Fiorentina fans need a good memory to recall the taste of success, but the new season has brought hope that La Viola can break into Italy’s elite once again.
The Florence-based club have not won a major trophy since lifting the 2000-01 Coppa Italia during a period in which they were part of a group of seven dominant clubs dubbed the ‘Seven Sisters’.
That term has re-emerged in recent years, but the teams involved have been edited at Fiorentina’s expense after the same clubs – AC Milan, Inter Milan, Juventus, AS Roma, Lazio, Napoli and Atalanta – occupied the top seven spots in four of the last five seasons.
A positive start to 2021-22 under new coach Vincenzo Italiano has got fans dreaming of competing for European places once again, but defender Nikola Milenkovic remains cautious.
“Serie A is very strong this year, there are a lot of great teams that will fight for the top seven spots,” Milenkovic told Reuters.
“It is too soon to talk about it, there is still time to improve.
“Of course, playing in Europe was an objective in previous years too. You can’t hide that. Everyone here in Florence wants to return to playing in Europe.”
IGNORE THE CRISIS
Fiorentina head into Saturday’s home clash with bitter rivals Juventus in seventh place, after picking up six wins in their opening 11 games.
The Old Lady are the only member of the current ‘Seven Sisters’ to be outside the top seven.
Recent defeats to mid-table Sassuolo and Hellas Verona left them ninth, three points behind Fiorentina, although they showed improvement with a 4-2 Champions League win over Zenit St Petersburg on Tuesday.
“We must not think about the moment Juve are in, because we know the players they have,” Milenkovic said.
“Those players can make the difference at any moment. Against Zenit they played a great match and won. We can’t think that Juve are in crisis, because they always have players who can hurt the opponent.”
“I know how much this match means for Fiorentina, Florence and the fans,” he added.
“From the moment I arrived in Florence, they immediately made me aware of the importance of the game with Juve.”
One sour note to an otherwise promising start was Viola owner Rocco Commisso’s announcement that star striker Dusan Vlahovic turned down a new contract, leaving the Serbian’s future in doubt with his deal expiring in June 2023.
Vlahovic won Serie A’s Best Young Player award for last season after scoring 21 league goals and has eight in 11 Serie A games this term, including a hat-trick against Spezia on Sunday.
Milenkovic, a close friend of Vlahovic since their time together at Partizan Belgrade, says that transfer speculation and an angry backlash from some fans have not put the 21-year-old off his stride.
“He is good. He is a calm guy, very serious and professional, who always works hard,” he said.
“Few players have the personality and hunger that he brings to training every day, to improve, to become a great player. I’ve seen incredible professionalism and dedication from him in his work.”
Since finishing eighth in his debut season in 2017-18, Milenkovic has seen Fiorentina flirt with relegation, and Italiano is the fifth coach the defender has worked under in Florence.
However, the Serbian has been impressed by the 43-year-old, who led Spezia to Serie A for the first time in 2020 and kept them up last season with an entertaining brand of football.
“Every coach has their own precise ideas to transmit to the players. Italiano has definitely brought a very attacking and positive game,” he said.
“Sometimes you take risks, but there are also a lot of benefits as you’re always in the opposition half and creating danger.
“After 11 games we are growing and improving from where we started. The more time passes, the stronger we will get.”