In recent Palermo history, the year 2022 will go down as one of the best ever for the Rosanero. As the Rosanero are well accustomed to, it is expected that the “bitter” often times outpaces the “sweet” in terms of the Palermo experience. And yet, this year went about as good as anyone could have possibly imagined when the calendar first struck January 1, 2022. So let’s look back at all the intrigue, emotions, surprises and joys of the past 12 months.
The Rise of the Rosanero Under Baldini
At the beginning of the calendar year, Palermo were in the midst of an identity crisis of sorts. President Dario Mirri had just made the decision to sack Giacomo Filippi as the Rosanero coach due to a string of lackluster results that left Palermo in 4th place in group C, whilst behind 11 points from the top of the group. Stuck in their second consecutive year in Serie C with dwindling financial resources, Mirri decided to shake things up and appoint Silvio Baldini as coach on December 27th (ok, technically this is 2021…) with a deal until the end of the season and an automatic renewal in case of promotion. For Baldini, it was his second stint on the Rosanero bench after an 18 year absence. Nobody could have known the domino effect that would result from this move.
Baldini’s arrival led to six consecutive positive results for Palermo as they seemingly transformed under the tutelage of the man who was more interested in motivating the individuals to come together as a team than to care about the results. Baldini’s methods saw a new Palermo come together and hover between second and fourth place for the rest of the season, leading them into the Serie C playoffs. Of course, Palermo had made the playoff the year before and it didn’t mean much given the unwieldy beast that is the Italian third division playoff system.
The Passing of Maurizio Zamparini
A whole post could be dedicated to the man, the myth and the legend that was Maurizio Zamparini. The owner and president oversaw the most fruitful years of the club’s history from 2002 to 2018. On February 1st, he passed away at age 80. Of all the maddening things that Zamparini did over the years, it simply cannot be understated how much he meant to the Rosanero. His name is nearly synonymous with the club – most certainly, its memory in the post-2000s era of the club. Despite 45 hirings and firings (give or take a few) over his during his 17 year tenure, the “rosa” certainly outweighs the “nero” of his reign.
The Serie C Playoff Run
And yet, what followed was one of the best months in Palermo history. First, Palermo took out Triestina in the Third Round thanks to goals in the first leg from Roberto Floriano and Matteo Brunori followed by Gregorio Luperini in the return leg at home in front of nearly 32,000 fans at the Renzo Barbera. It was after this match that Baldini etched himself into calcio lore for his post-match comments:
“Honestly, I don’t give a sh*t about victory and defeat. I’m interested in the journey. I don’t care about this world. I want to dream and be free. I don’t want to have anything. I just want to love my family and my friends and enjoy what nature gives me!”
From there, Palermo would have their biggest scare of the entire playoff run in the quarterfinals against Virtus Entella. Goals from Luperini and Brunori in the first leg propelled the Rosanero with confidence in the return leg in Palermo. But in the 72nd minute, Palermo found themselves facing elimination after going down 2-0 in the span of eight minutes. As 33,000 fans watched in nervous anticipation, one of the bright spots of the Serie C season would step forward. Edoardo Soleri, as he had done numerous times through the course of the season as a substitute, would find the back of the net in the 78th minute. To cap it all off, Beppe Fella would score a phenomenal overhead kick in the 83rd minute to put the result to bed. Palermo were in the final four.
Against Feralpisalo, the Rosanero were dominant. After winning away in a 3-0 rout, Palermo were already looking to the Serie C playoff final. Each goal in the first leg was seemingly better than the previous. Brunori smashed home a goal from a nearly impossible angle, and Floriano followed it with a wonderful little chip. And then, who could forget Soleri’s majestic volley? In front of 35,000 fans in the return leg, it was basically nothing but a formality as Brunori scored the lone goal in the affair to send Palermo to the final. The Rosanero would play for a spot in Serie B. Of all the surprises, this would top the list.
Heading into the final, it should be noted that this magical run was the fruition of a team that came together and performed as one. From Samuele Massolo going from reserve goalkeeper to unquestioned number one during the playoffs, to unlocking the goalscoring prowess of Matteo Brunori, to getting serviceable minutes from guys who were on the margins of the team, like Roberto Crivello, the Rosanero were more unified than ever.
The final was unforgettable. Playing the first leg in Padova, the Rosanero got a precious result. Floriano’s goal in the tenth minute was crucial but overshadowed by the goal-saving heroics of defender Ivan Marconi in the 29th minute. Protecting a 1-0 lead and heading back to Sicily, Baldini believed the result was already a given. Palermo would win promotion to Serie B. On the 12th of June, Palermo would complete their journey, beating Padova 1-0 at the Renzo Barbera thanks to a goal scored from the penalty spot by Brunori.
Celebrations would spill out of the stadium into the streets of Palermo for the next 24 hours. The Rosanero were back in Italy’s second division after a 3 1/2 year absence. A place they had last seen under the chaotic final years of Zamparini and the ownership shenanigans that followed him.
A New Era Begins with City Football Group
After a remarkable run to Serie B promotion, the biggest bombshell would occur a month later. On July 4th, President Dario Mirri held a press conference with City Group CEO Ferran Soriano to announce the sale of the club to City Football Group. While Mirri would stay on as president, the arrival of City Football Group – the same group that owns Premier League powerhouse Manchester City – would mean a significant amount of financial and infrastructural support. For the first time in a long time, the Rosanero would have a very stable outlook for the long term.
While 2022 was many things for Palermo, it was also undoubtedly the year of Matteo Brunori and his rise to stardom. Not only was he the best player in Rosanero, nobody was better at scoring goals than him in all of Italy in 2022 with 34 goals in 12 months. His 29 goals over the course of the Serie C season and playoffs, made him the best goalscorer in Palermo’s history in the third division. He sits in 8th place in the all-time Rosanero goalscoring charts with 41 total. He also beat another 70 year old record in Rosanero after he scored goals in 8 (!) consecutive matches at one point, beating the previous record of 7 set in 1950 by Sukru Gulesin.
After being instrumental to the club’s success in Serie C, Palermo would buy him outright from Juventus and make him the focal point of the team in Serie B. The second tier would not be a problem for him either, as he accounted for half of the goals the club had scored so far this season. His goalscoring prowess also drew the attention of Roberto Mancini and the Italian national team where he received a call-up for a several day training session in mid-December.
The Return of Eugenio Corini
Baldini would shock Palermo fans everywhere when he and his good friend (and sporting director) Renzo Castagnini would resign from the club just four days prior to the start of the Serie B season. Leandro Rinaudo would become interim sporting director and Stefano Di Benedetto (the head of the youth team) would be a caretaker while City Group searched for a coach. Eventually, they would name Eugenio Corini as Palermo coach, marking a return to the club he once captained and even once coached under Zamparini. Corini would take his time to instill his ideas and philosophy on the squad while Rinaudo would work hard to overturn the squad and fill it with players primed to help guide the club to a safe season in Serie B.
There were some bumps and bruises to be sure as Corini never had a proper preseason with his players. In fact, the club even spent a week at Manchester City headquarters during a league break as a sort of mini training camp. This allowed for Palermo to truly understand the depth and breadth of an ownership structure like City Football Group. It is also through this linkage that the club saw its partnership begin to thrive. On the last day of the summer transfer window, the club bought midfielder Claudio Gomes from Manchester City. The young midfielder would quickly work his way into the squad as a cornerstone of Corini’s midfield.
As Palermo heads into 2023, the club sits mid-table in 13th place on 24 points but just three points off of 7th place. It was a watershed year for Palermo FC. Dreams were realized, a new era has begun and the future is here. Here’s to hoping 2023 is even better for the Rosanero.