Is this the most loyal man in football? Parmas captain stayed with them without being paid after they were demoted to Italys fourth tier – and then ke

Another summer overhaul meant he was now the last man standing from their Serie A days. Parma were tipped to finish mid-table in Serie B and began with a run of three wins from their opening nine matches.

But they soon rallied behind Lucarelli. From centre back he scored three times in six matches as their form dramatically improved and sparked a promotion push.

The club icon delivered an emotional speech after Parmas third successive promotion

The following season was more complex. Parma finished second and entered the play-offs, qualifying for the final against Alessandria. Before the match, television cameras caught footage of Lucarelli delivering a spine-tingling speech.

Alessandro Lucarelli sat beside then-Parma manager Roberto Donadoni for an emergency press conference at the teams headquarters in February 2015.

An almighty roar erupted from the travelling support – Frosinone had conceded an 89th-minute equaliser cuing wild celebrations at La Spezia. Parma had become the first team in the modern era to win three successive promotions.

Is this the most loyal man in football? Parmas captain stayed with them without being paid after they were demoted to Italys fourth tier – and then kept his promise to lead them back to Serie A, aged 41

There is one more thing. I dont know if Ill have the opportunity to try again, so you need to do me a favour. Today, you need to take me into Serie B. One for all! All for one!

An emotional Lucarelli, his arm inked with a tattoo of his captains armband, was reduced to tears as he was lifted by his adoring team-mates. His journey from the bottom to the top was complete.

The defender became one of Parmas stalwarts in the five seasons which followed as the northern outfit established themselves as a solid mid-table side.

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Inspired by their captains words, Parma won 2-0 to earn promotion to Serie B and Lucarelli was persuaded to return for one final season at the age of 40.

Later that night, having given everything he had left to Parmas final promotion push, Lucarelli announced his retirement from football aged 41.

Having been given the captains armband, Lucarellis Parma finished in sixth place in 2014 but were denied entry to the Europa League following their failure to pay a tax bill of around 200,000 in time.

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While the vast majority of the Crusaders squad left, Lucarelli remained as a semi-professional. He was ever-present as Parma bounced back to the third tier at the first time of asking, storming to the Serie D title without losing a single match.

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Alessandro Lucarelli of Parma Calcio reacts after the Serie B match between Brescia Calcio and Parma Calcio at Stadio Mario Rigamonti on February 3, 2018 in Brescia, Italy.

But amid the crisis enveloping his club Lucarelli remained loyal, even offering to drive players up to the next weekends match at Genoa to ensure they fulfilled the fixture. Id be prepared to play in Serie D for Parma if it was necessary, he declared.

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Lucarelli played at the semi-professional level in front of tiny crowds in Serie D with Parma

Lucarelli is adored by the supporters having stuck with the club through their bankruptcy

Every ounce of energy, weve got to give it today. And where we cant reach with our legs, well reach with our hearts. Because we deserve it. We are a real group. Weve eaten s*** all year to get here and we must prove them all wrong.

Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Lillian Thuram, Hernan Crespo, Juan Sebastian Veron, Gianfranco Zola, Enrico Chiesa, Hristo Stoichkov… the list of their world class former players goes on and on.

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A run of eight victories from 11 games saw Parma enter the final game of the season at Spezia needing a win and other results to go their way to go up automatically.

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We have asked for protection and respect from the institutions but nobody gave us a call, the Parma captain pleaded. So we decided not to play.

Lucarelli had joined Parma, where his brother Cristiano was playing, in 2008, aged 30, and helped them bounce straight back from Serie B in his first season at the club.

Ive been thinking about these days for a long time, Ive been hugging Parma for 10 long years, giving myself and maybe even more, Lucarelli told supporters gathered for Parmas promotion party. In Serie A now, our goal has been achieved.

Lucarelli (right) with Pope Francis in 2014 at The Vatican alongside his Parma team-mates

Lucarelli stayed true to his word. Parma were relegated after finishing bottom of Serie A, declared bankrupt and forced to start again as Parma Calcio 1913 in the fourth tier under a group of local businessmen.

The centre back remained with Parma following their demotion to the fourth tier in 2015

Parmas captain addressed the clubs fans at the Stadio Ennio Tardini after a Serie B match

Hours earlier Parma had become the first Italian team in living memory to cancel a top-flight match, calling off their game against Udinese because they didnt have enough money to pay for stewards at the Stadio Ennio Tardini.

Parma were 2-0 up with goals either side of half time from Fabio Ceravolo and Amato Ciciretti, but still needed Frosinone, 2-1 up against Foggia, to drop points as they entered the closing stages.

But the story I have written is with you. The promise I had made to you three years ago has been kept. There is no way you can repay me and make me more proud than this incredible achievement.

But in Parmas 105-year history only one players number has been retired Lucarellis No 6 shirt, confirmed by the club this week following his retirement. He

Fast forward to February 2015 and soon the Italian authorities came calling – arresting owner Giampietro Manenti for embezzlement, with bailiffs seizing club vehicles and unpaid bills meaning Parma were left without hot water or electricity.

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Lucarelli applauds fans during the crisis 2015 season as they were relegated bottom of Serie A

Parma are one of Italys most iconic clubs. Three-time Coppa Italia winners and twice UEFA Cup winners, they won the hearts and minds of supporters in the UK through their coverage in Channel 4 show Football Italia.

Alessandro Lucarelli in 2009 at Parma

Lucarelli celebrates breaking Parmas record for appearances with coach Hernan Crespo (left)

bows out as a true Parma icon their record appearance-holder and as perhaps the most loyal player of the modern era.

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This is everything we are: suffering, fear, sweat, sacrifice, everything that took us to play this game right now, the captain told his players. Serie B is out there. Ninety minutes in which we must give everything weve got.


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