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

My Name is Franjo. And I will be a Football Manager.
Started on 8 May 2017 by Wtfranjo
Latest Reply on 6 May 2018 by Wtfranjo
Year 3 World Roundup (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode

Do you want to know the worst thing about being a journeyman manager?

All the packing. I hate packing. I despise it. I'm the kind of person who'll pack very begrudgingly the night before going on holiday, and then live out of my suitcase while I'm there so that I don't have to unpack and then pack again a few days later. I just can't be arsed.

It's for this reason that my suitcase currently lies empty on my bed. Well I say empty, but Burnie's decided that it's a damn fine place to have a sleep, so he's curled up in there. Right now though, that's my excuse for not packing. Let sleeping cats lie, right? Right.

Let's procrastinate. Let's have a look at what's been going on around this big blue football we call Erf, shall we?

It's become increasingly clear over the last 3 years that Arsene Wenger has been the victim of an "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" style abduction. Because there is no way that the Arsene Wenger we all know and love has guided his team to a third successive title! Not only that, but he's Manager of the Year once again!

Compared to his Arsenal side's last 2 title wins though, this one was a bit trickier. They came out a solitary point higher than Conte's Chelsea in 2nd place. Admittedly though, they wrapped up the league with a match to spare and had their flip flops on when Mark Warburton's Newcastle visited on the final day, allowing Chelsea to close the gap and save face.

The big 6, none of whom have changed their managers in the last 3 years, were all once again in the top 6, this time joined by Brendan Rodgers' Leicester City in the final European spot. Walter Mazzarri's Watford now seem to be establishing themselves as a top half club, while West Ham plummeted down to 15th after successive top 8 finishes in the last 2 years, despite the £40m signing of Christian Benteke. My old pal Slaven Bilic was sacked in March and replaced by Maurizio Sarri. The mighty Toffees seem to be getting closer to relegation with each year that passes, but they sacked Ronald Koeman at the end of the season, so hopefully new manager Michael Laudrup will bring about a change in fortunes.

In terms of relegation, Mika Lehkosuo couldn't keep his job after taking Fulham straight back down, despite being the one who got them up there in the first place, and has been replaced by Robbie Neilson. Another of last year's promoted sides, Derby County, went straight back down too, costing Steve McClaren his job by the end of 2018. Up and coming Scottish Manager Stevie Crawford took over the Rams, but couldn't charge them out of the drop zone. The last team to be heading for the Championship is Sunderland. They actually let David Moyes off the hook for relegating them in 2017 and he got them back up the next season. Taking them straight back down again though was seen as an excessive amount of failure by the Black Cats' hierarchy and they've curiously appointed former Wales International and lower League One side Wycombe Wanderers' boss Rob Page as his replacement. I'm interested to see how he does.

Anyway, Chelsea's Mauro Icardi was the Premier League's top scorer this season with 22, just ahead of Bournemouth's Callum Wilson. At 27, Callum's scored 54 goals in his last 3 seasons and is now worth £32m, which is great to see for an English lad. He's only made 1 appearance for the national side somehow though, despite the fact that Eddie Howe was appointed England Manager last year.

Mesut Özil and Nathaniel Clyne both had outstanding seasons for their clubs, while City's Ilkay Gündogan and Sunderland's Oriol Romeu got the most assists. Alexis Sánchez, still at Arsenal of course because he's incredibly loyal and content, was voted Players' Player of the Year and Footballer of the Year, while Dele Alli bagged his 3rd Players' Young Player of the Year award in 4 years and his Spurs teammate Hugo Lloris picked up the Golden Glove.

The team of the year exclusively features players from the top 6, with Arsenal's Özil and Sánchez, Chelsea's Aymeric Laporte and Icardi, Tottenham's Lloris, Alli and Eriksen, Liverpool's Clyne, City's Otamendi and De Bruyne, and United's Daley Blind.

Coming up to the Premier League are Brian McClair's Southampton and Burnley, who were brought up but then abandoned by the Goodison-bound Michael Laudrup. Both sides are back up at the second time of asking, and are joined by Crystal Palace, who sacked Laurent Blanc in February and replaced him with Claude Makélélé, who successfully guided them to and through the play offs. If I was a betting man, I'd put my money on Patrick Vieira to be Claude's eventual replacement. I think I see a pattern emerging. Shout out to Brian Deane too, while we're on the Championship. He saw that his beloved Sheffield United were in trouble and leapt into action, taking over at Aston Villa and sending them down to League One instead of the Blades. Now that's dedication.

En España, the top 2 have finally been broken up, allowing the perennial underdogs FC Barcelona to get their moment in the sun. I actually feel really sorry for their fans, having not seen their side win the league since 2016, so good on them. And fair play to 'Manager of the Year' Luis Enrique's side, the title race was not close. They finished 16 points ahead of Simeone's Atleti, and 18 ahead of Zizou's Real Madrid. Zidane got the sack at the end of the season, which is really disappointing for the footballing world, but the massively experienced Marcelino has left Porto to take over.

Luis Suárez had a great season, scoring by far the most goals, putting on consistently excellent performances, and even pipping Leo Messi to the Player of the Year award; an accomplishment only equalled once in the last 9 years by Cristiano Ronaldo. Simone Zaza of Valencia scored the second most goals, while Celta Vigo's highly rated young midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur got the most assists, followed by Real Sociedad's Recio. Real's Keylor Navas won the Goalkeeper of the Year award for the 3rd straight season.

Surprisingly Cristiano Ronaldo is only named on the bench in La Liga's Team of the Season, and there's no place for Simone Zaza at all! Navas is in net, with Athletico Madrid's £35m 2018 signing Alessandro Florenzi and Real Madrid trio Sergio Ramos, Raphaël Varane, and Nacho across the back. Across midfield, Bentancur, Recio, Messi and Neymar are the picks, with Suárez and Sevilla's Franco Vázquez up front.

The German Bundesliga has surprisingly dropped below the Premier League and Serie A in the European standings recently. Unsurprisingly though, Carlo Ancelotti's Bayern Munich won the league for the 7th time in a row. I've got to tell you though... 'Bundesliga Manager of the Year' Thomas Tuchel's Borussia Dortmund were so, so close. With 33 out of 34 matches played, they sat in 1st place, with Bayern a point behind them, and then they went and lost to Hertha bloody Berlin. At home. And Bayern won away at Mainz to snatch the title.

Roger Schmidt's Bayer Leverkusen couldn't quite keep up with the top 2, despite having the 2 highest goalscorers in the league: £24m signing Timo Werner and Javier "Chicarito" Hernández. As usual, Bayern put on a defensive masterclass, with Players' Player of the Year David Alaba and Mats Hummels the standout performers. Leverkusen's Kevin Kampl and Red Bull Leipzig's Naby Keïta were the top assisters and Manuel Neuer was unsurprisingly the top keeper.

The Team of the Year was made up mainly of Bayern players, with Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Javi Martinez, Mats Hummels, David Alaba, Douglas Costa and Renato Sanches all making the cut. Naby Keïta, Marco Reus, Mario Götze and Timo Werner made up the rest of the team.

Serie A went pretty much back to normal this year I'm afraid. Spalletti's Roma, following their dramatic last gasp title win last year, reverted to type and got in line behind the Champions: Jardim's Juventus.

Udinese were the surprise package in the league, snatching an unlikely European spot and earning manager Luigi Delneri the Manager of the year award. A big factor in the achievement was their equally unlikely strike partnership of Stipe Perica and Jay Rodriguez, who bagged 30 goals and 12 assists between them.

Perica finished a not-so-close second in the goalscoring charts though, with Paulo Dybala having another scintillating season in front of goal. Dybala won the Serie A Player of the Year award and shone in a Juve side that also benefitted from the stunning defensive form of Leonardo Bonucci and Gigi Buffon's replacement, Gerónimo Rulli, who won the Goalkeeper of the Year award.

The team of the year's back 6 consisted of 5 Juventus players; Rulli, Bonucci, Sami Khedira, Alex Sandro and William Carvalho, along with Cristian Ansaldi of Inter. Napoli's Jorginho and AC Milan's Giacomo Bonavetura are in midfield, and there's a front 3 of Roma's Mo Salah, Juve's Dybala and Fiorentina's Federico Chiesa.

Paris Saint Germain have taken back their throne in Ligue 1, with manager Unai Emery winning the Manager of the Year award for finally pegging José Barros' AS Monaco back. Edison Cavani's 25 goals helped, as did £31.5m signing Gianluigi Donnarumma's Goalkeeper of the Year winning performances.

Monaco were 10 points behind the Champions in the end, but still had a good season thanks to the goals of Alexandre Lacazette and the incredible performances of Bernardo Silva, while left winger Kylian Mbappé won the Player of the Season award. PSG's £74m 2017 signings Thiago Alcântara got the most assists in the league, followed by Lyon's Sergi Darder.

The Team of the Season was made up almost entirely of players from the top 2, with PSG's Donnarumma, Serge Aurier, Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Thiago Alcântara and Edison Cavani joined by Monaco's Fabinho, Thomas Lemar, Bernardo Silva and Mbappé. Marseille's Ludwig Augustinsson rounds out the numbers.

It's funny looking at these leagues. They may as well all be taking place on a different Planet they're so far away. But one day I'll manage in one of them. Maybe all of them. One day.

My attention is caught by Burnie, standing and stretching, before stepping out of the suitcase and plopping onto the floor. I'd better start packing I suppose. Next stop - South Africa.
Stevie & Chappie (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode

I've never been outside Europe before, you know. Never. I've always wanted to though. There's certain countries that I've always been wary of visiting, like Australia, purely because it seems like it's designed specifically to eat, poison, or just generally kill humans, what with all the sharks, spiders, snakes, stingrays etc, but I'd still go. I want to explore these places. I want to see them all. The thought does cross my mind though, as I sit quietly like a brave boy and receive my jabs for Diphtheria, Cholera, Hepititis A and B, Rabies, Tetanus and Typhoid, that I may be jumping right into the deep end here.

My flight from Katowice takes 15 hours, with a quick 90 minute stop in Frankfurt, before eventually touching down in Cape Town. From there, I catch a train to the small and relatively quiet suburb of Lansdowne. My new home.

Maybe it's the fact that I'm so drastically unenlightened to life outside of my European bubble, but I'd sort of expected Africa to be a 24/7 safari. I'd heard that Cape Town was inhabited by Otters, Seals, Wildebeest, Mongooses, Porcupines, Aardvarks, Leopards and Baboons, so to find my new digs on a quiet suburban street with no herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the main road is a huge disappointment.

I've rented a 5th floor apartment in quite a small block of flats, set back slightly from the road behind a mesh security fence. It's a fairly nice building, with a sign next to the door that reads "Geen Rook Nie". I assume that this is the name of the building. It sounds pretty exotic.

After a few minutes, I'm joined outside the security gate by a man that I recognise to be my new landlord, Stevie. He's a tall, heavily built bloke with bronze skin and a friendly look about him. His hair's braided into cornrows and he's wearing the 2019/2020 Santos FC Home shirt, which was only released yesterday. Trotting alongside Stevie is a dog; Some kind of collie cross by the looks of it, although my dog breed knowledge has never been fantastic. She's panting excitedly at Stevie's heel as she watches me.

"There's your keys, bra", he says, with probably too much enthusiasm for such a mundane event. He hands me a trio of keys on a ring: One for the gate, another for the Geen Rook Nie building and a third for my flat.

"Cheers", I mutter. "Want me to sign that?" I gesture to the Santos shirt.

Stevie grins. "Let's see how you fare first, bru, eh?"

"Probably fair enough" I grin. "What's you dog's name?" I glance down at the Collie-ish dog, who is still watching me with interest, her tongue lolling out as she pants.

"She's called Chappie. Say hello Cha..." Stevie is cut off as Chappie lunges towards me, almost knocking me over. She jumps up and rests her front paws on my stomach, supporting herself with just her hind legs, and I give her a stroke and a scratch behind the ear. It's only now that I appreciate just how big Chappie is; she's almost as tall as me now that she's stood up on her hind legs. After getting a good look at me, Chappie lowers herself back onto four feet and goes back to Stevie's heel. I smile as I watch her, then I look back at Stevie.

"Nice dog", I smile. He smiles and nods. "So you're a Santos fan then?" I ask, pretty redundantly.

"Ya, nee, all my life, bru." He replies proudly.

"Go on then, what have I let myself in for?" I ask, anxious to get a fan's perspective on my new club.

Stevie thinks for a moment. "Santos is the people's team, bru. We aren't the oldest club in the world, but we're proud, you know?" His face suddenly turns very serious. "If you want my honest opinion bra, the players we have aren't great. They aren't bad, but they aren't great. We stayed up last year, but it could still be tough trying to keep us up."

I furrow my brow. "So what would you do if you were me?"

"Ag man, unless you can buy a whole new team..." Stevie scratches his chin and sighs. "You've got to get more out of them", he concludes unconvincingly. It's not the helpful and insightful 'voice of the fans' that I'd been hoping for.

I thank Stevie, give Chappie another scratch behind the ear, and make my way through the gate, into the building and into my new flat. My cats, Meatloaf and Burnie, are already in there. For a moment, I question how that's actually possible, but then I just accept it as the explanation is probably dull and not worth thinking about too much.

After initially dismissing Stevie's words as unhelpful, I find myself going over them in my head that night. How do you get the best out of what you've got? How do you lift mediocre players to the point where they can challenge the best in the league?

I've got some ideas.
Quick note:

Sorry guys but time's been tighter than usual the last couple of months, hence me delaying episodes so much. Daily eps will start again NEXT Monday now (2nd October)


So, I know I said that I was pushing the story back just a week, but I’m aftaid it’s going to be a bit longer. I can’t get it sorted at the minute and instead of being enjoyable it’s only serving to stress me out. I will be back, but it’ll be at least another week.
apologies, speak to you all soon
Brexit (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode

I glance around my flat, searching for something to do. Something to talk about. Anything. Anything at all. I’m so bored. There’s nothing new with Meatloaf and Burnie. Meatloaf’s still a dickhead and Burnie’s still the lovable scaredy cat. I’ve currently got no tactical decisions to make, no transfers on the horizon, no drama at all in fact, footballing or otherwise. I take a deep breath and let out a long sigh... Fine, let’s talk about Brexit.

The United Kingdom is, to quote Graham Chapman, a silly place. It’s a silly place where rich silly people tell poor silly people to vote for laughably silly things. The poor silly people, just to compound the misery of everyone involved, then proceed to vote for the laughably silly things. The upshot of this is that the Kingdom is basically fucked. The silly people will stay imprisoned in a jail of their own making, breeding with other silly imprisoned people and creating silly imprisoned children, who will grow up and vote for an entirely new generation of silly people and laughably silly things, thus completing the silly circle of life in the United Kingdom. Anyway, I’ve decided to stay very neutral, journalistic and professional about the whole thing as I tell you all about how Brexit has played out back in Great Britain.

In truth, the warning signs were there for all to see in early 2018 when Theresa May resigned her post as Prime Minister due to a lack of support and a publicity stunt by bookmakers BetFred went horribly wrong when the public voted in Robbie Savage as her replacement, narrowly beating Alan Curbishley in the polls. Robbie Savage, to give him his dues, was a pretty horrific footballer but a decent defensive midfielder. He was actually like a “Premier League standard” version of me in my playing days, so I can’t really have a go in that regard. Since retirement, he’s been a regular presenter on the BBC’s pit of unrelenting toxicity known as the 606 phone in, and more recently the Fletch and Sav show, which to be honest I’ve never watched, so I can’t really comment. The Welshman was faced with a sink or swim round of negotiations to determine the fate of the UK and their relations with the EU, and much like in his playing days he went diving into the metaphorical ocean with 2 feet and studs raised, dropping like a sack of spuds deep beneath the waves. To put it simply, it turns out that Robbie Savage is unable to negotiate. My homeland was left with a ridiculously confusing and long-winded deal. Mind you, it just wouldn’t be political negotiations if the outcome wasn’t wordy, confusing and needlessly complicated, so here we go...

So whether a non-domestic player is signing for an English club with or without a pre-existing work permit or even if he’s just renewing his contract, the rules that determine if a permit is granted are the same, in as much as he must have played in a certain percentage of his nation’s recent International matches. If his national team is in the top 10 in the FIFA World rankings, he must have played 30% of their recent matches. If the nation is in the top 20, then it’s 45%. In the top 30 it’s 60% and in the top 50 it’s 75%. To be honest I’ve no idea what happens if the poor bloke made the unfortunate decision to be born and raised in a nation outside the top 50, but I would imagine that they’re just out on their arse. If the work permit is not granted, the club must wait 120 days before applying again.

Of course, the club could choose to appeal the decision. If the club appeals, then the decision is postponed and a work permit can be granted as long as the player ticks enough of the boxes to convince the powers that be that he deserves a chance to come over and play football. The boxes are as follows (Player needs 4 points to gain a work permit on appeal):

3 points are given if the transfer fee paid for the player is in the top 25% of Premier League transfers in the last 2 windows. Currently in the Premier League the bar to beat is £9.25M, but I imagine that fees will increase to beat that figure, driving the average up, and hence raising the bar that needs to be beaten. This could get messy. 2 points are given if the fee is in the top 50% over the same period (Currently £3.7M).

Another way to bag 3 of the 4 points required is if the player’s proposed wage would put them in the top 25% of the 30 highest earners at the club. Again, 2 points are given if they’ll be among the top 50%.

1 point is given if the player being signed is currently an “active player” for a club playing in the top 6 leagues in Europe or the top 2 leagues in South America. “Active player” is an extremely ambiguous description and will undoubtably lead to arguments. In other words, it fits perfectly into the football rule book.

Simple, eh? Of course not. You got ripped off, Savage. We all got ripped off.

So let’s just think about the fallout from the deal that the former Blackburn Rovers midfielder made with the European Union. Firstly, because of the work permit appeal system, the teams with money will still be able to get any player they want, giving them another advantage over the rest. Just tack an extra few million onto the fee and an extra £15k onto the weekly wage and you’re sorted. I hate this. I hate this with a fucking passion. The gap between the rich clubs and everyone else will grow exponentially because of these bloody rules, making the Premier League more predictable, which is the worst thing it could be.

Secondly, I’ve already mentioned the fact that everyone tacking on a few more million every time they want to sign a player will raise the average transfer fee, which will mean that everyone needs to tack a few more million on. The same goes for wages. These rules are going to accelerate inflation in football! Accelerate inflation! As if it needs any bloody help! As if the amount of money swilling around the game isn’t already utterly laughable.

Finally, as I’ve mentioned, throwing yet another ambiguous rule regarding “Active players” into football that’s “At the discretion of XYZ” will only end in tears and will ironically make the 606 phonelines that Savage used to abide explode with furious football fans, just itching to give their “controversial” 2 cents about the direction in which the game’s going.

By the way, I understand that this doesn’t affect us at the minute, but my career is only just beginning. I guarantee you I will head back to Blighty eventually, and when I do I’m going to have to deal with all this shite. For now though I’m going to settle into my new job and my new flat in Lansdowne and let Mourinho, Guardiola and co deal with it.

So to summarise, top level football is going to be more predictable, even more advantageous to the rich and even more ambiguous from now on. Fuck you, Savage. Fuck you, Brexit.
2017-09-11 19:58#246266 Wtfranjo :
2017-09-11 12:08#246261 Shortie_H4H : Love this Mate. It has inspired me to do a Journeyman save. Started unemployed. First Job I got after loads of attempts was Wuhan Zall in Chinese 2nd Div. Got them promoted. I then managed Shijiazhuang YongChang in the Super League. Won it in the first season and moved to Club Coronel Bolegnesi in Peru. Spent a couple of seasons with them. Currently at Kaiser Chiefs in SA in 2021. Keep the Good writing up!!

Cheers bud! Really rewarding type of save isn't it, this is my first proper journeyman save so sort of working it out as I go along haha.
That's a great start to your journey, I've been eyeing China up for ages, would love to get over there at some point. Peru's not in the default database right? Did you have to add custom leagues or am I being daft?
Keep me updated bud, would love to know where you end up!

Good to see you back writing mate. I think Peru is already in the default database. I have not added anything. China was ok but the rules and regulations are a bit of a headache, can only have 3 foreigners and can only sign a certain amount of chinese under 21. Only lasted a season with Kaiser Chiefs, they were by far the best team in the league, didn't like the lack of challenge. I moved to Girona FC in Spanish 2nd, currently in my 4th season with them. Sitting in 5th in La Liga in Jan 2025. Got them building a new stadium, upgraded all the youth and training facilities to a good level and I am aiming for their first ever European place this season. It is really rewarding building a team up, debating whether to make Girona a long term project now!!
Brilliant mate :) yeah building up a team has got to be the most satisfying thing in FM, hope you get into Europe!

I reckon if I was just playing the game and not writing a story I’d have stuck with Angrense and tried to build them up, maybe challenge Benfica, Sporting and Porto at the top. No regrets though, lookin forward to managing in South africa for the first time, but I think the challege level will be slightly higher than with Kaiser Chiefs, Santos aren’t all that great :D
Procrastination (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode

What kind of Manager am I? I stare at the two sheets of paper on the desk in front of me. Well I stare past them, really. I stare at the desk. I stare at the spot in the desk where somebody’s taken a big chip out of the wood, right in the centre, so that when you put the paper down and write on it your pen goes through, and you need to go and get another sheet and move it to the side of the chip. What kind of Monster would do such a thing? What kind of arse hole takes a chunk out of the centre of the writing desk in a furnished flat, just to spite the next tenant?

I stare at the sheets of paper again. I force myself. I procrastinate far too often for a grown man. I feel like I’m trying to study for my GCSE’s again. I’d have my Biology textbook open on the same page for about 5 hours while I watched Gavin and Stacey “In the background”, forcing myself to look down for about 10 seconds every half hour or so, so that the only thing that sinks in is “Osmosis is the net movement of water particles through a partially permeable membrane from high to low concentration.” Never even came up in the exam. It never came up and here I am 10 years later, able to remember that sentence but not the names of vague acquaintances that I’ve met more than enough times for them to sink in. I’m able to remember that sentence, but I can’t remember to take my bags for life back to the pissing supermarket. I must have spent at least a grand on 50p carrier bags since their introduction. I’m the exact opposite of an eco-warrior. I might as well be dumping toxic waste into the sea. I might as well be kicking sea-lions directly in the face.

It happened again didn’t it. Focus, man. This is important. After a year like I’ve just had I need to come up with a tactical plan so brilliant, so groundbreaking, that the name WT Franjo is catapulted into the spotlight of world football. As a success, not a failure. That’s important. So why is it so difficult? I’ve had my first training session with Santos, I’ve made my notes on all the lads, and I just need to write down eleven names and a shit tonne of arrows. And then do it again. I need more than one system after all.

So what kind of Manager am I? Am I the kind of Manager that imposes a system on the players he inherits? The kind that imposes a system and buys a load of new players to fit it? Or am I the kind of Manager who gets the best out of what he already has, maybe with one or two adjustments? Am I Type 1, 2 or 3?

With Höllviken I was type 3, although that was rather imposed upon me. I only made signings to get 11 names on the team sheet. With Angrense... My beloved Angrense... I was type 3 again, surely. Yes I signed Hurley, but that first half season I largely made do. With Katowice, I’d have to say that I was type 2. I did need to sign centre backs because we didn’t have any, but I then proceeded to go a bit mad, signing a raft of new players and expecting them to gel with the existing ones.

So overall, I’m type 3. There is no type 2.6666666 so I’m type 3. I’ll make the most out of what I have. Now if I can just figure out what that is, I’ll really be onto a winner.
Foxy (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep76)

Life in Lansdowne is off to a promising start. The players are enthusiastic and optimistic, and they're adapting to my new systems well. My adopted assistant manager, Keith America, seems to borderline know what he's doing, and best of all, I've found that Santos are a very sensibly run club, which means that on the downside there's not much money for me to spend on the squad, but on the upside I've started my National B License course, authorised by the Chairman Goolam Allie and funded with Santos’ pretty decent bank balance.

My landlord Stevie was onto something with regards to the players. They aren't terrible, but they aren't great. They're a bit so-so. My new systems are designed to get the best out of them. As is customary, allow me to introduce you to my preliminary starting XI.

Goalkeeper - No 31 - Dino Visser

I should probably mention straight off the bat that the quality of players here in the Premier Soccer League (PSL) is lower than it was in Poland, mainly due to strict Homegrown quotas and work permit regulations. So with that in mind, our new shot stopper Dino Visser is what I would describe as "The bare minimum". He's tall with good reach, handling, reflexes and agility. As we get to know the league it might turn out that he's on par with the other clubs' goalkeepers, but for some reason I doubt it. The good news though is that at 29 he's just coming into his prime and has some good experience behind him.

Right Defensive Full Back - No 4 - Jino Moeketsi

Moe is exactly the kind of full back that I like. I've never managed at a big club that can afford fancy attacking wingbacks, so I like my fullbacks to be tall, defensively minded and solid. Moe is just that.

Centre Back - No 15 - Issouf Paro

I don't want to toot my own horn, but I've got a 100% record of getting the best out of Burkinabe International centre backs. This gives me hope for the thrice capped Paro, who is strong technically and physically, but could be prone to switching off and making the odd mistake.

Defensive Centre Back - No 23 - Nathan Gertse

Nathan has played most of his career at right back, I presume because of his pretty decent pace, but for me he's a centre back. He'll form a very physically imposing partnership with Paro.

Left Defensive Full Back - No 13 - Aidan Jenniker

I could just repeat what I said about full backs a second ago, but you get the idea. Jenniker is solid and defensive, with the added bonus that he's not bad going forwards either.

Ball Winning Defensive Midfielder - No 12 - Marothi Diale

It will become clear in a second when I talk about the system why I see Marothi as a potentially important player for us. He's energetic, defensively excellent and aggressive enough, but like a lot of the others he lacks determination, which worries me.

Deep Lying Playmaker - No 8 - Sandile Sibande

The only 2 things that annoy me about Sandile are that his decision making is poor, and that his surname is just not quite an anagram of Sinbad. But you know I'm going to call him Sinbad anyway. Other than those 2 things, he really is a Rolls Royce of a player for a team like us. He's great on the ball, good defensively, and an excellent worker and team player. Remember the name, because Sinbad is going to be an extremely important player for us.

Left Winger - No 6 - Sello Japhta

Sello is going to be important for us too. You can have all the good defensive players you like, but you also need an outlet to start counter attacks. Sello has pace, flair, and times his runs well, on top of having a decent end product.

Right Winger - No 9 - Ryan Moon

Ryan's an interesting player. He says that his best position is up front, but I see him as a right winger. Like Sello, he's pacy and has some tricks up his sleeve, but with Ryan it's all about the end product. He's got great technique, a wonderful first touch, can dribble fantastically and has a hell of a shot on him.

Attacking Midfielder - No 11 - Suhayl Allie

I've chosen to cut out the middle of Suhayl Allie's name, and he'll be addressed as Sullie. He's one of the younger players in this fairly old team at just 24 and I'm not entirely sure if we'll be able to depend on him, but for the time being he's the best attacking midfielder we have. He's pretty good on the ball, with good technique, first touch and passing, he's very physically fit and has decent pace and flair. Watch this space, because he could be our star player... Or he could be a complete flop.

Poacher & Vice Captain - No 10 - Emil Sambou

Finally we need a goalscorer, so say hello to Emil Sambou. He and Paro are the only non-South-African players to be in my preliminary XI. Sambou is a Gambian international, who plays alongside the fairly well known former Swansea and now Preston North End striker Modou Barrow at International level. Emil is great off the ball, has decent enough pace and can finish with his boots or his head. As a traditional poacher I think he'll do very well indeed.

Captain - No 5 - Philani Cele

It would be remiss of me not to mention our skipper, Philani Cele. As you'll probably have gathered over the last 3 years, I'm not someone who will charge into a new club and just give the armband to whoever I like. I like to keep the existing captain in place for at least a season, but for the first time having joined my new club, I'm not sure whether the captain will have a guarenteed spot in my starting XI. Luckily, Philani is a bit of a utility player who's comfortable on the right side of defence or midfield, as well as at centre back and defensive midfield. He's pretty good defensively but technically limited, which isn't a huge problem for those positions. He's mentally strong and physically imposing at 6'3", and although he's not in my preliminary lineup I'm sure he'll get plenty of football when the season gets going.

I found inspiration in 2 very different places when coming up with our new systems: Firstly, for the preliminary lineup that you've just seen, I looked at Claudio Ranieri's 2015/16 Leicester City side, hence Project: Foxy:

There are similarities between us and that Leicester team, definitely. We have pace in the final third, tonnes of it, which means that a counter attacking playstyle may be our only option at the minute. We have solid defenders, a vicious ball winning midfielder, a quality ball player, a good balance between attacking impetus, creativity and willingness to keep the shape on the wings and a (hopefully) decent enough strike force to tie it all together. I just need to make sure that the team is well drilled and make us as difficult to beat and as lethal on the counter attack as Ranieri's side was.

The other place that I found inspiration was... In fact, I'll keep that to myself for now. You'll see Project: CO in due course.
South African Premier Soccer League 101 (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 76.5)

Here we go then. We’ve met some of our new players, we’ve met my new assistant Keith, and now it’s time to meet the 16 sides that make up the South African Premier Soccer League.

Ajax Cape Town

From: Cape Town

Ground: Cape Town Stadium

Last Season: 9th

Predicted: 6th

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

Bloemfontein Celtic

From: Bloemfontein

Ground: Dr. Rantlai Petrus Molemela Stadium

Last Season: 12th

Predicted: 8th

Rivals in the Premier Soccer League: N/A

Cape Town City Football Club

From: Cape Town

Ground: Cape Town Stadium

Last Season: 5th

Predicted: 7th

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

Chippa United Football Club

From: Port Elizabeth

Ground: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium

Last Season: 8th

Predicted: 11th

Rivals in the Premier Soccer League: N/A

Golden Arrows Football Club

From: Durban

Ground: King Zwelithini Stadium

Last Season: 10th

Predicted: 10th

Rivals in the Premier Soccer League: N/A

Highlands Park

From: Johannesburg

Ground: Highlands Park Stadium

Last Season: 11th

Predicted: 15th

Rivals in the Premier Soccer League: N/A

Kaizer Chiefs Football Club

From: Soweto

Ground: FNB Stadium

Last Season: 2nd

Predicted: 1st

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

Maritzburg United

From: Pietermaritzburg

Ground: Harry Gwala Stadium

Last Season: 7th

Predicted: 9th

Rivals in the Premier Soccer League: Golden Arrows

Mthatha Bucks Football Club

From: Pietermaritzburg

Ground: Harry Gwala Stadium

Last Season: Champions in and promoted from the South African National First Division

Predicted: 13th

Rivals in the Premier Soccer League: N/A

Orlando Pirates

From: Johannesburg

Ground: Orlando Stadium

Last Season: Champions

Predicted: 3rd

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

Polokwane City Football Club

From: Polokwane

Ground: Peter Mokaba Stadium

Last Season: 14th

Predicted: 14th

Rivals in the Premier Soccer League: N/A

Santos Football Club

From: Lansdowne (Cape Town)

Ground: Athlone Stadium

Last Season: 13th

Predicted: 12th

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

Mamelodi Sundowns

From: Pretoria

Ground: Loftus Versfield

Last Season: 3rd

Predicted: 2nd

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

SuperSport United

From: Pretoria

Ground: Lucas Masterpieces Moripe Stadium

Last Season: 4th

Predicted: 5th

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

Thanda Royal Zulu FC

From: Richards Bay

Ground: Umhlathuze Central Sports Complex

Last Season: 3rd, promoted from the South African National First Division

Predicted: 16th

Rivals in the Premier Soccer League: N/A

Bidvest Wits

From: Johannesburg

Ground: Bidvest Stadium

Last Season: 6th

Predicted: 4th

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

So the good news is that after surviving the Portuguese Championship and the Lotto Ekstraklasa where the Leagues started splitting up and going into little mini-leagues, the PSL is actually pretty straightforward. 16 teams play each other twice, so 30 games in all. The top 2 in the League qualify for the African Champions League Preliminary Round, the 3rd and 4th placed sides qualify for the African Confederation Cup, depending on who wins the SA Cup, and the bottom team is relegated. I mean, yes the team that finishes 2nd bottom goes into a play-off mini-league with the 2nd and 3rd placed sides from the 2nd tier, but still. Overall it's quite a straightforward system.

And I actually feel pretty good about this league. Am I wrong? Am I just naive, or does this feel OK? The board expect us to stay clear of a relegation scrap. Santos have had 2 solid seasons back in the top flight, and that was without me! Under the guidance now of a practically never relegated Manager like me, I feel like this club can not only avoid the drop but really push on up the League.

And the other thing is that if we can push towards the upper echelons of the league, it actually looks pretty open. Kaizer Chiefs won it in 2017 with Supersport United, Sundowns and Ajax CT well behind them, then they won it again with Sundowns, Supersport United and Orlando Pirates chasing, and then last year Orlando Pirates won it, closely followed by Kaizer Chiefs, Sundowns and Supersport United. There seems to be a fair bit of fluctuation up there. Ajax CT have plummeted down to 9th place in the last 2 years, while Orlando Pirates finished 6th and 4th before winning the league. If you ask me, there's room for anyone to break into the top 4 club, and I don't see why it can't be us. Eventually.
The Chosen One (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep77)

So now that I've met my team and have a vague idea of what they can do, it's time, weirdly, to start my second pre-season of the summer. It kicks off in quite baffling fashion when backup goalkeeper Keenon Blignaut knocks on my office door after our first training session. He's clearly wound up and wants to discuss his lack of first team football. I fix him with a quizzical look, wondering momentarily whether he's gotten his hands on my preliminary lineup, before reassuring him that if he works hard there's no reason why he can't push for the first team. Just between us though, I'm looking for a first choice keeper to replace the average Dino Visser, and Dino's comfortably better than Keenon.

Our first outing with Project: Foxy goes very well as we take on South African second tier side Stellenbosch FC at our own Athlone Stadium. Left winger Sello Japhta and attacking midfielder Sullie are the standout performers in a 4-1 victory, with the former bagging a goal and setting up another and the latter grabbing 2 goals. Striker Emil Sambou gets the other goal while right winger Ryan Moon sets up 3!

As I told you when I arrived, as well as Project: Foxy, I have delicately crafted a mysterious secondary system that I've named Project: CO. However, I know that for Project: CO to work, I need to add an all round top quality player to the squad. Therefore, I make a bid to spend £70k of my transfer budget on none other than Newport County's Joss Ladabie.

My scouts aren't too familiar with Joss, but I know from reputation that he fits the bill. We agree terms and there's just the formality of a work permit to be granted so that Joss can join us, but I nearly spit my morning coffee out when I realise that the decision on whether to grant his work permit will be made on the 22nd of August. Today is the 23rd of July. Getting a quality foreign player may not be as simple as I first thought.

Our second friendly sees us travel to our semi-professional affiliate club Zizwe United. We do them the favour of showing up and flaunting our second string and I assume that they’ll be too awestruck to put in a performance, so imagine my surprise when they send us back nursing a comprehensive 0-2 defeat. It’s an uncomfortable afternoon.

I knew when I bid for Ladabie that the deal had a chance of falling through, so at the same time I made a £2.5k bid for an old friend.

Benjamim is an all rounder. I know this and you know this. We had a year apart when I moved to Katowice, although I would have brought him with me if I hadn't already had 2 comparable midfielders in Bart and Mario Gregurina. I want to sign him not only because he's so rounded, but also because he's been criminally underutilised since I left Volcano Island. Like with Joss however, we'll have to wait a full month to find out whether Benjamim can join.

In the meantime, we’ve got more friendlies to play. We host Grassy Park next, a semi-professional club from the Northern Cape Division 2. Again, we line up with Project: Foxy, and we come away with a narrow win. The only goal comes just into the second half when right back Itumeleng Tlali’s long ball forward is nodded over the keeper by young midfielder Sakhile Maloka.

With not much else to do except wait on Benjamim’s and Ladabie’s work permits, we press on, focussing on our fitness and system familiarity in training. We then travel to Gauteng Division 2 side Ga-Rankuwa United in another friendly. A Ryan Moon penalty and another goal for Sakhile Maloka earns us a 2-0 win.

At this point, I'm getting worried that my bids for Joss Ladabie and Benjamim will be derailed, as I'm not sure how generously South African work permits are handed out. Therefore, we need to find a top quality all rounder with a South African passport. And I think we have.

Kingston Nkhatha has arrived. I dub him Khat, partially as an homage to Danny John-Jules' Red Dwarf character of the same name, and partially because we'll need him to roam around doing whatever he wants, similarly to my 2 feline travelling companions Meatloaf and Burnie.

Having said that, I should probably explain my secondary system, Project: CO at this point. During my flight over from Katowice, I listened to Ruud Gullit's pretty condescendingly named audiobook 'How to watch football'. Aside from being a really good listen (Or read, if you're not as lazy as me), it really opened my eyes to the idea of the Libero; an extremely rarely utilised role in the modern game. A libero is ideally an extremely smart, technically gifted and physically dominant footballer, much like prime Gullit, who positions himself behind the central defenders when the team is off the ball, but then roams up the pitch when the teams wins possession, becoming an advanced creative outlet and potential surprise goal threat.

That is what Project: CO is all about. If we have an average team, why not have one player that can be the last line of defence, main creator and goalscorer all wrapped into one? Someone that can make everyone else 10% better by being there to call the shots and make everything happen. The instructions to the team are minimal as I only want them to create a disciplined framework for Khat to operate inside.

Before you call me mad, bare in mind that we can't afford to gut this team and rebuild it this Summer, and frankly I wouldn't want to if we could. We need to live within our means, and for me, that once meant playing a goalkeeper as a target man. Today it means playing a 33 year old journeyman striker as a Libero. I know we've only just met, but I believe in Khat. I believe that he can be our Libero. He can be our Ruud Gullit. He can be the main player in our Project: Chosen One.

On the downside, he's been around the block a bit, and at 33 isn't the ideal age to dramatically change his position, but on the upside he’s got a South African passport despite being Zimbabwean, so we can snap him straight up without having to wait a full bloody month for a work permit.

Cape Town All Stars are up next. It’s quite an ironic name for a second tier side because there are quite a few top flight clubs from Cape Town, and our names all contain a wee bit more humility. We fire up Project: CO for the first time and teach the "All Stars" a lesson in a 2-0 win used to honour the career of their centre back Howard Davids. Ryan Moon continues his good preseason by setting up both goals, one for Sello Japhta and one for Emil Sambou. Khat has a very solid game, which for a striker playing his first game behind the defence is extremely promising.

We carry on our pre-season with 2 more solid wins against First Division sides. Sullie gets us the only goal in a 1-0 win over Steenberg United...

... And our incredibly named backup left back Siyabong Zulu and new signing Khat get us the win away at FC Cape Town.

And then comes the big one - in our final match before the Season begins, young winger Salieg Richards and Emil Sambou get us a win over BARCELONA.

Now, does it matter whether it’s Lionel Messi’s FC Barcelona side from La Liga, or Gerardo Cozzolino’s Barcelona FC side from the South African Regional Leagues? Not to me, lads. Not to me.

Sadly, Joss Ladabie's work permit is then rejected, which isn't ideal. We appeal the decision, but we won't know whether he's joining until after our first league match. What we can do though is sign staff. Lots and lots of staff. My backroom team has grown dramatically this Summer.

My first competitive match as Santos FC Manager is at home against Cape Town City, who’ve finished in the top 8 4 times in the last 4 Seasons. We’ve got our systems now. We’ve got our players, our staff, and of course we've got our chosen one. We’ll be ready.

It's good to be back.
Not Like This (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep78)

"Ready?" I sit myself down next to Khat on the bench. He nods. "Remember, no sprinting about, you’re an old man", I grin. "What’s your job off the ball?"

"Drifting", he replies confidently.

"Roaming, not drifting", I correct him.

"What’s the difference?"

"Well, people who fall asleep on little inflatable rings will drift out to sea, whereas a Lion will roam around looking for other animals to rip apart and eat." I narrow my eyes, trying to work out if I’ve been clear enough. "Do you see my point?"

"There’s no current on a football pitch", he replies happily.

"Exactly. Probably."

We’re all feeling the nerves a bit today, and if there’s one person I’ll forgive for being more nervous than me, it’s Khat. I’m asking him to throw out everything he’s learned in the last 20 years and pretty much learn the game from scratch. A lesser footballer would’ve told me to fuck right off, but I can tell that Khat wants to give it his best shot.

We’re setting up today with our controlling Project: CO. Visser starts between the sticks with Khat in front of him. Moe, Paro, Gertse and Jenniker make up the back 4, with Sinbad starting in midfield alongside tough midfielder Gugu Gogotya, the man clearly named by a newborn baby. Moon and Japhta are on the wings and Sambou’s up front.

"Come on then, lads!" I cry, clapping my hands together as I stand and walk towards the changing room door. With the cacophony of 18 sets of studs clacking against the concrete floor, the players get to their feet and follow me, clapping and cheering with anticipation of the great game of football to come.

When we trudge back inside for half time, I’m shellshocked. What just happened? Somehow the score’s still 0-0 but we could be 3 or 4 down. We’ve not managed a single shot, while Cape Town City have huffed and puffed but somehow our little straw house is still standing. By now, they should really have been able to blow our door down, cave our roof in and piss in our fridge for good measure. That was completely one way traffic. Although saying that, our back line was pretty resilient and fair play to them for keeping the scores level.

For now, we’ll go a little more structured. I’m drawing a blank. I don’t know what else to do. Maybe with a similarly resilient defensive display in the second half we’ll escape with a point.

15 minutes after the break that’s exactly what it looks like is going to happen. But then I decide that no, you know what? That’s not how I’m starting off my career in Lansdowne. I usually say that an opening day draw is fine, but not like this. We go attacking.

A few minutes later, Manyama collects the ball just outside our box and dribbles out onto the left wing. He swings a cross in but Gertse gets there first. Our centre back volleys the ball and it travels about a couple of inches before hitting Ramagalela right in the face. It bounces back towards goal - And bobbles just wide.

With 20 minutes to play, we look nervous. I’ve never seen a team look so nervous during a match. I stand on the touchline and bellow words of encouragement. I also send on striker Carl Lark for Sambou, who’s been a spectator for the last 70 minutes.

In the 77th minute, they’re still all over us. De Jongh passes short from a free kick 35 yards out to Matsi and he squares it for Manyama, who takes the ball forward and smacks it against the bar.

With 10 minutes to go, Paro wins the ball outside our box, breaking up yet another Cape Town attack and prompting a huge sigh of relief from me and my assistant Keith. The Burkinabe defender plays it out to Ryan Moon on the right, who gets it out of his feet before playing a long ball over the top. Suddenly, Carl Lark takes it down and he’s through on goal. He shrugs off the centre backs, bursts through into the box and blasts the ball into the back of the fucking net. Football, eh?

Captain Cele replaces the more attack minded Ryan Moon on the right wing and we go to a defensive 4-1-4-1 formation. We cling on, and I’m happy, but my God we’ve got to reconsider this system. That match has not exactly gone as I had planned.

In the next few days it’s made clear that the transfers of Joss Ladabie and Benjamim are dead in the water. So too are late attempts to bring in Paro’s compatriot Lassina Touré, who starred at centre back for my SC Angrense side, and Délcio Azevedo, because of high wage demands and work permit issues respectively. We reject a couple of loan offers from Thanda Royal Zulu, one of our relegation rivals, for Tiali and Gertse, and with that the transfer window closes.

I’m left with a knot in my stomach. Even though we’ve picked up an opening day win, I’m already seriously doubting Project: CO as a system and any attempts I’ve made to bolster the quality of my squad have been promptly shot down.

It’s going to be an extremely challenging year for a whole bunch of new reasons. It’s lucky I love a challenge really, isn’t it?
One More Try (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep79)

You know when your team’s fixtures come out for the new season and you see that in your first few fixtures you’re playing Chelsea away, or Barcelona away, or Paris Saint Germain or Bayern away? At first glance you see that and think "Oh no, how unlucky, what a terrible start". But then you think "Well we are more than likely going to lose, so we may as well get the toughest match of the season over and done with right at the start so we don’t have to dread it all year". That’s how I feel today. I feel like that because today I oversee the 100th match of my career, and we’re playing Kaizer Chiefs. Away.

When I realised that this was my second match, did I think "Oh my god"? Yes. Did I predict a riot? Sure. Did I sit down for far too long and try to work out how to work the word "Ruby" into a question about my hundredth career match? Most definitely. But the thing that really matters is the match itself and how we intend to set up against arguably the best team in Africa on their own turf.

The safe, and some would say sensible thing to do would be to park the bus. Maybe play a flat 5-4-1 or a 4-5-1 or a 4-1-4-1. Or maybe replace the nomadic striker at the heart of my defence with an actual defender. The thing is though that my faith in Project: CO as a system that we can use at home to dominate a match has been so violently shaken by our smash and grab battering against an average side like Cape Town City that I’m just about ready to pull the plug on it already. The only thing that’s stopping me from doing so is the thought that maybe, just maybe it can be a good counter attacking formation. We have men behind the ball when we don’t have possession, we have outlets on the wings, so why not? And what better match to test out my theory than right now? We’re as unfavoured today as we will be all season so let’s have one more go at making it work.

So that’s what we do. We play a counter attacking variant of Project: CO. We keep the same lineup from our last match.

The match starts slowly, and while the Kaizer Chiefs keep possession for the first half hour they’re unable to break us down. Promising stuff. I tell the boys to stick to their positions to make us even more difficult to break down and play at a slightly higher tempo when we get the ball.

The first warning sign comes 3 minutes later when Mahlangu tests Visser with a shot from the edge of the box, but Dino Visser catches it comfortably.

3 minutes after that, Morena skips past Jenniker skilfully on the right and swings a fantastic cross to the far post. Khutlang gets there but his close range shot is tipped onto the post impressively by Visser and cleared by Paro.

A further 3 minutes passes before Kaizer Chiefs start going through the gears. A brilliant passing move ends with Khutlang playing a nice through ball to Mekoa inside the box. He has a go but once again the shot cannot beat Visser.

Seeing that they’re cutting through us using the channels, we go slightly narrower and I tell the isolated Emil Sambou to close their defence down much more to try to force a mistake.

We’re only a minute away from half time when out resolve is broken. Mahlangu’s corner is headed away at the near post by Sinbad, Morena takes the ball down on the edge of the box and shoots through a crowd of bodies. Visser sees it too late and has no chance. The home side leads.

At half time, I tell the team to speed up play even more when on the ball. Exploit the flanks and pass into space to give our wingers a chance of breaking. In defence we go much narrower, drop the defensive line deeper and close down much less to stop them from passing through us.

10 minutes after the restart, Gogotya plays a direct ball up to Sambou, who turns, drives forward to the edge of the box and shoots, but he puts it wide.

For a few fleeting moments I think that we may be able to put together a few more chances like that and maybe bag an equaliser, but less than 5 minutes later Mekoa’s low cross deflects off Moe and falls perfectly to Abraw on the edge or the 6 yard box. He buries it for 0-2.

I opt for a triple sub, to give a few players a chance to impress more than anything else.

Gertse, Japhta and Sambou are replaced by skipper Philani Cele, young winger Saileg Richards and last match’s winning goalscorer Carl Lark.

7 minutes later, Mekoa toe pokes a brilliant deep cross towards the far post and Abraw’s there again to tuck in the third. Khat joins Lark up front for the last 20 minutes as we change to a 4-2-4 formation, but the match ends 0-3.

I’m OK with that to be honest. We knew realistically that we’d be comfortably beaten and for now at least I can put Project: CO to bed secure in the knowledge that I gave it a shot both home and away, but the performances have been pretty awful. Or... I might give it one more try. One more. Next match is Highland Park at home so it’ll be a good to see if we can dominate now that we’ve had a couple of matches practice. Can you tell that I really want this to work?

The South African Knockout Cup (SA Cup) draw is made midweek, and we draw Bidvest Wits, but I can’t be thinking about them now. By the time that match rolls around I want us putting in good performances and getting results to match. That starts against Highlands Park.

Before that though, Santos agree an Affiliate link with the wonderfully named "The Magic Football Club", or just "The Magic".

They’re a Western Cape Division 2 side and we’ll share our training facilities with them them and play a yearly friendly in exchange for having first dibs on any young South African stars that push through their youth system.

Speaking of stars, our International contingent are in action before the next League match. Issouf Paro comes on for the last 13 minutes of Burkina Faso’s friendly loss against The Ivory Coast, preferred to Lassina Touré and facing the likes of Mainz’s Wilfried Zaha, Atalanta’s Emmanuel Latte and Besiktas’ Jonathan Kodija. Good experience for him I’m sure.

Emil Sambou plays the last 35 minutes of Gambia’s 4-2 friendly win over Libya, scoring instantly from a Modou Barrow assist and scoring again with a deflected shot 15 minutes from time, earning him the man of the match award. I intended to give Carl Lark his first start of the season against Highlands Park as Sambou’s not really offered anything in our first 2 matches, but I’ll give him one more chance after that performance.

And then comes a hammer blow. A few days before the match, Dino Visser picks up a gashed leg in training and will miss the match. Not only that, but his frustrated understudy Keenon Blignaut rules himself out 2 days later with Achilles Tendonitis and will miss 3-4 weeks. As much as I’ve lamented the quality of my 2 senior goalkeepers, Visser actually had a really good first half against Kaizer Chiefs, and it leaves me scratching my head wondering who I’ll play in goal for the match. I think Khat’s worried that it’ll be him.

But no, say hello to 17 year old local lad Sthembiso Nkomo. He’s a bit wet behind the ears, but he has tonnes of potential. He seems nervous and excited when I break the news to him, after all this is every youth goalie’s dream: All of the senior keepers getting injured at once, thrusting them into the first team.

"It’s just for this one game", I tell him after training one day. "The physios say that they should be able to rush Dino back for the next one, so don’t worry."

"Do I get a nickname?" He blurts out. "Like Khat and Moe and Sinbad?"

"You’ve got to earn that, mate" I grin, "I don’t just go around handing them out to everyone."

I sort of resent the fact that after a 15 day gap we now have 2 games in 3 days. The physios do say that Dino should be fit enough to get through the next one away at Golden Arrows, but it’ll be close.

Marothi Diale replaces Gogotya in midfield as I want to give him a chance to steal the ball winning position, but otherwise we go unchanged.

24 minutes in, Shellar receives the ball on the right hand side of our box, and lays the ball off for Shikweni, who places it perfectly into the bottom corner of our net. To be fair to the debutant Nkomo, he had no chance with that and I doubt that Dino or Keenon would have got to it either. 0-1.

I tell the lads to retain possession and get a foothold in the game. We’re the home side after all and we need to start controlling the play. Just 2 minutes after the goal however, Senamela wriggles into space on the edge of our box and shoots towards the bottom corner, but Nkomo gets down well to catch the ball, drawing a great ovation from the home support.

His goal kick reaches Sambou, but the striker’s dispossessed and Highland Park come forward again. Senamela plays a great ball through for Sekola, who has a go, but Nkomo catches it again, prompting another great ovation.

Over the next 10 minutes, we do indeed get a foothold in the game. We keep possession well and play some nice football. 10 minutes from the break a brilliant move culminates with Japhta whipping a cross to the near post and Emil Sambou, fresh from his heroics for Gambia, glances a header past the keeper to equalise. I punch the air. This is more like it.

Unfortunately half time comes and goes and the match gets a bit scrappy again. Both teams look pretty even and you get the feeling that it could go either way. With 25 minutes to go we hand a debut to Project: Foxy, but we'll keep trying to retain possession, and play a fluid controlling game. We also make a double sub; Paro tweaks his hamstring slightly and is replaced by Cele, and Sullie comes on for Khat to play behind the striker Sambou.

With 10 minutes to go, Mavimbela releases Thobela on the counter attack. He plays a pass through the centre backs for Thobela to chase and he goes through on goal, but luckily Gertse's pace allows him to recover, getting back in time to block Thobela's shot and sending the ball out for a corner. We drop our defensive line back slightly because frankly I don't want that kind of thing to be a recurring theme between now and the final whistle.

With 5 minutes to go, Carl Lark comes on for Emil Sambou, who gets a hearty clap from the home fans. I'm hoping that Lark'll be the difference like he was on opening day, and with 3 minutes to go, we get a corner. Ryan Moon swings it in towards the near post and Jenniker meets it, nodding it towards goal. The keeper dives and can't reach the ball, but Thobela's on the line to head it away. It only goes as far as Lark 8 yards out though and he swings his left foot at the ball, mis-kicking it, but still doing enough to make it pea-roll into the net. Get in.

All out defence time. We go to 4-1-4-1 and I tell the team to get it into the corners and waste time. 3 minutes of injury time are given as the clock ticks towards and then passes the 90 minute mark.

Jenniker’s throw in goes to Japhta on the left wing, who takes it straight over to the corner flag. "Good lad", I mumble under my breath, throwing a nervous glance the way of the clock on the North stand. 1 minute of the 3 added on is nearly up. Japhta looks penned into the corner by Mendes and Senamela, who are keen to win it back before he can run down the clock too much. Just then though, our left winger steps over the ball and skims it across the turf towards Sinbad, who looks up, picks his spot, and hits it first time with his left foot. The keeper gets a glove to it, but he can’t keep it out. 3-1. That's Sinbad's 1st goal since October 2016 and the 2nd goal ever in his 12 year, 175 game career.

As the final whistle blows and the 8 and a half thousand Santos fans erupt in jubilation, I stand for a moment on the edge of the pitch, soaking it all in. This is what I’ve missed. A good well earned win that sends you, the staff, the players and the crowd all home with smiles on your faces.

I shake hands with Highlands Park boss Kosta Papic before jogging over to our young debutant keeper. He’s trembling and beaming, the relief plain to see on his face. I’ve searched all through the Summer for a first team goalkeeper, but why on Earth shouldn’t Sthembiso Nkomo get a chance to keep his place now?

I wrap an arm around his shoulders and we start to walk towards the tunnel. "Well played tonight, Komo", I shout over the noise of the fans. "Same again on Tuesday please".
Febreze (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep80)

So what did we learn from our match against Highland Park? We have to figure it out quickly as the Boffins at the SAFA have scheduled us 2 matches in 3 days after our 15 day break.

I think the most obvious thing to take from the match is that it’s time to bring in Project: Foxy. We used it for about 25 minutes and scored twice just before the end, and that was with a controlling variant of the system, which I’ll try again today seeing as we’re at home. I’m going to keep using Project: CO in training though. Maybe when Khat becomes more familiar as a Libero we’ll have better success with it.

Today we take on Golden Arrows at their place and I’m anxious to see what kind of performance I’ll get using Project: Foxy. I’m dropping Moe because he’s been pretty underwhelming so far at right back while our captain Philani Cele has been on the bench, so he comes in. I also drop Khat even though he’s comfortable playing behind the striker and bring in Sullie to be our number 10, as he’s more natural there and I want to give him a chance. Otherwise we remain unchanged.

With less than 2 minutes on the clock, Emil Sambou slips Ryan Moon through and the winger strokes the ball under the outrushing keeper, moving us up to 1st place in the PSL!

I think it’s fair to say that we’ll be seeing Project: Foxy quite a bit. The players look absolutely inspired. Only 2 minutes after the goal, Sullie launches the ball forward, Sambou latches onto it and shrugs off the centre backs before running through on goal, but he shoots just wide. What a start though.

After 20 minutes things just keep getting better when Nonyane goes through the back of Moon and earns himself a straight red card.

We react with a sublime passing move, at the end of which Sambou slips Moon through on goal again, but his near post shot is held onto by the keeper.

We don’t let up either. Golden Arrows are having a nightmare start and when Komo launches a goal kick deep into their half, the defenders panic and don’t deal with it properly. The ball’s headed meekly back as far as Moon and he sprints down the line and shoots from a tight angle, but can’t keep it down and the ball flies into the stands.

And then, after half an hour, Shozi passes to Mothiba just inside our box, and with thudding inevitability he loops it over Komo, perfectly into the far top corner of the net.

Changes are made instantly. Golden Arrows are currently persevering with their 4-4-1-1 without their sent off left winger, so Cele pushes up as more of an attacking wing back on the right and we focus all of our play down that side. I also tell Diale to man mark Shozi, who had far too much time to set that goal up; and to stay tight to him.

At half time, Golden Arrows do change formation, making me rethink again. They opt for an asymmetrical 3-2-2-1-1 system. A classic, I think we can all agree. Seeing this, I change us to a 2-3-1-2-2 formation, leaving just the 2 centre backs at home with Diale marking their number 10, and allowing both wing backs to push up to help the the wingers feed our striking partnership of Sambou and Khat, who replaces the largely ineffective Sullie.

10 minutes into the half, Khat sweeps the ball beautifully over to the right for the overlapping Cele, who lays it inside. The enthusiastic... Maybe overly so at this point... Ryan Moon aims for the far top corner, but a fingertip save by Mabokgwane denies him.

In the next 15 minutes Golden Arrows start to dominate. They take advantage of our single file 2 man midfield and pass it through us at will, forcing a couple of good saves from Komo.

I replace Sambou with Gogotya, who drops back alongside Sinbad to form a midfield triangle. The attacks stop coming, but apart from Moe replacing the knackered Diale and Cele moving to the holding man spot, nothing else happens. It’s 2 points dropped in my eyes.

We look to move on swiftly with Supersport United at home. Dino Visser, although he could have been risked in the last match, is now fit again, although I don’t think Komo deserves to lose his place just yet. He’s been undone twice, but only when our opponents have placed the ball perfectly into the corners, giving him practically no chance. He’ll stay in the team for now.

Under the previous regimes, Santos have lost their last 5 matches against Supersport. For this reason, we’re heavy favourites to lose today, which is probably fair enough. We’re currently 4th in the league on 7 points and Supersport are 6th on 6, so they’ll overtake us if they do get the win.

We line up with the true Project: Foxy for the first time today. We’ll sit back, soak up the pressure and smash them on the break. As I’ve already said, Komo keeps his place, as does Cele at right back, and I’ll have Diale man marking Lakay, Supersport’s attacking midfielder from the start. Come on boys.

The first 20 minutes are reminiscent of the 55th-70th minute period against Golden Arrows. We are absolutely dominated and as far as I can tell, the reason is the same. They have a midfield triangle and we don’t, so their spare man in the centre is able to link up play and bring Diale and Sinbad out of position. If only we had Ngolo Kante, he made this system look so easy.

I make a tactical change at the 20 minute mark and Khat doesn’t seem to like it. I replace him with Gogotya, who drops into the middle of an orthodox 4-1-2-3 formation with Sinbad. It’s not ideal, but Khat’ll just have to get over it.

Minutes later, Supersport respond by creating a chance down the left wing. Twala robs the ball from Cele and sprints down the wing, chipping it inside for Mthembu, but his low shot is saved by Komo.

10 minutes later, Gogotya works himself some space 25 yards from goal and plays in Ryan Moon, but his shot goes just wide of the far post.

And then a few minutes later, Lakay plays Moloi through, who’s questionably positioned in the box. "OFFSIDE!" I bellow, looking at the linesman, and then the referee. But the flag stays down, the whistle doesn’t blow, and when I look back, Moloi’s wheeling away towards the touchline and the ball’s nestled in the back of our net. To be fair, it was extremely tight and I can’t blame the officials for getting it wrong. But they did. They did get it wrong.

At half time, I tell the lads that they’re unlucky to be trailing. Sambou instantly switches off so I tell him to go and get changed. Carl Lark comes on in his place. I also put an emphasis on retaining possession in the second half to see if we can string some passes together.

With nearly an hour gone it’s still Supersport that are looking the more dangerous of the sides though. Morton’s shot from the edge of the area forces a good save from Komo, who gets down well to his left to tip the ball behind for a corner.

We try to control, we then try to attack, we then go to a balls-out 4-2-4 with Saileg Richards replacing Diale, but the match ends 1-0.

Of course I resent coming away empty handed from a big team that we’ve now lost to 6 times in a row, thanks to an offside goal. Of course I do. But sometimes Lady Luck smiles on you, and sometimes she kicks down the door to your house, barges into your living room and takes a shit on the rug. Hopefully at some point this season we’ll ride our luck. We’ll get a scrappy goal deep into injury time and I’ll put it down to my mastery of the tactics white board, or a brilliant never-say-die attitude by the goal scorer. But really it’ll be her. It’ll be her, flashing those pearly whites, saying "Sorry about the Supersport match" and making amends. Tonight though, I need to buy some Febreze on my way home.
Half Moon (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep81)

"We’ve been unlucky in our last couple of matches", I say sympathetically to the team. "We got robbed of 2 points against Golden Arrows. We were by far the better side. And but for that ‘goal’ against Supersport we would have picked up a point against them too."

It feels like one of those moments in a season where we just need something to go in our favour. We just need a little luck or a win and we’ll hopefully be able to put together a run. After all, we’re playing well enough since we switched to Project: Foxy. Of course, what doesn’t help today is that we’re going to be without one of our key players. Although Sello Japhta’s yet to really get going this season, it's frustrating to hear that he’s suffered an abdominal strain and will miss the next 2 weeks.

Nevertheless, the show must go on. Mthatha Bucks are our opponents today and I’ll be tweaking my personnel slightly for this one. Obviously Japhta’s injured, so I’m going to give our left back Aiden Jenniker a try on the left wing, with Siyabonga Zulu replacing him at the back. I think that Jenniker on the left may actually benefit us as his defensive inclination should balance out Ryan Moon’s gung-ho play style. Elsewhere, Sullie will take the number 10 spot at Khat’s expense, and Carl Lark will get a long overdue run out ahead of Emil Sambou up front. We focus down the right wing. It’s all on you, Ryan Moon.

35 minutes into a quiet first half, Ryan Moon pulls up clutching his thigh. I let out a long sigh. I know it’s early in the Season, but he’s been by far our most dangerous player, so I’m pretty torn. Do I sub him off as a precaution with the game still tied and perhaps leave us short going forwards, or do I keep him on and risk aggravating his injury? After much deliberation, Moon stays on. I keep my fingers crossed for the next 10 minutes until the ref blows his whistle to signal half time.

It’s been a nothing game so far played out by 2 equally ineffective teams. I keep my team talk simple, just encouraging the lads to keep going.

It takes less than 2 minutes of the second half for us to win a central free kick just outside the box, and for who else but Ryan Moon to curl the ball into the top left corner. I’ve not felt the embrace of my vindication blanket for quite some time, but it’s as warm and comforting as ever as I watch Ryan sprint away and get mobbed my the rest of the team.

10 minutes later, Sinbad receives the ball, looks up and sees Moon making a typically dangerous run down the right flank. Sinbad plays an absolute beauty of a pass over the Mthatha Bucks defence into the winger's path and he takes it down, but his angle is narrow and Hoffman parries his shot across goal and away.

With 20 minutes to go, I hand a debut to young attacking midfielder Sakhile Maloka, who comes on in place of Sullie. You may remember he briefly impressed in pre-season, scoring in 2 consecutive friendly matches. Maloka’s a promising little player, and I mean that literally. At 5’4 he’s not going to win many aerial duels, but he’s 2 footed, skilful, and extremely comfortable on the ball.

I do eventually replace Ryan Moon for the last 10 minutes, bringing captain Cele on to help shut the game down on the right side of a defensive 4-1-4-1. We do so. I’ve no problem scraping 3 points while we’re getting going, and a first clean sheet for Komo is a great bonus.

Unfortunately, Ryan Moon only has a 50:50 chance of making it back in time for our next match away at Polokwane City. His bruised thigh may keep him out of this game, but on the upside he’ll certainly be back for the one after. Keenon Blignaut is back in full training, but I’m sure he won’t be too pleased when he finds out that he’s now slipped to 3rd in the goalkeeper pecking order.

The match against Polokwane City does indeed come around too quickly for Ryan. I stick him on the bench in case we’re desperate, but Saileg Richards starts in his place. Khat also comes back in for Sullie as I continue to wait for someone to claim the attacking midfielder spot for themselves by putting in a decent performance.

It takes a quarter of an hour for us to see any kind of noteworthy chance, but unfortunately it’s at the wrong end of the pitch. Khumalo hits a central free kick towards the right side of our goal and Komo does well to tip the ball onto the post, before catching it at the second time of asking.

With a few minutes to go before the ref calls time on quite a mundane half of football, Sekela Gajana leaps to challenge Khat for a header just inside our half. He’s already on a yellow card and blatantly handles the ball, earning himself a red. Now at this point I’m eager to actually capitalise on this advantage, especially as we were unable to do so when faced with a similar situation in our match against Golden Arrows. Polokwane City change to a narrow 4-3-1-1, so we push our fullbacks up and exploit the flanks.

When half time arrives, the game’s still deadlocked at 0-0, so we go on the attack for the second half, although after 15 more minutes of football, Polokwane change to a more solid 4-4-1 system, seemingly happy to try to hold on for the draw. We respond with a 4-1-1-4 system, hoping to overload their defenders with our 4 attacking players.

With 20 minutes to go, we finally start clicking. Saileg Richards crosses in well from the right wing and Khat takes the ball down on his chest, before slipping a pass through for Aiden Jenniker. The stand-in left winger takes a shot, but he snatches at it badly and the ball trickles wide of the far post.

Shortly afterwards, Issouf Paro picks up a slight chest injury, so I take the opportunity to make a triple substitution. Cele, Sambou and the half-fit Ryan Moon, or "Half Moon", come on replacing Paro, Lark and Richards. It’s a risk for Moon, but the injection of quality, leadership and experience may just be worth it.

With under 10 minutes to go, the ball goes out for our throw in on the right hand side of Polokwane's penalty area. Moe throws the ball in to Sinbad, who slides it down the line first time for Moon. Moon cuts the ball in first time to the edge of the box and for a minute it looks like nobody’s there. But then, arriving late from the left is Siyabonga Zulu. The rampaging left back takes it on his right foot and shoots towards the far bottom corner - And scores!

My hands are in the air before I know what’s happening, and they stay there until the final whistle blows. We’ve done it. We’ve scraped it again, but we’ve won. The comparisons to a poor man’s Tony Pulis have been thrown at me a fair amount so far in my short career, but I don’t care. As much as I once berated a Portuguese Championship team for their Pulis-esque brand of negative football, I’ll settle for boring 1-0 wins all season thank you very much.

There’s still work to be done, don’t get me wrong, but at the minute we sit 3rd in the league, Komo’s starting to keep clean sheets and we’re picking up points. That’ll do just fine for now.

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