The new Serie A season is about to start and Palermo is ready to move forward. What can the fans expect from the club this year? Who can the club count on? Who will be the new heroes in Rosanero? Find out below, as Ultra Palermo breaks down the team in each area.
The goalkeeper position at Palermo has been the position that has seen the most turnover during the Zamparini era. This year proves to be no different as the club will focus on a new keeper after Emiliano Viviano (himself only lasting in Sicily for half a season) was loaned out to his hometown club of Fiorentina. The man that Palermo management have singled out is Albanian keeper Samir Ujkani. The 24 year old keeper has been owned by Palermo since 2007, but spent the past three seasons with Novara where he gained valuable experience, helping them win promotion to Serie A. Now, he has a great chance to play for a club that has higher aspirations than staving off relegation. The Albanian is the clear first choice, but he’ll be backed up by the valuable veteran Francesco Benussi who also returns to the club from his second half loan spell at Torino where he became the immediate starter and helped the Granata win promotion back to the top flight. Rounding out the position is Giacomo “Jack” Brichetto, a player who got his first bit of playing time both in the Coppa Italia and Serie A for Palermo. He’s a beloved team member amongst his peers and always practices as if he’s the starter. It’s a luxury for a clubto have such an asset at the third goalkeeper position.
Over the past few seasons, Palermo has had some terrific defenders who were probably known more for their offensive prowess rather than their defending abilities. This year, the club has almost completely overhauled the back line after shipping away the third worst amount of goals (62) in Serie A last season. There will probably be at least two starters returning from a year ago, with Eros Pisano and Andrea Mantovani still keen on hanging onto their starting spots. Pisano will be expected to have an even better year after doing a solid job in his Serie A debut season. He has the workrate to succeed, it’s the technique and discipline that should improve with more games. Mantovani has the versatility to play at center back or left back if needed since the sale of Balzaretti has left the club with a big question mark as to how it will decide to fill out the role. Palermo has four more days to address that position, but if nobody ends up coming in, the Rosanero have Mantovani and Santiago Garcia as the primary options. Of course, Garcia is returning from a loan spell at Novara where he made 21 appearances. Despite those appearances, it seems that club management would prefer to keep Garcia in a reserve role to grow under the tutelage of someone with more than 24 total appearances in Italy. Michel Morganella rounds out the fullback position, completing the trifecta of players returning on loan from Novara. Shedding his quiet, youthful image from when Palermo signed him back in the 2009-10 season, he’ll back up Pisano after making over 60 appearances with Novara since 2010.
In the middle of defense, Palermo have several options to use. First, Ezequiel Muñoz returns for his third season at the club. Just shy of his 22nd birthday, the Argentine defender made very good progress in the second half of last season. He has talent, there’s no doubt about it, but he needs to continue to learn the technical aspects of Serie A and learn how to use his imposing physique when going up against those who clearly have more pace than him. After not having much competition for a starter’s role last season, this year Muñoz will have to fight for his place with several intriguing players also going up against him. Mauro Cetto returned from his second half loan at Lille last season. Sadly, the Argentine wasn’t able to find much playing time neither at Palermo (7 apps) nor at Lille (7 apps), yet Sannino seems keen on him, blocking his sale on at least two occasions this summer. There must be a reason why. Joining him is Milan Milanović, the young Serbian defender who is oozing with talent and potential. Palermo beat out top suitors to sign him back in 2011, but the tall and athletic defender didn’t find much playing time until very late last season when he made his appearances count. He’s had a good preseason and will definitely is one to watch this year as he could be quite a surprise. Meanwhile, the latest addition to the club is Steve Von Bergen who joined the Rosanero via Genoa who bought him from Cesena in February. There has been plenty said about the Swiss international, including a report from IFFHS that said he was one of the top three defenders in Serie A over the last five years (a report which is yet to have been seen firsthand, so who knows who first reported the claim). He does bring experience to a back line that is very young and Sannino sees him as a starter. Nonetheless, with Sannino known as a coach who knows how to command a defense, much will be expected from this group that has been plagued with faults over the years.
Going into the new season, a previously thin area is now the club’s deepest resource. Several quality additions have been made over the summer while maintaining most of the significant talent. Giulio Migliaccio still finds himself with Palermo, but he is likely to be shipped out (per his choice) before the transfer window closes. He’s given some fine years to the Rosanero but wants to move on. Remaining from last year are Edgar Barreto, who had a decent first season with the club, Nicolas Bertolo, who proved that his year (2010/11) spent at Real Zaragozza on loan was extremely valuable to his growth, and Massimo Donati, who became a vital cog in the midfield after the Rosanero made a very smart buy, purchasing him during the winter transfer window.
It is a return home for Franco Brienza. Ciccio had been away since 2008 from the club where he made unforgettable memories. He spent the past season under the guidance of Giuseppe Sannino while at Siena and the head coach personally lobbied for the versatile, pint-sized midfielder to join him at Palermo since he knows the system so well. Another high profile signing in the midfield is Arevalo “El Cacha” Rios, a powerful Uruguayan midfielder who Palermo tried to sign last season but was unable to do so. He is expected to take over for Migliaccio, although the Uruguayan international (considered one of the most important players on the national team) possesses better footwork and technique than his predecessor. It is thought that his introduction at Palermo will minimize the departure of the Palermo senator. Another midfielder making a return to the Rosanero is Slovenian Jasmin Kurtić. He spent last season on loan with Serie B outfit Varese where the playmaker led the club to the playoffs, narrowly missing out on promotion. Kurtić was a revelation for Varese and was one of the best midfielders in Serie B. The year on loan gave him confidence and he returns to the Rosanero where he is expected to make an impact and compete for a spot in the midfield. Such is the expectation for Kurtić (who can play as a regista or trequartista) that the club will probably loan out another young promising midfielder in Nicolas Viola who joined Palermo from Reggina. In the more advanced midfield role, Josip Iličič is keen on shaking off a terrible season and ready to move forward. He’s looked renewed and motivated so far in the preseason and if he can match 75% of the Iličič from his debut year, Palermo will be all the better for it. Eran Zahavi should stay on at the club (currently recovering from injury) while Franco Vazquez has been loaned out to Spanish outfit Rayo Vallecano.
Since Sannino is likely to incorporate a 4-4-2 or 3-5-2 and his use of Iličič as a second striker, the attacking department consists of four strikers (Mehmeti will be loaned out) with an option like Primavera starlet Mauro Bollino as a fifth, should the need arise. Not much else can be said about captain and talisman Fabrizio Miccoli. He single-handedly kept the Rosanero from relegation last year with 16 goals and 12 assists. He was agonizingly close to a move this summer to Arab club Al-Nasr, coached by Palermo ex Walter Zenga, yet the club smartly refused the transfer. He has looked good in preseason and already looks like he can continue to perform at the high level from last season. Hopefully, he’ll have more support from his teammates, but he’s one of the only players at Palermo who can take over a game by his lonesome. Igor Budan has had a heartbreaking offseason, losing his two year old daughter to a form of meningitis. Thinking of retiring altogether, he eventually decided to stay on and try to return to some semblance of normalcy. He practically resurrected his career during the second half of the season where he six goals while forming a fantastic partnership with Miccoli. As the lone target man on the team, the hope is that he can provide that service to the team once again. Meanwhile, Abel Hernandez will try to rebound from a season that was cut short by multiple injuries. When healthy and focused, the Uruguayan can be very dangerous. He is the fastest player on the team and his blistering pace can cause fits to even the most seasoned Serie A defender. If he can stay healthy, Abel could have a career year. Finally, Palermo made a purchase for the present and future when they signed promising starlet Paulo Dybala. He joined the Rosanero for a hefty sum after taking Argentina by storm, scoring 17 goals in 38 appearances in his first professional season for Instituto. He needs to build muscle and adjust to the intricacies of Serie A before a significant impact is seen, but his teammates and all those who have seen him play constantly talk about how special Dybala is.
Palermo do not want a repeat of last season’s performance – the worst in the Zamparini era. Many problems were apparent but first and foremost was the lack of organization from the top. Over the summer, Zamparini took appropriate steps to address this concern, bringing in Giorgio Perinetti (Director General), Patricio Teubal (Administrative Director), a sponsorship with Puma and promising coach Giuseppe Sannino. Strengthened by a clear vision and some keen purchases, the hope is that the Rosanero can return to promising heights and prestigious objectives. Make no mistake, it’ll be a tough season but there is no reason why Palermo cannot aspire for more than just safety from relegation. If Sannino can tighten up the defense and other strokes of luck (free of significant injuries) go their way, Palermo can restore the faith and enthusiasm that went lacking last year.