x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Champions League past is no safety against relegation for Fiorentina

The Serie A club might well look to the example of what happened to Sampdoria and stem the rot before it gets too late.

Stevan Jovetic wants to play in the Champions League again.
Stevan Jovetic wants to play in the Champions League again.

An important anniversary looms at Sampdoria. It will be 20 years next month since the Genoa club competed in a European Cup final, the last before the competition was rebranded as the Champions League, and narrowly lost to Barcelona.

Scroll back over the archives of the big finals in club football's principal competition and the name of Sampdoria certainly sticks out, a one-off, but they were a fine team, Serie A champions when Italy's top flight was the strongest domestic league in the world.

Scroll down through Italy's upper divisions now and the finger travels a long way down to find them. Samp sit seventh in Serie B. They have been on a reasonable run of form recently - one defeat in their last eight games - but their prospects of promotion remain slender.

They dropped out of Serie A last May, relegated on the penultimate day of a season that had begun with strikers Antonio Cassano, who later joined AC Milan, and Giampaolo Pazzini, who moved to Inter Milan, and with a Champions League play-off, having finished third in 2009/10.

They lost that play-off and declined so badly that from the verge of Europe's top 32, they plummeted out of Italy's top 20 in nine months.There is a warning in that and it is being felt right now in Florence especially.

Remember Fiorentina's last Champions League run? The toppling of Liverpool; the very narrow, and controversial defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich when they were stymied by an offside Bayern goal.

That was only two seasons ago. Today Fiorentina are a mere three points above Serie A's drop zone. Their form since the beginning of February - three wins in 12 outings - is relegation form, disguised only briefly by the win against AC Milan at San Siro 12 days ago. "It is an unfair position," Stevan Jovetic, their leading goalscorer and a genuine star, said. "We've conceded a lot of late goals. I am confident we will survive."

Jovetic often thinks back on those Champions League nights and says he will repeat them.

He is certainly a Champions League-calibre footballer, but it jars with circumstances when he says: "I want to play in Europe but with Fiorentina."

Though Cesena and Novara looked doomed to Serie B, the battle to avoid the last relegation place is tight.

Lecce, third from bottom on 34 points, have found a pocket of decent form. Genoa, on 36, are in a slump, and Fiorentina, on 37, are not too good to go down just because they recently heard Uefa's anthem at their stadium.

Just ask Sampdoria.


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