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Serie A

From the Bottom to the Top and Back Again: Parma’s Rapid Decline



It is hard to believe that Parma, a side who become a European powerhouse during the 1990’s winning 4 European trophies, could be facing demotion to the fifth division of Italian football following a declaration of bankruptcy. The Crociati had boasted players including the likes of Hernan Crespo, Lilian Thuram, Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluigi Buffon, Juan Sebastián Verón, Dino Baggio, Faustino Asprilla, and Gianfranco Zola. Talismanic captain Alessandro Lucarelli led Parma through the 2014/15 season having signed in 2008 and has expressed his regret that he could not save Parma. However, Lucarelli has no doubt embodied the solidarity shown by Parma in recent months – thanking the staff of the club who “put their hearts before their wallets”.

It is also hard to believe that this isn’t the first time that Parma have declared bankruptcy. The Northern Italy side had previously declared bankruptcy in 2004 following the financial meltdown of Parmalat, a multinational Italian dairy and food corporation, resulting in Parma having to dissolve and be reformed as Parma Football Club after 91 years as Parma AC. Parmalat suffered a massive bankruptcy which resulted in a net loss of €167m for the club, which is hardly surprising when you see that the estimated fraud within Parmalat totalled €10bn.

The situation for the players, staff, and fans of Parma have reached dire straits. None of the players received any pay for the entirety of the 2014/15 campaign. There was also not enough money for stewarding, or for hot water for the post-match showers. It even reached a stage where players were asked to wash their own kits and the club could not afford to pay for a team coach to travel to away games – so players would cram into 5 or 6 cars in order to make it to fixtures. Parma were also denied access to European football following failure to pay off unpaid bills and having finished 6th in Serie A in 2013/14, as of 2015/16 the club will be fighting it out in the fifth division of Italian football – Serie D. The situation would not have being quite so horrendous had the side managed to pay off their coaching and playing staff. If they had found a way to pay this substantial debt the side would have been allowed access to Serie B for the following season.

Parma had officially announced bankruptcy earlier in the season but were advanced a parachute payment by Serie A in order to allow them to continue to compete. Despite claiming a heroic victory over champions Juventus at the tail-end of the season, the side were promptly relegated into Serie B after amassing just 19 points in 38 games following deductions and financial irregularities. However, the club were hopeful that a new owner would step in to take over the debt and save the club from dissolving just 11 years after the previous dissolution. The club’s last hope, former professional baseball player Mike Piazza pulled out just hours before the deadline. Parma will now play in Serie D for the first time in 45 years and will provide a reprieve to relegated Brescia – who will be reinstated into the second tier.

The real problems arose for Parma around a year ago when they missed out on the opportunity to compete in European competition due to their outstanding bills and financial mismanagement and therefore did not get the financial windfall that comes with the Europa League. Then president, Tommaso Ghirardi sold the club for one euro to a Russian-Cypriot consortium in December 2014. Unfortunately, this new ownership lasted just two months before the club was then sold to Giampietro Manenti who, weeks after he had agreed to pay the wages of the first team squad for the first time that season, was arrested on suspicion of fraud and money-laundering. A very similar fate that had bestowed the owner during the last bankruptcy – Calisto Tanzi was jailed for 18 years for fraud following the collapse of Parmalat.

Furthermore, there may be more to this story than just the one club going under and facing heavy demotion. As it stands, a large number of clubs throughout the leagues in Italy are operating with large amounts of debt and are spending money that they simply do not make. Many clubs are propped up by incredibly wealthy businessmen who are willing to pay big money to see their team succeed and as a result the importance of reaching Champion’s League football is growing all the time. This in turn leads to players demanding massive wages and managers getting sacked left and right in a desperate bid for rapid success. The situation that Parma find themselves in is a warning that should definitely be taken on-board by the powers that be in the Italian football pyramid. Owning a football club is far from the most lucrative money-making scheme around – but Italian clubs would do well, as would much of the rest of the teams in Europe’s big leagues, to run more sustainably in order to avoid the wrath of the governing bodies of Italy.

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Calum is a Reading fan and has been a season ticket holder for many years. He is currently studying for a degree in Sport & Exercise Psychology.

AC Milan

Victory in Milan, but is this another false dawn for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger?

Arsenal were triumphant in Milan despite their recent miserable form.

Jake Jackman



Photo: Getty Images

Arsenal ended their losing run of four matches with an excellent performance away to AC Milan in the Europa League. This competition has the potential to save the Gunners season and the commitment from every player suggested that they want to go all the way.

They were coming up against a team full of confidence under Gennaro Gattuso. Milan hadn’t lost a match since the end of December. The Serie A club hadn’t conceded a goal in six and had won five of those inside ninety minutes.

These sides came into this fixture in remarkably different form, but football is played on grass and not on paper.

Despite Milan having more attempts, it was Arsenal who created the better chances. They had a couple of half-chances early on before the opening goal.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan has had a hot and cold start to life in a Gunners’ shirt, but he was one of the best players on the pitch in Italy. His goal was emphatically taken as he drove the ball past Gianluigi Donnarumma.

It is important to capitalise when you are on top, especially away from home in European competitions and Arsenal did just that. As the first-half progressed, they continued to create the better opportunities. Both Danny Welbeck and Mkhitaryan had good chances to double the visitors’ lead, but they were squandered.

(Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)

In stoppage-time of half-time, Arsenal scored a second to give them a commanding lead in the tie. It was a great move from the team and Mesut Ozil found Aaron Ramsey who coolly rounded Donnarumma before putting the ball into the net.

The first-half performance from Arsenal was one of the best that supporters have seen this season. They were better all over the pitch and showed the work rate that they had lacked in previous weeks. Milan pushed in the second half, but they couldn’t penetrate the Gunners’ defence.

Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi were both excellent. Arsene Wenger will be hoping that both are returning to their best after some uncharacteristic errors in previous matches. The centre-back pairing made eight ball recoveries and were always in the right position on Thursday.

Patrick Cutrone is a teenager with a big future, but the young striker had no luck out of the Arsenal defence and that will encourage the manager.

Another player to emerge with credit is Danny Welbeck. The ineligibility of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the injury of Alexandre Lacazette means that the Englishman started the game up front for Arsenal. It was a huge opportunity for him after being pushed down the pecking order at the club and he took it with both hands.

The Englishman worked tirelessly and caused problems with his movement.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Although his final product wasn’t great, he was a constant threat and led the defensive effort from the front. Welbeck will never be a leading Premier League striker, but he is effective in matches such as this one. He deserves more opportunities during the run-in.

It would be too soon to get carried away for Arsenal fans. There are still questions regarding Arsene Wenger and the work rate of the players, but this was an excellent performance that finally provides the club with positive momentum. They have had a miserable few weeks and the supporters can get excited about their team once again.

When the draw was made, a lot of supporters checked their expectations when it came to the Europa League. Milan were the overwhelming favourites, but Arsenal have taken a dominant position in the tie and should be able to finish the job in London.

If they can do that, they will move into the quarter-final stage. Although it will be difficult to win it, they will have as good a chance as any.

There have been many false dawns for Arsenal in recent years and this could be another one. That said, it takes enormous character to go away to a huge stadium like the San Siro after a poor run of form and win comfortably.

Considering the criticism that they have had for their lack of desire, few would have thought the Gunners to be capable of a result like this.

It is now up to Wenger to prove that he can get this level of effort and performance out of his players on a regular basis. The Frenchman remains in a difficult position with no margin for error. If he is going to keep his job, he needs to finish the season strongly and win the Europa League.

It won’t be an easy challenge, but this performance and result will give him hope that he can upset the odds to claim his first European trophy.

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Champions League

Tottenham Hotspur 1-2 Juventus: Three talking points from Wembley

Tottenham bowed out of Europe against an experienced Juventus side.

Rob Meech



Photo: Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur crashed out of the Champions League after Juventus produced an inspired fightback to progress to the quarter-finals. The in-form Son Heung-min had put Spurs 3-2 ahead on aggregate shortly before the interval, but two goals in three second-half minutes changed the complexion of the tie.

First, Gonzalo Higuain stabbed home the equaliser before Paulo Dybala completed the comeback with a delicate finish. Harry Kane hit the post in the dying moments, but Spurs’ exit at the hands of last season’s runners-up was confirmed as they failed to score a second goal. Here are three talking points from Wembley Stadium..

Max Allegri outfoxes his Tottenham counterpart

So poor were Juventus in the first half that they were fortunate to be only one goal behind on the night and still in the tie. There was no indication of what was to come, as Max Allegri’s side transformed the match in the second period. At the final whistle, the Juve boss headed straight down the tunnel instead of venturing on to the pitch to celebrate with his players. But it was his tactical switch that paved the way for their victory.

With an hour on the clock, on came Kwadwo Asamoah and Stephan Lichtsteiner, who injected much-needed pace and guile. The visitors changed formation and suddenly they were getting in between the lines, with Dybala becoming much more effective. Within minutes, Juve were 2-1 ahead and in their element. Once in front, they managed the game brilliantly and didn’t look like conceding. Mauricio Pochettino, who could only stand and watch it all unfold, had been outwitted by the master.

Future looks bright despite heartbreaking exit

Disappointment may be the overriding emotion for all involved at Tottenham right now, but once the dust has settled they should look back at their Champions League adventure with pride. For this was the season they arrived as a major force on the European stage. Victories over Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in a group they topped were huge fillips and evidence of their continued progress under Pochettino.

Spurs were unlucky to be drawn against a club of Juventus’ pedigree in the last 16 and it was the Italians’ knowhow that paid dividends in the heat of the battle. The hosts looked a little naive, but the experience will benefit them in the future. Tottenham are odds-on to finish in the top four and thereby qualify for the Champions League again next season. Should Pochettino be given the funds to invest in his squad this summer, the club’s fans can look forward to more nights under the spotlight.

In-form Son strikes again for Spurs

The South Korean, who was given the nod ahead of Erik Lamela in the starting line-up, vindicated his selection with the opening goal at Wembley. Son had already gone close to breaking the deadlock and was causing Andrea Barzagli all sorts of problems with his marauding runs. There was more than a touch of fortune about the goal, which rebounded off his left leg and wrong-footed veteran keeper Gianluigi Buffon, but it was no less than the Spurs forward deserved.

Son came close to levelling the tie in the latter stages but, ultimately, it was to be neither his nor Tottenham’s night. With 16 goals in all competitions this season, the 25-year-old is making a big impression. He was the home side’s most potent attacking force, upstaging both Kane and Dele Alli at Wembley. Son has finally established himself in the starting XI and Spurs fans will hope he can continue to ease the goalscoring burden on Kane.

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Where does Andrea Pirlo rank amongst the greats of his generation?



Andrea Pirlo

If you asked any football fan to list the top players of the century, there is surely no doubt that Andrea Pirlo would be near the top on the majority of them. 

Having announced his retirement from the game aged 38 earlier this month, the Italian has amassed over 20 winners’ medals, including the Champions League in 2003 and 2007, and the World Cup in 2006.

He has been named Serie A Player of the Year on three separate occasions as well as being named in the FIFPro World XI in 2006, and the UEFA team in 2012.

Pirlo was instrumental in guiding Milan to the 2005 Champions League final, although they lost on penalties – he stated that he considered quitting after that game given the way Milan lost the match, having gone 3-0 up, showing his passion and will to win.

He was then was voted the third best player at the following year’s World Cup as Italy won the competition.

As a player, Pirlo never relied on physicality, and was not a heavy goalscorer, with his highest tally in any campaign being for Milan in 2002/03, where he scored nine goals.

That was only his second season at Milan, having been transferred from close rivals Inter for £10 million.

His move coincided with the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti, who was one of the biggest influences on Pirlo’s development as a player.

Under Ancelotti, Milan and Pirlo won the Serie A, Champions League, Coppa Italia and the UEFA Super Cup all in a four-year spell.

In terms of his playing style, it was his passing that set him apart from the majority of players, as well as his vision, which made him into one of the world’s greatest deep-lying playmakers.

Probably the two closest comparisons to Pirlo in terms of modern-day players are Xavi and Andres Iniesta, both of Barcelona.

Pirlo nearly joined Barcelona under Pep Guardiola in 2010, but Milan refused to sell him despite the Italian’s reported interest in the move. Had he made the move to Spain, Pirlo could have added another dimension to what was already an unstoppable Barcelona side.

He, instead, made the move to Italian giants Juventus, where, despite being at the age of 33 when he signed in 2011, was still a star performer for a side that has dominated Italy for years.

He won four consecutive Serie A titles with the Bianconeri, and carried on playing for his national team until Euro 2016, albeit less regularly towards the end of his career.

His non-selection for that competition by the now-Chelsea manager Antonio Conte signalled the end of his international career, with his record standing at 116 games, 13 goals for his country.

The peak of Pirlo’s career came before his move to New York City last year, although he still made 60 appearances for the club up until his retirement.

In terms of where he ranks amongst the greatest of this generation, you could argue for numerous players to take that accolade.

Pirlo and Xavi were match winners and were crucial in any success their team had – you could argue that Xavi had the toughest task in being the man, alongside Iniesta, entrusted with transforming Barcelona into a tiki-taka style team under the stewardship of Guardiola.

However, Pirlo was unable to settle fully at Inter, leaving to join rivals Milan, and even despite his impact on the club over the years, the Rossoneri board let the Italian go on a free transfer in 2011, where he continued to thrive at Juventus.

The likes of Lampard and Steven Gerrard, as well as Zinedine Zidane, cannot be underestimated based on their contributions to their clubs, but overall Andrea Pirlo would rightly be near the top of any list of the greatest midfielders of this century.

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