Signing 15 Awful Players (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep2)

Our first match is in 2 days against Oskarshamns AIK, who are 9th place in the league, so there’s no time to lose.

Start from the start with episode 1

I don my trusty grey coat, grab the essentials and throw them into a rucksack. I’m going to Sweden. Specifically the Locality of Vellinge, the seat of the Vellinge Kommun municipality, and home of FC Höllviken. I’ve been given a contract until the end of the season, about 3 and a half months away at the end of November. I’ve told Alexander, the Chairman, that I can save his club from relegation. Fun fact: there are 26 games in a Swedish First Division South season and my new club have already played 18 of them: Won 3, Drawn 4, Lost 11. We’re 5 points from safety. This is going to be a very tough first gig.

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I get to work as soon as I land in Vellinge, organising my first training session with the players. Our first match is in 2 days against Oskarshamns AIK, who are 9th place in the league, so there’s no time to lose.

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I arrive at our stadium, Höllvikens IP, to see that only some of the players are present. I choose one at random and ask him to gather the whole squad. He stares at me blankly. The penny drops and my heart sinks. This is it. This is my squad. All bloody 11 of them. And 3 are injured. “Under 21’s?” I plead. “Under 19’s?” Blank stares all round. Right, well this should be a doddle then.

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It seems the only selection decision I’ll have to make, apart from which fans to pluck from the stands and give shirts to on a match day, is in net. And it’s an easy decision. On one hand we have Cyrile Tchouata Kamajou, a towering figure who can catch a ball OK and his reflexes are good, but whom the subtleties of the game seem to escape.

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On the other we have Niklas Hammer, my pick of the two. He’s an equally mountainous man who’s not as steady of hand or as quick of mind as Cyrile, but he does seem to be the more rounded of the pair. And of course I’m going to play anyone whose name is as cool as Niklas Hammer, because obviously.

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At right back, we have Oscar Vilas Nilsson, a short young man who seems decently rounded without being impressive in any way at all.

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Our only natural centre back is Simon Henningsson, a big powerful defender who I think I’ll be able to rely on to do a job. He’s also an able centre mid.

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At left back we have the surprisingly impressive Tobias Malm. He’s rapid across the ground and incredibly well rounded. In my opinion he is far too good for this team.

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And then we have our Mr Versatile, Jason Grannum. He can play anywhere across the back and on either wing, although he’s most comfortable on the right wing. If I get the chance though I’ll be taking that no.77 shirt away so fast it’ll make his head spin.

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The first of our central midfielders is Ali Burrniku, a good, rounded, no-nonsense midfielder who’s also able to play as a holding man.

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The second is Joakim Nilsson Ingves, who also happens to be my assistant manager. And I have a suspicion that he’ll be my captain. He can do pretty much everything apart from run quickly.

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And that’s all of the fit players we have. I shit you not. But let’s press on into the treatment room.

Egzon Sejiraca is a versatile right footed winger. Fast, skilful and able to take on a man and cross. He mercifully is in light training and will be back in 4-8 days.

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Andreas Wihlborg is another versatile winger. He’s also quick and otherwise pretty rounded. He’ll be back in 3-9 days.

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Andreas Persson is our only striker. He’s quick, gets in good positions and can finish with his feet and his head. He’s irreplaceable so is obviously out for the longest stretch: About 4 weeks to be specific.

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I find myself looking pitifully at this sorry lot. They are, in all fairness, better than I expected. I just wish that there was twice as many of them.

Alex comes out to call me and Joakim into his office. He pours us coffee and gives me a sympathetic look. He knows we’re fucked. He knows it’ll be a tough ask to fill a team for our next match, never mind avoid relegation. We chew the fat for a while. I agree to hold a press conference tomorrow and I inform them that I’ll take control of as much of the running of the club as I can. It’s a grim meeting.

I decide that Joakim may as well be my captain. He’s already my assistant and he seems like he knows what he’s doing. I give the vice captaincy to Tobias Malm, the impressive young left back.

Joakim waits until now to hand me the squad report, which consists of 8 positive points and 26 negative ones. I bin the squad report.

So the solution to my situation seems clear: assess the squad while trying to grind out results, and then make signings to bolster the squad once I know what we need.

The holes in this logic are that:

– The transfer deadline is tomorrow so there is no time for assessment.

– The signings we need are Everything

– We have absolutely no money to spend, not even on wages

So with that all in mind I spend transfer deadline day driving around local parks recruiting anyone who looks like they have the potential to one day kick a ball in a straight line (In game terms I offer non-contracts to a bunch of my greyed out/ made up players) until I have an actual squad. They may not be pretty, they may be shit in absolutely all areas, but my god they… are available for selection.

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I won’t show you them each individually, just trust me they’re bad. In fact I’ll show you one, just as an example.

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See? Awful. He’ll probably start the first match of my career too. But they’re footballers. And footballers can be trained and drilled. There are plenty of underdog stories that start out bleaker than ours, and plenty that end happily.

Now that we’ve got a squad, all we need to do is win some matches. That could be trickier than it sounds with this rabble though.

Episode 3 >

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2017/18 Fantasy Premier League (League Code 103559-27627)

Ms Alexandersson (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Mini-sode 4.5)

Yes, we held on to knock out a Swedish Premier League team, but at what cost?

Start from the start with episode 1

< Episode 4

The Celebrations in Stockholm are short and sweet. We’ve got a league match against 10th placed Utsiktens BK in 3 days so taking our time basking in our big win is a luxury we just can’t afford. To be honest I don’t even celebrate much in the dressing room. Not long after I take a seat on the bench reality hits me: Yes, we held on to knock out a Swedish Premier League team, but at what cost? Grannum and Vilas Nilsson have gone straight into a side room with a physio to be assessed, the rest of the team’s dead on their feet. These aren’t top athletes, these are part-timers. 3 matches in a week in our position isn’t fair.

I try to keep hold of the positives though: It is a big win, it’s great for morale, and if we can keep a clean sheet against Hammarby we can keep one against anyone in our division.

The entire team’s staying in a B&B on the outskirts of Stockholm, which strikes me as odd as there are 20-odd of us all told, but we pile into the team bus after a while even so. I sit alone at the front, thinking about Saturday and Utsiktens.

When we arrive at the B&B we’re greeted by a sweet looking old woman with long grey/blond hair, who’s wearing the thickest pair of glasses I’ve ever seen, as well as a knitted Red and Black FC Höllviken jumper. This is starting to make more sense. She’s waving from one of the doorways. Fair enough, this is an extremely big house and should cater to all of us comfortably by the look of it. The old woman introduces herself as Ms Alexandersson and greets every one of us with an enthusiastic hug and a wide smile as we walk in. We each go straight to bed and despite thoughts of Utsiktens still swirling around in my head, it isn’t long until I feel my eyes close.

And then I’m stood in the living room of the B&B, talking to Ms Alexandersson. I can’t really tell if it’s a dream or not, and frankly it’s not a priority that I find out, as I’m starting to cry. Slowly at first, and then uncontrollably. “I don’t think I can do this” I sob, as Ms Alexandersson hands me a handkerchief, which is also emblazoned with the FC Höllviken crest.

“Why?” She asks calmly.

“I just… don’t know… what to do…for the match… on Saturday” I manage, between deep breaths. “They’re tired… injured…”

She looks at me quizzically: “What did you think was the right thing to do with this lot when you first arrived in Vellinge?” She smiles.

“4-1-4-1…defence first…focus down the left” I splutter.

“And did it work?”

“We lost…”

“Ah but did it work?”

I take a moment, and then reply “I suppose so. We were OK. Worth a point.” I’m not crying anymore. Ms Alexandersson gives me a wide smile.

“Don’t overthink it” she winks.

And I’m awake. After a quick breakfast we all pile back into the team bus and Ms Alexandersson waves at us from one of the doorways as the bus begins to pull away. I catch her eye and she mimics pulling something out of her left trouser pocket. I reach into my own left pocket and pull out the FC Höllviken handkerchief. I look up, aware that I’ve turned bright red. Ms Alexandersson smiles widely and winks before the bus accelerates away, leaving her still waving in the distance. Well that’s embarrassing.

Episode 5 >

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2017/18 Fantasy Premier League (League Code 103559-27627)

Save Us Franjo (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep1)

My name is Franjo. And I will be a Football Manager.

The final whistle goes, and pure elation washes over me. I can see it, hear it, and I can feel it. We’ve won. It’s all been leading to this. All of the late nights, the tears, the despair, all of the shit I’ve been through in my managerial career… It’s all been worth it. I lead the team up the steps towards the trophy. The path is barely visible through our adoring fans: leaning in, cheering, patting backs, ruffling hair, taking selfies. This is for them. All tens of thousands of them, and the millions watching at home. We’re moments away from lifting the Trophy. We have done it…And then I wake up. Bollocks.

Becoming a Manager isn’t something that just happens. You can’t just wake up and walk into a Football Stadium asking if they have vacancies. Management is something that most in the profession have spent their lives learning. My name is Franjo. And I will be a Football Manager.

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But who will I manage? I’m an Everton fan so the Everton job would be nice. I’m English, would I take the national job? Sure. It’s a poisoned challis but I’d fancy my chances. Then there’s your Barcelonas, your Bayern Munichs, Juventus, or even Paris Saint Germain… I could always just retire in the Bahamas after a week if it goes tits up.

Realistically though these jobs are a long way away. I’m a hopeful. A rookie. A nobody. I’ve been looking for a way into management for some time now. Looking for the right first step on the right ladder. And today, Saturday 30th July 2016, I think I’ve bloody found it.

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FC Höllviken are perfect. They’re a small, pretty unknown, semi-professional club floundering in the Southern half of the third tier of Swedish Football. They might just be the kind of club that would be desperate enough to take a chance on an unknown, untried manager. I send in my extremely bare CV.

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The next morning I have 1 new email. It’s Alexander Lundgren, Höllviken’s chairman, and he wants me to attend an interview later today! They’re more desperate than I thought.

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We have a good chat, despite the language barrier. He’s concerned, rightfully so, about my lack of experience. I tell him that everyone starts somewhere and that seems to put him at ease. I tell Alexander that I’m a firm believer in bringing through youth players, so a lack of funds doesn’t rattle me. I tell him that I’m the man who can save his club from being relegated from the third tier. I think it goes pretty well.

I don’t know how many of you will have experienced this in your lives, but there’s no situation that makes you refresh your emails quite as often as being unemployed. “Maybe they’ve replied now? No of course not, it’s only been 5 seconds… but how about now?”

4 days pass and I’ve heard nothing from Alexander. Given that I applied for the job at midnight and had an interview 11 hours later this is making me increasingly nervous. Clubs are hiring new managers all over the place and I only applied for 1 position. If I don’t get it I may be out of work for a few months yet.

A week since my interview and still no word. 8 days. 9. 10. 11 days after my interview I refresh my emails for the infinitieth time and there it is.

From: Alexander Lundgren, Chairman of FC Höllviken.

Subject: “Save us Franjo”

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Episode 2 >

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2017/18 Fantasy Premier League (League Code 103559-27627)