by Michael Pearson
Palermo is a club where panic consumes. Anxiety is spreading from the President, to the Coach, from the Coach to the players and down to their loyal supporters.
Just two games into the new season, Palermo fans already fear a relegation struggle. On paper the squad looks vulnerable. It lacks the quality of previous seasons and the supporters already appear to have lost faith. Comprehensive 3-0 defeats to Napoli and Lazio led to vociferous demonstrations.
A chilling banner left outside the training ground read: ‘We’ll break your bones’ and furious protests have been directed at their controversial President Maurizio Zamparini.
On Tuesday, Zamparini wrote an open letter to the clubs fans asking for support and patience. The letter reads like a desperate plea:
“I say this to the fans –you have to deal with difficult times and think about the future with optimism because I, the club, the players and the Coach have never given up and we won’t give up.
I will accept criticism, but not falsities.
I ask the fans to stay close, the players are giving their all but they must be backed by your support.
Do not give up as we will not give up.”
Reading the imploration in isolation, it is difficult not to feel some sympathy with Zamparini but the harsh reality is these criticisms are all of his own making.
Zamparini is an intolerant patron and has employed a staggering 23 managers in 10 years. He shamelessly calls himself “allenatore mangiatore” (manager eater) and courts the media at every opportunity. His short temper and stubbornness have meant he has struggled to find a manager he sees eye to eye with and current Coach Giuseppe Sannino is already feeling the anxiety and pressure.
After the opening defeats, Zamparini told the media “Sannino? He is my Coach and is not at risk, but the Palermo we saw in the first two rounds looked like a Serie B team.”
Sannino and Palermo seem a perfect marriage. Having made his name with promotion campaigns in lower level football, Sannino finally got his Serie A opportunity when Antonio Conte quit Siena for the Juve job. He secured a comfortable survival and a strong Coppa Italia run. Sannino will hope Palermo’s new sporting director, Giorgio Perinetti, who travelled with him from Siena, can shield him from the President’s worst excesses.
It is enormously sad that those same excesses and traits have seen Zamparini derided, distrusted and despised -especially by the clubs own supporters. When you look at his achievements he really should be being lauded throughout the game.
Just 10 years ago, Palermo were drifting aimlessly around Serie B. His arrival and millions instantly transformed the club and promotion back to Serie A was accomplished within 2 years.
In Sicily, one of the poorest areas of the country, the hunger for truly top level football across the city of Palermo was such that all season tickets were sold out, and the ticket-offices were closed for the season.
4 European campaigns have followed and top players including ; Sirigu, Balzaretti, Bovo, Cassani, Nocerino, Migliaccio, Pastore and Cavani have worn the beautiful and distinctive pink and black shirt.
There was a devotion felt by the population for its club and its chairman. That faith and loyalty is now ebbing away.
Fearfully, it is looking likely that this season will be precarious for Palermo. To avoid a catastrophic campaign Zamparini must take a step back from the limelight, as his constant media outbursts fuel unnecessary speculation about the club. He must also allow club officials to deal with day-to-day matters, and his Coach to Coach.
It is time for the President to practice encouragement, stability and patience – rather than simply plead for it.