The events of the past month were still swirling in my head. I had been appointed manager of my boyhood club. I had rescued my old friend keisuke Honda from CSKA Moscow for €1.8million. I strengthened the defence when I signed Gabriel Tamas from West Bromwich Albion and I snatched the brilliant youngster Raichiro Zivkovic from FC Groningen right before he would have signed for either AC Milan or Manchester City. Also, by selling Renato Ibarra to Ajax, I had even made a nice €1 million profit. And it all lead up to this evening.
I was just going through the formations, the tactics and possible outcomes on the team bus, while we approached the Gelredome. The lights from the magnificent building were illuminating the supporters were strolling in a bit late. When they caught sight of the bus, they produced a cheer loud enough to be heard inside the stadium. With the roof being opened as a special request, the crowd inside roared in unison when images of the players leaving the bus were displayed on the big screen monitors. The Vitas had arrived. This was my first competitive match in charge after a successful pre-season. While the players went to change Mr. Jordania invited me up to the Executive Lounge in order to formerly meet the Xazar Lankaran staff. The first leg of Europa League 3rd Qualifying stage was about to kick off. I was nervous as I left the executive suite on my way to the changing rooms, but I walked to the edge of one of the stair-wells first. Surveying the crowd as the cheered while our boys warmed up, roaring passionately whenever someone passed the ball to Keisuke, I felt a sense of calm wash over me. I was born to do this.
I found everyone settled and changed into their match kits by the time I got to the change room. Everybody looked eager to get onto the pitch to prove themselves worthy. Not to me though, but to the crowd. They were determined to show the world why they wore the kit. Turning down the stereo that was blasting Wiz Khalifa's "Black and Yellow", I told them calmly that they were the destined to be in this competition. They had to go out there and prove that we were determined to not only become the best team in the Netherlands but in Europe too. That did it. They were geared up and chomping at the bit to be unleashed on the pitch. While captain Guram Kashia lead the boys onto the pitch, I took up my new seat in the dugout. It felt strange, sitting there in a new suit while the players lined up, I felt like an emperor surveying his troops. Before I knew it, the ball was at the centre spot. When the whistle blew, my reign at the helm officially started.
It took Keisuke 2 minutes to make his mark. Jonathon Reis' expertly taken corner found Honda unmarked in the opposition area, and he coolly slotted the ball into the net. 2 minutes for the crowd to get behind him. While Keisuke and the rest of the players were celebrating on the touchline, I glanced up at the Executive Suite to see Mr Jordania grinning enthusiastically and he flashed me two thumbs up. 35 minutes later Xazar equalised and we went into halftime having created more chances and with the majority of possession. In the locker room, I simply told the team that I had faith in them. We would do exactly what we have been doing all night, and with high possession and unrelenting pressure, the result would come. In the 69th minute, keisuke was up to it again. Davy Propper had a shot blocked and Gael Kakuta pounced on the rebound. It too was blocked by a Xazar defender, but it fell straight to Honda who made no mistake when he lashed it into the net on the half volley. While he was doing some weird dance at the corner flag, he caught my eye and gave me a look that seemed to say "We're going all the way to the top!' In the 86th minute Honda then set up an unmissable chance for Gael Kakuta to seal the win and my first competitive win.
2 goals and 1 assist in a debut match for Keisuke and an eye on a Europa League spot, the team bus on the way out of the stadium was the nosiest place in Arnhem. I knew it would be hard to sleep when I got home. Suddenly Guram Kashia handed me his cellphone. I look at the number that is busy dialling and realise that all the players have gone quiet. "Hello?" a tired voice asks me, obviously confused as to why he is receiving a call at this late hour. "Yes, is this the Heracles manager Jan de Jonge?" I ask with feigned sincerity. "Yes it is, how may I help you?" he replies. With a mischievous grin and to the sound of laughter I tell him "Beware. We are Vitesse and we're going to tear you apart on Wednesday!"