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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
Chapter 30. All rise

The Benfica win really put the confidence in our team from that match on as we were not only hard to beat, but we didn’t lose much from then either.

Pacos De Ferreira, Maritimo, Arouca, Varzim, Feirense, Olerios, Estoril, Gil Vicente, Moreirense & Portimonense all failed to beat us, with wins coming in all but the Pacos & Moreirense games. Okay so we were soundly beaten by Guimaraes, Braga, Porto & Sporting Lisbon, but for a promoted team expected to struggle to finish off the bottom of the league, to win over 15 games and finish a very respectable, and fully deserved 6th in Primera Liga Nos, I’d happily get beaten by those teams again and again if it meant we finished where we did that year.

For little ol’ Famalicao, Kakula was not only our leading scorer but the leagues overall leading scorer with 26 goals. Tiago Dias grabbed 11 assists, Caval was given the player of the year award and I was awarded my 6th manager of the season award. It was truly a great year for us.

With all the highs on the pitch, here was where some of my off the field issues started. After suffering a fall during my final season in Andorra, I actually herniated 3 discs in my back. I kept it quiet from everyone close to me, and only I and the doctor in Spain knew of the injury. The problem this caused was that whilst it was an excruciating injury, it wasn’t bad enough to be operated on, and had to be maintained with painkillers. Throw in my sciatica and you’ve got a recipe for painful days and nights. It was around this time in my career that I started taking a step back in training. At 38, with a surgically repaired ankle from 10 years earlier, and now a broken back, my mobility was starting to be affected by these things, not too much, but after training with and as much as the players during the first 8 years of being a manager, I had started to notice a difference and more and more pain. I did see a doctor in Portugal and was prescribed pain killers to take in moderation. However the pain was getting worse and whilst I was taking the medicine, as time went on, I craved more. Not just more medicine, but with the painkillers being mixed with sleepless nights, as well as an exciting season coming up, I craved more of everything. This was just the beginning of my personal demons starting to rear their ugly head.

As Pacos De Ferreira won the Portugal FA Cup, and had finished in 5th in the league, they had already qualified for the Europa League, so the spot they would have got for winning the cup went to the team that finished 6th in the league, if they hadn’t already qualified for continental football, and it was us! So not only had we won promotion to the top flight, but in our maiden season we’d not only secured survival by a massive 29 points separating us and the bottom 2, but we’d managed to qualify for the Europa League as well! We had so much going for us that season and momentum was certainly on our side.

I knew the team was capable of a good showing in the league, and with 2 domestic cups, as well as the Europa League coming up, we needed to invest in the playing squad, as this was going to be one hell of a season for us, just in the increased number of games we were going to have to play. I decided that we were going to take the cups seriously, all 3 of them that upcoming season, as we’d got knocked out early on in the previous season but that only helped our league campaign. So I got Jose Verdejo and the rest of the scouting team together to strategize some new signings. Moneyball once again was in effect.

Before our recruitment drive started taking shape, my name was once again mentioned in various news outlets. As it was the end of season in Portugal, it was actually mid season over in the States. Orlando City had sacked their manager Ritchie Williams in June that season and my name was put out as the favourite for the role and was reported on quite heavily in America. My dad even rang me one day (it was night time in Canada) and asked me why I’d not told him I was moving to Florida for the Orlando job. I told him I hadn’t spoken to anyone there, it was news to me! He knew the owner of the club and was going to speak to him about it, but I wasn’t actually interested in leaving Famalicao at that time. Don’t get me wrong, the urge to take my experience and skills over to North America and be closer to Canada was always on my mind, but with the Europa League coming up, I wasn’t about to leave for America just yet.  Once my dad was contacted by the Orlando chairman he told him Chris Junior would be staying in Portugal for the time being. My name was still mentioned in the press in America, it was eventually mentioned in Portugal, but nothing official came of it and I would be staying in Portugal, for the time being.

With the interest in me being public, I was offered and happily accepted a new contract with Famalicao. I literally just accepted an extra year, with the same wage but a bonus if we got to the semi’s of either domestic cup, and if we got to the groups of the Europa League. With the extra year added I was ready to make a statement that season and go all out to win something.

Before the squad returned for pre season training it was announced that Bosnia and Herzegovina were now part of the European Union, which would help us that year. We signed a young left full back called Alen Dazfic from Bosnia which didn’t go against our non-EU player quota. He was quick, had a good touch and was a good tackler. I had a lot of hope for him.

We also made Alan Dzagoev’s move permanent by signing him on a free, as well as signing striker Fernando Figueredo from Moreirense, this would turn into a bit of a love / hate relationship. He fit the moneyball mentality perfectly, lots of running, plenty of key passes, and as a back to goal striker he held the ball up well and had a fair amount of shots per game,  but his return on 29 games and 5 goals didn’t set the league alight and Moreirense wanted him gone. For half a million Euros, this turned out to be great business in more ways than one.

Players moaning in the modern game was noting new and Anthony M’Fa, my first choice goalkeeper who’d played every league game in my 2 years up to that point wanted to return home, so he was given a free transfer. I wasn’t going to try and hold a player with me that wanted out, he was throwing away Europa League football and ultimately money but that was what he wanted, and back to Africa he went. His replacement however, Clint Irwin from my native Canada came in from Seattle Sounders for 100,000 Euro had no such issues. A regular for the Canadian national team and a multiple time winner of the MLS, he came in with a winners mentality and straight into the starting 11.

If you remember I had a few games in the Champions League back in my time in Gibraltar, and travelled to The Farore Islands and Kazakhstan, but my maiden season in the Europa League saw us travel to Bulgaria for a third qualifying round tie against Botev Plovdiv. In the Bulgarian league they finished third, but against us they were second best. Kakula and Sanogo combining well to give us a 2-0 lead which we never looked like giving up.  The return leg at our stadium was a lot different, in that we thumped them 5-0 to record a 7-0 aggregate victory and passage into the next round where we’d be travelling to Denmark to face Brondby. We were the home team in the first leg, and they managed to bring around 1,000 fans to see us draw an incredible game 3-3. We took the lead, they equalised. They took the lead, we equalised. We then took the lead again late on, only to let them back in to the game. 3 away goals meant we had no other option but to win the return leg in Denmark.

Before that return leg were 2 games in the league, we beat Nacional at home but lost the away game at Varzim. We were all over the place in the Varzim game and I hoped we wouldn’t continue that on in the return leg in Denmark. We had to win the game by any score to progress, but those 3 away goals meant we could not afford to even draw this match.

We set up to win the game. New boy Figueredo up top with Kakula, Dzagoev and Perre in the middle, Caval and Cipriano out wide. Rigid back 4 and Irwin in goal. We intended to take it to them from the off in Denmark, but one thing that stood out like a sore thumb was the atmosphere. I’d never in my 8 years as a manager experienced anything like it.
Chapter 31 – One night in Denmark

The fans in Denmark gave us a warm reception. By warm I mean an intimidatingly hostile reception. It felt as if all 4 stands were against us that night in Brondby. We managed to take around 400 of our own fans, but they were put high up in the stand and we could barely make them out.

Whilst we’d intended to really give Brondby a game, I could tell the team were nervous in the early stages.  A couple of mis-placed passes, poor first touches for the most part, and a lack of movement going forward meant we were under pressure without actually being put under any actual pressure from the hosts. Only Clint Irwin in goal seemed composed and ready for the game, and why not? He’d been in many big games before, held the number one spot for our national side for over 10 years and played in hostile environments in Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador to name a few. He was barking out orders from the edge of the box but nothing was clicking.

Brondby hit us with a couple of half chances, nothing Clint had any pressure with though. He played the ball up field, played it short to the full backs, tried getting Dzagoev and Perre in the game but nothing was happening until the 36th minute, when Brondy’s forward line broke our defence apart and they had a one on one with Clint, who just threw all 6 foot 4 of himself at the forward and the ball went out for a corner. Clint was up and screaming at the team he was absolutely livid with them. All 10 outfield players came back for the corner. It was whipped in toward the penalty spot and Clint out jumped everyone and caught the ball. As soon as he did Caval and Cipriano were off.

Clint launched the ball forward and as he did every player in our box was after it, but Caval was the fastest player on the pitch. He expertly controlled the ball, went on a run from just inside the Brondby half with Cipriano supporting. He’d dribbled passed the trailing full back and by the time he was yards away from the D, the keeper had a choice to make, come for the ball or stay back. Luckily for us he made the wrong choice by coming off his line which gave Caval the opportunity to play in Cipriano. As the ball was played backwards Cip wasn’t offside and he stroked the ball into the empty net to give us a 1-0 lead. Once again my focus on set pieces, not just attacking them but defending paid off.

From then on it seemed as if Brondby were determined to disrupt the flow of the game. In the ten minutes after the goal, Kvist went in late on Dzagoev to get a yellow. Weston barged into Perre on the half way line to get himself booked as well when he really didn’t need to, we weren’t going anywhere at that point in the game and Yacub also got booked for dissent when he screamed at the linesman when a decision went our way.

Half time came and went, and during the break a section of the Brondby support had set off flares in the stands and the grounds security staff were called in. The second half was delayed by 35 minutes because of this and some fans were even removed from the stadium. If anything the extended break served us well as we remained calm in a hostile environment and held the lead.

When the game finally restarted, we set out like we did in the first, very nervy but just holding on. Brondby came at us with everything they had but Clint in goal was equal to everything that was thrown at him. Long shots, not a problem. A couple of close range efforts, easily dealt with. A shot from inside the box that clipped our left back Dzafic’s foot and changed direction in the air? Still a routine stop for a keeper having an incredible game. It seemed nothing was going to get passed him in goal. It also seemed to frustrate our opponents too, as just like the first half, they were picking up yellow cards as if they were the in thing at that time. Kyster, Hvid, Borup and Wintner all received cautions by the 80th minute, and most of the 7 players on yellow were still on the pitch, which we tried to use that to our advantage. More than once Caval took a run at Kyster at right back, and Cipriano did the same on the left against Weston, hoping to get fouled and they get a second yellow. An unconventional approach but one used by just about every manager ever, it was certainly something that helped us as both their full backs were easing off and giving our wide men free reign and we got more chances because of it.

We did manage to get a goal late on, and we certainly deserved it. Caval and Cip once again teaming up on the flanks and new boy Figueredo thumped home a cross from Cipriano to give us a 2-0 win on the night, and a 5-3 aggregate win.

FC Famalicao, a small club near the big city of Braga, were into the group stages of the Europa League for the first time in their history. With so much to look forward to, nothing could go wrong, or could it?
Chapter 32 - Ups and downs, smiles and frowns

It was August 2024. The draw for the Europa League was made.  Famalicoa were drawn against Marseille of France, Feyenoord of Holland and Standard Liege of Belgium. We were the underdogs in the group and were expected to get beat 6 times out of the 6 games we would be playing in Group I. Not on my watch!

I was absolutely ecstatic at the draw. We were going against 3 big clubs, and 3 teams I thought if we do well against them, not only will my stock continue to rise but the profile of the club would as well, which would only cement my place as a great manager. But I had my own problems to deal with as well as trying to continue the clubs rise.

My morning routine every day at home was this. Wake up around 5am, let the dog out, take 2 or 3 oxycodones for my back pain, depending on how bad I was aching in the morning. Eat breakfast around 6.30/7, take 3 tramadol tablets and head off to the training ground. During the day there I would take between 3 and 6 tramadol and 3 more oxycodone tabs before I got home in the evening. On away games it would be the same routine just in a hotel somewhere without the dog and heading to the away ground or training ground of our opponents. I was getting to a point during this season in Famalicoa where I would skip eating food in place of pain killers. It wasn’t even about relieving myself of pain by the end of that season. I was more concerned with the feeling of euphoria opiates give you. They give you a sensation that you know the pain is there but you don’t react to it. There was no denying it, by the end of that season I’d become reliant upon pain killers, and I was an addict.

Often times I’d have my bag with me, boots, training tops, gloves the usual, and then I’d carry inside the training bag a smaller bag chock full of my pain killers. I’d lied to my doctor in Braga about my pain and he’d prescribed me more tablets then I initially needed, but with the pressures of being a football manager, I started to notice at this point in my career it had started to take a toll on me. I was always trying to impress people with my conduct, the board, fans, media, my players and staff. I wanted to be known as a model professional. If anything came out about my addiction I felt it would ruin the perception I had made for myself. This would be an ongoing thing for me.

During my third season in Portugal, I was continuing on as if nothing was the matter. On the pitch we were gradually showing everyone that with a dedicated manager and back room staff, and the right playing personnel that continued improvements could be, and were being made. We weren’t playing teams off the park, but we were outplaying them, if that makes sense? We were always the first to second balls, always created more half chances and more often than not in this season were scoring more than we conceded.

Case in point, we came up against Benfica early on that season, and the previous seasons win there was still in my mind as the greatest victory of my career up until that point. Well things like that are there to be beaten and once again, at Benficas ground, we outplayed, out muscled and outperformed the team of superstars as we once again got a goal on the break in the first half and held on. We had managed to double the lead late on to record another away victory at Benfica. Massimo Allegri 0, Chris Irvine 2.

That win over Benfica was just the sort of game we needed to have as we then had Ligue 1 side Marseille next in our Europa League group stage opener. As a French Canadian, I knew all about this team and being a PSG fan, I knew they used to be a big side, and I wanted to beat them badly.

As was routine, I took my painkillers before the press conference, felt relaxed as the opiates started kicking in, and went on to tell the press at Estadio de Municipal, our home stadium, that I’m confident we can upset the apple cart a bit. I was laughed at by some members of the press that afternoon, it didn’t faze me, but it did make me more determined to show people that didn’t take an interest in Portuguese football what we were capable of.

They tried and tried and tried, but failed to get the better of us. Famalicao were a bit like the Greece side that won the Euro’s that time, we kept getting hit and put under pressure, but we got right back up. Just ask Remi Garde and his Marseille side that year. 3-0 in our favour, and not once did they look like creating anything in that game. We were on a roll that season and I felt nothing could stop us.

Well, nothing externally anyway could stop us. We had players that played their role perfectly. We had squad players that came off the bench or played back up that did as well as could be expected. Kakula was banging goals in for fun. Caval, Dias and Cipriano were tearing the Portuguese top division apart with their pace and trickery. Dzagoev was the leagues best deep lying playmaker, Perre and Junior were his supporting holding midfielders and were the perfect foil for him. Back up striker Figueredo was averaging a goal every other game. Even our back line was strong and put opposing forwards under pressure. By the end of November, we’d played and beaten most sides, not just in the league but we’d beaten Feyenoord (in my 100th game as Famalicoa manager) and Standard Liege in our group in the Europa League. We were sitting third in the league, losing only to leaders Sporting Lisbon and Porto, we’d got to the group stage of the Taca da Liga, Portugals league cup, and just had to avoid defeat to Marseille in the first game of December that year to progress to the next round of the Europa League. Then I got a call.

It was the director of football at Braga. He was calling to confirm the signing of Tiago Dias. The same Tiago Dias that was leading the league in assists and key passes. Little did I know he had been talking to Braga about signing for them on a free transfer when his deal ran out at the end of that season. The rule at the time was a player can sign a pre contract agreement from 7 months remaining on his deal, it used to be 6 but was changed by the Portuguese FA beginning that season, for reasons I’ll never understand. It was an oversight by the club, but we’d agreed to sit down with the players in their last year starting in January. So on the day before a massive game in France, we get news our first choice right winger was leaving. I wasn’t ready for this, and I really didn’t want this happening with any other player.

I told the team in the meeting before the Marseille game that Tiago was leaving, and that he wasn’t in the squad for the game. He actually watched the match from the stands. I’d set myself a precedent with the 2 players the January before that had decided they were leaving, and refused to play them, so I had no choice but to be persistent and drop Tiago. He didn’t play another game for me from December until the end of that season in June.

Without playing it down too much, Marseille again were no match for us, and this game was significant in more than one way. Taking out the 2 games they played us, Marseille had not lost a competitive game from the start of their season in August where they also, like ourselves played in Europa League qualifiers until the second game with us. They beat teams in their league such as PSG and Monaco, beat the other 2 teams in our group, but lost both times to us. 23 games in total, 21 games unbeaten. But 2 games against us, both defeats. In my arrogance I thought surely to God, the footballing world is now taking notice of me? Whether that was true or not, this small club from Portugal had once again defied all the odds and we eagerly awaited the draw for the next round of the Europa League.

Before then however, we had 4 league games, in which we won 3 and drew 1, the draw being a tough 0-0 away to Porto. We also had the Portugal FA cup game against Piadade where we won 2-0 to secure passage in that competition, where we were drawn against Benfica.

The squad and staff all left for a well-earned 2 weeks rest over the festive period. We didn’t have a game until after the New Year and I was quietly confident of making progress in both cups, the Europa League and continuing on our fantastic domestic season. Despite the news that Tiago had made the decision to leave us, everything was going swimmingly. That was until the second of January, when once again I received a phone call.
Chapter 33 – Mass exodus

Tiago Dias didn’t have the decency to allow me or the club to sit down and discuss extending his deal, which I thought was a dick move if there ever was one. Little did I know he wasn’t the only one that was talking to other clubs from our first team.

Fernando Figueredo, who we signed from Moreirense 6 months before, was discussing terms with Espanyol in Spain. Partly my fault really, we only gave him a 1 year contract because privately I didn’t think he’d make a step up from his so-so season previously and I was really only expecting him to be a solid back up. With Tiago once I’d heard about it the deal was done and signed off, so I had no chance to renegotiate his deal with us. But Figueredo hadn’t yet signed for Espanyol, but after an impressive 21 goals in all competitions in the 6 months he’d been with us he’d far exceeded my expectations, and I would have happily given him a new deal, but he’d said they were paying him a lot more than what we be able to offer. I don’t know how he came to that conclusion if we’d not been given the chance to talk about it. But as with the 2 players the January before, and with Tiago, I had no choice but to stick to my own rules and drop Figueredo as well.

The bad news kept coming my way in that January, as not only was Figueredo leaving on a free transfer, but Yaya Sanogo decided he wanted to leave Portugal because he missed being home in France. This was bull shit and he knew it. He’d not lived or played in France in over 12 years and being home sick was just the excuse to engineer a move away. Whatever I thought, he’s only played a bit part role so far that season, but once Figueredo was leaving I thought Yaya would start more games, but unfortunately for him he would be joining Dias and Figueredo in the reserves.

Those 3 were also joined by yet another player leaving the team. Young winger Georgy Vasiliev, a free transfer that summer had agreed a move to Russian side Dynamo Moscow. Whilst he was getting a run out for us at the time, he let the extended game time (he made 26 appearances up to that point) get to his young head (he was 19) and the praise he had received (A Portuguese reporter claimed he could be the next Andrey Arshavin) played a part in him leaving. I had no doubts that Dynamo Moscow offered him more money and game time, and to play in the country of his fathers birth probably helped make his mind up. But the thing that irked me about the 3 players agreeing deals elsewhere was that none of them came to me about it. Dias was into his second season with us and was 1 of our stand out players, the other being Kakula. Figueredo was playing out of his skin in the 5 months prior to his agreeing a move elsewhere, and Vasiliev was playing his rotation role superbly, and contributing immensely to our success. I couldn’t understand why they would want to leave. We had made exceptional progress both on and off the pitch. Obviously playing under me and Famaliacoa their own profiles had been raised, and in Tiago’s case, we were higher up in the league than the side he was joining, we’d made progress into the latter stages of the cup where Braga hadn’t, and we were in the next round of the Europa League, when Braga hadn’t even qualified for the groups! I told him it seemed like a step down before confirming to him he was dropped and placed in the reserves, but he wasn’t having any of it. In an unfortunate way, we’d not speak again that season as I maybe wrongly spat my dummy out and dropped a key player, but I felt I had a right to know what he was doing, he didn’t tell me so he was dropped.

Same with Figueredo. I gave him a chance when he struggled at Moreirense, he came in, listened to me and the staff and got a lot of game time, played really well and he could’ve continued on with us, but decided to take that momentum and off he was. Vasiliev the same. Sanogo did have the decency to speak to me and gave me a half arsed excuse why he wanted to leave, but I knew it wasn’t genuine and for whatever reason, whether he did miss France or just didn’t like playing for me or the club, his head was gone.

But in a cruel twist of fate for all 4 of them, I would have the last laugh.

It wasn’t all doom gloom around that time however. We were drawn against Hearts of the Scottish Premiership in the first knockout round of the Europa League. A good draw and 1 we could be confident of winning.

We also beat Maritimo and Portimonense in the league to keep us in third moving along in January before yet another game with Massimo Allegri and Benfica, this time in the Taca de Portugal, the Portuguese cup.

We faced Benfica again. They tried and failed to beat us again. Massimo Allegri tried to beat me and failed again.  Our reward for beating Benfica in the cup was a semi-final clash with Feirense who we’d not lost to in any meetings during my time with Famalicao. Not only were we looking forward to the semi-final, but this was Famalicoa’s best showing in the cup in all of their history. The closest they’d come to the semi-final before I took over was the fourth round, which I also got to in my first season there, then bettering that in my second when we got to the fifth round.

With all that was going on both on the pitch, in terms of our great form in the cup, league and Europa, as well as the turmoil off it, I was craving something. I mentioned in an earlier chapter that I wanted more of everything, and here was where everything started.
Chapter 34 - The hunger for more

Being a football manager isn’t easy, if it was everybody would be one. There’s a lot of people that try to become one, and a lot of those people fail. Of those that do succeed, not many get to experience success. Case in point, in my first 3 years as a manager, I won the cup and league in Gibraltar twice each, as well as the super cup, so 5 trophies in 3 years. A lot of managers don’t see that trophy return in 33 years as a manager yet alone 3! But of us that do get to say they’ve won multiple competitions, I don’t know how many take it for granted. I didn’t demand a team that wins, just one that tries. I certainly didn’t expect to win anything, but I expected nothing less than 100% from myself, staff and players. So why then did I crave more?

There’s nothing more exciting to a coach that comes up with a match plan, goes over it with the team and then sees said match plan in action, and it wins them the game! Nothing beats seeing your ideas, your methods, your desires come to life in front of your eyes. On the flip side, nothing is more frustrating than seeing your ideas come to life and not be good enough. Its soul destroying seeing your opposite number in the dugout out manoeuvre, out think and out class you on the day.

I always genuinely got a buzz out of being a football manager. I always told my staff there was madness to my methods, and they generally paid off. I celebrated every goal, every win like a fan would. I always wanted my players to know that I’m right there with them, I’m as much a part of the team as they were. I was excited before every game because like every one reading this, like every person attending our games, like the little kids who’s idols were footballers, I was excited to be there and taking in the atmosphere and seeing the reaction I got in public from fans was something else. But there was a need for more.

Athletes in general are going to get hurt. Doc Spencer told me during school, as well as when I was player that players are going to get hurt, but told me never ever to play hurt. But I didn’t take that into consideration with training. Players shouldn’t play hurt, but should I train hurt? The painkillers helped, and I’m sure the front I put on about keeping my injuries a secret was a good one. No one, at least to my knowledge, knew I was hurt. No one knew I was eating prescription painkillers like they were M and M’s, but the feeling of euphoria from the pills as well as the excitement I got from being a manager started subsiding during the next 6 months of my career.

I wasn’t unhappy in my work, in fact that third season in Famalicao was turning into an absolutely fantastic one, on the pitch wise. With the disappointment of seeing 4 players time at the club come to an end, the players that came in to the team in their place more than made up for it. Figueredo didn’t get to play in the win over his former side Moreirense, neither did he, Dias, Vasiliev or Sanogo contribute to yet another win (our third in a row) over Benfica in the league, or experience any of the whole experience of being in the knock out round of the Europa League.

Okay so Edinburgh isn’t the most glamorous place in the world, sorry Scotland you know I love you ;) but just being in the knock out rounds with teams such as AC Milan, Lazio, Lyon, Bayer Leverkusen, Liverpool, Newcastle and Shakhtar Donetsk was a big for me. The bookmakers had us at evens to win the tie, but the local betting shops had Hearts as slight favourites. I didn’t know much about them at that time, my knowledge of Scottish football up until then started and stopped with Aberdeen, Celtic and Rangers, but like us they made a point of letting us know they won’t be there just to make up the numbers. The game started off quietly really, both of us feeling each other out, but sparked into life inside of a wild 4 first half minutes.

13 minutes in and Hearts had the ball in the net. Long looping ball over the top was controlled by Calvert-Lewin who played in full back Colin Black who rifled in an absolutely unstoppable shot from the left side of the box that Clint Irwin tried and failed to stop. Luckily for us VAR ruled it out as Calvert-Lewin controlled it with the top of his arm. I saw the replay and was absolutely shocked they disallowed the goal. The ball touched the part of the arm is just under the shoulder joint, still to this day I’m shocked it was ruled out, strikers use that part of their body all the time, and it took away a great goal in the Europa League that would’ve been replayed over and over for years to come. But alas, he didn’t let this bother him as he did put them in front straight after that call with a bullet header as they came back at us literally within a minute. We didn’t control Irwin’s free kick and they pounced. Another long ball into the box and Calvert-Lewin out jumped Pereira and headed home the ball.

From the kick off we then pounced. Caval took the kick off, Kakula gets the ball on our right and drives forward, taking their left winger and full back with him, gets to the by-line, pulls the ball all the way along the box and not one Hearts player is able to get on the end of it, but our left back Alan Dzafic hit the ball so sweetly, much like Black had 2 minutes earlier, but his shot takes a wicked deflection of defender Henderson and hits the back of the net, 1-1 and an away goal to boot! The dubious goals committee eventually gave the goal to Dzafic, but on the night it went down as a Henderson own goal.

Again from kick off they came at us. It seemed as if all 10 of their outfield players bombed forward from kick off as they overloaded our side of the pitch straight away. Non-stop movement of the ball saw it whipped in from the right, we were all sixes and sevens defensively, and somehow Calvert-Lewin again got a goal. He scuffed his shot just inside the area, but Irwin was flat footed at the near post and really he should’ve at least got a hand on it, but didn’t. 2-1 to the hosts in the 16th minute.

If there was an advert for Europa League football, this was it. Again from kick off they didn’t stop the surging run of Kaukla down the left, except this time he cut in on his right foot edge of the box, drew attention from their covering midfielder who didn’t see Dzagoev making a late Paul Scholes-esque run to the edge of the box, and when Kakula played the ball into his path I knew there was only one outcome. A 25 yard thunderbolt to even the score at 2 apiece, game on!

If you can believe it, they came at us again from kick off, but this time didn’t get a goal for their troubles, but we did. They pressed straight from kick off and looked for Calvert-Lewin as the outlet, but Andrea Perre intercepted the long ball in our defensive midfield position, played Caval in out wide on the left and off he went. Caval and youngster Texeira (making his first start for me) combined expertly well as they played a slick one two in the box and Caval slid the ball under the Hearts keeper to give us a 3-2 lead right on 18 minutes of the first half! It didn’t do my or Ian Cathro in the Hearts dugout’s nerves any good, but we held on until half time.

The second was nothing like the first. We intended to try and stay rigid and not let them back in to the game, but Calvert-Lewin was running things for them. He had plenty of chances to equalise but Irwin in our goal was equal to his every effort. Whilst I was watching Calvert-Lewin, I thought he seemed to fit my moneyball concept extremely well, and maybe playing for me he might play a bit better. I decided I’d keep an eye him from then on. Despite being under pressure for a lot of the second half, they didn’t really have any clear cut chances other than the ones Irwin saved from Calvert-Lewin. We managed to keep the score at 3-2 in our favour, and would be taking those 3 away goals back to Portugal for the return leg.

Sandwiched between the 2 legged affair was a game against Braga, the team Tiago Dias had agreed to join from us. I took the 11 starters to one side before the game and not within ear shot of any other player. I reminded them that Dias had jumped ship to this team, and that he felt they were better than us, a better prospect despite not playing continental football and not in the later stages of the cup. I told the players in no uncertain terms I really, REALLY want to beat this lot just to prove a point that he’s made a massive mistake leaving us. I could tell the players were up for it, we just needed to carry on from the Hearts game despite being tired from travelling. I also had Dias named on the bench and sitting in the dugout for the game, I told him a lie about being short on numbers due to fatigue from the Hearts game. He wasn’t happy but I told him he was still under contract with us despite me saying he'd never play for me again and he had an obligation to be ready to play. I was tempted to bring him on during the game, but thought better of it.

The result, the smug look on my face as I turned to Dias at the full time whistle told him all he needed to know. Braga were a side on the decline, an aging defence, and inept forward line and a manager (Paolo Fonseca) under immense pressure sitting 11th in the league after finishing in the top 4 for the last 8 seasons, looked absolutely dejected as Kakula grabbed another hat trick, his fourth of the season, and we ran out 3-0 away winners.

Good luck with Braga Tiago, you’re going to need it.
Chapter 35 – Decisions, decisions, decisions

Moments like the Braga game are what football is all about. Dias leaving for a bigger name side that gets thumped by his current team is stuff fans will talk about for years to come. They’d finish a poor 10th in the league and Paolo Fonseca would be sacked at the end of the season. It didn’t matter that we’d play Hearts to a 1 all draw in the return leg to see us progress to the second knock out round of the Europa League, I’d managed to get one over a player that felt he’d outgrown me and the club. He’d had 1 good season in all his career and used that to engineer his move away. Same with Figueredo and Vasiliev, but without them we did just fine, to an extent.

Obviously they had immense quality and more than put in the work in our season up until they agreed to leave. But the desire from the players that came in was unmatched. I promoted a couple of youth prospects to the first team to fill the numbers and they duly delivered. As previously mentioned, Texeira linked up with Caval and Kakula superbly. Central midfielder Sorriha and forward Silveira came in and produced when it mattered. So whilst we lost recognised quality, we had up and comers making their mark.

The draw for the second knock out round of the cup saw us paired with French side Lyon. Another side I knew a lot about and a game I was looking forward to.

Our league form wasn’t good heading into the Lyon game however. Arouca, Guimares and Sporting Lisbon all beat us in the lead up to Lyon. 11 goals conceded, 0 scored was not good heading to France for the first leg. But we weren’t affected by the form, and we’d already beaten French opposition twice in the form of Marseille, so we were confident.

Despite boasting a forward line of Depay (22 goals, 12 assists) Pinamonti (28 goals, 3 assists, 11 MOTM awards) and Giordano (16 goals, 22 assists, 4 MOTM awards) they rarely threatened us in the first leg. We soaked up pressure and hit them for 3 second half goals. The score line of 3-0 to us flattered us really. It was all Lyon up until the 70th minute. They had more possession (69%), more shots on target, 13 to our 1, more clear cut chances, 4 to our 0 and seemed the more likely to score. That was until Giordano had a moment of madness. He and Dzagoev were having a good battle in the middle of the park. Dzagoev playing CM and Giordano at AMC they countered each other perfectly in this game with neither really controlling the tempo for their side. That changed when, according to Alan they had a bit of a verbal sparring. I’m not sure what exactly was said but around the 70 minute mark Giordano went in 2 footed on Dzagoev to get a straight red. That really opened the door for us and we scored 3 in the final 20 minutes to seal yet another fantastic win for a team that was expected to struggle. The 3 away goals were just what we needed, as Lyon beat us 2-0 at our ground, and had chance after chance to make it 3-0 but we held on, and went through 3-2 on aggregate. This was definitely the highlight of my career so far. We’d beaten teams like Benfica, Marseille, Feyenoord, Standard Liege, Hearts and Lyon so far that season, and in the quarter final draw we found ourselves in the mix with Liverpool, Lazio, AC Milan, Newcastle United, Ajax, Sevilla and Valencia. Any of these teams would be a huge test for us, and as it turned out we got drawn against Liverpool in the quarters.

Our form from the Lyon game to the Liverpool game wasn’t ideal. Cup winners the previous season Pacos de Ferreira and Freamunde beat us away, we struggled to draw at home with second bottom Piedade, before we had a 2 legged semi final with SC Farense to contend with, either side of the first leg with Liverpool. The first leg with Farense ended 2 all. Poor really considering the teams we’d played and beaten so far. Liverpool didn’t under estimate us though and gave us as tough a game as we could ask for. 2-1 on the night and 2 away goals for them really set up the return leg. We did equalise but the quality in their side shone through. At Anfield, with a packed crowd cheering them on, they ended up 4-0 winners with us going out without so much as a sniff at goal, and our Europa League dream was over. No one could’ve anticipated us getting to the quarter final and other than the second leg Lyon loss and the Liverpool defeat, we gave an excellent account of ourselves and could be proud of where we finished. We were comfortably sitting 5th in the league with 5 league games to go, and we expected to finish there or at least 6th again. The return leg for the cup came, and we didn’t really deserve it, but we won 1-0 at Farense to set up another cup final for me, and Famalicoa’s first ever Taca de Portugal, the Portuguese FA Cup final. The final would be played against Estoril Praia, the team we signed Caval from 3 seasons prior to this one. It would be the final game of the season, but we had 5 league games to go before then.

We beat Varzim 2-1 in the first of the 5, but suffered back to back to back losses to AD Fafe, Portimonense and FC Porto. Our final game was with Maritimo. They soundly beat us 3-0 to secure their survival in the league, with CD Nacional and Farense suffering relegation. Had we won that game, Maritimo would’ve gone down and Nacional would’ve stayed up, so I’m probably not liked in Nacional from that game.

We finished 5th in the league, one place better than last seasons finish, and Famalicoa’s best ever finish in their history. Despite the highest ever finish in the league, and a cup final coming up, I was half thinking about leaving on a high. The reason why I was considering leaving was that I’d felt maybe teams had started to figure us out. We lost 4 on the bounce, hadn’t played well in our last 3 Europa League games, and Kakula was coming up to 34 and I felt in my heart of hearts he wouldn’t repeat the 25 goals a season he’d averaged in the last 3 seasons. Dzagoev was also 35 and in the last year of his contract and said he’d be retiring at the end of the next season. Perre had already decided this was his last season, Clint Irwin was on the decline and had said he wouldn’t be sticking around after the next season, as he’d agreed to become the Canadian national side’s goalkeeping coach on a part time basis.

So with a departing squad in the back of my mind, I also tried convincing myself to stay on in Portugal. I’d been a manager for 9 years away from my birth home in Canada, I had a young son at 3 years old. Authors note, my son is the only player in the history of football to be an Andorran national after being born there, holding a Spanish passport so was eligible for Spain as well, also being eligible for England on his mother’s side, and France and Canada on my side. He was an Andorran-Spanish-French-Canadian who was also eligible for England. No other player was ever eligible for 5 nations. Ultimately he’d go on to represent Canada in a long career. But with him being young, and Rose not really having a career and literally being a stay at home mother, I felt bad for them. I decided that I’d address my future after the cup final against Estoril.
Part 4 – There’s no place like home

Chapter 36 - Check out at the check in

Before we set off for our cup final with Estoril, there was the small matter of the Europa League final, between the team that knocked us out Liverpool, and current FA Cup holders Newcastle United. The final was played at Parc Olympique Lyon, Lyon’s ground where we beat them 3-0 in the quarter final. Moussa Dembele was too much for Liverpool, as his hat trick sealed a 3-0 win for Newcastle and Gareth Southgate. Add this to the 2 FA Cups and League Cup he had won there since leaving the England job, and Newcastle were becoming a force to be reckoned with.

As we made our way to Lisbon for our own cup final, my mind was racing. I asked myself if we lose do I stay and give it another go, or do I leave on a downer? If we win, do I stay and try and repeat and finish higher in the league, or do I leave on a high? Why was I even thinking about leaving anyway? I’d done great things, and each season bettered the last. Was it my pain killer addiction? Was it because I felt bad for Rose and the boy? Was I getting too big for my shoes? Had the success got to my head? I genuinely don’t know why I thought about it.

As for the game itself, I did something stupid in the build-up. The four departing players, Tiago Dias, Fernando Figueredo, Georgy Vasiliev and Yayo Sanogo had all appeared in at least 2 games apiece, so would be given a winners medal if we won. But in my own arrogance, or ignorance, however you look at it, I told all 4 players who were still under contract that they were to travel with us, take playing gear and train the day before and on the morning of the game. All four of them did as asked, but Dias especially looked like he couldn’t have cared less if he tried. Sanogo and Vasiliev at least trained to a good level, but I knew their hearts weren’t in. This was the clubs first ever Taca de Portugal final, and these 4 players also had never played in a final either. It was a big game all around.

I did all the press conferences as was the norm. I applauded the fans efforts in being behind us, as well as making the trip to Lisbon. I congratulated the Estoril manager and players for achieving a cup final as well. Everything was by the book, nothing out of character, nothing untoward, I genuinely gave off a feeling of optimism. This would be my first cup final in 6 years since winning the Gibraltar cup with Saint Josephs.

I named the starters around an hour before kick-off. Irwin, Dzafic, Tomasevic, Pereira and Guimaraes as the back 4 and keeper. Dzagoev and Perre holding. Caval, Cipriano and Teriera as the attacking midfielders and Kakula up top leading the line. The four players that were leaving all took a seat in the stand and watched on. I thought this could be a stupid thing to do if we get absolutely battered, but I wanted to make a point. What that point was I wasn’t quite sure.

I told the lads there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain. We’ve done exceptionally well to get this far, and if there’s a team that deserves to win the cup then it’s us, but it’s not the end of the world if we don’t. We’ve held ourselves well these last 3 seasons, we’ve overachieved at every turn, we’ve beat Benfica 4 times, finished 6th and then 5th, got to the quarters of the Europa League, and we’ve been a joy to watch. This rubbed off on the team, especially mister consistent Kakula, as he put us 2 goals to the good within the opening 15 minutes. Estoril weren’t ready for the onslaught of pace and trickery from our forward line. Caval, playing against the team that sold him to us, was showing he was worth more than the 40 million euro they paid for winger Luis Ener that replaced him. Cipriano was his usual nuisance to the defence and Kakula just knows where the goal is and is good for at least 4 shots on goal a game (he actually averaged 5 shots on target a game, and was averaging a goal every 1.25 games that season) and showed just how good he was.

Estoril’s 40 million euro man Luis Ener had a quiet game. Was he intimidated by our back line? Maybe. Did we close him down at every opportunity? We sure did. He barely touched the ball, whereas Caval was man of the match with 3 assists. Just goes to show that a big price tag doesn’t guarantee a quality player! The match was put to bed in the 61st minute when Caval shot off down the left, beat the full back by cutting inside then driving toward the keeper only to back heel the ball into the path of Dzagoev who calmly slid the ball under the keeper’s leg to make it 3-0 to us.

I mean no disrespect to Gibraltar, as that country gave me my start in football management, and I experienced some great highs there, but winning the Portugal cup win was the absolute best of my career up until that point. We’d beat Massimo Allegri along the way, we’d looked like winning every game and out of all the teams we faced in the cup we most certainly deserved to win it. As I stood there at the half way line on the podium, all the team were with me, apart from the 4 leavers who had actually left the stadium at the chairman’s request by this point, I held the trophy in my arms, looked lovingly at it and saw my reflection in the clear silver of its beauty, and as I hoisted it above my head, before any player did I might add, I thought this is why we do it. This is why we get into the game, for moments like this. As the confetti was flying, the champagne was spraying everywhere, I hugged the players and we all embraced in a moment I’ll never forget. 9 seasons, 4 cup wins (if you counter the Gibraltar super cup), 2 promotions and progress in the Europa League, I hoped there would be more times like this.

The celebrations lasted long into the night that night, and I’d already made plans to go on a break back to Canada the next day regardless of the result. My bags were packed and I was in the airport in Lisbon with Rose and Vince, and as I was approaching the check in for the flight to New York, we had to go to New York then take another flight up to Winnipeg, I’d got a notification on my phone:

‘FC Famalicoa chairman riding the wave of cup success, looks to sell club to highest bidder’

This was both unexpected, but understandable. There were rumours all the way through the season that the chairman was looking for investment from outside sources, and if the reports were to be believed then there was a host of people interested in investing in the club. But in myself I was worn out, my back was killing me, and I hadn’t spent much time with my young family. The back to back top 6 finishes and cup win were things I didn’t think I’d be able to top, so I decided there and then as I was checking in to my flight, that I would be leaving Famalicoa when my contract ended in 2 weeks’ time.

I called the chairman, he understood where I was coming from and thanked me for the 3 years I was there. I phoned each player one by one in the days after officially handing in my notice and thanked them for what we’d achieved, and the players I rang last (Kakula, Caval, Cipriano, Dazgoev, Dzafic and Junior) I said I genuinely hoped we’d work together again in some capacity. That was nothing against the rest of the team, but those 6 were the back bone of my success at Famalicao and without them all clicking and performing as well as they did, I probably wouldn’t have lasted the 3 years there.

News of my departure spread within the days that followed. I actually received a few phone calls of well wishes and good thoughts, one call in particular stood out. It was Massimo Allegri, and he said he wished me well for the future, and said he was happy to see me leave Famalicoa! I asked why, and he said ‘Well maybe, just maybe we’ll get some wins from them from now on!’ He was such a great guy, and our paths would eventually cross again.

As I landed in JFK Airport, I had a lot of time to think about things, if I made the right decision, what we’re going to do with my time off, and I’d actually decided I want to take at least 6 months off. We had booked a hotel in Manhattan to stay there for a couple of days as I’d never actually seen much of New York. It was during this time of the year that the MLS season as in full swing, and I wanted to catch a game or 2 if I could. As I was making my way through the airport I got a feeling that there was a couple of people eyeing me, and then I saw a child pointing my way. The boy was maybe 10, 11 years old, and an older guy, his brother probably, called out to me ‘Hey dude, you’re that Chris guy, the soccer manager in Portugal, you’re friends with Ronaldo ain’t ya?’  I smiled and shook my head, ‘No, you must have me mixed up with someone else’ ‘No, no I don’t, you were on ESPN this morning, you’re in New York for the Red Bulls job ain’t ya, that Doctor guy was on the TV talking about it’

Again I shook this off. If the lad was talking about Doc Spencer, maybe he had been on ESPN, he’d been a manager long enough, I’ll have to call him whilst I’m here I said to myself. I gave it no more thought until I was at the hotel in Manhattan, and the desk clerk mentioned it as well

‘You’re all in room 213, down the hall on the left, let me know if there is anything else I can do for you Mister Irvine’


‘Can I ask you something?’

I thought he wanted an autograph ‘Sure, shoot’

‘I saw you on TV this morning, are you really here to take over the Red Bulls?’

Putting on a forced smile and a fake laugh, I said ‘You’re the second person to ask me that, I have no idea what you’re talking about, I’m on a sabbatical with my family. Thanks for asking though’ and I made my way to my room, where I sat down, turned the TV on, and lo and behold, there I was, on Soccer Tonight on ESPN, with a reporter stood outside The Red Bull Arena saying:

‘He’s landed in New York, the word from the Red Bulls is they’ve made contact and are prepared to make him the best paid manager in the league. More than Laudrup, more than Bob Bradley, they even want to pay him more than Ian Miller the US National coach. I’ll update you when I know more’

Then my phone rang. I ignored it. It rang again. And again. And kept on ringing, until I answered it.

‘Chris, we need to talk’
Chapter 39 As quick as a ticket in a New York minute

Things in football generally move quite fast. One minute you’re riding the wave of success winning the cup and finishing fifth in a tough league full of world class players, the next you’re laid on a hotel bed at the other side of the world with your mind racing a hundred miles an hour wondering what the hell is going on. All I wanted to do that day was sit down, put my feet up and do nothing. Nothing at all. Nothing! I was feeling burnt out from my time in Europe, okay so 9 years isn’t that long in football, but I didn’t want to lose my passion or love for the game, or resent going in to work. I put my heart and soul into everything I did in football, I felt I invested so much passion into my thinking, my time coming up with tactics and plans that it was taking an emotional toll on me, and I felt some time off, 6 months would be a good thing. If Pep Guardiola, considered as one of the best managers ever can take a year off from Barcelona, return to take over at Bayern Munich and claim back to back to back league titles, then Chris Irvine can take 6 months off! I was sure I’d find work again easily enough. I was even happy and thought about going back to Gibraltar, Stuart Rodriguez said there was always a job there for me, and I was approached by teams in Spain and France quite a few times during my 6 years after leaving Saint Josephs, so I knew there would be a job out there for me.

But as that old saying goes, there’s no rest for the wicked. The person on the phone was Andy Gregson of the New York Red Bulls in Major League Soccer. Apparently my name was branded around for a week or so about replacing Kamil Grosicki as manager. I had no intention of entertaining the idea of taking over, I was in New York for 1 reason and that was to stop over for 2 days and then fly up to Winnipeg. But during that conversation he was outlying the plans and the state of the team, but when I said I’m not interested in the job, he changed the subject straight away and told me the money they were willing to pay me to take over. I won’t say exactly how much, but it was more, a lot more than what I’d been getting paid in any of my previous jobs. Immediately I paid attention to what he was saying

The team were bottom of both the Eastern Conference and the overall table, The Supporters Shield. I’d asked him why they wanted me, why I would be able to change their fortunes around. But all he could say was that I’d done well enough in Europe, all 3 teams are in a better place now than they were when I went in (he must not have seen Andorra capitulated when I left and were still in the third division), and that they were sure I was the man to deliver the MLS Cup to New York. I’d been back in North America a matter of hours, and already I was being linked to, and offered another job in football. But I’d promised myself some time off. I promised Rose and Vince some time with just them and that we’d do all these things in that time and make up for lost time. Not that we never did anything as a family, it was just football always came first in our world. It was what made me who I am. It was who I was, I was a football manager first, painkiller addict and family man second.

Another thing that made me question the move was the league. Not that there’s anything wrong with the MLS, but the standard of player in the league wasn’t the type of player I’d been up against a matter of weeks ago. For every Martino Hernandez in Benfica’s back line clearing the ball off the line against Barcelona in the Champions League, there was John Thompson playing for Houston and scoring embarrassing own goals against Alianza of El Salvador in the CONCACAF Champions League. (Side note, Alianza went on to the final of that years competition, and lost to Santos of Mexico). For every Lyon, Marseille and Liverpool we played in the Europa League, there were teams such as Philadelphia Union (21 games played, 2 wins), FC Dallas (No win in 15, no manager) and Columbus Crew (at the time on a 9 game losing streak). If I went there what would people’s perception of me be? Older players sometimes go to the MLS for one last pay day, and it was seen as a retirement league of sorts. Okay so Sergio Aguero played his final 2 years in LA at the Galaxy, and scored over 50 goals in those 2 years, and Joel Hayes went from winning multiple league titles in Mexico, Argentina and Brazil to winning the MLS twice in his final years as a player, but no matter how well players did, fans and pundits would comment about the lower standard and how easy those players had it.

Then the turning point in my thinking came. During the phone call with Andy I promised I’d think it over, and I had only just landed in New York and would need a couple of days before I did anything anyway and I would get back to him. But on the second day I was there I was talking to a hotel staff member, and I inquired about the nearest doctor’s office, as I wanted to try and get some more pain killers. His words were ‘You don’t need no quack, whatever you need, I got you bro’ so I lied and said I knew someone that needed some tramadol and oxycodone. He said ‘Well if you can’t get it in New York, then you can’t get it full stop!’

So I thought about it. Do I go to a doctor, maybe get prescribed some painkillers, possibly have a medical at New York, or any other club for that matter, get my addiction brought up and it cause issues for me? Or do I take the money, take up this bell hops offer, and continue as I had?

I thought back to Tiago Dias and him leaving Famalicoa for Braga, and I thought of Figueredo, Semekono and Ngongang. They all left for more money, not for better chances, none of the teams they left for were any better than us at the time. Players always moan about money this, money that and force clubs hands by demanding more money. So I thought to hell with it, I’m going to accept the money. There’s no way any other team in the league was going to pay me what The Red Bulls were willing to pay me. I thought as well this kind of money isn’t going to come around that often, not that it was ever about money up until then. I’d always been paid enough that I could afford to travel and move to different countries, and my winnings in the cup paid for my flight and hotels to New York, as well as a return flight to my home in Braga. I’ve done well enough in Europe doing what I did, and I was certain that I’d be able to do the same in New York. Oh how wrong I was!

Once I’d told Rose, my dad and that club that I’d accepted their offer, I made my way to Red Bull Arena, the stadium. On my way in there was a crowd of people, and the mentality firstly of the fans struck me. This one guy pulled his phone out and asked for a picture, I obliged. Then he said ‘So when are you going to bringing players from Portugal?’ I just laughed it off. Then another guy said ‘When’s Ronaldo coming out of retirement to play for you?’ Another asked about Fernandes of Porto, someone else mentioned Sanchez from Man City, both world class Portuguese players. All the fans seemed to care about was who I would be bringing from Portugal. I got the feeling that some fans thought I was Portuguese and in charge of all the Portuguese players! They didn’t seem to care about me as the manager, just who I would be signing. Even the New York Press weren’t bothered about me, just who would be suiting up in the red and white. One reporter caught me off guard when she asked about my wage. She asked did I not think I’ve sold out by accepting such a good wage? I was caught off guard and all I could reply with was ‘I’ve not sold out, that’s ridiculous, what I’ve done is cash in’ and it made me look stupid. So from my first couple of hours there the feeling I got was the fans didn’t care much about me, and the press weren’t too bothered either.

Then I met the rest of the board and playing staff, and it was eye opening. The attitude I saw from the board can be best described as arrogant. The members of the board basically had 2 go to answers for everything. The first and most used response was ‘Well we’re New York, we can do anything’ and the second was just to throw money at the problem. The club had been on a steady decline for years before I went there. They didn’t like change and seemed reluctant to do anything else in terms of the way they ran the club.

In New York there are the Knicks in the NBA. Whilst never winning the NBA title, they gradually improved and constantly got in the play offs. New York City FC were run by the Manchester City Group and every season went about things to improve. Player personnel, staff, training facilities, the stadium, just about everything was looked at to compete. They were a fixture of the play offs year after year. The New York Jets had appeared in 2 super bowls within the last decade, winning 1. They were always improving. The Yankees don’t become the biggest team in baseball by not changing, constantly improving and going about things the way they did and not doing anything do they! But the board at the Red Bulls really seemed like they didn’t have a clue, and didn’t want to hear anything I thought would help. My ideas were met with deaf ears.

At the start of the season they’d traded away draft picks for aging players on bad contracts. The only stand out player was Diego Poyet who was traded from Vancouver for a first round draft pick (remember this part, it plays a big role later on) and he was literally the best of a bad bunch. Don’t get me wrong, he put 100% in every week but it just wasn’t good enough.

The attitude of the board seemed to rub off on the players. When I addressed the form the start of that season in March to when I took over, they didn’t have an answer, not one of them took charge. When I asked about set piece routines, training plans, match tactics, I might as well have been speaking to a wall. The attitude and demeanor of the players on my first day was worlds apart from the dedicated and professional players I’d been used over in Europe.

This wasn’t mission impossible, this was mission why even bother?
A fantastic story so far. Hope to see Red Bulls buy in to Irvineball!
Great story.

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