From eccentricity to affluence – Transformation in Sicily

by Aditya Balaram

More often than not, brilliance is accompanied by eccentricity, or what some might call sheer madness. Over the years, even the football world has seen its fair share of mentally unstable characters. From the fan kicking Eric Cantona, to the referee abusing Antonio Cassano, we’ve seen a wide variety of them.

Serie A has been home to a vast array of these entertaining talents, with the likes of Francesco Totti, Mario Balotelli, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Antonio Cassano, Jose Mourinho and Gennaro Gattuso, having plied their trade in Italy.

I’ve mentioned both managers and players, but Italy also has a club president who falls into this unique category of people. No, I’m not talking about Milan’s scandalous owner, Silvio Berlusconi nor Inter’s very own Massimo Moratti. The man I’d like to introduce you to is Palermo’s owner, Maurizio Zamparini.

Zamparini is extremely well known across Italy, most notably for his eccentricity. Having taken over at the club in 2002, he watched the Sicilian club earn promotion to the Serie A in just two years. Zamparini’s influx of money was immensely crucial to Palermo’s return to the Serie A – after almost two decades.

The Friuli born owner has watched his side grow from strength to strength after he took over, as the Rosanero have managed to qualify for European football on four occasions. Another notable statistic is that Palermo have finished in the bottom of the table just once in the Zamparini era. These numbers confirm the positive effects that Zamparini’s arrival has had at the club.

The Zamparini era saw a number of relatively unknown players rise to fame. Boasting an attacking mindset, players like Luca Toni, Javier Pastore and Edinson Cavani shone at the Renzo Barbera, propelling their careers in the right direction and moving to greener pastures. After unsuccessful and frustrating spells at Juventus and Fiorentina, the immensely talented Fabrizio Miccoli finally found a home under Zamparini, settling down in Sicily and becoming a fan favourite. The little bomber from Apulia has now gone on to earn the captain’s armband at Palermo and has more or less achieved the status of a legend among the Aquile faithful.

All of this brilliance is unsurprisingly coupled with a great deal of eccentricity. Ranging from the sacking of innumerable coaches to the craziest of statements to the press, the current Palermo owner has done it all. In Zamparini’s 10 year reign, he has hired 17 different coaches – out of which four have had more than one stint at the club. Zamparini has also gone to the extent of calling himself “mangiallenatori”, which is Italian for manager-eater. This ability to sack coaches at will, and for the smallest of reasons, is proof of his, to put it politely, deviation from normalcy.

It isn’t just the rapid and irrational sacking of coaches that makes Zamparini stand out. The 70-year-old businessman has also had a hard time keeping his vicious tongue under control. On numerous occasions, the outspoken Zamparini has lashed out at everyone, from his own coaches to the owners of English clubs.

Talking about the policies of clubs in other leagues, he once called the English clubs “pirates” for having stolen a number of Italy’s budding youngsters. Distressing words about his coaches has been another one of Zamparini’s trademarks, with “Palermo have a coach with no balls” being one of his most memorable rants. He has also had no inhibition when it comes to criticizing his own players. “This is not a group of men, it is a team of girls”, “If it was up to me I wouldn’t pay them anymore” and a host of other audacious remarks about his own players, have flown out of Zamparini’s infamous mouth.

Zamparini also seems to have an affinity, an extremely bizarre one, towards testicles. During the 2003 season, Zamparini, while speaking about his players, said, “I will cut off their testicles and eat them in my salad.” This disturbing comment of Zamparini’s has by far been the most scandalous one in his ten year reign. His testicle related talk has returned as he recently said, “Do I regret the decision to fire Stefano Pioli? I am eating my second testicle. I already ate the first.” Why Zamparini brought up his testicles, and when he ate his first testicle, might be two questions that pop up in your minds, but I find it most appropriate to leave these questions unanswered here.

Getting back to his club’s performances, this season hasn’t been one to remember. Palermo have struggled to maintain any consistency this season, their longest streak of wins being just two matches. The Sicilians have looked distraught in defense all season, having conceded an average of 1.6 goals per game. Currently sitting in tenth place and having failed to pick up a single win away from home, there has been talk of a change at the top.

Talk of this takeover began at the end of 2011 when Zamparini told the media that the sale of his majority of the stocks at the club was possible in the recent future. When asked about the buyer, he mentioned his good friend Abdul Mohsen Al Hokair, an extremely rich man from the Middle East. With Zamparini talking about this transformation at the club leading to a title challenge in the years to come,Palermo fans will indeed have their hopes sky high.

This change at the club could have some serious implications. Considering the fact that Italian clubs are not the biggest spenders, we could see a host of foreign superstars coming to the Serie A, primarily to Palermo. Whether this will lead to a monopolistic dominance in the Serie A remains questionable. Having looked at PSG inFrance and Manchester City in England, it is fair to say that a rise in Palermo’s position in the table is imminent. There is also the possibility that we shall see Zamparini’s eccentric side once again and this takeover might evenutally be rubbished.

Palermo will either have to say goodbye to their lovable testicle-eating owner and welcome foreign investment, or continue to see their club run by this mad genius. Nonetheless, an exciting period looms ahead for the Rosanero.

Author Info

Aditya Balaram

A die hard Milanisti. Also a recent follower of German football. Dortmund and Gladbach favour my liking. I love writing about football which is why I'm here. You can follow me on Twitter @adi_balaram

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