Italian football looks set to bid farewell to Palermo owner Maurizio Zamparini after 16 years in charge of the Sicilian side, who set out to bring the Rosanero back to Serie A, achieving this feat just two years later.
His bullish – at times eccentric – approach to club ownership had seen 45 managerial appointments during his time at Palermo, some of which were reinstated as head coach a matter of months after being sacked.
However, for all the fanfare that surrounded Zamparini during his tenure as Palermo owner, the fans have certainly been left with memories to cherish even if they never featured prominently in the betting on the national championship in that time. The Sicilians finished in the top six of Serie A on four of the twelve occasions they found themselves in the top division, the first of which came on their maiden return to the Serie A after a 30-year absence.
This was due in part to the predatory instincts of Luca Toni in front of goal, who over the course of two seasons racked up 50 league goals for Palermo. This was followed by two sensational seasons for the Rosanero, both in Serie A and in Europe.
The 2005/06 season saw Palermo finish 5th in Serie A and reach the Round of 16 in the UEFA Cup, succumbing to a 3-0 defeat to Schalke in Gelsenkirchen having won the first leg. An impressive run in the Coppa Italia saw them reach the semi finals after defeating Bari and AC Milan, but lost to Roma over the two legs.
The following season saw Palermo finish fifth again, but couldn’t advance further than the group stage of the UEFA Cup and lost to Sampdoria in their first Coppa Italia encounter. Both campaigns saw a number of future Italian internationals feature prominently, among them Cristian Zaccardo, Salvatore Sirigu, Fabio Grosso and Andrea Barzagli.
During this time Zamparini made some of his first big coups on the transfer market, namely Amauri from Serie A rivals Chievo and Uruguyan striker Edinson Cavani. Combined the pair cost just under €13 million, and would later be sold for €40 million between them, a tidy profit that would set the trend for future deals; something very much associated with Palermo under Zamparini.
In 2007, perhaps the most influential player of the Zamparini era arrived: Fabricio Miccoli. The tempestuous striker would quickly establish himself as an ideal strike partner for Cavani, scoring eight goals in his first season with the Sicilians.
Developing a reputation for his audacious efforts from distance and jaw-dropping ball control, Miccoli equalled Cavani’s goal haul of 14 in his second season with the club. He was handed the captain’s armband at the beginning of the 2009/10 season and would go on to finish third in the Serie A top goalscorer charts with 19 goals to his name.
His battles with injury meant he would miss his fair share of games for Palermo, but nonetheless ended his time with the Rosanero as their all-time top goalscorer. Miccoli was fortunate to have found himself surrounded by a number of up-and-coming talents, including Javier Pastore, Matteo Darmian and Josip Ilicic to name a few.
The remarkable progress under Zamparini saw Palermo reach the group stage of the very first instalment of the UEFA Europa League, although defeats to Sparta Prague and twice to CSKA Moscow meant they didn’t progress further. By now it had become almost routine for Zamparini to go through at least three coaches a season; feeding an atmosphere of instability.
A disappointing defeat to Swiss side FC Thun the following season meant Palermo had played their last match in a European tournament under Zamparini. As their league form worsened and Zamparini’s head coach appointments became increasingly erratic, Palermo slumped to 18th in Serie A and were relegated for the first time under Zamparini.
An instant return to Serie A offered hope of a revival, particularly with the continued brilliance of Franco Vazquez and Paulo Dybala on the pitch. Two more seasons of top flight football was all that Palermo could muster before a return to Serie B, where they have remained ever since. A spirited run last season saw the Rosanero eventually lose to Frosinone in the promotion play-offs.
With his side currently fighting at the top of the Serie B table and seemingly in safe hands with head coach Roberto Stellone, Zamparini will hope he can leave Palermo in better shape than when he’d bought the club in 2002.
His contributions to Italian football as well as the city of Palermo may polarise fans and critics alike, but there’s certainly a special place for Zamparini in the history of Italian football.