Some say that hitting rock bottom is not the end, but a beginning.
As far as Serie A side Fiorentina are concerned, the last few weeks of this season certainly represented one of their very darkest moments. Stuck with owners Andrea and Diego Della Valle, who had made mistake after mistake and entertained delusions of truth about the job they had done – when in actual fact they had been allowing the club to stagnate for many years – they finished an unthinkable 16th in the table as the campaign descended into chaos.
Situated in the center of Renaissance city Florence, Fiorentina are the only top-flight club in the city, concentrating the entire population in support of their beloved side, unlike dual-team locations such as Milan, Rome, and Turin.
Anyone who has visited the Stadio Artemio Franchi can attest to the fact this greatly concentrates the passion of the fanbase, but lately their discontent over the last 17 years of mediocrity had bubbled over. Protests over the owners had been happening for some time, but even the most loyal of fans in the Curva Fiesole had left their seats empty in the opening 45 minutes of recent home matches to demonstrate their abject disgust.
Finally, it seemed like the Della Valle brothers had got the message, as rumors of a takeover started to surface once the season had come to its depressing conclusion.
What a difference 11 days makes.
From the day the Viola retained their Serie A status with a 0-0 draw with Genoa, it’s difficult to believe that less than two weeks passed between that despair and the emergence of new owner Rocco Commisso.
The New Jersey-based billionaire arrived in Florence on Thursday, June 6, and entered a whirlwind 24 hours in which he admitted he had not slept very much at all. After signing the all-important legal documents and meeting Florence’s mayor, Dario Nardella, Commisso bought the club outright and held his first press conference at the stadium on Friday afternoon.
The Mediacom magnate revealed he had been born in the south of Italy, migrating to the U.S. at the age of 12. He professed his love for the game, having already purchased New York Cosmos FC and attempting to buy AC Milan before finally realizing his dream of owning a Serie A side with Fiorentina.
“We closed the deal quickly,” the charismatic businessman revealed at that introductory press conference. “We saved two or three months. Today I talked to all the employees. I want them to know that I’m loyal. I’m not here to send anyone away. I’ve never done that. I’m here to learn, but I learn very quickly!”
As the Della Valle brothers have learned the hard way, Fiorentina supporters are very staunch in their defense of what is most precious to them: their football team. Outsiders are often viewed with suspicion, but Commisso – speaking in a mixture of English and Italian at his press conference – quickly seems to have won them over.
“I won’t make any promises,” he continued. “I’ve dreamed of investing in Italy. I’m 69, I’ll make smart investments, so we’ll see what happens. I won’t wait 10 years. I don’t want to be arrogant, and I’m here to learn. I don’t like losing, but I never say I’ll win right away. It’s important to underline the fact that an Italian team have been taken over by an emigrant for the first time.”
His words were filled with cautious ambition as the idea of quickly catching up to clubs such as AS Roma and Inter, while the long-term aim, he said, was to compete with Juventus at the top. Whether such a feat is possible is anyone’s guess at this moment in time, however it is worth noting that he has built his fortune in the U.S. after only arriving in the country as a young teenager.
“[Sporting director Pantaleo] Corvino and [coach Vincenzo] Montella have contracts, as does [Federico] Chiesa,” Commisso went on to say. “We’ll face all these situations. I can put in €200 or €300 million, but then I hope UEFA favors Fiorentina as it did [Manchester] City, Milan, and PSG…”
His hint at FFP considerations gives a clear indication that he is ready to invest money within UEFA parameters, giving Viola supporters great hope for what previously looked to be a pretty bleak future. There is much work to be done, including the question of a new stadium, but Commisso seems to be open to all options including renovating their existing historic home.
As 8,000 Fiorentina supporters packed into the Franchi to welcome their new owner, there was a party atmosphere in the air.
“Florence is free!” read a banner held aloft by members of the Curva Fiesole. “Welcome, Rocco.”
It was a scene of true liberation from the frustrations and disappointments of the past, and as Rocco Commisso walked onto the pitch to the club’s anthem, “Oh, Fiorentina,” some of the words of the song should have given him great confidence for his future project.
“The Viola shirt fights with vigor, to be the pride and glory of Florence,” says one line. “On your flag you write ‘strength and heart’ and the victory and will always be ours.”
The fact is that the supporters do not expect Rocco Commisso to turn the club into a title challenger overnight. If he respects the city, learns about the club with humility, and shows pride, passion, “strength and heart” in his endeavors, Florence will treat him like a king.