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Palermo at the crossroads of Serie A survival

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By Lorenzo Vicini

Wednesday 18 January 2012

Nearly eight months ago, Palermo took the pitch in front of 40,000 adoring fans with a Coppa Italia title on the line. The team had earned success with starlets such as Javier Pastore, Salvatore Sirigu and Antonio Nocerino bolstered by a group of veterans like Mattia Cassani, Cesare Bovo, Giulio Migliaccio and Fabrizio Miccoli all led by a respected and intelligent tactician in Delio Rossi. Despite losing the final, the Rosanero had a steady core of talented and gritty individuals that could keep Palermo playing at a high level for seasons to come – if kept in tact. After an offseason of tremendous change, the Sicilians now find themselves at the crossroads of Serie A survival, only six points above the relegation zone with the second half of the season about to start.

Palermo owner Maurizio Zamparini spent the summer overhauling his team. Bovo, Cassani, Nocerino, Pastore and Sirigu were all sold and Stefano Pioli was brought in to lead the squad. The tempestuous Zamparini axed Pioli after a summer of disappointing results and Primavera Coach Devis Mangia was put in charge. Challenged with taking over a team he had no part in putting together, the unproven Mangia far exceeded expectations – even setting a new club record for most consecutive wins at home to start a season. But like many of his predecessors, once the young Mangia ran into a rut, he was axed by the Palermo patron.

Under the direction of Bortolo Mutti, the Rosanero have not managed to return to winning ways, earning only one point from three games. Rumors circulated after Sunday's defeat against Chievo that Mutti would be sacked with Mangia being re-instated; yet, Zamparini exercised patience by publicly supporting the Palermo coach despite expressing his worry over the lack of positive results. Given the short leash by which Zamparini operates, the weekend's match against Genoa could be the last chance Mutti has before he is also shown the door.

And therein lies part of the problem. With the club already operating without a true sporting director (Sean Sogliano resigned two months ago), Palermo have been handicapped in the winter transfer window. While the signing of Italian international Emiliano Viviano is a boost to the goalkeeping corps, the position was hardly a weakness with Francesco Benussi and Alexandros Tzorvas playing adequately. The Rosanero have sought to bring in reinforcements such as Arevalo Rios, Angelo Palombo and even Luca Rigoni but the only midfielder on the verge of arriving is Bari captain and Mutti man Massimo Donati.

With only a couple weeks left before the transfer window closes, Zamparini needs to address the needs of the team in addition to whether or not the club will continue with Mutti at the helm. Much like Mangia was forced to work with players brought in specifically for Pioli (Francesco Della Rocca and Edgar Alvarez), the risk is that another tactician will be forced to deal with players brought in at the behest of Mutti. In order to ensure safety, Zamparini must decide whether or not he can make do with Mutti for the rest of the season or whether someone else gives the Rosanero the best chance for success. The next few weeks will be critical for the future of Palermo. The hope is that Zamparini will make the right decisions for the safety of a club that was on the precipice of greatness just a short time ago.

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