The great Albert Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Paulo Sousa has been trying, and failing, to make his brand of football work for Fiorentina for a calendar year.
For casual viewers of the Viola, this view may seem harsh or even reactionary on the back of a 3-1 defeat to Lazio. Captain and key central defender Gonzalo Rodriguez was ruled out through illness before kick-off, Borja Valero injured, highly sought-after midfielder Milan Badelj was suspended and the Biancocelesti were in good form.
Totally outplayed in the first half and 2-0 down at the break, Fiorentina missed a penalty and were forced to fashion a makeshift defence when Nenad Tomovic was unable to continue. The Tuscan side emerged for the second half with renewed vigour, and put Lazio on the ropes when substitute Mauro Zarate made it 2-1 just after the hour mark.
All of the above are completely valid reasons why – to those aforementioned casual viewers – Sousa’s side were unlucky and had plenty of excuses to lose this game. In truth, this was just a continuation of the problems that had plagued the team since late last season.
Goals from Josip Ilicic and Nikola Kalinic had dried up, and the team were dominating games with sterile possession without any cutting edge, finishing below fourth place in the league for the first time in four years.
This was blamed on a lack of strength in depth, after a calamitous January transfer window led by previous Sporting Director Daniele Prade. In the summer however, in came Pantaleo Corvino to sort out the mess, and the paper-thin squad was bolstered by cut-price but quality finds such as midfielder Carlos Sanchez.
Despite this, removing the lack of personnel excuse for Sousa has simply made the problem worse. This term, the side has been lacking direction, with the Coach also using a scattergun approach to team selection, seemingly unable to make up his mind on his best XI and which formation to deploy.
There is absolutely no doubt that Fiorentina have good players, Kalinic having proved this with two fine solo efforts against Sassuolo to earn victory less than a week ago. But without a competent conductor, a group of fine individual musicians do not make an orchestra.
Some players, such as Zarate, seem unable to retain their place in the line-up after doing superb work on the field. The Argentinian has provided three goals and one assist in just 219 minutes of football in the current campaign. On the other hand, despite a dreadful performance against Genoa in midweek, Federico Bernardeschi is seemingly untouchable.
Through misplaced passes, turnovers and failed dribble attempts, the 22-year-old lost the ball no less than 21 times during the match. Whilst undoubtedly talented, Bernardeschi needs direction and must be made aware that if he continues to run at defenders and lose the ball without passing, he will be replaced in the side.
In truth, the Italy international perfectly encapsulates Fiorentina’s stagnation as a team – and perhaps even regression – in the last few months. He, like the collective unit, has not improved or lifted his performance when it matters most, spends far too long dwelling in possession and is easily neutralised by well-prepared opponents.
Yet given that this malaise has affected a squad that has undoubtedly been strengthened over Sousa’s tenure, the blame cannot be laid at the feet of the players. Instead it is the man who should be working on these issues and correcting the faults who needs to be dealt with.
Rather than those on the pitch or the laundry list of excuses, it is Sousa’s inability to instil an identity or philosophy that has left the team looking rudderless. The Portuguese boss has given some players too much leeway, while being overly harsh on others, his constant changes in formation causing confusion in his own side rather than making them unpredictable.
Speaking after the loss to Lazio, the Coach said that Fiorentina “deserved more” and as a team, a city and a fan base, they undoubtedly do. Sousa has proven himself incapable of delivering it. Enough is enough.