Try picturing a sea of purple flags, banners and over 40,000 Viola tifosi chanting “Oh Fiorentina” at their top their lungs throughout the iconic Stadio Artemio Franchi. The ultras in the Curva Fiesole shouting words like “ladri” (thieves) at the Juventus team – even though these current Bianconeri players weren’t around during the 1980s and 90s. This is the hostile environment Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. will experience this evening. It is only in Florence that this hate-filled rivalry evokes stronger memories of bitterness between the pair.
This unorthodox rivalry has been built around controversy and hatred. It is not a typical geographical and competitive derby: it’s all about getting redemption, mainly from a Fiorentina point of view. And when Juventus always travels to the city of Florence, it’s not like the away fans can easily walk around the city’s piazzas wearing the black-and-white striped shirt. From controversial incidents on the pitch to Juve purchasing the Viola’s stars, these events have turned this rivalry into one of the most intense football clashes on the Peninsula.
Apart from Juve thumping the Viola 11-0 in their first ever meeting, this unique rivalry didn’t ignite until the early 1980s. Approaching the last matchday of the 1981-82 Serie A season level on 44 points with Juventus, Fiorentina seemed poised in claiming their third Scudetto. Making a 536km trip to the island of Sardinia, the Tuscan side needed a victory against relegation candidates Cagliari and hope that the Bianconeri would fall short against an in-form Catanzaro in Calabria.
At the time, both Fiorentina and Juventus boasted their own individual quality. The Bianconeri’s Sicilian core – compromising of Claudio Gentile, Giuseppe Furino and Gaetano Scirea – kept the backline and midfield compact. Dino Zoff and Paolo Rossi were the other talents that made this a formidable Juve side to compete against. The Viola were also packed with talent: Giancarlo Antognoni, Antonello Cuccureddu and Pietro Vierchowod to name a few.
With the Cagliari-Fiorentina game remaining scoreless at halftime, the Gigliati thought they had found the breakthrough in the second half through their forward Francesco Graziani. However, the goal ended up being disallowed as referee Maurizio Mattei spotted a foul on the Cagliari goalkeeper in the lead up to the goal – leaving Fiorentina fans bewildered and outraged.
With Fiorentina’s shortcomings in the Sardinian capital, Juventus also looked like emulating a stalemate with a persistent Catanzaro outfit. While the Calabrian side had been denied a penalty, Juve ended up winning one at the other end. It was Liam Brady’s cool finish from the spot-kick that gifted the Old Lady a 1-0 win and seal a 20th Scudetto. After the controversial decisions, a furious Carlo Antognoni described the situation as a theft – one that deprived the Viola in claiming its third Serie A title. These extraordinary events are what shaped this into one Italy’s most bitter rivalries.
After the 1981-82 campionato fiasco, Juventus marched on to claim two more Serie A titles that decade. For Fiorentina, their inconsistency resulted in mixed fortunes. It wasn’t until the 1989-90 season that the Juventus-Fiorentina rivalry relit once again. With the Viola experiencing a lacklustre campaign domestically, it was their talismanic forward Roberto Baggio who guided the Tuscans all the way to the 1990 UEFA Cup Final. With all the other European opponents Fiorentina could have potentially faced, it had to be their bitter enemies Juventus waiting on the horizon. Being the first all-Italian final in the tournament’s history, a worldwide audience was about to get a taste of this fierce showdown.
This anticipated final was played over two legs, the first one in Turin and the second in Avellino – the Stadio Artemio Franchi was undergoing renovations in preparation for the 1990 FIFA World Cup. With almost playing their home fixtures at the Stadio Renato Curi in Perugia, a pitch invasion from the Viola supporters in the semi-final clash against Werder Bremen forced the Gigliati to find another temporary home stadium. Not only was Fiorentina playing 500km away from home, but it was also a concern for the club and its fans that the Bianconeri boasted numerous Juventini in Italy’s south.
The first leg in Turin was another typical Fiorentina-Juventus match that resulted in controversial circumstances. The Turin giants took a 1-0 lead in the third minute after Toto Schillaci cut the ball back to set up his Sicilian compatriot Roberto Galia for the goal. But the Old Lady’s lead only lasted for seven minutes, with Fiorentina’s Renato Buso scoring a crucial equaliser off a cross. With the game delicately poised at 1-1, a dubious decision in the 59th minute sparked heated debates. It was Juve’s Pierluigi Casiraghi who fired the Bianconeri in front, however, the officials failed to notice Casiraghi’s push on Fiorentina’s defender Celeste Pin in the lead up to the goal. Once again, the Viola supporters were left infuriated.
Juventus would eventually make it 3-1 in the 73rd minute – putting them in a commanding position for the second leg. After the game, the word that some Fiorentina players and fans were shouting was “ladri” (thieves). In the second leg in Avellino, the Gigliati had been nullified – keeping the firepower of Baggio, Buso, Dunga and Marco Nappi quiet.
With older Viola supporters having to endure the painful 1981-82 Serie A and 1990 UEFA Cup final losses, Baggio’s transfer to Juventus in 1990 inflamed the fragile relationship between the club’s fans. Il Divin Codino was sold for a world-record fee of £8 million – causing chaos in the streets of Florence. And when the Bianconeri took on Fiorentina at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in 1991, Baggio refused to take a penalty – claiming the Viola goalkeeper Gianmatteo Mareggini knew the way the Italian striker took them. Luigi De Agostini took the penalty instead – having his kick saved by Mareggini.
As soon as Baggio was substituted, he picked up a Fiorentina scarf that was thrown near him and comfortably wrapped it around his neck. His surprising actions captured the eyes of many Calcio fans and the media’s attention across the nation. “Deep in my heart I am always purple,” an emotional Baggio stated after the game. While this was a warming gesture for the Viola’s tifosi, some Juventus supporters were left fuming.
While Baggio was accumulating the goals for the Bianconeri front line in 1993, Fiorentina was playing its football in Serie B. But the Viola also boasted a star of their own – Argentine hero Gabriel Batistuta. Between 1995 and 2000, Fiorentina’s formidable attacking duo of Batistuta and Rui Costa gave the club immense domestic success throughout this period.
Claiming two Coppa Italia titles and mustering a couple of top-four finishes, these achievements ended up being some of the best-cherished memories for Viola fans. The Tuscans didn’t need Baggio anymore – they had Batistuta. La Vecchia Signora also enjoyed a successful spell in the mid-1990s, especially in the 1995-96 campaign when Marcello Lippi guided them to their second Champions League trophy.
After Batistuta left Fiorentina in 2000, the Viola only declined. The Gigliati declared bankruptcy in 2002 - the Della Valle brothers taking over the club and renaming it Florentia Viola. Playing in Serie C and watching their enemies Juventus claim their 27th Scudetto, it was difficult for Viola supporters to digest. During their one season stint in Italy’s third tier, the Toscani still boasted some quality midfielders and attackers in Christian Rigano and Angelo Di Livio. Both of these club legends contributed to the Viola’s Serie A promotion in 2004.
With Juventus still winning Serie A titles and Fiorentina licking their wounds after the bankruptcy, the 2006 Calciopoli scandal rocked both clubs. Juve was sent to Serie B and was stripped of their two recent titles. The Viola had been given a 15-point penalty the following season. For once, it was Fiorentina fans who had the ascendency – relishing every moment seeing their bitter rivals playing second division football.
In 2013, the Viola fans were sent into euphoria after Vincenzo Montella’s Fiorentina side had beaten Juventus 4-2 – their first win against the Bianconeri at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in 15 years. Trailing 2-0 at halftime, the Gigliati made an incredible second-half comeback thanks to a Giuseppe Rossi hat-trick. The momentous victory wasn’t against any Juve team – it was against a well-drilled side coached by Antonio Conte.
With the Fiorentina-Juventus rivalry only being aggravated by some on-field debatable decisions in past fixtures, the bitterness between both clubs has always been strongly present in the transfer market. Baggio’s transfer to Juve wasn’t the only time the Viola lost an Italian prodigy. In the middle of 2017, Federico Bernardeschi didn’t have intentions in renewing his contract with the Tuscan club – presenting Juve with the opportunity to sign the Tuscan star for €40m.
With the vile insults Bernardeschi received before departing to Turin, his return to Florence last season was a hostile one. However, it was probably one of the best games the 24-year-old has played so far in the black and white stripes. No Fiorentina fan will forget when his stunning free-kick silenced the home supporters and helped the Bianconeri cruise to a 2-0 victory. The courage Bernardeschi mustered when he celebrated his goal in front of his former club was a spectacle that many Juventini savoured.
With Bernardeschi having a decent chance of getting some playing time in this fixture, will we see the Tuscan winger cause havoc again in Florence? For Fiorentina, the last time they beat their fierce rival was two seasons ago – when Chiesa caused many headaches for Gianluigi Buffon and the ‘BBC’ defence in that 2-1 win. But with Juve yet to lose a game in this season’s Serie A, can Fiorentina – one of the youngest sides in Europe – defeat this experienced side with their attacking weapons Chiesa and Giovanni Simeone?
All these talking points have the potential in making this another classic and bitter Fiorentina-Juventus affair.