Journalists can smell fear. They feed on it. Fear and misery. My first press conference as a football manager and I’m dissected and probed for every bit of boring detail they can squeeze out. I’m asked about 30 questions. “I just want to get back to work” I mentally plead with them, but it’s quite clear that I’ll be kept until they’re full up. With fear and misery.
When I’m finally allowed to leave I wander back to my office to watch the video of Oskarshamns AIK’s (my first opponents) last match. And I mean an actual VHS video tape. Apparently I’ve got to bring Höllviken into the 21st century as well as save them from relegation to the fourth tier. They often play in a standard 4-4-2 and focus their play down the left, but they’ve got decent players all over. Their main threat is a young striker named Tidjani Diawara, but thanks to my bold strategy of playing with attribute masking switched on I know fuck all about what makes him so great. We reckon he’s either half decent or one of the best in the world at heading a ball.
I plan to start off with a flexible, counter attacking 4-1-4-1. I know we’re at home, but we’re shit. We have a bit of pace about us but that’s just about it. Other than that I’ll be making things extremely simple: Stay disciplined, don’t be an idiot, pass it to Tobias Malm. The left back will be my main outlet for today and we’ll see how he takes to it. My starting striker has 3 for finishing, so I think we’ll be fine.
I have 10 random folk I found in the local parks in my first match-day squad. 4 of them are starting. I give most of them first team squad numbers, seeing as jokers like Grannum have picked numbers like 77 and left the good ones unclaimed, in a bid to inspire a performance out of them.
I decide to give the lads a good-cop team talk. “There’s no pressure on you today” I tell them, “I just want to see what you boys can do. Joakim you’re on set pieces, put it on Simon’s head” I smile and nod towards Simon Henningsson, our massive centre back. Then I turn, walk into the tunnel and gesture for them to follow.
Once out I go to shake hands with Jan Stahre, the OAIK manager, but he crunches my hand in his with a dark smile and says something that I’m sure is probably rude in Swedish. Jan can fuck off though. I’m ready for this. My team is ready. Ish.
In the first half we match OAIK stride for stride, blow for blow. Our new striker Mattias Andersell goes closest with a shot just past the near post and a few more efforts from his teammates fly just wide too.
At half time I tell the team they’re unlucky not to be in the lead and send them back out to nick a result.
We start slowly, and OAIK smell blood. They run us ragged in the first 15 minutes, barely allowing us a shot while they get quite a few in. Not good ones, but still. The one chance we do have is in the 57th minute when Andersell again finds himself in space after a good pass from Pärsson and lashes a shot from the edge of the area against the inside of the foot of the post. The ball’s cleared and from the resulting throw in Grannum has a decent shot that’s caught fairly easily.
On the hour mark a lofted through ball is misjudged by big Simon Henningsson at the back, and he misses his header, allowing the OAIK striker Diawara to nip in 6 yards out. Luckily my sweeper keeper, Niklas “The” Hammer quickly rushes out to close down the angle and the striker’s only option is a lobbed shot which goes narrowly over.
I make 2 subs straight away: I bring on Filip Lago for Mattias Andersell, who has been very good for a man so woefully unequiped to play in his position, and the injured Egzon Sekiraca for young Christoffer Axelsson. He may be knackered but he can play. One moment of magic from him may be all we need.
From that point it’s blow for blow again. Both teams have decent half-chances but no one can find a breakthrough.
And then it happens. 12 minutes from time Diawara picks the ball up 20 yards out, looks up, and drives it into the far bottom corner. It’s a good finish, but it’s so so cruel. Our heads drop from that point on. I push us to attacking but the game is already away from us. We lose 0-1.
The dressing room is silent after the match, and we go our separate ways from the stadium with barely a word spoken. I’m proud of them, but I feel like telling them that would only make them feel worse. Plus I’m still not sure they understand a single word I say. On another day Andersell’s 2 shots sneak in and we come away on top of the world with 3 massive points. But not today. Today we circle closer to the relegation plughole than we did yesterday. We need a miracle.
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