“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, Jos