In a three-year spell from 1999-2002, Fiorentina went on an emotional roller-coaster ride that began with some high profile Champions League wins, featured a Coppa Italia triumph and ended in bankruptcy.
To celebrate those glory days before the fall, and the Viola’s 2001 Coppa Italia win (their last major trophy) in particular, TGU writer Ramez Nathan spoke to four key players from that triumphant team: Nuno Gomes, Amaral, Mauro Bressan and Christian Amoroso.
The season started with Giovanni Trapattoni leaving to take charge of the Italian national team. Club owner, Vittorio Cecchi, took a gamble replacing him with Turkish manager Fatih Terim. As Amoroso reflected, it was a move that brought with it a significant change in playing style.
“Fatih was in the best time of his career as a coach. I remember that he asked us to play in an unusual way, he was different from all the other coaches, probably because he was foreign,” Amoroso told TGU.
“At the start we were a little bit worried, you know, Serie A was one of the most difficult leagues in the world and his way of playing was new but after a few weeks we started to understand what he wanted from us and things gradually got better.”
According to the Italian midfielder, Terim wasn’t just different in his tactics but in how he treated the squad too.
“He only wanted what’s best for his players, I remember a lot of private flights, coming back and forth to Florence, he took us to the best five star hotels for training, we had like two floors of the hotels all for the team and the staff,” Amoroso remembered with a big laugh. “Maybe that’s why the year after that the club had financials problems.”
When the Turkish boss took charge he signed Nuno Gomes and Amaral straight away, and the two players shared a few thoughts on their move to Florence.
“In Brazil, the game wasn’t taken that serious,” Amaral explained. “Payments were always delayed and suddenly I found myself playing in Italy where the best football in the world was being played, it was better than England, Spain and France.” He added, “Italian football was considered number one, because of the quality of the teams and their fans.”
On the other hand Terim picked Gomes after the Portuguese striker knocked his Turkish team out of EURO 2000 with a brace.
“I completed my move to Fiorentina after EURO 2000, I did very well in the competition and at that point the coach of Turkey’s national team was Fatih Terim. We played against each other and I guess after the tournament when he signed for Fiorentina he asked the President to buy me.”
“I had other offers but I chose Fiorentina because I knew their project was very good, the team was very good and also because Rui Costa was there, he told me a lot of good things about the club and the city so it was easier for me to choose Fiorentina among the other offers that I had.”
A lot of expectations are always placed on the shoulders of new strikers, yet for Gomes it wasn’t just that. He was in Florence to replace the most iconic forward in the team’s history. How did he cope with that?
“Regarding replacing Gabriel Batistuta, I didn’t think about it in that way, I knew we were two different kind of forwards. I used to love playing with the ball a lot, while Batistuta was a top goal scorer so I never compared myself to him.”
Nuno Gomes made his debut for the club in Coppa Italia against Salernitana and he immediately made an impression. Did he remember the game well?
“Of course I remember that game, I scored a hat-trick, I think it was my first game for Fiorentina, I scored all three goals in 35 minutes of the first half I think, we won 5-0. I remember receiving magnificent assists from Rui Costa that day, it’s a game I’ll never forget as it marked my first goals for Fiorentina and it was the beginning of a journey that ended with the title.”
The Viola also won the return leg and went on to face Brescia in the quarter-finals. They delivered another virtuoso performance, defeating the Biancazzurri 6-0 as Mauro Bressan shined brightest. But were they thinking of glory by this stage?
“It’s been a long time,” said Bressan. “I remember that we wanted to start the competition well and we started off on the right foot. I was excited, I got a goal and an assist and luckily everything went well.”
Despite losing 3-1 in the return leg, Fiorentina went through to the semi-finals, where they went toe to toe with Alberto Zaccheroni’s Milan.
The first leg was held at the San Siro. Fiorentina’s troops hit the ground running, bewildering Milan with some wonderful football to secure a 2-2 draw. Once again Bressan’s name was on the scoresheet.
“It was great to score at San Siro against the great Milan. We played a top game and we deserved to win in Milan. My goal was a result of a masterclass attack started by Rui Costa and continued with an assist from Chiesa!”
In the return leg, it was Rui Costa and Chiesa who once again stole the show. Both found the net and with the help of their teammates, Fiorentina produced a flawless performance and booked their ticket in the final.
Despite all the success he achieved on the pitch, Terim had ongoing problems with the owner which resulted in the Turkish guru stepping away from the club and being replaced by Roberto Mancini. The scenario bears similarities to the current campaign, with the club reaching the cup semi-finals and replacing the coach in the latter stages of the season. But how did Mancini differ from Terim?
“This was Mancini’s first job as a coach, he was very different from Terim,” Amoroso recalled. “I think that even now he is the same only wiser, he is more of a manager than a trainer, I don’t know if you understand what I mean.” He continued, “He has a lot of charisma, he had huge experience as a player which gave him more credibility, I don’t want to say that one was better than the other I just want to say that they were very different.”
Mancini was still a player, he moved to Leicester City in January but returned home to take charge of Fiorentina after playing just a handful of games in England.
According to Amaral, not only was Mancini different tactically, but also in the way he viewed the players in his squad.
“Terim was the man that brought me to Fiorentina, but I suffered a cruciate ligament injury, which forced me to stay out of action for six months. Then there was Mancini who did not believe much in my football, he was very suspicious of how I played.”
“I just stayed committed, training with a lot of energy and enthusiasm hoping to play. I had a physiotherapist named Alberto, he was the person that believed in me the most, with his help I got back and suddenly the player who played in my same position got injured and I found myself starting in the final against Parma.”
The Stadio Ennio Tardini hosted the first tie of the final, and Parma were soon on the front foot as Bressan recollected.
“That was a difficult match. In Parma we suffered throughout long periods of the game. I came on in the second half and I was decisive as my cross found my friend (Paolo) Vanoli and he netted the winner.”
He continued, “We celebrated for a long time after that goal because there were only a few minutes left and at the end it was a victory that proved to be decisive for us in lifting the cup.”
Amaral put his heart and soul into denying the home side from breaking through and Fiorentina hung on for the win. After the game, Mancini told him: “I’m going to leave you on the bench in the next game so you can play the return leg of the final.”
Mancini’s results in Serie A hadn’t been great and he needed a sound performance in the remaining 90 minutes of the Coppa to keep his job.
Bressan described the nervy opening: “In the return game we were nervous because we were close to victory. Parma found the net first and it wasn’t until Nuno put things right that we were able breath again.”
“It was amazing!” said Nuno Gomes with a big smile. “I didn’t play the first game and in the return leg in Firenze we were down by a goal in the first half so at half time Mancini sent me to warm up. I came on as a substitute in the second half and scored a very good goal after a top assist from Enrico Chiesa. I remember how I went to celebrate with the Curva Fiesole, the most fantastic Curva in Italy. It was a very special moment for me and all the team.”
It was an equally special night for Amaral, who provided an excellent deep-lying shield for i Viola’s defence over both legs.
“For me it was the ultimate level of joy, it’s still like a recorded movie in my mind and I thank God first and I thank Fiorentina for giving me the opportunity to enjoy that win.”
Indeed, for the players and Florentines alike, the celebrations reflected the significance of the triumph and what it meant to the city. It was a special moment and one that both Bressan and Gomes still remember to this day:
“We celebrated all night and even in the following days.” Bressan recalls. “It was a massive satisfaction for me. Even today we are still remembered in Florence because that cup is the last trophy won by I Gigliati.”
“The stadium and the fans were incredible. After the game we all celebrated on the pitch and all over the city,” said Gomes laughing. “I remember we were going out to dinner to celebrate after the game. I went home first to change. I used to live near Piazzale Michelangelo and it took me a very long time to arrive home, as the city was absolutely mad, absolutely crazy about that win, everyone was celebrating in the streets, it’s a night that I’ll remember forever, my only trophy with Fiorentina.”
Two games separate Fiorentina’s current crop of players and similar immortality, beginning in Bergamo on Thursday night.
Words and interview by Ramez Nathan: @RamezYNathan