THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Instead clubs are giving into threats from TV companies

icon seriea10 March ~ After two blank weekends, Parma returned to action on March 8, drawing 0-0 at home with Atalanta. The game with Udinese was postponed because they did not have the €40,000 (£29,000) necessary to pay their matchday employees, and then the League postponed the game at Genoa when the players threatened a strike.

In May Parma qualified for the Europa League, but were refused entry because of an unpaid tax bill of €300,000. Many thought that this was harsh, but we should have been asking why the club were unable to pay such a relatively trifling sum. It became clear as the season began. They could not afford to pay their players either, or their staff. We are now in March and neither the players nor coach Roberto Donadoni and his backroom staff have received a euro since July.

Parma’s first crisis was the Parmalat bankruptcy in 2004. The club came close to liquidation and went into administration. In 2007 they were bought by 31-year-old Brescia industrialist Tommaso Ghirardi and, despite being relegated in 2008, they made an immediate return to Serie A and became a solid mid-table outfit. But in the last few years it has been all downhill off the field.

Someone should have found it strange when it was revealed Parma had more than 200 players on their books. It seems that this was because the potential transfer value of these players was used to offset them. They were imaginary assets rather than players. In December of last year, with the debt reportedly at about €160 million, Ghirardi sold the club for €1 to a company based in Cyprus and controlled by a 29-year-old Albanian called Rezart Taci. On February 5 Taci sold the club on, again for €1, to Giampietro Manenti, owner of a shadowy company called Mapi Group based in Slovenia.

For a month Manenti has been promising that the money owed to the club’s employees, and also that needed to complete the season, is on its way, but so far there has been no sign of it and no one believes him any more, especially as he has failed to pay a fine of less than €2,000 for a motoring offence.

Things came to a head at a meeting of Serie A clubs on Friday, March 6 to decide how Parma could at least complete the season. It was reluctantly and not unanimously agreed that if the club goes into liquidation on March 19, €5m will be given to the receiver from League funds to enable them to complete their fixtures. Cesena were strong opponents, pointing out that while they bought no one in January, Parma recruited three new players.

And that was that. The season was saved. But it may not be. The receiver may not accept the deal. And if he does not, Serie A and the Italian federation could find themselves sued by Sky and Mediaset, holders of the TV rights for all 380 games. It was their threat that swayed some clubs, against their own interests, to vote for the plan to “save” Parma.

There is another problem. If Parma cease to play after March 19, Udinese, Genoa and all the teams they were due to meet after that date will receive 3-0 wins. But what will happen to Atalanta and Sassuolo, who will have met them in the “window" between the first postponements and March 19? The whole story once again paints a very unfavourable picture of the incompetent and possibly fraudulent governance of Italian football, but nobody will admit to any mistakes or give satisfactory answers to any of the many questions the Parma case raises.

On March 6 the clubs should have faced down the TV companies and excluded Parma from Serie A. Instead they gave in to blackmail. It is only 15 matches, after all, out of 380. In any case, it all highlights football’s Faustian pact with television. Once there was no live TV and the game had a soul. Now it has sold its soul, and we are all the poorer for it. Richard Mason

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