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From Winnipeg, with love. Memoirs of a football manager

Started on 3 August 2020 by bigmattb
Latest Reply on 17 September 2020 by bigmattb
A tumultuous relationship with the chairman is far from ideal, and Chris had best watch his every step with Pelayo Corominas around. If Pelayo were a Harry Potter character... he'd be Professor Umbridge. I wonder what the reason is behind the bad blood between the two, and I look forward to seeing who the victor of that particular battle will be. If Gerard has any sense, he'll tell Pelayo to hit the road, and back Chris to take his club even further up the Spanish pyramid.
This chairman sounds a dodgy bloke. Plenty of trials and tribulations in this update but I suspect there will be many, many more in the near future.
2020-09-03 14:51#277639 ScottT : This chairman sounds a dodgy bloke. Plenty of trials and tribulations in this update but I suspect there will be many, many more in the near future.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18th – Andorra 44 points. G/D -16

19th – Balompie 42 points. G/D -22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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