Safe in Serie A

Ancora in A

Words do little justice to the most tumultuous season in Palermo history, yet when it was all said and done the Rosanero defied the odds to stay in Serie A.

There will be time for a full recap and proper review of the season but even a week out, it’s hard to describe how incredible of an achievement this was for Palermo. A club that had eight coaching changes in a season was saved by the man who the players sacked and against the same opponent (Verona) too.

Ballardini Rockstar

Davide Ballardini is now fully entitled to living like a rockstar in Sicily for the rest of the summer. He has been asked to stay on (and has a contract for another year as well), but a lot can happen between now and then. Perhaps it’s best to just let this continue to sink in for a while.

There are a lot of questions marks and uncertainties to go along with the certain exits this summer (Stefano Sorrentino and Franco Vazquez for starters). In lieu of a full write-up, here are a few words for Football Italia that were written in the immediate aftermath of last Sunday’s result and subsequent permanence in Serie A:

From sputtering to surreal to safety

Palermo were expected to pick up where they left off the previous year, after their return campaign in Serie A was comfortable and quiet. Yet, the 2015-16 season proved to be more surreal than solid and the club came perilously close to dropping back down to Serie B.

Coach Beppe Iachini began the campaign by continuing his record-breaking tenure under tumultuous President Maurizio Zamparini. The off-season saw Palermo sell star Paulo Dybala to Juventus and his replacement Andrea Belotti to Torino. The club brought in a lot of young, unknown talent that led to many question marks, but Zamparini accepted Iachini’s request for a veteran by signing ex-international Alberto Gilardino to lead the line.

Three weeks into the season, Palermo were feeling great coming off of two wins and a draw – perhaps the club could aim for something beyond safety? That talk was put to rest shortly thereafter as Palermo lost four straight and foreshadowed the difficulty that would long endure.

Iachini was unceremoniously sacked after a victory against Chievo in early November. From that point on, Palermo’s season would seem like something out of The Twilight Zone – but truth would prove to be stranger than fiction. Zamparini brought in Davide Ballardini to lead the team, a return to Sicily for the Ravenna man who led the club in 2008-09.

Ballardini’s stint was short-lived. An intense training ground bust-up between the Coach and captain Stefano Sorrentino led to one of the most bizarre matches ever seen. Palermo were in dire need of three points against last place Verona. Ballardini was motionless and detached on the touchline throughout and when Palermo scored a crucial goal and won the game, Ballardini didn’t even celebrate. After the match, Sorrentino would essentially sack his Coach on live TV, claiming Ballardini insulted his players and damaged the relationship beyond repair. Zamparini had no choice but to find another replacement.

From there, Zamparini went through an incredible phase of hiring and firing Coaches – more than even he is accustomed to. Assistant Fabio Viviani lasted one match, Argentine Guillermo Barros Schelotto for a month (albeit never officially due to a lack of paperwork), ex-player Giovanni Tedesco for three rounds, Primavera Coach Giovanni Bosi for two, a return to Beppe Iachini for three more matches and Walter Novellino brought in for four. After all those coaches came and went, Zamparini went back to the man who was dismissed by his own players: Davide Ballardini.

At that point, the situation was grim and relegation appeared to be a given. Zamparini, time and again, stated his intention to sell Palermo and leave the world of calcio altogether. Ballardini was simply seeing out a sad campaign. And yet, in the final month of the season with Palermo in the relegation zone, Ballardini orchestrated a Rosanero masterpiece.

Making peace with Sorrentino and the rest of the Palermo players, Ballardini led the club to a tremendous resurgence. The Sicilians earned three wins and two draws in their final five matches – including a thrilling and necessary 3-2 victory over Verona in front of a sell-out crowd at the Renzo Barbera on the last day of the season – to win safety. Palermo leap-frogged Udinese into 16th place and ensured an unlikely return to Serie A in 2016-17. Palermo will need a very good off-season, but more importantly, consistency on the bench if they are to remain in the top flight in the year to come.

There’s even more content in the link in the headline. Nevertheless, 2015-16 will go into the annals as one of those “truth-is-stranger-than-fiction” type of stories. It’s too early to worry about the future. For now, enjoy the present and the realization that next year’s matches will continue to be (mostly) on Sundays!

Forza Palermo!

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