By Leo Linden
AFC Fiorentina have come a long way in the past decade, with major financial troubles leading to the temporary altering the of club’s name before a recent rise has brought them back to Italian prominence. They aren’t the one of the strongest teams the Italian football system has seen historically, but their recent surge and success have shown they could be sticking around the top for a while.
In August of 1926, Fiorentina was founded as the merger of two Florence clubs in order to strengthen the region's teams and give the giants of Italy some more competition at the top of the table. The new club wasn’t immediately successful, however, but they finally did work their way through the lower divisions and make it to the top flight in 1931.
Their first major trophy came at the end of that decade, when the club hoisted the Coppa Italia for the 1939-40 season. Unfortunately, the outbreak of World War II made it difficult to build on that success, and the club would have to wait another 15 years before finding a winner’s podium again.
It was special when they did, however, as the club finally conquered the Serie A in 1955-56, dominating the rest of the league, only losing one game along the way, and finishing 12 points clear at the top of the table (an even more impressive feat when it's noted that it was two points for a win and one for a draw in those days). As champions, the club was able to enter its first European competition in the 1956-57 season, and the outfit did not disappoint, making an epic run to the second-ever European Cup (now UEFA Champions League) final — which included a win over then-powerhouse Red Star Belgrade in the semi-finals — before falling to Real Madrid 2-0 at the Bernabeu in a de-facto home game for the Spaniards.
More European and domestic successes followed as the club made the final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup in back-to-back seasons in the early sixties, and although they could only come out victorious once, they added a pair of Coppa Italias in in 1961 and 1966. Later in the decade, the club lifted its second Serie A trophy at the end of the 1969 season, nicking Cagliari and AC Milan by four points each, again just losing once the entire campaign.
Unfortunately for La Viola (the Purple), they would run into a solid Celtic side the following year in
In the 1980s, the club was bought by Flavio Pontello, and he quickly invested a ton of money in the side trying to bring it back to prominence. The exact opposite happened, however, as Fiorentina went dry for the whole decade, their first since the 30s without a Serie A or Coppa Italia.
The next 10 years would treat the club much better, as they rose up to win the Coppa Italia in 1996 and came runners up in the competition for the third time in 1999. It seemed like the turn of the century was only going to help the Florence side, as the club made it to the second group stage of the Champions League and were only two points shy of a spot in the quarterfinals. But everything changed the next year, when the club’s financial problems were exposed and the slide slipped all the way down to 17th (second to last) in the Serie A.
Normally, a relegation to the Serie B would have been in order, but seeing the club's massive debts, the Italian FA sent the Viola all the way to the Serie C2, the fourth tier on the footballing ladder. To make matters worse, the club technically ceased to exist and were “replaced” by Florentia Viola, though it had the same make-up.
But the club fought on and after winning the flight, they were scheduled to be promoted to the Serie C1. But with the Serie B expanding to 24 teams (and with the help of some luck from other teams’ scandals), Fiorentina successfully argued their way into the second division based on their historical sporting merits. On top of that, they also reclaimed their original name, and things soon went back to order.
It was a true stroke of luck, but more was to come, as the club finished sixth the following year and were put in a promotion playoff due to the expanding of the Serie A by two teams, which they won.
So as fast as they were gone, the Viola returned, somehow shooting up the table three flights in two years and reestablishing themselves in the Serie A. Their first season back was a wild year in Italy, and the Viola ended in a three-way tie for 16th through 18th place (though only three points behind eighth-placed Roma) on 42 points, but based on their results in games played amongst the teams tied, Fiorentina finished 16th and escaped the relegation playoff by one spot.
From there, things only improved as they continued,
The results were good enough for UCL places in the 2008-09 season and 2009-10, and in the latter, they even made it through the group stage before being eliminated in the round of 16 on away goals by finalists Bayern Munich.
But a new opportunity has arisen for the Viola this year, and they currently sit in third place in the Serie A table, the final UCL qualifying position. Though their lead is just one point over fourth-placed Inter and two over fifth-placed Roma, the squad they have built is without doubt good enough to qualify for the tournament. It’s hard to expect them to catch either of the top two, as Napoli and Juventus are each on incredible runs of form, but it wouldn’t be a big surprise if Fiorentina can squeak their way back into Europe’s premier competition.
It no guarantee, but the Viola have come a long way in the last 15 years, and based on their recent results, the club is only looking higher up the table every year.