Parma are the ultimate phoenix from the flames success story, as they went from bankruptcy in 2015 to becoming the first Italian side ever to earn three back-to-back promotions from Serie D to the top flight. The Ducali secured their Serie A status comfortably in the first season back and aim to keep building.
Fans of Calcio in the 1990s and early 2000s will fondly recall the star-studded Parma that battled for the Scudetto with Juventus, won the Cup Winners’ Cup and UEFA Super Cup in 1993, two editions of the UEFA Cup, three Coppa Italia trophies and an Italian Super Cup. This was the squad packed with talent like Enrico Chiesa, Gianfranco Zola, Hernan Crespo, Lilian Thuram, Gianluigi Buffon and Fabio Cannavaro.
However, Parma had never even set foot in Serie A before 1990. They appeared out of nowhere, buoyed by the deep pockets of Parmalat and their patron Calisto Tanzi to quickly become one of the so-called ‘Sette Sorelle’ – the seven sisters who started every season as Scudetto contenders. The Serie A title was the only trophy that always eluded them, although they came close several times.
It turned out that the Parmalat pockets weren’t so deep after all and uncovered the biggest financial scandal in Italian history. In 2003, it emerged the company was propped up by techniques that varied from creative accounting to outright falsification, disguising €14bn of debt.
The football club continued to thrive even with no funds, as it played on under temporary owners awaiting a takeover, finishing fifth in Serie A in 2004-05 and reaching the UEFA Cup semi-finals.
Tommaso Ghirardi purchased the club in January 2007 and following the need to sell players at an alarming rate, they were relegated after 18 years in the top flight. Their stay in Serie B was not a long one, as they finished second and gained promotion after just one season. There were bright spots, a feeling of rebirth and a club record seven straight Serie A victories, even finishing sixth with Antonio Cassano in 2014.
That celebration of a Europa League preliminary round place very quickly turned into déjà vu and panic. That summer, Parma were denied a UEFA licence due to unpaid tax contributions. It was the first sign of trouble, which Ghirardi continued to deny with utterly undeserved confidence to the bitter end, bankruptcy in March 2015.
This time, there was to be no reprieve awaiting new owners, Parma had to begin again from the amateur division, Serie D. Captain Alessandro Lucarelli, a man who spent most of 2014-15 acting as a representative of the players to media, unions and banks, made the ultimate sacrifice and stayed at the Stadio Tardini in Serie D. Lucarelli was an integral part of the side that made history with three consecutive promotions, able to finally retire once his mission had been completed and they were back in the top tier.
The journey doesn’t end there, though. Parma must continue to fight for their status and remember how quickly it could all go away again. In October 2018, the local businessmen who rebooted the club in Serie D, collectively known as Nuovo Inizio (new beginning), took back the majority shares that had been sold to Chinese group Desports in 2017. There is also still 10 per cent of the club owned by small shareholders and fans, a revolutionary idea in Italian football.
On the field, Coach Roberto D’Aversa took charge in December 2016 and created a 4-3-3 approach that focuses on quick counter-attacks. It might not always be easy on the eye, but it gets the job done and gave Gervinho a career reboot that nobody expected. So much of Parma’s fortunes last season depended on the form of Gervinho and Roberto Inglese, so it’s wonderful to see they’ll stick together, the centre-forward earning a permanent move from Napoli.
Those two players alone accounted for 20 of the team’s 41 goals and that is untenable. They’re moving beyond that this summer, bringing in exciting French winger Yann Karamoh and 19-year-old striker Andrea Adorante from Inter, with Gaston Brugman and Jose Machin bolster the midfield from Pescara. Andreas Cornelius also gives Serie A another shot on loan from Atalanta.
In the middle of the park, Juraj Kucka carried much of the load, providing key goals, tenacity and tactical awareness and he was a leader on the pitch, at times barking out instructions to his teammates, almost as if the 32-year old is already preparing for a job as a Coach after his playing career ends.
At the back, the evergreen Bruno Alves proved what an inspired signing he was from Glasgow Rangers. While his ‘no holds barred’ tactics to defend the Parma goal was intimidating to opposition forwards, his sumptuous free-kicks from all angles grabbed the headlines, particularly a last-minute equaliser against Milan in December.
Given the added weapons provided for D’Aversa, we can expect a more entertaining Parma side, and while it may not match the thrilling performances of the teams coached by Nevio Scala and Alberto Malesani, it is a sign that the Crociati are continuing to climb the Calcio ladder all over again.