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[FM08] American Calcio

Started on 23 June 2015 by tenthreeleader
Latest Reply on 8 August 2016 by tenthreeleader
Wednesday, August 22
Padova v Portosummaga, Serie C Cup

Another “good news, bad news” sort of day for my team. We won our second Serie C cup match on the spin but we lost another left-sided midfielder.

Varricchio was the man of the moment for us, scoring a brace as we won with some style against the part-timers from the northeast.

We should have put up a performance tonight and we did – thirteen attempts to eight even if they had more on target than us by a 5-4 margin. But again, Orlandoni was excellent in goal even if they didn’t have a truly good scoring opportunity, and Varricchio made the most of his opportunity to start.

Yet now I am worried about Gentile, who twisted an ankle tonight and will miss a fortnight. With Gentile gone that gave Vedin Music a chance to play and he has something to prove.

Before the match tonight, Vedin was told he is no longer in Bosnia’s international plans and he was pretty upset. It’s difficult to play for most national sides when your club team is in its country’s third division, and the fact that he’s third in my pecking order hasn’t helped him either.

Yet, I can help Vedin. He can help himself, too, by playing well now that he has this chance. He does not possess the skill set of Di Venanzio or Gentile, but he showed me great industry on the left flank tonight and I am very happy about that. In short, he worked his ass off and that’s the kind of play most managers will notice. He earned another look, and that is sure to buck up his ideas.

What pleased me was that we came out and took this match by the throat. Varricchio started us off just ninety seconds into the match, volleying gleefully past Sergio Marcon from fifteen yards in a snazzy little strike that got us off to a flying start.

Again, our crowd wasn’t big – just 2,765 showed up at Euganeo for the cup tie – but most of them were happy at the quality of our start. About 300 traveling fans made the trip from Portoguara for the match and we were determined to get them on the back foot right along with their players.

Thankfully, we did. Our midfield play was much better than Sunday night and it should have been, considering the comparative quality of our opposition. We were the better side tonight at home and frankly Venezia was a better team than we were on Sunday playing on their home pitch.

As solid as we were positionally, that unfortunately did not translate into offensive fluency. It may not for awhile yet, as we learn the tactic and most importantly its nuances. We are still not reaching the level of understanding I want us to reach, and a fair portion of that is understandable. The players, many of whom are new, have to learn each other, and I have to settle on as close to a regular eleven as I can. I prefer to get lots of people into matches to keep legs fresh, but at this level I can’t afford the size squad I’d need to play a purely rotational policy.

That is part of the challenge too, of course, and since we have to play three matches in the first eight days of our season including Sunday’s Serie C opening match against Lecco, it means if a player is competent, he’s going to get to play this week.

But Music really showed me something. He’s desperate to play, he has a good attitude and waited for his chance, and I need to reward that, now that he’s shown me his desire to play.

Half the battle in this game is finding players who want to wear the shirt. The game is full of players who feel they deserve to wear the shirt, but the ones who are going to run through walls for you are the players you need to keep. Vedin is happy to work hard and he has been patient to get his chance. Now, he’s got it.
# # #

Massimiliano was quite good as well. His second goal, right on the stroke of seventy minutes, flew past the despairing Marcon and really showed there wasn’t going to be a way back for Porto.

Finding the correct strike combination is going to be a test for me. Muzzi is the most talented player on the squad despite his 36 years of age so he needs to play, and the trick will be to find a pacier player for him to work with.

Roberto still has a decent turn of speed but at his age he’s not as fleet of foot as he used to be. In fact, I don’t know of too many players who get faster as they get older. Varricchio staked his claim today but Paponi is waiting for a chance and I’d love to get his talent into the eleven in some way. I loaned him for a reason.

Varricchio was in high spirits after the match, as you might expect, and I got to congratulate the squad on a professional job well done. I would have preferred a wider margin but then I would have preferred a greater dominance in scoring chances as well. First things first. We played reasonably well but we didn’t dominate, which we need to do against a club of lower caliber.

Padova 2-0 Portosummaga

# # #
I spoke with reporters from our local media outlets at great length after the match. Most of the interest, though, centered on Varricchio instead. And I guess that shouldn’t have been terribly surprising.

I have a fair amount of work to do to win over some people in town. Padova has just over 200,000 residents in its metropolitan area so it isn’t huge, but it is big enough where most people think the football club ought to be doing better than it is.

Those who agree with me are making themselves known, while those who don’t, aren’t. I received some criticism in the media for shifting away from 4-4-2 when I took over, and that’s fine. They can criticize all they want. But I know what I want from these players and I think I have a very good group that can give me what I’m looking for.

I told the reporters what I told the squad, namely that we had played well but there’s plenty of room for improvement.

“I thought if we got six points from six out of these cup matches I’d be thrilled,” I said. “Well, we did get six points from six, I am thrilled, and I think we’re in very good position to advance in this competition as a result. We’ve worked hard and I’m well pleased with our players.”

# # #
So we left Euganeo a happy bunch, with training scheduled for tomorrow morning before the sun turns things into a blast furnace.

The players headed off to celebrate and I decided to find a watering hole before heading home for the night. I don’t mind running into my players at a nightspot after a match provided the result has gone how we want – and provided my players aren’t getting into trouble.

People are starting to recognize me around town now, and when I walked into the foyer of my favorite spot along the piazza downtown, I got a nice round of applause from those who had attended the match. I would have liked for the number to be bigger, but I hope that will come with time and victories.

I was shown to a quiet little table in the back of the room and served what the owner already knows is my favorite dish – stuffed manicotti with a glass of shiraz.

I have to watch it with manicotti – I love it, but it’s rich and heavy. I still take very good care of myself and my personal training regimen is roughly the same as when I played even though I don’t have a fitness coach any more.

So too much manicotti isn’t good for me. But this stuff is exceptional and as I ate, I reflected on a night that had gone well in the long run. I watched the young people eating their late dinners and falling in love, smiling at how the naivete of youth overcomes practicalities in matters of the heart.

Italians know how to eat better than any people on the planet. That may well be the best thing about living in Padova. The diet will be darned good.

# # #

The hardest part of the night, surprisingly enough, was going home.

My apartment is in the center section of the city, about ten minutes’ walk from the stadium. That’s quite convenient, and I have a car I don’t use very much parked in an adjacent garage.

I prefer to walk to and from the training ground – it’s good for me physically and after a tough day it is also good aggression therapy. I returned to the darkened apartment at 11:30, and prepared for bed.

I have a nice place. I rent it for about €900 per month, which is a fair amount of money here, close to 1.8 million of the old lira. My contract is for €77,000 per year and I earned all the money I’ll ever need from playing, so price wasn’t much of an object. I could pick something nice and I did.

My main window overlooks the main town square and the view is quite pretty. Padua has a series of wonderful historic buildings and it’s quite a trip to be able to walk through history like you can in the center of this city.

But when I got home, most everything was darkened for the night. I turned on a light, and switched on my satellite television to watch a rerun of last weekend’s Bundesliga highlights. It was something to do.

# # #
Thursday, August 23
We have three days to prepare for our opening Serie C match, against Lecco at Euganeo. I like that better than two days, obviously, but I’m already having to be careful how we train due to the injuries we are already seeing.

I’ll have Crovari back for this match, and I’ll get my first actual match viewing of my captain in the holding midfielder position. Paz has done quite well deputizing for him, with Giuseppe Anaclerio also playing a role in the position. But having Crovari back is a real addition from a leadership standpoint as well as from a footballing one.

Obviously, he is pleased to be back as well. As captain, he wants to lead from the front and that’s certainly understandable. I have a motivated player here and we are both very interested in cultivating that motivation.

The mood of the squad is very good after our two Cup wins and Lecco isn’t fancied by the media to be much of a player in this year’s competition. So I am quietly hopeful of another strong performance on Sunday afternoon.

We’re rotating players back into the lineup. Muzzi, who didn’t play against Portosummaga, will go back into the front line next to Varricchio, who has earned a second start with his brace.

He may not be able to go, though – he picked up a knock late in the match and I am watching his fitness closely. I also used players like Mario Donadoni, who’s a second choice to Sacchetti and Faísca, in the back line but they will drop to the bench for the league contest.

People are getting to play. The exception to this seems to be De Cristofaris, who frankly has such a difficult time in recovering from match play I can’t consider playing him more than once a week. His fitness levels are frankly shocking for a player of his age and I’m already thinking he’s not much of a loan signing until he gets himself into shape. My hope is that Lazio has better players than this waiting in the wings.

But if not, I have to go find them myself. That is the part of management I’m already figuring will be the greatest challenge.

My scouting staff is small but my coaching staff is large – too large for the board, in fact, but for the purposes of player acquisition it is perfect. I need recommendations I can trust and that’s where these gentlemen come in. We all want to see Padova succeed and for these gentlemen, jobs depend on it. Mine does too – so that’s why we need to work together.
# # #

Today’s training session was focused fully on Lecco, as we have a week following Sunday’s match to rest before we are next in action.

I took it easy on the players today with the exception of a bit of sprint work to get lungs working and get the blood moving through stiff legs. The whole key to physical training in my mind is to make sure some gets done every day, even if you’ve just played.

When I played, I would make sure to run at least half a mile each day, even if I had played a full ninety minutes the day before. Unless I was injured, I was going to get my roadwork in, to keep my fitness at peak level.

I still am doing the roadwork, except now I’m doing it on a treadmill after the players go home for the day. Obviously, I have a few things to do now that I wasn’t doing when I was playing.

So today was relaxed and light. May it always be that way.

# # #
Friday, August 24
I made arrangements to travel tomorrow night for a little personal scouting, to take in the first Serie C match of the season.

I will be heading off to Lombardy tomorrow to see Cavese play at Pro Patria, and though I won’t enjoy the windshield time, the scouting is necessary. We’re playing Cavese fairly early in the schedule and I need to bone up on both teams.

But that wasn’t the biggest news of the day. I received quite an unusual visitor today and frankly the visit has me scratching my head.

I had just finished the day’s training when my office intercom buzzed and the club secretary said there was a lady waiting in the foyer to see me. I had just put a DVD into my office player to get a look at Lecco’s last friendly match.

“Club business?” I asked.

“No, she says it’s personal,” Christina Angelotti responded, and I frowned. That made no sense to me.

“All right, I’ll be there in a minute,” I responded, sighing heavily. I really had no idea.

I walked to the front and was greeted by a strikingly attractive red-haired woman. She approached, hand extended, and to my great surprise spoke without trace of an Italian accent.

“Rob, my name is Patty Myers,” she said, and I shook her hand. “I just came to see if I could get a few minutes of your time.”

“Very nice to meet you, Ms. Myers,” I said, looking down at her from about five inches difference in height, “but may I ask why?”

“Of course, but could we sit for a moment?” she asked. She didn’t look threatening, anyway, and it didn’t look like she was there to serve any legal papers or anything like that, so I agreed.

“Very well, if you wish,” I said. “We can use my office.”

She gave me a very nice smile and I couldn’t quite read what it meant. I looked at Christina, a vivacious lady in her mid-fifties, and she gave me a non-committal look in reply.

“Christina, if you’d be so kind as to hold my calls for a few minutes,” I said, and she nodded.

“Certainly, Rob,” she replied. We were speaking in Italian and I didn’t know if my guest was familiar with the language.

“Pardon the Italian,” I said to my guest in English. “Christina doesn’t speak English and I’m trying to get fluent as quickly as I can. I don’t allow anyone to speak English to me here when I’m working.”

“È problema”, she smiled, and I knew she had understood every word we had said.

“Fine,” I said, blushing a bit. “I didn’t mean to offend.”

“You didn’t,” she said, smiling at me. “Now, may I bother you for a few moments?”

# # #

I allowed her to precede me down the hallway to my modest office and I showed her into a place that was still reasonably neat but on its way to becoming rather untidy.

I sat behind my desk and motioned her to a chair opposite. “Very well, Ms. Myers, what can I do for you?” I asked.

“Well, it’s Miss, first of all, and I’d appreciate it very much if you’d simply forget all that and call me Patty,” she said.

“That’s fine, but what can I do for you?”

“You’re going to get a letter soon,” she said. “I’m here to warn you because it involves both of us.”

I frowned. “I’ve done nothing wrong, and I’ve only just met you,” I said. “And I don’t have time for games. Suppose you tell me exactly what this is about.”

She nodded. “I know you haven’t done anything wrong, but first, you need to know. I work for the State Department.”

My eyebrows shot up, seemingly trying to hide in my hair. I wondered if somehow my work visa had been compromised and that thought made a cold chill run down my spine.

“It’s nothing like that, I’m not a diplomat or a police officer,” she said. “Are you familiar with the biennale?”

“It’s an art festival, isn’t it?” I said.

“Well done,” she said with a smile. “Yes, it is. Anyhow, most people don’t know this, but when American artists come here, they are sponsored by the government. I am staying in Venice through November as a liaison.”

I had no idea my government did things like that.

“My tax dollars at work,” I smiled, and we shared a light moment as she giggled in reply. “All well and good, but what does that have to do with you coming to see me?”

“Well, my last posting was in London, and I was involved in a project in a nearby city with two people you know,” she said. Suddenly, my mood grew dark.

“Let me guess,” I said, and she nodded her head.

“You don’t need to,” she answered. “It was in Reading. He’ll be writing.”

I felt like I had been punched in the solar plexus. I took a deep breath and leaned back in my chair.

“All right, so tell me about this letter,” I said, and suddenly her pretty face lost some of its brightness.

“I had a romantic relationship with Peter,” she said, which hurt her to say as much as her prior sentence had hurt me to hear. “And I understand Kate had a relationship with you.”

I nodded because I didn’t feel like talking.

“Peter knows I’m here and he’s guessing I may have tried to reach you,” she said. “Well, he’s right. It’s just a sad situation but he doesn’t think much of me and he thinks that you came back to Europe to win back Kate.”

I sighed. “Did anyone tell him I missed England by about a thousand miles?” I asked irritably. “What a ridiculous thing to think. Anyway, why does that bring you to me and what difference does it make if you talk with me or not?”

“I thought you should know,” she said simply. “This letter would have hit you from out of the blue and I didn’t want that to happen to you.”

Now my expression grew a bit softer, which seemed to help Patty a bit. “And why didn’t you want that to happen to me?” I asked.

“Because we’ll soon have something in common,” she said. “After you get that letter we’ll both be equally angry with the same person.”

# # #

Patty and I wound up talking for about half an hour before she returned to Venice. She seemed like a very nice lady and I was left once again to remark on the unfairness of life as we talked.

I finally thanked her for coming to see me and for the warning, and she drove back to Venice to resume her work.

But tonight, I’m having a difficult time concentrating. I don’t like what might be coming, and I don’t like the thought of someone taking a cheap shot at me who has already cost me so much by finding his own happiness.

To this point, I have never begrudged Peter McGuire anything. He got what I wanted and I have had to deal with that for the last four painful years of my life.

And now, he evidently does not seem to have had enough. If what Patty Myers has told me is true, I can expect a letter that is probably going to put me into a very bad mood over the next few days.

I can’t afford this – I can’t afford the distraction when I am trying to guide my new team to that all-important strong start it needs. So I have to be strong and put it out of my mind for the benefit of my club. That will not be easy.

Being home alone is no fun. Being home alone and angry is even less fun. To say I’m unhappy about this would be an understatement.
# # #
I read the first few updates of your story and the writing was really nice and fluent. I have to admit I haven't read any further but I'm going to try and catch up because I really enjoyed it. Seeing an FM08 story on here is really cool, as well, that's four years before I even found FM haha. Keep up the good work!
Thanks very much, Walter! I appreciate the kind words!

Saturday, August 25
It was a long trip to Busto Arsizio, over 150 miles due west and it took over two hours each way. And it was darned hot so it was a very long day. So you really have to want to scout to go and see the match I saw today.

The town itself is less than half Padova’s size at just over 80,000 population – but when you’re only 25 miles from the giants of Milan, chances are your supporter base may be a bit small.

Pro Patria is an interesting club. For a start, I find its name, which means “For the Fatherland” in Latin, to be immensely appealing. You don’t find an American club named “For God and Country”, for example, which is a bit of a pity.

That said, Pro Patria may have a lovely name but at least for now, they don’t have a very good football club.

They did score, but wound up with a 1-1 draw against a Cavese side that looked a lot better than Pro Patria from the goal outward and to my way of thinking deserved the three points. I think if we play 4-1-3-2 like we can play it against either of those clubs, we would do just fine.

After the match I made the long drive home and watched DVDs of Serie C friendlies until the wee hours. It isn’t much of a life, but to become good in this business, you need to do the less exciting things as a matter of course.

I am used to more sleep than I have been getting, though, since I naturally did not scout matches personally as an active player. That will take some getting used to.

I have to learn to pace myself even as I scout opposing teams, master Italian and try to manage my football club at the same time. I have been getting about five hours sleep a night and that is going to catch up to me sooner or later.

But today was also a day to think about the events of yesterday on the long drive. It served to pass the time and also to get my mind worrying, which isn’t something I either care for or had planned.

I admired Patty for her forthrightness and also for her desire to seek me out. But I really wondered why she would bother. She was obviously quite upset and I didn’t blame her for that, but a 40-mile trip out of her way seemed a bit much to call my attention to something I would receive in any event.

I couldn’t let those thoughts preoccupy me as I watched the match, however. My players expect that I will censure them if I catch them not paying attention to a match we’re playing and I owed them the same level of concentration in return when I am watching a match on their behalf.

# # #
Yet on the road home, I was under no such restriction and I thought openly about what was coming, along with revisiting my team sheet for tomorrow for the umpteenth time.

I’m not as nervous as I was at this time last week but at the same time, a home win tomorrow will mean quite a bit.

I’ve made a change up front - Paponi will make his home debut alongside Muzzi at the top of the 4-1-3-2 since Varricchio won’t be at full fitness. I’ve called up Antonio DiNardo from the reserves, after he lost out in the striker derby in the friendlies, to provide bench support because I already have tired players.

Dropping Antonio to the reserves was a bit of a difficult move in the first place because, like the injured Di Venanzio, Antonio was my teammate last season at Frosinone. He came here on a free transfer and he’s here because Serie B didn’t exactly agree with him.

Last season he scored six goals in twenty-five matches and was deemed surplus to requirements. In fact, keeper Andrea Cano is another Frosinone old boy, but he left there before I arrived. Now both players are regulars on my bench.

I know full well what Antonio can do – I trained against him almost every day for two years. So far he hasn’t said much but he clearly wants to play. That is good.

Again, the overall fitness of this club is not good and that must change. I want players who can give me two matches in a week if necessary and there are too many on my existing roster who don’t fit that bill. That is not acceptable.

Stefano Mazzocco will get the nod at the let side of midfield because Music isn’t ready to play two matches in a row. So I already have injury and fatigue trouble and it already hurts. That isn’t fun but in a fatalistic sort of way, it also isn’t terribly surprising.
# # #

I suppose that is the Scandinavian part of me. As a part Swede, I can’t stand prosperity.

“Sooner or later, we’ll pay for this,” is the general reaction from the populace whenever something goes well in my homeland, and that’s the feeling I have at the moment with so many players not able to turn out.

I do attribute a portion of this to fitness though all our injuries so far have been match related. You don’t bounce back as quickly if you aren’t in shape and right now, we’re not in shape.

I know we’ve got work to do there. But I am trying very hard to avoid being distracted by my conversation with Patty Myers and so far, I’m failing.

I missed an evening of what is becoming a favorite activity of mine already – catching the English-language movies at the Multiastra on Via Tiziano Aspetti. There, anyone from the States or England can go to pretend they’re home for a few hours if a touch of home is what they need.

That’s a way for me to get a touch of home without being ostentatious about it. I’m not homesick by any stretch – I’ve spent most of the last sixteen years living in Europe and have no qualms about it – but it’s nice to simply watch a movie every now and again without having to constantly translate everything I hear in my head at the same time.

But at the moment, I’m thinking about other things. My mind is frankly a mess as we prepare to face Lecco tomorrow. In terms of personal timing, Patty Myers’ visit to me was right on the money. In terms of professional timing, it came at the worst possible time.
# # #
Sunday, August 26
Padova v Lecco – Serie C1A

I let my players do the thinking today.

Before a decent crowd of 3,835 at Euganeo, the strikers played well – but one of them was not Muzzi.

I’m down two more players with injuries. First, Roberto left with a dead leg 26 minutes into the match. DiNardo replaced him in the lineup and immediately put out a strong strike partnership with Paponi, which opened my eyes quite a bit.

And we were solid in terms of our fluency as well, with Paponi scooping over from ten yards just before the break for our best scoring chance. I felt good about our chances at the intermission and told the players that.

“This play will get the points,” I promised them. “I like how you are moving the ball and I like how you’re starting to get the idea of how to move off the ball in this formation. You’re giving options to each other and that’s how it is supposed to work. Keep working hard and make it happen for yourselves.”

With that, they did. DiNardo started it four minutes after the restart, heading home powerfully from Baú’s cross from the byline on the right, leaving keeper Nicolas Caglioni no chance. Di Nardo’s reaction was what you might have expected from a player called up from the reserves as injury cover. He wants to stay and was delighted to have taken his chance.

The goal opened up Lecco a bit. They had been hard to break down in the first half but now trailing, they shifted to a more aggressive stance. And then we hit them on the counter, with Paponi doing the business ten minutes after DiNardo’s goal. The two goals today were first goals for the club for both players and the crowd was well pleased with our new-found potency in front of goal.

But then, in the midst of prosperity, my Scandinavian tendency toward inviting disaster struck as Stefano Mazzocco went down with a leg strain, as well, limping badly as he reached the touchline in front of our bench. That’s now three left-sided midfielders and my top striker who are out injured and it meant I turned to Music, who I had planned on resting today. I had to use Vedin for much more of the match than I wanted to use him.

With no match for a week, though, this wasn’t as big a problem as it otherwise might have been, but now I must trust my physios for timing on when players will return. Failing that, I’ll have to hit the loan wire late in the transfer window and that is rarely a good thing.

Padova 2-0 Lecco

# # #
The reaction of the crowd was appreciative, and I hope that means we’ll see a few more of them. More and more clubs are starting “fan days” now, which are days specifically tailored by the club to attract more fans. That can include reduced admission prices or free admission for kids, for example.

Euganeo has plenty of open seats, though, and I am thinking we could use a fan day or two to get people into the stands. It’s quite a pretty facility, and I would much prefer to see it even half full. Or even a quarter full. Four thousand people in a stadium built for 29,000 is not good.

But then, given the club’s recent history, I wouldn’t expect people to be busting down the doors to see us play. We have to earn them back and I understand that.

So we have work to do. Matches like today’s are part of getting that work done. It’s all about winning football matches and that is how it ought to be. There are other aspects of the Italian demeanor in this game that cause more difficulty.

Such as blaming officials for absolutely everything that goes wrong. Italian football’s history is replete with controversy and scandal, and it was most recently manifested in the match-fixing saga that most heavily penalized Juventus. Other clubs were also involved but no one was punished as harshly as the “Old Lady”.

I say that to say this: for some people here, it’s perfectly natural to assume that when you lose, it was because someone else bought off a decision-maker like a referee or a league executive. In the States, that sort of talk is less prevalent (though not unheard of), but here it’s nearly second nature.

It’s a built-in excuse for those who lose often, but it’s also tiring for those who win to explain that they’re on the up-and-up. Especially when Juventus wasn’t.

But you don’t to give money to an official, or try to rig the referee selection as Juventus did, to create controversy.

There are stories about whether or not the chairman of AS Roma reportedly bought all the top-flight referees new Rolex watches a few years ago, and additional stories regarding whether the officials gave them back. This is an especially popular story to fans of Roma’s archrivals, our parent club SS Lazio. I stay away from stories like that.

Point being, I’m staying as far as I possibly can away from the kinds of things which will destroy reputations. Even my meeting with Patty Myers happened with an open door and a full understanding with my staff of where I was and whom I was with.

I will never close my door when I am meeting with someone in my office. I don’t care who it is. It can be my chairman, Marcello Sestaro. It can be a board member. And it positively will remain open when I am meeting a member of the opposite sex. I will not have it said that I was engaged in a secret meeting and that is that.

It’s a bit of a roundabout way to say what has to be said here, that I am trying to be as transparent as I possibly can, so I can feel as little guilt as possible. Perhaps that’s the Scandinavian in me.

# # #
Monday, August 27
All I have to say is that Patty Myers was right on the nose.

I got a most unflattering letter today and when I reported to the training pitch this morning I was in something less than my best mood. In fact, I was ready to spit nails.

The registered letter I got today was what started all the unpleasantness of today. Miss Myers hit the bull’s eye – Peter McGuire’s letter must have been very hard for him to write while looking so far down his nose.

I saw no real reason for him to write it. He’s got what he wants – Kate – and I don’t. There’s no need to rub it in. But evidently he thinks there is. So he wrote:

Mr. Ridgway:

I am writing to make you aware of developments that have occurred since my marriage to my wife Kate. In writing, I need to be blunt so I will not need to write again.

Stay away from Kate. I have it on good authority that you hope to resume your former place and I will not tolerate it. I will take any steps I deem appropriate should you approach or attempt to contact her by any means.

You will further have likely heard from a former acquaintance of mine, Patty Myers. No doubt she will have tried to tempt you into a foolhardy state of mind regarding the state of my marriage.

My wife has had a difficult stretch, made more difficult by your abandonment of her to pursue your football career. We are quite happy, with two children, and I have spent five years undoing the damage you did. She is only now returning to what she was before she had the misfortune of meeting you.

Stay away. That is my final word.

Peter McGuire

# # #

There’s a certain amount of righteous indignation that necessarily follows from someone taking a cheap shot at you in writing. When they are repeated, the indignation grows. So it was easy for me to snap off a much shorter reply, also by registered mail, which went out this afternoon.

# # #

Mr. McGuire:

I am in receipt of your letter of August 23.

I consider your words to be a threat to my person, and your assertions both beyond the pale and unworthy of my reply.

I wish Kate nothing but the best. And as the father of Kate’s children, I suppose the same should apply to you, if I could be arsed to say it. But I can’t.

You are a little man, Peter McGuire. And we both know it.

Rob Ridgway

# # #
With that, I filed away McGuire’s missive and went out to run my training session. I took a regular turn with the defenders so I could work with my players while working off some significant frustration.

During training, my assistant, Filippo Masolini, noticed my mood right away. He’d have to have been blind not to.

Filippo has been through the wars. Like me, he retired last year, and like me, he was a defender. But unlike me, he had Serie A experience. He played seven matches for Cessena in 1988-89 and, again like me, his top-flight experience had come quite early in his career.

My top-flight experience came with Rangers. Falkirk was promoted to the Scottish Premier League after I left Ibrox, and Reading made the Premier League after I left as well. Of course, Chicago is in a top-flight league too, but since MLS does not offer promotion and relegation, it’s a whole different game there.

Filippo is sort of like baseball player Crash Davis in the movie “Bull Durham”. He’s the guy who made it to ‘The Show’ but only for enough time to realize he was there before he went back to the lower leagues, never to return.

Yet, he’s been to Serie A – top-flight experience in the country from which virtually all my players hail and which styles itself as the best in the world. We have a “good cop bad cop” relationship beginning with the players, with Filippo very much the “good” side of the equation.

For now, what I care most about is that my players know who is in charge when I have to be the heavy. I think I can help these players get where they want to go and if Filippo wants to play the hero with them he has my full blessing. The best relationships are like that – the boss is the boss and the assistant deals with the players, with the captain excepted.

Crovari has all the access to me he wants, as the players’ representative. It has to be that way. I accept a certain amount of directness from Federico since I allowed him to give it to me by naming him captain. I want open and honest communication with him at all times. Sometimes it won’t be pleasant but it has to happen as part of running a professional club.

We’re in a good mood today, having won yesterday, and the drill work was light while legs recovered. We had lunch and then spent the heat of the afternoon in our air-conditioned meeting room watching video of Sassuolo, our opponents this coming Sunday.

I am optimistic. I think we are on to something good – on the pitch.

# # #
Tuesday, August 28
McGuire ripped me wide open today with another mailing, and to say I’m outraged is kind.

Today’s letter contained family pictures and a hand-written note scrawled on company stationery: “Stay away!” I am ready to go to the authorities. It’s simple harassment and I won’t tolerate that.

Seeing pictures of Kate for the first time in five years was interesting in a sad way – she’s still gorgeous and obviously motherhood agrees with her as I knew it would when I asked her to marry me. Yet seeing her holding a child that wasn’t mine cut me all the way to my bones.

“I could just scream,” I said aloud, as I opened the mail that came from a disguised address. That by itself was enough for me to go to the authorities and as an American citizen, I had special recourse open to me. I picked up my office phone, and after a moment’s hesitation, placed a call.

The operator on the other end of the line answered my call. “United States Department of State, Venice office,” she said.

“Patty Myers, please,” I said, closing my door.

# # #

After a moment, she picked up. I took a deep breath.

“Patty, this is Rob Ridgway in Padua,” I said.

“Rob! How nice to hear from you!” she replied, with a joy I had a hard time understanding. “I hope you weren’t too upset by that letter. Was it bad?”

I felt upset and frankly, a little set up. “Of course it was bad,” I said. “It was crude, insulting, unbecoming a gentleman, an outright lie – shall I go on?”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I was hoping if you called for me you’d be in a better mood.”

“Can’t help it,” I said. “It was just a vile letter. Right out of the gutter.”

“Sometimes that’s how Peter is,” she said. “I wish it had been different. May I ask what you did?”

“I wrote him back, telling him to leave me alone,” I said. “And today I got a second mailing – family pictures, sent from a fictitious address, with a note telling me to stay away.”

“That’s brutal,” she answered with surprising candor. “Even for him, that’s brutal.”

“You sound like you’ve had experience with his moods,” I said, and I could almost hear her face falling in reply.

“Yes, I have,” she said. “I have to ask … did he say anything about me?”

“He wasn’t kind,” I admitted, and I’m sure her face fell still further. “So I’ll tell you what. I have a bit of an odd request.”

“Not too odd, I hope,” she said, in a desperate attempt to introduce levity to the situation. It wasn’t a good idea.

“You’re very important to the process,” I said. “I want to register a formal complaint. I need someone to take my statement and I would like that person to be you, if that’s all right.”

“I don’t see where that would be a problem,” she said, “but you’re right, it’s unusual.”

“That isn’t the unusual part,” I said. “I’d like to give you my statement in Venice. I have some questions I want to ask you and I don’t want to be on the phone when I ask them.”

There was a pause on the other end of the line, and then she spoke. “All right,” she said. “As for your complaint, I have a suggestion.”

“Fair enough,” I answered, and then it was her turn to surprise me.

“How about I take it now so we can enjoy a nice dinner without having to worry about business? I think I owe you at least that much and frankly I wouldn’t mind some intelligent conversation.”

I thought it through, and realized I might indeed survive the experience.

“That sounds like a deal,” I said. “How about Thursday night?”

“Perfect,” she answered. “I know a nice place near here that I think you might enjoy. Now, tell me your story.”

# # #
Wednesday, August 29
Today hurt like hell. I really can’t describe it in any other way.

The day didn’t start out as badly as it finished. It was much better, in fact, and we are training well for a trip to face a good Sassuolo side. This trip will be a bit of a jaunt by comparison to those we’ve taken so far, and the road experience will do us good.

I do have a nice problem to worry about up front, though. Muzzi will not return to training until tomorrow after his dead leg in last Sunday’s match and as a result he won’t be fully fit for Sunday. Varricchio will be able to play and is in form, but DiNardo and Paponi both found the back of the net against Lecco.

So I have four players who can do the job and my choice is now to choose between them. They are training well and when I am on the pitch with them I am already learning that I can forget my troubles and simply enjoy the game – which is what I did the last time Kate broke my heart.

Yet, there is other news. While I am preparing to travel to Venice tomorrow night to meet Patty Myers for the evening, I received another letter today and it wasn’t from McGuire. It was from Kate, and after I got home tonight I had a hard time.

I’m starting to dread the trip to my office to open my mail. I honestly don’t know why McGuire has been such a hurtful little toad to me – I have had no intention of approaching Kate and frankly doing so would have hurt far more than it would have helped. Someone said something to him and I have to know who it was.

But then I got back to my office and found another letter, addressed to me, from Kate’s firm. However, underneath the return address I saw “K. Southerland” written in her own quite distinct handwriting. The fact that it was her maiden name gave me pause and stopped me from throwing the letter straight into the wastebasket.

I sat at my desk, with the letter in the middle of it on my blotter, and I stared at it for twenty solid minutes, as if I could open the envelope by telekinesis. If I could do something like that, though, I’d never have retired as a football player, that much is for certain!

“K. Southerland,” I mused, staring hard at the writing before making my decision.

“Oh, what the hell,” I said, picking up the envelope and slicing it open. “This better be good.” What I read, to my great surprise, actually was.

# # #

My dear Rob:

Please, first and all, forgive me for causing what I know will be a painful moment for you, assuming you even read these words.

Yet I must write, to apologize for Peter’s conduct. He had been told by a former girlfriend that you were living and working in Italy and had drawn all the wrong conclusions about why you were there.

He has been quite impossible and I told him that knowing you, it would not be necessary to write. Unfortunately, that did not help. He has the wrong idea about you and you must believe I am working as hard as I dare to correct those ideas.

When we parted, I took it as hard as you did. One of the things Peter did to win me over was to convince me that you had deserted me to go to America. I know now that this wasn’t true. You wanted to go home and you wanted me to go with you, as your wife. I don’t blame you for this.

You know I couldn’t go with you, but please understand that I don’t blame you for anything that happened between us. It just didn’t work, and sometimes things just aren’t meant to happen no matter how much you want them to.

Here is the most important thing, Rob. I will always love you. My fondest wish for you is that you find life’s best. I know you can’t write back to me so I must ask that this be the last word between us. You deserve better than he has given you and I wanted it to come from me. Be happy.

As ever, yours.

# # #

Carefully, I folded the letter and put it in my safe. A tear rolled down my cheek as I closed the door, and I took a deep breath before I got up to go home.

“Be happy,” I sighed. “How can she say something like that?”

As I got up I saw Christina standing in my doorway, with a look of concern on her face.

“Rob, are you all right?” she asked me, with just a touch of maternal concern.

“I will be,” I said. “Maybe not right away, but I will be.”

She nodded. “I gather some unpleasant times are being recalled,” she said, using a curious choice of words.

“The worst I ever had,” I admitted. “It hasn’t been a good week.”

“This too shall pass,” she advised. “But if you don’t mind my saying so, I think Signorina Myers is hoping for a bit more of your time.”

This was the first time Christina has shown anything like an interest in my personal well being and this wasn’t lost on me. I decided to reward her concern with a frank answer.

“I thought that too,” I admitted. “But I need to speak with Signorina Myers about a few things before I consider anything like that. You should know I will be in Venezia tomorrow evening and I am leaving directly from the afternoon training. If anyone needs to reach me I will have my BlackBerry with me.”

“Very well,” she said. “I’ll do my best to make sure you and Signorina Myers are not disturbed.”

I laughed out loud. “Christina, how on earth did you know that?” I asked.

She smiled and preceded me out the door, the day’s work completed. “There are some things a woman just knows,” she replied, and I had to admit she was right.

# # #
A whole lot of detail going into these updates and a very interesting idea to go back to FM08!
I love detail. I think it makes the work more realistic. Thank you for the comment!

Thursday, August 30

I am getting too damned old for this.

Last night I did several things I have warned my players not to do as professionals and several things I fastidiously avoided doing when I played.

Kate’s letter, as beautiful and loving as it was, threw me into a tailspin and I was glad to be at home when I bottomed out.

As a result, I was in a rather delicate condition when I reported to run training this morning, a condition I dared not show. It was going to be a big day for me and I knew I needed to be in better shape by noon than I was when I fell out of bed this morning.

So I dragged myself out of bed early, reported to the training compound early, on foot, and worked out. I live ten minutes from Euganeo downtown and I elected to run to training as part of working last night out of my system.

I am not proud to admit it but last night I drank pretty heavily. I am not a big drinker as a rule and that is for obvious reasons. Alcohol has ruined the careers and lives of many a footballer and even legends like George Best had their careers cut short by the bottle.

That’s the worst part about being alone, frankly. There’s nobody to talk to and I was seven time zones away from anyone I trusted enough to help me. So I gave in, and I’m not proud of that in the slightest.

But by the time I arrived at Euganeo I was ready to work and an hour in the weight room and on the treadmill allowed me to sweat out the worst of it – with the exception, of course, of a hammering headache – before reporting to the training pitch.

We had a sharp (except for me), quick (again, except for me) morning (over my objection) training session followed by agility work after lunch.

Also, the striker situation sorted itself out today. DiNardo will be dropped after two straight poor training sessions. It will be Paponi and Varricchio up front with Muzzi making the bench for a substitution if needed.

DiNardo wasn’t happy – no player likes to train poorly after scoring, since it can cost him an extended run in the team – and his frustration was directed as much at himself as it was at me for not selecting him.

The senior squad players generally know who will be in the squad at least a day before a match unless we have midweek play, but they do know if they screw up in training it can easily cost them their places.

I won’t tell anyone who my starting eleven will be due to the culture of gambling in the country. It’s just not worth the risk and the mudslinging that inevitably will take place when I make my first wrong move as a manager. That first misstep is also inevitable.

So my objective is not to make trouble for myself, but a repetition of last night’s events will surely do that. I think I got it out of my system last night, though, and really I have no choice but to move on. I moved on five years ago and I will have to do it all over again now. It wasn’t easy then, but I know I can do it again.

I’m concerned, for the short term, much more about Sassuolo than I am about Kate. It has to be that way. Peter McGuire can’t really hurt me, but Sassuolo’s striker Roberto Colussi sure can, and he can have lot more impact in a much shorter frame of time.

If that sounds trite, I apologize. But it’s true. Kate floored me when I wasn’t looking yesterday and the question is no longer what I do about it – which is good, considering my answer was wrong. The question is now how do I prosper and get, as Kate called it, “the best in life” for myself.

But that will need to wait long past Sunday and it will take a long time to realize, if I get there at all.

# # #

Following the afternoon session I climbed into my car and roared off to Venice, my mind filled with questions.

Obviously, Patty was the person Kate referred to in her letter. But why did Patty come to me with the information she had? Why would she care? Was it to protect her own reputation? Why did Kate feel it necessary to defend me to McGuire, if he had convinced her that I was a deserter?

And perhaps the most important questions were addressed to myself: did I really want to get involved in all this? Shouldn’t I simply concentrate on managing my football club and doing my job? Could the timing for all this have been any worse?

As I drove, I realized my answers to my own three questions were “No”, “Yes, you idiot”, and “Probably not”, in that order.

More than once I thought about turning back, but as I drove eastward one additional thought became increasingly clear to me.

I needed to hear Patty out. She had filed my complaint regarding McGuire with the authorities. And, she obviously had a good reason for coming to see me.

I drove into the city as we had traveled on the coach last week, and wound up at the Westin Hotel Europa. It’s just a few blocks away from the famous Piazza San Marco and less than two miles from Venezia’s home pitch.

I was further hoping for a quiet dinner, since me being sighted in Venice would not be a positive thing in the eyes of many of our supporters. There are places players and managers don’t go, and even though Venezia isn’t an archrival, it’s not the best place for me to be seen.

Still, I did feel I was there on business to a point and so I wasn’t terribly worried even if I should be seen. I pulled into the hotel lot and looked at my watch. I was two minutes early for our 6:00 meeting time and I would probably be fashionably late for my engagement.

That said, I detest being late. So I hurried to the hotel restaurant, gave Patty’s name to the maitre d’ and hoped for the best.

He nodded and showed me to a quiet corner table where she waited for me, anxiety on her pretty face.

“Hi, Patty, I’m sorry I’m late,” I said, and she actually rose to greet me.

“Rob, I’m just glad you decided to show up,” she said, her relief now beginning to show.

“It was certainly the least I could do,” I said, making sure she was comfortably seated before I sat across from her at the table. “Thanks for all you’ve done to help me.”

“It’s no problem,” she said. “I got the information to the chief of station and it’s taken care of. You should hear from them tomorrow, in fact.”

“I’m happy to hear that,” I said. “But as you might guess, I have some questions.”

“I have answers,” she said simply. “And depending on how you like those answers, I may have a few questions of my own.”

“You speak well in riddles,” I smiled, and she gave a wry smile in return.

“I’m only a liaison, but there are times working for State has its advantages,” she said, as the waiter came to the table with a wine list.

I smiled at her and she ordered a wonderful little wine. I had no doubt it would be good and a few moments later when the waiter returned with the bottle, I affirmed my judgment even as I blanched a bit at the sight of more alcohol. Just about anything would have been an improvement on the whiskey I drank last night.

“I’m sorry, Patty, I’m not at my best tonight,” I said. “Last night was pretty difficult.”

“What happened?” she asked.

“I got a letter,” I answered. “I think you should see it.” With that, I produced Kate’s letter from my pocket and handed it to Patty to read. I wanted her to see it – and I needed answers.

She read the note and finally, looked up at me. “She loves you,” Patty said, and I nodded.

“Like wings on a bicycle – nice, but useless,” I said. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life to get over her. Now I have to do it all over again. Why?”

“I know the answer to your question, Rob,” she said. “It’s the deeper reason why I came to see you the other day, and now it’s time to talk about it.”

# # #
I had planned to spend the dinner hour in Venice but I ended up staying five hours.

We ate dinner and wound up taking a long walk along the Piazza San Marco at sundown, when I wouldn’t be recognized. The heat of the day made the cool of the evening quite a nice change indeed.

And over the course of the evening, she told me what she knew. It certainly helped.

“He’s not a nice man,” she said of McGuire, and I could certainly agree with that. “I was working in London a month ago and I went to see him on business. He told me some things I really didn’t want to hear.”

“I can imagine,” I said. “I think I heard some things I really didn’t want to hear as well.”

“Well, try this on for size. I didn’t know he was married to Kate when I was with him,” she said, and I nearly walked into a street lamp.

“When I found out, I was humiliated but he said he’d wreck my career if I told anyone,” she continued. “It was blackmail. He wants me quiet because he thinks if you find out, you’ll tell Kate and take her back.”

“Bright boy, our Mr. McGuire,” I said angrily. “And you’re here to get away from him?”

“Partly,” she said. “But I need to ask some questions now, if you don’t mind.”

I nodded. Most of mine had been answered and I was convinced of her forthrightness in fairly short order.

“Do you really want Kate back?” she asked. “When I saw him, it was like he was foaming at the mouth over you. He’s really frightened of you, I think.”

Wondering why she would care and why it was really any business of hers, I took a deep breath but responded anyway.

“I put that idea out of my mind years ago,” I said. “It still hurts like hell but no, I don’t want her back. They are making a life even though it appears to be based on more than one lie.”

“I want to get away from him,” she said. “All he could talk about was this playboy football player who was in Italy and how he wanted to teach you some humility.”

She sensed my growing anger.

“I couldn’t believe one person could be as beastly as he was making you out to be,” she added. “And since he had hurt me so badly, I knew he was lying. So I wanted to meet you. It seems odd, doesn’t it?”

Her expression finally revealed her inner sadness, so I tried to lift her up with my answer.

“He played you and he deserves whatever is coming to him for that. I should write Kate back but at this point I don’t know if it would do any good.”

“Maybe it would,” she suggested, and I asked her to explain.

“She still loves you,” Patty reminded me. “There has to be a reason for that.”

She looked down at the ground as we walked. “I made so many bad choices, Rob, and now here I am trying to put my life back together. I have my job, I still have my career and if he tries to ruin me, I’ll fight him.”

“Good,” I answered, suddenly with more protectiveness than I had any right to feel.

“Kind of you to say,” she said, and we continued our walk.

# # #
Friday, August 31
I forced myself away from the roller coaster that is my personal life for today’s training session, though when I had spare time my thoughts went back to last night’s meeting in Venice.

I think Patty was also trying to tell me she likes me, but I could certainly understand her reluctance to “pull the trigger” given her history. I know I can understand my own reluctance given mine.

I had to put those thoughts firmly on the back burner today as we went through a hard training session under cloudy skies before Sunday’s trip.

I am pleased with how the squad is starting to catch on to the tactics, and we did some additional 4-4-2 variant work as a result once today’s tactical training was properly done.

Obviously, the players need to know how I want them to play other formations too. Installing a whole new formation with all of its component set pieces is a big thing, but we aren’t going to stay in 4-1-3-2 for the entire season.

We’ll be doing different things, playing different widths, using five-man midfields, playing with three forwards, and all kinds of necessary things.

Most of these things are second nature to professionals. Others can be surprisingly difficult to teach.

Those adjustments take time and we need good tactical instruction to make them happen. Once they do happen, though, we’ll take off and fly right. I am looking forward to that.

# # #
Heading into Sunday’s match, the only serious injury woes we have are to our left-sided midfielders, which means Music gets the call again by default.

Vedin is quite disappointed that his international career seems to be over. At age 33, he knows he isn’t going to get too many more chances to play, so when he features for me he is determined to make his name so he can get in with a shout of making the national team again.

I’ll have a motivated player for the short term, no doubt about it. He has worked very hard the last couple of matches and a prolonged run of good form might just get him where he wants to go.

So today his training was excellent. He provides us a veteran presence and even though he is older than I might like, every team needs an “evergreen” player who can perform to expectations. That person can also lift others, with Manchester United’s ageless Ryan Giggs being the example there.

Vedin has earned his place, and I am very anxious to see what he does while our other competing players are out. The spot is his if he wants it, and he knows that. But he has to show me he wants it, and that is where he knows he must work.

So today’s training was fierce and competitive. We have competition for spots now due to the team’s early success and my full intention is to make these players get in top condition and work for everything they get.

I am not here to be their buddy. I’m here to be their manager and help them realize some goals. That won’t come without work, because in my experience the work hasn’t been done around here for some years in the manner it needs to be for success to become a habit.

I made the point at the end of drills today. The players had had a good workout and were looking for the last whistle to hit the showers. But then they started to coast and the quality of the drills slipped dramatically.

I noticed it and blew the whistle, but not in the way they thought.

“Gather around,” I said, pointing to a circle around me. They stood and I spoke, all in Italian.

“For 70 minutes I’ve seen a good training session,” I said. “For the last fifteen minutes I’ve seen lack of concentration, complacency and a desire to get done early. Well, we aren’t going to get done early today, gentlemen. We’re going to do a little running and I’m going to be at your head. I want to make this crystal clear: you train like you play, for ninety minutes from start to finish. And when we don’t do this, it’s due to a fault of mine so I will lead from the front. We’re doing intervals. Line up.”

For me, intervals involve running to the edge of the keeper’s six-yard box and back; to the top of the penalty area and back; to midfield and back; and finishing with a sprint the length of the pitch and back.

The 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team called intervals “Herbies” after coach Herb Brooks and they knew if they didn’t perform in a game their next practice would feature a lot of them. And a hockey rink is a lot shorter than a football pitch.

After two sets of intervals, I saw pace and desire again so I ended the workout. They wanted to quit running so they worked right up to the winning post.

“That’s what I want,” I said. “Hit the showers. I’m glad you finished on a winning note. More often than not, if you work like that to the end, you will finish games the same way.”

# # #
Saturday, September 1
Today the senior squad tapered training for tomorrow’s trip. I like the alliteration, and I do like how we are prepared. I won’t guarantee a road result, but I am pretty sure we’ll compete.

The day was short as a result and I spent the rest of my afternoon watching Serie A on television. That was fun – I have spent a fair amount of time of late watching football that is, shall I say, less technical than the top flight.

I spent a fair part of my day musing about Kate and her idiot husband. I thought about poor Patty and how the creep who took my Kate away had so cruelly used her as well.

And the more I thought about it, the more I respected Patty’s effort to try to find me. In the end, I thought, she was simply looking for a friend and I certainly respect that. I also need that, so I was quite grateful for her initiative.

I called her this evening and rather belatedly thanked her for her kindness in seeking me out.

“It’s no problem,” she said. “I also understand how badly you were hurt. I didn’t expect you to go out of your way for me like you’ve done.”

I felt a sense of selfishness and shame as she spoke. “But I haven’t,” I admitted. “Patty, I am sorry about that. It sounds to me like you need a friend and I’m happy to be that person if you like.”

“Well, I have friends,” she said, and I figured I had paid the figurative price for all my questions and reluctance.

But then she surprised me. “What I need is someone I can confide in,” she said. “Do you want to be that person?”

I replied before I thought, but I liked my answer when it was done. “I do,” I said. “You’ve certainly earned that and I want to help.”

“Now that gives me something to hold onto,” she said. “I’m just as sad as you are, Rob. I just haven’t had the chance to tell you my whole story yet.”

“Now I feel selfish,” I said. “Patty, I am so sorry. All I’ve talked about is me and that isn’t fair.”

“You can make it up to me,” she said. “How about I come to Padua next week and you can take me to dinner after your next home match?”

“Now that I would like,” I said. “We don’t play at home until a week from tonight.”

“I have plenty to do in Venice this week with the Biennale,” she said. “I would rather be exploring our friendship but that will come in time.”

I believe she’s right.

# # #

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