A Brief History of Parma Owners from Calisto Tanzi to Kyle Krause

U.S. Businessman Kyle Krause completed the purchase of Parma on a reported 100M dollar deal, becoming the fourth American businessman to own a club in the current Serie A after the Elliott Management Corporation (Milan), Rocco Commisso (Fiorentina), and Dan Friedkin (Roma).

The Iowa-based entrepreneur, who is the owner of the Krause Group, owns a chain of convenience stores across the American Midwest and has additional interests in logistics, real estate, and even two Italian wineries. This will be Krause’s second adventure in the world of football – as he is already the owner of USL League Two club Des Moines Menace – but definitely the most challenging one.

Krause indeed chose a turbulent stage to turn his love for calcio into a real involvement. Parma is a city hungry for football and whose fan base craves for stability and reliability. From a managerial point of view, the last 30 years have been a rollercoaster for the Gialloblu faithful.

From reckless entrepreneurs to shady figures who used to buy and sell the club for one euro, Parma have seen it all over the past three decades, including winning domestic and international silverware, going through two bankruptcies, and needing to restart from the Italian fourth division.

A club born in 1913 but which basically lived in the Italian football underground for 80 years, Parma meteorically raised to prominence in the early 1990s when their fate merged into that of the Parmalat company and the Tanzi Family.

Parma-born Calisto Tanzi had founded Parmalat in 1961, progressively turning it into a multi-national giant in the dairy and food industry. He acquired the local football club in 1990 after the sudden death of beloved previous owner Ernesto Ceresini.

The Ceresini Family had worked hard to raise the club from their ashes since their first liquidation and rebirth in 1968. When he died, Parma were battling to conquer an unprecedented promotion to Serie A. At the end of the season, they would still celebrate their first top-flight promotion ever.

But, if Ceresini had rebuilt Parma, Tanzi raised them to stardom. The patron Calisto was the real mastermind behind Parma’s successes, working in the background as he appointed first Giorgio Pedraneschi and then his son Stefano Tanzi as chairmen.

Those were the years when a Ballon d’Or winner like Hristo Stoichkov would choose to move from Barcelona to the Emilia Romagna town and where somebody like Gianfranco Zola would decide to leave it as he couldn’t find enough playing time. Parma was a place where Fabio Cannavaro and Lilian Thuram could really become Cannavaro and Thuram, and whose youth academy could produce a sensation like Gianluigi Buffon.

During the age of Tanzi, Parma quickly filled their cabinet with 8 trophies in 10 years, including a Cup Winners Cup and two UEFA Cups. Between 1994 and 1995, the Gialloblu were arguably the second strongest team in Italy, battling against Juventus for pretty much everything – Scudetto, Coppa Italia, and UEFA Cup.

Everything seemed perfect. Except that it was not.

Behind Parma’s successes, lied a murky story of fraudulent accounting, something that has been defined as Europe’s biggest bankruptcy of a private company to date. Parmalat’s disastrous financial state – the consequence of a somewhat creative management style where political ties mixed with corruption and bribery – came to light in 2003, when it was discovered that there was a €14 billion hole in the company books.

The football club, which had become Parmalat’s main asset, was declared insolvent and was reformed in 2004. Parma managed to retain their Serie A status but were put under special administration for three years. Calisto Tanzi was charged with financial fraud and money laundering and ultimately sentenced to 10 years in prison. Today, at 80, he lives off the radar on house arrest.

Tanzi remains a somewhat controversial figure. Parma fans surely have fond memories of him when it comes to the results on the pitch. However, Parmalat shareholders and bondholders – some of whom lost some considerable money in the company crash – will have a pretty different recollection.

When the new Parma exited from the special administration, Brescia-born entrepreneur Tommaso Ghirardi acquired the club. He would keep it for seven years, a period in which the Gialloblu wouldn’t reach any significant achievement – if one does not consider another bankruptcy as such.

Those years would see the likes of Claudio Ranieri and Roberto Donadoni sitting on the Emilians’ bench. But, in 2014, when Parma achieved a UEFA Cup qualification and saw their UEFA license withdrawn for failing to make a payment to the Italian Revenue and Tax Agency, it became clear that there was something wrong again.

Ghirardi initially complained about the club being penalized for what he billed as a minor mistake and decided to put it on sale. However, Parma was soon found to be again in financial distress and quickly started to plummet towards a new meltdown. Ghirardi would end up being charged with fraudulent bankruptcy and sentenced to four years in prison.

In the meantime, things had gotten even shadier for Parma, which changed hands multiple times across the 2014-15 season as they struggled to maintain some decent results on the pitch. In December 2014, Ghirardi sold the club to Cypriot-Russian Dastraso Holding Limited company, controlled by Albanian oil tycoon Rezim Taci. It was later reported that the selling price for the club was one euro (!)

Taci had already tried to buy Milan from Silvio Berlusconi in 2009. His first move was appointing 29-year-old unknown Ermir Kodra as president. However, the Albanian tenure of Parma would last only two months, as Taci swiftly re-sold the club to Italian Giampietro Manenti for the same price of one euro.

The Albanian’s explanation for the sudden turnaround would come three years later as he claimed in a newspaper interview that his deal to buy Parma included the condition that their debt was not superior to 78M euros. When it came out that the debt was at least three times bigger than that, he decided to get his hands free.

The situation in Parma was desperate as players, but moreover, regular employees were not receiving their salaries for many months.

With the team last-placed in the Serie A table, Parma hit rock bottom as they ended in the hands of the most improbable of characters. Giampietro Manenti was the owner of the Slovenia-based consulting company Mapi Group. How such a reportedly-small enterprise could have the funds to repay the debts of a Serie A football club, it was not clear. Nor was it clear if they had any sponsor to back their effort up.

Manenti became the man of tomorrow, as he used to refrain from his famous line “We have the money. They will arrive tomorrow” in multiple interviews as the deadline to prevent the club from being declared insolvent got closer and closer.

Manenti’s tomorrow would last two months, at the end of which he was arrested for self-laundering and for allegedly attempting to use fake credit cards. The following day, Parma were declared insolvent and went bankrupt at the end of the season. Nothing could save them from disappearing from professional football this time.

They restarted from the Serie D – the fourth tier and first non-professional division of Italian football – with a brand-new company called Nuovo Inizio (“New Beginning”) and controlled by seven local-based entrepreneurs, but which also saw the participation of the supporters via a crowdfunding plan.

It was finally a quiet time for Parma, and a fresh and rejuvenating restart as supporters kept pushing the team with attendance numbers at the Ennio Tardini Stadium even bigger than in the top-flight days. Captain and Serie A veteran Alessandro Lucarelli decided to remain in Parma and play for them until the club would regain their top-flight status, which happened in the summer of 2018 after three back-to-back promotions.

Over the past few years, the board has appointed some important and symbolic figures as president of the club – including former coach Nevio Scala, the manager of the first promotion in Serie A and of Parma’s best days. In 2017, Nuovo Inizio handed control of the club to Chinese company Desports only to recover it at the end of the season among growing concerns about their management. Parma had learned their lesson.

Now, a new transfer, which put the club in the hands of Kyle Krause – hopefully for the Parma fans, for a long time. Nuovo Inizio, however, will still retain 9% of the club shares. The U.S. businessman has made it clear that he wants them to continue to be part of the Parma history, as they are the ones who basically saved it.