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Ironic, rigorous and down-to-earth: I tell you how the real Zdeněk Zeman is
Giuseppe Sansonna is a film director and he dedicated two documentaries to the Czeck coach. He tells us that in the everyday life, Zeman is very different from how he appears in the mass media
by Federico Formica
The Czech coach Zdeněk Zeman (Prague, 1947) is one of the most controversial figures of Calcio. It's difficult to find an Italian football fan who doesn't have an opinion about Zeman. Some love him, others hate him.


Why? He is famous for his extremist tactical credo, a very offensive 4-3-3 scheme which he has never changed. His tactical philosophy has often led to spectacular games and, sometimes, to very exciting seasons. In the early 90s, Zeman astonished everyone with his Foggia, which he brought from the Serie B to a few points under the Uefa Cup qualification zone, playing amazing and entertaining football. Later, he had good times with Lazio (1994-1997), Roma (1997-1999) and Pescara (2011-2012). But his comeback to Roma in 2012-2013 ended with a failure. His detractors say that, although he is among the most famous coaches in Italy, he has never won a trophy in his career.

VIDEOS: Zdeněk Zeman's craziest games ever
REAL ALSO: The Miracle of Foggia by Richard Hall

The “Zemaniani”, his supporters, say that he has never won anything because Zeman never made compromises and he is plainspoken. In 1998, he caused a fuss saying that “football had to come out from the pharmacies” and that the musculature of some Juventus players as Alessandro Del Piero and Gianluca Vialli had grown in a suspicious way. His words caused a trial against the chief of Juventus medical staff which ended without consequencies. But Zeman broke a wall of silence in the football world. The doping-case was raised, and since then Zdeněk Zeman has never stopped saying the truth. About referees, about the Italian football system, and so on.


Few people know Zeman as good as Giuseppe Sansonna does. Sansonna is writer and film director. He made Zemanlandia and Due o tre cose su di lui (publisher: Minimum Fax), two documentaries that narrate the man and the coach Zdeněk Zeman, unveiling sides of his personality that have never emerged from the mass-media in over 20 years. SerieAddicted interviewed Giuseppe Sansonna, trying to understand something more about the enygmatic and puzzling Zdeněk Zeman.

Giuseppe Sansonna with Zdeněk Zeman


What is Zeman like when he doesn't have to face the media?
He is very different from what he appears. He is a very ironic man. He has the irony of a man who is still “looking for” the South, a very different world if compared to his East-European origin. Zdeněk Zeman is very attached to Southern Italy: in 1969 he arrived in Palermo with his uncle Čestmír Vycpálek (he was coach of Juventus), a man who Zeman considers as a father. Zeman needs to smile and loves surrounding himself with true friends. As Vincenzo Cangelosi, who is not simply is assistant but one of his best friends. Zeman tends to create authentic, deep and straightforward relationships.


Are there private anecdotes you can tell us about him?
He loves playing cards with his friends. When he signed for Lazio, in 1994, he often phoned Foggia's training camp because he wanted to know who was winning at Scala 40 (a card game). Some years before, when he was still working in Sicily, he caught one of his players playing cards at a late hour, when both should have been in bed. Zeman joined the match and they played until sunrise. The following day, he fined the player and himself.


Why Zeman failed in his comeback season at Roma? What did not work?
Zeman cannot succeed if there's not a “microclimate” around him. The players have to follow him, put themselves at his beck and call: tactically and psichologically. This is the reason why Zeman works better with youngsters than with well-known players. Roma's last year was full of talented and accomplished players. But I think that the management did not support him enough. If you choose Zeman for your team, you need to hold him up all the way. You have to tell to the players that there's no choice: Zeman or nothing. You have to tell them that, if things go wrong, you'll never sack him. But that did not happen with Roma.


Zeman made the doping scandal emerge. Since then, he's considered as a anti-system, an antagonist, almost a guru. Do you think that this label weighed on him?
In the last year at Roma it weighed a lot. The media encircled him, pressing him with harassing questions about referees, Italian football top brass and Juventus. Sometimes the media use a totem as a weapon against the authorities. The problem with Zeman is that he always feels obliged to answer. Whatever he's questioned about. He never avoids a question, even if it's uncomfortable.


Zdeněk Zeman's offensive football never looks for compromises: his teams always attack even when they could be satisfied with a 1-0 or a 2-0. Is there an explanation to this tactical extremism?
Zeman's football is not made of calculations. It is total application and dedication. We are talking about a coach who assigns pre-season “homework” to his players. But there's another important theme: Zeman feels indebted with the fans. If people spend money for the ticket, he has to reward them with a nice show.


What is the match that best symbolizes Zeman's football?
I could mention a lot of games: the recent Roma-Fiorentina 4-2 and Roma-Milan 4-2, the famous goals binges of his Lazio (8-2 to Fiorentina) but I fell in love with his football when he was the coach of Foggia. That day, Foggia had to play in Bari: in Puglia this is an important derby. In that season (the 1991-92) Bari had great players as David Platt and Zvonimir Boban, so everyone expected the club to qualify for the next Uefa Cup although they had been mediocre so far. Foggia were the underdogs, but they played football as an orchestra. But until that day the teams had been in opposite situations: Bari was on fire while Foggia was in decline. The Bari stadium was like hell and Foggia seemed the perfect victim.


How did it end?
Foggia started the match with an incredible series of fast passes and they scored after a few minutes. That day I saw what Maradona did by himself, performed by a team. That was the win of a team over a sum of single talents. The final result was Bari-Foggia 1-3


Zdeněk Zeman never lead a top team although he was one of the most famous coaches in Europe especially in the 90s. Do you know if any big club was in talks with him?
In 1998 Barcelona wanted to sign him. But he said no because at that moment he was the Roma coach and didn't want to break the contract. Two years later, Roma dumped him: the president Franco Sensi chose Fabio Capello. For a long time, newspapers wrote about an interest of Inter president Massimo Moratti. I think that if that interest would have transformed in something more real, Zeman would have gone gladly.


The popular opinion is that Zeman's perfect dimension is the small town. Do you agree?
Zdeněk Zeman is a kind of person who celebrates a win going to a restaurant with all his staff and players. He did it frequently at Pescara. But he doesn't go to a restaurant in a luxury car but on foot, with common people congratulating him, or requesting an autograph. He prefers an ambiance where people are passionate but not intrusive.


Are there, in Italy or in Europe, managers that we could consider as Zeman's heir?
He often talked about Pasquale Marino, he is a sincere admirer of his. But there is also a mutual esteem with Pep Guardiola. Guardiola's team play a very different football game with respect to Zeman's ones, but is linked by the same philosophy. And we cannot forget that Zeman forged an entire generation of coaches: Luigi Di Biagio (the current coach of Italian Under 21 national team), Eusebio Di Francesco (Sassuolo's coach) and Carmine Gautieri (coach of Varese, a Serie B club) have been strongly conditioned but Zeman's football ideas as players. They were key players of the 1997-1999 Roma.


Did Zeman confess any regret?
He would have liked to work in Parma, a city and an ambiance that he consideres perfect for playing football. But his real regret is not having established his idea at Roma during his last experience. Before his comeback, having been dumped in favor of Fabio Capello in 1999 disappointed him very much. It is not by chance that Zeman, in his first press conference in 2012, said that he was determinted to return to giallorosso one day.


What is Zdeněk Zeman doing now?
At the moment he is not working. I’m pretty sure that he's spending a lot of time playing golf. I think and I hope he finds a team soon. Probably, he will choose a club with a human dimension.

VIDEOSZdeněk Zeman's craziest games ever

Thursday, June 19 th, 2014
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