clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Problem With Zeman: It's Not Zeman

Gabriele Maltinti

If the public vote of confidence is the kiss of death, what does rolling the status of the coach under the bus in the open mean? The opposite? Or does it mean he's out on the floor and they're deciding whether or not to use the paddles?

There is a rumbling, and it has been stated outright by Walter Sabatini, that Zdenek Zeman's position is under review.

Pardon me while I do a double-take.

No one's pretending like Zdenek is the world's sole offering of football genius, the choice of every big club, real or imagined, but there is one thing which he offers without doubt: when you hire Zdenek Zeman, you know what you're getting. Fluctuating results, enticing football, lots of goals in both nets, and most importantly, the development of youth. A chain-smoking, loud-mouthed, attack-minded, progressive coach who doesn't give a damn about what anyone thinks, the names on the back of the shirts, or the number of zeros in a player's paycheck. And lo, that's precisely what's happened.

So what the hell is the problem?

There are, of course, some hushed aspects to Zeman's personality. He's never one to shy away from making enemies, and while it makes for delectable press conferences, this also applies in-house. Marquinho's camel moment is proof enough, and the Pjanic lash against Lazio was another moment of consternation for anyone who wants him in Rome over the long-term. Now, no one's going to weep over the loss of Singular, but Pjanic? He's the type to stick in a midfield for ten years and fuggetaboutit. I don't think anyone holds the delusion that Miralem will be in Rome beyond 3-4 more years max before shuffling off to either end of El Clasico or Manchester, but he was Roma's best player in 2011-12 (even Totti said so), and one could argue he should be played accordingly. This may have bred more problems behind the scenes than known or desired. Who knows.

In fact, one might be able to say that the biggest problem right now is half-Miralem, half-Daniele. Neither fits into the Zeman system, and until the rise of Marquinhos, both were represented in Roma's top three players. (Plural has since catapulted to No. 2 ahead of even a performing DDR, which is just...yeah. Jesus H.) When a coach can't make his best assets fit properly, maybe the coach needs to be replaced, and find a coach who can. But the problem, and the problem with all of it, is this:

How the hell did they not see this coming?

The fall of Daniele under Zeman isn't such a mystery, really, and it's something I noticed with Bradley the last couple of weeks: both Daniele and Michael have been decidedly less rambunctious when Tachtsidis is on the pitch. Seriously. Watch for it. It's almost as though they're....babysitting. I maintained in the early weeks, when Daniele was forcing Zeman to rip out the filters, that his lack of movement was a function of his reluctance to leave this gaping hole for a massively raw individual in the center of the midfield to patrol solo. Then I began noticing the very same with Bradley. And hell, they're both coach's sons - they'd be the first to notice this need as well. Perhaps there's something to this. (Remove 'Perhaps' at your leisure.)

Okay, so Tachtsidis is the problem? Then play another reg...oh. Wait.

Which then becomes a matter of Walter Sabatini not finding the requisite quality at regista, the one role demanded by Zeman in the midfield which requires a, shall we say, particular set of skills. Hell, they shredded the contract of one of the better ones in Serie A in the summer, and while David Pizarro's ponderous approach to ball-slinging doesn't fit well with the quick longitudinal movement of Zdenek's game, he's a big boy. He can figure it out. He was, at least, the better option. If not, then find someone who can - and it's not Pjanic or De Rossi.

Which then brings me to the actual point: this team, as constituted, is not designed to challenge for the Champions League. They could, sure, but that shouldn't be the expectation. They can beat anyone on a given day, yes, but they could lose to the local chapter of The Handicapped, Blind & Slightly Down's Syndrome too. Consistency is the most crucial attribute which comes with experience - flashes of brilliance can begin in the womb - and it takes time to build these things. Adaptability is often an acquired trait, and youngsters need to learn to adapt to certain situations; the truly special ones (Pjanic, for example), have it, but that's exceedingly rare and even more expensive. Account for absolutely diabolical matches from the likes of Tachtsidis, Piris, Lamela, Florenzi, etc, because this is a squad which was designed to be developed, not succeed right away. One would think Baldini & Friends would know this and account for the tumult without thinking the coach needs be changed. They should be prepared for and have expected this very scenario.

There are other considerations which are entirely unrelated to Zdenek. He is not responsible for the complete death of Federico Balzaretti's game outside of five yard passes. His left peg isn't the one bulleting crosses into the jumping asses of defenders with alarming regularity. And he is not responsible for his backup, Dodo, having zero defensive skills to speak of yet, and one could argue Vasilis Torosidis was brought in with this spot, not rightback, more in mind.

He is also not responsible for Mattia Destro's age and inexperience. These are the growing pains years for a reason, and if he started notching home all the chances he's had, he'd be Ballon d'Or material at the tender age of 22 based on volume alone. Zeman is not responsible for the fact that the hit rates of both Destro and Osvaldo are, shall we say, suboptimal. His tactics have created the opportunities; it's up to the players to execute. If the players don't execute tactics which often work, then get better players or accept that some of them are still in the developing stages of their careers and ratchet down expectations accordingly.

Roma is, at current, developing players. Erik Lamela is scoring many goals, but if this were a big, Champions League-guaranteed club, he'd be either on the fringes or surrounded by proven stars to accommodate for the days, weeks and moments in which he simply goes missing. Michael Bradley and this young version of Alessandro Florenzi would be nowhere near the team sheet. There is maximizing output of lesser parts, and then there is underestimating the talent at hand, which is what was done so often under the Spalletti regime. The man's a genius, but those players were a hell of a lot better than they were and still are given credit for - especially Taddei, Perrotta, and various members of the defense.

If there is one failing of Zeman, it's that he's been unable to find a working structure and combination in the midfield. (And stop it with the goalkeepers. If you put a mask on Stekelenburg and gave him the name John Doe, every Tommaso, Riccardo and Aroldo would want him out too.) That problem is then amplified by the fact that two of Roma's best on-the-pitch assets - DDR & Miralem - are, ideally, a part of that midfield. So if you want to reconsider the coach based on his inability to find a cohesive center of the club, that's fine. It may even be the correct path to rectifying all that's currently wrong.

But that means I want to reconsider your capabilities of selecting said coach, because you damn well should've seen all this coming. Everyone on this blog - from the masthead to the most infrequent of commenters - did, and we're The Faceless of an internet site. It seemed, for all intents and purposes, that they hired a coach to develop the young talent while they shred payroll and usher in an extraordinary amount of turnover, effectively using boffo scorelines - hello, 3-3 - to veil the fact that this is actually an uncomfortable transition phase. Basically, they decided to throw up a picture of some giant breasts in the hopes it would distract everyone from the mess being renovated on the side.

And that's precisely what's happening. So why are they surprised, over time, when those breasts don't suddenly garner the critical acclaim of Van Gogh's brush strokes when that's not what it was designed to be? This signing appeared, from Day One, to be as much a PR move as a football one. If they really expected this to be something other than what it is, then the pink slips need to be flying much higher than Zeman.

And let's hit refresh on an old classic: Walter Sabatini is, much like Pantaleo Corvino, a great talent spotter; he is not a great team-builder. There is, as ever, a difference. Want a team-builder sitting in the slot of the director of sport? There's one in Firenze now.

What it all comes down to for me is this:

They made a colossal mistake in not handing the reins ripping the keys to the club away from Vincenzo Montella when they rode into town. The ideal candidate was not only available, but he was already the coach.

But when you hired Zeman, you knew exactly what you signed up for.