Palermo, Catania, Pescara and more: What happened to the Italian clubs that fell from grace?

The Italian football landscape can be a tumultuous one with clubs soaring to incredible heights, before plummeting to despairing lows. Here are some clubs that fit that bill, featuring players and coaches you may have forgotten were there.

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Naturally, when a football fan watches a certain league, they will keep an eye out for the biggest clubs and see if they can fight for the title as well as watch the best players in action. Serie A is no different and the big three northern giants of Juventus, AC Milan, and Inter will often capture the attention of the masses.

However, Italy’s smaller clubs will attract the attention of the fans and media alike for a variety of reasons. They could be performing well above their means, producing footballers capable of starring for the biggest teams in Europe, or being run by eccentric owners with questionable backgrounds.

More than a few clubs that fit these criteria are no longer in Serie A, and worse, have had to endure at least one bankruptcy since their time amongst the Italian elite.

Here is a list of some of Italy’s most memorable provincial clubs that have left an indelible mark on the Italian top flight, but are no longer in the first division, particularly those from the last 30 years or so.

Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone during his time coaching Catania. [@Getty]

Palermo

From the capital city of Sicily, Palermo have been in Serie A on numerous occasions in their history, but their best spell was clearly from 2004/05 until 2012/13, when they qualified for Europe multiple times and reached the 2011 Coppa Italia Final, which they lost to Inter.

Their eccentric president Maurizio Zamparini had an incredible eye for discovering unknown players before selling them for substantial profits. However, he is perhaps best known for his tendency to sack coaches at an alarming rate, and in some cases, bring them back in the same season.

Footballers such as Luca Toni, Fabio Grosso, Salvatore Sirigu, Andrea Barzagli, Paulo Dybala, and Edinson Cavani became household names at Palermo before going on to great things elsewhere. During that epoch though, they had the mercurial forward Fabrizio Miccoli as their talisman.

Unfortunately, they went bankrupt in 2019 and had to restart in Serie D. Currently in Serie B and owned by the City Football Group, the Rosanero are now relying on Italo-Brazilian forward Matteo Brunori for goals.

Paulo Dybala played almost 100 games for Palermo and scored 21 times. [@Getty]

Chievo

Often considered to be the second team of Verona behind Hellas Verona, Chievo came from a quarter or neighbourhood in the northern Italian city and fitted in seamlessly into Serie A when they first earned promotion in the 2000s.

They were surprise leaders in the first half of their maiden top-flight campaign before finishing a respectable fifth place in the league table at the end of the 2001/02 season and qualified for the UEFA Cup.

After the Calciopoli scandal that engulfed Italian football in 2006, the Flying Donkeys were lifted up to fourth place in the Serie A table at the end of 2005/06 and reached the Champions League third qualifying round. However, they suffered a 4-2 on aggregate loss to Bulgarian club Levski Sofia.

During their first spell from 2001 to 2007, Chievo played some swashbuckling football under coaches Luigi Delneri and Bepi Pillon, and featured players like Andrea Barzagli, Simone Barone, Eugenio Corini, and Amauri.

When they featured for a second time in Serie A from 2008 until 2019, the Flying Donkeys played far more conservatively under a variety of coaches, while relying on Stefano Sorrentino to perform heroics in goal and Sergio Pellissier to fire in the goals.

Sadly, Chievo was excluded from the professional leagues at the end of the 2020/21 Serie B season and bankruptcy was declared in 2022 after spending just one season operating solely as a youth team. However, Pellissier formed a phoenix club in 2021 called FC Clivense and they now participate in the Eccellenza, which is the fifth division in Italian football.

Sergio Pellissier is viewed as a hero by Chievo Verona. [@Getty]

Catania

Another provincial club from the southern Italian island of Sicily, Catania first captured the headlines in Serie A when they earned a surprise 2-0 victory against Inter on Matchday 34 in 1960/61, landing a fatal blow to the Nerazzurri’s scudetto hopes.

The Elefanti finished a respectable eighth place in that campaign, which was matched in the 2012/13 season. Catania did make a brief return in 1983/84 when Claudio Ranieri was still playing and yet to enter his illustrious coaching career, but it was a season to forget as the Sicilians finished at the bottom of the Serie A table and won just one match.

Catania’s longest spell in Italy’s top flight was from 2006 until 2014, which included that aforementioned eighth place in their penultimate Serie A campaign. During this period, players such Giuseppe Mascara, Francesco Lodi, Maxi Lopez, and Alejandro Gomez starred at the club while the likes of Pasquale Marino, Diego Simeone, and Vincenzo Montella had spells coaching the club.

In 2022, the club went bankrupt and have restarted in Serie D. They are now run by an Italo-Australian consortium with former Empoli and Parma midfielder, and Australia international Vince Grella as the vice-president.

Papu Gomez on the ball for Catania against Cagliari. [@Getty]

Bari

Despite featuring in Serie A as far back as the 1930s, Bari’s history in Italy’s top flight has been more memorable in the last 40 years or so.

The Galletti finished as high as seventh in the 1946/47 season, whereas in 1969/70, they were dreadful, finishing at the bottom of the table and scoring just 11 goals in 30 matches. Heroically, they reached the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia in the 1983/84 campaign despite being a Serie C1 side at the time.

Bari finished as high as ninth in both the 1989/90 and 1998/99 Serie A seasons. Although international stars such Zvonimir Boban, Robert Jarni, David Platt, and Kennet Andersson played for the Galletti, the Apulian capital was also the home for one-season wonder Igor ProttiSerie A leading goalscorer with Giuseppe Signori in 1995/96 – and the likes of Gianluca Zambrotta and Antonio Cassano emerged in that era.

Gian Piero Ventura was in charge when Bari were in Serie A in 2009/10 and 2010/11, which saw the emergence of defenders Andrea Ranocchia and Leonardo Bonucci. Since that relegation in 2010/11, they were close to a heroic return in 2013/14 as the cash-strapped club came close to progressing through the Serie B play-offs, but they eventually filed for bankruptcy in 2018.

The reformed club is in Serie B after working their way up the divisions and they are owned by Napoli patron Aurelio De Laurentiis.

Leonardo Bonucci attempts to win the ball back for Bari against Diego Milito. [@Getty]

Livorno

Located on the west coast of Tuscany in central Italy, Livorno is a port city known for its strong left-wing political beliefs, but its football club has provided their share of moments in Serie A.

Prior to the creation of Serie A in 1929/30, the Amaranto was inspired by Mario Magnozzi, one of the best Italian forwards of the inter-war years. The Tuscans participated in that inaugural league season, and they achieved their best finish in 1942/43, finishing second to the legendary Torino side.

After that, Livorno returned to Serie A in the 2000s during the presidency of Aldo Spinelli, and local boy Cristiano Lucarelli was the spearhead of that Amaranto side. They finished eighth in 2004/05 under Walter Mazzarri as coach, and then due to Calciopoli, they ended up finishing sixth in the following season and earned qualification for the UEFA Cup.

Remarkably, Roberto Donadoni coached Livorno in that 2005/06 campaign, and was then appointed coach of the Italy national team, replacing Marcello Lippi who stepped down after the 2006 World Cup triumph.

After being relegated in 2007/08, the Tuscans returned twice to Serie A, only to finish at the bottom both times. Tragedy hit the club in 2012 when midfielder Leonardo Morosini collapsed and died during a Serie B match against Pescara.

Livorno went bankrupt in 2021 and are now participating in Serie D.

Former Inter, Napoli and Watford coach Walter Mazzarri in charge for Livorno. [@Getty]

Pescara

Originating from Abruzzo in central Italy, Pescara is the only team from that region to have participated in Serie A.

The Delfini have earned promotion six times in their history yet only achieved survival once in Italy’s top flight, back in 1987/88. Their talisman in that season was midfielder Gian Piero Gasperini, who has gone on to do better things as coach of Atalanta.

Pescara were in Serie A again in 1992/93, finishing at the bottom of the table despite the presence of Brazil captain and eventual World Cup winner Dunga. Current AC Milan sporting director Frederic Massara and Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri also played in that team.

Arguably the most famous Delfini squad in recent memory, if not ever, was the 2011/12 team that finished on top of Serie B under coach Zdenek Zeman. The stars of that side were Marco Verratti, Ciro Immobile, and Lorenzo Insigne, who went on to star elsewhere and also feature in Italy’s Euro 2020 triumph.

Pescara were in Serie A as recently as 2012/13 and 2016/17, but they are now playing their football in Serie C Girone C.

Lorenzo Insigne celebrates a goal for Pescara with Ciro Immobile and Marco Verratti in the background. [@Getty]

Foggia

Based in the Apulia region in southern Italy, Foggia have been in Serie A twice in their history, first featuring in the top flight in the 1964/65 campaign. During that season, they earned a shock 3-2 victory against Inter, who were the reigning European Cup and Intercontinental Cup champions at the time.

However, the Satanelli are best remembered for their spell in Serie A from 1991 to 1995. Led by the maverick Czech-born tactician Zdenek Zeman, they had finished ninth in 1991/92 playing some of the most cavalier and enterprising football ever played in Italian football.

Known as “Zemanlandia”, this Foggia side were able to register big wins such as defeating Bari 4-1 and Hellas Verona 5-0, but suffered heavy defeats too such as losing 5-2 to Lazio and 8-2 to league champions AC Milan in that season.

Footballers such as Dan Petrescu, Giuseppe Signori, Francesco Baiano, Jose Chamot, and Luigi Di Biagio played prominent roles in those Satanelli sides. Since then, the Apulian club has reformed twice and they currently play in Serie C Girone C.

Former Foggia coach Zdenek Zeman taking charge for Pescara. [@Getty]

Vicenza

Originating from the Veneto region in northern Italy, Vicenza have created their own legacy in Serie A over different spells.

The Biancorossi were in Serie A as far back as the 1940s, but nothing can top their 1977/78 campaign at a domestic level, when they had been promoted from Serie B and eventually finished second in Italy’s top flight.

Paolo Rossi was the clear star of that Lanerossi side, becoming the first player to be awarded the leading goalscorer’s crown in Serie B and A in consecutive seasons, scoring 21 goals in 1976/77 and then 24 times in 1977/78. He would later star for Italy at the 1978 World Cup, finding the back of the net three times, and then scored six times in 1982 as the Azzurri went on to win the tournament.

A young Roberto Baggio during the beginning of his career at Vicenza. [@Getty]

Italian legend Roberto Baggio also made his senior debut for Vicenza in 1983 and he remained there until he was purchased by Fiorentina in 1985.

After that, the 1990s was another golden period for the Biancorossi, beating Napoli in the 1997 Coppa Italia Final and reaching the semi-finals of the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1997/98, losing to eventual winners Chelsea.

Vicenza have not been back in Serie A since 2000/01 and they merged with Bassano Virtus in 2018, becoming L.R Vicenza Virtus before dropping the “Virtus” in February 2021. They now play in Serie C Girone A.

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