“Breathe in deep, Stevie!” I cry, seeing my landlord approaching the Geen Rook Nie building that I’ve just exited with Chappie bounding along at his heel. He fixes me with a confused look. Stevie, not Chappie. “Breathe in deep and smell the optimism!” I continue.
“11th, aren’t you Franny?” He replies, unlocking the gate.
“Ah, for now we are, bru”, I wink. “But I’m feeling good. Moonie’s back in contention for the Supersport match and…”
I lean in towards him and lower my voice, “…Keep this under your hat, but Sello’s just signed a new 2 year contract extension”. I lean back and look at him in anticipation of an expression of excitement or happiness. He just raises an eyebrow.
“Are you optimistic about paying last month’s rent, bru?” He replies. Oh shit.
“Well, they aren’t paying me enough, clearly!” I splutter through an impressive fake laugh. Everyone can relate to the ‘Bloody fat cats’ brand of humour.
“That’s not really my concern, mate.” He says, clearly made of stone.
“No, sorry”, I mutter, “Just a joke, I probably didn’t set the direct debit up properly. I’ll send it you now.”
A stray golden retriever strolls by, eyeing Chappie curiously. Chappie begins to emit a growling noise from beneath her floppy grey fringe. “Oi, no!” Growls Stevie, silencing her immediately. He turns back to me and continues “How’s Joseph Koala been playing?”
“Ekwalla”, I correct him, sounding more hurt than I expected. “Do you not come to the matches?” He shakes his head.
“Nah, too steep for me nowadays.” He shrugs. “Even this shirt’s a bootleg, bru.” He tugs on the badge of his Santos jersey to demonstrate to me that it’s coming away from the fabric.
“I probably shouldn’t know that”, I laugh. He chuckles. “I’ll try and get you a shirt and a ticket to a match”, I continue, “and in return, you try and remember the name of the best young footballer in African football, yeah?”
He raises his eyebrows and nods. “Deal, bru”.
A trip to Supersport United beckons today. They’ve proved themselves to be a very good side so far this season and are buzzing around near the top of the league, so we need to be on top form. Those of you with very, very, very, very good memories will remember that I’m actually the boss of Liechtenstein as well as Santos and after this match is over I’ll experience the first ever International break as a fan, player or manager that I actually give a shit about when I lead my other lads out for friendlies against the Faroe Islands and Denmark.
The break factors into my thinking today as Sony Norde is already travelling back to Haiti and is therefore unavailable, and with about 2 weeks before our next match that means that I’m going to risk the very-nearly-back-to-fitness Ryan Moon to actually give us some bite in attack. Richards drops out of the lineup to accommodate him and Diale comes in replacing Norde in our Project: Foxy Mk II system.
Both sides are slow to start, and after half an hour we appear to be eyeing that 2 week break longingly. The excellently named Dové Womé swings a corner in and Komo comes to claim it, but misses the ball completely, leaving Ritchie to tap the ball into the empty net to open the scoring.
Over the next 10 minutes, Supersport continue to dominate the match. After a particularly rampant passing move, Ritchie goes for his second goal, cutting in from the left and shooting right footed. The ball flicks off Grobler’s head and bounces in to make it 0-2.
We do attempt to fight back before the break though when Ekwalla plays the ball through for Moon, who runs across the edge of the box to find space before forcing a good save from Williams with a left-footed drive.
On the hour, Supersport go close to their third when another Dové Womé corner is headed against the bar by Ritchie, but we survive. I bring on the youthful trio of Junaid and Ernil Mobara and Manqoba Cele, who replace Diale, Lark and Japhta.
Nel goes close soon after with a shot from the edge of the box that flies just wide, but we still hold on right up until the 83rd minute, when Mayo skips past Phil Cele on the left and gets to the byline, before drawing the ball back for Grobler. Grobler tries to find the top corner from 7 yards and hits the bar, but luckily for the home side, Dové Womé puts the rebound away from close range.
I’ll be honest, I could’ve done with a bit more of a confidence boost ahead of my first ever International matches, but there’s no sense in moping about it. We still have plenty of reasons to be optimistic, for example we’ve announced another affiliate with an Amateur South African club called Vasco CT. They’re small but they’ve got decent facilities and might bring through some good youngsters that we can swipe.
Another reason to be optimistic, you say? How about the newest addition to South Africa’s U20 squad? I’ll give you a clue, he’s South African and under 20 years old… That’s right, Komo’s been called up to his national side’s Under 20’s! I’m really genuinely pleased for him. I don’t think of him as an 18 year old goalkeeper anymore, I think of him as an important part of my team. He’s slotted straight into top flight football and here’s hoping he makes his international youth debut soon, swiftly followed by a full call up to South Africa’s squad!
And finally, what better reason for optimism is there than a new batch of youth players? A new truckload of clay to mould in my own image.
I’m told by Head of Youth Development Alcardo Van Graan to keep a careful eye on 16 year old striker Thembinkosi Maluka:
As well as 15 year old attacking midfielder Luke Fanteni:
I’m actually so impressed with their trials that I sign them straight up for our Under 19’s, much to the delight of our impressively ITK social media followers.
This does mean that they’re ineligible for the Youth Candidates in the traditional U19 v Youth Candidates match though, so Fanteni comes off the bench for the U19’s and Maluka is overlooked entirely, because why give a run out to a promising young star when you can stick Khat up front?
I’ll definitely be having words with U19 Manager Wilford Mothapo about that, but in the end it’s a demolition job by his side, with goals from Manqoba Cele, Ivan Wagner and 2 Khat penalties giving them a one-sided 4-0 win over the candidates.
After the match, I offer what I think will be my final contract extension of the year, but I’m not entirely enthusiastic about it. Captain Philani Cele has definitely had a mixed season, but has probably had more bad performances than good ones and his influence in the dressing room is non-existent. I offer him a 1 year deal and he signs, but to be honest I don’t know if he’ll be here past the Summer. And he certainly won’t be keeping the armband.
And just like that, I stop being the Santos FC manager, obviously not permanently, and become the Liechtenstein manager. I get a few calls on my way to the airport. Some of my Santos players ring to give me some words of encouragement, as well as Hurley, Kevin, my old assistant Dennis Lawrence, Joakim, who I’d completely forgotten about to be fair, and even Nuno, the SC Angrense groundsman. It’s only when they all get in touch to wish me luck that I realise I’m about to be thrust onto the World stage. Sort of. I doubt Liechtenstein’s friendly against the Faroe Islands will be on BT Sport for example, but you know what I mean.
Here come the nerves. Here come the butterflies.
Here comes Franjo: International Football Manager.