Inspired by the recent mass exodus of players from Atletico Madrid and Southampton to England’s elite clubs, here’s a look at some other teams whose potential was cut short. First up it’s the 1998-1999 Parma AC team.
For Parma, the 1997-98 season wasn’t good enough, a 6th place finish, semi-finals of the Coppa Italia and failure to get out of the group stage in the Champions League, meant manager Carlo Ancelotti was shown the door. In came Fiorentina boss Alberto Malesani and so began Parma’s greatest season in living memory.
The team had already had some previous success during the 90s, a decade dominated in Europe almost entirely by Italian teams, from the great Milan sides of Sacchi and Capello, still the last team to successfully defend the European Cup, to Juventus who boasted talents such as Roberto Baggio, Gianluca Vialli and a young Alessandro Del Piero, Italian football was thriving.
With Juventus and AC Milan challenging regularly for Europe’s major prize, it was Inter, Parma, Sampdoria and Fiorentina who regularly contested and won the UEFA Cup. Parma themselves winning the competition in 1995 defeating Juventus in the final.
Italian football was also finding a new audience in the UK. Following Paul Gascoigne’s move to Lazio, Channel 4 began broadcasting Football Italia, a weekly show of Serie A games, on Sunday afternoons. After Gazza returned from his time in Italy, it was Paul Ince who kept UK fans’ attention after his move to Inter Milan in 1996.
All this meant the game in Italy had plenty of attention and plenty of cash, attracting the best players on offer, similar to the Premier League today. For Parma this meant being able to challenge the elite teams from Milan, Rome and Turin who has traditionally had more money and stronger sides.
The side unbelievably had the following talent at its disposal; Gigi Buffon, Lillian Thuram, Fabio Cannavaro, Roberto Sensini, Dino Baggio, Stefano Fiore, Tino Asprilla, Juan Sebastian Veron, Enrico Chiesa and Hernan Crespo.
Buffon had recently come through the team’s academy system just a year prior and was brought into the side under Ancelotti. He would become the team’s youngest ever starter. He would later sign for Juventus for £31 million in 2001, still a record amount for a goalkeeper, 13 years later!
Sensini, Thuram and Cannavaro formed the centre back partnership in a 3-5-2 formation used under Malesani. Thuram had played in the 1998 World Cup for France, and scored two crucial goals in the semi finals against Croatia, his only ever goals in a France jersey.
Cannavaro had graduated from the Napoli academy in 1992 and was signed by Ancelotti in 1995. Sensini was an Argentine international and captained the side, his experience and vocalness crucial in organisation at the back. Together he, Cannavaro and Thuram formed one of the tightest central defensive partnerships in Europe.
Thuram would later sign for Juventus along with Buffon and Pavel Nedved from Lazio in 2001, after Zinedine Zidane’s move to Real Madrid for a record £48 million that year. It wasn’t until 2004 that Thuram and Cannavaro would play together again, when Cannavaro signed for Juve from Inter Milan. They helped the side, along with Buffon, to two Serie A titles in as many seasons, later stripped following the Calciopoli scandal in 2006.
Ahead of them sat Dino Baggio. A graceful player, with typical Italian calmness on the ball. He could slow the play down and pick a pass from anywhere. His ability to sit and defend allowed the talents of Tino Asprilla, fresh from his cult status stay at Newcastle, and Juan Veron to push on and tear teams apart with their passing, skill and pace.
Veron was the team’s architect. His style was perfectly suited to Italian and European football that demanded greater technique on the ball to unpick opposition defenses. It was this ability that led Alex Ferguson to break up the greatest midfield in modern football of Beckham-Scholes-Keane-Giggs, and sign him for £28m in 2001 from Lazio.
Thinking Veron could help United perform better in Europe, Ferguson misjudged just how different the English game was to the Italian one; Veron was a disaster in the Premier League. In Europe, the side’s performances did improve but Veron only lasted two years at United before signing for Claudio Ranieri’s Chelsea in 2003.
Up front was Enrico Chiesa, a goal scoring machine wherever he went. In total he played for ten different clubs making over 500 appearances as well as 22 for Italy, but wherever he played he brought goals.
With him up front was a player who would become a Parma legend, Hernan Crespo. The Argentine had been signed from River Plate and following a slow start to life in Italy, soon began firing. 80 goals in four seasons for the side helped shoot the team to the 1999 UEFA Cup, Coppa Italia and 4th place in the league.
Crespo and Veron were the two stand out stars in the Parma side. They would both later sign for Lazio. Veron immediately after the 1999 season for £18million, with Crespo following a year later, for a then world record £35 million.
In total Parma received over £150million for the 1999 side that had done so well. But how much more could they have won if they had stayed together for a few more seasons? This writer can only wonder.
Next week: Ajax 2004-05.
Andrew Dolan, Pundit Arena.