Parmalack (†)

Frustration: the fans had enough of it.

22 people arrested. Club possessions worth of €542500 confiscated by the bailiffs. €218 million of unpaid debts. Two league games reschedules to April because of lack of money for hiring stewards who would be monitoring the matches (actually, it’s just an excuse: in fact, it’s players who refused to enter the pitch). Six months without any wages being paid to players. Two board takeovers, each worth exactly €1, as both chairmen were utterly dissatisfied with a horrendous financial situation in the club. Over 1000 devoted supporters protesting at Stadio Ennio Tardini, hanging the banners like “Closed for a Theft” on the grounds’ gates. Only twelve points gained in 26 league games – points that have been further reduced by 3 because of Serie A’s authorities punishment for a failure to pay the salaries to clubs’ employees. English version of the teams’ website not updated since June 2014. Alessandro Lucarelli, the 37-years old veteran captain openly slamming the management for false promises and announcing that the team is going to show up for the next game only to walk off the pitch 10 minutes later. This is Parma F.C. A.D. 2015; numbers and facts are only confirming the agony.

Some would call it a bad luck – bad luck at getting the wrong people involved with the club; bad luck at having prominent and powerful Italian businessmen turning out to be fraudsters or, at best, incompetent managers, as soon as they took control over teams’ finances. But at which point the string of horrible owners stops being a coincidence? Parma supporters must be asking themselves that question since 1990, when their team has been promoted to Serie A for the first time ever and Calisto Tanzi decided to purchase most of the club shares, becoming it’s sole ruler. Those two events were soon followed by the entire decade of great success. By injecting trillions of liras into Gialloblu’s roster, Tanzi was able to sign star players such as Gianfranco Zola, Faustino Asprilla, Hristo Stoichkov,  Lilian Thuram, Enrico Chiesa, Hernán Crespo, Juan Sebastián Verón… The constellation of stars has been managed by more stars, such as Nevio Scala, Carlo Ancelotti and Alberto Malesani. With such people sticking around, capturing three Italian Cups, two UEFA Cups, one Cup Winners’ Cup and one European Super Cup still seemed like a moderate achievement. Ambitions were much bigger, though: with so much investments being made, Tanzi wanted Scudetto…

“When his private jet would fly over Parma towns people referred to it as “L’Areo di Dio” or “Airplane of God”.”
NBC News journalist, Stephen Weeke – on Tanzi’s stature in his hometown.

Everything fell apart in 2003. Parmalat, Tanzi’s company and world’s biggest UHT milk producer at the time, has lost the financial liquidity for the first time since it’s foundation in 1961. Initially, only few people were concerned with that: with a reported assets of €4 billion in their U.S. bank accounts, the corporation was expected to regain stability soon. However, as it turned out, the “€4 billion bank” never existed and Parmalat has been actually running on debt for several years already – debt that’s been carefully concealed by it’s owner by a steady use of the financial derivatives. As it turns out, the roots of the catastrophe traced back to early 90s, when Tanzi, encouraged by Parmalat’s success in Brazil (they even used to advertise on Palmeiras’ green kits), decided to expand further, investing in Africa, Asia and Australia. This, combined with low-revenue investments in A.C. Parma and magnified by extensive cash draining in Parmalat, quickly resulted with a disaster. The false auditing was revealed; the rigged financial reports scrutinized. Ultimately, Gialloblu’s chairman has turned out to be responsible for €14 billion company deficit, making him the biggest corporate bankrupt in European history.

Giampiero Manenti, the current capo di tutti capi, has a good chance to follow the footsteps of his 76-years old predecessor and land in prison with a sentence. Arrested just 8 days ago, he was charged with the suspicion of a credit card scam worth of about €4.5 million. His bank accounts have already been suspended, while his actions as a chairman of Parma are still being reviewed. Lots of stuff to work with there: the prosecutors are particularly interested with the obscene amount of pointless transfer and loan deals the club has conducted recently. Compared to “only” 24 players in their first-team squad, Gialloblu have a staggering number of 109 players loaned out elsewhere and well over three hundred transfer-related transactions made since June 2014. It’s been commonly assumed that all these activities served only to transfer the remainder of clubs’ money into the hands of the managers connected to Manenti, who’s now obviously rejecting all speculations and claiming his innocence. To top it all, with his shady business affairs, the older financial anomalies were discovered as well: anomalies that occurred under the rule of Tommaso Ghirardi, the former president who’s brought the team back from the depths of Serie B!

“Lets not only see the negative side of this. I did not expect we would end this seasons with only 18 defeats.”
xtratime.org user forzaparma – on the possibility of withdrawing Parma from Serie A before the end of the season.

Now, as they all lay in ruins, with a court-proclaimed bankruptcy and a month-old declaration of team being set to disband (which never happened: the players went on to draw Atalanta and lose to Roma and Sassuolo ever since), Crociati desperately fight to play the season until it’s bitter end and thus avoid the obligatory relegation to the regional league, which awaits for any team that fails to complete the 2014-15 Serie A campaign. The only difference between them imploding and continuing to play, is currently an emergency €5 million loan they were provided with by sixteen other Serie A teams. As Parma captain Lucarelli has stated: “We’re determined to play against Genoa and all other remaining teams in our schedule. But we’re all tired of this farce and we’re all hoping for it to end soon.” Lucarelli is somewhat lucky: with 37 years already passed since his birth, he’ll have little problems retiring and subsequently suing his club for unpaid wages. But what is going to happen with others – those who won’t find new clubs? What’s going to happen to the youth squad, the Primavera team who, despite the lack of warm water or electricity in the club, are currently holding a respectable #5 position in a Group A of Italian U20 league?

Hernán Crespo is Parma’s legend and Primavera team manager.

Brand new Parma administrators, Angelo Anedda and Alberto Guiotto, still remain slightly optimistic – or, at least, they seem so. They’ve annonced that they’re working on a report which shall determine whether the team can play the remaining 12 games in Serie A, or not. The most recent light at the end of a dark tunnel is Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment – a Canadian company responsible for the majority of Toronto’s strongest teams in various teamsports – including football club Toronto FC, NBA side Toronto Raptors and a hockey team Toronto Maple Leafs. The main issue, however, remains the money. Anedda and Guiotto insist that whoever wants to take charge on Ennio Tardini, must first bring €74 million to the table to cover for most of the clubs’ strictly sporting debts and expenses – a rather substantial amount for a team that in the best scenario will end up in Serie B very soon. Another problem are the identities of debt owners: latest rumours mention that both Ghirardi and Manenti were indirectly involved in the process of laundering Russian money during their spell with Crusaders. In view of that, is there any financial force out there that would want to ever touch this pile of unpaid bills? I, personally, doubt that.

“I want to stay in Parma. Even if I’ll be forced to play in Serie D.”
PFC’s winger Raffaele Palladino – on his future in Gialloblu shirt.

The only good news for Parma fans are that apparently, total bankruptcy or epic meltdown of a club is not the end of the world. At least – not in Italy. Not long ago, in a memorable, yet depressing 2001-02 season, A.C. Fiorentina finished 19th out of 20 top Italian teams only to immediately declare club’s bankruptcy and get relegated to Serie C2 – the 3rd Italian division. Viola’s owner and film producer, Vittorio Cecchi Gori orchestrated club’s demise carefully, finishing the job with spectacular transfers of Manuel Rui Costa to Milan and Enrico Chiesa to Lazio – the two moves that liquidated last remaining sporting assets in Florence. However, after spending a year in C2 class and winning it, Fiorentina benefited from the Serie B reform and was immediately awarded with a double-promotion, which soon translated into yet another promotion – back to Serie A. Nowadays, ACF Fiorentina, the descendant of Cecchi Gori’s demise, fights hard for the European qualification with other strong teams like Napoli or Sampdoria; they’re also in Europa League’s semifinal after eliminating their domestic rivals, Roma. And not only that: in 2014, Viola registered a financial gain of €1.4 million, being one of only seven Serie A clubs to make profit.

Fiorentina isn’t, by any means, a one-time example. S.S. Lazio chairman, Claudio Lotito would prefer to forget the murky days of March 2005, when his beloved Biancazzurri were on the verge of a bankruptcy due to unpaid taxes as huge as €140 million. Lotito inherited most of those liabilities after Sergio Cragnotti – the chief executive of a food company Cirio; a man responsible for Lazio’s golden era; a man, who was later sentenced to nine years in prison for participating in the collapse of his business. The aforementioned pattern of financial implosion remains: shortly prior to their trouble, Romans got rid of Stefano Fiore, Sérgio Conçeicão, Claudio López, Jaap Stam and Dejan Stanković, who were all the top performers and earners on Stadio Olimpico. Lazio survived by the skin of it’s teeth: just minutes before the deadline set by court, Lazio’s lawyer Gianmichele Gentile deposited the bank warranties that club debt shall be paid back on the course of next 13 years. At the same time, the team was lucky to participate in one of the most competitive domestic seasons: despite an utter lack of quality, they finished tenth, but only two points above the relegation zone. And now? They may as well end up as the Serie A runner-ups.

“Parma feel like carrion in the desert.”
ACP’s head coach Roberto Donadoni – on current situation.

Parma’s situation is hopeless, true – but once the dust settles, it’s unlikely that the club disappears completely and it’s stadium gets torn down. Most of it’s players are likely to leave: the examples of Felipe (now Inter) and Gabriel Paletta (now Milan) prove that it’s possible to find a decent club after months of suffering in Giallobluian uncertainty. The ‘cattle market’ policy of buying players shall stop as well – there simply won’t be enough money – virtual AND real – to sign and loan so many players in hope that their market values eventually rises and that they can be sold with profit. Later, the former members of the board shall be prosecuted. And once that all happens, the rebuilding can be done. Or… not. Twenty times smaller than Rome and two times smaller than Florence, Parma might not ever aspire to have a Serie A team again. Because, as the only anti-loan voter amongst Serie A presidents, Giorgio Lugaresi said: “The club should be saved the way we saved Cesena in Serie B: by coming to terms with their debt.” Harsh, but true.

Except that at the same time, Serie A has total debt as monstrous as €1.7 billion…

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