What became of Europe’s underdogs – Parma, 1999 UEFA Cup winners

At the time of writing former UEFA Cup winners Parma lie second bottom of Serie A, heading to relegation to Serie B for the third time since the turn of the century. It may be higher than the 2015/2016 season where a reborn Parma found themselves entering the football pyramid in Serie D, the highest amateur level of Italian football. That said it couldn’t be more different from their late 90’s pomp. Underdogs is perhaps tongue in cheek in this one, the club’s success being accompanied by a barrel full of debt-fuelled cash.

In a city of less than 200,000 inhabitants in 1998/1999 Parma AC did an impressive cup double, thrashing Marseille to win the UEFA cup for the second time in five seasons and beating Fiorentina to win the Coppa Italia. Ninety-nine goals plundered, the first season under the tutelage of Alberto Malesani could hardly have gone better but there can be few managers in the world with a better arsenal of talent. Looking back Parma’s squad stands out as one of the finest Italy, and maybe even Europe has ever seen.

Gianluigi Buffon

It seems scarcely possible to believe but in 1998/1999 Italy’s most capped player (176 appearances) was already in his third season as Parma’s number one. Voted Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year for the first time in 1999 he would go on to win the award a record twelve times. Second place in the 2006 Ballon D’Or, fourth in 2017 there is barely an honour he hasn’t won. World Cup winner, ten Serie A titles, one Ligue 1, one UEFA Cup only the Champions League has eluded him though he has reached the final on three separate occasions. Buffon moved to Juventus in 2001 for €52 million and with retirement imminent will be remembered as one of the greatest keepers the world has ever seen. Thumbs up indeed.

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Fabio Cannavaro

It is safe to say over the years Buffon has had some decent players in front of him. The last defender to win the Ballon D’Or in 2006, Cannavaro joined Parma from Napoli as a twenty-one-year-old when the Naples side were on the verge of financial implosion. It was in southern Italy that the legend of the diminutive defender first grew roots, a robust training ground challenge on Diego Maradona drawing the scorn of his teammates and admiration of the Argentinian. It was over seven seasons at Parma that Cannavaro broke into the Italy side in 1997, a country for which he would amass 136 caps and be bettered only by Buffon. Nowhere did he play more than in Emilia-Romagna’s second city (after Bologna) and he was only sold to Internazionale on the back of Parma’s own subsequent financial difficulties.

He would win the World Cup, La Liga with Real Madrid twice but never win Serie A, a scarcely believable fact given his fourteen seasons across Napoli (2), Parma (7), Inter (2) and Juventus (3).

Now a manager he has won the Chinese Super League with his current club Guangzhou and was briefly manager of the Chinese national team in 2019.

Lillian Thuram

It’s not a bad team when your defensive partner has just won the World Cup and is a year from adding the European Championship to his résumé. He just also happens to be France’s most capped player (142 appearances). In his third season with Parma he had joined from Monaco in 1996, where he made his debut under Arsène Wenger.

When in 2001 Buffon made the move to Juventus, Thuram would join him, winning back to back Serie A titles and losing an all-Italian Champions League final to Carlo Ancellotti’s AC Milan. He would wind down his career with two season Barcelona, a period in which he earned his second appearance in a World Cup team of the tournament, falling short in the final versus his aforementioned former teammates.

Roberto Nestor Sensini

Argentina’s Sensini is perhaps the least famous in the list so far but is a World Cup finalist and twice winner of the Copa America. Despite his titles and talents, centre-back Sensini may be perhaps most remembered as the man who gave away the penalty from which West Germany won the World Cup, five minutes from time. That is a disservice to a player who would win the Serie A title upon leaving Parma in 1999 (with Lazio) and who won every trophy in Italy over eighteen seasons in Italy.

Dino Baggio

I know what you’re going to say, he’s not even the best Baggio! Despite sharing his surname with perhaps Italy’s finest ever player Dino is no relation but had a hugely successful career in his own right. Referred to early on in his career as “Baggio 2” or the “the other Baggio” it goes without saying that Baggio, like most of the Parma team would play in a World Cup final. In 1994 he scored twice on the way to that stage, one Italy lost on penalties to Brazil.

It was an indication of just how ambitious Parma were that Baggio made the move to them from Juventus on the back of this World Cup and would instantly help steer Parma to the 1994/1995 UEFA Cup, a trophy he had also won with Juventus.

In a career that would feature a brief loan stint from Lazio with Blackburn Rovers in 2003, Baggio won 60 caps for Italy in a glittering, though understated, career.

Antonio Benarrivo

In a team of starlets there’ll always be one who doesn’t quite get the credit his talents deserve. At Parma Benarrivo had developed his reputation as one of Serie A’s best attacking full-backs, his value recognised by a starting place throughout Italy’s 1994 World Cup campaign. Benarrivo became Parma’s record appearance maker in Serie A and was at the club for all eight of their major trophies. Joining Parma from Padova in 1991 after starting his career at Brindisi, Benarrivo retired with Parma in 2004.

Roberto Mussi

Versatile defender Roberto Mussi could play at either centre-back or right-back and would pull up injured whilst playing for Italy in the World Cup final of 1994. A European Cup winner with Milan in 1989, Mussi, despite playing less than many of his illustrious peers, won every professional competition available to him. (European Cup, UEFA Cup x 2, Serie A, Serie B, Serie C1, Coppa Italiax2, Supercoppa Italiana). The Club World Cup was perhaps fittingly only created one year after his retirement in 1999, after a career that had started at Massese in the amateur Serie D and finished with Parma via Milan and Torino.

Alain Boghossian

Boghossian joined Parma in the summer of 1998, a twenty-eight year old central midfielder at the peak of his energetic powers. That summer he had won the World Cup with France, coming on in the second half of the final as France’s first replacement. But for Boghossian things could have been far different, turning down offers to play for Armenia prior to his first cap aged 26.

He had joined Italian football from Marseille in 1994, playing for three years on the southern coast with Napoli, before a real breakthrough season with Sampdoria in Genoa.

The World Cup was the Frenchman’s first trophy as a professional, some debut, but he would win the Coppa Italia twice, UEFA Cup and Supercoppa Italia across four seasons with Parma.

Diego Fuser

Nine players in, Diego Fuser is the first of Parma’s players not to have played in a World Cup final but it’s safe to say he made up elsewhere. His introduction to senior football was a generous one for the lively winger with a goalscoring knack, moving to Milan from Torino aged twenty and winning the European Cup in his debut season, though not appearing himself in the final. A successful season on loan with Fiorentina ensued before he returned to Milan where he picked up a Serie A title in 1991/1992.

Despite his honours elsewhere, it is at Lazio where Fuser will perhaps best be remembered captaining the side to the UEFA Cup final and a Coppa Italia title immediately prior to joining Parma. 35 goals, 188 appearances across six seasons with Lazio to the Stadio Olimpico he returned upon leaving Parma in 2001. The destination, however, couldn’t have been worse, fond memories for fans of Le Aquile spoiled by an unsuccessful couple of seasons in the red and yellow of AS Roma.

He wound down his career across the Italian lower leagues and retired having won every title available to him in club football, playing twenty five times for Italy in the process.

Juan Sebastián Verón

It is hard to put your finger on the Argentine hard man. Tough tackling, a habit of scoring useful goals and an incredible eye for a pass, such was his standing that there is credibility in saying it was a talent unfulfilled. But then again that’s looking through the lens of English football. His three years with Manchester United and Chelsea yielding a Premiership trophy but not quite hitting the heights the public expected.

A title winner with Lazio upon leaving Parma, then with Inter Milan on loan from Chelsea, he won everything bar a European Cup in European Football before in theory winding down his days back in Argentina. At Estudiantes he ended his career but spent seven trophy laden years. The highest point of which was a fourth Copa Libertadores trophy for La Plata’s most successful side. He is now the club’s chairman.

A veteran of three World Cups with Argentina, Veron played 73 times for his country and scored nine goals.

Stefano Fiore

Attacking midfielder Fiore was a mainstay in Parma’s UEFA Cup winning side, rejoining the club from Chievo having previously won the UEFA Cup in his one season with Parma. His most successful season with Parma he would leave at the end of the season, joining Udinese and breaking into the Italy team before three successful seasons with Lazio. With Italy he was a major part of the team to finish runners up at Euro 2000 and would play 38 times for his country.

Hernan Crespo

Here’s one for you, was the Argentine’s performance in the 2005 Champions League final the greatest to ever not pick up the trophy? Two goals, for forty five minutes he was unstoppable, his second goal chipping an onrushing Jerzy Dudek about as cool as one gets.

Crespo was at Inter by the time of Milan’s redemption and left the city altogether a season before Mourinho brought Inter their third European Cup.

Signed aged twenty-one from River Plate having already one the Copa Libertadores, it was at Parma that Crespo played his most football, the UEFA Cup being his sole trophy in European continental football. 151 appearances, 80 goals, he would leave in 2000 to join Lazio for a then world record transfer fee £35 million, being top scorer in the Serie A in his first season in Rome. Injuries followed and Crespo never displayed the same consistency of fitness over the later half of his career, huge individual performances being surrounded by bouts on the sidelines.

It was a Parma that Crespo would end his career, adding another fifty appearances over three seasons and cementing his place in the annuls of Parma’s history. At the time of his retirement his 35 goals for Argentina was bettered only by Gabriel Batistuta and achieved in just 64 caps.

Abel Balbo

A third Argentinian in the Parma side, Abel Balbo was at a differing end of his career. Starting at Newell’s Old Boys in Rosario, Balbo had moved to River Plate after a title winning first season in senior football. In 1989 he made the move to Europe, joining Udinese.

His first season in Italy was a less than unqualified success, the side from north east Italy being relegated to Serie B. They would spend two season in Serie B, a period in which Balbo would still play in the Argentine national side. Playing in three World Cups he would be a runner up in 1990 and move to Roma in 1993. During five seasons in the capital he scored 87 goals and would only be in Parma for one season and 44 appearances. Stints at Fiorentina and back at Roma would follow before Balbo would return to Argentina and retire with Boca Juniors.

Enrico Chiesa

Italian striker Chiesa would be the top scorer for Parma in their 1998/1999 UEFA Cup success, having served his time as a developing striker in the Italian lower leagues. Sampdoria would keep their eye on his progress, with two seasons at the Genoan club having the most contrasting fortunes. One goal in twenty six appearances three years later he helped them to twenty in twenty-seven, having impressed on his time away with Modena and Cremonese.

That was enough for Parma to acquire his talents and over three successful seasons he scored 55 goals before Fiorentina took him to Florence. 45 goals in 85 matches would follow before he was moved on once more, this time due to Fiorentina’s own financial troubles.

One season with Lazio signalled the end of his time at Italy’s top clubs before winding down his career in Siena over five seasons. In his prime a highly useful striker he would be a part of Italy’s squads at both Euro 96 and the 1998 World Cup, scoring seven times in twenty-two appearances.

Faustino Asprilla

Granted he only played sixteen times that season but I can’t be leaving out Tino. Though we’ll remember the pocket rocket from Argentina for his grab-the-game-by-the-balls hat-trick against Barcelona his two years on Tyneside were sandwiched with two contrasting stints in Emilia-Romagna.

After earning his stripes in his Colombian homeland with Atletico Nacional, Asprilla joined towards the beginning of Parma’s blue and yellow revolution. Winning the Cup Winners Cup, he scored four times on the way to the trophy, breaking into the national side during Colombia’s golden era. The Super Cup followed, before three more goals in Parma’s first UEFA Cup triumph.

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When Asprilla was sold to Newcastle his reveal at St James’s Park was decked out in a fur coat and Geordies quickly grew to love the man they called Tino.

Whilst his return to Parma in 1998 couldn’t equal his first stint, it is easy to forget that Tino Asprilla had a career far greater than he often gets credit for.

Twenty goals in fifty-seven international appearances Tino is the last in a Parma squad perhaps the finest to ever win the UEFA Cup.

Featured image “Gianluigi Buffon” by duysafari is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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