Lilian Thuram, Fabio Cannavaro, Gianfranco Zola, Hernan Crespo, Juan Sebastian Veron, Faustino Asprilla…
The list of future world stars who launched their careers at Parma is extensive, but the club that boasted those talents as they won the UEFA Cup twice in the 1990s is now on the brink of bankruptcy.
Financial troubles have never strayed far from the Stadio Ennio Tardini since the collapse of Parmalat in 2004 and now a fresh crisis threatens to drag the Gialloblu into the depths once again.
Here, Press Association Sport’s James Cann asks what has gone wrong for Parma and what the future might hold.
How did Parma get to this point?
Parma have been pulled back from the brink at least once before. After long-time owners Parmalat – the multinational Italian dairy company – were declared insolvent, Parma bore much of the brunt as their president Calisto Tanzi was sentenced to 10 years in prison for fraud. The club were state-owned for three years before being sold to Brescian businessman Tommaso Ghirardi at auction.
Relegation from Serie A would follow in 2008 but Parma soon returned to the top flight and became a competitive side. Under former Italy manager Roberto Donadoni, Parma really hit their straps and finished sixth last season to qualify for the Europa League. Or so it seemed.
Alarm bells sounded like an early death knell for the club when Uefa excluded Parma from the Europa League due to the late payment of income tax on salaries. Torino took their place, with a furious Ghirardi deciding it was time to sell up after seven years at the helm.
What impact did the new owners have on the club?
Despite emerging reports that players and staff had not been paid since the summer, and with the team propping up the table having only won two of their 16 opening games, Parma’s future looked much brighter when Ghirardi sold the club to Russian-Cypriot conglomorate Dasastro Holding Limited shortly before Christmas.
Leading the consortium was Albanian businessman Rezart Taci, an oil tycoon who surprisingly installed 29-year-old business graduate Ermir Kodra as the new president at the Tardini. However, silence ruled throughout January while results on the pitch continued to push Parma further adrift of safety.
In late January, Italy international Antonio Cassano rescinded his contract with the club. In doing so the former AC Milan striker became the first player to go public with news that wages had not been paid since July, blasting the owners who he claimed had “taken him for a ride for seven months”. First-choice defender Gabriel Paletta would also take his leave in the winter transfer window.
How did the new owners react with relegation looming?
They didn’t. After six weeks of inactivity, Taci sold the club to Slovenia-based company Mapi Group, fronted by Giampietro Manenti, for a single euro. By this point it was estimated that Parma owed debts of 197 million euros and Manenti was given until February 16 to prove his firm could start paying the money back. The deadline came and went without hard proof of funds being demonstrated.
The threat of dissolution became very real as club coaches and vehicles were seized from the Collecchio training base by bailiffs. The failure to pay electricity meant the youth team – coached by retired favourite Crespo – were forced to take cold showers while all training sessions were moved behind closed doors. The bailiffs soon returned to collect gym equipment and expensive medical devices.
With Parma unable to pay stewards or police ahead of their meeting with Udinese, the match was postponed indefinitely. The Lega Serie A then announced Parma would be hit with an automatic 3-0 defeat for any future fixture they could not fulfill, although existing results would be protected as they had managed to complete the first half of the season.
Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?
Club captain Alessandro Lucarelli has broken his silence, questioning Ghirardi’s role in the collapse and in particular his policy of stockpiling players. More than 200 are still registered to Parma – this system is knows as “plusvalenze” in Italy and was used extensively in the past decade to help balance the books with assets. It was popular until authorities clamped down on the practice, with good reason.
But Lucarelli, a centre-back who has served Parma since 2008, is certainly not giving up and has even said he is willing to fund private transport for his team-mates to get to Genoa for their next Serie A appointment. He told Radio Anch’io: “It’s like being in a film, we’ve seen everything you could possibly imagine. If there isn’t a bus we’ll get five or six cars together and travel in them.”
The league has assured Parma that, should the worst happen, the course of action would be to allow the club to be relegated and then resume under new ownership in Serie B, rather than dropping it into the amateur division – a fate suffered by the likes of Siena in recent years. “I’d be prepared to play in Serie D for Parma if it was necessary,” added Lucarelli. “After seven years, I feel like this shirt is mine.”