It feels like just yesterday Palermo were celebrating an incredible promotion to Serie B thanks to a glorious month-long playoff run. Since that time, a lot has changed. Most importantly, the club has a new ownership group. The arrival of a financial and football powerhouse like City Football Group ensures long term stability to a club that has lacked it for quite some time.
But, this is Palermo and you must always be prepared for something crazy to happen. Four days before the Rosanero were set to play in the Coppa Italia, Silvio Baldini abruptly announced his resignation as manager along with sporting director Renzo Castagnini. No amount of pleading from President Dario Mirri (still club president despite the new owners) could convince them otherwise. So, what happened? It began almost from the very first press conference when City Football Group CEO Ferran Soriano stated the club’s goal for the upcoming season was a calm campaign with a push for promotion the following year. On top of that, CFG intended on bringing in their own staff. The expectation was always going to be that Baldini would stay on as manager but Castagnini was expected to be replaced. Baldini essentially gave an ultimatum saying that he would leave if his good friend Castagnini was not confirmed. City Football Group acquiesced and Baldini and Castagnini would continue together.
As the first few weeks of the transfer window transpired, it started to become apparent that Baldini and Castagnini did not agree with all the personnel decisions City Football Group intended to make. In Baldini’s first press conference, he stated his belief that the squad could and should push for promotion to Serie A – even stating that CFG’s own algorithms last season said the club had no chance to get promoted to Serie B. Then, Baldini wasn’t pleased with the lack of renewals for several key players from the prior season; he wanted to run it back in Serie B with the same core group that won promotion since it was the unity of the group that led to their successes more than anything. The final straw appeared to be a 4-0 drubbing in a friendly against fellow Serie B side Pisa, confirming in Baldini’s mind that there was no longer a strong, unified group. Citing those things as well as his belief of being outside of CFG’s plans, Baldini and Castagnini resigned leaving the club to scramble and find a new coach and sporting director prior to the start of the season just a few weeks away.
City Football Group appointed Leandro Rinaudo as the interim sporting director and Stefano Di Benedetto (previously the head of the youth sector) as interim manager to prep for the upcoming Coppa Italia match against Reggiana. The club still continued to operate the transfer market. Matteo Felici rescinded his contract with the club, Bubacarr Marong was sent on loan and both Alberto Pelagotti and Moses Odjer had expiring contracts that were not renewed. Some of the biggest architects of last season’s success were sold with Maxime Giron, Jacopo Dall’Oglio and even captain Francesco De Rose moving to Serie C sides. While disheartening due to their attachment to the squad, it was only natural that moves like this had to be made due to the rules in Serie B. The rules state that you can have no more than 18 players over 23 years old while also allowing for two players signaled as “bandiera” (veterans/”flag-bearers” or, players who have been at the club for four or more years) that don’t count towards your count of players over 23. Teams can have an unlimited number of players under 23 and cannot have any non-EU players on the roster.
With those rules known, Palermo wasted no time in bringing in players to help the club prepare for life in Serie B. First, were confirmations and purchases of key players from the prior season as Samuele Damiani, Edoardo Soleri and the crown jewel himself Matteo Brunori were all bought outright from their respective teams. The biggest investments were in the defense as the Rosanero first signed a new goalkeeper, Mirko Pigliacelli, and then added four defenders with veteran Ionut Nedelcearu arriving alongside three youngsters in Marco Sala, Edoardo Pierozzi and Mladen Devetak. Up top, two more young players were signed with Matteo Stoppa and Salvatore Elia joining the Rosanero. For Elia, joining Palermo was a lifelong dream for both him and his father, Firmino, who donned the pink-and-black colors in the early 2000s. With only three actual midfielders on the roster, Palermo is intent on adding several more before the window closes in a couple weeks.
With Di Benedetto at the helm, Palermo debuted in the Coppa Italia against Reggiana. Despite the turmoil in upper management, the Rosanero showed no signs of turbulence on the pitch. Brunori opened the scoring nearly immediately when he put the Rosanero ahead after three minutes. Eight minutes before halftime, Brunori would double the Rosanero advantage. After the half, Reggiana would open the match back up after a penalty was awarded and then converted by Marco Rosafio in the 57th minute. When Palermo were awarded a penalty of their own in the 80th minute, Brunori stepped up and buried it, giving him his first career hat-trick in Rosanero and seemingly putting the match to bed. Of course, Reggiana would respond in the 87th minute after a scrum in the box allowed Santo D’Angelo to make it 3-2 and give the visitors a lifeline. But, it was not enough as Palermo would hold on to win and advance to the next round of the Coppa Italia.
With a positive result on the pitch, the message from City Football Group was clear: they would not rush into a decision regarding both the coaching vacancy as well as the sporting director vacancy. They were true to their word. The club spent another week under Di Benedetto preparing for their Coppa Italia match against Serie A side Torino. Many potential candidates were linked to the Palermo coaching vacancy with Claudio Ranieri, Luca D’Angelo, Eugenio Corini and even Daniele De Rossi mentioned for the post. When Palermo finally took to the pitch against Torino, the difference between the two sides grew as the match progressed. In the end, they would lose 3-0 and be bounced from the tournament. Invariably, it was a loss that didn’t mean much other than the desire to have an actual coach appointed so that he could instill his vision and style on the squad. The very next day, the club announced the Rosanero legend himself, Eugenio Corini, would coach the club once again. It marks the second time he has led Palermo, previously coaching the Rosanero for a couple months back in late 2016, early 2017.
As Corini took charge ahead of the start of the Serie B season, Palermo could finally look ahead and focus purely on results.