Nobody does madness quite like Maurizio Zamparini. Football has always had its fair share of crackpot club owners (who could ever forgot Perugia’s Luciano Gaucci?) but nobody, not even Venky’s, can match Zampa in 2011. Palermo’s owner is the biggest Mangiaallenatori (“manager-eater”) in calcio (having gone through 30+ managers in his career), and is one of the most outspoken men on the peninsula.
A retail tycoon, Zamparini first dipped his toes into football in 1987 when he bought Serie C2 side Venezia. Zamparini and his money brought Venezia from the fourth-tier all the way to Serie A, and it’s telling of Zampra’s contribution (and resources) that the Venice side have slumped all the way to Serie D (non-league) without his backing. Zamparini left Venezia in 2002, and the club have been a non-entity ever since.
He bought Palermo in the same year and announced his plans to take the second-tier Rosanero back into Serie A. Zamparini achieved his goal in 2004, and Palermo have been a formidable upper-midtable side since.
Lets get this out of the way early: Zamparini has done a lot of good for Palermo. He’s taken the Aquile to new heights with excellent league finishes (three fifths and one sixth in Serie A), multiple European campaigns and last season’s Coppa Italia final. Palermo wouldn’t be where they are today without Zampa’s support, but the eccentric owner is considered one of the most ridiculous men in calcio for a number of reasons.
Never afraid to speak his mind, Zamparini will defend his club to the hilt. If he feels Palermo have been wronged, Zampa will take to the press and make his feelings known immediately. More often than not, however, this can work to Palermo’s detriment (see below for examples).
Zamparini is all too willing to openly criticise his subordinates in the public. Some of his rants against popular ex-coach Delio Rossi were particularly vile, given the excellent job Rossi did at Palermo, and he frequently criticises those he feels are underperforming.
In 2008 he famously likened Palermo to “a team of girls, not men” after a defeat to Torino. I can’t imagine why he thinks saying things like this is a good idea. In the dressing room or on the training ground, fine, say whatever you want, but in public? Such outbursts, to me, demonstrate a complete lack of professionalism that can only destabilise a squad. Constructive criticism is useful, but vitriolic tirades are completely unproductive.
He has threatened to leave Palermo on numerous occasions, most recent in August. Palermo fans jeered their team following a friendly loss to 10-man Fenerbahce, as they’re entitled to do, and Zamparini threw his toys out of the pram. “I am beginning to think that I am stinking-up Palermo,” he said, “I think this’ll be my last night as president.”
On the surface this looks like Zamparini taking responsibility for the Aquile’s failings. To me, it’s a childish outburst from a man desperate for this around him to molly-coddle his ego, kiss his backside and say “no Zampa, it’s not your fault.” And all this over a friendly? Tsk, tsk.
If Zamparini is known for anything, however, it’s his trigger-happy nature when dealing with managers. He’s gone through an extraordinary amount of managers in his time, and his patience isn’t showing signs of improving any time soon. The Aquile, for example, have changed managers 19 times since Zampa’s takeover. That’s an average of more than twice a season that would be far higher if not for Rossi’s two-year reign.
Last season was a complete fiasco. Rossi was fired after a freak 7-0 loss to Udinese and replaced by Serse Cosmi, the eccentric ex-Livorno coach. Cosmi lasted just four games, and was dismissed after a 4-0 loss to Palermo’s Sicilian rivals Catania, and guess who replaced him? Delio Rossi, the man who Zamparini had accused of “ruining” Palermo just five weeks prior.
Then there’s the case of Stefano Pioli. The ex-Chievo coach is known as a mean defensive tactician, and was brought in on June 2nd, 2001 to shore-up Palermo’s notoriously leaky defence. Pioli was fired in August before the domestic season had even started (he had just two Europa League qualifying draws with FC Thun to his name), and why? Because Zamparini “had a feeling he was going to get us (Palermo) relegated.”
This has been going on for a while. Current Udinese boss Francesco Guidolin has had four different stints in-charge of Palermo, none of which have lasted longer than a year. First firing Guidloin in December 2004, Zamparini said “he has no future here,” then proceeded to bring him back to the club on three further occasions. Does anybody else see a pattern emerging here?
It’s amazing that Palermo have achieved such success without any continuity on the manager’s office. Italian clubs aren’t known for giving managers time, but the Aquile have had four different managers in 2011 alone. New-boy Devis Mangia has had an excellent start to the season and looks to be in Zamparini’s good books, but history suggests that it won’t be long before the young coach falls foul of the volatile owner.
Personally, I think Zamparini is great entertainment. It’s easy to say that from a distance, though: if I was a Palermo supporter, I suspect I’d have a different opinion. That he’s done a lot of good for Palermo is undeniable, but who would want such a brash, explosive character attached to their club? For now, however, I will continue to “enjoy” Zampa’s mad antics from afar.
Zampa’s Greatest Quotes
“Rossi has a one per cent chance of staying on the bench, you can bet on that. The team has been completely destroyed. He ruined my Palermo… I should’ve kicked Rossi out at Christmas.” – on Delio Rossi, one of Palermo’s most popular coaches of all-time, after a freak 7-0 loss to Udinese last season. Rossi was fired shortly after.
“Changing coaches was a mistake on my part for which I ask Palermo’s fans to forgive me. I rediscovered my belief in Rossi because he is an excellent coach.” – five weeks later, Rossi was reappointed and Zamparini was backtracking.
“I will cut off their testicles and eat them in my salad.” – on Palermo’s players after a particularly poor 2003 when the club were still in Serie B.
“I didn’t mean to offend Adrian Mutu when I called him a crafy, little gypsy.” – Zampa’s way of apologising for a borderline racist rant against Mutu in 2007, when the Romanian striker had scored against Palermo (who had a man down injured).
“The English are pirates.” – on rich English clubs poaching talented Italian youngsters before they have a chance to mature in their home country.
“We should put all of the referees in prison.” – English clubs, take note: this is how you criticise a referee. Zampa unleashes on match officials after a 3-1 loss to Cagliari in January. Alessandro Matri’s Cagliari opener was clearly offside, and Zampa demanded an apology (which he didn’t receive) from the referee designators.
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