Parma: The long-forgotten of Italian football’s greats as they stare down the barrel of financial meltdown

After the traditional powerhouses of Italian football, the likes of Juventus and AC and Inter Milan, it is Parma that is the country’s fourth most successful club in European competition. However you have to go back to the campaign of 2006-07 to remember the last time they competed on the continent, marking an 8-year gap before they were due to return, having qualified for the Europa League by finishing sixth in last year’s Serie A. Though an unpaid tax bill saw them denied a UEFA license and Parma were kicked back out, starting off a sequence of events that could see one of Europe’s highest-profile clubs being liquidated.

Reports that Parma befell that fate last week proved premature, though that only seems to be another prelude to the inevitable of the Ducali eventually going under. The Lega Serie A are preparing to defend the club in a bankruptcy hearing on March 19th and as time runs out, so does the money. Cash levels at the Stadio Ennio Tardini are believed to have dropped to below £29,700 and last week Italy’s Inland Revenue seized several vehicles from the club, including the team bus, as the authorities try to reign in the outstanding tax bill.

Around €500,000 in gym equipment was taken from the club’s training centre in Collecchio and Hernan Crespo, working as a youth team coach, has highlighted the malaise that is effecting his players “we don’t even have water for training. We are having to take showers with cold water and many times my players have gotten ill” he said. His team beat Carpi FC 1-0 at the weekend in a match that was only allowed to be staged because of a “favour” from the grounds-men.

In contrast, Parma’s seniors failed to play, with the game with Udinese called off at the weekend due to the club unable to pay stewards or security costs, while club captain Alessandro Lucarelli, who has emerged as a spokesperson for the squad, has said that the players themselves will fork out for travel to next week’s match at Genoa. It is an admirable pledge of loyalty and generosity from a group of players that lie bottom of the table with a measly 10 points (and awaiting further penalties for financial irregularities) having not been paid since last July.

The financial omnishambles has become too much for the club’s hierarchy, with president Giampietro Mantenti rumoured to have emptied his bank account and gone on the run last Thursday, while Pietro Leonardi, the Sporting Director, has been hospitalised with heart problems and stress.

Leonardi finds himself £3,951 lighter after he and former club president Tomasso Ghirardi were fined for failing to pay wages that dated back to November 2013, for which the club were deducted a point back in December. Lucarelli, who together with several other players have set-up the campaign #SaveParma, is under no doubt that Ghirardi is the man to blame for his club’s plight, and it is difficult to ignore his reasoning.

The Italian businessman used protracted negotiations with Albanian Rezart Taci as an excuse for his constant failure to come good with wage payments and his eventual sale, for as little as €1, to Taci hardly ensured the safety of the club. Taci never even met with Parma’s players in his two months as president, preferring instead to leave the everyday running of the club to 29 year old Ermir Kodra, before he would sell the club on to Mantenti for the same price he bought it for.

3 owners in a season that started with the loss of influential players like Marco Parolo, sold to Lazio, and Jonathan Biabiany, hit by a heart condition, compounded with the non-payment of wages has left Parma facing implosion and staring at the precipice of financial ruin.

The days of Ghirardi’s indulgence, where he bankrolled the signings of the likes of Biabiany, Ishak Belfodil, Andrea Rispoli, Antonio Cassano, Sebastien Giovinco and Daniele Galloppa in forming Parma’s strongest team for a decade and initiating last year’s return to the top-6 under former Italy manager Roberto Donadoni. The summer’s news of the unpaid tax-bill stopped any growing momentum and so followed the attritional attempts to sell the club.

Any sympathy for Ghirardi is quickly eroded with a look at Parma’s most recent accounts which reveal total debts of €197 million, a huge increase on the €16.1 million debt he inherited from the club that at the time had just recovered from their period of administration as a result of the Parmalat Scandal. This current meltdown is threatening to wipe Parma’s participation in the current campaign completely out, leaving anybody still due to play the Ducali in store for 3 points as those fixtures will be nullified.

That will happen if the courts rule Parma bankrupt in late March, so does Mantenti have the money to stave off that ruling? The Italian seems to think so, saying on Thursday “I really do have the money, I’m not a madman. I’m not bluffing, stay calm … Once we have everything in place I will explain everything that has happened over these days.” Lucarelli also claims that Mantenti has tried to persuade the players that the money will come, “he showed us [players] a bank document stating that there were €100m available to invest in Parma” he said.

With the cash still yet to materialise the Milanese businessman has cited trouble with transferring money from abroad, but that is doing little to appease the thinning patience of the players, with Lucarelli saying “our patience has a limit. We are a united group and we have given the club an ultimatum.” Regardless, the players have refused to sue the club and push it into administration, thinking of all those who are awaiting their long-owed wages from the club.

Instead, they are beginning bankruptcy proceedings, aiming to get them underway before the planned March 19th date. It is hoped that such a course of action, with the help of the FIGC and Lega Serie A, will allow new investors to come in fresh so next season Parma can resume from Serie B rather than the amateur league.

Not that Lucarelli will mind, I am prepared to stay with Parma even in the amateur league and continue wearing this armband. Parma is within me now” said the captain. It is indeed sad to witness Parma’s plight occurring with a group of players who clearly don’t deserve such shoddy off-the-field treatment, but with the authorities and the city mayor in line to offer assistance to the beleaguered club, the abyss may not be as deep as first thought.

They definitely have the support of Sampdoria president Massimo Ferrero who called them “heroes”, but it will take many heroes to pull Parma through this storm and make them great once again.

 

Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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