Football: Two huge clubs, one pot of gold

`Uefa's draw has paired the heaviest spenders at this stage - pounds 100m of talent will be on show'; Phil Gordon finds Parma and Rangers playing for high stakes
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The Independent Online
FRIDAY AFTERNOONS in Parma seem a much more relaxed affair than those in Glasgow. Callers to the Ennio Tardini Stadium are met by a recorded message, saying the office closes at 1pm and will not be open until Monday. August is when Italy shuts up shop and heads for the beach and even Alberto Malesani's team were out of town at a tournament in Spain.

The contrast with Ibrox, however, could not be greater. There, the phone lines are jammed and Rangers fans are queueing around the block to try to obtain one of the few thousand tickets put on open sale for next Wednesday's meeting of the billionaire boys' club.

As a company, who have a turnover of pounds 32m, Rangers are simply blue chip when it comes to analysing European football's wealthy elite. Parma are in there too, though for different reasons, which explains why their Champions' League third-round qualifying tie has such a lot riding on it. Neither side want to cash in their chips so tantalisingly short of the lucrative group stage of the competition, but Uefa's roulette of a draw has paired the two heaviest spenders - pounds 100m-worth of talent will be on show at Ibrox - involved at this stage of the competition, to kill or be killed.

Dick Advocaat spent over pounds 40m assembling his squad, not so much with the Scottish title in mind, but the Champions' League. Equally, Parma eclipsed last season's outlay of pounds 33m in a summer transfer frenzy - 16 new players have been acquired - to underline their ambitions.

Last December, the Serie A team knocked Rangers out of the Uefa Cup on their way to winning the competition for the second time in four years - though it was nothing more than a consolation prize. "The most important ambition for Parma," said the club's press officer Giorgio Bottaro, "is to win the Scudetto [Italian championship]. That is what we dream of. That is why our president buys the best players."

No mention of the Champions' League. Possibly because it is taken for granted that Parma will be among the contenders for Manchester United's crown, but also because the Scudetto is a big obsession for a small town which will not rest until it has the one honour which will truly allow it to be considered alongside Milan and Juventus.

Parma's success belies the status of a town of only 100,000 people in the middle of Italy's agricultural region. Apart from those two Uefa Cups, they won the Cup-Winners' Cup at Wembley in 1993 and two Italian Cups. Several runners-up positions in Serie A have not satisfied the hunger, although last season's campaign undoubtedly suffered as Malesani's players slipped from top to fourth chasing success on three fronts.

Yet, while Rangers now rely on the revenue generated by the 50,000 fans who fill Ibrox every week and spend heavily in a commercial set-up which rivals Manchester United's, rather than relying on the deep pockets of their chairman David Murray, Parma are the ultimate rich kid's toy.

Stefano Tanzi is just 30, but since he took over control from his father, Calisto, three years ago, he has been able to live out a football fantasy: the Tanzi family own the Parmalat dairy foods empire and young Stefano cannot resist lapping up the cream of world football talent. The Brazilian striker Amoroso, who was Serie A's top scorer last season, cost pounds 22m from Udinese. The Argentine World Cup playmaker, Ariel Ortega, was a pounds 13m purchase from Sampdoria, with another pounds 10m going on the Salernitana striker Marco Di Vaio. Advocaat muttered last week: "People go on about me spending pounds 40m on a team, but Parma have spent almost pounds 50m on three players. That is the difference." That gulf would not soften the blow were Rangers to lose over two legs. Ticket sales will see them net over pounds 1m on Wednesday, but Rangers - who have revealed that their wage bill has shot up to pounds 20m - need the Champions' League revenue as much as Parma.

"Wages are out of hand," said Murray. "The only way to improve [revenue] is in Europe, but if Scottish clubs don't start achieving in Europe, then we are all wasting our time. The public has become tired of watching domestic fixtures, but they will enjoy them if their team has played in midweek in Europe. Our only future is in Europe."

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