Forget Napoli or Barcelona the most exciting team in European football is Serie B's Pescara FC whose star player 19 year old Italian midfielder Marco Verratti and controversial manager Zdenek Zeman have lead them to promotion and into the top flight of Italian Football.
Football teams are often created in the image of their manager. Take Saturday’s playoff finalists, for example. West Ham are an enormous, aggressive, red faced oaf and Blackpool are an affable underdog with a funny accent. Similarly, the side currently sitting second in Serie B are created in the image of their manager, only it’s an altogether much cooler image. It’s the image of Zdenek Zeman.
His name may not be well known outside of Italy, but on the peninsular Zeman is something of a cult hero. The chain smoking Czech made his name in the late ‘80s, taking lowly Foggia to the top half of Serie A while preaching the philosophy of all out attack. He has always been a controversial figure, he once accused Alessandro Del Piero and Gianluca Vialli of taking performance enhancing steroids, and his career has suffered as a result of this, but his recent stint at Foggia followed by this season at Pescara have helped rebuild his reputation.
He once accused Alessandro Del Piero and Gianluca Vialli of taking performance enhancing steroids, and his career has suffered as a result of this
Now Zeman’s Pescara sit second in Serie B, on the verge of a return to the top flight for the first time since 1993. They have won more games than anyone else and scored more goals in the process. A lot more goals. Pescara have found the net 86 times this season, the next highest tally is a meager 62.
Zeman’s attacking style of play has always attracted attention, who wouldn’t watch a team that line up for every kick off with eight, (yes, EIGHT), of their eleven players on the half way line ready to attack? However, it’s not just the Coach and his tactics that have put Pescara on the map.
Throughout his career, Zeman has always preferred to use younger players and it has been no different at Pescara. At the weekend, they took on fellow title chasers Torino with a starting XI containing no less than five players born after 1990. Among those five were Ciro Immobile, Lorenzo Insigne and Marco Verratti, Zeman’s three star players.
In Immobile, Zeman has his ideal focal point. At 6’1, he provides the central reference point in Zeman’s 4-3-3 around which the rest of the attack revolves. This has been a breakthrough season for Immobile with the striker rattling in goals almost for fun and earning his first call up to the under 21 side. Immobile is strong in the air, quick and unerring in front of goal. He is co-owned by Juventus and Genoa and is on a season long loan at Pescara so his future is far from certain, but he is sure to appear in Serie A next season one way or another.
Possibly the most impressive of Pescara’s contingent of young players, though, has been Marco Verratti
Also impressing in attack this season has been Napoli loanee Lorenzo Insigne. Great things have long been expected of the diminutive forward and he rejoined Zeman at Pescara having also played under the Czech at Foggia in the previous campaign. Insigne is quick, elusive and able to create something from nothing. He also possesses an exceptional work rate, something Zeman requires of all his players. So impressive has he been this season, the rumours surrounding the future of current Napoli star Ezequiel Lavezzi have been met with excitement at the prospect of Insigne being given a chance in the first team.
Possibly the most impressive of Pescara’s contingent of young players, though, has been Marco Verratti. Despite being the proud owner of just two under 21 caps, he was a surprise inclusion when Italy Coach Cesare Prandelli named his preliminary squad for the European Championships on Sunday. The youngsters inclusion ahead of the likes of Alberto Aquilani suggests that he is being primed for a future at the helm of the Italian midfield and, while his chances of surviving the final cut for this summer’s tournament are slim, the experience of training with top midfielders such as Daniele De Rossi and Andrea Pirlo will be invaluable.
The 19 year old midfielder has been compared to Pirlo for his passing range and incredible vision, traits that were evident in his assist for Insigne against Torino on Saturday. His searching pass over the top of the defence dropped perfectly into the path of Insigne, allowing the forward to beat both goal keeper and last defender with one touch before slotting the ball into an empty net. It is passes like that which have led Juventus to show strong interest in acquiring the Verratti’s signature in the summer, but for now the Pescara youth product still wears the number 10 for Zeman’s team.
As long as Zdenek Zeman remains in charge, though, the spirit and philosophy of the team will remain the same
While promotion looks likely, the end of the season brings with it the end of the loan deals of both Immobile and Insigne, while the transfer window will only encourage Juventus in their pursuit of Verratti. Should any of the three players not return for the 2012-13 campaign, they will be difficult to replace. As long as Zdenek Zeman remains in charge, though, the spirit and philosophy of the team will remain the same. A team built in the image of a controversial, chain smoking maverick who only knows one way to play: Attack, attack, attack.
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