MILAN (Reuters) - Only three years after being declared bankrupt and demoted to the fourth tier of Italian football, a re-born Parma are on course to return to the European stage where they excelled in the 1990s.
Having risen from the ashes with three successive promotions, Parma -- twice winners of the old UEFA Cup and once winners of the Cup Winners Cup -- were expected to face a battle for survival this season on their return to Serie A.
Instead, Roberto D'Aversa's team have climbed to sixth despite having spent only 13 million euros (11.57 million pounds) in the transfer market.
On Sunday, they visit AC Milan, the team immediately above them, and a win at San Siro -- where they have already beaten Milan's neighbours Inter this season -- will take them up to fifth.
So far, it has been a classic case of a team making the most of limited means.
Unable to afford marquee signings, Parma focused on bringing in youngsters with promise or veterans who they felt still had something to give.
Former AS Roma and Arsenal forward Gervinho was the best known name, the 31-year-old returning to Serie A on a free transfer after two years in China.
The Ivorian has scored five goals in nine games including a magnificent solo effort against Cagliari, but his striking partner Roberto Inglese, a 27-year-old journeyman on loan from Napoli, has been arguably an even more astute signing.
"Gervinho and Inglese are two top players, I'm very lucky to have them available: the more they know each other, the more they produce," said D'Aversa.
Portugal defender Bruno Alves is another familiar name, the 37-year-old making Parma the latest stop in a career that has already taken him to Greece, Turkey, Russia and Scotland.
Handed the captaincy, he has been ever-present and is partnered at the centre of the defence by 19-year-old Alessandro Bastoni, on loan from Inter Milan.
Other signings have included winger Jonathan Biabiany, who previously played for the club before their bankruptcy, as did Massimo Gobbi, who has returned at the age of 38. Both are examples of what Italian football calls "reheated soup".
There has certainly been no room for sentiment, with only three survivors from last season's Serie B campaign keeping regular places in the side.
Parma's last Serie A season in 2014-15 ended in ignominy as the club's ownership twice changed hands. Players had to pay for their own laundry and fixtures were called off because the club could not afford to provide security.
They were allowed to enter the fourth tier of the Italian league in 2015-16 after a group of local businessmen, under the name Nuovo Inizio, came forward to re-found the club.
They won promotion that year and two more promotions in the subsequent two seasons under D'Aversa to return to the top flight.
Last year, Chinese investors Desports, led by businessman Jiang Lizhang, bought a 60 percent stake in the club, however Nuovo Inizio took back by control by regaining a majority stake last month.
Parma have scored only 14 goals in their 13 games but D'Aversa has shrugged off suggestions that they play "Catenaccio" style football, emphasising defence.
"I don’t engage in Catenaccio tactics or anything. I’d say I’m effective," he said. "But I don't take offence -- as long as this run continues, I'm happy with that label."
He added: "Each coach must make the most of what he has -- so what interests me is to try to get results."
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Toby Davis)