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Watch: Europe must always be the target for Fiorentina – Antognoni

Video: Elisa Lemarchand. Editing: Jonathan Borg

An excellent playmaker who used to lit up the football pitch with his exceptional skills, GIANCARLO ANTOGNONI has inscribed his name in the history of Fiorentina. With a record 341 Serie A appearances for La Viola and a member of the 1982 Italy World Cup winning team, Antognoni is regarded as one of the legends of Il Calcio. Antognoni was recently in Malta and spoke to GIANLUCA LIA about the future of Fiorentina ...

Giancarlo Antognoni enjoys legendary status among the Fiorentina fans, not only for his extraordinary football career but also for his relationship with the supporters, in particular the Curva Fiesole, for whom he is very fond of. 

Following his debut in October 1972, Antognoni’s skills and vision earned him a regular starting place in a Fiorentina side which went on to become one of the top teams in the Italian football.

At the end of the 1974/1975, Fiorentina would win the Coppa Italia after defeating Milan 3-2 and also the now-defunct Anglo-Italian League Cup following their 2-0 aggregate win over West Ham United. 

While captaining the side and wearing the famous number 10 shirt, Antognoni almost led Fiorentina to the coveted Serie A title in 1982 but they were pipped by Juventus by a single point on last day of the season.

The Bianconeri secured a 1-0 win at Udinese while the Viola could only manage a goalless draw against Cagliari in Sardinia. 

Despite the circulation of news that were highlighting a dispute between the club legend and Fiorentina’s owners, the Della Valle family, Antognoni returned to the club recently, in the role of a club manager and is eager to increase the popularity of the Fiorentina across the world, including on our shores. 

“I am surprised with the number of supporters that Fiorentina have in Malta,” Antognoni told the Sunday Times of Malta

“Most probably, credit has to go to our teams of the past who used to challenge for every title but nonetheless, it is a pleasure that nowadays we have a young audience as well.”

Antognoni, who was part of the Glorie Viola selection that played against a Malta Legends team in a charity match, explained that it is important for the club to maintain a positive relationship with its fans, especially the foreign audience, because that would help them to market more their name. 

“Such event helps us to remain in touch with those fans who may not have the opportunity to watch the club every weekend at the stadium, but who still suffer whenever our club does not do well, sometimes maybe more than those who attend the games,” the former Fiorentina skipper underlined. 

Although Fiorentina managed to finish in the top half of the Serie A standings in 2017-18, a result which could be viewed as a good omen ahead of the new season, the past campaign was overshadowed by the sudden death of their skipper, Davide Astori, on the day they were due to face Udinese at the Dacia Arena, last March. 

Astori, formerly of Cagliari and Roma, had played 58 games for Fiorentina and coach Stefano Pioli had established him as a key reference point to a squad full of youth players, full of skill and energy, that would hopefully develop into a competitive squad for the future.

“Unfortunately, it was a difficult year for us following what happened to Davide (Astori),” the Fiorentina club manager said.

“However, Astori’s death injected in us enormous strength and motivation to recover our energies and focus for the final part of the season, where we did very well to end in the upper places of the Serie A table.”

Antognoni praised the clever work done by the Fiorentina management ahead of the 2017/2018 season as despite a huge revamp in the squad, the team remained competitive and enjoyed a very solid campaign. 

Undoubtedly, two of the players which helped Fiorentina to challenge for a place in the Europa League where Federico Chiesa and Giovanni Simeone, both sons of two former professional players who plied their trades in Italy – Enrico Chiesa and Diego Simeone respectively.

Chiesa has already played 63 Serie A games for the club, scoring nine goals and providing 12 assists and is seen as one of Italy’s hottest prospects so far. 

“(Federico) Chiesa has been doing well during the past seasons. He is a modern player as he is very fast, has a solid physical structure and is able to play the ball with both feet,” Antognoni described him.

“At the moment, there are a lot of European clubs that want him but we want to keep him with us for now in order to develop his talent and help the club reach its targets.”

Meanwhile, ‘Cholito’ Simeone has scored 26 league goals between Genoa and Fiorentina, with 14 of them registered in a Fiorentina shirt.

“We knew Giovanni Simeone already because he was playing at Genoa,” Antognoni said.

“At our club, he expressed himself very well, showing his killer instinct as he scored 14 goals and I think that shows that he worked very well with us.

“His determination helps him to reach his goals. In that aspect, he resembles a lot his father as well.” 

Fiorentina’s last participation in UEFA club football was in 2016/2017 when they reached the last 32 of the Europa League before being knocked out by Germany’s Borussia Monchengladbach.

Antognoni has made no secret of the club’s ambition of securing a berth in European football come the end of next season.

“Every year we want to qualify for European competitions as that is where Fiorentina belongs,” Antognoni said.

“Reaching the Champions League is difficult because there are stronger teams in terms of finances, but we feel that we are exactly in the following category, so at least we always try to be involved in the Europa League.” 

Title race

After an exciting title race between Juventus and Napoli, with the former claiming the ultimate spoils with their seventh straight Scudetto, the 2018/2019 season promises to be a more fascinating story following the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo in Turin and also the return of Carlo Ancelotti in a Serie A dugout, after being appointed as Napoli manager.

“I am very happy that Carlo Ancelotti returned to Italian football because he is a good coach and he showed that in every nation he served,” Antognoni said.

“I think I was more surprised by how Maurizio Sarri left Napoli, despite his excellent job at the San Paolo. Most probably, the Serie A ranking cost him his job and now it is up to Ancelotti to help Napoli’s cause in the domestic championship, even though it will be difficult to dethrone Juventus.”

Another return in Italian football was that of Roberto Mancini, who has been tasked to steer the Italy national team into the 2020 UEFA European Championships after the failure to qualify to a World Cup for the first time in 52 years under Giampiero Ventura. 

“It is very interesting to see Roberto Mancini back in our movement.

“Maybe he does not have a deep pool of players to work with but he has a biennial project where he will be aiming to implement his ideas on the youngsters that we have in order to return to a major tournament,” the 1982 World Cup winner said. 

“Mancini has a lot of international experience given he has worked abroad as well. That will be both essential to his judgement of players and also in his ideologies which hopefully will help Italy return among the world’s elite.”

 

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