Has the time come for Palermo to turn to a Viola to lead the club as its new owner?
For years, Maurizio Zamparini has talked about his desire to leave the football world and find new investors and new ownership for Palermo. Many times in the past, much of his talk was scoffed at and chalked up to the usual declarations from the Zamparini Show. Yet, during the 2015-16 season, something seemed more truthful to Zamparini’s intentions this time around.
In the past, very few names have ever emerged as potential investors. Sheik Abdul Mohsin Al Hokair was literally the only concrete name ever linked to a potential Palermo investment, back in 2010. Earlier in 2016, Palermo fan and baseball legend Mike Piazza was mentioned as a possible suitor; but Piazza quickly denied the rumors and just became the new owner of Lega Pro side Reggiana earlier this week. Late last season and so far during the offseason, an Italian-American family has been brought up over and over as interested in acquiring Palermo from Zamparini.
The family in question is Vincent and John Viola. Vincent Viola is a billionaire who made his money in the financial sector. He is the owner of a National Hockey League (NHL) franchise in North America, the Florida Panthers, which he bought in 2013. His son John Viola is the President and Chief Operating Officer of the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF). Prior to that role, he built his career on community leadership and development. The family traces their roots back to southern Italy and Sicily in particular. As rumors of their involvement began to circulate, excitement from Palermo supporters who were eager for a change started to swell in turn.
The media reported of a potential meeting between Zamparini and the Viola family sometime this summer. Contacts had been made, according to several Italian media outlets. And with the news emerging that John Viola was traveling to Italy last week, the stage seemed to be set. Something was going to happen, undoubtedly.
Yet, as adamant as this rumor was – even Zamparini mentioned the Viola family several times – it appears to be just that. A rumor. And the denials from John Viola himself have been persistent.
John Viola has repeatedly responded to those on Twitter who have reached out to him about a possible Palermo acquisition and he has reneged every single time. In fact, his trip to Italy only took him to Torino as part of a NIAF event honoring the region. Neither Sicily, nor a trip further north to Zamparini’s abode was ever on the agenda.
Today, John Viola went one step further with an interview to Giornale di Sicilia where he hoped to quell the rumors once and for all:
“We don’t have time to dedicate to Palermo, it’d be wrong to say otherwise. We must focus on other things, we have important responsibilities, like those of the Florida Panthers. I’m convinced that someone is using our name for their own interests. I can’t imagine someone would take the liberty to lie about my family’s intentions. I find it truly very, very annoying. I don’t want to have the reputation of those who use deceit as a method to do business. And it’s not right to deceive the fans of Palermo. For sure, I do not have any meeting with President Zamparini on the agenda, nor do I know [Venezia President Joe] Tacopina [who was tasked by Zamparini to find potential investors in the USA since he’s also Italian-American]. The [media] probably continues to talk about us because I asked for information on the sale of Palermo. Palermo could be a great opportunity for my family and I wanted to verify if there was a possibility to open negotiations. But unfortunately, it isn’t so. Our interest stopped after the first steps. The affair at the moment is impossible. At the moment we cannot disembark [in a business sense] in Italy.”
While this would seem to be cut-and-dry, the media will likely continue to push the rumors of the Viola family’s interest by handpicking phrases that keep the door open just a crack (“Palermo could be a great opportunity”!). What Palermo fans should realize, though, is that despite Zamparini’s desire to sell, the reality is he will most likely still be leading the club next season. There will be no Viola in Rosanero this offseason.