“Look Roger,” I begin, my voice oozing with false sympathy, “I appreciate everything you’ve done since I arrived, I really do, but I’ve decided to replace you.” Roger stares back at me from the other side of my desk, seemingly unimpressed. “I know that we haven’t always seen eye to eye but I want to assure you that this isn’t personal” I lie, “The fact is that you’re Eduardo’s assistant and I want to bring in my own.” He still doesn’t look impressed. I don’t think he buys it, my reason for sacking him is awful. It’s literally unbelievable.
He gets to his feet, maintaining eye contact. “Obrigado” he says quietly. I look down at my hands. Oh shit, I think he’s lawyer-ing up. Does this count as unfair dismissal? Can you even get unfair dismissal in football? People get sacked in football all the time for a myriad of wacky reasons, most commonly for being shit like Roger. As I stand to reply, I look up at him and see a tear in his eye. His hand is outstretched waiting for me to shake it. I’m taken aback. Confused, I take his hand and shake it, before he turns on his heel and walks briskly to the doorway. Without looking back, Roger closes the door behind him and is gone.
I stand in silence for a moment. What just happened? I expected a chair to be thrown, or at least a dirty look and an eye roll. I suddenly feel incredibly guilty.
“I think that went well” says Pedro Botelho off-handedly.
Pedro is my new assistant. He’s certainly an upgrade on Roger, and probably even on Joakim. I plan to fully evaluate and shuffle my back room in the summer but for now a new assistant will do just fine. Still, I feel quite bad for Roger, which I never thought I’d say.
Anyway, let’s get to the matter at hand. Naval are coming to town today, and we thrashed them at their place when we debuted Project: Meatloaf so this should be a doddle. After ending the first half of the relegation stage in pretty poor form we’ve strung 3 wins together since the break and I’d certainly back us for a 4th.
Obviously we’ll start with Project: Meatloaf and I also tell the lads the express themselves a bit more, seeing as we’re in form and at home against a weaker side. Our football has been functional, but let’s make it easy on the eye too. I take my seat in the dugout and smile as I anticipate our new brand of beautiful football.
2 minutes and 1 second into the match, Vitor Miranda sprints towards Samba, who is on the ball and looking for a pass, and dives in at him with 2 feet. The referee walks straight over and shows him a well earned straight red. I don’t even look at Vitor as he trudges past me towards the tunnel. I bite my lip and stare angrily into the middle distance, wondering whether we’ve already lost all of the advantages that we started the match with. That wasn’t easy on the eye, that was a potential career ender and I am considering selling him in the summer through pure spite and rage.
I refuse to make a substitution after just 2 minutes. Just because Miranda fancied an early bath it doesn’t mean another starting player should get hauled off with him. I call Benjamim over and tell him to slot in at right back. “Nothing fancy”, I tell him as he nods nervously back at me, “Just stay in line with the rest, stay on your man and boot the ball away if you get it.” Hurley will drop back to a holding role and will be our defensive playmaker, spraying passes out to the front 4.
The next 25 minutes are uneventful, but then Léo receives the ball 30 yards out and dribble skilfully to the edge of the area, before shooting straight at Azevedo.
5 minutes later Naval go even closer when their centre back, Bernardo Oliveira, clears the ball high up towards our centre back, Miguel Oliveira, who misses his header. Léo nips in behind him and turns towards goal, but shoots directly at Azevedo again.
This can’t continue, we’re under the cosh. I stand, preparing to call Valadão over to tell him my tactical changes, but the sight of Hurley on the ball makes me pause. He plays it to Amonike on the left, who puts a magnificent pass over the Naval defence. Magina takes the ball down just inside the area and powers it past the keeper. The net ripples in that oh so satisfying way that it does. I sit back down, smiling again. We’re off.
Just before half time Amonike swings a free kick dangerously into the Naval box, Hurley’s there to nod it on and big Ivan Santos is there to head it home, only to turn and see the linesman’s flag raised. To be fair Santos was miles offside, I saw it from here.
At half time I’m fairly happy. Our necessitated 4-1-3-1 has worked well thanks to Hurley’s ability to distribute the ball. The only change I make is to drop Medeiros back to a central midfield position. He’ll still be an attacking playmaker but I want him to be a different sort of outlet. I want him to be able to pick the ball up deep and run it forwards so we aren’t relying too heavily on Hurley’s direct passing.
3 minutes after the restart it sort of pays off: Kevin plays the ball inside for Medeiros, who receives it just into the Naval half, skips past a rival midfielder as he moves forward and plays the ball to Magina’s feet. Magina has his back to goal and a marker behind him, but with a great touch and a burst of acceleration he spins past the defender and leathers it past the fingertips of the keeper’s outstretched left glove. The only reason that I don’t feel like giving myself a pat on the back is that Medeiros’ pass left Magina with a massive amount of work to do and I would have preferred it if he had gone for the through ball. Still, we’re 2-0 up with 10 men so we can afford to be pretty pleased.
With just under 20 minutes to go Magina goes close to completing his hat trick when a long Azevedo ball is nodded on by the double marked Kevin, and Magina takes it down and lashes it wide of the near post.
Just 2 minutes later though he gets his third. Amonike receives the ball after a Medeiros header and plays it to Magina, who’s about 30 yards out. He takes it round one defender, steps across another and smashes it home from the edge of the area. And just as I thought that I couldn’t get any more impressed he pulls out a cartwheel celebration. What a day for Cristiano Magina. With the game seemingly wrapped up I bring on 15 year old Fernando Batista in place of Kevin for his competitive debut.
Not long after, Jorge releases Samba, whose well timed run was lost by Benjamim, and he slots the ball past Azevedo. It does irk me slightly that we never tend to keep a clean sheet when thrashing a team, but to be fair that seems like a bit of a first world problem and things really could be a lot worse.
We barely let Naval celebrate their goal before a Medeiros free kick is swung into their area and Oliveira’s Di Canio-esque volley smashes into the back of the net. It comes as a shock but good on him, he needs to impress me.
For the last 10 minutes I bring the versatile João Borges and the fresh-faced Carlos Antunes on for Benjamim and Magina, who both get standing ovations. Magina will take the headlines in the local papers tomorrow because of his 2nd hat trick in 3 games, and rightfully so, but Benjamim has impressed the hell out of me today. Thrown in at right back, a position that he’s never played before, for almost 80 minutes and he was excellent. I won’t begrudge him the one lapse in concentration that lead to their goal. Antunes drops back into attacking midfield next to Medeiros and we will play a strange strikerless 4-1-4 formation.
Just a minute later, Antunes skilfully disguises a pass onto the right for Amonike, who squares the ball and Medeiros hits the post from just over 6 yards out.
Worryingly, 2 minutes before the full time whistle Medeiros has to come off through injury and we see the game out with 9 men in a 4-1-3 formation. Our head physio João Sousa later reveals that he’ll be out for 3-4 weeks with a strained calf and could therefore have played his last game for us.
And while we’re talking about which players are going to miss our next match, Miranda and Hurley are both banned. Miranda should thanks his lucky stars that he’s only facing a 1 match ban (Which I don’t appeal against) and a fine of 2 weeks wages, while Hurley has just picked up 5 yellows for the season.
Also, in an extraordinary turn of events, Cristiano Magina doesn’t make team of the week despite his hat trick heroics, but which Angrense player does? Miguel “Di Canio” Oliveira. Take a bow my son.
Next up to visit us here in Hero Creek are SC Ideal, our Azores “rivals”, who we earned a credible 1-1 draw against at their place. I would have liked a full strength lineup to be available to show them how good we’ve become since then, but SC Ideal will face a pretty patchwork Angrense side today.
O Capitão Valadão will start in his favoured right back position for the first time since I arrived, and after much deliberation I opt for Seidi at left back. He’s never played there before but the only other option is Reis, who I’m planning to let go in the summer and who I don’t really want to waste the game time on.
Rúby will play as a deep ball winner in our Project: Meatloaf system like he did against Carapinheirense, Benjamim will be the attacking central midfielder in Hurley’s absence, and Antunes gets another start in the number 10 role in place of the injured Medeiros. Again, I tell the lads to express themselves as it should work even better with 11 men on the pitch.
Have you ever seen the film Limitless? You know the one where Bradley Cooper takes that pill and it makes all his good bacteria go Super Saiyan? You know the bits where he loses time? Like one minute he’ll be at home preparing a quiche and the next minute he’s shot Mr Burns? It should be clear to you that I can’t remember exactly how Limitless plays out but I do know that he loses time, and that’s exactly what just happened to me. One minute I was waiting for the lads to kick off, and the next it was half time.
F-f-fuck all happened in that entire 45 minutes. I could’ve done so much with that 45 minutes. I could’ve probably done 3 levels on Duolingo. I could have finally found out how to say “thank you” in Portuguese. I halfheartedly express to the players that I’d like to see some football in the second half, then wander back to my seat in the dugout.
10 minutes later a good corner routine puts Ideal 1-0 up. Santos crosses, Amaral nods it on, César heads it in. This, in fact, is not Ideal, I think to myself. I congratulate myself on my fine wordplay.
With half an hour to go I tell us to go on the attack. With 2 minutes less than half an hour to go, a Grilo cross to the far post finds César, who loses his marker Valadão and heads home to double his tally. To be fair it’s an excellent header: back across goal into the far bottom corner, Azevedo had no chance.
5 minutes later I bring on Arruda for Benjamim and push us to a quicker, more direct 4-1-3-2. 15 minutes after that I tell the wide players to put crosses in early, and everyone else to pump the ball into the box. 5 minutes after that I bring on João Borges as a shadow striker for Antunes.
With 2 minutes to play in normal time we finally get our chance. Seidi chips the ball down the left wing for Amonike, who plays it straight on for Magina. Magina switches it excellently to Kevin on the right wing, who swings a cross in towards the far post. Arruda’s there less than 6 yards out, but he gets underneath the ball and puts it over. I think I’ve seen enough for today. I walk back down the tunnel.
I know, I know. That’s football, sometimes it just doesn’t come off. You can be in great form, which we were, and then out of the blue you turn in a toothless performance and lose 2-0 at home. It doesn’t cross the line into unacceptable, it’s just one of those things, but it isn’t half infuriating.
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