As Jack should have said to the man hungrily eyeing his cow whilst holding out a sweaty palm full of magic beans, “He’s not for fucking sale, so piss off.”
In this case, the bean-pushing beef botherer is none other than Bogdan Popa, 32 year old manager of Romanian top tier side Astra Giurgiu and the man that’s made so many offers for Santos’ 16 year old midfield prodigy Luke Fanteni at this point that I’m genuinely wondering whether or not I’d be able to sue him for harassment.
Maybe it’s my fault to be fair; In full knowledge of Popa’s interest in Luke I played him against Baroka FC and he did very well. The next few days are filled with dodging phone calls and ignoring voicemails as Astra lodge bids of £60k, £80k and finally £110k. I reject them all, partly out of not wanting one of our rising stars to leave and partly out of principle. I’d be tempted to pay the board out of my own pocket to keep him out of Bogdan’s greasy fingers at this point.
A trip to Cape Town All Stars is on the cards next, just 3 days after our Cup Win over Baroka. Most of our first team sat out at least some of that match and so are fairly fresh for this one. We also welcome Baliso, Themi Maluka and Joël back from injury to give me a bit of a selection headache, but a welcome one.
The thing that’s worrying me today though is that CTAS have just lost on penalties in the SA Cup against Happy Wanderers, a wholesomely named semi-pro side that were obviously massive underdogs going into the match. If I was the All Stars’ manager today, I’d be livid and ready to fight tooth and nail for a result.
I’m keeping Project: Foxy Mk II in place today as I feel like they’re going to come out at us, but I’m making 7 changes from the team that did so well at the weekend. Komo starts in net, Nkili, Kakuba, Sohna and Japhta are our defence, Juno keeps his place over Diale at the base of midfield, Sinbad and Joël are our central midfielders, Masango and Norde are cutting in from the wings and Aidir leads the line.
It takes over 20 minutes for either side to create a chance and it comes through Mandla Masango, who cuts in from the left wing and shoots well wide. It takes another 15 minutes to see another and this time it originates with a Juno corner that’s headed clear. Sinbad takes the ball down and passes to Norde, who plays it through for Aidir. He dribbles forwards, feigns smashing the ball and then just toe-pokes it under the keeper instead. It’s a cheeky little finish. Nevertheless it hasn’t been a great start to the match and I feel like we’d play better with more width, so Masango and Norde swap wings and will play as out and out wingers.
I make no changes at half time but I do feel for Simo Dladla, the All Stars’ manager, who’ll be tearing his hair out. He makes all 3 substitutions at half time, which I recognise all too well as the action of a desperate man, only to lose right winger Jeffrey Dladla (No relation) to injury 5 minutes after the restart, sending his trailing side down to 10 men. A few minutes later they have a decent chance though when Moeti is forced out onto the left wing but tries a shot anyway, which loops down dangerously and lands on the roof of the net.
A minute later we go close too. Juno sends a long free kick into the box, Kakuba nods it back across goal and his centre back partner Sohna heads straight at keeper Mulovhedzi, who holds it. A few minutes on we get another chance, again from a Juno set piece. I’m starting to think that if he keeps his form up he might actually make himself undroppable with some of these deliveries. He chips a free kick in from the left wing and again Sohna’s there, glancing a header at goal that the keeper saves again but spills. Joël Soumahoro dashes in to tap the ball home but he gets it at too narrow an angle and can only find the side netting.
After a breathless start to the second half the game dies right down again. Gogotya, Singh and Lark all get run outs but the game ends at 1-0. I will take it.
A couple of days later, the SA Cup 2nd round draws us away against Platinum Stars, the National First Division side that loaned us Eliphas Thoahlane for 18 months. I’m pretty happy with the draw as it should be a match we can win and it’ll be nice to see Thoahlane get a game if he’s picked.
Before that though is our next match away at Kaizer Chiefs. You might say it’s an exact rematch of the Cup Final, not that I’m still bitter about the choice of venue… We’ve got a break of 11 days before the match because of the South African Premier Soccer League’s odd scheduling so that gives us plenty of time to get extra practice in. In the words of that glorious buffoon Kevin Keegan, I will love it if we beat them. Love it.
We do have some good news during those 11 days though: Themi sheepishly knocks on my office door and tells me that he’s happy to stay with the Peoples’ Team after all. As I’ve said before, I too was as stupid as him when I was 17, so I won’t hold it against him as long as he gets his head down from now and works hard. He’s arguably our 2nd choice striker now.
Then Ryan Moon strains his ankle ligaments in a reserves match and rules himself out for 2-3 weeks. I wasn’t planning on playing him in the near future anyway to be honest. He’s still not reached anywhere near the form I was expecting this season and that’s a real shame. He might struggle to break back into this team when he’s fit again.
The only changes I’m making for the match are bringing Gogotya in for Joël to give us more solidity in midfield and swapping Norde and Masango to wingers on the left and right respectively so that they can be more of a counter attacking outlet.
6 minutes in, Juno sends a corner to the near post and Sohna gets to it yet again, this time looping a header towards the far post. Norde sees that the ball’s going wide and tries to reach it, but he can’t connect properly and the ball bounces out. If he had made contact then that would surely have been a goal for Santos.
20 minutes later Kaizer Chiefs are predictably dominating and I tell Aidir to play as more of a target man. He’s looking a little isolated and we could do with him holding the ball up a bit more to give the rest of the team time to get up the pitch. After half an hour we put together a good patient move and the change seems to have helped. Aidir holds the ball up and plays a clever disguised pass through for Sony Norde on the left. The winger shoots but the ball keeps rising as it flies into row Z.
On the stroke of half time Juno plays a free kick into the box from the right wing and it’s headed back out to him. He volleys the ball straight across to Sinbad on the edge of the box, who passes it on to Hicham Aidir 10 yards from goal. Aidir takes aim and drills it low under Khune. We’ll go into the break 1-0 up over Kaizer Chiefs.
Oh. No we won’t. Less than a minute after the goal, Baloyi floats a cross into our box from deep on the right and Ngoma’s bundled over by Masango as he tries to get on the end of it. Kaizer Chiefs are awarded a penalty and Ngoma converts it himself deep into injury time, placing the ball into the bottom corner and sending Komo the wrong way. Nevertheless 1-1 isn’t a bad scoreline away at Kaizer Chiefs. I tell the lads as much back in the changing room.
The hosts should complete their turnaround after the hour mark when Fielies crosses low from the right wing, but the ball rolls through to Khutlang, whose shot whacks the outside of the post and goes behind. As if my nerves weren’t already frayed enough, Khutlang then releases Ngoma down the left wing with a beautiful pass over the top a few minutes later. Ngoma drills a cross in that deflects off Sohna’s foot and rolls to Kumalo, who also hits the post. Somehow the scores are still level though. Luther Singh, who’s approaching match fitness after his recent reserve matches and appearances off the bench for the first team, comes on replacing the quiet Masango.
Straight after the change, Sinbad plays a beautiful ball over to Japhta at the left byline. The wingback doesn’t mess about, crossing the ball straight to the far post, and who else but Luther Singh pops up to nod the ball into the net, having been on the pitch for a matter of seconds. I punch the air in delight. I don’t know what I’m happiest about: The vindication of my substitute making such an instant impact, a player coming back to fitness and showing signs that he may be a quality signing, or the fact that we’re leading Kaizer Chiefs once again. They’re all pretty fucking good.
17 minutes from time we’re holding on and we win another free kick, this time deep on the left. Juno pings the ball into the box and it’s cleared as far as Gogotya, who heads the ball down to Japhta. Japhta plays a good pass through for Sony Norde… Who places the ball into the net. Santos 3, Kaizer Chiefs 1.
A few minutes later I bring on Marothi Diale in place of Gugu Gogotya as he should add a bit more steel in midfield. With 10 minutes to go though Sello Japhta’s caught in possession upfield and the home side counter attack down our unguarded left side. Fieles dribbles forwards and powers a shot at goal from out on the right wing and Komo lets it past him at his near post. Kaizer Chiefs have pulled one back.
And then in the 92nd minute of the game, with time all but up, Kaizer Chiefs go for one last route one attack. Khune smashes a goal kick up field, Fielies nods it on, Morris takes the ball down on the edge of our box and fizzes it into the bottom corner of the net. My heart sinks. Kaizer Chiefs have pulled it back to 3-3.
I put on a brave face for the lads after the match. In all honesty we were expected to lose today so a draw is a very credible result, but when you’re 3-1 up with 10 minutes to go and you come away with just a point… It’s difficult. They players are gutted though so I walk around the changing room like a malfunctioning encouragement vending machine, firing out clichés like “Chin up, lads!”, “Brilliant effort there, boys!” and “Unlucky today” without provocation.
With my contract running out and with no sign of a new one on the horizon, I’m not sure whether I’ll get a chance to exact my revenge on Kaizer Chiefs for that horrific Cup Final. Even if it was only for a quarter of an hour though, we had these today. We were, however briefly, the best team in Africa.