Parma: Reliving the Glory Years

Blair Newman@@TheBlairNewmanFeatured ColumnistFebruary 26, 2015

Parma: Reliving the Glory Years

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    Parma are experiencing troubled times. Their match against Udinese, scheduled for last weekend, was called off as the club were unable to afford match-day stewards. It appears that the club may well be very close to going out of business.

    Such financial difficulties portray a depressing future for Parma followers. Younger football fans may not understand the exact significance of the club's decline, though there was a time when it was all so very different.

    With investment from Parmalat, the 1990's saw Parma rub shoulders with Italy's best, succeeding on occasion, while marauding around Europe winning some of the continent's most prestigious silverware.

    When better than a time as bleak as the present to reminisce on those golden years, when Parma were one of Italy's best known clubs. To do so we will start at the very beginning and the appointment of the club's finest ever manager.

1989: Nevio Scala's Appointment

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    Following the departure of legendary coach Arrigo Sacchi, Parma were left searching for their ideal man to lead them to Serie A for the first time in their history. In 1989, the club made the right call, bringing in Nevio Scala.

    Scala got them up at the first time of asking and, with the increased funding of Parmalat founder Calisto Tanzi, guided the club further up the league table and on to silverware.

    He stayed at the club until 1996, and during his days as Parma manager, the club never finished outside of the top six in Serie A. His appointment was a major part of the club's growth.

1992: Parma's First Coppa Italia

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    There was no better way for Parma to announce themselves at Italian football's top table than by winning a domestic trophy, and that's exactly what they did in 1992.

    Having reached the final of the Coppa Italia, Parma took on a Juventus side that would finish second in the league that season. That Juve team included top class talent including Jurgen Kohler, Antonio Conte and Roberto Baggio.

    That talent, along with a 1-0 win in the Stadio Delle Alpi, was not enough for them to prevent Parma from securing their first ever Italian Cup with the Emilia-Romagna side, including Swede maestro Tomas Brolin, winning the return leg 2-0 at the Stadio Ennio Tardini.

    That famous victory was only the beginning. In the proceeding years, Parma would go on to win more while signing some of the decade's most memorable players.

1993: Asprilla Ends Milan Streak

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    AC Milan had won the 1992 Scudetto at a canter, finishing eight points clear of closest rivals Juventus without losing a single game in their 34 league fixtures. They were undefeated in the following campaign, too. That is, until they met Parma.

    Faustino Asprilla had been signed by Parma at the beginning of that season, having impressed in Colombia with Atletico Nacional, and the maverick striker would show his quality as his team met the seemingly unbeatable Milan side managed by Fabio Capello at the San Siro.

    With the score at 0-0 on 58 minutes, Asprilla stepped up and gently curled home a perfectly placed right foot free-kick into the top left corner of the Milan net. Parma held on to their 1-0 lead to win.

    Milan won the league again that season, but Asprilla and Parma had taken away their aura of invincibility.

1993: Cup-Winners Cup Triumph

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    In the 1992-93 season, Parma found themselves competing in the Cup-Winners Cup, having won their first ever Coppa Italia the year before.

    They took to the competition like a duck to water, navigating their way to the final, disposing of Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals.

    With Asprilla on the bench, Parma nonetheless lined up for their final against Antwerp of Belgium with a lineup littered with class. This lineup included captain Lorenzo Minotti, Antonio Benarrivo, Luigi Apolloni and top scorer Alessandro Melli.

    Parma went ahead through Minotti and rebounded from conceding a quick equaliser to win 3-1 with further goals from Melli and Stefano Cuoghi.

    In victory, Parma made history once again by winning the club's first ever Cup-Winners Cup and announced themselves to a European audience.

1993: The Zola-Crippa Double Deal

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    In the summer of 1993, Parma announced an intriguing double signature. In this deal, both Gianfranco Zola and Massimo Crippa arrived at the club from financially troubled Napoli, for a fee of around £9 million.

    The miniature Zola, with his low centre of gravity, would go on to be one of the more recognisable faces of this wonderful Parma team and, later in his career, would wow English Premier League fans with Chelsea.

    Zola was no doubt the better known half of this transfer, but Crippa was also an important cog in the Parma machine. In his second season with the club, the tenacious midfielder would even score the winning goal as his team beat AC Milan to lift the European Super Cup.

1994: Dino Baggio Sinks His Old Club

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    Dino Baggio was often known as "the other Baggio" throughout his career. This was due to the ability and profile of his namesake and one-time Juventus team-mate, Roberto.

    After the 1994 World Cup, Dino entered into negotiations with Parma, but was initially uncertain of leaving Turin. With Alessandro Del Piero about to leave Juventus for Parma instead, Baggio changed his mind.

    Upon joining Parma, Baggio became a crucial part of the midfield. He was never renowned for scoring goals, but he bagged two of utmost importance in his first season with his new club.

    Having made it to the UEFA Cup final, Parma would play Baggio's old employers Juventus. In the first leg, at home, Parma won 1-0 thanks to Baggio's lofted strike. Aggregate victory was secured with a 1-1 draw in the second leg with Baggio heading home the equaliser.

    The win earned Parma's first ever UEFA Cup and second major European trophy in two years. For a brief time, Dino was not "the other Baggio."

1995: Stoichkov Signs

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    Hristo Stoichkov was a vivacious and incisive forward. The Bulgarian international had been an influential member of Barcelona's "Dream Team" in the early 1990's.

    Stoichkov was also a key player in Bulgaria's against-all-odds journey to the 1994 World Cup semi-finals, so he was a player of high repute when he arrived in Italy to sign for Parma in 1995.

    Although no longer at his absolute peak at 29 years of age, Stoichkov was a big-name signing. He had won the Ballon d'Or the year previously and his transfer was a pronouncement of Parma's improved standing within the game.

    Stoichkov had mixed levels of success with Parma, scoring just seven goals in his one and only season with the team before returning to Barcelona.

1995: Captain Cannavaro Comes Aboard

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    In the same summer as Stoichkov's arrival, Fabio Cannavaro left his hometown club Napoli for Parma.

    Having came through the Neopolitan side's youth ranks in the previous two seasons he, like Zola before him, had to leave due to Napoli's poor financial situation.

    Cannavaro was still in his early twenties at the time, but in his seven seasons at Parma, he would mature from hot prospect into a seasoned international centre-half.

    He was a regular in his first season and would go on to captain the club, becoming the backbone of one of the most impregnable defences in Italy in what were essentially the formative stages of Cannavaro's legendary career.

    In later years, he would play for Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Juventus, while also captaining Italy to a famous 2006 World Cup win. That success also led to him being given the 2006 Ballon d'Or.

1995: Buffon Breaks Through

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    Having tried out a number of different positions as a youngster, Gianlugi Buffon eventually settled on goalkeeper and quickly became the number one for Parma's youth team.

    By 1995, he was on the fringes of the first team, and it was in that year he would make his debut for the club at the tender age of 17.

    On that debut, Buffon was up against an AC Milan forward line including George Weah, Roberto Baggio and Marco Simone, but he performed well, and come the next season, he was Parma's first-choice goalkeeper.

    He would go on to become Italy's long-standing number one, establishing himself as one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, breaking former Parma team-mate Cannavaro's appearance record with the national team.

1996: Ancelotti Gets His Chance

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    Nevio Scala left Parma following a relatively disappointing fifth-place finish in the 1995-96 season. To fill the new managerial vacancy, the club turned to the comparatively inexperienced Carlo Ancelotti.

    Ancelotti had guided Reggiana to Serie A the season before his appointment, but this left him with just one year of managerial experience—and that was in Serie B.

    Having begun his outstanding playing career with Parma, the club would prove a similar launchpad for Ancelotti's managerial prospects. 

    Following his time with Parma, Ancelotti would go on to win Champions Leagues with both AC Milan and Real Madrid, marking himself out as one of game's best modern managers.

1996: A Trio of Summer Signings

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    Ancelotti's arrival came in the same summer as three sensational signings. That summer, Parma brought in three internationals in French defender Lilian Thuram, Italian forward Enrico Chiesa and Argentinian striker Hernan Crespo.

    Thuram was an intelligent, powerful and versatile player. He could play in the centre or on the right of the backline and possessed the ability to bring the ball out of defence with composure. 

    Further forward, Chiesa and Crespo would form a tantalising strike duo. Chiesa had scored 22 goals in 27 games for Sampdoria the season prior, while Crespo had starred in the 1996 Olympic Games, where his six goals in as many games helped Argentina progress to the final.

    Chiesa's diligence and skill combined with Crespo's strength and aerial ability formed one of European football's most effective and beguiling attacking duets for years to come, while Thuram joined Cannavaro and Buffon in forming a strong defence.

1997: Challenging for the Scudetto

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    Galvanised by Ancelotti's management and buoyed by the signatures of Thuram, Chiesa and Crespo, Parma fought tooth and nail for the Italian league title in the 1996-97 season.

    A defence including the emerging Buffon, newly arrived Thuram, Cannavaro and Nestor Sensini was Serie A's second best that season, providing a solid base on which Parma built their title bid.

    Unfortunately, a 1-1 draw with Juventus ultimately proved Parma's undoing. With three fixtures left, Parma took the lead in this title decider through a Zinedine Zidane own goal but were undone by a controversial penalty decision.

    Had Parma won that game, they would have won the Scudetto for the first time in their growing history. This was to be Parma's last genuine challenge for the league title.

1997: Parma in the Champions League

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    Following their second-place finish in 1997, Parma qualified for the following season's Champions League. In their maiden Champions League voyage, they were drawn alongside the holders Borussia Dortmund, as well as Sparta Prague and Galatasaray.

    Back then only the group winners and two best runners-up qualified for the knockout stages, meaning Parma would likely have to dispose of the European champions if they were to progress.

    A Crespo goal gave Parma a home victory over Dortmund to leave them top of the group at the halfway point, but an inability to win away from home would cost them dear.

    Parma failed to win another game, finishing second and exiting the tournament.

1998: Juan Sebastian Veron's Brief Spell

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    With Ancelotti gone following a failure to compete in Serie A or the Champions League, Alberto Malesani was appointed as manager.

    Malesani brought Argentinian forward Abel Balbo with him from Fiorentina and also added French midfielder Alain Boghossian, experienced Italian international Diego Fuser and re-signed Faustino Asprilla.

    However, the most significant arrival in the summer of 1998 was Juan Sebastian Veron. The Argentinian playmaker had impressed at the 1998 World Cup with Argentina after two seasons in Serie A with Sampdoria.

    Known as "La Brujita" or "The Little Witch," Veron was a remarkable passer of the ball who could dictate play from midfield.

    Parma signed him for a fee of £15 million, but Veron would only spend one season with the club before moving on for Lazio. Although brief, Veron's time with the club would prove successful.

1999: A Treble of Cups

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    With a new manager and a horde of new signings, Parma began the 1998-99 season aiming to catapult themselves back into title contention.

    The team started inconsistently, though an early win over Juventus and a 4-0 thrashing of AC Milan were positives.

    Entering the new year, Parma may not have been in the title race, though they remained in both the UEFA Cup and Coppa Italia.

    A 6-0 home hammering of Bordeaux saw Parma progress to the UEFA Cup semi-finals, where they would overcome Atletico Madrid to reach the final. Meanwhile, a 4-1 aggregate victory over Inter Milan earned the club a place in the Coppa Italia final.

    An away goals win over Fiorentina meant that Parma picked up the second Italian Cup in their history. One week later, they faced Marseille in the UEFA Cup final in Moscow.

    In the first half, Crespo capitalised on to a sloppy backpass to chip over the goalkeeper to put Parma 1-0 up, before a well placed Paolo Vanoli header doubled their advantage.

    Early in the second half, an emphatic Chiesa strike assured victory and a cup double for Parma.

    Come the start of the next campaign, Parma had lost Veron to Lazio, but they triumphed over AC Milan in the Italian Super Cup to win their third trophy of the year, thanks to an injury time winner from Boghossian.

    The 1999 treble represented the pinnacle of Parma's rise. In the coming years, the club would be stripped of their best players and declared insolvent due to Parmalat's financial crisis.

    Having been relegated, they would return to Serie A but, as recent events have shown, Parma's woes were not over.