On January 28, 2012, Angelo Palombo featured for Sampdoria in their 0-0 Serie B draw away at Gubbio. A loan move and internal exile later, it took Palombo 344 days to make another appearance for the port-city club. He returned to action in a Blucerchiati shirt on Sunday, as Sampdoria produced a stunning upset against Juventus.
In recent years Italian clubs have made headlines for freezing players from the first-team squad. Cristian Ledesma, Goran Pandev and Federico Marchetti are examples, although their castaway status revolved around concluding contracts. This was not the case. Before Sunday, Palombo last stepped on to the pitch on March 4, appearing for Inter as a substitute in a draw with Catania.
The exact reason behind his banishment remains a mystery to all outside Sampdoria. The club bandiera pledged his allegiance to Samp immediately after relegation to Serie B was confirmed in May 2011. Palombo was omnipresent in the opening half of 2011-12, but, on January deadline day, packed his bags for Appiano Gentile.
Aside from a potential desire to keep Euro 2012 aspirations alive, the move made little sense considering Palombo’s declaration months earlier, his rejection of Serie A clubs during the previous transfer window and Samp’s promotion objective. Palombo found life tough at the San Siro and made just three League appearances.
Vice-President Edoardo Garrone said in January: “It is perhaps the right time for us to separate.” Sporting director Pasquale Sensibile then made note of the situation in June. “The future of Palombo? He is coming back from loan at Inter, but for the sake of everyone involved we must think about other solutions.”
Along with sacking Ciro Ferrara after the December defeat at Catania, Sensibile also left. In stepped new tactician Delio Rossi and sporting director Carlo Osti. Immediately Palombo was thawed from his frozen state. He occupied a bench spot against Lazio before his comeback in Turin. Even Rossi was baffled by the situation. “Palombo is an experienced player in a very young squad. I don’t know why he was left out for the rest of the season...”
It points to a possible rift with Sensibile. But unlike the Antonio Cassano debacle in late 2010, Samp kept the reason for their Palombo stance under wraps. Ferrara carried out the mandate, leaving the former captain away from the summer retreat and all matchday squads, even as Samp struggled to seven straight defeats.
Now back in action, Palombo can prove a valuable asset. As Rossi alluded to he offers great experience for the youngsters. New captain Daniele Gastaldello and Enzo Maresca have shouldered that load to date, but Palombo offers a new voice.
That voice was heard further back than usual on Sunday as Rossi fielded Palombo at the heart of a three-man defence. The Coach became the latest to join the 3-5-2 craze, and stated afterwards Palombo “has the right character to play in defence.”
Like other exponents of the formation, Rossi fielded a ball-playing defender centrally, somebody calm in possession to instigate attacks from deep. This is the role of Paolo Cannavaro at Napoli, Juve’s Leonardo Bonucci and fellow converted midfielder Massimo Donati at Palermo. They are also vocal and commanding figures, as well as adept at reading the game.
It worked well at the first time of asking. Despite his rustiness, Palombo was solid and assuring sandwiched between Gastaldello and Andrea Costa. His pass average was over 90 per cent, while he completed 10 clearances and one tackle. Given it was 10 months since his last game and in a new role, Palombo should be pleased and know he can get better with time.
It remains to be seen whether there is more life to the defensive switch or if Palombo resumes in his natural position. The role at the base of Samp’s midfield may be left to Maresca, although he has not yet featured under Rossi due to selection choices and injury. Yet whether as a defensive leader or midfield stalwart, it is good to see Palombo back where he belongs.