Petition launched to highlight concerns
19 September ~ Parma barely register in the thoughts of the casual Serie A observer these days, let alone among the super powers of the Champions League. But during the 1990s they were a force to be reckoned with, at home and abroad. Boasting the likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Lilian Thuram, Enrico Chiesa, Hernán Crespo, Ariel Ortega and Juan Sebastián Verón, they scooped nine major titles, including the UEFA Cup twice and the European Cup-Winners Cup.
Spending beyond their means ultimately saw a mass exodus at the turn of the century and the club were declared insolvent in 2004, when their backers went bankrupt.
Since then, they have bobbed around the lower reaches of Serie A and were relegated in 2008, but returned to the top flight at the first attempt. After a brief spell in the limelight, the focus is now back on them for an altogether different reason. In an attempt to counter a lack of funds, small catchment area and poor attendances, Parma have established a radical transfer policy that is generating a great deal of interest.
Parma have established a complex web of feeder clubs, co-ownership arrangements and loan deals to enable mass recruitment. Italian newspaper La Repubblica estimate that around 300 transactions in and out of the club have taken place this summer. As a result, they currently operate a squad containing in excess of 200 players.
Of course, not all of these players are in contention for selection. They maintain a core squad of around 30, containing high-profile loan signings Antonio Cassano, Joel Obi and Walter Gargano. Around 100 players have been sent out on loan to an array of teams further down the Italian football pyramid. Several more have been stationed at Serie C1 feeder club Gubbio, as well as Gorica in Slovenia's PrvaLiga, while almost 50 are at clubs in co-ownership deals.
The objective of casting their net far and wide is to feed off bigger club's cast offs and hope to strike gold every now and then. They look to graduate the best players to the first-team squad or sell them on at a profit, aiming for a success rate of around 30-40 per cent. This will enable the process to continue as long as there is wealth of available talent and a desire to trade players like stocks and shares.
The system appears to be very much a product of Italian football, where favours and affiliations play a key part in transfer activity. Whether aspects of Parma's approach will be utilised elsewhere is likely to depend on their future success. Former Italian international Roberto Donadoni has been in charge of the team since January 2012 and has already overseen an eighth-place finish in 2011-12 and tenth last season. They are currently 16th but only three games have been played thus far.
Their set-up has generated plenty of criticism and the ethics involved have been questioned in some quarters, but unless authorities intervene with the introduction of restrictive legislation, Parma will continue to utilise their current system to punch above their weight on a tight budget. Scott Johnson