Not too long ago, U.S. Città di Palermo looked destined to become a major player in Italian football.
The most successful period in the club’s recent history occurred just over a decade ago, when straight after achieving promotion to Serie A they secured three consecutive top-six finishes in the top flight, consequently bringing continental football to the Stadio Renzo Barbera for the first time ever.
While the Rosanero certainly overachieved, their team had more than a sprinkling of star quality. Luca Toni led the line expertly, netting 20 goals in 2004/05 (their first season back in the big time) before moving on to Fiorentina, while four of their players – Cristian Zaccardo, Fabio Grosso, Andrea Barzagli and Simone Barone – all lifted the World Cup in 2006 with Italy.
Given their success, Palermo became a feeder club to bigger teams across Europe.
Initially, they succeeded in replacing their top stars by signing young, unproven players from relatively untapped talent pools around the world who flourished in Serie A.
Palermo’s success in the transfer market began to diminish, though, leading to a sharp decline on the pitch. In the space of a few short years, Rosanero went from challenging for Europe to scrapping it out at the foot of the table and their relegation in 2012/13 had more than a hint of inevitability about it.
Although they bounced straight back up and finished comfortably in mid-table in their first season back, the 2015/16 season saw them struggle into 16th before slipping out of the division with a whimper in 2016/17.
They have been in the Italian second-tier ever since. But had they managed to keep their star players together, they could well be fighting it out at the top end of Serie A, and here’s a line-up to prove it…
Goalkeeper: Salvatore Sirigu
Palermo apps: 80
Current club: Torino
Salvatore Sirigu progressed through Palermo’s youth ranks and established himself as the club’s No.1 shot-stopper during the 2009-10 season.
The Italian international only played regularly for two years but his performances attracted the attention of PSG, who made him one of their first acquisitions after being taken over in 2011.
In Paris, Sirigu lifted 13 trophies but after losing his place in the side two seasons ago he joined La Liga strugglers Osasuna following an unproductive six-month stint at Sevilla and is now at Torino.
Centre Back: Andrea Barzagli
Palermo apps: 165
Current club: Juventus
It took a while for Andrea Barzagli to make his mark in professional football and it was with Palermo that he truly began to blossom into one of Italy’s best defenders during a four-year spell.
He won his first international cap for Italy while donning Palermo’s colours and after helping them consolidate as a top-half team in Serie A, he left for Wolfsburg in 2008. There he won the Bundesliga (alongside Cristian Zaccardo) in his first season.
As of 2011, he has been a mainstay of Juventus’ all-conquering team, forming a virtually impenetrable defensive unit alongside Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. However, his time as a footballer is almost up, retiring at the end of the season.
Centre Back: Kamil Glik
Palermo apps: 4
Current club: AS Monaco
The towering Polish defender spent a year with Real Madrid’s C team in his younger days but it was while playing for Piast Gliwice in his homeland that Kamil Glik came to the attention of Palermo’s scouts.
Strangely, though, Glik struggled to make an impression in Sicily, featuring in only four games for the club, which led to a permanent move to Torino just a year later, following a loan spell at Bari.
During a five-year spell in Turin, Glik became one of Serie A’s most dominant defenders, leading to a move to ambitious Ligue 1 side AS Monaco three years ago.
He was Ligue 1’s top-scoring defender in 2016/17 with six goals, helping Monaco win the title.
Centre Back: Simon Kjaer
Palermo apps: 65
Current club: Sevilla
Another big, powerful, beast of a defender, Palermo spotted Simon Kjaer’s potential before anyone else, signing him from the progressive Danish club FC Midtjylland in 2008 when he was a teenager.
Replacing Barzagli was a daunting task but it was one that the Danish international relished, immediately impressing at the heart of Palermo’s defence and becoming one of the most sought-after defenders in Europe in the process – as well as Danish Player of the Year in 2009.
Coincidentally, he made the same move as the man he replaced by joining Wolfsburg and he has since worn the colours for Roma, Lille, Fenerbahce and now Sevilla.
Right Midfield: Matteo Darmian
Palermo apps: 16
Current club: Manchester United
Matteo Darmian graduated from AC Milan’s Primavera side in 2006 but given the world-class quality the club possessed in their ranks at the time, he was unable to force his way into the first-team reckoning.
Eventually, he decided to move on to pastures new, joining Palermo in 2010 where he made 11 Serie A appearances in his debut campaign. Just as with Glik, though, he was allowed to join Torino after just one year.
While at Torino, Darmian developed into one of Serie A’s most effective full-backs, earning international recognition with Italy as well as a transfer to Manchester United.
Centre Midfield: Javier Pastore
Palermo apps: 82
Current club: Roma
Palermo’s scouting network was noticeably enhanced after they had consolidated their status as a Serie A club, with South America, in particular, becoming a region increasingly targeted by the club for top young talent.
In 2009, they secured the services of the little-known Javier Pastore, who had impressed while playing for small Argentine clubs Talleres and Huracan. An extremely gifted playmaker possessing exceptional vision, Pastore adapted seamlessly to Italian football, becoming the star of the Palermo team.
Unfortunately for them, Palermo could only hang on to Pastore for two seasons as he became the first big-money signing made by PSG after their takeover, travelling to Paris at the same time as Sirigu. Pastore won a raft of trophies for the Ligue 1 giants but never truly established himself in the first team, eventually departing for AS Roma last summer.
Centre Midfield: Franco Vazquez
Palermo apps: 109
Current club: Sevilla
A year after selling Pastore, Palermo once again looked to the Argentine top flight for his replacement, landing Franco Vazquez from Belgrano in a similarly under-the-radar deal.
Initially, Vazquez struggled to fill the Pastore-shaped hole in midfield and strikingly there were no real suitors for his signature when Palermo suffered relegation in 2014.
However, he flourished upon their return to the top tier the following year and was eventually sold to Sevilla in 2016, where he is a regular.
Subscribe to Squawka’s Youtube channel here.
Left Midfield: Josip Ilicic
Palermo apps: 107
Current club: Atalanta
Palermo’s search for undervalued players has led them to scour the Slovenian league for signings and undoubtedly the most successful recruit from Italy’s neighbouring country is the talented forward, Josip Ilicic.
Possessing a hammer of a left foot, Ilicic starred for Palermo for three seasons, scoring 25 goals and registering 18 assists in just over a century of appearances.
The powerful forward’s form didn’t go unnoticed and in 2013, he moved on, joining Fiorentina, where he became an integral member of the team before moving to Atalanta in the summer of 2017.
Forward: Paulo Dybala
Palermo apps: 93
Current club: Juventus
Palermo’s pursuit of Paulo Dybala was a protracted one but, eventually, they managed to complete his capture in the summer of 2012, spending a club-record £10m to sign him from Argentine second division club Instituto.
The club’s eccentric chairman Maurizio Zamparini labelled his new signing the ‘next Sergio Aguero’ but initially Dybala struggled with the weight of expectation on his young shoulders.
Similarly to Vazquez, he found his top form in Serie B before carrying that into Serie A, where his goalscoring prowess and intelligent displays convinced Juventus to sign him in 2015. Dybala has been going from strength to strength since.
Forward: Edinson Cavani
Palermo apps: 117
Current club: PSG
Yet another player who arrived at Palermo from South America, this time from Uruguay. Edinson Cavani made the move to European football in January 2007, signing from Danubio where he had first made his name.
It took Cavani a while to settle in Italy as he scored only seven goals in his first 40 Serie A appearances. However, the following two seasons saw him net 27 in the league, which prompted a move to Napoli.
He played a key role in re-establishing Napoli as a force in Italian football and after scoring 104 goals in 138 matches at the San Paolo side, he joined PSG in a then-club-record £55m deal.
The Uruguayan recently became the French side’s all-time top scorer, condemning Zlatan Ibrahimovic to second on the list and despite now being 32-years-old, is showing no signs of slowing down.
Forward: Andrea Belotti
Palermo apps: 64
Current club: Torino
Following Palermo’s promotion in 2014, Andrea Belotti was signed permanently from Albinoleffe (after initially joining on loan) to bolster their attack.
With Dybala and Vazquez striking up an extremely productive partnership up front, though, Belotti found regular football hard to come by and at the end of the season he embarked on the well-trodden path to Torino.
Although his record at Palermo was decent – 16 goals in 64 games – he has discovered his scoring touch in Turin, becoming one of the most feared forwards in Italian football.
He managed 26 goals in Serie A in 2016/17, the third-most in the division, but only managed 10 goals in 32 league games last season.
Honourable mentions: Emiliano Viviano, Achraaf Lazaar, Matias Silvestre, Alberto Gilardino, Afriyah Acquah, Eran Zahavi, Andrea Raggi, Ezequiel Munoz, Jasmin Kurtic, Giancarlo Gonzalez, Abel Hernandez.