The charismatic nobodies of football
The football landscape is filled with well known coaching personalities- Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho,Sir Alex Ferguson and so on. Their praises are sung almost every day and they are the ones hogging the spotlight.
However there are a few characters in the game who wear the tag of being difficult to understand, with their own rules and idiosyncrasies. These are the eccentric characters who are not projected to us like the rest but they live by their own terms and carry on implementing their principles. They are the rebels who do not conform to the mainstream ideologies of football coaching.
Zdenek Zeman, a name not many of us may be familiar with is one such eccentric jewel in the football world. He started off as a coach in the lower divisions of Italy before taking over Foggia in 1989 and putting them in Serie A in 1991 where they qualified for the Uefa Cup three consecutive years with players like Dan Petrescu and Luigi Di Biagio while employing an ultra attacking 4-3-3 formation. He then went to Lazio in 1994 where he launched Alessandro Nesta and led them to 2nd and 3rd respectively before being fired. He stayed on in AS Roma where he pitch forked Francesco Totti into the limelight before alleging doping by Juventus which caused a major scandal in Serie A and eventually left in 1999. He then bounced around in Europe before returning to Italy in 2010 and then assuming charge of Serie B outfit Pescara where he promoted youngsters like Ciro Immobile, Lorenzo Insigne, Marco Verrati and took them to Serie A on the back of scoring 90 goals. He then left for Roma where he controversially sidelined many notable players and got sacked eventually even though his team scored a record 71 goals.
He is a strange character, known as a chain smoker who espouses a highly attacking brand of football where full backs act like wing backs and centre backs are supposed to run forward with the ball. His quotes” Football is more an industry nowadays”, “If you score 90 goals then you should not worry about how many are conceded”, “A 0-0 is boring, it is better to lose 5-4, at least there is some excitement” are legendary.
A man whose Foggia once lead AC Milan 2-1, which called for shutting up shop and getting the win, instead he egged his team to attack more and lost the game 8-2 , but was unrepentant about his beliefs. He does not believe in pragmatism and grinding out results. He reminds us of the innocence of playing football, when we as kids played to score goals and entertain. His dogged idealism seems lunatic, but his intentions are to be admired. His Lazio team once beat Napoli 5-1, Fiorentina 8-2, inter 6-1, Juventus 3-0, Milan 4-0 in the same season.
He does not believe in parking the bus, for him there is no bus, rather he believes in the simple theory that if there is a ball and a net then the ball should go in the back of the net. He is referred to as “Il Boemo”-“The Bohemian”. Now that is an apt name that describes the rebel that is Zdenek Zeman.
A man who has influenced Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino, Jorge Sampaoli should surely be described as a football guru, a genius who knows how to develop a philosophy. Yet this is the same man who resigned from Marseille in 2015 after the first game of the new season and recently quit Lazio just 48 hours after being appointed. There is no proper term to describe Marcelo Bielsa other than “Wild Animal”, a free spirit who does not like to be caged, for whom it is either his way or the highway. A former footballer who assumed his first major job coaching Argentina in 1998, he was one of the first coaches who favored a high tempo attacking game with lots of running and pressing, a role that demanded immense physical energy from his players.
He set the football world alight when he assumed charge of Chile in 2007 and gave us a fresh electric side boasting the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal , a team that ran hard and scored freely becoming one of the abiding memories of the 2010 World Cup. He then went to Athletic Bilbao where he amused players and fans alike with his weird habits. He would watch all games and collect data like a mad scientist writing notes and presenting lectures where he would instruct his team on movements and over running the opposition.
His training sessions would be very intense where the players would be stretched to the limit. This approach gave his team memorable results like beating Manchester United in the Europa league quarter final and they reached the final of the competition. However the next season began to unravel and differences with the club hierarchy led to him leaving in 2013. He joined Marseille and led them to top the table in January with his high paced brand of football. However the physical demands of implementing his playing style led to his players becoming jaded and eventually they crashed to a disappointing finish. Discord with the club board over signing players left him fuming and after a home loss in his first game he bizarrely resigned leaving a sinking ship.
During his time there, the image of him sitting on the sidelines pensively would be an abiding memory of the cult figure that is Marcelo Bielsa. It seems that he is much in demand with football fans in spite of his penchant for causing trouble wherever he goes. He seems to have a magnetic appeal and charm that transcends the normal routine of professional football. He is a law unto himself. They call him “El Loco”-“The Crazy One” and yet he commands respect from everyone in football.
Wherever these land up, one thing is for sure that with such characters around there will be no shortage of entertainment and madness.