Parma make welcome return to Italy's top table

It is hard to imagine that Parma were once the cream of Serie A - hamming it up as part of the 'seven sisters' of top-flight Italian football and serving-up a veritable feast of exciting action across Europe.Fabio Cannavaro, Lillian Thuram, Gigi Buffon, Hernan Crespo and Juan Sebastian Veron were just some of the star names to wear the shirt in the mid-90s and early noughties. It all turned sour when it became clear that diary giant and club backer Parmalat was nothing more than an empty vat of hot air.

And like another shooting star of the era, the Spice Girls, it seemed that the Gialloblu’s 15 minutes of fame were up despite the presence of Adrian Mutu and Adriano in their ranks. Inter claimed the 2008 title on the last day of the season at the compact Ennio Tardini stadium, and in doing so sent the sad-looking home team – now renamed FC instead of AC - down to Serie B.In keeping with what is a perfectly-laid out and welcoming city, Parma went back to being the quiet back-water famed for its cheese and ham.However, there have stirrings on the football front once again in Emilia-Romagna after the team’s return to the top flight along with another blast from the past, Bari, and yo-yo boys Livorno.It may be a long way from the salad days of cutting a swath through the UEFA Cup and pushing Juventus and Luciano Moggi to the brink of hypertension, but at least they are back on solid ground.Fresh-faced owner Tommaso Ghirardi has put a bit of the wham back into Parma, settling on experienced coach Francesco Guidolin who was finally released from his “get me out of trouble and then I’ll dump you again” clause by Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini.Guidolin, who at 53 likes nothing more than taking off to the Italian Alps for a 100-km bike ride during his down time, has been there and seen it all before, but retains an enthusiasm more in keeping with a man starting out on a career free of hard knocks.The homely environment surrounding the team and the city is illustrated perfectly by the decision to hold recent pre-season training sessions in a local park.

OK, it is not any old piece of greenery but the marvellously-kept and stunning Cittadella Park.An inciting venue for anyone visiting the city, and made even more welcoming for the Parma players by the number of bikini-clad females enjoying the summer sun.The players sweated away in the August heat and then took time to sign autographs and chat to the fans in shade of the tree-lined avenues.All very relaxing, but the level-headed Guidolin and his men are going to need all the good will they can muster for the campaign ahead.The only 'big-name' signings have been Christian Panucci, who at 36 has promised that his days of stirring dressing-room discord are behind him, and forgotten man Valeri Bojinov - on loan from Manchester City - having only kicked a ball about three times in two years following a series of nasty ligament snaps.Apart from that, there is a journeyman feel to the rest of the squad, in the likes of captain Stefano Morrone, defender Alessandro Lucarelli and former Genoa free-roaming dribbler Leòn.One to look out for is 19-year-old Alberto Paloschi, on a co-ownership deal with AC Milan, where he scored some 18 seconds into his debut a few years back.The young striker netted 12 goals last season and, having played for Italy at very level up to U21, is being touted as a future full international much in the Giuseppe Rossi mould – who of course started out at Tardini.Parma may not be living off the fat of the land, but with a little luck and plenty of hard work they can survive at the top table.

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