The fall into Serie B and the rebirth


The arrival of Cecchi Gori in Savonarola square, headquarters of the Viola club, brought back the enthusiasm to Florence. The start was uphill: the family that replaced the Pontellos were forced to accept Lazaroni as a coach, the painful departures of Baggio and Di Chiara, and had to assemble a competitive squad in a matter of days. The first season of their era ended with a twelfth place finish, and the year after the same finish. During that second season Radice replaced Lazaroni in the dugout, and Gabriel Batistuta arrived from Argentina, finishing his first season in Italy with 13 goals. The third season was the season of big signings. Big names such as Laudrup and Effenberg arrived, as well as very experienced players like Di Mauro. As the new team was unveiled, Santacroce square in Florence was full of fans. There was much euphoria around the team, and season ticket sales rocketed, but at the end of the season Fiorentina were shockingly relegated to Serie B after having changed coaches three times in a single campaign: Radice being replaced by Agroppi, who in turn was sacked in favour of the Chiarugi-Antognoni duo. After the disappointment of relegation, the team was entrusted to the coaching abilities of Claudio Ranieri, who, in his first season with the Viola, achieved promotion back to Serie A, a season in which the joy of promotion was mitigated by the death, on November 5th 1993, of Mario Cecchi Gori. Almost the entire city attended his funeral in the Santacroce square. From 1994/95, still coached by Claudio Ranieri, and with the presidency awarded to Mario’s son, Vittorio Cecchi Gori, Fiorentina finished in tenth position, with Batistuta scoring 13 goals in the opening eleven games, thus beating the record of consecutive games with a goal in Serie A, a record previously held by Pascutti of Bologna. The Viola’s rebirth was affirmed in the 1995/96 season, when they finished in third place. The Ranieri years ended with a tenth place finish in the 1996/97 campaign. The Roman coach deserves praise however for bringing back a title to Florence after 21 years: on May 18th 1996 Fiorentina won 2-0 in Bergamo against Atalanta, building on the 1-0 win from the first leg in Florence, and winning their fifth Coppa Italia. The team was welcomed back to Florence at 4 in the morning by a packed stadium, filled by 40,000 fans. Three months later the Viola won 2-1 in the San Siro, beating Milan with a Batistuta double, to claim the Supercoppa di Lega. 

Fiorentina were the first side to have won this title after having won the Coppa Italia. In the summer of 1997 Ranieri’s contract was not renewed and the team was entrusted to Alberto Malesani, in his first managerial job. In his first season in Serie A he took Fiorentina to fifth place, reintroducing the side to European competition, and entertaining the fans with his style of play, fluent but effective. In the hunt for further trophies, Cecchi Gori hired Giovanni Trapattoni as coach – it was the summer of 1998 – and in his first season at the helm of Fiorentina he reached third place in the league, after having been top for long periods of the campaign, but nevertheless taking Fiorentina back into the Champions League after thirty years.  An injury to Batistuta, Edmundo’s off-field issues, failure to make reinforcements during the January transfer window; all of these things fired holes in the solidity of the Viola team, ending their Scudetto dream, which had never been so close to coming true. In the 1999/00 season the situation was not better: the Gigliati ended the campaign in seventh place, once again achieving a UEFA cup spot after chasing Udinese for long parts of the season; but the satisfaction came from the Champions League, in which the Viola beat the Polish side Widzew Lodz in the qualifying round, and made it out of their group stage before being knocked out before the quarter-finals. Nevertheless the Viola could take pride in having beaten big name sides such as Valencia and Manchester United, and having won in the mighty Wembley stadium, where Arsenal occasionally played their European ties. It was the final ray of light for the Viola: in May 2000 they bid farewell to Trapattoni and Batistuta, the latter having become the club’s all-time top scorer with 152 goals.

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