Friday February 18 2011

Two weeks ago Pasquale Marino's job was safe, but as Rob Paton reports, pressure has returned to the Parma bench.

As Parma's fans protested outside the players' dressing room in the wake of Week 23's home defeat to Lecce, Sporting Director Pietro Leonardi came out and publicly backed under-fire Pasquale Marino. He appealed to fans to get behind the team and support the Coach as they looked to get through the run of form together.

However, by Week 25's 4-0 thumping at Milan, the tone had changed, and Leonardi refused to be drawn on Marino's future, only cryptically saying: "Parma comes first."

The fans' protests after the Lecce defeat were the culmination of what has been a dreadful second season since returning to the top flight in 2009. Where eighth place was achieved last term, this campaign has back-to-back wins recorded just once, a nine-game winless run across two months and worrying defeats to teams in and around a relegation battle Parma are now embroiled in.

At the start of the season, poor results were defended against questionable officiating, bedding in new signings effectively and then the various absentees in defence and midfield that took their toll on a lightweight squad. In light of recent form however, attention has shifted to a Coach who suffered similar frustration last term at Udinese.

Owner Tommaso Ghiradi's role is important in the recent change of attitude to Marino's position, given many are as keen for Leonardi's departure as the Coach's. After the 1-0 reverse against Lecce - a game that saw Parma dominate chances but switch off near the end to concede a late Salentini winner - it was Ghiradi that spoke to the players and fans, 'making the situation clear'. He then took Press conference duties from Leonardi and Marino as they went with the team in Ritiro - pre-season style training where the squad work and live together for a few days.

Whilst the team returned with a point against Fiorentina, and a committed display that drew applause from the Tardini at full-time, Ghiradi's reaction that he was "angry and disappointed the team did not compete" against Milan suggests things have only deteriorated. The side visibly surrendered after the 15-minute mark at San Siro, indicating despite Marino's continued efforts, they are not playing as they should.

Where Marino cites psychology as the issue behind the Gialloblu's form, others see a side unable to initiate passing moves at pace through games. Tactically there is minimal support for an often segregated lone striker, as two goals in the last 576 minutes played highlights, whilst there is little protection for a back-line that struggles with opponents in and around the penalty box, as seven penalties conceded testifies.

Marino has not been helped by various injuries, including Daniele Galloppa and Alberto Paloschi's long-term withdrawals and various niggles that have deprived him of a first-team selection for most of the season. Paloschi and left-back Luca Antonelli's January sale further inhibited the squad, whilst summer arrivals Gabriel Paletta and Sebastian Giovinco have failed to deliver when relied upon.

The Coach says sections of the support have never taken to him replacing Francesco Guidolin and admits the Parma bench is looking unsteady. The club have not opened talks with potential replacements yet - Marcello Lippi, Walter Zenga and Franco Colomba - but it is thought they will should a win and more importantly a performance against Cesena not be forthcoming.

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