Derby disappointment marks the end of Zenga’s ‘title chase’

Back in July, when Walter Zenga made the short trip from Catania to Palermo, he arrived at the court of President Maurizio Zamparini full of enthusiasm and high hopes.

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“The aim for this club should be to win the Scudetto” were the words in his presentation conference. With such statements the former Azzurri goalkeeper took everyone by surprise – could the Rosanero under Zenga, shock the football world by ending Inter’s monopoly on Serie A and claim the first Championship in their history? The answer to that question is only one – No. We are drawing to the end of November, four months have passed since Zenga’s appointment, and he has now been sacked. The campaign did indeed get off to a fantastic start, in defeating other wannabe great Napoli, Walter Zenga beat Roberto Donadoni in what was considered a match-up between two exciting young Coaches. After hitting the ground running, Zenga’s outfit began to struggle, but more then a month without a win was resolved when Palermo defeated Juventus 2-0 – Zenga had some breathing space.
For a while the win over Juventus seemed to be the turning point in the season, two more wins followed (Livorno away, Udinese home) and some fans may have hoped Zenga’s unreal pursuit of the title was back on track.

However, the team were not built for such consistency and the frailty of their back-line was exposed a month ago in a trip to the champions Inter, five goals conceded marked the beginning of the end for the Coach’s reign. Since that San Siro hiding the islanders have failed to win and defeat to Bologna was undoubtedly an unforgivable low point. Irony would have it that Zenga’s last game in charge of the Aquilotti came against his old club Catania in the Sicilian derby. Yesterday it ended in a draw, a result that was good enough to save the job of opposite manager Gianluca Atzori and to earn the sack for Walter Zenga.

The game started in the best way for the home side – Giulio Migliaccio took a mere four minutes to find the net, yet the visitors seemed to be oblivious of going behind and carried on attacking, front-men Takayuki Morimoto and Giuseppe Mascara just lacking the adequate support from the rest of the side. At half-time the script was very different, it would have seemed Zenga would survive and Atzori would be packing his bags. But the latter did all but despair, and Catania came out transformed from a 3-5-2 to a 4-4-2 that morphed constantly into a 4-3-3 – Christian Terlizzi and Ciro Capuano were taken off to make way for Ezequiel Llama and Jorge Martinez, the second of the two scored the equaliser 10 minutes into the second half. It was the 18th time Zenga’s side conceded this campaign and a single point in such a big game lead the fans to protesting the side at the sound of the final whistle. Maybe because of the magnitude of the occasion – Palermo-Catania is the Sicilian Derby and sparks a fierce rivalry between the clubs – but the loss of two further points at the Stadio Barbera left President Zamparini with no other option but to send Zenga packing only 13 games into his Palermo career. Undoubtedly the Press conferences of the summer and the hopes of a Tricolore must be haunting the once great goalkeeper now as he changes his status to unemployed.

Zenga is the seventh managerial casualty of the season (Marco Baroni relieved of his tempory charge of Siena shortly after to make eight). As the news of Zenga’s sacking was only made official yesterday morning both he and the President are yet to speak of the matter to the Press. Palermo’s website issued a statement simply declaring that the club was grateful for Walter’s efforts as they alleviated him of his duties. Within hours the site announced the capture of former Lazio boss Delio Rossi to an 18-month contract and in his first few games will face a trip away to Chievo, a home game to Cagliari and then another massive game with Milan.

Walter Zenga’s dismissal is once again proof of the cut-throat environment that is Serie A and how Coaches are easily disposed of. Palermo’s situation is no better now than it was 13 games into last season – even at that stage did the side boast 17 points. But this time fans were beginning to call for a change as the side clearly struggled to find goals and results and one can’t help but feel that Zenga’s attitude and arrogance when he took over from Davide Ballardini ended up playing against him when things started to get tough. Zenga will be missed as he was surely one of the most flamboyant and excitable managers on the touch-line this season, but with such a market, this writer doesn’t think it will be long before we see him again.

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