Chapter 7 – New signings
This coming season was all about at the very least replicating our showing from my first season in Gibraltar. New singings were a must as 8 players all left after not renewing their contract. My main players, as in the guys I built the team around this season thankfully signed on for another season. Garica, 21 goals in all competitions, Verdejo who had found a new lease of life up front, Steven and Carlos our 2 starting central midfielders and Veras the center half and first name on the team sheet. Goalkeeper Felix had left so we needed a new keeper.
As the whole scouting and signing player’s thing was new to me, I had a meeting the clubs director of football Angel Jose, an ex footballer turned scout turned director of football. He suggested a few players who were interested, so we arranged trials for them and I was impressed. From the trials I managed to sign attacking midfielder Raul Segura who was a Lynx FC player last season. We also managed to sign full back Miguel Tirado who can play at the left or right back position, and signed goalkeeper Jamie Robba who was last season back up keeper at Torquay United in England, as well as having 7 caps for Gibraltar to his name, he brought some good experience with him.
It wasn’t long before the team was taking shape, when the availability of a player was brought to my attention. Attacking midfielder Liam Walker, capped 25 times by Gibraltar, had left College Europa at the seasons end. This was quite a big thing really, as he was one of the so called better players in the Gibraltar national side, and had played 2 seasons at Lincoln, winning the league twice of course, when before then he’d played in Israel, as well as making 30 league appearances for Portsmouth in England after starting his career in Spain. All in all he’d made over 250 league appearances, and at 29 still had a lot to offer, especially in the Gibraltar Premier League. His tally of 5 goals and 11 assists were decent enough numbers in the side that pipped us to the Rock Cup last season, and I thought instead of letting the director of football know what I was going to , I just did it. I spoke to my assistant Javier Casquero and asked him his opinion on approaching Liam, and he was all for it. He said he knew Liam’s agent, a man name Roque Marquez who had a number of players on his books, most being based in Spain. I found his number on a document held in the clubs books and gave him a call.
When his office answered I explained who I was, what club I was calling from and left a message. Not long later, maybe 10 minutes, he rang me back. After the pleasantries were over, he said Liam was actually interested in speaking with me and the club and they were going to be contacting us in the future, so it was a nice surprise I called them. I didn’t believe it to be true, but I thanked them for the interest and we agreed to meet for a face to face to discuss him signing for us.
We met in a small café right on the Gibraltar / Spain border, it was a nice quaint little café and the meeting went well. His agent asked what our plans for the season were, I confirmed we’re looking to match the second place finish in the league as well as hopefully, with a bit of luck, winning the Rock Cup this year. They asked about his minutes and what position I saw him best in, I confirmed in no uncertain terms he would be in our starting 11, probably playing behind the striker, as Verdejo, as much as he’d impressed late on last season probably wasn’t going to be up to 27 league games, plus the cup games at 36, and that I was toying with the idea of playing 1 up top with an attacking midfielder behind him, all being that midfielder being Liam Walker. The agent confirmed they’d discuss it between them and get back to us. On my way out I told Javier I thought the meeting went well and that they seemed keen, Javier was more concerned about us approaching a player without telling the club or director of football, but I wasn’t concerned. If we pulled this signing off, no one will care as he is a quality player, if not, well then I’d address that at the time.
I was confident that with the players we’d already signed, as well as a couple of youth prospects coming through we’d have at the very least a season like the one that had just finished. It was a couple of days after speaking to Liam’s agent and they’d not got in touch. I did ask the director of football how long these things take, when he replied that Liam had signed the deal and was on his way to us that afternoon! I couldn’t believe it at first and asked him why I wasn’t informed. The agent was just following the protocols he’d been used to by contacting the club and not the manager, but I wasn’t concerned. We’d signed a great player and one I genuinely thought could turn our fortunes around, not that we’d had a bad time of it, we just needed that spark I thought to get us over the line, and maybe get our hands on that Rock Cup.
From then the usual pre season stuff came out from the media and as for the 13th straight year Lincoln Red Imps were overwhelming favourites to win the league, despite a new boss in charge. As well as that, despite our cup run and subsequent second place finish last year, the press had us finishing fourth, 2 places above the sixth place finish from last seasons predictions. I thought it was a bit insulting really, but I didn’t let it bother me, it was probably due to Duarte spitting his dummy out and leaving that we weren’t predicted higher, but with Garica playing well all season last year, with Walker coming in, Verdejo looking like the best impact player we could’ve asked for, a solid back line and an experienced goalkeeper, I felt this season was going to be a good one.
Before our first game against Mons Calpe, I told the team exactly what our starting 11 would be, assuming no injuries, suspensions or loss of form. The team I set up with was going to be 4-4-1-1.
This was the strongest starting 11 I felt we could field. Verdejo was happy to be an impact player and genuinely was a model professional for me. We had 2 young lads, forward Ghio and winger Warner, both Gibraltan who came though the youth ranks, and they were on the bench. At the time I lied to them and told them I wanted to integrate them into the team, but really they were there as we needed a minimum of 6 home grown players in the match day squad, and I only had 4.
However, as time went on, they would certainly get their chance to impress.