Fiorentina use victory as a coping mechanism after death of Astori | Paolo Bandini

La Viola have won five on the bounce since their captain died, their players showing ‘an uncommon strength’ in Serie A

Since Davide Astori died, Fiorentina cannot stop winning. To lay it out in such blunt terms feels almost too crude and yet how else should we put it? The Viola have strung together six consecutive victories in Serie A, a feat they last achieved in 1960. Only the first game in this sequence was played with their captain, who died on 4 March.

How do we talk about these events in a way that is honest and respectful? Football results are a trivial thing in the context of a lost life. A few Fiorentina wins are unlikely to offer great solace to Astori’s family, his partner, his two-year-old daughter.

Or even, indeed, to the people who used to work with him every day. Yet, there is no question in the minds of Fiorentina’s players and coaches that this run owes a great deal to his influence. A week ago, following the 2-0 victory at Udinese, the manager, Stefano Pioli, observed: “After the tragedy, our team pulled together. These lads have shown an uncommon strength in the way they have carried forward the work Davide left us.”

A more prolonged reflection was offered by Riccardo Saponara in this week’s edition of Sportweek magazine. The Fiorentina playmaker shared a devastatingly raw moment-by-moment account of the morning when Astori died, of piecing the news together in stages: his friend failing to show up at breakfast, before an ambulance appeared outside the team hotel and then a pale Stefano Pioli at his bedroom door.

There were tears and bewilderment that day. In Saponara’s account, some Fiorentina players wept, others paced the halls and others still sat in silence outside Astori’s room and simply stared at the walls. “If it had happened on the pitch, when the heart is under stress, perhaps I would even have accepted it,” Saponara said. “But this way is hard.”

So, too, is knowing how to continue. “Every now and then we talk about it, we remember him. We ask ourselves: ‘What would Davide have done? How would he have carried himself? Imagine if he was in this situation; Davide used to say …’

“But it’s difficult. Sometimes what happened, even saying his name, still feels like a taboo. We keep the pain that we have felt locked up inside us. We have decided to press ahead and we are doing it well but it seems as though each of us is also afraid to re-evoke that suffering.”

That sentiment was echoed by Giovanni Simeone on Saturday. The 22-year-old striker had scored the second goal in a 2-0 win at Roma. It was a win that set Fiorentina on course for a place in Europe, as well as the first time in the current run that they had beaten a team ahead of them in the standings.

“We have stayed united through the difficulty we have faced,” he said. “And this is a thing that gives you strength. After every training session, for example, nobody wants to go home because staying is the only way not to think about what happened.”

Victory as a path of pain avoidance? It is not the neat healing narrative we might want for those closest to Astori but the idea of throwing yourself into work as a coping mechanism for grief is one that many people will be able to relate to. This column has been as guilty as any of trying to apply some grand story arc to football at times, when in fact it is just real life.

Only Fiorentina’s players can fully understand how they have experienced this tragedy. As observers, the aspects most visible to us are those extraordinary results on the pitch. Fiorentina were missing two key starters on Saturday, with Federico Chiesa suspended and Milan Badelj injured, yet they were absolutely ruthless when it mattered.

Both goals were exceptionally well taken. Marco Benassi’s first-time effort from a Saponara cross was placed expertly into the bottom corner. Simeone showed impressive strength as Kostas Manolas barged him into Bruno Peres, bouncing off each opponent like a pinball before finishing coolly past Alisson.

Giovanni Simeone, centre, slips between Kostas Manolas and Bruno Peres to score Fiorentina’s second goal.
Giovanni Simeone, centre, slips between Kostas Manolas and Bruno Peres to score Fiorentina’s second goal. Photograph: Riccardo Antimiani/EPA

It was, conversely, a frustrating day for Roma, who mustered 25 shots to their opponents’ three without ever finding the net. Edin Dzeko, Patrik Schick and Federico Fazio all hit the woodwork but manager Eusebio Di Francesco insisted afterwards that this defeat owed less to ill-fortune than insufficient application during training throughout the week.

Perhaps Roma were also distracted by the prospect of their Champions League quarter-final second leg against Barcelona on Tuesday. In any case, Roma slipped to fourth. It could have been worse but Torino did them a favour by beating Inter a day later. Fiorentina climbed to seventh, good enough for a spot in Europe if the season ended today – since Coppa Italia finalists Juventus and Milan are both in the top six.

Hundreds of fans were waiting to greet the victors as they returned to Florence. They sang Astori’s name and remembered him in countless social media posts. For Fiorentina, he is at once ever-present and always absent.

“Sometimes he would send me WhatsApp messages of encouragement during our coach journeys,” Saponara remembered in his Sportweek interview. “Instead of listening to music through his headphones like everyone else, he was busy thinking about others.”

And now, we all think of him.

Talking points

• It looked as if the Scudetto race might be over on Sunday, as Napoli fell behind at home to Chievo in the 73rd minute of a game they had dominated. The score was still 1-0 in the 89th minute before Arkadiusz Milik and Amadou Diawara turned it on its head. The impact made by the former, in particular, served as a vivid reminder of what a valuable – and, crucially, different – forward this team was missing through the middle part of this season.

• Juventus did not have things all their own way against Benevento – twice seeing leads wiped out before eventually winning 4-2. Will it be a regret, for Benevento, that they took so long to tap into the potential of Cheick Diabaté after his January arrival from Osmanlispor? He got both goals here and has five in only 195 minutes of Serie A action – two more than anybody else on the team has managed.

• A unique sight in Udinese’s game against Lazio, as the hosts lined up in 11 different shirts – every player wearing a different one from the recent past. The shirts would be auctioned, with each raising funds for a specific supporter’s dream project. Lazio did nothing to help the prices, mind, by winning the game 2-1.

• It might be too little too late for a run at Europe, given the competition ahead of them, but Torino made it three wins in eight days by beating Inter. “Now everyone has understood what I’m asking for and you can see it from the spirit of sacrifice shown by players like Iago Falqué and [goalscorer Adem] Ljajic,” Walter Mazzarri said at full-time. “This means we are becoming a Team with a capital T.”

Benevento 2-4 Juventus, Roma 0-2 Fiorentina, Spal 1-1 Atalanta, Sampdoria 0-0 Genoa, Torino 1-0 Internazionale, Crotone 1-0 Bologne, Napoli 2-1 Chievo, Verona 1-0 Cagliari, Udinese 1-2 Lazio, Milan 1-1 Sassuolo.

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 Juventus 31 56 81
2 Napoli 31 45 77
3 Lazio 31 35 60
4 Roma 31 24 60
5 Inter Milan 31 28 59
6 AC Milan 31 7 52
7 Fiorentina 31 11 50
8 Sampdoria 31 4 48
9 Atalanta 31 13 48
10 Torino 31 8 45
11 Bologna 31 -8 35
12 Genoa 31 -7 35
13 Udinese 31 -9 33
14 Sassuolo 31 -30 30
15 Chievo 31 -22 29
16 Cagliari 31 -23 29
17 SPAL 31 -22 27
18 Crotone 31 -27 27
19 Verona 31 -36 25
20 Benevento 31 -47 13


Nicky Bandini

The GuardianTramp

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