When football players are involved in relegated campaigns and are facing adversity, character and other personal values are truly tested. For most, a decision has to be made of whether to stay and sacrifice at least a season in a lower division or leave to play for another football club at a higher level. We can sometimes assume that the relegated team’s top players will be snapped up, especially when a club has been relegated three divisions due to bankruptcy. However, the loyalty of Italian icons like Daniele De Rossi and Francesco Totti has a new, lesser-known member in Alessandro Lucarelli and his story with Gialloblù is quite spectacular.
A left-footed centre-half, who has also appeared at full back, Livorno-born Lucarelli played for seven clubs prior to his move to Parma in 2008. Unusual for a man who now embodies player loyalty in football, he bounced between Serie A and Serie B playing for the likes of Palermo, Fiorentina and Genoa between 1996-2008. Entering his thirties and in his prime years, Lucarelli joined his brother Cristiano in becoming a Parma player for €1.2m, a fee which Parma could happily pay at the time and what a bargain it turned out to be. The brothers helped Crociati back to Serie A in Alessandro’s first season with the club, his third promotion to the top flight in his career.
Manager Francesco Guidolin managed an impressive Serie A return eighth-place finish for Parma, in which Lucarelli netted two goals and grabbed an assist for the club. Results on the pitch were looking positive as the club were aiming to return to the reaches of European football and challenging for titles like back in the 90s with the backing of Parmalat Corporation. But the club was now in the hands of Tommaso Ghirardi, who purchased the club and took on the debts in 2007. Unfortunately for Parma and Lucarelli, multiple managers had to be hired to keep the club from relegation to Serie B in the following seasons, but they were able to survive with respectable league finishes.
After Pasquale Marino and Franco Colomba, Roberto Donadoni was appointed in 2012 and managed eighth, tenth and then a sixth-place finish, Parma’s highest since 2003/04 season. It was the first season in which Lucarelli was appointed captain of the club. With the high finish meant European football for Lucarelli and his team but the club finances were in a mess. Owner Ghirardi had let the debts grow and grow, and with the funds of the club rapidly diminishing, they were unable to make payment on time for income tax on salaries. UEFA therefore barred the club from entering in the competition and received a point deduction for the 2014/15 season.
Ghirardi was failing to pay wages for staff and players, and eventually they could not pay for basic expenses such as running the stadium and travel for away games. Lucarelli galvanised his teammates in helping to invest their own money into funding the team. The whole season saw the club generating less than €30,000 a week, and Ghirardi had sold the club to an Albanian named Rezart Taci, who only stayed for over a month with the reported debt accumulated to over €200m. Giampietro Manenti took over from Taci in February 2015 for an embarrassing €1, but only a month later was arrested for involvement in money laundering. The club was in such a mess; they were forced to postpone games against Udinese and Genoa, with captain Lucarelli having to tell Italian officials to cancel the game or else Parma players would go on strike.
Bankruptcy was finally confirmed for the club who 20 years earlier were a European giant, competing at the top and winning multiple domestic trophies under Nevio Scala. Scala was a fan favourite and after Parma was rebirthed as S.S.D. Parma Calcio 1913, he became the president of the club whilst former player Luigi Apolloni was appointed head coach. Every player contracted at the club from the previous season had left for many reasons, but Lucarelli opted to stay despite having not been paid all season and having to play in Serie D in his final years as a player. He became Parma’s only connection between the past and the present, and after losing all the history and trophies of the club, Lucarelli was hailed as more than a captain.
“We stuck with the club, particularly the fans and together we will try to bring Parma back to where it belongs. I feel a bit of a second skin when I put on this kit.” – 2015
Captaining a completely new set of players, Lucarelli lead Parma to an invincible season in Serie D, winning the semi professional division with 28 wins and 10 draws. The momentum of the team going undefeated carried through into the following season as Parma were able to record impressive back-to-back promotions, this time finishing runners up in Lega Pro (Serie C). Lucarelli netted a goal and an assist whilst maintaining his position as a starter, playing 35 league games that season and was very close to making his optimistic promise with the fans.
Four defeats in their first nine league games in 2017-18 suggested that Parma were expecting a season of securing safety in Serie B and creating a foundation to build on. But with Lucarelli turning 40, the motivation to complete what he started was greater than ever knowing he may have to hang his boots very soon. A fine October and November was followed by a difficult winter period however with just two wins from 12 games. But this newly-formed Parma had learned how to put a run of wins together in their previous two seasons. 11 wins from their last 15 league games tied them with Frosinone, both fighting for the second place spot and final automatic promotion place to Serie A.
“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”. – 2018
Incredibly Frosinone conceded an equaliser in their game against Foggia to make it 2-2 and therefore Parma clinch second spot on goal difference. A jubilant captain and legend was so proud and shocked during his reaction to the news in proving so many wrong and taking the club back to the top flight so quickly. Since the celebrations, Lucarelli pondered over the decision of whether to feature next season as a 41-year-old in Italy’s elite league but in his words says he has completed the mission he set out to achieve. Buffon, Veron, Zola, Ancelotti, Crespo and Cannavaro maybe hailed as icons during the Parmalat era, but Lucarelli’s unrivalled loyalty will be timeless in Parma’s history and their fan’s hearts.