x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Hostilities will be renewed when Juventus meet Roma with Zeman in tow

Enmity between Zdenek Zeman and Juventus is back on centre stage as Roma make a visit to Turin, says Ian Hawkey.

AS Roma coach Zdenek Zeman looks on during the Serie A soccer match between Inter and Roma. The atmosphere is likely to be more charged when his Roma side travel to Turin to face Juventus.
AS Roma coach Zdenek Zeman looks on during the Serie A soccer match between Inter and Roma. The atmosphere is likely to be more charged when his Roma side travel to Turin to face Juventus.

Zdenek Zeman is a tough old warrior. The 65-year-old coach of Roma had heart surgery three months ago, his second operation within a year. Might he have thought of winding down his long career in such a demanding profession?

Not Zeman.

He had just agreed to return to Serie A after six years away, to accept one of the more stressful jobs there is.

This weekend Zeman will take his Roma to Juventus.

It will be Zeman's first visit, as an away team's coach, to the champions' new Olympic Stadium.

Many there, though, will remember, the spiky trips by his previous Lazio, Roma and Lecce teams to the Stadio dell Alpi, Juve's old home.

With Lecce in the 2004/05 season, Zeman was jeered so caustically by some Juventus fans that he remarked afterwards: "And I thought Turin was a civilised city."

Juventus and Zeman have a long, scarred history, and it was partly because of Juventus that Zeman, a Czech by birth, ended up in Italian football and became a central part of its theatre over the last 30 years. His uncle, Cestmir Vycpalek, a talented winger in the 1940s, was signed by Juve from Slavia Prague and settled in Italy. His nephew joined him there and stayed to pursue a career in coaching.

Zeman has always had his dogmas. Attacking football is one; candid speaking and a suspicion of the establishment are others.

In the late 1990s, Zeman gave a famous interview to Espresso magazine accusing Juventus of using pharmaceutical methods to boost performance.

A long legal investigation into doping at Juve and a series of court cases followed. Zeman felt, with some justification, that he had pointed out a concealed truth, and, with equal justification, that club presidents across Italy were reluctant to employ him after that.

When, during a later investigation into the manipulation of match officials, police tapes of phone calls made by Luciano Moggi, then a Juventus director were released and Moggi was heard saying of Zeman "we'll make him bleed, we'll get to his players", the enmity between Italy's most successful domestic club and the maverick Zeman became vividly clear.

The rancour continues even now.

Since rejoining Roma in June, Zeman has been critical of the Italian federation for allowing Antonio Conte, the Juve coach, to continue working with his players day in, day out, in training despite Conte serving a 10-month touchline ban.

He did congratulate Conte's team on last season's league title, but he will be nursing a fierce desire to thwart Juve's defence of it.

sports@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE