Fiorentina back where they belong
Having survived bankruptcy in 2002, Fiorentina have made quite a comeback and currently sit third in the Italian league. What is more, they have achieved their success by playing attractive attacking football - a rare currency in the modern game.
Former UEFA President and FIFA Vice-President Artemio Franchi, an emblematic figure of Florentine football who was killed in a road accident in 1983, would have approved of the new image that "his" Fiorentina has taken on. Their motto seems to be: "attractive football at all costs, victory if at all possible".
A few years ago, Fiorentina had all but been wiped off the map. The club had to be disbanded in 2002 due to bankruptcy and forced to start afresh down in Serie C 2 - the Italian fourth division. Despite having been an integral part of the calcio for many a year, the famous club in violet was in dire straits, with no-one ready to wager more than a lira or two on their survival, let alone re-emergence.
Then along came the Della Valle brothers. Diego, a shoe magnate, and Andrea, the current club chairman, decided to take up the cudgels. Their first move was to bring in legendary coach Cesare Prandelli.
In a business where results are the only thing that matters, Prandelli laid down his two conditions: the backing of the board and the support of the players. And off he set to return the Viola to the dizzy heights they had known in the glory days of Gabriel Batistuta, he of the 206 goals and the statue outside the stadium.
Keep it simple
Prandelli's recipe for success was a simple one: a fluid 4-3-3 formation capable of snuffing out opposing play by flooding the midfield then sending men forward to support the attack. The result has been spectacular flowing football which has delighted the players themselves as well as the supporters and pundits.
The league table does not lie, and Fiorentina are currently one of only two unbeaten teams so far this season (Inter Milan being the other) with a record of four wins and five draws - enough to see them ahead of Juventus on goal difference in third place.
Not that Prandelli has let this success go to his head. "We're not outsiders for the title," said the coach in an attempt to put a lid on the growing enthusiasm among the tifosi. "The big guns like Roma, AC Milan and Lazio will find form sooner or later. We need to carry on playing our football, even if the going gets tough. We still need to improve and see what we can do in Europe."
The Fiorentina board have shown good sense - both footballing and financial - in building their new team. Things may have looked bleak last May when Luca Toni headed north to Bayern Munich, but Prandelli brought in two players with something to prove as replacements. Christian Vieri, at the grand old age of 34, was something of a forgotten man on the Italian football scene, but "Bobo" has had a new lease of life in the purple jersey, even going so far as to proclaim that: "as far as playing for Italy again is concerned, it's all down to me. I just need to play consistently well."
Mutu among the goals
Next up was Adrian Mutu, who touched down in Florence a year ago after stints with Inter, Parma, Chelsea and Juventus. Since then, the Romanian international has been telling anyone who will listen that he is "ready to sign a contract for life at Fiorentina." On the pitch, he has been a revelation. He drops deep to pick up the ball, leaves his markers for dead and happily sets up his team-mates. What is more, he has also been finding the net - to the tune of 16 goals last season and six in eight matches so far this term.
Then there is Gianpaolo Pazzini, the calcio's new golden boy. This lively and technically gifted young attacker wrote his name in the annals by scoring the first ever goal at the new Wembley after a mere 29 seconds when Italy's U-21 team played out a 3-3 draw in a friendly against their English counterparts. "He works hard all week and he sets an example for the rest of the team," said Prandelli. "He gives real depth to our game and is really productive."
Midfielders Franco Semioli (formerly of Chievo) and Ricardo Montolivo (from Atalanta) are another pair of new recruits who are proving their worth at Fiorentina, where they feel that their game has reached the next level. "I feel at home here. The team is making real progress very quickly and I reckon that we'll soon be in the running for some silverware," said newly-capped Italian international Montolivo, who has extended his contract with the club until 2012.
Finally, to provide some stability at the back, Prandelli pulled off a master-stroke in signing French keeper Sebastien Frey, seen by many as the best goalkeeper in Serie A after Gianluigi Buffon. After a frustrating time in the French championship, Frey has enjoyed a rebirth south of the Alps, and is playing a major role in Fiorentina's bid for their third Scudetto since 1969. Even if they do not manage to bag the title, their brand of football will at least have won a host of admirers along the way.