Zemanlandia 2.0

Far away from your World Cups, your high stakes deals with Europe's second largest bank, or your Cristiano Ronaldo paternity issues and what have you, one of the best stories in football has quietly begun. Deep down in the trenches of modern football, in what is now Lega Pro, and until just recently was serie C, Foggia are looking to the future with a renewed sense of purpose and meaning. And they're doing it by looking back into time, more precisely some twenty odd years.

It began by the hiring of Zdenek Zeman, the guru and patron saint of this small space on the Internet, prophet of the 4-3-3 that could very well be the answer to all of life's questions. It was at Foggia he made a name for himself in the late eighties and early nineties, as the small Apulian club played its way into the consciousness of the Italian footballing audience with minimal resources, and maximal dedication to offensive football. Before he finally left the club in 1994 for Lazio, he had managed to take Foggia from serie C to serie A, and turned them into one of the most exciting things about Italian football with his system (4-3-3). They scored goals, let in goals, but responded by scoring even more of them, and great fun was had by all. (Even so, it's only fair to point out that time has vindicated Zeman's tactics in the face of those who labeled them naïve and simplistic; his idea of 4-3-3 and the attackers being the first line of defense, which should press the opponent as high up the pitch as possible are ideas that we see used in Barcelona, the most successful and likely best club of modern times, and newly crowned world champions Spain has famously borrowed a lot from the very same Barcelona.)


But even though Zeman's fingerprints were all over that Foggia, and his importance for it being difficult to overstate, it's not just he that's coming back. The old president Pasquale Casillo just signed a letter of intent to buy back the club from its current ownership. With him comes also the DS of the old heyday, Peppino Pavone, who once spotted and brought in so many talents (none more famous than Beppe Signori, three times over serie A's top scorer, author of 188 goals in total in the same competition). Another handful of exes will make out the rest of the staff, such as Zeman's old assistant, and the goalkeeper Mancini comes back as goalkeeping coach, to name but two of them.


Pavone stresses that they don't see themselves as a re-heated soup, but as the beginning of a new start. A new attempt at spreading the gospel of attacking football, in which there are only two rules; (1) Do not talk about 4-3-3, and (2) Just make sure you score at least one goal more than the other guys. Their desire to not be seen as a return to the past, but as a new launching point for both Foggia and the commitment to play attacking football which people will want to see, is a healthy attitude. Nothing would, or could, be won by merely going back for nostalgia's sake. There has to be a sense of urgency and belief in what they'll be doing for the coming years.

That being said, that doesn't mean this isn't nostalgic, and it doesn't mean that this doesn't constitute a remarkable and gripping narrative in a sport where cynicism gains ground by the day. We saw evidence of this during the World Cup, where Holland's only feat was managing to distance themselves from football fans across the globe. (Ironically, any brand consultant worth a damn would have advised the Dutch to have turned to Zeman rather go through with than this failed experiment.) Even if Zeman and his Foggia belong to a different category in the footballing hierarchy than that Dutch team which of course features on an international stage, it's nice to know that there is an alternative somewhere. That there is rebellion, alive and kicking. Like the small village in Asterix's Gaul, there is a small village in Southern Italy that refuses to be conquered; Zemanlandia.

The sequels to this video; parts 2 and 3 of the documentary Zemanlandia.