Serie A’s European race came to an exciting conclusion on Saturday, as the race for second spot shifted between Napoli and Roma. The Partenopei started in second, but after Roma netted at Milan had to go on the charge against Frosinone. Gonzalo Giguain’s hat-trick helped them to a Champions League group stage position.
A day later it was all about survival. Palermo sat in 17th, a point clear of Carpi. At home to already-relegated Verona, Palermo were expected to get the win required. Carpi had to go to Udinese, who had nothing to play for other than to send departing club legend Antonio Di Natale off on a high.
Controversy surrounded Verona’s trip south. Serie A’s parachute payments for relegated teams ensured Hellas stood to make more money if Palermo survived. Carpi pressured the League to keep a close eye on proceedings. But any suggestion Verona would simply lie down proved incorrect.
Palermo did win. So too Carpi. The Rosaneri survived, but only just. An awful campaign had a nerve-tingling ending, but credit should go to coach Davide Ballardini and his team for leaping the hurdles set before them from within.
This is Ballardini’s second stint on the bench, taking part in a coaching merry-go-round which made Palermo a laughing stock. His first reign took a shocking twist away to Verona in January as a major rift developed between him and the players. For all intents and purposes, captain Stefano Sorrentino led the team at the Stadio Bentegodi, while Ballardini stood emotionless on the sidelines.
They seemed to bury the hatchet and Sorrentino was one of Palermo’s stars in the latter weeks. They won three of their last five matches to survive. Enzo Maresca was another to stand up when it mattered most. Frozen out by Ballardini earlier in the season, his looping header minutes after Verona equalised sent Palermo on their way. Alberto Gilardino’s goal then sealed the win, although Verona made the last moments interesting by pulling one back.
Relief fell over the Stadio Renzo Barbera at full-time. Players, coaches and fans rejoiced at the end of a difficult season. All have endured the incomprehensible whims of President Maurizio Zamparini, which nearly took Palermo down. They went through nine different coaching stints. The team could never settle under a regime.
That they survived was testament to the willpower of the players, and Ballardini, to persevere. Carpi deserve praise for their gallant effort. But Palermo’s season must be a warning for Zamparini: such a campaign cannot be the norm.