Parma may die, but Italian clubs have resurrected themselves before

Even if you’ve never heard of Parma FC, it’s impossible to read the words of captain Alessandro Lucarelli and not get angry. Deeply, righteously angry. An anger so strong it’s palpable.

“In November the now ex-President Tommaso Ghirardi came to the locker room and told us our wages hadn’t been paid because he was in negotiations with Rezart Taci to sell the club, but negotiations did not go well.

“We told him that he was the President and therefore owed us our wages, but he replied that he wouldn’t put one more Euro into Parma.

Ghirardi hasn’t put one more euro into Parma. After nine years, he sold the club to Albanian businessman Rezart Taci, who did put a euro into it. Exactly one euro, to be precise. Less than two months later, Taci then sold the club on to Giampietro Manenti — again, for one euro.

Maneti insists he has 100 million euros available to invest in Parma, but he’s yet to offer evidence of this. Meanwhile, the players have yet to receive their salaries. Parma was theoretically punished for non-payment earlier in the season, but the mere point deducted from its total did little, as the Ducali were already firmly entrenched at the bottom of the table.

The warning signs were present even before the start of the season. After an impressive 2013-14, including a 17-game unbeaten run, Parma finished sixth, nabbing Serie A’s final Europa League place. But an unpaid tax bill ruled the team out of UEFA competition, and Torino was given the chance instead.
Parma FC v FC Internazionale Milano - Serie A

Photo: Marco Luzzani/Getty Images.

The unpaid bills piled up. They sat alongside a list of club staff that hadn’t received their wages. Somewhere nearby lurked the roster, boasting not only the high salary of Antonio Cassano (above) but the nearly 200 players registered by the club. Cassano left in a huff in January after not receiving his wages for six months. Most players and staff don’t have that option.

Everything came to a head last week, when bankruptcy procedures were initiated. As if to reinforce the club’s sad state of affairs, the Italian Football Federation called off Udinese’s trip to Parma this Sunday — turned out the hosts couldn’t afford the stewards and security necessary to stage the game. Rumors circulated that Parma would pull the plug immediately, not even finishing out the season.

We’re not there. Yet. A hearing is scheduled for next month, and should the team fold, each of Parma’s remaining opponents will be awarded an automatic 3-0 win. Meanwhile, club officials are likely searching every inch of the Tardini, hoping to find enough loose change to allow the game against Atalanta, scheduled for March 8, to go ahead. But while an impressive draw against Roma two weeks ago may have given the Ducali confidence, it’s hard to believe Parma could collect enough points over the final 15 rounds to keep the club in Serie A. It’s currently dead last on 10 points, a full 13 points from safety.
Serie A standings
There’s no denying this is a tragedy. It wasn’t so long ago that Parma, despite never having won a first-division title, was collecting European silverware. The club started off with the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1993, then went on to win the UEFA Cup in both 1995 and 1999. For 13 straight years Parma was involved in European competition. And while recent seasons haven’t exactly been kind to the club, there was a sense of excitement going into this one, with many fans impressed about the way head coach Roberto Donadoni had structured the side into a coherent unit.

Instead, we have chaos. We have the sense that this just might be too broken to be fixed. And yet, that just might be ok.

Parma has been here before. It’s barely been 10 years since the club was declared insolvent, after Parmalat folded — Parmalat being, of course, the company that pumped in the riches that put the Ducali into Europe in the first place. But in 2004, a mere name change was enough to keep Parma in Serie A … well, that and selling off a couple of their best players (Matteos Ferrari and Brighi).

You get the sense that this time, Parma won’t be able to escape, particularly as its most promising stars have already left. Those remaining are unlikely to fetch the 96.5 million euros needed to simply cover the club’s net debt. Unless Maneti really has that 100 million euros lying around, it’s probable that Parma will be liquidated and forced to start again in Italy’s lower leagues.

Again, it’s happened before. Like Parma in 2004, Napoli was declared bankrupt, with an estimated 70 million euros in debt. To save the Naples club, film producer Aurelio De Laurentiis bought the team, but it was sent down to Serie C1. But after just two seasons in the 3rd division, Napoli came back up to Serie B and found itself back in Serie A by the 2007-08 season. Since returning to the top flight, the partenopei have missed out on European qualification just once and have won the Coppa Italia twice. De Laurentiis is careful about keeping his club well within Financial Fair Play guidelines, and while Napoli has yet to create the perfect storm that could challenge Juventus, it’s one of the strongest teams in Italy.

There’s every reason to be outraged at what’s going on at Parma. Lucarelli asked the questions we’re all wondering, “how can the institutions allow a company with €1,000 capital and another with €7,500 capital to buy a Serie A club? What credibility can Italian football have to the outside world?” While others may have been at least partially at fault for the mess that’s been created, it’s possible that, should Parma need to burn down the house, the club could again rise from the ashes.