Zamparini and the Fall of Palermo

Written By Salvatore Bono

Zamparini and the Fall of Palermo


Paulo Dybala, Luca Toni, Andrea Belotti, Andrea Barzagli, Javier Pastore, Edinson Cavani, Fabio Grosso, Christian Zaccardo. These are just some of the massive names in soccer that have come and played for Palermo in the last decade.

The list grows and includes others like Salvatore Sirigu, Franco Vazquez, Cesare Bovo, Abel Hernandez, Kyle Lafferty, Fabrizio Miccoli, Federico Balzaretti, among others.

Why the list of players that have come and gone over a decade to the Sicilian club? Simply because they are enshrined in the hearts of Rosaneri fans around the globe and the names show a glimpse of what could have been had they not been sold or traded.

The club has yo-yoed in and out of Serie A for over a decade. Most key decisions at the club can be attributed to their firebrand owner Maurizio Zamparini who buys future stars for cheap and, as soon as they get recognized by the press, sells them off at a high price. He also has fired an absurd amount of managers as Luca Toni had goals for the club since 2005.

The problem with Palermo isn’t the players, it never is, and it boils down to one man — Zamparini.

The Legend of 1900

Founded in 1900 as Anglo Palermitan Athletic and Football Club, the club went through various owners, board of directors and changes before coming together as U.S. Citta De Palermo in 1987. It has stayed the same since.

Palermo the city is the capital of Sicily and like its home team, it has seen everything come and go through its doors. Palermo is a city with a complicated and brutal history but that is a whole other story. One thing that has unified all Palermitans is their love of the game and the team. Many from the city will cheer for bigger Italian clubs like Juventus, A.C. Milan, Inter, even Napoli but will also hold a special place for their team each weekend.

For the Palermo ultras, it is Rosaneri till they die and each season (or almost) they suffer. Not too long ago, Palermo was fighting in the Champions League – now, they are fighting to stay in Serie A.

In 2002, Italian businessman and noted curmudgeon –Zamparini — purchased the team for 15 million Euros while they were in Serie B. His promise was to bring them back to Serie A. Two years later, he delivered, and for the first time since 1973 Palermo was in the top flight of Italian soccer joining fellow and rival Sicilian clubs Messina and Catania.

In 2006, Palermo became the club of four World Cup winners – Luca Toni, Andrea Barzagli, Christian Zaccardo and the man who sealed the fate of his country – Fabio Grosso.

It was a Cinderella story for the ages. For Italian football, this was their Leicester City. How this club turned it around and cranked out the players that would become national heroes was astonishing. It was the first and only time in the club’s history where that many players were picked from the team to represent the Azzurri.

Palermo wasn’t just back on the map, they were the breading ground to the future of Italian calcio. Or so it seemed.

Teatro Massimo is Palermo

Following the 2006 World Cup, the owner began to show his true colors. It was never about the team but the bottom line. All of the massive stars left for bigger and better clubs, which was inevitable. But the cycle of choosing profits over success on the pitch has hindered their success.

The city is home to Southern Italy’s second biggest opera house as well as Sicily’s only opera theater – Teatro Massimo – it is only fitting that the club is now the spectacle where the fat lady has yet to sing.

Since Zamparini took over the club as owner, the team has had over 30 managers walk in and out and sometimes back through their doors. Names like Gennaro Gattuso, Delio Rossi, Walter Zenga, Stefano Pioli, Gian Piero Gasperini and currently Diego Lopez – the first non-Italian to take over the team in 32 years.

By the time this article is published and you read it, Lopez could have been fired and rehired only to be sacked again. It is how Zamparini works. He doesn’t think these things through. It is very much like Zamaparini to go off, fly off the handle and sack his managers without a plan. Instead of long-term goals, he thinks short term and the turmoil he has caused inside the club has seen them fail almost every season.

It is great fodder for those on the outside looking in, but for fans, it is the most frustrating feeling in the world.

Over the summer, fans staged a protest outside their stadium – Renzo Barbera, where they wanted Zamparini to stop sacking the managers and star buying worthy players. The fans wanted Palermo-born Mario Balotelli to join the club and paraded around the stadium for days hoping he would make the striker an offer. Balotelli never came and currently plays for Nice in France’s Ligue 1. Instead, Zamparini brought in the washed-up Alessandro Diamanti from China who currently has done nothing of note for the squad. Diamanti came in to replace another has been, Alberto Gilardino, who played for the club in 2015/2016, as captain.

While the team this season looks dismal and uninspired, in years past they looked fresh and fun. Thanks to massive offers from other clubs, though, the purge continues at Palermo.

In 2011, Zamparini sent Argentine playmaker Pastore to PSG for €42m and his keeper, Sirigu, at the time the heir to Buffon, to the French club for €3.5m. The year prior he sent his star goal scorer Edinson Cavani to Napoli for €15 million. In 2015, he sent Paulo Dybala packing to Juventus for €32 million. These are just some of the transfers he has done.

For Zamparini, it is all business. However, the massive funds never seem to go back into the club. It would be one thing, like a Dortmund model where players leave and the money is reinvested into the youth or the facilities or to sign better talent. Not here as Zamparini claims he is operating in the red and losing money. As long as the money continues to roll in, Zamparini does not seem to mind.

His tactics as an owner have comeback to bite him time and time again. In 2013, the club fell to Serie B after almost a decade in Serie A. A decade that saw the team in Europa League, Champions League and fighting for Coppa Italia in 2011.

Can The Eagles Fly Again?

The team logo and symbol is the eagle. It is the city’s emblem — a symbol of pure spirit, power, and resilience.

As Palermo currently sits at the bottom three of the table, the future looks bleak to stay afloat in Serie A next season. However, Sicilians never say never. They can keep their hopes alive with the spirit of their crest. Next year, will need to be different.  Palermo need to look deep if they want to be a fighting club again. They have done it before and can become a Top 5 club.

What needs to happen in order for success is stability.

Never winning Serie A would be like winning the World Cup all over again for the fans. It is something the city nor the island has never had – a winning team and they desperately need it.

As Zamparini claims he has people from America and China interested in purchasing the club, a fresh set of owners will do the trick. The new owners, however, must learn from their predecessor’s mistakes. Managers cannot be fired after a handful of poor performances, players cannot be sold as their profile begins to rise, fans should not be ignored.

Palermo fans would welcome a break from mediocrity. After years of false hope and torture, it looks like there might be a light guiding their future.

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