Torn between selling talent to bitter rivals, and managing bottom line

Juventus is the most successful club in Italy, and as a result, has developed a reputation of being a team you either love, or hate.

Over the years, due to competitive rivalry, conspiracy theories or plain jealousy, some intense enmities have developed with different clubs. One of those is Fiorentina.

Their rivalry started in the 1981-82 Serie A season. On the final day of the season, with both teams competing for the title, some debatable decisions went against Fiorentina in their match against Cagliari, and for Juventus in their match against Catanzaro, that led to Juventus winning their 20th league title.

This prompted Fiorentina legend Giancarlo Antognoni to accuse Juventus of stealing the league title. Fans even coined a saying – “It’s better to be second than be thieves”.

Juventus have long been accused by their rivals, rightly or wrongly, of influencing the Italian league authorities and referees. This was proven to be true in the 2006 Calciopoli scandal.

Juventus retorted by accusing their rivals of being jealous and for having a “small team” mentality.

The rivalry between the two teams moved up a notch when they met in the 1989-90 UEFA Cup final. The second leg of the final couldn’t be played in Fiorentina’s Stadio Artemio Franchi as it was undergoing renovation ahead of the 1990 World Cup in Italy.

The fixture was shifted to Stadio Renato Curi in nearby Perugia, but Fiorentina was punished for a pitch invasion during their semifinal against Werder Bremen. Organisers shifted the second leg further away from Florence to Avellino, a town with many Juventus fans.

During the first leg of the final, with the score at 1-1, there was controversy over Juventus’ second goal, which led to Fiorentina’s Celeste Pin to shout “Thieves!” at Juventus’ Dino Zoff during the post-match interview.

Juventus won the final, 3-1 on aggregate.

The rivalry hit fever pitch after that final when Fiorentina’s star player, Roberto Baggio was sold to Juventus for a then world-record fee of £8 million as the club faced financial difficulties.

This led to riots in the streets of Florence as fans laid siege to the club’s headquarters. It ended with 50 people injured and nine arrested. Baggio, on his part, refused to be draped in his new club’s black and white scarf during his presentation, and said he was compelled to move.

On his first return to Florence, he was greeted with jeers and insults. The match became dramatic when Juventus, trailing 1-0, were awarded a penalty, and Baggio, the regular penalty kick taker, refused to take it. He was substituted later and on his way to the bench, picked up a Fiorentina scarf that was thrown on the floor.

That was a moment of reconciliation between the Divine Ponytail and the Fiorentina fans. Jeers changed to cheers.

After Baggio, other footballers transferred from Juventus to Fiorentina – all with little controversy. There were also players who left Fiorentina for Juventus. One such transfer that hogged the headlines was that of Federico Bernadeschi.

Bernadeschi came through the Fiorentina youth ranks and declared his intention to stay at the club forever, only to backtrack on it and refuse the club’s offer of a new contract.

He then kept himself out of Fiorentina’s pre-season training to force a move to Juventus. There were no riots in the streets, but he was greeted by jeers by the Fiorentina faithful.

After Bernadeschi, another Federico made the move from Fiorentina to Juventus. This time, it was Federico Chiesa.

This, despite Fiorentina president Rocco Commisso declaring that he would prevent another “Baggio from happening” – in reference to the latter’s move in 1990.

It was made repeatedly clear by Fiorentina that their young Serbian striker, Dusan Vhalovic, had refused the offer of a new contract, and it appeared that he would be able to leave on a free transfer, come summer.

The Serbian rejected offers from several Premier League clubs to move to Juventus for £63 million. That move did not go down well with Fiorentina fans, who reserved some thinly veiled, racist death threats for him.

Police carried out frequent rounds at his house to ensure his safety until his move was finalised.

Juventus had also picked the best players from Fiorentina, prompting some to chide Fiorentina as Juventus B.

It is surprising that despite such deep hatred between the clubs, so many players have been allowed to make the move. In some cases, the transfer has hurt more than others with players exercising their power, while in others, the club had no choice but to sell players to ease its financial burden.

For the fans, they would want this outflow of talent to their arch nemesis to end.

Commisso has his job cut out for him – to find equilibrium between keeping the fans and players onside, as well as to balance the club’s accounts.