Relegation fears turn focus on trigger-happy Palermo president

Milan (AFP) – Jokes about Maurizio Zamparini’s notoriously twitchy trigger finger abound, but the prospect of relegation for Palermo has switched the focus on the Serie A club owner’s penchant for sacking coaches. 

Barely 15 games into the season Palermo are on their third coach after Zamparini appointed Eugenio Corini last week to replace Roberto De Zerbi, who succeeded Davide Ballardini only two weeks into the campaign.

Zamparini, a 75-year-old businessman from Udine, is so notorious in Italy that Twitter pranksters quipped this week he was to blame for the downfall of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who resigned following a referendum vote.

They posted a picture of a serious-looking Zamparini with the message: “It’s not true that Renzi resigned. Zamparini sacked him.”

For the man who was so unhappy with his team in 2003 he threatened to castrate the players and use their testicles as toppings in his salad, even sacking Renzi is beyond his reach.

But 13 years on from that threat, Palermo, a club that developed stars like Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Javier Pastore (Paris Saint Germain) and Paulo Dybala (Juventus), are no closer to lifting a trophy.

In 2011 a Palermo side led by Delio Rossi beat Parma and AC Milan on their way to the Italian Cup final at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, where an estimated 40,000-50,000 Sicilians travelled from all over Italy to see holders Inter Milan win 3-1.

Amazingly, their Cup run saw Zamparini sack Rossi following a 7-0 rout by Udinese in February, only to recall him a month later when his successor, Serse Cosmi, lost the Sicilian derby against Catania.

Months before then, Zamparini had even blasted Rossi for having “no balls” after a 1-1 draw with 10-man Bari.

Corini, hopefully, has read the small print in his contract.

– ’36 coaches since 2002′ –

By rough estimates he is the 36th appointment to be made since Zamparini took control in 2002, a tally which includes the coaches, such as Francesco Guidolin (four), Ballardini (three) and Giuseppe Iachini (two), who took the helm, were sacked and returned for more punishment.

Although Palermo registered a new club record of seven consecutive league defeats under De Zerbi, he was sacked following defeat on penalties to Serie B side La Spezia in the fourth round of the Italian Cup.

“I was forced to sack De Zerbi,” Zamparini told Naples-based Radio Kiss Kiss the day after La Spezia set up a juicy last 16 tie with Napoli.

“I’d sent him a message saying not to worry about the (upcoming) Fiorentina game, and to focus on rediscovering the team. Instead, he played the reserves.”

De Zerbi, according to reports, is now attempting to sue Zamparini for refusing to honour the pledge of a sizeable pay-off in the event of his sacking.

But Zamparini, who once labelled English clubs “pirates” for allegedly pillaging young players before they had a chance to sign professional contracts, retaliated in clinical fashion.

“I’m sure he did it to get sacked,” Zamparini said of De Zerbi’s team selection for Palermo’s doomed Cup tie.

“So I will seek termination of his contract for gross misconduct.”

Corini, a former Palermo captain who helped the Sicilians to the Serie B title in 2004, was hired thanks to him helping turn Chievo’s fortunes around in one of his first coaching spells, although Zamparini admitted only he and Ballardini were “on the market”.

The 46-year-old Corini was seconds away from beginning his spell in charge by ending Palermo’s streak of defeats, until Fiorentina striker Khouma Babacar headed a last-gasp goal to secure a 2-1 win on Monday.

Palermo host Chievo on Sunday, but on the day of his appointment Corini, unsurprisingly, admitted his six-month deal is purely performance-related. 

“I have a contract until the end of the season, and I will only have an extension if we survive (relegation),” he said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

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