Coppa Italia: Round of 16 / Team rating: 7 / Top scorer: Cassano (12)
A sputtering start to the season threatened to derail Parma’s campaign, but a glittering mid-season run ended in a glorious finish and a European spot, writes Lorenzo Vicini.
Parma entered the 2013-14 season celebrating its Centenary, but by the end of the campaign the Ducali were celebrating a spot in Europe.
As Roberto Donadoni embarked on his second full season in charge at Parma, the tactician hoped to build upon the previous season’s 10th place finish. With a veteran side already at his disposal, Donadoni only needed a few key pieces to be brought in during the summer transfer window.
Brazilian defender Felipe joined the Ducali after spending the previous season with Siena while versatile wingback Mattia Cassani joined on loan from Fiorentina. Midfielder Afriyie Acquah returned for his second loan stint after failing to make an impact with Hoffenheim and midfielder Walter Gargano came via loan from Napoli. The crown jewel of the offseason, however, was the acquisition of mercurial playmaker Antonio Cassano from Inter. At Parma, Cassano would be reunited with the man who believed in him when others had written him off. For Donadoni, the capture of Cassano was a gamble worth taking.
With the positive additions to the squad, Donadoni had a good core of players to construct around. Antonio Mirante was the unquestioned starter between the sticks, ready to begin his fifth season as the Gialloblu’s goalkeeper. At the back, captain Alessandro Lucarelli and Gabriel Paletta were the familiar faces to man the defence. The midfield would be anchored by the impressive Marco Parolo and veteran Marco Marchionni. Up top, Cassano would be joined by Jonathan Biabiany, when not deployed on the outside of the midfield, and Italo-Brazilian striker Amauri.
With a solid squad set up for Donadoni’s preferred 4-3-3/3-5-2 formation, the hope was for Parma to start the season off strongly. The opening fixture of the campaign came at home against Chievo and the Ducali languished to a 0-0 draw. The idea of a positive beginning quickly faded after back-to-back losses occurred at the hands of Udinese away and Roma at home, both by a 3-1 scoreline. Four positive results followed, however, with two wins and two draws pushing the Ducali to 10th in the table.
In the following four matches, the club alternated wins and losses. A heart-breaking 3-2 loss to Verona was erased by a heart-stopping 3-2 win over Milan courtesy of Marco Parolo’s 94th minute winner. Yet, a 1-0 loss to Juventus would turn the tide on Parma’s season.
The Juventus loss seemed to have ignited a fire under the squad as Donadoni would lead Parma to an incredible 17-match unbeaten streak that saw the Gialloblu climb the table. The midseason run came at the perfect time, pushing the team right into the middle of the race for Europe at a pivotal juncture. Their streak was ended by Juventus but by that point, the squad believed it could achieve a historic finish.
Those dreams almost slipped away as consecutive losses to Inter and Cagliari dropped the Ducali to ninth with three matches remaining. Donadoni’s side rebounded with a 2-0 win over Sampdoria followed by a draw against European rivals Torino to set up a thrilling finish to the season.
Parma needed to beat last place Livorno and hope Torino did not beat Fiorentina in order to finish sixth and earn the last spot for European qualification. A brace from Amauri ensured the Ducali did their job, but it came down to the very last moment between Fiorentina and Torino. Level at 2-2, Torino’s Alessio Cerci had a chance to win it in stoppages from the penalty spot, but his shot was saved. Torino were out, Parma were in. The club would celebrate its Centenary in the best way possible.
The ex-Milan legend enjoyed his best season ever as a Coach in 2013-14. Under his direction, Parma obtained a spot in Europe and a sixth place League finish – their highest mark since finishing fifth in the 2003-04 season. Now the question is whether he’ll stay on the Ducali bench next season.
There are several contenders for this award but in the end it belongs to Antonio Cassano. The 31-year-old playmaker was the metronome by which Parma played along to. Not only did he lead the club in scoring and assists, his performances put him on the Azzurri short-list for Brazil.
- Parma have qualified for Europe for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
- The Ducali set a new club record in Serie A with a 17 match unbeaten streak.
- Goalkeeper Antonio Mirante set a new club record for most minutes without conceding a goal away from home at 319. He surpassed the previous best mark of 315 minutes set by Luca Bucci in 2005-06.