un’estate italiana / chapter four

“It’s always nice to lift a trophy”, said Serafín Vázquez. He could’ve been talking at the end of the season, but he wasn’t. It was actually less than a fortnight before the start of the 2025-26 season. 

“The Coppa Nevio Scala is born out of a desire to give back to the fans before the start of the season, while also honouring one of our club’s most laureate heroes”, explained Parma owner Kyle Krause. The pre-season competition saw the Stadio Ennio Tardini adorned with plenty of 1990s memorabilia and decorations, welcoming fans to relive some of the Crociati’s golden moments. The main event was a cup competition to be played in the early days of August, featuring some big competition in the shape of Ajax, Benfica and Standard Liege.

Nevio Scala, the man who made Parma dream

Talking to Vázquez, I can see he’s less than worried about the result and more focused on what’s going on away from the pitch. Last season’s campaign had left Parma Calcio hungry for more and in a good position to chase the prize. “We know this could be a tipping point for us, and we want to take full advantage of it”, told me the Argentine manager. “What if you can’t do it?”, I asked. “Well, then it’ll set us back in a lot of ways”, he confessed.

Parma Calcio had started their pre-season with easy wins against minnows, SC Eisenstadt and FC Mistelbach in their tour of Austria, training in the Alps, before a return to the Ennio Tardini saw them draw 3-3 with Brugge, in a match where they effectively gave away a 3-0 win in the second half. “That showed that we need to test ourselves against better opposition, and hopefully that’s where the cup will come in”, Vázquez told me, “But in any case, we’ll only know for real what we can do in the season when the first matches come in”. “Is it useless then?”, I asked. Vázquez sighed: “Friendlies will only tell you so much”.

Parma started their Coppa Nevio Scala run against Benfica, where they looked very much out of the game early on. A goal by Petar Musa for the Portuguese was putting the Eagles on to the final, much to the dismay of the 13,000-strong crowd. The second half proved a different showing, with the Crociati taking control of the game and setting the record straight with a wonder goal by Valentin Mihaila and a solid header by Elias Cobbaut. 

Romanian Valentin Mihaila has remained one of Vázquez’s most trusted men since the Serie B days

The organisers must’ve celebrated that the favourites were moving on to the big date. However, their glee was short-lived; just a few hours later Ajax had a dismal showing against Standard Liege, ensuring a much less enticing game as the decider.

The Belgians would still make a good showing of the final. They would go ahead early on thanks to an effort by Konstantinos Laifis and then take the lead once again to make it 2-1 just after halftime, before falling eventually 3-2 to the home side. Still, the absence of the Dutch team, with the final gaining the interest of almost 2,000 people less than the first game.

The Parma Calcio players haphazardly celebrated the obtention of the friendly title, with the big man Nevio Scala himself handing the trophy to club captain Jasmin Kurtic. The meaningless of it all was felt, particularly just months removed from that heart-breaking loss against Marseille. However, like most friendlies, it would prove good practice.

The pre-season gave Parma fans some reason to celebrate

“It’s always nice to lift a trophy”, said Vázquez, quoting himself some nine months later. By then, however, the fans were filling the stadium, and the celebrations were very much real.

Tobiáš Vacík, for theangrylinesmen

The two filters

How’s it going, guys? Welcome to a new season with Parma Calcio. As our friend Tobiáš comments, it’s been a busy one. As I explained last time around, we somehow missed the fairy dust requirements necessary for another miracle qualification to Europe after we lost the final to Marseille.

Still, our good run in the UECL (sounds more like a torn ligament than a competition) meant we had a good transfer fund to make some noise and get the required improvements on our squad. It was, however, not a mountain of gold. Serie A economics are a long way from the Premier League or Bundesliga numbers; my make-or-break season depended on just €10M. 

Me, looking at the same amount of money the average Premier League side spends on their U23 substitute keeper

Thus, I decided I needed an alternative take and I went for help to the numbers man in the FMsphere, FM Stag. Now, I’ve talked before about why I’m not huge on the FM stats thing despite actually caring for analytics IRL, but the TL;DR take is a) I’m not always sure what value they provide in a game where you can objectively see the actual qualities of a player and b) there are some divergences between values depending on several factors, making them slightly contentious at best.

Still, if we were going to crack the code and beat the system we needed some help, and numbers seemed like a reliable backup. Using Stag’s brilliant “What does ‘good’ look like in FM23?” article as a guideline and with a little help from the man himself, I set out to look for the best value for money to squeeze every penny out of those 10 million.

But… What were we looking for? 

We were looking for some good value singings…

The FM23 Squad Planner has gotten quite a bit of stick from some most in the community as it provides a function that can (and has been, for years) be replaced by the simplest of tools (a pen and a piece of paper), or be far outperformed by marginally more complex tools (an excel sheet). However, I do value an in-game option being offered, and it was here that I set out to plan what our moves were going to be. Clearing the rubble can be annoying, but once I settled on who I wanted where and who I was selling, these were our objectives.

Objective #1: Striker

I love Enzo Copetti. I love him IRL, I love that we got to sign him and he’s come up with some fantastic goals for us this save. Still, he’s coming to 30 years old, struggled to score much last season (although I’m giving him a pass due to my overtinkering during FM angst) and can be at times excruciatingly disappointing with his finishing. Most importantly, however, we lacked serious backup, let alone competition, for him. With Parma youngsters Yoan Bonny and Emmanuel Tannor failing to make an impact with the plenty of opportunities Copetti offered last season, we simply need a good number two.

Objective #2: DLP

Ever since Franco Vázquez departed and left us crying at the docks and pretty much forced us to switch to a 4-3-3, we’ve been using a Deep Lying Playmaker to feed passes out wide and into space for Copetti to run after. The thing is… we’ve never really hired one. The initial plan was for Jasmin Kurtic to play there with Hicham Boudaui to play the “runner” in our midfield three with a DM sitting behind, but then Kurtic proved somewhat disappointing and Boudaoui was shifted to the creative role. Flash forward to today and even with the Algerian back in the Mezzala, we don’t have a true starter to the DLP, with Portuguese Samu a solid but unfashionable option. We need a new conductor for the team.

Objective #3: Centreback

By all intents and purposes, our defence was all right. We had conceded 7th least goals last season, all our positions were decently covered and players were of the right ages; however, I did have the feeling that our defence was getting the worst thing you can ever get in football… a bit stale. All our options, particularly at centreback, had been with us since the Serie B days, and while the jump to the big leagues hadn’t proved too much, I thought we needed a jump in level to provide some contrast.

Objective #4: Mezzala

As I mentioned before, the Mezzala was a position that had seen some coming and going. Boudaoui was in and out of the position, and other options had proven disappointing. With us settling the Algerian as the go-to there by signing a “proper” DLP, we still needed a bench option. Youth player Djoseph Bangala didn’t show enough and was getting a move, and the remaining possibilities weren’t very much of my liking, so some young blood in that spot could be of use.

How we went about getting our guys

So we had a set of objectives and we had some parameters to filter out the noise from the good stuff, how did we do it? 

The way I set up my scouts is to have one scout and one analyst going over different regions of interest as an ongoing focus. For every objective, I also set up a top focus to “hear the scout’s take” as sometimes I may be missing something.

Trying our best not to leave any stone unturned with out scouting

This created a huge pool of players for every position, which I filtered out on two parameters. First, I set up statistical filters guided by the numbers suggested in the guide and a few other parameters. This helped me get rid of players that, for one reason or another, weren’t performing at a high enough standard. 

Then, I added a filter with attributes I consider key for any of the positions as well as some I like to have in every player (like Work Rate, Teamwork, Determination or Composure). I set it up at a number not high enough that it could potentially exclude solid choices, but also not low enough that any below-average players killing it in sub-par leagues could sneak in.

After I went over the options, I decided on three or four options per position and went to negotiate. Since it would take forever to go over all four, I’d like to use our signing for Objective #1, Oscar Vilhelmsson, as our case study.

Case Study: O. Vilhelmsson

For the striker objective, we landed at three potential signings. All three fulfilled the requirements of winning 4 headers per 90 and had a Non-Penalty xG above 0.25 (since the number went by intervals of .25, I had to decide whether put the cut relatively high or relatively low and went for the latter) and a Shot Conversion Rate above 15%. Other stats such as Dribbles per 90 and Shots on Target per 90 were used, but I couldn’t filter through them due to the restraints of the search tool.

They also were proficient at 14 of the following 15 attributes: Dribbling, Finishing, First touch Technique, Anticipation, Composure, Decisions, Determination, Off the ball, Work Rate, Teamwork, Acceleration, Agility, Balance, and Pace.

Editor’s Note: Botheim got to 15% CONV when he scored two in the promotion playoffs, which were after I made my end-of-s3 save.

Coming up first was Erik Botheim, from Salernitana. The 25-year-old Norwegian was coming off a strong season with the Southern Italy side, scoring 11 goals in 37 matches in Serie B. It may not sound as much, but he was the team’s second goalscorer and ranked 10th in the league. The obvious question was how was he going to translate this into the higher level of Serie A, and while he was the most complete option, he was also the least prolific.

Option number two was Lorenzo Lucca. Far from the highlights he usually reaches, this time the 24-year-old Italian was struggling for minutes at Serie B champions Lecce. By far the most physical, I was concerned about how he would adapt to our style, particularly due to near-glacial acceleration. He was, however, the best in the air and boasted the best shot conversion %, although with the fewest minutes.

Last up, Oscar Vilhelmsson. At 21 years old he was the youngest of the lot and also the most balanced in his stats, leading or reaching middle ground in most categories. Crucially though, he had the most minutes; however, those were at a lower-level league. He was playing at FC Liefering, RB Salzburg’s B side, in the Austrian 2. Liga.

In the end, the decision came to Vilhelmsson on two factors. First, he was the closest to a Copetti mould while also offering something slightly different, being more technically proficient. Secondly, at 21 he offered the most upside and the most resale value should things go south. Thus, the decision was made and he was signed for €2M, going to potentially 3.5M should he meet certain goals and appearances objectives

Similar approaches were used to sign Luke Cundle from Borussia Dortmund for €2M, Leonidas Stergiou from FC Gallen for €6M and Yvandro Borges Sanches from Borussia Mönchengladbach for €3M (all in structured deals), emptying our transfer kitty.

The League and the Bielsa conundrum

For all our preparation, the season started badly. An unconvincing 2-2 opener at home against our perpetual bogey side Fiorentina was followed by a solid yet unremarkable 3-0 win against relegation candidates Monza and a hard-fought 1-1 draw against Lazio. So far, so good, but things quickly fell apart.

Batterings against AC Milan and Napoli, followed by the single most disappointing 0-0 against relegation favourites Spezia and an unexplainable 2-3 loss to Udinese meant we sat at 16th looking like all our numbers crunching had gotten us nowhere. Some FM angst crept in to test my resolve, but I decided to keep the course, and soon it started to pay dividends. 

We wrapped October with a couple of good results and then went on two separate 6 games undefeated streaks through November, December and January, which were only cut short by a tough loss to Inter and (of course) another loss to f*cking Fiore. This way, we shot up the table to the dizzying heights of near-Champions League football.

Throughout this time, the role of the sole striker was more or less shared by Copetti and Vilhelmsson, with both men playing an interesting game of constant one-upmanship. For much of that time, I was constantly pondering the idea of shifting to a 4-4-2 to best utilise both men.

Wisdom came in the shape of my perpetual Bielsist persuasion, where I recalled how El Loco refused to play with both Gabriel Batistuta and Hernan Crespo together in a two-men attack during his time as Argentina National Team coach, instead relegating one, usually the younger Crespo, to the bench. The reason, Bielsa explained, was that they were too similar a type of striker, meaning they were less likely to cooperate and more likely to just stand in each other’s way. Much in the same way, by choosing Vilhelmsson as he best fit the “Copetti role”, I had cornered myself into a similar conundrum. Unlike Bielsa, I had the added problem that since I had planned for a single-striker tactic, I didn’t have a backup option for either player.

Batistuta and Crespo together, a bit no-no for Bielsa

In any case, the problem was solved twofold. On the one hand, Copetti stunned the world in a nearly magical second-ever hattrick against Juventus, this time at the Allianz Stadium and made it an iconic 2-3 win for us, pretty much ending the duel between them and settling the debate. Moreover, Vilhelmsson suffered a knee injury soon after, missing a whole month and losing every chance of wrestling the starting spot back.

Our league form was never quite that good again in the season, with us getting a mixed bag of results going forwards. It proved enough to keep us in contention for 5th place until the last games, but nothing else. In this save, a big four has formed between Juventus, Napoli, AC Milan and Inter Milan where they trade blows and title races and quickly break away from the rest of us mortals.

Two back-to-back missed victories, first a 3-3 draw with Sassuolo after going 3-0 up and then a soul-crushing 2-3 loss to Roma after making it 2-1 with 20 minutes to play meant we had little chance in the last two match days, something a bore-fest 1-1 draw to Empoli confirmed. 

The final table for the 2025-26 Serie A season

In the end, we only leapfrogged one position in the league, which sounds like a dismal return for a €10M investment, but we were producing some magic elsewhere in Italy.

It was of course Enzo Copetti

From the very get-go this season I was determined I wanted to lift some silverware. Call it the heartbreak of missing out on the UECL, the need for some validation after four seasons of work or commodity fetishism, but I needed some wins. With no European competition this season and the league still very much out of reach, it was clear that the Coppa Italia was going to be the one we went after. It also offered some nice historic rhyme, as it was the cup that Parma had won in 1992 to announce themselves under Scala.

This was what rooted my decision to prioritise the Coppa this season. When planning for fixtures ahead, I would always prepare for a full-strength XI to go out in the cup, regardless of what was going on in the league (unless we magically started contending which was never the case). We were going full on for this.

The Coppa Italia, our big objective for 2026

Our campaign started late in the season, as it does for all third-round winners the previous season, picking up at that stage once again in late January. It was an old friend of the house, Udinese, who this time we luckily beat easily 2-0. Genoa did us a great favour by taking out Napoli on penalties, while Atalanta did the same with Juventus, meaning our side of the tree was completely rid of top-four rivals. Still, I’m not one to disregard “easy” rivals, having gotten thrown out by Ascoli and Udinese in earlier editions.

Perpetual relegation strugglers Genoa were brushed aside with a 3-0 at the Ennio Tardini in the game where Vilhelmsson was injured, sending us to the semifinals. Elsewhere, the pieces kept failing in our favour. Lazio took out Inter Milan on penalties while Torino set themselves as the only Serie B side in the semifinals after beating Atalanta. Still, Il Toro wasn’t a rival to underestimate, leading comfortably their league and still very much at Serie A strength levels. 

The semifinals of the Coppa Italia are the only stage that’s played as a two-legged affair, with us hosting the opener at the Ennio Tardini. We took the lead late in the first half and made it 3-0 early in the second part before Torino attempted to crash the party, pulling two back and making it a match. Luckily, a header in the 66th minute by Andrea Papetti made it 4-2, comfortable enough to go to Turin with some distance.

Our Coppa Italia campaign was short but effective

There, the match proved an absolute bore-fest, with neither team really clicking. Once again, Torino made it a contest taking a lucky early lead via a funky rebound, but our nerves were unfounded as they hardly created any real chances after that. We drew level early in the second half via who else but Mr Copetti, before putting it to bed with a 2-1 goal in the 88th minute. Thus, we secured our second-ever trip to a final in two seasons.

In the other semifinal, Lazio managed to hold on to a 3-0 win at the Olimpico against AC Milan, with a 1-0 loss in the San Siro not enough to revert it. Just like that, every top-four opposition had been cleared out of our way. It was meant to be, right?

I was quite nervous about the final. Our record against Lazio was two tightly contested 1-1 draws, meaning whoever got to the match in better shape was likely to emerge the winner. With our best XI going out, we were the ones taking the game to them, although we wasted a few chances; I dreaded it, as that usually spells doom in FM.

Few things are so “90s Serie A” as Lazio and Parma going head to head

Regardless, closing the first half at 0-0 with Lazio barely there to be found was enough. We struggled to make anything happen early on in the second half until coming to the 70th minute Enrico Delprato scored with a wonderfully placed free kick to give us the lead. Just four minutes later, Enzo Copetti chased a long ball from a counter, played a one-two with Borges Sanches and then played a low cross for right winger Denis Man to finish into a nearly open net. It was 2-0 with just 15 minutes to play. 

The second goal put a spring in Lazio’s step, and we were quickly punished for sloppy build-up with a ball into space finding Schouten who then put a nearly identical low cross for Felipe Anderson to smash, in what was Lazio’s first real chance of the game. 

That opened up the match, with the game becoming a bit too frantic, but it ended up playing to our advantage. We got a wide free kick obtained through a counter in the 83rd minute, and then a Lazio defender pushed one of us inside the box, giving us the chance to end it there and then. It was of course Enzo Copetti with the responsibility to close it and the big man did not fail, burying it into the net for a 3-1 lead that stopped Lazio in their tracks. When the final whistle sounded, my arms went up immediately. Finally, we won something with Parma.

This of course means the next season will be a lot more complicated. One of the reasons we were able to pursue this run was that we didn’t have the extra games that competing in Europe brings. With our Coppa Italia title comes also a ticket to the Europa League, but also a bunch of games to take care of. 

However, for now, we celebrate and until then, thanks for reading.

, , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Comments (



%d bloggers like this: