The Green Island (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep 19)

This team is a puzzle that I keep getting stuck on.

Start from the start with episode 1

< Episode 18

The Heroes’ confidence has been high this week. With that 3-0 win over Naval fresh in the memory there’s been a real swagger about them in training. I contemplate how refreshing it is to work with such a confident bunch as I sit and eat my Portugese supermarket own-brand cornflakes. Hopefully we can keep the good times rolling today: we play Grupo Desportivo Vitória de Sernache, or Vit Sernache for short at 4 o’clock, who are travelling all the way over from Cernache do Bonjardim: a parish located smack bang in the middle of mainland Portugal.

Vit Sernache are a curious team. They currently sit 2nd bottom in the league with 6 points. So far in the Relegation stage they’ve beaten Vilafranquense, who are the only team to beat us so far, and lost to 3 teams including Naval, who we just decimated. Nevertheless we are at home against the 7th placed team and I will not accept anything less than 3 points.

As I slurp the last of my Portugese supermarket own-brand milk out of the bowl, I hear a familiar voice from behind me: “Inglês, I tell you last match yes?” It’s Nuno. And he sounds infuriatingly chipper. He walks around to the front of my table and stands there, almost smiling. The bastard. “I tell you last time Inglês! You fail! I tell you!” he’s giggling now. He seems either unable or just unwilling to hold back all of his feelings of schadenfreude.

“I honestly don’t know why I keep coming in this early on a match day” I groan, shoulders slumped. Nuno ignores me completely.

“You know how you do today Inglês?” he whispers as he crouches down and moves his Droopy-Dog-shaped-handbag of a face closer to mine.

“I fail?”

“YOU FAIL INGLÊS!” He quickly straightens up again, beaming and nodding enthusiastically. Well, enthusiastically for Nuno.

I stand, pick up my empty bowl and look him right in the eyes. “Well we’ll see won’t we Nuno. We’ll see if I fail today.” I assertively place my bowl in the sink and walk out of the Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo cafeteria, leaving Nuno looking surprised and possibly slightly impressed.

19 pre game 1

I turn my attention back to match prep. I feel like I may have been harsh in my criticism of our right winger Aurélio when creating Project: Meatloaf you know. He’s been fine. It’s just that in general, standards have been set very high so far and “fine” has actually meant that I’ve been able to single him out as one of the weaker performers. Anyway, I’m giving Amonike a start today in his place. I’ve got a decent amount of confidence in him and he sort of got an assist last week. He set up Medeiros’ cross which hit a defender and went in. Other than that, we’re unchanged and let’s get another result like last week’s!

19 formations 1

We start… In fact no. No, I’m not doing it. I’m not telling you about this match. OK fine, do you want to know what happens? Do you want me to describe every moment of importance in this match? Here you go: Luís Carlos has a shot from 30 yards that nearly goes out for a throw, we go 4-2-4 and I beg my team to attack, and Roger falls asleep for a bit. That’s it. That’s all of it. We’re dominant but we create no good chances at all. The Vit Sernache supporters get the last laugh because none of them bother to make the bloody trip, so they don’t have to endure possibly the most boring 90 minutes of my career so far. It goes without saying that my main priority immediately after the match ends is avoiding Nuno.

19 post game

We’ll fast forward a week, because I’ll be damned if that’s me done for the day.

19 pre ideal

Our next match is upon us then and we have another flight to catch, but for once we’re not flying to mainland Portugal. Our next match is away against Sporting Clube Ideal, who are the only other club in our group that’s based in the Azores. I suppose they’re the closest thing we have in our group to a rival. They’re based in Ribeira Grande (Big Riverside, not exactly Hero Creek is it?) on the largest Island in the archipelago: São Miguel (Known as The Green Island. Again, I’m pretty sure Volcano Island is the cooler option).

I’m wary of SC Ideal. So far they’ve beaten Torreense, Naval and erm…Sernache, and they’ve lost to Caldas and Vilafranquense, who are the top 2 in the group. In other words they’ve only gained 1 less point than us and they’re yet to play the extremely thrashable Carapinheirense, while we’re yet to play the league leaders Caldas, who aren’t doing too badly…

19 pre game 2

They’ve also won 2 out of 2 at home and I’m very reluctant to let them make that 3 out of 3, so I’m pumping the breaks on Project: Meatloaf. We’ll revert today to Heróis Original in the name of progress and we’ll welcome Seidi and Aurélio back into the fold. Needless to say Amonike didn’t impress me last match, but then nobody did. Hurley has been excellent but he’s not the right fit for this match. Aurélio is going to get a chance in the left inside forward role, and Kevin will be our right winger as I’m still trying to figure out how to have 2 good wide players in this team.

19 formations ideal

5 minutes in we give away a silly free kick in a central position. Artur Santos puffs his chest out Ronaldo-style and smashes the ball over the wall. I let out a tiny squeal as it looks to head towards the top left corner, only to crash back off the bar.

2 minutes later we have a chance of our own. As SC Ideal push forward, big Ivan Santos steps in to hammer the ball upfield. Magina collects it 40 yards out and drives at their defence, bamboozling a defender with his footwork before mishitting his 30 yard shot which flies wide to the left.

Nearly quarter of an hour into the match Ivan Santos plays another long ball forward towards Magina, but João Jesus beats him in the air and heads it away. Seidi gets to it first though and sends a looping volley onto the right wing, which is nodded on by Kevin. He catches it well and the ball skips through the Ideal defence and is picked up by Magina on the right hand side of the area. He takes a touch, turns and shoots towards the near post but João Botelho makes a good save, tipping it wide. A good move, but not very clean. I tell the players to work the ball into the box to make clearer chances.

The match goes quiet for the next 20 minutes or so before The Heroes start threatening again: From a throw to the right of the SC Ideal penalty area, Vitor Miranda plays a one-two with Kevin before sending a cross deep into the box. Aurélio gets his head to the ball but lacks both power and accuracy, so much so that the ball goes very wide but doesn’t actually go out for a goal kick. Xéxé, SC Ideal’s left back who I weighed up alongside Chileno as a transfer option a few weeks ago, picks the ball up and clears it down the left wing, where César brings it forward on the counter. He plays it to Amaral, who dribbles to the edge of our area and squares it for Santos. As Santos looks up he’s surrounded by defenders, but one of them is slightly out of place. Oliveira has drifted towards him and left space for Cabral to exploit. Santos plays a perfect through ball into the path of Cabral, who tucks it away at the near post.

My head drops. This isn’t good. Our form is all over the place. It’s not as if we’re doing well at home and playing badly away like I initially anticipated, we’re just struggling to gather any momentum regardless of the venue. And this isn’t the first time Oliveira’s made a mistake like that. I’ve got my eye on him.

“Fuck it”, I say as I get to my feet. “Hurley, warm up.”

Jaime Seidi is sacrificed, Hurley comes on and Project: Meatloaf is back on. We need to take this game to SC Ideal and the only other time we went behind under my stewardship we lost. Let’s get at them early to prevent a repeat of that.

5 minutes later, Amaral powers forward again before shooting from the edge of the area, but Azevedo saves it well down to his left.

I get into the changing room at half time before the players, and think about what I’ll tell them. I’m not actually angry, but I am frustrated. This team is a puzzle that I keep getting stuck on. Saying that, we’ve not been bad today, Magina’s had a decent chance… And a speculative one. “You’ve been unlucky so far” I calmly tell them. “Both teams have had chances, but they’ve had the best one and we’re 1 down because of it. Go and make some even better ones, we can beat this lot!”

Just over 10 minutes after the break a decent move results in our corner. Aurélio swings it in with pace towards the near post and big Ivan Santos loses Cabral, the goalscorer who was marking him, beats Diaby and Xéxé in the air and powers the ball home with his head. By the time the back of the net ripples I’m up and punching the air: “VAMOS HERÓIS!”

Not long after, the goalscorer Santos takes a free kick in our half and plays it short to Valadão. The skipper passes it to Hurley, who flicks it on first time for Benjamim. Now forward to Medeiros while bodies are getting forward all around him in support. Magina takes it off him, dropping back like a false nine which catches me slightly off guard, and lays it off for Benjamim again. Back to Medeiros, who plays a great pass behind Xéxé for Kevin on the right wing. Kevin takes a touch and drills a low cross into the area, which hits Touré’s foot and trickles past the keeper Botelho, but very slowly comes back off the far post. The ball’s cleared but we’re playing some great fluid football now.

With just over 20 minutes to go I bring Arruda on in place of Magina to freshen up the attack, and with 15 to go we get another chance. Miranda’s throw inside our own half seems pretty harmless but he gets it to Hurley, who takes a touch, looks up and launches the ball over the SC Ideal defence. Arruda chests it down and sprints into the area, but the angle is a bit too narrow and his near post shot is tipped behind by Botelho.

We’re just 2 minutes from the end now. This has been an end to end game and there could still be a winner in it. Artur Santos picks the ball up on the edge of our area but Hurley gets in well to tackle him. He plays it to Medeiros who plays it first time to Kevin. He takes it forward slightly and releases the ball to Arruda, who plays it quickly on to Hurley, and then Benjamim. Benjamim holds it up, turns and plays an excellent ball on for Aurélio on the right wing. Aurélio, presumably with my criticism still ringing in his ears, swings a beautiful cross in for Kevin, who’s unmarked at the far post, and his powerful header flies back across goal towards the top corner, but he’s denied by a top class, fingertip save from Botelho.

Kevin is instantly replaced by Amonike. Not because of the header, I’d already decided on the change before that chance. Maybe this is Amonike’s moment.

1 minutes to go and Benjamim presses Besugo, who was dilly-dallying on the ball in his own half. Arruda picks it up, holds it up, and plays it through for Medeiros, but Diaby slides in to tackle brilliantly. The ball rolls to Aurélio, but he’s tackled too by Dinarte, who launches it up to Amaral. They’re starting to counter us and I get the familiar sensation of my heart dropping right through my stomach. Amaral plays it to César on the left who runs powerfully forwards and shoots from 25 yards. His shot flies towards the top left corner but is caught by Azevedo.

It’s end to end right up until the final whistle 2 minutes into injury time. I shake hands with Luís Roquete, the SC Ideal manager and head back down the tunnel a contented man. João Botelho deservedly picks up the player of the match award, he pulled off a couple of excellent saves today.

19 post ideal

Now that is a draw that I can get behind. That is a draw that I can condone. We went up against a solid side and played a breathless game of football. On balance if anyone was going to take all 3 points I’d like to think it would’ve been us, but a draw is absolutely a fair result. It’s funny how 2 identical results can cause polar opposite emotional responses. I know the scores weren’t the same but that doesn’t really figure into it to be honest. I suppose if we hadn’t gone behind we couldn’t have had the satisfaction of coming back to salvage a point but other than that the scores of these 2 games were meaningless. We played an awful game of football and then we played a great one, and I’ll happily call that progress.

Mini-sode 19.5 >

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Project: Meatloaf in Action (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep18)

I can tell the players are enjoying using their brains in this fluid style, I can see their cogs turning.

Start from the start with episode 1

< Mini-sode 17.5.5 – Part 2

Have I got everything I need? Probably not. I hate flying. Not because of any kind of irrational fear; I’ve seen all the statistics, like that you’re more likely to fall off a flaming rollercoaster into a Sarlacc than be involved in a plane crash or whatever it is. No, my dislike of flying stems from the fact that more often than not, you have to go from an airport. Airports are the worst.

We’re flying to Figueira da Foz on the West coast of mainland Portugal for our match against Naval tonight and I need to leave soon, the team bus from Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo leaves in just over half an hour. As I head towards the door I see Meatloaf and Burnie both laid at the foot of my bed, looking up at me with cautious intrigue.

“I hope we make you proud today mate” I smile at Meatloaf, “and Project: Burnie is in the works!” I reassure Burnie, before stepping outside and closing the door behind me. I set off walking fast. I know the chances that they’ll leave for Lajes Field Airport without their Manager on the bus are slim but I don’t want to hold us up. I don’t even stop to stroke the Golden Retriever I see sat in the car park of my building, which for me is quite something.

I arrive in time and our knackered old team bus trundles its way to Lajes Field. Somehow even though we get there 3 hours early and it’s the tiniest airport I’ve ever seen, we still have to run to board our flight. And then run again after they change which gate we’re leaving from. I hate airports so much.

To be fair, the trip over to Figueira da Foz goes pretty seamlessly and we arrive at José Bento Pessoa, Naval’s ground, in pretty high spirits. Naval are currently occupying the relegation playoff spot in our group with 7 points. They’ve lost 2 and won 1 so far so they might be a decent side to pick our form back up against. Despite our loss against Vilafranquense we sit in a respectable 3rd place with 12 points.

18 pre match

I address the team in the changing room before the match “Is everyone clear on their jobs?” Grunts and nods from the players. My heart’s pounding, I’m excited to see Project: Meatloaf in action today. I turn to Hurley, who’s not started a match before today. “Hurley, compreendo?” He nods, but he looks nervous.

“Is it true that you named this system after your cat?” Interjects a smirking Roger.

“VAMOS HERÓIS!” I cry as I turn and walk down the tunnel.

18 formations

We start well, with our first good chance coming just over 10 minutes in: Naval’s Oliveira heads a cross clear of the box and Benjamim takes it down well. He squares it for Hurley, who passes it on first time for Kevin. He’s 10 yards out on the left and if he shoots left footed I think he scores, but he goes with his right and drags his shot into the side netting.

10 minutes later we’re still threatening. Vitor Miranda plays a lofted pass down the right wing for Medeiros, who chests it down and lays it off for Aurélio. Aurélio thinks about the cross but instead plays it back inside for Medeiros. He lays it off for Magina, who slots the ball into the bottom left corner. 22 minutes in and we’ve scored a good team goal, that’s what I want to see. It’s not only a good move, it’s also a smart one. I can tell the players are enjoying using their brains in this fluid style, I can see their cogs turning. It’s great for Magina to get his first goal under my regime too, the relief on his face is clear. Project: Meatloaf is paying dividends so far.

Just 2 minutes later we’re at it again. You wouldn’t know who the home side is here, Naval aren’t getting a sniff. Medeiros plays a good cross into the 6 yard box and it’s headed away by Ildefonso. Fred Jesus, a man whose parents I respect very much for their choice of name, tries to head the ball further clear but can only put it into space on the left wing. Hurley goes to pick it up and puts an in-swinging cross into a dangerous position. So dangerous in fact that it nearly flies into the top right hand corner and Naval keeper João Tiago has to claw it out, but the ball only falls a couple of yards out for a confident looking Magina to dink back into the net. 2-0 and we are looking as excellent as I’ve seen us.

At half time the dressing room is cheerful. There’s a real buzz and the players really seem to be enjoying themselves.

“Excellent”, I say to them through a toothy smile, “You’ve played well so far.” For the 2nd half we’re going back to Heróis Original. We’ve got a good lead but we can’t get cocky, nor can we sit back and invite them on. We’ll be our usual standard selves and we’ll utilise Hurley in the holding man role.

The first 20 minutes is quiet and I’m fine with that. Maybe one day when my team has wrapped up the La Liga title with weeks to spare I’ll try and drub some fools, but for now 3 points is all I want, and killing games off with a 2-0 lead is an excellent way of wrapping up 3 points.

I bring off Kevin, who’s been quiet today, and bring on Amonike, who I’m quietly confident in. His defining moment for me so far was a 30 yard defence splitting pass in our first friendly that lead to a goal. Since our wingers are no longer swapping I station Amonike on the right where he’s most comfortable and put Aurélio on the left.

Screen Shot 2017-05-16 at 14.45.51

Just a couple of minutes later our Oliveira takes a short free kick from just inside the Naval half and passes it to Medeiros. Medeiros dribbles down the right wing and passes to Amonike a few feet away, who holds the ball up, draws away 2 defenders and lays it back for Medeiros. From there he drills a dangerous looking cross along the ground towards the 6 yard box that deflects off the outstretched foot of Ildefonso and bounces past the keeper to make it 3-0.

With 15 minutes to go I replace Hurley and Medeiros with Rúby and Seidi, swapping us to a more withdrawn 4-2-3-1 with 2 holding men and a box-to-boxer.

Seconds later Chuca does his best for Naval bless him, he makes a powerful sideways run from the centre to the left wing and shoots from the corner of the area. The shot goes a long, long way wide.

With 7 minutes to go I tell the players to fall back completely and defend, and we see the match out without breaking a sweat.

18 post naval

Hurley was excellent today. He did exactly what he needed to, gave us an extra man and an extra attacking outlet, chasing loose balls and making forward passes. Magina was brilliant too, scoring 2 poacher’s goals and looking dangerous throughout. Our defence was solid, our midfield was well balanced. I am a very happy manager.

I realise that it’s difficult to compare our last 2 matches. There are so many variables, what with being at home against a good side and then being away against a pretty bad side, using different tactics with slightly different personnel, but my God that result feels good after last week’s disappointment. That’s the kind of performance we need to be putting in every game, at home especially: Dominant, fluid, exciting and brilliant.

Ah shit I’ve got to fly home now haven’t I.

Episode 19 >

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Project: Meatloaf – Part 2 (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Mini-sode 17.5.5)

Join me as I analyse our players’ performances so far and create the “Project: Meatloaf” system. This mini-sode may be a bit dry for some but if you’re a tactical nerd like me I think you’ll enjoy it

Start from the start with episode 1

< Mini-sode 17.5 – Part 1

I think for a while. We could set up Project: Meatloaf to attack the opposition. We could go all out aggressor, but I’m not convinced we have the squad for it.

If we break it down, to attack effectively you need to turn the ball over high up the pitch. To win the ball high up you need a high defensive line. To have a high line you need pacey defenders to minimise the threat of the opposition counter attacking with long passes into the space you leave behind. Our defenders are slow. They’re good, don’t get me wrong, but too slow to play in an attacking system as they’d be incredibly vulnerable to the counter.

If we tried to attack with a deep line to make up for our defenders’ lack of pace we’d leave a massive amount of space between defence and midfield, which would cripple us both defensively and offensively. In short, all out attack isn’t really an option with the players we currently have. So control it is. We’ll control the game, raising the back line slightly but not too much.

I never mentioned this to you, but when I first arrived in Hero Creek my first instinct was to set us up to play with a back 3. I saw the 4 quality centre backs at our disposal (I don’t think you’ve even met one of them yet) and thought we’d better use as many of them as we can. But to do that we’d need either wing backs or wide midfielders that will track back, as playing with a defensive back 5 would leave us short going forward, and we don’t really have either. I’m sure Kevin and Aurélio would give it a go if I asked them but I’d rather leave them further upfield. Plus, we have 2 very solid full backs, one of whom is our captain, so I decided on a back 4 with a holding man instead.

In the system we’ve used so far, which we’ll call Heróis Original, our holding men, especially Jaime Seidi, have been excellent. Crucial. They’ve started almost every single attack by bringing the ball into the opposition half and playing it out to one of the more offensive players. The holding man role has so far worked sort of like a quarterback for us. But against weaker, more defensive opposition I think Benjamim can handle the defensive dirty work and bring the ball forward on his own.

In dropping the holding man we’ll free up another attacker, so we’ll have Hurley as an attacking central midfielder next to Benjamim in the interest of having more bodies pushing into the final third. This was actually my original plan with Hurley anyway and it seems like a good time to give it a try. I was also unsure about Benjamim when I took over but he’s impressed me in my first few games. He’s a jack-of-all-trades with the right attitude and you can never have too many players like him. And a last minute winner never harms your reputation does it?

Our wingers are an interesting problem to solve. When I made Heróis Original I worried that playing Kevin as an inside forward, while giving my fullbacks no attacking responsibility whatsoever due to their lack of athleticism, would leave us lacking width, especially on the left. Eventually I plan to bring in a quicker left wing back which should fix the problem but that won’t be happening this transfer window. And besides, I’m still very happy to have O Capitão on the left for now.

Ironically, despite my initial concerns I think Kevin’s probably been our best player so far. In terms of chance creation he’s been excellent. If we ever manage to work the ball into the box to create a good goalscoring chance you can bet that Kevin’s played a major part in the move.

I’ve been less thrilled with Aurélio. I’ll be completely and totally honest with you: I couldn’t care less that he missed that penalty against Carapinheirense. We won 2-0 and that’s all that matters. It’s his overall involvement so far that bothers me. It probably doesn’t help my opinion of him that he’s so easily comparable to Kevin, who’s been as good as he has, but Aurélio just hasn’t created much for us so far. In Project: Meatloaf Kevin and Aurélio will be encouraged to swap wings every now and then. In addition to keeping the opposition defence on their toes it’ll also give me a chance to see if Aurélio can play better on the left. Is the problem him? Or is it the right winger role that I put into Heróis Original?

Medeiros and Magina will keep their positions and their roles. They’re both such exciting players; the kind of players that make you get up out of your seat whenever they get the ball, even if they’re in their own half. Plus, they’re the kind of players that the opposition will lie awake before matches worrying about.

Medeiros has given me no reason to doubt his ability to create from any area of the pitch, and he’s popped up with a goal too. Magina has made some brilliant runs both on and off the ball, and has laid on a goal for Medeiros, but has had a frustrating start to my tenure with no goals and 2 injuries so far. Like Medeiros though, I have no doubts about his ability at the minute and I’m happy with his back up in Hélder Arruda if he does turn out to be an injury prone player.

We’ll also work the ball into the box because we have far more passing ability amongst our attackers than speed or aerial presence.

So altogether Project: Meatloaf will look like this:

Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 12.27.55

Underwhelming? Perhaps. “A 4-2-3-1 Wide, Franjo! How adventurous!” Fine. But it can’t always be “Let’s chuck a goalkeeper up front”. Sometimes you just need to tweak what you’ve got to get the best out of your players and the worst out of the opposition’s. Anyway, it’s not about the formation. It’s about the system. Fluidity is essential to Project: Meatloaf. Getting forward in numbers is essential. You could argue that it’s a better system than Heróis Original, or a riskier one, but to be honest it’s just slightly adjusted to rebalance us towards attack against more defensive sides.

Our defence is solid, I have faith that our front 4 will do fine, although I’ll be keeping an eye on Aurélio’s contribution, but everything will hinge on our central midfield pairing and I’ll be keeping a close eye on the battle between them and their opposition numbers.

One thing’s for sure: our match at Naval will be an interesting one.

Episode 18 >

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Project: Meatloaf – Part 1 (Franjo: A Journeyman Story Mini-sode 17.5)

It’s time for “Project: Meatloaf”

Start from the start with episode 1

< Episode 17

“What do you think?” I ask. My face scrunches up slightly as I try to come up with an answer to the question that’s been plaguing me all weekend. “I mean, I know there wasn’t much that we could’ve done about their goal… to be fair it was a good finish and we did initially defend the corner well, but…” I let out a sigh. “I don’t know. Why were we so ineffective?”

Burnie stares blankly back at me from my lap, his little feline head cocked slightly to one side. “You’re not much help you know mate”, I tell him sympathetically. I scratch him behind the ear and pick him up to put him on the floor so I can get up. I need to think, and to think I need to walk.

I’ve watched Saturday’s match too many times now and the answer’s in my head somewhere. I just need to filter out the shit and find it. Why did we lose? We were nothing like the team I saw in the first 2 matches. The team that dominated and fought and scared the life out of the opposition going forwards.

I throw on my trusty grey coat and open the door of my flat, intending to go for a walk, when I hear hissing and yowling: The telltale sounds of a cat fight. The kind with actual cats. I turn around to see my that my other cat, Meatloaf, is attacking Burnie. Meatloaf is smaller, scrawnier, scrappier and obviously more insecure than his brother. He’s pinned Burnie down and he’s biting and scratching him.

But just then something clicks. Burnie is crouched, defensive, and still. He looks petrified. He’s showing Meatloaf too much respect. If he wanted to he could throw the little bastard off and win the fight, but he won’t. Meatloaf is offensive and dominant… he’s a dick, but he’s winning.

I slam the door, which shocks Meatloaf into running away, and I throw my trusty grey coat onto the bed, unsure of why I put it on in the first place as it’s intolerably warm here on Volcano Island.

I have work to do. In our last match against Vilafranquense, even though we had the home advantage we were timid and careful. Almost petrified. We should have been the aggressor. We should have taken the game to Vilafranquense. We were Burnie. We should have been Meatloaf.

Next weekend we play Associação Naval 1° de Maio, or Naval for short. We’re away but they’re a team we should be beating, so I decide to adjust my tactics. We’ll make a new system and try it on them.

It’s time for Project: Meatloaf

Mini-sode 17.5.5 – Part 2

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The Tagus Piranhas (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep17)

We won’t be the only in-form team playing on this shoddily cut grass today.

Start from the start with episode 1

< Episode 16

“We’ve won 2 in 2! We’ve started brilliantly!” I bark stubbornly.

“You fail soon” replies Nuno lazily, without looking at me. “Aurélio never misses penalty, and then you come, Gerente Inglês, and…” he blows a raspberry with his mouth. I’m growing increasingly frustrated with Nuno. I don’t know why I’ve showed up early at Estádio Municipal again.

“Are you suggesting that my presence as an Englishman was the reason that Aurélio missed his penalty against Carapinheirense last week?” I ask, exasperated.

“He make you feel at home, Inglês” he says offhandedly. It’s annoying because he’s one of these people who can just effortlessly piss you off. There’s no malice in his tone but he just winds you up by indifferently pressing your buttons. I turn and start to walk away, leaving him to finish cutting the grass. “You fail soon, Inglês” he calls after me.

Probably the most annoying thing is that he might have a point. We play Vilafranquense later today, a side from Vila Franca de Xira, a municipality on the Tagus River. They’re known as the “Piranhas do Tejo”, or the “Tagus Piranhas”, which makes me a tiny bit jealous.

17 pre game

The Tagus Piranhas are 3rd on 10 points and we’re now 2nd on 12 points, but this is the most nervous I’ve felt before an Angrense match so far. We won’t be the only in-form team playing on this shoddily cut grass today.

I’ll be making minimal changes for the match. We are still in good form after all. Jaime Seidi has picked up a one game suspension after his yellow card against Torreense took his tally to 5 for the season, so young Rúben “Rúby” Miranda takes his place in the holding role.

I also take my time deliberating whether to bring the fit again Cristiano Magina back into the fold in place of Arruda, who of course scored on his full debut in Magina’s absence. It’s a toss up but I opt for Magina on the grounds that he’s more familiar with the squad and is our top scorer this season.

17 formations

Within 2 minutes Os Heróis are threatening: Rúby brings the ball forward into Vilafranquense’s half and plays it out to Kevin on the left wing. With a brilliant piece of skill Kevin takes the ball around 1 man and then splits the defence with a through ball. Magina runs onto it but his near post shot is saved by Martins.

After 25 minutes we’ve had a few shots, but not good ones. I take the steps that I’ve taken in both other games so far: Control the play, work the ball into the box.

The first half is frustratingly dull and we go in for half time deadlocked. “We can win this game” I tell the players, via Roger. “We’ve had the only good chance, they’ve had nothing. Keep your chins up and go and nick us a goal.”

7 minutes into the 2nd half a corner is cleared by big Ivan Santos, but the ball is whipped back in from the right wing. It’s impossible to tell who in the penalty area scrum it actually deflects off but eventually it’s laid off to Rosado, who tucks it home under Azevedo.

As much as this seems like bad news, I’m weirdly OK with it. I know that this team are fighters, I learned that in Torreense, but until now I’ve not seen how they react when they go behind. I’m intreagued to see how the handle it, situations like this can give a Manager vital insight into his team.

With half an hour to go I decide to press our home advantage. I make a double substitution, bringing on Hurley for his debut and Reis for his first appearance under my stewardship. The players to make way are Rúby and Vitor Miranda and we switch to a conventional 4-2-3-1 with Valadão as a defensive wing back on the right, Reis as an attacking wing back on the left and Hurley as an attacking central midfielder next to Benjamim.

10 minutes later, Magina picks up an injury. I really hope I haven’t got the Portugese equivalent of Daniel Sturridge on my hands. He seems OK to play on but like in the first match I bring on Arruda as a precaution.

With 15 minutes to go I tell the team to attack and to play with some fluidity, but at this point it’s been about 75 minutes of football since we seriously threatened Vilafranquense and I’m losing hope.

With under 10 minutes to go a Vilafranquense corner is cleared only as far as Ely, whose long range shot reflects off his teammate Esteves and wrong-foots Azevedo as it trickles into the far corner. The goal doesn’t count as Estevez is ruled offside but to be honest that doesn’t lift my spirits much.

17 post game

I’ve said before that Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo needs to be our fortress. Results like today: Gutless 1-0 losses against any team, even the good ones like Vilafranquense, are unacceptable. We have such a huge home advantage, probably one of the biggest home advantages in club football, such is our geographical isolation from the rest of our league. Similarly we have one of the worst away disadvantages, and that’s why we need to get something out of each and every home game.

The worst part is that I know Nuno, wherever he is, is looking at this result and giving me a great big telepathic “I told you so” in Portugese.

Mini-sode 17.5 – Part 1 >

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What Does Kevin Do? (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep16)

Midweek games: A chance to build momentum? Or a surefire way to obliterate your team’s fitness?

Start from the start with episode 1

< Episode 15

Midweek games: A chance to build momentum? Or a surefire way to obliterate your team’s fitness? I think largely it depends on your perspective, which is going to be determined by whether you win or lose. If you win, you’ll feel like any fatigue caused is negligible: a necessary byproduct on the road to victory. Whereas if you lose you’ll feel like the match was an unnecessary obstacle scheduled only to annoy you and destroy your squad.

So let’s find out what this match is to us shall we?

Tonight we travel to the municipality of Torres Vedras, just North of Lisbon, and Campos Manuel Marques, home of Torreense. They sit at 5th place in the PT Championship, having started on 6 points like us, but having lost 2-0 to Sporting Ideal in their first match. We’re 2nd on 9 points, however I am well aware that we started with a good points advantage and possibly the easiest game of our season, so we won’t be getting ahead of ourselves.

It occurs to me during the flight over to mainland Portugal that we may see a major discrepancy between our home and away form at this club. Whoever is travelling for our matches is in for a long, long journey over the Atlantic. I think we’d better do everything we can to make Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo a fortress.

16 pre game

We stay pretty much unchanged from the first match, except that Magina is out (Mercifully only for a couple of days) so Arruda makes his full debut up front.

16 torreense formations

Nearly quarter of an hour into the match, Medeiros picks the ball up on the half way line, plays a one-two with Kevin just to his left, then dribbles forward and around a defender and shoots from the edge of the area, just putting the ball wide to the right. I’m torn on whether I should tell him and Magina (When fit) to stop being so ambitious with their shooting, or whether I should just leave them to it, it seems to be their natural game. It’s how they want to play. Watching those 2 is like watching a 16 year old Wayne Rooney, before the English public and media did what they do so well: Ruined him.

After half an hour with the match still deadlocked, I decide to make that decision properly another time. There is no Magina in the squad today so Medeiros can step in line. We will control play and we will work the ball into the box as a team.

Half time comes and goes without incident. In all honestly this isn’t a very exciting match.

7 minutes after the break, Vitor Miranda picks out Aurélio on the right wing, but Torreense’s left back Burguette slides in to knock the ball away. It bounces down the line for us though and Medeiros picks it up on the right wing. He chips it in towards the runner in the area, IT’S ARRUDA! ARRUDA SCORES! I’m on my feet and punching the air, a full debut goal for our new striker: a nice volley with his instep.

“A nice signing”, I think to myself, “and well worked by Medeiros”. I smile smugly. Roger sees me and gives me that frown-with-a-raised-eyebrow look that smart-arses often do. But Roger’s cynicism can’t hurt me now. Not while I’m swaddled in this warm, soft blanket of vindication.

5 minutes later a decent Torreense passing move ends with Esgaio hitting a looping shot from the edge of the area which hits the angle and bounces away. It takes less than a minute more however for Burguette to hoof the ball forward from the half way line. Over our striker it goes, over the midfield, and crucially over 6’4″ centre back Ivan Santos. Bonifácio takes the ball down unopposed and places it into the bottom corner. Goodbye vindication blanket. Hello again Roger. Put your eyebrow down you dick.

With 18 minutes to go Valadão stands over the ball 25 yards out. We have a direct free kick in a central position. Surely this is the moment. “VAMOS CAPITÃO”, I shout, making full use of the teachings of my brand new Portuguese phrase book. Valadão smashes it over the wall, and off the bar. I groan as the ball bounces away and is cleared.

The 90 minutes are up and the referee signals for 2 minutes of injury time. I’ve not made a substitution or even a tactical change since the first half. The game is on a knife edge and I don’t want to rock the boat.

With 40 seconds to go in injury time, Torreense come forward. My heart is in my mouth. They work the ball around well, and Pereira picks it up 25 yards out. He hits a hopeful shot, but Azevedo catches it easily. I breathe a sigh of relief.

Azevedo drops the ball and looks up for options, before hoofing it forward towards Kevin. Kevin nods it on but a Torreense defender boots it away again. Now Valadão gets the ball and hoofs it forward again. There are 15 seconds to go. Arruda with his back to goal nods it down to Kevin, who shimmies around a defender, avoiding his challenge.

He looks up and time seems to stand still. What does Kevin do? He’s about 25 yards out from goal but defenders would surely block any attempt at a shot. He’s got Arruda right in front of him with 2 Torreense players marking him out. He’s got Aurélio in the centre, again marked out. And he’s got the runner on the far side, Benjamim. He isn’t marked as he’s only just arriving and I don’t think Torreense have spotted him, but it would require a truly needle-threading pass to find him through the tiny gap in the wall of Torreense players. So what does Kevin do?

Kevin threads the fucking needle.

Benjamim shoots…AND SCORES! He wellies it from the edge of the area into the left hand side of the net! I do a Klopp-esque run onto the pitch to join in the celebrations, my vindication blanket attached to my shoulders and flying proudly behind me like a cape! “VAMOS HERÓIS!” I cry, before the players echo my words.

It’s a weird atmosphere to be honest. Pretty much dead silence. By the looks of it, our supporters don’t really travel, and I can’t blame them don’t get me wrong, but there are 2 supporters of ours cheering and screaming amongst a sea of over 500 home fans. I did notice that Carapinheirense had brought a single lonely fan to our game on Saturday, where nearly 300 of ours turned out, so maybe no fans travel to Volcano Island either.

Nevertheless what an incredible ending to a so-so match. Benjamim, the unlikely hero with the goal. But I’ll learn from this match. We were not good value for the win. It could’ve easily been Torreense celebrating the 3 points.

16 torreense post game

Negatives? Our centre backs with a combined height of nearly 12 and a half foot were done by a hoofed ball over the top, and in general we looked sluggish and static off the ball, letting Torreense play around us.

Positives? The team showed a never say die attitude and didn’t stop fighting. A good goal from Benjamim, great assists from Medeiros and Kevin, and a full debut goal for Arruda. Plus, even though he hit he bar today, O Capitão is excellent at taking free kicks and that’s a big plus.

So there you are, midweek games are fine. Sure, they knacker your squad, especially if you make the questionable decision not to bring on any substitutes at all. But they build momentum, and we’ve now got momentum in abundance.

Episode 17 >

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The Magina Vonologues (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep15)

This is more like it! This is proper football!

Start from the start with episode 1

< Mini-sode 14.5

“I just want to see your natural games today” I announce assertively in front of the dressing room full of players. Roger is translating for me as I speak. “Conditions are awful out there. It’s windy and it’s chucking it down with rain, so just show me what you can do”. I pause to give Roger a chance to catch up, and then smile widely, looking around at them all. “Don’t overthink it” I wink.

I stride out of the tunnel and towards the dugout, using my trusty grey coat to shield me from the sideways rain. There must be a couple of hundred fans here at least. It’s time to make a good impression.

I pass by 2 fans stood together in the front row. “VAMOS HERÓIS!” They cry, upon seeing me.*  I turn to them and smile. I like it. I have noticed in my first couple of weeks that the club doesn’t really have a nickname. We’re just referred to as Angrense. But yes, we are The Heroes of Hero Creek. “VAMOS HERÓIS!” I echo back to them, raising a triumphant fist into the air. The crowd in earshot cheer and begin to sing the phrase in unison.

15 formations

We start quickly: in the 4th minute Carapinheirense’s midfield seems to disintegrate in the rain and Kevin takes advantage, making an easy 15 yard pass forwards towards Magina. The striker jinks around a defender and hits a shot towards the near top corner, but their keeper Igor is on his toes and catches the ball with relative ease.

In the 17th minute Vitor Miranda hoofs a ball forward on the volley and Magina brings it down on his chest. He shimmies once again around a defender on the right wing and drills a low cross in to Medeiros 10 yards out. Medeiros takes a touch and then hammers it past the keeper into the far top corner. I leap to my feet, beaming from ear to ear. This is more like it! This is proper football! A fantastic start and it looks like there’s more to come.

I’ve not even sat back down before the ball comes forward again. Seidi passes to Kevin, who’s 20 yards out. He plays a fantastic ball through the left hand channel and Medeiros has got the beating of his marker Soro for pace, so much so that Soro trips him and gives away a blatant penalty.

Now I don’t want to brag, but back in Vellinge we had an excellent penalty scoring record, so naturally I’m practically celebrating our 2-0 lead already. Aurelio steps up, picks his spot, puts it straight down the middle, and Igor parries it away. 1-0 it stays.

With 10 minutes to go before half time, the game has died down significantly. I tell the team to control the game, to push slightly further forward and to get in Carapinheirense’s faces. I don’t want to full on attack this weaker side and leave us open to the counter attack, but control should make us start theatening them again at least.

4 minutes from the break we win a free kick 20 yards out in a very slightly left-of-central position. Valadão the skipper steps up. He curls the ball over the wall and as far into the top corner as it is possible to go. 2-0! It’s a superb effort and that’s surely enough to kill the game.

Half time comes around and I gather the team in the dressing room before showering praise onto them. But for the grace of Igor it would be 3-0! They were electric at times this half and if we play like that every match we are in for an extremely comfortable few months.

Just over 10 minutes after half time Carapinheirense push forward on the counter attack. A Namora through ball catches Oliveira flat footed and Bacurim squeezes into the area behind him. He shoots low to the right but Azevedo gets down brilliantly to push it behind. The corner comes to nothing.

Just 2 minutes later Cristiano Magina, who I am starting to think the absolute world of, picks the ball up 40 yards out, dribbles expertly past 2 defenders and lets fly from 25 yards. His shot goes wide to the right, but he gets a standing ovation from me nevertheless. “GOOD EFFORT MY SON” I bellow into the wind and rain. “MORE OF THAT”.

With half an hour to go I decide to make a defensive change: Benjamim, our central midfielder, is replaced by Rúben Miranda, who drops back alongside Seidi in a defensive midfield partnership.

15 minutes later Magina goes down and stays down after a heavy challenge. My heart sinks. Please no. Please, please no. He looks like he might be able to play on but I bring him off as a precaution. Arruda comes on for his debut, but the last 15 minutes goes by in the blink of an eye.

We were dominant today. Utterly, utterly dominant. But I’m not happy. I enjoyed Magina’s jinking run and long shot combo but we need to be making more quality chances like we did for the first goal. This could have been more comfortable and I’ll be tinkering to try to make amends in future, but for now we’ve picked up an opening day win, and I suppose that’ll do.

15 post game

*”Vamos Heróis” translates to “Come on Heroes”, which was suggested by u/TooMuchChaos2 and u/Haevollgutoder on reddit, cheers guys! VAMOS HERÓIS!

Episode 16 >

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