By Leo Linden
After plummeting down the Italian football scope just two decades ago, U.S. Citta di Palermo, better known as Palermo, has recently caused trouble for many of the nation’s larger clubs. Since the turn of the decade, the club has qualified for the Europa League twice and put forth some strong performances in Serie A. But a sharp downturn as of late has seen the Sicilian club riding the border between Italy’s top two flights, and if they don't act fast, Palermo will again find themselves in the Serie B.
What came to be the best football team from Sicily is also the oldest, as Palermo was formed in 1900. The exact date is still a mystery, along with much of the club’s very early history, but what is known is that there were a plethora of name changes in the club’s infancy and what they have settled upon today was only decided upon as recently as 1987. However, the famous pink and black colors which the side proudly sports have been a staple since 1907 and is the base for the clubs nickname, Rosanero (the Pink-Blacks).
The early years were inauspicious as the club did little of note in the southern Italian football leagues and ultimately folded in 1927 as the result of financial instability. But with the Italian football pyramid uniting, the club reformed a year later from two other Palermo-based clubs and was placed in the Prima Divisione, Italy’s third flight.
Things improved quickly from there as the side earned a pair of promotions in a short period to ascend all the way to the Serie A in 1932. More problems were just around the corner, however, as fascist Italy ordered a change of colors. Worse, a second wave of financial troubles came, and the club folded again in 1940.
Another merger brought the Rosanero back to life in 1941, and in an almost identical story to their first re-founding, the club quickly made their way from the third division to the first.
But no true success ever came in the top flight, and Palermo would spend the next three decades middling away in the top two divisions. Between the end of World War II and the disastrous 1980s, the club was bumped between the top two flights 13 different times, never challenging for a title, nor finding itself in any serious danger of returning to the Serie C.
Despite spending all but two years in the second tier, the 1970s included some decent teams which have come the closest in club history to winning a major trophy, with appearances in the Coppa Italia final in 1974 and 1979. But they couldn't finish the job in either season, falling agonizingly short, losing on penalties in the first and after extra time in the second.
The following decade was the one most Palermo fans would like to forget, as they suffered their first relegation to Serie C since the 1940s in 1984. That was just the beginning of the turmoil, however, and though they made it back to the second flight the following season, they
True to form, however, the Sicilians came out of the gates firing, earning immediate promotion back to the Serie C1. From there, the Rosanero rode the line between the second and third tiers before finally bursting back into the Serie A in 2004 after an over-thirty-year hiatus.
That immediately spurred the best run in club history, as the next year, Palermo finished sixth before back-to-back fifth-place finishes. On top of that, the club earned its first ever spot in European competition, qualifying for the UEFA Cup following each of the three aforementioned seasons.
Another pair of berths to Europe’s secondary competition, the rebranded Europa League, followed in 2010 and 2011, and though they didn’t make it past the group stage in either year (or even to the group stage in 2011), it was still a major sign of success to qualify.
But after their elimination in the third qualifying round of the Europa League in the fall of 2011, Palermo went into a massive skid and finished 16th, just two places above the drop zone. The next year, however, their fate was sealed, as they ended the season in 18th, six points from safety, earning a ticket back to the Serie B.
They topped the division the following season, and after finishing 11th in the Serie A last year, Palermo looked to be re-established as a top-flight squad. But after starting out hot this year and spending all season above the bottom three, a tie with Empoli last week has seen the Rosanero drop into 18th in a three-way scrap for one safe position.
Their Achilles heel all year has been the defense, which is tied for second-worst in the league with 51 goals allowed in 30 games. While that might not seem poor compared to some other leagues, Italy is
Now it's truly time for Palermo to put up or shut up, as the final eight games are going to be critical to the club moving forward. After recently finding a niche in the top flight, the club is bordering on a second exit in three years, one that could ultimately doom them to another decade of averageness. Just a few years ago, the Sicilian outfit was playing in Europe, but they are the latest example of how quickly a fall from grace can occur. They still have a chance to save their skin, and attempt to get back to the top half of the Serie A in the coming years, but if Palermo don’t act fast, they will once again fade into Italian obscurity.