"I didn't think we would come this far," admits the Fiorentina coach as he prepares his side for the UEFA Europa Conference League final against West Ham in Prague.
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Hired as Fiorentina coach in 2021 after a successful spell in charge of Spezia, Vincenzo Italiano's mission was to rouse a sleeping giant. He achieved a major coup by leading the Viola into this season's UEFA Europa Conference League, and has now steered them to their first major final in a generation.
His team cruised past Lech Poznań in the quarter-finals then recovered from a first-leg home defeat to eliminate Basel in the semi-final, scoring the winner in the last seconds of extra time. The 45-year-old's side came up just short in the recent Coppa Italia final, losing 2-1 to Inter, but he hopes they can rally to secure an even more prestigious trophy in Prague.
On final opponents West Ham
Leaving aside our opponent, the first challenge is that we are playing a final. We must take care of every detail. Every mistake could be fatal in the match. Every move counts and can create a different outcome to the one in our first final in the Italian Cup, which we lost [to Inter]. We must be wary of everything and step out onto the field with the highest level of focus. Especially since we're playing against West Ham, who are a strong team with lots of quality and players in excellent physical condition.
Even if they haven't done very well in the [Premier] League, they are still a very dangerous team. If you're playing a final like this, you possess some ability. You don't get to the final just by chance, so we need to be well prepared because we're facing a strong team. [David Moyes] is a coach with great experience. His teams play well. I respect him and his team for what they do. I'll have the pleasure of meeting him in Prague. May the best team win.
On his three principles: courage, drive and adaptability
We showed these qualities in every single game. We showed that during the play-offs, then in the group stage and even more so in the last few fixtures. We showed [these qualities] in Poznań and in Basel as well. Particularly in that last game – with grit and a good strategy – we managed to overturn the first-leg deficit to qualify for this final.
Our work began last year. We were on a path to rebuild and change the squad. Our main goal was to qualify for a European competition once again and we nailed it. This season, we delivered. I didn't think we would come this far in our development at this stage but, of course, we are thrilled about it. We showed we were up to the task, and we haven't looked out of place in this competition.
On the key to Fiorentina's success this season
Personally, I am very glad to be competing in a final and to have the chance to lift a trophy. It has been my dream since I was first appointed Fiorentina coach and understood we had the potential to achieve such great results.
This was my first time [coaching] in a European competition, the first time that the weekly training was a little different. For some of the players, this was their first time in Europe as well, and this is never easy. However, we managed to adapt. We started to prepare well for matches despite the difficulty of having fewer training sessions. Winning allowed us to work with enthusiasm, so we kept moving forward, knowing that we could make it to the end. And this final is worth all our hard work and sacrifice.