Roma are turning back to Zdenek Zeman and his exciting brand of football. Rob Paton runs the rule over the decision.
As far as public opinion goes, the appointment of Zdenek Zeman as Roma Coach is proving popular and perhaps one that in the current market only Vincenzo Montella’s return could have rivalled. From Zeman’s reputation for attacking football to his proven affinity for working with and developing young players, the 65-year-old is seen as an ideal continuation of the core focus to Roma’s project and the work begun by Luis Enrique.
Indeed, the 2011-12 season even saw Enrique’s Press conferences punctuated with comparisons to and questions about Zeman, as the latter began to again catch attention with his work with Pescara a Division down from the Giallorossi. Alongside that progress with the Delfini that eventually took them to the Serie B title, an added attraction to following public opinion on appointing Zeman at the Olimpico is the club’s previous experience with him in the late 1990s. That Lupi placed credibly in the table by playing some eye-catching football, in a duel success-style aspect that the American-led project of 2012 is determined to identify with. In short, Zeman represents potential for creating the Roma that Enrique could not.
For Zeman too, the position is, as he put it himself, an adventure that represents both revenge and opportunity. Revenge for how he feels that first spell with the club ended over a decade ago, and perhaps an opportunity for what he sees in front of him to put that to bed once and for all.
“I left Roma before because I had to. It was for a political problem, not a performance one,” he told reporters this week. “In 1998, after the scandal, Roma lost more than 20 points due to the decisions of others. With those 20 points, the team would have been competitive. Continuing with me the next year, Roma would not have done any better, so it was better just to change.”
The scandal Zeman refers to is the one initiated through his accusations via the Press that Serie A clubs were illegally doping players to boost performance in the mid-to-late 1990s, with a specific attack launched at the Juventus team and his suspicious interpretation of their physical stature as players.
It resulted in a fallout that not only does Zeman blame as the reason he had to leave Roma, but that many cite as why the Coach has not had a chance to return to a top club since. Until now, where despite the absence, the tactician’s style of play and reputation amongst players he has worked with sees him return to Roma with his stock at an almost all-time high.
Even with his popularity and the promise of attacking play to come though, is the Prague-born Coach the right man at the right time for the transitional club? General analysis of what went wrong in the capital last term centres on three aspects. First, that the team’s weak defence was incapable of facilitating Enrique’s instruction without leaving themselves vulnerable in certain patterns of play. Secondly, that Enrique’s inability to manage the players on a psychological level meant performances fluctuated from game to game and thirdly, that there was a lack of directness to the young Coach’s tactics.
A look at the reaction a number of Pescara’s players have had to news of his departure suggests that his hold on a dressing room is influential enough to erase doubts about mentality, whilst he has more than once expressed an irritation towards Enrique’s tactical choices.
“He focuses on ball possession,” reflected Zeman last October when asked to compare his 4-3-3 with that of the Spaniard, who he didn’t always speak fondly of. “I do not, as I have no patience – it’s a question of character, but I want to always get to the goal.”
Finding a route to goal and keeping the squad correctly motivated are aspects Zeman is therefore anticipated to alleviate, but his arrival may actually increase scrutiny on the how the club tackle the transfer market to fix the first problem.
For the characteristics Zeman is expected to instil upon the playing staff, finer points to defending will not be one of them. His Pescara conceded at a rate almost as high as Roma last term, whilst his Foggia outfit of 2010-11 may have scored 14 more goals than anyone else in the Lega Pro Prima Divisione, but they only finished with a plus nine goal difference in light of conceding 13 more than any other side too.
His early career work with Foggia may have had them punching above their weight in Serie A and finishing the season on the verge of UEFA Cup qualification with an exciting brand of play, but perhaps for the anticipation to see what he can do back at the helm of a side with talent and status, it might be worth seeing if the old dog can learn a new trick or two to really progress the team in the way they hope.