underwent a revolution in the summer to drive down costs, rejuvenate the squad and boost their Italian contingent. It must have been clear to the one-time West Brom man that he did not fit too well with those goals. A change of Coach and earlier switch of sporting director meant this was no longer the same set-up that seemed in perfect harmony with its ‘giocatore simbolo’ - its most representative player.

There would be no shortage of suitors, of course, but Inter came up with the cash and a project that eased his obvious pain at going anywhere. That they have mounted an increasingly credible Scudetto challenge is a credit to both the club and their new acquisition. As a little bonus, he brought his Florentine sidekick Matias Vecino with him. They have won over most doubting Nerazzurri fans already.

But a few short months are not enough, surely, for either Fiorentina or the player to forget how much they meant to one another. Just the other week, with their reception for Giuseppe Rossi, Viola fans showed the affection they reserve for their former favourites. With all respect to Pepito, the beautifully-balanced midfielder was at another level. “Keep Calm and Pass to Borja” was a motto emblazoned on more than one piece of merchandise and it summed up perfectly how important he was to the team.

Time moves on, we know, and he is nothing if not professional. He will give his all to the Inter cause when he comes back to Florence and it is only right that he should do so. However, in the back of his mind and those of thousands of home supporters, there will surely be a few pangs of regret at how this story played out.

It is part of sport, and indeed life, to move on and look for new challenges or greater rewards. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t allowed a few signs of emotion when we look back and think about what we have left behind.

Have your say...
A big big loss to Fiorentina. I thought no matter what the board is up to this summer - we should have never given away Borja and Paulo Sousa. Two huge mistakes.
on the 2nd January, 2018 at 11:21am
I was very little child when i saw Bati scored and crying. I never understood back then, but when i saw all my older friends, my dad having the teary eyes, i felt something too. I remember like it was yesterday. Now, i simply don't want to go on the stadium and see Valero plays against us. The guy never wanted to leave and they pushed him away. He was the diamond we never should have lost.
on the 2nd January, 2018 at 11:00am

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