Stuart Pearce made the call with David James, Jurgen Klopp did it with Shamal George, and now I, Franjo, will put a goalkeeper up front. Because honestly why not? I’ve never even met our only senior striker Andreas Persson, I had low to medium hopes for Andersell but now even he’s out too. Why shouldn’t I put a technically challenged but mentally and physically rounded footballer up front?
“How are you feeling?” I ask The Hammer.
“Strange” he smirks, gesturing to his black outfield away kit. “My hands feel cold”.
“You’ll be alright” I smile, give him a reassuring punch on the arm. I immediately recoil slightly and pray that he doesn’t reciprocate, because if he does I’ll probably end up in a heap against the wall of the tunnel. He doesn’t though. I make my way out of the tunnel and into the dugout.
I’ve thought long and hard about my tactics for this match. We’re facing Qviding FIF away, who I heard from my backroom staff have a key player named August Wängberg. Stop laughing. Now I don’t know much about August Wängberg, thanks again attribute masking, but what I do know is that for a centre back he’s fairly short and limited in the air. So it’s absolutely the right time to unveil my secret weapon.
“I want you to bully Wängberg. I want you to bully him so badly that he runs back down the tunnel crying. I don’t want you more than a foot away from him at any time”, I had told The Hammer previously, “We’re going to get the ball to Wihlborg and Sekiraca and they’re going to float crosses in for you. All you need to do is stand still, punch that little shit Wängberg right in the face and nod the ball down for Lago”. As far as I know Swedish law doesn’t specifically forbid physical assault, although it is frowned upon.
Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce to you The Hammerhead Formation.
Yeah OK, it’s 4-4-2 with a keeper up front.
Also, Bouvin and Vilas Nilsson are injured and suspended respectively, so Billy Sahlén and Isak Franck come in for their debuts. I opt for a stopper/cover defensive pairing for Sahlén and Henningsson, because for one thing it’s the system that best suits Sahlén and I want his introduction to be as painless as possible, and for another I think a stopper role will suit Henningsson. He’s definitely the Mertesacker of our team.
Our plan nearly pays immediate dividends on the 5 minute mark, when Malm receives the ball from a throw in, plays it long to the hammer, who despite being double marked by Wängberg and their central midfielder Alimi, nods the ball on into the path of Lago. Lago hits it first time, trying to place it into the far corner, but his effort comes back off the post.
Nearly 90 seconds later, a simple pass is played through for Johansson, who easily shrugs off Billy Sahlén and places the ball into the bottom corner. I kick every water bottle in my vicinity. This sums everything up.
After quarter of an hour Wihlborg has a half decent shot from 20 yards but it flies wide, and nothing much else happens until 4 minutes from half time when a bad Sekiraca ball is intercepted and hoofed into our box. Johansson nods it on for Jörnvil but Cyrile smothers the ball at his feet. In torturous slow motion though the loose ball rolls to Johansson, who passes it coolly into the empty net. I turn and silently walk down the tunnel. I think of the promise I made to Alexander when I took this job. I think of the other men I’ve seen destroyed by the remorseless monster that is football management. But the monster won’t take me down, at least not without a fight.
Some of those lads’ hearing will never be the same. I hope they can still hear my fury after they slip from this mortal coil and I hope it inspires them to be reincarnated as slightly less useless footballers. I make full use of my 15 minutes at half time, I shout, swear, throw things and punch the wall. I’m livid. I’m at the end of my tether. And the worst part is I’m not livid with them. If Lago’s shot goes in after 5 minutes our whole season looks different, the whole match plays out differently. But once again we can’t score for love nor money and we can’t stop anyone else from scoring. It’s my first match all over again but with an extra goal to boot.
The match is quiet for 15 minutes after half time, and knowing that we need to take a chance, I push our wingers forward to form a 4-2-4 and tell them to attack Qviding, and pump the ball into the box for The Hammer.
And then, after almost 20 more minutes, it happens. Our debutant right back Isak Franck hoofs a ball forward from the halfway line. The Hammer, who is now triple marked, leaps to nod it on for Lago, who takes advantage of a defensive howler, and pokes the ball past the keeper and into the bottom corner.
And just like that we’re OK. We’re 1-2 down and we stay that way until the ref blows his whistle for full time, but we’ve scored a goal. An actual goal! A sweet drop of vindication has landed in this sea of Swedish shit! The most beautiful green shoot I’ve ever seen is sprouting through salted earth, and it’s making everything it touches OK.
It could grow to be a majestic beanstalk: it could grow higher than the clouds and I could climb right to the top. I could find a limitless supply of golden eggs, and take down the giants that want to grind my bones to make their bread. I could save my starving family and buy us a new bloody cow. This could be the start of an excellent new adventure.
Or it could be spinach. I hate spinach.
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