Once upon a time there was successful cartel of Serie A clubs in the 90s called the Sette Sorelle. Those seven clubs Juventus, Milan, Inter, Lazio, Roma, Fiorentina and Parma consistently contested the Scudetto and won several of Europe’s top prizes.
Sadly in 2015 one of those siblings is a long way from being in a top-level cartel and Parma could drop several divisions next season because of perilous finances. Yet in the 90s they were flying high in Serie A and Europe and their unthinkable situation today was literally unthinkable then.
After winning promotion and starting their first ever Serie A season in 1990-91, Coach Nevio Scala’s Gialloblu showed their potential when they finished in an impressive sixth spot. That team was the start of something special and financed by Parmalat CEO Calisto Tanzi they began to bring in several stars to add to players like Tomas Brolin, Claudio Taffarel and Luigi Apolloni.
Soon enough their first trophy arrived in 1992, when a sublime Brolin led Parma to beat the mighty Juve in the Coppa Italia Final. Add a notable sixth position in the league and it was another impressive season for the Emiliani.
Winning the Italian Cup meant they had an entry into their first major European trophy, the UEFA Cup Winners Cup, which they eventually won in 93 beating Antwerp 3-1 while finishing a magnificent third in Serie A.
Scala signed the bewitching Gianfranco Zola from Napoli for the 1993-94 campaign and, added to Brolin and Faustino Asprilla, Parma had one of the most fluid and highly watchable attacks in Serie A. Once again they reached the Final of the UEFA Cup, but lost to Arsenal, while the earlier UEFA Super Cup win over mighty Milan was another new trophy as they finished the season in fifth place.
By 94-95 thanks to Channel Four’s coverage in the UK they became many peoples’ second team, as they really pushed for the title, finishing third as Zola and Asprilla scored 19 and six respectively. They also won another UEFA Cup, beating Juve 2-1 on aggregate in the Final with Dino Baggio scoring one in each leg.
In November 1995 we also witnessed the birth of a legend when Gianluigi Buffon made his league debut against a top-class Milan side at 17 years of age, pulling off saves from superstars like Roberto Baggio, George Weah and Marco Simone.
However, new Coach Carlo Ancelotti, in for the 1996-97 season, changed the system with Hristo Stoichkov preferred to Zola, who was shunted out on the wing and out of sheer frustration moved to Chelsea in November.
Ancelotti’s 4-4-2 system saw him play new arrivals including Argentinean record goal scorer Hernan Crespo and Sampdoria’s hotshot striker Enrico Chiesa as a competitive Crociati ran Juve a close race to finish second that season.
That campaign also saw a young Buffon win a regular place alongside Massimo Crippa, Nestor Sensini and Fabio Cannavaro in a team which was shaping up to become the most dynamic of all.
Following sixth spot in 1997-98 everything fell into place the next campaign with Crespo firing on all cylinders (29 in all competitions) including six in the UEFA Cup, which they went onto win beating Marseilles. They also triumphed in the Italian Cup, while once again finishing in a European spot as they reached fourth.
The next season they ended fifth spot and won the Italian Super Cup, while the following term they finished fourth. In 2001-02 they won the Coppa Italia for the third time, making the club one of the most successful cup contenders of the decade.
In all they averaged at least one final every year, winning three out of the five Italian Cup finals they reached. They also contested three Italian Super Cups, winning one. In Europe they won the UEFA Cup twice, the European Super Cup and the Cup Winners Cup.
In a place more famous for its cheese and ham than football, the club punched well above its weight and at the time received the praise they thoroughly deserved. A club winning eight trophies in 10 years will perhaps never be seen again and if it ever is, it certainly won’t be Parma.
Certainly their unorthodox funding later proved to be illegal, as patrons Parmalat were caught in one of the biggest financial scandals in Italian history, but focusing on pure football Parma produced some of the most exciting and fluid football in Europe at the time.
To witness the splendour of players like Crespo, Zola, Lilian Thuram, Buffon, Cannavaro, Asprilla and Sensini at their best under the auspices of Coaches like Ancelotti, Alberto Malesani and especially Scala was a real treat and unlikely to repeated.
It also explains why so many all over the world are sad to see Parma in their current predicament.