As I arrive in Florence to take up my new role as manager of ACF Fiorentina, I find it important to give some background to my new club.
Personally, I am much better off financially as I have agreed a two-year deal at Artemio Franchi Stadium. I will earn €26,000 per week (€1.35M per annum) with bonuses for winning the Europa League or TIM Cup and qualifying for the Champions League.
Founded in 1926, a local noble and member of the National Fascist Party Luigi Ridolfi started Associazione Calcio Fiorentina by merging two older Florentine clubs, CS Firenze and PG Libertas. The aim of the merger was to give Florence a strong club to rival those of the more dominant Italian Football Championship sides of the time from Northwest Italy.
After a rough start and three seasons in lower leagues, Fiorentina reached the Serie A in 1931. That same year saw the opening of the new stadium, originally named after Giovanni Berta, a prominent fascist, but now known as Stadio Artemio Franchi.
In 1950, Fiorentina started to achieve consistent top-five finishes in the domestic league. The team consisted of great players such as well-known goalkeeper Giuliano Sarti, Sergio Cervato, Francesco Rosella, Guido Gratton, Giuseppe Chiappella and Aldo Scaramucci but above all, the attacking duo of Brazilian Julinho and Argentinian Miguel Montuori. This team won Fiorentina's first scudetto in 1955–56, 12 points ahead of 2nd placed Milan. Milan beat Fiorentina to top spot the following year, but more significantly Fiorentina became the first Italian team to play in a European Cup final, when a disputed penalty led to a 2–0 defeat at the hands of Alfredo Di Stéfano's Real Madrid.
In 2001 major changes were headed for Fiorentina, as the terrible state of the club's finances was revealed: they were unable to pay wages and had debts of around $50million. The club's owner was able to raise some more money, but even this soon proved to be insufficient resources to sustain the club. Fiorentina were relegated at the end of the 2001/02 season and went into judicially-controlled administration in June 2002. This form of bankruptcy meant that the club was refused a place in Serie B for the 2002/03 season, and as a result effectively ceased to exist.
The club was promptly re-established in August 2002 as Associazione Calcio Fiorentina e Florentia Viola with shoe and leather entrepreneur Diego Della Valle as new owner and the club was admitted into Serie C2. The only player to remain at the club in its new incarnation was Angelo Di Livio, whose commitment to the club's cause further endeared him to the fans. The club won its Serie C2 group with considerable ease, which would normally have led to a promotion to Serie C1, however, with the bizarre Catania case of 2003, the club skipped Serie C1 and was admitted into Serie B, something that was only made possible by the Italian FA's decision to resolve the Catania situation by increasing the number of teams in Serie B from 20 to 24 and promoting Fiorentina for "sports merits."
After securing Europa League football last season, Andrea Mandorlini faced the sack after leading Fiorentina down into 13th place - way down from 2023's 7th place finish. Fiorentina were knocked out of the Europa League in the qualifying knockout rounds by Lokomotiv Moscow as they suffered a 2-1 aggregate defeat. As it stands, Fiorentina are only seven points off their position from last season and they have trusted me to regain ground in the league with 19 games remaining.
In the backroom staff, the board consists of Fiorentina's owner and man who revived the club Andrea Della Valle as Mario Cognini sits as the chairman, a role he has had for nine years now. Former Serie A player Giancarlo Cavaliere also sits on the board as the club's managing director.
In the coaching department, we obviously have myself as the manager. As part of my move to Italy, the club paid the compensation fees for my Oulu assistant manager Thomas Jorgensen to come across alongside one of my coaches Bajram Fetai as the former Rangers midfielder joins on a two-year deal. Another possibly familiar face is our goalkeeping coach Julen Lopetegui. After managing huge clubs such as FC Porto and Real Madrid, Lopetegui has reverted back to a goalkeeping coach on our books as we sign him from Bologna.
In the scouting department, Carlos Freitas remains as a director of football at the club after signing me as manager. Former Fiorentina star player Gianluca Comotto is the clubs chief scout as he leads a scouting team of four other members.
Moving onto the playing squad, we will start at the back with the selection of goalkeepers at our disposal. Koen Casteels is our undisputed number one between the sticks for now, as Jero may be forced out of the club due to his high wage. Only Giacomo Puntoni is arguably our promising young goalkeeper as he sits in the Under 20s team.
At the back, Tony Moller - currently on loan from Paris Saint-Germain - is our best centre-back. The amount of loanees in our back line could be a problem moving forward and I will look to address the issue of the lack of permanent defenders at the club in January. Four out of the six first-team defenders are on loan at the club and with a transfer budget of nearly €40million, the issue will be resolved to some extent.
Vanni Vezzosi seems our best young player at left-back in the defence, and I will certainly look to play him in more games than loanee Antonee Robinson in that particular position to aid his development.
In the midfield, Marco Benassi is the club captain and a team leader. At 29 years old, he does not have much room for improvement and he is in his prime. With Matteo Guendouzi, his midfield partner, I don't like the look of the Frenchman who is on €90K per week at the club, so I may look to offload the player to help free up the wage budget slightly.
Jordan Veretout is currently out on loan, which is unfortunate as I will look to sell the 30-year-old as I think despite him not being a key player at Fiorentina, he is worth a lot of money on the transfer market. On €64K per week, he is also taking up a lot of the wage budget.
The forward position is somewhere that needs a lot of consideration in the upcoming transfer window. We only have one first-team striker at the club in Miguel Borja and the Colombian is not doing very well up top this season with only four goals 23 starts this season. A new striker is top of my list going into my new job.