Parma’s UEFA Cup Winning Legends Are Reuniting For One More Match
Throughout football history, there have been teams whose quality has an almost magical ability to conjure up misty eyed romanticism and transcend even the fiercest rivalries and tribalism.
The Cruyffian Dutch of ’74, the Socrates inspired Brazil of ’82 and Barcelona’s 2009-11 vintage will forever be revered – benchmarks of footballing revolution, seared onto the collective consciousness of football fans around the world.
Another team that can’t help but stir a whole heap of nostalgia laden emotion is Parma’s 1999 UEFA Cup winning side.
Parma celebrating their 1999 UEFA Cup success
Managed by Alberto Malesani, fresh off an impressive 1997/98 campaign with Fiorentina, the Gialloblù may not have dominated domestically in the manner of a Sir Alex Ferguson era Manchester United, nor did they consistently conquer Europe like Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid, but what they did do was assemble a wealth of talent that, almost two decades later, is still fawned over with almost delirious affection.
I mean, just look at Parma’s starting line up for that UEFA Cup final; Future World Cup winners and Italy captains Gianluigi Buffon and Fabio Cannavaro lined up alongside Lilian Thuram, himself a recent World Cup winner in ’99 and one year removed from becoming a European Champion with France. Then further forward, luxurious Argentine maestro Juan Sebastian Veron was pulling the strings for countryman Hernan Crespo and Serie A stalwart Enrico Chiesa.
Parma's 1999 UEFA Cup Final Lineup
And on the bench? How about Faustino Asprilla as an impact sub, enjoying his second spell in Emilia-Romagna after a brief but memorable stint with Newcastle United.
This team, adorned as they were in THAT yellow and blue, horizontally striped number have become peak nostalgia laden viral fodder, with the lineup picture guaranteeing a deluge of likes, shares, and tagged friends in comments sections for any social media page that posts it (we’re as guilty of anyone of churning it out, tbf. Not even sorry).
That night in Moscow, where Parma would claim their second UEFA Cup, Crespo was at the double as Malesani’s men downed Marseille 3-0, adding Europe’s secondary trophy to their Coppa Italia triumph. En route to the final, Atletico Madrid were handily dispatched 5-2 on aggregate in the semi-finals, while Bordeaux saw a 2-1 quarter-final first leg victory overturned in emphatic fashion, with the Ligue Un outfit resoundingly battered 6-0 in the return leg at the Ennio Tardini.
And in a week’s time, it is the Tardini that will play host to a reunion of this beloved team, with many of it’s members coming together to party like it’s 1999.
Thanks to Italian social media page Serie A Operazione Nostalgia, the brainchild of longtime friends Luca Valentino and Andrea Bini, Parma’s silverare laden heroes of the ’90s are getting the band back together for a kickabout against an opposition team made up of fellow Serie A favourites from years gone by.
The likes of Crespo, Veron and Asprilla will be joined by former Premier League favourite Benito Carbone, long time Italy international Dino Baggio, Stefano Fiore, Serie A and European Cup winning thunderbolt merchant Diego Fuser and one-time world’s most expensive player, Gigi Lentini.
For Operazione Nostalgia it is their fourth such event, after running similar matches in Milan, Rome and Lecce over the past three years. The matches have attracted crowds from across the Italian peninsula, donned in the classic shirts that are so emblematic of ’90s Serie A, putting rivalries aside for one day to relive a golden era.
There is, of course, still seven days left for other names to be announced for the gathering in Emilia-Romagna, but even if no more icons are forthcoming, being able to bear witness to Crespo and Veron in tandem once more is akin to James Richardson declaring that Gazzetta Football Italia is returning in all it’s glory to Channel 4 every weekend, complete with copies of Gazzetta dello Sport unfurled across cafe table tops, competing for room alongside copious amounts of skyscraper sized ice creams. It’s a level of baggy shirted excitement we’ve not been able to experience in almost 20 years.
It wouldn’t be long until Parma’s yellow and blue clad crusaders were broken up, with Thuram and Buffon departing for guaranteed Scudetti with Juventus and Veron and Crespo journeying to the capital with Lazio and then onto ever so slightly less memorable stints in the Premier League.
In the intervening 19 years, time hasn’t been as kind to the Crociati, who have loomed from one financial ruin to another, culminating in bankruptcy, three years ago. Since then, the newly reformed Parma Calcio 1913 have summoned the spirit of their ’90s trophy collecting predecessors and risen through the leagues, from Serie D back to the pinnacle of Italian football, Serie A.
So next Friday, not only will the carnival atmosphere be for returning heroes, but for the current ones restoring pride and prestige to one of Italian football’s most beloved clubs.