As the sun set at Fiorentina’s Stadio Artemio Franchi last September, a proud father looked on while his 18-year-old son made only his third senior appearance in the famous Viola kit. The opponents were Qarabag FK in the group stages of the Europa League, the Azerbaijani side presenting somewhat less of a challenge than Juventus, the reigning Serie A champions who provided the sternest of tests for this youngster’s debut just a month earlier.
“It was an amazing feeling. The Coach was crazy! Nobody expected to see me on the pitch,” Federico Chiesa admitted after that first senior outing. “I am living a dream and I don’t want to wake up. It felt very strange going to sign autographs, as the fans showed me so much affection.”
With the hills of Fiesole clearly visible over the stand with the same name, fans present in that stand could see the pride written all over the face of this boy’s father, and they could understand exactly why. Of course, any parent would feel that same emotion should they be fortunate enough to see their offspring break into the first team at a professional football club. But this time, he knew exactly how his son felt, as he had pulled on that same shirt himself 17 years earlier.
After signing for the Tuscan club in 1999, striker Enrico Chiesa scored only six goals in his first season, and was then handed the unenviable task of filling club legend Gabriel Batistuta’s boots when he left to chase the Scudetto with Roma the following year. From here, the Italian stepped up to the plate, becoming a fan favourite in his own right by scoring 22 goals in 30 matches after forging a successful partnership with Manuel Rui Costa.
Just like Batistuta, this non-Florentine understood exactly what it meant to play for this club, a sentiment that has also clearly not been lost on his son Federico in his first season at the Franchi. Having lived in the Renaissance city during his father’s spell with the club, his family would return in 2007, and Chiesa Jr. would join the Viola youth ranks when he was just ten years old.
“My father helped me out a lot, as he always gave good advice during difficult moments,” Federico admitted in an interview with Sky Italia. “I didn’t play so much in the youth teams because I didn’t have the right physique, but he told me that with time and hard work I’d have my chance. I always hoped to follow in his footsteps.”
Those efforts clearly paid off. After making such an impact in his early displays, the club recognised his obvious talent and handed him a new deal shortly before Fiorentina played Juventus again this January. “I was so happy when I signed the contract, but also tense, because it was just before the game with Juventus, a very important night for us,” he continued. “I didn’t really have time to stop and think about the moment, but I am very happy to be staying here for another four years.”
Given his background and deep ties to his hometown, Chiesa will undoubtedly be fully aware of the significance attached to playing against the Bianconeri in Florence. But just like when he made his debut at Juventus Stadium, the enormity of having signed his contract extension before the match failed to phase him. That night saw am entirely unexpected 2-1 victory over the Old Lady, and those watching could not fail to notice the young prodigy causing her so many problems.
The 19-year-old found his teammates with 88% of his passes, recovered the ball on no less than ten occasions, and found the target with one out of his three shots on goal. Goals against Chievo, Genoa and Sassuolo would follow for Chiesa, but more importantly, he began to find himself a regular in Paulo Sousa’s starting lineup, attracting positive attention for his performances.
A maiden U21 call-up followed in March, and just two months later, he was selected by Giampiero Ventura as the full international side took on San Marino in a friendly. This was perhaps an indication of what is to follow for the forward, and he continued to impress in the close-season as he travelled to the U21 European Championships with the Azzurri, playing 61 minutes in their 3-1 semi-final defeat to Spain.
After a marvelous breakout campaign, the only hint of a lack of maturity is his disciplinary record. His tally of two red cards and seven yellows is something to be improved on next term. Indeed, 2017-18 will see Chiesa asked to step up to the mark once again, as a summer clearout has seen many fan favourites depart the club, leaving the youngster as the last man standing from all those who truly represented what it means to wear the Viola shirt.
The Gigliati hierarchy have recognised this, electing the youngster as the sole representative when the new shirt was launched earlier this month. Cynical as it may be for a club that have set about on a ruthless demolition of the current playing squad, this is a player who is capable of becoming a flag-bearer for those Tuscan supporters, likely to even surpass his father in their affections.
“I hope to become Fiorentina captain one day,” Federico concluded. “Having come up through the youth academy, I am a child of this club and the Viola jersey is like a second skin.” In describing how he feels about Fiorentina, he continues to strengthen the bond between himself and the fans.
Admitting that the famous purple shirt is his “second skin,” Federico Chiesa truly has become one of them.
By: Chloe Beresford/@ChloeJBeresford