Josip Ilicic ended his first year with Palermo full of promise but, as Dylan Fahy writes, the youngster has simply not lived up to his billing in Sicily.
It is the penultimate day of the 2010-11 Serie A season and the scene is set at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris. The hosts Sampdoria are desperate for a result as they are reaching the climax of an intense relegation battle, with Palermo the team making the journey north to face them. On a blistering day in mid-May, the Rosanero captain Fabrizio Miccoli is equally as motivated to gain all three points to save his hometown club Lecce from facing the drop and pleads with his teammates to fight until the very end despite the fact they had little to play for, hovering comfortably in mid-table.
Josip Ilicic is the man Miccoli is eager to direct his efforts at, as fellow playmaker Javier Pastore is being rested. In a surprisingly successful debut campaign the Slovenian netted on eight occasions after being plucked from relative obscurity at Maribor alongside Armin Bacinovic in late August. In a tight encounter, the 21-year-old aids his Italian strike partner with a nonchalant one-touch assist on the volley when surrounded by three Sampdoria players. The veteran gratefully opens the scoring - and his beloved Lecce are ultimately saved when the Sicilians run out narrow winners.
Pastore departed for Paris Saint-Germain that following summer and it was expected that Ilicic would pick up where the Argentine left off with relative ease. After all, the lanky playmaker had integrated himself perfectly into the rhythm of the Italian game and linked up superbly with Miccoli and Abel Hernandez upfront. “I would be flattered to take Pastore’s position behind the strikers. It would be a huge responsibility, but I would assume it with the most commitment possible.
“We will be targeting the Champions League,” asserted the Slovenian international in pre-season, “we will be challenging with the best of Serie A as we know we can”. However the loss of Coach Delio Rossi - before Stefano Pioli only lasted two months up until September as his replacement - threw several spanners in the works for both the club and player.
Under the guidance of Devis Mangia after Pioli was sacked, Ilicic was farmed out wide in the tactician’s favoured rigid 4-4-2. There he found himself isolated for the most part, and simply could not get as involved as a natural playmaker should. The arrival of Bortolo Mutti in the same season meant order was restored with regard to his position, but the club itself was in a state of pandemonium and facing a relegation battle. In the year in which he was supposed to announce himself, Ilicic was afforded no consistency to develop and hone his talents.
“Ilicic is a treasure to the club, but at the moment he is a Ferrari being driven around like a FIAT 500,” explained Rosanero team manager Christian Panucci at the back end of last season. Club President Maurizio Zamparini continued to oversee the outfit’s steady decline with the appointment of several new men making no difference. Despite making more appearances than any other player for the team in all competitions – 36 in total- the playmaker could only muster two goals in Serie A as the team managed to avoid relegation with a miserable 16th place finish.
The high expectations from last term where immediately shifted to the 2012-13 campaign when Giuseppe Sannino was appointed, with the understanding that the former Siena boss would be given time to make an impression. Unfortunately for the tactician, Zamparini struck again and he was sacked in a similar situation to that of Pioli the year before in September. Once again, Ilicic was one of the players to suffer – having made a significant impression on Sannino before he left.
Gian Piero Gasperini is currently the man on the touchline for Palermo, with only one win from 11 games to date this season leaving them second from bottom. After scoring a consolation goal last weekend in a 4-1 defeat to Roma at the Stadio Olimpico, maybe Ilicic can finally make a concrete impression in Sicily. This Sunday they host Sampdoria and perhaps those Blucerchiati jerseys can spark the old Ilicic back to life.