AS Roma: Zeman’s sacking typifies the Gillarossi stutter

It is now a fortnight since Zdenek Zeman was sacked as coach of AS Roma and replaced by Aurelio Andreazolli, the caretaker with an end of season remit who has already beaten league leaders Juventus and lost to 13th placed Sampdoria. It has been a typically erratic start to his stint at a club that has taken the lunacy to a whole new level at the beginning of this year, a couple of months that saw the end of the short-lived new era.

Last summer saw the passing of Luis Enrique after his failed first year in management and the return of the Czechoslovakian coach who had previously managed the Giallorossi back  in the late 1990s. His two years at the Stadio Olimpico saw a fourth and fifth placed finish on the back of fluid football and the emergence of Francesco Totti, the Curva Sud’s favourite son for the past decade and counting.

Zeman, after two successful spells in the lower Italian leagues with Foggia and Pescara, with whom he won a first year promotion to Serie A, was supposed to usher in a new dawn of fluent play with a fresh influx of talented young players designed to restore Roma to a force once again. They had finished 2nd as recently as 2009-2010 and had begun to see a worrying decline. The 65 year old was supposed to kick start the “project” that had been promised since the takeover of the club by an American consortium 18 months ago.

His first year back in charge was going rather well until the winter break. Roma departed for the interval on the back of a 4-2 win over AC Milan, their 5th win in 6, and were sitting just four points off second placed Napoli. However, their return to action in 2013, barring two wins in the Coppa Italia, has been disastrous. They failed to win their first five games after the break, conceding 13 goals in the process, and slipped to eighth in the table by taking just 2 points from 15. February started with the debacle of a 4-2 loss to Cagliari which saw Franco Baldini, Roma’s general manager, say it would be rash to sack Zeman so soon after the defeat. Twelve hours later, he was gone via text message.

That was one of a series of catastrophic errors the club made off the field as they tried its best to implode. Sporting director Walter Sabatini dismissed any chance of Roma singing a player in the transfer window despite an obvious necessity to add to a thin squad. They eventually signed full-back Vasilis Torosidis. Goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg was on his way to Fulham days after publicly criticising Zeman’s decision to omit him from the squad, yet was forced to fly back after the board failed to sign a replacement back in Rome.

Meanwhile, their current goalkeeper Mauro Goicoechea had been repeatedly exposed and had seen his confidence nadir with a horrific error which restored Cagliari’s lead in Zeman’s last match. With Stekelenburg sitting on the bench alongside solid defender Leandro Castan and Daniele De Rossi, the highly rated defensive midfielder who had just returned from injury, Goicoechea’s spill of the ball into the net saw any lingering morale in the Zeman camp evaporate and it was the end of his bright new dawn.

His reign hasn’t all been bad, he managed to unearth 18 year old Brazilian centre half Marquinhos and turn him into one of the most highly regarded defenders in Serie A, he signed 21 year old midfielder Alessandro Florenzi for just over £1 million from Crotone and he has fit into the squad seamlessly with four assists so far.

He gave a debut to homegrown teenager Alessio Romagnoli and restored Totti to something resembling his best, the captain is their most productive player with nine goals and eight assists.

Cagliari however, was another example of inexplicable team selection that contributed to his sacking. Stekelenburg, De Rossi and Pablo Osvaldo have all been excluded for long periods, whilst so has Miralem Pjanic, the Bosnian midfielder who described Zeman’s sacking as the “right decision”. It was an immovable devotion to an all-attacking 4-3-3 which has seen Roma concede 45 goals, the second highest tally in Serie A, and a system that is centred around a ball-carrying midfielder of which the manager only had one at his disposal, the 22 year old Panagiotis Tachtsidis, who is still vastly inexperienced in his first year at the club.

Zeman took to the Roma job with the same swashbuckling style he had forged a reputation for and the board accepted it, “to win with Zeman is the real Utopia” claimed Baldini, but his approach was never that perfect. Below the surface, his distant single-mindedness alienated members of his squad. He criticised Erik Lamela and Nico Lopez in pre-season, he questioned the attitudes of Osvaldo and De Rossi, he consistently blamed the players, and never himself, for defeats.

This caused a cancerous atmosphere in the squad that had Pjanic and left-winger Marquinho both caught mouthing off at the manager on the touch line. Against Bologna, many onlookers picked up on a sense that the squad were no longer listening to Zeman’s instructions and in the first training session after that match, in which they blew a 3-1 lead to draw 3-3, only half of the squad was reported to have trained. La Republicca, a Rome newspaper, read the headline “the team abandons Zeman. By now the relationship is destroyed.”

It turned out it was, 6 months after he was welcomed back to the Olimpico with the excitement that he was finally going to be the correct man to spearhead the highly-anticipated Roma “project” that Baldini is tasked with overseeing. Now he is the club’s first “official” sacking since 1997 and the direction of the club, after being allowed to spend £36 million last summer, is under scrutiny once more.

It was with a heavy heart Roma said goodbye to Zeman for a second time, but in the end they had no choice. They asked for Zeman, the vigorous, attacking, direct coach, and they got him, but they also got the volatile, isolated 65 year old who couldn’t manage his squad.

Everybody wanted the boss who once described the horizontal pass as “futile” to make a success of it, but sadly, that was never really going to happen.


Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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