24 October ~ On October 22, 1983, I saw a highly entertaining 2-2 draw in a fourth-level Serie C2 match in Rome's Stadio Flaminio between Lodigiani of Rome and Licata, from Sicily. Ten years later almost to the day I saw Atalanta hang on desperately for a 1-1 Serie A draw with nine-man Foggia. The common denominator? The coach of both Licata and Foggia was Zdenek Zeman. Now 64, Zeman is currently in charge of Serie B Pescara. They have 22 points from 11 games, having scored 27 goals and conceded 18. Last season, back at Foggia in the third-tier Prima Divisione, he led his side to a sixth-place finish with 67 goals scored and 58 conceded in 34 games.
These figures tell you all you need to know about Zeman. He sends his teams out to attack. Usually a 5-3 result in Italy means that something has gone wrong, but with Zeman it's the 0-0 that is the exception.
Born in Bohemia, he found himself in Italy during the failed 1968 revolution and never returned. He has been an Italian citizen since 1975, and has a degree in physical education, which included a dissertation on sports medicine. I wish there were more coaches like Zeman in Italy. His critics say he has won little or nothing. He has of course had his failures, usually because he couldn't convince conservative players to adapt to his methods.
He is also a coach who cannot take over a club mid-season, as his disastrous 11-game stint with Brescia in 2006 showed. But what he achieved at small-time Foggia between 1989 and 1994 was little short of miraculous as he launched players like Giuseppe Signori, Francesco Baiano and Roberto Rambaudi to stardom. When he left Foggia returned to their previous anonymity.
He is more than a coach. He teaches his players to play a style of football that entertains the paying customer. His teams, always in the 4-3-3 formation, play like a tightrope walker with no safety net under him. More than that, he genuinely believes in the importance of fair play.
But he is a hate-figure with much of the football establishment because of his 1998 revelations on sport and doping with particular reference to Juventus. In the face of vicious criticism (Gianluca Vialli called him a “terrorist”) he has always stood his ground, and has been proved right even though no Juventus player of the 1994-98 era was ever suspended because the substances administered were not illegal at the time.
In the murky world of Italian football, Zeman is a beacon of light. You could almost call him an Italian version of Ron Greenwood, an idealist largely preaching in the desert. He will receive no thanks from the authorities, but when he finally retires, the fans should erect a monument to him. Richard Mason