With the news of trigger-happy and controversial Maurizio Zamparini stepping down this week as US Palermo’s President, we wanted to mark this historic occasion. Many of of his former employees may be sniggering at the fact that the man, infamous for sacking managers (he made 39 managerial changes in over 15 Years) has effectively concluded his presidency by ‘sacking himself’. Still, we wanted to remind everyone that despite his ever-unpredictable attitude towards managers, Zamparini has had a rather good eye with regards to discovering talents.
Since buying the club from Franco Sensi for little over €15m in 2002, he acquired some very good young players for the rosanero. Most of these players were sold with profitable margins and some have even become world class players. This formula, repeated multiple times, produced US Palermo’s successful era. From their first promotion to season in Serie A in 2004-5, the rosanero finished 6th, then 5th in 2005-6 and 5th again in 2006-7, with a Coppa Italia final reached in 2010-11. Perhaps the biggest source of pride for the club was contributing with 4 players to Italy’s triumphant 2006 World Cup win in Germany. To put that in perspective, only Juventus and Milan contributed with more players to the squad.
So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the Zamparini era’s best XI:
Goalkeeper: Salvatore Sirigu – Appearances 69
Salvatore Sirigu has the distinction for being the only player in this XI from the club’s own academy. Originally from Sardinia, Sirigu made his debut in the 2006-7 season in the Coppa Italia and in the UEFA Cup. Then, after two consecutive seasons on loan, he became the first choice goalee in 2009-10. His good performances led to a call up to the Italy squad for the first time in 2010 and he was instrumental in Palermo’s Coppa Italia charge to the final in 2010-11. His transfer to PSG confirmed his status as an international class keeper.
Right-back: Cristian Zaccardo – Appearances 142 Goals 8
Perhaps best remembered for scoring the only goal Italy conceded in 2006 World Cup, other than THAT Zidane panenka penalty. What has been forgotten is that he was in stunning form for Palermo in 2005-6 season and earned his call-up and starting position in the Italian team that started against Ghana as well as the USA. He was with the Sicilians from 2004, when he joined as a highly rated young player from Bologna, to 2008, and was a key member of the team that qualified for Europe for three seasons in a row. His sale to Wolfsburg brought him more success when he won the Bundesliga.
Center-back: Simon Kjær – Appearances 65, Goals 5
The Danish central defender became one of European football’s hottest prospects while at the Sicilian club between 2008-10. Signing from FC Midtjylland, he established himself as a talented central defender. His performances lead him to win an award for most promising Danish footballer in 2009, beating the likes of Cristian Eriksen, and then Danish footballer of year, in the same year. When time came to cash on the Dane, Zamparini sold the player to one of their favourite customers – Wolfsburg. On balance, Kjær is perhaps a player who didn’t reach the heights as thought, but while at Palermo was a rock.
Center-back: Andrea Barzagli – Appearances 142, Goals 4.
Like Cristian Zaccardo, a world cup winner. Barzagli joined the club in 2004 and left in 2008 for Wolfsburg in Germany. Unlike Zaccardo, he truly fulfilled his promise. He joined the Sicilians after a breakout season with Chievo. Now, at Juventus, he is amongst the top defenders in Europe, forming a famous trio with Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini and winning 5 league titles in a row.With 65 caps for Italy, the first of which came in his first season at Palermo, the Fiesole native was a lynch-pin during Palermo’s most successful era.
Left-back: Fabio Grosso – Appearances 90, Goals 2
Arguably the chief protagonist for Italy when they won the World Cup in 2006. He had two seasons with Palermo from 2004-2006, and his performances brought Palermo into Europe. He moved to Inter after the 2006 World Cup, but never truly recaptured the form he’d shown in Sicily, despite some good seasons at Lyon. With 48 Caps for Italy, and a determining impact in the semi-final and final of the World Cup, Grosso became immortal to Italian football fans.
Defensive Midfield: Eugenio Corini – Appearances 129, Goals 25
The deep-lying playmaker had a reputation for being a poor man’s Andrea Pirlo. There are indeed some comparisons, as both made their debuts for Brescia and started their careers as teenagers, getting noticed by a big club early on and winning silverware, together, at under-21 level. The difference is that Corini wasn’t able to convert the early promise in the way that il maestro did. Instead, Corini made a return to consciousness of the Italian game when he lead the midfield of the newly promoted club of Chievo. At 33 he made a move to Palermo where he played for 4 seasons. Like the famous Pirlo, he had an eye for goal, a good long range pass and decent free-kick, not to mention turning out good performances in to his late 30s.
Attacking Midfield: Javier Pastore – Appearances 69, Goals 14
Like Edinson Cavani, Pastore was convinced to sign for Palermo over top clubs when he made the switch in 2009. The elegant Argentine playmaker played just two seasons with Sicilians, but his class was always on display, with great performances his two years spent on the island. He linked well with his future PSG-teammate Edison Cavani, assisting him with a large number of goal opportunities. He became a legend at the club when he scored a hattrick against fierce rivals Catania in the 2010-11 Derby. El Flaco made a €38 million move to PSG in 2011 and is still missed in Palermo and in the Serie A.
Attacking Midfield: Paulo Dybala – Appearances 90, Goals 21
Only time will tell, but most pundits believe that the current Juventus number 21 has the makings of a future Ballon D’Or winner. Since his move from Palermo to Juventus, his ability has grown continuously and now he is one of the most exciting players on the planet. La Joya moved to Palermo from Argentinian Second Division Instituto in 2012, playing for three seasons in Sicily. He helped the club get promoted in 2013-14 and formed a great partnership with Franco Vazquez and Andrea Belotti, who have both since moved from Palermo and are also doing great things. His performances and goals convinced Juventus to invest €40 million on a player who had only played two seasons of top flight football. Now, it’s looking like a bargain.
Right-side Attacker: Edison Cavani – Appearances, 109 Goals 34
Perhaps the most famous of Zamparini’s treasured signings from South America, until Dybala’s recent rise to prominence, and possibly the best example of Palermo’s President’s vision. Signed from Uruguayan club Danubio in January 2007, after having impressed in the 2007 Youth Championship as a 19 year old, he made is debut in March later that year. His physique, technique and finishing drew comparisons to Milan legend Marco Van Basten, when he first came on to the scene. Because of his work-rate he often played out on the right in a 4-3-3. In a scenario that would come up again in his career, he had to share the goalscoring duties with Fabrizio Miccoli and Amauri , scoring 14 goals in the 2008-9 and 13 in 2009-10, before moving to Napoli for a €17 million fee. There he was the main man in the middle of the three and would not stop scoring, becoming the league’s capocannoniere in 2012-13 before a €64 million move to the French capital.
Center-forward: Luca Toni – Appearances 80, Goals 51
His goal-scoring ratio should be enough to justify his place in this team. Arguably, he started Palermo’s rise. Without his record-breaking 30 goals in the Serie B, the most in the history of the Serie B in one season, Palermo may not have become the force they were. In his second season, his 20 goals propelled the Sicilians to their first ever UEFA Cup place, an amazing feat. He was called up for Italy in 2004-5 season for the first time, while at Palermo, and played a major part in Italy’s World Cup win. He later went on to win the European Golden Boot in 2005-6 while at Fiorentina, being the first player in over 50 years to score 30 goals in Serie A. A successful stint at Bayern Münich and another capocannioniere in 2014-15 while at Verona, at the ripe old age of 38, made him the oldest player ever to achieve this, and consolidated him into a real Serie A legend.
Left-sided Attacker: Fabrizio Miccoli – Appearances 165, Goals 74
The minute striker was brought to Palermo from Juventus after a successful loan-spell at Portuguese giants Benfica in 2007. He became Palermo’s all-time leading Serie A goal-scorer by the time he left, in 2013. He became an instant favourite in his first season at the club by scoring the winner against Catania in the Sicilian derby. In 2008-9, he formed a great partnership with Edinson Cavani, the two scoring 14 goals each that season. By 2009-10, he rightly became club captain. Miccoli was an unpredictable striker with a bag full of tricks and excellent technique. Often, he was compared to Roberto Baggio or Del Piero. He left to sign for his hometown club of US Lecce in 2013, but he’ll be remembered by Palermo fans for some of the great goals he scored, like this one against Chievo in 2012.
Subs: Stefano Sorrentino, Matteo Darmian, Cesare Bovo, Mattia Cassani, Simone Barone, Antonio Nocerino, Franco Brienza, Mark Bresciano, Franco Vasquez, Andrea Belotti, Abel Hernandez and Amuari.