Life in Lansdowne is off to a promising start. The players are enthusiastic and optimistic, and they’re adapting to my new systems well. My adopted assistant manager, Keith America, seems to borderline know what he’s doing…
…and best of all, I’ve found that Santos are a very sensibly run club, which means that on the downside there’s not much money for me to spend on the squad, but on the upside I’ve started my National B License course, authorised by the Chairman Goolam Allie and funded with Santos’ pretty decent bank balance.
My landlord Stevie was onto something with regards to the players. They aren’t terrible, but they aren’t great. They’re a bit so-so. My new systems are designed to get the best out of them. As is customary, allow me to introduce you to my preliminary starting XI.
Goalkeeper – No 31 – Dino Visser
I should probably mention straight off the bat that the quality of players here in the Premier Soccer League (PSL) is lower than it was in Poland, mainly due to strict Homegrown quotas and work permit regulations. So with that in mind, our new shot stopper Dino Visser is what I would describe as “The bare minimum”. He’s tall with good reach, handling, reflexes and agility. As we get to know the league it might turn out that he’s on par with the other clubs’ goalkeepers, but for some reason I doubt it. The good news though is that at 29 he’s just coming into his prime and has some good experience behind him.
Right Defensive Full Back – No 4 – Jino Moeketsi
Moe is exactly the kind of full back that I like. I’ve never managed at a big club that can afford fancy attacking wingbacks, so I like my fullbacks to be tall, defensively minded and solid. Moe is just that.
Centre Back – No 15 – Issouf Paro
I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I’ve got a 100% record of getting the best out of Burkinabe International centre backs. This gives me hope for the thrice capped Paro, who is strong technically and physically, but could be prone to switching off and making the odd mistake.
Defensive Centre Back – No 23 – Nathan Gertse
Nathan has played most of his career at right back, I presume because of his pretty decent pace, but for me he’s a centre back. He’ll form a very physically imposing partnership with Paro.
Left Defensive Full Back – No 13 – Aidan Jenniker
I could just repeat what I said about full backs a second ago, but you get the idea. Jenniker is solid and defensive, with the added bonus that he’s not bad going forwards either.
Ball Winning Defensive Midfielder – No 12 – Marothi Diale
It will become clear in a second when I talk about the system why I see Marothi as a potentially important player for us. He’s energetic, defensively excellent and aggressive enough, but like a lot of the others he lacks determination, which worries me.
Deep Lying Playmaker – No 8 – Sandile Sibande
The only 2 things that annoy me about Sandile are that his decision making is poor, and that his surname is just not quite an anagram of Sinbad. But you know I’m going to call him Sinbad anyway. Other than those 2 things, he really is a Rolls Royce of a player for a team like us. He’s great on the ball, good defensively, and an excellent worker and team player. Remember the name, because Sinbad is going to be an extremely important player for us.
Left Winger – No 6 – Sello Japhta
Sello is going to be important for us too. You can have all the good defensive players you like, but you also need an outlet to start counter attacks. Sello has pace, flair, and times his runs well, on top of having a decent end product.
Right Winger – No 9 – Ryan Moon
Ryan’s an interesting player. He says that his best position is up front, but I see him as a right winger. Like Sello, he’s pacy and has some tricks up his sleeve, but with Ryan it’s all about the end product. He’s got great technique, a wonderful first touch, can dribble fantastically and has a hell of a shot on him.
Attacking Midfielder – No 11 – Suhayl Allie
I’ve chosen to cut out the middle of Suhayl Allie’s name, and he’ll be addressed as Sullie. He’s one of the younger players in this fairly old team at just 24 and I’m not entirely sure if we’ll be able to depend on him, but for the time being he’s the best attacking midfielder we have. He’s pretty good on the ball, with good technique, first touch and passing, he’s very physically fit and has decent pace and flair. Watch this space, because he could be our star player… Or he could be a complete flop.
Poacher & Vice Captain – No 10 – Emil Sambou
Finally we need a goalscorer, so say hello to Emil Sambou. He and Paro are the only non-South-African players to be in my preliminary XI. Sambou is a Gambian international, who plays alongside the fairly well known former Swansea and now Preston North End striker Modou Barrow at International level. Emil is great off the ball, has decent enough pace and can finish with his boots or his head. As a traditional poacher I think he’ll do very well indeed.
Captain – No 5 – Philani Cele
It would be remiss of me not to mention our skipper, Philani Cele. As you’ll probably have gathered over the last 3 years, I’m not someone who will charge into a new club and just give the armband to whoever I like. I like to keep the existing captain in place for at least a season, but for the first time having joined my new club, I’m not sure whether the captain will have a guarenteed spot in my starting XI. Luckily, Philani is a bit of a utility player who’s comfortable on the right side of defence or midfield, as well as at centre back and defensive midfield. He’s pretty good defensively but technically limited, which isn’t a huge problem for those positions. He’s mentally strong and physically imposing at 6’3″, and although he’s not in my preliminary lineup I’m sure he’ll get plenty of football when the season gets going.
I found inspiration in 2 very different places when coming up with our new systems: Firstly, for the preliminary lineup that you’ve just seen, I looked at Claudio Ranieri’s 2015/16 Leicester City side, hence Project: Foxy:
There are similarities between us and that Leicester team, definitely. We have pace in the final third, tonnes of it, which means that a counter attacking playstyle may be our only option at the minute. We have solid defenders, a vicious ball winning midfielder, a quality ball player, a good balance between attacking impetus, creativity and willingness to keep the shape on the wings and a (hopefully) decent enough strike force to tie it all together. I just need to make sure that the team is well drilled and make us as difficult to beat and as lethal on the counter attack as Ranieri’s side was.
The other place that I found inspiration was… In fact, I’ll keep that to myself for now. You’ll see Project: CO in due course.