Parma had just finished the club’s most successful season in their history. Nevio Scala had led the Gialloblu to a sixth place finish in Serie A and their first major trophy, after Parma recorded a memorable 2-1 aggregate win against bitter rivals Juventus in the 1992 Coppa Italia final.
Despite such a successful campaign, new club President Calisto Tanzi still wasn’t content. He wanted more. There was an air of frustration around Tanzi’s office, he felt the team had come up short and should have been able to press Torino for third spot in the championship. As Tanzi and Scala put their heads together in preparation for the new season, they identified Parma’s lack of an out and out striker as the reason they failed to finish higher.
Tanzi had money to burn and Scala effectively had a blank cheque book to find a man to partner Alessandro Melli, who only managed to hit the back of the net six times during the 1991-92 season.
Scala would turn his attention to South America and to an in demand 22-year-old by the name of Faustino Asprilla. The young Columbian burst onto the scene as an 18-year-old playing for Cucuta Deportivo, where 17 goals in one season saw him snapped up by one of Columbia’s major sides in Atletico Nacional. Asprilla would go on to hit close to 40 goals in his two years at Nacional and this kind of form had Europe’s big guns on alert, mostly in Serie A, where world football’s top talent strutted their stuff.
Parma sent a message to the rest of Serie A by winning the race to sign the Columbian. Asprilla had everything, bags of skill, pace, power, flair and the knack of scoring breath-taking goals, most notably a 30-yard free-kick during his debut season against Fabio Capello’s AC Milan - a goal that famously halted Milan’s record breaking 58 game unbeaten streak.
Asprilla took to Serie A like a duck to water; he couldn’t have dreamed his first season would be as successful as it was. Chipping in with seven league goals, Asprilla helped Parma to a third place finish, their best yet. Parma also took part in their first ever European final as they defeated Royal Antwerp 3-1 in the Cup Winners Cup at Wembley Stadium. Asprilla would be an unused substitute as a slight injury condemned him to role of spectator in one of the club’s finest hours. But Parma had the Columbian to thank for getting them there, as Asprilla’s brace in the intimidating Vicente Calderon gave the Italians a memorable 2-1 aggregate victory against Atletico Madrid in the semi-final showdown.
Despite the disappointment of missing out on the Wembley final, Asprilla and Parma would have plenty more to celebrate, with the forward being an instrumental part of Parma’s glory years of the early nineties.
Tanzi had the cheque book out again before the 1993-94 season, signing Napoli’s pint sized forward, Gianfranco Zola. This meant Parma had an attack consisting of Asprilla and Zola, with Swedish playmaker Tomas Brolin orchestrating play behind the talented duo. This was enough to put the fear in any opposition. Yet despite Zola and Asprilla chipping in with close to 30 goals between them, the Gialloblu couldn’t build on their previous third place finish, settling for fifth instead.
Aprilla’s season would end in disappointment once again after Parma were in the European Cup Winners Cup final once more, this time facing Arsenal. After missing out 12 months earlier, Asprilla got the nod to partner Zola in attack however they would fail to retain the trophy, losing 1-0 thanks to an Alan Smith first half strike in Copenhagen.
The 1994-95 campaign would be Asprilla’s last full season at the Tardini, however he helped Parma emulate the success they enjoyed four years earlier. The Zola – Asprilla partnership was in full swing as Parma finished third, albeit with the same points as second placed Lazio, losing out on head to head. But it was in Europe that Parma were really entertaining the world of football. Still under Scala’s guidance, the Crociati reached their first UEFA Cup final in an all Italian affair, again facing off against fierce rival’s Juventus.
Aprilla was again crucial in Parma’s run to the final, with three goals over two legs to see off Bayer Leverkusen in the semi-finals. This form was enough to see him rewarded with a starting place in both legs of the final, which Parma won 2-1 on aggregate over two tightly contested games.
As Parma began their sixth successive season in Serie A, Asprilla began to lose favour due to the arrival of Bulgarian superstar, Hristo Stoichkov. Asprilla only featured six times in the opening five months of the season and this alerted English side Newcastle United who snapped up the Columbian for £6.7m in February 1996 in a bid to secure their first Premier League title.
Asprilla’s controversial spell at Newcastle was a brief one and after losing all patience with the striker, Newcastle boss Kenny Dalglish sold the Columbian back to Parma for a fee of around £6m. Aprilla spent the remainder of the 1998-99 season back at the Tardini, where he would be in the medals yet again as Parma achieved a European and domestic double. He appeared as a substitute as Alberto Malesani’s side demolished Marseille 3-0 in the UEFA Cup final in Moscow and he also picked up a Coppa Italia medal despite being an unused substitute against Fiorentina.
Aprilla is still considered one of Parma’s greatest players during the golden days of the 1990s. He returned to the club in December 2013 to help celebrate the clubs centenary, during which he once again pulled on the yellow and blue in a bounce game, much to the joy of the Parma faithful. The Colombian remains close to the club, and was very outspoken during the clubs financial struggles last year. The forward suggested that he and his ex-team mates should unite to save their former club.
Asprilla still keeps tabs on his old team and recently commented on a local Parma Fanzine saying:
“I’m happy, the club is now formed by people who love Parma, who have given everything to Parma, working only and exclusively for the good of Parma. Last year was sad, at times I didn’t sleep at night, but now everything has changed, Lorenzo and Gigi are doing things right and can soon build a winning team”
Follow Giovanni Dougall on Twitter: @giovannid86