September 12th, 2004, an historical day for Palermo and its supporters. After 31 years, Palermo was back in Serie A. The once called La Favorita, now Renzo Barbera, was going to be sold out all season long, and the city was literally paralyzed because of the opening match against Siena.
On the pitch were all the heroes of the previous season: Luca Toni, Eugenio Corini, Beppe Biava and Daniele Di Donato. Wait a minute, there was something wrong with Di Donato. Why was he wearing a white-and-black jersey?
It was a nightmare come true. Dido was no longer one of ours, he didn’t enter into Guidolin’s plans (just like Franco Brienza, but he has been more fortunate), so he was loaned to Siena for free. A lot of banners outside the stadium proved how much Palermo loved that guy. Not just a player, not just a friend, Dido was a brother for all of us since his first days in Sicily.
He was just 23 when he arrived in Palermo, and the Rosanero were just a rough draft of the team we all know now. They played in Serie C1, the Italian Third Division. They avoided a disgraceful relegation in Serie C2, thanks to the failure of Ischia Isolaverde. The new ownership (led by AS Roma president, Franco Sensi) decided to bet on a group of young players, including Di Donato, to conquer the promotion in Serie B once again.
He became a starter during his first season, playing as central midfielder next to Cappioli, the captain. And by the end of the season he would be the most employed player of the team. Palermo started loving him because of his attitude inside and outside the pitch, a tough holding midfielder with a Rosanero jersey, a smiling humble boy in everyday life. In Serie B he kept improving, not afraid at all of the jump, and Palermo’s supporters voted him as the best player of the season, better than the striking duo of La Grotteria and Guidoni, one of the best attacks of Serie B.
Dido was one of the “survivors” after the arrival of the new president, Maurizio Zamparini, and although the team radically changed, Dido was still there. His competitor, Antonio Marasco (one of Zamparini’s former Venezia players arrived that year), considered one of the best midfielders in Serie B, was relegated to the bench. No one could stop Di Donato and that year seemed to be his breakout year…until January.
Roberta, Dido‘s wife, tragically died at the age of 25. It was a great shock for the team and for Palermo. That punch could’ve destroyed anyone, but not him. Dido came back to the pitch, he needed to vent, he needed to kick that ball and forget what happened for 90 minutes. His grit was contagious, and after a mediocre first half of the season, Palermo became one of the contenders for the last Serie A spot. Unfortunately, that team wasn’t ready for the jump just yet, and the “win or go home” match against Lecce ended with a hard 0-3 loss.
The following year, Zamparini and general manager Rino Foschi built a battleship, a team that could’ve done extremely well even in Serie A, and Dido was not considered a starter. But not for long. As happened the year before, our hero had a difficult start, but when he gained the starter spot, he became untouchable. He scored 3 goals, the last one was a wonderful shot from outside the penalty box, in a 3-0 victory against Vicenza, the last home match before making history against Triestina. Supporters started singing “Di Donato non si tocca!” (Don’t touch Di Donato!), maybe they felt something bad was happening. And something bad happened for real.
Dido played his first Serie A match in Palermo…with another team.
But Dido will always be one of us.