On Sunday night we witnessed the awakening of something spectacular. Roma travelled to the San Siro to face Inter Milan. And, in one of the most electrifying performances you will see all season, Roma routed Inter Milan in a 1-3 away victory. The performance was characteristic of all that is loved about Zdenek Zeman – pace, incision and directness.
Both sides have been tipped to be antagonists of this season’s Scudetto race. Inter particularly have went a long way to rejuvenating an ageing squad with a considerable sum spent on incoming transfers. Roma on the other hand have been more prudent in their transfer market. Roma’s Sporting Director Walter Sabatini had the unenviable task of offloading most of the club’s deadweight whilst trying to complement the squad he went a long way to rejuvenating last summer. Sabatini added some proven Serie A talent to the Roma ranks in the form of Michael Bradley and Federico Balzaretti. The defensive woes of last season always meant there would be a shuffle of defensive personnel. In came two Brazilian centre-backs, the very highly rated captain of the Brazilian U-17 squad, Marquinhos and Leandro Castan, the rock at the heart of the Corinthians side that recently conquered the Copa Libertadores aswell as last year’s Campeonato Brasileiro. Sabatini also signed two other imports from Brazil – promising but injury plagued left-back Dodo and Paraguayan right-back Ivan Piris. The most headline grabbing signing of the summer for the capital club was Mattia Destro. The technical choice to sell Borini to Liverpool for a handsome sum was quickly overshadowed by the expected arrival of Destro – one of the most promising stars of the future Italy set up.
But, perhaps the most interesting arrivals at Roma during the summer come in a less headline grabbing manner. Against Inter, Roma started the game with two of their midfield three out injured (Bradley and Pjanic). As a result, two youngsters, both making their starting Serie A debuts, started in their places – Alessandro Florenzi and Panagiotis Tachtsidis. Florenzi is a product of the Roma youth system. He was a vital cog in Roma’s Primavera side coached by Alberto De Rossi (father of Daniele). A year on loan at Crotone last season seems to have served him nothing but good and he returned to Rome this summer with real buzz surrounding him. Florenzi’s tireless workrate and knack for breaking late into the box has drawn comparisons to another Roma player, World Cup winner Simone Perrotta. Tachtsidis is another player who spent last season in Serie B. After impressing at Hellas Verona, Zeman himself personally asked Sabatini to do whatever he could to bring Tachtsidis to Rome in the summer. Because of Tachtsidis’ style being that of a tall, technical, left-footed midfield anchor, it is no surprise to see him compared to Fernando Redondo, although Tachtsidis is more robust defensively. Both of these players are still rough around the edges but they will certainly be players to keep an eye on as the Serie A season progresses!
It is easy to get lost in the mass of player turnover of Roma this summer but the single most important signing was not a player, it was the re-appointment of Zdenek Zeman as Head Coach. Despite the management declaring their faith in his project, Luis Enrique resigned at the tail end of last season after failing to finish in the final Europa League spots. Franco Baldini, the Director General appointed by the American owners to lead the project, has expressed the need to expand the brand of Roma and they must do so by playing attractive football. Eighteen months ago it seemed inconceivable to think Zeman would so soon be managing Roma again but after winning promotion to Serie A with Pescara, the decision to appoint him this summer felt only natural. Zeman had previously spent two seasons in the Roma hot seat in the late 90’s before being replaced by Fabio Capello in 1999. In an interview shortly after being confirmed as Roma manager this summer, Zeman stated that it was impossible for him to turn down the Roma job and that he always felt he had unfinished business in the capital. He has a reputation for no holds barred ultra attacking football – playfully referred to as Zemanlandia by his fans. He has admitted his frustration at pointless horizontal passes, placing great emphasis on the rate of transition from defence to attack. the quicker the better. Zeman teams have no hesitation in verticalizing possession as soon as the opportunity arises, and he is famous for his intensely rigorous pre-season regimes, with high levels of fitness being a great strength and requirement of his teams.
Zdenek Zeman also has a considerable cult following throughout Italy. He is a very outspoken character and in the late 90’s created a storm of controversy when he accused Juventus of illegaly doping their players. Zeman cited what he called the unnatural muscle mass gained by both Gianluca Vialli and Alessandro Del Piero as examples of this. Vialli famously responded to this accusation by calling Zeman a terrorist. Ever since this incident both Juventus and Zeman have exchanged words of derision on a regular basis. There are even those Serie A followers out there who believe Zeman’s accusations towards Juventus (some of whom think Zeman was true) ruined his career for nearly a decade, believing Moggi in particular played a leading role in Zeman’s fall to management obscurity. It is those same people who now herald Zeman as the crusader against all corruption in Italian football. This point is exemplified even as recently as Sunday’s match against when the Inter fans praised the Roma manager by holding up a banner in the Curva Nord which read, “Honour to Zeman, icon of clean football.” Here is the banner pictured below:
And, at the heart of this new Roma lies the jewel of the Empire, Francesco Totti. Still, even at 35 years old he is producing moments of unadulterated genius. His two assists against Inter on Sunday were nothing short of beautiful, and his overall performance was one to be cherished. Sharing a pitch with other creative stars such as Antonio Cassano and Wesley Sneijder, Totti stood head and shoulders above anyone else on the pitch with a time defying display and set out a masterclass in how to effect a match. Zeman was the manager Totti blossomed under when he first came to prominence and it would be a romantic end to his career if Zeman, the manager he holds in such high regard, is that same manager that eventually sees him over the finishing line.
The true credibility of Zeman’s Roma title ambitions are yet to be fully revealed, but this young side may very well turn out to be the most entertaining side to watch in Europe this season. One thing is for certain, Zeman fans will love nothing other than to see a Roma team, led by the man himself, hunt Juventus in what should be another enthralling Serie A season.