The writing was on the wall following a start to 2013 which garnered just two points from a possible 12. Director Walter Sabatini then added fuel to the fire. “Zeman’s work is satisfying under certain aspects, but it is clear that there are less positive things. It’s is time to start asking ourselves some questions and, amongst the considerations, we’ll also think about a change of Coach – even if only marginally.”
Friday’s humiliating defeat increased the margins considerably. Less than 24 hours later, Zdenek Zeman was sacked. Thirteen years after his first stint at Trigoria ended, the polarising Czech and his Zemanlandia were shut down eight months into this spell. Director Franco Baldini insisted it had to happen. “This was the only decision we could make.”
Given the results, you cannot blame the club for taking this path. The blame could lie in their decision to hire Zeman, but after spectacularly guiding Pescara to the Serie B title in May he was the flavour of the month. Given his Roma past, it seemed a dream move. Fans thought so too. Out went the unpopular Luis Enrique, in came the mystical Czech. Season ticket sales increased. Expectations too. Sadly for the Giallorossi, the points tally has not.
Roma are one point and two spots worse off compared to the corresponding stage last term. This is with a squad that should be challenging for the Champions League, not one sitting behind Catania and nine points adrift of third-placed Lazio. A symptom for this is their defensive deficiencies, having conceded 42 goals, second worst behind Pescara. The manner in which the goals were conceded highlights the worst traits of Zeman’s football. The Cagliari loss can be seen as a microcosm for the season – defensively terrible with the occasional flash of attacking brilliance.
There were happy days. The Week 2 San Siro showdown versus Inter was perhaps Zeman’s finest day in charge during this stint, Pablo Osvaldo’s goal something special. 4-2 victories over Fiorentina and Milan are other positive memories, but those aside the memory pool is shallow. When it all clicked it looked great. Otherwise it was a mess.
A stubborn disposition and desire to stick to the high-tempo, all-action style which defined Zeman proved his Roman downfall. Even with a defence as fragile as the Giallorossi’s there was no change. They looked more like cubs than ferocious Lupi. Zeman failed to realise that there is nothing wrong with a desire to play attacking football, but there is a problem in shirking defensive duties.
The Daniele De Rossi and Maarten Stekelenburg situations were handled less than ideally. The Italian international went from pivotal figure for club and country to the periphery. He would be as relieved as anyone to see the 65-year-old go, securing his future. Roma fans would have breathed a sigh of relief when the transfer window shut and Capitan Futuro remained. The Dutch goalkeeper did not feel any relief as his proposed transfer to Fulham did not go through. A Gigi Buffon he is not. But Stekelenburg proved a good set of hands. Pushed to the outer in place of Mauro Goichoechea, that move took a spectacular plummet with his calamitous error on Friday.
While those two butted heads with Zeman, others thrived. His unabashed policy towards youth saw Alessandro Florenzi and Mattia Destro become regulars. Miralem Pjanic, Leandro Castan and Michael Bradley were others to flourish under the Czech tactician and their ongoing development as footballers will be better for it.
Where to for Roma? Aurelio Andreazzoli – a technique Coach who has worked with the club since Luciano Spalletti’s reign – takes over for now. He is expected to revert to a 4-2-3-1 formation and a starting XI which includes De Rossi. The new boss wants to “install some enthusiasm in and around the club.” Andreazzoli’s first test is away to Sampdoria.
As for Zeman, he has no plans to call it a day. “They’d have to shoot me first,” he exclaimed. Has Zeman blown his last shot at the big time? Possibly. That doesn’t mean this is the end for him, but Zeman must be aware the cavalier approach has its limits.