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US Palermo – Looking For Stability February 2017 should have mark the end of an era in Palermo when Maurizio Zamparini stepped down as chairman of Palermo after 15 years in charge with over 40 managerial changes. It was first announced he had agreed to sell his controlling stake to an unspecified Anglo-American fund. But the takeover eventually collapsed after the necessary funds were not in place and Palermo ended the season in 19th place, being relegated to Serie B. The instability continued the next season and probably cost Palermo an immediate promotion back to the top flight. For the 2018/2019 Serie B season, Palermo even found themselves forced to sell a number of players due to financial issues, with Antonino La Gumina sold to Empoli and Igor Coronado to Sharjah FC. This is where I come in or more precisely Giuseppe Iachini, a former player midfielder for Palermo who also coached them two times between 2013 and 2016. During his tenure, he won his personal fourth top flight promotion, guiding Palermo to be crowned Serie B champions five matches before the end of season. The goal will obviously be to repeat this achievement but also to simply survive Zamparini’s madness.
Zion Goodman and Leonida Damone were born in Congo and Sicily, respectively. Both were born to extreme poverty and their biological parents were forced to give them up for abortion. They ended up at the same family in Bordeaux, France, where they were taken good care of by a lovely couple. Goodman and Damone shared a passion for football throughout their childhood and both got their chance at professionalism, but more on that later.
***** "It will be nice to have you around, have a regular life.."....that;s what my wife said to me three months ago when I arrived home shortly after leaving my last job by "mutual consent" at Wrexham aka The Dragons. I could write several paragraphs about the term "mutual consent" and how my departure from a very successful spell at Wrexham came to an end but that is another story. Suffice to say I left with a decent reputation, Wrexham in the Premier League but perhaps not the infrastructure to stay there nor the best of relationships with the Chairman. Anyway...we move on. During my break we decided to take a family holiday to Sicily. Well..a holiday that would also include a evenings work as a speaker at a Sports Conference Dinner which my agent had neatly setup for me. Sicily has been on my "todo" list for a long time. From it's rugged terrain, deep history, it's fascinating people and also it's connections to the darker elements of life so our trip there would certainly create some great memories. The Sports Conference was a three day affair with my slot on the third and final evening with a speech titled "Building the Dream...Harnessing the Passion" or if you want that in more a businesslike way.."Resource Management and Managing Expectation. I think I prefer the former. Now you might wonder how is a Englishman who has managed a Welsh Club for six years going to communicate with a room full of Sicilian's. Well it is easy if you know that for the last two years my No2 at Wrexham (and now the manager) was Italian and helped me learn enough of the language to get by. Family life also has a Italian influence with our home help heralding from Amalfi region. So as a family we would often have conversations in Italian to keep the mind working! So a few days into our break and several practise runs of my speech I was as prepared as I could be for the thirty minute speech I was booked to deliver after dinner. My agent was also in attendance having flown out earlier that day. The speech started well enough as I "broke the ice" with few light-hearted anecdotes about my early days in football management including the one about the fans forum and the West Highland Terrier. I moved onto more serious topics from understanding not only the culture and history of a club but of the area and the people who support it. By forging that connection you can see a bond emerge between the player and club that goes beyond financial reward. With that bond in place the wins mean so much more while the losses can motivate the squad to dig deep and find that extra effort when you really need it. When you see the flicker of passion in a players eyes you can then start to build a dream for them, the club and ultimately the fans. Now that dream might simply be winning two on the bounce or a far grander aspiration. as it became with Wrexham to move up the leagues. When a core group of players share the dream it makes the managers job a little easier as their passion and ambition extend until it envelops the squad. Having a stable core as we did for many seasons at Wrexham allowed us to achieve what we did - play in the world's most demanding league and hold our own against our peers. Bringing the topic of the speech around to everyday realities I explain to my audience that footballers must remain humble and grounded. It's the foundation, in my view, of mental strength. Are we ever more humble than when we admit to making a mistake? Taking responsibility for our actions is a fading trait in the modern world. I would always ask my players to be nothing less than honest if they made a mistake on the pitch or in their personal lives. We all sleep better at night if we know we have done right by ourselves and other people that day - don't we? I never protected my players from the consequences of those mistakes but would support them in dealing with the "fallout" as best I could. My themes of passion, dreams, ambition and mental strength earned a polite ripple of applause as is customary at such events when I concluded my speech. On reflection, my agent told me later, it boarded on standing on a "soapbox" but was well received. In the minutes following my speech I circulated the room with introductions to many people including the current President of Palermo FC who via my agent invited me for a tour of the club later that week. Many handshakes later I sat in the passenger seat of my agents hire car as he drove me back to my hotel. There was a silence but one I had heard before and would be broken by one word from him..."Well.."...he said. I looked across as the motorway lights zipped past. "What?" I replied. "You know they are thinking about getting a new manager in don't you?" I knew enough about the current league position of the club, the Presidents habit of moving managers when things were not going right but the one fact that stood out to me was his commitment to the club. I hadn't been naive enough not to do a little research into Palermo FC before coming on holiday. A little habit of mine was to also understand what football clubs close by a holiday spot much to the frustration of my family on more than one occasion when I mysteriously appeared with a handful of tickets for some obscure match or another. "There is more to it than that." I said. "Much more..for one they have a manager and the family is settled in Wales with school and all." "Interesting..."...just a single word of reply. "What do you mean?" "Well..you didn't say no and already thinking of the barriers to saying yes and no doubt working out how to get over them." "You've known me a long time Frank. You know how my mind works. Let me enjoy the next few days of holiday, bounce this off Jo and have chat before we go down to the club on Sunday?". "Sure. Listen I have to head back to England in the morning but will get a flight back here on Saturday. Let's get together on Saturday evening. In the meantime do you want me to gather some info on the club so we are not completely blind?" "Yeah...no harm in it.." ***** To be continued.