ROME -- A day after firing Fiorentina coach Delio Rossi for slapping player Adem Ljajic during a substitution, the club announced Thursday that manager Vincenzo Guerini will take over and its started disciplinary procedures against the player.
The Serie A banned Rossi for three months -- even though he has no club. Guerini will coach the team for the final two matches of the season.
Rossi slapped Ljajic in the face after the Serbian forward protested his first-half substitution Wednesday during a 2-2 draw with Novara. Ljajic had put his thumb up to ironically applaud Rossi for the substitution. The coach fell into the bench area while assaulting him and was pulled away when it appeared he was lining up a punch.
"It's the most painful decision of my career," Fiorentina president Andrea Della Valle said. "Rossi was provoked, but nothing justifies a reaction like that. It's a decision I had to make for his well-being. The images speak clearly." Neither Rossi nor Ljajic have spoken about the altercation, and police said no criminal report had been filed.
"It was a deplorable act, but it's the consequence of the environment," former Italy coach Arrigo Sacchi told Tgcom24. "The football system lives on excess and when everything is excessive reactions become that way, too." "We're living in complete abnormality and we don't even realize it," Sacchi added. "Football here is social survival and you've got to win at any cost, even with cunningness and deception. And if you live in a powderbox, eventually it explodes." Fiorentina's hard-core "ultra" fans applauded Rossi after the slap and insulted Ljajic with racist chants, resulting in Fiorentina being fined $20,000 by the league.
A veteran coach who had previously led Lecce, Atalanta, Lazio and Palermo, the 51-year-old Rossi replaced the fired Sinisa Mihajlovic in November but was unable to turn the Tuscan club's season around. Fiorentina is tied for 14th place with two rounds remaining in Serie A.
"Fiorentina is struggling, they were losing, the tension was really high, but what happened is unacceptable," said veteran coach Carlo Mazzone. "A manager cannot and should not put his hands on one of his players. A young kid probably overreacted, but at 20 that happens. Anyhow, I'm shocked because Rossi is an expert coach and his behavior until now has been exceptional." The 59-year-old Guerini has formerly coached Fiorentina's youth squad. He's also a former Fiorentina player whose career was cut short by an auto accident at 22.
It is the 19th coaching change in the 20-team Italian league this season. The previous Serie A record for changes was 15 in 1951-52. Ten clubs have changed managers at least once, with Cagliari leading the way with three firings.
"Delio Rossi made a mistake. He gave in, and I don't justify it, but I think players need to be educated," Milan vice president Adriano Galliani said. "Rossi's reaction was out of proportion, but players need to accept a manager's choices.
"They can't mock him, use curse words and applaud sarcastically when they're substituted," Galliani added. "You've got to understand that there's a huge amount of emotional stress on the pitch and sometimes you make mistakes." A similar altercation happened in Italy during the 1983-84 season, when Pescara coach Tom Rosati slapped his center forward, Vittorio Cozzella. That was cleared up in the changing room after the match. Both coach and player returned the next week, with Cozzella scoring.
Cozzella told the ANSA news agency that the decision to fire Rossi was excessive.
"If you fire the manager, then you've also got to get rid of the player who provoked the reaction," he said.