A quick update on Palermo soccer
Me to Palermo Soccer: Are you the king of Serie B?
Palermo Soccer to me: It is you who say we are.
Ain’t that the truth. While the players, coaches and execs all toe the corporate line by refusing to admit their mission is accomplished before it has been accomplished with 100% mathematical certainty, those of us in the media covering the team are tripping over ourselves trying be the first to declare Palermo has gotten itself promoted to Serie A— without using any qualifiers. Italian writers use the word ormai, which kind of says “by now” Palermo is in A, which is maybe like the French saying it’s a fait accompli.
And what do I say? I say the fat lady has sung! I’m also saying: The door’s closed, the lights are out, the eggs are cooling, the butter’s getting hard and the jello’s jiggling. And if that’s not enough, how ‘bout: You can put it on the board…..YES! I’m saying all that and more. I’m saying this Palermo season is in the refrigerator!!! Palermo wins…….PAAAAAAAAAAAALERMO WINS!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Not mathematically certain? Well, let’s do some math. Palermo has at this writing a 15-point lead with but 8 games remaining. If…..if!.…Palermo loses all its remaining games, two—that’s correct, two!— of the challenging teams would have to finish winning six of their last eight. Possible? Only in your dreams. Palermo is undefeated in the second-half of the season while its challengers seem to win one, lose one. The odds of any of the above conditions being met are so ridiculous that the city of Palermo’s patron saint, the beautiful Santa Rosalia, has hung a shingle out on her grotto high atop Monte Pellegrino, saying: “I’m not accepting any more prayers this year for Palermo soccer.” And if my Sicilian is any good at all I think she added, “It’s in the refrigerator!”
How did we go from booing the team off the field after their second game to declaring mission accomplished with eight weeks left in the season? Here’s what happened: First off, I feel justified for being a defender of owner-president Zamparini. Sure he’s crazy, but a craziness stemming from his passion to win. And sure he makes mistakes, although some mistakes are the product of trying to put a team on the field in a financially prudent manner. Palermo may not spend like a lot of teams of even their own size, but they are always atop the list of balanced-budgets. Teams should be given extra points in the standings for this, that would make Serie A competitive.
However, when Palermo got demoted to B he realized that he erred too much in favor of the budget and it cost him because getting demoted to Serie B is a domino effect. First is the soccer shame of getting relegated, followed by the financial reality of losing tons of TV and sponsorship money. This usually results in teams selling off their Serie A level players, but that’s exactly what Zamp did not do. And even though players like Hernandez and Sorrentino looked at every possibility of hooking up with a Serie A team, Zamp stood firm. He had only one objective: return to A within one season, and so he kept all his Serie A players on his Serie B team.
The Gattuso coaching disaster? Well, clearly it had the makings of a disaster, but as a fair and balanced reporter I’ll say we’ll never really know how Palermo would have finished the season if it had kept its rookie coach who had no coaching experience. I still think they would have made it, although maybe on the last day of the season or even via a dreaded playoff. Plus, let’s never forget it was Gattuso who brought the full-of-heart Lafferty to Palermo, yes, the Lafferty who came off the bench to score the game-winner in the (“not-a-real”) Derby game vs. Trapani, and who has hustled every second on the field and scored so many key goals this season. (Sidebar: Yes, my fellow residents of Trapani, the ref blew the handball call. Your boys deserved a Penalty Kick. Now can I continue?)
What we do know is from the moment Iachini took the realm early on, Palermo has only climbed the standings and elongated its lead. Iachini is a specialist, a proven-one, in taking teams from B to A and to be fair he was Zamp’s first choice to coach the team from the beginning of the season. But Iachini held out for offers from Serie A teams. Those offers never came and Zamp convinced him to coach Palermo and the rest is history. Iachini, never without a baseball cap, first organized an Iron Curtain defense and then once that was a given, the offense played more daringly and the result was a Palermo team dominating Serie B even more than the great Juventus did when they were demoted for match-fixing. And now for sure Iachini will get a chance to coach in Serie A—to coach Palermo in Serie A.
One other factor: no one else seemed interested. By that I mean, only Empoli seemed to pose a threat to Palermo but in the end they and every other team, with the possible exception of Siena, seemed lost in mediocrity and never mounted a challenge to Palermo. Give a front-running thoroughbred horse an uncontested lead and they’ll coast to the finish line lengths ahead of the pack every time.
At this point there is nothing left but the shouting and when the math is a certainty there will be a big party with lots of shouting in Piazza Politeama. For my money, I think only those of us who supported the team in B should be allowed to celebrate, but with the return of the team to A its fan base will now miraculously quadruple. Oh well, it’s all for the good. The main thing is Palermo is a Serie A city and deserves a Serie A team. And to that I say, Grazie, ragazzi, e grazie, Zamp!