x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Zeman arrives at Roma ready for his latest roller-coaster journey

Roma will certainly play an attacking-style of football with Zdenek Zeman's arrival as head coach, says Ian Hawkey

Zdenek Zeman returns to Roma as anything but a safe and conservative pick. The Czech believes in an attacking style that usually puts his team, and their fans, on a roller-coaster ride throughout the season.
Zdenek Zeman returns to Roma as anything but a safe and conservative pick. The Czech believes in an attacking style that usually puts his team, and their fans, on a roller-coaster ride throughout the season.

On the face of it, Roma's board could easily be accused of schizophrenia.

Twelve months ago they launched the New Roma, ahead of the first full season under the watch of the US-based consortium who had taken over the club, with a novice young Spanish manager in Luis Enrique and a manifesto to defy conventions in Serie A.

The project had its high points, but the team finished lower than they had hoped for.

Luis Enrique, a former Barcelona captain, quit, citing burnout.

He is only 42, but his first job as a senior head coach had exhausted him. His replacement is a man whose face may bear the deep lines of wear and tear but whose enthusiasm for his job can make him seem inexhaustible.

Zdenek Zeman's arrival at Roma marks the 18th contract of his coaching career. He is 65.

So, have Roma gone for safety and conservatism by appointing a man who knows the club, having been in charge there, 13 years and 11 different jobs before?

Anything but. Zeman is one of the great mavericks of his line of work, a figure whose presence in Serie A is usually enriching for the spectator and whose latest stint in the capital will be intriguing. Not everybody in the Italian top flight will be pleased to see Zeman back at a major club, but most will keep their ears pricked for what he has to say.

Zeman spent 2011/2012 at Pescara, in Serie B. They won promotion and they thrilled. Zeman's teams, lined up 4-3-3 long before that formation came back into fashion, have almost always aspired to entertain.

Pescara spread 90 goals across their 42 fixtures. Typically, for a Zeman team, they attacked in numbers and rode the defensive risks that entailed. They were champions of their division in spite of conceding an average of 1.3 goals a game.

Franco Baldini, the general manager of Roma, presented Zeman as the new Roma coach with a simple endorsement: "We promised entertainment. Who could be better?"

Most Roma supporters remember the breakneck rides that Zeman piloted them through in the 1997/98 and 1998/99 Serie A campaigns. In both seasons, Roma were the division's highest goalscorers. But they let in too many goals to be competing in the final weeks for the scudetto, finishing fourth and then fifth.

In that era, Zeman helped a young Roma aspirant named Francesco Totti to establish himself in the side. The relationship between the sage old wizard and the now-veteran Roma captain is worth monitoring. Luis Enrique and Totti had several confrontations. The Zeman formula requires great stamina from players, required, as they are, to press forward quickly. Totti will at least know what is expected.

The rest of the division will expect the odd acerbic comment from the Czech, too. Zeman is not popular at Juventus, whom, in the late 1990s, he accused to giving excessive prescription medicines to their players to strengthen them athletically, comments that provoked a long judicial investigation.

He has been critical of the cartel of political power enjoyed by the northern giants, the two Milan clubs and Juve.

So, seatbelts on and watch Roma rev up and really try to roar. Quite how high they can climb with Zeman is unclear, but the journey should be fun.

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