A New Day in Hero Creek (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep13)
I feel like I'm being microwaved. I've moved from snowy Southern Sweden to Volcano Island, which is a molten stone's throw away from the equator. The temperature difference is staggering. It's so hot that my whole flat is spinning, which only adds weight to my microwave simile.
Nevertheless nothing will get me down today. I'm back in a job, and without wanting to sound bitter about my Höllviken experience, I feel like I've got a fair shot at this one. For starters I've got a squad. I've not met them yet, i've only seen a list of names, but I did note that there was more than 11 of them. For another thing I'm taking over a club that's in a pretty good position and I get to handle every single Relegation Stage match.
Put simply, ain't nothing gonna break my stride. It's a new day here in Hero Creek and a chance to start over for everyone. I leave Meatloaf and Burnie sleeping at the foot of the bed and head out to meet the players and staff at Andrense's training base.
I decide to walk there and the sun blazes against the back of my neck the entire way. Despite only living about a mile away I'm exhausted by the time I arrive. This is going to take some getting used to.
I make my way inside, find my way to the dressing room and push open the door. A roar of celebration greets me, and I stand in the doorway stunned for a second, looking around at 20-odd beaming faces. Some of them stand and come over to shake my hand or pat me on the back, others just cheer and applaud. I'm so confused.
One of them, a short, weathered looking gentleman, pushes a phone into my hands as he ruffles my hair. ESPNFC.com is loaded on the phone's browser and the headline on the page reads "Franjo takes charge at Angrense". The article seems to be all about how SC Angrense have bagged the mastermind behind a tiny Swedish Club's triumph over a titanic top division club.
I laugh, both confused and relieved. This is who I am to Angrense. I'm not "Franjo: who took FC Höllviken down", I'm "Franjo: Giant Slayer". I'm "Franjo: Hero of the Little Man, Vanquisher of Top Tier Bullies". I'm not sure how much they know about the rest of my Höllviken stint but I'm certainly not going to bring it up.
We head out for the first training session under my regime. I'm joined by Miguel Borba, club Chairman, and Roger Mendes, my new assistant manager. Maybe I just miss Joakim but Roger doesn't exactly scream "Brilliant Assistant". He may be handy but I don't think I'd trust him to help me make the big decisions.
Training goes brilliantly. I feel like I've been watching football being played in slow motion for the last few months. These players are fantastic. I put together a preliminary plan for our first match against Carapinheirense on the 12th of February:
Délcio Azevedo looks like my best goalkeeper. At only 5'9" he's a little short for a stormtrooper but he has decent communication, handling, reflxes and there's barely any quality that lets him down apart from perhaps his eccentricity. Also I suspect his name translates as "Delicious Avocado", but I'm still waiting on confirmation.
Vitor Miranda will be our defensive right back. He's very well rounded (And you must know by now how much I love rounded players) and apart from being a little slow there aren't any parts of his game that I'm worried about.
Miguel Oliveira looks like he'll be a solid centre back with the added benefit that he looks quite comfortable on the ball. I'll keep that in mind if I ever want us to play out from the back.
Ivan Santos is a very nice upgrade on Simon Henningsson. He's a mountain of a man who's not actually any slower than the rest of my defence, so that's good. Again, he's also fairly comfortable on the ball.
Oh Captain my Captain. Our skipper Gonçalo Valadão as it turns out is the short, weathered looking gentleman who handed me the phone when I arrived. In contrast to the rest of the players you've seen so far Valadão has an achilles heel: he's pretty slow and not a great athlete. At 35 however I'm willing to look past that. I won't be looking for fireworks, just for him to tidy up on the left hand side and lead by example with his mouth-watering mental attributes. He's also right footed and a natural right back, but I have faith that he'll do a job on the left.
Jaime Seidi will be our holding man. It was a toss up between him and Oliveira, but as the more technically gifted of the pair he gets the nod. He does look excellent. Determination, Team Work and Work Rate are the first things I look at and he's got no problems in that area. Or any area really.
Next to him will be Benjamim, who I think would have a good shot at winning the "Most Average Player in the World" award. And I mean that in a good way, look at all those 10's. He's fairly physically imposing and will be on box to box duty because of his unbelievable roundedness.
Marco Aurélio looks like a good player on the right wing. Chances are he'll swap between the right and left because he'd do a decent job cutting in on his right and having a shot as well as being an out and out winger.
Jordanes Medeiros is a skilful player. He's OK mentally and physically but technically he's one of our best. He'll do a good job as an advanced playmaker, making things happen and carving out chances with his good dribbling and passing. He's already agreed to join Waasland-Beveren at the end of the season which is a shame, but we've still got him for 5 months.
Pedro Aguiar is my vice captain. Like Aurélio he's adept on the left and right and so will most likely be swapped between them, and what he lacks in pace he makes up for in his excellent mentals and his unexpectedly good aerial presence. He's our very own Kevin Kilbane. In fact I'm calling him Kevin.
Finally in this preliminary lineup is Cristiano Magina, unsurprisingly the club's top scorer this season. He's a very very smart player, pretty solid physically and for what strikers need he's good technically too.
Our tactical plan will start out as a very simple and slightly asymmetrical 4-2-3-1 and we'll tweak it as we go.
As pleased as I am with the squad, I do identify a couple of weaknesses. Valadão, our captain, should do a fine job at left back but he is still 35, right footed and first and foremost a right back, so I wouldn't mind having a good natural left back to understudy.
Our goalkeeper Azevedo and central midfielder Benjamim are good, but not great. It would be nice to bring in replacements but they won't be priorities. We could also do with a third striker to give us a bit of depth up there. The long-term priority will probably be finding a suitable replacement for the outgoing Medeiros. Lastly the team in general lacks a bit of pace, so that's something to keep in mind when deciding who to sign.
With all that in mind, I get straight on the phone:
"Alex! It's Franjo... Franjo... I was your... penalties... nevermind. I'd like to find out how attached you are to some of your players".
The Mid-Season Break (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep14)
I haggle with Alex for a while over the prices of several of my former players. I have around £8k to spend on transfers which is a nice little luxury. I'm instantly put off by his valuation of Left Back Tobias Malm, as he wants close to £15k.
In all honesty Malm never lived up to my expectations in Sweden so I'm not too gutted. We agree that £1k will be enough to prise away both my former roommate Joakim:
And the man with the funkiest name in all of Sweden, Mo Dizzle:
But after speaking to them both they seem unwilling to relocate from Sweden to Volcano Island. I'm disappointed but to be fair Mo would've only been a squad player and I just wanted Joakim to rejoin me as my assistant. As I said to my new assistant Roger upon meeting him: "Let's face it Roger, you're no Joakim". He looked very confused.
I do however offer a contract to young Centre Back Stefan Andersson, who I signed for Höllviken and who is on a youth contract so can move for free. He accepts and I fly him out immediately.
My coaches don't think much of Stefan but I've seen a lot of potential in him. He came into our Höllviken side and helped steady the ship towards the end with solid performances at the tender age of 16. He'll go into our Under 19's for now and I'm interested to see how he develops.
I decide to take my eyes away from Höllviken. It's a shame that Joakim and Mo won't be joining me but it's time to look at other targets. I look over the Stats from the first stage of our division, the PT Championship, to see who's impressed at this level so far this season. Enter Gonçalo Reyes:
He's been playing very well so far this year for Operário Lagoa, who are through to the Relegation stage, so I splash out £1.5k to bring him in. He's a very rounded midfielder and can make things happen in the final third. He'll be a good option for Benjamim's position or I may bring him in for "easier" home games as a more attacking alternative to Jaime Seidi. I also name him "Hurley" for short after Hugo Reyes, as I'm one of the minority that still likes the TV show Lost even after seeing the ending.
Over the first few days as I run around completing the Andersson and Hurley deals I notice that there is significant interest (and quite a lot of it from larger Portugese clubs) in one of our young players whose contract is up in the Summer:
Rúben Miranda is a solid defensive midfield prospect and will definitely have a part to play in my team so I quickly tie him down with a £200 per week deal. It's probably more than I should pay a player who I don't see being in the first team right now but I am very excited about how good he can become. I also offer new contracts to my preliminary starting 11 as they will all have a part to play and all of their contracts seem to be up in 5 months time too.
February 1st rolls around and brings with it our first friendly of the mid-season break. We travel to Vitória do Pico, an amateur side not that much smaller than us, and start with the preliminary lineup I selected when I first arrived. We hammer them with shots and we play some good football, eventually taking a 3-1 win. Miguel Oliveira, our starting centre back, opened the scoring with a good header before a 20 yard thunderbolt from substitute and resident utility man João Borges, who I saw in my research shares his name with SCA's first captain, who scored in our very first match in 1929:
And then a penalty won and tucked away by back up Striker Wilson Dias:
And finally, Vitória's Macedo ruined our clean sheet by scoring a nice volley from just inside the area.
Our next and final friendly is a home game against Lyngby, a Danish Superliga club, and we start with the players who came on as subs in the first friendly. It's a risky decision to play the B team as Lyngby are a much bigger side but I want to see everyone before our first competitive match next week, so I also include the other players that I haven't seen yet on the bench, including Stefan Andersson.
We lose 3-0 to an Ojo header, a Danilo close range shot and a well worked goal finished by Kjaer in the dying seconds. On the plus side it was a very even game and we actually made the best chances, but finishing them was a problem. I have doubts that Dias, the back up striker who came on to score in the first friendly, is capable of leading the line on his own against decent opposition as he's best suited to being a pest in the defensive forward role and probably isn't technical enough to be a lone striker.
I regret nothing though. The whole squad's fitness takes a boost and I get an idea of who's ready and who's not. I definitely need another striker, but also another left back as Reis was disappointing and doesn't look very good in general.
Sadly Stefan Andersson puts in a slightly below average performance after coming on but he still needs time.
And so with only a week to go before our first competitive match I start putting out feelers for our back up left back and striker. It doesn't take long to identify 2 men who fit the bill: Hélder Arruda, a striker who's scored 9 goals in 21 games for fellow PT Championship side Praiense, who have made it into the Promotion Stage:
And Chileno, a solid looking left back from Hurley's former side Operário Lagoa, who are on our level in the relegation stage.
I agree fees with Praiense and Lagoa of £1k and £500 respectively, and enter talks with both players. I offer Arruda a decent contract that should tempt him away, and then go to talk to Chileno. It's at this point that my chickens come home to roost: it seems that in offering my first team new contracts and offering Arruda a decent deal, I've used all of the money available to me and Miguel Borba will only allow me £45 per week to offer to Chileno. I apologise to him and his agent, and then withdraw our bid. I'm slightly annoyed, but never mind. We'll go back for him later.
Arruda's transfer goes through the following day, so I think I'm done transfer-wise for the time being. There's just the small matter of winning matches to attend to now.
Nuno (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 14.5)
Here's a fun thought: I'd better not fuck this job up. If I manage to take Angrense down I may find that even the tiny English clubs don't want me. I may have to turn to...the Scottish Premier League. I shudder involuntarily, then shake it off. There can be no room for that kind of thinking today. Today is the day we put down a marker: Franjo has arrived in the Portugese Championship. I've come here to sign FC Höllviken players and win football matches. And I'm all out of willing Höllviken players.
Our Relegation stage saga kicks off against Carapinheirense, who finished dead last in their First Phase group and will start on 3 points, which puts them 7th, but joint last, in our group. We are 3rd with 6 points so we really should be starting with a win here.
I head down to Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo early and sit high in the main stand. The Carapinheirense match won't kick off for a good 6 hours. I imagine the players, in formation ready for kick off. I imagine the fans, filling the stands and singing their hearts out. I imagine myself, stood on the touchline: watching, waiting, studying.
The smell of freshly cut grass cuts through the fantasy. I look down to see that the groundsman has started to give the grass a final trim before the match. He spots me looking down at him. I smile and nod. "It's looking good" I call out. Without really acknowledging me he turns back around and continues cutting the grass. He must not have heard me, I'm quite far away up here.
I go down to the pitch to properly introduce myself. I want to be a Manager of the people. The truly great Managers know their clubs inside and out. They know the groundsmen, the tea ladies, everybody. That's how you build a team beyond a team.
"Olá" I say enthusiastically once I'm in earshot. He looks up from his mower to stare blankly at me. He's an odd looking man up close, with thin grey hair only covering parts of his head. He has an incredibly elongated, droopy face, like all of his features are struggling under twice as much gravity as everyone else, and his skin has the look of bad fake leather. I get the feeling he's either very very old or he's spent his entire life baking in the hot Terceira sun. Or both I suppose. He lowers his head and continues to mow.
"O-Olá?" I stammer, far less confidently than before. His head stays down but I get a grunt for my trouble. "FRAN-JO" I say loudly and slowly, in that incredibly disrespectful way that we English talk to the rest of the World. "NAME... OF... YOU?" I catch myself that time and feel a pang of shame, I sound like Steve bloody McClaren. He looks up at me cautiously wearing a grimace, as if he doesn't like my smell.
"Nuno" he grunts in a low, gravelly voice. I smile and nod. Manager of the people. "Manager?" He enquires.
"Yes" I mumble, suddenly doubly ashamed now that I know he speaks at least some English. He begins to laugh as he looks back down to his mower.
"Um gerente Inglês!" He cries. "Eles contratou um gerente Inglês!" His laugh builds momentum as he and the mower trundle away across the pitch and their sound fades.
What a strange bloke. I really could do with a phrase book. I've picked up "Olá" but after that I'm pretty stuck for Portugese. And I can't keeping talking in brolly-wally, I'll be laughed out of every job I get.
I can feel that it's starting to rain. I turn up the collar on my trusty grey coat and head back down the tunnel. It's time to get ready for our first match.
The Magina Vonologues (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep15)
“I just want to see your natural games today” I announce assertively in front of the dressing room full of players. Roger is translating for me as I speak. “Conditions are awful out there. It’s windy and it’s chucking it down with rain, so just show me what you can do”. I pause to give Roger a chance to catch up, and then smile widely, looking around at them all. “Don’t overthink it” I wink.
I stride out of the tunnel and towards the dugout, using my trusty grey coat to shield me from the sideways rain. There must be a couple of hundred fans here at least. It’s time to make a good impression.
I pass by 2 fans stood together in the front row. “VAMOS HERÓIS!” They cry, upon seeing me.* I turn to them and smile. I like it. I have noticed in my first couple of weeks that the club doesn’t really have a nickname. We’re just referred to as Angrense. But yes, we are The Heroes of Hero Creek. “VAMOS HERÓIS!” I echo back to them, raising a triumphant fist into the air. The crowd in earshot cheer and begin to sing the phrase in unison.
We start quickly: in the 4th minute Carapinheirense’s midfield seems to disintegrate in the rain and Kevin takes advantage, making an easy 15 yard pass forwards towards Magina. The striker jinks around a defender and hits a shot towards the near top corner, but their keeper Igor is on his toes and catches the ball with relative ease.
In the 17th minute Vitor Miranda hoofs a ball forward on the volley and Magina brings it down on his chest. He shimmies once again around a defender on the right wing and drills a low cross in to Medeiros 10 yards out. Medeiros takes a touch and then hammers it past the keeper into the far top corner. I leap to my feet, beaming from ear to ear. This is more like it! This is proper football! A fantastic start and it looks like there’s more to come.
I’ve not even sat back down before the ball comes forward again. Seidi passes to Kevin, who’s 20 yards out. He plays a fantastic ball through the left hand channel and Medeiros has got the beating of his marker Soro for pace, so much so that Soro trips him and gives away a blatant penalty.
Now I don’t want to brag, but back in Vellinge we had an excellent penalty scoring record, so naturally I’m practically celebrating our 2-0 lead already. Aurelio steps up, picks his spot, puts it straight down the middle, and Igor parries it away. 1-0 it stays.
With 10 minutes to go before half time, the game has died down significantly. I tell the team to control the game, to push slightly further forward and to get in Carapinheirense’s faces. I don’t want to full on attack this weaker side and leave us open to the counter attack, but control should make us start theatening them again at least.
4 minutes from the break we win a free kick 20 yards out in a very slightly left-of-central position. Valadão the skipper steps up. He curls the ball over the wall and as far into the top corner as it is possible to go. 2-0! It’s a superb effort and that’s surely enough to kill the game.
Half time comes around and I gather the team in the dressing room before showering praise onto them. But for the grace of Igor it would be 3-0! They were electric at times this half and if we play like that every match we are in for an extremely comfortable few months.
Just over 10 minutes after half time Carapinheirense push forward on the counter attack. A Namora through ball catches Oliveira flat footed and Bacurim squeezes into the area behind him. He shoots low to the right but Azevedo gets down brilliantly to push it behind. The corner comes to nothing.
Just 2 minutes later Cristiano Magina, who I am starting to think the absolute world of, picks the ball up 40 yards out, dribbles expertly past 2 defenders and lets fly from 25 yards. His shot goes wide to the right, but he gets a standing ovation from me nevertheless. “GOOD EFFORT MY SON” I bellow into the wind and rain. “MORE OF THAT”.
With half an hour to go I decide to make a defensive change: Benjamim, our central midfielder, is replaced by Rúben Miranda, who drops back alongside Seidi in a defensive midfield partnership.
15 minutes later Magina goes down and stays down after a heavy challenge. My heart sinks. Please no. Please, please no. He looks like he might be able to play on but I bring him off as a precaution. Arruda comes on for his debut, but the last 15 minutes goes by in the blink of an eye.
We were dominant today. Utterly, utterly dominant. But I’m not happy. I enjoyed Magina’s jinking run and long shot combo but we need to be making more quality chances like we did for the first goal. This could have been more comfortable and I’ll be tinkering to try to make amends in future, but for now we’ve picked up an opening day win, and I suppose that’ll do.
*”Vamos Heróis” translates to “Come on Heroes”, which was suggested by u/TooMuchChaos2 and u/Haevollgutoder on reddit, cheers guys! VAMOS HERÓIS!
What Does Kevin Do? (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep16)
Midweek games: A chance to build momentum? Or a surefire way to obliterate your team's fitness? I think largely it depends on your perspective, which is going to be determined by whether you win or lose. If you win, you'll feel like any fatigue caused is negligible: a necessary byproduct on the road to victory. Whereas if you lose you'll feel like the match was an unnecessary obstacle scheduled only to annoy you and destroy your squad.
So let's find out what this match is to us shall we?
Tonight we travel to the municipality of Torres Vedras, just North of Lisbon, and Campos Manuel Marques, home of Torreense. They sit at 5th place in the PT Championship, having started on 6 points like us, but having lost 2-0 to Sporting Ideal in their first match. We're 2nd on 9 points, however I am well aware that we started with a good points advantage and possibly the easiest game of our season, so we won't be getting ahead of ourselves.
It occurs to me during the flight over to mainland Portugal that we may see a major discrepancy between our home and away form at this club. Whoever is travelling for our matches is in for a long, long journey over the Atlantic. I think we'd better do everything we can to make Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo a fortress.
16 pre game
We stay pretty much unchanged from the first match, except that Magina is out (Mercifully only for a couple of days) so Arruda makes his full debut up front.
16 torreense formations
Nearly quarter of an hour into the match, Medeiros picks the ball up on the half way line, plays a one-two with Kevin just to his left, then dribbles forward and around a defender and shoots from the edge of the area, just putting the ball wide to the right. I'm torn on whether I should tell him and Magina (When fit) to stop being so ambitious with their shooting, or whether I should just leave them to it, it seems to be their natural game. It's how they want to play. Watching those 2 is like watching a 16 year old Wayne Rooney, before the English public and media did what they do so well: Ruined him.
After half an hour with the match still deadlocked, I decide to make that decision properly another time. There is no Magina in the squad today so Medeiros can step in line. We will control play and we will work the ball into the box as a team.
Half time comes and goes without incident. In all honestly this isn't a very exciting match.
7 minutes after the break, Vitor Miranda picks out Aurélio on the right wing, but Torreense's left back Burguette slides in to knock the ball away. It bounces down the line for us though and Medeiros picks it up on the right wing. He chips it in towards the runner in the area, IT'S ARRUDA! ARRUDA SCORES! I'm on my feet and punching the air, a full debut goal for our new striker: a nice volley with his instep.
"A nice signing", I think to myself, "and well worked by Medeiros". I smile smugly. Roger sees me and gives me that frown-with-a-raised-eyebrow look that smart-arses often do. But Roger's cynicism can't hurt me now. Not while I'm swaddled in this warm, soft blanket of vindication.
5 minutes later a decent Torreense passing move ends with Esgaio hitting a looping shot from the edge of the area which hits the angle and bounces away. It takes less than a minute more however for Burguette to hoof the ball forward from the half way line. Over our striker it goes, over the midfield, and crucially over 6'4" centre back Ivan Santos. Bonifácio takes the ball down unopposed and places it into the bottom corner. Goodbye vindication blanket. Hello again Roger. Put your eyebrow down you dick.
With 18 minutes to go Valadão stands over the ball 25 yards out. We have a direct free kick in a central position. Surely this is the moment. "VAMOS CAPITÃO", I shout, making full use of the teachings of my brand new Portuguese phrase book. Valadão smashes it over the wall, and off the bar. I groan as the ball bounces away and is cleared.
The 90 minutes are up and the referee signals for 2 minutes of injury time. I've not made a substitution or even a tactical change since the first half. The game is on a knife edge and I don't want to rock the boat.
With 40 seconds to go in injury time, Torreense come forward. My heart is in my mouth. They work the ball around well, and Pereira picks it up 25 yards out. He hits a hopeful shot, but Azevedo catches it easily. I breathe a sigh of relief.
Azevedo drops the ball and looks up for options, before hoofing it forward towards Kevin. Kevin nods it on but a Torreense defender boots it away again. Now Valadão gets the ball and hoofs it forward again. There are 15 seconds to go. Arruda with his back to goal nods it down to Kevin, who shimmies around a defender, avoiding his challenge.
He looks up and time seems to stand still. What does Kevin do? He's about 25 yards out from goal but defenders would surely block any attempt at a shot. He's got Arruda right in front of him with 2 Torreense players marking him out. He's got Aurélio in the centre, again marked out. And he's got the runner on the far side, Benjamim. He isn't marked as he's only just arriving and I don't think Torreense have spotted him, but it would require a truly needle-threading pass to find him through the tiny gap in the wall of Torreense players. So what does Kevin do?
Kevin threads the fucking needle.
Benjamim shoots...AND SCORES! He wellies it from the edge of the area into the left hand side of the net! I do a Klopp-esque run onto the pitch to join in the celebrations, my vindication blanket attached to my shoulders and flying proudly behind me like a cape! "VAMOS HERÓIS!" I cry, before the players echo my words.
It's a weird atmosphere to be honest. Pretty much dead silence. By the looks of it, our supporters don't really travel, and I can't blame them don't get me wrong, but there are 2 supporters of ours cheering and screaming amongst a sea of over 500 home fans. I did notice that Carapinheirense had brought a single lonely fan to our game on Saturday, where nearly 300 of ours turned out, so maybe no fans travel to Volcano Island either.
Nevertheless what an incredible ending to a so-so match. Benjamim, the unlikely hero with the goal. But I'll learn from this match. We were not good value for the win. It could've easily been Torreense celebrating the 3 points.
16 torreense post game
Negatives? Our centre backs with a combined height of nearly 12 and a half foot were done by a hoofed ball over the top, and in general we looked sluggish and static off the ball, letting Torreense play around us.
Positives? The team showed a never say die attitude and didn't stop fighting. A good goal from Benjamim, great assists from Medeiros and Kevin, and a full debut goal for Arruda. Plus, even though he hit he bar today, O Capitão is excellent at taking free kicks and that's a big plus.
So there you are, midweek games are fine. Sure, they knacker your squad, especially if you make the questionable decision not to bring on any substitutes at all. But they build momentum, and we've now got momentum in abundance.
The Tagus Piranhas (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep17)
"We've won 2 in 2! We've started brilliantly!" I bark stubbornly.
"You fail soon" replies Nuno lazily, without looking at me. "Aurélio never misses penalty, and then you come, Gerente Inglês, and..." he blows a raspberry with his mouth. I'm growing increasingly frustrated with Nuno. I don't know why I've showed up early at Estádio Municipal again.
"Are you suggesting that my presence as an Englishman was the reason that Aurélio missed his penalty against Carapinheirense last week?" I ask, exasperated.
"He make you feel at home, Inglês" he says offhandedly. It's annoying because he's one of these people who can just effortlessly piss you off. There's no malice in his tone but he just winds you up by indifferently pressing your buttons. I turn and start to walk away, leaving him to finish cutting the grass. "You fail soon, Inglês" he calls after me.
Probably the most annoying thing is that he might have a point. We play Vilafranquense later today, a side from Vila Franca de Xira, a municipality on the Tagus River. They're known as the "Piranhas do Tejo", or the "Tagus Piranhas", which makes me a tiny bit jealous.
The Tagus Piranhas are 3rd on 10 points and we're now 2nd on 12 points, but this is the most nervous I've felt before an Angrense match so far. We won't be the only in-form team playing on this shoddily cut grass today.
I'll be making minimal changes for the match. We are still in good form after all. Jaime Seidi has picked up a one game suspension after his yellow card against Torreense took his tally to 5 for the season, so young Rúben "Rúby" Miranda takes his place in the holding role.
I also take my time deliberating whether to bring the fit again Cristiano Magina back into the fold in place of Arruda, who of course scored on his full debut in Magina's absence. It's a toss up but I opt for Magina on the grounds that he's more familiar with the squad and is our top scorer this season.
Within 2 minutes Os Heróis are threatening: Rúby brings the ball forward into Vilafranquense's half and plays it out to Kevin on the left wing. With a brilliant piece of skill Kevin takes the ball around 1 man and then splits the defence with a through ball. Magina runs onto it but his near post shot is saved by Martins.
After 25 minutes we've had a few shots, but not good ones. I take the steps that I've taken in both other games so far: Control the play, work the ball into the box.
The first half is frustratingly dull and we go in for half time deadlocked. "We can win this game" I tell the players, via Roger. "We've had the only good chance, they've had nothing. Keep your chins up and go and nick us a goal."
7 minutes into the 2nd half a corner is cleared by big Ivan Santos, but the ball is whipped back in from the right wing. It's impossible to tell who in the penalty area scrum it actually deflects off but eventually it's laid off to Rosado, who tucks it home under Azevedo.
As much as this seems like bad news, I'm weirdly OK with it. I know that this team are fighters, I learned that in Torreense, but until now I've not seen how they react when they go behind. I'm intreagued to see how the handle it, situations like this can give a Manager vital insight into his team.
With half an hour to go I decide to press our home advantage. I make a double substitution, bringing on Hurley for his debut and Reis for his first appearance under my stewardship. The players to make way are Rúby and Vitor Miranda and we switch to a conventional 4-2-3-1 with Valadão as a defensive wing back on the right, Reis as an attacking wing back on the left and Hurley as an attacking central midfielder next to Benjamim.
10 minutes later, Magina picks up an injury. I really hope I haven't got the Portugese equivalent of Daniel Sturridge on my hands. He seems OK to play on but like in the first match I bring on Arruda as a precaution.
With 15 minutes to go I tell the team to attack and to play with some fluidity, but at this point it's been about 75 minutes of football since we seriously threatened Vilafranquense and I'm losing hope.
With under 10 minutes to go a Vilafranquense corner is cleared only as far as Ely, whose long range shot reflects off his teammate Esteves and wrong-foots Azevedo as it trickles into the far corner. The goal doesn't count as Estevez is ruled offside but to be honest that doesn't lift my spirits much.
I've said before that Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo needs to be our fortress. Results like today: Gutless 1-0 losses against any team, even the good ones like Vilafranquense, are unacceptable. We have such a huge home advantage, probably one of the biggest home advantages in club football, such is our geographical isolation from the rest of our league. Similarly we have one of the worst away disadvantages, and that's why we need to get something out of each and every home game.
The worst part is that I know Nuno, wherever he is, is looking at this result and giving me a great big telepathic "I told you so" in Portugese.
Project: Meatloaf - Part 1 (Franjo: A Journeyman Story Mini-sode 17.5)
"What do you think?" I ask. My face scrunches up slightly as I try to come up with an answer to the question that's been plaguing me all weekend. "I mean, I know there wasn't much that we could've done about their goal... to be fair it was a good finish and we did initially defend the corner well, but..." I let out a sigh. "I don't know. Why were we so ineffective?"
Burnie stares blankly back at me from my lap, his little feline head cocked slightly to one side. "You're not much help you know mate", I tell him sympathetically. I scratch him behind the ear and pick him up to put him on the floor so I can get up. I need to think, and to think I need to walk.
I've watched Saturday's match too many times now and the answer's in my head somewhere. I just need to filter out the shit and find it. Why did we lose? We were nothing like the team I saw in the first 2 matches. The team that dominated and fought and scared the life out of the opposition going forwards.
I throw on my trusty grey coat and open the door of my flat, intending to go for a walk, when I hear hissing and yowling: The telltale sounds of a cat fight. The kind with actual cats. I turn around to see my that my other cat, Meatloaf, is attacking Burnie. Meatloaf is smaller, scrawnier, scrappier and obviously more insecure than his brother. He's pinned Burnie down and he's biting and scratching him.
But just then something clicks. Burnie is crouched, defensive, and still. He looks petrified. He's showing Meatloaf too much respect. If he wanted to he could throw the little bastard off and win the fight, but he won't. Meatloaf is offensive and dominant... he's a dick, but he's winning.
I slam the door, which shocks Meatloaf into running away, and I throw my trusty grey coat onto the bed, unsure of why I put it on in the first place as it's intolerably warm here on Volcano Island.
I have work to do. In our last match against Vilafranquense, even though we had the home advantage we were timid and careful. Almost petrified. We should have been the aggressor. We should have taken the game to Vilafranquense. We were Burnie. We should have been Meatloaf.
Next weekend we play Associação Naval 1° de Maio, or Naval for short. We're away but they're a team we should be beating, so I decide to adjust my tactics. We'll make a new system and try it on them.
It's time for Project: Meatloaf
Project: Meatloaf - Part 2 (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 17.5.5)
I think for a while. We could set up Project: Meatloaf to attack the opposition. We could go all out aggressor, but I'm not convinced we have the squad for it.
If we break it down, to attack effectively you need to turn the ball over high up the pitch. To win the ball high up you need a high defensive line. To have a high line you need pacey defenders to minimise the threat of the opposition counter attacking with long passes into the space you leave behind. Our defenders are slow. They're good, don't get me wrong, but too slow to play in an attacking system as they'd be incredibly vulnerable to the counter.
If we tried to attack with a deep line to make up for our defenders' lack of pace we'd leave a massive amount of space between defence and midfield, which would cripple us both defensively and offensively. In short, all out attack isn't really an option with the players we currently have. So control it is. We'll control the game, raising the back line slightly but not too much.
I never mentioned this to you, but when I first arrived in Hero Creek my first instinct was to set us up to play with a back 3. I saw the 4 quality centre backs at our disposal (I don't think you've even met one of them yet) and thought we'd better use as many of them as we can. But to do that we'd need either wing backs or wide midfielders that will track back, as playing with a defensive back 5 would leave us short going forward, and we don't really have either. I'm sure Kevin and Aurélio would give it a go if I asked them but I'd rather leave them further upfield. Plus, we have 2 very solid full backs, one of whom is our captain, so I decided on a back 4 with a holding man instead.
In the system we've used so far, which we'll call Heróis Original, our holding men, especially Jaime Seidi, have been excellent. Crucial. They've started almost every single attack by bringing the ball into the opposition half and playing it out to one of the more offensive players. The holding man role has so far worked sort of like a quarterback for us. But against weaker, more defensive opposition I think Benjamim can handle the defensive dirty work and bring the ball forward on his own.
In dropping the holding man we'll free up another attacker, so we'll have Hurley as an attacking central midfielder next to Benjamim in the interest of having more bodies pushing into the final third. This was actually my original plan with Hurley anyway and it seems like a good time to give it a try. I was also unsure about Benjamim when I took over but he's impressed me in my first few games. He's a jack-of-all-trades with the right attitude and you can never have too many players like him. And a last minute winner never harms your reputation does it?
Our wingers are an interesting problem to solve. When I made Heróis Original I worried that playing Kevin as an inside forward, while giving my fullbacks no attacking responsibility whatsoever due to their lack of athleticism, would leave us lacking width, especially on the left. Eventually I plan to bring in a quicker left wing back which should fix the problem but that won't be happening this transfer window. And besides, I'm still very happy to have O Capitão on the left for now.
Ironically, despite my initial concerns I think Kevin's probably been our best player so far. In terms of chance creation he's been excellent. If we ever manage to work the ball into the box to create a good goalscoring chance you can bet that Kevin's played a major part in the move.
I've been less thrilled with Aurélio. I'll be completely and totally honest with you: I couldn't care less that he missed that penalty against Carapinheirense. We won 2-0 and that's all that matters. It's his overall involvement so far that bothers me. It probably doesn't help my opinion of him that he's so easily comparable to Kevin, who's been as good as he has, but Aurélio just hasn't created much for us so far. In Project: Meatloaf Kevin and Aurélio will be encouraged to swap wings every now and then. In addition to keeping the opposition defence on their toes it'll also give me a chance to see if Aurélio can play better on the left. Is the problem him? Or is it the right winger role that I put into Heróis Original?
Medeiros and Magina will keep their positions and their roles. They're both such exciting players; the kind of players that make you get up out of your seat whenever they get the ball, even if they're in their own half. Plus, they're the kind of players that the opposition will lie awake before matches worrying about.
Medeiros has given me no reason to doubt his ability to create from any area of the pitch, and he's popped up with a goal too. Magina has made some brilliant runs both on and off the ball, and has laid on a goal for Medeiros, but has had a frustrating start to my tenure with no goals and 2 injuries so far. Like Medeiros though, I have no doubts about his ability at the minute and I'm happy with his back up in Hélder Arruda if he does turn out to be an injury prone player.
We'll also work the ball into the box because we have far more passing ability amongst our attackers than speed or aerial presence.
So what we've got is a pretty simple 4-2-3-1 on control fluid, working the ball into the box. Underwhelming? Perhaps. "A 4-2-3-1 Wide, Franjo! How adventurous!" Fine. But it can't always be "Let's chuck a goalkeeper up front". Sometimes you just need to tweak what you've got to get the best out of your players and the worst out of the opposition's. Anyway, it's not about the formation. It's about the system. Fluidity is essential to Project: Meatloaf. Getting forward in numbers is essential. You could argue that it's a better system than Heróis Original, or a riskier one, but to be honest it's just slightly adjusted to rebalance us towards attack against more defensive sides.
Our defence is solid, I have faith that our front 4 will do fine, although I'll be keeping an eye on Aurélio's contribution, but everything will hinge on our central midfield pairing and I'll be keeping a close eye on the battle between them and their opposition numbers.
One thing's for sure: our match at Naval will be an interesting one.
Project: Meatloaf in Action (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep18)
Have I got everything I need? Probably not. I hate flying. Not because of any kind of irrational fear; I've seen all the statistics, like that you're more likely to fall off a flaming rollercoaster into a Sarlacc than be involved in a plane crash or whatever it is. No, my dislike of flying stems from the fact that more often than not, you have to go from an airport. Airports are the worst.
We're flying to Figueira da Foz on the West coast of mainland Portugal for our match against Naval tonight and I need to leave soon, the team bus from Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo leaves in just over half an hour. As I head towards the door I see Meatloaf and Burnie both laid at the foot of my bed, looking up at me with cautious intrigue.
"I hope we make you proud today mate" I smile at Meatloaf, "and Project: Burnie is in the works!" I reassure Burnie, before stepping outside and closing the door behind me. I set off walking fast. I know the chances that they'll leave for Lajes Field Airport without their Manager on the bus are slim but I don't want to hold us up. I don't even stop to stroke the Golden Retriever I see sat in the car park of my building, which for me is quite something.
I arrive in time and our knackered old team bus trundles its way to Lajes Field. Somehow even though we get there 3 hours early and it's the tiniest airport I've ever seen, we still have to run to board our flight. And then run again after they change which gate we're leaving from. I hate airports so much.
To be fair, the trip over to Figueira da Foz goes pretty seamlessly and we arrive at José Bento Pessoa, Naval's ground, in pretty high spirits. Naval are currently occupying the relegation playoff spot in our group with 7 points. They've lost 2 and won 1 so far so they might be a decent side to pick our form back up against. Despite our loss against Vilafranquense we sit in a respectable 3rd place with 12 points.
I address the team in the changing room before the match "Is everyone clear on their jobs?" Grunts and nods from the players. My heart's pounding, I'm excited to see Project: Meatloaf in action today. I turn to Hurley, who's not started a match before today. "Hurley, compreendo?" He nods, but he looks nervous.
"Is it true that you named this system after your cat?" Interjects a smirking Roger.
"VAMOS HERÓIS!" I cry as I turn and walk down the tunnel.
We start well, with our first good chance coming just over 10 minutes in: Naval's Oliveira heads a cross clear of the box and Benjamim takes it down well. He squares it for Hurley, who passes it on first time for Kevin. He's 10 yards out on the left and if he shoots left footed I think he scores, but he goes with his right and drags his shot into the side netting.
10 minutes later we're still threatening. Vitor Miranda plays a lofted pass down the right wing for Medeiros, who chests it down and lays it off for Aurélio. Aurélio thinks about the cross but instead plays it back inside for Medeiros. He lays it off for Magina, who slots the ball into the bottom left corner. 22 minutes in and we've scored a good team goal, that's what I want to see. It's not only a good move, it's also a smart one. I can tell the players are enjoying using their brains in this fluid style, I can see their cogs turning. It's great for Magina to get his first goal under my regime too, the relief on his face is clear. Project: Meatloaf is paying dividends so far.
Just 2 minutes later we're at it again. You wouldn't know who the home side is here, Naval aren't getting a sniff. Medeiros plays a good cross into the 6 yard box and it's headed away by Ildefonso. Fred Jesus, a man whose parents I respect very much for their choice of name, tries to head the ball further clear but can only put it into space on the left wing. Hurley goes to pick it up and puts an in-swinging cross into a dangerous position. So dangerous in fact that it nearly flies into the top right hand corner and Naval keeper João Tiago has to claw it out, but the ball only falls a couple of yards out for a confident looking Magina to dink back into the net. 2-0 and we are looking as excellent as I've seen us.
At half time the dressing room is cheerful. There's a real buzz and the players really seem to be enjoying themselves.
"Excellent", I say to them through a toothy smile, "You've played well so far." For the 2nd half we're going back to Heróis Original. We've got a good lead but we can't get cocky, nor can we sit back and invite them on. We'll be our usual standard selves and we'll utilise Hurley in the holding man role.
The first 20 minutes is quiet and I'm fine with that. Maybe one day when my team has wrapped up the La Liga title with weeks to spare I'll try and drub some fools, but for now 3 points is all I want, and killing games off with a 2-0 lead is an excellent way of wrapping up 3 points.
I bring off Kevin, who's been quiet today, and bring on Amonike, who I'm quietly confident in. His defining moment for me so far was a 30 yard defence splitting pass in our first friendly that lead to a goal. Since our wingers are no longer swapping I station Amonike on the right where he's most comfortable and put Aurélio on the left.
Just a couple of minutes later our Oliveira takes a short free kick from just inside the Naval half and passes it to Medeiros. Medeiros dribbles down the right wing and passes to Amonike a few feet away, who holds the ball up, draws away 2 defenders and lays it back for Medeiros. From there he drills a dangerous looking cross along the ground towards the 6 yard box that deflects off the outstretched foot of Ildefonso and bounces past the keeper to make it 3-0.
With 15 minutes to go I replace Hurley and Medeiros with Rúby and Seidi, swapping us to a more withdrawn 4-2-3-1 with 2 holding men and a box-to-boxer.
Seconds later Chuca does his best for Naval bless him, he makes a powerful sideways run from the centre to the left wing and shoots from the corner of the area. The shot goes a long, long way wide.
With 7 minutes to go I tell the players to fall back completely and defend, and we see the match out without breaking a sweat.
Hurley was excellent today. He did exactly what he needed to, gave us an extra man and an extra attacking outlet, chasing loose balls and making forward passes. Magina was brilliant too, scoring 2 poacher's goals and looking dangerous throughout. Our defence was solid, our midfield was well balanced. I am a very happy manager.
I realise that it's difficult to compare our last 2 matches. There are so many variables, what with being at home against a good side and then being away against a pretty bad side, using different tactics with slightly different personnel, but my God that result feels good after last week's disappointment. That's the kind of performance we need to be putting in every game, at home especially: Dominant, fluid, exciting and brilliant.
Ah shit I've got to fly home now haven't I.
The Green Island (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep 19)
The Heroes' confidence has been high this week. With that 3-0 win over Naval fresh in the memory there’s been a real swagger about them in training. I contemplate how refreshing it is to work with such a confident bunch as I sit and eat my Portugese supermarket own-brand cornflakes. Hopefully we can keep the good times rolling today: we play Grupo Desportivo Vitória de Sernache, or Vit Sernache for short at 4 o’clock, who are travelling all the way over from Cernache do Bonjardim: a parish located smack bang in the middle of mainland Portugal.
Vit Sernache are a curious team. They currently sit 2nd bottom in the league with 6 points. So far in the Relegation stage they’ve beaten Vilafranquense, who are the only team to beat us so far, and lost to 3 teams including Naval, who we just decimated. Nevertheless we are at home against the 7th placed team and I will not accept anything less than 3 points.
As I slurp the last of my Portugese supermarket own-brand milk out of the bowl, I hear a familiar voice from behind me: "Inglês, I tell you last match yes?" It's Nuno. And he sounds infuriatingly chipper. He walks around to the front of my table and stands there, almost smiling. The bastard. "I tell you last time Inglês! You fail! I tell you!" he's giggling now. He seems either unable or just unwilling to hold back all of his feelings of schadenfreude.
"I honestly don't know why I keep coming in this early on a match day" I groan, shoulders slumped. Nuno ignores me completely.
"You know how you do today Inglês?" he whispers as he crouches down and moves his Droopy-Dog-shaped-handbag of a face closer to mine.
"YOU FAIL INGLÊS!" He quickly straightens up again, beaming and nodding enthusiastically. Well, enthusiastically for Nuno.
I stand, pick up my empty bowl and look him right in the eyes. "Well we'll see won't we Nuno. We'll see if I fail today." I assertively place my bowl in the sink and walk out of the Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo cafeteria, leaving Nuno looking surprised and possibly slightly impressed.
I turn my attention back to match prep. I feel like I may have been harsh in my criticism of our right winger Aurélio when creating Project: Meatloaf you know. He’s been fine. It’s just that in general, standards have been set very high so far and “fine” has actually meant that I’ve been able to single him out as one of the weaker performers. Anyway, I’m giving Amonike a start today in his place. I’ve got a decent amount of confidence in him and he sort of got an assist last week. He set up Medeiros’ cross which hit a defender and went in. Other than that, we’re unchanged and let’s get another result like last week's!
We start… In fact no. No, I’m not doing it. I’m not telling you about this match. OK fine, do you want to know what happens? Do you want me to describe every moment of importance in this match? Here you go: Luís Carlos has a shot from 30 yards that nearly goes out for a throw, we go 4-2-4 and I beg my team to attack, and Roger falls asleep for a bit. That's it. That’s all of it. We're dominant but we create no good chances at all. The Vit Sernache supporters get the last laugh because none of them bother to make the bloody trip, so they don't have to endure possibly the most boring 90 minutes of my career so far. It goes without saying that my main priority immediately after the match ends is avoiding Nuno.
We'll fast forward a week, because I'll be damned if that's me done for the day.
Our next match is upon us then and we have another flight to catch, but for once we're not flying to mainland Portugal. Our next match is away against Sporting Clube Ideal, who are the only other club in our group that's based in the Azores. I suppose they're the closest thing we have in our group to a rival. They're based in Ribeira Grande (Big Riverside, not exactly Hero Creek is it?) on the largest Island in the archipelago: São Miguel (Known as The Green Island. Again, I'm pretty sure Volcano Island is the cooler option).
I'm wary of SC Ideal. So far they've beaten Torreense, Naval and erm...Sernache, and they've lost to Caldas and Vilafranquense, who are the top 2 in the group. In other words they've only gained 1 less point than us and they're yet to play the extremely thrashable Carapinheirense, while we're yet to play the league leaders Caldas, who aren't doing too badly...
They've also won 2 out of 2 at home and I'm very reluctant to let them make that 3 out of 3, so I'm pumping the breaks on Project: Meatloaf. We'll revert today to Heróis Original in the name of progress and we'll welcome Seidi and Aurélio back into the fold. Needless to say Amonike didn't impress me last match, but then nobody did. Hurley has been excellent but he's not the right fit for this match. Aurélio is going to get a chance in the left inside forward role, and Kevin will be our right winger as I'm still trying to figure out how to have 2 good wide players in this team.
5 minutes in we give away a silly free kick in a central position. Artur Santos puffs his chest out Ronaldo-style and smashes the ball over the wall. I let out a tiny squeal as it looks to head towards the top left corner, only to crash back off the bar.
2 minutes later we have a chance of our own. As SC Ideal push forward, big Ivan Santos steps in to hammer the ball upfield. Magina collects it 40 yards out and drives at their defence, bamboozling a defender with his footwork before mishitting his 30 yard shot which flies wide to the left.
Nearly quarter of an hour into the match Ivan Santos plays another long ball forward towards Magina, but João Jesus beats him in the air and heads it away. Seidi gets to it first though and sends a looping volley onto the right wing, which is nodded on by Kevin. He catches it well and the ball skips through the Ideal defence and is picked up by Magina on the right hand side of the area. He takes a touch, turns and shoots towards the near post but João Botelho makes a good save, tipping it wide. A good move, but not very clean. I tell the players to work the ball into the box to make clearer chances.
The match goes quiet for the next 20 minutes or so before The Heroes start threatening again: From a throw to the right of the SC Ideal penalty area, Vitor Miranda plays a one-two with Kevin before sending a cross deep into the box. Aurélio gets his head to the ball but lacks both power and accuracy, so much so that the ball goes very wide but doesn't actually go out for a goal kick. Xéxé, SC Ideal's left back who I weighed up alongside Chileno as a transfer option a few weeks ago, picks the ball up and clears it down the left wing, where César brings it forward on the counter. He plays it to Amaral, who dribbles to the edge of our area and squares it for Santos. As Santos looks up he's surrounded by defenders, but one of them is slightly out of place. Oliveira has drifted towards him and left space for Cabral to exploit. Santos plays a perfect through ball into the path of Cabral, who tucks it away at the near post.
My head drops. This isn't good. Our form is all over the place. It's not as if we're doing well at home and playing badly away like I initially anticipated, we're just struggling to gather any momentum regardless of the venue. And this isn't the first time Oliveira's made a mistake like that. I've got my eye on him.
"Fuck it", I say as I get to my feet. "Hurley, warm up."
Jaime Seidi is sacrificed, Hurley comes on and Project: Meatloaf is back on. We need to take this game to SC Ideal and the only other time we went behind under my stewardship we lost. Let's get at them early to prevent a repeat of that.
5 minutes later, Amaral powers forward again before shooting from the edge of the area, but Azevedo saves it well down to his left.
I get into the changing room at half time before the players, and think about what I'll tell them. I'm not actually angry, but I am frustrated. This team is a puzzle that I keep getting stuck on. Saying that, we've not been bad today, Magina's had a decent chance... And a speculative one. "You've been unlucky so far" I calmly tell them. "Both teams have had chances, but they've had the best one and we're 1 down because of it. Go and make some even better ones, we can beat this lot!"
Just over 10 minutes after the break a decent move results in our corner. Aurélio swings it in with pace towards the near post and big Ivan Santos loses Cabral, the goalscorer who was marking him, beats Diaby and Xéxé in the air and powers the ball home with his head. By the time the back of the net ripples I'm up and punching the air: "VAMOS HERÓIS!"
Not long after, the goalscorer Santos takes a free kick in our half and plays it short to Valadão. The skipper passes it to Hurley, who flicks it on first time for Benjamim. Now forward to Medeiros while bodies are getting forward all around him in support. Magina takes it off him, dropping back like a false nine which catches me slightly off guard, and lays it off for Benjamim again. Back to Medeiros, who plays a great pass behind Xéxé for Kevin on the right wing. Kevin takes a touch and drills a low cross into the area, which hits Touré's foot and trickles past the keeper Botelho, but very slowly comes back off the far post. The ball's cleared but we're playing some great fluid football now.
With just over 20 minutes to go I bring Arruda on in place of Magina to freshen up the attack, and with 15 to go we get another chance. Miranda's throw inside our own half seems pretty harmless but he gets it to Hurley, who takes a touch, looks up and launches the ball over the SC Ideal defence. Arruda chests it down and sprints into the area, but the angle is a bit too narrow and his near post shot is tipped behind by Botelho.
We're just 2 minutes from the end now. This has been an end to end game and there could still be a winner in it. Artur Santos picks the ball up on the edge of our area but Hurley gets in well to tackle him. He plays it to Medeiros who plays it first time to Kevin. He takes it forward slightly and releases the ball to Arruda, who plays it quickly on to Hurley, and then Benjamim. Benjamim holds it up, turns and plays an excellent ball on for Aurélio on the right wing. Aurélio, presumably with my criticism still ringing in his ears, swings a beautiful cross in for Kevin, who's unmarked at the far post, and his powerful header flies back across goal towards the top corner, but he's denied by a top class, fingertip save from Botelho.
Kevin is instantly replaced by Amonike. Not because of the header, I'd already decided on the change before that chance. Maybe this is Amonike's moment.
1 minutes to go and Benjamim presses Besugo, who was dilly-dallying on the ball in his own half. Arruda picks it up, holds it up, and plays it through for Medeiros, but Diaby slides in to tackle brilliantly. The ball rolls to Aurélio, but he's tackled too by Dinarte, who launches it up to Amaral. They're starting to counter us and I get the familiar sensation of my heart dropping right through my stomach. Amaral plays it to César on the left who runs powerfully forwards and shoots from 25 yards. His shot flies towards the top left corner but is caught by Azevedo.
It's end to end right up until the final whistle 2 minutes into injury time. I shake hands with Luís Roquete, the SC Ideal manager and head back down the tunnel a contented man. João Botelho deservedly picks up the player of the match award, he pulled off a couple of excellent saves today.
Now that is a draw that I can get behind. That is a draw that I can condone. We went up against a solid side and played a breathless game of football. On balance if anyone was going to take all 3 points I'd like to think it would've been us, but a draw is absolutely a fair result. It's funny how 2 identical results can cause polar opposite emotional responses. I know the scores weren't the same but that doesn't really figure into it to be honest. I suppose if we hadn't gone behind we couldn't have had the satisfaction of coming back to salvage a point but other than that the scores of these 2 games were meaningless. We played an awful game of football and then we played a great one, and I'll happily call that progress.
The One True Giant Slayer of Hero Creek (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 19.5)
SC Angrense have beaten FC Porto this season. Seriously. Porto. We beat them in the cup under my predecessor, Eduardo Almeida. Roger told me in the midst of a heated Connect 4 battle this week. Things turned sour after I trapped his line of 3 during the late-game and the insults turned personal. I think he just wanted to hurt me, so he told me.
I can't even be the giant slayer can I? I can't even have that one thing. It wasn't a full strength Porto team obviously, but that doesn't matter. I'd love to beat a side like Porto with nearly 2000 packed into Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo.
Oh and here's the kicker, "we" won in extra time. Well la-de-fucking-da Eduardo. Höllviken could have had 15 shots and 3 goals from open play against Hammarby too if we'd wanted to. We could've won without the lottery of a penalty shootout too if we'd wanted to.
This is very much the same feeling you get when you think you've done OK in the dating world in your time and then you find out your girlfriend used to date FC Porto.
Oh, what's that Eduardo? You couldn't even beat Caldas SC during your tenure? The side currently sat at the top of our Relegation stage group with 6 wins out of 6 and the only side we haven't played yet? You only managed 1-1 and 2-2 draws against them? And also Hammarby are better than Porto anyway? Yeah fair points Eduardo.
I think it's quite clear what I need to do. After Sunday, when the Volcano Island natives are asked who The One True Giant Slayer of Hero Creek is, their collective answer will consist of 2 syllables, not 6. Unless those 6 are: "Franjo, who crushed Caldas".
Boa Sorte (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep20)
My heart is pounding. My breathing is rapid. I crouch behind a low section of demolished wall, pressing myself hard against the cold concrete. I turn around and sneak a peek over the top of the wall to see him: The gargantuan form of Eduardo Almeida, crashing through buildings like they were made of paper. He looks a lot like a 100 foot tall Ricardo Carvalho. Actually he looks indentical to Ricardo Carvalho. Do I even know what Eduardo looks like? Nevermind, he's spotted me. He lets out a blood curdling screech and makes a beeline towards me. There's no point in hiding now. I stand, shedding the limited protection of my little piece of wall, raise the slingshot in my hands (complete with a suitably large rock) and pull the elastic back, priming the weapon and aiming it right between Eduardo's stupid eyes. He screeches again, diving towards me as I let go of the rock, my eyes locked on his.
I jolt awake in my bed, sweat soaking through my SC Angres branded pyjamas. After checking the clock next to my bed I decide it's late enough to wake up so I get up and make myself a coffee. Today's the day. I think to myself. The big one.
Caldas are visiting today. As in Caldas who have torn through our league so far, winning all 6 of their Relegation Stage games. And although the structure of our division means that there's not that much riding on this game (I don't think there's much chance of either of us finishing below 5th, so our positions are pretty meaningless), this is a massive test. A chance to show how good Os Heróis can really be. And yes, it's a chance for me to prove that I'm better than Eduardo Almeida, my predecessor who drew with Caldas twice this season before his deserved sacking.
I head down to Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo early again for some reason. For once, Roger is already there, locked in conversation with Nuno and Miguel Borba, the club Chairman. The 3 of them are speaking very quickly in Portuguese. Upon seeing me Miguel stops talking and looks up at me, prompting the other 2 to turn to look at me as well. If I had to describe all 3 of their faces in 1 word, I'd say "Sheepish".
Miguel quickly forces a smile and walks over to pat me on the shoulder. "Boa sorte, Franjo" he says warmly, before walking past me and around the corner. I'm not sure what he just said. Is that the bloke who used to play for Fulham?
Nuno gives me a stiff nod. "Boa sorte, Inglês" he mumbles before walking the other way, towards the pitch. I suddenly feel quite uncomfortable. I've not spoken to Miguel Borba much since joining the club but I've never known Nuno to be short of words. Or insults. And I'm fairly sure Boa Sorte retired quite a while ago. And in fact, his name might have been Boa Morte.
That leaves me and Roger. He looks uncomfortable, his body language pretty much confirming that the conversation I interrupted was about me. "Big one today then" I say to break the awkward silence.
He smiles and nods, "Yeah, good luck". OK now I'm definitely suspicious.
To be honest I don't care what they were talking about, we're doing OK. Although apart from all the other reasons that I've already mentioned, I would quite appreciate a win today as we've failed to get one in our last 2 matches. We are still 3rd though, 8 points behind our opponents today but only 1 goal behind Vilafranquense in 2nd.
I opt for Project: Meatloaf for the match. The system came about after we showed Vilafranquense too much respect and lost for the first and only time of my reign so far, so I don't want us to make the same mistakes today. We'll make Caldas deal with us, we won't sit back and wait to be offered an opportunity to counter.
To distract myself from the nerves while I'm waiting for kick off on the touchline, I look up "Boa Sorte" in my phrase book. It means "Good luck". That's quite nice. Although I also discover that "Boa Morte" means "Good Death". I'm a little bit horrified.
The first half hour flies by. 10 minutes before half time my worst fears are realised when a Santos corner is turned in by Militão's head. To make matters worse, Caldas keep coming forward and we're struggling to hold on until half time.
With a couple of minutes remaining before the break, Jacuvenal tries to find space in the corner on the right wing but Hurley wins the ball from him. In the interest of safety first, Hurley attempts to smash it away - and hits it directly into the corner flag that's about a foot in front of him. The ball bounces back to Juvenal, who exchanges a quick one-two with Louro and whips it in to the far post, where David Brás is quite uncontested as he doubles Caldas' advantage.
0-2 at half time. I probably deserve this. I think that I might have gone the other way, showing too little respect to a team who look like at the very least they should be fighting for promotion. But in for a penny, in for a pound. There's no point trying to shut them out now. I tell The Heroes to close down more and retain possession. We need a foothold in the match.
Almost straight from kickoff, André Simões plays a great pass over the top onto the left wing. Brás keeps it in at the byline and drills a cross in, but it hits the near post and Ivan Santos clears.
Just a minute later they're coming down the left again. Cascão swings a cross in to the far post and Louro volleys it in from point blank range. This is a disaster.
I call Valadão over immediately to take my tactical instructions. We're going to attack Caldas. Their entire game is coming from crosses into the box and we can't deal with it, so we'll also use a higher defensive line. At least that way they'll find it more difficult to get players into the box to aim at. I also tell o capitão to tell the lads to roam from their positions. Be more fluid, be unpredictable. I'm rolling the dice here, if this backfires we could be 7 or 8 down by full time.
Valadão gets the word out and the teams retake their places for kick off. The whistle blows and the ball goes straight back to big Ivan Santos. He chips it over to Kevin on the left who dribbles diagonally into space in the centre. He sees Magina running into a channel and plays him in masterfully. Magina controls it, skips around Militão's slide tackle and chips the ball past the outcoming keeper into the top right hand corner.
What a goal! What a bloody goal! Magina foregoes the celebrations and picks the ball out of the net to take back to the centre spot. Good lad.
Caldas look visibly shaken. They obviously didn't expect a fightback. Soon after, Rodrigues holds the ball up from his position at the base of the midfield and is pressed by Benjamim, who nicks the ball away. He slots it through for Medeiros who plays a slick one-two with Magina and then smashes it goalwards. The next part happens in slow motion: his powerful shot smashes against the inside of the right post, rolls across the line, hits the left post and rolls away. I ask Roger to fetch me a bottle of water. He obliges. I place it on the floor and boot it away.
Not even 5 minutes later, Ivan Santos plays it out to Kevin on the left once again. Kevin tries the same diagonal dribble as before but finds that the middle of the pitch is far more congested than last time. Magina is unreachable so he picks out Medeiros instead, who plays it quickly through the defence for the onrushing Hurley. Hurley slots the ball effortlessly under the Caldas keeper. How's this happened? We look bloody unstoppable!
Under half an hour to go and the score is 2-3, but Caldas seem to be back in the game after that ridiculous 10 minutes at the start of the half.
Brás receives the ball on the left and holds it up before laying it inside for Simões, who's breaking forward. And then it happens. The first domino that falls is Oliveira, who leaves Rodrigues, the man that he's marking, to close down Simões, who is already being pressed by Benjamim. He only takes a couple of steps forward but it's enough. Simões sees his chance and slots the ball straight past him for Rodrigues, who's now in acres of space. Ivan Santos panics and comes across to close him down, and in doing so leaves his man Sabino wide open himself. Sabino receives the ball from Rodrigues and slots it into the far bottom corner.
On one hand, that is strike 3 for Oliveira. By my count that's the 3rd time in 7 games that he's had the bright idea to leave his marker and it's cost us. On the other hand, to quote Will Graham, "This is my design". I told them to play fluid football. I told them to close down more. I did think it was implied that he shouldn't wander off when he's marking a striker but I've only got myself to blame. I either need to find a way to explain more clearly to him what his job is or I need to find someone who can make better decisions to replace him.
I immediately bring on Arruda for the once again ineffective Aurélio. Maybe a striker on the wings will give us more going forwards.
With 20 minutes to go it hasn't paid off, so I implement another tactical change. Amonike comes on for Benjamim. We'll play with the same 4 defenders, 1 defensive deep lying playmaker (Hurley), 2 on the wings and 1 attacking playmaker (Amonike, Medeiros, Kevin) and 2 up front (Arruda, Magina). We need Hurley to play some of his patented lumped passes forwards for the strikers to run onto.
Sometimes football will push you to the floor. Sometimes it will then hold out a hand to help you up. Sometimes it will then withdraw it's hand so that you fall back down. Sometimes it will then kick you repeatedly in the face.
In the 92nd minute Rodrigues plays a good pass into the path of Sabino, who gets goal side of Oliveira and smashes the ball past Azevedo. He seems like a quick, powerful striker, so I won't blame Oliveira for that one. It's a good goal and definitely the final nail in our coffin.
A minute later Hurley gets the ball short from an Oliveira free kick, holds it up and passes it to Amonike, who runs inside and chips it over to Kevin. Kevin takes it down on his left, smashes it on the half volley with his right, and it clips the top of the bar as the whistle blows. 2-5 at full time. Not ideal is it.
We have a 2 week break before we welcome Torreense to Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo, and I've got some thinking to do. Does Oliveira start? Does Aurélio start? I might need to schedule a friendly to help me make these decisions. And I won't lie, I already have someone in mind...
Connect 4 (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 20.5)
"Marco Aurélio is our best player"
I frown. "What on Earth gives you that idea Roger?" I ask calmly, as I slot a red circular disc into the left hand column. Roger shifts uncomfortably in his seat.
"Well... me and the coaches, we've ranked the entire squad out of 5 stars and we've given him 4.5, more than anyone else in the team..." he explains feebly as he slots in a yellow disc on top of my red one.
I frown further still. "What a bizarre thing to do". I pop a red one in the next column.
"Yeah well, we need him to sign a new contract. If we don't tie him down he'll be off on a free in 3 months." Again, he places a yellow disc on top of mine. "Just like me actually", he raises his eyebrows at me. I ignore him.
"Well as long as we're arbitrarily handing out star ratings like some poor yelp critic with nothing better to do Roger, I'll give him 2.5 out of 5. A middle of the road rating for a middle of the road player." I pop a red one in the next column again, Roger needs to act fast. "Besides, I talked to him when I handed out contract extensions at the start of the season, he's not interested and neither am I. Match point."
Roger seems confused. "Well who else are we going to play on the right?" He asks. I run my fingers through my hair.
"I don't know mate" I shrug, "We've got plenty of options. Borges, Amonike, those lads that Saint Eduardo sent out on loan at the start of the season. What's the other lad's name? The one we signed up from the academy the other day with the Android 16 haircut?"
"Batista? He's 15! We can't rely on him!"
"I can't rely on any of the wingers I've seen here apart from Kevin" I reply honestly, "If Batista does well for the under 19s he'll get his chance. We've got quite a few promising players in the youth team now." I see Roger's hand hovering over the slot I've just used, a yellow disc held between forefinger and thumb. "Roger we've been over this, if you copy every move I make you'll just stay a move behind me and I'll win." I sigh.
He looks up and smirks. "Oh don't worry Franjo, I've got a plan." He winks as he drops a yellow disc down on top of my red. I immediately drop a red into the next column, still staring exasperatedly at Roger.
"I win" I say bluntly. "I have successfully connected 4. It wasn't close."
I can see him trying to process what just happened. If this were a cartoon I'd be able to see the hamster inside his head full on sprinting on its wheel. And then he looks up at me, with a face like a 5 year old who's just had his ice cream knocked maliciously out of his hand and onto the floor. After a long and uncomfortable pause, he lets out an anguished moan. "I was only 1 move away from winning!"
I need a new assistant.
Miniature Heróis (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep21)
These are exciting times for SC Angrense: A new batch of Miniature Heróis have made the step up from our academy to the under 19's squad, and I've started looking for a new assistant to replace Roger. First let me introduce you to the 3 brightest young talents to join up with the youth squad:
Carlos Antunes - 16 years old - Attacking midfielder
He's small, quick, a determined and hard working player with good skills, a good touch and decent passing and technique.
Fernando Batista - 15 years old - Versatile right winger
He may have some work to do in terms of the technical side of his game, but to be fair that's the easiest side to improve. He's also small and quick, a determined and hard working team player with decent aggression and flair.
Renato Silva - 15 years old - Striker
He's got the potential to be a very rounded centre forward. He's a good athlete, a good decision maker (I find that this attribute is like gold dust among young players) and has decent finishing, movement, speed, work rate and flair.
I'm not sure when we'll see these lads take to the field in a competitive match but I certainly have high hopes for them, especially as we will soon have vacant attacking midfield and right wing spots that I will be looking to fill.
We had a friendly match against FC Porto in the middle of our 2 week break. I wanted a good performance against a good team to set us up well for a good second half of our Relegation Stage campaign, and yes, I wanted another chance to prove that anything Eduardo Almeida can do, Franjo can do better.
I tweaked Project: Meatloaf slightly, telling both centre backs to close the ball down much less and stick to their positions. Hopefully this will put an end to some of the erratic decision making that our defenders, Oliveira especially, have been making. For the friendly I also gave Jaime Seidi a try at centre back alongside Oliveira, who is on extremely thin ice. I've only used Seidi as a holding man so far and I wanted to give him the chance to show that he can play in defence if needed.
4514 (Only 750 of which were Porto fans) showed up at Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo to watch my very first televised match. The first half was a cagey affair and not an awful lot happened until the 55th minute. Aurélio received the ball after a Porto push forward and played an excellent pass over the top down the right wing that Cristiano Magino took down. He sprinted to the byline and drilled the ball in for Medeiros to tap home from the edge of the 6 yard box.
With 20 minutes to go it was Oliveira that turned provider, launching a good long ball over the top of the FCP defence. Again Magina was there to collect but this time he was hacked down in the area by Leite. Aurélio tucked the resulting penalty into the bottom corner to put us 2 up. A couple of minutes later though Gonzalo Martinez's deep free kick was met by an Alario header, and 5 minutes after that, André André played a great pass over our defence and Alario slotted the ball home again to equalise.
The match ended 2-2 but it gave me a lot to think about. Everyone played well, but Oliveira and Aurélio both put in good performances and threw doubt onto my recent criticism of them. Perhaps when instructed properly Oliveira is a fine centre back. Perhaps in the big games, Aurélio is Senhor Creativity. Seidi showed that he can absolutely be trusted at centre back and I also gave Antunes and Batista a run out towards the end of the match, just to give them a taste of what playing against a top team can be like.
So I got what I wanted, a good result against a good team. Actually we did far better than the sensible part of my brain ever thought we would. I may be yet to better any of Eduardo's achievements in our unrequited rivalry but I'll take a draw against Porto.
So here we are a week later, and it's time to start the second half of our league campaign. To start with we welcome Torreense, who we beat in the reverse fixture thanks to a last second Benjamim strike. In terms of how we'll set up, Project: Meatloaf is a must with us playing at home against a lesser side and I will give my "best" line up one last shot before I start dropping people. We've now not won in 3 competitive matches and we really need to turn that around. We're 9 points off the relegation playoff spot so I'm still not particularly worried on that front but I want to show that we're improving and I want to see us finish 2nd behind Caldas, who may as well have already wrapped up 1st place. 1 of our new miniature heróis, attacking midfielder Carlos Antunes, makes the bench. Ideally I'd like him to replace Medeiros when he leaves in the summer but it may be a bit soon.
6 minutes in Burguette hoofs the ball forwards from outside his own area. Bonifácio gets behind santos and sprints through on goal, but shoots straight at Azevedo.
10 minutes later we win a free kick 20 yards out, just right of centre. 36 year old Captain Valadão, who I sincerely wish was 10 years younger and could play on for 10 more years, smashes the ball at goal. It deflects off the wall and wrong foots the keeper, before flying into the far bottom corner. An excellent start for Os Heróis. I get so lost in the moment that I give Roger a high five, before we both awkwardly look at the floor and sit back in the dugout.
5 minutes before half time Torreense counter us after cutting out a bad Aurélio cross. The counter consists of a great high tempo passing move, before Esgaio holds the ball up 35 yards out and slots it through for Bonifácio who smashes it from 20 yards. The ball rockets into the top of net above Azevedo and we're all square again.
Just after the break another awful Aurélio cross results in another Torreense counter attack. Bonifácio holds it up this time and threads a pass through for Zílio. He dribbles into the left side of our area and santos slides in to win the ball. Zílio goes to the ground and my heart stops, but it turns out the challenge was perfectly timed and play goes on. Mirandas tries to make a clearance but can only smash the ball against the fallen Zílio, and it bounces kindly for Bonifácio 6 yards out who can somehow only leather it against the bar.
This sudden dangerous counter attacking trend prompts a subtle tactical change. We'll be fairly narrow and we'll close down less, making ourselves more solid defensively and minimising the chance of Torreense being able to thread passes through the channels like they have been doing.
Almost 10 minutes later Hurley plays one of his patented long balls over the top and Magina takes it down, dribbling skilfully down to the right byline. He looks up and whips it in to the centre of the box where Kevin leaps up and heads it powerfully into the top left corner.
On 65 minutes yet another counter starts from yet another poor Aurélio cross. This time Leo slides the ball through for Bonifácio who picks it up about 35 yards out. He attacks the space between our midfield and defence and dribbles to the edge of our are. Benjamim stays with him but can't win the ball. He hits his shot well to the top left corner and it brushes Azevedo's fingertips as it flies in. All square again.
With 15 minutes to go I bring on Amonike and young Antunes on in a straight swap for Aurélio and Medeiros. Despite his part in the Porto draw I've lost patience with Aurélio, and as I say I want to see if Antunes can do a job in Medeiros' absence so he comes on for his debut.
Within a couple of minutes Leo gets the ball to Bonifácio again, who brings it forward but shoots straight at Azevedo. We definitely need a defensive midfielder on now. Torreense have adapted to our narrower shape by running at us instead of passing through us and the space between our midfield and defence is killing us. So with that in mind I swap us back to Heróis Original and bring Seidi on for Hurley in the holding man role.
5 minutes later Miranda puts the ball down the line from a throw in. Antunes takes it down and puts it inside for Amonike, who steps past his marker Eustáquio and drills it in for Magina. With one deft touch he pokes into the bottom left corner from 12 yards. Fuck it, I high five Roger again. We get another late winner and the match ends 3-2. Torreense must hate us.
Nothing Compares (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep22)
As much as I enjoy the drama of our matches against Torreense, I'm glad they're out of the way for the season. We've now got 6 matches left to show this league what os Heróis are doing and which direction we're going in and I'd appreciate it if we could grind out some wins without the need for late winning goals.
Our next 2 matches are away, starting with a trip to Carapinheira today to take on Carapinheirense. They were the first Portuguese team I went up against, in what was probably the first match in my career that my team comfortably won.
I'm making a few changes in terms of both Project: Meatloaf and our personnel for the match. It's not that I underestimate Carapinheirense, we just need to experiment at some point and it may as well be today against one of the worst clubs in the PT Championship.
Aurélio is dropped unsurprisingly as I have concerns over his form and it's become clear that even if I wanted him to stay beyond the summer, he wouldn't sign a new contract. Amonike takes his place on the right.
Medeiros is left out for a similar reason, I'd like to use this match as an opportunity to try out a potential replacement as he's leaving in the summer. 16 year old Carlos Antunes makes his full debut in the number 10 role.
Benjamim's form has dropped slightly but to be honest I just want to give Rúby a match as I'm very excited about how good he could potentially become. He'll play in a slightly deeper role than Benjamim usually does, as a ball winning midfielder who also has license to wander up and support attacks.
5 minutes in, Antunes passes it to Hurley, who floats a pass onto the right wing. Amonike picks the ball up and crosses it to the near post, where Magina chests it down and fires it in to put us ahead. 7 minutes later he goes close to doubling our lead when Kevin comes inside from the left and plays him in. Magina turns round his marker and drives it low towards goal, but it cannons back off the post.
Nearly 20 minutes in Antunes gets the ball and picks out Kevin's run through the left, splitting the defence. Kevin speeds past a slide tackle and drills it in to the far post for Magina to knock in. 2 goals to the good already and we're looking good. The cushion lasts less than a minute though because Seidy gets the ball pretty much straight from kick off and slots it through for Bacurim, who places it into the bottom corner.
The half hour mark comes and goes, but not long after we catch Carapinheirense as they push forward and Antunes dribbles the ball out on the counter. He runs over the half way line and passes it through for Kevin on the right, who chips the ball into the box. Magina is obviously there and he obviously scores on the volley to complete his 33 minute hat trick. I consider for a moment if it would be possible to have him crowned King of Volcano Island but I imagine that there'd be a lot of paperwork involved.
Again though it's like a reflex for Carapinheirense: Not 2 minutes after the net bulges at their end, they're down at ours. Namora holds the ball up 25 minutes out and picks out Seidy, who should be marked by Oliveira but I have no idea where he is, worryingly. Rúby tries vaguely to stay with him but Seidy wriggles free and places the ball against the inside of the post, before it trickles agonisingly slowly across the line and in. I decide that a Carapinheirense comeback would be detrimental to my plan of not smashing the away dressing room up at the break, so I tell us to close the ball down more and play slightly narrower, restricting the space that Carapinheirense will have to play the ball through us.
We hold on until half time and beyond though and we're still leading after almost an hour when I make a sensible double substitution: Benjamim and Medeiros come on for Rúby and Antunes. Their added experience should help us tie this match up.
Sure enough, with 25 minutes to go Medeiros plays the ball in to Magina who has his back to goal on the edge of the area. He spots Hurley making a dangerous run and picks him out. Hurley just has to pull the trigger and he does. Our 2 goal cushion is back. I have half a mind to throw everyone back to defend so the home side don't instantly come back at us but I stand my ground and ignore the urge to change for the sake of it. 10 minutes later however I bring on Arruda for Magina because he deserves a bloody ovation to himself.
2 minutes from the end Benjamim comes forward with the ball and chips it to Arruda on the edge of the area. He takes it down and squeezes into the near bottom corner, just to really stick the boot in on Carapinheirense.
That's more like it, I think as the whistle goes and the players applaud both of our travelling fans. A comfortable win, admittedly against the weakest team in the league. Hopefully now we can build a bit of momentum for the run in.
My experiments had mixed results. Antunes was quiet, understandably so, but I still want to give him more chances. Rúby was OK but thinking about it, I'm not sure I've seen him make an appearance for us and not get booked, which could be worrying if he keeps it up.
I've seen enough from Amonike though to convince me that he deserves a new contract. He was due to leave in the Summer but he'll now be staying for at least another year.
One more thing to note is that Magina's ludicrously good relegation stage campaign has made him the joint 4th top scorer in the entire PT Championship (Along with 3 others). For those that don't remember there are 80 teams in the PT Championship, so I am extremely impressed with his tally of 15.
A week down the line and our plane is en route to Vilafranquense's home: The municipality of Vila Franca de Xira, in the Lisbon District.
This is an odd situation as our last match against them prompted me to create the more aggressive Project: Meatloaf system after we slumped to a 0-1 home loss. However today we are away, so I make the decision to revert to the same Heróis Original formation that we used that day. In come Seidi, Medeiros and Benjamim, out go Hurley, Rúby and Antunes. Aurélio also comes in for Amonike, who needs a rest. Hopefully this time Vilafranquense will underestimate us.
Actually I say it's the same system but I have made a subtle change. Our scouting report revealed what may be a chink in our opposition's armour: their right full back likes to bomb forward down the wing and I want to use this to our advantage. I instruct Medeiros to play predominantly on the left with Kevin to double up on that side, hopefully overloading the right sided centre back who could be left on his own. Magina's starting position will be moved slightly to the right to compensate.
It takes half an hour for either team to find a way through in any meaningful way. Magina picks the ball up on the right hand side of the penalty area and tries to cut the ball back for a team mate, but his pass is wayward. Medeiros gets to the loose ball first though and plays it first time to Kevin on the left, who floats the ball back across to the far post, where of course Magina is waiting. He rises high above his marker and powers a header in to the far top corner to put us ahead. Joint 3rd top scorer now if anyone's keeping track.
I'm wary of us being caught immediately after the goal so I tell the team to play on the counter and work the ball into box carefully. We need to soak up the pressure that's sure to come at us now and then be clinical when we do get chances.
3 minutes later Aurélio's cross is headed straight back to him by Anta and he tries again, this time successfully getting the ball to Magina at the near post. Magina takes it down on his chest and lays it back to Medeiros, who puts the ball into the empty net. I'm surprised that we find ourselves 2 up 10 minutes from half time away at Vilafranquense but I'm absolutely not complaining.
5 minutes before half time though, just as I'm daydreaming of wiping the floor with this side that so cruelly took a win at Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo, Carlos David passes to Duk on the edge of our box and he turns and crashes a shot off the bar. For a moment I think that Azevedo is going to get to the rebound but Figo beats him to it and pulls one back for Vilafranquense.
To be fair we hold out well after that and do a pretty good job of killing the game off. With 20 minutes to go I tell the lads to defend, and make ourselves compact by going narrow, staying on feet and sticking to positions. I want to make it as difficult as possible for them to get through to Azevedo in our goal. With 10 minutes to go I bring Rúby on for Medeiros to make us even more solid. We now have a back 4, with Seidi and Rúby as holding men and Benjamim just in front as a box to box midfielder. And to be honest that's that. Vilafranquense don't threaten us at all through the second half. I mean we don't threaten them either but I'm fine with that. I would have taken a point against these before the match and we've taken all 3.
I tell you what, you can score as many goals as you like against the punching bags of the division, but nothing compares to the feeling you get after grinding out a victory over a good team. A team that may even be better than you. Today was a victory for tactics, for hard work and for defensive solidity. And that's 3 wins out of 3 since the mid-stage break.
You are reading "Franjo: A Journeyman Story (New Episode Every Week Day!)".