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Foggia welcome the return of a hero as Zdenek Zeman takes control

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By Richard Hall

Wednesday 21 July 2010

"US Foggia has mandated the technical management of the first-team to Mr. Zeman."?

These simple words from the club's press release would have sent shivers down the spines of all those who follow the Satanelli. To many, this sentence would sound fairly inane - after all, it only states that a man called Mr Zeman will take over at a small club from Puglia; hardly front page news. That is unless you'?re a Foggia fan, to which in this case the news carries the same importance as if you were told that that the resurrection was upon you, or that your team had acquired the services of all eleven Azzurri players. The reason for this is that between the years of 1989 and 1994 the Czech coach Zeman took little-known Foggia from obscurity in Serie C to the verge of UEFA Cup qualification, in what came to be known as ?The Miracle of Foggia?. Many followers of Italian football on hearing the news of his return to the club would have found it hard not to raise an eyebrow or give a rye smile when thinking back to those heady days in the early nineties when Foggia mixed with the elite of Serie A.

Zdenek Zeman is a familiar figure in Italian football today, both from his journeyman approach to management and his involvement with the Juventus doping scandal (during which he incorrectly accused Juventus players of taking performance-enhancing drugs). However, he is most remembered for his days at Foggia, when he firmly put the club and himself on the map. In 1989, Foggia chairman Pasquale Casillo made a strange decision in re-employing a coach who he had sacked previously in 1987. However, this u-turn would prove to be one of the most successful decisions in the history of the club, as the Czech coach went about turning Foggia into not only a team who ascended into Serie A but who also did it in style.

One of the fist things that Zeman did when he moved to the side from Puglia was to adopt a 4-3-3 system. Although attack-minded in nature, this formation did have good defensive characteristics as well, relying on a strict zonal marking system and vigilant application of the offside trap. This was only however if the ball was not won back in the midfield, where three strong, ball-winning players were employed. They would defend from the front, pressing high up the field and taking the pressure off the back four. Once the ball had been won, the central midfielders would have to have the ability to move forward with the ball instead of trying to take the easy option and spread the ball wide, and in doing so they would focus on quick, short triangular passing and try to get the front three involved. The forward three set up you would expect to see Barcelona or Arsenal employ today - with a main striker and two forward/wingers playing off each other - was a central tenet of Zeman's side, and played havoc with the often static back fours of Italian football at the time.

Promotion to Serie B followed, and then in 1990-91 the miracle happened when Foggia finished six points and fifteen goals clear of their nearest opposition and climbed back into Serie A. They had acquired players who at this time were busy building the foundations for the legends they would soon become - players such as Roberto Rambaudi, Luigi di Biagio, Igor Shalimov, José Antonio Chamot, Dan Petrescu and Igor Kolyvanov, not to mention the devastating strike force of Giuseppe Signori and Francesco Baiano. It was with these players following his tactics and instructions to the letter that Zeman led his team close to UEFA Cup qualification for three consecutive years running. Zeman'?s attitude in Serie A was based on ?an 'if you score 3, we will score 4' approach,? and this was highlighted in one season where they amazingly scored 58 goals but also conceded 58.

Unfortunately, this was not to last, as the club became victims of their own success and the vultures swooped to pick off their best assets. By 1993/94, Foggia were on their way back to Serie B but it had been a fantastic achievement that had showcased some of the best football seen in Seria A that decade; a style so influential it was nicknamed 'Zemanlandia' after the charismatic Czech coach.

This time round, what can Foggia hope for? One could write a book on how much football has changed since 1989 - financially, tactically and morally. Experts have discussed that it is money that talks in this era and the days of one man winning a championship like Maradona achieved in Naples is impossible to do again. This surely writes off Zeman'?s chances of a repeat performance and even the most ardent of Foggia fans would not hold out too much hope that lightning could strike twice.

However, this is not the important issue. Foggia may not rise from the ashes under Zeman, but what he does offer is entertaining football and a team that play without fear.. The appointment, if nothing else, has given fans of Italian football and Foggia alike a moment to reflect on a glorious time when a small club punched far above its weight at the height of Italian dominance in World Football. If it happens, and fate smiles on them, who would not want to see Foggia gain an away trip to the San Siro in the Coppa Italia?

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By stephen on 21 July 2010 at 16:16

great memories, really enjoyed reading that. this is the time when i first got into Italian football and remember Zeman, cigarette in hand, being one of the true characters of that era.





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