Roma and Pescara do not share very much, but as of this season, they will have one man in common – Zdenek Zeman, otherwise known as Il Boemo, once at the head of the Wolves and now riding the Dolphins.
Watching a Zeman-orchestrated match was never a waste of time in the past, and it isn't now. His rigid 4-3-3 was uniquely built around the concept of outnumbering your opponents not in the midfield, but in their own box, from the beginning to the end of the game. At the end of any given season, his teams had usually scored more than the champions and conceded more than the relegation contenders.
Zeman started coaching in the 70s. It was a different age of football, an unreasonable period which bracketed the monstrous teams of Pelé and the gorgeous 1982 Brazil of Socrates and Zico. Beautiful football, in line with the Brazilian tradition, didn't necessarily have any relation with victorious football. It was the right time for Il Boemo.
The Czech-Italian had a discontinuous career that is only too easy to criticise. The man won even less than pre-Leicester Claudio Ranieri, who was dubbed 'il perdente' (the loser) by everyone who wasn't his mother. And yet he remains beloved everywhere he worked – even in the football bear-pit that is Rome, where he trained wolves and eagles indiscriminately.
Luis Enrique and Rudi Garcia also proposed an offensive brand of football, but when all of them were sacked, only Zeman was allowed to leave surrounded by the love and the respect of the tifosi.
And this is because Zeman's style isn't even beautiful football, it's more like Milan Kundera's 'The Intolerable Lightness of Being' applied to the sport, a tactical zen in which all that matters is the purity of the game. They had to make up a name for it: Zemanlandia, a compound which recalls the idea of an Italian amusement park (Mirabilandia, Fiabilandia).
If you do not care to watch him for his football, watch Zeman for the history that he teaches. The man is a walking archaeological treasure, a Coach who still holds true to a type of football that only made sense 20 or 30 years ago.
In this, no less than in his character and his interviews, he is a man of principle. He remains the most constant symbol of an obdurate anti-Juventus sentiment in Italy, for the openness with which he denounced football corruption years before Calciopoli – and he paid for it dearly, watching his career tossed down a stadium train. Even so, he never apologised.
Dislike him as much as you like, and claim – if you will – that he is a dinosaur, a relic, the empty bottle left behind after the picnic. Or call him a survivor, a fighter, a Che Guevara of the game who never gave up. Either way, show some respect. He is all that's left of a world that vanished no less than Telstar balls and cotton football shirts.