Straight from the dark heart of Italy
As all ancient would-be conquerors would no doubt testify, you can't march on Rome without a large army. Thankfully for Palermo, they're expecting more than 30,000 fans backing them at the Italian Cup Final in the Stadio Olimpico a week on Sunday.
The Sicilians have never won anything of note and last reached the cup final back in 1979, losing in extra-time to Juventus. But the Sicilian city is at fever pitch with expectation, Rosanera flags and banners hanging on every street corner.
In fact, Palermo hasn't witnessed such unbridled fervour since promotion in 2004. The morning after the team eliminated newly-crowned Serie A champions AC Milan in the semi-final, travel agencies and internet sites were inundated with travel requests to the Eternal City, where holders Inter await.
Supporters’ clubs have organised coaches, chartered flights, booked ferries to Naples and trains up to Rome – as well as pooling resources to make the long drive to the mainland (if they take the shorter ferry via Messina it's 600 miles).
It has been, by no stretch of the imagination, a rollercoaster season for the team. And there in the middle, hanging on for dear life, is Delio Rossi – who was sacked back in February following a 7-0 humiliation at home to Udinese, only to be reinstated last month when results failed to improve under Serse Cosmi.
FEATURE Mon 28 Feb: Palermo fans regret backing boss after 7-0 home humiliation
Rossi has been put through hoops by club owner Maurizio Zamparini on a regular basis and the joke doing the rounds is that the coach’s job is safe until after the Cup final.
There is in fact more of a grain of truth in what the local wags are saying around the bars and street cafes, with reports that Zamparini has already lined up former Palermo midfielder Gian Piero Gasperini, who led Genoa into the Europa League.
It wouldn’t be the first that Rossi has won the Coppa Italia and got the boot: he led Lazio to victory over Sampdoria in a 2009 penalty shoot-out but left the Biancocelesti within a month. His relationship with president Claudio Lotito had gone so sour that Lotito hardly acknowledged Rossi’s part in the cup success – and apparently still owes him part of his unpaid contract.
It’s no wonder that the 50-year-old was left in tears and he could be welling again in a few weeks where Zamperini will no doubt be hogging the limelight. He has already stated that lifting the cup would Palermo’s very own scudetto and was more than willing to fund a summer-long party – so no pressure on Rossi and his players then.
The team may revolve around the mercurial skills of Javier Pastore but there is enough experience in the line-up with the likes of Cesare Bovo, Giulio Milgliaccio and Federico Balzaretti to match favourites Inter. The former two scored against Milan on Tuesday. Fabrizio Miccoli who will no doubt come into the equation, although there have been suggestions that Zamperini has demanded that the more bankable Abel Hernandez be given the starting role in attack – thus upping the young striker’s market value.
Rossi has been around long enough to know how the game is played, on and off the pitch – and if Zamperini thinks he can continue to manipulate his craggy but approachable coach in whatever manner he pleases, he could well be in for a surprise. “I would have no problems coaching Roma,” claimed Rossi, who once famously leapt into a Roman fountain after leading Lazio to a derby win. “I am a professional and I don’t see anything scandalous in managing Lazio’s rivals.”
With the scenes at the moment in Palermo and such statements from Rossi, this cup final could spark not only one of the most delirious celebrations ever but also one of the greatest acts of revenge in the history of Italian football.
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