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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

They said I was the best. If I was narcissistic, I’d agree with them without questioning it, but the numbers don’t lie. FIFA have this hall of fame thing, whereby they calculate your standing based on the competitions you’ve won as a manager, and each competition is given so many points. The World Cup by default is given the highest number of points, but I don’t know exactly how many points each competition is worth, but just looking at the hall of fame, you can see why some people call me the best.

But if you’re reading this, my memoir, you’d already know who I am and what I’m about.
In my home town the French speaking people there, of which there many bilingual folk, they call me Lé Champiὸn, the Champion, but the younger people who don’t speak much French, simply call me the best. Of course, to be called the best, someone needs to have worked their way up to such a standing with in the footballing community, and I’m no different.

You’ve picked up my autobiography because you know my name form 1 medium or another, and you’re either interested in my story, or you’re part of a book club and my memoir is the book of the week. Either way, my name, as you know is Chris Irvine. For many years I’ve been a football manager. I’m from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. And this is my story.
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3 yearsEdited
Part one - The beginning

Chapter one – From humble beginnings

To most people, I’m known as Chris Irvine, but my real name is Cristoff Alexander Irvine Junior. My father is a native of Paris, and my mother was born and raised in Quebec, Canada. My father was a professional footballer, my mother spent many years as a translator for the French FA, and that is how they met. The story goes that my father was negotiating a new contract with the team he played most his of full career for, Red Star FC based in Paris, and the new director of footballing operations, today that role is simply known as the director of football, he was Spanish, and my father spoke French and is fluent in English. Hence the need for a translator. I don’t know why my mother was in France, but it’s good that she was as they hit it off and fast forward to 1986, in the Winnipeg general infirmary, young Cristoff junior was born.

By this time my father had quit full time football in France to concentrate on being a part time footballer in the Canadian football system. It was his life long dream to retire in Canada and as such, managed to get a free transfer to FC Cavalry based in Calgary. My mother had also quit translating and got a part time job when they moved to Winnipeg. Football wasn’t and in many ways still isn’t that big a deal in Canada. Whenever I’d hang out with friends or family and I’d mention football, most of the time people started talking about the NFL. Now don’t get me wrong, I do like the NFL (go Chiefs!) but with a professional footballing father, it was really only me and him that were interested. My interest piqued big time when in 1996 when, at 10 years old, we went on a family vacation to England. My father had distant relatives in England in a city called Newcastle Upon Tyne. I’ll never forget the minute I got off the plane and met my long lost uncle Lou

‘Hi Chris great to see you! Oh my, you must be Chris junior, welcome to the Toon!’

At this time I didn’t even know where about in England I was and what the Toon was

‘What’s the Toon? I said

‘It’s where the Geordies live’ Uncle Lou replied

‘The Geordies? What’s a Geordie?’

‘Someone from the Toon of course!’

Still to this day I don’t understand what that means, but anyway it was quite obvious this was a city full of football fanatics, and the team just so happened to be top of the Premier League. The manager at the time was stark raving lunatic called Kevin Keegan, and after watching the repeat of match of the day from the night before, Newcastle beat the Tottenham Hotspurs 3-1, I was immediately hooked on this guy with long curly hair. We managed to go see Newcastle play and that’s when I knew I had fallen in love with the beautiful game.

Back home in Canada, I made it on to the high school soccer team. I wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t good. After graduating, and getting a place at Michigan University to study sports science, I had it in my mind that I was going to the next big footballer coming out of Canada. Once in the Michigan Wildcats team, we won back to back to back Big 10 League’s in my 3 years there, I was selected to be an all American, despite being Canadian. My stats in the 3 years I spent at Michigan were 58 games, all as starting left back, 26 assists, 11 goals, 18 man of the match performances and Big 10 League MVP in my second season. I was touted as a potential late first round / upper second round pick in the MLS draft. Unfortunately for me, I went undrafted in the 2006 draft, and was at a dead end as a player. With a degree in sports science, 3 quality years as a player I couldn’t get a job in the MLS, so I had to do the next best thing.

My coach at Michigan, Doc Spencer had got the head coach job at lower league side the Las Vegas Mobsters. In the next 8 years, I was the Mobsters starting left back for the first 3 years, then I was club captain for the following 5 and even doubled up as club physio for the final year I was there. We didn’t win any cups, but I genuinely think I would’ve enjoyed my time in Vegas more than if I had got into the MLS. Every day was fun, if we lost we still held our heads high, when we won we partied all night it was magical. In my final year as a player, I went for a 50/50 loose ball, and the attacker missed the ball but caught my ankle perfectly. I’ll never forget the day of the operation

‘Mr Irvine, there’s good news and bad news’ the doctor said

‘Good news first I guess’

‘Well, you’ll definitely walk again, your ankle won’t be 100% its former self, but you will walk’

‘And the bad news?

‘You’re never going to play again’

Talk about being blunt. He literally told me I’ll never play again and left the room. I was 28 coming up to my 29th birthday, and right back to square one. Okay so I had nearly 10 years playing experience, as well as that degree I’ve got, but nowhere to go with it. I didn’t wallow in self pity, I just concentrated on my recovery, I still held my job as the Mobsters physio part time but the desire to play was still there.

During the recovery phase of nearly a year, I spent a lot of time with Coach Spencer, and took in a lot of games and was his unofficial assistant manager. I relayed his instructions to the team, took training sessions and gave my advice and opinion during, before and after games. Being in a position of responsibility of a football team really gave me the itch to try my hand at managing, so it was decided between myself and Doc that once this season as finished, I was going on a holiday with my folks, and from then I would return as his official assistant manager full time.

However, I would never return to Vegas.
Chapter 2 – An unexpected start

Whilst on holiday in Spain we went on a trip to a small country off the south coast of Spain, Gibraltar. On our way there, my father revealed something about him I never know. Before hanging up his boots as a player, he had spent 1 season as a player / coach at a team in Gibraltar, and had always said he’d liked to go back.  Whilst there we went to go to see the team he played for, Saint Josephs FC in a pre season friendly against Hellas Verona.

After the match, a 2-0 win for the visitors, we got talking to the clubs directors and chairman, who were all very friendly with my father. I told the chairman, a man named Stuart Rodriguez about my current situation and we had a good couple of hours of talking.

After a week of sight seeing, I got back to The Victoria Stadium and saw the team lose to Boavista’s reserve side. I could tell this side were struggling defensively and the assistant manager looked quite dejected on the sideline. After the game we got talking to the chairman again, except this time he asked me to join him in his office for a chat. I didn’t think much of it at first. 

The chat was quite relaxed, the chairman was clearly passionate about his team, he told me about the new strips for the season, a new 3 year long sponsorship deal and if they could stay in the league that season, they may just be turning professional. We again discussed my background as a semi-pro in Vegas, my almost but not quite getting picked in the MLS draft, as well as how my experience of working as Doc’s assistant had given me the itch to become a manager sometime in the future. On that Stuart said he felt that an outsider would help bring a fresh outlook on football here, and he also said that an outsider, an unknown could just be the spark that kept this team in the league. As I was leaving my father walked in and carried on talking as I went down to the fans area.

Later that evening in a restaurant my father had said that Stuart had mentioned that he’d be interested in giving me the position of manager, if it was something I would consider. The thought hadn’t actually crossed my mind, my mind had been on returning to Vegas as Docs assistant, but I thought well what the hell why not. The next day I met with Stuart and we discussed the position, and said it is only fair I apply officially, so I sent an email, cover letter and my small CV.

Two days had passed by without hearing from Stuart. During that time I was becoming more and more excited but anxious about this job.  I had also convinced myself that he had other applicants, more experienced and more local guys that he was interviewing, but just as I was getting ready to go sightseeing or whatever the plan was that day, I got an email notification on my phone. I can still remember the email word for word:

Thank you for your time the other day. After thinking things over, discussing this with your dad as well as taking your own experience and ideas into consideration, I am happy to say please see attached document, an offer of employment to be the new first team manager of Saint Joseph’s football Club.

Chris, you are the man I want to save my team from relegation. Take your time thinking it over, but be mindful the season starts against Lynx FC in 4 days time.

Speak soon.

Stuart Rodriguez
Saint Josephs Chairman

My first job offer to be a football manager! At first I was a bit annoyed that he had discussed this with my dad, I didn’t want to be known as Chris Irvines son, I just wanted to be my own Chris Irvine, but at the same time I couldn’t quite believe it, so I raced down to where my parents were to tell them the news. They were quite as shocked as me, but very supportive. My dad was extremely supportive, of course he knew what I was in for moving to a foreign country, he’d done it from France to Canada then to Gibraltar and back again, but he spoke English and French, I spoke the same 2 languages, but I wasn’t sure how many people, if any in Gibraltar spoke those languages.
I signed the contract electronically and emailed it back. 

My first official day as manager was 8th September 2016. Saint Josephs FC were the perfect team for me in many ways. The Primera division consisted of 10 teams of which the bottom 2 went down. The perfect thing for me was, that no matter how badly we played, the pressure was never on Saint Josephs as they were expected to go straight back down. So with my cynicism hat on, it wouldn’t matter if we got spanked every week, but with my optimist hat on, the pressure would be on every other team as they would always be favourites for the games, so I could tell the team they could play without any added pressure. That was my plan at least. Throw in the fact that this is a small town country, the stadium holds 3,000 fans, but I saw first hand that only the main stand was ever open, holding around 650 fans. I felt that there wouldn’t be no added pressure from the fans because of this.

On my first day I was still checked into my hotel a few blocks away from the ground. In my excitement I had completely forgot to consider where I would be living whilst here! Not one to let details slip, Stuart had told me he was willing to pay my accommodation for my first year here, which I couldn’t believe! Turns out however, which I found out around a year or so later, is that he had bought an apartment for his son and his new wife, but when his son had left his bride at the altar and ran off with a bridesmaid, Miguel was so disgusted (Stuart and his sons ex-fiancé’s dad were friends from school and had multiple business ventures together) he had actually disowned his son for all the shame he had brought on the Rodriguez family. So the flat was mine for the time being.

After that I was introduced to various people, the director of football, coaching staff, catering and HR. The clubs assistant manager was Javier Casquero who I had watched from the stands for the 2 games had made time to sit down with me and go over various reports on the team and other things like scout reports. 

Once the pleasantries of my first morning were out of the way I met the first team out on the training pitch, you know my first ever time meeting a team as a fully fledged first team manager, and it couldn’t have gone any worse. It went something like this:

‘Afternoon lads, how is everyone?’

Silence. Nothing. Not even a peep.

I look at and nod at chap standing in a tracksuit, who gives me the thousand yard stare me blankly.

It didn’t take long to realise they don’t speak English. Obviously. So how best to communicate to them?

I blurt out ‘Me. Chris. Your. New. Boss. Amigos’ in that stupid dumb downed way of talking English speaking people do when they’re speaking to a non-English speaker

Still nothing. I was half expecting to see tumbleweed roll past

‘Me. Show. You. How. To. Play. Football’. I took a nearby ball and kicked it towards goal. Boom, top left corner.

‘See. Me. Good’

Absolutely nothing from the team. Not one of them said a thing. I then yelled ‘For fuck sake lads give me a fucking clue!’ before I heard ‘Hahah you’re funny’

Turns out the assistant manager is actually fluent in multiple languages, Spanish and English being 2 of them. He went on to tell me the full squad speaks Spanish, a couple do speak English but the majority of the squad are Spanish players. He turned out to be a pretty good translator and had a plethora (great word!) of tactical knowledge and ideas. He would become my most trusted colleague in my time at Saint Josephs, he was 39 at the time, was experienced enough with 6 years of coaching experience at Las Palmas in Spain and this was his first assistant manager job, and it wouldn’t be his last either. A steady hand and the right type of person I needed at that time, he helped me both in the club and outside of working hours.

As for our tactics that first season, I didn’t want to over complicate things, and this season was about one thing, staying in the league, nothing else. We kept it simple, 4-4-2 with 2 flat banks of 4, very structured so each player had 1 role each game, and really looking back, we just played to our strengths, namely getting long diagonal balls up to the front 2 of target man (and all round pain in the ass!) John-Paul Duarte and poacher type player Michael Garcia. These 2 played well with each other, knew each other’s games inside and out and were the perfect big man little man combo.

The next few days flew by, and by the time of our first game against Lynx FC (great team name!), I had a team talk in mind. We’d worked on a few things in training, mainly touching on how we’re going to be getting the ball to the front 2, and what I wanted from each of the team individually.

I couldn’t wait to take charge of my first match as a football manager!
Good to see you back and I look forward to seeing how this plays out.

Also love the Goal reference ;)

Thanks for your kind words man, it's good to be back and writing again!

Also happy you got the Goal reference, was hoping someone would! Being a Geordie myself I had to include something like that!
An interesting destination to begin your managerial career!
2020-08-04 23:49#276830 ScottT : An interesting destination to begin your managerial career!

Thanks mate, I do enjoy managing in the not so popular places
Chapter 3 – Don’t be scared, it’s just a kids game.

You always remember your first of everything, your first football match, your first day of school, the first girl you kiss and so on. As this was something close to me and I wanted to keep a log of everything, I made a vow to myself to keep a log of every match I ever had as a football manager, and I’m proud to say that it was something I stuck to from the first match against Lynx right up to now. I don’t remember every single detail of every match, nobody could, but with my log of games, dates and scores, I also kept newspaper trimmings of my games as well as keeping a diary, I was able to jot down memorable moments, feelings and whatnot, which came in handy for my memoirs, which you are currently reading.

In my diary, on the date of 24th September 2016, I wrote down our opponents, the final scoreline and my own personal feelings of what it meant and how I felt, which I won’t put in much detail here, but I’m sure you can understand how it felt. I did this for every match I had.

Our opponents in my very first match as a manager, Lynx FC were the favourites to beat us, mainly as per the Sport Pesa, a Spanish footballer reporting publication, but what I saw in the team was a desire in to do well. It was as much a fresh start for them as it was me, despite a lot of them being there when they got promoted. None were more committed and dedicated to doing well than a mountain of a man, center half Francisco Marquez Heras, or Frank for short. This guy was what you’d call a friendly giant. Born in Seville in Spain, he’d been in Gibraltar all his playing career, he was 6 foot 4, around 18 stone, 16 of which looked like muscle, but he was one of the most professional players I’d ever met. In the build up to the game, he approached in me the dressing room when I’d got there before everyone else. He spoke broken English.

‘Boss, I will do well as I can, make big impression, make you look good’

This gesture made me feel immensely proud. Here was a player that was such a professional and took his game so serious, he was going out of his way to help me in my first game as a manager.

‘Thanks Frank, that’s really kind of you to say, but I am feeling nervous’

He could tell I was nervous

He replied with ‘Don’t be scared boss, football is just kids game played by men’

From then on he was the first name on my team sheet, and really helped me in my first season as a manager. I thanked him for his kind words, and told him in a way I hoped he would understand that I really appreciate him saying that, and I hoped we could work well together.

As the team made it’s way to the pitch, the opposition manager approached me, held his hand out and shook mine, but spoke in Spanish. I just smiled and said thanks, speak soon and walked off. My Spanish was coming along slowly but wasn’t anywhere near good enough to hold a conversation yet, but he smiled and went to his dugout. I looked around the stadium and guessed there were around 500 fans in attendance. After the game it was confirmed there were only 312.

As for my first taste of football management, I couldn’t have dreamt for a better start. As noted above you remember your first everything, and I remember this game as if it happened yesterday. As the game kicked off, we played the ball to our defence, just as was discussed the day before. Frank played a long ball forward, Durate outjumped the center half marking him and flicked the ball onto Garcia, a true route one big man little man football move, Garcia took a touch, stopped just as the defender went to make a tackle, and as he did Garcia played the ball along the edge of the box and central midfielder Steven Romero Garcia Luis, or just Steven as he wanted to be known, placed the ball under the keepers left. 39 seconds in and I’m winning my first game of football as a manager! I stayed calm and collected, and without celebrating wildly I just fist pumped the air, took a hi-five from my assistant Javier Casquero, and sat back in the dugout. The inevitable response from Lynx came and we soaked up a bit of pressure when almost 8 minutes later, the exact same passage of play happened again. Frank played a long ball up to Duarte, he outjumped his marker, not for the first, or the last time in this game, Garcia takes a touch except this time he’s through on goal, hits it with his right and it’s in the back of the net. 10 minutes in and it’s 2-0 to us!

Despite the scoreline, Lynx didn’t give in and went on the attack. With our structured approach they rarely threatened us from then on, and right on the stroke of half time Garcia got another for us. The 2 up top worked wonders again. Duarte took control of the ball, held it up long enough for Garcia to make a darting run forward, Duarte plays a lovely little through ball and he’s one on one with the keeper, 3-0 and the ref blew for half time! I thought to myself this football manager lark is quite easy!

My first ever half time team talk was just me telling the guys how proud I was, how happy I am at the score and how well we’ve played. We brought on a couple of subs and just stuck to the game plan of soaking up pressure and playing to our strengths. The 3-0 half time score didn’t change and we saw out the second half without any worries. I wasn’t going to get ahead of myself after this win, but after our next game against Manchester United 62 (I wonder where they got the inspiration for that name from?) I couldn’t help but get excited. We picked up where we left off as we thumped them 5-0 with Duarate showing both sides of his personality. He scored 4 of the 5, and assisted Garcia for the other goal. After the game I pulled Duarte to one side and told him I thought he was superb in front of goal and that with performances like this we’ll never need to worry about relegation.

‘You were superb in front of goal John, keep it up and we’ll never have to worry about relegation’ I told him, in what I thought was a well earned bit of praise

‘Meh, relegation, even if this club goes down I’ll still top the scoring charts’ he said with a look of pure disgust ‘A bit of advice from an experienced head (he was 3 years younger than me) You should be having these man up chats with the defence, they’re piss poor, I’ll keep doing my thing, you worry about them’ and off he went.
It made me a bit angry at first, but then as time went on I just got used to his arrogant self centered ways. He also conveniently forgot to mention that in our opening 2 games, we’d scored 8 goals, okay he had 4 of them, but we kept 2 clean sheets, so I think the defence were doing their bit early on.

As the days went on, we carried on training and working on the things that got us 2 wins and 8 goals, we didn’t change anything up just yet. The next 2 games of our season ended with a 3-0 win against College Europa FC, before we conceded our first goal albeit in a 3-1 win over Mons Calpe in the league. These 2 wins saw us sitting top of the league after 4 games. I wasn’t concerned when we were soundly beaten 2-1 by Gibraltar Lions though no one can expect to win every game by 3 goals, but we were still top at the end of my first competitive month of football, with a record of 5 played, 4 wins and that 1 loss. We were level on points with Lincoln Red Imps who had won the league the last 12 years and are the only professional team in Gibraltar.

The end of my first month and I couldn’t have been happier, proud and delighted at our early season form. The main thing was going to be keeping this up.
Chapter 4 – That unknown manager Chris Irvine

I had lived in Gibraltar for coming up to 4 months now. As Saint Jospehs were a semi pro team, we only trained 3 times a week, but my assistant manager Javier Casquero and I spent more time together after training. As there is only 1 stadium in Gibraltar, Victoria Stadium, and every team uses it as their home ground, we were given time slots to go there and train. When the team were off doing whatever they were doing when not training, or in John Duarte’s case being a massive prima donna, we discussed tactics, football philosophies and just generally hung out together. We did spend a lot of time together and it never got awkward or we never got sick of seeing each other, we really were in this together and bounced off each other really well.

During the season I tried to practice my Spanish as much as I could. Whilst most of my briefings and team talks were relayed to the team by Javier, I secretly thought that they would listen to him more then they’d listen to me, and maybe respect him more. With that in mind I really ramped up learning the lingo and by the time December rolled around, I was having conversations in Spanish, team talks, briefings and even speaking to people not connected to the club, such as fans after games, the odd media person in attendance and people in restaurants and what not.

The learning the language came in handy as I had my first taste of a falling out with a player. Well falling out may seem a bit harsh. The clubs HR lady came to tell me the transfer papers had come through from Cannons FC, another team in Gibraltar. When I questioned her on this she kind of just shrugged it off as if it was nothing. I looked at the sheet of paper in front me and there it was in black and white:

Transfer of Ayala, Jose Antonio, of Saint Josephs FC of Gibraltar to FC Cannons of Gibraltar.

Official transfer date 01/06/2017

This was revealed to me on the second of January 2017. At this time of the season, we’d played well enough and Ayala was an integral part of our play. We were second in the league, only 5 points behind leaders Lincoln Red Imps, so for him to be leaving for a team that was sitting second bottom really irked me. When I asked him about this, he said his agent had negotiated a good deal from Cannons, and his words not mine, playing for unknown manager Chris Irvine has been a painstakingly terrible experience. I asked him why does he think this? We’re second in the league, we’re playing well and Cannons were looking like going down? From his half arsed response I got that I am unprofessional, not able to motivate the team and there was no future at Saint Josephs. Fair enough I thought, we’ll see what happens during the next 6 months of the season. Until the end of the season however, Ayala was put in the reserves and I told him he won’t be anywhere near the first team. Petty I know, but this was the first real test of my nerve as a manager.

Despite Ayala’s best effort to derail our form, we continued picking up points, but also picking up the occasional bad result to boot. Case in point, 2 games in January. First up we played College Europa FC and played a 5-3 loss. It really was an end to end game, they scored, we scored, they scored again, we scored again. We went in at half time actually winning the game 3-2. But 7 second half minutes really took I tout of us. They equalised in the 67th minute, and by the 75th minute they were winning 5-3. Whilst there was enough there to win the game, we obviously let our concentration levels drop and were punished. There was absolutely no excuses for the next game though. Mons Caple FC, 5th in the league and I’d say at that time an even side with us. 30 minutes into the game there were 4 goals, all 4 scored by their forward Juan Pablo Pereira. The hair dryer treatment came at half time where for the first time, I think first time anyway, in my career I absolutely lost my shit with the team. I was expecting some sort of response, but the response I got were another 4 goals, only 1 more for Pereira, and a hat trick for his strike partner Michele Di Piedi. 8-0 and this is most definitely the lowest point of the season for us. We got the team in the next day and we made them do double training sessions, but not before making the team watching all 8 goals again, three times.

This reaction seemed to work as we had the Rock Cup coming up, Gibraltar’s version of the FA cup. It was a nice distraction from our league games, as we were drawn against lower league side Gibraltar Phoenix. We turned them over 3-0 which set up a nice run of games for us, in which we picked up more wins over Gibraltar Lions, Europa Point, Gibraltar United and Lynx FC, before we went down just, and I mean only just to Lincoln Red Imps who scored in the final minute of injury time. Whilst we were winning games, so were College Europa who had managed to overtake us and sat in second whilst we found ourselves third heading into the quarter final of the Rock Cup.

We had drawn this game against Mons Calpe and I was confident that if we continued where we left off, we’d be straight in the semi final, and hopeful we could avenge that absolute 8-0 drubbing.
Some really poor personalities in this squad it seems, but Chris is dealing with them well. I am sure these early learning experiences will have shaped him into the manager he is today. The season is going better than expected and it's very impressive so far apart from that 8-0 loss...But still a lesson learnt it seems.
A pretty tough job is on Chris's hands. The win in the Rock Cup could be key to boosting the confidence of these players after such a terrible loss recently.
2020-08-05 20:35#276866 TheLFCFan : Some really poor personalities in this squad it seems, but Chris is dealing with them well. I am sure these early learning experiences will have shaped him into the manager he is today. The season is going better than expected and it's very impressive so far apart from that 8-0 loss...But still a lesson learnt it seems.

Thanks for the kind words mate
2020-08-06 00:00#276871 ScottT : A pretty tough job is on Chris's hands. The win in the Rock Cup could be key to boosting the confidence of these players after such a terrible loss recently.

First jobs are always tough, it's all a learning process. Glad to have you on board.
Chapter 5 – Almost perfect.

Getting to the semi final of the cup would be a great achievement for me in my first year as a manager, and that is exactly what we did, when we beat Mons Calpe 2-1 to get some sort of revenge for that absolutely abysmal showing when they beat us 8-0. Shortly after the game we’re drawn against Manchester 62, who we haven’t lost to in the 2 league meetings so far, so another game where I was confident of winning.

To continue with the good news, for April 2017 I was awarded my first ever manager of the month award, and to this day I still have the bottle of (cheap!) champagne I was awarded by the Gibraltar FA for the award. We won 4 of our 3 league games the previous (the loss being that 8-0) and spirits were definitely high. Which meant one thing of course, we lost our next 2 games in the games in the league against Glacis & Europa Point, before redeeming ourselves with a thumping 4-0 win over Gibraltar Lions.

With 2 months of the league season to go this was the first opportunity I had to sit down with various members of the playing squad to discuss extending their contracts. I never had any issues negotiating my own contracts whilst I was a player, I never demanded much as I was pretty much just happy playing, and I wanted that mentality to rub off on the players, which I think it sort of did. Before I sat down with any of the playing squad, and coaching staff for that matter, I signed my own contract extension with the club when the chairman and I had a meeting on the afternoon after the Lions game. This was my first ever extension and maybe a bit naively I accepted the first offer that was presented to me, a 50 euro a week wage rise to 400 euro a week, as well as a clause that meant any other team would have to pay 80% of my remaining contract to hire me, which I didn’t even think about at the time, however a word of advice dear reader, remember this part as it comes in handy later on in the book. Back to discussions with the team and it got off on the worst foot possible. I sat down with midfielder Jose Luis Verdejo who I was certain would sign as he had played in every game, however when he sat down with me he refused my first offer, citing he wanted a higher basic wage as well as some other bonuses. He was polite enough about this though. So he went away and I said we’d pick up again later. Ivan Laboto, Carlos Sanchez, Felix, Jesus Camo, Michael Garcia and Francis Picardo all said the same thing, and basically refused to sign an extension.

So if you’re keeping track, that’s our starting left winger, left full back, right full back, goalkeeper, two central midfielders and 1 of our main forwards all saying no. My thought process at this time was maybe if I could get John Duarte, who at this time had managed 11 goals and 15 assists, most of his assists going to Michael Garcia, then the others would resign.

My meeting with Duarte went something like this:

Me - ‘John, hope you’re well, I want to discuss your contract, and maybe extend…

John as he cut me off – ‘Nah, I’m leaving at the end of the season, Lincoln will approach me and you can’t match what they’ll pay me’

Me – ‘Well maybe if we can discuss that?’

John – ‘No’

Me – ‘Are you sure? You’re our main guy here, I can’t afford to lose you?’

John – ‘No’

With that he left. Now as the years have gone I have learned that the team is the most important thing as a manager, but to my credit if I do say so myself, what I did next worked out for the better, for the most part anyway. For you see, when we got to training the next day, I did what my assistant manager Javier later said was a genius move. I hadn’t quite realised, but Johns attitude and general behavior had up until this point pissed off most of the team, so at our pre-match session before the first of our final 4 league games against Europa Point, I announced the team

‘Okay lads, standard set up 4-4-2. The team for tomorrow is Felix, Moto, Remorino and Frank as the back 4, Yepes on the right, Torres you’re on the left this time, Caballero and Carlos as always you’re in the middle’ Just then I saw Verdejo stir in his seat, he was the starting left winger and he thought he’d lost his place to Torres who was a good back up and this was his first start.

‘Up top as always Garica, and Jose Verdejo you’re playing off Garcia tomorrow and it’s something we’re going to discuss in the session following this team meeting.’ As the team left for the training pitch Duarte approached me

John – ‘Good joke Chris, Verdejo isn’t really starting at forward is he?

Me – ‘Yes actually he is, see you on the training pitch’

Side note, maybe me being a bit pedantic, but I absolutely hated being called Chris by my team. Duarte was the only one that did it. I thought to myself you’d never catch Beckham, Keane or Bruce calling Alex Ferguson Alex, or any England players in the team calling Bobby Robson Bobby or any of the invincible calling Arsene Wenger by his first name would you. I learned that it was him being his usual unprofessional self.

The result? A 2-0 win for us with Verdejo assisting Garcia for our opener and Garcia assisting Verdejo for our second. It was a master stroke and just the move we needed. Sticking with the same line up we played the semi final of the cup against Manchester and much like the Europa game, we came away with a win. Verdejo grabbing 2 and Garcia getting the third. These 2 clearly liked playing alongside each, and were going to be the starting forwards in the final 2 league games, as well as my first cup final, which was against Europa Point, who had beaten Lincoln Red Imps in their semi final. Whilst they did well to beat them, we were much more confident in beating Europa Point than we would’ve been playing Lincoln, or so I thought.

Lincoln were still reeling from that loss against Europa and I was expecting the inevitable backlash as we played them in our penultimate league game. Up until this point in the season, in the league Lincoln had a record of 25-0-0, a perfect 100 percent win rate.

After the game, Lincoln had a record of 25-0-1. Almost perfect.

We came out 2-1 winners with none other than Verdejo grabbing the winner, again. My decision to drop Duarte had most certainly paid off.

That win over meant we could finish no lower than second place in the league, as we held a 4 point advantage over third placed Gibraltar Lions, meaning the final day win over Gibraltar United was just for us to keep up the good form. The second placed finish meant we would be appearing in next seasons Europa League.
bigmattb's avatar Group bigmattb
3 yearsEdited
Chapter 6 – So close, yet so far.

Finishing second in my first season was very much unexpected, but very welcomed. I felt in myself I had come into my own and was really getting into being a football manager. We had, for all intense purposes over achieved. Was it the new manager effect? Was it beginners luck? Who knows, but we were in the Rock Cup Final and my confidence was sky high. Saint Josephs FC were in their 10th Rock Cup Final, but I wouldn’t make it a 10th final with a win. Here was where I made my first big mistake as a football manager.

On the day of the final, I was unusually relaxed. I’d made finals in the lower leagues of American football, as well as during my time at Michigan and nerves didn’t really affect me too much. I had the usual pre match presser, gave nothing away in terms of team selection and just smiled at the 1 reporter there.

Heading into the game, we had won our last 4 games, 1 against the top dogs, and had Verdejo scoring for fun (5 in 4). Right before kick-off I announced the team. I usually did this an hour or so before kick-off, but I just said to the team it would be the same starting 11 that started the last 4 games. Here is where I made the first big mistake of my career.

I told the team, calmly, that they should just relax, and the result would come. We’ve won the last 4 games, we’re not changing anything and we’ll have our hands on that trophy. The lads seemed relaxed. At the time I didn’t realise most of them were a little too relaxed. I quickly picked up on this 9 minutes into the game.

For you see, after 9 minutes and 6 shots, 5 on target for our opponents, they opened the scoring. Their forward Jaurequi had latched onto a perfectly weighted through ball and toe poked the ball under Felix in the goal, and it was no more than they deserved. I yelled from the touchline and we finally got ourselves into the game. We pressed when we had to, we sat back when they had the ball but didn’t face much more pressure. Our own pressure paid off when Garcia and Verdejo linked up really well and equalised on half time.

During the break, I tried to explain that whilst I said we would win before the game, I went the other way and lost the dressing room when I said I demanded a better showing in the second half. Only Garcia seemed to react as he was straight back out to the pitch.

I should probably let you know at this point, Duarte hadn’t turned up for our pre match briefing, or even to the stadium pre game, his head was all but gone from Saint Josephs, and good riddance. I’d have the final laugh however.

Back to the cup final, and the second half was marginally better than the first. Both teams were going for it, and by the 70th minute, I had a decision to make. Verdejo had contributed for the first goal, but was looking jaded. I had no out and out striker on the bench, so I brought Verdejo off and replaced him with Moto and told him to play off Garcia in the hole.

Once the sub was made Caballero went in 2 footed on Europa goal scorer Jaurequi bit that didn’t end his game, but it did end Caballero’s, as he was given a straight red and that was that, our hopes of winning the final were gone. I had to persevere with Moto and Garcia up top, but brought center mid Carlos off for versatile player Picardo to try and catch them on the counter.

2 minutes after our reshuffle, Jaurequi got the ultimate revenge on Caballero by scoring to put them 2-1 up, and hit the final nail in our coffin on 87 minutes as he sealed his hat trick. In the dressing room after the game, the team were dejected, the realisation of what had transpired kicking in now. I didn’t say anything as I grabbed my stuff, got changed in silence and left.

It was at that moment I decided to myself that I was going to go about my team talks in a much different fashion.

In the days after the cup final, we were given the Gibraltar FA’s club of the season award which was a nice nod to our progress I thought. Now here’s where things got a little bit interesting for me.

If you remember from a previous chapter I told you to keep in mind the release clause the chairman put in my contract. At some point around the time of my signing the extension, Stuart Rodriguez was approached by Lincoln Red Imps as to my availability. I wasn’t told about this, but Lincolns manager Julio Ribas had told them he wouldn’t be signing on at the end of the season, and was leaving. Here was a manager that had won the league 3 times in a row, as well as a couple of Rock Cups, Lincoln winning the league for the last 12 years, they really are the Celtic of Gibraltar. He had won it all in Gibraltar so was going back to his home country of Uruguay. Once news of his departure had broken, my name was instantly linked as the number one candidate for the job. Was I really being linked to the top job in the country after only 1 season? I wasn’t expecting to hear anything, and I certainly wasn’t going to press the issue myself. Privately I was thinking to myself if I went in for and got that job, it might open doors for me later down the line. The Gibraltar football press ran an article and 1 line jumped out at me:

‘Anyone who gets the Lincoln job, is guaranteed a league title on their resume’

As Ribas had won the last 3 with Lincoln, he’d taken his 3 league titles and got a job in Uruguay. A league title, albeit in Gibraltar would definitely open doors for me, but Saint Josephs had been good to me by giving me my first start in football, and really, we’d had a better season than Lincoln Red Imps, hear me out! They were expected to win the league, expected not to break a sweat and almost had a perfect season had it not been for that loss to us. We’d been expected to sit near the bottom of the league and struggle to stay up, we finished second. We were expected to go out of the cup early on, we came runners up.

I didn’t declare my interest in the job and the reports kept saying I was the front runner but the topic never came up in meetings I had with the chairman. A couple of weeks went by, the players were all on their end of season break, and I read the morning report that confirmed that Lincoln had appointed the Lynx FC manager Albert Parody. They’d finished 6th in the league but the main talking point was that apparently, this was news to me at this time, Lincoln had spoken to Stuart Rodriguez and were apparently put off by the 80% release clause in my contract. I’d have thought if that they had approached my current club they’d have to at least let me talk to them, but after asking the chairman he flat out refused this was the case. He’d assured me he hadn’t spoken to Lincoln about me, and he said he had no reason to lie to me about it, so I took his word for it.

I never mentioned it again.

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

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