At the beginning of the 90s, Parma transformed from just a small football club to became one of the Italian football giants. The tragic downfall of the club in 2003 also marked the decline of the Italian League as a whole.
In recent years, the reputation of Serie A as the world's top football league has slowly improved. In the last five years, Juventus qualified to the finals stage of Champions League twice (despite failed to win), it's like a reminder to us that Italy is still a European football powerhouse. 10 years ago, the image of the Italian football was at the lowest point. The financial crisis that hit clubs, Calciopoli scandal, and the decline of the number of fans who went to the stadium.
The golden era of Italian football was in the late 80s until the early 2000s, I remember Serie A was the most prestigious league in Europe at the time. All best players wanted to play in Serie A. During 1988-2000 period, the Italian clubs were dominating Europe both in Champions Cup and in UEFA Cup.
At the beginning of the 2000s, Premier League and La Liga started to outshine Serie A. It was AC Milan that saved the Italian football face by winning Champions League title twice. The collapse of football clubs made people wonder about the governance of the Italian football clubs.
When the global financial crisis hit the world economy in 2008, the Serie A was heavily impacted. The clubs couldn't afford to pay the best players with television broadcasting rights revenue only. The Calciopoli scandal made things worse, fans started to absent from attending the game in the stadium. UEFA then dropped the coefficient of Serie A to the level of the Portuguese Primeira Liga. Means, fewer Italian clubs will play in Europe.
Of all clubs that collapsed in the 2000s due to financial problem, the most tragic was the story of AC Parma.
Before the 90s, Parma was just a mediocre club. It participated only in the Serie D, the Serie C, and the Serie B. The rise of Parma began when Nevio Scala was appointed as Parma's coach. He focused on training the young players and bought mainly young players only. Gianluigi Buffon was a success story of Parma academy. Calisto Tanzi, the owner of Parmalat who just bought Parma, supported Scala fully. Under Scala and with Tanzi's money, Parma promoted to Serie A and became a title contender, not just in Italy but also in Europe.
During 1992-1995, Parma won the Italian Cup, the UEFA Cup, the European Super Cup, and the Winners Cup. In the 1996/1997 season, Parma was runner-up in the Serie A, just 2 points short of Juventus to claim the Scudetto title. Any football fans in the 90s must be familiar with these Parma players: Hernan Crespo, Fabio Cannavaro, Fernando Couto, Dino Baggio, Lilian Thuram, Enrico Chiesa, Gianfranco Zola, Hristo Stoichkov, and Juan Sebastian Veron. Parma was able to recruit the players' thanks to Parmalat's money.
Parma was one of Sette Sorelle or Seven Sisters, clubs that always finish on top of the table at the end of the season. They were Juventus, AC Milan, Inter Milan, AS Roma, Lazio, Fiorentina, and AC Parma. That should be enough to describe how great Parma was.
But In 2000, Hernan Crespo was sold to Lazio for 35.5 million pounds. In 2001, Gianluigi Buffon was sold to Juventus for 32.6 million pounds, the best player from Parma academy became the most expensive goalkeeper at the time. Then in 2003, Lilian Thuram was sold to Juventus for 41.5 million pounds. 2003 was the first year Parma finished outside the sixth rank since the club promoted to Serie A.
The downfall of Parma began in 2003, when Parmalat, the sponsor and owner of Parma, declared bankruptcy. Since then Parma has been struggling with the financial problem. In 2015 the problem was getting worse, Parma couldn't even hold a match against Udinese at home. Then Parma couldn't go to Genoa to play a game because the club didn't have a bus. Then revealed that Parma couldn't afford to pay its players and staffs for months.
After two shifts of ownership in less than 4 months, Parma was finally declared bankrupt and relegated to the Serie D, which was a semi-professional league. AC Parma is now known as Parma Calcio 1913. But it took just 3 years for Parma to came back to the Serie A. Parma managed to finish second in the Serie B 2017/2018 season and finally back to the Serie A. As I write this, Parma Calcio 1913 is at 12th rank on the Serie A 2018/2019 standings. The club is struggling to regain its title as one of the Italian football icons.
The story of Parma and the Italian league showed us that in modern football good governance is a must for clubs to sustain. In order to be successful in the long-run, a club needs to be disciplined, both its players and its management. Without discipline, a club may be able to become a champion for seasons, but it might not be able to become a champion for decades.