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From Winnipeg, with love. Memoirs of a football manager

Started on 3 August 2020 by bigmattb
Latest Reply on 12 June 2021 by Karter Mitchell
A tumultuous relationship with the chairman is far from ideal, and Chris had best watch his every step with Pelayo Corominas around. If Pelayo were a Harry Potter character... he'd be Professor Umbridge. I wonder what the reason is behind the bad blood between the two, and I look forward to seeing who the victor of that particular battle will be. If Gerard has any sense, he'll tell Pelayo to hit the road, and back Chris to take his club even further up the Spanish pyramid.
This chairman sounds a dodgy bloke. Plenty of trials and tribulations in this update but I suspect there will be many, many more in the near future.
2020-09-03 14:51#277639 ScottT : This chairman sounds a dodgy bloke. Plenty of trials and tribulations in this update but I suspect there will be many, many more in the near future.

That's it, a lot going on at the minute. Never a dull moment.

2020-09-03 03:41#277628 J_ames : A tumultuous relationship with the chairman is far from ideal, and Chris had best watch his every step with Pelayo Corominas around. If Pelayo were a Harry Potter character... he'd be Professor Umbridge. I wonder what the reason is behind the bad blood between the two, and I look forward to seeing who the victor of that particular battle will be. If Gerard has any sense, he'll tell Pelayo to hit the road, and back Chris to take his club even further up the Spanish pyramid.

Some people just give off an unfriendly aura. There's certainly more to come from this relationship.
Chapter 20 – Lost in battle

In the build up to the new season, it was announced that finally the United Kingdom would be leaving the EU. This wouldn’t affect me at that time in Spain, and the details of the new work permit rules would be announced in due course, but it was big news, as foreign players going into the UK would be affected. Gibraltar, where my first 3 years as a manager were spent had decided against leaving the EU.

After my incredible and eye opening meeting with Jorge Jesus, I contacted Racing Santander and extended young midfielder Ismael Garcia’s loan for another season. He was a bit part player the previous season, but with me focussing more on midfield I would be using him more. As a side note, despite having a director of football, I always made sure myself and Jose Verdejo were involved in all transfers and contract discussions. I never felt comfortable having someone else involved in these kind of things.

We also made other signings to the team, defensive midfielder Sulayman Marreh and Tarsi Aguado who would both be starters for our maiden season in the Segunda Division. Both were hard working box to box types and really complimented the players already at the club.

With the steroid scandal over, I made as much effort with Cifu as I could. I made sure nothing changed for him and his routine, other than not being able to play which of course was a big thing, stayed the same. I was keen to do everything in my power to help, and I was really concerned he may have withdrawals from the medicine, or worse, get depression. It was at this time my father started to represent him as well, however if any contract negotiations took place, I wasn’t allowed to take part, due to a possible conflict of interest, but I was certain because of what had gone on he’d be leaving at the end of the season anyway, but I kept that thought to myself.

With a week left to go before the season opener, a home tie against Girona, I had a meeting with Gerard. We discussed my need for a new center half, as back up, and how we were both optimistic for the season. After an hour or so, I got a call from none other than Ernesto Valverde, Barcelona’s manager! So if you’re keeping track, within a matter of weeks I’d had a sit down meeting with Jorge Jesus (who would become a sort of confidant to me) as well as a telephone conversation with Ernesto Valverde, 2 of the great managers and champions of the game! We talked about us signing a young center half by the name of Antonio Almeida, who was on loan at Real Betis last season. It was a no brainer for me, he had played 27 times last season in this division, was quick for someone that stood 6 foot 2, great with the ball at his feet and could tackle the best of them. Also at 21 but with enough experience to make an impact, he was held in high regard at Barcelona and was touted as a future Gerard Pique / Carlos Puyol hybrid. When he arrived at the club the next day, he was as professional as they come and didn’t let the hype or praise get to him. He listened to everything myself, Nacho Novo and the other coaches said to him, and just like Caval, had a lot of promise and I was honoured to have played a part in his development.

Everything was set for the new season, we worked on the 1 up top formation, as well as making more of an effort on set pieces, something which I would become known for throughout my career. I always felt teams didn’t make much of set pieces, especially in Spain. What we had at that time was a big center forward in Marong, all our center halves were big bulky units who could go toe to toe with the biggest and baddest of them in the league, so why not give being the best at set plays a shot? This was no more apparent than in our first game at this level, a sell out crowd of 2,024 in Camp d’Esports D’Aixovall against Girona. Did they take us lightly? Possibly. Did we earn the 2-0 win? Certainly. Did we deserve both goals from corners in the second half? Without a doubt. The first goal was a corner whipped into the near post, forward Marong nodded back across the goal line and center half Asmael Athuman rose above everyone else to head home. Why change a winning formula? The second was a carbon copy of the first. Ball into the near post, flicked on by Marong and Alemida, the young defender on loan from Barcelona grabbed his first senior goal to give us a 2-0 win. My streak of winning the first game of the new season continued, I was 5-0!

The games were coming thick and fast for Andorra, and the quality difference from Segunda Division and Segunda B was apparent right from the off. Where we sometimes dominated games in Segunda B, here in this league we struggled for the most part. In more than 1 meeting with Gerard and the board, chairman Pelayo Corominas had remarked we’d got promoted too quickly, we should’ve aimed just stay in the division last season, and we’re not ready for this league. This irked me every time, how can you get promoted too soon? If a team is good enough, and we certainly were, then we were in this league on 1 thing and 1 thing alone, merit! Nothing would hurt the players more than if they knew the chairman was berating them and saying they weren’t good enough for the Segunda division, but I never told them what he was saying. Whilst we might have struggled, we were still picking points up at the right time. We earned a credible draw with Cordoba, we beat Huesca, Ponferradina (who had been promoted with us), Elche and Mirandes to grab a decent if unremarkable 17 points on the board by the end of November which meant we were sitting 16th of 22. Not bad for a team that wasn’t good enough!

Of course we suffered some big defeats, Granada, Getafe, Rayo Vallecano, Mallorca and CD Lugo all showed their superiority over us, and whilst Robba played in every game this season, he kept a lot of the score lines respectable. My biggest concern, and it was shared by Nacho Novo and Jose Verdejo was that our leading scorer at that time was center half Ismael Athuman. 7 goals, all from corners by a defender. Marong had 5, but he just wasn’t getting the service he needed to be a consistent threat. Whilst I wanted to stick to my plan of 1 up top and control midfield, we were just over run in midfield every game due to the quality difference and Marong was cutting an isolated figure up top. He just wasn’t comfortable playing on his own, and he, as did the rest of us, missed his strike partner, and 42 league goals Cifu. We kind of changed things up when we put Caval in the AMC position to try and run off of Marong, it worked to some extent, we beat CD Guadalajara 1-0 in the next game, with Caval scoring the goal, to which I thought great this is what we’ll do for now. But 3 games in December saw us not only lose to CD Lugo, Racing Santander and Hercules de Alicante, but Marong snapped his hamstring in the Alicante game, and we were without a first team striker.

Somewhat fortuitous, that Alicante game was on 19th December, and our next game wasn’t until 13 January, I had to decide were either of the 2 young strikers in our ranks, Ghio (18, 3 first team appearances, no goals) or Mendez (19, 7 appearances, 1 goal) going to do what Marong had struggled to do or not? Side note, Jonathan Forte hung up his boots by this point and was a club ambassador for FC Andorra.

Fortunately for me and Andorra, there was light at the end of this small tunnel, as on New Years Eve, I was sat in my living room waiting to go to an event my dads company was running in Spain for New Years, there was a knock at my door, and this changed everything.
Chapter 21 – Come in Number 9

There’s moments in your life that when you think back you just sit, or stand or whatever you’re doing and just smile. I was like a father that had seen his kid just get picked for the school football team, or when you see your son drinking his first pint (legally anyway) and you stand there with the biggest and most proud smile on your face.

I opened the door and let the person walk in. We didn’t need any pleasantries or anything like that, we were (and still are) on good terms. He came in, sat down, I poured him a drink and the words that came out of his mouth were like built up frustration finally being released. He spoke with such venom, anger and most of all passion. He called Pelayo Corominas names I won’t repeat on here, I agreed with all of them in case you’re wondering, he said he’s had enough and he’s ready to make a change and be an important figure again, and most of all I saw the fire in his eyes when he said ‘Chris, you’ve looked after me through all this, I’m going to pay you back because they won’t be keeping me down any longer, no more Chris it’s done!’ I said what’s done? What are you talking about? He replied with:

‘Have you not heard? The Spanish FA overturned my 12 month ban, I’m officially an active player, and because of this Andorra don’t need to register me to play, as I’m already contracted. Boss, thanks for sticking with me, I’m back!’

First of all I was absolutely ecstatic that the FA have overturned Cifu’s ban, it was nonsense that he be held accountable for something he knew nothing about, him getting back in the team could just be the spark we needed, as well as some long overdue goals! But then I told him I hadn’t heard, no one from the club had told me about this. After we shared a moment I picked up the phone and rang Gerard, but hung up immediately when I remembered he was in Colombia for Christmas. During my talk with Cifu, he said that Pelayo seemed dead set against appealing the ban, and kept telling him just accept it, the club doesn’t need any more negative publicity, and that Cifu should focus on keeping in shape to get on with another club in 12 months. I told Cifu I had the feeling Pelayo just doesn’t have the clubs best interests at heart, and seems to have his own agenda. So I called him, and my suspicions didn’t change any either.

When I was speaking and asked about the overturned ban, do you know what the little rat said to me, all he could be bothered to tell me? His reply was, in a half assed way, oh I knew there was something I had to tell you. That was it! Nothing more. Here was our leading scorer and one of the main reasons why we’re in this division getting some of the best news of his career and all the chairman could say was oh I knew there was something I had to tell you! At the event on New Years, I asked my dad about how managers get offers from other clubs, how easy is it to take your staff with you as a manager, we spoke about my options but that nothing would be decided until the end of the season in July of that year. But then I thought about Gerard, and if he felt that Pelayo was up to something or not. I decided to keep my thoughts to myself, and just hoped that with Cifu back, we could push on and avoid getting dragged further down the league. As well, it may mean my stock would continue to be on the rise.

With Cifu back as a player, he had been training all the while banned so was in top condition, just having no match fitness, our first opponents of the New Year were Tarragona who were 7th in the league and aiming for a play-off spot. As the team went out to the pitch, Cifu held back and stopped me going out. He said he wanted to walk out with me, and as the other 10 players went out, they all turned around and watched as Cifu made his way to the pitch, all 2,204 fans of both teams stood in unison and gave him a standing applause. He wasn’t overwhelmed by this and come the end of the game, he certainly enjoyed the occasion.

As he made his way toward the tunnel at full time, he was stopped by a reporter, since this was national news a lot of eyes were on us, and the game was shown on TV. As the reporter from Sport Pesa asked his question, Cifu replied ‘I want to thank Chris and Gerard Pique for sticking with me, and to let the fans know that Number 9 is back, and I’ve got a point to prove!’ He most certainly did with a goal in the second half that wrapped up a 3-1 win for us. This whole situation was the turning point for us that season.

We kept picking points up from then right up until March, where our little revival was stopped dead in tracks with a 6-0 mauling away to Huesca. Here was where I really lost my temper, and handed out 1 week fines for poor performances to a number of the team. I really didn’t want to, but even a promoted side looking to stay up has to show some desire, and I had to let them know that we’re still in the fight of our lives and were not safe yet.

Things continued to be up and down for us, and Caval’s time at Andorra came to an abrupt end when he tore ligaments in his left leg, which would keep him out for up to 3 months, the exact time left on his loan deal. We had no choice but to send him back to Portugal. I told him, honestly, that I hope we could work together again in the future.

As for our own final 12 weeks, we kept hanging on in there and fluttered between 13th and 19th in the league, being as high as 11th one week toward the end of the season. With 3 games to go we were 5 points above the relegation places and sat 17th, 2 places above the drop zone, and just needed to win 1 of the last 3 to survive, or draw 1 and hope Ponferradina and Balompie, 2 teams that came up with us didn’t win any of their last 3.

With the first of the games left, we travelled to Guadalajara, and we were 4-1 down by the 75th minute. We regrouped and a couple of Cifu goals later, heading into the final minute we were losing 4-3. But we didn’t have what we needed and lost. Luckily so did the 2 teams directly below us. 2 left, still 5 points in front.

Our penultimate game, and final home game of the season saw us playing Racing Santander. Much like the previous game, we found ourselves losing in the second half, this time 2-1. But it was slightly earlier in the 61st minute. Again we regrouped and showed the fighting spirit lacking in the Guadalajara game. By the 85th minute things were looking good. Cifu again scored 2 goals, to bring his total to 19 games, 11 goals and we were looking like winning and surviving in the league. What happened next I hear you ask? Well Santander got a second wind, thumped home a 30 yard screamer to level the score to 3-3 in the 90th minute. Okay not too bad, we get a draw and a point, and hope the other 2 teams aren’t winning. Then the unthinkable happens, and Santander bundle home a low cross to give them a 4-3 away win. I’m not going to write what was said here after the game, but I’m sure you can use your imagination.

So 1 game to go. The league table looked like this:

17th – Ponferradina 44 points. G/D -15

18th – Andorra 44 points. G/D -16

19th – Balompie 42 points. G/D -22

If we win our next game and Ponferradina didn’t, we’d survive. If they win and we did, we’d go down. If we both lost and Balompie won, they’d survive. So basically, we needed to beat Real Zaragoza on the final day, and hope Ponferradina didn’t win. There were nerves all around.
Chapter 22 – The great Andorran hope.

I didn’t want to get relegated. Wait that sounded stupid. What I meant was I really didn’t want to go down because we’d done so well to get here. Obviously anyone would have said they would prefer to have gotten just 1 more point by this stage, or had we not let that 2 goal lead slip against Racing Santander, or even drew that game we’d be in a better position than we were, but we had to do what we had to do. So I phoned Jorge Jesus.

He’d said a year or so before I could call him any time and he’d gladly talk to me, and why wouldn’t I call him? He’d just won the Portuguese top division for a third season in a row with Sporting Lisbon, Benfica and Porto both looking shells of their former self, and with Braga now looking to become Portugal’s second biggest club, he was rightly so the top manager in Portugal. We spoke candidly, I told him my concerns about going down, and what I could do to try and stop that from happening. He gave me some really sound advice, advice I would later pass on to my players and staff, and 1 thing he said to me stuck out and helped me from this point on in my career. For the record, if anyone is wondering, we spoke in English. Like me, he is fluent in 3 languages, Portuguese, Spanish and English.

‘Chris, stick to your guns, don’t change what you believe is right. If you go down at least go down swinging. If you change anything to appease a player or fan or club director, you’re not being true to yourself. Being a manager means one thing, managing.’

We spoke more after he said that and I really got some confidence and inspiration from him. I decided there and then that we’d be trying out a new system, a system designed to win games, to dominate and really show what I and my players were capable of. But that would be next season, as we had a massive game with Zaragoza first.

In the build up to the game, Zaragoza had nothing to play for. They were mid table, no chance of going down but really, a club that size should be in La Liga. But they had a good team and were playing at home. But in a surprising twist, the manager gave debuts to 3 young players, which helped us in a way. 2 were forwards, 1 by the name of Humberto Vasquez who would go on to become Zaragoza’s biggest sale by leaving for Inter Milan a few years later for 48 million Euro, the other was David Villa, not that one, but a young player with a lot of pace. Due to these young players both being extremely green, their forward line never really threatened us, and we were the better team all over the pitch.

It was clear this team were on their holidays and by the time Cifu nodded home in the 60th minute to give us a 2 goal lead, the Zaragoza team didn’t look dejected, they just looked like they didn’t care. I didn’t want to know how Ponferradina were getting on, as I didn’t want any more pressure on the team, but when Nacho came over and said they were losing 3-0, and at that time we were 18th with a better goal difference and safe, I could relax, slightly.

That was until 85th minute, where Zaragoza pulled one back to make it 2-1, and Ponferradina, fighting for their lives managed to get their own game to 3-3! We were level on goal difference, but as we were winning that meant we had 47 points to their 45. If we concede and they score, we’re going down. As the fourth official held up the board to show 3 extra minutes, we had to sit tight, keep the ball and not do anything stupid. It worked as Zaragoza didn’t really press us, and we saw out our 3 minutes to win the game 2-1. There was another goal in the Ponferradina game, luckily they had conceded late on to Elche and that sent them down and effectively kept us up!

It was a massive relief all around to see the end of this game and survival on the last day of the season. We’d secured survival as favourites to go straight back down, and much like the first 4 years of my managerial career, I’d overachieved. It made me wonder if teams would stop underestimating us now, but from my most recent chat with Jorge, I decided to go out and play to our strengths and change things up tactically. This thought was confirmed when I met a young Andorran player in our youth team by the name of Quique (pronounced key key ) Valera.

Our head of youth development David De Coz, as well as my right hand man Nacho Novo were both in agreement that we had an exceptionally talented player on our hands here, and they weren’t wrong. The Spanish media were bigging this kid up, the Andorran national team had earmarked him as the next big thing, the best Andorran player for a long time, and word in the media was that Real Madrid wanted him even at that early stage. The best way to describe him would be if he was in a football manager game, he’d be described as a wonderkid. He was just what we needed heading into my third season in Andorra.

He was comfortable in central midfield, but he excelled as deep lying playmaker playing in the defensive midfield position. Left footed, with vision I’ve never seen in someone at 18, able to pin point a pass to anywhere he wanted, great at dead ball situations and work rate unheard of, it was no wonder Madrid were interested, and not just for Andorra but the game in general, a new star was born.

But for me to get really prepared for another season in Andorra, and to improve on what we’d already achieved, I needed 2 things. 1 was a new contract. My existing one ran out at the end of June that year. It was no secret I was enjoying life at Andorra, and I had a great relationship with the players, the fans, Gerard the owner but not the chairman. I really wanted to achieve some good things with Andorra. The second, which ties into my poor relationship with the chairman, was clarity. I arranged 2 meetings that off season, one with Gerard and one with Pelayo. The first was with Gerard. I told him how much I wanted to stay for at least another season, and I told him I was confident we’d be able to improve on the 18th place finish. He couldn’t agree more that keeping me was something he wanted too. We agreed an extension there and then. But that was when the first meeting went south. The new manager at Barcelona was Unai Emery, and he wanted to usher in change at The Nou Camp, and so most of the older players, bar Messi, were told they would be asked to leave, Gerard being one of those players. He’d knew this was coming, so had made moves to sign a 1 year contract with AS Roma in Italy. I was concerned by this as he wouldn’t be as readily available to put my mind at ease regarding the chairman, and I was worried he would not be as committed to Andorra as he had been. He assured me this was nonsense and that I am reading too much into my issues with the chairman. I took his words at face value and told him I would continue on as I already had.

My meeting the chairman was different. A lot different. First I told him I had agreed a 1 year extension with Gerard. Pelayo was angered with this as he wasn’t informed and had been expecting me to leave. I asked why that would be the case, but he just waved it off. Then I asked about the steroid scandal and why he didn’t tell me Cifu had been cleared. Again he just waved this off as irrelevant. I also brought up there being no transfer funds, despite Andorra being the only club in the Segunda division that didn’t have any debt at that time, and that we were well below the wage budget. He just seemed dismissive and then went on a tirade about how he wanted to hire a bigger name manager, to bring in bigger named players to increase the profile of the club. I told him, confidently, that not many managers would have got Andorra promoted at the first time the previous year, as well as staying up the season just gone. But he said it wasn’t that hard a task, and that any manager worth his salt could have done the same. Before I had chance to reply, he said as I’d signed an extension without him knowing, to sack me he would have to pay the full contract to me and that would upset Gerard. He said he’d have to stick with me for another 12 months, unless there was reason to sack me.

Our relationship from then on was damaged at best, and in all my time left in Andorra, I only spoke to him once more after this meeting
Chapter 23 – Regista nights.

During my third season in Andorra, my stock as a manager began to grow some, and as I had already discussed, privately, with my father how a manager can get noticed and move on, and taking into consideration my waning relationship with the chairman, I thought maybe this would be my last season here. Okay so I wasn’t being forced out, not directly anyway, but I just didn’t feel I could continue to grow a club, or the players and even myself under the current climate with the chairman.

As such, during this season, I was linked with other clubs in the Segunda Division, Real Zaragoza, Cadiz and Las Palmas. Now I always considered myself to very loyal and professional, so I didn’t acknowledge in public the links to Zaragoza or Cadiz, but once the Las Palmas job came up, I applied. My name was linked from the off, and I thought why the hell not go in for it, I’ve earned the right for my name to be linked to the job so I might as well apply.

After waiting a few days, and with no word from either Gerard or the chairman, I was invited to an interview with the Las Palmas chairman. You have to remember that this is technically my first interview for a position, my first 2 roles have kind of just been handed to me, and so I was nervous going into the interview.

I was asked why I’m applying, I was questioned on my lack of variety in my career so far, the chairman of Las Palmas, Manual Vizcanio had even said I’ve done so well at Andorra, why am I looking to leave, and this is where I think I ruined the chance of getting the job.

I didn’t lie, I told him there were differences between myself and the chairman, and that I don’t think he has mine or the clubs best interests at heart, and so I am looking to move on for the good of my career. I assume looking back that this was why I wasn’t offered the job, and the role was given to Matteo Armand. I was disappointed but not deterred. Side note here, Gerard had extended his stay in Rome by another season, so my time with his was limited even more

So Andorra were heading into their second ever season at this level, and we had signed some players and had Quique Galera playing in the defensive midfielder role with the intention to control the game and we started off well. The role he was destined to play was the regista. Think Andrea Pirlo mixed with Gennaro Gattuso. I’m not kidding, this kid had it all. He never lost possession, he could win the ball back at ease, and he had quick feet for someone at 6’ 1’’, never got flustered and could pick a pass with his eyes closed. He really was destined for the top.

The season started as the last one ended, when we beat Zaragoza again, then took points from Mallorca who were relegated last season, Huesca, Sabadell and surprisingly Las Palmas and their new manager. Tarragona beat us, but we kicked on from then too by recording 3 more wins up to the end of October, where the next game against Real Betis, another relegated side looking to bounce back, which would be my 200th game in management. 100 games for Saint Josephs, and now my 100th game as FC Andorra manager. The years were just flying by!

Betis didn’t put much of a fight against us as we were rarely troubled in a routine 1-0 home win, Orihuela, Reus, Cadiz and Grenada were all beaten by us as we solidified third place in the league heading into the New Year. We did suffer defeats to Alaves, Girona and Alcorcon but we couldn’t win every game. Then I was linked to more teams, not just in the same division.

La Liga’s bottom side at the time Espanyol were looking for a new manager, I was the third favourite for the job, but nothing came of it. Real Betis then made a call, and I was tempted, but they were at the bottom end of our league, and we were second and could possibly be heading for automatic promotion, so I declined. Then teams in France got in touch. FC Bourg-Peronnas, Tours FC and SM Caen were all keen on me, I did speak to each of them but didn’t really feel like leaving a third place team in Spain trying for promotion, to go to any of the bottom three second tier in France teams at that time. Plus I always wanted to go to Red Star FC in France, and none of those teams really appealed to me then. Don’t get me wrong, as an avid French football fan, Caen certainly had the history, and the transfer budget they offered was good, but I was still right in the thick of it at Andorra and we were looking good to go up that year.

So with me still committed to Andorra, and the players playing well, Cifu was not only our leading scorer but he was the league’s leading scorer at that time with 21 at the start of February. Caval’s replacement on the left wing Franchu had chipped in with a league high of 15 assists, Galero in the holding midfield role also had himself 9 assists in his first full season as a player. Linking up with Mario & Athuman, they were combining to create a midfield trio that played off of each other extremely well, and we went into each game looking to win each one with absolutely no fear. This really was our coming out party!

In the final 3 months of the league, despite the confidence, despite the fact we’ve played extremely well and felt on our day we could beat anyone, we endured a miserable run of form. Luckily for us our form in the first 34 games was good enough to keep us in the top 6. With all that was happening on the pitch, off the pitch I was in a whirlwind.

Auxerre came calling. Another Ligue 2 side in France with a rich history and a big bank account, I was tempted to take over the 12th place side, with the intention of building something long lasting with that historic club. Ultimately, I turned them down. Girona also made contact, again something I did consider as they were also much better suited to promotion with top notch finances and facilities, despite at the time lurking around in 10th in our league. Real Betis, Real Sociedad and Valenciennes all reached out. All were good prospects, all but Betis were in a higher division, but I just felt loyal to Andorra and Gerard, not Pelayo but the club and the team, MY team. I’d built this team up of nobodies, free transfers and 2 loan deals and we were on course for promotion, if not automatically then a place in the play offs. We were making remarkable progress, and I really wanted to see it through.

Rightly or wrongly, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I turned them all down.
Chapter 22 – The last dance saloon

April saw us lose to Real Betis after I turned them down, the caretaker getting his first win at my expense. Orihuela took points from us, as did Reus and Grenada which meant for the first time in my career, we’d lost 6 on the bounce. Obviously Pelayo had to have some say, and the day after the Grenada game the little rat with the shit eating grin turned up at training, and told us all how disappointed he, the board and most of Gerard Pique were of our terrible form. I felt I had to stand up to this little suited up glorified pen pusher, and reminded him, sternly, that we’ve done extremely well and we were still 5th in the league, above the likes of Las Palmas and Grenada (joint favourites to win the league) in 7th and 9th respectably, Real Betis in 8th, Mallorca all the way down in 15th and Real Ovideo in 6th place. I could tell the players were all a mix of pissed off, confused and angry at the little runt’s speech, and if I wasn’t mistaken, this was the first, last and only time in my nearly 3 years in Andorra that he’d spoken to any member of the team. I don’t even think he spoke to Cifu during the trial the year before. Some chairman!

The next game for us was 5th versus second as we took on Almeira at home. This game will be remembered by me and Andorra fans as a game we dominated but lost. We hit the post 7 times, a Segunda division record, Cifu had 2 one on ones and missed them both, and the coup de gras was a missed penalty by Franchu. Actually one of those post hits was the penalty. But Almeira went and got a goal in the 85th minute, their 1 shot on goal. We were all dejected at this and our 7th loss in a row. The saving grace was that Las Palmas, Grenada and Alcorcon kept trading wins and losses to keep the gap between us which kept Andorra just in the play offs. But something had to give if we were to achieve a top 6 finish.

That something wasn’t a change on personnel or formation, no team talk to pick us all up, I just continued telling the team we’ll get through this, we’ve got ourselves in the top 6 for a reason and just keep doing what we’re doing. We weren’t playing bad but just hadn’t won. That was until we went to Oviedo and thumped Real Oviedo 3-0 to give us a much needed win. From then on it was all systems go. Cordoba, Racing Cub, Girona, Alcorcon and Alicante all tried and failed to beat us, as we went on a run of 5 wins and a draw to see us finish a respectable 4th in the league and on 70 points. A new record high for FC Andorra. Gerard was over the moon, Pelayo just sent a company wide email saying well done and that we’ll speak soon. What a little twat he was!

Our reward for that 4th place finish was a 2 legged play off tie against a team I turned down earlier that season Las Palmas. They got themselves into the play offs on the last day of the season.

An end to end away leg saw us go down 3-2, they managed to grab the winner late on. But we weren’t deterred and in the reverse fixture, we took it to them and as was the case for most of the season we dominated the game. We got our reward when Cifu nodded home at the far post. 3-3 on aggregate. All we had to do was not concede as the away goals rule was in effect and with us scoring those 2 away goals, we were on course to progress.

Which we did. The noise in the tiny stadium was deafening for a crowd of 2,024 fans. I forgot to mention in my contract I had a clause guaranteeing me 15 thousand euro if we made the play offs. Pelayo never mentioned it, but the money Andorra received for getting this far in the league eclipsed that, and at the end of year meeting it was announced that Andorra had made a healthy profit of over 4 million euros in my 3 years there. This profit would end up becoming a major talking point within the days after the play offs.

We had to get passed Cordoba over 2 legs in the paly off final. Cordoba had been in La Liga as recent as 2 seasons before this one, but the pressure was on them to perform. We were overwhelming underdogs. The media were pretty much saying it would be a matter of how many goals Cordoba were going to score against us. We all went into the first game with the mind set of we’ll give it our best shot, we’ve got nothing to lose but everything to gain. We’d beaten and drawn with Cordoba this season so we just had to do that again, but alas football doesn’t always go the way you want it to go.

Cordoba raced out to a 2-0 half time lead which wasn’t totally deserved. We kept at them but just didn’t have that quality in the final third. I thought if we could just get a goal, an away goal we might just nick this. But again, the footballing gods were against us that day as Cordoba grabbed another to seal a 3-0 in for them.

The return leg came, and the team talk was the usual, give it your all, we’ve done well enough, we’ve got nothing else to lose. I thought if we didn’t make it through this game, we’ve surely got enough to repeat this finish in the following season and who knows, we might just go up automatically. Everything was set for a fantastic game of football. We’d already beaten Cordoba in the league, we just needed to do it again but by 3 goals.

I was sure, convinced even, that we’d win this game. I’d had that dream where you’re standing with the trophy, and the fans and players are celebrating with you. This was it, I could feel it, this was when the footballing world would stand and take notice.
Chapter 23 – The night the line was crossed.

I wasn’t nervous heading into the second leg. We had Cifu playing well, a midfield trio playing really well but we were susceptible at the back on occasion, as were a lot of teams in the Segunda Division  that year. But I genuinely did not think we were coming out of that game anything other than victors. Which was true, to an extent.

We scored within the opening 5 minutes, Gelaya assisting Cifu as usual, but that was where our dream of promotion ended. The Cordoba goalkeeper played an exceptional game, pulling out stops left right and center. They barely threatened us and the keeper kept them in the game, which we did win 1-0, with promotion being so close yet so far away. The players were dejected, I’m sure the fans were as well, Gerard was upset but not down in the dumps as he had seen the progress we’d made in 3 short years. I was certain with 1 or 2 players, maybe Caval coming back for a third season that we’d take that extra step and be playing in La Liga before long.

At the end of season meeting with the team, I was honest. I’d told them we’d done well to finish where we had, and that next season we’d be taking that extra step. They were all on board with this and the awards were made by the press team. Cifu won player of the year, Bolkiah won goal of the season with his long range effort against Reus in November, Quique Galera won young player of the year and we had a lot to look forward to.

Then it happened. I had a meeting with chairman Pelayo Corominas in which I wanted to discuss extending my contract that ran out 2 weeks after the play-off game, and I saw the other side of this two faced greasy little runt. As this was Andorra’s second season in Segunda division, they had to increase the stadium capacity to 6,000, and the club had used their right to delay by 2 seasons, except now Andorra were certainly an established team at this level, in no small part down to me, but the club had to increase the stadium. Not an issue I thought, as noted earlier, the club made a healthy 4 million euro profit and was in the best shape of the full division financially, other than Las Palmas who were at the time the richest club in Spain not from Barcelona or Madrid. Pelayo was absolutely livid with me for not getting the club promoted to La Liga. When I say livid, I mean absolutely beside himself with anger and rage I can only describe as psychotic. Apparently, so the little rat said, the club had to take out a 6 million euro loan to secure the expansion the stadium needed. This sent alarm bells ringing in my head straight away.

Earlier that year, Benidorm FC who were promoted to the division below us, had been takeover by an investor, and he had built a new stadium, that holds, wait for it, 11,000 fans, with a corporate center next to it and of all things a fan interaction center where fans can meet players, which cost him 7 million euros, in total!. This was heavily publicised in Spain as the owner was a guy called Fernando Ramon, a media mogul with a flair for nightlife and being in the headlines. Not only that, Ibiza had also just won promotion from Segunda B and they had not exercised the right to delay, but still increased their home ground, Can Misses, from 4,000 to 6,565 fans for a cost of 3 million euros, according to the press reports. So where Pelayo had got the figure of 6 million, for less than an extra 4,000 seats from I’d never found out. But because we’d failed to secure promotion, that money was apparently never going to be recovered. As well this, so that shit house was saying, fan opinion of me was down, which meant a hit in season ticket sales was likely and the clubs lack of promotion also meant less revenue in TV money and sponsors, and the club were looking at a bleak financial future, all because of me!

I argued this with him, and I will here too. If you’ve got a stadium that holds 2,024 fans, and in every single game played in that stadium that season it sold out, as well as there being a waiting list for season tickets, surely increasing the stadium is going to increase both attendances and season ticket sales? Not just that, Andorra were the only team in Andorra playing in Spain, we’d made fantastic progress and it was only a matter of when, not if we would be playing in La Liga! Hindsight is a wonderful thing as now I know where this all stemmed from. But after arguing this with him, pointing out that not only did I not spend a penny in transfer or agent fees, and that we had spent less than 40 percent of the wage budget, increasing these would increase the likelihood of promotion, and that I was certain we’d be in La Liga by the end of the next season. It turned out that all this talk of money and lack of promotion, Andorra were never meant to survive that season yet alone finish as play off runners up, was all used an excuse to get me out of the club.

The official reason I was sacked was for failing to achieve promotion that I guaranteed we’d get. This was absolute bull shit and Pelayo knew it! I never once promised promotion, and in all my time there I told him we’d continue to make progress, nothing more than that. As well as this, Pelayo had apparently, as Gerard had told me after the sacking, made contact with other managers he wanted to get in my place. Raul was mentioned, he laughed it off. Paco Jimenez of Malaga was also approached, he didn’t even bother speaking to Pelayo. Julio Ribas, who was at Lincoln in Gibraltar and went back to Uruguay was also approached by Pelayo, but when he was approached Julio contacted me about it and was put off by my opinion of the FC Andorra chairman.

I felt bad for Gerard, which I’ll address shortly. But what Pelayo hadn’t bargained on, was loyalty, something he knew nothing about. Once he’d said to me that it’s best we go our separate ways and I was sacked, I went and spoke to the coaching staff. Without going into much details most of the staff walked out and followed me out of Andorra. Assistant manager Nacho Novo, chief scout Jose Verdejo, first team coaches Alex & Sergio Ballesteros, goalkeeping coach Raul Navas, head of youth development David De Coz, reserves manager Cesar Ramon and club ambassador Jonathan Forte. They all one by one went to Pelayo and quit on the spot.

The day of my sacking and the days after, there wasn’t much media fanfare or fan backlash because of it. If this was say England, and a small team from League One, let’s say Yeovil Town for arguments sake, say they were expected to be relegated from League One, but got promoted, then expected to go back down from the Championship, but stayed up then finished play off runners up the year after and the manager got sacked, there’d be Sky Sports, BBC and whoever else looking at it, fans, players, directors and even other managers would be asked about it. But because I was still an unknown manager (remember this part too, it comes in handy later) and Andorra were still ‘small’ in footballing terms, not much was said. But once SportPesa got the story, they did quite a big piece on Andorra from when I came in, where we had been expected to be relegation fodder in Segunda B, to where they were when I was sacked, play off runners up and one of the favourites to go up next season. They also detailed the staff that followed me out, and a paragraph that had 1 sentence that described my relationship with the players:

‘United they stood together on the pitch, and united they fell on the day Chris Irvine was sacked from the club’

United we stand, united we fall. That is precisely the best way to describe the fallout from the squad from my sacking, which again Pelayo hadn’t accounted for. The day I told the players what happened, Quique Galera, Andorra’s golden boy, a player wanted by the likes of Inter Milan, Fiorentina, AS Monaco, Man United, Ajax as well as most teams in Spain, demanded a move away. FC Andorra’s center piece for years, this was a player destined for greatness and someone who could bring success, and ultimately, money for Andorra wanted out. His midfield partner Sulayman Marreh, the league’s leading assist maker Franchu, goalkeeper of the season Jamie Robba, center halves Essome and Athuman and striker Cifu all handed in transfer requests and refused to play for FC Andorra again. Tarsi Aguado, Seb Coris, Pepe Caballe and Gabriel Benitez all agreed to put off contract talks until after the play offs as their deals all ended shortly after that game, all left on free transfers by the end of June that year.

So if you’re counting, that’s 4 first team players that had already left before the new season, and another 7 others that were first team squad players all demanded moves away from the club. I felt happy that these players all had my back and were willing to go down swinging for me, but I was disappointed for Gerard Pique.

In the days after my sacking, I’d spoke to Gerard, and without going into too much detail, Pelayo had actually owned a small percentage of Andorra, but Gerard was majority owner. Pelayo had put money into the club, so in many ways Gerards hands were tied. He did tell me that Pelayo had this grand vision of the team being managed by a big name, and he’ll lead the way to glory and Gerard was just along for the ride. But with Pelayo owning some of the club, and me already having left, there wasn’t anything Gerard could do. I just left it at that and we both said we’d keep in touch.

As for my own career, I genuinely thought I’d be in a job within days, weeks at most. I thought with some of the teams that had courted me, both in Spain and France that it wouldn’t be long before someone came calling. However it wasn’t quite that way. I’d sat and watched as Tenerife sacked and replaced their manager. CD Lugo, Espanyol, Valladolid & Zaragoza (for the third time in 1 year) all hired new managers. The World Cup had ended with France beating The Ivory Coast in the final, and there were a number of national jobs going. But I thought there’s no way I’d get on with a nation, not at that time anyway.

So I did what I always did when I was stumped, I rang Jorge Jesus, who was coming off a second place finish in the league, and winning the Portuguese league cup. We spoke and I vented my feelings to him, he asked me things and we discussed all manner of football. He then asked me a question which would change the course of my career:

‘Chris, have you not thought about managing here in Portugal? I could make a call, I know a guy’
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3 yearsEdited
Part 3 - Heading West
Chapter 24 – The Canadian Man O’ War

Once I’d finished talking to Jorge, my mind was kind of made up. I was hopefully going to take my skills and experience as a manager over to Portugal. Jorge’s agent had contacts all around the league and made me aware of some openings there.

First up was the CD Gouveia job. The manager had been sacked, he’d actually managed two back to back promotions that got them into the Portugal Premier league, but after finishing bottom he was let go. A team made up of mostly young players on loan, they had absolutely no chance of staying in the premier division that season. An interesting club and a definite rebuild job.

A big club, Boavista, were in the Liga II Ledman, the second division and their manager had left. Struggling to get any higher than 4th during the previous 6 seasons, they were looking for a manager to take them that extra step. A big opportunity if I could even speak to their owner.

SC Farense, another second division club, they’d been at that level many years, and just got by on staying there. Never really improving, it seemed as though they were content with the second division.

Then I was made aware of another job in Portugal’s second division, FC Famalicao. They’d been labelled as ‘the best of the rest’ in the second division. They’d never really threatened for promotion, always coming up short toward the end of the season, and I was interested in the position, mainly because I felt it was the right sort of job at the right time. Not somewhere with massive expectations like Boavista, whilst there was some improvements needed to the squad, it certainly wasn’t a full rebuild and redesign like Gouveia, and with a decent sized stadium, the 10 thousand seater Estadio Municipal de Junho, a chairman that was ready to spend the cash to take that extra step, and with Jorge Jesus there for any advice or potential players in Portugal, I had to go in for it. So I did.

One July afternoon I turned on the TV and saw on Sportpesa that Andorra had hired Pepe Mora to succeed me. I thought he’s got one hell of a job on his hands there. Galera’s agent had secured him a loan move to Real Oviedo with a future fee agreed if a certain number of games had been played. I spoke to Quique before the move was confirmed and told him it’s the right move at that time. If he had gone to one of the bigger teams, he’d end up lost in the shuffle, and really if or when the time came to go to a Barcelona, or Inter Milan or wherever, it would be better for him to be an established player, not one with potential.

As well as Galera not being there, Cifu, Marong and Robba all asked and were granted places on the transfer list. Cifu was discussing a move to Ibiza, Marong wanted to leave Spain all together and Robba had his pick of a number of teams, notably Malaga, Real Sociedad, Espanyol in Spain and Gronigen in Holland. I would watch their season with anticipation.

As for my own career, 5 weeks after leaving Andorra and I’d not so much as had a whiff of a new job. I’d seen a number of jobs, but only applied for the Famalicao job. Whilst waiting to hear from them, I was invited to an interview with both Gouveia and Boavista. I’d have been stupid not to attend either, so I did. I met the Gouveia chairman at a hotel in Lisbon, and I actually went to see the Boavista chairman at their training ground. I went in prepared to explain who I was, what I’d achieved and where I wanted to go in my career. I didn’t prepare any notes or bring anything to show at either interview, and I sort of regretted that during the Boavista interview. The chairman, Rui Castro, asked in English for me to show him how I’d progressed with Andorra. So I told him where we had been when I took over to where we had finished. He said it’s fine telling me this, but he would need to see it. I thought do I get my phone out and show him the league tables from previous seasons? I decided against it and played it off. We then spoke about player progression, the progression of both my previous teams as well as my own desires. But ultimately, the decision to hire other managers at both clubs was made. I learned from this and by the time I’d answered the call from Joaquim Botelho at Famalicao, I had a presentation ready, a lot notes, graphs and other things to present at my interview.

During my interview with Famalicao, it just felt right. I explained how I’d taken Saint Josephs from mid table to back to back league titles. I then showed graphs of where Andorra were, both in footballing terms and financially the 3 years before I took over, to where they were a couple of months before the interview in question. Obviously Joaquim knew all about it but I got the feeling I impressed him with my detailed statistical information. In basic terms, quite arrogantly, I said to him I would come in and do at Famalicao what I’d done at Saint Josephs and Andorra, take them from where they are now, to somewhere better within 3 years. I may have been putting a rod in my own back, but I was confident in myself. I was asked about my backroom staff, would I want to bring in my own people, to which I said yes. I’d built a healthy relationship with my own backroom team, and felt if my ideas and plans were to be implemented there I’d have to have them come in. The chairman agreed to this, but asked that we kept on 1 of the scouts. I had no problem with this as I’d need someone with knowledge of Portugal in my team.

2 days later I signed my contract. A 1 year deal, with a bonus of 22 thousand Euro if we finished top 2 in the league that season, which meant promotion to the Liga Nos, Portugal’s Premier League and an automatic 1 year extension, but also an optional 1 year extension if we only managed a top 8 finish. My contract negotiating skills would play a big part in my time at Famalicao.

With everything ready to go, I got a place for me and Rose to live in the nearby city of Braga. I made a few calls, and on 21st July, I was officially named the new first team manager of FC Famalicão.
Chapter 25 – I’m from Winnipeg, you idiot!

Portugal is such a lovely country, really it is. I knew it was a nice place from my meetings with Jorge Jesus, but I really started to appreciate it once I started at Famalicao. From the minute I walked into the club everyone welcomed me and I felt a part of the club right from the off.

After the usual meet and greets, here’s the catering area, players only lounge, directors box and so on, I met the only member of footballing staff that didn’t leave with the previous manager, a wily old character by the name of Steve Grayson. He was 62, originally from the East end of London, Hackney to be precise, a 6 foot 5 gentle giant with a voice so loud you could probably hear him over a jet engine! Once we met and discussed things, it turned out he’d been on a lot of scouting assignments for the club during the last 26 years that he’d been at Famalicao. A retired winger, the highest level he played was for Bristol Rovers in the old second division in the 90’s in England, before like me, heading to Europe and found playing time in the lower leagues of France, Sweden and Serbia before finally hanging his boots up actually playing his final 2 seasons for Famalicao at the ripe old age of 38. He’d been a scout for the club ever since hanging up his boots.

One thing that struck me about him was his knowledge of the game, and I felt it would come in handy. He was also a big character, fluent in Portuguese and Spanish, and nobody had a bad word to say about him. I remember our first day together

‘You’re the new gaffer then’

‘Yep, Chris, nice to meet you’

‘Steve, likewise sunshine’

‘So what’s the’ He cut me off

‘Don’t worry Tex, I’ve seen a lot of players and managers come and go, you know, I’ve heard all the usual spiel about change and progression, maybe you’re the one to change the club, who knows Tex’

‘Well, that’s certainly my aim’

It didn’t dawn on me until much later in the season, but he kept calling me Tex. I didn’t think anything of it until one day we were at training and I straight up asked him

‘Steve, I need to ask, why do you keep calling me Tex?’

‘Obvious innit, you’re from Texas’

‘What? No I’m not, I’m Canadian, I’ve told you this’

‘Really, are you sure?’

‘Yes Steve, 100 percent I’m sure’

I could see the cogs turning in his head

‘Oh, well Calgary sucks anyway, you should say you’re from Texas, it suits you better’

‘Calgary? I’m from Winnipeg you idiot!’

‘Oh. Go with being from Dallas, people will like you more’

Unfortunately for me and everyone at Famalicao, Steve wouldn’t see out the season and sadly passed away not long before the final game of that year. He hadn’t told anyone, but he had a rare heart condition and suffered a heart attack in his sleep. Nobody knew about it other than his doctor and Steve. He is sadly missed.

Whilst the club had the one scout on it’s books, I had already discussed with the chairman Joaquim that I would be bringing my own back room team in, just not all of them at that time. I had kept in contact with my staff that followed me out of Andorra, and for the most part they were holding out for a new role with me. Liam Walker, my star man in Gibraltar at Saint Josephs also stayed in touch with me following his retirement, and was actually the new chief scout at Benidorm. He’d bought into the new owners plan for expansion, so he was unavailable. My assistant at Andorra, Nacho Novo, had also been made a good offer to stay in Spain, and became Ponferradina’s assistant. Raul Navas had also got another role as goalkeeping coach at Tenerife. I was disappointed I couldn’t bring them to Portugal with me, but happy they’d landed on their feet.

I did however make calls with Jose Verdejo, who joined me for a third time as my chief scout, he brought his family to Portugal, and settled very well. Coaches Alex and Sergio Ballesteros also joined my backroom staff, as did Jonathan Forte to take up a scouting role, and head of youth development David De Coz also agreed the move to Portugal. All I needed was an assistant manager, and there wasn’t 1 too far away. I had a friendly chat with Gerard Pique during that summer, and he’d told me that his friend David Villa, yes that one, had finally hung up his boots after leaving New York FC and was looking for an opportunity as an assistant. Long story short, he came in as my right hand man in Portugal, he brought with him so much experience and good ideas, and my backroom set up was complete.

The idea in Portugal was always to improve. Improve myself and the players, get my backroom staff involved in building up the club and seeing where we could go. The club at the time hadn’t been in the top division in Portugal since the early 90’s, and went as far down as the regional leagues at one point, before gradually clawing its way back to Liga II Ledman, the second division, holding on to it’s place there for 8 seasons, finishing as high as 9th and as low as 18th of 20 teams. But the chairman had ideas of his own, and I was a big part of it. There was money there to spend, if we wanted to, but so far in 6 seasons, I’d not spent a penny on transfer fees. My signings were all loan deals and free transfers.

This wasn’t entirely by accident either. In Gibraltar, there was no money, period. Only in my third and final season were players earning any decent money and that was based off winning the cup and league, as well as our Champions League money. In Andorra, the purse strings weren’t as tight, but the players that were identified to come in and improve the team, we had signed were all on free transfers and loans purposely, which heled us massively. So this would be the first time I’d see a decent transfer budget, but I wasn’t going to be spending it all willy nilly.

I’d read a book about baseball in America, and a concept called moneyball. The basic premise is simple - to use player stats, a manager can build a team of players that are undervalued by their current teams by buying those players, and selling ones that are overvalued. This would be the start of a new strategic plan by me and Jose Verdejo in our pursuit of progress. It would start here, and evolve over time to a strategy I deployed ever since
Chapter 26 – Hardball? No, Moneyball

Before the rest of my staff were with me at Famalicao, there was just myself, Jose and Steve Grayson, and we did some analytical thinking. We pulled up all the stats of each player, and every other player in the league. I wouldn’t be looking at the ‘obvious’ stats, goals scored, assists gained that kind of thing, I was looking for the ‘under the hood’ stats of players.

The first thing Famalicoa didn’t have in their ranks was an out and out recognised striker, which was perfect for Chris Irvine and the birth of Moneyball. Overtime this term would evolve into Irvineball, as the media and opposition started taking notice, but that wouldn’t be for a while yet. So with no striker on the books, I discussed this with Steve and Jose

‘So that’s it, we’re not going to play with a striker’

‘Why not Tex? We’ll never score any goals’

‘Yes we will. Look at this’ I pulled the flip board over, and drew some lines.

‘Here, this is the attacking midfield left position, also known as a left winger, here is his right sided counterpart, and here, this big red dot, this is what we’re going to call the heckler’

Steve looked absolutely perplexed. ‘I see that, and the blue line, and the green line, they’re crossing over each other, so what does that mean they’re doing exactly Tex?’

‘Remember earlier, I said I wasn’t interested who had dribbled the much, or attempted more one on one’s, I was looking at something else entirely’

‘Which is?’

‘Passes which led to goal scoring opportunities, key passes, pass success rate, and successful first touches’

‘You’ve got data on all of those things?’

‘Yep. Opta stats are the guys behind it, you think of it, they’ve got a statistic for it’

‘Right, so we’ve no striker, but 3 attack minded midfielders, something called a heckler, so now what?’

‘The best bit’ I said excitedly

He sighed. ‘Go on’

‘These 3 fellas here, are going to intertwine with each other constantly, and I mean constantly! These 3 are never going to stop moving. Even defending corners and free kicks, they’re never going to stand still. The 3 of them are going to be our goal scoring threats’

He looked utterly confused. ‘Well I’m behind you mate 100 percent, just need to say there seems to be some method to your madness’

‘No Steve, you’ll soon come to see that there’s madness to my methods!’

With that we went on the lookout for some suitable players to fit into my new striker-less system. I had to have a front 3 that had unrivalled work rate, never lost possession, always looking to pass the ball forward and had an eye for goal. The stats I was looking at were distance covered per match, most key passes, most dribbles attempted and completed (this was a somewhat dubious statistic) and most key passes.

Already at the club were a couple of hard working central midfielders who would fit the mould perfectly, we just needed to work on the front 3. Luckily for us, we had a player by the name of Kakula, who was actually in the top 3 in the Liga II Ledman for most dribble attempts, distance covered per match and most key passes. He was straight in the line-up.

As for the other 2 starting forwards, a player by the name of Marquinhos Cipriano was playing at Rio Ave, and I made an offer of 75 thousand Euro, expecting to be rebuffed. His distance travelled per game was 7.2 miles, a league high, dribbles attempted per game was 5.2 another league high and key passes over the course of the previous season was 39. He ticked all the boxes. When I spoke to the Rio Ave manager, he was astounded I wanted to sign Cipriano. He’d scored a lowly 3 goals and grabbed 1 assist in 29 games. When asked why I wanted him, I lied and said I was short of wide players and just wanted someone experienced in this league. We got him and signed him within 2 days.

Next in was right winger Luis Machado. His stats were slightly up on Ciprianos, 6 goals and 6 assists in all 38 games for Moreirense, but he had travelled 6 miles per game, 41 key passes all season, 6 dribbles attempted per game and had won 13 games as a starter, to Ciprianos 10 games won as a starter.

So I had a front 3 of Kakula, Cipriano and Machado, all fit into the moneyball mentality and we worked on how we were going to implement this in training. We then looked at the defence and how moneyball was going to be implemented there. Without going into all the details here, we signed Pedro Fernandes at center half and we also had signed a right full back from Togo called Kodjo Semekono, and what a player this was. If you google the word enigma, this chap comes up. 6 foot 1, gangly and a lot of him, he was the quickest player I have ever seen. No word of a lie either. In Togo he had actually competed in the Olympic games and won gold in all relay races he participated in. He’d always played football, and had 1 hell of a long throw on him. Remember back in my second season in Andorra I told you I’d become known for using set pieces a lot? Well from here on out, we utilised the long throw to devastating damage. He wasn’t the best crosser or passer, but he could tackle, and as a hard working player that ran the line over and over and put a shift in, he fit the moneyball mentality right from the off.

Then 2 things happened almost simultaneously, that changed the way things worked for me and Famalicao that year. The first was Cipriano fell down hard in training and suffered a double meniscus tear and a partial ACL tear, and would be out for up to 7 months, most of the season! That one was bad timing, and I felt sorry for him as I was expecting to use him often that season.

The second was a phone call I received. I knew the number and answered. What I heard next wasn’t a cry for help, wasn’t someone using friendship as an advantage, but Jovanne Caval, who had actually left Sporting Lisbon to join Estoril that previous season (which is why we didn’t sign him in Andorra again) had told me they’d just broke their transfer record for a Brazilian left winger by the name of Luis Ener. He was a young player with big potential, and for 47 million Euro, Estoril were putting him straight into their first team, meaning Caval’s game time would be limited. I told him on the phone that I’d have to look into it as I’d not been in Famalicao long, and I’d contact his club if we could sort something out.

I did a quick look at his stats on Opta, and was surprised by what I saw.

Distance per game = 8 miles

Dribbles attempted per game = 9

Key passes over the season = 49

Pass completion ratio = 92%

Shots on target = 33

Goals = 2

Assists = 2

So his goals and assists weren’t up to much remember he is playing in Portugals top division, and we’re in the second division, but every other moneyball stat was high, and shots on target for a left winger at 33 got all my juices flowing, so I called Estoril. They weren’t messing around either, they wanted him off the books. We agreed a 1 year loan, with a mandatory future fee of 275K if we got promoted, or an optional fee of 200K if we didn’t. That my friends is an absolute steal for a player I had signed twice and knew would contribute to my first season in Portugal.

Everything was ready to go. My staff were in place. Jose and I would be perfecting Irvineball from that moment onward every day. The team were raring to go, my 5 new signings willing to prove a point, and so was I. I kept an eye on Andorra, and hoped they were watching me, because this season I was about to show the world 2 things.

The first is that Andorra were wrong to sack me.

The second was while you may not be able win anything with kids, you damn well can without a striker!
Chapter 27 – No strikers, no problem

Up to now I’ve not been arrogant in my words. At least I don’t think I have. But something happened to me in Portugal. I came out of my shell a bit and became different in myself, arrogant maybe not, but confident, that was certainly me. In Gibraltar I tried to cater myself to the players. In Andorra it was the same to an extent, I’d cater each team talk, each one on one discussion to that players needs or the media. But whilst in Portugal I decided that no, I wouldn’t do that and I’d say what I wanted and how I wanted to say it. That season was one of firsts for me.

The main first would be my 4-1-2-3 striker-less set up, which was taking the Portuguese second division by storm, and I was getting some well-earned recognition. I should point out at this time, on the press release announcing my arrival in Portugal, The Portuguese Football Press had ran with the headline ‘Unknown manager Chris Irvine takes Famalicao hot seat’. I was annoyed at this, as ESPN had ran a piece on me and my time in Andorra, plenty of French and Spanish teams wanted me during my final year with Andorra, and I’d won everything there was to win in Gibraltar, how was I unknown? The guy I replaced had won nothing at Famalicao, but that just made me more determined to succeed. Not only that but I was certainly known to many people in Canada, most Spanish teams knew me, so I don’t know where the term unknown came from.

From the start of that season up until January and the winter break, we had a record of 18-6-4. 18 wins, with no strikers, in a league that had tams such as Boavista (still a big club), Academica Coimbra (Portuguese FA and League cup semi-finalists and runners up respectively the season before getting relegated), Jaap Stam and his Penafiel side, GD Chaves and their manager Stephen Lichsteiner and not to mention to B teams of Benfica, Braga, Porto & Sporting Lisbon, who all had players ready for their respective first teams. This was in no way an easy league!

With no recognised striker, we still lead the charts in almost every stat:

League’s leading scorer – natural right winger Kakula with 18

League’s leading assist maker – Left winger Caval with 13

Most key passes – Machado, 18 at the time, so averaging 1 per game.

Key tackles – Semekono with 27

Most man of the match awards – tied Caval and Semekono with 6 each

Side note as well, Semekono had 4 assists to his name, all from long throws! The moneyball concept, as well as a focus on set pieces and sticking to my plan each and every time was working. The moneyball concept just began to grow and grow.

A number of times during my first season in Portugal I called Jorge Jesus and asked for advice or just for a chat. The role was reversed in January however, as he rang me.

‘Jorge, how are you doing my friend?’

‘Very well Chris, look, you usually ask my advice, but this time it is me that is looking for advice’

‘Fire away’

So we talked on the phone for an hour or so, and I gave him my honest opinion. If it was me having to make that decision, I would’ve done the same thing. He’s won the Portuguese top division 4 out of the last 5 seasons, won both domestic cups a number of times as well as progressing from the Champions’ League group stages in each of the last 5 years. The topic of our conversation was that Manchester City had sacked Pep Guardiola after many years in the job, but he’d not delivered a trophy in the last 3 seasons, and they wanted Jorge to replace him.

I could see his dilemma, he’d built a strong team at Sporting, he’d dominated the cups, and were Portugal’s sole representative in the semi’s of the Champions League in the last few seasons, but Porto and Benfica had rebuilt and had beat Sporting to the league the previous 2 seasons, with Sporting 5 points off top in third at that time, and Braga were always a threat, but this kind of opportunity didn’t come around a lot. The kind of money he would be given was unreal, but could he do what Pep hadn’t been able to? I told him if it was me, and I had the kind of career he’d had, and at his age, I wouldn’t say no. I’d go. He had nothing to prove, and really nothing to lose either. He’d made his mind up and would be presented as the new Manchester City manager a few days later. I wished him the best of luck, and deep down, I was happy on 2 fronts. The first being that my mentor and friend had been given an incredible opportunity, and the second was that I was happy I wouldn’t have to go up against another friend in a game!

We continued our form from then on as we took points from most teams in the league, only dropping points away to Benfica B, Rio Ave, Penafiel and Sporting Covhal. By the time May rolled around, and we had 2 games left to go, we were top on 72 points, Benfica B, who couldn’t be promoted due to their parent club leading the league above were on 71 points, ARC Oleiros in third on 70 points and in fourth all the way down on 60 points were GD Chaves. It was a straight race between ourselves, Benfica B and Oleiros to claim the league title.

We just needed to win one of our last 2 games, against Academica Colombria & SC Farense. If we didn’t, we’d be going up anyway as Benfica B couldn’t go up, so really it was all about grabbing that win that would see us go up as champions.
Chapter 28 – It’s all go from here

It didn’t matter that we had 2 opportunities to go up as champions, Academica Coimbra & SC Farense were both soundly beaten by a striker-less formation, and a (supposedly) unknown manager with a team of players that were hard working but undervalued by other teams. FC Famalicao were champions of the second division, and were rightly taking their place in Portugal’s elite from the following season.

One thing I prided myself on, arrogantly maybe, but I really made the effort in myself to change with the times, reinvent myself so to speak. Portugal afforded me the opportunity to start working on moneyball and going striker less in our approach. But I knew that what got us to the Premier division in Portugal wouldn’t keep us there. With teams like Sporting Lisbon, Porto, Braga and Benfica to face, we’d be eaten alive with no out and out striker or a natural goal scorer. I’d reinvented my way of thinking with the money ball concept, and it worked. But to survive in a league full of world class players, we’d have to go back to basics and grind out results.

During the off season, I’d decided that Kakula would be deployed as a striker, after grabbing a league high of 23 goals in our promotion campaign, it was a no brainer to stick him up top, and with his pace I knew he’d be an asset there. I just felt he needed a foil to feed off.

I had intended using Caval and Machado out wide, with Cipriano rotating with them. Our midfield and defence would also need work but that could wait for now. After going through scouting reports, 1 name stood out from the rest. Yaya Sanogo, once of Arsenal and AC Milan, was available from Werder Bremen in Germany.  Despite grabbing 12 goals in the Bundesliga, Bremen wanted him gone. From a moneyball side of things, he was a so-so kind of player. A modest return in stats, what I wanted was someone who would come in and contribute from the off. He had the experience and skills needed, so we made an offer.

400 thousand euro was enough to get accepted, and we discussed a deal with his agent. Remember in an earlier chapter I said my negotiating skills would play a part in my time at Famalicao, well his agent seemed like he didn’t really know what he or Sanogo wanted, or how to discuss a deal.

I always took control over player signings along with Jose Verdejo. I felt that as manager I needed to be involved in this kind of thing, despite a director of football approaching sweeping European football at that time. Not only that, but this would be my first real taste of dealing with a players agent where the player was a big name so to speak. In Gibraltar players were on non-contracts or part time deals. The players in Andorra were all lesser known players, and only a handful had agents, so I’d not really dealt with any agents up until this time. Sanogo’s agent had straight from the off asked for a modest wage of 9 thousand euro a week, I bargained down to 6. He wanted an appearance fee of 3 grand, I asked for and got it down to 1 and a half. The agent wanted a goal bonus and unused sub fee of 4 grand each, I again literally just asked for and got it down to 2 grand each. But the real clincher was a relegation release clause of zero euro. His agent said he was happy to accept all the lower fees, if we guaranteed a free transfer if we got relegated that year. I knew with absolute certainty that we were not going to be relegated that season, absolutely not! I don’t know what it was, whether it was because Jorge wasn’t in the league, or that despite there being a lot of world class players in the division it was very tight all across the league, I knew we wouldn’t be going straight back down. No matter what we would not be relegated and I knew it, just the agent didn’t. He said many times during the meeting that he would secure a move away if we went down, but I dismissed it at every turn. I just knew if we got the ball to Sanogo or Kakula, we’d have plenty of chances. The agent gave the usual line of we’ll be in touch once we’ve considered all options, but I didn’t think anyone else was in for Sanogo at that time. But I genuinely thought Yaya’s agent was a bit of an idiot.

As for other signings, we managed to snap up winger Tiago Dias from Boavista to complement the rest of the team. His moneyball stats fit right into the plan, lots of running, tracking back, enough dribblers per game and a keen eye for a pass. Our forward line was starting to take shape.

Before our season opener in the Premier League, Jorge Jesus did actually do what Pep Guardiola couldn’t at Man City, and that was deliver the Champions League trophy! He took over in January, by that time Man City had made it out of the groups, and under Jorge on their way to the final, they beat Bayern Munich, Liverpool & Man United before taking on the team I support, Paris Saint Germain in the final. The result was a 2-1 victory for Jorge, and much to my surprise he rang me after the game and thanked me for telling him to take the job. I couldn’t have been happier for my good friend and mentor. He’d solidified his status as one of the great managers of the game.

Whilst Jorge was winning the Champions League, I was awarded the Portuguese manager of the season award for the Liga II Ledman division. It is an award picked by the FA, and our 60% win rate was the best in the whole division in a season we dominated. The future certainly was looking good for me at that time. The same couldn’t be said for FC Andorra however, as they were relegated from the Segunda division after finishing in the bottom 4. I was both happy and upset at this. I was happy as it proved to Pelayo that he was wrong to sack me, and it showed. But I was upset because the players that were there didn’t deserve it, the fans of the club were great to me, as was Gerard Pique. But it is what it is, and I moved forward without Andorra and they took a huge step back without me.

For me that season it was all about improving, and the pre season odds of us finishing bottom of the league only gave me more motivation to do as well as possible. We kept on working on set pieces and sticking to a rigid set up. The main thing we wanted to be was a team that was hard to beat. If we got beat then I wanted the other team to have earned it, and not to have let them win easily.

Freamunde found this out on the opening day as we raced to a 2 goal first half lead after 15 minutes. We shut up shop and invited pressure, and soaked it up magnificently and grabbed a late third to let the league know we’re in the Premier division, and we intend to stay there! We picked up points against AD Fafe and Vitoria before we were given a lesson in top division football.

Over the next 5 games, we played Portugals top 4 teams, Benfica, Porto, Sporting and Braga, with a game against Pacos de Ferreira shoved in there for good measure. We were outplayed, outsmarted and were out performed in each of these games. Porto didn’t break a sweat in a routine 3-0 win, Braga hit us for 4, Sporting dismantled our steadfast defence 6-0, Benfica took their time in a 4-0 win in which they had 69% possession and we had exactly 0 shots on goal, and Pacos put 3 passed us in a showing that we had absolutely nothing going for us. If there was ever a lesson in the quality of football in Portugal, this was it.

I never lost my temper with the team after this horrid run, but we had been brought right down to Earth. We kept on working on defence and grinding out results. Whilst we never really dominated games, we picked up goods win over Arouca and Varzim in the league, as well as making progress in both of Portugals cup competitions that season.

Taca de Portugal and Taca da Liga, the Portugal FA and League cups respectively, gave us some much needed distraction from the league, but we only got as far as the fifth round of the Portuguese cup, and the third phase of the league cup, being beaten by Porto and Estoril respectively. Good form continued to be hard to come by, but we hung in there. So much so that by December of that season my name was once again mentioned elsewhere in the footballing world.

Over in England, and in the second division the Championship, Queens Park Rangers were struggling and were sat in 17th place, and sacked manager Zoltan Gera. I wasn’t actually mentioned in the press, but it was caretaker manager Marc Bircham who had put my name forward to the higher ups at QPR. He was a coach there as well as being on the coaching staff of the Canadian national team, and we knew each other fairly well from years ago. He’d reached out to me and told me my name had come up in discussions with the QPR board. Now I was happy at Famalicao, but intrigued by the prospect of the challenge in England. The transfer window wasn’t too far away and I had no doubt that there would be money available and the challenge was certainly appealing. What’s not to love about a team struggling in the second division, crying out for a saviour?

Speaking of the transfer window, the big club mentality kicked in to gear for me and the rest of the Famalicao players. FC Porto put in an official bid for full back Semekono, and they also, along with Benfica put a bid in for central midfielder Laurent Ngongang, who was a stand out for us up until that point. Both young players with incredible upside, their heads were turned by the prospect of playing for 1 of the country’s top clubs. I tried in vain to convince them to stay, but ultimately their minds were made up, and I wasn’t going to be held to ransom. Both were immediately put in the reserves and told to train with the under 19’s. I wasn’t going to be playing either of them until they were back to being committed. A harsh move maybe, but once a players head goes that’s it, no matter how good they were, and I didn’t want anything to derail us that season. Semekono had the decency to tell me that once Porto were interested, he’d put the thought of playing for Famalicao out of his mind, basically he was at the point of no return. But with both of these players, I’d have the last laugh.

As it turned out there were other clubs interested in both, and I’d already made the decision to sell them both, just not to teams in Portugal. After speaking to each individually again, I said I’d accept bids for either player, but not to anyone in our league. Long story short, Ngongang agreed a deal with FC Lorient in France, and Semekono was shipped off to Osasuna in Spain. I was upset at both sales, both were great players and had a lot to give, but they engineered the moves, and I wasn’t going to give in easily. The club make healthy profits on both.

With this going on with these 2 players, I was still considering the interest from QPR. But with the door closing on Ngongang’s Famalicao career, another door opened. I was presented with a good opportunity to immediately replace Ngongang. Alan Dazagoev, formerly of CSKA Moscow for many years, was transfer listed by Las Palmas (side note here, during my negotiations with Las Palmas a couple of season before this one, I didn’t actually realise Dzagoev was with them), and we managed to get him in on loan. Whilst I was disappointed to lose a good up and comer in Ngongang, Dazagoev was a more than suitable replacement. His loan deal was for 6 months and I was sure he’d make an impact.

From the New Year to the end of the transfer window, we picked up wins over AD Fafe & Gil Vicente whilst we drew with Freamunde to give us some much needed points. Nothing came of the reported interest from QPR, although I did have a chat with their sporting director, and he said whilst my name was near the top of their list, he wanted the club to be in a position to improve before approaching someone like me, as relegation seemed certain. I was thankful for the honesty and felt my name in football was picking up some reputation.

Our first game since the end of the January transfer window was a home tie with Benfica. They were top of the league, closely followed by Sporting and Porto, all on 48 points, with Benfica holding a slightly better goal difference.

Us on the other hand, were sitting quite comfortably in 8th place on a respectable 30 points. Portugal’s biggest and most successful club, they’d put 4 passed us earlier in the season, and were playing well. Oh, and they had a manager by the name of Massimiliano Allegri, not sure if you’ve heard of him? Yeah, we were huge underdogs in this game.
Chapter 29 – Massimiliano Allegri, we meet for the first time.

I didn’t say, but the first time we met Benfica in my first season in Portugal’s top division, Massimo Allegri missed the game through illness. His assistant took control of the game and he took control of me and my Famalicao side of that season, running out deserved 4-0 winners. In the media build up to the reverse fixture in their stadium it was just a matter of how many Benfica were going to score. Paulinho had 14 league goals at the time, Gimenez had 11 assists, Edison had 9 clean sheets and the team hadn’t lost in 14 games in all competitions.

During our own preparations for the game we all seemed relaxed, but not too relaxed. Kakula lead the league with 15 goals, Dias and Caval were always a threat out wide and we’d always back ourselves to score from any dead ball situations. But we had an ace up our sleeve, in the form of Russian midfielder Alan Dzagoev.

He’d not actually played much during the season up until his loan move to us from Las Palmas, but he was ready and raring to go in his first appearance for us against Benfica. In training I saw what an exceptionally talented player he was. You don’t get to play at CSKA Moscow for over 11 years, then Newcastle United’s FA & League cup winning squads, and appearing at multiple World Cups with Russia without having a bit of talent. Okay so nearing 35 and at the back end of his career he’d maybe lost that yard of pace, but his technical ability was still top drawer. In training I paired him with Jimmy Junior and Andre Perre as it would 2 of these 3 starting each game. The first thing that stood out was when the ball would come to Alan, he’d already see the wide man making a run, and instead of taking a touch he’d do like a little flick with his foot, and use the outside of his boot to play the ball, it was really flashy looking type of pass but in training it came off 100 percent of the time. I told him before the Benfica game, if he were to try it in a game he has to be sure it came off, he assured me it would only be done if he could pull it off. Another thing about him was he never got flustered. I designed some plays for the defence to try and double up on him in training, but most of the time he got out of the situation with ease. I thought did that say more about him, or less about our defenders? Either way we had a real talent on our hands.

The day before the game, we had the usual press conferences, pre game briefing and everything was set to go. I told the team in no under certain circumstances that whilst we were the underdogs, we should still go out there and give it a go. We were solid defensively for the most part that season and had a potent forward line. We worked on set pieces, defensive positions and attacking movement in the week or so before the game. Although it was none of those things that stood out in this game.

On the way to the pitch I was approached by Massimo Allegri. We had a few friendly words to each other and he seemed like a genuine down to Earth type of guy. But during the game I saw him for what he really is. I gave some last minute instructions to my team and off they went, and I saw Massimo doing the same. He was talking mostly with his hands, pointing here and there, and the few players stood near him were nodding.

From kick off the game was what you’d expect, a promoted team chasing the ball, not having much possession, and the league leaders dominating the ball and probing, waiting for the right time to carve out a chance. There were half chances here and there but nothing to worry about. All the while Massimo was stood on the side-line again just giving orders literally just with his hands, I saw him shout at Fernandes in the middle, and when the player turned Massimo just pointed at him with 1 hand, then made a circle motion with his other hand, and Fernandes went from his position in the middle over to the left wing, picked up the ball and drove inside and won a corner for his troubles as we struggled to stop the surging run. I thought how the hell did Fernandes know what Massimo meant just by pointing and making a circle motion with his hand?!? But here’s where the game turned on its head.

From the corner, it was Fernandes who whipped in an in-swinger. It was met by 1 of their defenders, but our center half Ruben Pereira got his foot under the ball and hoofed it out of the box, where Tiago Dias was lurking. He controlled the ball perfectly on his right foot, turned and ran down the right wing. He was joined on the counter by Kakula and Dzagoev. Kakula and Dias were both so much quicker than Dzagoev, but he managed to keep up, and by the time all 3 were on the edge of the Benfica box, both their full backs were there but none of our boys panicked. Dias carried on running then passed the ball infield to Dzagoev just on the D and he did that little flick with his foot, and as he did one of their covering full backs came in for the tackle, missed the ball as it had already been flicked towards Kakula. As Kakula had taken the touch to control the ball, Dzagoev was fouled but the ref was waving play on, and Kakula steadied himself, head up and picked his spot then placed the ball with his left foot beyond Edison in goal to give us an unexpected lead, at Benfica, within the first 10 minutes!

Whilst our bench was jumping for joy and the 700 or so fans that made the trip to Lisbon were cheering on from the away end, I looked over at Massimo and he was still just this cool calm and collected figure on the touch line. I was ready for the expected pressure from them, and they duly delivered. It was backs against the walls for the rest of the first half, with our defence defending like their lives depended on it. Our 2 wide men dropped back and Kakula was very isolated up top, but we had no alternative really other than to soak up the pressure and try and either get them on the break or hold on until half time, which we managed to do.

Our team talk was all about holding on, try and cut off the passing lanes and keep our shape. We didn’t make any subs, as really, for all the pressure we had been under, Benfica weren’t really threatening us too much. From the second half they did however threaten us, more than once.

They had chance after chance within the first 20 minutes of the second half, but our keep M’Fa was there to stop what he could, Fernandes hit the post from long range, Pereira headed a shot off the line and Caval made a late challenge that looked to be in the box and a certain penalty, only for VAR to rule it was outside the box, just, by millimetres. From the free kick it was cleared but during all of this I was on the edge of the technical area screaming orders, so was David Villa as we were desperately trying to keep the score in our favour. What I also noticed was that Massimo, losing the game, and for all their hard work his team were still unable to break us down completely, he was still this relaxed figure who I didn’t hear raise his voice once.

When there was a stoppage in play he was talking to his coaching staff on the side-line and even then he was just talking, not shouting just talking and moving his hands like he was when he was when giving instructions to Fernandes earlier in the game. When the subs were being made by both of us, myself and Massimo were actually stood next to each other. He looked over to me and said ‘you were lucky with the free kick’ but before I could reply he carried on by saying ‘you’re also a very structured team. You’re making it hard for us’ before going back to his dug out. I didn’t take this as some reverse psychology, I took it for what I was, mid game praise.

My nature was to scream on the touchline, something I would work on, but at that time in Portugal, I was very animated on the touchline barking orders and doing what I could to keep the game in our favour. But despite losing, Massimo never once lost his temper and right until the ref blew for full time was still the same laid back demeanour.

After the game he congratulated me and our team for the win, and told me he’d be keeping an eye on me and my progress. During this game there was a photograph taken by one of the media people there that was printed in a newspaper after the game, and it’s such a great picture I contacted the paper and asked for and paid for a copy of it to be printed off and sent to me. I’ve even got it framed in my office in Winnipeg. Not long before the ref blows for full time, the cameraman has taken a shot of me with my hand out holding all 5 digits up and screaming something or another, and the way the photo has been taken it looks like Massimo is stood right next to me, but in reality he was stood behind me, and he has this look of pure disgust on his. Both sides of each manager during that game. Mister screams a lot and never shuts up, and mister laid back doesn’t say much. It really is a great shot.

From that game on, I made a concerted effort to try and tone myself down on the touchline, not so much change my ways, how I’d been so far had served me well, but if I was to become known as one of the best, I had to act like one.

You are reading "From Winnipeg, with love. Memoirs of a football manager".

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