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The Death Of Zemanlandia: Next

Maurizio Lagana

Let's refer to a quote from September, shall we?

"We perhaps have to consider other decisions that we made or that we might've over-valued some players for their abilities to perform in this type of match."

That's Walter Sabatini after Juventus thrashed Roma like Fabio Simplicio does a buffet. It has been rather apparent since Day 1 some of these players are either not good enough or simply too immature in their development as professional athletes to provide the necessary fruits of production at this level. The backups at the forward positions had 61 total Serie A matches to their collective names at the outset of the season, and I'm being generous in tossing Marquinho in there. (Hell, toss Dodo's goose egg onto the pile as well.) That's just the beginning.

Clearly the idea was festering in their mind from the outset, because at no point during the good months of November & December did anyone think this club was veiling its weaknesses, namely the massive one in the middle of the pitch. If there is a formation which brings DDR back to even mediocrity - he was not benched; he won a spot on the bench - then that's good, and they can find a spot for Pjanic and then, well, somebody will figure something out. But Zeman was not given the pieces with which to succeed given the philosophy they purchased. They gave him the keys but not the parts underneath the hood to get it running properly. And they then did nothing in the month of January to rectify any of this, instead continuing to believe this team could, on both paper and in reality, become something it's not: good enough. Player development just doesn't happen that quickly across the board when the team is constructed poorly. Some players hit fire, but development is more often than not incremental, not exponential. If it was that easy, everyone else would already be doing it.

So if they're building for the future, which it appears they are, because throwing your biggest money on a kid who's played 36 total top flight matches is not a Win Right Now! recipe, then perhaps they should approach expectations accordingly. This was, from the very start, a wait-and-see, let's-eat-this-shitty-transition-year-with-kamikaze-scorelines entity with the potential to be something amazing, but the reality that it would be just that, a transition year for the sake of player development. Or at least it appeared to be. To everyone but those running the club.

There is an incredible amount of failure at the very top here. If you want to win now, fine, buy the players to win right now; players with a little bit of experience and some quality to boot, but it ain't going to be cheap in fees or wages. If you want to win tomorrow, spend the money allotted on wages on transfer fees for youthful, unfulfilled talent. The latter is what they did, nabbing talent and filling in around them on the cheap. They then brought in the coach to get them to win tomorrow, and fired him when he didn't win today.

I don't get it. I really don't. Nothing should've been expected out of this year given how this team has been compiled. Nothing at all. Not only that, but they knew what they were buying.

Now what? Who the hell knows. I don't think management knows either. And it's even more evident they didn't really have a clue as to what they were doing or what to expect last summer, either.

But given that Zdenek Zeman has been tossed into the dumpster like street trash - that would be an embellishment had he not been informed of his dismissal through a third party; classy, guys - a lot of things will change, obviously. Part of the problem is that two years in a row, this club has been constructed around a central ideology tethered to a stubborn personality, leaving with it a wake of players who either don't fit the system or holes which rapidly need to be filled. First, they built AS Roma in the eyes of Luis Enrique. Fortunately, some of those players brought in, likeMiralem Pjanic and Pablo Osvaldo, are rather useful otherwise (teenagers purchased from South America, like Erik Lamela, are Saba Specials and are considered independent of the manager). No, Miralem didn't really fit into the Zemanlandia model (well, he did, but a certain cat named Totti occupied that space already), but he's one of Roma's best players and should feature prominently in any system but a few - Zeman's was one of those few in which he had difficulty finding space.

But they brought in youth. Cheap youth. Guys like Tachtsidis, Florenzi, Dodo, Goicoechea, Florenzi and even a player like Bradley, to fill in the spaces of Zemanlandia. Even Piris could be considered a player more suited to this philosophy, as his speed and crossing ability are his best assets. Defending? Depends on the week lately, which might be a function of the team's overall play (and Erik's suckitude, in particular) than anything else. While the suits will tell you the personnel is bought irrespective of the man on the sidelines, done so with the singular philosophy which will see Roma into its next stadium, there is bound to be yet another summer of turnover. They have hit the nail on the head on a few - Marquinhos, Lamela, Destro and Castan should be guarantees for years to come so long as they can ward off bigger clubs - but a lot of changes are about to happen yet again.

So, a look at a few. You know - on February 2nd, hours after the transfer window closed until June. Because this is @#$%ing fabulous timing.

  • The goalkeeper situation. It is likely that Maarten Stekelenburg will be sold in the summer (this is the "staying together for the children" portion of standard divorce proceedings protocol; they'll part ways sooner rather than later) and Mauro Goicoechea's loan will not be renewed. Mauro fit the Zeman system better in that he is a better keeper against isolated runners - he sucks on crosses, we know - and is far more mobile. Less of a need to worry about that now and frankly, and neither he nor Maarten are good enough for Roma's apparent objectives.

    Whether or not those objectives, given how this club is currently being run, need to be ratcheted down several levels, is another question. (No it's not - they do.)
  • Panagiotis Tachtsidis. He's co-owned. While talented, he is supremely raw, and his playing time is a result of both a lack of options for the specified role of regista under Zeman and the desire to develop youth. That desire is likely to take a back seat now, and so too is his status in Rome. While he's been much better than given credit, he should be playing beaucoup minutes for a lesser side, not working out the kinks on a club hopeful for Europe. Their willingness to spend the money, however little, to babysit his contract for a few years while he works out those kinks is a big question now. (I vote they attempt to renew the co-ownership and agree, with Genoa, to send him on loan to a club destined for the bottom 6 in Serie A.)
  • Ivan Piris. Again, he's good, and I'm firmly in the corner that he should be bought, but he is, yet again, a developing piece. His loan buyout is for 4m euros and they just nabbed Torosidis. This is now another question, along with the consideration of a Sebastian Jung or someone else. (No, Davide Santon is not coming. Wouldn't you rather be playing for Newcastle too? Roma's an annual Europa League wannabe in Serie A now; they've got as much recruiting cache as Fiorentina until this thing gets fixed.)
  • Rodrigo Taddei. New coach, so you'll damn well see him net more minutes than he has under Zeman, perhaps even win a permanent spot.

    A cloud of Kool 100's is the only thing that can keep Rodrigo away.
  • Pablo Destro and Mattia Osvaldo. They both missed a lot under Zeman. They got a lot of clear, begging chances under Zeman. A lot. A helluva lot more than they will under anyone else.

    This might not end well.
  • Marco Borriello's contract is an albatross in this current regime, but there always remains the possibility someone other than every female 15-45 could find him desirable. They might even coach Roma.
  • Michael Bradley. He will, at the very least, net far fewer minutes under anyone not named Zeman. There's also a chance this means he's one-and-done, too. He's a solid guy on the end of the bench and seemingly a great teammate, but there is much better already in-house, and even better to be found around Europe.
  • Alessandro Florenzi. At the very beginning, when he was dousing himself in lighter fluid and striking matches, making Prandelli take notice, I thought he might turn out to be Zeman's eternal legacy this time around. That has since come and gone, and while you want the midfield to be strengthened, he's the type of young talent with enough quality and current productivity to sort of, and I hate to use this word, "hide" in the midfield without tremendous responsibility (is that an oxymoron?). Florenzi, Taxi and Bradley as your threesome is another story entirely, and it could be argued without Zeman, Alessandro would be nothing but a name on the roster. But sitting him with a well-oiled DDR and Miralem in a three-man midfield under the right tactics? Well that could work nicely for today and tomorrow.
  • Dare I? Francesco and Daniele.

    How much do you think they want to see out yet more transition when this club appears to be a sinking ship? They're doing both the little and big things wrong, from the Stekelnburg debacle, waiting until the final hours of the window, to not attempting to add bodies to the team in the window, to buying a coach whose philosophy they decided to discard two days after the window closed, despite knowing from the beginning precisely what they were buying, then getting it. "Why the fuck does this chicken taste like chicken? I ordered chicken!"

    You can sit on either side of the Zeman fence, thinking he's the best choice or worst, but one thing is for sure: three coaches in 9 months when they let go of what is now the hottest young coach in Serie A when they bought the club looks awfully bad, to those on the club and those they want to join it. Daniele could see yet another transition period as his one true chance for a winner somewhere else - there are rumors that he gave his go ahead to join PSG in the final days of the window, but PSG balked when Roma demanded Marco Verratti plus cash rather than straight cash - while Francesco could decide siring Acqua Di Gio Totti, Davidoff Cool Water Totti, and Totti No. 5 is a better use of his time.

    Just sayin'.

And there's another thing. What is it again? Errr...oh. Right.

The coach. Small matter, that. Two seasons, oh-for-two now. Third time's a charm? Who knows, but I have zero faith in anyone right now, no matter the coach.