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There’s no telling what’s going on with Zdenek Zeman at Roma

Feb 2, 2013, 8:30 AM EST

Zdenek Zeman AP

There’s a familiar feel to what’s happening at AS Roma right now, and you don’t have to be an expert in all things Giallorossi to feel it. Had you no more than 12 months experience following the club you’d know that the new coach with the nice approach they brought in this year is close to going the way of the new coach with the nice approach they brought in last year.

Then it was Luis Enrique, a man Roma’s new American ownership tasked with bringing Barcelona to the Olimpico. He brought in nice soccer, had a few clashes with veterans, didn’t make Europe and moved on.

Now it’s Zdenek Zeman, the Czech whose intriguing summer return has resulted in the best attack in Italy. But because it has also led to the league’s worst defense and no league wins in over a month, Zeman’s job is under fire.

Yesterday, Roma gave up four at home to Cagliari, who came into the match with one of the worst attacks in Italy. The 4-2 loss keeps Roma in eighth, three points back of a European spot. Couple that with off-the-field conflict and Zeman’s job is under fire.

The new scrutiny actually began last week when a conflict with goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg highlighted the issue of discipline within the squad. The concern is one Zeman himself raised in the wake when discussing Stekeleneburg’s criticisms of the club’s transfer policy, specifically the loan acquisition of Uruguayan goalkeeper Mauro Goicoechea:

“I think it was an inopportune interview with many things he got wrong. He is still a Roma player and must be at the disposal of Roma. Don’t forget after the Parma game he was injured for a month,” …

“Unfortunately when there is a lack of discipline, there is a lack of team spirit. It is difficult to work at Roma, especially as journalists tend to write about incidents that occur behind closed doors. We’ve got no rules at the moment and every now and then something happens that shouldn’t.”

The comments elicited a worrying response from sporting director Walter Sabatini: 

“Zeman’s work is satisfying under certain aspects but it is clear that there are less positive things,” …

“It’s time to start asking ourselves some questions and, amongst the considerations, we’ll also think about a change of coach, even if only marginally.

Those concerns seemed to be alleviated after mid-week meetings restored Sabatini’s confidence:

“A doubt had arisen in our minds after his statements on Saturday and we wanted to resolve it,” the official said.

“The doubt was whether he wanted to continue with this team. I speak clearly, we all deepened the talks and are totally satisfied. We are ready to fight our battles together.”

Then came Friday. Roma conceded in the third minute, eventually drew even through Francesco Totti, but went on to concede the next three goals. Now the situation at Roma is being described as the clichéd soccer ‘crisis’, a head shaking description that still seems to encompass the mood around the capital. Like Enrique, Zeman appears to be a very good coach who just is not working in Roma.

Beyond Stekelenburg, the Giallorossi have a very specific squad makeup thanks to the presence of icons Totti and Daniele De Rossi. It was a dynamic with which Enrique struggled (running afoul of Totti early), and with Zeman also experiencing conflict with De Rossi, locker room management also appears to be an ongoing concern.

All of this would be a footnote if Roma was winning, but since they’re not, Sabatini needs to consider why the club is on the verge of another year without European soccer. That evaluation may lead to another coaching change, but facing a second failed attempt to being in a coach that can instill a different style of soccer, Roma’s management may be implicitly allowing their players to pick the coach. That doesn’t seem like a good way to solve a discipline problem.

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