MILAN (Reuters) - When Pescara ended a 22-match winless run by beating Genoa 5-0 in Zdenek Zeman’s first game in charge in February, it seemed that the 69-year-old chain-smoking coach was about to work the old magic once again.
But it was a false dawn. Not even Zeman was able to revive the Dolphins who went on to draw two and lose six of their next eight games, culminating in Monday’s 4-1 home defeat to AS Roma which sent them down to Serie B with five games still to play.
The question now is whether football has seen the last of the old romantic or whether he will stay on and try to lift Pescara back out of Serie B as he did five years ago.
Since starting his career with fourth tier Licata in 1983, Zeman has coached 12 teams in Italy, often returning to the same club for a second or even third stint.
An outspoken critic of tiki-taka, which he has dismissed as boring, Zeman has also coached at Fenerbahce in Turkey, Red Star Belgrade in Serbia and Switzerland’s Lugano.
During that time, he has won just three titles, all in the lower tiers - the fourth division with Licata and Serie B with Foggia in 1991 and Pescara themselves in 2012.
But it is Zeman’s philosophy, rather than his track record, which has marked him out and earned him something of a cult following.
He once said that “if you score 90 goals then it shouldn’t really worry you how many you have conceded”, and famously remarked that “there is nothing dishonourable in coming last if you do so with dignity.”
Zeman invariably makes his teams attack in numbers, pressing the opposition high in their area, while defence is an afterthought.
More often than not, it results in a roller-coaster ride which can prove too much for his employers and he rarely stays long in the same place.
However, admirers such as former AC Milan coach Arrigo Sacchi, who described Zeman’s teams as “a rich symphony of harmony and beauty”, point out that he has also helped develop young players such as Marco Verratti, Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne.
Zeman’s last spell in charge of a major club ended when Roma fired him in February 2013 after shipping 42 goals in their first 23 games of the season.
In 2014-15 he had two short stints with Cagliari while he spent 2015-16 with Lugano, finishing ninth in the 10-team Swiss league but also leading them to the Cup final.
He hinted on Monday that he would indeed stay on at the club on the Adriatic coast.
“We will try and be competitive in Serie B,” he said. “It will be a different championship and we need to keep what is good in this time.”
“I know we can at least avoid finishing last,” he added. “There were a few games where we could have done better.”
“There is a lot of work to do... I would like to shape the lads as individuals and as a team.”
Writing by Brian Homewood; editing by Sudipto Ganguly