Parma’s history sparkles with trophies and star players. Uefa Cup winners in 1995 and 1999, Uefa Super Cup winners in 1993 and with Gianfranco Zola, Hernán Crespo, Lilian Thuram, Fabio Cannavaro, Juan Sebastián Verón, Enrico Chiesa and Gigi Buffon among those to have worn the jersey. Buffon is there again at the age of 44, a link between a sometimes glorious past and a new project that has been taking shape since 2020, after the bankruptcy of 2015.
Leading the push at the Serie B club is Kyle Krause, an American entrepreneur considered one of the most ambitious men in Italian football. Since last year he has been Parma’s sole owner and he signed Buffon in June 2021. Krause sat down to answer the Guardian’s questions.
What are the ambitions of your Parma project? It’s very clear: the first objective is to get promoted. Second, we have to maintain that status. And then … we dream big, of course – but it needs time. For Parma to be successful we have to develop our academy and produce our own players.
Is there a phrase that encapsulates your approach? We must develop talents for the academy who can be ready to perform in Serie A within the next 10 years.
Tell us more … We need to provide within the academy proper coaching, nutrition, performance to support them and give them the feeling that they can grow with us. You need a coach who wants to support young players. We also want to use performance analytics to try to create a competitive advantage.
Data seems to be crucial for your project? Data is absolutely crucial and we plan to invest more resources in this area. Our chief performance and analytics officer, Mathieu Lacome, who joined us from Paris Saint-Germain, is doing an excellent job leading it.
Many people in Europe say: don’t use data for signings, scouts are better. Analytics is a way to help us to do our jobs better. If I’m a nutritionist or physio and I have data I can do that better. It’s not to replace the person. We’re not going to have somebody sit in a room and sign a player because of something they saw from an analytical standpoint. The goal is for data to assist our scouts’ search for players on a larger scale, and to reduce time spent on players’ injuries and help with performance – not to make decisions for them.
Your head coach, Fabio Pecchia, was at Real Madrid and Newcastle on Rafa Benítez’s staff. Is he using data? Fabio is using data to manage how he trains, how he plays. He understands its value.
Part of your ambition is also to build a top women’s team. When I arrived, Parma had a women’s team in the fourth division which hadn’t received any focus and attention from the club management. Then we had an opportunity to get into Serie A from Empoli [in June Parma bought their women’s team, with Empoli choosing to focus on their youth set-up] and we want to do great things. I come from America and to me it seems odd a little kid wouldn’t have the same opportunity to play the sport, boy or girl. It’s the right thing to do and we are also here to run a business. So to me it’s an integral part of what we do.
You’re in the process of building a new stadium and expanding the training ground. Today you need a stadium that can support what you’re doing. I want the stadium to be a place to go seven days a week. That support you get then comes back and helps build the rest of the club. We’re buying the land around our training centre and we want to bring all our teams here. Having a proper training centre is a tool for our youth and first teams to be competitive.
Which club is your role model? We do not have a specific club as a role model. We see notable examples from many different clubs. First, I want to mention Ajax. What a model: they are pulling players through, and you look not only at the players playing for their first team but at the Ajax graduates playing first-team football everywhere in Europe. Other teams have done great things on the commercial side. If you look at Barcelona, they’re raising money today because they built up things like Barça studios that they’re able to sell. Liverpool are doing a fantastic job on analytics.
You are new to football. What surprised you in the transfer market? How long clubs wait to make the decisions. I come from a business approach but let’s say I need you to do something and it’s January, wouldn’t I rather have that player on 1 January rather than 31 January? We did almost nothing this summer on deadline day. I think the calm means I had a team doing a good job planning.
How did you convince Gigi Buffon to join Parma in the second division? It was actually a fairly easy negotiation in the sense there was an emotional reason for Gigi to be here and there was a professional and emotional reason for us to have Gigi. I approached Gigi when we met in the locker room at the Allianz Stadium after the Juventus-Parma game in 2021. I said: “Gigi, do you want to come to Parma?” And he laughed. Gigi always laughs! He wanted two weeks off after the season to think about his next steps. So we waited and then he said: “Yes, I want to do this, my kids never watched me play there.” He’s a fantastic leader. Yes, he’s our goalkeeper but then you watch him and he just leads. He’s a positive role model.
What is Buffon like behind the scenes? I’ll tell you an episode that explains who the real Buffon is. We had our No 1 and No 2 goalkeepers [Buffon and Leandro Chichizola] out [against Reggina this month] so we used a kid from our academy [Edoardo Corvi] who dreamed that some day he would play for Parma. Before the game, who’s the one in the locker room saying, “You can do it; I’ve confidence in you”? Of course, Gigi. In training Gigi was with him but not putting pressure on him. Just talking to him before the game and looking after him. He’s one of the first guys to get down the stands and hug the players. That’s leadership. Leadership is letting someone else realise their dreams and hopefully Parma helped with giving him this attitude.
He’s 44. So does Buffon want to play in Serie A with Parma? Honestly … yes! Gigi realising his goals is us realising our goals. Gigi is a professional – he’s going to retire when he thinks it’s time.
Is your mission to bring Parma back to Europe’s top level? We have this fantastic history that not many clubs in Europe have. We don’t know how many years it will take, but the goal is to return in Europe and have Parma competing at that level again.