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[FM08] American Calcio

Started on 23 June 2015 by tenthreeleader
Latest Reply on 8 August 2016 by tenthreeleader
How do you return a once-great club with great expectations to its former place of prominence?

I am about to try to find out. My name is Rob Ridgway. I'm 36 years old and I'm an American far from home.

In trying to perform my task, I am faced with a number of handicaps that are sadly becoming too common in the modern game. Calcio Padova, of Italy’s lower league known as Serie C1A, is not a club with unlimited resources – in fact, money is pretty tight for a club of its ambitions.

The senior squad roster is filled with players in their thirties and there isn’t a young player under my contract who is ready to step up and carry the club forward in a meaningful way.

If we are to achieve the success the board craves and the supporters desire, we’ll have to do it with old players and then buy or sign younger ones who can cement any success gained by the current group. It’s not an optimal way to do business.

But that’s football. You do what you’re told or they’ll find someone who will.

# # #

Italian football is unlike any other type on the planet.

English football is known for power and physical play. Spain’s is known for exquisite skill. Germany’s is known for free-scoring matches and a wide-open style. But Italy? Well, Italy is different.

Italian football is known for its technical excellence, its flair and quite frankly, its theatrics. The national side got a huge amount of criticism worldwide for the behavior of some of its players during the 2006 World Cup and I can certainly understand why.

One of the Azzurri’s preliminary matches came against my nation, the United States, and the result was not an artistic one for the beautiful game. A nine-man American side held on for a highly credible 2-2 draw that was thrilling to watch but which I felt was abominably officiated. Italian players seemed to writhe in agony on the pitch at every passing breeze while two of my compatriots saw red.

And I say this as an American managing in Italy. So much for being afraid to express an opinion.

Italy went on to claim the Jules Rimet Trophy after the infamous Zinedine Zidane / Marco Materazzi head-butting incident in the final against France, but won itself few friends worldwide in the process. Not that this matters to the hardcore Italian fan, of course. Winning is the only thing that matters here.

The Italian game is recovering from one of the biggest scandals in its history, with the “Old Lady” itself, Juventus, having won its way back to Serie A after implication in the 2006 match-fixing scandal. The implication of Juventus and several other clubs saw Juve stripped of three Scudetto championship titles and kicked out of the Champions League.

That is part of life here, where doing anything and everything you can to win is considered part of the ethos. They say if you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere, and in this game if you can make it in Italy, you can make it anywhere.

That is not to take sides in the “which nation has the best league” debate. It depends on what kind of football you like.

England has powerhouse teams and is known for strong, physical play, but Italy seems to do better in European competition. Germany has a few giants and some technical aficionados say Spain’s La Liga is the best football going.

At this point, who’s best doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is that I’m in the game, and looking for my chance to show what I can do.

# # #

My career in this game lasted sixteen seasons and ended just last spring. I spent time in Scotland, England and the United States before coming to Italy to finish my career.

I started in the States, before earning a contract with Falkirk, then in Scotland’s lower leagues.

I spent two seasons there before being snipped by Rangers for £1 million. I spent three tremendous seasons there and genuinely loved every minute of the “Ibrox experience”.

But it wasn’t going to last forever, and with a rising reputation as a central defender I wound up going to Reading, then of the English First Division. I spent six seasons there before returning home to the new Major League Soccer, where I played three seasons with the Chicago Fire.

But at that point in my life, at age 33, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to get into management and returned to Europe to try to do the impossible. I was financially secure, and wanted to try to get into the business in the best place I could.

I played my final two seasons at Frosinone, a solid Serie B side here in Italy, while studying for my UEFA coaching badges. I retired in the spring, just before my 36th birthday, with a bevy of experience in four different countries under my belt. I felt I was ready to get started, and so did a club named Calcio Padova.
# # #

Author's notes: This story is a daily diary written using FM08, which remains probably my favorite version of the CM/FM series. All Home Nations and major European nations are loaded. See some of your favorite players of today when they were young pups, or simply enjoy where this career save takes them. Enjoy!
A daily diary all the way back from FM08? That is brilliant! Let us see if art imitates life here.

Good luck with this one. The important thing with daily diaries is not the football, but the stuff that goes around it. Making all those boring 'Continue' days into off-field, interesting ones is what'll make your story stand out.

I am really looking forward to it, and will surely be checking back regularly to read this one :)
I had a similar idea to this so I hpe this works! :)
First things first, thank you for the kind comments! Happy to be here and I hope you enjoy the read.

Here's a look at Rob Ridgway's first team -- for a club that now, in real life, is defunct. :(

Padova has a link with players from my nation. They made onetime Los Angeles Galaxy general manager Alexi Lalas the first American to play in Serie A when they signed him in 1997.

Alexi was the firebrand of the 1994 United States national side. His long red hair and trademark goatee held in place by a rubber band made him instantly recognizable and a bit famous as well, as the World Cup was contested in North America for the first time. Alexi is currently trying to help MLS grow through the fame of mega-signing David Beckham.

My own experience with MLS was a bit different. I am very proud of my nationality and very proud to support the national team, but I am of the opinion that for Americans to succeed in the world’s game, we must go to the world rather than have the world come to us.

You don’t get better playing against yourselves. You get better by going to where the action is hottest and making something happen for yourself.

That’s why most of my career was spent in Europe. Even though I didn’t get the exposure at home I might have gotten by spending more time in MLS, I still was capped 46 times for my country and scored four goals. I gained a reputation as a good teammate and teacher, even as I also gained a reputation as being absolutely unafraid to speak my mind.

I didn’t disrupt any of the changing rooms I was in but if someone asked me my opinion I gave it without hesitation, or “spin”. I thought what I thought and that was it.

For some people, that kind of frankness is difficult to accept. But in football, where winning is everything and in many cases the difference between financial success and failure, a direct approach is often the best way to work.

The people at Frosinone were happy to accept me as a stabilizing influence on a young back line for the last two years of my career and I was one of the very few players to leave for MLS and then come back to Europe. So there was that to consider as well. I feel I led their back four by example and helped their young players grow.

So when I looked to get into the management game it was with the full blessing of my employer, who sent me on my way with their best wishes and recommendations – and that certainly didn’t hurt as I tried to get my foot in the door.

It was Padova who gave me that chance and I’m grateful for it. The club is quite hungry for success and suffered the humiliation – and I choose that word quite carefully – of three relegations in the late 1990s. Padova plummeted from Serie A to Serie B to Serie C1 to Serie C2, from which it was promoted two years later.

Since then, however, the club has tried to rejuvenate its fortunes through its stadium, known as Euganeo. Repeated political difficulties delayed the renovation of the stadium, which now holds 29,000 spectators as well as an athletics track, which is hugely unpopular with the hardest core of the club’s support.

The new Euganeo is a start. Still, to see the great stadium with the 2,000 or so spectators a Serie C1 club draws flecked among the 29,000 seats is a bit sad. I’d like to bring the supporters back and along with it, rejuvenate the club’s fortunes.

I’ve only had a few weeks here so far to put a stamp on the squad but I’ve done some things that I expect will help in both the short and the long term. Chairman Marcello Sestaro has taken a couple of moderately deep breaths and opened his wallet, but his pockets are none too deep.

First, the squad needed strengthening to challenge for the honors expected, and with not a lot of money to spend that meant hitting the loan wires. Chief among them was goalkeeper Paolo Orlandoni, a 35-year old veteran from Inter Milan who I expect to galvanize our entire defense. He can still play, and goalkeepers who are older are not the worst things in the world for a club.

He is there to help free transfer Jeremy Busarello grow. The 17-year old Belgian played at Sint-Truiden last season my scouts say he’s a key to the future of this club. I would like him to learn from Orlandoni, though I would not mind loaning the player to give him first-team experience while Paolo and backup keeper Andrea Cano mind the store for this season.

Also at my recommendation we have started a feeder program with Serie A side SS Lazio, which has resulted in defender Andrea Guglielmi and midfielder Simon De Cristofaris heading here on loan. While neither of them are what I would consider to be top-flight young players, giving them first-team experience while hopefully gaining promotion may lead to better candidates heading our way in future years.

I also have loaned 19-year old striker Daniele Paponi from Parma. This kid is going to be good, and if he plays well for us he is the kind of player I would like to be able to keep around. He is very much in my own physical mold – he’s 6’2” and 194 pounds, just six pounds lighter and the same height I was when I played.

Not surprisingly, I am an advocate for players over six feet tall. Most footballers are well under that height and that shouldn’t be surprising, as most top-level players use pace as one of their primary weapons.

However, every club needs a power player, one who can shut down the other guy’s finesse. And since most Italian clubs place a premium on being damned hard to score against, the power player can be an important part of a club.

Most clubs have theirs at the back, with your correspondent being a case in point. So to potentially have one up front is a great equalizer.

I have also purchased the contract of 32-year old central defender Stefano Sachetti for €14,000 and if he plays well it will be a steal. The former Serie A defender bolsters us right where we need help and I think he still has some tread left on his tires as well.

Also in on a free transfer is 34-year old Argentine defender Pablo Paz. He is older than I would have wished, but still plays at a high level of skill and can play four positions – right back, central defense, holding midfielder and central midfielder. Holding midfielder is an important position in my lexicon.

My preferred formation is 4-1-3-2 and that means I have to have a holding midfielder with some brains. My choice as club captain, Federico Crovari, is the first choice there but Paz is a more than capable backup.

He, central defender Mario Donadoni, and fellow back Vasco Faísca all have important roles to play. Faísca is going to play alongside Sachetti in the middle when he isn’t backing up our other prize loan signing, Italy u-21 defender Massimo Gotti. They will do the lion’s share of the work on the back line and I am depending on them.

In midfield, we have interesting choices as well. Andrea Rabito is a talented offensive midfielder with whom I am well familiar as Padova co-owns him with Frosinone. Andrea Gentile and loanee Eder Baú make up much of the rest of a talented group with 33-year old Bosnian international Vedin Music providing backup on the left side. We are probably deeper there than at any other position – so deep, in fact, that I will ask Gentile to train as a striker to give us added depth at that position. Rabito and Baú are also center forwards and obviously if I use them in midfield I can’t use them up front, which affects our depth.

Up front, perhaps our most talented player is 36-year old Roberto Muzzi, a journeyman who has spread his talent across Serie A even as he hasn’t been able to stick with a club for more than a few seasons. We need his experience but he is also our highest paid player at €625,000. To contrast – that is nearly ten times my starting salary as manager. In fact, there are nine players who make more money than I do in the starting eleven. So to be the boss is a bit daunting.

30-year old Massimiliano Varrichio is probably going to be Muzzi’s foil up front. Roberto was deadly in our friendlies, netting five times in six matches against opponents who were largely inferior to us, while Massimiliano was caught up in a bit of a battle with our other strikers.

Whether Roberto translates his strong start into Serie C play is yet to be seen, but I think he can do it. So does Roberto, and for that money he’d better.

We are old in key positions, yes, but the upside to this is that we have 23 players on one-year or loan contracts. The capability does exist to replace some of these players even if it may be more expensive in the short term to do so, through assuming larger contracts. That’s where we have to be very careful.

I’d prefer to have fewer loan contracts, because obviously it is harder to build understanding and success if you are changing out your senior squad every year, and I’d like our youth system to start producing players who will be of help to the senior squad. But the nature of Italian football is transitory.

Loyalty, unless your name happens to be Maldini, can be hard to come by. My job is to build a consistent winner and I want that winner to become younger than this team will be, by quite a few years.

# # #
Wow, I hadn't even heard of Football Manager back in 08, so this might be interesting :)
HEY Mambo,
mambo ITA-LIANO.
Hey Ho ho.

Loving this idea, I don't even comment on stories anymore but I had to show my approval (Y)
Louis, the series goes back before the turn of the millenium as I'm sure you're aware. My first exposure to the game was CM 01-02 (and I've written about that too) and it was a much, much different game. Glad you're along for the ride!

Icarus, thanks for breaking your silence to follow along ... greatly appreciated!


I am both helped and hindered by the region in which Padova, or Padua in the Italian, is located. It is in the province of Veneto, which obviously includes the world-famous city of Venice.

There are thirty football clubs in the province and this season, not one of them is in the top flight. That is a help, in that any club able to make the big move will gain from it financially in relation to its neighbors and rivals, and a hindrance in that top-flight players have no real reason to play in the area.

Venice is of course a fabulously beautiful city, known around the world for the rivers and canals that partially submerge the city. The climate here ranges from temperate to downright oppressive in the late summer months, and it’s in that type of weather where we will do our early training. The Mediterranean is a lovely place to live, and so is the Adriatic coast on which Venice is located.

Padova is less than forty miles from Venice and that appeals to me a lot. I detest cold weather, so a career in Italy would be ideal if I can make it happen.

Our training sessions are short in the summertime and heavy on aerobic activity when we train indoors, as we occasionally do when the sun is quite simply blazing. Traditionally, Italians take a long lunch break and this carries through to football, where players rest out of the hot sun when it’s 90 degrees Fahrenheit or more on the training pitch.

It’s safe to say that for a tourist, Venice is wonderful. For an American who has some money to spend, it can be paradise.

That isn’t to say that I am going to spend my time on the beaches. Far from it. I’m going to be at football matches, scouting personally when I can to help the hard-pressed scouting staff especially in the area of advance scouting.

That is part and parcel of being a modern manager. Video plays a more important role than ever in scouting, but there are things you can’t tell on television and that means getting in the car and going to the match to see them for yourself.

So I am going to be out and about, as they say back home and I know I need to do this especially as I am learning the league. I keep good notes when I watch football, but it will take time to build up the kinds of notes I will need to be a long-term success. I will rely on the scouts in the short term even as I build my own knowledge at the same time.

Like teams all over the world, the Italian clubs have a series of cups to play for, and like England the Cup competitions are separated by divisional level. The Serie C teams in the four brackets (C1A, C1B, C2A and C2B) play for the Serie C Cup, while the rest contend for the Coppa Italia, or the Italian Cup.

The Serie C Cup, for which we will contend, is divided into group stages like the UEFA Cup or the Champions League. The top two clubs in the group advance to the knockout stages and the Padova board expects to do quite well.

They expect the semifinals from my club and they further are expecting promotion to Serie B as well. To do that, I either have to win the league outright or qualify through playoffs. Italian football also has a feature known as the “play-out”, which can be odd to American fans who have no experience with relegation.

The bottom team in Serie C1A is automatically relegated, and the next four teams play to stay in the league. It’s the only type of competition I know of where if you win, you’re out – and in the league for next year.

My goal throughout this process will of course be to win, but also to build through youth. However, those goals are too often mutually exclusive, so to say I have a tall order in my first managerial assignment is an understatement.

# # #
I speak several languages, and may need to use all of them on the training pitch.

I speak English, German, Swedish and Spanish fluently, and am taking a crash Berlitz course in advanced Italian, which I started to learn when I joined Frosinone. It’s the least I can do, to try to learn the language in the country in which I play.

Thankfully, most of my career was played in English-speaking nations but my interest in European history and languages has stood me in good stead.

Of these, obviously Italian will be the most vital, but two of my assistants speak English so they can translate for me when needed until I have reached fluency with the language.

The exception to this is Paz, with whom I can hold a perfectly wonderful conversation in Spanish while most of my squad members wonder what we’re talking about.

The language issue here is of primary importance in teaching and learning tactics. The formation I’ve put in is 4-1-3-2 with an attack-minded central midfielder, making it basically a 4-4-2 diamond when we have the ball in the attacking third.

It’s very important that I be able to communicate with the players while they learn this new system, or failing that, through a surrogate. It’s vital that I learn the language quickly. I already speak it fairly well through learning other Romance languages, but I have to work hard and quickly to get this particular job done.

# # #

Our friendly schedule was largely successful and we were surprisingly fluent in our new formation in our last few games, which included a 3-1 home win over Serie B Bologna. That was a very pleasant surprise, even if I am under no illusions about being able to keep up that sort of scoring pace when the games begin to count.

I’m very much atypical to many here in terms of my outlook on the game. My players aren’t going to play for 1-nil and they aren’t going to park the bus when we lead unless we are killing off the last moments. They are going to play with a nose for goal and hopefully just enough flair, which was shown most notably by Muzzi in the friendly schedule. We do have a few people who can score goals and I want them to show their skills.

In short, I want us to be entertaining to watch. That means a couple of things at the back: first, I need a relatively narrow pitch because I have a comparatively elderly and slow defense even if it is quite experienced and very good at keeping the opposition off the scoreboard. Second, I need some new defenders in the long term because eventually I will want to re-widen the pitch to take advantage of the talent we have in the wide positions.

For now, I’m asking the wide players to play through the inconvenience of a narrow pitch so we don’t start shipping goals faster than we can score them. It’s a balance, but the basic fact is still true: if the other guys don’t score, there’s no way we can lose.

For my part, I don’t want the players so overwhelmed with tactical nuance and positional necessities that they forget how to play football. Still, I’m convinced that with the players we have, we can make this work. A wrinkle the other clubs won’t have seen may be what Padova needs to gain the promotion we all want.

# # #
Just read through. This is brilliantly unique - and I'm loving it! ;)
High praise, sir. Thank you very much!
My first official match in charge is against one of Padova’s chief local rivals, Venezia, in the Serie C Cup.

Our Group G is regionally constructed. Group opponents Venezia are about thirty miles to the east; Portogruaro – Summaga, known simply as “Portosummaga” to most, is fifty miles northeast; Rovigo is about forty miles south, and Chioggia is about thirty-five miles to our southeast.

The board expects Padova to reach the semifinals of this august competition and to do that, I have to start by finishing in the top two of this five-team group. I am confident of our ability to do this, but to have the first match be a derby is a complication upon which I hadn’t planned.

To have it be on the road is something else entirely. All week long I trained the club on staying mentally sharp, especially while we learn the new formation. Failing to do this, in a derby match played away from home, will be disastrous on a number of fronts.

Our friendly schedule saw us play reasonably well against clubs of our size or even bigger, and manhandle the part-time clubs we send players to as part of a feeder program. We had 31 attempts at goal against Bassano Virtus, for example, one of our junior clubs, and I was rather amazed that we only managed a 2-nil win out of the deal.

But those were friendlies, and while we learn the 4-1-3-2 tactic we have to be smart about our training and our attitudes for the matches that count. Playing cup ties from the beginning of the season is a great way to start with meaningful matches, but slow starts in these types of meetings can put managers under pressure right from the off. And that isn’t good.

I figure we need at least one win out of these two upcoming matches, as we host Portosummaga on Wednesday in a match I frankly expect us to win. Three points out of six will be acceptable, four points of six will be good and six out of six will be terrific. I don’t even want to think about zero points out of six.

# # #

The good thing about starting with a derby is that we don’t have to travel until the afternoon of the match. Especially for my first match in charge, I want a normal day because frankly, I don’t need the added aggravation of pressure on top of the nervousness I already feel.

The friendlies were not so bad from that standpoint, and we even played an away match in France, so we had to deal with crossing borders and checkpoints and what not. That was not normal for this club and it was good to deal with it.

It would be wonderful to have to worry about Europe one day, but now is not the time for that. I worry first about a club less than forty miles to the east and how to try to get three points off of them starting tomorrow night.

I watched a video of Venezia from last season on my DVD player as I prepared for bed tonight, and took notes on players who are still with the club. The scouting is, not surprisingly, weak, the advance scouts have seen only one of their friendlies, and we’ll have to rely on our own abilities as players to get us through rather than having a detailed scouting report on the opposition.

That is part of life in Serie C, and as I tried to sleep, and found sleep wouldn’t come, I realized that this part of a manager’s life – the worry – isn’t one I like. And it didn’t take long to come to that conclusion.

# # #
tenthreeleader's avatar Group tenthreeleader
8 yearsEdited
Sunday, August 19
Venezia v Padova, Serie C Cup

It was a bit odd to travel to one of the world’s great cities only to play before an announced crowd of just 1,629 at the Pierluigi Penzo stadium in Venice. It also appeared that about a quarter of those were our support, who had plenty to cheer about at the end of the match.

From an emotional standpoint, today was as normal as I could make it.

We arrived at our training ground at Euganeo, our home stadium, at 1:00 p.m. for the trip to Venice. I spoke as best I could to the squad, with my staff interpreting when I had trouble, and I gave them my thoughts for the match.

“This is a match you can win,” I said, and waited for the reaction from my players. I saw quiet confidence and I was pleased at that. The mood of the squad after reeling off five wins on the spin in the friendlies was good and I really do want that to carry as far into the season as possible.

“You are going to the home of a rival for a cup tie that’s important to this club,” I said. “The management is expecting quite a bit and that is reflected in the pay packets you’ll get for advancing in this competition. I played against Venezia last season and they are strong, talented and self-assured. But they are not better than this club, I can assure you of that. We have a good tactic, you are learning how to make it work and I want you to stick with it. You have seen that the 4-1-3-2 will create chances and that’s what we will need to succeed this evening. Go do it for yourselves.”

We looked at a little video, ate a very late lunch as a team, and finally boarded the coach for Venice at 4:00.

As manager, I get the window seat in the front row on the right and my staff sits right behind me. I think every club team in every sport in the world does that on its coach trip, but Padova is comparatively fortunate in how it travels.

The senior squad travels in a custom-designed coach, which has 28 seats. I am allowed 18 players for the match including seven substitutes, and I take three coaches with me on the road plus two physios. The remaining four seats are mine to distribute, between additional coaches, players who I would like to take to the match, or other staff as I see fit. The seats recline and it is very nice for longer trips, especially on the homeward leg where players are either in need of treatment or simply want to relax tired limbs.

As for me, I spent enough time on cramped coaches in my early days to really appreciate the value of getting to stretch out my long legs. I even napped a bit on the way to Venice, which was both surprising and refreshing to me at the same time.

Italians have a habit, as I’ve mentioned, of taking long afternoon breaks due in part to the heat of the summer. Plainly, we’re in the heat of the summer now – it was 91 degrees Fahrenheit when we got off the bus in Venice – and people do tend to slow down a bit when the sun is at its zenith.

So it was not at all unusual for the players to see me sacked out in my chair. Frankly, I was hoping to get my mind off things for even a few minutes on the way to Venice and sleep was the perfect way to do it.

Unfortunately, I also had a dream, which woke me up. I dreamed that I scored an own goal in the match, which was rather ridiculous, since I’m no longer a player, but the thought of it was enough to disturb me from my rest.

So I flipped on my personal mp3 player and slipped on a set of Bose headphones for the last fifteen minutes of the trip, and that seemed to help. Soon, we were entering Venice and the beauty of the old city engulfed me.

Of course, Venice itself is an island, and the stadium is in the extreme southeast corner. You drive on the SR11, the Ponte della Liberta, to cross the Laguna Veneta and enter the city. The stadium itself is on the even smaller Isola di Sant’Elena, and the winding path our coach took had me looking out the window with rapt attention.

We made the last turn onto the Isola di Sant’Elena, and pulled up behind Pierluigi Penzo to prepare for the match.

Unlike some of the stadia in which we will play this season, Pierluigi Penzo is an all-seater, even if the vast majority of the ground is uncovered. They are like we were – a club which has fallen upon hard times, which is a bit of a surprise since Venice is a bigger city than Padua. So we are very much in the same boat, we are fighting for the same thing, and the clubs just don’t like each other very much.

So the atmosphere was lively for those fans who chose to show up at the match. I mentioned earlier how odd the 2,000 fans we put into the 29,000-seat Euganeo seems. Well, there were fewer people than that in the 32,000-seat Pierluigi Penzo, and at times it seemed like we were playing in a tomb.

The players performed tentatively but fairly well in the first half and I was quite pleased to get to the changing room still scoreless after the first 45 minutes. However, we were down a player and that was cause for serious concern.

Fabio di Venanzio, my first choice on the left side of midfield and an excellent crosser and passer of the ball, went down after a high and hard challenge just before the half-hour. Right away I knew it was bad because Fabio didn’t move his left leg.

Often when a player here goes down under a hard challenge he will roll around on the pitch both in pain and to try to draw a foul or a card against the offender. This wasn’t like that. It was worse – really, honestly worse.

This was difficult for me to watch personally. Yes, it was a bad injury and they are always hard, but I know Fabio pretty well.

To call him a journeyman would be polite. In a career lasting seventeen seasons, Padova marks his eleventh club, all in Italy. He also spent last season at Frosinone, as my teammate.

But instead of acting, Fabio simply gritted his teeth, and grabbed his knee to hold it in place. That was very bad and as soon as the physios were allowed to sprint out to him by the referee, the process began.

I arrived immediately afterward to offer what comfort I could. The physios immediately iced the knee and wrapped it and I headed back to the bench, nodding to Gentile to warm up because we both knew he was going into the match.

Stretcher-bearers took Fabio off the pitch and as the stretcher passed the bench, Mauricio Balló, one of my assistants, got my attention.

“We are going to the hospital,” he said, pointing to the stretcher. “Fabio said he heard a pop.”

I nodded, making the substitution and stopping to talk with the player on his way up the tunnel.

“Fabio, hang in there,” I said, squeezing his shoulder. He was white with pain, and simply grunted his assent. With that, he was gone and I hoped we would have him back for the trip home. Obviously, we won’t have him on the pitch for some time.

# # #
We got to half after creating some decent chances and I saw no reason to be anything other than positive.

“You hung in there and you can still get this job done,” I told them. “Fabio will be all right and even though he won’t be around for awhile we can get this job done. Stick with the system, help each other and let’s get a result tonight.”

With that, we went back onto the pitch and walked into a buzzsaw for the first twenty minutes. Venezia was all over us, passing the ball well, working it into good positions, and taking good shots – which Orlandoni turned aside in a first-class performance.

That said, when we counterpunched we hit hard, and on 75 minutes we made them pay.

Gentile was the provider, working the ball nicely to the edge of the Venezia eighteen with Gotti, before the entry ball found Rabito right at the edge of the arc to keeper Giuseppi Aprea.

Andrea spun, shot, and produced a sublime 18-yard finish, which beat Aprea to his right-hand post, and tucked neatly into the corner of the goal.

Rabito ran around like a crazy man while the traveling support screamed its appreciation. The echo in the huge stadium was somewhat eerie to hear, but at least the ball was in the net.

His manager also reacted with a bit of emotion, as I jumped into the air with fists raised before getting some control over myself.

There were still 15 minutes to go and as the bench began to celebrate, I immediately signaled for a change in formation. We were missing Crovari tonight, out with a leg injury from the Bologna friendly, and I yelled – in Spanish – for Paz to get over to me.

Pablo wore the armband tonight and he did very well. I made motions with my fingers that I wanted a flat 4-4-2 with the defensive line set deep. He nodded and I told him to hurry up.

If I thought the first twenty minutes of the half were active, the last fifteen were worse. They piled forward, going to a 4-2-4 in the late going to find an equalizer. Yet, the harder they pressed the better Orlandoni played.

I even considered 5-4-1 at the end but the lack of a pressuring up-front player might have given them even more midfield dominance than they presently enjoyed. I finally settled on 4-5-1 for the final moments, taking the exhausted Muzzi off the pitch for the final five minutes of the match.

And we held on. The whistle blew for full time and far from scoring an own goal, I had succeeded in my first match in charge.

We exchanged handshakes on our bench, and then with the disappointed Venezia staff, and headed for the tunnel. The first player I saw was di Venanzio, on crutches but seemingly not in quite as much pain. Balló approached and gave the verdict.

“The doctors say it is certain he has a ligament tear but we can’t do a scan until morning when the swelling goes down,” he said. “Right now we have given him medication to keep him comfortable but for now the only thing to do is take him home and let the local doctors treat him.”

Fabio had a crestfallen look on his face. Every player wants to play and Fabio knows he won’t be back for a long time thanks to tonight’s incident. And since he’s 33 years old, he’s concerned about a lot more than just his season.

I allowed him to precede me to the changing room and gave him a look of understanding. I won’t throw an injured player under the bus but I have to prove that’s the case by how I treat Fabio now that he can’t play.

I gave brief interviews to Padova’s local daily papers, praising Rabito and Orlandoni for the quality of their play, and soon we were dressed and ready to return home. We got onto the coach – di Venanzio with help – and I turned to address the group.

“This is what I told you could happen,” I said. “You deserved this game and you deserved to hold them off. Defensively we have work to do but nothing happened tonight to tell me that anything is really broken. We’ll get better, you’ll get better as individual players, and that work will begin tomorrow morning. Let’s go home and enjoy the win!”

Venezia 0-1 Padova

# # #
Monday, August 20
We are preparing to host Portosummaga on Wednesday night in the Cup, and I already have my first controversy as manager.

I told the papers last night that I appreciated the play of both Paz and Sacchetti in their debuts, and only one of them reacted well.

Paz answered as I’d have expected a captain to behave but the veteran Sacchetti told the press today that I’m expecting too much from him.

So I had a little chat with my defender today after training, and we cleared the air. I did most of the talking.

My Italian, which is improving rapidly, stood me in good stead.

“Stefano, I’m the manager and that means I get to have expectations,” I said. “It also means I get to praise you. You did play a good match last night but if you are worried I expect too much from you, I can always lower those expectations.”

He knew what that meant.

“I don’t want for you to make me responsible for so much of the team’s success,” he said in the only answer he could have given me.

“I’m not,” I explained. “But, Stefano, when you play well you’re going to get praised. Now I’m not the kind of guy who rips players in the media, but you have to know that the other players are going to feel it too, when they do well. I’m not saying you have to like praise but I am saying that when I say something nice about you, you can accept it without worrying if you’re going to be able to keep your place. Do I make myself clear?”

“You do,” he said, a trace of a smile crossing his face.

“Good,” I said, as we shook hands. “Now let’s get back to work.”

# # #
Tuesday, August 21
Portosummaga is a part-time team, meaning many of their players have other jobs as well as playing football.

That’s a great way to cut the wage bill, of course, but it’s also a poor way to build a football club. Players train when they can, with the understanding that they will do their best for the club, but if a player can’t get off work for a training session, sometimes the manager must accommodate him.

Nearly all youth players are on part-time contracts so they can go to school. In Europe, some clubs will pay for the education of their top young players as part of their agreements. In fact, for some kids, that education is better than what they could have received at home, wherever it happens to be.

Then, if the player is really good, a bigger club will often snap them up. It’s highly annoying for the manager, and for many fans, of a smaller club but it’s also good business and if the money received for a youngster is good enough, it may even help keep the club afloat.

We aren’t at that point yet, but if I ever get a “wonderkid”, the pressure will be on, both for the player and for his manager.

# # #

My hometown newspaper called tonight for an article they are doing on my taking over here. I hope that will turn out to be a good thing both for the club and for the growth of the game in my homeland.

I cut my teeth playing in the burgeoning American youth system, and the paper followed me throughout my career – ironically, more so in Europe than when I played in MLS.

I guess when I was playing in Europe, I was special and different, and now that I am back in Europe the circumstances surrounding my hiring and my nationality are news once more. There are no other Americans managing in Italy and I may be the only one in Europe, which would make me completely unique.

Padova’s American connection is also newsworthy once more, and I do think that this wasn’t lost on the board when they made the decision to hire me. Good press is good press to most people, even if some fiercely patriotic Italian fans doesn’t necessarily like the idea of an American running the Biancoscudati. That’s perfectly understandable. I don’t know how much I’d care for the idea of a European coaching the Pittsburgh Steelers.

However, I like the idea just fine and the feedback we’ve gotten from beating Venezia surely hasn’t hurt. The board does seem to like the idea of beating a rival, and I like the idea of being off to a 100 percent start on the road. So for now, anyway, things are ‘duckies and bunnies’, to use a favorite phrase of mine from the States.

The interview centered on my adjustment to management, and the fact that they had pretty much forgotten about me when I played at second division Frosinone. I spent about half an hour on the phone with the reporter when the question got asked I really didn’t want to hear.

“What about personally, Rob? Did you ever hook up with Kate again?”

“I’d rather not go there,” I said. “To answer your question, no. And really, I don’t see why it matters to the story.”

I got an apology, and also another comment that made me feel a little better.

“I was hoping for a happy ending for you there,” the reporter said, and I had to admit I was hoping for one too, back in the day.

# # #
Kate Southerland is 34 years old. When I met her eight years ago, she was an advertising manager at one of the larger PR firms in the United Kingdom.

I was halfway through my time with the Royals and was starting to become a mainstay on their back line. Professionally I was happy, I was making very good money, and was setting myself up financially for the rest of my life.

During my time with Rangers, I spent a fair amount of time in the pubs in the blue areas of Glasgow, though not compromising my ability to play. I was looking for fun and companionship, as you might expect a 24-year old American to do when he’s overseas.

But when I was transferred south of the border to England, I sort of withdrew while I learned the city and made myself useful for my new club. Then I met Kate and it turned my world upside down.

We met at a club function where her firm had been hired to do a campaign promoting the Reading Youth Fund. I was one of the players selected to represent the team and at first I was there simply to fulfill my obligation and to be nice to deserving children.

Yet by the time I left, I was smitten by the prettiest woman I had ever laid eyes on.

Five-foot-eight, with long brunette hair, a figure to die for, a wonderful career and an even better accent, Kate was everything I ever wanted.

I didn’t think I was in her league – in fact, as good as she already was at her job I wondered which of us made more money – and tried to put her out of my mind.

I saw her again a few weeks later at a second Youth Fund function, and her first words to me were ones I remember to this day:

“I’m trying to figure out why you didn’t ask me out last time we talked. It makes a girl feel insecure!”

My answer was pretty plain: “Because I couldn’t imagine why you’d accept.”

“Ask,” she said, as she started her work. “I think you might like the answer you get.”

So I did, and she was right. I very much liked the answer I got, and we spent the next three years in a wonderful relationship. She had just been divorced, though I couldn’t imagine why her ex-husband would have wanted to be done with someone so obviously perfect.

I was very happy in a very stable relationship. Then, in 2002, Reading didn’t renew my contract and I got an offer from Chicago in MLS. I accepted the offer and proposed marriage to Kate as I prepared to head home to the States.

And Kate said no.

She didn’t want to leave Berkshire, didn’t want to leave England and even though she adored me she felt she couldn’t leave her family. I was under contract and I had to go – and it cost me a relationship I valued above all else. Now I am in Italy, and she is remarried after an incredibly painful period for both of us. She stayed true to her word, though, and still lives in Reading last I heard.

I would never say that leaving for Chicago was a mistake. I wasn’t done playing, wasn’t ready to retire and still thought I had something to offer. But I hadn’t counted on losing Kate over it and it haunts me to this day.

It affected my first season with Chicago, no question about it. And it turned out one of her co-workers, an unreasonably lucky fellow named Peter McGuire, swooped in and married the woman I adored.

I wasn’t anywhere near the player I had been while in Europe that first season, but in the MLS of that time it didn’t matter as much. I was still more than good enough to get the job done but my mind was literally a thousand miles away on some nights.

I tried to reach her. I tried to win her back.

We had a very long and tear-filled conversation six weeks after I left for Chicago and she quietly, but firmly, told me she could not marry me unless I lived in England.

I tried to get out of my contract with the Fire and even asked them to allow me to transfer back to England, but it never materialized. The only other option was retirement and I wasn’t yet ready for that.

I was trapped, in a sense, and before I could get back to Europe, the door finally closed.

When I finally was able to return to the Continent and Frosinone, it was of course far too late. I keep wondering if I’ll ever see or hear from Kate again, but when I think too long or too hard about it, I need to have a drink, and I hate that.

So the reporter’s question hit very close to home. Kate is like an open wound to me now, which is really a shame since we spent so much wonderful time together. And if I write any more about it, I’m going to break down again. That won’t do. So it’s time to stop.
# # #

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