After a tumultuous term narrowly beating relegation, the Rosanero hope to avoid last season’s mistakes, writes Lorenzo Vicini.
There were lessons to be learned after last season’s disaster at Palermo. President Maurizio Zamparini surpassed even his own standards of behaviour by going through eight coaching changes in a single campaign. Thanks to veteran leadership and a brilliant final month of football, Palermo achieved safety on the final day. Afterward, Zamparini began talks with several groups over the sale of the club – a process that is still ongoing.
Palermo had a chance at a fresh start this offseason. Rino Foschi, a former Palermo sporting director from eight years prior, returned to his role. Tasked with a tight budget and some forced sales, Foschi quickly found life even more difficult in Sicily the second time around and resigned just three weeks later. Foschi’s replacement was Daniele Faggiano, who joined from Trapani.
Sporting director wasn’t the only revolving door. Despite Davide Ballardini staying on as Coach, Palermo lost its veteran leadership with Stefano Sorrentino, Alberto Gilardino and Enzo Maresca all leaving. Furthermore, Franco Vazquez was sold to Sevilla in order to raise funds for the Rosanero’s transfer campaign.
Palermo is banking on a much younger squad full of many question marks. Goalkeeping duties will be undertaken by 21-year-old Josip Posavec, who has one start in Serie A to his name. The defence remained largely intact, but the midfield has been decimated. Palermo signed veteran Alessandro Gazzi for the midfield and grabbed wing-back Haitam Aleesami as Achraf Lazaar’s replacement. Up top, Palermo declined to replace Gilardino with Marco Borriello and trust that Ilija Nestorovski, the top scorer in the Croatian league last season, can make a quick transition to Serie A.
Ballardini has had to deal with integrating several youth team players into the first team alongside unknown youngsters mainly arriving from the Balkan region. The results of pre-season friendlies have not exactly been encouraging.
The Rosanero face an uphill battle this season. In the midst of the sale of the club, Ballardini must get his players focused on achieving results despite their inexperience in Serie A. Last season’s mistakes have not been rectified and dissatisfaction amongst the club supporters is evident. It will be a fight for survival once more in the 2016-17 season, but Ballardini and his boys will need to be even better to pull off another miracle this time around.
Ballardini had the craziest season of his life last year. The tactician replaced Beppe Iachini in November only to essentially be sacked by captain Sorrentino in January. He amazingly returned for the club’s last six matches and achieved a miraculous survival on the season’s final day. Ballardini will have to continue to deal with the instability at the club – who knows how long he’ll last and whether he’ll return again afterward.
The versatile Macedonian has massive shoes to fill after the departures of Paulo Dybala and Franco Vazquez over the past two summers. On top of that, he is the only attacking player on the roster who has scored in Serie A. Despite never scoring in double digits in a season, the 23-year-old will hope this is his year.
Carlos Embalo wasn’t so much a best buy as a smart return from a loan at Brescia. The Sicilians did pay €2m to bring him back, but it was money well spent. The 21-year-old winger accrued interest from some big clubs like Atletico Madrid and Lyon, but ultimately decided to return to Sicily. He will be a key player for the Rosanero this season.
The 23-year-old defender was given an opportunity to shine during Ballardini’s first stint with Palermo last season. He performed well and will be a focal point for the defence this time. His future is certainly bright, as underscored by other clubs’ attempts to sign him. With strong performances, he could eventually enter the Azzurri radar, especially given Italy’s ageing back line.
Cigarini has been a name forever linked with Palermo during the transfer market. Ballardini hoped to land the 30-year-old midfielder to fill the vacant regista role. Unfortunately, Zamparini vetoed the move citing the ex-Atalanta man’s age. Ironically, the Rosanero would bring in 33-year-old Alessandro Gazzi instead.
Posavec; Goldaniga, Vitiello, RAJKOVIC; Rispoli, Hiljemark, GAZZI, ALEESAMI; Trajkovski, NESTOROVSKI, EMBALO