The northern Italian city of Parma is located in the Emilia-Romagna province, famous for its ham and cheese which provide sustenance to the rest of the country. Its football club is no different, and it has provided names of genuine substance for the rest of European to feast upon over the past 20 years.
Once considered one of the "Seven Sisters" of Italian football, that trend of supplying new faces to bigger clubs looks set to continue with the current team. The Ducali have always employed a revolving-door policy on their playing–and indeed coaching–staff, unearthing some of the peninsula’s greatest talents and nurturing numerous discarded and fading stars back to full potential.
A list of former coaches reads like a who’s who of Calcio, with Arrigo Sacchi, Carlo Ancelotti, Cesare Prandelli and Claudio Ranieri among the men who have sat upon their bench, while the names of former players is a glossary of world greats of recent times.
Lillian Thuram, Alberto Gilardino, Juan Veron and Giuseppe Rossi are merely a drop in the huge pool of talent that has moved on to some of Europe’s greatest clubs.
Two of the worlds ten most expensive transfers of all time involve Parma as the selling club: Gigi Buffon to Juventus and Hernan Crespo to Lazio, making the Stadio Tardini a popular shopping destination for Italy’s grander teams.
They are currently grabbing attention once again, thanks to a 17-game undefeated streak which included away wins over both Napoli and Milan. Roberto Donadoni has the team playing some excellent football, and they can consider themselves unlucky to have lost to Juventus on Wednesday evening.
That loss neatly book-ended their superb run, which began immediately after they lost the reverse fixture back in November. Since then, they have been one of Serie A’s most impressive teams. Parma currently sit in fifth place, above more highly lauded sides such as Milan, Lazio and Inter, gathering many admirers along the way.
Former Juve youth director, Pietro Leonardi, has once again done a most remarkable job. He has built a squad able to compete with the peninsula’s biggest clubs, by combining exciting youngsters with assured veterans like Alessandro Lucarelli, Mattia Cassani and Marco Marchionni.
This follows from him doing a similarly excellent job at Udinese, as well as being the man who convinced Paolo Di Canio to join Cisco Roma in Italian football’s fourth tier, following his release from Lazio in 2006. Perhaps his best work, however, is in bringing players on the margins of other clubs at very little cost.
Men like Antonio Mirante, a steady presence in goal, came from Juve where he was never likely to displace Buffon. Now 30, the ‘keeper has kept 10 clean sheets this term, making 77 saves in his 28 league appearances according to Fox Soccer’s statistics.
He has been aided by the excellent form of defenders Lucarelli and Gabriel Paletta, the performances of the latter earning him his Italy against Spain earlier this month. According to WhoScored.com, the duo both average 3.1 tackles per game with the former Liverpool stopper also adding 1.7 interceptions and 5.5 clearances.
That has seen Paletta emerge as a potential transfer target for both Manchester United and Tottenham (as per Teleducato via FootballItalia), his stock rising rapidly as Parma’s impressive season continues. In front of that stout defence–which currently ranks as Serie A’s sixth best having conceded just 34 times–the impressive Marco Parolo has weighed in with seven goals and five assists.
Yet more than any other player, it is Antonio Cassano garnering most attention. The former Roma and Real Madrid striker has been rolling back the years with some incredible displays. He has scored 11 goals, the first time he has hit double figures since 2008, also adding five assists and inspiring the team to its current position.
Like the rest of the squad, he was deemed surplus to requirements elsewhere, but he has begun to restore some sheen to his soiled reputation at Parma. The reputation of il Crociati as a breeding-ground-come-finishing-school continues today as, shorn of the weight of expectation at bigger clubs, many of the squad are recapturing their best form at the Stadio Tardini.
Parma may no longer be a member of the Serie A elite, but with Donadoni guiding them, they will continue to provide players for those who are.