Parma FC was sold for €1 in 2015.
The Italian club was declared bankrupt in March of that year – for the second time in 11 years – during a season in which games had to be postponed due to a lack of money. The Parma players hadn’t been paid for months, and several players – such as Antonio Cassano – had their contracts terminated.
The ‘Crociati’ had finished sixth the previous season, but were denied a place in the Europa League due to their financial woes.
They finished bottom of the Italian top tier, but things were about to get even worse.
“I will play in Serie D for Parma if necessary,” club captain Alessandro Lucarelli vowed amidst the crisis.
His promise proved prophetic.
Due to their ongoing debt and financial difficulty, Parma were denied a place in Serie B after their relegation. Instead, the club was relegated to Serie D, and renamed as Parma Calcio 1913.
Lucarelli, who had joined the club in 2008, was the only key player who didn’t abandon ship as it sunk to the fourth division.
Despite being 37, he’d enjoyed arguably his best campaign in the previous season.
“After seven years, I feel like this shirt is mine and I’m available to play for this club at whatever level,” he said.
Lucarelli, and Parma, have embarked on an inspirational adventure since.
Nuovo Inizio – a group of local businessmen and entrepeneurs – took over the club following their fall to Serie D, with the help of crowdfunding from Parma fans.
The club’s supporters rallied around their team, and Parma sold more season tickets (10,089) than they had in their two previous seasons in the top flight.
Former player Luigi Apolloni – who has made more appearances for the club than any other player – became the team’s manager, and Nevio Scala became the club president.
Unsurprisingly, Parma proved far too strong for Serie D.
Captained by Lucarelli, ‘Il Ducali’ stormed to the title, finishing the 2015/16 league season unbeaten.
The veteran centre back was already well used to promotions at this stage.
Alessandro experienced promotion in his first season with Parma as the club bounced back from Serie B to Serie A, a feat which Lucarelli had already achieved twice earlier in his career.
However, Parma initally struggled in Lega Pro (the Italian third division).
Apolloni paid the price for a poor start with his job, but Parma soon turned things around.
Roberto D’Aversa replaced Apolloni in the dugout, and the Crociati managed to finish second, earning a place in the play-offs.
Parma overcame Piacenza, Lucchese and Pordenone to set up a final against Alessiandria, which they won 2-0 to seal a second consecutive promotion.
Lucarelli remained a solid, experienced, and dependable defender, and scored at least once in each of the divisions.
“Parma will rise again like a giant to take back its rightful place in Italian football” – Jiang Lizhang
The ageing defender considered retirement after the club’s promotion to Serie B, but ultimately decided not to hang up his boots.
Parma’s momentum attracted the interest of Chinese businessman Jiang Lizhang, who bought a 60% stake in the club. Lizhang became Parma’s president, and club legend Hernn Crespo became the vice president.
The club’s new majority owner promised a swift return to Serie A, but Parma had a tough start in the second division this season.
By October, the newly promoted side were 15th in Serie B.
However, D’Aversa’s men rediscovered their form, and soon rocketed up the table. Their defence – built around Lucarelli – was key to this upturn in form. They conceded just 37 goals in a Serie B 42 matches, fewer than any other side in the division.
They won eight of their last 11 games to finish second behind title winners Empoli, sealing another automatic promotion.
Up until the dying seconds of the season, another run through the play-offs looked the most likely option.
All Frosinone needed was to win at home against Foggia on the final day of the season to finish second ahead of Parma, but conceded a last gasp equalizer which resulted in a 2-2 draw.
Parma beat Spezia 2-0, and Frosinone’s slip up sealed second place for the club.
Three years after being banished to the depths of Italian football, Parma are back.
They are the only Italian side to achieve three successive promotions, and will ply their trade in Serie A next season.
Unsurprisngly, Lucarelli was tearful on the pitch at Stadio Ennio Tardini when news of Frosinone’s result filtered through.
“I made a promise. I said I’d take Parma back to Serie A. I kept my promise,” the 40 year old defender said.
“It can’t be real, it’s impossible. Nobody could’ve imagined a finale like this, not even in my wildest dreams.
“The others were celebrating, then we heard a huge cheer from the stands. I don’t know what happened.
“This is a journey we started three years ago in front of these amazing fans. We had difficult moments, we always got back on our feet. They never gave up and I am proud to have been their captain. Now I can stop. I don’t know, we’ll see. I just need to celebrate right now.”
It is an incredible achievement for the club, and one which will live long in the memory.
Lucarelli has been there through all the highs and lows, and his loyalty and commitment is the embodiment of all that is great about football.
The Italian centre half will turn 41 in July, and is likely to make the transition from the pitch to a coaching capacity ahead of next season.
No player has made more league appearances for Parma, and few have given more to the cause.