Rarely has the Decline and Fall of Italian football become more tangible than with current crisis of Parma, winners of two UEFA Cups and one Cup Winners’ Cup back in the ’90s.   For the first time ever, a Serie A game was not played this weekend for bankruptcy related reasons when Parma’s home tie with Udinese was “postponed”.

Last Tuesday, the Parma public prosecutor’s office called for the club to be declared bankrupt at a forthcoming hearing on March 19th.    This was just the latest development in an ongoing Parma crisis which has dragged on all season but which, essentially, has its roots in the €14 billion dollar crash of dairy multinational Parmalat SpA in 2003, the company which then owned Parma.

Deprived of the financial backing of a company which in 2002 was valued at €3.7 billion euro and which employed 30,000 people in 30 countries, Parma were soon on a slippery downwards slope.    In much more recent times, an alarm bell rang loud and clear last summer when UEFA refused to allow Parma play in this season’s Europa League (they had finished sixth in Serie A last season) essentially because of unpaid taxes.  Torino stepped into to replace them in the tournament.

Twice this season, the heavily indebted club has changed hands reportedly for just one euro.   Players and staff at Parma have received no wages since last July, an issue that became public knowledge when Italy and Parma striker Antonio Cassano asked for his contract to be rescinded last January.   32-year-old Cassano is currently without a club.

At the moment, Parma AC does not have the money to pay its electricity and gas bills whilst it owes €77,000 euro to the company which provides its match stewards.   Given the unavailability of the latter for last weekend’s game, Parma had offered to play their tie with Udinese behind closed doors, an offer that was rejected by the players.

When Italian businessman Giampietro Manenti took over the club this month, buying it from a little known Russian-Cypriot conglomerate headed by Albanian tycoon Rezart Taci, he told journalists:

“We’re going to pay everything…It will be our duty to respect the deadlines, both of taxes and salaries. We are going to try to get other Italian and foreign companies on board.”

So far, there has been no sign of a cash injection from Mr. Manenti.   The businessman was on his way to Slovenia on Tuesday when  bailiffs arrived at the club’s training ground to seize several of the club’s vehicles against unpaid taxes.   The lack of funds prompted exasperated Parma city Mayor Federico Pizzarotti to comment this weekend:

“Parma is a Serie A football club not a salami shop…If you don’t have the money in an Italian bank to cover immediate costs, then there must be somebody behind this (purchase)”

Mayor Pizzarotti, the Italian Football Federation and the Parma management are currently attempting a short term solution of the elastoplast and duck-tape variety which will help the club limp on to the end of the season.   It may be that, if and when the club is declared officially bankrupt, that the Football Federation and the Serie A Lega will step in and guarantee the estimated €5 million euro which would see it through to June.

Meanwhile, Parma captain Alessandro Lucarelli is highly critical of the Federation’s role in the Parma crisis, telling Gazzetta Dello Sport:

“The Lega and the Federation only turned up here on Friday to see how things were going…How come they allowed the club to twice change hands for just one euro, that’s ridiculous.  In this business, the (football) authorities have protected no one…”

If the Federation/Lega rescue plan fails and Parma in the meantime is declared bankrupt, then it will be excluded from the rest of the season.  Federation rules state that in such a case, all teams with games still to play against Parma will be awarded a 3-0 win.

This will be of little comfort to second placed AS Roma who, disappointly, were held to a 0-0 home draw by Parma eight days ago.  Leaders Juventus, who beat Parma 7-0 last November and who should have a return tie with them in April, currently lead Serie A by nine points, following a 2-1 win over Atalanta on Friday night.   Roma yesterday drew 1-1 with Verona.


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