On FM Scout you can chat about Football Manager in real time since 2011. Here are 10 reasons to join!

Franjo: A Journeyman Story (New Episode Every Week Day!)

My Name is Franjo. And I will be a Football Manager.
Started on 8 May 2017 by Wtfranjo
Latest Reply on 6 May 2018 by Wtfranjo
The Best Laid Plans (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep92)

After the Denmark match I’m eager to get back to Lansdowne. My first toe-dip into International water has been interesting but I’m looking forward to finishing off Santos’ league campaign. And not only that, I’ve also had an itch to scratch ever since we lost the first Old Cape Town Derby under my regime. It’s time for our return visit to our fiercest rivals: Ajax Cape Town.

I decide to make no changes from the team that lost 0-3 to Supersport in our last outing. There were no individually awful performances that day apart from Carl Lark, but I don’t have many options up top and the lineup that day was about as strong as we can muster, so I stick with it.

It takes only 4 minutes for Doutie’s corner to be flicked on by Pholongo and redirected via the head of Nyambi at the near post, and it takes just over 4 minutes for me to find a water bottle and send it skimming down the touchline with a good satisfying kick. After half an hour it could be 0-2 when Mzwakali cuts in from the left wing and shoots, but he blazes it over the bar from 20 yards.

Some worrying news breaks a couple of minutes later when Joseph Ekwalla goes down and stays down clutching his side. He can play on though, so he does. Lark then celebrates by dribbling the ball forward towards the Ajax CT box, but his shot goes just over.

Sony Norde, back in the squad today after concluding his trip back to Haiti, comes on as a half time substitute replacing Sello Japhta and I’m hoping that after several injuries and International interruptions we’ll finally have a look at what Sony offers to the team in his favoured left wing role.

That seems to do the trick and we come out swinging for the 2nd half. 5 minutes after the break, Ryan Moon chips a cross in from the right and Thoahlane rises like a salmon to power a header towards goal, but the ball cracks against the bar. Within a minute we push forwards again and this time Sony Norde lays the ball off for Moon. The winger sets himself before driving a shot at goal, but it comes back off the far post, completing an absurdly unlucky minute. The score remains 0-1.

Fortunately though we pass on our woodwork lurgy to Ajax 2 minutes later when Doutie's whipped cross is met by Nyambi, but he too hits the bar with his header. This move signals that the pendulum of play is swinging back at us and a couple more minutes later, Graham runs forward and shoots low, but it's easy for Komo to collect.

With 23 minutes to go we win a free kick near the left byline. It's a great opportunity for an equaliser and Ryan Moon steps up. He crosses into the box, but it's headed clear - And Ajax counter. Their move culminates with Mzwakali's shot deflecting off Graham's back and bouncing over to Doutie on the right, who volleys the ball into the bottom corner to double his team's advantage.

I bring on Siyabonga Zulu and Ernil Mobara for the last 20 minutes in place of Ryan Moon and Aidie Jenniker, who've had pretty poor games. It does us little good though and with 12 minutes to go, another Doutie corner is nodded on by Nyambi and tucked in by Cardoso to finish us off. We've lost 0-3 to our rivals. Again.

I've never had the luxury as a Manager of having a strong enough squad to beat my rivals and it's really starting to get on my wick. Our chance for this season has gone though and we've just got to play our remaining 8 matches, make damn sure we stay in the division, reinforce in the Summer and get them next time.

Joseph Ekwalla thankfully only comes out of the match with a bruised rib, which should heal in a few days. Relegation scrappers Polokwane City are next up and he should be back for the match, but a few days before that Dino Visser, Moe and Sullie all rap on my office door and demand I give them all first team football. Captain Philani Cele tries talking to them but it doesn't do the slightest bit of good, further reiterating my stance on his future captaincy prospects and forcing me to handle the situation myself. Managing to hide the amusement I find in their bare faced cheek, I simply give them a wry smile and explain that I have other options for their positions who are doing a better job than the 3 of them. Not that the others are setting the league on fire but I reckon even Chappie would offer us more defensively than Moe, and Sullie's contribution has been equally laughable. They accept my explanation and it calms them down for now, but long-term I'll have to think of something to appease them once and for all, like dumping them on the pavement outside our stadium on the first day of the Summer transfer window with "£2.50 or nearest offer" tags clipped to their collars.

They say that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and I quite agree. My best laid plans for the Polokwane match are to switch to Project: Meatloaf, drop the defensively minded Diale and finally bring in Sony Norde in the number 10 role where I think he'll flourish. The 'Of Mice And Men' reference is quite apt though because the only way that I can explain another fucking injury to Sony Norde is that I absent-mindedly raised Lennie from the dead and recruited him as a fitness coach, and he's been mistaking the poor Haitian for a puppie and squeezing the shit out of him until he hears something pop.

Norde will miss 5-6 weeks with strained ankle ligaments, so it's unlikely that the injury was actually sustained by a fictional resurrected oaf and I'll let Lennie off with a warning if I see him. More annoying news swiftly follows when Liechtenstein's friendly against Russia is cancelled due to a clash with their match against Austria. I manage to rearrange it for September but I'm fairly sure that that's when the European International League kicks off so I'm not sure whether we'll get to play it. I really want this practice match against Russia before our World Cup Qualifier so this is pretty frustrating news.

While I'm at it I also arrange friendlies against Wales, Georgia, Qatar, Costa Rica, Bhutan, USA and China this year, but again I'm not sure how many will be cancelled after the schedule for the EIL is announced.

But every cloud has a silver lining and in this case it's that I've been given the funding by Santos to start studying for my National A License. I'm on my way.

As well as bringing Norde in for Diale I had planned to drop Aiden Jenniker after some less than stellar recent performances, but he's ruled out anyway for about a week just before the match. Zulu comes in at left back and against my better judgement I select Moe instead of Cele at right back as he's not been great either. We do still go for Project: Meatloaf but with Sinbad and Diale behind Ekwalla in midfield.

The match is a bit dull to be perfectly honest. Shilongo tests Komo early on, capping a good run with a shot from 25 yards, but our young keeper catches it comfortably. After 25 minutes Ekwalla spots the Polokwane keeper off his line and has a crack from 35 yards but he hits it over, and just after half time Shilongo gets on the end of a knock down from Kumalo but again can't beat Komo. Ernil Mobara, Philani Cele and Sullie are all introduced but they can't help us find the breakthrough.

Ordinarily I'd take a 0-0 but I was really hoping for a reaction here. I thought the players would be hurting as much as I was after another thrashing against Ajax but I suppose not. I really can't wait for the summer, you know. So many of these players are in dire need of being taken down to the river so I can tell them all about how we're going to get a little place with a cow and pigs and alfalfa for the fucking rabbits.

Wtfranjo's avatar Group Wtfranjo
6 yearsEdited
Ernie (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep93)

We’re coming to a point now where I’m going to have to make a decision. I’ve already decided that I’m not going to leave Santos in the Summer unless I’m presented with an offer I can’t refuse, as I genuinely think that the only thing this club needs to be relatively big hitters is a change in attitude and a bit more quality. I’ve said a couple of times though that Philani Cele is probably not going to remain my captain beyond the end of the season if he stays at the club and vice-captain Moe will almost certainly be sold as soon as the window opens. Issouf Paro and Dino Visser have also worn the armband this season but the former’s shinbone is in more pieces than an exploded lego factory, leaving him in limbo in terms of how well he recovers and whether he’ll be a part of my plans, and the latter is consistently being kept out of the team by young Komo. So I need to choose who’s going to be our captain going forwards. I’m uncomfortable with the idea of giving the armband to a new signing until they’ve spent a while integrating into the team, so in the Summer I’ll most likely be choosing somebody that’s already on our books.

We’re playing Thanda Royal Zulu today, who are managed by former Charlton Athletic and South Africa striker Shaun Bartlett. I’m going to give someone new a chance to lead us out against Bartlett’s boys and I’m sure it won’t surprise you to learn that that someone is 19 year old Cameroonian prodigy Joseph Ekwalla.

If that’s not enough of a breath of fresh air for this stagnating team, I’m also handing a full debut to 17 year old Ernil Mobara, who’ll lead the line in place of Carl Lark, who went off the boil quite a while ago, 22 year old centre back Gary Havenga is back in for Moe with Gertse shifting across to right back and on the bench we have 15 year old playmaker Luke Fanteni, one of our latest batch of youth recruits.

12 minutes in we’re dominating TRZ and when Japhta’s corner is headed clear we win possession straight back through Diale. He plays a smart one-two with Japhta on the right wing and then whips in a cross for Ryan Moon, who powers a header past the keeper to put us ahead.

Instead of sitting back content with the lead, the team seems to smell blood. It’s no coincidence that within a minute of the goal, Captain Joe’s the man leading by example by driving forwards in search of a second. He lays the ball off for Japhta, who smashes it from the edge of the box and it cracks against the angle between post and bar before flying up into the air. Ernil Mobara leaps for the rebound but Mtebule gets there ahead of him and heads it clear. I like what I see though.

10 minutes later, we’re still in control. And what’s better is that we’re playing some nice football. Thoahlane receives the ball during one such move and plays a long ball into the Thanda box. The keeper comes out to claim the ball but he’s beaten to it by Sello Japhta, who sends a looping header into the unguarded net for 2-0.

This time, Thanda Royal Zulu come straight back at us less than a minute after kick off, breaking up one of our moves and starting a counter attack through Ngcepe, who brings the ball into our half. Sensing that their chance has finally arrived, the TRZ players all bomb up the field desperately, but that proves to be their undoing when Diale nicks the ball from Ngcepe and boots it over the defence for Mobara, who’s about 10 yards clear of the centre backs but is being played onside by their left back. The debutant Mobara brings the ball down, takes it into the box and chips it past the poor onrushing goalkeeper and into the top corner.

I’ve kept a respectful poker face so far so as not to rub it in for my opposite number, but that goal breaks my resolve. I leap to my feet grinning like a madman and punch the air in triumph as Ernil sprints away from goal, pointing both hands up to the sky. He runs straight over to the dugout and I give him a high five, before he’s mobbed by the other players, both playing and benched, in a flurry of hair ruffling and back patting. He’s off the mark on his full debut, and I couldn’t be more bloody proud.

The best part of it is that Ernil’s clearly not content with 1 goal. When we win a free kick 20 yards out a couple of minutes later he sends Japhta and Moon away and takes it himself, hitting it powerfully over the wall but against the post.

The last action in the first half comes just after the half hour mark when Captain Joe slides the ball behind the defence for Ryan Moon, who cuts it across from the right wing for Mobara, but even I can see that he’s 2 feet offside when he smashes in what he thinks is his 2nd debut goal. Sadly the score stays at 3-0.

My half time team talk gives itself. We’ve played probably the best half of football I’ve seen us play and I just tell them to keep it going. Evidently though, Shaun Bartlett makes a more convincing argument to his players because they come out the better team in the second half. Just after the hour mark, Matlokosi crosses well from the left byline and Bunting meets it at the far post, cushioning it down for Ngcepe, who hits it and forces an excellent reflex save from Komo. From the resulting corner, Samodien’s cross is met by Matlokosi and he heads it against the outside of the post and wide. I respond by implementing Project: Foxy Mk II to try and be a bit more solid.

A few minutes later though, TRZ threaten a comeback when Ngcepe slots the ball through for the danger-man Matlokosi, who places it in Komo’s top corner from 8 yards to pull one back.

It doesn’t last long though. With 13 minutes to play an extremely controlled and patient passing move from Santos culminates with Sello Japhta playing a through ball for Mobara, who slams the ball into the bottom corner to make it 4-1. As well as being incredibly happy for him though, I’m suddenly gutted that he was stood offside the 2nd time he stuck the ball in the net. He would’ve had a professional debut hat trick if not for that!

I bring on defensive midfielder Junaid Mobara, left winger Manqoba Cele and attacking midfielder Luke Fanteni for the last 10 minutes in place of Diale, Japhta and Sinbad. It’s a nice luxury to be able to give these youngsters a bit of time and not one that I’m allowed very often, so I enjoy watching them play. We nearly make it 5-1 in the 89th minute when Ekwalla plays a one-two with Ernil Mobara before striking the ball from the edge of the box and hitting the bar. The ref blows to signal full time and we’ve been on the right end of a drubbing for once. It feels bloody great.

That’s what we need. That’s exactly the kind of pick-me-up we’ve been crying out for. We just have a couple of bits of admin to take of before we take this swagger into the next match against Bloem Celtic. First of all, to save me the headache, I’m going to refer to Ernil Mobara our debutant goalscorer as “Ernie” and Junaid Mobara, the promising defensive midfielder as “Juno”.

Secondly, after young Luke made a cameo debut, he's set a Santos FC record as the youngest ever played to wear our shirt in a professional match, clocking in at 15 years and 356 days. He's got potential, that lad.

And finally, Komo's now played 20 games for us, which means he's getting a bit of a wage bump. Well in, Komo.

Unfortunately we'll be the victims of his success as we host Bloem Celtic though, because he's been called up to South Africa's U20 squad again and will miss our match. Nevertheless we'll get by without him and it'll be worth it in the long run for him to get the experience and confidence boost that comes with an International youth team call up. Dino Visser will replace him in our lineup and will take the armband so that I can have another look at how it fits him.

The first half is not much of a spectacle. The 2 teams square up and patiently test each other. It's about 7 minutes after half time when things get interesting, kicked off by a comedy of errors from the Santos defence. First Zulu strays way away from his designated position, then Thoahlane covers for him, getting the ball from the left back position and dwelling on it for far too long. Nyondo sees this and immediately nips in to steal the ball away on our right wing. He crosses the ball into the centre for Chapman, who's in acres of space after strolling casually away from his marker Havenga, and puts it past Visser easily from close range. I am displeased.

With half an hour to go I withdraw Zulu and Ernie, replacing them with Jenniker and Lark, and with 17 to play I complete my substitutions with the introduction of Gugu Gogotya in place of Diale.

With 10 minutes to go we finally kick into gear. Ekwalla springs Moon with a good ball through the defence. Moon shoots first time but Msibi parries the ball away. Japhta gets to the rebound though and slots it into the mostly empty net to equalise.

We barely have time to celebrate though. With 5 minutes to play, Zuma finds Nyondo on the right wing and he chips a cross into the centre once more. This time, Mathosi powers a header past Visser to regain his side the lead, and indeed the win.

I'd love some consistency and I'd love to have a run of games between the frustration headaches instead of them being a core part of my Saturday night routine. Nevertheless, winning felt really good however temporary the feeling might've been and Ernie's given me some food for thought for the future, as too have Juno, Fanteni and potential future Santos captain Joseph Ekwalla.

Safe (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep94)

Sometimes you need to face the music and admit that you did something that turned out to be a mistake. At the beginning of this year, a book called “How to Watch Football” by Ruud Gullit convinced me that signing Khat and using him as a Libero was a good idea. As it turns out, it wasn’t, and for that I apologise on behalf of Ruud Gullit. Writing that book was clearly a mistake and we all really deserve an apology from him.

I’m only kidding. It was my call and it was a bad one, but I don’t regret it and I don’t blame myself for the same reason that I don’t blame the creators of Scrubs for making a ninth season: If you don’t try these things, how are you going to find out what works, what doesn’t work and what retroactively ruins the entire show and shits on a perfectly good ending?

I mention this now because this bold new style that blew up in my face and a subsequent lack of football has turned out to be enough to convince Khat to call time on his career. His contract was due to expire in the Summer and he’s decided that Santos FC will be his last club.

Cheers Khat, thanks for only complaining when I stopped playing you and not when I was crowbarring you in behind the centre backs. I also convince Goolam Allie to fund a National B License coaching course for him while he’s still with us, because quite honestly I feel bad.

Speaking of people falling out of favour with me, we have a problem: Both Santos FC left backs are absolutely awful. Aiden Jenniker, the strongest on paper, had a promising start to the season but has since been patchy at best. I didn’t expect much from Siyabonga Zulu, but he’s somehow managed not to even live up to that level of expectation. The only good games he has are when he has absolutely nothing to do and that’s not good enough. Jenniker’s suspended for our next match away at Chippa United after picking up 4 yellows and I’m dropping Zulu after he was noticeably absent in the build up for both of Bloem Celtc’s goals last week, both of which came down his wing.

“Franjo you zany bastard, Santos don’t have another left back! How are you dropping them both?” You might hysterically ask after slapping your gawping, shocked and confused face with both hands simultaneously, Kevin McCallister style. Well I have a plan.

You know how I often use centre backs as full backs? It’s not a choice thing, it’s out of necessity. What if we could have a swashbuckling attacking full back? What if we already do? What if he’s been here the whole time, right under all of our noses? It dawned on me the other day when I was speaking to Sello Japhta and he told me how he had indeed sparingly played at wing back during his career. “How about full back?” I asked, and here we are. Sure he’s rusty, but I don’t mind him messing up or making mistakes at this point in the season. We’re winding down to a safe, boring, bottom half finish and nothing’s really going to change that. I start training Sello as a full back and he’ll start there today for the Chippa match too. Manqoba Cele will make his full debut on the left wing, but otherwise we line up with our standard Project: Foxy Mk II, with Ernie also brought out for a rest and Carl Lark restored up front. I’m quite excited.

4 minutes in Joseph Ekwalla, captain for the day again, finds Carl Lark and the overly eager striker has a pot shot from way out on the right wing. Unfortunately it’s off target and hits the side netting, because obviously.

They try again a few minutes later, with Ekwalla playing a brilliantly precise long ball up to Lark. He takes the ball to the edge of the box and shoots, but again it’s off target, this time flying wide.

After 20 minutes I encourage the lads to try to work the ball patiently into the box, to put a stop to the pot shots.

With 10 minutes of the first half to go, Langwe passes short to Manganyi from a Chippa free kick. The young midfielder turns and plays in Ngobe behind the defence, who curls the ball beautifully into the bottom corner to put the hosts ahead.

With half time looming, Chippa continue to push us, but just before the 45 minute mark Ekwalla breaks up one of their attacks and plays a lovely ball onto the right wing for Ryan Moon. He bursts down the right flank and crosses when he gets to the byline, chipping the ball in at the perfect height for Carl Lark to run onto, but he heads straight at Daniel in net, who catches the ball easily.

Just to drive home the message that this might not be our day, within a minute Ace Sali sets up Mbenyane just inside our penalty area and he aptly drives the ball home into the bottom corner.

The second half is no better. I bring on Ernie for Lark with 20 minutes to go and he hits the post with a header from another Moon cross a few minutes later. Juno then replaces Diale to little effect and with 5 minutes to go Joseph Ekwalla damages his foot. The game ends 0-2 and again I’m displeased.

Joe will miss 11-14 days with his damaged foot, which isn’t ideal with mathematical safety within reach. I call a team meeting to tell the team to get us the extra 2 points we need with minimal fuss. The majority of the Santos players however feel that I’m under appreciating our good position and think that I should be giving them more credit than just saying “Get it done”, so in trying to rally them together I manage to actually split the changing room, which is just fantastic.

And in the end I needn’t have bothered. Before we actually get to our match away at Orlando Pirates, Highlands Park lose their match 0-3 against Maritzburg and in doing so confirm our safety on 27 points, as they’re 15th and with their remaining 3 matches the most points they can possibly accrue is 25. Morale in our dressing room is still rock bottom though, so I make a mental note to look at the fixture list before holding my next team meeting, because I’ve fucked that right up.

Anyway, with safety confirmed, we land in Johannesburg a partially relieved but divided team. Morale and fitness are both issues for a few players, but Sony Norde is at least fit enough for a spot on the bench. Gugu Gogotya replaces Joe Ekwalla in the starting line up, giving our central midfield a sense of extra defensive solidity, and I begrudgingly bring Jenniker back in for Manqoba Cele, restoring Japhta back to the left wing. I’m going to keep training him as a left back though as you never know when an attacking full back’s going to come in handy.

10 minutes in, Qualinge bursts through the middle of the pitch and powers straight through our midfield, but shanks his shot well wide from 20 yards.

He tries again a couple of minutes later, this time cutting in from the left wing. This time Gertse robs him of the ball though and hoofs it long. Just like that it’s us who are threatening as Lark gets behind the centre backs and runs through on goal, before stabbing the ball beyond the keeper and into the bottom corner.

5 minutes later the Pirates should equalise when Nyauza gets his head to Rakhale’s corner at the near post, but he only manages to direct the ball against the angle.

We take our well earned 1-0 lead into the changing room at half time and I tell the boys to just keep it going. Apart from that header we’ve kept them to half chances, although we’ve not created much apart from the goal. 10 minutes after the break Gogotya’s surrounded on the ball by Orlando players and is pressed into losing possession. Orlando put together a good passing move and eventually get it out on the right for Happy Jele, who whips a cross in for Ndoro, who heads in the equaliser.

Another 10 minutes pass and all we can muster is a pot shot into the side netting from Moon, who’s so far out on the right wing he’s practically taking a corner. At the other end we’re being put under more and more pressure so I bring on Sony Norde, half fit as he may be, for Japhta. He may provide another outlet that we can use to break Orlando’s spell of dominance.

A few minutes later their substitute Baloyi dribbles to the right byline and gets a cross in. The ball gets all the way through to Qualinge at the far post, who has the goal gaping as Komo struggles to get over from the other post, but somehow he puts it wide. We get away with that one.

They keep the pressure on. A few minutes from time, Qualinge is in the thick of it again; This time squaring the ball for Motupa, who dribbles towards goal and shoots from 20 yards, but Komo catches it easily. I bring on Phil Cele for Moon and drop us back to a 4-1-4-1 in the hopes that it’ll help us hold on.

And then in injury time it happens: Matlaba hits the left byline and gets a cross in. Ndoro meets it with his head and hits the bar from close range, and in the blink of an eye the ball bounces back down and Baloyi half volleys it into the net. It’s a gutting moment until my eyes pan over to the linesman on the far side of his pitch, flag raised against the goalscorer. Good lad. 1-1 it ends.

It’s a decent point, that. Orlando are a good team and they should’ve beaten us really as they were the better side. But I’ll take that and now we’re on the home straight, with only 3 games remaining before the end of the season, the summer, and the shake up.

All Hail King Carl (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep95)

All hail King Carl!

Alright, it’s not exactly been plain sailing for Carl Lark this season and he’s had to endure some extreme form troughs as well as enjoying the peaks, but he’s set 2 Santos records for number of goals scored (13) and number of player of the match awards (6) in a single season, breaking Emil Sambou’s and Tyren Arendse’s records respectively with time to spare. Fluctuation in form aside I think we can all agree that that’s not a bad season at all. Nice one, Carl.

With 3 matches to go and with little to play for, we welcome Maritzburg United to the Athlone Stadium today, who are managed by former Sheffield United and Zimbabwe striker Peter Ndlovu. They sit 2 goals below us, also on 28 points in 13th and it would be rather nice to open up a bit of a gap.

Thoahlane’s unlucky to miss out as he overcomes a damaged shoulder just in time for the match, but then picks up a thigh strain in training, ruling him out for a few more days. On the upside though, Sony Norde and Joseph Ekwalla are both back in contention after overcoming their respective injuries. Or you’d think so wouldn’t you, but now that Sony Norde’s just about fit again he’s been called up to the Haiti squad and will not be available, much to my frustration. Haiti must've hired Martin O’Neill.

Without banging this drum again too much, and taking into account the fact that we could drop a single league position, we’ve really got nothing to lose now and I’m hoping for new and better quality incoming faces in the Summer. I’m also hoping to start next season with a squad capable of dominating a match with Project: Meatloaf, so I want to use these matches to give my current crop of players the chance to get used to my way of playing and to show me they can handle it. Ekwalla and Cele come in for Gogotya and Thoahlane, with Gertse shifting across to centre back. Let’s see what they can do.

They do great. 12 minutes in we take the lead when Ekwalla slides the ball through Martizburg, who are penned inside their own box. A lesser player would take it easy after beating 2 club records, but King Carl makes sure he gets on the end of the pass and tucks it away.

The scores are levelled 5 minutes later though when Shandu dribbles down the right and crosses for Mnyamane, whose first effort is kept out by Komo’s feet but who tucks away the rebound.

A few minutes later the action continues though. It reminds me of Angrense, where a lot of games were open and non-stop end to end football, which is a pleasant surprise. This time Moon gets away down the right and whips a cross in towards the far post, where Japhta arrives to bury it in the back of the net. 2-1.

Before the half hour mark we get our third when Sinbad plays a beautiful pass down the right wing from inside the centre circle. Ryan Moon reaches it at the byline and pulls the ball back for Lark, who puts it in from close range.

A few minutes later Mnyamane hits the post after connecting with Ndlovu’s drilled cross, but then deep into first half injury time Jenniker pushes the striker to the floor and gives away a penalty, which Khumalo places firmly to Komo’s left to make it 3-2.

The second half is not such a frantic affair, which I’m pleased with. With 20 minutes to go I bring Moe on for Moon and we go to a counter attacking 4-1-4-1 to kill the game off. We nearly go one better with 15 minutes to go too, when Sinbad curls a free kick against the bar.

Lark goes off with 10 minutes to go after taking a knock on his heel, earning a standing ovation from the Athlone as he’s replaced by Ernie. We see the game out to claim an impressive and somewhat stylish 3 points and open up a 3 point gap over our opposition. Perfect.

Phil Cele’s Santos career could well be over after suffering a back strain that’ll keep him out for 4-5 weeks. I’m still torn on whether I want to keep him at the club, but I’ll leave that decision for another time.

Bidvest Wits are up next, the 2nd placed team in the League behind Kaiser Chiefs. They need to win today to have any hope of catching the League leaders. Bear in mind that this is the same Bidvest Wits that knocked us out of the SA KO Cup First Round 1-2 at the Athlone. The same Bidvest Wits that beat us 2-3 at their place.

Well do you know what? I’m sick of Bidvest Wits and I certainly don’t want to do them any favours. We’re at home again and we're going Project: Meatloaf. The fit again Thoahlane replaces Cele with Gertse going back on the right and Zulu comes in for Jenniker.

The first half is quiet, with Moon going closest to opening the scoring 8 minutes in when Ekwalla plays the ball through for him and he stings the Keeper’s palms with a powerful but poorly placed shot.

The first proper action comes almost 5 minutes into the second half, when Sinbad passes to Ekwalla 20 yards out, who flicks the ball straight on into the path of Lark again. Our top scorer shimmies past the centre back and captain Khumalo and shoots, but Keet parries it away. The loose ball rolls away as far as Moon though and he squeezes the ball home from a tight angle to put us ahead.

With 10 minutes to go, Mbatha plays a good ball through our defence for Rodgers, who runs through on goal but is denied by the outrushing Komo. We shut up shot once again with a 4-1-4-1, with Jenniker coming on for Japhta on the left wing, and we see the game out to claim another well deserved win.

And with that it’s official - Kaiser Chiefs have won the South African Premier Soccer League. You’re welcome lads.

Before our final match of the season, the draw for the European International League is drawn. Liechtenstein are in division D, as we were in 2018/19 when the European International League was introduced. That time we were in a tricky group with Macedonia, Kosovo and Andorra and we finished 3rd, well below both Kosovo and the promoted Macedonia and only winning the 2 Andorra games. There is no seeding so we could very well end up with a particularly easier or more difficult group. Fingers crossed for the former.

Group 1, 2, 3 & 4

1st Teams: Azerbaijan (Ranked 118th), Gibraltar (200th), Armenia (Ranked 78th) & Andorra (204th)

No clue here as to who we'll be facing. I wouldn't mind Gibraltar or Andorra, especially the latter who we have a proven track record against. The other 2 look very tricky though.

Group 2

2nd Team: Liechtenstein (Ranked 170th)

That's what I like to see. We've been drawn in group 2 with Gibraltar who only became eligible 4 years ago. Their key man Jake Gosling plays for Stockport County in the Vanarama National League, so that's a good omen. They finished dead last in the last International League Division D campaign, winning only once against Kazakhstan in a group also containing Georgia and Malta.

They also lost all 10 matches in their European Championship Qualifying Group, which again contained Kazakhstan, but also Estonia, Sweden, Denmark and Portugal, so it's probably fair enough.

Team 3: Moldova (Ranked 123rd)

Interesting. I've got to admit I know absolutely nothing about Moldova. They very nearly did get promoted from Division D in their last EIL campaign, winning 11 points from Cyprus, Faroe Islands and San Marino and finishing just 1 point behind the Cypriots, who won promotion. They might be tough opposition. They did come 5th out of 6 in their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign though, above Malta but well below Belarus, Montenegro, Romania and Russia.

Team 4: Montenegro (Ranked 87th)

Ah, of course. Well at least we'll get some more practice for our World Cup Qualifying group! Interestingly enough so do the other 2 teams, who'll face each other in Group 5 of the World Cup Qualifiers. Montenegro actually got relegated from Division C in their last EIL campaign, only managing a narrow win over Bulgaria and a draw against the eventually promoted Scotland in a group also containing Northern Ireland.

For anyone unfamiliar with the European International League by the way, it's a simple format. There are 4 Divisions; A, B, C and D and groups are drawn and matches played every 2 years, with one team getting promoted (And in the higher divisions, the bottom team getting relegated, but not in Div D). We'll play each team in our group home and away starting in September.

Now that the EIL's scheduled, our friendlies against Qatar, Costa Rica, USA, Bhutan, China and of course Russia are all cancelled. Russia seem unwilling to rearrange this time too so it looks like we won't be getting this particular practice match.

Anyway it’s time to tie this season up with a bow. We finish with a trip to Pretoria to face Sundowns. It’ll be a tough match as I’m going to stick with Project: Meatloaf even though it’s more suited to home games. As we’re guaranteed a minimum 12th placed finish now though (A 14-0 win could take us 11th, just saying) I’d rather have the team get more practice than a result today. In that vein I’m also going to make a triple half time substitution in advance: Young Thembinkosi Maluka will make the bench for the first time and will be introduced half way through for his debut along with Ernie and Luke Fanteni. In terms of our starting lineup, the only change I make is that Jenniker comes back in at left back, replacing Siyabonga Zulu, who’s picked up a 4th yellow and so a 1 match suspension.

Sundowns get off to a promising start when 10 minutes in, Anele flicks the ball ahead of Ntulli, who runs one on one with Komo and hits the post with a placed effort.

On the half hour Sundowns are at it again, this time counter attacking after our corner’s cleared. Motupa dribbles near enough the length of the pitch down the left wing, and skips past the challenge of Gertse to reach the byline. He chips a cross in for Andria, who heads the ball past Komo and into the net to put the home side ahead and claim a fantastic assist for Motupa.

Not long after, Mosadi’s corner is nodded on by Andria and directed towards goal by Gyimah’s diving header, but Aidie Jenniker boots it off the line. The ball’s worked around before Mosadi passes to Ntulli just inside the box and he shoots well, forcing a good diving save and another corner from Komo. From the corner though it’s our turn to counter, with Japhta receiving the ball and playing it over the defenders that didn’t venture forwards for the corner. Moon receives the ball and runs through on goal before shooting at the near post, but Onyango makes a good save to deny him.

Moon goes close again before half time; after he's released by Lark he bursts into the Sundowns box, but shoots straight into the arms of the keeper. At half time my pre-determined changes take place, with Fanteni, Ernie and Maluka replacing Diale, Sinbad and Lark, with Ernie playing as a number 10.

Just into the second half, Mosadi’s floated cross is met by Anele, who loops a header high and wide of our net. It’s not until 10 minutes from time that Sundowns double their advantage, when Mtshall crosses and Andria arrives to volley in his second of the day.

A silver lining arrives 5 minutes from time for us though, when Japhta plays a nice ball through for Maluka in a good position, who shoots from 12 yards and forces a good save from Onyango. 0-2 is the final score of the final game of the season.

Since Santos were promoted to the PSL in 2017, we’ve finished 13th in 2018 and 13th in 2019. In 2020 we've finished 12th, which is improvement. Slow improvement, but improvement nevertheless. But now it’s time for the players to head off on holiday, and for me to get stuck into reshaping this squad. I can’t wait. Summer 2020 is going to be a good one.

A Summer Advent-ure (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Meta-sode 95.5)

Alright guys,

Summer 2020’s upon us, which means I’m gunna pop off again and prepare for the new season, and I’m in quite a new position as I’m not actually sure how long this Summer’s going to take.

As it happens this Summer’s even more hectic than the previous ones in that on top of the usual Year 4 Review, World Roundup, pure story episode (That I’ll probably skip this time to be fair) and time consuming pre-season episode, this year we’ve actually got International Friendlies to play and the European Championship to look at too.

In short, I’ll be releasing at least 4 mini-sodes and I’m going to set myself a target of coming back for pre-season on Monday 11th December (2 Weeks), but it could be later if all of that takes longer than I’m anticipating.

So yeah, cheers for reading and have a good... Start of advent, I suppose. Oh, and if anyone tells you you that advent calendars are for kids, tell them that Franjo says to stop spreading their moany, grumpy, Grinchy shit all over the holiday season and have a fucking chocolate.



Year 4 Review (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 95.5.5)

Heads up - I originally said I'd be "back on the 11th (2 weeks)" but that's only 1 week. I'll be back on the 18th, sorry for my maths!

4 years, 4 clubs. I've enjoyed my first season with The Peoples' Team and I want to stay on and improve them next season, unless someone like Bayern fancies snapping me up... Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, hint, hint, Mr Rummenigge... Let's have a look back on year 4.

Santos FC

Final Position: 12th

Record: W9 D7 L16

Key Player(s): Sandile Stanley "Sinbad" Sibande, Sello Japhta, Joseph Ekwalla, Ryan Moon, Carl Lark

Highlight: Our 3-0 away win over Cape Town City in February

Lowlight: The supremely talented Sony Norde managing only 6 appearances (3 starts, 3 sub appearances) in half a season

Weirdly, in terms of my record this season there's not been a huge difference between my season at Santos and my season at GieKSa (We drew 3 more and lost 3 more in Poland), but it's all about perspective I suppose. In 2018/19 we had a great first half of the season and a horrible second half, whereas I feel like we've just had a consistently mixed bag this season. It's like in the last months of Katowice I had to eat a 10 gallon tub of cottage cheese in one long sitting, whereas this year I've just had a spoonful per week and I've been able to mask the taste with other food that doesn't taste like arse, making it a lot easier to stomach. Oh, I hate cottage cheese unless that isn't clear.

Ajax CT winger Sameegh Doutie won the Player of the Season award for the PSL, annoyingly. It's bad enough that our biggest rivals did the double over us by an aggregate scoreline of 0-6, but for them to have the best player in the league really grates on me. Credit where credit's due though, consistently good performances combined with 11 goals and 9 assists in 27 matches make him a worthy winner.

The Lesley Manyathela Golden Boot Award is named after a supremely talented young Orlando Pirates and South Africa striker who tragically died in a car accident aged 21 after winning the award himself in 2003. The award this year goes to Chippa United's 19 year old forward Tsepo Ngema, who struck 18 times in 27 matches. He was closely followed by 2 other top strikers though: Paulos Harrison of Kaiser Chiefs and of course our own King Carl.

"Mid-table" is a generous way of looking at a 12th placed finish in a 16 club league, but that's where we ended up according to The Cape Town Football Express, who report that we've pleasantly surprised everyone that had expected us to battle against relegation. Maybe that'll bring in a few more fans next season, because our average attendance of 8,481 is quite embarrassing when the Athlone holds 35,000. I know football fans have a lot of clubs to choose from in Cape Town, but come on! We're the peoples' team! Without the people we're just a... Blank, nondescript team! Like West Bromwich Albion!

Speaking of the people though, the ones who did show up to cheer us on have named King Carl our player of the season with 40% of the vote. I've said a few times so I won't bang on about it, but Lark's had a good solid season and I'll hope for more of the same next year. Top assister Ryan Moon, who also won the Young Player of the Year award, was the deserved runner up with 29% of the votes, with Sinbad completing the top 3 with 19%. The Team of the Season is extremely predictable, with Komo in net, Phil Cele, Gertse, Thoahlane and Jenniker across the back, Sinbad and Diale in midfield, and Moon, Ekwalla and Japhta behind Lark.

Going back to King Carl for a second, here's some more key stats for our Player of the Year:

He won 7 Player of the Match awards, more than any other player in the League and a new Santos record.

He scored a goal every 124.47 minutes, the 3rd highest in the League.

54% of his shots were on target, which is 7th highest in the League and just behind Ryan Moon on 56%.

Siyabonga Zulu's match-winning goal against Polokwane City in October wins the goal of the season award. We didn't see many screamers this year, but sometimes a well worked and well finished goal in the right context is just as good if not better.

Joseph Ekwalla has been named signing of the season, which is fair seeing as he was one of only 3 permanent signings I made and the other 2 players made about 10 appearances between them. Joe has added a real touch of class though and I'm tremendously excited about how good he can be, especially as in his 18 matches he made 23 key passes, which is joint 6th highest in the League and just behind Ryan Moon, who made 24. My priority for the Summer is to tie the Cameroonian down on a longer contract, as his current one expires next Summer and he's still not currently interested in committing.

The first time I saw Sinbad play, I thought he looked like a quality player. Maybe even our best player. The problem with quality players though is often that they don't try as hard as the others. They often don't need to because they're talented and special, and will try even less once they get into their 30's and their legs start to go. But on a scale of Hatem Ben Arfa to Cristiano Ronaldo, Sinbad is definitely further towards the latter, running 242.71 miles over the course of this season, which is the 3rd highest distance covered in the League. And at 32 years old too. What a bloody pro. Oh, and he completed 88% of his passes, more than any other Santos player.

As an appreciator of the art of defending, it'd be remiss of me not to acknowledge the efforts of Nathan Gertse, who made the 6th most key headers in the league (60) and Eliphas Thoahlane, who won 88% of his headers, the 3rd highest percentage in the league. Good job, lads.

Maybe I'm in some sort of weird rebound state of mind after last year, but I really like Santos FC. As an Everton fan, AKA "The People's Club", I really identify with the community feel around Lansdowne for this club. As I've said before, I think the only thing standing between us and some kind of success is the slack, negative attitude embedded in the team, and an extra sprinkle of quality wouldn't go amiss either. I tried to rectify that in the Winter break and I failed, but with any luck I'll be rectifying it over the next couple of months. Overall, it's been a good year.

Former Clubs

GKS Katowice

GieKSa have had a great season, and do you know what? I'm really, really happy about that. If they'd been relegated I would've felt guilty for leaving them in the lurch, or selfish that I jumped ship before my reputation took another relegation-sized blow. I mean, both of those things are still true, but at least they got themselves sorted out. After a single solitary point stood between Katowice and the 2nd tier last season, they actually finished in the top half of the table this time around, and so had a crack at the Championship Group as oppose to the Relegation Group. They finished 8th out of 8, but still, they did bloody well to get there in the first place, finishing 12 whole points above the relegation zone.

I was replaced at the helm by extremely promising young Polish manager Tomasz Kaczmarek, who took the probably rather sensible approach of dismantling pretty much the entire team straight away. His 4 most frequently used players were familiar faces though: Jack Hamilton, the goalkeeper who remains the player that I've spent the most money on in my career but didn't play a single competitive match for me, Danny Wilson, who I named captain and has kept the armband throughout the season, Shurendo Janga, who always showed promise but not enough consistency, and Damian Garbacik, who in all fairness was a solid player for me. Hurley, Kevin and Goncerz are all still on the books but have struggled to break into the team this year.

SC Angrense

Much to my immense excitement, Os Heróis are only going one way. They've had another great season and are improving year after year, obviously because of the great infrastructure that I set up and left behind. Pedro Amora is still in charge and after an impressive 9th placed finish in his debut season, he's lead Angrense to 5th in the Second League. Taking into account the fact that they finished behind Champions Sporting B and FC Porto B, neither of whom are allowed to be promoted to the top tier, they were only 1 place away from getting promoted again!

In terms of familiar faces, Jaime Seidi is still the club captain, although like I did, Pedro uses him primarily as a calming substitute when protecting a lead. Benjamim's still on the books, but didn't manage a single appearance this season, and Cristiano Magina's still got it, scoring 13 goals in 40 appearances in all competitions.

FC Höllviken

Honestly, there's not much that I can say about poor Höllviken that I didn't say last year. They're still in the 5th tier of the Swedish Football pyramid, they're still lead by Captain Wani Mukoko and vice captain Mattias Andersell and they still rely on Ghanaian midfielder Lawrence to make things happen for them. I hope they start to rise back up through the divisions soon, but it's not happening yet.

Höllviken aside though, it's been a good year for my former teams, and indeed for my current team. Let's hope for improvement in Vellinge, Hero Creek, Katowice and Lansdowne over the next year.

Year 4 World Roundup (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode

Once more. I'm going to try this once more and it's going to work. It's going to work, because who's the boss? I'm the boss. Franjo's the boss. My eyes narrow with concentration as I raise a balled fist, slowly extending a finger to point at my target.

"Meatloaf", I growl, "Sit". Meatloaf does not sit. The thought doesn't even cross his mind. He just looks up at me with those big green eyes, portraying only complete ignorant innocence. I've had these cats for 2 years now. Sheltered them, sustained them, loved them. They're still complete arse holes though. And they still won't sit, stay, lie down, roll over, play dead, high 5 or leap through the hoop of fire on command. That last one was perhaps overly ambitious, I'll grant you. I watch as Meatloaf flops down from the bed onto the floor and pads away towards his food as Burnie watches on from my side. That's a point, actually...

"Burnie, sit!" Burnie doesn't even seem to hear me. He too flops down and pads away to the food bowl. Fucking cats. I reach for my old laptop. It's really looking its age nowadays, covered in scratches and scuffs from general wear and tear. It really shouldn't be that battered as I only use it once a year, but I suppose I have to take into account the feline factor. I boot the laptop and start having a look around the world of football.

So as usual, Arsenal won the... Oh, hang on... They didn't?! Manager of the Year José Mourinho's Manchester United won the Premier League?! Oh right, sorry! The King is dead, long live the King, apparently. José Mourinho has not only stopped Arsene's run of 3 straight league titles, but he's done it in ridiculous fashion. Manchester United have been virtually unstoppable this year, dropping points in only 6 matches and accruing 99 points, breaking the records for number of wins in a season and number of points in a season in the EPL. Lead by Captain Ander Herrera and fired to victory by the goalscoring of their jaw dropping attacking line up, featuring Paulo Dybala, Robert Lewandowski, Paul Pogba, Gonzalo Higuain and Juan Mata, United really have had a remarkable season and finished 19 points clear of Klopp's 2nd placed Liverpool. Wenger's Arsenal and Pochettino's Spurs filled out the top 4, while Manchester City finished 5th, prompting the sacking of Pep Guardiola at the end of the season. He's been replaced by the legendary Zinedine Zidane. Chris Hughton's overachieving Stoke City were the last team to sneak into the European places at the expense of 7th placed Chelsea, who also sacked their Manager Antonio Conte and replaced him with PSG's Unai Emery.

At the other end of the table there was a frantic finish. I mean, not for Newcastle, they finished dead last and had sacked Mark Warburton by the end of 2019. They brought in former Scunthorpe and Norwich manager Darren Way to replace him but he couldn't prevent them from ending the campaign at the foot of the table. But the other relegation spots were up for grabs: Going into the final match, Hull City, who have since replaced long serving manager Marco Silva with Michael Laudrup, were on 35 points and Swansea, who sacked manager Ryan Giggs after Christmas and replaced him with Carlo Cudicini, Steve Clarke's Burnley and Everton, who kindly freed up Laudrup for Hull in March and replaced him with Serie A stalwart Stefano Pioli, were all on 38, all 4 clubs having very similar goal differences. Swansea got thrashed by 2nd placed Liverpool, Hull overcame the odds to beat Southampton and Everton and Burnley played out a brilliant 3-3 draw to make sure they both ended up safe on 39 points, flooding 606 phone lines with accusations of match fixing from people exclusively using very angry East Yorkshire accents.

Paulo Dybala was the Champions' top goalscorer but in the league he was eclipsed by Chelsea's Mauro Icardi. Özil had another spectacular season, playing consistantly brilliantly for the Gunners and laying on the most goals for his team mates once again, while Paul Pogba and Juan Mata both had brilliant seasons too. Pogba in particular had such a brilliant season in fact that he was named both Players' Player of the Year and Footballer of the Year. Spurs' Dele Alli, still only 24 years old, won the Players' Young Player of the Year award once again, making it 4 times in 5 years for him, and United's David De Gea won his 3rd Golden Glove in 4 years.

The Players' Team of the Season is pretty much as you'd expect, with David De Gea in net, Spurs' Toby Alderweireld, Chelsea's Aymeric Laporte, Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny and surprise inclusion Aaron Creswell of West Ham in defence. United duo Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba are joined by the Gunners' Mesut Özil and City's Kevin De Bruyne in midfield, with top scoring duo Mauro Icardi of Chelsea and Paulo Dybala of Manchester United up front.

Only 1 of last year's relegated Premier League teams is heading back up to the top tier: Sunderland, managed by former Port Vale manager Rob Page, of whom I was extremely sceptical after he was appointed last year. He's proved me wrong though, taking the Black Cats up as Champions at the first time of asking. They'll be joined by Roberto Di Matteo's Norwich City and Steve McClaren's Ipswich Town, who had to navigate tricky play-off ties against Robbie Nielson's Fulham and Paul Heckingbottom's Barnsley.

This season's La Liga table has a suspiciously similar look to it as last year's. For the second year in a row, Manager of the Year Luis Enrique's Barcelona won the league, falling only 1 point short of Manchester United's tally in the Premier League with 98. It was close between Barca and Diego Simeone's Athletico Madrid though, who finished on 97 points, 8 clear of Marcelino's 3rd placed Real Madrid. Damir Canadi's Bilbao had a great season too, scraping past Javi Garcia's Villareal into 4th place and nicking a Champions League spot.

Madrid based duo Cristiano Ronaldo and Sandro Ramirez were the league's top scorers with 23 and 20 respectively, while Leo Messi set up by far the most goals and had an incredible season, as did his team mate Neymar. Messi also won the Player of the Year award, just pipping Neymar and Real's Gareth Bale to that particular accolade, while Barcelona's Marc-André ter Stegen won the Goalkeeper of the Year award.

Bafflingly in a league where Barcelona and Atleti accrued 195 points between them, the Team of the Year is made up mainly of Real Madrid players. Barca stopped ter Stegen is in net, with Atleti's Alessandro Florenzi and Barca's Samuel Umtiti joined in defence by Real's Raphaël Varane and Sergio Ramos. The midfield is comprised almost exclusively with Real players, namely Gareth Bale, Eden hazard and Cristiano Ronaldo, with Sevilla's Franco Vázquez thrown in for good measure. Messi and Sandro lead the line.

As I google "Bundesliga table", my heart skips a beat. What if this is the year? What if this is the year that somebody apart from Bayern have won? What if this is the year that we get a bit of variety in the Bundesliga? And then I slap myself across the face for being so fucking silly, because of course Bayern Munich won the Bundesliga. They won it comfortably ahead of Thomas Tuchel's Borussia Dortmund, as per usual. I've nothing against Manager of the Year Carlo Ancelotti or his Bayern side, but I'm just a little bored of looking at the Bundesliga. Well done to them all the same, though. And well done to Slaven Bilic's Schalke for breezing into the 3rd Champions League spot and to Roger Schmidt's Bayer Leverkusen and André Breitenreiter's Borussia Mönchengladbach for making the Europa League.

As usual, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels had terrific seasons at the heart of the Champions' defence, while Dortmund's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was the league's top scorer by some distance. The player that came closest to matching the Gabonese's 25 goals was Mainz's Greek striker Dimitris Diamantakos with 16. You might think the fact that no Bayern player got close is a little odd, but to be fair they rotated their strikers quite a lot, with Thomas Müller bagging 8, £35million Summer 2019 signing Romelu Lukaku getting 7 and £47million Summer 2019 signing Kelechi Iheanacho getting 5. No doubt they'll be splashing out a bit of cash this Summer to rectify the situation. Red Bull Leipzig's Emil Forsberg and Dortmund's Mario Götze set up the most goals in the league.

I'm stopped in my tracks when I see that the awards for Footballer of the Year, Players' Newcomer of the Year and Players' Player of the Year were all won by the same young Bayer Leverkusen midfielder who's name I've not heard before: Kai Havertz. He certainly looks like a future World-beater. I think. My scouts don't know too much about him to be honest.

And finally the Team of the Year doesn't contain many shocks at all. Bayern 6some Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Joshua Kimmich, David Alaba and Arturo Vidal are all in there, along with Leverkusen's Kai Havertz, RBL's Emil Forsberg and Dortmund trio Serge Gnabry, Mario Götze and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Serie A used to be a lot like the Bundesliga in terms of one club ruling the roost, but since Juventus lost the 2017/18 title to Roma the other teams have started to smell blood. This year, for the first time in 9 years, AC Milan have won Serie A, and quite comfortably too, with Manager of the Year Ramón Díaz's men finishing 4 points above Juventus, who sacked Leonardo Jardim in March and brought in who else but Antonio Conte, and Luciano Spalletti's Roma. I'm annoyed in a way because if there's anyone who knows how to make Serie A a boring non-contest with Juventus winning the league every single year again, it's Conte. Napoli were the team to slip back into the Champions League in 4th, and Palermo and Udinese both bagged Europa League spots again.

Napoli's Gerard Moreno and AC Milan's Carlos Bacca each scored 21 goals this season, making them joint top goalscorers, with Moreno's 5 additional assists in 3 fewer matches granting him the top spot. He was one of the league's top performers in general, winning the Fans' Player of the Year award, while Juve defender Leonardo Bonucci won the Player of the Year award. Palermo's Federico Mancuello set up the most goals with 16, followed from a distance by Sampdoria's Dennis Praet with 11. Juventus' Gerónimo Rulli won the Best Goalkeeper award for the 2nd year running.

A glance further down the Serie A table makes me widen my eyes with excitement though, because who's that that's slipped into the relegation zone with Verona and Spal? S.S. Lazio. How have Lazio been relegated?! They've gone from 3rd place in the league to a first relegation since the mid 80's in 5 years! And they're a huge club too; One of the most decorated clubs in the country. Do they need a Manager? Could I have a chance? Oddly, after sacking Cesare Prandelli in December, they poached Sampdoria boss Giuseppe Iachini, who promptly sold their best player in Stefan de Vrij and lost 12 out of 15 matches, ensuring their relegation, and they want him to stay on! I honestly don't get it, but good luck to him. I'll be keeping my eye on the sleeping giants from afar. Watching. Waiting. Casually emailing over my CV after every loss.

Despite not winning the league, Juventus still dominate the Serie A Team of the Year, with Gerónimo Rulli in net, and Mario, Leonardo Bonucci and Alex Sandro joined by Inter Milan's Stefan Savic in defence, who I'll be getting very familiar with when my Liechtenstein side play Montenegro in both the EIL and World Cup Qualifiers. Juve's William Carvalho and Sami Khedira are selected in midfield along with Inter's Marcelo Brozovic, while Napoli's Gerard Moreno is joined by team mate José Callejón and Roma's Mohamed Salah up front.

If a couple of the other leagues looked similar to last year, then Ligue 1 is practically identical. The only real difference being that Christophe Galtier's 6th placed AS Saint-Etienne didn't get a Europa League place this time. Once again, Manager of the Year Unai Emery's Paris Saint-Germain won the league before the manager resigned to join struggling Chelsea, but it was a close run thing this year. José Barros' Monaco went level on points with PSG with 3 games remaining and were trailing purely on goal difference, but both teams took 9 points from their last possible 9 and finished on 102 points, with the Parisians still on top. Jocelyn Gourvennec's Olympique Lyonnais finished a distant, distant, distant 3rd on 74 points and took the last Champions League place, while Dieter Hecking's Olympique de Marseille and Sébastien Bannier's Girondins de Bourdeaux took the Europa League places. Incidentally, PSG are still looking for a new Manager, but they must have already gone on holiday as they aren't returning any of my calls.

PSG's Edinson Cavani's showing no signs of slowing down at 33 years old and was the league's top goalscorer with 22, slightly eclipsing Lyon's Alexandre Lacazette with 20. Monaco's Kylian Mbappé was the top performing player in the league, followed closely by team mate Daniele Rugani, and Marseille's attacking midfielder Óliver assisted the most goals with 16, just 1 ahead of PSG's Mateo Kovacic, who was also voted Best Player. The Champions' Gianluigi Donnarumma won his second Goalkeeper of the Season award in as many years.

The Ligue 1 XI of the Season is made up entirely of players from the top 2 teams, which ordinarily I'd scoff at but when both teams have racked up 102 points it's probably fair enough. PSG's Gianluigi Donnarumma is in goal, with team mates Raphaël Guerreiro and Marquinhos joined in defence by Monaco's Daniele Rugani and Fabinho. The Champions' Marco Verratti and Mateo Kovacic are in midfield with Monaco's Thomas Lemar, Bernardo Silva and Kylin Mbappé, with PSG's Edinson Cavani up front.

The Europa League was won by Premier League runners up Liverpool, who've had an excellent season under Jürgen Klopp. They started the knockout stages as they meant to go on with an entertaining 4-4 away goal win over Leverkusen in the first round, before pummelling Valencia 7-1 in the Quarter Finals. They scraped past Leicester City in the Semis, who had themselves breezed past Schalke and Palermo in the knockout stages, and the final was set up against Roma at Porto's Estádio do Dragão. Roma had had a good run of results themselves, embarrassing Manchester City 5-2 in the first round, before seeing off Vitesse on penalties and AC Milan in the Semi-Final. The red side of Merseyside enjoyed complete domination in the final over their Italian opponents, who lost Samu Castillejo and captain Kevin Strootman to injury, the latter of which took them down to 10 men in extra time as they'd used up their substitutions, and within 6 minutes Liverpool broke the deadlock through substitute Adam Lallana. Kostas Manolas was then sent off reducing Roma to 9 men, and there was no way back.

The Champions League was won surprisingly by Real Madrid, who beat their fierce rivals and La Liga Champions Barcelona 2-0 in a final held at Ajax's Amsterdam ArenA. Both teams had to knock out European giants on the way, with Madrid knocking out Tottenham, Bayern Munich and AS Monaco while Barcelona beat Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea and Arsenal. The final was rather different to the Europa League final in that it was the losing side that dominated and the winning side that were down to 10 men when Eden Hazard earned a 2nd yellow card after 69 minutes. Ronaldo had already put Madrid in front though and with 8 minutes to go, Toni Kroos doubled their advantage to secure their first Champions League win in 4 years.

I know realistically that I've got no chance in hell of landing the PSG job at the minute. And I've probably got no chance of getting the Lazio job either, if they ever decide to actually sack the manager that's taken them down. I can feel these jobs getting closer though. Maybe not by much, but they are getting closer.

Full of self-confidence, I cast the laptop aside and leap to my feet, staring straight at my 2 cats, who both look up at me curiously. "MEATLOAF, BURNIE... SIT!" I cry. They don't. Meatloaf goes back to eating and Burnie walks away towards the litter trays to take a shit. Fucking cats.

Done (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode

The work of a Football Manager is never done, so while my Santos team jet off on their holidays and before I can get down to the Summer shake up of my club side, I’ve got some International friendlies to play with Liechtenstein.

As inexperienced as I am at this side of Management, it’s my opinion that we need to use these friendlies very carefully as they’re the last ones we’ll have before we get to competitive football in the shape of the European International League in September, and I think the best thing to do is to pick a system and use it in all 3 friendlies. Our training time is obviously limited as we only get together every few months, so hopefully this’ll build some much needed familiarity. Our Project: Liechtensteiner served us pretty well as we took a respectable 1-2 loss away from Denmark a few months ago, so that’s the system we’ll be sticking with.

We start with a trip to Georgia. We’re very similar personnel-wise as we were against Denmark but I’ve had to shuffle the pack a bit. B Büchel is in net, with Oehri, Grippo, Kaufmann and Spirig across the back. Schürpf, Wieser, Flatz, M Büchel and Göppel are our 5 man midfield, and Frick leads the line.

We get off to a bad start. I had my eye on Jano as soon as the lineups were announced as he’s the only Georgian player that I knew from reputation alone and as I recall he’s got some skills. 8 minutes in, he gets clear on the left wing and skims a cross in for Mchedlidze, who powers the ball in from 6 yards out to put the hosts ahead.

20 minutes later, Jano swings a corner in towards the near post. In an excellently drilled corner routine, Mchedlidze nods the ball on, Dvali heads it back across goal from the far post and Kverkvella heads it over the bar. It should be 2.

5 minutes later Georgia are still on top and they win a free kick on the edge of the box. Arabidze drills it through our wall and hits the post; Another near miss.

At half time I tell the Liechtensteiner boys not to panic. It’s only 1-0 and we’re only here to settle into our system and our team. Even if we do lose it’s not the end of the world.

Less than 5 minutes after the restart, Jano cuts in from the left flank and surges towards our box. He shoots from 20 yards but hits it straight at Benji Büchel, who catches it.

With 35 minutes to go I bring on young Yanik Ngele for Vinzenz Flatz, as I simultaneously both don’t want to drop him in at the deep end and want him to get used to playing for his country, as he’s one of our brightest young prospects.

With under 20 minutes to go it’s still 0-1, but Georgia threaten once again when Samkharadze receives the ball on the edge of our box and toe pokes a shot against the bar. I bring on Valentin Flatz and Domuzeti for run outs in place of Kaufmann and Frick. Valentin is a fairly functional centre back and captain of Swiss amateur side FC Schaan, while Enis is a fairly consistent scorer for Swiss semi-pro outfit FC Balzers.

A few minutes later Domuzeti gets a rare half chance for us after Wieser finds the forward in Georgia’s half with a long ball. He runs towards the box and shoots, but can’t get any kind of accuracy on the strike and sends it high and wide.

Targamadze has a very similar chance a few minutes from the end but also puts the ball wide, and he’s followed almost immediately by Zivzivadze cutting in from the left wing and shooting from 20 yards, but he also puts it wide.

To be fair, we have to put the fact that we hold out at 0-1 in the closing minutes down to poor Georgian finishing as much as anything else, but in the 90th minute a Dvali cross is met by Zivzivadze, who volleys into the net from close range to kill the game off.

I’m not particularly encouraged by that performance. We’re definitely set up a little bit too defensively and giving the opponents chance after chance to score will almost inevitably end with them doing so at least once. Nevertheless, Project: Liechtensteiner may suit us better against better teams like it did against Denmark and I still want us to keep at it to build familiarity, so we travel back to Vaduz to host Estonia. Perhaps unwisely, I make no changes whatsoever.

Much like in Georgia, we get off to a stinker. It takes 13 minutes for a well worked corner to break us, with Pruuli whipping the ball in, Kübar flicking it on at the near post and Laas touching it into the net.

To be fair, we do a much better job today of nullifying Estonia throughout the match. In fact it’s not until 70 minutes have been played that goalscorer Laas slides the ball through for Likvak, who hits the ball very sweetly and sends it crashing off the underside of the bar and in.

Striker Niklas Kieber of YF Juventus comes on for Frick in the last 10 minutes as I continue to try and find someone who can get us firing and a few minutes later Pruuli sees a hopeful shot fly over from the edge of our box, but otherwise that’s all she wrote.

Is it ideal that I’ve now lost my only 4 International matches? No, not really. Is it annoying? Absolutely. Is the annoyance turning into panic? A little bit, yeah, thanks for asking.

I’m now in something of a difficult position. If I stick to my original plan and keep the same lineup and system when we travel to Wales, I run the risk of losing and having to throw everything out before the competitive fixtures because what we have provably doesn’t work, so the familiarity I’ve been working to achieve will disappear faster than a fiver on the steps of FIFA HQ. On the other hand if I abandon the plan and go for something else, we’ll be underprepared and almost certainly lose anyway, so we’ll be in the same situation but with 3 failed systems making everything seem that bit messier.

I decide to make one minor change for our match in Llanelli: Lucas Eberle, vice captain of FC Schaan, the same side that Valentin Flatz captains, comes in replacing Yves Oehri, who really hasn’t impressed me. Otherwise we stay unchanged against a good but thankfully Bale-less Wales side.

I’m actually a little bit starstruck when newly appointed Welsh boss Avram Grant seeks me out for a chat before kick off. This is the first time I’ve gone up against a famous football manager. A former Premier League manager. I jokingly assure him that my team will not be going easy on his, to which he laughs rather condescendingly. He may as well have patted me on the head and ruffled my hair.

That’s it. We’re fucked. My defensive Project: Liechtensteiner is done. As much as I’ve been grasping at straws and trying to make excuses for it, this is the 3rd consecutive match where we’ve gone behind in the first 15 minutes, and this time it only takes 4. Middlesbrough's Chris Gunter swings a cross into our box for this one, and Fleetwood's Wes Burns meets it to head the ball into the net. As a defensive strategy you might say that this one’s got some major fucking flaws. I’ll address it after the match though, there’s no point trying to change us 5 minutes in. I stand on the touchline silently, feeling dejected, annoyed, and frankly like I want to chuck the towel in. International football is beating me.

With 25 minutes gone, West Ham's Aaron Ramsey takes the ball down expertly and jinks past Vinzenz Flatz, before passing to Everton's Tyler Roberts, who places the ball into the far bottom corner to make it 0-2. We go on the counter attack in the hopes that we'll be able to put at least a couple of attacks together.

Alas just 10 minutes later, Burns takes the ball down the right wing and crosses it to the far post, where 17 year old Tommy Burns arrives to put the final nail in our coffin with his first International goal, despite not even having made his Premier League bow for Manchester United yet. Yanik Negele and Swiss amateur side SV Muttenz's defensive midfielder Thomas Eggenberger come on for us in the second half, but that's it. 270 minutes of International football and we've lost 3, scored 0 and conceded 7.

I think the match really affects Avram Grant. He clearly feels bad enough about thrashing my poor defenceless Liechtenstein side that he retires from Management altogether just a few days later, after only 73 days as Wales boss. I'd like to say that I know how he feels, but I don't. If everybody in history had quit every time they wanted to, the human race would still be living in wooden huts. If you want your house to stay standing, you'd better dig foundations. If you want your walls to stop falling down, you'd better get some cement and stick them together brick by brick. If you want your roof to stay on, you'd better make sure it's properly supported, and if you want to qualify for a major tournament with Liechtenstein you'd better get the fuck back to the drawing board.

Euro 2020 (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode

Ah, there's nothing quite like an International Tournament, is there? The daily doses of football, the national flags waving patriotically everywhere that you look, the crushing disappointment when you remember that your nation is essentially the whipping boy of International football...

Euro 2020 is a special tournament, as it's the first European Championship not to be hosted by any one nation, but across several European Cities: Amsterdam, Baku, Bilbao, Brussels, Bucharest, Budapest, Copenhagen, Dublin, Glasgow, London, Munich, Rome and Saint Petersburg. Pretty much all of the big hitters in Europe qualified, although the UK and Ireland and Scandinavia didn't do too well, with only England and Denmark qualifying from those areas.

The Group Stages didn't throw up that many surprises. Romania had a great group stage in Group C, winning all 3 of their matches against Albania, Croatia and even Germany. England, Portugal and France were the other teams to keep a 100% record throughout the group stage. The top 2 teams from each group qualified for the knockout stages along with the 4 best 3rd placed teams, and this threw out some interesting little situations. For example, FYR Macedonia qualified from Group A despite only picking up 2 points for draws against Belgium and Ukraine. I'd feel hard done by if I was supporting the Czech Republic for example, as they were placed in a very difficult group with France, Italy and Serbia and they picked up 3 points for a win over Serbia but finished 4th, so couldn't proceed despite having more points than Macedonia.

Again, there were no particularly surprising results in the Second Round. Some big nations were eliminated like Belgium, Poland and Austria, but at the hands of Germany, France and Italy that's hardly surprising. Serbia did well though, beating Romania on penalties and progressing to the Quarter Finals, where they knocked out reigning European Champions Portugal in extra time. Also in the quarters, England were eliminated by Germany, Spain were knocked out by France and Holland were sent home by Italy. Serbia's run finally came to an end with a routine loss to Italy in the Semi Finals, and Germany knocked out France to set up a Germany v Italy Final at Wembley, which the Italians won in extra time courtesy of a goal from CSKA Moscow's Manolo Gabbiadini.

I enjoyed watching the Euros. I always do. After guiding Liechtenstein to 5 losses in 5 matches, the tournament leaves a sour taste in the mouth though. I desperately want to take my team to a European Championship or World Cup tournament but it's not something that's often accomplishable with pure elbow grease and nothing else. We'll keep trying, keep plugging away and maybe some day we'll get there.

The Great Cull (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep96)

“Breathe it in, Stevie!” I shout once again upon seeing my landlord approach the Geen Rook Nie building, with Chappie plodding dutifully along beside him.

“What am I smelling this time?” He asks.

“The smell of change, my friend!” I cry triumphantly. “Change is in the air this Summer, believe you me. Starting with this.” I hand him a brand new Santos FC 2020/21 Home Shirt.

“Ah, cheers bru”, he says, looking impressed. “This the new one, yeah?” I nod, very pleased with myself. He looks at the back. “Couldn’t get me 'Koala 1' on the back, no?”

“Give it back”, I say immediately. “We had a deal, bru. I get you a shirt and match tickets, bru, and you memorise Joseph Ekwalla’s name, bru. And he’s obviously not number 1, he’s a pissing midfielder, bru!”

“You’re overusing bru, bru” he grins, putting the shirt on over his old bootleg one. “Very nice”, he says, looking down to admire his new jersey. “So what else has changed?”

Ah, what else indeed.

It won’t surprise you to learn that after all of my whinging about a lot of the Santos players last year, the very first thing on my agenda is clearing out all the dead wood. When Santos fans speak of this Summer in the future they’ll call it The Great Cull of 2020. I try to stay as cold and objective as possible, and promptly transfer list left back Aiden Jenniker, right back Moe, attacking midfielder Sullie and young centre back Lindani Ntombayithethi, along with striker Emil Sambou and centre back Issouf Paro. Taking out of the equation my desire to get those 2 fit again after their respective serious injuries and looking purely at what Emil and Issouf offered us before the Winter Break, they need to go. Neither of them are good enough for the Santos team I want us to be. They’re both on schedule to be fit in time for pre-season anyway so it is without guilt that I offer them around. After all, we’re only allowed 5 foreign players and I might need their spots. The last player I offer around is young number 10 Sakhile Maloka, who spent the second half of last season out on loan at Future Tigers. He’s OK, but to be honest we’ve got better young players coming through so a move will be best for everyone. Sparingly used right winger Saileg Richards will be released with some of the youth players once his contract expires, as I don’t see too much potential in him.

I spend the next few days, while I wait for the Chairman to let me know what kind of budget I’ll have to work with, negotiating offers for Jenniker, Moe and Paro, but all of the interested parties seem to want me to pay the majority of these players’ wages after their move, which makes the whole “move” part kind of pointless doesn’t it. If I wanted to pay their wages I’d bloody keep them wouldn’t I, SuperSport. In the end though I do accept a £32k bid from Maritzburg United for Moe and a £17k bid from Baroka FC for Paro.

It does seem that Moe is quite a popular figure in the dressing room though and within the week I’ve got the makings of a mini-mutiny on my hands with his allies demanding to know why I’m getting rid of him. “Because he’s shit” is my primary argument, but they start being all difficult and in the end I have to tell the rebels to get out and mind their own business.

Speaking of rebels, we have an unconventional contract rebel in my Assistant Manager, or Assistant to the Manager, Keith America. Keith feels that he’s outgrown this tinpot club and wants to move onto pastures new. To be fair, out of all my assistant managers he’s been the most forgettable. Even Roger was an idiot but at least I remember his name. Keith’s been largely irrelevant and I’ve already forgotten about him by the time he’s left the car park. His replacement will be Jakub Kalinkowski from Poland. As well as being the best man for the job, I also think that as a stalwart of Polish football he can teach me a thing or 2 to make me better equipped as a Manager... Like how to stay in Polish football for more than a year without crying yourself to sleep every night.

So what do we need? Taking the players that I've transfer listed out of the equation, these are the footballers I consider to be in my thoughts for the new season:

Goalkeepers: Komo, Dino Visser

Defenders: Nathan Gertse, Philani Cele, Gary Havenga, Juno, Siyabonga Zulu

Midfielders: Joseph Ekwalla, Marothi Diale, Sinbad, Gugu Gogotya, Ryan Moon, Karabo Noqazo, Sony Norde, Luke Fanteni, Frans Ndlovu, Sello Japhta, Manqoba Cele

Strikers: Carl Lark, Ernie, Thembinkosi Maluka

Because I'm not sure that I've mentioned them before, Karabo Noqazo is a versatile young anti-winger and Frans Ndlovu is a decent young playmaker, both from our academy. So all of the players in the above list are in my thoughts either because they proved themselves worthy last year of making the first team squad (eg Joseph Ekwalla/Carl Lark), they haven't absolutely infuriated me with their attitude or their ability (Like Moe/Sullie have), or they are fairly happy to be decent backup (eg Dino Visser/Siyabonga Zulu). I like to have a spare player for each position, so by my calculations I need to go out and buy a right back, a left back, at least 1 centre back, preferably 1 or 2 versatile senior attacking players and also a solid second striker, as backup for our front 4 currently consists entirely of academy kids.

And then comes the news I’ve been waiting for. Goolam Allie drops by my office and tells me that our new wage and transfer budgets are £32k per week and £103k respectively. I actually find it quite difficult to see Goolam after that because of the £ signs in my eyes. I reckon I can make that budget work, especially once the fees from my unwanted players come through and their wages are off the books. He does take my feel-good atmosphere down a notch though by adding that he’s had to cancel improvements to the Youth Facilities as we’ve lost about £375k this year. To be fair though I’m not really listening to Goolam at this point. I’m already on my phone, trying to reignite a deal that I desperately tried to close in January - I’m ringing Isaac Sohna’s agent.

It’s a credit to my scouting network that nobody else has picked up Isaac in the last 6 months. His mind and physique could become that of a truly excellent defender, so in my eyes either the other clubs aren't as familiar with the Cameroonian leagues as my scouts are, or they just don't see past Isaac's poor first touch and general technical weaknesses. Isaac accepts my contract as he did in January, but that's only a tiny part of the battle. We'll have to wait yet another long month to see whether he'll get a work permit this time.

So as I did in January, I look for a South African option in case things don't work out. I like Eliphas Thoahlane and think he was good for us during his loan spell, despite the odd error. I get on the phone to Platinum Stars Manager Danian Wareley and enquire about the availability of the player, whose contract in all fairness was only extended after I tried to nab him on a free 6 months ago. I hang up a few seconds later after Danian informs me that nothing short of £150k will prise Thoahlane away. I think even he knows how ridiculous a price tag that is, so after I calm down I call back and we agree on a year long loan, with the option for us to buy the centre back for £80k. Thoahlane re-signs.

The next thing I know, Moe and Issouf Paro are on their way out with Maritzburg and Baroka respectively. After they're gone, I enthusiastically accept offers for Jenniker, Sullie and Ntombayithethi. The cull has begun.

I don't give Sullie a second glance as I wave him a cheery goodbye. He moves to Steenburg United in the 2nd tier. A few days later, Ntombayithethi leaves for Cape Town City. He's got a decent amount of promise, but I just don't rate him. The next day though, Aidie Jenniker turns around and flat out refuses to move. He just refuses. This is frustrating news for me as I really want him gone so that I can free up more money for my eventual new signings, but it appears that because of me not wanting to pay most of Aiden's bloody wage, other interested clubs can't afford to tempt him away.

Over the next few days a new pitch is laid and bedded in at the Athlone, ready to host the new Santos FC. And also, Jenniker gets another chance to move and he once again refuses. Eventually, with a week of June to go, he does move, following Sullie to Steenburg. I had the bright idea of absolutely ripping them off with my asking price to offset the cost of just conceding and paying a chunk of Aidie's wage, and it works like a charm.

The next man to be ejected from this great club is Khat. He's being blasted off into the abyss like the tail section of a rocket, with the rocket in this simile being Santos and the tail section being the ageing Zimbabwean journeyman who's constantly being played out of position. To be fair to Khat, he did say months ago that he was retiring, but I'm still counting him as cull victim #8.

Sohna's work permit application is then rejected, which doesn't entirely shock me, and I appeal the decision as per usual. The next day I'm informed that his work permit application has been rejected once again, and I sign him anyway because life's too fucking short to be dealing with this every 6 months. Of course he won't be able to play for us until we do manage to get him a permit, but I'll loan him out to play a better standard of football than he's used to (No offence to EPTA) and hopefully he'll improve and maybe even earn a full call up to the Cameroonian squad, at which point I can probably bring him straight back and get him in my team.

As June ticks over into July and the transfer window opens, all of the players I've agreed to sell or release officially move on and Thoahlane and Sohna officially move in. I immediately spread the word that Sohna is available for loan and I've never been quite so inundated with phone calls. All in all, we receive loan bids from Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, Hungary, Israel, Kazakhstan, Paraguay, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Turkey and Ukraine. Taking into account playing time and the quality of the squad and the league itself, Israeli side Hapoel Ra'anana are the club I choose to take him.

I then take a punt on a couple of attackers that I've identified and whose contracts expire in a few months: Augustin Rostand and Ismaïla Diallo. Augustin is a 19 year old full Cameroonian International, having scored twice in 6 appearances for his country. He's a pacy and strong striker who knows where the net is and is also a set piece specialist, and to top it off he's got determination to spare. He's in demand though, with Lierse, Lille, Stade Rennais and Toulouse all interested.

Ismaïla is also a full International with his native Senegal, having played 3 times at the age of 19. He reminds me a little of Isaac Sohna, as he's not brilliant technically but he has brilliant mental and physical capabilities. Unlike Sohna though he's an anti-winger who plays on the right. At 6'5" he's a handful for opposition full backs and he comes from the Dirk Kuyt school of winger-ing, with exceptional fitness levels, work rate and determination, so he'd certainly add something different on the right.

I'm catching transfer fever at this point, one of the symptoms of which will hopefully turn out to be having a fucking great new squad. I put in a £7k bid for Mandla Masango, a South African who's spent a couple of weeks on trial with us from Supersport United, and it's accepted instantly. Mandla's requested a transfer after only making 8 appearances last season, starting just once, but I reckon he'll have a place here. He's exactly what I wanted - An extremely versatile attacker who can play anywhere across midfield or attacking midfield. He's extremely lightweight and about as good in the air as an aviaphobic ostrich that recently died, but he's determined and technically very good with some tricks, some pace and a bloody good attitude towards putting in a shift.

While we wait to see if he accepts though, I receive some unwelcome news - Bidvest Wits submit a derisory £115k bid for our star player Joseph Ekwalla. I'm a reasonable man, so instead of outright rejecting the offer I say that he'll be sold if we receive £1m and half of his next transfer fee. Wits withdraw their offer. Cue the usual rap-rap-rapping on my office door though. Joe is incensed that I didn't accept the ridiculous offer that Wits coughed up onto the table and he's adamant that he wants to leave. This puts me in a tricky position as I've been hoping since January that he would at some point suddenly want to sign a new contract so that we wouldn't lose him on a free next year. I think it's fair to say that Wits' bid has scuppered that particular dream though, so begrudgingly and with an extremely heavy heart I agree that I'll sell Joe Ekwalla the next time a bid is made.

Sakhile Maloka is on his way out after I accept a £50k bid from Sundowns, plus the obligatory half of his next fee, and then I set about trying to find a replacement for that snake Ekwalla. I find someone, and if we can pull this off, we might even get an upgrade. Derrick Addo, the boy with the wonkiest afro in African football, is the player I want to bring in. He's 19 and is a full Ghanaian international, having played 6 times. He's more of an all round midfielder than Joe and he's not quite as good a passer, but he's 6'0" and well balanced, a good rounded physical presence, a great decision maker and generally a really mature player. He too is out of contract in November, but in an effort to bring him in straight away I submit a £150k bid, which is accepted.

Before Derrick's even had chance to skim my contract offer, which is extremely generous, his agent gets a phone call. From Genk. For fucks sake. He leaves to consider our offer but I'm not nearly as confident as I was a moment ago.

We need to press on though as we still need to bring in some players, including a right back. Enter Tlou Molekwane. Molekwane is a free agent after being released by Bloem Celtic a few days ago and he's joined us on trial so that I can take a look at him. Although he's not that quick at 31 and not that strong in the tackle, I offer him a contract. He's a spirited hard worker and a decently rounded defender, and even if he isn't my first choice he'll be a good character to have in the changing room. Plus, he's performed very well when called upon by Celtic this season.

The next bid I receive is upwards of £120k for Joseph Ekwalla from Orlando Pirates. After some tough and drawn out negotiations I get them up to £350k and 40% of the profit of Joe's next sale. If he's going to be as good as I think he is, that could be a huge windfall for Santos in the future.

Sadly, Ismaïla Diallo rejects our contract and plumps instead for Botoșani in Romania. He would've been a good option to have on the right, so I'm pretty disappointed.

We then receive another bid for Joe Ekwalla from those devious bastards at Bidvest Wits, who started this in the first place. They offer more money but with a lesser percentage of his future fee, and Goolam Allie steps in and accepts the bid. I let out a long sigh before launching into a shameful series of expletives, with the main point being that nothing gets my goat more than meddling Chairmen and all he's doing is cheating himself and the club out of more money in the long run. Allie changes his mind and calls Wits himself to reject the bid. It's a wise move.

And then finally it's time to announce our first permanent new signing with a work permit to actually play for us. Tlou Molekwane has joined us for free on a 1 year deal.

But before we can pop the cork out of the champagne we're brought crashing back down to Earth with the news that Augustin Rostand has rejected us in favour of FC Lorient. It's fair enough I suppose, but that's a particularly frustrating one. He's a brilliant young striker and could've done well for us.

Maybe we'll have more luck with a player that I've actually been keeping an eye on since January: Hicham Aidir. Hicham is a 19 year old Moroccan U20 striker currently plying his trade for COD Meknès in his home country, where he scored 13 goals in 19 games last season. He's a great finisher and an excellent physical specimen, but what really drew my eye to his scouting report is his attitude. He's very very determined, hard working, team oriented and he's a bloody great leader. A £40k bid is duly made and a generous contract is offered. Unfortunately though, his agent demands a minimum fee release clause for foreign clubs of £250,000, but as we'd still be making a good profit for a good player I begrudgingly accept.

Orlando Pirates are back again. Not content with having pretty much landed Joseph Ekwalla, they also want young Sakhile Maloka. It's one of those moments that gives me second thoughts as to whether I should be selling the lad if a club like Orlando want him, but after some thought I negotiate them up to £50k and half of his next fee and accept.

Hapoel Ra'anana have landed themselves a hell of a centre back for the season. Isaac Sohna's off to Israel to earn himself an International call up and a work permit. Good luck, Isaac.

Next up, we sign Mandla Masango from SuperSport for a paltry £7k. The 30 year old versatile midfielder has excited the fans who see him as one of the best players at the club, so we might have grabbed ourselves a bargain.

Frustratingly though, with every silver lining comes a big black cloud to rain all over my parade. Derrick Addo has agreed to join Genk and I'm getting pretty fucking frustrated in my attempts to bring in young foreign talent.

Sakhile Maloka opts to join Sundowns in the end and I wish him well. He might become a decent player for them and might even earn us a few bob if and when he moves on. Good luck, Sakhile.

The 12th of July is a day that'll live in infamy in Lansdowne. For me at least. "Fuck off, Joe" day will henceforth be a local holiday on which we remember Joseph Ekwalla, who refused to commit, who refused to honour his contract, and who snubbed the club that put him on the World stage. Sort of. Today he completes his move to Orlando Pirates, so fuck off, Joe. Marothi Diale will be under special instructions to sweep the leg next time we meet.

I just can't win. I refused to sell Joseph at first and I heard a rap-rap-rapping on my office door. Now I've let him go and there's a rap-rap-rapping on my bloody office door. Many of the squad, including pretty much all of our best players, are unhappy with my decision to let our best midfielder leave, which is probably fair enough. "Never fear" I tell them, smiling and tapping my nose as if I've got some sort of plan, "I'll be replacing Joseph with an even better player". The players seem excited by that promise, but now I've got to actually deliver on it, which as I've found out the hard way so far could be more difficult than it sounds. At least the board are happy with my decision to sell Ekwalla though - His sale covers pretty much all of our losses for last season and Goolam and co think that flogging him is a masterstroke.

Anyway, I've got a promise to deliver on so there's no time to dwell on the loss of Ekwalla. I adjust my goggles and dive back into the transfer market, this time for Joël Soumahoro. To put it bluntly, Joël is not Joe. He's not got the first touch, the passing, the technique, the creativity etc, but he's still a bloody good young footballer. Primarily a number 10, the 20 year old Ivory Coast U20 International is more in my true mould: Aggressive, determined enough, a good decision maker and team player, and a hard worker. He's dynamic. If Ekwalla was Pirlo, Soumahoro is Mark Noble. Less glamourous, yes, but can be just as effective in the right team. He's out of contract at his current Ivorian club, Academie de Foot Amadou Diallo de Djékanou, so I offer him the chance to join a club whose name you can say without having to book a long weekend off work.

While we wait for Joël to make his mind up, the countdown begins on potential new striker Hicham Aidir. While I'm making comparisons, I reckon Hicham can be the Morrocan Alan Shearer and I hope against hope that he gets his work permit. In a month.

Another countdown, this time for the new season, begins when the fixture list is announced. The new look Santos side that I'm struggling to put together will be given a baptism of fire with a trip to our local rivals Ajax Cape Town on the 26th of August. I can't wait.

A few days later, Soumahoro does agree to join us, which again is great news, but again is tinged by the nagging fear that he won't be granted a work permit.

Before our trip across town to Ajax CT we'll play 7 friendlies, starting with our U19's and our reserves, before building up against lower league South African sides. I don't manage to arrange any matches against big opposition like I usually like to do though, which is a shame.

Before any of these matches though, we still need players. We've brought Thoahlane and Sohna in at centre back, but ideally I'd still like an upgrade, so I launch a £6k bid for another youngster that I've had my eye on for a good few months: Mike Kakuba. Mike is my favourite kind of centre back: He's an absolute wall. The 19 year old, contracted to URA from Uganda, is a full international, already having racked up 11 appearances for Uganda. He's good defensively, very strong and aggressive, and has some reach in the air, helped by his 6'3" frame. Also, I could be wrong, but I don't think I've ever had a player with such a fantastic mohawk. My offer is accepted and I offer a contract. I'd love to sign Mike to eventually form a partnership with Isaac Sohna, who could be the Koscielny to Kakuba's Mertesacker.

It doesn't take Mike long to agree to join the Santos revolution. Another month-long wait begins.

Bloem Celtics try an ambitious loan bid for last season's PSL 3rd top scorer Carl Lark, which I laugh away, but it's Maritzburg United's £13k bid for Nathan Gertse that causes problems. I reject the bid as I consider Gertse one of my best, most consistent and adaptable defenders, so I think nothing of it really, but rap-rap-fucking-rap goes my office door and in he comes, demanding to be allowed to join the team that finished 1 place below us last season. Bemused, I tell him to fill his boots. I've never been a big believer in keeping players against their will as I don't really see the point. If they consider their time at a club over then it is; You'll rarely see them play as well for your club as they have before after that decision's made. I stick Nathan on the transfer list.

We now need another defender then, so let's solve that problem immediately, shall we? A £7k bid is duly made for SuperSport United's versatile South African defender Ayanda Nkili. In truth, there's nothing too special about Ayanda, but he's an extremely rounded, and extremely versatile defender to a decent standard, able to play anywhere across defence, as a holding man or a central midfielder. He's pretty good physically, at 29 is experienced enough to offer us something and is mentally my kind of hard working player. I offer a contract, which I've done so many times so far this Summer that I think I'm in danger of giving myself an RSI.

The man that Ayanda is replacing, Nathan Gertse, might really be regretting his decision. 2nd tier side Steenburg United make a bid and I negotiate them up to £30k before accepting. Let this be a lesson to the rest of the squad - The grass is not greener on the other side, the grass is covered in dog shit and fire.

He'd better go though because Ayanda has officially arrived. Already with him and Molekwane we have a lot more quality, experience and mental fortitude in our back line. We just need another left back now.

Here's a thought though... What if I don't need to buy another left back? I know the whole Sello Japhta experiment didn't go swimmingly last season, but I think I want to give him a proper try as a left wing back. If he can fill that gap then we'll gain another dimension going forwards, but we'll probably need another winger. It's time for our friendlies, so he starts at full back against the Under 19's. All in all it's a decent first game back. I let most of the unused players play for the U19's except for Phil Cele and Carl Lark who aren't fit enough to start, and they give us a decent match that we win 3-1, thanks to goals from Ernie, an own goal and Ryan Moon. Young winger Karabo Noqazo gets the goal for the youngsters.

The clock's really ticking now that the friendlies have begun. I still think we could use another attacking midfielder so I offer a contract to 19 year old Cameroon International Mouhamadou Ekedi. This deal's a bit rushed as time's running out for us to sign foreign players before the transfer window shuts in just over a month, so my scouts don't know everything about the lad, but he looks like he's worth rolling the dice for. He's got a pretty good first touch and fits into my determined, hard working, good decision making mould, as well as being lightning fast and extremely physically fit.

While we wait once again to see whether Ekedi's going to join, we play out another friendly with a slightly different lineup, but Sello Japhta still at wing back, where I've decided he'll play every single minute he can this pre season to get him comfortable. Again we play a Santos B team and beat them 2-0, a task made easier after Siyabonga Zulu forgets the meaning of the word friendly and scythes down Ryan Moon 25 minutes in, earning himself a red. Moon gets the opening goal a few minutes later and is joined on the score sheet by King Carl a further few minutes on.

Nathan Gertse is substituted for the reserves in the 2nd half, which is the last we'll see of him in a Santos shirt. It's a shame really, but when a player's ambition is to drop down a division for no apparent reason, he's not a player that I want around. Don't let the door hit you on your way out, Nathan.

Our next friendly pits us against Mother City, yet another Cape Town football club from the Western Cape Division 3. They're named after Cape Town itself, thought to be known as The Mother City after the City was described as a Metropolis (Derived from the Greek words metros, meaning mother, and polis, meaning city) in the 30's, a description that stuck in the public mind. Anyway my boys thump them 5-1, with 2 goals from King Carl added to by Manqoba Cele, Sony Norde and Ryan Moon.

After the match I'm greeted by the news that Ekedi has agreed to join us, which I'll celebrate or not in exactly 1 month's time. 2 players that have signed though are Komo and Ernie, whose contracts were due to run out at the end of the upcoming season. They both get 1 year extensions.

And while we're talking about him, I've got a rather unusual bombshell to drop about our young goalkeeper. The time has come to choose my captain and vice captain for the new season, and although I've not yet finished bringing players in, I'm not comfortable with giving the armband to someone as soon as they walk through the door anyway and that leaves me with a shortage of proper options. "It may only be for a year", I tell Komo after calling him into my office after training. "I need a captain that I know, that I trust, and who is going to be in my team every single week, and I don't think that anyone in my squad wants this club to succeed as much as you do. You're a local lad, you're a leader and you're my captain this season, OK?" Komo just stares at me, then at the armband in my hand, then back at me, and then nods. He takes the armband and goes to leave, but before he gets to the door I call after him "Make me proud, Captain Komo". He looks back and grins, before heading back towards the changing room.

I drop Phil Cele to vice captain. I've decided to keep him around as backup this season but in terms of his captaincy duties last year he really didn't do very well. Anyway, with Sello Japhta now retraining as a full back I need another left winger, prompting a £35k bid for Yanga Baliso. Yanga plays for 2nd tier side Baroka FC, who signed Issouf Paro at the start of the Summer and is a former South Africa U20 international. Now 23, he's not yet earned a full International call up but I reckon he can do a job. He's quick, mentally OK, and he can take a man on and either cross or shoot with some degree of accuracy. The fee is slightly more than I'd like to pay, but he's the best South African option out there for us. Baroka FC accept and I offer the lad a contract.

I leave him to mull over my offer as we travel to our first away friendly of pre-season against affiliate club Vasco CT. Our centre backs get us the win. Well, both teams' centre backs really, with Vasco's Mongalo adding a late own goal to make it 3-1 after a Gary Havenga header and a Juno free kick put us ahead. Juno gets the player of the match award too as he also sets up Havenga's goal.

After the match I get a call from Bloem Celtic manager Joey Antipas, who wants to take the newly demoted Phil Cele off my hands. I tell him that if he pays £50k he has a deal, so Joey pays £50k. Bang goes the theory about keeping Phil around, I suppose.

And another departure means another signing. As I've now got Molekwane and Nkili who are both best suited to playing at right back, I decide to bring in a centre back to join Juno, Thoahlane and Havenga. I make a £3k bid for Orlando Pirates' experienced South African defender Roscoe Pietersen, which is duly accepted. Roscoe is a good solid centre back and I think would some much needed experience to our centre back ranks. The 3 that we have at the minute are all very young and if we do manage to bring in Mike Kakuba or eventually get a work permit for Isaac Sohna, they're both very young too. Pietersen is solid defensively, OK on the ball with either foot and a good decision maker, and at 31 he's certainly got that experience. He also played well for his club when needed last season.

 And just like that, Cele leaves and Roscoe "Roscoe" Pietersen signs.

With Phil Cele gone I do need to replace him as vice captain though. As far as I know Komo will play every single match for Santos FC this season so I don't really think there's much need for a vice captain, but if he ever isn't going to play due to injury or suspension it makes sense to have his replacement as his vice captain. Dino Visser takes the vice-armband.

I'm confident of landing left winger Yanga Baliso so I allow Manqoba Cele to be loaned out to affiliate club Zizwe United so that he can get some first team football, successfully and very coincidentally ridding my club of "Cele"s in one fell swoop.

And then comes the hammer blow. Of course. Striker Hicham Aidir's work permit is rejected. This has been my worst fear all throughout the summer, especially for the last month where I've been working under the assumption that I'd sign all of these non South African players to fill up my allowed number of foreign players. I've been filling in my squad with South Africans on the assumption that these work permits would actually go through. I appeal against the decision of course, but unusually it's going to take longer than a day for the big wigs to come up with a decision, which might be a positive thing? I'm really not sure. What I am sure about though is if we can't get the players that we're waiting for over the line I think we might find ourselves up a certain creek without a certain tool that could get us out of said creek.

I then get to distract myself though with the selection of our squad numbers, which takes a surprisingly long time, but then we have changed quite a bit already this summer. A personal highlight is Captain Komo's transition to the big boy jersey - Number 1 for the number 1.

For our next friendly we host First Division side Real Kings at the Athlone and take a narrow 1-0 win, with Sony Norde's free kick the only thing separating the 2 sides.

But straight after the match, WHAM! Another hammer blow. Attacking midfielder Joël Soumahoro's work permit has been rejected too. I appeal once again but get the distinct impression that I'm pissing in the wind. Like with Aidir though, the powers that be are really going to drag this decision out, which is just peachy.

The silver lining is Yanga Baliso, the South African left winger who needs no such ridiculous waiting period and can join our beleaguered forward ranks without further ado. Yanga signs and the fans are quite pleased, although they might become less pleased if he turns out to be the last incoming transfer of the window.

Our penultimate friendly is a trip to Stellenbosch to face Stellenbosch FC. We've played them before and they always provide tricky opposition so we give a first appearance of the season to Project: Foxy Mk II, having used Project: Meatloaf for all of the other friendlies. We very nearly take the win on a horribly wet and windy day, after lone striker Ernie puts us ahead 10 minutes into the second half. Ayanda Nkili's 87th minute own goal levels the scores, but to be fair he'd had a solid game up to that point and I'd rather he gets his mistakes out of the way before the Season properly begins. Pleasingly, Sello Japhta picks up the player of the match award for his performance at full back.

But hey, enough about Santos. I've been going on and on about Santos all Summer, but what we should really be talking about is ME. ME AND MY ACHIEVEMENTS. Namely, completing my National A Coaching License. It really says a lot about Santos that I've been able to complete my National coaching badges as the club's solid financial footing is what's made it possible and I really owe the club for that, which is why I should now stop talking about me and go back to talking about Santos, as time's running out before our first league game and there's still work to be done.

And then I get the call. The call that makes everything sort of OK, or at least gives us hope. Mike Kakuba's work permit has gone through. The Ugandan International has the green light to sign for Santos FC and that's exactly what he does.

And in time for our last friendly too! To finish our pre-season we face loanee Manqoba Cele and his Zizwe United side at the Athlone. As I've said, I usually like to finish pre-season with a bit more of a challenge, but it is what it is, and what it is is a 4-0 drubbing. Ryan Moon, Sony Norde and Sinbad all score to add to an own goal by Zizwe's Dladla. Sinbad and Moon in particular are on fire, and Sony Norde, Roscoe and Mike bloody Kakuba all have brilliant games too.

We still have Aidir, Soumahoro and Ekedi waiting to join us, but with Kakuba's move fresh hope has been breathed into Santos FC. Hope that we can get the deals done and complete this ridiculous, magnificent Summer of change. They'll have to wait though, because we've got an Old Cape Town Derby to play.

South African Premier Soccer League 2020/21 (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 96.5)

Let's refresh our minds about our opponents that compose the Premier Soccer League, meet the newly promoted clubs, and see how our Summer of change has affected the bookies' predictions about our league position for the 2020/21 Season.

Ajax Cape Town

From: Parow (Cape Town)
Ground: Cape Town Stadium

Last Season: 4th

Predicted: 6th

Rivals in the Premier Soccer League: Cape Town City (Fierce, Local), Santos FC (Fierce, Local), Kaizer Chiefs (Competitive), Orlando Pirates (Competitive)

Bloemfontein Celtic

From: Bloemfontein

Ground: Dr. Rantlai Petrus Molemela Stadium

Last Season: 6th

Predicted: 8th

Rivals in the Premier Soccer League: N/A

Cape Town All Stars

From: Cape Town

Ground: Parow Park

Last Season: National First Division Champions

Predicted: 15th

Rivals in the Premier Soccer League: N/A

Cape Town City Football Club

From: Cape Town

Ground: Cape Town Stadium

Last Season: 9th

Predicted: 7th

Rivals in the Premier Soccer League: Ajax CT (Fierce, Local), Santos FC (Local)

Chippa United Football Club

From: Port Elizabeth

Ground: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium

Last Season: 11th

Predicted: 11th

Rivals in the Premier Soccer League: N/A

Golden Arrows Football Club

From: Durban

Ground: King Zwelithini Stadium

Last Season: 8th

Predicted: 10th

Rivals in the Premier Soccer League: N/A

Kaizer Chiefs Football Club

From: Soweto

Ground: FNB Stadium

Last Season: Champions

Predicted: Champions

Rivals in the Premier Soccer League: Orlando Pirates (Fierce), Sundowns, Supersport United, Ajax CT

Magesi Football Club

From: Polokwane

Ground: Old Peter Mokaba Stadium

Last Season: 2nd in the National First Division

Predicted: 16th

Rivals in the Premier Soccer League: N/A

Maritzburg United

From: Pietermaritzburg

Ground: Harry Gwala Stadium

Last Season: 13th

Predicted: 9th

Rivals in the Premier Soccer League: Golden Arrows

Mthatha Bucks Football Club

From: Pietermaritzburg

Ground: Harry Gwala Stadium

Last Season: 10th

Predicted: 12th

Rivals in the Premier Soccer League: N/A

Orlando Pirates

From: Johannesburg

Ground: Orlando Stadium

Last Season: 7th

Predicted: 3rd

Rivals in the Premier Soccer League: Kaizer Chiefs (Fierce)

Polokwane City Football Club

From: Polokwane

Ground: Peter Mokaba Stadium

Last Season: 14th

Predicted: 14th

Rivals in the Premier Soccer League: N/A

Santos Football Club

From: Lansdowne (Cape Town)

Ground: Athlone Stadium

Last Season: 12th

Predicted: 13th

Rivals in the Premier Soccer League: Ajax CT (Fierce)

Mamelodi Sundowns

From: Pretoria

Ground: Loftus Versfield

Last Season: 5th

Predicted: 2nd

Rivals in the Premier Soccer League: Supersport United (Fierce), Orlando Pirates, Kaizer Chiefs

SuperSport United

From: Pretoria

Ground: Lucas Masterpieces Moripe Stadium

Last Season: 3rd

Predicted: 5th

Rivals in the Premier Soccer League: Sundowns (Fierce), Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates

Bidvest Wits

From: Johannesburg

Ground: Bidvest Stadium

Last Season: 2nd

Predicted: 4th

Rivals in the Premier Soccer League: Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates, Supersport United, Sundowns

Well, all of that effort to change the mentality of my squad, bring in quality, sure up the defence, add strength in depth and we're apparently going to finish 1 place lower than we did last season. Cheers, bookies. I fancy our chances of finishing higher up the table than that, but I suppose time will tell.

New boys Cape Town All Stars and Magesi FC are predictably predicted to occupy the relegation spots for the new year, but it's hardly ever that simple, is it? The top 6 is as ridiculously difficult to predict as ever too, but I'm not worried about them. I see the league split into 3 mini-leagues: 1st to 6th, 7th to 12th and 13th to 16th. Last year we finished at the bottom of the middle mini-league, but with the injection of quality we've added and will hopefully continue to add with the lads waiting on work permits, I want us pushing up to the top of it. A 7th or 8th placed finish would reflect a good season for Santos and a good season is exactly what I'm expecting.

Derbies, Debuts & Deals (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep97)

"We've gained a lot of new faces since the last time we sat in this changing room", I say to my players, before gesturing vaguely around me. "This is the Cape Town Stadium and it's a significant place for all of us. It was built for the 2010 World Cup and to this day it remains the venue that hosted the worst match of football that I've ever endured as a fan; England 0-0 Algeria." I look around the room studying the faces of the players, a lot of whom seem to be wondering where I'm going with this. "It's also a significant place because it's the home ground of our opponents today and of our fiercest rivals, Ajax Cape Town. Now I don't care whether you've been here for 2 weeks, 2 years or 2 decades, you understand this: This is your Cup final. This is the big one. Being new will not be an excuse if any of you come off that pitch with anything left in the tank.


I mean it. Playing The Old Cape Town Derby away on opening day can either go very very well or very very badly. I won't accept a 3rd consecutive 0-3 loss. This time we aren't a team I inherited, we're a team I've built. We're still gelling, of course we are. Half of my lineup today have been Santos players for less than a few months, but the fixtures are what they are and we need to go at Ajax today with all the ferocity of a team of lifelong Santos fans. Aptly, today will see lifelong Santos fan Captain Komo given his first appearance with the armband.

Protecting the new captain in our counter attacking Project: Foxy Mk II are a back 4 of Tlou Molekwane, Mike Kakuba, Roscoe and Siyabonga Zulu. I've chosen Zulu over Japhta today because as good as Japhta's been in pre-season, Siyabonga's the more defensive of the 2. I don't think it's the right match to choose a flying wing back who's still learning the ropes over a defensively minded natural full back. Our holding man is young Juno, who's impressed me in pre-season, mostly as a centre back but defensive midfield is his most natural position. Our midfield is particularly creative today with Sinbad partnered by Sony Norde, who will try to emulate what Joseph Ekwalla gave us last season, although I don't think he appreciates playing so deep. Ryan Moon and Yanga Baliso will be our wingers with King Carl up front.

As you might imagine, the focus of my attention in the opening stages is on last years PSL Player of the Season Sameegh Doutie. We keep him fairly quiet for the first 20 minutes but when Ajax win a corner, there's nothing we can do to stop Doutie from putting in a peach of a cross. Nyambi arrives to meet the ball at the near post but thankfully heads it against the bar.

Half time passes with the scores encouragingly still deadlocked. We can't keep it that way for too much longer and there's no prizes for guessing who opens the scoring. When Lebusa crosses into our box from the left, Doutie steps away from his marker Zulu and has a free header that he tucks into the net.

I bring on some fresh legs in the shape of Marothi Diale and Sello Japhta, replacing Juno and Yanga Baliso, and we go Project: Meatloaf with Norde playing in behind King Carl. 10 minutes later and still trailing, I hand a debut to Mandla Masango, bringing off Siyabonga Zulu and dropping Japhta to an attacking wingback role, while instructing Masango to cut inside from the left to make room.

We go all out attack with 10 minutes to go but still struggle to create anything of note, that is until the 91st minute: Ryan Moon passes the ball to Carl Lark on the edge of the Ajax box and the King smashes it viciously towards the bottom right hand corner, but the keeper Peterson gets down brilliantly to push it away with his fingertips. Moon keeps the ball from going behind for a corner though and chips it across to the far post where Masango's arriving. The debutant heads the ball at goal but Peterson scrabbles back across to tip it against the post and complete a remarkable but heartbreaking double save. 0-1 it ends.

I thought we were unlucky there. We certainly looked more solid defensively and our new Ugandan centre back Mike Kakuba was the Player of the Match, which is pleasing. Despite soaking up Ajax's pressure and only having 39% of possession we actually ended up creating more chances than our victorious rivals, which is pretty annoying but also promising. For a first game back it wasn't a bad performance at all.

The eagle eyed among you will notice that nothing ever came of transfer listing Emil Sambou during the Summer break, and it really just comes down to a lack of interested buyers, with the ones who were interested asking for us to pay too hefty a chunk of his wages. He might well be on his way after all though to Cape Town City, whose year long loan offer I've accepted.

And it's a good job he's on his way too because we need to make room for our new striker. Moroccan centre forward Hicham Aidir's work permit has been granted and he completes his move to Santos FC. I am frankly amazed that we've managed to get this deal over the line. According to my scouts he does need to work on his consistency a bit, but Hicham's overall quality is outstanding and I think he'll be absolutely terrific for us. I do wish we'd managed to get him in before the derby though.

If that wasn't enough good news, Joël Soumahoro's work permit is granted a few days later and he too completes his move to The People's Team.

Emil Sambou then completes his loan move to Cape Town City, but frustratingly Ekedi's work permit is rejected. He's now the last piece of the puzzle and the only one I'm waiting on. I appeal the decision and it's actually granted the next day, only for me to realise that I've overstretched my budget and can't afford him after all. I cancel the deal, disappointed but also pretty happy with the work we've done this transfer window.

You'd think that'd be the last twist in this crazy Summer, but on a whim I request another work permit for Isaac Sohna - And it's granted. Isaac Sohna, the centre back who's currently made 4 appearances for Israeli side Hapoel Ra'anana and been sent off once, is recalled to the Santos squad in time for our second match. Our foreign player limit is reached and our Summer transfer business is done. The Great Cull has claimed 14 victims and replaced them with 9 far more suitable footballers, for a profit of £452k.

So we go into our first home match of the season as a complete team. Bidvest Wits are our opponents, who I still blame for our losing Joseph Ekwalla in the summer after their insultingly low-ball bid made his feet get all itchy. A win here would not only get us up and running for the season but it would also be very therapeutic to watch their manager Gavin Hunt get his arse handed to him.

As the home side we'll be going for Project: Meatloaf today, with Sello Japhta in for Zulu as a flying left wingback and a first start for Mandla Masango on the left wing, who'll replace Yanga Baliso and again make room for Japhta's overlapping runs by cutting inside. In theory this should be one of the most dangerous and well balanced lineups I've ever put out. New signings Joël and Hicham are on the bench.

7 minutes in, Alexander whips a cross into our box from the right wing and opposition striker Yende is left unmarked to side foot it home. I'm fuming. Both of my centre backs see the cross coming in and seem to decide that 5'8" Dutiro is the one to double mark... And not 6'8" Yende.

We're quiet once again and our first decent chance doesn't come until a couple of minutes after half time, when Norde plays Moon into the box and the winger shoots, but goalkeeper Keets parries it behind.

With 25 minutes to go I hand out 2 more debuts: Joël Soumahoro and Hicham Aidir run onto the pitch to replace Mandla Masango and Carl Lark. Soumahoro moves behind Aidir and Norde goes out onto the left.

Again, we go on the attack with 10 minutes to go, but this time with a quicker response. With only 7 minutes left to play another Alexander cross is headed clear by Roscoe. Moon gets to the loose ball inside his own half and controls it, before looking up, spotting Aidir's run and launching the ball into the left channel for him to chase. The Moroccan has the beating of centre back Khumalo as he chases the ball into the Wits penalty area, and from a tight angle he wraps his left foot around the ball first time and absolutely twats it - Finding the near top corner and almost bursting the net.

I leap out of my seat, punching the air furiously like a boxer who just found out that Nitrogen was cheating on his sister. This is what it's all about. This is football. The drama, the "narrative", the ecstasy...

The last minute winning goal brings me back to Earth with a thud.

It's Mkatshana that gets it, after Yende chases a long ball and cuts it back from our right byline. Mkatshana is left with a mere tap in to restore his team's lead. The final whistle blows at 1-2.

There's no getting around the disappointment of 2 losses in our first 2 matches. Of course it's encouraging to see Aidir bag a goal on his debut, but the goal counts for nothing if it doesn't earn you any points. There are definitely positives to take from the match though. Once this team gels I genuinely think we'll be a force to be reckoned with.

With our transfer business done, deadline day passes without much fanfare in Lansdowne. I do start studying for my Continental C license though, which is obviously exciting for me personally, and after those 2 straight defeats, I'm understandably in the mood for a good win to clear away the cobwebs, which is why it's probably a shame that it's time to travel with the Liechtenstein squad for my first competitive International matches. Wish us luck, we'll need it.

The Great Banquet (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep98)

If International football is a great banquet, then Liechtenstein’s national team, and I mean no offence, are a very dirty man dressed in rags with a bindle on the end of a stick, desperately pleading for scraps from the table. Every now and then, the very fat and healthy lads at the top table such as Italy or Switzerland will neglect a bit of food on their plates and hungry old Liechtenstein will swoop in hungrily to gobble it up.

On this occasion, Croatia is too busy filling up on its delicious plate of Perisic and Kovacic to notice a small scrap that’s going to waste. A small scrap named Stjepan Kukurozovic.

I’d love to slide Kukurozovic onto Liechtenstein’s great national plate and start chowing down, but unfortunately I’ve already named the squad for our first matches of the European International League against Montenegro and Gibraltar. He’s certainly one to have a look at for my next squad though.

No, for my first competitive International matches I’ll be sticking with players that I know, but I will be dropping Project: Liechtensteiner in favour of the newly constructed and imaginatively named Project: Liechtensteiner Mk II. Mk II is based on a couple of things: Firstly, simplifying our game. With the original Project: Liechtensteiner I expected players to stick to their all-out defensive shape, be more disciplined, stand off, close down less, go long, exploit the flanks, etc etc etc. It was far too complicated and we need to get back to basics.

Secondly, balance. As I mentioned, the previous system was defensive. Extremely defensive. Almost certainly too defensive. The thing is that even when you’re the underdog and expected to be roundly thrashed, if you turn up with the game plan of just keeping the opposition out you’ll spend the whole match under siege and you’ll nearly always concede anyway from one of your opposition’s 30,000 shots. You need balance. You need to be able to step out and attack, even if you don’t expect to score. You need to put that doubt in the opposition’s mind, if only to make that full back or midfielder think “Maybe I shouldn’t go forwards for this attack, Liechtenstein might counter us”. You need to prevent the opposition from camping in your half and stay in the game and we haven’t been doing either.

Project: Liechtensteiner Mk II will be a standard, flexible 4-1-2-3. We’ll play narrow, stick to our positions, be more disciplined and stay on our feet, all in the name of staying more solid at the back. But that’s it. That’s all of it. Everything about it screams “Safe”, but we aren’t parking any buses. We’ll stay responsible at the back, we’ll make ourselves difficult to beat, but we’ll also play some bloody football.

Personnel-wise for our first competitive match against Montenegro I only make 1 change from the Wales match: I was unable to call up right winger Pascal Schürpf because he’s injured, so Simon Kühne starts in his place. The full lineup is Benji Büchel in net, Lucas Eberle, Simone Grippo, Daniel Kaufmann and Roman Spirig in defence, Marcel Büchel playmaking from a deep midfield position, Sandro Wieser and Vinzenz Flatz as the midfield duo, Simon Kühne and Maximilian Göppel on the wings and Yanik Frick up front. Thinking about it, Göppel’s had a weird time with me as his national boss, starting at centre back in my first match before moving to left back, then up to left midfield and now left wing.

I shudder just a little bit watching the Montenegro starting XI get into position on the pitch for kick off. Stevan Jovetić and Stefan Savić both start for the visitors, who are both somewhat Manchester City rejects, but have gone on to do very, very well for themselves.

We keep things tight for half an hour despite Montenegro’s inevitable dominance, which I’m delighted with considering our early struggles with the original Project: Liechtensteiner, but then Göppel picks up a knock on his thigh. It’s worrying, but he seems alright so I leave him on.

A few minutes before half time, Göppel is indeed still doing alright. He receives the ball on the left and dribbles into the Montenegro half before chipping it behind Savić and into the path of Yanik Frick. Frick breezes past another defender and pokes the ball goal-wards - Finding the far bottom corner.

We’re winning! For the first time in 6 matches we’re actually winning! I can’t restrain myself from leaping into the air and laughing maniacally. My instinct once I calm down is to make a change. Bring a defender on or drop the defensive line back. Anything! I resist though. As much as I want to protect this lead, there’s no sense in fixing what’s not broken and we’re doing a good job at keeping the Montenegrins at bay.

If you put Paul Engemann’s “Push it to the limit” on a loop behind the second half it could be a training montage in a film about taking potshots at Benji’s goal, but we remain unscathed and we’re suddenly 15 minutes away from victory. Montenegro continue to push and Haziosmanovic slips the ball through for Jovetic in torturous slow motion. My stomach churns as I watch the striker leave Eberle for dead and shoot first time from a narrow angle, but the ball bounces back to him off the post. Jovetic sets himself to pull the trigger on the rebound, but with perfect timing Simpone Grippo lunges in to expertly win the ball and knock it away. “WELL IN, SIMONE! BLOODY WELL IN!” I boom, clapping my hands together vigorously.

With 10 minutes to go, we go defensive. Montenegro huff and they puff, but house Liechtensteiner doesn’t even wobble. Liechtenstein win 1-0.

As the final whistle blows I sprint onto the pitch towards the huddle of Liechtensteiner players, while the fans cheer and sing behind us. I don’t think I’ve been this happy since Angrense won the Championship and secured an unbeaten season, which seems like a very long time ago. That’s the thing with International football; It’s not like the daily soap opera of club football. It’s more like a 10-episode-per-year TV show, designed to pack all of the emotion, into a short space of time. And my God, does it do just that.

Maximilian Göppel deserves a lot of credit for powering through to set up the winning goal, but sadly his thigh strain’s going to rule him out of the Gibraltar match. It’s perfect timing actually, because now I get to call up recently eligible Stjepan “Kuku” Kukuruzovic to make his International debut.

Once we get Kuku on a plane and onto the training pitch, we realise that he looks like a good player. He's certainly been one of Vaduz's (Surprise surprise, thanks Vaduz) best players since joining in 2015. Kuku lacks determination, which I have to say still irks me, but other than that he's solid. Decent physically, good mentally and technically and he's especially good on long shots, passing, technique and ability to pick out a pass. He's primarily a playmaker, which suits those strengths down to the ground.

This is the life, I think to myself. An away trip to the tiny nation of Gibraltar, South of Spain. It’s a lovely day and the sun’s belting down, so in true English style I retreat to my hotel room and stick the air con on full blast until I need to go down for the match. For the match itself I’ll be making a couple of changes: Kuku starts in place of Flatz as an advanced playmaker in the centre of midfield and Guillaume Khous, the versatile forward who's not played since my first match in charge against the Faroe Islands, replaces the injured Göppel as an inside forward on the left wing. Even though Gibraltar are the underdogs, we’ll start with the same cautious system as we’re still the away side and we’re not so good that we can turn up playing gung-ho football and expect to sweep Gibraltar aside. The one tweak I’ll make is that I want us to exploit the middle of the pitch, as our central midfield triangle of Büchel, Wieser and Kuku is by far our highest quality area and I’ll be looking for them to run the show.

After 20 minutes we’re dominating, but Gibraltar are defending for their lives. We go more direct to try to utilise Frick’s physical presence more and speed up our final third play. We get to half time still level though, so we come out for the second half and attack, but still Gibraltar hold on.

It’s not until 5 minutes from time that anyone gets a real chance, after Negele and Hadzipasic have come on to replace Wieser and Frick. After another period of possession for Liechtenstein, Kühne crosses low from the right towards the far post, and Guillaume Khous arrives on the edge of the 6 yard box to steer the ball into the net. Again, I’m delirious, again we celebrate and again we shut up shop and see the game out. My first 2 competitive matches as Liechtensteiner boss have ended 1-0 and we’re in dreamland - At the top of Division D Group 2 of the European International League.

As Liechtenstein boss I'll take any little victories I can get, and if Lucas Eberle's 2 Player of the Match awards in a year is a new Liechtensteiner record, then let's party like it's the 12th of July 1806.

And the best thing about this International break is welcoming a talented new 31 year old into the fold. After making his debut, Kuku is officially Liechtensteiner. He's delighted, even thanking me afterwards in an online interview.

I don’t ask for a lot in life you know. Clothes on my back, a roof over my head and a hot meal at night. And it’d be nice if I didn’t get home now and then to find that my cats had quite literally pissed on my pillow. You might call those the bare essentials and anything else a bonus. I have an image in my head of me as an old man where I sit my half-robot-faced grandson Franjo Jr Jr down and tell him all about times like these. “Once upon a time, Franjuju”, I’ll say, “I took a bunch of amateur misfits from a small Central European country and I lead them into battle. And on that day my boy, we bloody well won.”

Unstoppable (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep99)

I step onto the Santos team bus to a cheer and a round of applause. “Thank you, lads, thank you.” I say with a smirk. The lads were obviously paying attention over the International break, with the possible exceptions of Sony Norde, Mike Kakuba and Hicham Aidir, who were on duty with Haiti, Uganda and Morocco Under 20's respectively. I’m feeling fucking unstoppable after Liechtenstein’s double win over Montenegro and Gibraltar and I want to instil that attitude in the players so that they can go into our away match against Golden Arrows today full of confidence.

In an odd scheduling choice, 2 teams in the league haven’t even kicked a ball yet while Polekwane City have played 3 times, we’ve lost twice and Golden Arrows have picked up a single point from their single game. I understand when this happens after different length cup runs and what have you, but it’s considerably less justifiable at the start of the season!

We of course are trying to bag our first points of the season, but Golden Arrows actually sneaked into the top half of the league last year so they aren’t to be underestimated. I decide to go with our more solid system: Project: Foxy Mk II, but I’m keeping most of my team from the first 2 matches together with the exception of Hicham Aidir, who after opening his account for the club on his debut will make his first start up front in place of King Carl.

4 minutes in Golden Arrows threaten when Buthelezi dribbles to the edge of our penalty area, but he fires a shot straight at Komo who’s able to catch the ball easily. After 25 minutes we’re getting fairly well dominated, so I tell the lads to retain possession to get us a foothold in the game.

Less than 10 minutes from half time, Dube chips the ball to Ngidi, again on the edge of our box, and he controls the ball calmly before lashing it into the bottom corner. After taking a moment to shout a few choice words in frustration, I obviously bring out the Meatloaf.

At half time we’ve still not managed to find a foothold and frankly our performance has been shocking. We’ve scrapped and picked up a few yellows, which I don’t mind, but we’ve not created anything at all and we’ve not been able to keep the opposition out. I save half time triple substitutions for special occasions and this seems like as special an occasion as any, so on come Joël Soumahoro and debutants Ayanda Nkili and Isaac Sohna. Off come Tlou Molekwane, Roscoe and Sony Norde. We keep the Meatloaf train rolling.

With half an hour to go we go on the attack, but I think I can see where this is going: Another crawl to the finish line and another frustrating narrow defeat. Except I’m wrong. Right after I give the order to attack we win a free kick 30 yards from the Golden Arrows goal. Masango takes it and his shot isn’t especially good, but the keeper Gumede has a shocker - He spills the ball right in front of Joël Soumahoro, who nips in and scores the easiest goal he’ll ever score. That’s another newbie off the mark and suddenly we’re looking good.

We have a spell of dominance after the goal. It’s sparked us into life and if anything, we’re looking the more likely team to score again. We take it right up to the wire. With 4 minutes to play, Masango switches the ball brilliantly across to the right wing for Moon, who cuts it inside for Joël again. He surges forwards, leaves 2 defenders crying big golden arrow-shaped tears in his wake and pokes the ball past Gumede to put us ahead. Joël sprints straight over to Hicham Aidir, with whom he’s formed a close friendship after they both arrived from overseas at the same time. Out of nowhere, Santos have fought back, we’ve won, we’re off the mark for the season and we may well have unearthed one of the best young talents in the league.

I bloody love Goolam Allie. It’s only been a few weeks since I completed my National A license but when I cheekily request that the club fund my Continental C license studies he’s straight on board. “The better you are, the better we’ll be” he smiles as he writes the cheque. I laugh politely, feeling quite guilty as I’ve not yet thought about where I’ll be after this season.

Cape Town All Stars at the Athlone are up next, but before that we have the draw for the South African Knockout Cup First Round. We get Mthatha Bucks away, which should be winnable. We did the double over them last season with a pair of 1-0 wins courtesy of Ryan Moon and King Carl, so I'm quietly confident.

Away from South Africa though I get a bit of sad news. Having been a free agent for a year, Simon Kühne’s decided to call time on his playing career at the tender age of 26. I feel for him of course. I know how tough it is as a manager when no club wants you and I imagine it’s even worse when you’re a player in your mid 20’s and you can only watch your short career tick away. On the other hand though, he got a bloody match winning assist in Liechtenstein’s EIL match against Gibraltar! He definitely had more to offer us. Kühne’s mind is made up, but I give fellow free agents Yves Oehri, Vinzenz Flatz and Guillaume Khous a call and offer them the chance to train with Santos. If I can keep them sharp in the reserves it might help them find a club and prolong their careers.

To the Cape Town All Stars match then, and as we’re the home side and they’re one of the relegation favourites I’m bringing out the Meatloaf once again. Nkili, Sohna and Soumahoro all come into the starting lineup after their impressive substitute appearances last time out replacing Molekwane, Roscoe and Norde.

We come out of the blocks fast, playing some brilliant fluid football. Almost 20 minutes in one particularly impressive counter attack culminates with Hicham Aidir holding the ball up and playing in Masango, who rolls it into the far bottom corner for 1-0.

The All Stars get a chance to level the scores 5 minutes from the break when Mamba chips the ball through for Mbunjana, but he mishits his shot on the volley and it flies wide. Seeing them starting to come back into the match, we pull back to a more standard mentality. A couple of minutes later though Mandla Masango repays the favour for Hicham Aidir, laying the ball off for the Moroccan to drill it into the bottom corner of the net, doubling our lead.

After an hour they do pull a goal back after a Mashego corner is headed down by Bqol and stabbled in by substitute Bhengu. I send out the order to retain possession. We should be able to kill the game off at this point if we can just pass the All Stars to death before they manage to build up any kind of momentum.
10 minutes later I replace Kakubu, who's tiring after his recent run of matches that included a couple for Uganda while everyone else was resting. Roscoe comes on to help us shut up shop. Baliso also comes on replacing Ryan Moon, who's not convinced so far this season, and goes onto the left with Masango taking the right.

With 15 minutes to go Mashego creates another chance, this time sliding the ball through for the goalscorer Bhengu, who's looking lively. He snatches at his shot though and sends it soaring over the bar. We revert to Project: Foxy Mk II and eventually manage to see the game out at 2-1.

Not really a controversial view, but I think the best way to build momentum is by getting results. They don't need to be pretty, they just need to put points on the board. Points bring confidence, confidence brings performances and performances bring more results. We weren't as convincing as I would've liked us to be today but we got the win. Masango's off the mark and Aidir's bagged his 2nd goal for us. Slowly but surely Santos are building momentum, and I'm pretty fucking excited to see what happens when this team has momentum.

Must Win (Franjo: A Journeyman Story Ep100)

Just 1 more league match to take care of before I’m back on Liechtenstein duty, then. The match in question is away at Bloem Celtic, who beat us twice last season by a combined scoreline of 1-4. Naturally I want my revenge.

We’ll be playing Project: Foxy Mk II, trying to lure Celtic in before hitting them painfully and repeatedly on the counter. Personnel-wise I’ll be making a few changes, firstly because poor Mike Kakuba’s busy schedule for club and country has finally caught up with him and he’s pulled a hamstring, ruling him out for 2-3 weeks.

Sello Japhta’s also dropped as once again I think it’d be appropriate to start a more natural defender at left back. Roscoe and Zulu come in replacing the pair. Because we’re using defensive full backs, we’ll need our wide attackers to provide the width in the side, so Mandla Masango comes out of the side and is replaced by Sony Norde, who’ll play as an out and out winger along with Ryan Moon.

For all my scheming, it takes less than 10 minutes for my plan to start unravelling. Khasipe swings a cross into our box that’s cleared by Sohna, but only as far as Le Roux, who picks out James Mofokeng in space to the left of goal. Mofokeng receives the ball and simply slots it into the net to give the hosts the lead.

In an odd turn though, before the 20 minute mark Nyathi surges into our half and switches the ball to 18 year old Mofokeng. Sohna nudges the goalscorer off the ball and he responds by hacking the Cameroonian down with both feet like the World’s most ill-equipped lumberjack. Mr Qongco the referee brings out the red card and Bloem are down to 10 men. Soon after, we bring out the Meatloaf and Sello Japhta comes on replacing Siyabonga Zulu as we try to pry our opposition open.

It’s not until 5 minutes before half time that we get our reward. Sinbad picks out Joël Soumahoro cutting in from the left, he plays the ball on for Hicham Aidir on the penalty spot and the Moroccan hits it first time with his left foot, finding the bottom corner and rippling the net.

At half time all I do is offer clichéd words of encouragement: “You can do it”, “Keep going” etc. It certainly works though because 16 seconds after kick off we complete our turnaround when Soumahoro takes on a couple of Bloem players and feeds the ball through for Aidir, who tucks it into the bottom corner of the net.

10 minutes later Bloem go close when Le Roux slides the ball through for Sonopo on the edge of our box, but his powerful shot comes back off the bar. Maybe it’s complacency on my part, but I make no changes to counter the growing threat of the home side and after another 5 minutes I get punished when Phalane’s corner is met by the head of Marupijg at the near post and he loops the ball into the net to equalise.

I do make a couple of changes at this point, bringing Molekwane and Masango on in place of Nkili and the worryingly ineffective Ryan Moon. He’s been really quite poor so far this season. Masango goes on the left and will cut inside to leave space for Japhta as per usual, and Norde goes out onto the right to do the same. I’ve not tried the Haitian out there before and I’m interested to see how he does.

With 10 minutes to play, Soumahoro plays the ball to Norde, who drives forwards unchallenged and shoots viciously from 25 yards, but the ball brushes the top of the bar as it flies narrowly over. That turns out to be the last action of the match.

I suppose a draw is progress, but I’m not entirely happy. I know people say that beating 10 men can be tougher than beating 11 after the 10 men are galvanised by the sending off, but I don’t entirely buy it. As the team with the numerical advantage you should really be able to stretch the opposition, draw them out of position and make your advantage count and we haven’t done that.

Such is my schedule nowadays though, I don’t get to dwell on it for very long. The next day I’m on a plane over to Vaduz to prepare for the visit of Moldova in the European International League. Obviously we’ll be without right winger Simon Kühne after he retired, but luckily winger Pascal Schürpf and versatile left footer Maximilian Göppel are back from injury to fill that void. Wieser and Negele are both included despite minor injuries.

I see no reason to change majorly from our setup for the last 2 matches, so the only change is that Schürpf replaces Kühne on the right. The lineup is Benji Büchel in net, Lucas Eberle, Simone Grippo, Daniel Kaufmann and Roman Spirig across the back, Marcel Büchel, Sandro Wieser and Kuku in midfield and Pascal Schürpf, Guillaume Khous and Yanik Frick at the front.

Liechtenstein v Moldova turns out to be more of an endurance test than a football match. The level of quality might be even lower than in the matches I used to play at Worksop Town. The first half is especially drab, only making the sparse crowd get up from their seats in the 44th minute when Paireli turns Faruk Özkan's cross against our post. We attempt to control and retain possession to at least try to dominate the shit football. With 25 minutes to go I also bring on 29 year old winger Rony Hanselmann and striker Kevin Hadzipasic for Khous and Frick, just to freshen things up. Unfortunately soon after, Kuku picks up a knock on his ribs, but he plays on.

We really should be behind a minute later though when another Faruk Özkan cross is swung deep into our area and Armas heads it against the bar from point blank range. Nevertheless we survive and we go on the counter as Moldova are really beginning to dominate. Negele also replaces the half-fit Wieser with 10 minutes to go.

In the 90th minute I can actually hear Moldova manager Vedat Damascan tearing his hair out. This awful match is bad enough for me, never mind what it'd be like with the added frustration of hitting the woodwork twice. Just as the thought crosses my mind, Altin slides through Boiciuc in the box, who steadies himself, shoots - And hits the fucking post. I'll let you decide whether we're getting this point through tactical genius or sheer luck.

35 seconds into injury time, Moldova win a free kick. It's the infamous Reabciuk who takes it from 30 yards. He hits it with power... The ball takes a knick off the wall... It wrong-foots Benji Büchel... Hits the far post... Hits Benji's back... And rolls in.

What can I say? Honestly, tell me because I have no idea where to start. The match was poor, our performance was poor, Moldova were poor but not as poor as us and in the end they got their deserved 3 points. Let's just leave it at that.

Kuku's bruised rib doesn't keep him out for long. 3 days to be precise, but it's annoying in the sense that our match against Gibraltar is 4 days later and he's not ready to play.

We host Gibraltar in what is a must win game. We've now got 6 points from a possible 9, which admittedly is more than I thought we'd have at this point, but we've still got to travel to Montenegro and Moldova and failing to win what is objectively our easiest match would be nothing short of a disaster. We'll attack from the start as the away tie was cagey and we were quite lucky to get the winning goal. Youngster Yanik Negele gets the nod to start in midfield ahead of Kuku.

It's a bad start. If anything the first half is even worse than the Moldova game. Nothing of note happens apart from a "Shot" from Gibraltar's Jake Gosling from 35 yards out on the left. Büchel catches it easily but it's the visitors' only shot on target.

The second half starts much better for us. Less than a minute in Marcel Büchel finds Frick with a great through ball and the striker has the whole goal to aim at from 7 yards, but he shoots straight at the keeper Podesta.

With half an hour to go, Hadzipasic and Kuku replace Frick and Khous. The remaining half hour is dull, devoid of creativity and most importantly devoid of goals. The final whistle blows with the scores still deadlocked. We've messed up.

I need to sit back down and work out how this International break's gone so wrong. I can count on 1 finger the amount of decent chances we've created and I can count on 0 fingers the amount we've converted. Fair enough we're not really conceding; that's 3 clean sheets in 4 competitive matches, a new record amount of clean sheets for Liechtenstein, but also only 2 goals scored, which isn't enough. I'm going back to the drawing board again, I'll see you in Lansdowne.

You are reading "Franjo: A Journeyman Story (New Episode Every Week Day!)".

FMS Chat

hey, just wanted to let you know that we have a fb style chat for our members. login or sign up to start chatting.