The manager that made a club and the club that made the manager. Foggia and Zdenek Zeman will forever go hand in hand, because it was in this southern Italian city that the cult of Zemanlandia was released to the world.
It has now been 26-years since the legendary Czech coach took the reins at the club, known as the Satanelli (little satans), bringing a brand of football rarely seen on the peninsula up to then. An attacking brand of Calcio that propelled this Puglia based outfit into the national spotlight.
Since those heady days much has been written about Zeman and his career, but the story of what happened to Foggia has seldom been told. What befell this historic club once Zemanlandia went elsewhere?
One can be forgiven for thinking that the history of Foggia Calcio exists around a five year spell in the early nineties, however this is a club with a long and rich history in the Italian game having been around since 1920. In fact the club had already played in Serie A before, making its debut back in 1964.
Success may have been at a minimum for these 95-years, but it has always represented its province with pride. The City itself is set in the deep south of Italy, right in the heart of the region known as Puglia.
The city was said to be founded back in ancient Greek and Roman times and got its distinctive name from the local pits and cellars that were used to store grain or drinking water for sheep, the Latin for these cellars being Foveae or Fogge.
In the intervening centuries, Foggia has suffered many disaster be them natural – the Earthquake of 1731, or manmade – World War Two. This is a city that has always rebuilt and rejuvenated itself and that is what it had to do once more in the summer of 1994 when it’s most famous adopted son left its shores.
Having spent three glorious years in Serie A becoming every neutrals team of choice, the departure of Zeman saw the Satanelli enter an immediate decline. The very next season, under the guidance of Enrico Catuzzi, the club could only finish a disappointing 16th, six points clear of relegation.
The 1995/96 season started with current Bologna coach, Delio Rossi, in the dugout as the club looked to bounce back into the top flight at the first time of asking. Things, though, did not go as planned. Before the season would end, Rossi would be given his marching orders and replaced by Tarcisio Burginch.
A disappointing 11th place was all the club could manage. The following campaign brought with it no discernible improvement as the club once again could only manage an 11th place finish. Things though were about to get a whole lot worse for Rossoneri.
Carving their way through three different coaches in a single season, the club suffered the ignominy of relegation to the then called Serie C1. While some 380km to the north in Rome, Zeman was leading Roma to a fourth place finish in Serie A.
For Foggia though rock bottom had still not been hit. In the 1998/99 season they suffered their second consecutive relegation. Only four years after playing in Italy’s top flight the team from Puglia had dropped all the way down to Serie C2.
The lowest level of professional football on the peninsula would be the clubs home for the next four years. It wasn’t until the 2003/04 campaign that the club would pull themselves from the trap that was Serie C2.
That season under the stewardship of Pasquale Marino, skilfully backed up on the pitch by Roberto Zerbi, Umberto Del Core and Michele Pazienza, the club stormed to the title. The good times may not have been returning, but a plateau had at least been reached.
Or so one thought. The very next season, after finishing a comfortable mid table, Foggia collapsed. The clubs increasingly precarious financial state had got the better of them. Out went Marino and all the key players who had revitalised the team.
Fans were heartbroken, it looked as if Foggia would have to start all over again in the lower amateur leagues. However in stepped one Giuseppe Coccimiglio, and, through his hard work and a slight change to the clubs name, remarkably they were able to continue in the same division.
It was a move akin to Parma’s name change from Ac to Fc Parma after the collapse of Parmalat had threatened their Serie A existence. Incidentally – and perhaps not surprisingly – a few years later Coccimiglio would be arrested for fraudulent bankruptcy, but that is a story for another day.
The next few years saw some sort of stability return to the club as they missed out on promotion to Serie B on numerous occasions. Losing once in the play-off final and twice more in the semi-finals.
Then in the summer of 2010 the miracle of miracles happened, Zemanlandia was coming back for an encore. Not only Zeman but the former club president Pasquale Casillo and Sporting Director Giuseppe “Peppino” Pavone also returned for Zeman’s third spell at Foggia. Zeman had first coached the Rossoneri for one season back in 1986.
Things had been hard for Zeman before his return to Foggia, he’d been out of work for nearly two years after his dismissal by Red Star Belgrade. Things had also not being going smoothly for Casillo either, having spent the previous 13-years clearing his name after accusations that his cereal business had links to the Neapolitan crime syndicate, Camorra.
Nonetheless Foggia’s dynamic trio were now reunited and the Satanelli faithful could not have been happier. On the day that his return was announced the club sold some 3000 season tickets. Remember Foggia were still a third tier club at this time and this was not the era of bumper attendances, most Lega Pro clubs struggled to get anywhere near 3000 at their home matches.
Over 1000 people turned up in person to welcome Zeman home. Foggia dared to dream once more. Yet the new era of Zemanlandia lasted only a single season with the club finishing sixth. After failing to get the club promoted he left,
“I came here to win the Championship. I wasn’t able to do that and that’s why I have made this decision (To leave). I consider this to be a defeat. The club haven’t taken the news well, but the decision is irrevocable.
I thank the club for giving me the chance to take charge of Foggia again.”
For one reason or another it seems that Zeman holds a stranglehold over the people of Foggia and the club, his departures proving too traumatic and consequently detrimental to the clubs fortunes. After his second departure, the club entered into a near irreversible slide.
His latest exit has triggered a similar decline. The season after Zeman left, the club finished mid table, but once more came a cropper financially. Thrown out of the league the club were forced to restart in Serie D. In a poetic kind of way while this was happening Zeman was once more back on the bench of Roma, swings and roundabouts as they say.
Today the club has returned to Lega Pro, where it finished a respectable seventh this season and perhaps unsurprisingly was deducted one point for financial irregularities.
While Zemanlandia will be forever associated with this southern Italian club, and rightly so, they have proved throughout their 95-year history that they are so much more.
What happened after Zeman left Foggia? What happens to every club once a great man leaves? They continued on their own path.