Eighteen years ago, Parma celebrated UEFA Cup success in Moscow. Having beaten Marseille 3-0, the club had achieved its fourth European trophy in a decade. Boasting the likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Hernán Crespo, and Fabio Cannavaro, Parma also won the Coppa Italia and finished an impressive fourth in Serie A that season. At the time, the sky seemed to be the limit for the Gialloblu.
However, since then, things could not have gone much worse for Parma. Financial troubles were brought upon the club in late 2003 by the Parmalat scandal. Parmalat, Parma’s parent company, underwent a massive bankruptcy with debt of €20 billion which caused the multinational corporation to collapse. The club then continued to operate in controlled administration until January 2007, when businessman Tomasso Ghirardi bought Parma for around €30 million.
Ghirardi oversaw a huge turnover of young, lesser known players in an attempt to compete with the heavyweights of Serie A. In the summer of 2013, Ghirardi authorized the arrival or departure of over 260 players. This strategy proved to be a failure and Ghirardi sold the club for €1 to Russian-Cypriot group Dastraso Holdings in December 2014. The head of Dastraso Holdings, Rezart Taçi, sold Parma to businessman Giampiero Manenti in February 2015 for €1.
The second half of the 2014-2015 season proved to be a disaster for Parma. Electricity and water bills went unpaid. The team cancelled their home match against Udinese because there wasn’t enough money to pay stewards to open the stadium to the public. Parma couldn’t cover travel expenses for the 100-mile trip west to Genoa. The club also struggled to pay its staff and players throughout this period of financial turmoil.
Naturally, the team lost its most talented players during this time. Antonio Cassano left in January, Italian international defender Gabriele Palletta joined Milan for a nominal fee and striker Nicola Pozzi was sold to Chievo for only €1,000. After several months of unpaid wages, the club entered bankruptcy in March 2015 with total liabilities of €218 million. With a 7 point deduction issued to the club for its financial issues and with these player departures, Parma finished bottom of the league in 2015 and was officially declared bankrupt. At this point, the future seemed bleak for the Gialloblu.
The club was re-founded as S.S.D. Parma Calcio 1913 in July 2015 and was placed into Serie D, the highest tier of non-professional football in Italy and fourth overall, under article 52 of Norme organizzative interne della FIGC (N.O.I.F.). The
Phoenix Club was placed under the ownership of Nuovo Inizio SrL with share capital of €250,000. Nuovo Inizio is owned by a number of backers, such as the representatives of Parmalat and Guido Barilla (the owner of Barilla Group). These new owners sought to revolutionise the core philosophy of Italian club ownership and therefore formed Parma Partecipazioni Calcistiche SrL to offer fans a way into the club. They issued a further €89,286 of shares to that company. The club’s fans now own approximately 25 per cent of the club at a cost of €500 per share.
The new Parma had a successful start to life in the lower leagues under the shrewd stewardship of head coach Luigi Apolloni. Captain Alessandro Lucarelli – who has stayed with the team since 2008- led Parma to gain an eye watering 94 points from 38 games. In gaining promotion to Lega Pro, the club won 28 games and drew 10, allowing only 17 goals in the process.
In Lega Pro this season, Parma has continued its impressive form. At the time of writing they sit in third, one point off leaders Bassano Virtus. They are currently on a five game unbeaten run, aided in no small part by the 11 goals scored between the experienced Emanuele Calaiò and the dynamic forward Manuel Nocciolini. In 19-year-old Kristaps Zommers, Parma have a talented and promising goalkeeper who will likely be an important goalkeeper for the Latvian national team in years to come. Manuel Scavone is also a pivotal player, a technical midfielder with a keen eye for goal.
While it is unlikely that Parma will be able to emulate the tremendous successes of Cannavaro and co anytime soon, they have demonstrated that no amount of financial strain could permanently put them down. Now owned by a coalition of investors, including the fans, Parma’s financial future appears stable. As the likes of AFC Wimbledon and Darlington 1883 have shown us in the UK, the successful reformation of clubs is a challenging but achievable goal. Parma Calcio 1913 must now continue down this path to return to the glory days of top flight Italian football.