Last season did not end how Palermo would have liked – missing out on the Serie B playoff and starting vacation earlier than expected. Then again, promotion was never the push last year – City Football Group made that clear from the beginning. But a new season is upon us – and expectations are vastly different as Palermo get set to debut the 2023-24 campaign against rivals Bari at the San Nicola.
A lot has changed since the end of May. There are still some constants, though. Eugenio Corini is still at the helm and Leandro Rinaudo is still the sporting director. And yes, Matteo Brunori will still be leading the line and captaining the side. We’ll discuss all the player changes in full, further down the post, but the biggest change heading into the new season is this: the expectation for Palermo is promotion to Serie A. Again, it was always the plan to push for promotion in year two of the City Group takeover and we are now in Year 2. So, what does that mean exactly? Well, the goal is much more challenging and the team needed to be reinforced to help achieve the goal. Talk is cheap, players are not (always).
As a reminder, in Serie B, there are rules governing squad composition (just like every division in Italian football). To simplify, a club is limited to 18 players over 23 years old, two “bandiera” (vets who’ve been with the club for four or more years) players, and an unlimited number of players under 23 years old. The club needed to clear room for new faces while finding homes for those still on the books from the Serie C seasons. The Rosanero had a lot of loan deals from the previous term and universally made the decision not purchase any of the players via those same loan deals (that didn’t mean that they wouldn’t try to bring back some of them on better terms, however). Back to their respective clubs went Gennaro Tutino, Davide Bettella, Marco Sala, Renzo Orihuela, Salvatore Elia, Luca Vido, Matteo Stoppa, Edoardo Masciangelo, Leo Stulac, and Valerio Verre. The latter two still held significant interest within the club and Stulac was immediately brought back and bought outright from Empoli for a million euro. Verre still may return but it’s dependent on what Sampdoria do within their own midfield. Of the other significant departures, Serie C stalwarts Samuele Massolo and Edoardo Lancini departed along with Andrea Silipo. Jeremie Broh was sent to Sudtirol on loan and there is still an expectation that Samuele Damiani will be shipped out before the window closes.
Palermo recognized last season’s team was just not good enough or consistent enough to realistically push for promotion. And so, the City Group decided to make some significant investments for both the present and the future. To build a squad set up for success, you need players who are accustomed to Serie B and have performed well at that level. The club went shopping at one of last season’s promotion winners, Frosinone. All bitterness aside, Rinaudo and company smartly snapped up two marquee players that would immediately boost the quality in the side.
There was the sexy signing in Roberto Insigne – the 29 year old winger who happens to be the younger brother of the other more famous Insigne; and then there was the unsexy signing, but arguably even more impactful in Fabio Lucioni. The 35 year old veteran, grizzled central defender is reminiscent of old school center backs and brings some true grit to the Rosanero back line in addition to his unquestioned leadership. Both players were protagonists for Frosinone last term; each of them had 31 appearances on the season, each of them were vital to the club’s success. Both of them slotted into the Rosanero starting XI straightaway. Rinaudo also brought in two more veterans in attack and defense. First, 31 year old striker Leonardo Mancuso arrived on loan from Monza and 27 year old versatile defender Pietro Ceccaroni signed on a free after spending half a season with Lecce in Serie A and several season with Venezia in Serie B and Serie A. Another duo that will surely contribute over the course of the season.
The club has a clear plan for this year and the ones to come as it just didn’t go after more senior players. With two weeks to go before the transfer window closes, City Group has already made two significant investments into young players (and failed at a third). He may be unknown heading into the season, but the Rosanero nabbed 21 year old Serbian-Italian midfielder Aljosa Vasic from Padova on a five year deal north of two million euro plus bonuses. The talented midfielder was dominant in Serie C the previous campaign where he had 8 goals and 4 assists across 35 appearances. He has already flashed in training camp and was inserted into the starting lineup for Palermo’s first official match of the season (a 2-1 loss to Cagliari in the Coppa Italia). Vasic looks to be the real deal and his talent and skill has Corini and the rest of the coaching staff’s attention already.
Palermo also made waves when they signed 20 year old Italy U20 goalkeeper Sebastiano Desplanches from Vicenza. Desplanches was fresh off of the U20 World Cup where he was the unquestioned starter for an Italy side that made it all the way to the final before losing 1-0 to Uruguay. While Mirko Pigliacelli is still the starter for now, Desplanches was brought in to take over at some point in the future, given the investment for his services (rumored to be a deal worth up to five million). Palermo strongly pushed to sign his international teammate, 19 year old midfielder Matteo Prati, but the youngster decided to go to Cagliari in Serie A. Nevertheless, it has been years since we’ve seen such significant investments put towards quality young players.
The season kicks off against Bari on Friday and the team still isn’t complete. There is almost certainly going to be another signing in each area aside from the goalkeeper position (set with Pigliacelli, Desplanches and 18 year old Manfredi Nespola). In defense, the Rosanero are still in need of a fullback – Ceccaroni and Ales Mateju have been occupying the roles in the meantime. They only have Alessio Buttaro as a natural right back on the roster as of now. As a whole, the unit is much more stable and upgraded with Lucioni alone. Among the central defender pairings expect to see Lucioni flanked by either Ivan Marconi or Ionut Nedelcearu with Simon Graves waiting in the wings.
In the midfield, Stulac is back and fully recovered from the injury that basically knocked him out for all of last season. He’ll be expected to partner alongside Claudio Gomes in some occasions or swap out for one another in other formations. Center midfielders Jacopo Segre and Dario Saric are back and looking to improve on otherwise inconsistent performances from last term, whereas Vasic looks to be the starter for now in most midfield arrangements – whether that is with three, four, or five man groupings. Do not forget about last season’s best signing from Serie C in Giuseppe Aurelio who can play on the wing in the back, midfield or up top. He has been dealing with an injury for most of the preseason but he will be called upon often this year. That being said, there appears to be at least one, maybe two more players who could be signed, especially since Damiani is apparently on the way out.
Up top, it’s Brunori’s world. We all know that. The team has depended on his goals for so long now that the hope is he gets some support finally this year. The Rosanero are looking to add at least one more winger to join Francesco Di Mariano on the left, while the right side will be held down by Insigne and Nicola Valente. Brunori will be backed up by Mancuso and Edoardo Soleri who is staying with the club (and just signed an extension) after there were rumors that he was going to be sold this summer – much to the Rosanero faithful’s dismay! Soleri even scored in last week’s Coppa Italia match late into stoppages to tie it up before Cagliari scored a minute later (terrible refereeing on that goal, by the way).
Palermo face a tough test right out of the gate. Expectations are high, the pressure has ramped up for the club to make this season its last in Italy’s second division and make it back to the promised land. Let’s hope Corini and his men are ready for the task at hand.