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Transfer market season is always chock-full of speculation and surprises. Often, the overwhelming majority of rumors that find their way into mainstream media outlets never come to fruition. With a number of prized assets on the Palermo roster and the team’s policy of steady turnover each year, the transfer window is always seen with a skeptical eye especially for the most astute Palermo supporter.

The winds of change swept over Palermo at the end of last season as a new coach, system and players were already on board. Yet, the revolution that has taken place at the club in the past few days has left many to wonder how it will all pan out.

For a growing number of weeks – perhaps months, even – it had become apparent that Javier Pastore had played his last game for Palermo in the Coppa Italia final. Despite comments to the contrary earlier in the season made by Palermo patron Maurizio Zamparini, the Rosanero boss started to change his tune in stating an exit from the club was more than 90% likely. With Pastore on the market, the list of possible suitors quickly stacked up. Letting go of Pastore would not come cheap, though. After all, a clause in the young Argentine’s contract meant that possibly half of Pastore’s future sale would go to his agent. In order to make a decent profit from the talented fantasista, Zamparini had to insure a good return on his investment by setting the bar high enough to ward off the stragglers.

Given the asking price of €45-50 million for Pastore, the list quickly dwindled till only two remained in the running: Chelsea and newcomers Paris St. Germain. The London club had been one of the most prominent and consistent names in the running for “El Flaco”, and with a new coach seeking new, younger talent, a move to the Blues seemed likely and logical. However, Paris St. Germain, boosted by the incoming wealthy ownership and a sporting director all too familiar with the Italian game, apparently beat the Premiership giants for Pastore’s signature. With the deal still to be made official but very likely, the French club has made quite the splash by proving to be a power player in the European transfer market.

And while Pastore is the name that draws all the attention from the media outlets, Palermo fans are left scratching their heads over a different transfer that took place with the same French side only two days earlier. In a swirling series of events, Palermo unloaded their starting keeper Salvatore Sirigu – an up and coming Italian international no less – for a paltry sum of €3.5-4.5 million. The situation unraveled at a furious pace as the player and club had a few disagreements over wages. Despite the lack of any comments from either party about irreconcilable differences, the Sicilian club lost no time in finding a suitor and shipping Sirigu off to PSG.

The concern for many is that the club ostensibly acted with an urgency that was not needed. Sirigu, in spite of wanting a higher wage, was tied to the club until 2014. The keeper had not been a problem in preseason training and nor could he be. After all, Sirigu had no leverage to force a switch seeing as he was keen on staying on the Azzurri radar – especially with fellow youngster Viviano out for several months due to injury. Furthermore, Palermo opted to sell a day before the team embarked on their Europa League campaign. If the constant banter regarding the sale of Pastore wasn’t unsettling enough, the shock news of the Sirigu sale was sure to leave an impact. Seeing the amounts paid for other keepers of similar age and quality, the bargain basement price at which Palermo gave away a budding star is baffling.

Amidst all the chaos surrounding Palermo’s transfers, Stefano Pioli was in preparation for his first competitive match as the Rosanero head coach. Up first was the home leg of a two-legged tie against Europa League opponents FC Thun. The Swiss side provided the first true test for Pioli’s methods and new module. After a 60 day wait since the fateful Coppa Italia final, the Renzo Barbera was full once again as Palermo kicked off the 2011-12 campaign.

One of the biggest reasons for the hiring of Stefano Pioli was his ability to organize a defensively-sound side and his penchant for the three-man defense. Maurizio Zamparini’s hand-picked choice knew the spotlight would be intense following the tenure of one of Palermo’s most beloved coaches in Delio Rossi. Bolstered with new players to choose from for the backline – including one of his former pupils, Pioli employed the 3-4-2-1 formation that had been practiced all preseason.

Unfortunately, the new lineup quickly proved to encounter the same problems from last season. The Swiss side shockingly took the lead after just six minutes, stunning everyone in the stadium. Yet, six minutes later, Palermo would draw level thanks to an Iličić special: a screamer from distance that found the back of the net. As the Rosanero continued to press forward, each chance was thwarted by the goal post or keeper. Palermo’s constant pressing allowed Thun to deftly counter-attack and 11 minutes into the second half, the Swiss had taken the lead once more! The result was destined towards a terrible loss for Palermo, yet last minute heroics from the Rosanero captain allowed the club to save face. A beautiful curling free kick from Fabrizio Miccoli leveled the score in the 92nd minute and Palermo captured a draw from an otherwise poor night.

Afterward, the post-game interviews all echoed the same sentiments: Thun was farther ahead in preparation (the Swiss League is three weeks in), the opponents were more ready physically and Palermo was still adapting to the new module. The players and staff all believe in qualifying for the next round knowing that they will likely have to beat Thun in Switzerland next week. It remains to be seen whether or not an extra week of preparation will be enough to see off the Swiss side and keep their Europa hopes alive.

With an incredible amount of distractions churning around the club in the past few weeks, all those at Palermo are hoping for a return to normalcy. Pioli and his men know they cannot afford any more distractions or missteps especially with the return leg just seven short days away. The transfer market is still in full bloom, but with the imminent departure of the club’s biggest piece, Palermo may now be able to focus solely on the playing field.

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Regardless of what new-look Palermo might be, those traveling Southern Italy will find it a perfect time to see Sicily in the autumn and take Italy short breaks throughout the coming year with trips to the Pennisula to see some of the best technical football the European continent can offer.

  • Ted

    3 man backline is a disaster. i expect pioli to be fired in a month or so.

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