Parma’s return to Serie A this season is a welcome occurrence for any fan of calcio. The Gialloblu earned a record three successive promotions back to the top flight after being forced to restart from Serie D due to bankruptcy. After a strong first half of the season, it’s clear they have no intention of returning back to the lower divisions. But this weekend they have to face one of Serie A’s best in Napoli.
Having a club with such an important place in Italian football history — only Milan, Juventus, and Inter have more European trophies — can only be good for football on the peninsula. While Parma are not yet mathematically safe from relegation, it seems likely the club, currently sitting 12th, will finish somewhere in the middle of the table. The likes of Sassuolo and Genoa are not bad company for a club who were in the semi-professional leagues three years ago.
Parma’s success this season has been built on savvy business. The club took four players on loan from Napoli in the summer: Roberto Inglese, Luigi Sepe, Alberto Grassi, and Amato Ciciretti, which was profoundly sensible for a newly-promoted club.
There is something of a kinship between these clubs, as Napoli too bore the brunt of financial mismanagement in 2004 and had to rebuild from scratch in Serie C2 with a squad cobbled together from free agents and loans.
Grassi was looking like a promising young midfielder who could do a job on defence and attack before his season-ending knee injury. Luigi Sepe has shown confidence and maturity, proving that he deserves a spot as a club’s Number 1 after years on the Napoli bench. But Roberto Inglese has been the best of the bunch, popping up to score all kinds of goals this season. The striker is starting to show more consistency and talent, evidencing what Napoli saw in him at Chievo two years ago. Both Sepe and Inglese will be eager to show their parent club what they’re missing on Sunday.
Those loans were also complemented by the marquee signing of Gervinho, rescued from a nearly three-year spell in China. Gervinho has said he fell in love with Parma’s project from the first phone call with sporting director, Daniele Faggiano. And it’s easy to see why. The winger has been revitalized this year, looking like the version of himself that earned a transfer to Arsenal at 24 and was hyped by Arsene Wenger as the future of the London club.
Now 31, the Ivorian is still blowing past defenders with his speed and slaloming run. His solo 70-yard sprint against Cagliari has already been tipped for goal of the season. And he’s repeated such feats. Against Udinese, he humiliated Seko Fofana, as Gervinho’s fellow countryman tried to pull him back to stop a counter-attack only to fall over, unable to even keep pace enough to foul him.
He and Inglese have developed a quick understanding. While Inglese nominally leads the line in a 4-3-3 formation, tactician Roberto D'Aversa often has the team drop into a 4-4-1-1 counter-attacking posture without the ball. From this set up, Inglese comes deeper to win knockdowns and flick-ons, with the goal to free up Gervinho for a one-on-one break.
The downside to their form is that it is not shared with the rest of the team. Inglese and Gervinho together account for 16 of Parma’s 25 goals in Serie A. That total tally is already significantly lower than neighbors in the table Sassuolo (34) and Genoa (32). Going forward, the club will need to bolster their attacking options and find a way to create more goals from midfield.
Putting that aside, this season has been the perfect return to the top flight and provides a foundation for the Ducali to build on for years to come. When the owners know they have secured safety, it seems likely they will move to make the loans of Sepe and Inglese permanent. And who knows, in a few more years we may see them pushing for European contention yet again.