un’estate italiana / chapter zero

Notti magiche
Inseguendo un goal
Sotto il cielo
Di un’estate italiana

“Magic nights, chasing a goal, under the sky of an Italian summer”. For a World Cup that was played two years before I was even born, I sure know those lyrics by heart. The thing is, there is something truly magical about Italia 90. It’s hard to put a finger on it, but I feel it has to do with the tournament working as somewhat of a bridge between eras. It’s the last of “old football” World Cups, before the backpass rule, the automatic red cards for tackles from behind and the new off-side rule. It’s also, perhaps, the last of the non-overtly commercialised World Cups, a trend that naturally started with USA 94 and kept on going (France 98, with its Ricky Martin theme song, isn’t safe either).

Quite possibly the biggest Italia 90 icon of them all, Toto Schillaci

Regardless, for me it works as the curtain raiser for another football nostalgia trope: 1990s Italian football supremacy. It’s just plain incredible how many of 90s football’s best moments happen in Italy. Sure, the 1980s were good for Serie A with the whole Platini, Maradona, Zico thing and wrapping up with the first titles Sacchi’s Milan, but the 1990s were just another level. Everyone who was anyone was in Italy. Only two of the ten European Cup/Champions League finals played in the decade featured no Italian sides. They had Zidane, Ronaldo, Batistuta, Baggio, Zola, Gullit, Vieri, Van Basten, Crespo, Mancini… It’s unreal, and I’ve only really named attackers. In the middle of all that there was a team that, while boasting some of the most iconic starting lineups in history, could never quite break through to national dominance, instead slipping into tournament entertainers: AC Parma.

Why Parma?

A bit over a year ago, I wrote one of my most introspective pieces: Choosing a Football Manager Save & My FM22 Save. There, I go into how I decide which teams to play, which could be boiled down to “Is there a good story there?”. Still, looking back at how we make decisions is always a healthy habit and the more I look at it, the more it feels like that has less to do with how I enjoy playing the game and more with how I like telling stories about the game.

I was ready to tell the story of how I rebuilt the Scottish passing game with Hearts while writing it with “fly the wall” style. I was eager to tell the story of how I brought back the Spirit of ‘86 with Vejle and played Piantek-ball on my way to another European crown. I’ve now also realised that sometimes that takes some of the enjoyment away from the game. There is a happy medium, I’m sure of it; it’s just that something happened that pushed me to try and find it… in the other direction.

I had one of those stories planned out for FM23. I’ve done my reading, I’ve talked to the right people, and I had it all ready. Then I noticed just about everyone was going to do something relatively similar on FM23. Now, I’m not hugely concerned about stuff like that. I don’t truly mind doing the same as someone else, as I know that the important bits come not from the what but the how. Still, seeing it derailed me just enough that I said “F*ck it, let’s do something else”. Instead of thinking about some incredible grand story I could tell, I just looked at my wardrobe, picked up a vintage AC Parma shirt I had just bought and figured… ”yeah, why not?”.

Is there a cool story that could be told with Parma? Probably. They have two of the most important “cool story” check marks required: great characters and resurrections. Parma have been dead so often that they’re putting Lazarus to shame and they’ve had so many refoundings by this point they’re the footballing Theseus ship; as for great characters, just google a team photo of any of their 90s sides: Tomas Brolin, Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluigi Buffon, Hernán Crespo, Lilian Thuram, Faustino Asprilla, Enrico Chiesa, Gianfranco Zola, Hristo Stoichkov, Juan Sebastián Verón…

The AC Parma greats

So… that’s why Parma. I just happened to purchase a vintage shirt of theirs around the same date I noticed many people were going to play the league I had decided to play, around the same date I realised I always pick killer stories I struggle to take to their conclusion. I’ll take it from the top, have lots of fun with the game and if a cool story appears, that’s just perfect.

Who are Parma?

The current iteration of Parma is called Parma Calcio 1913, an attempt to give it a connection with the original Parma, which was founded that year. Still, they do play at the 22,000-capacity Ennio Tardini, the only official ground they’ve ever had. A Serie B side, Parma are since 2020 in the hands of American conglomerate Krause Group.

The Stadio Ennio Tardini

For most of their early history, they were a provincial side competing in the Serie B and Serie C leagues. Those soaring successes would stop in 1966, when relegation to Serie D plunged the team into chaos and insolvency, eventually being liquidated and dissolved in 1969. In 1970, a club named A.C. Parmense was formed and bought their sporting licence, which gave them rights to the Parma name and shirts. From there, their luck changed and they… went back to going back and forth between Serie B and C.

Revolution would have to wait until 1989 when Nevio Scala was appointed as head coach. Under him, Parma would achieve a historic promotion to Serie A, and then an incredible 6th place in the 1990-91 season. That convinced dairy giant Parmalat to invest in the team and started a golden age. Scala would bring the club’s first-ever top level silverware, winning the Coppa Italia in 1992, the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1993 and the UEFA Cup in 1995. However, Scala would leave following a relatively disappointing fifth-place finish in the 1995-96 season. 

Parma with the 1992 Coppa Italia

His replacement was one of Arrigo Sacchi’s former assistants, a fellow by the name of Carlo Ancelotti. Under Carleto, Parma would achieve their best league finish ever, a 2nd-place finish in 1997, but despite earning the love of the fans, he would depart trophyless in 1998. Alberto Malesani, who took over after him, would bring a lot of silverware; a second Coppa Italia and another UEFA Cup success, as well as the club’s only SuperCoppa Italiana. However, the end was nigh.

In July 2000, Hernán Crespo was sold for a world transfer fee record to Lazio. Despite another Coppa Italia in 2002, the club had their worst season since Scala took over. In 2004, Parmalat was found to be not only bankrupt but also charged with financial fraud due to a scheme to cover up their 14,3 billion dollars debt, and with it the football club was declared insolvent.

For a River Plate academy graduate, Hernán Crespo looks rather iconic in that Gialloblú shirt

The club reformed as Parma Football Club SpA, but economic troubles were never far off from that point on, and they were even forced to sell the trophies they had won during the golden years. Another refounding gave us the Parma Calcio 1913 we know and love today.

Parma on Football Manager 2023

So, what do we find when we take over Parma 4.0 on FM23? Well, they may struggle to stop writing checks on funds they don’t have, but they do have some very good facilities. The Ennio Tardini is council owned and it’s been nearly 30 years since it was last redeveloped, but it’s still a good venue. Moreover, the training facilities in Centro Sportivo di Collecchio, which the club bought in 2018 are Excellent in FM terms.

Among a myriad of lower leagues affiliates, the club interestingly also has links with Serie A sides Inter and Napoli to loan players, which I’m sure will be cancelled if Parma is promoted, and another one with Sampdoria where they can call a friendly and take all the money, but we get to field a weak side or even refuse it, which kind of ruins the whole idea?

Economically, Parma is doing Parma things. With just 8 million euros in the bank, we’re projected to end up 21 million in debt, something hopefully promotion can slow down. There’s also a 15 million euros debt, for good measure.

Going to the squad, the big name is that one you’re thinking of: Gianluigi Buffon. The man may be old (and he is, almost ancient really), but he still has it. Reflexes are gone and he may literally turn slower than milk, but you don’t need to move twice if you know where to stand first try, and that 17 Decisions and 16 Anticipation mean he’s often where he should be. Still, don’t ask for any heroic flying saves, his sciatica can’t handle it.

Helping to keep the starting 11 average age under half a century is Adrián Bernabé. The former Barcelona and Manchester City man makes you wonder why the hell they dumped him. Exquisite and complete skill set, he can do a variety of jobs for us and at 21 he’s got growing room.

Leading this side’s creative efforts, we have Franco Vazquez. Formerly of Palermo (another side fond of a good bankruptcy) and Sevilla, he’s on his last legs but still incredibly creative and excellent technically for Serie B.

He’s far from the only Argentine in the team, as we also have Leandro Chichizola as Buffon’s understudy and this man, Cristian Ansaldi. A versatile wing defender, he can do it all at the back but his physique is leaving him. I’ll have to control his minutes and he pretty much guarantees my first signing for 2023-24 is a left-back.

Un’estate Italiana

So, how does all this come together? Well, it’s an FM save. As I explained before, I’m letting the fun happen before the big story comes. I do have some ideas, although hardly any of them are ground-breaking. I will be attempting to bring Parma back to their Parmalat-backed glory days, hopefully with all of the yummy ice cream and none of the financial fraud. Serie A is a very different landscape now to that of their heyday, so things will be different, although returning Italian football to a more prominent place in Europe is in the back of my head.

I do have a story for the manager persona, which will probably come in chapter one, as we dwell deeper into how things worked out. For now, he simply works out as a stand-in for myself, and that’s not even a big push considering the person I based him on is someone I often agree with.

I will be also putting a focus on recruitment from countries that played a big role during their golden era, like Argentina, Colombia and France, although that will have to wait until season two, partly because I always void the first transfer window, but also because my scouting is limited to Southern Europe for now.

Tactically, there will be no attachments. I will take a look at Sacchi, Scala and Ancelotti’s teams, but more as a learning experience and less of a recreation focus, like it was with Vejle. For now, we’re setting up a fairly standard 4-2-3-1 DM which is working very well.

Stop number one is getting out of Serie B. That is achieved either by finishing top two or by finishing third with 15 points or more over fourth place. If not, playoffs are played between teams 3rd through 8th. Parma is predicted to finish third behind recently relegated Cagliari and Genoa, so hopefully it can be done on the first try.

Until then, thanks for reading.

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