Welcome to the world of Italy’s ‘zombie’ football club

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Story highlights

Legendary club of Cannavaro and Buffon faces bankruptcy court March 19

Parma has changed hands twice in past year, administration likely

Players have not been paid all season

CNN  — 

It’s playing out like a scene from “Night of the Living Dead”– in the boardroom of one of Italy’s most famous clubs.

Director George A. Romero’s horror cult classic revolved around a swarm of slow-moving cannibalistic corpses snacking on the inhabitants of a shopping mall and Parma general manager and team legend Alessandro Melli talks in similarly apocalyptic tones as he details the financial crisis engulfing the Serie A club.

“It seems like we are zombies, working without knowing where we are heading,” Melli told CNN’s Don Riddell.

Rooted at the bottom of Italy’s top flight, Parma has debts of approximately $100 million and faces a looming financial collapse – barring a miracle ownership rescue.

The club has been docked points twice this season for failing to pay its players and faces a bankruptcy hearing on March 19.

“Every day they take away a part of our work and piece of our hearts. Bits of the club are foreclosed every day and we come here to work just because we love our work and our team, but we cannot do our job,” added Melli.

“We’re living in a nightmare, whichever way you look at it. Because this is not just about the money, even though we can’t ignore it, there is a lot more that they are taking away. Dignity, the smile; they took away our respect and it hurts.”

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Parma's fall from grace
03:01 - Source: CNN

Last season Parma finished sixth in Serie A, only to be barred from taking part in European football’s second tier competition – the Europa League – over an income tax bill.

Between 1992 and 2002 Parma won two UEFA Cups, the 1992 European Cup Winners’ Cup and three Italian Cups in a successful spell between 1992 and 2002.

In 1997, led by current Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti and with the caliber of players like Gianfranco Zola, Faustino Asprilla and Hernan Crespo, Parma finished runners-up in Serie A.

“Look at the team we had,” said Angelo Manfredini, president of the Parma supporters club, referring to those halycon days, as he rattled off other players including Melli, Fabio Cannavaro and longtime Italy captain and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who now plays for Juventus.

“All were players who meant something to football.”

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Fast forward to more austere times and Parma’s current players haven’t been paid since August.

They’re so fed up they’ve threatened to go on strike – that is if the games are allowed proceed in the first place, with two of Parma’s recent fixtures having been called off given the club’s problems.

Parma was once owned by the world’s leading dairy company, Parmalat Spa, which collapsed under financial fraud in 2003. The club has already changed hands twice this season after a Russian-Cypriot conglomerate sold the club to Giampietro Manenti.

A despairing Melli depicted a club that is being seemingly taken apart seat by seat, screw by screw.

“One day, we won’t have the laundry anymore,” said Melli. “The next day, computers (will be) taken away, then we don’t have emails anymore.

“And then the physical objects related to sport, like benches, like the team bus…everyday it’s like being stabbed.”

For his part, Manenti has reportedly said he will not sell the club, which will likely mean another spell in administration for Parma, the second time in the past 10 years.

Their next scheduled match is a home game on March 22 against Torino, but Melli is more concerned about what the future holds in store for Parma rather than the next 90 minutes.

“I hope to have a new owner to sort out our debts and save the brand, starting again from Serie B and to start again with new management that loves what they are managing,” said Melli.

“Slowly, we can rebuild. It will take time and patience, with the right people in the right places. Only in this way can Parma be reborn like a Phoenix.

“Objectively, it’s unlikely this will happen. This is just the hope of a lover, trying to find his lost love. But he needs the help of others, we can’t make it by ourselves.”

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