Fiorentina's sporting director was once fêted as one of the best of his kind. But as Adam Digby reports, Pantaleo Corvino has seen his fortunes go south in recent times.
One hundred and eight words. In any walk of life it is not very much, the briefest of brief statements, barely more than a quote really. Yet on Monday, March 19 – in the aftermath of their one-sided loss to bitter rivals Juventus – that is the number of words chosen by Fiorentina to tell the world that they had reached a mutual agreement with their Sporting Director, Pantaleo Corvino, that his contract would not be renewed once it expires at the end of the season. While many football fans have no time for men in that position and would consider those few choice words to be more than enough when dispensing with such a persons services, those who follow Serie A football closely would consider it perhaps something of a slight on the 62 year old.
Despite the statement going on to say Corvino had the clubs “complete confidence for many years,” and thanking him for helping the Viola “to play a leading role at the top level both in Italy and on the international scene,” it really did not say enough about the impact the departing director had had on both Fiorentina and indeed Italian football in general since he took his first real role in Calcio way back in 1988. Since then he has delivered some of finest talent the country has seen, both from within Italy as well as discovering some widely coveted foreign imports. It is largely down to the Lecce native that players such as Fabrizio Miccoli, Mirko Vučinić and Stevan Jovetić – to name just three – have become household names.
His story begins with lowly Casarano, a tiny side in Puglia who are now known as Virtus Casarano after bankruptcy and playing amateur football in Serie D, the peninsula’s fifth tier. Back then however, they were enjoying the best period in their history, playing in what is now the Lega Pro Prima Divisione and Corvino would prove to be just as shrewd then as he ever was. Despite the obviously scarce financial resources that came with the territory of being at a club based in a stadium that holds just 6,200 people and is rarely sold out, he would manage to somehow attract the best players from the region to the modest provincial outfit.
Using the talent spotting and negotiating skills he has always seemed to possess, Corvino, during his ten year stay with the club would see Dario Levanto, Cosimo Francioso and Dario Passoni all wear the Rossoblu shirt before enjoying relatively impressive careers. Current Inter reserve ‘keeper Paolo Orlandoni would prove to be another smart acquisition before one theme that would run throughout the directors career began; Antonio Cassano would be offered a trial with Casarano only to see them choose not to sign him, meaning the Italy star became the very first ‘one-that-got-away’ from Corvino. He would not be the last.
Before missing out on ‘Il Gioiello di Bari Vecchia’ however, he had captured his first bargain, yet another trend that would span the next three decades. Released by Milan despite scoring 28 goals and helping their Giovanissimi Nazionali (Under-15) team to win the national championship, Fabrizio Miccoli could not find room at his beloved Lecce and was convinced by Corvino to play for Casarano instead. There he scored 21 goals and won the Berretti (Under 19) title as well as making his debut in what was then Serie C1, aged just 16, scoring eight goals and catching the eye of Ternana, moving there before eventually earning his subsequent moves to Juventus, Benfica, Fiorentina and, eventually Palermo.
Corvino would move on too, unlike Miccoli he did find room at Lecce, where he would deliver not only genuinely quality players, but also create environments in which some big name coaches would thrive, whether to resurrect ailing careers or indeed launch themselves into the wider conscience through their work with the Salentini. The first real partnership of the directors career came almost immediately as he trusted the coaching role to Alberto Cavasin who would win the Panchina d'oro as Serie A’s Coach of the Year in 2000.
He would earn the award for a 13th place finish in a season where Cristiano Lucarelli would score fifteen goals in a squad which, thanks to Corvino’s continued excellence, would include Francisco Lima, Juárez and goalkeeper Antonio Chimenti. He would sell Lucarelli and replace him with Javier Chevantón – who would score 46 times in 87 appearances for the club – while also bringing Bruno Cirillo, Guillermo Giacomazzi and, in one of his best ever moves, youngster Valeri Bojinov.
The Bulgarian would become the youngest ever foreigner to play in Serie A when he made his debut aged just 15 years and 11 months in 2002 in a Lecce side by then coached by Delio Rossi who was unable to avoid relegation after replacing Cavasin, but led the side straight back to the top flight at the first opportunity. This was the coach’s first position of note and he would not disappoint, then as now working well with young players and Bojinov in particular would thrive and, having paid virtually nothing to sign the player, Lecce would earn €13 million when they sold the striker to Fiorentina in 2005.
His value was perhaps so inflated after a stellar 2004-05 season in which Corvino entrusted the team to Zdenek Zeman, becoming the first top flight director to believe in the outspoken Czech after his anti-doping claims which saw him become something of a pariah among Italian footballs established order. Neither man would regret the move as Lecce played some wonderful football that season, finishing 11th and scoring more goals than any team except Champions Juventus, whose tally of 67 was just one more than Zeman’s team.
Bojinov himself would net thirteen goals – a total which remains his career high even today – while the latest Corvino find, Mirko Vučinić would do even better, scoring nineteen times and ending the season as the fifth highest scorer in the league. Another Eastern European striker that the director signed for almost nothing would make an even larger profit for the Southern side, Roma eventually paying a total of €15.75m for the Montenegrin who left in 2006.
A year earlier however and both Zeman and Corvino left the Stadio Via del Mare with the director finally seeming to have landed at a big club as he joined Fiorentina, one of Italian football’s famed ‘Seven Sisters’. The Viola would enjoy, after the effects of the Calciopoli scandal dissipated, what would prove to be one of their most successful periods ever under his guidance. Bringing in Cesare Prandelli, who had proven his qualities at Parma, Corvino would build a hugely impressive young squad which would not only qualify for the Champions League but thrive in it, reaching the Last Sixteen of Europe’s elite competition.
They lost there to a highly contentious Bayern Munich goal which was clearly offside and also reached the Semi-Final of the UEFA Cup with a squad laden with talent. From goalkeeper Sebastian Frey, reliable defenders such as Alessandro Gamberini, Corvino provided numerous roleplayers for Prandelli, but also a sprinkling of stardust too. Milan cast off Alberto Gilardino was a shrewd signing, but so too were Riccardo Montolivo, Juan Manuel Vargas and Valon Behrami, all playing major roles in some simply superb teams at the Artemio Franchi.
Once settled comfortably in the Renaissance city, he felt confident enough to give in almost completely to his penchant for telling the press names of players he almost signed, the habit becoming something of a running joke. Having admitted to narrowly missing out on the likes Nemanja Vidic , Charles N'Zogbia and the Brazilian playmaker Diego, Corvino confessed to La Gazzetta dell Sport that his biggest mistake actually came while he was still at Lecce;
“There is no doubt that my most significant regret as a Sporting Director was [Dimitar] Berbatov. I had him when he was just 18 years old. He had even taken a medical but I left the meeting to sign off another transfer, and when I returned I found only my understudy. The player and his father had gone because of our failure to give him a car and an apartment. This is a huge regret for me as I saw then what was later spotted by Tottenham and Manchester United."
Back to deals he actually completed however, as Corvino once again made huge profits on players such as Felipe Melo, bought from Almeria for €13m and sold just a year later to Juventus for €25m after a quick contract renegotiation that showed incredible acumen from the director. That same business savvy was evident when he managed to make a €2.4 million profit on a hugely disappointing Pablo Osvaldo and a similar amount when moving Luca Toni on to Bayern Munich. The arrival of his latest Balkan superstar-in-waiting, the technically brilliant Stevan Jovetić appeared to be a crowning moment for Corvino who – with his book of Eastern European contacts every inch as bulging as his ever-expanding waistline – was on top of the world, the faithful Viola supporters printing t-shirts in his honour and telling the world just how great he was.
Then just like that, the sky fell in on him, the club and everyone connected with Fiorentina. The Della Valle family, who took over the club when it went bankrupt under previous owner Vittorio Cecchi Gori, became disenchanted after a seemingly endless argument with the City council over plans for a new stadium. It led to the whole project (for want of a better word) feeling incredibly stalled and it would only get worse as Corvino stumbled, making bad decisions for perhaps the first time ever. His signing of Adrian Mutu turned out to be a disaster – the player would be first branded “a baby” and then be banished from the club by Corvino after his latest failed drugs test – and he seriously destabilized an already struggling squad. He then sold Frey and Gilardino, all the while unable to agree a new deal with captain Montolivio which will see the clubs former talisman leave for free this coming summer.
Add to all that the disastrous appointment of Siniša Mihajlović as coach as well as signings like Santiago Silva, Gianni Munari and Houssine Kharja and suddenly his release by Fiorentina looks extremely unsurprising. His stock has fallen even faster than the Viola have dropped down the table, the team now looking every inch the relegation battlers they seem set to become only eighteen months removed from that crushing disappointment against Bayern. While his exit in June is undoubtedly the best thing for all concerned, it remains to be seen what the future holds for both him and Fiorentina.
Should another club choose to take him on, it is somewhat ironic that a man who built his career on restoring sheen to damaged reputations of men such as Miccoli, Zeman and Gilardino would then face the challenge of working quickly to rebuild his own image. Repeating the near-miracles he performed in Lecce and Florence may yet prove to be beyond him as Pantaleo Corvino becomes proof positive that Will Rogers was on to something when he said; “It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation, but you can lose it in a minute.”
Adam is a regular contributor to IBWM, and can be found on Twitter @Adz77.