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Aapo Virtanen: Don’t Look Back In Anger

Started on 6 November 2018 by Jack
Latest Reply on 5 September 2019 by Justice
Another positive in terms of the Finnish national side and shows the great work Aapo is doing there. Won’t be long until you are into group A!

The World Cup qualifiers looks an interesting group. But I’m sure Aapo can see the nation through!
Excellent work. Aapo continues to revolutionise this Finnish national side. The World Cup qualification group seems feasible and something that Finland can look to qualify from - Germany aside, the other nations are easily beatable. However, as proven, Germany certainly aren't safe from suffering a loss at the hands of Virtanen.

After suffering our first loss since December 2023 against Empoli last month, we bounced straight back into unbeatable form throughout December and into the new year of January 2025 as well as further Champions League advancement.

The month began with a draw against Sassuolo who after a bad start to the season are partially getting themselves back up the table. Paolo Filpo scored a late equaliser to make sure that all three points weren’t dropped in this fixture. We played our final Champions League group game in December against Valencia in the knowledge that we had already qualified for the first knockout round at the expense of our opponents and Sporting CP. Our return to Serie A football was nicely presented with a bunch of mid-table opponents up next against us, including a 2-0 win over the recovering Napoli.

The New Year began with a friendly match in France against Stade Rennais who were also having a winter break before domestic competitive football began. Our first competitive fixture was up against Udinese in the TIM Cup 1st Round which Davide Merola and Rostislav Hora sent us into the quarter-final of. The following game, I picked up my second piece of silverware at Fiorentina by winning the Suppercoppa Final against Milan through penalties. All five of my players scored their penalties, whereas it was Luis Alberto of Milan who let his team down by missing his first penalty for the Serie A holders. A vital win against Roma was achieved as Yannick Carrasco scraped us a 1-0 win against the title contenders who were certainly bearing down on us prior to the result. After draws to SPAL and Torino, we returned to winning form with another penalty shoot-out victory in the TIM Cup Quarter-Final against Lazio.

With regard to league positions, we still sit at the top of the Serie A standings, but it is becoming incredibly tight at the top. Only two points separate ourselves from 4th placed Roma, taking into consideration that both Juventus and Roma have a game in hand on the top two. With Juventus picking up big results such as their 6-0 win over Lazio or their 7-2 goal bonanza against Torino, they have drastically improved their goal difference going into the final parts of the season which could see them benefitting lots. Lazio also have an opportunity to break into the top four so long as they win their two games in hand that they have on both us and Milan.

Napoli have made a recovery from the bottom half of the table at this point, but they are still a far stretch from recent finishes and are having a woeful season regardless of restoring their form somewhat.

At the bottom of the Serie A, it is becoming a relegation scrap between 19th-16th place as only two points separate the four teams. Parma are sinking dangerously low on points and recording poor form, too. They would certainly be the favourites to be relegated by a long way at this moment.

In the Champions League group stage, we finished the phase topping the group on four points and not having lost a game. We qualify for the first knockout round of the competition alongside RB Leipzig meanwhile Valencia will enter the Europa League first knockout round after coming 3rd in Group E.

Throughout the January transfer window, we added three players to the squad. They will not be first-team players for some time as I am currently happy with the state of the first-team playing squad. These three signings are for the youth sides who will hopefully make their way into the Fiorentina first-team in a few years time.

Pekka Sund is one of the two players that arrived from a Finnish club to join us this January window. He is a 17-year-old goalkeeper who graduated from the Vaasan Palloseura academy last year. Given my prior knowledge of the talent in Finland due to managing there with Oulu and my current role as Finland national team management, it was easy to pick out Sund as a young goalkeeper with a lot of potential. After making 3 appearances and keeping 2 clean sheets in the first-team at Vaasan Palloseura in the Veikkausliiga this season, I signed him for a fee of €700K.

Mark Bodart joins us in Florence from the German second tier from FC St. Pauli. Only a 16-year-old, Fiorentina is Bodart’s third club. The 6-feet-1-inch centre-back came through the KSV Roeselare academy in Belgium before being picked up by Roeselare’s parent club St. Pauli in an arranged fee. Although not having played a competitive first-team fixture this season, Bodart has played 15 times for the St. Pauli Under 19s and scored twice along with averaging 5 completed tackles per game. He possesses all the attributes for a good defender and also the mentality for further development in the coming years. We picked up the player for a fee of €1.2M from the German side.

Robert Ryngmark becomes our second player of the transfer window to arrive from a club in Finland. He is also the fourth player to join Fiorentina from my old club, AC Oulu as he arrives for a fee of €1.5M. Despite signing him at Oulu for a fee of €1.9M from Brommapojkarna in 2024, Ryngmark never had the opportunity to play under me before at Raatti Stadion. Instead, he featured five times in the Veikkausliiga under my Oulu successor Simo Valakari, scoring one goal. During this, he appeared 30 times in the AC Oulu reserve team, which plays in the Finnish third tier. At just 16 years old, Ryngmark scored 22 goals and assisted 8 times in that period. He has certainly proven himself as a goalscorer at such a young age and now it is our job at Fiorentina to develop him into a quality Serie A striker.

With the new January signings covered, it’s time to look at what comes ahead for us in the next two months of February and March:

We play Roma in the first leg of the TIM Cup Semi-Final at Artemio Franchi in our first fixture of February. This is followed up by a Serie A fixture against Juventus which could prove to be a huge game in deciding the fate of the Serie A title this year. A Juventus win could tip the balance of the title into their hands slightly given the tightness at the top of the table, whereas a win for us would simply be an extension to an already impressive points tally. In February, we take part in the Champions League Last 16 first leg against Barcelona. We are fully aware of how difficult the task of bringing down Barcelona will be, but we have changed the dynamics of Italian football this season, it would be a shame to not do something similar in European football. We return to the TIM Cup for the second leg of the semi-finals against Roma.

March will be a relatively short month due to the beginning of the World Cup qualifiers beginning later that month, which I as Finland manager will be partaking in. Domestically, there won’t be much challenges to us as we face mainly mid-table sides with the exception of Lazio. However, the second leg of the Champions League Last 16 tie against Barcelona will be brought back to Florence that month in what could be the biggest Fiorentina fixture in decades.

LFCFan: Division A is the dream! I am so proud of my achievements of certainly a below-average national side and this just adds to my pride in it.
Scott: The tactics implemented that are having so much success are so defensive (understandably against tougher opposition) which constantly makes me think something will go wrong with the barrage of opposition attacks, but it keeps working out! To qualify for a World Cup with Finland would be absolutely tremendous.
The top 4 is incredibly tight so dropping points against SPAL and Torino could certainly come back to bite you, hopefully not. However, another unbeaten couple of months is very impressive and if it continues surely the other sides will eventually start dropping off!
In terms of the Barca draw, it will be a great test against one of Europes best teams, hopefully you manage to pull of yet another Aapo masterclass!
Incredibly tight at the top of Serie A, which is exciting for the neutral but certainly not for the staff involved. Aapo will certainly be looking at those dropped points against the likes of SPAL if it comes back to cost him, unfortunately, I would presume.

Real focus on bringing in young players with those signings - which is a good approach to have. Some absolutely huge fixtures are approaching, which could make or break the season for Fiorentina. I wish them the best of luck. Aapo would certainly love to add to his trophy cabinet with success in the cup, but more importantly, in the league.
A big result to top the CL group, doing well in the league too! The others are bound to slip up and that's when you can pounce and secure the title!

11th March 2025 | 18:00PM

I had seen some sights of support in my time as a manager in Finland and throughout my time as Fiorentina, but tonight the streets were packed to the brim as the purple bus rode through the city centre of Florence into a cloud of violet, red and white smoke created by flares set off by the deafening fans.

There were grown men kissing the bus as it went past them at a slow pace of twenty miles per hour. The Fiorentina club anthem, La Canzone Viola was being rebounding across every building in the vicinity and it was Vanni Vezzosi - a youth graduate who had played for Fiorentina since the age of 11 that got the song going on the team bus. Vezzosi stood up from his seat and made his way down to the front of the bus before grabbing a megaphone out of his sports bag, which no one knew he had. He slammed the emergency exit button on top of the bus door and the doors flung open and he stood there with his megaphone:

”O Fiorentina, di ogni squadra ti vogliam regina!” (Oh Fiorentina, we want you queen of all teams) he screamed into the square of thousands of fans, getting a roaring return of the next verse before the Fiorentina fans began chanting Vezzosi’s name in acknowledgement of ‘one of their own’

I grinned as Vezzosi had the doors shut and he made his way back and as he walked by me I stood up, held him with my arm around his shoulder before bouncing up and down with him, chanting “Alé Alé Viola!” repeatedly, with each time getting louder and reverberating around the small acoustics of the bus.

With Artemio Franchi stadium looming over us, we exited the bus at our arranged entrance to thousands more fans in a sea of purple. It was a hero’s welcome and we had not even completed a single task yet. That was for me to pull off here.

After signing every autograph I possibly could and surviving the hundreds of camera flashes per second, we eventually made our way into the stadium, with my players walking together, chatting excitedly about the night ahead.

At Camp Nou, we had lost 2-1 to Barcelona in the first leg of the last 16. We had an away goal to use but no matter what, we had to beat Barcelona tonight or face a knockout blow, with not even the Europa League to support us at this point.

11th March 2025 | 18:55PM

My mind had been made up as I welcomed the players back in for a temporary break in their warm-ups out on the playing field with their coaches.

“Nikola [Boskovic], you know your job in goal. In my opinion you’re the best young goalkeeper in the world - get out there and don’t let a single thing past you tonight.

“Same back four as Lazio guys. That’s you Leonardo [Venturelli], Bettella, Amadeu [Neves] and you Lewis [Gibson].

“Rostislav is here tonight to support you lot, he’s absolutely knackered aren’t you? You lazy bugger!” I joked at Hora who was sat in his Fiorentina tracksuit. “That means it’s you, Tom [Mrmic] and Mattias [Svanberg]. You’re in the center tonight. We worked on how we play in training throughout the week. You know what you’re doing.

“Kanté! Another goal from you against these lot tonight and we’re happy aren’t we? You’re on the right. Cristiano [Ronaldo] will talk you through what you’re doing out there tonight. Yannick [Carrasco], you’re starting out on the left tonight. Do what you’ve done all your career and be absolutely unplayable.

“Gutiérrez, you’re playing behind Davide [Merola] tonight. You two know what to do, you’ve done it plenty of times this season and it’s a big reason as to why we’re here in this situation tonight. Lots of interplay, lots of swapping positions, lots of shots.”

I stood still in silence for about five seconds, panoramically looking at every single one of my players in the eyes. “I’ll call you back in here for quarter-to-eight after completing your warm-ups out there for one final chat. Final call is 1950 hours, so don’t be late. Thomas [Jorgensen], Cristiano [Ronaldo]: you OK to take them out for the drills?”

“Course, boss.” Both replied as they clapped their hands together which acted as a signal for the players to stand up in unison and head out onto the pitch.

11th March 2025 | 19:50PM

The Champions League anthem was flooding the stadium and funneling down into the player’s tunnel. Davide Bettella was the captain tonight so he was leading the eleven out onto the pitch, with Nikola Boskovic just behind him as the goalkeeper. With the UEFA officer giving the all-clear for the players to begin the walk onto the pitch, it was a cue for my staff and the seven substitutes to make our way to the dugout.

A sold-out Artemio Franchi had not been seen often in the Serie A or many other competitions this season, but a full 43,000 crowd was present tonight, with over 3,000 Catalonians travelling from Barcelona to watch their star-studded side who had a one-goal advantage going into this tie.

One minute before the kick-off time, Barcelona had come together in their half of the field in a final team huddle as an opportunity for one last piece of motivation. My players were darting to one another before embracing them with a final individual hug before they went to war alongside them. The backdrop provided was a purple cloud, similar to the one seen in the city centre and let off by a pyrotechnic.

Pietro Pellegri had the ball at his feet for a Barcelona kick-off, looking to pass it back to Kai Havertz. I stood on the sidelines with my arms folded, knowing that across the world I would be being broadcasted to millions of people. My opposite number - Unai Emery - took his place in the away dugout to the left of me.

From the very beginning, Barcelona were focusing on attacking our goal in the hope of chalking out our potentially advantageous away goal that Mamadou Kanté scored at Camp Nou. Pogba was steaming forward with the ball in the third minute of play before unleashing a thunderous strike that Boskovic wasn’t particularly concerned about. Nevertheless, Mattias Svanberg was the player I chose to tell off for allowing Pogba to dominate the midfield this early on.

Svanberg appeared to take it on board on the pitch as Pogba was immediately pounced upon his first touch by my Swedish midfielder. In appreciation for his obedience, at the time of the next break in play, Svanberg was encouraged by both me and my assistant manager Thomas Jorgensen.

Carrasco was the closest player to the dugout in the first-half due to his left-wing positioning. Being the most experienced player in the squad and his numerous appearances in big games in Europe like this, having him so close was incredibly beneficial for my management as he was able to accurately take on instructions as well as actively pass on messages to other players.

This was evident just minutes after I had told Yannick to aim for the far post with his crosses. He bombed down the wing with the agility and speed of someone you would expect ten years his junior, beating Sergi Roberto with skill before heading for the byline. Carrasco clipped in a cross to the far post that was inch-perfect and missed the approaching Kanté by millimetres, but still received a rapturous commendation from the Fiorentina fans.

My coach, Bajram Fetai who had joined with me from Oulu last year was keeping track of the match statistics via technology and it was clear to see that Barcelona were still persistent in their attacking. However, I had faith in my team which had only conceded 17 goals in the Serie A this season and in a goalkeeper who has only conceded at least two goals only six times in his career with Nikola Boskovic.

With half-time fast approaching, our Champions League fate was still hanging in the balance. Barcelona were determined to rule out our away goal with a goal here, but they had failed to do so with Pietro Pellegri and Kai Havertz both missing good opportunities inside the box throughout the game.

11th March 2025 | 20:50PM

Half-time was signalled by the referee’s two extended blows on the whistle as both dugouts rose simultaneously onto the turf after Leonardo Venturelli had kicked the ball safely out of the way for a throw-in.

I waited by the door of our changing rooms, slapping each one of my players on the back as they walked through. Once the part-headcount and part-encouragement had concluded I clapped my hands together and began speaking in a softer tone to the squad.

“I’m not making any changes to the players yet. What you lot have given me out there tonight has been good enough so far. We’ve been in situations like this with the likes of Juventus and Milan who have been dominant in their style which allows them to open up a lot of chances, but as always the defence has been remarkably good so far and long may that continue.” The players nodded their heads in agreement.

“Davide,” I said looking over to Davide Merola who was listening eagerly. “You’re going to drag Lenglet a little bit wider. Varnier isn’t quick enough to deal with a gap being opened up on Lenglet’s side and that’s where Wilson [Gutiérrez] will appear. We’ve worked on the signals in training, so when Davide gives the sign or the call then Wilson, you’re going into that pocket left behind. Then the wingers will do their business by cutting inside with their runs or working it out wide for a crossing opportunity. Front four, have you got that?”

“Mattias [Svanberg], poor first couple of minutes but you really did ramp up your performance after that initial mistake allowing Pogba to have a go. Well done, I’m proud of you for acknowledging it, but it’s those lapses of concentration that are going to seriously cost us if we have one too many.” Svanberg smiled in embarrassment of his earlier mistake of allowing Pogba too much time, but in pride of his recovery afterwards.

I had finished handing out my instructions five minutes later and my conclusion was followed two seconds after by a huge rallying cry led by the team captain Davide Bettella. After several thumpings of the dressing room wall, the studs clicked against the stone flooring before Bettella’s war cry in the confines of a small room were translated into a 40,000-strong vociferation of support from the Fiorentina fans.

11th March 2025 | 21:05PM

Davide Merola kicked off the second-half of the biggest game in the past few decades for Fiorentina. Right now in these current circumstances, we only needed one goal to go through. Everyone knew football wasn’t as simple as that, though.

We began the first-half incredibly well with some great chances being opened up for the attacking midfielders thanks to Merola’s positional control over Lenglet. It was like Lenglet was on the strings of our striker but I knew that tactically, Emery would not stand for such manipulation of his defence so we needed to make the most of our current dominance before it was acted upon.

With Emery shouting instructions to his players, which my coach Cristiano Ronaldo kindly translated for me, we saw a shift in the balance of the game once again even in light of knowledge of Emery’s instructions. Barcelona once more had possession in my half and were playing it comfortably around the halfway line.

With Barcelona still in unwavering control, the first substitute was made by Unai Emery as Youri Tielemans came off for Tanguy Ndombele in the 63rd minute. This was followed ten minutes later by Pietro Pellegri being subbed off for Abel Ruiz.

With fifteen minutes remaining, we were still reverting back to the defensive system that has achieved such a defensive record. However, right now we needed to be scoring a goal to stand a chance of going through. It was OK to not be conceding thanks to the defensive tactics, but our attacks were being consistently stopped due to outnumbering thanks to all of our men being held back after defending a prior Barcelona attack.

I looked over to see that Unai Emery was laughing with his staff members. I scowled as my eyes wandered back onto the pitch, angry that he was feeling comfortable enough to find time to have a break from studying the game to have a humorous chat with his staff members on. I looked back towards my bench, realising the need for an attack. However, I wasn’t going to do it conventionally by throwing on any number of attacking players.

Vanni Vezzosi was thrown onto the field of play in the 77th minute. As a left-back, he was a much more energetic and attacking full-back than Lewis Gibson, who he had replaced. Shortly after, Cabecao was subbed on by Barcelona to replace their left-back Maresic.

Five minutes passed and there was no real change in the game aside from one attack which led to a Mamadou Kanté cross fractionally going out of play for a goal-kick. A change in formation was needed and substitutions were required as it was becoming impossible that the game would ever reach extra-time so the need for fresh legs was now.

On-loan defender Nicoló Armini was sent on for Leonardo Venturelli. We went three-at-the-back with Armini, Neves and Cas Maatman, who was also subbed on for our captain Davide Bettella as the armband was passed to Yannick Carrasco. We moved to a 3-6-1 formation with Mrmic and Svanberg remaining in the centre. However, Carrasco was moved inside to join Wilson Gutiérrez as an attacking-midfielder as Vanni Vezzosi was pushed up from left-back to left-wing with limited defensive commitments at this 82nd minute stage.

The changes certainly impacted the flow of the game as despite our defence being stretched wider to deal with Barcelona wingers, the quality of the defence shone through and retrieved the ball at almost every time of asking. Mrmic and Svanberg were now the players with the most of the ball as they became anchormen, spraying the ball out wide to either Vezzosi or Kanté or the alternative of a killer-ball through to Merola.

Despite this increase in attacking, the Barcelona defence were almost impossible to break down. The game stood still at 0-0, the aggregate score being 2-1 to Barcelona - thus sending the Catalans through to the quarter-finals.

I had stood up all game in my technical area, mostly on my own as my coaches studied the game from the bench and they only joined me to offer advice. However, with a Wilson Gutiérrez corner missing every single player in the box and flying out for a goal-kick at the opposite end, I elected to take my seat in the dugout.

The additional minutes amounted to five for stoppages and right now we were three minutes and 37 seconds deep into this time, with Marc-André ter Stegen’s time-wasting in retrieving the ball from Gutiérrez’s corner taking up a lot of this. I shouted to the fourth official, gesturing towards a wristwatch, to which he turned around swiftly but didn’t appear to act on anything.

Ter Stegen was eventually encouraged to hurry up with his goal-kick by the referee. A pump down the middle of the field and into our half was contested between Paul Pogba and Cas Maatman. Our Dutch centre-back leaped into the air, both beating Pogba to the ball as well as causing damage to the tall Frenchman in the aftermath, although some suspected it was an attempt to time-waste further.

Maatman’s defensive header, with no particular direction to it had found itself at the feet of Vanni Vezzosi on the left flank. Sergi Roberto was taken on again in what had been a torrid game for him at right-back against both Yannick Carrasco and now Vanni Vezzosi. Vezzosi surged onto the edge of the area, with Gutiérrez screaming for the ball as he ran diagonally into the box. Vezzosi placed a soft through pass towards the Colombian attacking midfielder.

Gutiérrez took one touch which went four yards in front of him as he accelerated, but on his way towards the second touch of the ball, Marco Varnier approached the player to dispossess him, or at least put him off. He stuck a leg out clearly in the area… Penalty. Gutiérrez had fallen, the crowd erupted in appeals, the screech of the referee’s whistle turned the eruption into silence before a great crescendo of noise upon the realisation of the direction of which the referee’s finger was pointing. He was pointing to the spot.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Thomas Jorgensen, Bajram Fetai, Lewis Gibson and Riccardo Borgarello were leaping off their seats in glee before jumping on my back in celebration. They appeared to be screaming in delight, but I was so focused on the situation that I had become deafened by any other distraction.

Davide Merola looked over to me whilst the Barcelona players hopelessly protested to the referee and Unai Emery was glaring down at the fourth official. I noticed that he wasn’t chuckling with his staff anymore. I tipped my head forward to Merola, giving him the nod to take this historically significant penalty.

We were now entering the 97th minute of play as the Barcelona protests began to diffuse and slowly accept the referee’s decision, with the hope still there that ter Stegen could hold back the brewing tsunami of noise reliant on one kick from Merola’s boot.

I had saved Davide Merola from a terrifyingly stagnant career path at Inter Milan to bring him cheaply to Fiorentina on the assurance of first-team football. His value has risen tenfold since and he is becoming a hero among Fiorentina fans. As he placed the ball gently on the spot, he ignored ter Stegen’s approaches to put him off by turning his back on him and looking over to me straight in the eyes. I saw it then, he had the devilment in his eyes, combined with a wry smile of confidence mixed in with arrogance that only a serial goalscorer could possess. I knew as soon as I saw his expression where this was going.

The referee ushered Marc-André ter Stegen back to his goalline as Merola turned around to face him, to which he was met with an almost demented expression on ter Stegen’s face where his eyes were widened and his tongue was outstretched. Merola sprinted up to the ball, but broke his run-up with a slower run as he was about to hit the ball. Ter Stegen’s body language posed that he was diving to the left. Merola made his decision in that split-second of body shape he saw in front of him.

Everyone in that stadium heard the sound of Merola’s boot hitting the ball it was that silent in Artemio Franchi. The next moment I was dragged by Jorgensen all the way to the corner flag to join Davide Merola’s belly-slide followed up by a team pile-on. Fans were running towards the advertising boards and a fair few managed to join the team in the euphoric celebrations thanks to the limited amount of stewards. With a pile-on of around 15 men, Nikola Boskovic and Alberto Cerri joined the celebrations last and almost crushed all of us.

Perhaps the best feeling of my life had been achieved in this moment. But I will continue. This was just the first taste of my life now.

LFCFan: The maintenance of form is absolutely integral at this point! It's so close and shows no sign of budging anytime soon so this is very likely to boil down to the final day.
Scott: Same as I said to LFC about making sure we don't drop many points from here. About the signings, they are very low-risk if they don't pan out how I wish - whereas a bargain if they come out as a huge success. It's win-win really.
Justice: The CL group was rather kind compared to what I could have potentially had, but both us and Leipzig did manage to knock out a very recent winner in Valencia!
Wow! What an incredible moment in the history of Fiorentina and Aapo! A 97th minute winner against Barcelona is a brilliant result!
A great update allowing us to feel the emotion of the game! Great stuff!
Jack's avatar Group Jack
4 yearsEdited

Heading into the final months of the season, the title race is still as tight as ever. This month we managed to secure a place in the final of the TIM Cup for the second consecutive season under my stewardship as well as advancing into the quarter final of the Champions League - representing Italy as the only Serie A side still involved in the tournament.

Our month began with the first leg of the TIM Cup against AS Roma at Artemio Franchi in front of a 42,000 attendance. Roma’s centre-back Joachim Andersen helped us steal an early one-goal lead which we were able to take into the second leg later in February. In the next fixture we returned to Serie A against fellow title challengers Juventus. We were under threat by Juventus (and still are) in our title chase and the game seemed to be petering out into a goalless draw until Yannick Carrasco popped up with a vital and hugely important 91st-minute winner. Next up was our Champions League first leg in the Last 16 against Barcelona. We lost 2-1, but the away goal scored by Mamadou Kanté proved to be key in the second leg. Our return to Serie A was marked by a pummeling of rock-bottom Parma before annihilating Roma in the second leg of the TIM Cup Semi-Final.

In March, Brescia Calcio were taken apart by us in a 3-1 victory of which Yannick Carrasco netted a double. A goalless draw against Lazio followed in the build-up to a huge European showdown at a packed Artemio Franchi, where Davide Merola dramatically bagged a 97th-minute winner to send us through to the Champions League Quarter-Finals on away goals thanks to Kanté’s goal against Emery’s side at Camp Nou. Our final game before the international break was against Atalanta who who grabbed all three points from with Merola, Gutiérrez and Carrasco all providing the goods in a 3-1 win.

With nine games remaining for both Milan and Juventus but ten games remaining for ourselves and Roma, the Serie A title race looks to be heading straight down to the wire. A win in our game-in-hand would send us top, but only by two points ahead of Milan. Any dropped points at this stage are an immediate gain to the hopefuls lurking around us at this stage in the season when the title race is so tight.

In other news with the league, Napoli are well into their end-of-season surge for European qualification in the 2025/26 campaign as they have risen from 16th earlier in the season all the way up to 9th, with only four points separating themselves and 6th placed Internazionale with ten games remaining.

Down at the bottom it seems like Parma’s time in the Serie A this season is all but down as they are left stranded ten points from safety with ten games remaining. A relegation dogfight is certainly starting to hot up between Benevento, Perugia, SPAL 2013 and Sampdoria with only three points splitting the four sides as we head into the final couple of months.

April and May will bring the Serie A and domestic season to a close, and nothing has been made certain yet by the teams involved.

In April, we begin in Serie A with a trip to Perugia to face the relegation strugglers who will be fighting for any points to give them slightly more security come the end of the season. This is followed up by our first appearance in the Quarter-Final of the biggest European prize since 1970. Atlético Madrid will be the hosts for the first leg, before the return fixture at Artemio Franchi in the same month on 16th April. In April we also face Milan in the TIM Cup Final as a repeat of the 2023/24 cup final where we beat Milan 5-4 on penalties after a goalless 120 minutes of football.

With May bringing up some fairly average sides, the most significant fixture is certainly our clash with Milan at Artemio Franchi on gameweek 36, a game which could sway the fate of the domestic title after it swung in our favour in February following the late 1-0 win against Juventus.

March saw the beginning of the UEFA World Cup qualification phase across Europe. We were placed in a group alongside Germany, Norway, FYR Macedonia and Belarus in Group 8.

With Germany the obvious favourites to lead the group come the end of the year, it is absolutely stunning to see the 2014 World Cup victors lose BOTH of their opening fixtures in the qualification phase. Beginning with their loss to Norway on the 28th March, we stunned Roger Schmidt’s side in the last minute of the game as Joel Pohjanpalo bagged his second goal of the game in the 92nd minute to win 2-1.

With Norway hammering Belarus 4-0 three days after their Germany win, they currently top the group with a better goal difference than us. We are still both on six points however, when Germany has gained none in either of the fixtures they played and they sit above both Macedonia and Belarus purely on having a better disciplinary record.

LFCFan: Thanks man, I loved writing that purely because of how elated I was personally when Merola’s penalty was scored! It was the best moment of my managerial career by a long way yet.
Your updates are always fantastic but this one captured the moment beautifully. I felt the emotion pouring out. A truly brilliant way to seal progression into the next round against a continental giant in Barcelona.

An excellent couple of months that put you in pole-position (if you win your game in hand), which is ideal. Some terrific results in there - with great character shown in leaving it late to get all three (vital) points. There must be great hope that you could go all the way now, despite a lot of pressure from the other sides in the title race. It's an exceptionally tight one, even now, between Milan, yourselves and Juventus.

Finland continue to get better and better. I did say that Germany couldn't afford to underestimate you and my point has been proven. The legend that is Joel Pohjanpalo rising to the occasion - you love to see it. Horrific start for the Germans having lost to Norway, too. It puts you both in a great position in the early stages.

After a fairytale adventure, Fiorentina have finally crashed out of the Champions League at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur following an aggregate 4-2 defeat.

April was a fantastic month for Aapo Virtanen’s side, with the stunning 6-1 aggregate victory against Atlético de Madrid in the Champions League Quarter-Final on top of Fiorentina’s second consecutive TIM Cup victory against Milan in the Final.

At Artemio Franchi in the first-leg, to bring back a home defeat in the second leg after two away goals had been struck was always going to be an uphill struggle, but they were finally put out of their tireless attempts at clawing back at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium when Andrea Belotti finished off the Serie A hopefuls with a 92nd minute winner in the second leg.

Christian Pulisic and Andrea Belotti were the bane of Fiorentina in both legs as they were the only players of Tottenham who actually scored against them in this semi-final tie.

The 2024/25 Champions League campaign for Fiorentina was absolutely startling, with nobody predicting La Viola to reach this far into the tournament.

To begin with, Fiorentina dominated a rather weak group comparatively speaking but dumped the 2022/23 Champions League winners Valencia out into the Europa League as Virtanen led Fiorentina into the Last 16 alongside RB Leipzig of Germany.

With an extended break from the end of the group phase and the Last 16 which took place in February, Fiorentina were pitted against the six-time holders of the coveted trophy FC Barcelona. The long wait between the European ties was well worth it for the Fiorentina faithful.

After a gutting 2-1 loss at Camp Nou with Mamadou Kanté getting an away goal for Fiorentina, everybody thought the game was all over at Artemio Franchi, even as the additional time had concluded. With Marc-André ter Stegen wasting time to see Barcelona into the quarter-finals, Wilson Gutiérrez was tripped in the box from an instant counter-attack starting from Fiorentina youth graduate Vanni Vezzosi.

The reliable shooting of Davide Merola sent the 40,000 home fans packed into the sold-out arena into raptures in what was the most unforgettable European night in Fiorentina history, with parties enduring all through the week and beyond.

By getting to the quarter-finals of the Champions League, Fiorentina had matched their 1970 achievement of reaching the quarter-finals of the competition’s predecessor - the European Cup - where they lost to Celtic at this stage.

However, in what was supposed to be a tough contest in both fixtures, Atlético Madrid were completely turned over home and away by Virtanen’s masterful Fiorentina side as their former player Yannick Carrasco scored three times in the two games against his old club, helping add half of the goal tally to their overall six goals scored.

By getting past the quarter-final, Fiorentina were searching through the history books for their best-ever European finish. The club reached the 1957 European Cup Final when they lost 2-0 to a Real Madrid side boasting the likes of Alfredo Di Stefano and Miguel Munoz in front of a 124,000 crowd at the Santiago Bernabeu.

With three of the teams in the semi-finals being English Premier League sides, it left Fiorentina representing the rest of Europe against England’s dominance of the European landscape this season.

Just five days after winning their second piece of domestic silverware this season after the TIM Cup Final and the Supercoppa earlier in the season, the first-leg of the Champions League Semi-Final was brought to Artemio Franchi.

With Belotti and Pulisic making it 2-0 just after the beginning of the second-half, Wilson Gutiérrez pulled a goal back for Fiorentina for the second-leg. However, the Colombian’s contribution was to come to nothing as Fiorentina suffered the same scoreline in the second leg in North London.

With Fiorentina expecting at most to be competitive in the group stages of the competition this year, the ride that Aapo Virtanen has taken them on this year has been nothing short of exceptional and it raises the question whether Fiorentina are set to become the next dominant side of Italy following the recent decade-long domestic domination of Juventus has been chipped away in the past couple of seasons.

Scott: As said to LFCFan, it was an absolute delight to write as the scenes were unfolding! The league will remain tight right until the last day in my mind as it still is after this semi-final. Germany have had a shocking start to the campaign and it makes you wonder if they will be the big omission from the 2026 World Cup!
Bitterly disappointing to fall at this stage, but an excellent effort from Fiorentina and Virtanen to have progressed this far. A dominant victory over two-legs against Atletico will live long in the memory, but no game more so than that against Barcelona. I'm sure Fiorentina will back on this stage, stronger, very soon.
Incredible last-gasp winner against Barca! JUST WOW! All going well for Finland too. Shame about the defeat to Spurs, but progress has been made. This is only the beginning.

As for your writing, I think I can safely say that this has been the greatest story this site has ever witnessed. Your most recent set of updates, in particular, have been nothing short of legendary. Keep it up!
Unfortunate to go out at such a stage, but what an incredible run for the side! Using this as a platform theres no reason not to believe you can take them all the way in the coming years!

21st May 2025 | 22:30PM

And there was the final whistle. After winning against Milan earlier in the month of what is now the title-deciding game on top of discovering that Milan had only drawn against Roma in tonight’s fixture, it was party time in Florence. We had won the Serie A title for the first time since 1969.

For many, this is the first Scudetto that the majority of our fans have ever seen. 56 years of anguish watching their side succumb to financial destruction in the early 1990s before decades of rebuilding had finally come to an end. There was a catharsis in the crowd tonight that was beginning to pour onto the field as fans from the east and west stands jumped over the barriers to join their heroes on the field.

The stewards and police were all trying to hold these people of Florence back from going onto the pitch. There were far too many fans to contain and the security on the side of the pitch quickly became irrelevant as for these fans, the pitch of Artemio Franchi represented a blood-stained battlefield. Built in 1931, the field saw its owners return with multiple trophies, but along with these successes came years of hurt. This is perfectly encapsulated by 1990 to fight to avoid Serie A relegation, but the achievement of reaching the UEFA Cup Final that same year.

This pitch has seen economic destruction, the arrival and the crushing departure of Gabriel ‘Batigol’ Bastituta, the fire sale of the best players before the riots on the streets of Florence which followed. The Stadio Artemio Franchi has soaked up a lot of blood leaked from the guts of Fiorentina’s fleur-de-lis, but tonight all of it has been exhumed and replaced by the pounding feet of Fiorentina’s players and fans alike in a celebration to last weeks and months.

31st May 2025 | 14:00PM

One week after our final fixture of the Serie A season when we finished our mightily successful season with a 2-1 win over Cagliari and a Scudetto in our hands, it was time for the bus parade.

Fans congregated in the town square, with masses of hardcore fans finding their place at Davide Astori’s memorial spot after their much-loved captain died in 2018 following a cardiac arrest in his hotel room prior to a Serie A fixture.

The bus set off on its journey on the designated route beginning at the bus depot, with the vehicle painted in purple with various messages and references to the successes of La Viola. The bus was open-top and as the squad and staff made their way upstairs, along with the board members there were three trophies stood upright on the tables. The Serie A title, the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa - all achieved in the realms of the 2024/25 campaign.

In 34 degree Celsius sunshine, my pale Finnish skin was taking a hammering from the beaming sun which was bouncing off the luxurious silver of the three trophies stood in front of me, sunscreen was most certainly necessary today.

We could hear the chanting a mile away before we could see any gathering. Then we turned the corner of one of Florence’s many slim side-streets into the city square where the normal grey stone bricks were covered in purple, red and white. Huge flags depicting Gabriel Batistuta, Davide Astori and even my own face were spotted along the way as the bus slowed down so the fans could get every glimpse possible of the treble success the club had achieved this season.

The crowds stretched back thousands of people. Which is when I saw her. Hidden among the constant waving emblems of Fiorentina, I spotted her for a split-second right down the side of the building with her own little flag, dressed in a purple dress. It was Leena. After being separated for a year-and-a-half, she must have heard about the victory parade in the city square and flew over from Finland.

After handing over the Coppa Italia to Mattias Svanberg, I immediately flew down the bus’ stairs onto the bottom floor of the double-decker. “Driver,” I said, almost out of breath after having it taken away from me by seeing Leena. “Stop the bus and open the doors, just for one second. I need to get off urgently.”

“I mean I’m not allowed to do it on this job, but I’m Florence born-and-bred and was born on the year that Fiorentina last won the Scudetto. You’re this city’s hero, so I’ll allow special privileges,” the driver chuckled as he opened up the doors.

I leaped out onto the street and went around the back of the slow-moving bus. The fans crammed into the gates separating the city square and the bus route were absolutely stunned yet delighted to see me approaching the gates. “Thank you, thank you,” I repeated time and time again to the fans embracing me and reaching out their arms to get any sort of feel of me possible. There were phones pointing in my face to take pictures of Fiorentina’s new hero. Whilst it felt unbelievable to receive this reception on a much bigger scale than I had ever received at Oulu, I only had one mission in getting off the team bus. That was to return to the only thing in the Florence city connecting me to back home in Oulu.

Among the hundreds of people blocking my way, I caught a glimpse of her once again. She didn’t realise that I had got off the bus despite the major ruckus that my presence was causing in the crowd in front of her. She began to walk off, seemingly in disappointment that I appeared not to have seen her in the crowd. “Leena!” I shouted at the top of my voice. The shouting was useless among the sea of voices and chants in the square.

As she took a left-turn down a side-street, it was then that I attempted to try running. At this point I didn’t care how rude I was to the fans - I had just won them the treble for goodness sake. I shoved the remaining people out of the way in the strongest way I could before running down the street I had seen Leena go down.

There she was again. Her body was jolting up and down with her hand covering her mouth before I saw a tear drop onto the floor. She was picking up her bag at a café that she had been to before the open-top bus parade.

“Excuse me, Aapo! Can you plea-” a fan ran up to me with a camera.

“Yeah, fuck off, give me a second,” I said, not caring one bit about how I sounded to anyone else.

I ran down the street to the café that Leena was about to leave. “Leena!” I exclaimed one more time, before she turned around. She was in streams of tears as she looked around suddenly.

“Aapo,” she blubbered through her quivering mouth. “Oh my God… I can’t believe you saw me… I was so upset even though there were so many people there, I was afraid you couldn’t see me and-”

“Leena, you’re being hysterical. Let’s sit down here,” I said, holding her as he tears began to dry up on my shoulder. “I saw you as soon as I looked across. I literally barged past hundreds of people who now probably all hate me just to see you.

“Excuse me! Could we have two Coca-Cola’s please?” I asked the waiter.

“On the house, Aapo,” the waiter said smiling. “You are a hero this year, sir.”

I smiled back at the waiter. “I think we have got some talking to do,” I said softly to Leena, who had stopped crying now.

Scott: It was upsetting to lose out so late on, but if it wasn't us then it would have been another manager who would have had to cope with the disappointment. It's been a marvellous campaign and I couldn't be prouder.
Justice: There has been some serious developments that's for sure! Those are very big words from you which I am really grateful of receiving. It's been an absolute pleasure to write and we are by no means done here!

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