They were known as the ‘seven sisters’ - the giants of the Italian game who, thanks to the backing of millionaire businessmen, could be guaranteed to be among the contenders for the Serie A title and European trophies.
Yet, within the space of just two years, three of the elite group of Italian clubs have been plunged into crisis as their owners’ financial empires fell to pieces, leaving only the stark reality of a loss-making business.
Fiorentina, Lazio and Parma may still be big names in European soccer, but their financial woes mean they can no longer be considered to be in the same bracket as AC Milan, Inter, Juventus and AS Roma.
Fans of twice UEFA Cup winners Parma are the latest to discover that a wealthy benefactor can bring as much pain as joy -- when the cash runs out.
On Thursday, Italy’s industry minister gave the go-ahead for the club to be put up for sale at the end of the season and two or three of their players placed on the transfer list straight away.
Parma, currently sixth in Serie A, have been thrown into crisis by the multibillion-euro accounting scandal that has hit their owners, multinational food company Parmalat.
It was the millions invested by Parmalat’s founder Calisto Tanzi that helped transform the club in the 1990s from a lower division provincial outfit into a serious force in Europe capable of attracting some of the world’s top players. But now that Tanzi has been arrested, having admitted to diverting about 500 million euros from Parmalat to family companies, all that remains are debts and a very uncertain future.
It will all sound very familiar to fans of Fiorentina who fell from the Champions League to the fourth division after the financial mismanagement of their ’sugar daddy’, film mogul Vittorio Cecchi Gori, led them to bankruptcy in 2002.
Despite selling top players, such as Rui Costa and Francesco Toldo, Fiorentina were unable to pay their players wages and after relegation to Serie B they were formally declared bankrupt. Fans of the Florence club rallied round and created a new club which after winning promotion to Serie C1 bought the rights to the name Fiorentina and the club’s crest and colours.
In a chaotic restructuring of Serie B during the close-season, Fiorentina were handed a place back in Italy’s second division but the not so distant days when they were beating Manchester United and Arsenal in