I don’t choose the title lightly, but the two may end up being entirely opposite yet equally relevant to the summer at the Stadio Renato dall’Ara.
Bologna were a team I knew little about this time last year; it was a city I knew of only as the home of a famous pasta sauce. I’ve come to learn about the team, about their history (I still have half a huge post about their only European Cup campaign in store when I get round to formatting it) about the city and about its people. Happily, my favourite of the Italian meats is from Bologna – mortadella – but the more I know, the more I’ve admired the city from afar.
This summer has brought a World Cup in Brazil but for those left behind, as most of the Felsinei were (Hello, Panagiotis Kone and Lazaros), there has been no respite from a season that started poorly, continued in disarray and ended in disgust. I watched Bologna’s relegation on a betting site stream on my phone in a hotel room in Greece. The thought crossed my mind that day that the team weren’t worth that level of effort. It has yet to leave.
The first drama came courtesy of the regular ghost in Serie B teams’ machine – finances. The Rossoblu, and Albano Guaraldi struggled to pay the licensing fee that would allow them to play in the second tier, with some €800,000 outstanding (related to registration in the Primavera championship) as yet. Guaraldi himself has been scurrying to and from the Bank of Bologna looking to secure the figure in order that the rest of the summer can continue.
Failure to make these payments would result in Bologna being relegated to the highest level of amateur football; Serie D, but signs seem to be promising in terms of getting the registration fee together. Italy’s cities seem to protect their football teams – on the surfact the situation seems similar to that which Siena endured last season, and the Robur were allowed to compete in Serie B, albeit with a points deduction. That division is no stranger to points deductions, though. Bari (7th – 4 points), Siena (9th – 8 points), and Reggina (21st – 3 points) all suffered that fate last time out, and there were 8 teams with points deducted the season before.
It has been confirmed that Bologna’s failure to pay income tax during the first three months of this calendar year has led to a single point deduction at this stage, but Guaraldi’s beavering is to hopefully avoid further penalisation – the range of punishment last year showing that the league do not look kindly on financial woe.
If I’m confident to assume that the city, and the bank, of Bologna will look kindly enough on Albano Guaraldi’s pleas to ensure that the Rossoblu play in Serie B next season, the most intriguing question is that of who will be sat on their bench when they do so.
The name that is swirling around the city of towers is that of Zdenek Zeman. Indeed, he is dominating the discussion to such an extent that Bologna think-pieces are split into ‘Zeman No’ and ‘Zeman Yes’ groups. I’m firmly in the Zeman Yes group. Zeman is everything that is needed at the Stadio Renato dall’Ara, home to dismal and drab Bologna side these last few years as the final vestiges of hope and optimism drained from them. Relegation was a relief – it brought an end to a battle Bologna were always destined to lose eventually.
The Zeman No side have a valid point that comes in here. In relegation, you are offered an opportunity to build again, to build on more secure sands, and to ensure your squad can perform in Serie A in years to come. Zeman does not provide that stability. His predilection for young players means a transient team (though even, as we saw with Pescara, they may go on to great things, Marco Verratti, Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile) which prevents long term planning.
We enter an interesting period of Italian football in which co-ownership, which would have been very useful in this regard, is coming to an end – a loanee player will not fetch the money that selling a player you own (in that he won’t fetch any) so relying on them, and them only, is to forsake the transfer fees that have kept the club afloat this far – Taider and Diamanti this last season.
Yet the success Zeman has experienced, especially at this level, is undoubted. He is a unique coach within Italy, one whose formation, tactics, and gameplan are as set in stone as his insistence on using previously untested players. From that point of view, he is a bankers dream – the younger the squad, the smaller the wages (according to quality – a 21 year old Immobile will earn less than a 25 year old Immobile) and exciting attacking football, with goals a-plenty, is a complete turnaround from the abject impression of football that was on display from the Veltri last campaign.
Which is where the stumbling block is. Guaraldi has financed Bologna to become a turgid, stodgy team, who have ended up hoping to draw games 0-0 in order to survive. Does that seem the kind of man who would hire a coach who is famed for expansive football?
Of the ten Serie A sides since 1980, who have averaged the most goals per game, four were Zeman sides, and only one had a negative goal difference – that being Lecce’s 2004/05 side, who finished 11th. In short, the numbers attest that the Czech is more than capable of earning promotion from Serie B with thrilling football, but finds the top flight a negotiable, if difficult, obstacle.
Personally, I think Zeman is a perfect fit for Bologna – almost the perfect name to parachute into the club at this point. As it stands, there’s a deal on the table for him, but Cagliari may gazump it. Either way, Calcio will be more watchable next season. I’m just hoping it’s the fans with the mortadella and the ragu who see the benefit.