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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