So listen, here's something completely non-football related, but it leads up to something.
As we travel from Belgium to France, our next match is against AS Nancy Lorraine in Stade Marcel Picot. Before the match, I inform seventeen year-old Lucas Digne that he would be starting the game as Patrice Evra had injured himself in the warm up. This was Digne's very first game in United colours, and playing in France would've been difficult for him, but this is the kind of pressure he will have to deal with playing for the club. Just as I am about to leave the dugout and sit alongside my staff, I get a call from the one of the owners of the club, Avram Glazer. "What are you doing in France, Akash? We're expecting you in the States tonight", was how he started the conversation. I wasn’t one for the pleasantries, but a ‘hello’ to start a conversation would’ve been better. "I hope you know our team is moments away from participating in a friendly, and I can't just leave them and come all the way to America. It isn't in the interest of the team", I said, in an assertive tone. The Glazers might have been the owners, but he was making an unreasonable demand. "Mr. Manager, we have called you here also with the interest of the club in mind, and besides, these friendlies are just a way of earning a profit before the new season. Playing at half-pace, with most of the first-time on the bench shouldn’t really be considered an important match. Put your assistant in charge and fly your ass to New England – and just so I’m clear, this is not a request. Also, you better not be flying economy like the last time. On those inflated salaries, can’t you easily afford a private jet?", said Glazer, before keeping down the phone, laughing at his joke.
I wasn't left with much choice, was I? Having already discussed the possibility of skipping out a couple of games with my coaches just days ago, citing a lack of vacation, they wouldn’t be caught off-guard. Doing this, fifteen minutes before the team went out on the pitch, however wasn’t the best approach. Out comes Mike Phelan from the dressing room, some distance away, in a hurry, shouting at the top of his voice, "So boss, I got the text. I have already spoken to Hotel Renaissance and they have sent a cab to pick you up. I know it isn’t your preference, but the limo can also be here in minutes, boss". “Taxi, it is”, was my tired response.
I wasn’t a fan of lavish living, like most involved in the footballing world. Even during my playing days, a night in the local McDonalds would always trump a five-star – although, in a professional footballer’s life, such days of indulging yourself in unhealthy food were as rare as championships. I realized I have come to despise the competence of my coaches. At a moment like this, it would've been a lot easier if I skipped a flight or two and blame the delay on mismanagement of my staff, but there was no way the owners would believe my excuse now knowing how smoothly and professionally the people here function. I wasn't even given an opportunity to see the match kickoff, as Phelan handed me my coat and guided me towards the exit. Surrounded by security guards till the gate of the stadium, just to avoid any fan interaction, to where the cab stood.
When I walked up to the cab, I saw a young woman arguing with the cab driver in a mixture of French and English. While I spent most of my time trying to get the driver's attention in an attempt to figure out whether this was indeed the cab the company had sent over, I got distracted by the non-stop rambling of the woman, and how that girl looked ever so familiar. That blue eyes and blond hair combination has had me mesmerized some other time. I just couldn’t put a finger on when. What I could roughly make out from her part-English tirade was - "I can get your license cancelled. You have to take me to the airport. I don't care who has reserved you. This is a taxi from the hotel I am staying at, and it is your job to make sure I am treated well.” Some strong words, and I couldn’t help but nod my head in agreement, even though it wasn’t my fight to win. While she took one small breath, I had to make sure I had the right cab, and make sure I do not become a part of this situation. Before I could take that chance, the cab driver notices my head shaking, exchanges a look with her and says, "This is who I am supposed to drop to the airport - the manager of Manchester United. Happy now? ".
So, I was going to be dragged into this situation, whether I like it or not, causing me to murmur to myself, "This day just keeps getting worse and worse". The girl's expression changes completely when she finally looks up and notices me. I didn't mind that, primarily because it managed to shut her up – albeit momentarily. It didn't last long enough for anyone else to have any input, but a couple of seconds of silence were pleasing to my ears. Her anger-driven dialogue was now directed towards me. "It is because of you that I am going to the airport. I am not letting this cab go, especially for you", she exclaimed, irate, causing me to take a step back. Does she mean it had something to do with our club being in town, or was there a personal agenda I didn’t remember?
Before I could ask for an explanation, the cab driver tried playing peacemaker, by saying the following in passable English, “If Mr. Vidyasagar wanted, he could simply drop you off at the airport, and we could all go home happy”. “I don’t see a reason why not”, was my cautionary reply.