It’s one of the most beautiful, iconic pictures in Palermo Calcio’s history: that number 90 shirt with Buffon in the background. The number 90 shirt belonged to the only one to have ever played in Serie C, Serie B, Serie A and the UEFA Cup for Palermo. It, of course, belongs to none other than Franco Brienza.
Franco Brienza started playing for Palermo when he was 21, but the fans never loved him as much as much as they did when he scored that goal. His time at the Sicilian club wasn’t continuous. After one promotion from Serie C to Serie B, he took a loan to Ascoli, and another one to Perugia, after a disappointing first half of the season with the Rosanero. At last, the turning point came.
Franco returned to Palermo, but he wasn’t considered a Rosanero player. With the 4-4-1-1 scheme, two trequartisti were enough for Francesco Guidolin – a coach who used to manage no more than 15 players. Before the last friendly match prior to the season, Guidolin decided not to count on the Filippini brothers anymore. Santana and Gonzalez, along with Gasbarroni, were the only wingers on the team. Raimondi from Albinoleffe and that one kid with the number 90 jersey could be used in case of emergency, or so the thinking was from Guidolin.
Two matches went by. Santana and Gasbarroni were playing poorly and their offensive work forced Grosso and Zaccardo to overcompensate with further defensive work. Guidolin toughened up the midfield with three men, so Palermo needed another man in attack, along with Toni and Zauli. It was Franco’s time.
Brienza’s ten goals (added to Toni’s 20) dragged Palermo to the UEFA Cup – the very first European showing for the Rosanero. Brienza, for his brilliant play, was also called-up to the Italian National Team, and he even provided an assist to his teammate and national team compatriot Toni against Ecuador. Brienza and Palermo were no longer intended to divide themselves. It seemed they would never be broken apart anymore.
However, the obstacles were still there. Palermo coach Del Neri’s 4-4-2 forced Brienza to the bench, but when he played in UEFA Cup matches, he always gave his best. The next Palermo coach, Papadopulo, used him as a trequartista again. Franco proved his critics wrong, scoring the 1-0 goal in the home match against Schalke 04, before playing a painful match in Gelsenkirchen. Guidolin’s return to the club gave him hope, but Bresciano and Simplicio ultimately joined Di Michele and Amauri on the offensive front.
When Stefano Colantuono arrived on the scene, he slammed the door in Brienza’s face. Miccoli arrived in Palermo, everybody hoped in Amauri’s recovery and desired a Cavani explosion. There was no room for Franco.
Yet, Brienza had a golden opportunity after Miccoli’s injury, but that post hit against Napoli was the embodiment of an unfortunate season.
Franco wanted to play, so Zamparini decided to loan him to Reggina, just to please him. When Reggina came to town to play Palermo, Brienza showed all his loyalty to the Rosanero colors: Corradi and Balzaretti hit their heads and Franco, alone against Amelia, let the ball go out of play. After a disgraceful season in Serie B, Franco went to Siena, where he regained Serie A calcio playing as a winger, a role he had never loved.
Now, the newest coach for Palermo, Giuseppe Sannino, strongly lobbied for Brienza to join him at Palermo. Brienza’s ability to adjust in the midfield and his familiarity with the club and coach were cited as good reasons for his return. Zamparini didn’t think twice to spend €1.4 million for Brienza to come back to Sicily.
Welcome home, Franco. These four years have been too long for us.