Back in the beginning of this millennium Venezia’s dreams were torn to pieces and transferred to Palermo. When Maurizio Zamparini took his money from Veneto to Sicily he started a process that saw the Rosaneri go from Serie B slumber to the top of Serie A. Still however there is a feeling that we were promised more than we got. Like Palermo has some potential that was highlighted and released by Zamparini, but which also seems to be gradually wasted in the hands of a benevolent but also volatile president. What has gone wrong?
Zamparini is in many ways the laughing stock of calcio. We laugh of his comments, his sackings, his lamenting, his rejoicing. In the middle of the laughs however it’s important to remember that he and his staff has brought talented after talented player in and branded Palermo as an attractive club. No Zampa, no Palermo in Serie A.
The Palermo project that was so promising some years back seems to stutter now though. The lack of continuity, stability, branding being parts of the reason. Just try to look at this list of players whom have benefited from the Palermo spotlight and subsequently won everything from national caps over world cups to capocannoniere titles – Grosso, Barzagli, Toni, Amauri, Cavani, Kjær, etc. This summer the list of ex-rosaneri was enlarged with a great talents in Pastore and Sirigu and stable, seasoned players like Nocerino and Cassani.
Palermo under Zamparini has been incredibly good at tracing and hiring your talents, in the current squad Ilicic and Hernandez comes to mind. This talent has been helped underway by reasonable signings as Miccoli, Liverani, Balzaretti and Corini – all players who offered a lot of routine but also themselves were lifted by the Palermo spirit.
The blend of raw talent and stable routine normally spells a long term project, but Palermo has been anything but. Players, not to mention managers, have flown in and out the doors of Stadio Renzo Barbera faster than people on an average binge drinking night in a Cardiff night club. Palermo are being exploited by players who only see the club as a stepping stone for greatness. They don’t even need to build up a reputation over four or five years – one or two seasons will do. Palermo with its talented recruiters and passionate fans have become nothing more than a breeding pool. A play ground for a president that saw a potential, but who doesn’t have the skills, courage, or will to make it a real contender for glory.
The owner of the main football shirt retailer in Denmark once told me that the Palermo shirt was amongst the most popular in his store – and that in a country where English football and Barcelona are kings. Such is the lure of Palermo’s snazzy, pink colours. People know ”that pink Italian team”. Palermo’s brand reaches far beyond the actual status of the team. Zamparini has thus far totally missed the chance to take advantage of his teams’ commercial potential. Here I’m not talking about stadium rights but simple coolness.
With the right marketing strategy Palermo could become much more interesting for investors. An important part of such a strategy however is the feeling of a project, a feeling that the club is more than just a toy or money maker for a borderline insane Italian business man. Maybe Zamparini could not do what de Laurentiis has done in Napoli, a much bigger city, but with a little more planning and vision Palermo could be much better off than the ever changing patchwork that is now the squad structure.
I like Zamparini’s antics to a certain degree, but people like him are holding Italian football back. Without commercializing calcio excessively he could build a stable and attractive club for players, fans, and investors alike. As it is now Zamparini is merely commercializing his players and not anything else. It’s a waste for the club and must be frustrating for the fans. Palermo and calcio has a lot to thank Zamparini for, but that shouldn’t keep us from talking about the things that could be improved.
Photo by Giuseppe Romani