Fiorentina live

IT was an astonishing evening. One which quite overshadowed Italy's unpleasant match and 1-0 defeat by Slovenia running concurrently in Slovenia. And making you wonder what idiots in the Italian Federation decided on Trieste as the venue when that city has for generations been the bitter bone of contention between Italy and the Slovenians themselves. Neo fascists at one end, disruptive Slovenian nationalists at the other and an ill-tempered game on the pitch.

How different in Florence where I was present at the Serie C Italian Cup game between the just revived Fiorentina and their eternal city rivals Pisa. Indeed there is a Florentine saying dating from medieval days, "Better a dead body in the house than a live Pisan at the door."

As we alas know at the end of last season Fiorentina plunged not just into Serie B but into bankruptcy and dissolution with all of its players entitled to leave on free transfers. Of the seniors, only one man, and he among the best of them, Angelo Di Livio, at 36, stayed. Stayed, he told me shortly before the Pisan game, with the intention of remaining for another two years, grateful as he was for all that the city of Florence had given him. He, a Roman who, he told me, as a boy had been turned down by Roma itself. To begin his pro career precisely where Fiorentina are right now; in C2. Into which, the Italian 4th division, they narrowly scraped.

Just as well, but should it even have been allowed? Et tu, Giancarlo! Meaning Giancarlo Antognoni, the star blond playmaker of the side in the 1970s and 80s, the man who missed the World Cup Final of 1982 in Madrid because a Pole had kicked him on the foot, in the semi-final. In fact, in that Final, I actually found him sitting right behind me. Later he had become a senior executive of Fiorentina but he went public with his support of the little local Florentine club Rondinella, declaring that they were right to deplore the way the reconstituted Fiorentina, actually named Florentina 1926 Fiorentina, should be allowed straight back into the League even in C2. Antognoni opined that the club should in fact, if anything, have been merged with Rondinella, themselves.

There would have been no agreement among the 25,000 ecstatic Fiorentina fans who thronged into the stadium, packing the vast Fieseole end behind one goal, displaying banners, lighting a host of burning red fireworks at half-time which cast such a pall of smoke over the ground that the second half kick off was delayed. And this for a Fiorentina team which at one time or another used no fewer than half a dozen lads of 16 or 17! And how well they played, how spiritedly, against a far more experienced Pisa team, Di Livio cleverly and devotedly marshalling them from a role in central midfield. In the event Fiorentina lost 1-0 to a second half goal but as the new manager, Pietro Vierchowod, said afterwards, it is inevitable that youngsters will make mistakes.

Yes, 43-year-old Vierchowod, variously nicknamed The Czar or The Russian. In fact the son of a Ukrainian prisoner of war who stayed on in Italy and an Italian mother; 45 times capped for Italy, an uncompromising central defender who played for Fiorentina as well as so many other leading clubs, among them Juventus, Milan and in particular, Sampdoria. Of him the former Fiorentina idol and goalscorer, Argentine Gabriel Batistuta used to say that Vierchowod gave him a good kicking in every game, always played hard and fair, and shook his hand at the end.

At the time of that game Vierchowod was still looking for more experienced players some of which he told me might come and many of which would not. In fact he has found several, of modest credentials. It is a very long way back from Serie C to the top, but it is said that while the C1 clubs didn't want the new Fiorentina, the C2 clubs are delighted; though it will often mean that they will have to borrow local stadia much bigger than their own to accommodate the mass of Fiorentina fans. Fans who burned the effigy of the hopeless, arrogant, bombastic former President, Vittorio Cecchi Gori, in the streets.

Vittorio was the eternal figlio di papa, alias daddy's boy, the son of a most successful movie producer, Mario, who ran the club well where Vittorio ran it into the ground. He is now likely to be charged with fraudulent bankruptcy. Last season in his desperation to keep the club afloat, he was reduced to borrowing money from his mother. The new owner, Diego La Valle, is an amiable wealthy shoe manufacturer who admitted to me at his pre-match Press Conference that the only connection he had ever had with soccer was to play it as a schoolboy, though he did know how to pick men. One of whom will be the former Fiorentina and Italy goalkeeper, Giovanni Galli.

Di Livio told me that his decision to stay with Fiorentina had been a very easy one. "I am an older brother to these lads," he told me. "They make me feel a bit younger in training, they bring me back in time. I've made this choice and I'm sure I have made the right one."

Vierchowod when I spoke to him in the team's hotel, nearby the coaching and technical centre at nearby Goverciano, was equally pleased to be there. He welcomed "difficult challenges. This is a club in construction to open a cycle, which gives me an opportunity. Very difficult but also very stimulating. Therefore I have accepted with enthusiasm. We all have different qualities. There are good players who can become excellent even if they won't become famous. There's a need for all kinds of players. In many years, I have never seen a whole team of great players." Against Pisa he used a 4-4-2 formation but means to switch to 3-4-3, "Because with three up, there are greater possibilities to play well, more solutions. This is life. I'll do my best to do the best. If it all depended on me it would be sure, but it doesn't depend only on me."

It's all a long way away from the decades of fine teams and results, of two Championships, the first in 1956 won in a canter, the appearance at the end of the following season in the European Cup Final versus Real in Madrid. When I lived in Florence in the early 50s the club was just setting its sights on the title, under the able managership of Italy's former elegant centre half, the Roman Fulvio Bernardino. Julinho, Hamrin, Gren, Roberto Baggio, Gabriel Batistuta. Happier days.