During the 90’s and early years of the new millennium the Italian Serie A was undoubtedly the number one league in Europe. Ronaldo, Marco Van Basten, Diego Maradona, Paolo Maldini, Kaka, Franco Baresi, Alessandro Del Piero, Edgar Davids, Pavel Nedved, Gabriel Batistuta, Juan Sebastian Veron, Ruud Gullit, Careca and Zinedine Zidane to name but a few. The list of stars plying their trade during Calcio’s heyday is endless.
From 1989 till 2005 twelve European Cup (and later, the Champions League) finalists were Italian. That’s 12 finalists in just 17 years. To put that into perspective, Spain had seven, Germany had four and England was represented by just two finalists during the same time period.
Italy was truly the place to be if you wanted to see the best soccer talent in the world, with cash flowing thick and fast into the clubs. The world transfer record fee for a soccer player was broken 11 times from 1984 until the record acquisition of Luis Figo from Barcelona to Real Madrid in 2000. Nine of those 11 records were broken by Italian clubs.
In recent times, however, the tables have truly turned. They’ve been turned, smashed into bits and thrown into the fire as Serie A faces a financial crisis which has been a long time in coming.
The greatest victims of the chaos surrounding calcio have undoubtedly been Parma, the three-time Coppa Italia winners and twice UEFA Cup holders. The situation at the club is dire.
First of all, Parma have around 140 players on their books, and that’s not even taking into consideration their reserve and youth team players. Most of these players are out on loan or are part of a co-ownership deal with another club.
However, more astoundingly than that, Parma are broke. Well and truly broke. Penniless. This has led to two Serie A matches, against Genoa and Udinese, to be postponed as no money is available for security and electricity. Thankfully, the home match against Atalanta over the weekend was played as the other Serie A clubs voted to give a five million euro loan to the Gialloblu. Interestingly, Cesena was the only club to vote against the loan while Napoli, Roma and Sassuolo abstained.
Serie A has also received threats form Sky TV that the matches must go ahead as scheduled. Sky currently pay 650 million euro per year for the Serie A TV rights, which is a substantial amount for the financially stricken league. It must be noted that that amount is merely a quarter of the money Sky pays to the English Premier League.
To make matters worse, Parma have changed owners twice this season with the current President, Giampietro Manenti also threatening to walk away from the club. Former owner Tommaso Ghirardi is being investigated for suspected bankruptcy fraud as the club is estimated to be 100 million euro in debt.
Youth team coach and former striker Hernan Crespo has recently confessed that at times his players have to take cold showers as the electricity bills remain unpaid.
The first-team players haven’t received any wages since the summer which puts Serie A firmly in the spotlight. How could a club in such a desperate situation be allowed to complete at all in Italy’s highest tier? Last season, Parma finished sixth but Roberto Donadoni’s side have managed to muster just three league victories this time round.
The first team still features the names of former Juventus and Italy striker Raffaelle Palladino, Antonio Mirante, former Inter players Jonathan Biabiany, McDonald Mariga and Ishak Belfodil and Antonio Nocerino. Nevertheless the situation looks hopeless as the club is stuck at the bottom of the league.
Parma’s financial problems may be traced to 2004 when the scandal of the bankruptcy via their major sponsor Parmalat caught the public eye. Serie A has had its fair share of financial tragedies in recent years as Lazio, AC Milan, Roma, Napoli and Fiorentina have all struggled to make ends meet. The Viola actually ceased to exist in 2002 due to excessive debt and had to be re-branded and start from scratch in the fourth tier of Italian soccer, Serie C2.
At the end of the day, it’s the fans that suffer most as they helplessly watch their club crumble in front of their eyes. In the days of Financial Fair Play, such disasters are still occurring as massive amounts of money are being thrown into soccer without any thought of the long-term impact such costs could have.
Parma recently boasted the likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Juan Sebastian Veron, Sebastiano Fiore, Lilian Thuram, Gianfranco Zola, Tomas Brolin, Hernan Crespo, Marco di Vaio, Giuseppe Rossi and Alberto Gilardino in its ranks. Now the whole soccer world is seeing the club disintegrate into financial meltdown.
Not a pleasant sight at all.
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