Club Icon: Gaetano Vasari

The summer of 1995 was really hot, and not just because of the weather. That summer, eight years after the failure of 1987, Palermo saw the ghosts of bankruptcy once again. The president, Liborio Polizzi, couldn’t afford to keep US Palermo alive anymore, and his request for help fell through the air. It seemed there was no chance for the team, until Giovanni Ferrara, the former Palermo president, decided to come back and save the Rosanero. Palermo’s supporters sighed with relief, but they knew that it was going to be a hard season because a lot of young players, most of them coming from the Primavera team, would be the spine of the team.

That team surprisingly shocked an entire nation, beating Zola’s Parma (UEFA Cup winner) 3-0 in Coppa Italia, and started its Serie B campaign reaching an unbelievable first place after the first half of the season. That team didn’t succeed in reaching Serie A, but it’s still affectionately remembered as “Il Palermo dei Picciotti” (in Sicilian, “the Palermo of the boys”). Its shining star, a young picciotto, Gaetano Vasari, is still an idol for all Palermo’s fans.

Tanino, a Sicilian nickname for Gaetano, didn’t come from the Primavera team; rather, he played in Trapani where he was trained by Ignazio Arcoleo and in Acireale. When Arcoleo became Palermo’s coach, Vasari was the first target of the Rosanero’s transfer market, and the call of his hometown could not be ignored. Tanino was a high-spirited person – both inside and outside the pitch – and when he spoke, one could notice his Sicilian cadence, but most of all one could appreciate his outspokenness. This “quality” probably never helped him during his career, but surely made him one of the Palermo supporters all-time favorites.

As was previously mentioned, Palermo shocked Italy by beating Parma 3-0 and Vasari was the MVP of the game, scoring two goals and carrying the Rosanero to the 2nd round of the Coppa Italia. But this wouldn’t be the only satisfaction for Tanino. Despite a slow start, the Rosanero capitalized on an 11 game undefeated streak. After 18 matches, the Rosanero were on top of Serie B. Palermo was daydreaming, a team full of young kids was playing wonderfully and after years full of suffering, Serie A was no longer a mirage. Yet, it was just a dream and with every dream, you have to wake up. It was a rude awakening as Palermo tried to arrive in at least fourth place, which meant promotion to Serie A, but failed. Ending the season in 7th place was a glory for our picciotti, but also a great delusion for a town that didn’t want to wake up.

Tanino stayed in Palermo for another season, hoping for a wonderful repeat, but these expectations would be crushed heavily. Palermo dreamt of Serie A, but after only one year, Palermo had to come back to Serie C1. Palermo – Chievo, one of the last matches of that season, had only 49 spectators – the worst attendance record of all time. Vasari and the other picciotti didn’t succeed in saving the Rosanero, so most of them decided to move on and try new adventures.

Vasari went to Cagliari and came really close to a call-up for the Italian National Team. Paolo Maldini, after a Milan – Cagliari match, went to the locker room and asked him “Where the hell have you played since now? You drove me mad today!”. Maybe Tanino deserved to realize that dream, but Zoff never took him into consideration. However, he continued to play in Serie A with Lecce and would actually be one of the heroes of the giallorossi in 2001, scoring two goals in the last match against Lazio which kept the club in Serie A. When Vasari joined Sampdoria in Serie B, he faced Palermo in the most unmemorable of ways. His return to his hometown resulted in a lot of jeers from everyone in the stadium and a red card to boot. In those years, Tanino‘s father, Ferinando, died of an incurable sickness and Tanino promised him that he would bring Palermo back to Serie A. It was a promise that was really hard to believe given the period.

Tanino signed a guarantee contract with Cesena in Serie C1 when destiny knocked at his door. Palermo’s general manager Rino Foschi was from Cesena and saw him playing several times. The conversation was quick: “Hey TaninoWould you like to end you career in Palermo? We’re trying to reach Serie A, and a player like you could suit us“.

“Where do I have to sign?” was probably the first thought Vasari had. He signed an attendance fee contract, leaving Cesena and his guaranteed contract, just to realize a dream. Palermo loved him once again, placing the emphasis on him and Pietro Accardi, the only two former picciotti playing on the team. The district where Tanino was born, the Borgo Vecchio, treated him as a God, covering its streets with a lot of banners and Rosanero flags.

Palermo made it to Serie A that year, and thus, Tanino fulfilled his promise to his dad. But destiny, again, still knocked at his door. It was the last match of the season, Palermo – Bari, the Rosanero were already in Serie A. They didn’t want to belittle the match, and towards the end of the game the Rosanero were winning 2-0. In the 90th minute, Emanuele Filippini fired a shot that hit the crossbar, Tanino gathered the ball and scored the last goal for Palermo in Serie B. From that moment, the match moved to unbridled excitement and tears of joy. Tanino shut the doors of hell and brought Palermo to Serie A. And on his undershirt, he had a photo of his father printed with a dedication:

“We’re in Serie A, dad. As promised.”