Why Stefano Pioli is loving life at Fiorentinaby Chloe Beresford / 15 September 2018, 09:31Tweet
Achieving just two points from just seven matches is relegation form in anyone’s book, and a grey-looking Stefano Pioli must have known his days as Inter boss were well and truly numbered.
His ashen face told the tale of how an initial run of 10 wins from his first 13 matches had turned sour, and sure enough, the Nerazzurri board relieved the boss of his duties following a 1-0 defeat away to Genoa in May 2017.
Right then, he looked every one of his 51 years, however the present day couldn’t be any more different for him. Hired by Fiorentina for the start of the 2017/18 campaign, he took on a project that many would have shied away from, as the owners of the club sold off the older and popular players in order to replace them with young and unproven alternatives.
A skip forward in time to the last Serie A weekend before the international break revealed Pioli looking relaxed, happy and confident in his band of youngsters, in the dugout with his distinctive purple waistcoat fresh from a 6-1 hammering of Chievo in their opening match. Their next opponent would be Udinese – a side much more difficult to break down – but when the Viola finally made the breakthrough, the Coach would sprint down the touchline to celebrate with Marco Benassi as his side eventually took a 1-0 victory.
A marked difference in just 15 months, which begs the question of exactly how did Pioli arrive at this point in such a short space of time?
For him, it’s as simple as finding his “happy place”, a club in which he receives the same affection as that which he gives out. As a former Viola defender, he played in the great Fiorentina teams of the 1990’s alongside Gabriel Batistuta, a time in which it would be impossible to fail to see what the ethos of this proud and passionate city was all about.
Indeed, as soon as he was appointed as first team boss, Pioli put up pictures of former Fiorentina stars such as Batistuta and Roberto Baggio in the dressing room, alongside inspirational quotes from them.
Yet it has not all been plain sailing for the much adored boss. Arriving after the sacking of the abysmal reign of Paulo Sousa, Fiorentina supporters seemed disappointed that Eusebio Di Francesco had not been hired instead, Pioli seen as a mediocre choice from an ownership with little ambition.
In his first two matches, the Tuscan outfit looked disjointed and – unsurprisingly given the wholesale changes in the summer – nothing like a team as they succumbed to comprehensive and back-to-back defeats. Yet Pioli soon had his new squad working towards a clear and defined plan, and fans had readjusted their expectations, realising that this was a project that would take time.
Stefano Pioli went to get a DA13 tattoo today in honour of Davide Astori. Grande, mister! ???????????????????? pic.twitter.com/BYtQRD6J8x— Chloe Beresford (@ChloeJBeresford) April 12, 2018
No-one could have predicted the sudden death of Captain Davide Astori in early March, and a lesser man than Pioli could have quit football after being the one who had to go round and tell each player what had happened that morning in a hotel in Udine.
“I arrived in front of room number 118 in my pyjamas,” revealed Pioli to the Corriere Fiorentino shortly afterwards. “[Marco] Sportiello was already there. “Mister, Davide is gone” he said. But i still did not understand. Then, opening the door I saw [club doctor Luca] Marangon and [team manager Alberto] Pengue crying and Astori there, lying on his bed. It seemed like he was sleeping, but it wasn’t so.
“The most difficult moment,” confessed the Fiorentina boss “was going around the rest of the rooms to tell the rest of the team what had happened. It was something that I would not wish on anyone.”
Indeed, no-one would have blamed him for stepping down following a tragedy so unexpected and so terrible but – determined to set an example to his young players – the boss put his own shock and grief to one side and was back in the dugout to lead them just one week later.
That his squad won the next five matches in a row and drew the sixth was testament to Pioli and his brave group of players, who narrowly missed out on Europa League qualification at the end of the campaign. This term,
Fiorentina have made the best possible start towards their aim of making Europe, and belief in the boss is high as they next take on Napoli and Sampdoria in quick succession. Even though all that has happened in his short spell in charge, Pioli has not returned to the frazzled figure we saw while he was in charge of Inter.
That alone tells you all you need to know about his position at Fiorentina, and long may that continue.