Zdenek Zeman's a controversial figure in Italian football. Beloved by fans, he's often the "bete noire" of club owners and federation officials, known as much for his confrontational and unrepentant honesty as he is for his utter commitment to an all-out-attack approach to the game.
On and off the field, the Czech has never been one for holding back or pulling punches. That's hampered his career and limited his success at all of the clubs he's managed, but his uncompromising dedication to thrilling, positive and unrelenting football has nonetheless had a profound impact on the "Calcio" landscape because few coaches have ever done more to promote young and exciting talent.
From Giuseppe Signori and Francesco Baiano to Francesco Totti, Zeman's had an immense impact on young prospects who would go on to become Serie A superstars, and this summer in Brazil, Cesare Prandelli will be relying on three of his latest pupils to come to the fore.
Ciro Immobile, Lorenzo Insigne and Marco Verratti all came to prominence at Pescara, a provincial and unfashionable club that had only featured in the country's top flight on five occasions in its 76-year history. In 2011-12, however, with Zeman on the bench, the "Delfini" took Serie B—and Italy—by storm.
The squad was a motley collection of seasoned journeymen and fresh-faced talent on loan from other clubs. Despite that, something clicked, and it played with wanton abandon and an unstoppable—and irresistible—attacking drive all season, winning promotion and taking the title thanks to its superior head-to-head record against Torino.
Up front, the latter two managed 46 goals between them in 37 league games, forming an exciting trident with the veteran Marco Sansovini. In midfield, the then-19-year-old Verratti's performances belied his age, and he became one of the most wanted young players in European football, earning a high-profile move to Paris Saint-Germain.
All three have come a long way since then.
Disappointment was to follow for Immobile at Genoa, but having ended last season with Torino as the league's "capocannoniere," he'll start the next campaign as the focal point of Borussia Dortmund's attack in the Bundesliga.
Verratti's gone from strength to strength in France and is now among the most highly regarded midfielders in Europe.
And Insigne, returning to his hometown club, has matured into a Serie A star, delighting the crowds at the San Paolo with his creativity and attacking flair.
They've all got more established players ahead of them in the pecking order, but having shown plenty of promise during the immediate buildup to Brazil, they look set to play important roles for the Azzurri.
Verratti was just three when Andrea Pirlo made his senior debut for Brescia back in 1995 and was seen by many to be more of an able deputy to the Juve playmaker than a genuine contender for a starting berth in Prandelli's plans.
The manager, on the other hand, prefers to speak about options rather than back-up plans, and after the trio's recent scintillating performances, it'll be at the forefront of his mind when he picks his starting XI for Italy's opening game with England.
Speaking to the Gazzetta dello Sport (here in Italian), Prandelli called Insigne and Immobile an example to the rest of the squad.
Mario Balotelli might still be his most famous forward, but given the fact that the Naples-born pair clearly have an excellent relationship—they put five past Brazilian side Fluminense in their last game: Immobile got a hat-trick and assisted both of Insigne's strikes—combining them with Immobile's former partner at Torino, Alessio Cerci, might make more sense.
The latter was, after all, the only player to notch up double figures in both goals and assists last season in Serie A and obviously enjoys playing with the 24-year-old. Already brilliant on their own, a trident of attacking talent tied together by friendship and proven track records is the kind of attack that most managers dream of.
Prandelli's never been afraid to mix things up. He regularly calls up unlikely players for the national side and has used all of the Azzurri's friendlies to tinker and try new ideas. That's generally meant that they've underwhelmed in those games, but the focus is always more on developing options and preparing for competitive encounters—where they very rarely lose.
Rather than choosing to line up consistently with a recognised XI of established world-class stars, the 56-year-old prefers to give youth a chance and leaves the door open for any player if his form merits inclusion. It's allowed young talent such as Verratti, Immobile and Insigne to develop, and it's kept senior players on their toes.
As a result, Italy will begin this World Cup with a squad of players who'll all be eager and ready to impress when called upon—especially the former Pescara trio. In just two years, they've all gone from Serie B to Brazil. And the best is yet to come.
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