Looking back, the year 2003 was memorable for a multitude of reasons. The world would witness the United States invade Iraq and eventually capture Saddam Hussein, ten new member states would be admitted to the European Union, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger would become the governor of California, Mother Theresa was beatified, 50 cent’s “In Da Club” would top the charts and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King would be the year’s best picture. But, the year 2003 holds a special place in the hearts of Palermo fans all over. For in that year, the Rosanero would embark on a season that ultimately led to promotion to Serie A. With that being said, Ultra Palermo would like to present a new feature, special to this season (and hopefully only needed once): A week-by-week comparison between the 2003-04 Palermo team and the current one striving to make it back to the top flight, called “Palermo Past & Present”.
As the season is already underway, it’d be nice to see how the current team is faring in comparison to the one that earned that historic promotion a decade ago. The Rosanero would end the year in first place, earning automatic promotion to Serie A, but as many would attest, it wasn’t all rainbows and rose petals. So, without further ado, here is what the 2003-04 team looked like to being the year.
Palermo were coming off a fantastic first year in the Zamparini era. The club finished in fifth place in the 2002-03 season, losing out to Lecce on the final match of the season. Maurizio Zamparini and sporting director Rino Foschi were both entering their second year at the club with high expectations. The duo appointed Silvio Baldini, who led Empoli to Serie A and a safe spot in the top flight in its first year there, as coach for the 2003-04 season.
The summer transfer campaign saw the loss of several key players such as club legends goalkeeper Vincenzo Sicignano and striker Christian La Grotteria, as well as defender Alessandro Lucarelli and striker Filippo Maniero. Yet, for all those losses, Foschi would manage to perform a brilliant summer transfer session. He brought back to Palermo veteran goalkeeper Gianluca Berti (who played with the club eight years prior) and convinced Palermo-born striker Gaetano Vasari to return back to his hometown club as well (he also played with the club from 1995 to 1997). Foschi would also manage to sign defender Christian Terlizzi from Cesena and was able to snag talented trequartista Andrea Gasbarroni, coming off of two positive loan spells with Varese and Sampdoria, from Juventus with the promise of consistent playing time. A second talented trequartista would return to Palermo from a loan spell with Ascoli. His name? Franco Brienza. The Palermo sporting director also nabbed a young, 20-year-old midfielder from Roma who is still playing today, Simone Pepe. But, Foschi’s two biggest signings that summer were strokes of genius. Eugenio Corini and Luca Toni were both persuaded to drop down from Serie A to Serie B to play for Palermo. The 33-year-old Corini was two years removed from being named as the league’s best regista with Chievo Verona whereas the 26-year-old Toni had just come off an unfortunate year with Brescia summarized by a long injury layoff. For Rino Foschi, though, they were seen as key pieces of a team aiming for promotion.
With the city buzzing with hopeful expectation and the sour taste of the previous season’s gut-wrenching loss on the last day to Lecce still present, the Serie B season could not come quickly enough. Unfortunately, a ridiculous litigation battle embroiled the league involving Catania, Venezia and Salernitana and which team between Catania and Salernitana was actually relegated the previous year to Serie C1. The decision was made to expand the Serie B list of teams from 20 to 24 – which admitted both Catania and Salernitana, a move that was not looked at kindly by many teams throughout the league. Many clubs protested the move, deserting some of the initial matches that were supposed to occur at the beginning of the season. After roughly three weeks of debating, a final ruling was made to appease the clubs concerned with the expansion to 24 teams and the clubs were allowed to replay the matches that were initially abandoned in protest. It was a very confusing issue which meant that Palermo’s week one fixture was actually against Salernitana on September 23rd, despite the previous three games having already occurred and been accounted for in the standings.
Nonetheless, in reality, to start the year, Palermo began on the road against Avellino on September 11th. The Lupi were a newly-promoted side to Serie B, fresh off finishing first in Serie C1, Girone B. Despite the excitement surrounding a team in a higher league at the Stadio Partenio, Palermo were seen as heavy favorites. Yet, it was Avellino who had the better fitness levels going into the game, with the Rosanero not quite having 90 minutes in their legs just yet. At the end of the day, however, Avellino and Palermo would play to a dull 0-0 draw. There were a few opportunities for both sides, and the Lupi would field an 18-year-old who would end up being a good player for Palermo many years later by the name of Antonio Nocerino. Gianluca Atzori (another shrewd signing by Foschi in the summer), Franco Brienza and Antonio Nocerino would all pick up yellow cards over the course of the match. It wasn’t the start Palermo had hoped for and Avellino would be happy with a point. And so, much like the 2013 start, the promotion hopefuls of 2003 began the new season with a disappointing draw.