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[FM08] American Calcio

Started on 23 June 2015 by tenthreeleader
Latest Reply on 8 August 2016 by tenthreeleader
Wednesday, December 5
Padova v SPAL – Serie C Cup

I’ve seen more scientific matches, and we really should have blown SPAL right out of Euganeo tonight, but I’ll take this result.

Again tonight, the crowd was small. At least it didn’t rain. Only 2,804 were present but they saw us do pretty much what we wanted, when we wanted against our lower-ranked opposition. Except win, I guess, but you can’t have everything.

At least, after the first eight minutes had passed. As banged-up as we have been of late, it was still a shock to see SPAL’s Bruno Cazarine stroll right up Route One to take a perfectly-weighted lead ball into the area. It was more of a shock to see him slot past a surprised Cano to give them an away goal within the first ten minutes.

It was even more shocking to me that the goal wasn’t disallowed for offside. It surely looked to me like the player was a stride clear of Faísca in the center of our defense as the last man when the ball was played to him.

In short, the main thing I didn’t want to happen had not only happened, it had happened quickly. So, I stood in my technical area, hands on my hips, glaring at all and sundry while our erstwhile rivals celebrated around us.

They were in with a shout and suddenly our margin for error was razor thin. Our having three away goals in the bag still meant they had to score twice more to beat us, but I would have much preferred it not be even this close so early in the second leg.

However, that was SPAL’s high water mark. We soon regained the ascendancy with some very fine work on and off the ball, growing in confidence even as our patchwork squad got used to playing together. The systems work I’ve been drilling into these players has started to pay off and we closed Route One to our opponents for the rest of the night as quickly as it had opened.

For me, the key was getting onto the board and our lone true striker did just that shortly after SPAL’s opener. Di Nardo did the business for us, picking up a huge goal on a very fine feed from Rabito on seventeen minutes, finishing with a powerful header nodded down off the ground and into the roof of the net.

That was his third goal of this tie, and his profligacy in front of goal is a real reason to smile. We had our two-goal lead back and even though they still needed two goals, they now needed three to defeat us outright.

Instead of being worried about their attackers, however, we then remembered that the best defense is a good offense. We swarmed SPAL’s goal for the rest of the first half and only a series of wonderful saves by Matheus in their goal stopped us turning the match into a rout.

Still, I was well satisfied at halftime and figured it was only a matter of time until we broke through in the second half to win the home leg of the tie as well. The side was holding together quite well with the exception of the brain lock that had led to their goal, and I honestly didn’t think they’d hurt us much in the second half either.

It turned out I was half right. They wound up with four shots on target compared to our fifteen – but Matheus turned heroic in goal for them and we didn’t score again. We peppered him with 24 attempts in the ninety minutes and at the end they were on the ropes to be sure, but in the end the 1-1 result on the night didn’t reflect our dominance.

Two bad things were still to come, though: first, Guglielmi was carded in the second half and reached his limit, so he will miss the next Cup match through suspension; and the second was what happened to Rabito.

Trying to play after hurting his hamstring on Sunday, he put forth a brave effort but badly twisted his ankle on another 50-50 challenge midway through the second half. He had to be stretchered off and he’s going to be lost to us for awhile.

As painful as this injury was, I knew right away it wasn’t as bad as DiVenanzio’s had been at the start of the season. Rabito was hurting badly but he had flexibility in the ankle when moving it. He’ll be lost for awhile but hopefully not long enough to really hurt us.

In the final analysis, we took our chances better on the road, but played a much better overall match at home in this tie. You have to be able to grind out the results, of course, and as we left the pitch happy to have moved on, I was left to reflect on the way the match had gone.

I gathered my squad around me in the changing room and gave them the honest truth.

“Fellows, that was a hell of an effort,” I said. “Considering the roles I asked some of you to play tonight, this was a real team result and all of us are responsible for getting through to the next round. Well done tonight and now let’s get some rest and get ready for Sunday.”

The media asked whether I thought Cazarine’s goal was offside.

“I thought so but there’s no sense dwelling on it now,” I said, in a mood to be gracious. “The tie is over, we’ve moved on, and I thought we were excellent in both our approach and our application tonight despite scoring only one goal.”

“And your thoughts on Matheus in their goal?”

“That’s not a goalkeeper, that’s a contortionist,” I replied. “Wasn’t he good? I thought he was tremendous and we could have scored five or six against some of the keepers we’ve faced this season. Yet we’ve moved on and in the end, that’s all that matters.”

Padova 1-1 SPAL (4-2 aggregate)

# # #

We’ve also learned our next opponent in this competition, and again we will play lower-ranked opposition.

Teramo, the tenth-placed side in Serie C2B, is up for us next. We will again be fancied and we welcome the challenge.
# # #
Thursday, December 6
With the holiday season approaching, I’m starting to make plans to go home.

Not permanently, unless someone doesn’t want me to come back here, but I’d really love the opportunity to spend the holidays with my family. There’s no reason for me to stay here now, and frankly I would prefer not to be depressed as the holidays pass.

We’ll be taking a three-week break over that time and it will be welcome. I don’t plan to be too far away, though – we’ll be in negotiation with players over that time so even as I asked my chairman for permission to go home for the holidays we both knew I’m only an e-mail away if I’m needed.

The club also got some good financial news today. Both our matches on either side of the Christmas holiday will be televised.

Our home match against Monza on December 17, which is the start of the Novena here, is on television. So is our derby matchup at Venezia on January 7, which is the day after Epiphany on January 6.

My plan is to go home right after the Monza match and return New Year’s Eve to prepare for the Venezia match. Injured players will get a chance to heal, and Masolini has agreed to take training for a few days prior to my return for those players who need the conditioning help.

I’m looking forward to getting away. I could use a break.

# # #

Friday, December 7
Foggia is a club right on the edges of the promotion race, so they’ll have all to play for when we visit them Sunday. They are seventh in the table, with five wins and five draws in their fourteen starts.

It’s also going to be a long trip, one of our longer drives of the season. It’s every bit of four hours by coach, so we’ll be leaving tomorrow.

I’ll have most of my first-choice side to bring with me to Pino Zaccheria, and I’m hoping to take advantage of the other big match happening on Sunday.

Sassuolo travels to Pierluigi Penzo to play Venezia and I’m actually hoping for a draw. I wouldn’t mind seeing the leaders finally lose, but if we can get a road result we can really shake up the top of the table. With the break coming up, and our next match at home to Monza on the 17th, we can head off for the holidays on a high note.

Today, though, we talked about our opposition with media for their previews.

Their captain, Antonio Cardinale, is quite an inspirational leader but the player who worries me is Gianvito Plasmati, a talented striker who is due for a good game.

Foggia has the quality to give us a tussle on Sunday and my concern today was to help the players realize that even though we ourselves are twelve matches unbeaten in the league, we aren’t top yet and won’t be top without help from someone else.

If we start believing what may well be written about us if we go a few more matches without losing, we might well lose everything – more than football matches, to be sure. We can’t let that happen.

So today’s training was all about staying focused and all about being mentally tough when we’re a long, long way from home.

# # #
Saturday, December 8
Today’s trip was fairly uneventful and spent, at least on my end, asleep.

I haven’t done a whole lot of relaxing on travel days but we seem to be in a decent rhythm of late so I was able to close my eyes for a little bit of our lovely drive down the Adriatic coast.

When I woke up, my shoelaces were tied together and I had shaving cream in my hair, but at least I had a nice nap. I think that’s a reasonably good thing in terms of the squad coming together, but I guess it came at a price!

I didn’t even have rotten dreams, which seem to have been plaguing me lately.

The McGuire/Patty dream I mentioned earlier is now a recurring theme, and that annoys me to no end. I get tired of having the same dream over and over again, especially when the end result of it is for me to wake up angry.

The bottom line, though, is that I don’t get enough sleep at night. That’s one reason I was dead to the world on the coach this afternoon and one reason the squad was able to abuse the manager in such a fashion.

Some would have viewed that as gross disrespect. I viewed it as my players trying to help me get my mind off a bad situation. In that, they entirely succeeded.

As I elbowed my way past them to the coach’s back room and sink to wash out my hair, I looked around for laughing faces. I didn’t see any, but if I had, retribution would have been swift and hopefully fairly humorous.

The players are trying to bring me back to the land of the living. I appreciate that, even as I continue to struggle with how all the bad things happened. I understand there’s a time for grieving – but you don’t wear black forever. Not in this business.

# # #

Sunday, December 9
Foggia v Padova – Serie C1A

I do think we learned something about ourselves this afternoon on a day where we did not play well.

We hung in there and managed to get a point on a day where we were decidedly second best. I’m proud of that, even as I’m a bit less than impressed with our general play today.

So my glass is half full. We have extended our unbeaten streak to thirteen in the league, but in the best Scandinavian tradition, there’s bad news to go with the good. In so doing, we dropped a spot in the table.

Sassuolo finally lost today, but it was 1-0 to Venezia, which means we only gain one point on them while losing two to our local rivals. They are now co-leaders on 32 points while our record of eight wins, six draws and one defeat trails both of them by two points.

Still, it could have been worse – we could easily have lost and were it not for a rather shocking miss late in the game, we would have.

Part of our woe was due to still another injury, this one to Muzzi.

The last match he missed through injury was the Sassuolo road match and we all know what happened to us that day. Hopefully, there will be no repeat a week from tomorrow against Monza.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

We started brightly, scoring our goal within the first fifteen minutes. As has already happened so often this season, Baú was the provider, putting a world-class move on Cardinale to get to the byline on the right. He then pulled the ball back into the box for who else but Varricchio.

Massimiliano had no trouble hitting the yawning net to put us ahead in the early going – but then we just stopped producing. I couldn’t understand it as I watched the first half go by, but we just went to sleep.

Part of that was due to Muzzi’s injury. Roberto took a nasty cut to the forehead while going up for a header. He came down hard after an accidental elbow to the mush.

He had to go off due to the bleeding, and it took another few minutes for me to get the word that it was a jagged cut that would need additional repairs. Rather than play with ten for so long on the road, I took Roberto off since we had the lead.

I‘m not sure, in retrospect, that this was the correct decision. I think that cost us a bit of our spark and we did miss Roberto’s veteran presence up front. Suddenly we were searching for offensive identity and even though Paponi is a terrific talent up front, he’s still learning and struggled to work as well with Varricchio as Muzzi does.

Foggia then started to assert themselves, with Orlandoni standing tall between the sticks to keep us in the lead.

He made a magnificent double save on Plasmati, who worked his way between Sacchetti and Faísca to get a fifteen-yard bullet away that the keeper shoved right back to him for a second bite of the cherry. Orlandoni tipped that shot over the bar with a terrific reflex save and earned a fine ovation from the home fans in response.

Yet, even he couldn’t stop the hosts from equalizing in first half injury time. Cardinale, who had been beaten so comprehensively by Baú in the buildup to our first goal, redeemed himself in fine fashion just before the break.

He took a good linking ball from the defense and made a very nice pass to his right to Ivan Tisci. The midfielder took one step and ripped a 25-yard wonder strike over Orlandoni and into the top right corner of the goal, giving Foggia a richly deserved draw at the break.

There was just no stopping that shot, and even though it changed my halftime team talk the basic message was the same: we’re getting outplayed. The difference was now that I could point to the scoreboard to show a chink in our armor.

While working on a way to keep their midfielders out of the play I soon realized they were getting the better of the 4-1-3-2.

So I changed out of it, into a 4-4-2 with a counter option for the second half. I would have preferred a little more of the possession as the ultimate way to stop their midfield dominance but if I couldn’t have that, I wanted to at least take advantage of our passing ability to get back at them in a different fashion.

Yet as the second half wore on, it became increasingly obvious that we weren’t going to get the possession edge I wanted to see. After that it became a matter of survival as Foggia moved into total control of the match.

Orlandoni held us in the match, though, and we made it to injury time still with the draw. Then my heart went into my throat as substitute Antonio Esposito put the ball right into the right hand channel three minutes into injury time – and the back four seemed to part like the Red Sea.

Plasmati latched onto it and cut sharply to the middle, with only Orlandoni to beat. He actually had time to settle himself and looked for the lower left corner as he shot. And he put it wide.

Their bench reacted incredulously, and I looked on with a blank expression at having been spared a very long ride home with no points. It was a sitter, and Plasmati had flat out missed it.

Moments later, we got the full time whistle and hastily found our way to the changing room before someone took the point away from us. We were very, very lucky.

I actually had a smile on my face, though, as I faced the team.

“This is the kind of match where teams who aren’t going anywhere get nothing,” I said. “As good as they were – and let’s face it, they were better than we were – they didn’t beat you. Be pleased with that but understand that we have one week before a very big game, and we need to get it right. Now hit the showers.”

I had no problem agreeing with the press after the game, as well. They told me I was second best and there was no sense denying it.

“The statistics tell part of the story, yes,” I said. “But the one that matters the most shows we had as many goals as they did. They had more chances, they had better chances, and if you asked me if they deserved three points I’d have to tell you yes. But they didn’t get three points and I’m not ashamed to take one back with me to Padua.”

There’s another, more pressing issue to deal with next week. Baú picked up his fourth yellow card of the season during the match. He’s suspended for the next match and with Rabito injured and Muzzi out for 1-2 weeks, that means I have exactly zero right-sided midfielders for the Monza match.

Foggia 1-1 Padova

# # #

Today we also had our first managerial casualty of the Serie C season.

Citadella got off to a great start this season but are now winless in four and have dropped three on the spin after falling 3-0 to Novara. That cost manager Claudio Foscarini his job.

I’d hate to think that there would be a situation where my own job could be in jeopardy after that stretch of results but there are places where it’s true. I’ve got expectations from my own board and if we fall out of the playoff places I suppose I could be under similar pressure.

We’re about to face another manager who is under similar pressure, Monza’s Giuliano Sonzogni. After Monza’s quick start he has now lost three out of four and the last two without a goal – including today’s 1-0 loss at tail-end Lecco, the home team’s first win in eleven matches.

Yet, after a match where we deserved to lose, we didn’t. We dropped a spot in the table but are comfortably in the playoff places. And as the coach moved back north toward home, I feel pretty good about that.

# # #
Monday, December 10

“Round up the usual suspects.” – Captain Louis Renault, ‘Casablanca’

If the late Claude Rains had read our papers today he might have said the articles about yesterday’s match were written by “the usual suspects”.

I chose the odd analogy for today’s entry for two reasons. First, the road draw at Foggia and our corresponding drop in the table has the voices of concern out for us again. That’s annoying.

It’s also not terribly surprising, since the same people seem to ride our bandwagon when we win and walk alongside it when we don’t. Yet here’s what bothers me the most – being unbeaten for nearly half the Serie C1 season, I still haven’t won over a significant part of the local press.

In such a circumstance, I wonder when, or if, it will happen at all. That is profoundly disturbing to me, since it will hinder my ability to do my job.

Second, I was able to escape this evening with perhaps my favorite movie of all time. I watched Casablanca on a DVD in my living room for a little dramatic renewal of purpose.

As an American, there is no movie character I enjoy more than Rick Blaine, played by the great Humphrey Bogart. And after watching the movie, I feel a little better about my own situation.

It’s a bit sad that I seem to need a movie to cheer me up, but the thing I like best about Rick is that the character isn’t afraid to say exactly what’s on his mind. After losing Ilsa in Paris, she of course comes to him in Casablanca. She is trying to flee to America with her husband, Victor Laszlo.

Rick always knew that Ilsa would come back to him, and in the scene I was watching she finally does. Ilsa finds Rick stupendously inebriated after closing time. Unlike me, he has the opportunity to let out his hurt and he does so in quite a direct fashion.

I lay on my couch, where I had cuddled Patty many times, and watched Rick lower the boom on his beloved Ilsa Lund:

Why did you have to come to Casablanca? There are other places.

I wouldn't have come if I'd known that you were here. Believe me, Rick. It's true. I didn't know.

It's funny about your voice how it hasn't changed. I can still hear it: 'Richard, dear, I'll go with you anyplace. We'll get on a train together and never stop.'

Please, don't. Don't, Rick! I can understand how you feel.

Huh! You understand how I feel. How long was it we had, honey?

I didn't count the days.

Well, I did. Every one of them. Mostly, I remember the last one. The ‘wow’ finish. A guy standing on a station platform in the rain with a comical look on his face, because his insides had been kicked out.

Can I tell you a story, Rick?

Does it got a ‘wow’ finish?

I don't know the finish yet.

Go on and tell it. Maybe one will come to you as you go along.

Rick’s morbid sense of anger was a bit over the top but I suspect it’s how a lot of men who have loved and lost have felt – and women too, I suppose.

I raised my own glass to the screen and thought of Patty.

“Here’s looking at you, kid,” I said, downing my drink. “I’m going home.”

# # #
Tuesday, December 11
My flight reservations for the States are confirmed. I’m flying out right after the match – perhaps a bit ironically, from Venice.

My flight will take me from Marco Polo International Airport to London Heathrow and from thence to New York City. Flying west will be tiring but I’ll get home at mid-morning on Monday.

After taking yesterday off to recover from the travel, the senior squad was back at work today to prepare for the crunch clash with Monza.

Our mood was good. We are disappointed not to have played better but let’s face it – we’re getting something out of every match of late and we think that will eventually lead to good things.

We do have a significant issue on the right side of midfield, though. Andrea Bovo is up from the reserves and will see his first senior action of the season on Sunday. Players do need to be ready for these types of things and he knows he is getting a long awaited chance.

However, he has been behind Baú, Rabito and Muzzi on the depth chart all season and hasn’t been able to break through.

Now, with Baú suspended and Muzzi and Rabito both injured, his chance has arrived. If he takes it with both hands he may stick around for awhile.

# # #

Wednesday, December 12
We have the late match this week – everyone else in the league is playing Sunday so when we face Monza we’ll have either opportunity or added pressure.

Venezia is at Lecco, and my hope is that the tail-end side in the league is able to duplicate the form that led to their win over Monza last round. Sassuolo is at home to Manfredonia. Even though the visitors are improving I still look at them as the club against which my offensively challenged lads scored five times without reply.

Cremonese has been hanging around as well, and they are also in action Saturday. If all the top teams win on Saturday we will enter Sunday’s play fourth in the table. I’m hoping we don’t have to worry about that.

# # #

However, the journos are quite worried about that, and quizzed me hard after today’s training.

“Are you feeling pressure?” I was asked.

“I’m not feeling pressure unless you’re placing it there,” I said. “We’ve started strongly, we are definitely in the hunt, and the players need space to breathe. My job is to give it to them so if you want to place pressure, fine. Place it on me.”

“What do you think about Giuliano Sonzogni’s position at Monza?”

“He’s a good manager,” I said. “He has brought his club to the edges of the playoff places and when you have clubs challenged financially like a lot of us are in this league, that’s an accomplishment. I know Monza has had a dip in form and it’s my job to make sure that dip continues. That said, I know Giuliano is going to try to wreck our form as well after the way we played at Foggia.”

“What do you have to say about the clubs above you in the table?”

“They’re playing as well as we are,” I said. “One has already beaten us and the other one we have faced in the Cup group stages. We know they are good sides and we’ve got half the league season to figure out how we’re going to gain the points we need to overtake them.”

“Are you planning significant changes now that Muzzi, Rabito and Baú are all out of the lineup at the same time?”

“We do have some squad depth here,” I bristled. “I’m not saying that we’ll have everyone out there that we’d like, but the players we put out will be briefed on how to do a professional job and they know when they pull on the white shirt they are expected to perform. I don’t think we’ll drop off.”

“Are you afraid of a dip in form after being so comprehensively outplayed at Foggia?”

I smiled. “You’ll have to come to Euganeo on Monday to see,” I said. “I’m not concerned.”

# # #
Thursday, December 13
I think the only thing that might have made today worse from a purely personal point of view would have been if it were Friday the 13th instead of Thursday.

First off, it rained, meaning the outdoor training session was short.

We don’t have the facilities of the biggest clubs so that put a cramp in our style. The rest of training was cardio-vascular in nature as a result, which is a bit of a pity since the squad is in match fitness for the most part and what we need are drills to help us finish better.

Yet as the saying goes, a change is as good as a holiday and the players didn’t seem to mind all that much.

However, it got worse.

One month to the day after the fiasco in Venice, Kate called.

I know her heart was in the right place but it’s just something I don’t need right now.

I sat at my desk at work, watching Monza’s match at Lecco on our scouting DVD for the third time, when the phone rang. Christina Angelotti was on the other end of the line.

“Rob, Kate McGuire is on the phone hoping you will speak with her,” she said, and the correct response would have been to deny the call.

But, for some reason that I think had to do with wanting something positive to think about in my life, I elected to take the call. I am a glutton for punishment.

“Hello, Rob,” she said. “I wanted to call to wish you a Happy Christmas and also to let you know a few other things.”

I sighed heavily. “Last time I learned a few things it hurt like hell,” I said. “But enough about that. Merry Christmas to you and yours.”

“I wanted you to know I’ve decided to stay with Peter,” she said. “He’s quite contrite and after our e-mail exchange, he’s also very much under control.”

Her news didn’t surprise me at all. I’m also beyond being hurt by hearing it.

“Well, congratulations, Kate. I’m glad for you. You won’t mind my saying that I hope the tight leash you keep on him goes right around his fool neck.”

“I know that what I did that night helped cost you your relationship with Patty,” she said. “I’m calling to apologize. I once wrote you that I wanted you to find the best in life and then I helped you lose it. Since I’ve explained what happened with Peter, I want to know what I can do to make it up to you.”

The English have a word that I find marvelously useful in circumstances such as the one in which I now found myself. I was “gobsmacked”.

I shook my head. “Kate, would you mind repeating that, please?” I asked. “I’m not quite sure I heard you right.”

“I said, I’d like to make it up to you,” she said. “I know that’s hard to believe, but I do care about you and I want to put it right. I’d like to help.”

“Does it got a ‘wow’ finish?” I asked, out of impulse.

“Excuse me?”

“Nothing,” I answered. “Nothing at all.”

# # #

She told me she wanted my permission to try and approach Patty on my behalf. I told her she didn’t need my permission, and reminded her that unwanted approaches from her husband – both to Patty and to me – had started the problem in the first place. Still, I discouraged her from trying.

“I don’t think it would do any good, Kate,” I said. “I just don’t think it’s something I want to pursue. So I would ask you not to pursue it on my behalf.”

“Well, it wasn’t fair to you, what happened.”

“This will sound trite, Kate, but thank you for noticing.”

“I haven’t forgotten,” she said. “Like I wrote, no matter what happens I’ll always care for you.”

Suddenly, I grew tired of the conversation.

“Thank you, Kate,” I said. “I need to go. Merry Christmas and hug your kids for me.”

Then, I hung up.

# # #
Insanely good as usual, 10-3. Looking forward to more climbing. This is very interesting because FM08 was the first FM game I ever played.
Thanks so much ... FM08 has a special appeal to me as well. This is a really fun save and part of me loves the 'dots with feet' of this game!

Friday, December 14
Quietly, we have begun negotiations with the agents of several key players on expiring contracts. For the most part, I have been quite pleased with the answers I’ve received, with one notable exception.

We offered one-year contract extensions to Varricchio, Faísca, Sacchetti, Paz, Cano and Muzzi today with the first five on the list indicating they would accept less money to stay. That was about the best news I could have hoped for.

However, club policy calls for automatic 25 percent in the event of promotion, so the wage bill would be roughly the same in Serie B if we are fortunate enough to get promoted next season. However, if all the players agree, we will get relief from our current wage bill and help our bottom line in a big way.

The only player who wasn’t receptive was Muzzi, who does not appear to wish to stay next season. That’s football, but at his salary level of €625,000 per year I could probably find a couple of decent players to replace him.

Also, we are talking with the board about making a bid for defender Angelo Antonazzo, who is available for €50,000. He’s not Anderson Silva, but he does play a mean right back position, which would allow me to slot Paz into the holding role if he comes here. If Antonazzo arrives, he’d be my record signing and he would be under pressure to play well immediately.

Hellas Verona is interested in the player as well, and I wouldn’t mind pipping our regional rival for a good player who is comparatively young (26) and talented. I don’t see us making any other moves in January, with Caputo also on his way in from Juve Stabia.

The business side of the game doesn’t really appeal to me. I’d rather manage. But crunching numbers is part and parcel of being a manager nowadays, especially at a smaller club.

After a morning of Serie C1 finance lessons, I took afternoon training with the club and felt a lot better. The plan is in place for Monza and I would rather worry about that than about budgets and agents and contract extensions.

# # #

Now my mind is set on something else I’d prefer it not be on – Kate’s call of yesterday.

I am convinced that there are some people in this world who simply can’t leave a bad thing alone.

I’ve gone from flattered that she called to angry that she did what she did to incredulous that she would think she could somehow sort everything out by getting a hold of a person whose whereabouts are completely unknown to me.

Patty was born in Chicago and still has family there, but I have no idea if she’s at home now or what her plans might be. Lord knows she hasn’t contacted me to let me know.

I do think the best thing for me is to forget about Patty. That won’t be easy because deep down I do love her, but the pain trying to find a full-time relationship has caused is more than I can bear at the moment.

It’s Christmas, I’m alone, and people keep popping into my life at the worst possible times. If my apartment contained a hole big enough for me to slide into, I’d be in it right now. I would simply like to be left alone.

# # #
Saturday, December 15
With the squad away from training today, we had a very big day at the bargaining table.

All the players to whom we offered contracts have agreed terms. That’s a big thing for me – I know I can depend on these players and all of them can hang in Serie B if that’s where we wind up next season.

The only player who may be an exception is Cano, who has been second choice to Orlandoni all season. Yet I need him as veteran cover for Jeremy Busarello, who may wind up going out on loan in January for first-team experience.

Muzzi, as expected, rejected our offer of a new contract and I am wondering when he’ll start negotiating with other clubs.

His intentions seem to be pretty plain. If I were him, I’d want one more good-sized contract as well. Too, since he’s the same age I am, I’m not going to tell him he shouldn’t look for one.

We’ll have big news for the Sunday editions tomorrow, and that will be a positive thing for the club.

We can now afford to show a little ambition in the January window as well, and that will hopefully position us better both on the pitch and in the pressrooms around the region. We are quite close to growth that will really mean something to this club and it’s an exciting time.

I’d love to be able to bring back players like Orlandoni, Baú, Gotti and Paponi next season as well, but of course all depends on their loaning clubs. If we’re promoted we’d be playing against Baú and Spezia next season, and I don’t see Udinese letting us keep Gotti for very long. Paponi is another player I’d love to bring back and as a Serie B club we might even get him.

The main goal is this, though: a Serie B club might get better loan players from its Serie A parent club, which of course is Lazio for us. If the budgets remain tight, a parent club willing to loan us useful players might prove all important. The parent club usually pays the salary of the player, which helps us in more ways than one.

But I hope that’s for the future. If we don’t win matches first, I won’t have to worry about it at all.

# # #

Sunday, December 16

It’s as I feared heading into tomorrow’s match. All the teams around us won, so we are five points adrift with a match in hand as we prepare to play.

Venezia won 1-0 at Lecco, who put up a brave fight but still succumbed to Emanule Pesoli’s 23rd minute strike. Even though Manfredonia has put up better results of late, they still fell 2-0 at Sassuolo, meaning the leaders are right back on the winning track after stumbling last week.

Novara won as well, so they moved above us too, on overall goal difference. It makes tomorrow’s match quite important indeed.

I spent my morning working with the television broadcasters for tomorrow’s match, who arrived at Euganeo today for their walk-through.

When a match is to be televised, especially from a venue not usually home to television, production crews arrive at midweek to begin setting up, making needed electrical connections and doing pre-game work that will show up on the air.

Part of that work involves meeting with the managers. I had time with the match broadcasters this afternoon and after Monza arrived, with Sonzogni as well. I passed him in the hallway and we exchanged a brief greeting and exchange of good wishes.

He knows full well that if we take his team down on Monday, he may lose his job. So as we exchanged pleasantries, I know he is under pressure.

It’s rather unfair that a road victory against a top-five side should be required for a manager to keep his position, but that’s where Sonzogni finds himself. It’s no fun, it’s nerve-wracking, and it’s absolutely cutthroat.

Football is a hard game that way. You develop friends, you sometimes develop lifelong enmities, and when all is said and done the guy who loses winds up looking for something else. Beating friends on the touchline is no fun. Yet, it’s either done, or you become friends out of football.

So as Sonzogni headed off for his interview time with the television crew I wondered if he’d leave tomorrow still in a job.

Then I realized that with 30 points, I’m now fourth in the table and my board expects promotion. I have problems of my own.
# # #

Yet tonight, as I reached my apartment, I had a moment that reminded me there are things more important than this game.

The Novena began this evening -- the start of the Christmas season in Italy. And as part of the celebration, children will go door to door singing and reading pastorals. Most of the time the recitations involve the journey of the shepherds to the manger.

I arrived home at sundown and met a group of young children, escorted by parents, in the hallway by my apartment door.

They recognized me and we shared greetings. Finally, the children spoke.

It was a beautiful moment. Clean scrubbed faces spoke with a child’s faith through bright, hopeful eyes, reminding me of what is truly important in life.

I smiled down at the children as they finished their story. I invited them all inside for a glass of juice and spent a few moments sharing the joy of the season.

They left and I looked around my apartment. There was no tree, no indication of the season, and precious little holiday spirit. Yet, the children had taken care of all that for me.

# # #
Monday, December 17
Padova v Monza – Serie C1A

We broke for the holidays after winning under no small amount of pressure this evening at Euganeo. And as I write I am winging my way westward toward home.

It was an odd day in a lot of respects. I woke up thinking about Kate, and that annoyed me. I felt much like a used child’s toy must feel – fondly remembered but all squeezed out nonetheless.

I shook that thought out of my mind and looked at the suitcases packed and in the corner of my living room for the trip home. That cheered me up a bit and I rose to face the day now focusing rapidly on the challenge of our visitors.

As I walked to the ground this morning I threw on my mp3 player and Bose headphones, wishing they had stadium music in Italy like they do in the States.

I listened to ace sax man Eric Darius whaling away to “Slick”, one of my very favorite tunes, and as usual I was in a better mood when the song was done.

My eye clear and my head focused, I arrived at 10:00 to start my day.

One of my favorite things to do as a player was to arrive very early on a match day and watch the stadium wake up. This was especially true when I played at Ibrox, which seems to have history in the air.

Euganeo is a little different, but the place still has its charms. As a relatively new stadium, it is a pleasant place to gather and watch a match, even though the longtime supporters detest the athletics track that surrounds the pitch.

I spent my morning in my office watching the Monday morning recap shows and a replay of Reading’s EPL home victory over Fulham. Amazingly, they remain top of the table by two points over Liverpool, though I wonder how long that will last once the heavy holiday fixture list hits. I’m sure Berkshire is going wild over the club’s success and I couldn’t be happier for them.

It was fun to watch one of my old clubs, but more importantly it was fun to simply watch a match as a neutral again.

My trips have already taken me all over Italy in my short tenure here so it’s fun to sit back and watch someone else play without worrying about how to stop them the next week.

I did my traditional pre-match workout earlier this time, so I was ready for a relaxing afternoon after lunch. I went over the team sheet again, reviewed my Monza notes, and waited for the senior squad to arrive for the match.

It was a very pleasant day indeed. The players made the evening even better.

# # #

Sacchetti is becoming a bit of an offensive revelation for us. After a fairly technical and tactical first half, he opened the scoring for us on his second goal for the club.

Again, we did it from a set piece, with his header finding the range four minutes before halftime – and fourth-choice Andrea Bovo was the provider from the corner.

If you had asked me – or better yet, asked our punters – what the odds were that Sacchetti would score the first goal or that Bovo would be involved in it, I wouldn’t have known what to say. I surely wouldn’t have given odds, and anyone making book on it was probably tearing out their hair by the roots at the thought of paying out.

Still, that’s the beauty of management. I don’t have to care how they go in the net, as long as they go in.

Statistically, the half was about even but we had the lead at the break so that shaped my team talk.

“Give me 45 more good minutes and you can rest for the holidays,” I smiled. “You worked hard and got a good goal to give yourselves the lead. Don’t squander it, and let’s make Monza work for everything they get. Play hard for each other and let’s get the points today.”

I was pleased to note that our intensity didn’t drop in the second half and as a result, the chances our visitors got were of poor quality. They had six shots on target for the match, the same as we got, but ours were from much better positions.

Such as the penalty spot, where Varricchio found himself in the 76th minute. He was felled like so much tall timber while striding toward goal with the ball at his feet and the spot kick was given. With Baú suspended and Muzzi hurt, Massimiliano smiled at the chance to take the penalty.

He dispatched the spot kick with ease, perhaps giving me something else to think about down the road, and the 2-0 lead was more than enough for us to hold.

Despite the relative ease with which we kept them away from goal, it was a gritty match. Strong challenges abounded, and it was clear to me that the Monza players were trying to save their manager’s job. They played with passion but fortunately for us, without sufficient application to really cause trouble.

That will happen to a side struggling to score goals. They can huff and puff all they want but when it comes time to make something happen in front of goal, the flesh is too often weak.

The full time whistle blew, we celebrated our victory, and as I shook hands with Sonzogni I wondered if we had just gotten him sacked.

# # #

I had good words for Bovo in the changing room after the match. He had come up from the reserves, without a senior game all season, and had held us on the right side of midfield for the full 90 minutes.

I know he wants to play and the look of self-satisfaction he gave me showed he thinks he deserves greater consideration. I don’t blame him a scrap for that. I’d think the same thing too.

But he also knows he has to show me he deserves to stay when the club returns to training. Poor training was one reason he didn’t stick with the senior squad.

In that respect, the game comes at the worst possible time for him – with three weeks between games, I’m sure he can’t wait to get back out there. Yet, the facts are plain.

Baú will no longer be suspended and Muzzi’s face will have healed to allow him to play as well. It will be difficult for Andrea. He’ll have to earn it.

# # #

I had a flight to catch.

Word was hitting the news wires of our signings for next season, and I was also told as I headed out of Euganeo that Sonzogni had indeed been sacked by Monza chairman Gianbattista Begnini.

Monza was picked to finish third by the media in pre-season, but today’s loss was their fourth in five matches while scoring only one goal. Our match was the third on the spin where they hadn’t scored.

Managing is a difficult life, no doubt about it. Personally, I think Monza’s season-long record and the fact that half the season still remains should be enough to keep the wolves from his door, but not every chairman has that kind of patience.

I sent Sonzogni a message of condolence – really, I wasn’t certain what I should do and I thought it would at least be polite to let him know I respected the job he did – and headed to Venice and the Marco Polo airport.

# # #

I arrived at 10:00, 90 minutes before the last flight of the night.

Three hours later, I was in Heathrow. An hour after that I was sitting in something of a zombified state as my connecting flight headed west across the Atlantic Ocean toward home.

I finally dozed off fitfully as the American East Coast loomed large under the plane’s wings. I woke to a flight attendant’s hand on my shoulder, gently shaking me awake.

“Sir, you need to fasten your seat belt,” she said, and my head snapped up with a start. I saw her name tag – naturally, it read Patty – and had a momentary out-of-body experience as I tried to figure out where I was.

“I miss you,” I mumbled, half-awake and adjusting to my surroundings.

“Excuse me, sir?” she asked.

I shook my head. “Sorry, just dreaming,” I said. “I didn’t mean to offend.”

Padova 2-0 Monza

# # #
Monday, December 24

Spending a week off at home has been very good for me. I’ve managed to reconnect with my family, a process which was helped by the Italian gifts I brought them being opened tonight under the family Christmas tree.

I even relaxed a bit.

I’ve been in daily contact with the club by e-mail and it was very nice not to have to worry about day-to-day matters for a little while. Even when in Rome earlier this season I still had matters of business to attend to but this was a genuine week away.

However, today’s message was a bit different. Sestaro e-mailed me, asking if I wanted to leave. I e-mailed him back and asked why.

He sent me an e-mail link to a story saying that the New England Revolution have fired manager Steve Nicol and manager Rob Ridgway will be approached “if his current club, Serie C1 contenders Padova, will let him leave”.

I didn’t bother to think about correcting the article to correctly lay out Serie C1A and C1B, because I had other things to worry about.

Marcello’s meaning was pretty plain. If I want to leave, he’ll allow the approach. Suddenly I wished my office was somewhat closer than 2,000 miles away. The conversation I needed to have was better held in person.

So I did the next best thing. I placed an international phone call, and soon was talking directly with my chairman.

“I have no desire to leave unless you want me gone,” I said. “So I need to know why you are asking the question.”

“We are satisfied with the job you are doing and obviously we are thrilled with the club’s league placement,” he said. “We need to know your intentions, though, before we reply to New England Revolution.”

That seemed reasonable, and I repeated myself.

“I have no intention of leaving Padova,” I said. “My job isn’t done and I don’t want to leave under those circumstances.”

“Then we will deny permission,” he replied. “There was nothing sinister about it, I assure you.”

I thanked him, hung up the phone, and took a deep breath. Sometimes this job leaves me wondering why I got into it in the first place.

# # #
Thursday, December 27
To my way of thinking, flying east isn’t a whole lot more fun than flying west.

As I write, it’s 5:30 in the morning, I’m not the least bit tired, and I’m sitting back in my apartment in Padua wondering how long it will take my body to adjust to its surroundings again.

I had my last day off today to try to get my body clock back on something approaching a realistic schedule. I know, I know, good luck with that.

In a way it’s very nice to be back. In another way, I feel a little wistful.

I like living in Europe and I enjoy being able to ply my trade overseas, with all the challenges the job entails. Yet I’m not sure I’m ready. I was due for a holiday and I’m glad I took one. Yet as I look at the job I still have to do, it seems like a long way.

I watched the EPL yesterday as the clubs battled it out on Boxing Day. Reading fell out of first place in the league as I watched them crash 3-0 at Stamford Bridge to Chelsea. Liverpool, which hasn’t won a title since the Premier League was created, now leads the pack by a single point.

There will be those who’ll say Reading’s fall was inevitable, but I know it probably wasn’t inevitable to Steve Coppell. He’s done a tremendous job there and since I can safely assume he manages like he played, no one in his organization is happy at the moment.

My senior squad has been back since yesterday, with Masolini taking training the last two days while I recover from my trip. I get to go back tomorrow and resume my responsibilities.

We also got some news that is welcome today from a player standpoint.

Angelo Antonazzo chose us over Hellas Verona – the second time we’ve pipped our regional rival for a quality player this season – and will arrive from Modena next week. He’ll arrive with Massimiliano Caputo, the other player who chose us over Verona.

He gives me another badly needed body at right back and allows me to make the move with Paz in midfield that I have been itching to make for some time.

It has been an active two weeks on the player front for us. I am looking forward to the new players’ arrival and to seeing what they can add to the squad.

# # #
Friday, December 28
There’s nothing like arriving back at the office to complaints. It gives me a warm feeling inside.

I had barely greeted Masolini in the changing room before reserve defender Alessandro Mastronicola approached with a written transfer request.

“I would like to play,” he said simply.

I can’t blame him. He hasn’t been able to break through and Antonazzo’s signing will cast Mastronicola’s second-team status in cement.

I took his letter and nodded. “I have to be honest,” I said. “I don’t see you doing that here for the foreseeable future. Therefore, you can leave. I will list you and do my best to help you find a new club.”

Alessandro accepted the word with good grace. Obviously, he wanted to stay here, but if I can’t play him, I owe it to the player to be honest. Right now, unless pestilence was to strike my backline, I can’t play him.

So we’ll see who offers, and I will wish him well. In the meantime, I have work to do.

# # #

Thursday, January 3
Calendar year 2008 has started with a couple of new arrivals.

Antonazzo was here for the morning training session and had his kit sorted out by 8:30 this morning. He was followed ten minutes later by former Juve Stabia captain Caputo. The two players represent €74,000 worth of our transfer budget.

Their arrivals also give me something approaching the size of squad I feel is necessary. With Caputo’s arrival, players like Mazzocco and even Vedin Music are going to find themselves squeezed for playing time.

As good as Vedin was earlier in the season, his form has fallen off and one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make at this club is deciding to limit his playing time.

Yet Vedin’s dip in form has coincided with a couple of alarming trends: a bit of a dropoff in his pace and a decided dropoff in his ability to strike the ball. Frankly, that’s alarming to me and in a close race such as this one, I can’t allow past form to completely guide my decisions.

I’m going to give him every opportunity to earn his place back, but right now he’s going to slot in behind the new arrival, Caputo. I don’t have much choice.

The new players had energetic training sessions today, especially Caputo, who looks like he really wants to be here. Both he and Antonazzo are relatively young (26) and appear to be able to adapt to the tactic I have employed.

Unless both players drop off dramatically between now and Sunday, they will both go straight into the side for Venezia. I like Caputo’s energy and ability to get the ball into places it needs to go and Antonazzo looks like a shutdown right full back. I’m excited to see what they can do.
# # #
Changes are on the way too, in the form of departures. Paz’s movement to midfield has made Anaclerio expendable and he is now on the transfer list. Mastronicola lasted about 24 hours on the transfer list before I had six offers for him.

He is headed to Serie C2 side Olbia for €6,000. That doesn’t sound like much but it is actually twice the club’s total prize money for reaching the second round of the Serie C Cup. Again, in this game, it’s all relative.
# # #
Friday, January 4
The media war has started before Sunday’s match on another big day for us in terms of player transfer news.

Andrea Bovo, who we co-own, is on the transfer list as well and his sale would help replenish the coffers. His listed value is €70,000, as determined by his co-owners.

Now, I wasn’t the best math student in the world, but I do think that means our share of his sale price would be €35,000, and that would more than pay for Caputo’s transfer in.

Andrea’s name on the transfer list resulted in a flood of offers –no less than twenty clubs expressed interest in him by noon today, and it’s not surprising that the player wishes to leave. For us, it’s a choice of accepting the best offer and then letting the player agree terms.

The news isn’t quite so good concerning Anaclerio, who doesn’t mind seeking a new club.

Unfortunately for him, though, he broke his collarbone in training today after an awkward fall. That will cost him 6-8 weeks of lost time and will probably cost the club about €20,000 in his transfer value. Today’s training session didn’t seem to work out well for either the player or his club.

He is out of contract in the spring and is not a player I would tender anyway. Still, if another club offers money for a player it is obviously my preference to take it rather than lose him for nothing in the summer.

The board also put a smile on my face today, by authorizing one more transfer in the January window. However, the player we’re getting may not show up in the senior squad for a couple of years yet.

Robert Trznadel, a 17-year old attacking midfielder with bags of potential and huge amounts of pace, will join us in the spring. He will come to us from Gornik Zabrze for €5,000 and if he lives up to half his potential the fee will be a steal for us.

I saw video of him just before leaving for the States and read scout reports that absolutely raved about the young man.

I like his first name, naturally, but more importantly I can’t wait to get him in our colors. It’s a signing of the type I have really wanted to see since I came here – it will do nothing but help us grow.

We’re also trying to see what we can do to get Muzzi back with us for next season. So far, his answer is still ‘no’.

# # #

Paolo Favaretto has had a poke at me in the media today as well. I suppose that is a good thing – in order for someone to play a mind game with you they first have to recognize that you exist. That’s a step in the right direction.

He told the papers in Venice that he knows his side has the quality to beat us and he doesn’t know how well we’ll be able to handle the pressure of a prolonged promotion challenge. He stopped just short of guaranteeing a result.

So, the newsies dutifully ran off to Euganeo to get the Yankee’s reaction to things. When I was told of Paolo’s comments I just smiled.

“Nice try,” I said with a laugh. “We’re ready to play on Monday and I’m surely not going to be drawn into a slagging match with Paolo Favaretto. The teams have met once before in the Cup, we took their measure on their pitch, and we think we know how to play them. Other than that, I’m not going to say anything.”

The profound looks of disappointment I received in reply told me my hunch was correct. I don’t need a war of words before this match – we’re coming back from a long layoff and our concentration needs to be fully on the match.

That’s where mine will be and I’ll let our opponents do the big talking. I want to do my big talking on the pitch.

# # #
Saturday, January 5
The reaction to my non-reaction of yesterday was rather interesting.

Venice columnist Pasqualino Ruggiero called me everything but chicken for refusing to take Favaretto’s bait yesterday, but crossed over a line in doing so. He wrote:

“Padova manager Rob Ridgway did not respond to comments from Venezia manager Paolo Favaretto yesterday. It appears that in order for Ridgway to notice anything from our city, it must be female.”

That was a hit below the belt. I did a long, slow burn today at training and the thought of going back to that city after all I’ve been through appeals to me only in the sense that I’d love to get three points out of Pierluigi Penzo in 48 hours.

Any problems I might have had with focus are now completely gone. Patty is somewhere in the United States, Kate’s back in England and Venice now means a rival. And that’s all.

# # #

Sunday, January 6
The senior squad had today off to rest for tomorrow’s match and I did my pre-match work with television this afternoon since tomorrow’s clash is going nationwide.

As I did my interview, I kept one eye on the score from Salerno, where Sassuolo was playing Cavese.

I was asked a wide range of questions and enjoyed the interview experience. It’s nice to have people ask you about what you know instead of why you don’t know something they think is important.

And while I worked with the broadcasters, Sassuolo went top of the table, ahead of Venezia, thanks to a goalless draw.

The door is open for us – we trail Sassuolo by three points and Venezia by two. We have a chance to pass our rivals on their pitch – but if we lose, we’re down five points to them and would lose the all-important tiebreaker for the time being.

Our last match of the league schedule is at home to Venezia, so it is quite possible that the final round of the year may decide everything. The scene for that match will be set tomorrow.
# # #

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