Parma: ’90s Phenomenon

19 05 2010

With their flowing football and galaxy of stars, Parma captured the imagination like no other Italian team in the 90s. From Asprilla to Zola they lit up Serie A that decade, finishing in the Top 7 each year from 1991-2000. It was in the 1990s that Italian football came to the attention of a British audience like never before, largely thanks to Channel 4’s Football Italia show hosted by the excellent James Richardson. As an impressionable youngster told by my Dad that Italian football was all about catenaccio, it was Parma that, for me, proved him wrong. It probably helped that they didn’t have a running track round their pitch like most of the other teams. I must admit, it also helped that he’d never heard of them – this was a team for my generation..

If you went back to 1985 Marty McFly style, there was little to hint at what was to come at Parma. The then virtually unknown Arrigo Sacchi took charge of the team that year and impressed Silvio Berlusconi with some memorable results against Milan in the Cup. The rest is history, as Milan appointed Sacchi their new coach in 1987… but that is Milan’s history. Parma were not to find their way to Serie A until the 1989-90 season following the appointment of Nevio Scala. A new decade saw a new team in the Italian top flight.

With the Parmalat millions firmly behind them, Parma were to hit the ground running in Serie A. Their first win was a 1-0 success against Maradona’s Napoli and the season was to end in an impressive 6th place finish and European qualification. The team was built on solid foundations with future Italy international central defenders Luigi Apolloni and Lorenzo Minotti at the back and the talented Alessandro Melli  up front.  All were part of the Serie B promotion but, upon reaching Serie A, Scala was also able to add further quality to the team with the signing of Tomas Brolin. Fat Boy Brolin later became a figure of fun in England but he was crucial in Parma’s early success and in 1992 came the club’s first trophy as they won the Italian Cup defeating Juventus.

1993 brought one of the club’s finest hours, at Wembley Stadium no less, as the club hoisted the now defunct European Cup Winners Cup with a 3-1 win over Antwerp. By then Parma had been bolstered by the likes of Faustino Asprilla and, that Summer of ’93 they added Gianfranco Zola, who helped them to a European Super Cup win that Autumn. Zola was to prove pivotal scoring 19 goals in each of the next 3 Serie A seasons. Nestor Sensini and Dino Baggio arrived in 1994 and the following season saw Parma seize the UEFA Cup for the first time with victory over Juventus.

1996 saw Scala leave and replaced by Carlo Ancelotti. The future Chelsea double-winning coach could find no place for the man who was to become Chelsea’s greatest player, and Zola was moved on… replaced by Hernan Crespo & Enrico Chiesa. With this came the beginnings of perhaps Parma’s finest side. Gigi Buffon had come through the youth ranks and Fabio Cannavaro arrived from Napoli. With Lilian Thuram now also in defence, Parma made a spirited attempt at securing their first Serie A crown but runners-up in 1997 was just about as close as they got.

Juan Sebastien Veron joined the party in 1998 and the decade ended with another UEFA Cup win in ’99, and an emphatic 3-0 victory over Marseille..

Just look at their team for that game:

6 Italians, 3 Argentinians and 2 Frenchman… over 700 caps and 4 World Cup winners medals between them.. Buffon, Cannavaro & Veron are even set to be involved in the 2010 World Cup over a decade on..

But every single one of that XI had left Parma by 2002. There was a final hurrah that season as they won the Italian Cup for the 3rd time  but the Parmalat scandal was breaking and the money was running out. Relegation eventually came in 2008 after 18 seasons in the top flight. Parma have bounced back since, with Crespo even returning, but things are just not the same. No, Parma was a peculiarly 90s phenomenon that reminds us of Peter Brackley’s understated commentary and James Richardson flicking through Gazzetta in a Piazza. Ciao.. and thanks for the memories: