It feels good to be an International Manager, and to some extent I’m buoyed by the fact that I’m getting plenty of practice trying to make a mediocre bunch of footballers play well in my day job. I’ll need to do it all over again when I pick my first Liechtenstein squad, but that’s about 4 months away, so for now let’s focus on South Africa.
Bloem Celtic are our next opponents. We travel to their place fairly pessimistic, as their last match was at home against Kaiser Chiefs and they won 1-0. I’ll say that once more, they beat Kaiser Chiefs in their last match.
Mind you, we’re feeling pretty good ourselves. The squad seems to be making good progress. We could have capitulated in both of our last 2 matches, but we didn’t. We kept going and came away with a point from each, which is promising.
Bloem Celtic love to play through balls to unlock defences and hopefully we’ll fare better than most with our narrow, compact Project: Foxy MK II system. We make no personnel changes from our last match. Let’s get at them.
The first half, on the whole, is a quiet, scrappy affair. 2 moments stick out for me though: Firstly, the free kick that Lakay bends into the top corner in the 23rd minute, and then just before half time when Khasipe’s cross is volleyed in at the near post by Chapman. We go on the counter, optimistic that we can pull the game back in a similar way to our last match, but we can’t. The second half is just as quiet and just as scrappy as the first. Despite me telling the full backs to push forwards in the 55th minute, despite bellowing well worn clichés from the touchline like “PUSH UP!”, “GET FORWARD!”, “GIVE HIM AN OPTION” and “SELLO YOU WANKER, HOW HARD IS IT TO COMPLETE A PASS?!”, neither team creates anything of note.
It’s a straightforward win for Celtic and an instantly forgettable game. I intend to forget about it instantly.
As we pass into December, Khat comes back into the fold after his injury…
…And I wait on tenterhooks to find out whether our potential new star Joseph Ekwalla will be joining us.
The decision will be made on the 2nd, but before that I need to choose the Liechtenstein captain and vice captain. I decide, very boring of me I know, to keep the existing ones in place as I don’t know the squad too well just yet, although I did go and watch Lugano take on Vaduz the other day.
There weren’t many stand out performers if I’m honest and it was a dull sort of game. Several players impressed for Lugano but it’s a real shame that none of them are Lichtensteiner.
Anyway, versatile defensive player Sandro Wieser keeps the armband and Burnley’s excellent holding midfielder Marcel Büchel stays as vice captain. That’s right, I’m coaching a bloody Premier League player.
We’ll get to know them better a bit later on. Then comes the hammer blow. Ekwalla’s work permit is rejected. I appeal the decision immediately, citing the fact that he’s an excellent young footballer. The powers that be will sleep on the decision and inform me tomorrow morning, right before our match against Orlando Pirates.
The next morning, I’m up at 5 O’Clock. I’m checking my phone every 2 minutes, waiting for the final verdict. I’m not sure why. It’s not like they’re going to text me. They’ll ring, and I’ll hear them ring because I’ve checked about 20 times and my phone is definitely on loud and on the highest possible volume. Nevertheless, every 2 minutes like clockwork.
Just after 9, the call finally comes. The transfer of Joseph Ekwalla… Is ON! Punching the air, and ending the call as soon as my ridiculous in-built English politeness will let me, I ring Joseph’s agent and tell him to get our new player on the plane. We’ve had one ready at an airport in Garoua, Cameroon since yesterday morning. Joseph’s hastily flown over, plonked in front of his contract, which he signs to make the move official, given a Santos FC tracksuit and lead into the dressing room to meet the other lads, who are already changed and ready for our home match against Orlando Pirates.
“Lads, this is Joseph”, I announce, quite out of breath as we barge through the door just minutes from kick off. “He’s a new signing from Cameroon and he doesn’t speak much English. He’s on the bench today, make him feel welcome, yeah? Does anyone speak French?” My question’s greeted with silence. “Parlez vous Français?” I ask hopefully, and no doubt incorrectly.
“Oh sorry, I do”, pipes up Emil Sambou.
“Right, yeah. Emil, sit with me and Joseph on the bench today, I don’t want him just sat silently on his own.”
The only change today is that Issouf Paro is fit enough to replace Moe, who is dropped to the bench after once again failing to impress. Joining him on the bench is the fit again Khat and of course our new no.25 – Joseph Ekwalla.
For the first half hour, we look good. We dominate, have a couple of half chances and generally pin Orlando Pirates back. Right on the half hour mark though, Rakhale plays a nice pass around the corner and into our box for Happy Jele, who shoots towards the near post. Komo gets down to it but let’s the ball squeeze past him and into the net.
5 minutes later, Nyauza sets up Qualinge, who’s cutting in from the left wing. He takes a touch and hammers the ball into the top corner. I let out a quiet groan. We’ve already lost. Again.
At half time and after my inevitable rant at the players, I bring on Ekwalla for Diale, who was on a booking anyway. Sinbad will drop back as a playmaking holding man and Ekwalla will have license to get forward and just play his natural game.
5 minutes into the second half, a floated Jele cross is glanced in off the head of Ndora and the game is well and truly over. I throw Khat on for Gogotya and we go to an attacking, structured 4-2-4, because why not.
With 20 minutes to go, Emil Sambou comes on replacing Carl Lark, who’s had a quiet game. Almost 10 minutes later the cherry is placed on top of the Pirates’ performance when Qualinge drives forwards with the ball and tries to drill a low cross into the box, but it deflects off Jenniker’s foot and sneaks in at the near post, wrong footing Komo. 0-4.
Fully resigning myself once again to the fact that my team aren’t going to claw back even a consolation goal for us, I start to just watch Joseph Ekwalla. I had to ask the Chairman specifically to green-light his transfer, so I want to know that he was worth it. Now baring in mind the fact that he’s been thrown in at the deep end, moved to a new country with a new club, started to learn a new language and on the same day has been thrown on when we were 2 goals down, what strikes me is how un-phased he is.
There’s one point where he stands 30 yards from their goal, smack bang central, and plays the ball to a player in space. They run into trouble and need to look for a pass and who’s open? Joseph is. Still right there, available for the pass. He gets it back and instantly knows who’s in the best position for the next pass. He plays it straight away, but they too run into trouble, and he’s there again. And then again. It’s a small thing, but it’s so, so promising. He’s there having flown in this morning, keeping us ticking over, providing an option, identifying the next pass and playing it, cool as a cucumber.
I once said of young striker Renato Silva that if I one day made it to a top club, he could follow me. Maybe that was rash, but with Joseph… there’s a hell of a footballer in there is all I’ll say. I think he’s got a big, big future.
If you don’t find the positives on a day like this you’ll drive yourself mad, and our new signing is definitely one. Hopefully in January we’ll be able to pick up a couple more promising young players, but for now all we can do is keep plugging away, trying not to let our season disintegrate as badly as our squad’s confidence does after conceding.