Franjo Votes Pedro (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep23)
"Look Roger," I begin, my voice oozing with false sympathy, "I appreciate everything you've done since I arrived, I really do, but I've decided to replace you." Roger stares back at me from the other side of my desk, seemingly unimpressed. "I know that we haven't always seen eye to eye but I want to assure you that this isn't personal" I lie, "The fact is that you're Eduardo's assistant and I want to bring in my own." He still doesn't look impressed. I don't think he buys it, my reason for sacking him is awful. It's literally unbelievable.
He gets to his feet, maintaining eye contact. "Obrigado" he says quietly. I look down at my hands. Oh shit, I think he's lawyer-ing up. Does this count as unfair dismissal? Can you even get unfair dismissal in football? People get sacked in football all the time for a myriad of wacky reasons, most commonly for being shit like Roger. As I stand to reply, I look up at him and see a tear in his eye. His hand is outstretched waiting for me to shake it. I'm taken aback. Confused, I take his hand and shake it, before he turns on his heel and walks briskly to the doorway. Without looking back, Roger closes the door behind him and is gone.
I stand in silence for a moment. What just happened? I expected a chair to be thrown, or at least a dirty look and an eye roll. I suddenly feel incredibly guilty.
"I think that went well" says Pedro Botelho off-handedly.
Pedro is my new assistant. He's certainly an upgrade on Roger, and probably even on Joakim. I plan to fully evaluate and shuffle my back room in the summer but for now a new assistant will do just fine. Still, I feel quite bad for Roger, which I never thought I'd say.
Anyway, let's get to the matter at hand. Naval are coming to town today, and we thrashed them at their place when we debuted Project: Meatloaf so this should be a doddle. After ending the first half of the relegation stage in pretty poor form we've strung 3 wins together since the break and I'd certainly back us for a 4th.
Obviously we'll start with Project: Meatloaf and I also tell the lads the express themselves a bit more, seeing as we're in form and at home against a weaker side. Our football has been functional, but let's make it easy on the eye too. I take my seat in the dugout and smile as I anticipate our new brand of beautiful football.
2 minutes and 1 second into the match, Vitor Miranda sprints towards Samba, who is on the ball and looking for a pass, and dives in at him with 2 feet. The referee walks straight over and shows him a well earned straight red. I don't even look at Vitor as he trudges past me towards the tunnel. I bite my lip and stare angrily into the middle distance, wondering whether we've already lost all of the advantages that we started the match with. That wasn't easy on the eye, that was a potential career ender and I am considering selling him in the summer through pure spite and rage.
I refuse to make a substitution after just 2 minutes. Just because Miranda fancied an early bath it doesn't mean another starting player should get hauled off with him. I call Benjamim over and tell him to slot in at right back. "Nothing fancy", I tell him as he nods nervously back at me, "Just stay in line with the rest, stay on your man and boot the ball away if you get it." Hurley will drop back to a holding role and will be our defensive playmaker, spraying passes out to the front 4.
The next 25 minutes are uneventful, but then Léo receives the ball 30 yards out and dribble skilfully to the edge of the area, before shooting straight at Azevedo.
5 minutes later Naval go even closer when their centre back, Bernardo Oliveira, clears the ball high up towards our centre back, Miguel Oliveira, who misses his header. Léo nips in behind him and turns towards goal, but shoots directly at Azevedo again.
This can't continue, we're under the cosh. I stand, preparing to call Valadão over to tell him my tactical changes, but the sight of Hurley on the ball makes me pause. He plays it to Amonike on the left, who puts a magnificent pass over the Naval defence. Magina takes the ball down just inside the area and powers it past the keeper. The net ripples in that oh so satisfying way that it does. I sit back down, smiling again. We're off.
Just before half time Amonike swings a free kick dangerously into the Naval box, Hurley's there to nod it on and big Ivan Santos is there to head it home, only to turn and see the linesman's flag raised. To be fair Santos was miles offside, I saw it from here.
At half time I'm fairly happy. Our necessitated 4-1-3-1 has worked well thanks to Hurley's ability to distribute the ball. The only change I make is to drop Medeiros back to a central midfield position. He'll still be an attacking playmaker but I want him to be a different sort of outlet. I want him to be able to pick the ball up deep and run it forwards so we aren't relying too heavily on Hurley's direct passing.
3 minutes after the restart it sort of pays off: Kevin plays the ball inside for Medeiros, who receives it just into the Naval half, skips past a rival midfielder as he moves forward and plays the ball to Magina's feet. Magina has his back to goal and a marker behind him, but with a great touch and a burst of acceleration he spins past the defender and leathers it past the fingertips of the keeper's outstretched left glove. The only reason that I don't feel like giving myself a pat on the back is that Medeiros' pass left Magina with a massive amount of work to do and I would have preferred it if he had gone for the through ball. Still, we're 2-0 up with 10 men so we can afford to be pretty pleased.
With just under 20 minutes to go Magina goes close to completing his hat trick when a long Azevedo ball is nodded on by the double marked Kevin, and Magina takes it down and lashes it wide of the near post.
Just 2 minutes later though he gets his third. Amonike receives the ball after a Medeiros header and plays it to Magina, who's about 30 yards out. He takes it round one defender, steps across another and smashes it home from the edge of the area. And just as I thought that I couldn't get any more impressed he pulls out a cartwheel celebration. What a day for Cristiano Magina. With the game seemingly wrapped up I bring on 15 year old Fernando Batista in place of Kevin for his competitive debut.
Not long after, Jorge releases Samba, whose well timed run was lost by Benjamim, and he slots the ball past Azevedo. It does irk me slightly that we never tend to keep a clean sheet when thrashing a team, but to be fair that seems like a bit of a first world problem and things really could be a lot worse.
We barely let Naval celebrate their goal before a Medeiros free kick is swung into their area and Oliveira's Di Canio-esque volley smashes into the back of the net. It comes as a shock but good on him, he needs to impress me.
For the last 10 minutes I bring the versatile João Borges and the fresh-faced Carlos Antunes on for Benjamim and Magina, who both get standing ovations. Magina will take the headlines in the local papers tomorrow because of his 2nd hat trick in 3 games, and rightfully so, but Benjamim has impressed the hell out of me today. Thrown in at right back, a position that he's never played before, for almost 80 minutes and he was excellent. I won't begrudge him the one lapse in concentration that lead to their goal. Antunes drops back into attacking midfield next to Medeiros and we will play a strange strikerless 4-1-4 formation.
Just a minute later, Antunes skilfully disguises a pass onto the right for Amonike, who squares the ball and Medeiros hits the post from just over 6 yards out.
Worryingly, 2 minutes before the full time whistle Medeiros has to come off through injury and we see the game out with 9 men in a 4-1-3 formation. Our head physio João Sousa later reveals that he'll be out for 3-4 weeks with a strained calf and could therefore have played his last game for us.
And while we're talking about which players are going to miss our next match, Miranda and Hurley are both banned. Miranda should thanks his lucky stars that he's only facing a 1 match ban (Which I don't appeal against) and a fine of 2 weeks wages, while Hurley has just picked up 5 yellows for the season.
Also, in an extraordinary turn of events, Cristiano Magina doesn't make team of the week despite his hat trick heroics, but which Angrense player does? Miguel "Di Canio" Oliveira. Take a bow my son.
Next up to visit us here in Hero Creek are SC Ideal, our Azores "rivals", who we earned a credible 1-1 draw against at their place. I would have liked a full strength lineup to be available to show them how good we've become since then, but SC Ideal will face a pretty patchwork Angrense side today.
O Capitão Valadão will start in his favoured right back position for the first time since I arrived, and after much deliberation I opt for Seidi at left back. He's never played there before but the only other option is Reis, who I'm planning to let go in the summer and who I don't really want to waste the game time on.
Rúby will play as a deep ball winner in our Project: Meatloaf system like he did against Carapinheirense, Benjamim will be the attacking central midfielder in Hurley's absence, and Antunes gets another start in the number 10 role in place of the injured Medeiros. Again, I tell the lads to express themselves as it should work even better with 11 men on the pitch.
Have you ever seen the film Limitless? You know the one where Bradley Cooper takes that pill and it makes all his good bacteria go Super Saiyan? You know the bits where he loses time? Like one minute he'll be at home preparing a quiche and the next minute he's shot Mr Burns? It should be clear to you that I can't remember exactly how Limitless plays out but I do know that he loses time, and that's exactly what just happened to me. One minute I was waiting for the lads to kick off, and the next it was half time.
F-f-fuck all happened in that entire 45 minutes. I could've done so much with that 45 minutes. I could've probably done 3 levels on Duolingo. I could have finally found out how to say "thank you" in Portuguese. I halfheartedly express to the players that I'd like to see some football in the second half, then wander back to my seat in the dugout.
10 minutes later a good corner routine puts Ideal 1-0 up. Santos crosses, Amaral nods it on, César heads it in. This, in fact, is not Ideal, I think to myself. I congratulate myself on my fine wordplay.
With half an hour to go I tell us to go on the attack. With 2 minutes less than half an hour to go, a Grilo cross to the far post finds César, who loses his marker Valadão and heads home to double his tally. To be fair it's an excellent header: back across goal into the far bottom corner, Azevedo had no chance.
5 minutes later I bring on Arruda for Benjamim and push us to a quicker, more direct 4-1-3-2. 15 minutes after that I tell the wide players to put crosses in early, and everyone else to pump the ball into the box. 5 minutes after that I bring on João Borges as a shadow striker for Antunes.
With 2 minutes to play in normal time we finally get our chance. Seidi chips the ball down the left wing for Amonike, who plays it straight on for Magina. Magina switches it excellently to Kevin on the right wing, who swings a cross in towards the far post. Arruda's there less than 6 yards out, but he gets underneath the ball and puts it over. I think I've seen enough for today. I walk back down the tunnel.
I know, I know. That's football, sometimes it just doesn't come off. You can be in great form, which we were, and then out of the blue you turn in a toothless performance and lose 2-0 at home. It doesn't cross the line into unacceptable, it's just one of those things, but it isn't half infuriating.
Roger's Story (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 23.5)
The final whistle goes, and pure elation washes over me. I can see it, hear it, and I can feel it. We've won. It's all been leading to this. All of the late nights, the tears, the despair, all of the merda I've been through in my managerial career... It's all been worth it. I lead the team up the steps towards the trophy. The path is barely visible through our adoring fans: leaning in, cheering, patting backs, ruffling hair, taking selfies. This is for them. All tens of thousands of them, and the millions watching at home. We're moments away from lifting the Trophy. We have done it...And then I wake up. Bolas.
Becoming a Manager isn't something that just happens. You can't just wake up and walk into a Football Stadium asking if they have vacancies. Management is something that most in the profession have spent their lives learning. My name is Roger Mendes. And I will be a Football Manager.
Eduardo lost his job today. Senhor Borba expected us to reach the promotion stage of the PT Championship and instead we'll be playing in the relegation stage. But I thought maybe this could be my first step. I saw my chance and I applied for the role of first team Manager.
I interviewed for the Angrense job today! It went brilliantly, Senhor Borba was extremely supportive and listened keenly to my ideas for the squad. I believe the only other candidate for the position has half a robot face and he's relegated the only other team he's managed, so he shouldn't be a problem.
I didn't get the job. Senhor Borba hired the English robot man who relegated his old team. I'm confused, maybe even saddened, but I'm a professional. I'll try to learn from him and become a better manager, even though the first thing he said to me was "Let's face it Roger, you're no Joakim". I don't know what a Joakim is but I don't think he was being friendly.
I arrived at our ground early before Franjo's first match in charge. I thought he might need some help. I saw him trying to befriend Nuno, which was difficult to watch. Nobody has successfully befriended Nuno that I know of. I berated Nuno afterwards because he walked away laughing. We need to get behind the Manager. For the good of Angrense.
I'm impressed with Franjo. He won on Sunday against Carapinheirense, and again tonight against Torreense. Maybe there are a few tricks that I can pick up from him. Something odd happened though. After Hélder Arruda scored against Torreense the manager had this deranged smile on his face. I couldn't understand what he was doing, and then he caught my eye and glared at me. I really don't think he likes me.
Nuno is still being incredibly rude to the new manager. I have told him to show respect, but he just ignores me.
We tried the Manager's new system today and it worked very well. I think he still has some sort of hostility towards me so I tried to break the tension by asking him whether it was true that he'd named the system after his cat, because I think that if that's true, it's brilliant. He either didn't hear me or he deliberately ignored me.
I haven't been sleeping much this week. I worry that the Manager's dislike for me is growing and it could cost me my job. I was so tired that I fell asleep during the 0-0 against Sernache. In my defence it was a very boring match. I have come up with a plan though. I'm going to invite Franjo to play some board games with me and let him get to know me. I'll let him see that I just want what is best for the club.
I think I messed up. I let Franjo win at connect 4 and he was being an incredibly sore winner. I got so annoyed that I told him about Eduardo's win over Porto. He didn't like it. He stormed off. I may have just made things worse.
Everything is going wrong. Senhor Borba is not pleased with the new Manager, he heard that he's planning not to renew Aurélio's contract. Senhor Borba came and spoke to me when he found out. He wants Aurélio's contract to be renewed as he sees him as indispensable. He even got me and some of the coaches to rank the squad out of 5 stars to try to convince the Manager how important he is to us.
I came in early for the match again today. Senhor Borba was there too. He came and asked me if I had talked to the Manager about Aurélio. I told him that I hadn't had the chance and he made me promise to talk to him in the next couple of days. I'm going to ask him to play connect 4 again. I'll even let him win again. We caught Nuno eavesdropping on the conversation and Senhor Borba told him not to disclose to Franjo what he had heard. Franjo turned up soon after anyway and I know that he knew that we were talking about him. I just hope his Portuguese is still bad.
Franjo agreed to play connect 4 again but he wasn't interested in anything I had to say about Aurélio. I also think I was a little bit too obvious that I was letting him win. Senhor Borba won't be pleased.
A breakthrough! At last a breakthrough! An exhilarating win after the mid-stage break and I got a high five after each goal from the Manager! I think I might be safe after all. I'm so relieved. I love SC Angrense. I don't want to leave.
I was called into the Manager's office today. Sat next to him at his desk was an unfamiliar man. My heart sank. I instantly knew who the man was. I was told that I was being replaced as I was Eduardo's assistant, but I know the real reason. I've been forced out of the club I love because the Manager doesn't like me. He never liked me. I thanked him, but I didn't mean it. I am devastated, but I'm a professional. I bit my lip and walked out with my dignity in tact, and I will keep working to be a Football Manager. This robot man will not discourage me.
I'll get you back for this, Franjo.
A Score to Settle (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep24)
If there's 1 thing that I've been looking forward to since the first half of our relegation stage campaign, it wasn't the chance to avenge our narrow loss against Vilafranquense, nor is it the opportunity to get back at Caldas for kicking the shit out of us. Well, that's a lie, I loved beating Vilafranquense and I look forward to beating Caldas next week. But no, the match I've been looking forward to most is our trip to Vit Sernache. Because how dare they. How dare they drag my excellent Heróis into a piss poor scrap unworthy of a proper match report. How dare they make us look as average as they are. We've got a score to settle today.
I don't want to labour the point too much but Sernache are exactly the kind of team that hates home games. Today they won't have the luxury of being able to sit back as the scrappy underdog visitors and nullify us. Today they have to try to get a result. With that in mind, we'll play Project: Meatloaf but we'll express ourselves more, as is becoming the norm, and we'll roam from our positions, creating and finding the space we need to make good chances and hurt Sernache.
Vitor Miranda, who seems to have learned his lesson, and Hurley both come back from suspension and will replace Seidi and Rúby, while Amonike and Antunes keep their places. Let's blow these fools out of the water.
With just over 20 minutes gone we win a free kick in a promising position on the right. Valadão decides to mix it up by squaring the ball to Antunes, who is stood unmarked on the edge of the area. Antunes moves to his right and threads it trough for Amonike, but his near post shot is quite poor and the keeper parries it behind.
A few minutes later Miranda whips a cross in from the right wing. Razak is stood on the edge of the 6 yard box to head it away but it doesn't go far. Hurley cushions the ball down with his head to Kevin, who plays a spectacular back heel ball through a crowd of defenders to Amonike, who has a bit of space on the right side of the area. He squares it for Magina, who easily knocks it in, continuing his remarkable goalscoring form.
10 minutes from half time Amonike is running inside from the left. He plays it in to Magina, who skips around a centre back's challenge and smashes the ball against the bar from the edge of the area. Razak sensibly chests it down for his goalkeeper, Fernando. And then in a moment of chaos, of madness, and of hilarity, Fernando hoofs the ball forward - about 5 yards. It smacks Razak in the face and bounces into the net. It's lucky they all count isn't it?
What is annoying though is the increasing regularity with which we're conceding straight after scoring. Straight from kick off, Feng Jiapeng finds himself with the ball on the right wing. He crosses it in but Oliveira heads away as far as Narciso just inside the area. Santos dives in with a perfect slide tackle to knock the ball away but it falls to Luís Carlos, who keeps his cool and tucks the ball below Azevedo into the bottom corner.
This needs to stop. It'll cost us at some point. I tell the boys as much at half time, right after I beg them to keep their heads and not get complacent.
Almost 10 minutes after the restart, Valadão passes short to Antunes, who clips the ball round the corner for Kevin. Kevin looks up and plays a first time pass to Magina, who takes it past his marker with his first touch and then drills the ball into the bottom corner with his second.
Straight from the kick off... nothing happens. That's more like it.
With 20 minutes to go I bring on Batista and Arruda for Kevin and Antunes and swap us to 4-4-2. To be honest there's no tactical reason behind the decision, I just want to see what happens. At 3-1 and with not long to play I reckon we'll take the 3 points and I'm curious how this squad reacts to this bread and butter formation. This formation that I've not used since I had a goalkeeper and a pub teamer up front.
Nothing much happens for the next 15 minutes or so, until Hurley plays a neat one-two with Arruda and smashes a shot against the post. Magina also has a shot parried behind in injury time but otherwise that's the game. And in the end it's comfortable. We can't forget our weaknesses though: our concentration dropped after the second goal and we failed to clear the ball in the build up to theirs. They aren't major problems in isolation, but they could become major problems if we let them keep happening.
A week down the line, and our last match of the season is upon us. One last chance to show these smug Caldas bastards what we can do. Admittedly, Caldas haven't enjoyed the clean sweep that many would have predicted at the stage's half way point: This side of the mid-stage break they've drawn 0-0 with Naval, 1-1 with Sernache, 1-1 with Vilafranquense, and they even lost 1-0 in their last match to Sporting Ideal.
But they've already wrapped up 1st and they're still a force to be reckoned with, and we have ways of dealing with forces to be reckoned with around here. We retreat to our safer, more solid Heróis Original system in the hope that the better team will self destruct and allow us to nick a result. Seidi comes in for Hurley and Jordanes Medeiros comes back from injury and replaces Antunes, just in time to help us seal a farewell win over the top side in the league. Hopefully.
And indeed Medeiros starts the first chance of the match, picking up the loose ball after Miranda tackles Caldas' winger. He plays a nice one-two with Magina before pinging the ball out to Kevin on the left. Kevin starts his run inside and then switches it to Magina, who rounds a defender on the right and drills the ball into the 6 yard box. Who else could possibly be there to tuck the ball home than Jordanes Medeiros. He gets the goal on his swansong appearance and we lead Caldas 1-0.
5 minutes later Caldas' André Santos smashes a free kick against the bar and Seidi clears, but otherwise we get to half time unscathed and untested.
Our first test actually comes just 10 minutes after the 2nd half kicks off, when a good Caldas passing move ends with Cascão, just inside our box, squaring the ball for Sabino, who effortlessly places the ball into the bottom corner to equalise.
5 minutes after I bring on young Batista for Kevin, because doesn't it just feel like the kind of "fine margins" match that should be settled by a moment of magic from a teenage substitute?
Alas no, the rest of the match is cagey and it ends 1-1. I will absolutely take a draw away at Caldas though, I would have bitten your hand off for that result before kick off.
And with that our season is over. I feel pretty good about it too. We finish in 2nd place behind our opponents Caldas, who were absolutely rampant in the first round of games, and to be honest we've done as well as I could have expected us to.
"You've done well for me", I tell the players with a smile as I stand in the dressing room after the match. "Jordanes, we'll be sad to see you go, but good luck in the Belgian Pro League. You've earned it." Medeiros smiles and nods. "Cristiano, I didn't expect to join a club with the 2nd top scorer in the divison." Magina smiles and nods too. "The rest of you, we've got things we can work on, and we've got areas that we can improve, but on the whole you've all been excellent." A round of applause echoes around the dressing room. "VAMOS HERÓIS!" I cry, to a chorus of cheers from my team.
I meant nearly every word I said to the team. I'm not sure if I'll still be here at the start of next Season. I suppose it all depends who comes knocking during the Summer.
Year 1 Review (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep25)
What a year. That's right, it's only been a year. Well, less than a year, I started my journey at the end of July and it's only May. It feels like it's been a lot longer.
Let's just catch our breath and take a look back on how this year has gone.
11/08/2016 - 22/10/2016
Club: FC Höllviken
Final Position: 13th
Record: W3 D0 L5
Key Player(s): Niklas "The" Hammer, "Big" Simon Henningsson, Joakim "Joakim" Nilsson Ingves
Highlight: Our Penalty Shootout cup win over Hammarby IF
Lowlight: Losing our crucial last match against Husqvarna FF, which lead to relegation and the termination of my contract
I was hired by Alexander Lundgren of FC Höllviken with the brief "Save us, Franjo", and I failed. I had 8 matches to save a club that seemed doomed and I genuinely fancied my chances. We put together a squad that should have been good enough and I still believe that with that squad and a full season I would have laughed at the thought of relegation, but in our situation it just wasn't enough.
Incidentally, Höllviken's choice of Manager to replace me was Stefan Lundqvist, who somehow lead the club to prop up the 4th tier of Swedish Football by a distance. I was very sad to see that happen as I had hoped for more from the squad following our relegation. Höllviken duely sacked Lundqvist and are currently being lead by a caretaker manager: One Joakim Nilsson Ingves.
28/01/2017 - Present
Club: SC Angrense
Final Position: 2nd
Record: W8 D3 L3
Key Player(s): Gonçalo Valadão, Benjamim, Gonçalo "Hurley" Reyes, Jordanes Medeiros, Pedro "Kevin" Aguiar, Cristiano Magina
Highlight: Benjamim's last second winner at Torreense in our 2nd match
Lowlight: The 0-0 draw against Vit Sernache
Following my Höllviken dismissal I was employed to steady the ship at SC Angrense, who had dismissed my predecessor for failing to guide the club into the Promotion Stage of the Portuguese Championship. We had a rocky first half of our relegation stage campaign as I found my feet but we've finished the season strongly, winning 5 times in the second half of the stage.
Angrense have actually been named as the biggest overachievers in the Taça de Portugal, with our win over FC Porto named as the Best Match, but I can't really take any pride in that because it wasn't my Angrense.
Team of the Season is pretty much as you'd expect: Jaime Seidi makes it into central midfield at the cost of Hurley, but to be fair he played a lot more for us over the season, especially under Eduardo. The departing Aurélio makes the cut, presumably by virtue of having played for the vast majority of the season. The rest I think speak for themselves.
Cristiano Magina has been voted player of the season by a comfortable margin by the Angrense fans. It's unsurprising as he has been consistently good, and towards the end of the season he's absolutely caught fire.
Speaking of Magina, obviously he is SC Angrense's top scorer and he has accumulated the most player of the match awards for us this season. He's finished as the 2nd top scorer in the Portuguese Championship, racking up 21 goals in 30 appearances: just shy of Sousense's Nenê Apeú and his 23 goals in 32 appearances, although in terms of minutes per goal Magina is top of the league.
The goal of the season award goes to Gonçalo Valadão for his free kick against Torreense in April, and young player of the season is the lesser spotted but undoubtably promising Rúben "Rúby" Miranda.
The other Miranda, Vitor, was rated our best player for the season. Apart from the attempted murder of Sadio Samba towards the end of the season he has been exactly what I expected: A solid, no nonsense, no trouble full back. The kind of player that the media and I will rarely mention because there's no need to. He does his job and that's that.
Kevin racked up the most assists with, but in terms of overall contribution to the build up to our goals I'd say he's been the most influential. As I've said before if we get a good chance in the area I'll be shocked if he hasn't played a part in creating it.
Rúby was our tidiest player, completing 83% of his passes and further reinforcing that he's one to watch.
Jaime Seidi picked up 8 yellow cards, the most in the team, but in the role he plays I'm fine with that tally, and Vitor Miranda was the only player to pick up 2 red cards, the less said about that side of his game the better.
We've also had the highest percentage of headers won out of the 80 teams in the Division, which I am impressed by. One of the first things that I noticed upon arriving in Hero Creek was that the spine of our team is full of big, physically imposing players: the centre backs, Seidi in the holding role, Benjamim in the middle, Magina up front. So it makes sense, but I'm impressed nevertheless.
Overall I am very very pleased. About my time with Angrense, not Höllviken. I inherited a better group of players than I expected and on the whole they've been brilliant. Certain players that I consider deadwood will be leaving very soon, and certain players will come in to bolster the squad. That is if I stay. But barring a noticeably bigger club coming in for me I think I will stay for a bit. I'm happy here and I think we could have a fair crack at reaching the promotion stage next Season. I'll see you then.
About Next Week (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Meta-sode 25.5)
Olá meus Amigos,
I apologise but next week (29/05/2017 - 02/06/2017) I will not be releasing daily episodes. Let me explain why...
5 weeks ago when I started to write about managing FC Höllviken, I had episodes ready about a week or more in advance. This meant that being the crazed perfectionist that I am, I had plenty of time to tweak and change episodes before I released them. For example, Mini-sode 10.5 was very nearly an incredibly shit mini-sode in which Alexander offered me a new contract and I refused... Roll credits. Luckily I had time to realise how awful it was and change it into something more fleshed out and satisfying.
In retrospect I should have taken a break after I left Höllviken, as the unemployment break, combined with learning about Os Heróis and choosing tactics, making transfers, picking a squad etc ended up taking a long, long time. Because of that I'm now writing most episodes about 1 or 2 days before I release them.
I want to get back out in front of the story like I was at Höllviken. I want to be able to tweak and change again to make this story the best it can be. We've now got a summer break, which is going to take a while, and I'd rather take a week off and come back with some bloody good episodes than keep up the routine and half-arse the start of next season.
Daily episodes will start again on the 5th of June, although I've already written a couple of mini-sodes that I'll release on Tuesday and Thursday.
I've also been messing around a lot with the formula for these episodes lately, like having a couple of matches per episode, varying the amount of actual story that I write into episodes and things like that. If you have any sort of feedback about what you like, what you don't, what your favorite episode has been, or anything, then let me know by email at [email protected]
By the way I'm still enjoying the hell out of writing this and I'd like to take this opportunity to say a massive and genuine thank you to everyone that's been following the story so far.
Cheers, and have a bloody great week.
Ps. VAMOS HERÓIS!
Monte Brasil (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 25.5.5)
Do you know what I realised after our match against Caldas?
Here I am in the picturesque City of Hero Creek on beautiful Volcano Island and I've done nothing but scheme and worry and stress and glare at Roger for the last 4 months. And before that? Before that I was freezing to death, watching my dreams shatter before my very eyes in Southern Sweden.
I deserve a rest.
There is no training now. There are no matches in the foreseeable future. I have some players in mind that I'd quite like to add to the squad but I've got time to relax for a bit before I dive into all that.
The good thing about living in Hero Creek is that I've already essentially arrived at my holiday destination. I've not been able to appreciate this place since I got here and I think that it's about time I start.
I take a look online at potentially interesting things to do around the city. The Festas Sanjoaninas look interesting and they're happening on my doorstep: Parades, eating, drinking, bull fighting... I'm not a big fan of bull fighting... They don't start until the end of June anyway and I'll be busy by then.
In the end I decide to visit Monte Brasil, a peninsula just south of Hero Creek formed by several eruptions worth of dried lava from THE Volcano Island volcano, The Guilherme Moniz Volcano. You're supposed to be able to get a great view of Angra do Heroismo from on top of a hill called Pico das Cruzinhas.
I don't don my trusty grey coat, because if I truly wanted to roast I'd wrap myself in tin foil, and that comes with several negative connotations. Instead I opt for a full SC Angrense home kit that I received free of charge from Miguel Borba when I arrived at the club, I put on my sun cream and sunglasses, and complete the look with a pair of red and white sandals, because I'm an Englishman.
Meatloaf and Burnie both look curiously up at me as I pack my rucksack full of refrigerated bottles of tap water. I reach down and give them each a scratch behind the ear. I consider for a moment bringing them with me, but I think they're all set. They've got everything they need right here for their endless schedule of eating and sleeping and nothing else.
I set off walking down an Asphalt path towards Fortaleza de São João Batista (St. John the Baptist’s Fortress). The sun is especially intense today and I'd broken a sweat by the time I'd walked to the end of my street, but I press on.
After an hour the dehydration is setting in. I thought I had come prepared, bringing all those bottles of tap water with me, but after an hour in my rucksack they're all warm and unsatisfying. I've drunk one of the bottles already. I hope theres a corner shop on top of this pile of dried lava.
After 2 hours I'm staggering. I've only got half a bottle of water left. I've kept plodding on down asphalt and dirt paths but the sun, although it's beginning to sink down behind the horizon, is still draining. I meet a large dog, a golden retriever, and for a couple of minutes I forget the heat and smile as he trots happily alongside me, spurring me on, before he barks and runs back the way we came, out of view. My smile fades. I'm alone again.
And then, not half an hour later, I arrive on top of Pico das Cruzinhas. It's considerably less light than it was when I set off but it's still incredibly hot and humid. I feel dizzy. Sweat is pouring down my face. But I've arrived at the viewpoint.
I set down my rucksack, full of empty water bottles, sit down on the patchy grass and look out over the city. Over my city. The view really is stunning. I can see the docks, the rows of little white stone buildings, Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo... I can see everything. I can see the entire city bathed in the red and orange glow of the setting sun. And it's all spinning. I feel sick.
"You look a little burnt there" says a loud, booming voice from somewhere above me. I almost jump out of my skin. I look upwards and the light seems to seep away all at once. The only things I see are clouds.
I look down again, wiping the sweat from my brow. I must have imagined the voice. It must be the heat. "Must it?" Booms the voice again. This time my eyes dart straight upwards, looking for the source of the voice. Again, all I see is clouds... but they look different to before... different shapes, different colours... and then the clouds start to shift. They start to move and interlock, break apart and come together again, before at last they take human form.
"Recognise me?" Rumbles the voice. The outline in the clouds is blurry, but definitely human. And then slowly, very very slowly, detailed features start to draw themselves across the figure's face. I squint a little to make them out... Eyes, nose, mouth, and then a bleached blond goatee.
"Abel Xavier?" I ask, hearing the disappointment in my own voice. Xavier laughs a deep, thunderous laugh.
"It is I, Abel Xavier. I have come to guide you, Franjo." He says theatrically. "I..." he pauses for dramatic effect, "...Am your spirit guide."
"Oh." I reply, making no attempt to hide my disappointment now.
"But what is wrong?" He asks, seeming slightly hurt.
"I don't know. I get that if I'm going to have a hallucinatory Spirit Guide he may as well be Portuguese, but wasn't Cristiano Ronaldo available?"
"No." He snaps.
"Even Nani would do..."
"NO" He booms, quite frighteningly. Then he lowers his voice again to an overly-theatrical whisper. "I, Abel Xavier, am your spirit guide, and I have appeared because I need to tell..."
"But I don't even like or respect you" I interject, in quite a whiny way. "You were shit at Everton and then you moved straight to Liverpool... And then you were shit for them, you're the worst."
"SILENCE!" He shouts. " I NEED TO..."
"Sorry", I interrupt again, very purposefully, "But I've wanted to get this out for 15 years and this is the first chance I've had."
After a fairly long and uncomfortable silence Xavier composes himself and takes a deep breath. When he speaks, he's whispering again. But his voice is shaking.
"Franjo, you must listen. I..."
"Are you related to Rikishi?" I ask loudly. Xavier sighs. "You've just always reminded me of the wrestler Rikishi, and vice versa. I think it's your hair. Your dumb hair."
"I don't have to take this", Mumbles the formation of clouds resembling Rikishi's probable relative Abel Xavier, "I'm the Mozambique head coach now, you know. I'm only appearing to help you."
"I think I'm probably further up the Managerial pecking order than you already then." I say coolly.
The form of Abel Xavier swirls and breaks apart and after a second or so I'm just looking up at the clouds once more. I wonder what he needed to tell me. It can't have been that important, he was only a figment of my imagination. And I'm pretty sure if it was an important message I would've imagined someone more impressive.
I sit there for a while, watching the street lights flicker into life around Hero Creek. It's an impressive place, you know. A brilliant place. I lie back on the soft tufts of grass and close my eyes.
Year 1 World Roundup (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 184.108.40.206)
I awake extremely early the next morning. Pushing myself to a sitting position, I can feel the numbness on my cheek where the pattern of the grass has been impressed after several hours of contact. My phone has run out of power and I've got a banging headache in the aftermath of my dehydration yesterday. This is not how good days start. I get to my feet and start to make my way back down the hill on which I accidentally stayed the night. Back down the gravel paths I walk as the sun starts to rise in front of me, painting the now fairly cloudy sky red and orange.
It's late morning by the time I make it back to my flat. I fall through the door and throw myself onto my bed face down, as Meatloaf and Burnie watch on in vague interest.
I decide to take a look at what's been happening throughout the world of football. I've existed in a bubble for the last year. I've been so preoccupied with my managerial duties that I forgot that football is happening everywhere.
I pour myself a glass of water and sit down with the laptop to see how the season's gone elsewhere in the world.
I start off by looking locally at the Liga Nos. Our one time Parent Club Benfica took the title, 6 points clear of Sporting and a staggering 17 points clear of a disappointing Porto side. Manager of the Year was FC Paços de Ferreira's Vasco Seabra, who guided his side to 4th and a Europa League spot, 8 places above their predicted finish.
Sporting's Bas Dost scored the most goals with 19, just ahead of Porto's André Silva. Benfica's defence drew a massive amount of admiration, as Álex Grimaldo and Lisandro López were rated the top 2 players in the league, while Ederson won the golden glove. Pizzi was also instrumental for them, racking up the most assists in the division. Arouca's Nuno Valente got the 2nd most. Now there's a name that sends a shiver down my spine.
Back home in Blighty, obviously no eyebrows were raised whatsoever as Arsene Wenger's side smashed their way to the title for the first time since their invincible 2003/2004 season. Arsenal finished on 91 points, 9 above José Mourinho's Manchester United, winning Wenger the Manager of the Year award in the process. The big under performers had to be Michael Laudrup's Southampton, who finished 18th on just 35 points.
They'll be playing Championship football next season, unlike Rafa Benitez's Newcastle, Mick McCarthy's Ipswich Town and Steve Clarke's Nottingham Forest, who are all promoted to the Premier League.
In the Premier League, United's Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the highest scorer, closely followed of course by West Ham's Jonathan Calleri. Arsenal's Mesut Özil and United's Juan Mata both had very good seasons, with plenty of assists and player of the match awards between them. David de Gea won the Golden Glove.
Again, nothing to see here: La Liga was won fairly comfortably by who else but Diego Simeone's Athletico Madrid! 6 points ahead of Zinedine Zidane's Real Madrid and a further 5 points ahead of Luis Enrique's Barcelona side. Simeone deservedly won the Manager of the Year award for his efforts.
Antoine Griezmann was the top scorer this year, just ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo, and Lionel Messi and Neymar both had excellent seasons for Barca. Real's Keylor Navas won the Golden Glove.
There really were no surprises in the Bundesliga as Carlo Ancelotti's Bayern Munich obliterated the rest of the division. They finished 16 points clear of Roger Schmidt's Bayer Leverkusen, who were themselves more than comfortable: 11 points clear of Ralph Hasenhüttl's Red Bull Leipzig in 3rd. Hasenhüttl still picked up the Manager of the Year award for reaching the Champions League.
The season was a disaster for Dieter Eilts' Werder Bremen team but even more so for Bruno Labbadia's Wolfsburg. Both sides fell well below expectations and will be playing Bundesliga 2 football next season.
Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Manuel Neuer took the plaudits for their efforts in Bayern's defence, but it was Bayer's Kevin Volland and Leipzig's Yussuf Poulsen who impressed at the other end of the pitch, scoring 24 and 20 goals respectively. Hamburg's Lewis Holtby and Freiburg's Vincenzo Grifo racked up the most assists.
The title race was surprisingly close in Italy, but Massimilliano Allegri and his Juventus side eventually took the title on 81 points, breaking Inter hearts as they were only 3 points behind. Their striker, Mauro Icardi, was the league's top scorer, with his Milan rival Carlos Bacca coming in 2nd. The golden glove went to Gianluigi Buffon but just like in the league, Inter's Handanovic made it a close race. Leonardo Bonucci and Paulo Dybala also had excellent seasons for Juve, while Dries Mertens and surprisingly Ledian Memushaj of relegated Pescara were the top assisters. Sampdoria's Marco Giampaolo won the Manager of the Year award for performing above expectations, although they narrowly missed out on a European spot.
Monaco managed to overthrow Paris Saint-Germain, who are known globally as "The Celtic of Ligue 1" to top the charts in France. Radamel Falcao's return to the club played a huge part in Monaco's league triumph, as he racked up 22 goals, 2 more than his rival Edinson Cavani. Thiago Silva and Bernardo Silva were the standout players this year, while Bernardo was also by far the top assister ahead of William Vainqueur of Marseille. Benoît Costil had a magnificent season for Stade Rennais and kept the most clean sheets in the league, but he lost the golden glove award to Danijel Subasic. Leonardo Jardim of Monaco won the Manager of the Year award for ending PSG's stranglehold on the division.
What a strange year. All of that just goes to show it doesn't really matter who the team is, anything can happen. With the right or wrong Manager, Players and System, Arsenal can win matches after February, Forest can win promotion, Southampton and Wolfsburg can go down, Atleti and Monaco can win titles that usually have "Reserved" labels on them...
I hope that at some point I can achieve that level of unexpected success with an underdog. But there's also a pretty good chance that I'll relegate a good team. What an exciting and terrifying thought.
Pre Season 2017/18 (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep26)
What a Summer. Aside from destroying the confidence of an imaginary ex-Everton flop I have actually also been swamped with real footballing matters.
I'll start by telling you that one of the first things I did when I was appointed Angrense Manager was put out an advert for a Manager for our under 19's side, as we didn't have one. And do you know how many applications have been sent to me in the last 6ish months? Zero. Goose egg. Nenhum. So this Summer, after reaching the sad conclusion that our 36 year old captain Gonçalo Valadão's playing days are coming to an end, I offered him the job. He accepted happily and is now Player/Under 19's Manager. His attributes are... not good, but I'm hoping that he'll increase in competence as we go.
At the end of June, Miguel Borba sprung quite a pleasant surprise on me: A new affiliation with Italian Serie B side Vicenza. In the future we may have the opportunity to sign a couple of young Italian stars on loan, which is obviously an exciting prospect.
Experienced goalkeeper David Dinis retired, and left the club along with some other players who had no place in my squad for the new season. Marco Aurélio, João Borges and Ivanildo Reis were the only ones who played any part in the first team for me, apart from Jordanes Medeiros, who completed his free transfer to Waasland-Beveren.
We've had our fair share of transfer sagas this Summer too. Cristiano Magina, for example, asked me to sell him for £18,000 in June after an insulting £12k bid from Romanian Top Tier side FC Vitorul. I refused and slapped a £100k price tag on his head. Admittedly this would be a ridiculous fee for a club of our stature to receive, but I have no intention of selling such a fantastic goalscorer. When they heard the news, the Angrense players grabbed their pitchforks and marched to my office to demand that I release him. Confused and annoyed, I simply said to them: "But he was the division's 2nd top scorer last season. Do you not think we'd be weaker without him?" To which they all just sort of nodded and shuffled back out of the room. Magina was also subject to bids from the Portuguese Premier League, the Cypriot top tier and the Eredivisie, but eventually, and much to my relief, he decided to stay.
Another player to throw a tantrum was 19 year old forward Silveira, who I had been looking forward to working with after he spent last season out on loan. He was upset that I rejected a... and I'm not exaggerating... £0 bid from CS U Craiova, also in the Romanian top tier. He spat his dummy out and I sent him to train with the kids and trialists (of which there have been around 100 over the course of the break). Craiova eventually came in with a £5k bid, rising to £10k with add ons, plus a friendly match. I negotiated them up a further £5k and got rid for a club record fee. They instantly cancelled the friendly. Twats.
I've laughed off a plethora of bids for our players. A few thousand for Seidi, Benjamim, Kevin, Oliveira, Miranda and Santos isn't really worth my time. I've been bombarded all Summer with insultingly low-ball bids for top prospects Batista, Antunes and Silva. None of these bids topped £1k until August when comparatively massive money started to be put on the table. I was never going to consider £10k, which was the most we were offered for Renato Silva, for reasons that I'll explain in a moment, but I really had to to think about Dinamo Bucharesti's Batista bid. It could have reached upwards of £35k, plus 50% of the next sale. I rejected it though as we don't particularly need to sell and I'd like to give him more football this year. Greek Super League side PAOK and Ligue 1 outfit FC Nantes spent all Summer bidding for Antunes but never strayed North of £2k.
But enough about that, I've got 6 new players to show you. Last season I was impressed with our attacking play but I wasn't always so convinced about the defensive side of our game, so that's where the reinforcements have come in so far.
Last season we had 4 Goalkeepers. 3 of them were pretty awful so I let their contracts expire and that left us requiring backup. 34 year old Serginho will not only provide able backup but he may even have the ability and experience to push Azevedo out of the side. He was released by Santa Clara in the Summer after having a decent season for them, conceding 26 goals in 19 games in the LigaPro, which is the Portuguese 2nd tier and the division above us.
Ivan Santos was only OK last year and I winced every time the ball went anywhere near Oliveira, so I've brought in 2 new centre backs. The first of these is Olivier Kingue. He likes to just have "Olivier" on the back of his shirt, so that's what I'll call him. He's a big, tough and fairly quick Cameroonian. His intelligence could do with development but he's 21 years old and so has plenty of time to learn. His contract had expired with Cameroonian side Nkufo Academy so we picked him up for free. If you're wondering how we spotted a player in such an obscure league, he gave a good account of himself on loan last season at SC Olhanense in the LigaPro, so I think we've grabbed ourselves a bargain.
The 2nd centre back we signed was Lassina Touré from Burkina Faso. His reach isn't as high as Kingue's but he's better developed both technically and mentally. We signed him on a free as well, as his contract with our rivals from last season Sporting Ideal expired at the end of the season.
I said last year that this team needs more dynamic wing backs, especially on the left hand side. As we released Reis on a free and I don't think Valadão has much left in the tank, I've signed us 2 new left backs. The first is Mauro Aires. Another young player at 21 years old, I paid £240 to prise him away from our fierce rivals (Who we've sadly not actually played yet under my regime) Praiense. He's ok defensively and not awful going forward, but his real strength is his pace. He is very very quick and may be able to add width with forward runs down the left.
The 2nd left back I brought in is Xéxé. You might remember that I mentioned my interest in him when we played Sporting Ideal last season. My January target Chileno wasn't available this Summer so I brought Xéxé in for £240 to rival but probably understudy Aires. He's also 21 and he's fairly quick so he'll be a decent option.
And finally I picked up a backup right back, Luciano Serpa. He's another player we picked up on a free and just like Aires we've picked him up from rivals Praiense. He's very well rounded: he can defend, attack, he's quick enough and he's got a good head on his shoulders. I'll have no problem giving him a chance in the side and he may even rival Miranda for a place, but he's missed most of pre-season through injury and won't be ready for our first match.
In terms of our pre-season, things have gone very very well. The highlight of our friendly matches was undoubtably our 2-0 win against Sporting Lisbon, the lowlight was our only loss, which came against lower league side Prainha. It was our 2nd string that played that match in fairness but we still should've won comfortably. Our last friendly was a ridiculous but entertaining 6-5 win over Tenerife.
The player that's impressed me most through pre-season might surprise you: 16 year old striker Renato Silva has been on fire. He started pre-season playing for the under 19's but after a couple of matches in which he decimated the opposition defence I promoted him to play with the first team. He's scored 7 in 7 games, including 3 as a sub, and at one point he even made me give serious consideration to the possibility of giving in and letting Magina go. But young players often lack consistency, so he will most likely make his appearances from the bench this year. Nevertheless his form is certainly encouraging and I'm sure that he'll make his first team bow sooner rather than later.
Who's impressed me the least? Gonçalo Valadão, I'm afraid to say. I've said before that I wish he had 10 years left in him but he just doesn't. I don't even think he's got 1. When he's appeared in these friendlies he's often been the worst player on our side and I just can't see him getting a game this year, especially as I've heavily bolstered the full back positions.
I will just give a couple of mentions as well to players that have impressed me: New signings Touré and Olivier have looked solid in defence, Antunes has looked so skilful and composed that I think he'll begin the season as our starting number 10 despite his tender years (Although he will miss the first game through injury), and Hélder Arruda has taken to his new role of backup attacking midfielder very well. He's been arriving into the opposition area late and bagging a fair amount of goals despite not being fully competent in the position.
And one more player that you should be aware of is Bruce Ávila. Like Silveira, he spent last season on loan at a lower league club, but unlike Silveira, he's come back for pre-season, kept his head down, worked hard and impressed me. He's an out and out left winger which is a good option to have. Last season we only played Kevin, Amonike and Aurélio on the left and they all liked to cut in on their right foot. He's also 20 years old and a very rounded young footballer.
I should probably mention that I did consider my future this Summer. I did consider looking for pastures new, a new club in some wacky new league, but I want to see what I can do with this Angrense side. There's potential here. I want to see if I can finally do what Eduardo couldn't, and take Os Heróis up.
I think partially I want my next club to come to me. I want to have impressed enough to be headhunted. Plus, I'd rather not send out 15 copies of my CV and annoy Miguel Borba, because frankly I don't want to end up back in the job centre.
PT Championship - First Phase Group G (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 26.5)
I know what you're thinking.
"I can't wait for you to box Vilafranquense's ears again Franjo!"
"I can't wait for the Caldas matches, you'll really show them this time!"
"I have a tattoo of your half-robot face on my thigh!"
But no! You're mistaken and confused. That's just not how the Portuguese Championship, or my readers, roll. Our opponents for this first phase will be drawn randomly out of the pool of 80 clubs. We've been dropped into Group G. Here are our new friends:
Ground: Estádio Municipal de Aljustrel
First Phase Position (Out of 10): 6th in group H
Relegation Stage Position (Out of 8): 3rd in group H
Rivals in Group G: N/A
Ground: Estádio da Medideira
Last Season: Promoted from 4th tier
Rivals in Group G: Barreirense (Competitive)
Ground: Campo da Verderena
First Phase Position (Out of 10): 3rd in Group G
Relegation Stage Position (Out of 8): 3rd in Group G
Rivals in Group G: Amora (Competitive), Fabril do Barreiro (Historic, Fierce), Pinhalnovense (Local)
Ground: Complexo Desportivo Fernando Mamede
Last Season: Promoted from 4th tier
Rivals in Group G: N/A
Fabril do Barreiro
Ground: Estádio Alfredo da Silva
First Phase Position (Out of 10): 7th in group H
Relegation Stage Position (Out of 8): 5th in Group G
Rivals in Group G: Barreirense (Local, Fierce), Amora (Local)
Ground: Estádio Sanches de Miranda
Last Season: Promoted from 4th tier
Rivals in Group G: N/A
Ground: Estádio do Moura Atlético Clube
First Phase Position (Out of 10): 8th in group H
Relegation Stage Position (Out of 8): 2nd in Group G
Rivals in Group G: N/A
From: Pinhal Novo
Ground: Campo de Jogos Santos Jorge
First Phase Position (Out of 10): 3rd in group H
Relegation Stage Position (Out of 8): 1st in Group H
Rivals in Group G: Barreirense (Local)
Sp Viana Alentejo
From: Viana do Alentejo
Ground: Campo João Branco Núncio
First Phase Position (Out of 10): 10th in group H
Relegation Stage Position (Out of 8): 6th in Group G, Beat Malveira 5-2 in Play-off 1st Round and Sernache 2-1 in 2nd Round
Rivals in Group G: N/A
You'll notice that I've included these clubs' predicted positions for the phase ahead. You'll also notice that one position has been omitted. That's because it's our position. It's because I, Franjo, am widely expected to lead our Heróis to a 1st place position in the first phase.
Am I apprehensive? Yes.
Will I relish the challenge? Yes.
Do I back us to pull it off? Fucking right I do.
It's an interesting position to be in because I've so far been in charge of the massive underdogs and relegation favourites in Vellinge, and then a bit of a big fish in a small pond, dropped into the relegation stage by no fault of my own in my first half season here. Now a brand new season is dawning, and we'll achieve anything we achieve off our own backs. And if we fail there will be absolutely nowhere to hide.
And I don't want to pile more pressure onto myself, nor do I want to play down any future achievements, nor do I want to tempt fate. But I'm going to do all 3.
This is a weak group. 3 of the teams have just been promoted from the 4th tier and you'd expect them to be cannon fodder. Sp Viana Alentejo only survived relegation after dragging themselves through the play-offs. Barreirense and Pinhalnovense are the teams to beat as they narrowly missed out on going to last season's promotion stage, but apart from them, our opponents all had pretty poor seasons. I will expect a series of very, very good performances from our team this year.
3-Horse Race (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep27)
I stand on a gravel path, wearing my trusty grey coat, a rucksack weighing heavily on my shoulders. Ahead of me lies a long, winding road that wraps itself around a distant mountain, the top of which is obscured by clouds in front of a blood red sky. The clouds turn from blue to red as I watch them, swirling and twisting, breaking apart and reforming.
"Franjo..." a booming voice echoes. "FRANJO!"
I jolt awake to see a familiar face just inches from my own. It's Pedro Botelho, my assistant Manager. He beams as he sees that I am awake. "Ah, apologies for waking you my friend but we are landing soon." He says as he removes himself from my personal space and sits down in the seat next to me, buckling his seatbelt.
We have arrived in Moura to play our first opponents of the new season: The efficiently named "Moura". I don't really know what to expect from them, which worries me slightly. They had a torrid campaign this time last year, finishing 8th out of 10 teams in their group in the first stage and looking like a relatively safe bet for relegation. But then they had an excellent Relegation Stage, finishing 2nd in their group like we did. Now they're predicted 4th so I just don't know how good they're meant to be.
With this in mind, I will opt for the safer of the 2 systems I've created here so far: Heróis Original. Although it will be tweaked slightly as I have mainly picked the team that have most impressed me during pre-season.
Azevedo starts between the sticks, but Serginho will have the chance to impress me in our next match. Our back 4 is almost unrecognisable, with Vitor Miranda the lone survivor alongside Lassina Touré, Olivier and Mauro Aires. I'd rather have Miguel Oliveira as backup than a starter and Santos has recently decided he should be allowed to move for free so he's the latest player to enter my bad books. Rúby partners Jaime Seidi in a withdrawn double pivot, although Rúby will be getting forward to support attacks. Amonike and Kevin start on the flanks, with Hurley trying his hand at the number 10 role between them. Antunes is back in full training but is not quite fit enough to start. Magina starts as the lone striker.
I walk out through the tunnel and take a deep breath. The summer break is such a bloody long time, I say to myself as a broad grin stretches across my face. The players take their positions, the referee blows his whistle, and our new season gets underway.
Almost quarter of an hour in Moura are pushing, but we break forward on the counter: Moura have their defensive line far too high, it's pretty much on the half way line. Magina holds the ball up just into the Moura half before releasing Amonike on the right with a good pass behind the defence. Amonike sprints to the byline, chased by a couple of defenders but he's too quick for them. When he reaches the edge of the pitch he cuts the ball back to Hurley, who sends the keeper the wrong way from 10 yards.
Pedro and I leap to our feet, punching the air. For all the preparation and research that went on this Summer, there was always a voice in the back of my mind saying "You don't know anything about these teams, they could all be better than anyone you faced last season. You could be a few goals down in the first half of the first match". Well we're back and we're refreshed, and right now I'd back us to beat anyone.
The rest of the half flies by without either team creating anything of note, until straight from kick off in the second half when Magina releases Hurley with another good ball through the defence. Hurley tries to double his tally but his shot goes wide of the near post.
I did ponder at half time whether I was comfortable with having 2 defensive midfielders on the pitch, both of whom were on yellow cards. I decided that...yes. Yes I was comfortable with it. Needless to say with almost an hour played Jaime Seidi sees his 2nd yellow for a silly trip and earns himself an early bath. I won't be too harsh on him, that's the first black mark on his record for me. I decide to drop Hurley back slightly and play a 4-1-1-2-1 formation.
And to be fair, it works. The game dies down once more and again, nothing happens until the 83rd minute, when a good Moura passing move ends with N'Goy releasing Lopes, whose shot flies just wide of the near post.
In an attempt to freshen up our attack I bring on a couple of youngsters. Batista replaces Amonike and Silva replaces Magina to make his debut.
With 92 minutes and 30 seconds played I'm perched right on the edge of my seat, glaring at the referee. Blow your bloody whistle, I silently urge him. This match has not been comfortable.
Just as I think that, Kevin lays the ball back for Mauro Aires, who's on the left hand side about 15 yards into our half. He looks up, and in a moment of brilliance, smacks the ball into the left channel, over Moura's defensive line. As he does, Renato Silva makes a diagonal run from the left wing, losing his marker. The ball falls perfectly into his path and he only needs 1 touch of the ball to stroke it into the far bottom corner on the half volley.
I fall backwards into my seat and breathe a massive sigh of relief. The broad grin returns to my face. There's something about this boy. His intelligence, his movement, his finishing, his composure. The sheer arrogance to effortlessly score such a goal on his debut at 16 years old. He's got it all. I know time will tell whether this is just a good pre-season and a good debut or genuine quality, but... I don't know where I'll be in 10 years. The optimist in me says Barcelona, Manchester United or Bayern. Somewhere like that. And call me crazy but I reckon I could take this lad with me.
After another week or wearily declining daily offers for Antunes, Batista and Silva, it's time to welcome Aljustrelense to Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo. Our first home game of the season and a chance to put down a proper marker. I'll let us off for not exactly making this place the isolated island fortress I wanted it to be last season. We were adjusting. If we lose here in any of our first phase matches now though, I'll be furious.
Aljustrelense lost their first match of the season and if someone else in this league can beat them, then so can we. That's a philosophy I feel like I'll be adopting for all of our league matches.
We are at home, we are the favourites, and we are the better side, so here comes my feline formation, Project: Meatloaf. Seidi is suspended after his red card so Hurley drops back into midfield. Antunes takes his place behind Magina. In all fairness that change would've probably happened even if Seidi had been available. Aires will be encouraged to attack down the left and overlap Kevin or Amonike. Serginho starts.
It takes nearly 10 minutes for us to carve out our first chance. The ball is cleared following our corner and Lassina Touré finds himself on the ball with his back to goal on the edge of their area. He lays it back for Antunes, who curls it first time in front of Amonike on the left. Amonike's first touch takes him down the line past a defender and he drills in a low cross that finds Magina 8 yards out, but Runa manages to get a foot in and scramble the ball away to the edge of the area. Our new left full back Mauro Aires controls the ball before smashing it against the left post. The ball bounces away and is cleared.
Less than a minute later Benjamim cuts out a Dias cross and clears the ball to Magina on the left wing, just inside the Aljustrelense half. He makes one of his patented powerful runs with the ball diagonally towards the edge of the penalty area but is thwarted once again by Runa, who clears the ball. Touré picks it up on the half way line though and plays it onto the right for Amonike, who whips a cross into the 6 yard box and Magina's volley somehow crashes off the bar. Runa clears and we've struck the woodwork twice in the first 10 minutes. This had better not be an omen. I bloody hate omens.
The rest of the half is quiet. It feels like we've become nervous after wasting those 2 chances. I tell the lads that they've been unlucky at half time. We've made 2 good chances but we've just not had the rub of the green. I send them back out, hopefully with a bit more self-belief and confidence.
Just over 5 minutes after the restart, Miranda throws the ball to Amonike, who's level with the Aljustrelense penalty area on the right hand side. He passes well to Magina just inside the box, who turns and lays it off to Hurley. Hurley takes a touch, looks up, and fizzes a shot into the far bottom corner.
The relief in the team is clear, for a while it felt like one of those matches where it just doesn't happen. At least we've got the breakthrough, now we just need to protect it.
With an hour gone I replace Aires, who has been booked and is looking nervous, with debutant Luciano Serpa. Serpa will play on the right and Miranda will come over onto the left. Nerves cost you in situations like this, and they also make people do silly things, like send your team down to 10 men for the second match in a row.
With just over 10 minutes to go, we revert back to Heróis Original and Miguel Oliveira comes on in place of the goalscorer Hurley as he's apparently an adept holding man. It does the trick and we completely kill the match. We come away with a not-so-convincing 1-0 win, but I'll take 3 points and a clean sheet any day.
Only at this stage of the season can you have a 100% record, 0 goals conceded and still drop down the league. The table is pretty meaningless this early on but you can already see a 3-horse race starting to emerge. Pinhalnovense have come out for the new season looking extremely dangerous. They're the only other team that are yet to concede but they've already racked up a +9 goal difference. We'll have to keep an eye on them.
On the Road Again (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep28)
I'm the first off the plane. We've arrived in Évora for our 3rd match of the season against Juventude Évora, a newly promoted club who we should really be making mincemeat of.
As soon as I step out of the plane and down the staircase to make my way towards the terminal, I switch my phone on and let out a groan. 23 missed calls. Why won't they leave me alone? I've made myself perfectly clear haven't I? No, you can't buy Antunes. No, you can't buy Batista. No, you can't buy Silva. So why am I drowning in missed calls from several Liga Nos, Greek Super League and Ligue 1 sides? I've never known anything like it, some of them have been calling me all Summer and are now calling 2 or 3 times a day. Dinamo Bucharesti's latest bid for Batista could have risen to £75k, which for a club like us is an extraordinary amount of cash, but I am not selling, and I've been so clear about that.
Annoyed, I switch my phone back off. Is it possible to just ghost other football clubs? Do they eventually give up if you keep ignoring them? I don't know but I don't need this today. We've got preparation to do.
I won't fall into the trap that so many fall into. I won't send my team out gung-ho against a poor side who will be sitting right back and trying to play on the counter. We need to be smart. I've looked at how they played in their first 2 games and they'll most likely set up with a narrow 4-3-1-2, focusing everything through the middle. This leaves me with an interesting predicament as against the smaller clubs I generally leave the centre of my midfield fairly open by allowing Hurley and Benjamim to get forward with attacks. So do I play safe and adopt a more disciplined central midfield set up? Maybe even throw a holding man in there? Or do I trust my players to make the right decisions and not leave a massive gap in the midfield that Évora can exploit?
I opt for the former. If it turns out that I'm playing it too safe then we can always change it up. We will stick with Project: Meatloaf but with Antunes dropping out, he's actually lacking fitness anyway so that's fine, and Seidi coming back in after his suspension as the holding man. Hurley will play in the number 10 role again. Serginho stays in net so that I can have another look at him, but to be honest I don't recall either him or Azevedo having to do any actual goalkeeping so far this season, so it's difficult to choose between them.
We'll adapt to their set up too. I instruct the players not to be so patient in working the ball into the box, and instead to attack both flanks quickly, with overlapping full backs. Évora are weakest on the wings so we should be able to double up on them there.
I make my way to the dugout, sit down and open my notebook. I'm very interested to see how my team adapts to the changes we've made.
We win the toss and Magina kicks off, playing the ball to Kevin on the left. He plays it inside to Hurley, who takes a touch before spreading the ball out onto the right for Amonike. Amonike takes on the opposition full back and sprints down the wing, hugging the touchline. When he's level with the penalty box he drills in a low cross and Magina gets in front of his marker to stab the ball home. I almost feel like laughing. 16 seconds in and we're ahead.
10 minute later, Aires plays a one-two with Seidi from a throw in on the left, and then passes the ball inside to Hurley. With one touch, Hurley sends a through ball onto the left wing for Kevin to chase. He keeps it in at the byline and puts in another low cross that reaches Magina at the near post. Magina spins away from his marker and just as the keeper dives to his left, anticipating a shot to the far post, Magina goes near, thumping the ball into the back of the net and putting us 2-0 up.
A few minutes later we're coming forward again. Hurley cuts inside from the left and lays the ball back for Seidi, who pings it first time down the left wing for Aires to run onto. The full back whips a cross in but Magina can't reach it this time, and Carmo clears as far as Hurley, who's waiting on the edge of the area. He keeps his composure, takes a touch and smashes the ball goal-wards, but it takes a massive deflection off of Gouveia and bounces towards the far post where Amonike is arriving. The winger contorts his body impressively in order to reach the awkwardly bouncing ball with a right footed volley and smacks it past poor Mateus in Évora's net.
3-0 up after quarter of an hour. I close the notebook. I may have over-prepared for this match.
And it isn't slowing down. Only a few minutes later Évora have their first chance when João Nabor hoofs a free kick from the right side of the half way line towards the far post. Ricardo Quintino finds himself in space and heads the ball back across goal, but nobody is there to get the final touch. Instead, Mauro Aires clears the ball to the left wing and Amonike races Bicho and beats him to it on the half way line. He nips away down the left, sprinting full pelt and only turning inside once he reaches the penalty area. This gives Bicho a chance to catch up and he slides in recklessly, but Amonike skilfully skips over his challenge before his disappointing placed effort rolls harmlessly into the arms of the keeper Mateus. Don't let that tarnish your opinion of how well Amonike is playing today though, he is making absolutely everything happen so far.
30 seconds later we have a throw in on the right hand side, level with the penalty area. Miranda throws it to Amonike, who gives it straight back. Miranda whips the ball first time towards the near post and Magina executes a superb volley into the far top corner. He's not exactly Robbie Fowler or Sadio Mané but a 19 minute hat trick is still phenomenal in my book.
The game mercifully goes down a gear in the next 10 minutes, allowing me to catch my breath, but just after the half hour mark Amonike swings a corner to the near post and Olivier rises above Bicho, glancing a header across goal, but it goes narrowly wide of the far post.
At half time I try to keep the team's spirits high. That was as one-sided a performance as I've seen in my career. Well, apart from the games at Höllviken but we always seemed to be on the wrong end of those. I decide that we may as well go for as many goals as we can. Seidi comes off, as it turns out playing him was an unnecessary precaution. Antunes replaces him and moves forward, while Hurley drops back. Hurley will play as a defensive deep lying playmaker though. I want him to stay back but use his range of passing to start attacks from a safe position.
The second half is quiet for the first 25 minutes, and then an Amonike corner is headed away by Bicho and cleared down the left by João Nabor. Macedo gets onto the loose ball and brings it inside, then plays it in to Rapha. Rapha plays it into the area first time for Fernandes but he rushes his shot and the ball flies high and wide.
From the resulting goal kick, Serginho plays the ball out long but an Évora defender heads it back as far as Kevin on the right wing. He skips past Hugo's slide tackle and bursts down the right wing. Once he gets to the byline he chips a cross in, but it's headed away by Fonseca as far as Benjamim just outside the area. Benjamim has defenders in front of him, so he fakes the shot and instead squares the ball for the unmarked Antunes, who takes a touch and strokes it into the bottom right corner of the net. The young number 10 is off the mark for us and we now lead Évora by 5 goals to 0.
I instantly bring on Fernando Batista and Renato Sanches for Amonike and Magina, who have both had excellent games.
10 minutes from time, Hurley wins the ball in our half and lays it back to Olivier, who spreads it out to Kevin on the left. He carries the ball over the half way line and puts a great ball over the top for Silva, who's running through the central channel behind the defence. The 16 year old takes it down but his left footed shot is parried behind by Mateus.
Now we're talking. Before the season started, every team in this league would've looked at our squad, looked at how we finished last season, and they would've respected us. They would have probably worried more about us than the other teams. But the time for respect is over. I want every team in the league to fear us. To hate us. And it's results like this that are going to make them do just that.
3 days later and we're on the road again. Today we have a mid-week match in Lourosa, North-Western Portugal, where we take on Lusitânia Lourosa in my very first Taça de Portugal cup match. Lourosa are in the 4th tier so even though we are away, we should keep up our excellent form today.
I decide to send out the fringe players and the ones I've either not tried out yet or not given any game time to this season. Azevedo starts in net by virtue of having made 1 start to Serginho's 2, Serpa and Xéxé make their full debuts at full back, with the old partnership of Miguel Oliveira and Ivan Santos between them. Santos no longer wants to leave and instead wants to fight for his place in the team, but that ship may have already sailed. Our defence has been great so far without him. I'm tweaking Project: Meatloaf, pushing the midfield double pivot backwards because I've had the bright idea of playing captain Valadão as an anchor man next to Rúby, which should give us a nice mix of brains and legs in the middle of the park. Batista and debutant Bruce Ávila will start as orthodox wingers, but will periodically swap sides and play as inside forwards, with Arruda between them as a shadow striker. Renato Silva plays alone up top. The only fringe player I can't accomodate with this system is our now 4th choice striker Wilson Dias, who didn't impress me at all in pre-season, but I'll bring him on at some point.
Just over 10 minutes into the match, Xéxé throws the ball down the left wing to Arruda, who lays it inside for Ávila. He shifts it onto his left and then drills in a great through ball for Silva. Silva hits it left footed on the turn but his shot goes narrowly over.
10 minutes later Valadão loops a free kick into the centre from the left wing. Oliveira gets his head to it on the penalty spot but his sideways header is completely non-threatening and looks to be heading out onto the wing. However in a moment of madness, Vasco makes the decision to head the ball back across his own goal into an incredibly dangerous area. The Lourosa defenders are stunned, they're frozen in place. This makes it very easy for Bruce Ávila to find space at the far post and slot the ball past the keeper, bagging himself a debut goal.
The match from that point on is a scrappy affair. It's very much what you'd expect from a match between a lower league side and a team full of reserves.
In fact, nothing of note actually happens until the 68th minute, when Serpa throws the ball to Valadão just inside our own half and he plays a long pass down the right wing. Silva runs onto it and chips it across to the far post, where Batista is lurking to hit it on the half volley, doubling our lead and opening his professional goalscoring account.
That goal sparks something in us. 5 minutes later Silva lays the ball back for Serpa, who uses his pace to charge down the right wing and then squares the ball to Rúby just outside the area. Rúby takes a touch and hammers a shot against the angle between bar and upright, and the ball is headed clear. Wilson Dias comes on to replace Hélder Arruda in the attacking midfield role. They're about as comfortable there as each other, which is to say sort of.
With 10 minutes to play, Rúby surges forward into the final third and plays a neat one-two with Batista to his left. He then feeds Silva, who's stood on the edge of the area with his back to goal. Silva turns and spots the run of Dias to his right, and he chips the ball through for him, leaving Dias with a sitter. Dias' half volley though is straight at the keeper Emanuel, who parries it behind.
With 2 minutes to go we're still pushing for a 3rd. Emanuel's short goal kick is sloppy and Silva gets to the ball before the daydreaming centre back Ferreira. He dribbles forward to the edge of the area but Ferreira, keen to save face, closes him down fiercely, making Silva panic and skew his shot wide.
A minute later a good give and go between Batista and Xéxé forces Lourosa to give away a corner. Ávila swings it into the centre and Xéxé powers a header towards the top left corner, but Emanuel saves well before Martyr clears.
We still aren't done though, into injury time we go and Valadão brings the ball forward into space, before playing it to Ávila, who's cutting in from the right. He shoots towards the far top corner but Emanuel saves well again to keep the score respectable.
I can't say I was particularly pleased with the first 68 minutes, apart from the goal, but in the end our reserves pulled their fingers out and played some nice football. Some of them have given me a lot to think about. Silva, who initially seemed so composed in front of goal on his debut, needs to work on making the most of his chances. He's easily rattled and I think the last time he shot with his preferred right foot he scored, but he's done nothing since except snatch at chances with his left. I've far from given up on him, but I know now what he can improve on. I might have a word with Magina, to see if he can help him with his game.
Ávila gave a very good account of himself, as did the 2 full backs, and I was also impressed with Rúby and Valadão, although I think those 2 would struggle to hold the midfield against a better opposition that would ask them more questions.
But all in all, I'm happy: we're top of the league, we've won our cup match, and we've still not conceded a bloody goal. And that'll do for me.
What Does Kevin Do? - Part 2 (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep29)
"Leighton Baines!" I exclaim.
"Luis Figo" comes the deadpan reply.
"Steven Gerrard!" I say incredulously.
"Cristiano Ronaldo" comes the retort.
"David Beckham! Frank Lampard! Alan Shearer! Matt le bleeding Tissier!" I list the names off one by one, growing more infuriated each time. "You haven't got a leg to stand on Nuno, that's 6 incredible English penalty takers."
Nuno leans forward on his mower and scrunches up his leathery face. "Beckham... Lampard... Gerrard... These are no good." He mutters.
"Oh, that one time." I roll my eyes.
"And who is Bayton Lanes?" He asks, smirking slightly. My fists clench involuntarily.
"You'd better be joking", I tell him sternly.
At that moment, I notice Pedro Botelho walking across the pitch towards us, clutching a notepad and a cup of coffee. We're welcoming Sporting Clube de Viana do Alentejo to our place today, and he'll be wanting me to brief him on our tactics. He gives Nuno a stern look as he gets closer to us.
"Don't you have mowing to do?" He asks flatly. Nuno says something back to him in rapid Portuguese and I'm nowhere near fluent enough to keep up, but I'm sure I hear the word "Beckham" in there. Pedro cracks up laughing.
"Cheers Pedro" I say loudly, taking his cup of coffee. He stops laughing and looks quite sheepish. "And you," I say, turning back to Nuno and taking a sip of my newly acquired and scalding hot beverage for emphasis, "Finish this pitch and then go look up Leighton Baines. And then David Unsworth. Educate yourself."
Nuno chuckles as he turns away to continue his mowing. "You fail today Inglês" he calls out, as if it were compulsory.
"Piss off" I call back. It's OK, It's all a bit more light hearted between me and Nuno nowadays. Once you accept that he's just a bitter old wind up merchant he's actually alright. And he's a patriot, you've got to respect that. Of course, it's easy to be patriotic if your national side only won the Euros last year isn't it. And I suppose if you've also got the best player in the world on your side then that's just gravy.
I wish that just once it would pay off to be an English Patriot. If just one tournament could end without total humiliation, that'd be nice.
But, laughably improbable pipe dreams aside, we have work to do. Sporting Cl... I'll just refer to them as Viana. Viana come into this game 8th in the league, having drawn 2 and lost 1 of their matches so far. We, in case I haven't mentioned it, are top of the bloody league. We've won 3, scored 8 and conceded 0. Confidence is sky high and we've got the home advantage. Doesn't it just feel like a match we're destined to lose?
The plan is simple, because the simpler the plan, the more the players know what they're doing and the less chance there is of them making a load of awful and needless mistakes. We will stick with our most standard Project: Meatloaf, and the most standard lineup we have, including Azevedo in net. Although I will be telling the players to express themselves and roam from their positions, as Viana will almost certainly sit right back and try to catch us on the break and I need us to be in the mindset that we should crush them.
For the first 10 minutes, I'm off my seat and smiling excitedly, filled to the brim with anticipation. For the next 10 minutes I'm back on my seat, waiting patiently for my excitement to be vindicated. For the 10 minutes after that my hand is over my mouth and my eyes dart nervously after the ball, willing it to fly into the Viana net and give us our breakthrough.In the 30th minute, Benjamim is robbed of the ball by Ostovari just inside the Viana half. He passes to Xande, who walks it forward, and plays in Fernandes on the left, who passes it straight to Pimentel 25 yards out. Lassina Touré comes to close Pimentel down but Ostovari runs into the space he leaves. Ostavari receives the ball and slots it under Azevedo first time. Our 425 minute clean sheet streak is over. At home. Against Viana. I'm fuming.
5 minutes later though the tables turn: Benjamim robs Ostovari on the half way line and plays it to Magina. Magina passes it to Kevin's feet on the right and he chips it straight over to Hurley, 25 yards out. Hurley splits the defence with a magnificent through ball and Antunes goes one on one with the keeper, before placing the ball into the bottom left hand corner.
I instantly decide to make a change: Hurley will be a defensive playmaker. So far we've struggled with the gap between our defence and midfield in 2 ways, Viana are finding too much space there and our defenders are struggling to get the ball into midfield. Hurley playing in a deeper role should solve both problems. Anyway, I had hoped for a quick reaction from my players and I got it. Now let's see what they can do.
It takes until the 53rd minute for either team to create a chance. From a free kick 35 yards out, Amonike passes short to Antunes, who plays it on for Kevin just outside the area, left of centre. Kevin slots a pass into the box and Cristiano Magina's there to slot it into the far bottom corner. Júnior in the Viana goal has absolutely no chance.
2 minutes later it feels like the flood gates are opening: an Amonike corner is headed clear and Antunes picks up the ball on the left wing. He runs inside and plays in Magina, who turns and shoots left footed from the edge of the area into the top left corner. We're 3-1 up.
I bring on Seidi for Hurley, who picked up a minor knock in the first half and has a booking to his name, and tell Seidi to hold position at the base of our midfield.
With 25 minutes to go, Olivier chips the ball out to Kevin 15 yards inside our half. Kevin plays a great ball down the left behind the Viana defence and Magina runs onto it, outmuscling Amoná, but his angle is too narrow and he pokes a shot at Júnior, who parries it away. I tell vice-captain Kevin to let the team know: We want more of that, pass into space as much as possible.
10 minutes later Touré wins the ball from Daniel after some patient Viana build up and plays a long ball forward to start a counter. It's headed back by Amoná and comes to Antunes, who chips a pass over the top again for Magina. The big striker runs through one on one with the goalkeeper but Júnior closes the angle well and parries his shot. I note with mild annoyance that Benjamim is strolling around looking like the game's already won. I hook him and bring on Rúby, who will play as a ball winner next to Seidi.
A few minutes after that, Amonike receives the ball just inside the Viana half, looks up, and plays a diagonal ball over the defence. Magina takes it down on his chest and shoots left footed, but Júnior saves again. Despite his 2 goals, CM9 isn't having much luck today.
10 minutes to go, and the match isn't slowing. Araújo robs Amonike just into the Viana half and starts a patient short passing move. Pimentel spots the run of Fernandes, who's sprinting inside from the left wing. He chips the ball through and Fernandes latches onto it, and squares it to Xande, who's unmarked 6 yards out. He slams it into the top corner and the game's back on. We fall back into the Heróis Original system, still with a withdrawn double pivot and with Antunes also dropping back.
With only 5 minutes to go, Viana have a corner, but it's poor and Azevedo plucks it out of the air. He punts the ball forward and Kevin nods it on for Magina, in acres of space. He runs to the edge of the area and shoots left footed, but it goes just wide.
That's fine. I think to myself as the whistle blows. We were always going to concede at some point but at least that's 4 wins out of 4.
During the next week, before our Taça de Portugal 2nd round match, I make a signing. Diogo Coelho is a left back, and I think he's the left back I've been waiting for.
He's in his prime at 25 years old and he has excellent quality. He's very well rounded, fairly quick, very determined and he'll do a job technically. His decision making is pretty poor, hence the moustache, but I expect that once fit he'll be my first choice left back. We signed him on a free after he was released by Santa Clara, so he should have plenty to talk about with Serginho, and how strange is it that he spent a year on loan in 2015/16, making 33 appearances for our next opponents: LigaPro side Farense.
Farense are flying so far as they won their first 4 league games, which places them 4th out of 20 sides. Nevertheless they're coming to our place off the back of 2 straight league defeats, so I'm confident that they can be got at. Jorginho will be one to watch, as current joint top scorer in the LigaPro with 4 goals in 6.
I'll be taking no chances with my selection: Heróis Original will keep us steady and should give us a good platform to dominate the game after Farense start to tire. Azevedo is replaced by Serginho as he's still not conceded a goal, and Seidi replaces Antunes. Hurley will be our number 10 with Benjamim and Seidi behind him.
It takes 5 minutes for my plans to be shot to bits. A Sousa cross towards danger man Jorginho is volleyed by Olivier and nodded on by Benjamim, but not far away enough. Vieirinha is there 20 yards out to head the ball down for Sócrates, who takes a touch and boots it into the top left corner. This could be a very long day.
After almost half an hour the match is ridiculously one-sided against us. Esgueirão chips in a free kick from the edge of our area, but it's headed away by Miranda. Esgueirão takes it down and passes down the right for Rateira, who's unmarked. Rateira turns inside and squares it brilliantly for Sócrates, who smashes it on the half volley, but Serginho parries it wide. We counter with a decent passing move but it ends with Kevin blazing a shot well wide.
I decide that I've seen enough. "MEATLOAF!", I scream from the touchline, before turning to Antunes and gesturing for him to warm up. I'm getting some funny looks from the opposition bench but I ignore them. Antunes replaces Seidi in the 29th minute. Let's play some bloody football shall we?
We work our way back into the match, slowly but surely over the next half hour. At least it's now a contest. Just before the hour mark, Antunes intercepts a Rateira pass and plays the ball to Magina. CM9 holds it up and lays it off for Kevin. Time seems to stand still for him once more. What does Kevin do?
Kevin is 40 yards from goal. Magina, Antunes and Hurley are all 10 yards in front of him, but for some reason they're all stood together and are practically being marked by 2 Farense midfielders, Livramento and Pinto. Benjamim is stood quite a distance away, 25 yards out but level with the far, right hand post. He's an option but again, he's being closely marked by Vieirinha, so a pass would be risky. Amonike is over on the right wing with space in front to run into, but it would require an excellent pass to set the winger away. There's a gap between where Livramento and Pinto are and where Vieirinha is stood. So what does Kevin do?
He darts forwards. Livramento closes him down and sticks in a foot, but Kevin knocks the ball past him and runs around the other way. Kevin keeps running. He shimmies past the challenge of Pinto. He's 20 yards out now. Kevin draws his right foot back and rifles a shot as far into the top left corner as it could have possibly gone. The Keeper doesn't even move.
After a few seconds I realise that I'm laughing. A high pitched, maniacal laugh. Pedro has lifted me up from behind as our fans, our staff and our players all simultaneously erupt into cheers and applause. What a goal! What a bloody goal! We're back in the game!
5 minutes later, Antunes hits a free kick from just outside the area and it smashes off the bar, before Erick clears. I bring on Batista for Amonike, who's been quiet. We're in the ascendancy here and there's no room for quiet in this side.
With just under 20 minutes to go, Miranda throws the ball to Antunes on the right hand side of the Farense penalty area and he dribbles inside, losing his marker Sócrates, dashing past the static pair of Esgueirão and Vieirinha, before smashing a left footed shot towards the near top corner. He's denied by an incredible fingertip save by Hidalgo, but I shout my encouragement anyway. That was excellent from the young man.
A few minutes after, Miranda chips the ball into the centre for Hurley, who plays it on for Magina, 30 yards out. CM9 lays it back for Hurley, who passes straight to Antunes. He looks up and squeezes an excellent ball through for Batista, who gets goal-side of Esgueirão on the right. The tiny winger takes a touch, avoiding Sousa's slide tackle, and plays a low ball in to Magina, who deftly strokes it into the bottom right.
Stick a fork in this match, it's done. I sprint onto the pitch to join the top of the pile of celebrating players. What a match. What a comeback. Take that, Farense. Take that, LigaPro. Take a bow, meus Heróis.
I bring Kevin off with just minutes to go. Farense, the comfortable pre-match favourites, are out of ideas and the game is all but over. Kevin soaks in the adoration of the fans as he slowly makes his way to the sideline, high fiving his replacement, debutant Diogo Coelho, as he goes. I look round and spot Nuno watching from the front row, some way down the touchline. I give him a thumbs up and he gives me a non-committal nod in return. "Rickie Lambert", I mouth exaggeratedly to him. He scrunches up his face again and shrugs. Bloody hell, Nuno.
The First Real Test (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep30)
Look, I've got nothing against the underdogs. The scrappy "Just happy to be here" teams. I really don't, and I wish them well. We're in Beja to face off against Despertar and their Season hasn't started awfully well. After a surprisingly good 2-0 away win over Aljustrelense on the opening day, they promptly registered 2 back to back 1-1 draws against no-hopers Juventude Évora and Sp Viana Alentejo. They followed this up by getting thrown out of the Taça de Portugal at the first time of asking, courtesy of Olhanense, who are gunning for the promotion stage in Group H of our division, before getting swept aside by Barreirense. Despertar are sitting in 4th place in our group but they've already played most of the weaker sides. Quite honestly, I fear for them this season.
Hey, on a related note actually, did I mention that we're in 1st place in the group? It's been nothing, really. A Midas touch here, a sprinkle of genius there... In all seriousness I will not accept a league finish which puts us through to the relegation stage, which means a top 2 finish is a must. I'm anticipating some tough matches in October, especially against Barreirense and Pinhalnovense, so we can't afford to slip up against teams like this.
We go with Project: Meatloaf, we go with what I believe is our strongest lineup, and we go out to continue our winning streak.
Within the first 10 minutes, Hurley goes down clutching his thigh, which is worrying. He's been an extremely consistent creator for us since he arrived in Hero Creek. Luckily after he limps off the pitch to be assessed by Pedro Dalot, our head physio, we find that it's just a bruised thigh. He'll stay on for now but I'll be keeping an eye on him.
Just over 20 minutes into the match Touré heads the ball to Hurley, who's looking OK. He plays it on first time to Antunes, who brings the ball into the Despertar half with his head raised, looking for the pass. He sees Kevin on the left and plays a one-two with him, before finding Magina on the edge of the area. Magina takes the ball round a defender with 1 touch before squaring it for Hurley, who drives it low and hard into the bottom corner. We're on our way to 7 wins out of 7 in all competitions and we look unstoppable.
10 minutes later, Amonike sends a corner in but Brites heads it away. Antunes picks the loose ball up 35 yards out and brings it forward, before stroking it to Benjamim on edge of area. The centre mid turns and slots the ball through for Hurley, who hits it first time with his left peg. His shot beats the keeper but comes back off the far post. The ball starts to roll back across the line and Magina is the first man on the scene, getting there before the keeper to knock it in and double our lead.
In first half injury time it could be 3 when a good passing move culminates with Benjamim chipping the ball to CM9 on the edge of the box. The big man chests it down and gives it back, before Benjamim slides it into the area for Amonike to run onto. The winger loses his marker and gets to the ball, but blazes it well over from 10 yards with his first time shot.
At half time I replace Amonike with Batista. Not specifically because of the sitter he just missed, but rather because he seems to have gone off the boil a bit lately. He's been quiet so it can't hurt to give young Batista a bit of match time in his place.
Just before the hour mark, Antunes chips in a free kick from the right wing. Olivier nods it on at the near post and Touré arrives to volley the ball goal-wards. Unfortunately he smashes it at Carvalho, the Despertar keeper. He can't hold onto it and can only parry the ball away, before their left back Santos clears.
Shortly afterwards, Benjamim gets caught in possession just into the Despertar half. Freitas wins the ball and gets it to David, starting a slow passing move to get the ball up towards our goal, before eventually David slides the ball through for Rodrigo Borges inside our area. He turns and gives it back, and David places his shot into the top right corner via the bar.
The next 10 minutes are tense, but then Olivier plays the ball to Aires inside our half. The left back takes a touch and smashes it right footed over the Despertar defence and into the central channel. Magina latches onto it, brings it down and places it into bottom left corner to restore our cushion. I bring on Coelho for Aires, as the former needs a bit of match practice. That was a great assist from Aires though and he's played well this season. Coelho will have a job dislodging him from the starting lineup.
Only a couple of minutes later, and after a good passing move from Os Heróis, Antunes stands with the ball 35 yards out. He moves it sideways to Benjamim, who flicks it on superbly with his heel. Hurley receives the ball and plays it straight on to Magina, who finds Kevin, who holds it up and draws in a couple of defenders before releasing Magina in the area. His shot is good, but it's tipped onto the bar and cleared. Excellent move though.
5 minutes later, Antunes turns inside from the right wing and crosses left footed deep into the area, but Kevin's header is straight at Carvalho. We are hammering on the door, trying to kill the game off with a 4th goal.
And with 5 minutes to go, Antunes spreads the ball out to Batista on the right wing. He floats a deep cross to the far post but nobody's there. Samiro heads it away but only as far as Kevin, stood 8 yards out to left. He chests it down, picks his spot and smashes it into the top right corner. Game over.
Another potential banana skin and another convincing win. I know I set my standards high for this season but I have to say this team is impressing the hell out of me. The bad news is that Hurley will be out for 3-4 days with his bruised thigh but the good news is that out next match is in 10 days, so it shouldn't matter at all. By the way, we aren't going up against another minnow or another underdog. We're going up against Barreirense.
Yes, Barreirense are coming to town. This is one of the big ones. One of the true tests of who we are and what we're made of. Barreirense are 2nd in the league, 2 points behind us after winning their 1st 4 matches and most recently playing out a goalless draw with Moura. I thought that they and Pilhanovense would be our rivals this season but as it turns out, just the 2 of us are pulling away from the rest of the league. We're both undefeated. For now.
Do you know what I don't need at such a crucial moment in our season? Whining. Bruce Ávila thinks that he should be in the team instead of Kevin and I don't stop laughing until he sheepishly walks out of my office and closes the door behind him. He does have potential as a winger but come on.
We also have a tactical dilemma. Do we go with the more stable, balanced Heróis Original system as we're against such worthy opposition? Or do we stick with formation that's seen us win 7 matches in a row in all competitions?
You probably know the answer. We go unchanged.
We start brightly. Amonike's free kick from just outside the area in the 3rd minute crashes off the bar and Monsecour puts it behind.
That corner leads to nothing, but after a quarter of an hour we win another as we continue to take the game to Barreirense. Amonike swings it out to the far post, Benjamim nods it back across goal and Magina is there, but he connects poorly with his header and puts it well wide.
A few minutes later we're the ones that concede a corner. Félix swings it in and Magina heads it away as far as Brigues, who collects it 35 yards out. He holds the ball up and plays it through to Lagoa on the edge of area. Lagoa squares it to Caraballo, who passes it forwards to Severino on the penalty spot. Severino smashes the ball into the left hand side of the net.
I say nothing. I do nothing. I don't even change my expression. I can physically feel us slip to 2nd in the table. I can feel us shifting downwards and I can hear the sound of stone grinding on stone, like those big stone doors in old films. We all simultaneously drop with a loud clunk.
5 minutes later, Lagoa is pressed on his right wing, deep in the Barreirense half. He tries a clearance, but it doesn't go far and Benjamim gets to the ball, playing it straight to Antunes. The young number 10 comes forward and gives it back to Benjamim, who plays in Kevin on the right. Kevin loses his marker and whips a cross in to the far post. Dujardim misses his header and Magina gets to it, stabbing a volley home and pulling us level.
We're back on top. There is no stone grinding on stone this time, we're floating silently but smugly back up to the top where we belong, waving 2 fingers at our opponents as we go.
Just after the half hour mark, Everino comes forward and puts the ball inside to Silva, who plays it straight on for Caraballo. Caraballo holds it up, plays a one-two with Severino and then lays it off for Lagoa just inside the area, who smashes it to Serginho's right and into the back of the net once again. Bollocks. Back down we go.
Just before half time, Elói catches a weak cross from Kevin and boots the ball forwards towards us. Caraballo beats Touré to the header and nods it on for Severino, who runs forward diagonally to edge of our area and shoots with power, but the ball flies just wide.
At half time we're 2-1 down. The only other time we've been losing so far this season we were back before half time. This is worrying. Our first proper test and we're failing. I tell the lads that I'm not impressed. I expect better from them at home, no matter who we're facing.
Less than 5 minutes after the restart, Amonike steps up to take a corner and crosses it into the centre. Brigues heads the ball away as far as Benjamim, who's stood on the right hand side of the box. The midfielder plays a one-two with Magina and then smashes a shot towards goal from 8 yards. Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo falls silent. His shot bounces back off Judickas. Benjamim gets to the rebound and has another go, but his second shot bounces back off Dujardin. But then up steps our big centre back Olivier. He nips in front of Benjamim and executes a neat volley to open his account. 2-2.
With half an hour to go we need to go for it. I bring on Batista for Amonike, who apart from a couple of decent set pieces has been quiet again. With 28 minutes to go, Miranda takes a throw in on the right and gives the ball to Benjamim. He passes into the centre for Hurley, who steps forward and slides a ball through the defence for Magina to run onto. A collective intake of breath makes the ground fall silent once more. I stand in anticipation. So does Pedro. So do the fans. Magina latches onto Hurley's pass, shoots left footed, and watches as the ball nestles into the bottom left corner.
Pandemonium ensues. I'm jumping and punching the air, Pedro looks like he's about to cry, the fans are bouncing and cheering with glee. We lead Barreirense for the first time and now all we need to do is not fuck it up.
Shortly afterwards, Antunes passes the ball to Hurley, who plays another excellent through ball for Magina to run onto, but his right footed effort flies just wide.
With 15 minutes to, Antunes is sacrificed and replaced with Jaime Seidi. We revert to our Heróis Original system with Seidi as the holding man and Hurley behind Magina, where he's pretty much been playing anyway.
With less than 10 minutes to go, a neat passing move results in Benjamim finding himself with the ball at his feet 30 yards out. He dashes forward, taking on a couple of defenders before shooting high and wide from 20 yards.
But that's the last chance that either team creates. Vamos bloody Heróis!
We're still on top, and we've taken possibly the most crucial 3 points we'll take all season. Not only are we now 5 points clear of 2nd place, but we've also put down a marker. We are the only team allowed to remain unbeaten in this league. We won't be stopped by a team like Barreirense, in fact, they'll stop for us. We've got the most quality, the most desire and the most creativity in the Championship for my money. We've got the toughest defenders, the most dependable midfielders and the most clinical striker. We've floated back to the top of the pile and we're smiling smugly down at everyone down below, while they gaze enviously back at us.
God, I love this team.
Video Highlights - Yes or No? (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Meta-sode 30.5)
Olá meus amigos,
Just a quick one. You'll probably have noticed in episode 30 (If you follow this story on franjo.wordpress.com) that I have uploaded match highlights so that they can be watched on youtube. This is basically a trial. Here's what I'm thinking:
I'm always trying to make this story better and this idea could do just that, but only if the people who follow the story are interested. I like the idea of you having the option of watching the goals, especially if they're as beautiful as certain goals from a certain winger that you'll see in an episode next week, which actually inspired me to do this.
The thing is, if you guys have been following my story so far, I assume that you enjoy reading it. I've had a few people tell me they read while they're at work, where I'm assuming watching videos might not be possible. If enough of you like the idea of having the option to be able to watch the highlights, then let me know and I'll continue uploading them. I may even go back to episode 1 and start uploading them retrospectively because I'm insane.
If nobody is really interested in watching highlights in video form then that's fine, we'll carry on with our text and screenshot format, but just thought I'd throw it out there to see what you think.
Email me at [email protected]
to let me know!
Ps - Vamos Heróis!
That's Amora (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep31)
OK, we've won 8 competitive matches in a row since the start of the season. That's a 100% record. The thing about having a 100% record is that you start to become terrified of losing your 100% record. It's nonsensical. I feel like because we're doing so well the pressure on me is mounting up more than it would be if we'd dropped a few points.
It's cup day today. The third round. We've beaten a lower league side and a LigaPro side so far in the Taça de Portugal, and now we face someone on our own level.
Gouveia haven't made the best start in Group D of the Championship. They've picked up 6 points in 6 matches so we should really be turning them over.
I'm staying consistent with our lineup though, I won't be sending out the reserves because I'd quite enjoy a good cup run. We go Project: Meatloaf and we go with a very predictable lineup.
We go 1-0 up quickly when Benjamim stabs the ball home from close range after Magina helps the ball on from an Antunes pass. That's his 1st goal of the season.
Kevin nods down an Amonike corner to tee up Magina after quarter of an hour but his shot is saved brilliantly from rolling into the bottom corner by Bolas.
5 minutes later though, Magina releases Benjamim again and he drills the ball into the bottom corner from the edge of the area.
With 22 minutes gone, Lassina Touré picks up a booking and just 5 minutes later he leaps to head the ball and decides to slap it with his hand instead. He sees a 2nd yellow, which makes things tricky. I bring off Antunes, keen to give him a rest anyway, and replace him with Seidi. Our shape changes to more of a 4-1-1-2-1.
We keep pushing anyway through the rest of the first half. Magina goes close when he runs from deep but shoots straight at Bolas, and then a good cross from Vitor Miranda is nodded down for Magina by Amonike, but the usually clinical striker blazes the ball over from just inside the area.
At half time we keep the same shape but change our system to the more reserved Heróis Original. Diogo Coelho comes on for Amonike.
It takes less than 30 seconds of the second half for Coelho to play a great ball through for Kevin at the far post, but his half volley comes back off the post.
After an hour I give Bruce Ávila a run out. Kevin gives the armband to Jaime Seidi as he makes his way off.
10 minutes later, Tiago Silva (Not that one) gets on the end of a great Gnahore through ball and slots the ball away to make things interesting.
From then on we try to kill the game with counter attacks. Mauro Aires goes closest when he takes down a Seidi free kick and puts the ball just over, but when our 3rd goal does come it seems familiar. Magina sets up Benjamim, who boots it into the top corner. For those keeping count, that's 3 assists for Magina and a superb, unexpected and completely deserved hat trick for our number 17.
What can we do to put a cherry on top of that win then? How about a new long term contract for Carlos Antunes? Go on then. To be fair we agreed this contract shortly after he made his debut for the club but he's only just turned 17 so has only just been able to sign. I am very pleased. He's getting better and better, he's proved himself to be mature beyond his years and he's shown that he's absolutely ready for the starting first team spot I've given him since Medeiros left.
Incidentally, with the Belgian Pro League about a third of the way done, Medeiros has sadly only made 2 substitute appearances. He's got work to do if he's to break into the first team by the look of it.
I'd tell you how Marco Silveira's doing at Craiova but I honestly couldn't give less of a shit. In fact looking through our list of outgoing transfers from the Summer, the only one that really interests me apart from Jordanes is Diogo Silva, a young centre back that I doubt I ever mentioned to you. He was 4th choice so I don't think that he ever featured for me last season, and because of the imminent arrivals of Olivier and Touré I allowed his contract to run out in the hopes that he'd go and get first team football somewhere else. And he is. He's getting a fair bit of game time for a little club from Merseyside named Tranmere Rovers.
Anyway, up next is Amora at our place. Amora have the worst goal difference in the league with -9. They sit in 8th place having lost half of their matches and won just the once.
The only changes we make are Batista coming in on the right in place of Amonike, who hasn't been having a massive impact of late, and Seidi coming in for the suspended Touré at the back.
We start well, which is starting to become a very pleasing trait of ours. Batista instantly justifies his inclusion when he swings a cross in to the edge of the area in the 7th minute. Kevin hits the ball on the volley and it bounces off Magina on the way in.
Seidi gets the ball into the back of the net after quarter of an hour after an Antunes free kick is nodded on by Olivier, but the goal doesn't count as Jaime had strayed offside.
Never mind though, 5 minutes later a great passing move ends in Magina getting yet another assist. This time he plays Antunes through and the young number 10 celebrates his new contract by drilling the ball past poor Kiko to double our lead.
I'm quite hopeful of putting 1 or 2 more past Kiko before half time, but as it transpires the rest of the half is cagier. It's not until 10 minutes after half time that we go close again. Benjamim threads a pass through for Batista on the right, but he drags his shot wide of the far post.
2 minutes later we do bag another, and Magina bags another assist. He's had an incredible start to the season. This time he lays the ball off for Hurley, who slams the ball to Kiko's right from the edge of the area.
With half an hour to go Batista again puts the ball wide of the far post when Magina puts him through. Shooting is definitely something to work on for him.
I bring on Renato Silva for the last 20 minutes to give him a chance to shine. Magina makes way and Silva instantly sets up Hurley for a good chance, but Kiko gets his hands to the ball possibly for the first time.
For the last 10 minutes I give Rúby and Ávila a run out, and with 6 minutes to go, Amora decide that they're ready to play some football. Pardal squares the ball for Afonso, who takes a touch and smashes it off the bar. At least the away fan had something to get out of his seat for eh?
So that's 10 wins in 10. I'm still terrified of losing our 100% record for some daft reason, but Magina has no such concerns. He's in the form of his life, having scored 10 goals and assisted 8, and it's an absolute pleasure to have him in the squad.
After our next 2 matches, we'll have reached the half way point of the first phase. But we've still got to get through Pinhalnovense and Fabril do Barreiro, who are 3rd and 4th respectively. And bloody hell if we can beat both of them, I'd back us to win all 18 matches.
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