At least one Roma player knew what was coming. As the Giallorossi congregated for their preseason training camp up in the hills at Riscone di Brunico in early July, many had heard the rumours about Zdenek Zeman’s brutal fitness sessions, but one had experienced them first-hand. “Fortunately I know him,” said Francesco Totti. “So I know what to expect.”
Thirteen years had passed since Zeman last coached this team—long enough for every other member of that Roma squad to either retire or move on to pastures new. But not Totti. A player who had turned down contracts from Milan and Lazio before he got the chance to sign for Roma as a teenager remained as committed to his boyhood club as he was back then.
He had welcomed Zeman back with open arms. The mutual admiration between coach and player is well-documented, dating back to their time together at the club between 1997 and 1999—a period in which Totti grew from precocious teen into a consistent difference-maker. In one famous interview long after he had left Roma, Zeman was asked to name the three best Italian players in circulation. “Totti, Totti and Totti,” he replied.
On numerous occasions, the forward would return such praise. After Zeman steered Pescara to promotion from Serie B last year, Totti informed him that: “You are football”. When the manager’s return to Roma was confirmed, he could barely contain his excitement. “I have had many managers, but the ones I have appreciated most are Zeman and [Luciano] Spalletti. Both are extremely well prepared, but [Zeman’s] football is the best thing for an attacker, there is nothing else like it.”
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Roma has officially started its second half of pre-season training, taking 23 players to Irdning, Austria. New manager Zdenek Zeman has made it clear who’s in his plans for the upcoming campaign and who’s not. Seven players were left behind to make room for new arrivals Mattia Destro , Federico Balzaretti, Michael Bradley and Rodrigo Piris.
Gabriele Heinze, Aleandro Rosi, David Pizarro, Marco Borriello, Jose Angel, Stefano Okaka and World Cup winning midfielder Simone Perrotta were all excluded from the trip to Austria. With Heinze, Rosi and Angel potentially on the way out, Zeman could be in the market for defenders. Heinze should have no problem finding suitors. The former Manchester United and Real Madrid defender reportedly has Bologna and Olympiakos after his services, while Benfica is closing in on a transfer for Angel. AC Milan might be a destination for Pizarro. With the departures of Seedorf and Gattuso, Pizarro could fill the void as a holding midfielder that the Rossoneri desperately lack while adding creativity at the same time.
Since taking over Rome in June, Zeman has made a immediate switch from former manager Luis Enrique’s tactics. Zeman will focus on outscoring opponents using his traditional 4-3-3 formation. Roma netted 60 goals and conceded 54 during last years campaign while finishing seventh in the table. The arrival of Balzaretti, Dodô and Leandro Castan will benefit the back line, but the loss of Fabio Borini will put a lot of pressure on Destro to score goals. Borini found the back of the net nine times last year in 24 games, causing Zeman to find a suitable replacement. Emmanuel Clottey has been mentioned as a possibility, the 24-year-old has scored 11 goals in the CAF Champions League this season for Berekum Chelsea.
The most important move for Roma during the transfer market is the addition of Michael Bradley. The 25-year-old adds an energetic presence in the midfield, which earned him the nickname “The General”. Bradley’s ability to control the midfield could lead to the revitalization of Francesco Totti, who managed just eight goals under Enrique. With Totti’s return to form and with the right support, Roma could return to the top of the table and that’s exactly what Zeman is planning.