Palermo: Zamparini fails to realise the irony of his mad-cap reign with the Rosanero

Since Maurizio Zamparini assumed the presidency of Palermo back in 2002, there have been 27 different managerial changes at a club that is becoming the poster child for short-termism. The latest man to step up to the job is Giuseppe Sannino, the coach with whom Palermo started the season.

Since his sacking in September, Gian Piero Gasperini has had two stints either side of Alberto Malesani’s 19 days at the club as Zamparini has gone full circle back to Sannino, the man who he sacked after just 3 games.

Take a second to get your head around that, if you can. You can’t even find a club in England, where the season’s sack toll hit 40 on Monday with Brian McDermott’s exit at Reading, that can rival Palermo for such a revolving door approach to management. This season, they have had more managers, 4, than wins, 3. In 24 years in control of Venezia and now Palermo, Zamparini has announced a sacking on a grand total of 51 occasions.

With any sense of stability booted through the back door as anarchy rules at the Stadio Renzo Barbera, the Rosanero look set to return to Serie B nine years after returning to Serie A after a 30 year absence, achieving Zamparini’s aim just two years into his reign.

League positions haven’t been bad, they have finished in the top half six times and reached the UEFA Cup on three occasions. They even finished runners-up in the Coppa Italia of 2011, yet none of this seemed to quell the owner’s enthusiasm for rash over-reaction and devotion to madness.

To best summarise the lunacy, after finishing 16th last year, Zamparini ushered in a staff revolution. Giorgio Parinetti was made Director of Sport while Patricio Tuebal was appointed Marketing Director to supplement Sannino’s arrival from Siena. By September, both Sannino and his sporting director had gone.

Gasperini was promised a squad upheaval together with his new chief Pietro La Monaco but four days after the January transfer window, they were both fired. Incredibly, back came Parinetti, but his favourite players had already departed, desperate to find a lifeboat out of a sinking ship.

It was Zamparini who once declared the “people of Palermo love me” moments after stepping out of a police escort through a baying crowd of angry, disillusioned fans on his way to yet another manager presentation. The spitting and the shouting then seeming not to register with the sheer stubbornness of the owner just as now does the realisation that he is slowly running out of people to blame for the club’s demise.

A series of empty threats have previously stemmed from a president who has often claimed to be tired of the arguments over the stadium, Palermo have constantly targeted a move to their own ground, the fines and poor officiating enough to want to sell the club. Now is surely the time to do it as there is surely nothing else to do but point the finger of responsibility at himself, all other avenues have been exhausted.

Gasperini sacked as Palermo manager..... twice.

Gasperini sacked as Palermo manager….. twice.

He will point to the investment he has attracted, the players he has seen pass through the club to a profit, Antonio Nocerino, Javier Pastore, Simon Kjaer, Salvatore Sirigu and Edinson Cavani to name a few, and the long-awaited return to Serie A to indicate the positive influence he has had on the Rosanero.

Yet now, it has become perfectly obvious that Zamperini’s stubbornness and his irresistibly itchy trigger finger have become the primary source of Palermo’s implosion.

One can only hazard a guess at how many more managers Zamparini will skim through before he finally realises that they will not progress until they find stability. At the moment, the very person blocking any chance of finding that elusive quality is the man blaming everybody else but himself.

It is time for Zamparini to be the one to be sacked, however, he won’t, so brace yourselves for more madness from the island of Sicily.


Written by Adam Gray

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Adam’s Premier League Column: Red-Hot Liverpool Stun In-Form Spurs

The surprise of this week came on Monday 11 March when Brian McDermott left his post as Reading manager. Despite the clubs recent slump in form, McDermott won January’s ‘Manager of the Month’ award and led the club to four successive victories in 2013.

There are many managers that have been linked with the job and my personal favourite would be Roberto Di Matteo. He’s been out of the game since leaving Stamford Bridge and he’d be a great candidate to attempt to keep Reading up. Other possibilities may be Mark Hughes, Nigel Adkins or even Paolo Di Canio. I don’t believe that Adkins is the man to keep them up as he’d be better taking over a team at the end of a season where he could purchase some more players.

Paolo could be a great move for the club, although, with his well-known ‘radical’ personality, he may prove to just be too big a risk! Hughes wouldn’t be a bad signing although I can’t see him taking charge at the Madejski Stadium as I’m sure he’ll be eyeing up other possible jobs.


Top Three Games of the Weekend


Liverpool 3 Tottenham 2

This was to prove a telling tale of who is better- Suarez or Bale? The latter failed to make a telling impact on this much anticipated tie between two clubs eyeing a European spot.

The former opened the scoring with a superbly taken goal. In fact, it was one of the goals of the season. Coutinho, who looks to be a promising acquisition, passed the ball to full-back Jose Enrique. He then played an inch-perfect pass into the path of the on-running Luis Suarez who poked home through the smallest of openings.

With the advantage in their favour, they spurned a couple of chances before Spurs centre-back Jan Vertonghen headed in a wonderful in-swinging cross from Gareth Bale, only his second assist of the season, to level on the stroke of half-time.

Eight minutes after the interval, Vertonghen then put Spurs’ noses in front after he sorted his feet out well to score on the half-volley.

Liverpool were never going to go down without a fight and, shooting towards the passionate Kop End, Downing took advantage of Tottenham’s misunderstanding. Kyle Walker’s short back-pass was met my goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, only for his clearance to hit Downing. The Englishmen then calmly slotted the ball into the net, despite Spurs’ best efforts to clear.

Then, eight minutes from time, the game turned on its head. Jermain Defoe’s attempted over-head clearance caught his toes and instead fell into his own box, leaving the defence with no other option than to foul their man. Captain Stevie G was left with the small task of converting from the penalty spot to grab a much needed three points. Spurs showed that they need to cancel out a few defensive errors which penultimately cost them this match.

I have no doubt that AVB will be disappointed but there are some positives to take away from that, for sure.


Queens Park Rangers 3 Sunderland 1

This was an important win for Harry Redknapp’s side who are in desperate need of points in order to avoid relegation. After his recent success at former club Southampton, Rangers went into this game with some confidence. Home games are crucial for any team and, when you’re fighting for every point, they are even more so important. However, they had to do this after falling 1-0 behind.

It was Steven Fletcher who guided in Adam Johnson’s drilled cross to give the away side, who aren’t cruising in the league either, a welcomed cushion.

Loic Remy scored his third goal for QPR to level the score line. It then took two magnificent goals to hand Rangers the three points. Andros Townsend, on-loan from Redknapp’s former employers Tottenham, scored a venomous wonder-goal from all of 22 yards. Then Jenas, also on-loan from Spurs, scored an equally good goal, this time from just outside the box, as he rifled home a scorcher past the helpless Mignolet.

Black Cats boss Martin O’Neil has been struggling this season and, in my eyes, they’re a better team than what they are currently showing. They should be battling in the top-half of the table and not sitting in fourteenth, looking over their shoulders. Work needs to be done at the Stadium of Light, or he could well face the boot.


Newcastle 2 Stoke 1

Sunday’s earlier fixture saw Alan Pardew’sToons, who are flying high in UEFA’s Europa League, face Stoke City who aren’t, of late, doing too well.

However, it was the visitors who took the lead after a goalless first-half. Jon Walters was fouled as Cheick Tiote came unnecessarily charging in in the penalty box. It was Walters who calmly dispatched the penalty on sixty seven minutes. It took a matter of five minutes for the home side to draw level. Newcastle were awarded a free-kick right on the edge of the area and, with a short-run up, was converted into the top corner by French-man Yohan Cabaye.

Stoke then went missing for the remainder of the match, and in the final minutes, their defence completely switched off. Papiss Demba Cisse was played through, and he was left with the task to swivel and smash home to earn the three points for the home outfit.

Toons manager Alan Pardew said on the victory: “It’s difficult to quantify [how important it is]. It was a tight game. Stoke were excellent. Every question we asked they had an answer for. We were a bit tired in our minds in the first half, not sharp in our thinking.

“We changed from the bench. Marveaux pops up with an eye-of-the-needle pass for Papiss to win it for us. It’s a massive win. We go home in a much different situation than we would have been if it hadn’t gone in.”


My Team of the Week


Written by Adam May

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Gael Bigirimana: More Than An Amazing Story

For someone who lived the first 11 years of his life in fear, Gaël Bigirimana has surprised many with his selfless attitude and optimism. Since arriving in England from war-torn Burundi, via Uganda, Bigirimana’s life story thus far has amazed all who’ve read about it. However, he is more than just a “fairytale-esque story of humble beginnings”.


Humble Beginnings

Gaël Bigirimana left his homeland (Burundi) as a refugee during a civil war, with the Burundi Government fighting against the rebel forces. Gaël’s mother fled first, making her way to Coventry, England, where the Bigirimana family would be reunited 4 years later.

Walking to the supermarket with his brother, Gaël spotted Coventry City’s youth academy. The determined youngster, then aged 11, went over the next day to ask for a trial. Though Coventry scouts were forced to turn him down, they were so impressed with the turn of pace he showed as he left the training facility that they made sure they gave him a chance.

In Gaël Bigirimana’s own words (in an interview with BBC Sport):

“They asked if I had all the equipment, boots, shin pads and stuff like that. I said ‘yes’ but I did not. They said they saw me running fast but to tell you the truth I was jogging. The next day they gave me a trial. It was near the end of the season but they took me on for the following campaign. It must have been a miracle.”


Coming good at Coventry City

After signing youth forms at Coventry City in 2005, Bigirimana developed so well that, aged 16, he was named on the 1st team’s bench for a League Cup tie against Morecambe. In that same 2010/11 season, he again made the bench - this time in a Championship fixture away to eventually-promoted Norwich City.

With such progress, he naturally signed a professional contract in the summer of 2011. After being involved in the 1st team’s pre-season preparations ahead of the 2011/12 season, Bigirimana made his debut on the 8th of August 2011, playing every minute of a 0-1 home defeat to Leicester City.

Bigirimana - who made an impressive total of 28 appearances that season - proceeded to play at such a level that he was named the Championship’s “2012 Apprentice of the Year”, beating off competition from other highly-rated youngsters - most prominently Jonathan Williams (of Crystal Palace) and Jordan Obita (of Reading).

In his 2011/12 debut season at Coventry, the Sky Blues were relegated from the League One, finishing 2nd from bottom. Considering that Coventry had been involved in relegation fights for the previous few campaigns, the fact that then manager Andy Thorn was willing to place his faith in an 18-year-old Bigirimana speaks volumes of the Burundi youngster’s maturity.

After all, the Championship has been referred to as “the hardest league to get out of and the hardest league to stay in”. It is most definitely not a league where just about any raw youngster can be thrown into and expected to survive, let alone shine.


Big step up

After such an impressive debut season, it was of no surprise that Coventry were not able to keep hold of Bigirimana, especially after their relegation. Newcastle United snapped him up for a relative bargain fee - rumoured to be between £500k and £1 million.

“Bigi has done really well. He has impressed us. He has come in from Coventry with a season of first-team football under his belt at 18. He is exactly the type of player we should be bringing to Newcastle United. And he will get better here – 100%. Oh, and he gets Bigi as a nickname being as he’s 5ft 4in! He has looked really fine in training with guys who are at a higher level than he’s been used to. Bigi has looked really good and that’s great credit to him.”

- Newcastle boss Alan Pardew on Gaël Bigirimana after Newcastle’s pre-season preparations.


Despite low expectations of Bigirimana’s 1st season on Tyneside, in the sense that he wouldn’t be a 1st team regular, he has gone on to make 23 1st team Premier League appearances at the time of writing. ‘Bigi’ has held his own over the course of this 2012/13 campaign, be it in the UEFA Europa League or in the English Premier League, scoring 1 goal - a brilliant strike from outside the box against Wigan Athletic - in the process.

Want an example of Bigirimana at his current best? That came in a pulsating fixture - A 4-3 loss at Old Trafford, where he held his own in central midfield before being replaced in the 65th minute. The fact that his direct opponents that day were Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick simply makes it all the more impressive.



(2012/13 stats from WhoScored, accurate till the time of writing)

Bigirimana is not afraid to put in a shift defensively and “get stuck in”, with per game averages of 1.3 tackles, 0.9 interceptions and 1 clearance. Additionally, ‘Bigi’ has, per game, blocked 0.3 shots and has been dribbled past just 0.6 times. Though he might not be the biggest of players, he has won an average of 0.4 aerial duels per game. Qualitatively, the Burundi youngster has the pace, aggression and tenacity needed to survive and, possibly, thrive in the Premier League.

Offensively, ‘Bigi’ has shown his talent. This season alone, he has averaged (per game) 0.9 key passes. Though he has shown his inexperience at times, such as losing the ball 0.5-0.6 times per game, that should improve with experience.

An overall passing accuracy of 87.7%, is a startling statistic for a young debutant in the English top flight.

Holistically, Gaël Bigirimana has shown that he has the potential to be a good box-to-box central midfielder - what with his high energy levels, tenacity, work ethic and willingness to get forward et al.


Look to the future

Where his future at International level is concerned, Bigirimana could play for England, Rwanda or Burundi. Currently without any international caps to his name, not even at youth level, perhaps England should call him up at U21 level to take a good look at his current ability and potential. Though he might end up playing for Rwanda or Burundi, it’d be a win-win situation for both England and Gaël Bigirimana as they’d possibly gain a future senior international while he’d gain more valuable experience regardless.

Having looked at his career thus far, I’d say that ‘Bigi’ could develop into a consistent Europa League-standard midfielder. With the plan at Newcastle United being consistent qualification for at least the Europa League, and having looked at the Newcastle squad, Bigirimana could eventually become a stalwart player in the Toon’s central midfield. My expectation is that his peak years will be spent plying his trade on the hallowed turf of St James’ Park.

Then again, I could be wrong and Bigirimana goes on to feature regularly in the UEFA Champions League, be it for Newcastle or a bigger club.

Considering all that he’s been through thus far in his fledgling football career and, more importantly, his life, anything is possible for this Burundi Footballer.

As has been seen, this God-fearing (young) man will face all challenges head-on, with a ‘Bigi’ smile on his face.


Written by Mark Ooi

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