Coppa Italia: Round of 32 / Team rating: 4 / Top scorer: Gilardino (10)
Palermo’s campaign was unforgettable for all the wrong reasons, but still had a happy ending, writes Lorenzo Vicini.
Palermo were expected to pick up where they left off the previous year, after their return campaign in Serie A was comfortable and quiet. Yet, the 2015-16 season proved to be more surreal than solid and the club came perilously close to dropping back down to Serie B.
Coach Beppe Iachini began the campaign by continuing his record-breaking tenure under tumultuous President Maurizio Zamparini. The off-season saw Palermo sell star Paulo Dybala to Juventus and his replacement Andrea Belotti to Torino. The club brought in a lot of young, unknown talent that led to many question marks, but Zamparini accepted Iachini’s request for a veteran by signing ex-international Alberto Gilardino to lead the line.
Three weeks into the season, Palermo were feeling great coming off of two wins and a draw – perhaps the club could aim for something beyond safety? That talk was put to rest shortly thereafter as Palermo lost four straight and foreshadowed the difficulty that would long endure.
Iachini was unceremoniously sacked after a victory against Chievo in early November. From that point on, Palermo’s season would seem like something out of The Twilight Zone – but truth would prove to be stranger than fiction. Zamparini brought in Davide Ballardini to lead the team, a return to Sicily for the Ravenna man who led the club in 2008-09.
Ballardini’s stint was short-lived. An intense training ground bust-up between the Coach and captain Stefano Sorrentino led to one of the most bizarre matches ever seen. Palermo were in dire need of three points against last place Verona. Ballardini was motionless and detached on the touchline throughout and when Palermo scored a crucial goal and won the game, Ballardini didn’t even celebrate. After the match, Sorrentino would essentially sack his Coach on live TV, claiming Ballardini insulted his players and damaged the relationship beyond repair. Zamparini had no choice but to find another replacement.
From there, Zamparini went through an incredible phase of hiring and firing Coaches - more than even he is accustomed to. Assistant Fabio Viviani lasted one match, Argentine Guillermo Barros Schelotto for a month (albeit never officially due to a lack of paperwork), ex-player Giovanni Tedesco for three rounds, Primavera Coach Giovanni Bosi for two, a return to Beppe Iachini for three more matches and Walter Novellino brought in for four. After all those coaches came and went, Zamparini went back to the man who was dismissed by his own players: Davide Ballardini.
At that point, the situation was grim and relegation appeared to be a given. Zamparini, time and again, stated his intention to sell Palermo and leave the world of calcio altogether. Ballardini was simply seeing out a sad campaign. And yet, in the final month of the season with Palermo in the relegation zone, Ballardini orchestrated a Rosanero masterpiece.
Making peace with Sorrentino and the rest of the Palermo players, Ballardini led the club to a tremendous resurgence. The Sicilians earned three wins and two draws in their final five matches – including a thrilling and necessary 3-2 victory over Verona in front of a sell-out crowd at the Renzo Barbera on the last day of the season – to win safety. Palermo leap-frogged Udinese into 16th place and ensured an unlikely return to Serie A in 2016-17. Palermo will need a very good off-season, but more importantly, consistency on the bench if they are to remain in the top flight in the year to come.
There were literally seven other options who could have been called “The Coach” this season for Palermo. Yet, Davide Ballardini rectified a mid-season sacking by taking over for the club’s final six games and leading Palermo to an incredible safety. Considered cold and distant, Ballardini put that talk aside and unified the squad when they needed it most to secure a spot in Serie A with an impressive three wins, one loss and two draws to end the year. Zamparini has stated Ballardini will remain on the bench for next season.
Taking over the mantle of “best player” from his friend Paulo Dybala, Vazquez put the team on his back and managed to score eight goals with seven assists. With little talent around him, Vazquez was able to succeed despite the focus and fouling from opponents throughout the course of the season. His goals and assists earned Palermo precious points and his form dictated how the rest of the squad played. His bright season in spite of the tough campaign will earn him a move to a bigger club.
- Palermo had eight coaching changes over the course of the season – a record even for Zamparini.
- Coach Beppe Iachini’s streak of 776 consecutive days on the Palermo bench was the most all-time in one stint under Zamparini.
- During his first year in Rosanero, Oscar Hiljemark appeared in all 38 matches for Palermo.
|53||GK||Fabrizio Alastra||2 (1)||-||-|
|7||D||Achraf Lazaar||30 (4)||1||1|
|34||D||Abdelhamid El Kaoutari||7||1||-|
|6||D||Edoardo Goldaniga||17 (3)||2||-|
|3||D||Andrea Rispoli||22 (6)||-||3|
|4||D||Sinisa Andeljkovic||23 (2)||-||1|
|33||D||Fabio Daprela||5 (4)||-||-|
|97||D||Giuseppe Pezzella||9 (2)||-||-|
|2||D||Roberto Vitiello||10 (2)||-||-|
|27||M||Luca Rigoni||10 (2)||1||-|
|10||M||Oscar Hiljemark||38 (2)||4||5|
|24||M||Bryan Cristante||4 (3)||-||-|
|18||M||Ivaylo Chochev||27 (6)||-||2|
|21||M||Robin Quaison||30 (16)||1||3|
|28||M||Mato Jajalo||28 (4)||-||1|
|16||M||Gaston Brugman||14 (4)||-||1|
|77||M||Michel Morganella||14 (3)||-||1|
|25||M||Enzo Maresca||15 (5)||1||-|
|22||A||Norbert Balogh||4 (4)||-||-|
|8||A||Aleksandar Trajkovski||32 (16)||3||1|
|11||A||Alberto Gilardino||33 (7)||10||2|
|99||A||Uros Djurdjevic||14 (9)||2||1|
|9||A||Accursio Bentivegna||1 (1)||-||-|
|54||A||Antonino La Gumina||3 (3)||-||-|