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[FM 15] Kyle Cain's Flying Circus

The ongoing story of a young manager in search of redemption
Started on 19 July 2016 by tenthreeleader
Latest Reply on 9 August 2016 by Po Red5
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Kyle Cain’s Flying Circus

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” – George Eliot

The early morning sunlight crept over the windowsill and slowly peeked into the master bedroom. The louvered blinds turned back a portion, but not being fully closed, allowed a few rays an unauthorized entrance.

One of them scored a bulls-eye on Kyle Cain’s face, causing the manager of Oxford United Football Club to frown as he awakened rather earlier than he would have wished.

He moved a hand in front of his face, squinting at the sudden intrusion from Sol, and looked around his room.

He was on Ibiza, a small island midway between the mainland of Spain and the island of Mallorca. It was one of the most popular tourist attractions in Spain during the summer months – and his trip there had been a gift (and bonus) from his chairman, Daryl Eales.

Oxford United’s gut-wrenching League Two playoff final loss to Shrewsbury Town had been hard to swallow, but was now starting to fade into the stuff of painful memory. As a thank-you for the outcome of the season – financially as much as anything else – Eales had told Kyle to take a few weeks and recharge his batteries, and to be ready to report for training on the first of July.

A number of his old players wouldn’t be there when the new season started – which meant Kyle would have to put his head down and find some new heroes of Saturday for the good people of Oxfordshire.

Giving up was not an option. There were real expectations now, not the least of which were those Kyle had placed upon himself.

“My job at United was to send the fans home happy,” Sir Alex Ferguson had once said. “That’s the value of never giving in.”

If there was one thing Kyle Cain couldn’t be accused of doing, it was giving in. At least, in a footballing sense.

He had spent the first few days of his vacation in a shell, being hard to reach emotionally as he often was, replaying the match in his head over and over – and even on a DVD which he brought with him on the flight.

At that, his daughter Jenna had finally rebelled.

“Put that away, Dad,” she said, as the plane winged its way southward. “We’re going to have a good time. Can’t you forget about Wembley for awhile?”

Father and daughter had had some difficult moments in the preceding months. Jenna’s boyfriend, Miles Booth, had been released by United at the end of the season and was in trial with Oxford City thanks to Kyle’s intervention on his behalf.

As such, Miles was in dryland training and wasn’t on the holiday trip – not that Eales would have bought his ticket.

It was a subdued trip, at least at the start. Kyle finally managed to forget about defeat long enough to spend a very enjoyable night on the beach shortly after arrival – Ibiza is famous for that, among other things – and as a result, he had gone to bed late.

Which brings this story full circle. To bed late, up too early – it wasn’t the kind of thing that led to an enjoyable day away.

Kyle reflexively rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and immediately cursed himself for having done so. He had a chance to go back to sleep, and that had wrecked it.

He sighed heavily and rolled to his right in the bed.

He wasn’t alone.

You didn’t think I was going to just leave all this stuff hanging, did you?

Author’s notes: FM15, Home Nations and major European nations loaded. Could not resist the chance to write some more of the Cain saga. So, get ready.

This version is probably going to feature a different type of matchwriting as I experiment a bit with my writing style. I think I know what works – it’s time to see if something different works as well. We’ll see how it goes. Thanks for reading along!

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Shame for you to leave the old thread behind to be honest but glad you are still writing this!
Stacy Cain rolled to her left and looked at her husband.

She wasn’t sure that coming with him on holiday was a good idea for a variety of reasons, but the text she had received from Eales right before the playoff final had convinced her that the club’s desire to see the manager and his wife at least try to reconcile was genuine.

Boyd Stokes hadn’t taken it well. That was to be expected.

She had moved out of his flat the day after the final, and her things were on the way to Oxford before the day was out.

Out of a sense of guilt, she had done what she felt she needed to do – and even though guilt can be a powerful motivator, it doesn’t always leave the best taste in one’s mouth when it’s acted upon.

To the couple’s right, Owen Marshall Cain lay in a basinet, two weeks old and full of life and vigor.

Their son had come into the world the week after the playoff final, and provided the perfect opportunity for Stacy Cain to try to reclaim her husband’s good graces.

Allison Austin had left the car park disappointed on that day, after the coach rolled in from Wembley. The women had seen each other and talked, and let Kyle make his decision. Neither one of them liked the idea much – or liked each other much, to be fair. Both were also upset at Kyle himself but clearly something had to be done.

Heavily pregnant, Stacy had won the day, and Kyle simply hoped that for once in his life he had made the right decision.

In a non-footballing sense, that is. Oxford, so far, had been a very satisfying decision for him, and he was looking forward to having a full season under his belt with a group of players who had nearly shocked the English footballing world with a march from 22nd place at Kyle’s arrival to fifth in the final table – only to fall at the last hurdle.

The next week, Stacy had given birth, and Kyle had been there. Not in the room itself, mind you – Stacy didn’t want him there and he understood that fully – but he had done the father’s duty beforehand by timing contractions, getting her to the hospital, and then adoring the new life they had created.

That was one thing Kyle was very good at. He was a doting father to Jenna, even if he was maddeningly inconsistent with her from time to time. He meant well. He thought that made a difference.

The first night they arrived on Ibiza, they had a long talk about some of the things they had said to each other. For a change, Kyle did most of the talking in this discussion, since Stacy had inflicted the vast majority of the hurt.

And he could now talk with Stacy on equal terms with regard to their indiscretions, since the score was now most definitely even on that account.

The big thing that came out of that discussion was that Kyle finally got Stacy to tell him Boyd Stokes’ name. That counted for a lot with Kyle and he made sure his wife knew that.

He had explained it thusly: if they were going to reconcile, whoever it was might try to make a play to get back into her life. Kyle wanted to be prepared. That was not unreasonable.

And so it was a good start to the holiday, until Jenna told them her news.

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Glad to see Kyle Cain back, looking forward to another season of ups and downs :)
Why did he take that idiot back...
Sometimes parents will do things they would not otherwise consider when there are children involved. A bad choice, not the popular one ... but the only one he could realistically make.

You’re what?”

“You heard me,” Jenna said.

“You’re seventeen,” Stacy answered.

“So what? It doesn’t change anything,” Jenna replied.

“Does Miles know?” Kyle asked.

“He does. I’ve told him,” she responded, now unable to look either of her parents in the eyes.

Just shy of age forty-one, Kyle and Stacy Cain were to become grandparents, if their daughter decided to keep her child.

Children having children is a significant issue in certain parts of society, and it was a very big issue in that Ibiza hotel room that afternoon.

“So how many times did he really come to the house?” Kyle asked Jenna, and at that Stacy snapped her head toward her husband.

“There was more than one?” she snapped.

“That’s what I’m trying to find out, but obviously only once was needed,” Kyle retorted. So far, it had been 48 hours and their rapprochement was already under strain.

But Stacy seemed angrier at her daughter than Kyle had been – his anger had been reserved for the boy the day after Kyle found out that he had skipped training, and Jenna had skipped school, to be together under his roof.

Kyle noted, not without a degree of bitter satisfaction, that someone else could do wrong in Stacy’s eyes, and that wasn’t a bad thing for either one of them to realize.

He was still an emotional work in progress, and as Jenna explained the entire sad lexicon to her mother, Kyle sat back and let Stacy do the talking.

“A little parenting practice wouldn’t do her any harm,” Kyle decided. After all, with a new arrival in the family, Stacy would need it.

It wasn’t as though Jenna could hide her condition any longer – when Kyle was gone, morning sickness was something she dealt with on her own – so it was time to come clean when the family went on the trip together.

That evening was stilted but the remainder of the holiday trip passed without major incident.

Coming home, that would be another matter entirely.

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So is this carrying on from the other thread?
Yes, it is. I figured if people didn't want me to post anymore then I could bow out gracefully, but t enough people seem to have shown interest so I started a new thread.


Kyle welcomed most of his senior squad for the start of preseason training on July 1. That was early for some, but the team had had six full weeks away and the manager wanted an early start to his planning for the season to come.

He wanted a team in condition for the rigors of League Two, and hopefully, a Cup run or two. There would be some new faces, though, and they came in by ones and twos as preseason drills began.

The club had exercised the option on goalkeeper Jamie Ashdown’s contract in the close season, but word was that several clubs were interested in backup Ryan Clarke, who had lost the number one shirt to Ashdown in the stretch run of the prior season. Neither one was really an answer for the future but for now, Ashdown was the present and that was that.

Kyle’s first official signing as Oxford manager was already on hand and it was a bit of a surprise to those who had seen him in the flesh just a few short weeks ago. Jermaine Grandison, freshly out of contract at Oxford’s playoff conquerors, Shrewsbury Town, had joined the Us on a free and solved the club’s issues at right full back. Big, strong, powerful and 24 years old, he scratched a number of itches in the Us hierarchy.

It was also a bit odd to see a player who had played very well against Oxford just six weeks ago now wearing their colors, but the players welcomed the new man happily. Except for Meades and Bevans, who wanted more playing time at right back and now would have to earn it.

One player missing that Kyle really wanted to see back was James Maddison, the fans’ Player of the Year and a member of the League Two Team of the Year. Unfortunately, he had been so good that his parent club, Coventry, now understandably wanted to reap the benefits of their loanee’s experience. They said he now had first-team commitments.

That meant the search was on for his replacement. That was going to be interesting, but Kyle had foreseen losing Maddison the season before and had put the scouting team on to looking for a replacement.

The player they found was a real handful. Elliott Whitehouse, property of Notts County, seemed willing to fill the void. He could best have been described as a Maddison with size, an Ivan Drago lookalike with a reported nasty streak as wide as his professionalism. Kyle loved that thought.

Another player Kyle wanted and needed to replace was the departed Isak Ssewankambo, who had gone back to Derby.

The makeup of the 2014-15 Oxford team hadn’t really allowed for Kyle to play 4-2-3-1 since the best options for the holding midfielder position were also good options to play on the back line. Ssewankambo’s arrival on loan had given Kyle much more flexibility in his team and tactical selection and he liked that freedom.

That position was one that needed to be filled with a player under contract to Oxford United, but even so, it needed to be filled somehow – and now there was Manchester United to consider.

The parent/feeder arrangement between the clubs gave Oxford access to United’s youth pool – which was a considerable improvement over what he could pull from his own youth academy.

Enter Matty Willock, a long, lean midfielder who had put in time with Arsenal as a schoolboy and was pegged by some as indeed a possible United man of the future. Kyle happily made him a different United’s man of the present, and the player was only too happy to make the switch south for the season.

There were other United starlets who expressed interest in moves to Oxford but with Whitehouse potentially on the way, he didn’t want to extend his loan total too greatly before the season proper began.

There was more money in the coffers – player departures, prize money from last season and £293,000 in television revenue gave him a six-figure transfer budget and over £400,000 to spend on wages.

Some of that money went to Joe Skarz, whose contract was about to expire. He knew full well what he meant to the team – and so did his agent, who tried to negotiate a contract that would have completely destroyed the team’s wage structure.

That negotiation was protracted and long, with the player finally settling for a raise to £80,000 a season and a top-earner clause which allowed Skarz to match the salary of Oxford’s highest-paid player in the event the team signed one other than the full back. At that salary, he matched Hoskins for the highest earner score.

When Skarz was on his game, Oxford was very hard to deal with, especially with Callum O’Dowda playing well in front of him on the left flank. After his hip injury the season before, and the subsequent signing of Danny Potts on loan from West Ham, Skarz had taken some time to round back into form.

But this was a new season, for whatever that was worth. Skarz was getting the nice pay packet but now would have to show he was worth his stuff, as the £900,000 minimum release clause in his new deal indicated he might be.

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Shame to see Ssewankambo not return, he was my favourite player.
Pity about Maddison, he was a decent player for you last season. Whitehouse is however a nice improvement, he should do well for you. Could possibly do with someone else, maybe a nice loanee up front to provide cover and competition along with a littel thug to boss the middle. Utd have a few who could loan in, otherwise might be the trial teams.

Good luck for the coming season.

Looking forward to seeing the saga unfold with the impending grandchild too...
Ssewankambo was a good player but, like Maddison, success on loan led to "first team commitments".

Lots of options open at this point. Thanks for the comments!


There was other news on the management front. Kyle now had a Director of Football.

After handling the Skarz negotiations himself, Kyle quickly decided that was enough of that, and got permission from Eales to hire 64-year old John Ward to handle the contract and administration side of things.

One of the conditions Kyle agreed to when taking the job was not to hire or fire any of the staff. That was great in some ways and not so great in others, as there were gaps that needed to be filled in some areas and redundancies in others.

But Ward was a welcome addition. A striker who had made a name for himself at Lincoln City in the 1970s, he had served Watford, Aston Villa, Burnley, Wolves, Carlisle, Stockport and Colchester as an assistant manager and had managerial experience at York, Bristol City, Cheltenham, Carlisle, Colchester, and two stints at Bristol Rovers, where he also served as Director of Football.

In short, Ward knew his way around the block. So, as a welcoming gift, Kyle had him negotiate new contracts for the key staff. Nothing like a flying start for the new guy.

Before Ward’s arrival, Kyle had had successes in contract negotiations with Cheyenne Dunkley for three years, youth striker George Jeacock for two years, Patrick Hoban for two years, Danny Hylton for two years, and an extension for Matt Bevans. Cian McCormick also put pen to paper as did the club captain, Jake Wright.

Meanwhile, Whitehouse rejected the first loan offer from Oxford even though his club accepted, so Kyle and Ward sweetened the pot and tried again.

Also, Conor Townsend, recently released by Hull City, came in on trial for the preseason. He could play the center of midfield as well as most positions on the left side and was a versatile player.

For the time being, the initial friendly schedule had only four matches in it, so there was an opportunity to see players in action for limited periods.

July 11 – Motherwell
July 18 – at Salisbury
July 25 – at Oxford City
August 3 – at Thame

Notably missing from that list – Manchester United, the parent club contractually obligated to play a money-spinning friendly against Oxford but which couldn’t seem to find an open date.

Kyle knew Eales would want the money, estimated at £160,000, from a visit by United no matter who they played. It remained to be seen when the friendly would be played.

Too, the Capital One Cup first round draw had been less than kind to Oxford – Watford, a top-half team in the prior season’s Championship, at Vicarage Road on the 11th August – so the possibility of a few Cup games to give players extra games wasn’t necessarily on the cards, at least in that competition.

Kyle and Ward scooped up home friendly dates with Belgian side KRC Genk and nearby Corby Town to give his team six warmup matches, which was fairer to the players vying for spots.

One was going to be trouble – Genk had finished second in the Jupiler League the preceding season and was preparing to enter Champions League qualification – and the other was not supposed to provide nearly as stern a test.

As for trouble, Motherwell might well have provided plenty of it too – runners up to Celtic in the SPL, they were preparing for a Europa League qualifying test of their own against Mladost CKB of the Montenegrin First League just six days after coming to the Kassam Stadium.

Josh Ruffels went on a season-long loan to Grimsby Town, even as the elusive Whitehouse wouldn’t come to Oxford. No matter, thought Kyle, and had Ward submit a loan bid for Manchester United’s 20-year old starlet Joe Rothwell to do the same thing. And while he was talking with the Red Devils, Kyle also asked for Demitri Mitchell to come for the season as well.

It was tempting not to use up all his long-term loan slots on United alone. But Kyle managed.

# # #
Watford might be a big ask, fingers crossed though! :D
Certainly testing yourself here!
Going to be an interesting cup tie, methinks...

11 July 2015 - Oxford United v Motherwell
Friendly #1 - The Kassam Stadium, Oxford
Referee: Nigel Miller

“You know what to do out there. Impress me and earn your places. I don’t give a hang if they’re top-flight from another country, do what got you to Wembley last season and let’s have some fun out there tonight.”

It was a coolish evening in Oxfordshire – the kickoff temperature was only 15 degrees Centigrade and that made it barely shirtsleeve weather for the time of year.

And then there were the Steelmen, winners of 19 SPL matches a season ago, and Scottish Cup semifinalists. Surely Ian Baraclough would want a stout performance out of his men before sending them into European competition.

From the kickoff, the Scots were in the ascendancy, with Ashdown a busy man in goal for the Us. But as the match passed twenty minutes, Oxford started to find its legs a bit – and then started finding the range against keeper Dan Twardzik.

Before that, though, Conor Townsend went off with a dead leg and Kyle brought Josh Ashby, he of the playoff final injury, on for the ex-Hull man he’d have done anything to sign.

Then it was off to the good stuff. First it was Will Hoskins, sweeping home a beautiful ball from O’Dowda on the left in 27 minutes to fire the home team into a shock lead. Then it was MacDonald five minutes later, taking a truly terrific feed from Ashby on the right and driving a low shot off Twardzik’s hands and home in 32 minutes.

Ben Hall responded with a counterattacking goal for the Steelmen four minutes from the break, which brought Kyle to the touchline for the first time with a gentle (for him) reminder to concentrate and see the task through.

That talk had surprisingly good benefits, as Hoskins scrambled home a loose ball as the match ticked over into injury time for 3-1, and when Oxford earned a late corner in the two minutes of first half added time, O’Dowda’s effort was put through the Steelmen’s goal by defender Lionel Ainsworth in one of the game’s truly great all-time own goals. It was a magnificent header, perfectly placed, and absolutely at the wrong end of the pitch.

That led to a euphoric changing room at half, to the surprise of absolutely no one. It also led to a great second half as well, with Jake Wright looping a header over Twardzik’s despairing reach in 49 minutes for a 5-1 advantage and a general exodus from the Oxford bench to the playing field, as Kyle cleared the bench with a big lead.

The substitutes didn’t do half badly either, and Danny Rose earned a sixth goal two minutes from time with a low effort that hit the base of Twardzik’s left post before rolling along the goal line and into the net.

It was a magnificent and rather unexpected effort against better opposition, which now had some thinking to do as it prepared to play a European tie.

Most importantly, it looked as though “Kyle Cain’s Flying Circus” might just be right back on song.

Oxford United 6 (Hoskins 27, 45, MacDonald 32, Lionel Ainsworth og 45+2, Wright 49, Rose 88)
Motherwell 1 (Ben Hall 41)
H/T: 4-1
A – 2,761, The Kassam Stadium, Oxford
Man of the Match: Alex MacDonald Oxford (MR 9.2)

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Great result!

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