1827: Serie A: Palermo – the rising
by : David Hulott
Back in the top-flight after an absence of 31-years, Palermo have wasted little time in adjusting to their new surroundings. With nine league games remaining, the Sicilians have not only established themselves back in Serie A, but are mounting a concerted bid for European football next term.
Further evidence of their rapid progress comes from the current Italian squad, in which no fewer than five Palermo players – Andrea Barzagli; Christian Zaccardo; Fabio Grosso; Simone Barone and Luca Toni - were included for this weekend’s World Cup qualifier against Scotland.
There are several factors behind the strong showing of last season’s Serie B champions. They have certainly been helped by the millions pumped into the club by President Maurizio Zamparini during his two years with the club and they can also count on a top quality coach in Francesco Guidolin, whose previous Serie A experience with Bologna and Udinese has proved invaluable. Then there is the fanatical support that sees Palermo playing to close to capacity crowds in every game at the Stadio Renzo Barbera. With 33,000 passionate Sicilian season ticket holders in a stadium that holds 37,000, any hopes for the casual supporter getting a ticket are obviously fairly remote.
Their lofty league position has also certainly been aided by problems at some of the more traditional giants of the Italian game, with the dire financial situation at Lazio and Parma seeing both clubs tumble down the table. Elsewhere, Roma not only have financial concerns of their own, but have been going through coaches at such a rate that you start to wonder if they are inadvertently involved in a Silvio Berlusconi-inspired TV reality show, in which they must have a new coach for every month of the campaign.
Not surprisingly, Palermo’s success has been largely built around decent home form, but they have also proven to be very resolute on their travels, with just four defeats in 15-games away from home, none in their last six. The other great strength of this Palermo team has been in defence, although a perfectly respectable tally of 29-goals conceded in 29-games would have been even more impressive but for a recent blip that has seen them leak 10-goals in their last three matches. Just two points from those three games could yet damage their UEFA Cup ambitions (they are currently only four points shy of a Champions League place), with the last two results – a 5:1 home defeat to Udinese and a 3:3 draw at a Parma side who equalised in the last-minute when down to nine-men – having done little for self-belief.
The rise of Palermo mirrors that of an upturn in fortunes of teams in the south of Italy generally, with Cagliari, Lecce, Reggina and fellow Sicilians, Messina, all likely to retain their Serie A status this term, while there are even signs of a revival from Napoli down in Serie C1B. It is unquestionably Palermo that are leading the charge though, with the Rosanero rumoured to be lining up a major star signing over the summer if they achieve European qualification. If the speculation is to be believed, we could even see Alessandro Del Piero in the distinctive pink shirt of Palermo next season.