Are Paulo Sousa’s potential rewards worth the risk for Fiorentina?
Having severed ties with Swiss Super League champions Basel, Portuguese coach Paulo Sousa, a familiar face to English fans following managerial stints with Leicester City (9/2 with Coral to be relegated), QPR and Swansea City (6/1), has been announced as the man who will lead Fiorentina next season.
Viola fans appear preoccupied with Sousa’s playing past for Juventus, but is it the 44-year-old former midfielder’s record in the dugout rather than on the pitch that should concern the Stadio Artemi Franchi faithful?
On the face of things, Sousa’s silverware haul is impressive, having lifted Italian and Portuguese league titles plus the Champions League with Borussia Dortmund as a player, and successive domestic trophies as boss of Basel and Maccabi Tel-Aviv.
The Swiss and Israeli leagues may not have been the strongest, with Sousa in charge of titans expected to challenge, yet that should not be used as a stick to beat him with. After all, you can only work with the tools at your disposal and beat what is in front of you, as the cliches go.
However, Sousa has a more worrying history when not in charge of favourites, with his stints in England and Wales far from reassuring, while another eyebrow-raising stat is that the Portuguese has never stayed with one club as coach for more than two terms.
As QPR gaffer, Sousa won just seven of 26 outings before reportedly being dismissed for off-field club issues, but enjoyed a more mixed time at Swansea, just missing out on Championship play-off places before departing by mutual consent in 2010.
A subsequent stint in charge of Leicester ended abruptly after a poor start to the season, with four triumphs in 12 across all competitions. Sousa does deserve credit for rebuilding his reputation, and reigniting his career, on the continent though, and Fiorentina fans will now be hoping he seizes his second chance at the big time with both hands.
Previously criticised for somewhat defensive play at Swansea, Sousa is savvy enough to realise the limitations of his team, though that may not suit the Viola, who enjoyed exciting football more often than not under ex-boss Vicenzo Montella.
Despite the acrimony with which that alliance ended, Sousa has big shoes to step into. Can he really replicate or better a fourth-placed finish with guaranteed Europa League football? Especially with both AC Milan and Inter strengthening significantly?
The Tuscan team may not have a bucket load of funds and resources at the ready but, with a few tweaks, this talented crop is set up to succeed, so there will be nowhere for Sousa to hide.
“Some fans remember me for being at Juventus, but I want them to remember me for the work I do in Florence,” stated Sousa recently, though his past in Italy may really be more of an advantage than an issue.
Even experienced elite coaches such as Jose Mourinho initially found the tactical intensity of Serie A, as well as the off-field drama and media scrutiny, a shock to the system, so Sousa’s knowledge and links should stand him in good stead.
Viola supporters may not be welcoming him with open arms, but legendary Italy tactician Marcello Lippi certainly seems to have faith in him, after telling Italian press: “Former midfielders often do well as coaches because the midfield is where you really build your success… Sousa has always been very technical and intelligent as a player. He was a leader in midfield.
“I hope he will call me when he comes to Florence. Viareggio, where I live, is not far and we can talk football while eating together by the sea,” added the 67-year-old 2006 World Cup winning coach.
It is true that Sousa, though he may appear an odd choice, does have silverware pedigree and is young enough at 44 to still improve.
Can his new Tuscan team benefit from his Basel connections? Sousa will face a difficult fight to keep Chelsea-owned winger Mohamed Salah at Fiorentina, with apparent interest from Tottenham, but could look to St Jakob-Park for new recruits. Paraguay attacker Derlis Gonzalez could be an alternative to the Egyptian that Sousa takes with him.
Watch Gonzalez score goals galore:
Swiss Super League Golden Boot winner Shkelzen Gashi, meanwhile, has been a menace from attacking midfield, notching 22 times in 31 appearances, and could be worth a gamble.
Gashi’s Switzerland-born Albania international teammate Taulant Xhaka impressed in the Champions League last campaign, and could prove a useful and adaptable defensive addition, so keep an eye out for potential summer switches from Basel.