Marco Sau curled a shot into Mauro Goicoechea’s top right corner as the keeper stood there looking at the ball, it hit the crossbar and went back to the field with Francesco Pisano showing up unmarked to finish the ball into Roma’s net. Cagliari’s fourth goal of the night at the Stadio Olimpico. Zdenek Zeman’s empire had crumbled and this was the final blow.
Following Luis Enrique’s resignation last summer, Roma wandered around the market for a coach that can keep Roma different from the other clubs in Serie A. They wanted their own style and own character. Despite Franco Baldini going after Andre Villas Boas and Vincenzo Montella at first, the management ended up contracting fan favorite Zdenek Zeman. An eccentric coach, for whoever does not know him, an attacking minded coach with a unique styled game that’s based on fast vertical play and physical strength. Zeman’s mentality concentrates on the footballing aspect of the game and he often criticizes the people who take advantage of the sport into making it a money generating business through unnecessary marketing, cheating, match-fixing and doping.
Ever since the start of the season, Roma’s administrative staff and Zeman always found a clash of interest. The American owned club wanted to expose Roma to the world through marketing campaigns, tours over the United States and friendlies in different states against teams from different backgrounds. However, Zeman did not want to take part in all those friendlies, his only concern was to physically prepare the team and avoid any obstacles that stood in his way. Travel across the Atlantic to the United States and two trips to Austria meant that the team had to give up a couple of days of training for travel, autograph sessions and site seeing. On the other hand, Roma’s management did not approve Zeman’s comments regarding other teams such as Juventus. This relationship was headed for disaster.
Roma’s pre-season was shaping well and the club won all 10 friendlies they took part in but when the season commenced, Roma failed to beat Catania at home, yet Pablo Daniel Osvaldo scored one of the most beautiful goals of the season. In the following match Roma beat Inter away and Zeman was praised for assembling a side that was playing cohesively since the second game. Later on, Roma were playing attractive football but conceding goals became a trend as Roma turned leads into losses against Bologna, Udinese, Parma and Lazio, conceding three goals in each game, while they were catastrophic against Juventus conceding four goals before managing to pull one back through a penalty. After the Lazio game, Roma enjoyed a good run of five wins in a row before losing against Chievo due to unplayable conditions. Roma returned to end 2012 with a big win against Milan. In 2013 Roma played five serie A games failing to win any, conceding four against each of Napoli and Cagliari and three against Bologna. Roma’s instability and lack of balance between defence and attack has put them in eighth place.
Zdenek Zeman’s overall approach was bad for Roma and though he did a lot of damage, he managed to get the best out of Erik Lamela. The young Argentine was a hit in the first half of the season scoring 10 goals and assisting two in just 14 matches. Zeman managed to put Lamela on the right track. Another player who drastically improved under Zeman was Alessandro Florenzi, a primavera graduate who instantly became a starter for Roma in the midfield with an accuracy of 80% in passing, four assists and three goals. The 21-year-old managed to break into the Italian national team. Surprisingly Marquinhos Correa, at just 18-years of age, was able to become a pillar for Roma’s defense and a starting central defender ahead of Nicolas Burdisso. Most importantly Zeman managed to get Totti back on track and revive his best years as the captain kept on running and applying pressure to opponents game after game playing in 21 games out of a possible 22, scoring eight goals and assisting just as much.
With four players benefitting from Zeman many were not. Daniele De Rossi was surprisingly dropped to the bench in favor of Panagiotis Tachtsidis. Zeman trusted a player he brought from Serie B to play in the heart of his midfield and this very often did not work. Tachtsidis was particularly bad with building up play and directing it. He often played the wrong move at the wrong time, his execution wasn’t accurate and his slow speed made him lose possession very often. Maarten Stekelenburg was the second player who lost his starting spot under Zeman. The Dutch keeper had to settle for the bench after Mauro Goicoechea impressed in two games during Stekelenburg’s absence. Goicoeachea was a catastrophy in goal, his team-mates never trusted him with the ball, preferring to clear it rather than letting it reach him most of the time. His positioning was awful which forced him into acrobatic saves for shots that were easy to save. He always parried the ball away rather than try to catch and when he tried, often found it falling from his grasp.
Young players like Dodo Pires and Nicolas Lopez were not integrated well in the team and despite both of them being players of huge promise they barely got their chances to play. Dodo only featured when Federico Balzaretti was injured while Lopez, who scored on his debut, was limited to two serie A appearances with Zeman preferring to play midfielders like Miralem Pjanic, Alessandro Florenzi and Marco Antonio Marquinho up front. When he was allowed to leave Roma to participate in the South American U-20 championship, Lopez showed his potential. He won the tournament’s top goal scorer award proving that Zeman was wrong to bench him. Marquinho was also limited to two starts although he often impressed and played well.
In addition to mishandling the squad, Zeman always resorted to blaming the pitch, the referees and his players for bad performances. He never took responsibility of defending his own players or accepting certain conditions. Moreover, Zeman was tactically exposed. His full backs Ivan Piris and Federico Balzaretti were both good, but Zeman’s tactics forced them to go further up the pitch more often. This left Roma exposed from the wings when they lost possession. Another problem Zeman faced was a lack of a cohesive midfield. Micheal Bradley, Florenzi and Tachtsidis were often the starting trio and they couldn’t take the initiative to run at opponents or to take them one on one. The trio resorted to passing rather than trying to break through the middle which very often prevented them from creating chances. Mattia Destro was wasteful and there were games where he could have easily scored five goals, yet he scored none. On the contrary, he did manage to score some crucial goals but he lacked consistency.
Zeman failed to keep his squad happy at Roma. His players were playing with no enthusiasm nor the desire and his sacking brought a joy to many, not a single player opposing his axing. Some fans may still hold a grudge against the management because Zeman was a fan favorite. Nevertheless, it was the right move. Zeman’s empire has crumbled as he became too predictable. He may enjoy another spell at a club of less prestige but this was his last chance to coach a big club. Failure is not fatal and Zeman will always be remembered for choosing to make football a beautiful game and for creating his own cult in a place where attacking football was prohibited. He changed the face of Serie A and many learned from him. May his legacy live on and may many future coaches learn from his work ethic but not his attitude. Zemanlandia is over but the memory remains.
Written by Guest Author Sari Arab
Follow the author on Twitter: @aquismaia21