Zeman Against the World

I neglected it on here, but Zeman's been thrust into the consciousness of Italian football fans again during the past week. It began last week in Napoli, as he sat in a courtroom, across from the man he was giving testimony against; Luciano Moggi, née Beelzebub.

Never throwing a glance Moggi's way, Zeman recounted with the calm that personifies him the experiences as Moggi's favorite voodoo doll, all stemming from his famous interview in 1998 where he was the first to advance the theory, later proven correct, that Juventus had used substances to spur out-of-the-ordinary growth in their players' body mass. From that day on, Moggi worked to discredit Zeman in all that he did. After he left Rome and the political cover that provides for smaller clubs, and the results weren't any longer bulletproof alibi, he was a lot more successful in his campaign against Zeman.

Among the assertions Zeman made as witness in the Calciopoli trial were tales of Moggi consorting with club presidents to either urge his firing, or keep him from being hired. (It's easy to imagine the low, abrasive voice of Moggi, saying mi raccomando to weak willed club presidents, controlling them like puppets on a string.) Zeman says, and I have no reason not to believe him, that he's still kept out of football by the system. In an interview with La Nazione in connection to his testimony he expressed his desire "to do [his] job of the past thirty years". It's not surprising; he's entirely unabashed in imposing his style of football and sporting justice on the rest, and pulls no punches in making accusations he wants to make. And he was Moggi's favorite victim for this; because some of those accusations pitted him directly against Juventus, but also because the two are polar opposites. There are hardly two men less alike in Italian football.

The irony is that Zeman's pride notwithstanding, his testimony wasn't the revenge of someone unfairly punished. It wasn't payback against a former ruler, now far removed from the world that created him (and that he in turn created to his own will). He is still ostracized in Italy, reduced to being the patron saint of blogs like this one, and the subject of crooners' songs. Moggi, on the other hand....Moggi's still around. Bologna tried to hire him in a consultatory role at the end of summer (until the revolt of the fans for whom he is hated without respite stopped it), and it's a poorly kept secret that other clubs talk to him somewhat regularly. Zeman does not doubt his influence: "Moggi says he's out of football and doesn't count any longer, but I don't believe that. To me, he's still very influential".

La Repubblica, in their article recounting his testimony called him the "beautiful coach of lost causes". I like that description, poignant as it is both in reminding us of a career that deserved better, and that those causes Zeman champions are indeed lost.