Following their excellent sixth place finish last season but heart-breaking exclusion from the Europa League, Richard Thomas is backing the Crociati to bounce back.
The main emotion around Parma this summer has undoubtedly been one of huge injustice surrounding the Italian Football Federation’s decision not the grant them a UEFA license for the coming season.
Italian football’s governing body imposed the sanction due to the Ducali’s late payment of a bill in March and, before you could say ‘ladri’ - thieves in Italian - the club were robbed of their hard earned Europa League place.
President Tommaso Ghirardi, crestfallen that the Gialloblu’s excellent sixth place Serie A finish would not be rewarded with continental qualification, stated in the immediate aftermath of the decision that he was ‘finished with football’ and that he would try to sell the club.
A couple of months later, however, Ghirardi remains and the Gialloblu are beginning to look forward rather than back. Indeed, as Parma head into their third full season under the astute guidance of Coach Roberto Donadoni, they will view themselves as better placed than most in Italy’s top flight.
Having thus far managed to keep hold of the majority of his successful squad from last year, the former Italy boss will be hopeful of presiding over a similarly productive campaign this time around.
That is not to say it will be easy. Influential midfielder Marco Parolo has left to join Lazio, a team likely to be one of the Crociati’s main rivals for Europa League qualification, while the future of key performers Jonathan Biabiany and Amauri remain uncertain.
Though it appears less likely than earlier in the close-season, there also remains the possibility that Ghirardi will depart, upsetting the apple-cart of stability he has built at the club. On the pitch, it is not unreasonable to suggest that the team could suffer a hangover from their disappointment last term, particularly considering it came about through no fault of their own.
However, having up until now retained the likes of Antonio Mirante, Gabriel Paletta and Antonio Cassano, as well as Donadoni and a host of others, Parma should be well placed to at least finish in the top half of the table once again. The re-signing of former striker Ishak Belfodil gives them another option up front, while the return of several loan players adds depth to the squad.
Although Parma will be hurt by missing out on the prestige of playing in Europe, their absence from the Europa League could have a positive effect on their domestic campaign. Where Donadoni’s squad may well have been stretched by having to play three times a week, the tactician will now be afforded more room for manoeuvre to rotate his players and keep them fresh.
Though pre-season results have little bearing once the real thing gets underway, Donadoni will have been encouraged by his team’s recent friendly draw against Premier League side Aston Villa, where they exhibited the same defensive resilience that allowed them to go 17 matches unbeaten last campaign.
Further signings are expected before the season gets underway, with a fee for Catania’s Francesco Lodi rumoured to have been agreed. The club are also known to be interested in Inter’s Ruben Botta, while Walter Gargano may return following his loan spell at the Ennio Tardini last season.
All in all, the stability brought about by Ghirardi and Donadoni should ensure Parma remain as one of Serie A’s best performers outside the League’s so called big hitters. If they can get off to a good start and keep hold of their key players beyond the end of the transfer window, the Gialloblu may just surprise once again this season.
Former Italy Coach Donadoni has worked wonders since assuming the Crociati hot-seat in January 2012. With the team in a relegation dogfight, he engineered a revival that eventually saw an eighth place Serie A finish. A 10th place finish in his first full season was followed by last term’s excellent showing of sixth, providing the club with the sort of stability and forward planning most in Serie A can only dream of.
Parma had many excellent performers during their highly successful 2013-14 season, but Cassano gives them that extra little bit of flair and the ability to unlock an opposition defence in one moment of magic. With the former Roma and Real Madrid man not quite so much of a tearaway off the field as he once was, keeping hold of him could prove the Gialloblu’s best bit of business this summer.
Though Parma have yet to make a particularly high profile signing, the return of young Algerian Belfodil could prove a good move for all concerned. The 22-year-old’s career has stagnated slightly since he impressed for the Gialloblu in 2012-13 and moved to Inter on an initial co-ownership deal. However, he was unable to break into the Nerazzurri first team and finished the season relegated during a loan spell at Livorno.
As well as Cassano, another player hoping to impress new Azzurri boss Antonio Conte will be Gabriel Paletta. The 28-year-old had a highly consistent season for the Crociati last time out, earning him a place in Cesare Prandelli’s World Cup squad. With just three international caps to his name, he will be hoping for more.
Mirante; Cassani, Paletta, Molinaro, Gobbi; Acquah, Biabiany, Marchionni; Mauri, Cassano, BELFODIL
Having failed to do so last term, the likes of Milan and Lazio will be expected to enjoy better seasons and finish above Parma this time around. However, Donadoni’s men could well be best of the rest.
|Iacobucci (Latina)||GK||Rossini (Sassuolo)||D|
|Russo (Ascoli)||GK||Vergara (Avellino via Milan)||D|
|Cordaz (Nova Gorica)||GK||Schelotto (Inter)||M|
|Ceppitelli (Bari)||D||Parolo (Lazio)||M|
|Rispoli (Ternana)||D||Munari (Watford)||M|
|Mesbah (Livorno)||D||Obi (Inter)||M|
|Pedro Mendes (Sassuolo)||D||Gargano (Napoli)||M|
|Tozser (Watford via Udinese)||M|
|Justino (San Felipe)||A|
|Belfodil (Livorno via Inter)||A|