Summer 2019 is a blur. Because of the winter break, the Lotto Ekstraklasa season starts in late July and it doesn’t feel like long enough of a break when your last match is in June. Nevertheless, the Summer actually starts off really well. I’m on the shortlist for Manager of the Year, which is a bit of a shock, but flattering.
I don’t win it of course, Piotr Jawny of Piast does. He guides his side to 4th place in the league after they were predicted to end up 12th, so he’s a good choice to be fair. I vote for rival manager Jacek Paszulewicz of Jagłębie Sosnowiec, as he’s overachieved too in 5th.
Then comes the inevitable pitter-patter of itchy feet, and not just from me. First Olivier, who wants to move to Sporting Gijon. In all fairness, they’re going up to La Liga and I’m not going to stand in his way of playing in such a great league. He’s earned it. After some arguing and low ball bids, I eventually let him go to Alanyaspor for £375k, rising to £620k plus 50% of the next fee. It isn’t exactly what I signed up for, as I thought he was going to La Liga, but the Süper Lig is a good one too, with some top clubs. I wish him the best of luck and I’m genuinely saddened to see him go.
The next person to attract interest from elsewhere is actually my assistant, Dennis Lawrence. Relegated Korona offer him the job of manager but I convince him to stay with GieKSa because of our good working relationship. I also tell him that he might have a shot at the Katowice job as I’m looking to leave, so he may as well stay for a while.
Then comes the hammer blow – Our Bartbeat knocks on my office door and tells me that he wants to leave. Cracovia are showing interest and he wants to jump ship. I tell him that Cracovia would have to make a bloody good bid for me to accept, but that he can leave if somebody activates his £375k foreign club release clause. Ironically, if he hadn’t scored that goal against KGHM and saved us from relegation, Cracovia would have been able to snap him up for £200k, the value of his relegation release clause. I don’t share my thought with Bart. I don’t think he’d find it funny.
It’s at this point though that I start to become completely disillusioned with the idea of staying in Poland for another year. No Olivier, no Bart, and barely any money to replace my 2 key players. I start looking around again, sending my CV in for the top jobs at Pohang in the K League Classic, USA U23s, and Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Israeli Premier League.
Sebastien Nowak and Jakub Wilk then call time on their careers. I don’t think I played Wilk more than twice at most, but fair play to Sebastien. He’s had a couple of bad moments this year but on the whole he’s been a solid number 1.
I don’t offer him a role as goalkeeping coach, because frankly the one we already have, Janusz Jojko, is far better. And as I found out when speaking to a GieKSa fan* once, he’s actually a bit famous in Poland too. Janusz made a spectacular blunder in his playing days that some still remind him of today.
But then finally, a bit of good news. Janga and Kwarko both agree to extend their loan deals by a year. They’ve been decent this year. I’ve used Janga a fair bit more out of the 2 and his performances have reflected that, but I’m glad that they’ll both be staying.
I then make a huge decision. I make the decision that me and Cristiano Magina are done professionally. I mean technically, he decides it for me by rejecting the chance to join us again, this time for a £60k fee. He’s had a decent year with Os Heróis (More on them in another episode) but sometimes you need to know when to take the hint, and that’s what I’m doing. Good luck, CM9.
When the time comes for friendlies, I’m actually quite excited. Our new shirt sponsors are a Polish… Wodka company named Wodka Wyborowa, and amongst a host of highish profile matches, I help to arrange the first annual Wodka Wyborowa Cup.
4 teams are involved: Us, CSKA Sofia, AA Gent and Ingolstadt, and our season gets off to an absolute flyer when we finish in 4th place, losing 2-4 to Sofia in the Semi-Final and 0-2 to AA Gent in the 3rd place play off. Still, at least we’re actually testing ourselves.
I keep my CV circulating outside Europe. I apply at Minnesota United in the MLS, or Min United as I hope they’re nicknamed, Santos FC in the South African Premier Soccer League, Plaza Colonia in the Uruguayan First Division, Millionarios in the Colombian First Division, Belgrano in the Argentinian Premier League, Busan in the K League Classic, and most optimistically, the Argentinian, Chilean and Colombian national team jobs.
I get a couple of interviews that go quite well, but meanwhile we keep plugging on with the friendlies, losing to Honvéd 0-1, beating Bohemians 1905 2-1 despite having Danny Wilson in net for most of the match, beating Ahi Nazareth 4-1, and finally losing to Hull 1-3. It’s a mixed bag but overall, I’m pretty pleased with where we are and how we’ve performed against quality teams.
Unfortunately, as Azevedo is injured throughout pre-season, our only goalkeeper is young Kacper Gajdemski, who spent last year in the reserves. He does fine really, but then breaks his collarbone against Bohemians 1905, ruling himself out for 7-9 weeks and forcing me to delve into the transfer market. I sign a third Scotsman for my collection: 25 year old keeper Jack Hamilton from Hearts for near enough £100k. He’s pretty good, but there’s not much value in the market for us this Summer. He’s not worth £100k, but nobody else that we could realistically sign is good enough to play.
Hurley strains his knee ligaments in our final friendly against Hull and will miss the first 2 months of the season, but on the upside, Cracovia are no longer interested in Bart and I offer him a new 3 year deal and he seems content to stay. Danny Wilson is made the new club captain, with former captain Grzegorz Goncerz demoted to his deputy, and we’re a generous 1000-1 to win the league.
All I keep thinking about though is how much my heart is not in this job anymore. I want out so badly. I wanted out months ago, and we’re now days away from the start of the 2019/20 season. I get back to Radzinski’s in a mood after finding out that Kamil Karwot has broken his arm in training and will be out for a couple of months.
I walk through the door to see GieKSik stood behind the bar. I freeze like a rabbit in headlights. I’ve heard that his vision is based largely on movement. He turns towards me though so I’m fairly sure I’ve been spotted. “What are you doing here?” I ask, trying to play it cool. GieKSik takes his head off and places it down on the bar, revealing a much smaller, much more familiar head beneath.
“I’ve just got back”, sighs Radzinski. “Went to give a talk on the dangers of excessive drinking at a primary school on the other side of town.”
“That seems unnecessary.” I reply, perplexed. “And hypocritical.” There’s a few seconds of awkward silence. “You’re GieKSik.” I ask, but as more of a statement. Radzinski scrunches up his face.
“Of course I am. You didn’t know?” My mind is racing.
“I just thought that all Polish people were awful at using English idioms.” I say quietly. Radzinski sighs.
“That’s an offensive old sterotype.” He looks at me like a parent that’s disappointed with their child. I think for a moment.
“I don’t think it is…”
“You missed a phone call this morning, a Goolam Allie?” He interrupts. My pulse quickens. Allie is the Chairman of Santos FC, the South African side that I interviewed with.
“What did he say?” I ask, again trying to play it cool.
“He said…” Radzinski ducks below the bar and rummages around for a few seconds before emerging with a tiny sheet of paper, on which a message is scrawled.
“He said… Save us, Franjo.”
* Cheers to @GralingradPL on WordPress for letting me know about Jojko’s ridiculous throw way back in episode 52!
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