Franjo: Enemy of Football (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep4)

I tell the team that we’ve got the quality to turn this around, and they believe me the poor bastards.

Start from the start with episode 1

< Episode 3

So here’s the thing. You come to a small club in danger of dropping down to the 4th tier of their national league system, you unfortunately lose your first game in charge and morale is low. What do you want least at this point? How about a cup match away against a team from the top tier? Well, take my hand my friend and let me whisk you away to Sweden’s capital. Stockholm, here we come. To play fucking Hammarby IF.

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Now normally I’d relish this kind of challenge – A chance to play a team at their place 2 leagues above us? Hell yes. Except in a situation as dire as ours this just seems like a no-win situation. We can’t throw the match because we need every bit of morale we can muster, so I need to play the first team. The match is on a Wednesday, so it’s going to knacker and possibly injure my 8 good and uninjured players. We’re going to lose, so morale’s going to drop anyway, it’s just a case of not getting embarrassed. And with 7 games to play and 6 points to make up to even get out of the automatic relegation places and into the play-off spot, we just don’t need a cup match at all.

I hold a team meeting, which actually goes very well. I tell the team that we’ve got the quality to turn this around, and they believe me the poor bastards. So morale for now is high.

Everybody’s job today is to defend. I tell them as much. We will play very narrow, deep, defensive, compact and we will try not to get obliterated. I name the same line up as my first match and hope that consistency of selection will do us a favour at some point. Before the match I again tell the team that they’re under no pressure here, but even I don’t believe that.

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We’re under the cosh straight away, with Lidberg connecting with a Silverholt cross and heading over from point blank range.

Half an hour in Jarrett smashes a shot from outside the area off the far post. We’ve barely had a sniff but at least we’re mainly restricting them to long shots like that, which is better than nothing.

Our task isn’t made any easier towards the end of the first half as Grannum and Vilas Nilsson both pick up injuries. But they can both stand, so they both play on.

At half time I do nothing but encourage the team and tell them they’re unlucky not to be winning, a complete fabrication but again they believe it.

It’s another cagey 20 minutes before I bring on Sekiraca for Axelsson, just like in the first match. Sekiraca started full training yesterday and while he was nowhere near ready to start today he’ll have 25 minutes to shine here.

With 15 minutes to go Silverholt heads just over from a Hammarby corner, and I tell the team to waste as much time as possible. They oblige and we last until the end of 90 minutes. We have had 1 shot, a free kick that Joakim hit straight at the wall, but it doesn’t matter. If we can last another half an hour we go to penalties, and then it’s anyone’s game.

Lago comes on for Andersell, who’s predictably had a quiet game, but he’s closed down defenders and put in a shift bless him.

7 minutes after the restart, Torsteinbø hits a free kick over from 25 yards and we can breathe again. As it turns out we can only breathe comfortably for 3 minutes, because then Jajic cracks off a shot from 20 yards that has power but no accuracy. It flies wide. I take this opportunity to bring on Erik Hoffman for his debut. I can’t afford to rest my “good” players so I take off Pärsson, another former pub-teamer, for a well deserved break.

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Extra time half time comes and goes quickly, and Hammarby’s Rômulo then tests my ability to resist soiling myself by first heading just over from a Solheim cross, before swinging a cross of his own in for Lidberg, whose powerless header is caught by The Hammer.

The referee blows for the end of extra time and I celebrate with a subtle fist pump. I’m secretly delighted. This is probably the best scenario we could have hoped for. We have defended admirably today, with Henningsson picking up the player of the match award as the pick of the back line. But everyone’s done their part. Admittedly we only had that 1 shot in the entire 120 minutes, but now we’ll have at least 3 or 4 from the penalty spot and we just have to score more than Hammarby.

Both teams score their first penalty: Silverholt for Hammarby, Joakim for us. Torsteinbø puts Hammarby back in front, and then with thudding inevitability, young striker Lago’s effort is saved by Tim Markström. I let out an audible groan. I don’t mean to, it just happens. “Don’t let this all have been for nothing” I think desperately, “Our valiant defending, the fact that I’ve knackered our first team by playing them mid-week for 120 minutes and possibly injured 2 of them”.

From then on we match Hammarby: Solheim scores, Hoffman scores, Lidburg scores, Grannum scores. It’s 4-3 and Hammarby win if they score their 5th penalty. Dusan Jajic steps up, picks his spot… SAVED BY THE HAMMER! We can level the scores here. VILAS NILSSON SCORES! 4-4 after 5 penalties each, and we go to sudden death.

Rômulo…Scores for Hammarby

Malm…Scores for Höllviken

Magyar…HITS THE BAR! Hammarby have slipped and given us our chance.

Burnniku steps up to win the match for Höllviken…AND SCORES! Cue the pandemonium from the travelling fans! The players run over to the corner full of Höllviken fans, some diving into the crowd as others just applaud and celebrate. I walk behind them, smiling from ear to ear but holding back. Taking my time. I’ll applaud the fans, and I’ll pat the players on the back, but they deserve the chance to celebrate together. This is their win.

We’ve done it. You’ve done it. You beautiful bastards. This is a landmark day. This is a show of intention. This is not a team that will go gentle into that good night. These aren’t wishy washy prima donnas, happy to sit back and fade into the fourth tier, playing only to pick up a paycheque. These are men who will tie the laces on their worn black boots and fight for their honour. If we only have 7 shots in these 7 games and we stay up, then that’s what we’ll do. We will find the win in a no-win situation. We’ll play the worst football this league’s ever seen if it means we can grind out the results. This is my army. And I am Tony Pulis. I am David Moyes. I am Sam Allardyce.

I am Franjo: Enemy of Football. And I couldn’t give less of a shit.

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Mini-sode 4.5 >

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

I’m Ready (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep3)

My starting striker has 3 for finishing, so I think we’ll be fine.

Start from the start with episode 1

< Episode 2

Journalists can smell fear. They feed on it. Fear and misery. My first press conference as a football manager and I’m dissected and probed for every bit of boring detail they can squeeze out. I’m asked about 30 questions. “I just want to get back to work” I mentally plead with them, but it’s quite clear that I’ll be kept until they’re full up. With fear and misery.

When I’m finally allowed to leave I wander back to my office to watch the video of Oskarshamns AIK’s (my first opponents) last match. And I mean an actual VHS video tape. Apparently I’ve got to bring Höllviken into the 21st century as well as save them from relegation to the fourth tier. They often play in a standard 4-4-2 and focus their play down the left, but they’ve got decent players all over. Their main threat is a young striker named Tidjani Diawara, but thanks to my bold strategy of playing with attribute masking switched on I know fuck all about what makes him so great. We reckon he’s either half decent or one of the best in the world at heading a ball.

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I plan to start off with a flexible, counter attacking 4-1-4-1. I know we’re at home, but we’re shit. We have a bit of pace about us but that’s just about it. Other than that I’ll be making things extremely simple: Stay disciplined, don’t be an idiot, pass it to Tobias Malm. The left back will be my main outlet for today and we’ll see how he takes to it. My starting striker has 3 for finishing, so I think we’ll be fine.

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I have 10 random folk I found in the local parks in my first match-day squad. 4 of them are starting. I give most of them first team squad numbers, seeing as jokers like Grannum have picked numbers like 77 and left the good ones unclaimed, in a bid to inspire a performance out of them.

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I decide to give the lads a good-cop team talk. “There’s no pressure on you today” I tell them, “I just want to see what you boys can do. Joakim you’re on set pieces, put it on Simon’s head” I smile and nod towards Simon Henningsson, our massive centre back. Then I turn, walk into the tunnel and gesture for them to follow.

Once out I go to shake hands with Jan Stahre, the OAIK manager, but he crunches my hand in his with a dark smile and says something that I’m sure is probably rude in Swedish. Jan can fuck off though. I’m ready for this. My team is ready. Ish.

In the first half we match OAIK stride for stride, blow for blow. Our new striker Mattias Andersell goes closest with a shot just past the near post and a few more efforts from his teammates fly just wide too.

At half time I tell the team they’re unlucky not to be in the lead and send them back out to nick a result.

We start slowly, and OAIK smell blood. They run us ragged in the first 15 minutes, barely allowing us a shot while they get quite a few in. Not good ones, but still. The one chance we do have is in the 57th minute when Andersell again finds himself in space after a good pass from Pärsson and lashes a shot from the edge of the area against the inside of the foot of the post. The ball’s cleared and from the resulting throw in Grannum has a decent shot that’s caught fairly easily.

On the hour mark a lofted through ball is misjudged by big Simon Henningsson at the back, and he misses his header, allowing the OAIK striker Diawara to nip in 6 yards out. Luckily my sweeper keeper, Niklas “The” Hammer quickly rushes out to close down the angle and the striker’s only option is a lobbed shot which goes narrowly over.

I make 2 subs straight away: I bring on Filip Lago for Mattias Andersell, who has been very good for a man so woefully unequiped to play in his position, and the injured Egzon Sekiraca for young Christoffer Axelsson. He may be knackered but he can play. One moment of magic from him may be all we need.

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From that point it’s blow for blow again. Both teams have decent half-chances but no one can find a breakthrough.

And then it happens. 12 minutes from time Diawara picks the ball up 20 yards out, looks up, and drives it into the far bottom corner. It’s a good finish, but it’s so so cruel. Our heads drop from that point on. I push us to attacking but the game is already away from us. We lose 0-1.

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The dressing room is silent after the match, and we go our separate ways from the stadium with barely a word spoken. I’m proud of them, but I feel like telling them that would only make them feel worse. Plus I’m still not sure they understand a single word I say. On another day Andersell’s 2 shots sneak in and we come away on top of the world with 3 massive points. But not today. Today we circle closer to the relegation plughole than we did yesterday. We need a miracle.

Episode 4 >

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

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)