They say, “those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it.”
That could never be truer as Parma have now suffered their third financial meltdown in the club’s long history. Unfortunately, this time, Parma have reached their lowest point.
The former member of the Sette Sorrelle (“Seven sisters”) imploded last weekend. Parma postponed their match against Udinese due to a lack of money to put on the game. The club are reportedly in debt to the tune of €197 million.
Players haven’t been paid since last summer, the club have been bought and sold twice since New Year’s Day and the club could be dissolved all together; forced to reform and start from the bottom of the calcio ladder.
Eleven years ago, Parma faced a similar situation, though it reached different levels and affected other areas of Italian and European commerce. Between 1990 and 2004, Parma rose from obscure provincial side, to one of the top teams in Italian football.
The club won important trophies for the first time in their history. Eight major trophies were lifted in that time including two UEFA Cups, a European Super Cup and the old European Cup Winners’ Cup. The club even finished second in Serie A in 1996-97, two points behind Juventus.
While the club won trophies, legends of football wore the Crociati shirt. Dino Baggio, Hernan Crespo, Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluigi Buffon, Lillian Thuram and many more cut their teeth at the Stadio Ennio Tardini. Parma were a great side that could have become more, much more.
Yet just as fast as it began, it all came crumbling down. Parma’s sky-high spending from the 1990s through the early-2000s was bankrolled by Italian Dairy company Parmalat, which “owned 98 per cent of the club.” The Tanzi family, who owned both Parma and Parmalat, pumped cash into the side; making it an unlikely powerhouse in Europe.
But in 2003, the milk spoiled and Parmalat went to pasture with debts of €14 billion. Calisto Tanzi had turned the company into a “jewel of Italian commerce,” but by the mid-2000s there was only shame for the Tanzi family and uncertainty for Parma.
Calisto Tanzi, currently 76-years old, was sentenced to 18-years of prison in 2010 for his role in embezzling money and defrauding shareholders.
Unlike 2015, Parma were stacked with talented young players back in 2004. These players which included Sebastien Frey, Daniele Bonera, Matteo Ferrari and Alberto Gilardino, were not only highly regarded at the time, but were worth millions.
No player was worth more at the time than Brazilian striker Adriano. Co-owned by Inter, Adriano went on to score 23 goals in 37 matches for the Crociati. The Brazilian’s Parma-owned half was bought by Inter. The sale injected €23.4 million into the Parma coffers. The Crociati would strike gold again in 2005, selling Gilardino for slightly more (€24 million).
By the end of the 2003-04 season, Parma were saved. But only just. The club even managed to finish fifth and qualify for the UEFA Cup thanks to the talent that remained. Gilardino contributed 23 goals in Adriano’s absence.
However due to Parmalat going out of business, Parma were reformed from Parma AC to the club’s original name Parma FC at the end of the season. The club had originally been known as Parma FC, but had changed their name in 1968 due to financial problems and a club merger.
Coincidentally, the 2003-04 season was the last time Parma wore their yellow and blue home kits, reverting back to all-white as the yellow and blue colours were strongly associated with Parmalat.
Despite finishing strongly in 2004, the following season was a disaster as Parma finished 17th, surviving relegation on the final day of the season. In another fateful coincidence, Parma finished in the top-half of the table last season, only to be rooted to the bottom of Serie A today.
Though things improved in 2005 when Tommaso Ghirardi bought the club out of administration, it was his stewardship over 10 years that has now led to Parma’s current situation.
Right now, Parma have no money and are looking for a handout from Serie A, the FIGC or even other Italian clubs. Genoa have reportedly promised to pay for the players’ accommodation.
Despite having not been paid all season, captain Alessandro Lucarelli stated the players will foot the bill to play Genoa this weekend. Lucarelli has shown that he is not only captain on the pitch, but off it as well.
In a few short months, Parma have gone from European hopefuls to a club that cannot even pay their water bills, transport costs or laundry service.
In essence, they have gone from a top professional club to one resembling amateur status. This is something that shouldn’t happen in the modern Italian game, yet it seems many clubs are still living in the past.