This time last year, Parma had just drawn 3-3 with Catania – their fourth straight draw in a winless run of six games, which included a poor Coppa Italia defeat to Serie B’s Hellas Verona, and a league defeat away at soon-to-be Serie B’s Novara. Things were about to get a whole lot worse.
Parma ushered in the new year with a miserable 5-0 defeat away at Inter. The Gialloblù‘s heaviest defeat in 20 years ensured that Franco Colomba was sacked as Crociati coach with Parma in 15th place.
His successor was Roberto Donadoni: a superb player but seen as a hit-and-miss coach, having previously disappointed in his two biggest posts at Napoli and the Italian national side. It was an unconvincing appointment.
The transformation of the team since, therefore, has been remarkable. The former Italian international has not simply turned relegation strugglers into mid-table fodder, but into a side which harbours ambitions of reliving the European dreams of the 1990s – and he’s achieved it without major personnel changes. In fact, after his appointment in January, the improvement was almost instantaneous.
His predecessor Colomba – who was a solid, if unspectacular tactician – had clung to his variant on a 4-4-2 doggedly [and is unsurprisingly using it at current in his new role as Padova coach], but Donadoni came in and adopted a 3-4-2-1 for his first match in charge. The benefits of the switch were immediately evident, and Siena were beaten 3-1 at the Ennio Tardini.
The back three complemented Parma’s defensive attributes excellently, and meant the pace deficiency in the Zaccardo-Paletta-Lucarelli trio wasn’t as disastrous as it might have been in a less forgiving system. It wasn’t Donadoni’s sole tactical switch. In another innovation, Donadoni transformed a fading Jaime Valdés from a rarely-used trequartista to an integral regista; re-energised in his new Pirlo-esque role.
Donadoni vs Colomba
|January 2012 – incumbent||
|April 2011 – January 2012|
In Parma’s remaining 20 games, they would lose just four times – against Roma, Napoli, Milan and Udinese. With the season drawing to a close, the momentum continued to build. Novara, Cagliari, Palermo, Lecce, Inter, Siena and Bologna were all beaten consecutively in the run-in, with the seven back-to-back victories not bettered since 1953.
A season which the tifosi couldn’t wait to see the back of in January was one which they now never wanted to end. Star player Sebastian Giovinco and loanees Sergio Floccari, McDonald Mariga and Jonathan were certainly going to leave in the summer, with vultures reportedly waiting to swoop upon various other key players.
It was little surprise; Parma’s eye-catching end to the season saw them finish in eighth place, level on points with Roma and just a couple of points behind Inter and a Europa League qualification place. In spite of all this, by the end of the summer Parma’s departures list was surprisingly – and pleasantly – short.
With the exception of the aforementioned trio, only bit part players left the Tardini, while around €14.6m was spent on bringing new players in. Some arrived to much fanfare, like Colombian pocket rocket Dorlan Pabón and Greek Sotiris Ninis, who joined fresh from his international side’s Euro 2012 campaign. Veteran striker Amauri was back after an impressive first spell at the Tardini, hoping to plug the gap left by Sergio Floccari.
It was not, however, any of these players who have stood out in a 2012-13 season which must so far be considered successful. Marco Parolo took a while to get going, though his industrious battling has come in vitally important in light of Daniele Galloppa’s long-term injury. Aleandro Rosi has been an excellent counter-weight to the more defensively-minded Massimo Gobbi down the right, while Ishak Belfodil has been an attacking revelation.
Donadoni, too, has continued to excel. The start to the season was unspectacular, with only one win in the opening seven games. Goal scoring was the major issue. But, the coach had a plan. A switch to a 4-3-3 paved the way for victory against Sampdoria and Torino – wins followed up by yet another success at home to Roma; albeit with the 3-5-2. He has added this impressive – and invaluable – reptilian ability to instantaneously adapt to the game situation to a side which was often rigid and uninspired.
The coach’s faith in youth has been an important part of this change in mentality, with Donadoni taking an evidently meritocratic approach to team selection. German-born winger Nicola Sansone – who spent last season on loan in Serie B – has gradually gone from being a substitute to a first teamer, slotting in either side of a central striker as the starting preference has shifted to a three-pronged attack. Likewise, at 20, Ishak Belfodil is one year Sansone’s junior, though he too has forced his way into the starting eleven after Amauri’s slow start – and has been taking his chance excellently.
All of this has seen Parma move up into 8th place, just a point behind Milan. Their unbeaten record at the Ennio Tardini continues to stretch back almost a year. Parma are the best of the rest; a side seemingly not yet able to challenge Italian football’s powerhouses, though one getting ever closer. It is a mark of the Crociati coach, though, that he never would suggest it explicitly.
Regardless of scoreline, opposition or referee performance [which is saying something in Serie A] he never comes across as overwrought or rattled, and is always content to focus solely on his side’s performance. It is a measured and methodical approach which has seen Parma fans fall in love with Donadoni, with the Tardini buzzing once more with hope and expectation on matchday. Long may it continue.