SO, who's afraid of Faustino Asprilla? English Premiership leaders Newcastle United for one. On Sunday, the proposed £6.7 million transfer of Colombia and Parma striker Asprilla to Newcastle appeared to fall through following a meeting between representatives of the two clubs in Milan.
At the and of two weeks of media hype, Parma and Newcastle have allegedly differed over Asprilla's knee, injured five years ago. Speaking after Sunday's meeting, in Milan, the Parma chairman Giorgio Pedraneschi said "Newcastle continue to maintain that there are big problems with Asprilla's knee and so they want a big cut in the price. We have medical reports that tell us the opposite land as a result it wasn't possible to reach any sort of agreement."
It could be that the medical test taken by Asprilla in Newcastle early in the transfer talks did reveal something previously unknown to the Italian soccer grapevine. It could be, but we doubt it.
In three and a half seasons of Italian soccer since 1992, involving 129 league, Italian Cup, UEFA and Cup Winners' Cup games, Asprilla has never appeared to be a player with physical problems. On the contrary, he has regularly been at the heart of the remarkable Parma success story of the last four years, scoring 38 goals in a period when the club has won both the UEFA Cup and the Cup Winners' Cup as well as being a regular championship challenger.
In that same period, however, it true that Asprilla has earned himself a reputation for being an eccentric on and off the field. His various off the field problems, in particular, have attracted much media attention.
His alleged "misdemeanours" have included a mysterious leg cut that kept him out of the 1993 European Cup Winners' Cup final a one year suspended sentence for a firearms offence committed while he was celebrating the new year in Colombia on December 31st, 1994 his recent divorce from wife Catalina his alleged love affair with the porn star, Petra Scharbach occasional and not so private rows with Parma coach Nevio Scala an enthusiasm for loud music in the middle of the night etc, etc.
All of the above has been much publicised, at least in Italy and in Asprilla's native Colombia. Perhaps, the colourful side of Asprilla was less well known in Newcastle. Perhaps, it was only when the British tabloid press raked over these "old coals", that people in and around Newcastle began to wonder.
Whatever Newcastle's reasons for rejecting Asprilla, they have now played the ball firmly back into the court of Parma coach Scala, the one senior figure at the Italian club who would not be sorry to see the Colombian leave. Scala's problems with Asprilla have, ironically, focused more on technical considerations than on alleged off the pitch incidents.
Asprilla's temperament, his prodigious ball skills and his instinctive talent have not always fitted in with his scheme of things. This season, Scala seems to have finally lost patience. Seala is in the strong position that he can choose from an attacking quartet which includes Bulgarian international Stoichkov, Italian internationals Zola and Melli, as well as the promising 22 year old Inzaghi.
The club's chairman, Pedraneschi, is sincere when voicing his pleasure at having Asprilla back. Asprilla has been a major promotional vehicle for the Latin American subsidiaries of Parmalat, the dairy products giant who own Parma football club. Parmalat, it would seem, are not afraid of Faustino Asprilla.