seasonOne.episodeOne | Preseason
“Do you feel that your ambitions for the club are matched by the Chairman?”
Nice to meet you too — sorry, I didn’t catch your name…
La Gazzetta dello Sport reported my appointment as Parma Calcio 1913 manager a massive surprise, announcing ‘the Parma board have named a virtually unknown Norwegian manager with no experience’. I take a mental note to reference Karabo Mbatha in my autobiography.
So my first day at Centro Sportivo di Collecchio went as expected. I don’t really remember much of it, but upon arriving at the training complex, I was welcomed to the club by Luca Carra, the Managing Director. I then sat down with the Chairman, Lizhang Jiang who assured me that I have his and the boards full backing. Nice. We talked philosophies, of which there are none, and swiftly said our pleasantries. I signed a one-year, €5,750 per-week deal. Yep, they use the Euro in Italy.
These meetings are always a bit of a formality, but it’s good to reiterate our expectations for the season. Fortunately, I am given free reign over the direction I want to take the club in, with the board not holding me accountable to any club philosophies.
Lizhang expects me to take Parma to a top half finish this season. On the face of it, that seems like a realistic ask, but when you consider that last season just seven points separated 18th place from 9th–the final safe position from relegation and the position missing out on European football–it might not be as easy as sounds. As for the Italian Cup, we are supposed to reach the third qualifying round. A target that should be achievable, but we will need the luck of the draw to avoid some of the larger teams.
The projections are bleak.
The financial position at Parma is precarious at best. In just three years the board think that we will be in the red to the tune of c. €19m — I don’t know if these projections are based on languishing in Serie B, but we will not get to that, not on my watch! For those of you unaware of the financial troubles Parma has found themselves in, well, let’s just say we’ve had a few name changes over the years.
The good news is that the club is debt free. For now. Projected operating costs for the season come in at around €18m compared with a turnover of just over €11m. Now, I’m a football manager, not a mathematician, but that already rings alarm bells. I will need to get our academy up to scratch and get a buy low, sell high philosophy installed pronto.
Despite the €7m projected losses, I’m handed a €2.5m transfer budget and an extra €6k in the wages. I fear the only wage increases will come in the form of backroom recruitments.
If I were a detective, my spidey sense would be tingling and telling me that having 96 players on the books is not good for business, unless you’re bringing in loan fees as well as wages being covered. I suspect we’re paying the wages of these players. I will review the youth structure here and trim this right down. I know the youth model in Italy is to hoard youth players with a view to selling, but we cannot be financially sustainable with this many players.
The second thing that leaps out at me is the fact that we only have six players guaranteed first-team football, which will be good for our squad dynamics and morale. With fewer players to please, it should allow me to keep rotation to a minimum.
THE MEDICAL FACILITIES
After meeting with the board, it was time for a quick tour of the medical centre with the Physios. We have three Physios at Parma, with no Head Physio, I will look to promote someone from within to the chief role, as I concur with the board and feel that we need one, but I will assess their attributes another day. I don’t even know what a Head Physio does.
As it stands, there are no players carrying injuries over from last season which is a relief. I will be keeping a sharp eye on the pre-season training schedules to ensure we’re all in top condition going into the season ahead. In the coming days, I will need to have a review of the medical team at I Crociati to make sure we have the right people in place to keep us in the best shape through the season. A positive is that two of the three Physios have a high physiotherapy attribute.
DIRECTOR OF FOOTBALL
Next up, I met with my Personal Assistant, Serina Olderøy. She showed me to my new office, where a pack on ‘the history of Parma Calcio 1913’ was waiting for me on my desk. A present from Luca. No cigars, though.
I barely had time to sit down and take everything in before there was a knock at the door. It was Daniele Faggiano, the Director of Football at Parma. This was a meeting I was most looking forward to.
For those of you familiar with my management career to date, you will know how much I rely on his services. You see, When my scouting team have identified a player who might be useful for the team, and I give the okay to make the purchase, this is where I see my involvement ending. When I have identified a transfer target I rely on my Director of Football to deal with the details, from negotiating with the club we want to buy from, to negotiating with the player’s agent. He is an important cog in player acquisitions. He is also responsible for arranging new player and staff contracts, again, only when I have given the okay to do so. Anyway, on to the meeting.
We had a good chat about our current obligations in the transfer market. We have a lot of players in and out on loan. This reliance on the loan market is something that makes me uneasy. I will want to have a good hold on the financials here, and loan deals present risk if you cannot find clubs for the players. As previously mentioned, we’re spending around €150k each week on wages.
Next, we spoke about the staff at the club. He informed me that we’re short of coaches, so this is something I will need to address later on when I’m more settled (probably tomorrow). I would like to give the current staff a chance to prove their worth to me, having come to the club without my own backroom. However, if we are to progress, I might need to make some changes. At the very least, we will look to bring in a couple of coaches as we only have a goalkeeper and fitness coach for the first team. With the financial situation as it is, I wouldn’t want to needlessly spend on termination fees for the current staff.
It is clear that I have a lot of work ahead of me. Starting with reviewing the staff, both backroom and playings. I will need to modify my tactical framework to suit the players I have available to me at Parma. Typically I use two shapes, a 4231 wide system that is more expansive, and a 4123 DM wide system that is designed to close out games and hit teams on the counter if they are committing men forward. I am unsure if I will use these systems going into the new season so I will use pre-season to try a few things out. I think initially we will go with a more defensive system, but allow for some fluidity. I want us to be strong and build form the back, however, until I get familiar with the players, their traits and abilities, things are always a bit up in the air. I’ll get into this later.
OBJECTIVES OF THE PROJECT
Everyone needs goals. I have scribbled down a few quickly. It is likely that these might change, but for now, I think these are some good long-term objectives to have. Some realistic, some probably very unrealistic. They are not in any particular order, with some more achievable than others.
Thank you for reading. Today has been more about finding my feet, meeting the staff, and getting my desk moved so I can see the training pitches from my office chair. Now, where do they hide the custard creams in this place?
Until next time, arrivederci.