The old idiom says you should never meet your heroes, but for a player with as unusual a career path as Marco Parolo, it is no surprise that conventional wisdom does not apply. Late last week, the midfielder gave an interview to his club’s in-house television channel in which he admitted his admiration for Kaka. “I grew up watching his performances, both as a player and a fan,” he told Parma TV. “It will be the first time I play against him and he’s my idol. I’ll only ask for his shirt if we win though!”
Two days later, the two men walked off the field together at the Stadio Tardini, with Parolo the one on the winning team. “No, I didn’t ask for his jersey as I wanted to keep mine,” he told Sky Italia. “It was an unforgettable day, one to remember and to keep amongst my best memories.” Having scored two goals and created the other in Parma’s 3-2 victory, his performance was most certainly one to cherish.
It was the latest in a string of impressive displays from the 28 year old, who is averaging 1.8 interceptions and 2.4 clearances per game this term. He has been essential to Parma’s mid-table standing in Serie A, recording a WhoScored.com rating of 7.72. That is the eleventh best figure in the league, and is testament to the incredible energy with which he plays. His supreme fitness has allowed him to play ninety minutes in all but one of his ten appearances to date.
Sitting on the left of a midfield trio in Roberto Donadoni’s 3-5-2, his willingness to track back and protect the defence, while still having the speed to contribute offensively, is invaluable. He impressively ranks second of all players across Europe’s top five leagues in tackling, making no fewer than 51 thus far in 2013-14. That contribution has played a significant role in Parma’s team average of 27.1, which is only bettered by Atletico Madrid (27.5) in Europe’s top five divisions.
It is also impressive to note that last year he scored just three goals from his 55 shots, but already has five to his name this term from only seventeen attempts. That increase in scoring, combined with two assists, has seen an unglamorous and unheralded player earn some much deserved recognition. Talk of an Italy recall has begun, with the player looking to add to the solitary cap he earned back in 2011.
“Getting back into the Italy squad? For now, I just want to play with a smile on my face! This is a great club, a great squad and a nice environment to play your football. We’ll have to wait and see what happens after that.” – Marco Parolo
He is not the only one at Parma worthy of attention however, as Alessandro Lucarelli rates even higher than Parolo thanks to a 7.8 average. The big defender is enjoying a fine start to the season, making 4.3 tackles, 3 interceptions and 8.1 clearances per game. With a further contribution of nine blocked shots, the 36 year old has continually thrown his body on the line for the Ducali cause in the way Italian defenders always have.
Like Parolo, he is largely unknown outside of Italy, as is Mattia Cassano who has reinvented himself as the central player in the back three. His contribution, including 2.6 tackles, 3 interceptions and 4.1 clearances per game has been key to the reshaped back line. Rather than sitting back and spreading the play like Leo Bonucci does at Juventus, he surges forward just as he did as a wing-back with Palermo and has weighed in with two assists from such runs. It says much for the trio that they have almost wrestled the spotlight away from Antonio Cassano, the club’s one genuine star.
The striker has, much like he did at Sampdoria, discovered that he can deliver his best form away from the bigger clubs. With four goals and three assists already to his name, FantAntonio has become as talismanic for Parma as Roberto Baggio was for Brescia. Like the ponytailed legend, Cassano is being discussed as a potential member of the Italy squad at the World Cup. Cesare Prandelli will have to think long and hard about that choice, although the form of Francesco Totti may make the idea irrelevant.
But it is as a team that Parma are most impressive, particularly at home where they have lost just once thus far this term. The Stadio Tardini is once again living up to its reputation as a tough place to visit, just as it was last term when the Ducali remained undefeated there, until Napoli recorded a win in late January. Everything from the strong support of their fans, the condition of the pitch itself and even the fog that often descends in Emilia-Romagna have been cited as factors, but it is undoubtedly the players who are working to maintain that record.Published 01 Nov 2013, 20:15 IST