The Season of 1994/95 was arguably Parma’s most successful in the clubs history, finishing an impressive 3rd place in Serie A and reaching the Coppa Italia final, only to lose to Juventus. However it was in Europe that the Gialloblu really made an impact. It started back in September 1994, when Parma begun their UEFA Cup campaign, trying to reach their third European final in as many years.
This was back in the day of straight knock-out football, no league tables or teams dropping out from the Champions League. Parma were handed a first round draw against Dutch side Vitesse. After losing 1-0 in the first-leg, Nevio Scala’s men were facing elimination at the first hurdle however a 2-0 home victory saw them scrape through. As the competition went on Parma began to build momentum, comfortably seeing off AIK Solna and Athletic Club before disposing of Real Madrid’s surprise conquerors Odense BK. In the semi-final, Parma made short work of German outfit, Bayer 04 Leverkusen, coasting into the final after seeing off Leverkusen 5-1 on aggregate.
Awaiting Parma in the final were Marcello Lippi’s Italian Champions Juventus. The Juventus-Parma rivalry was in its early days but quickly intensifying. Domestically the two clubs competed in the final of the Coppa Italia and went head to head in the Scudetto race. It was a two legged final, the first being played at Parma’s Stadio Ennio Tardini. Lippi’s Juventus were hot favorites however they were left stunned when Dino Baggio gave Parma an early lead, a lead the home team would hold on to for the rest of the game to give the Ducali a slender advantage ahead of the return leg.
Two weeks later the sides met again, this time at Milan’s San Siro stadium. Gianluca Vialli got the Bianconeri back on level terms with a first half strike. All was going to the plan for Lippi’s men who were still expected to turn the first-leg deficit around and add to their trophy haul. But the Gialloblu were having none of it as Dino Baggio popped up again early in the second half giving his side a 2-1 lead over the two legs. Parma desperately held on as their fans descended into delirium at the final whistle. It was the first time the Emilia Romagna outfit would lift the UEFA Cup, adding it to their UEFA Cup Winners Cup they had won two years earlier.
The Parma of the 1998/99 season was the team most of us remember with great fondness. A star studded line up sporting their iconic yellow and blue hooped jerseys, competing for titles at all levels. They were at the height of their powers, led by Alberto Malesani , and bank rolled by Parmalat chief Calisto Tanzi. Under the billionaire’s tenure, Parma would lift two trophies during the 1998/00 season and finish an impressive 4th in Serie A, thus qualifying for the Champions League. The Crociati continued their love affair with the Coppa Italia, defeating Fiorentina in the final but it was on the European front that Malesani’s men made the greatest impression.
Parma couldn’t have been handed a tougher task in their first round UEFA Cup tie, having been drawn against Turkish side Fenerbache. The Gialloblu squeezed through, overturning a 1-0 first-leg deficit with a 3-1 win in Italy. Wisla Krakow and Glasgow Rangers were both negotiated in the next couple of rounds and by the quarter-finals, Parma were making head turns after they demolished Bordeaux 7-2 on aggregate with an impressive 6-0 victory at the Tardini. All that stood in their way from another UEFA Cup final were Spanish giants Atletico Madrid. But the Ducali made short work of the Colchoneros, brushing them aside with an impressive 3-1 victory at the Vicente Calderon before finishing the job off with a 2-1 win at home.
Unlike Parma’s last UEFA Cup triumph in 1995, the final in 1999 was a one legged affair on a neutral ground. Malesani’s men travelled to the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow in confident mood. Boasting one of the most feared strike partnerships in Europe in Hernan Crespo and Enrico Chiesa Parma weren’t bad in defence either, being able to call upon Fabio Cannavaro and Lilian Thuram, not to mention Italy number one Gianluigi Buffon. Parma had every right to go into this final buoyant. Awaiting the Italians in the final were French League 1 runners up Marseille who had a fair bit of talent at their disposal too, Robert Pires and Laurent Blanc being two stellar names in particular. It was shaping up to be a classic European Final.
Although it’s usually Italian teams associated with playing ‘negatively’, it was Marseille who started very cautiously. They were duly punished as Parma’s golden boy, Hernan Crespo, put the Gialloblu in front after he nonchalantly lobbed Stephane Porato in the Marseille goal. Some 10 minutes later the game was all but over as Paolo Vanoli got on the end of Diego Fusers cross to put Parma 2-0 up before half time. In the second-half, one of the Crociati’s standout performers on the night, Lilian Thuram, flew down the right wing and picked out Juan Sebastian Veron. The Argentine then chipped the ball into the box for Crespo to dummy and Enrico Chiesa was there to fire a volley home from 12 yards making it 3-0 just before the hour mark. It was quite a performance from Malesani’s men who dominated from the first whistle to the last.
This was Parma at their zenith. Following this golden era things took a turn for the worst as Tanzi’s Parmalat empire crumbled. With it went the Parma side that conquered Europe in the 1990’s…twice.
By Giovanni Dougall
(This was a piece done for The Gentleman Ultra earlier in the year, @Gentleman_Ultra, thegentlemanultra.com)