Square Pegs, Round Holes

The best line I've read on Zdenek Zeman is one I've quoted before: 'his style has one foot twenty years into the past, the other one twenty years into the future', explaining how the same thing that worked twenty years ago also works now. Because yes, it is the same thing. Don't believe me, go ask the man himself. So after twenty years, we largely know what to expect from a Zeman team in terms of attitude and style. We will, most of the time, see a three-pronged attack in which the outer two tend to run around like children on a sugar rush. The fullbacks will find themselves very much a part of every single game. In midfield, the deep-lying regista will be flanked by two runners. 

One question that's been going around since Zeman's appointment: Where, exactly, does that leave Miralem Pjanic? The player Totti called "our best player" at an event last year, the player Daniele De Rossi quickly grabbed the mic to confirm that he was indeed, looks like a less than perfect fit at first glance. For all his talents, he shares little in common with others who have played in a Zeman midfield during the past twenty years. Is he really a deep-lying regista who can dictate the flow of the entire game? Does he have the stamina and willingness to run the way Damiano Tommasi or Roberto Di Matteo did in the nineties? 

I think we're asking all the wrong questions. This one feels more relevant: Is Miralem Pjanic the most talented midfielder Zeman has ever coached? It's not that far out there. Apart from De Rossi, who he of course hasn't coached yet, and Pavel Nedved for the all too brief time during 1996/97 before Zeman was fired from lazio, he just might be. (It's also an exercise to cast some nuance on his career, and backs up his own assertion that to criticize him for not winning titles is unfair, given that he's never coached a team with such aspirations. The scarcity of top class talent in midfield in any of his teams confirms as much.) So perhaps it's wrong to put tracing paper over old photographs of Diego Fuser or Eusebio Di Francesco to see how little Pjanic resembles them and point out all the reasons for why it's not perfect. Perhaps we should instead extend Zeman the benefit of the doubt that he aspires to more from his midfielders than that, and see what the stairs and 5k runs will bring out.