Everyone’s got an earliest football memory. Everyone who loves football at least. Everyone remembers that moment that grabbed them and made them fall in love with the game.
Not uncommonly for an Englishman born before the Millennium, when you could arguably describe our national side as “Good”, my earliest football memory is of an International Tournament. Strangely though for someone who became a lifelong Everton fan, it was a Liverpool player that ignited my love for football. My earliest football memory is from when I was 6 years old, very soon to be 7. On 30th June 1998, I watched on an awful old CRT television the scenes unfolding at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in Saint-Étienne, when David Beckham chipped the ball through the centre for our promising teenage striker: England’s no. 20 – Michael Owen. He paced past an Argentine defender, then skipped past a second, and with the goalkeeper rushing out to close down the angle, he found the far top corner of the goal. Weirdly, and thankfully, I don’t remember too much else from that World Cup 98 match, but I do remember we had an assembly at School the next day about the dangers of being a stupid, petulant little floppy-haired let down.
In recent years, especially since Euro 2004, England’s World Cup and European Championship performances have gotten worse and worse, but the great thing about International football… Well, the great thing about International Tournaments is that if your own nation hasn’t qualified or hasn’t performed, you can forget all about them by watching any number of other matches. You can watch The Spanish, The French, The Brazilians, The Germans and The Welsh. Root for someone else, anyone else, and it’s just as good. The World Cup for many fans is the absolute pinnacle. It’s non-stop football every day with endless twists and turns, followed invariably by The Germans lifting the trophy.
I say all of this because I want to be a part of this World. I want to do for some young Liechtensteiner kid what Glenn Hoddle once did for me. I want one of my players to do for them what Michael Owen once did for me. I want to make Liechtenstein fall head over heels for the beautiful game.
And I know what you’re thinking: “But Franjo, Liechtenstein is a primarily German-speaking doubly landlocked principality in the Eastern part of Central Europe. Their population is small and their land is largely mountainous, causing them to favour the winter sports above a good old game of footy.”
Fair point, but what brings a nation together more than cheering their national team on at a major international tournament?
“But Franjo, Liechtenstein have never qualified for a major international tournament. In fact since they started entering the qualification stages in 1996, they’ve finished bottom of nearly every group and had some horrendous results, including an 11-1 loss to Macedonia in a qualifier for France ’98.”
Yeah, OK, but…
“Franjo, Liechtenstein are currently ranked 160th in the FIFA World Rankings, and the highest they’ve ever ranked on that list is 150th. They even slid down as far as 190th in recent years.”
But with a little hard work…
“I think the tattoo of your half-robot face I had done on my inner thigh is becoming infected”.
Great. Look, the way I see it, by the law of averages, Liechtenstein will get to a World Cup or a Euros at some point. Yes, we’ve failed to qualify for the 2020 Euros, which prompted the LFV to sack long suffering manager Rene Pauritsch and hire yours truly, but that gives me time now to get to know my players and prepare for qualification for the 2022 World Cup in Canada, not forgetting the European International League that we’ll be playing next year.
And our European Championship qualifying campaign wasn’t even all that bad. I mean, yes we got thrashed by Belgium and Bosnia & Herzegovina… And Scotland… Twice each… But we did do the double over Andorra, ranked 202nd in the World, scoring 5 and conceding 0 in the process. So you know, that’s something.
I’ve lined us up against some varied opponents next year: Friendlies against the Faroe Islands, Denmark, Estonia and Russia should give me a good idea of what I’m dealing with here.
I move quickly to put together some International experience in my backroom staff. In the days following my appointment, I appoint former PSV Eindhoven and Netherlands centre back André Ooijer as my assistant.
Swiftly followed by former Spanish internationals David Albelda and Marcos Senna, amongst many less well known names.
The good thing about a national side like Liechtenstein’s is that it doesn’t come with all the baggage and expectation that comes with one of the big ever-presents. If we do anything, if we even reach a play-off for a major tournament, we’ll be written into Liechtenstein history. But I don’t want to just do anything.
I’ve never shied away from a seemingly insurmountable task, just ask the poor citizens of Vellinge. I want the phrase “Nicht Können” removed from the Liechtenstein dictionary. I want all 36,000 of the good people of Liechenstein to put down their fucking skis and book themselves a flight and a hotel in Canada.
Let’s take Liechtenstein to the World Cup.