Out of all the positives that have taken place in Palermo this summer, one situation threatens to end the preseason on a sour note.
It has been no secret that the Sicilian side have been searching for another striker to add to Iachini’s arsenal. Obviously, Paulo Dybala’s departure left a big gap for the Rosanero attack. With Franco Vazquez and Andrea Belotti as the club’s two main options, Palermo went out and signed talented Brasilian youngster Matheus Cassini and 22 year old Macedonian Aleksandar Trajkovski. Furthermore, the idea was to give homegrown talent Accursio Bentivegna a shot at making the team.
It turns out in all likelihood that Cassini will not carve out a significant role this season. He’s got amazing ability but he never even featured for the senior side at Corinthians. Furthermore, at 19 years old, his physique at this stage is on par – if not worse – than Dybala’s when he first arrived in Sicily. For Trajkovski, his skill set doesn’t profile to that of your typical striker; he’s more of a trequartista. Both players will need to adapt to the Italian style before a significant impact is seen. As for Bentivegna, the most likely option sees him loaned out to gain consistent playing time and experience (as foolish as that sounds).
Realizing the emerging atmosphere, Iachini started to experiment. Robin Quaison was prepped to play as a striker while the tandem of Vazquez and Belotti would be the everyday starters. A potential problem was coming to light. Palermo needed at least one more striker to add to the ranks.
At the very beginning of the transfer window, several names emerged for the Palermo attack and it seemed like the sporting director du jour, Manuel Gerolin, was actively trying to close deals as quickly as possible.
It started off with Boca Juniors man Jonathan Calleri. Palermo was seemingly enamored with the heir to Paulo Dybala and tried their best to land him. Negotiations dragged on for days, then weeks and well over a month before Zamparini and Co. realized this dream was not one that would come to fruition. Boca’s asking price was too high; yet, even when it seemed as though Palermo was coming close to an agreement, the player himself openly proclaimed his intentions to stay in Argentina. After all, the club’s old star was making a triumphant return and for a young Argentine, the tantalizing prospect of playing alongside Carlos Tevez was too good to pass up.
Cesena’s Gregoire Defrel was a hot commodity. Given Palermo’s close ties with their sporting director, Rino Foschi, the club quickly reached an agreement over a fee and eventual transfer upon the player’s consent. And then, in a move that mimicked the spurn of Federico Viviani (but not nearly as bad), Defrel refused a move to Sicily. Instead, the talented young Frenchman joined Sassuolo, leaving the Rosanero to look elsewhere.
For a while, the name Gustavo Bou became linked to Zamparini’s side. The 25 year old playing for Racing Club seemed like an option for a short time. However, his name quickly fizzled out and his club pulled him off the market.
Next up was a hotshot who played for Barcelona B at one point, Sergio Araujo. The Argentine spent last season with Las Palmas in the Segunda Division in Spain. His 25 goals in 43 appearances helped lead the club to promotion to La Liga and the Canaries were able to purchase him fully from Boca Juniors (who owned him and had loaned him out several times to various sides). Araujo, at 23 years old, looks like the real deal. He has tidy footwork, an effortless work rate, flashy skills and a very pretty shot to boot. Zamparini quickly became enamored with him and the Rosanero faithful would love to see him as one of their own. The problem has been the asking price. As a newly promoted side, Las Palmas has no intention of letting their star go. They haven’t flat out refused all proposals, though; they’ve acknowledged they would sell for the right price. That price tag just happens to be a hefty 18 million euro. Reports suggest that Zamparini has offered upwards of 15 million for his signature but the Spanish side have not budged.
Seeing the potential pitfalls with Araujo’s arrival, Palermo turned their eyes towards another high profile name playing for a big club in England. Arsenal’s Joel Campbell currently has no place in Arsene Wenger’s set up. He’s at best a fourth choice, if not fifth choice striker and spent half of last season on loan to Villareal. The three seasons prior to that were also all loan deals at three different clubs. Yet, the 23 year old showed signs of promise and backed it up on the biggest stage during Costa Rica’s brilliant run in last year’s World Cup. Furthermore, his international teammate Pipo Gonzalez already plies his trade for the Sicilians and can speak to the benefits of playing at a club like Palermo. But, Campbell has been coy about his future, at one point even stating his desire to stay at Arsenal and proving himself. Negotiations with Arsenal have been handled by Zamparini (with the help of an intermediary) on two separate occasions with no success. The Palermo patron even flew to London both times to try to seal the deal. Arsenal’s asking price is around 10 million and the player admitted it’s either a full sale or nothing. He doesn’t want to be loaned out any more.
Another swing, another miss. As the season inches closer and the transfer window edges towards its closure, the searching is getting worrisome. The latest name now rests on an Israeli named Munas Dabbur playing for Grasshopper. He’s been called the “Israeli Higuain” and so far has a pretty nice record with the Swiss side. Through five matches, he already has four goals and six assists. He even hinted that he’s ready to move away from his club and expressed a desire to play in Italy. While Palermo have reportedly negotiated behind the scenes, the Swiss club is asking for 3.5 million euro and it’s unclear what the Rosanero have offered.
And then the most worrisome aspect has come forward. With an additional striker still unsigned, the rumor mill started throwing out Andrea Belotti’s name as a potential target for several Serie A clubs. Palermo hasn’t exactly yanked him off the market despite Zamparini and Iachini’s comments earlier in the summer stating Belotti’s permanence with the Sicilian outfit. The club was more emphatic last week when Vazquez’s name became linked with Juventus. Palermo released an official statement on the club’s website declaring that El Mudo was not for sale.
The bombshell dropped two days ago. The journalists and media outlets began clamoring about Belotti’s sale to Torino for 8 million euro plus potential bonuses. That was it. Instead of gaining a striker, Iachini lost another one. A quick tweet from Palermo’s official account called the media’s reports false:
Il Palermo smentisce categoricamente le ipotesi giornalistiche di cessione di Andrea Belotti al Torino.
— US Città di Palermo (@palermocalcioit) August 10, 2015
— Ultra Palermo (@UltraPalermo) August 10, 2015
But the saying is “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” and the media continues to insist that Belotti to Torino is a done deal. It just won’t be finalized until after Palermo’s Coppa Italia match this weekend.
Why? Would Palermo seriously risk the entire first half of their season by selling their other significant striking option so close to the start of the Serie A campaign? Besides, the risks only continue to increase since the club hasn’t managed to land an additional striker for their ranks. Belotti’s sale would mean that task doubles with mere weeks left in the transfer window. It also sends a message to other clubs in negotiations. Palermo is desperate! Clubs can theoretically demand a higher price since it knows the Rosanero are in a bind. It’s a suicidal endeavor that serves no good purpose.
The most shocking aspect of all of this is Andrea Belotti himself. Here’s a kid who’s only 21 years old and a fixture in the Italy U21 side where he’s scored 9 goals in 20 appearances. Here’s a kid who joined Palermo in Serie B as an unknown from Albinoleffe but made a lasting impression by scoring 10 goals and adding four assists in 24 appearances (most of them in a substitute role). And then, last season in Serie A, Belotti was the only Rosanero player to appear in all 38 matches, 29 of which were in a substitute role. Yes, he only scored six goals but half of them were critical point saving or match-winning goals. The 2015-16 season was going to be his year to shine and take the next step. He’s a relentless worker with a positive attitude and a desire to improve. And he’s so young that it seems utterly absurd to sell him now when his value could double in a year’s time.
Nevertheless, this is the state of Palermo’s striking affairs. The situation is nearing a crisis and the hope is that something gets done in a positive way shortly. The risk is too great, the fallout is apparent (a poor start to the season and Iachini’s marvelous run could quickly be over). For a club in which the first goal of the season is to reach 40 points as soon as possible, not giving Iachini the options he needs is like beginning the year with a points deduction. Palermo needs a striker. They’ll need two and a miracle if Belotti is sold.