Treppenwitz (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep38)

Today is special. Today we get another chance.

Start from the start with episode 1

< Episode 37

Do you want to know what my favourite German word is?

Of course you do. It’s Treppenwitz. It translates literally as Staircase Joke, and it’s the word for that moment when you think of the perfect joke, but a few minutes too late. The moment has passed and the conversation has ended, but bloody hell, it would’ve been good if you’d thought of it at the time. But Treppenwitz also has other applications. It can be the comeback to an insult that comes to you too late, or the showstopper in a huge argument that you lose because you didn’t think of it. And today, just between us, Treppenwitz is the word that you use when you think of the perfect way to hammer a snotty little Portuguese football club into the ground, but too late. They’ve already bored you to death and snatched a point. But today is special. Today we get another chance.

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Pinhalnovense have made themselves a special space in my brain, a space usually reserved for Big Brother, the last season of Scrubs, and everybody who plays the drop-in matches in FIFA Pro Clubs. I don’t just want to beat them, I need to. I need this. I need Pinhalnovense fans up and down the land to recoil whenever they hear my name. I need their Manager, João Sousa, to leave under a cloud, and to be booed down the street wherever he goes forever more. I need our handful of travelling fans to shower me with confetti and dub me the King of Portugal.

So what’s the secret formula? What’s old Franjo going to pull from his sleeve and lay on the table?

Nothing.

Bear with me.

For the home tie against Pinhalnovense I should have told us to attack more. We should have been more open and committed more men forward to break through the bus that was parked across the goal line. As the away side, I’m not going to have us attack. I’m going to play our bog standard Meatloaf. Pinhalnovense, being the home side, will do all the adjusting for us. They’ll come out at us as home sides generally do and open themselves up, letting us waltz right through.

It’s beautiful isn’t it? We’re adjusting to their playstyle by not adjusting at all. Of course, they could just do exactly what they did in Hero Creek, in which case we will actually have to adjust. Also, Magina is on the verge of another record. This time he’s about to get a record number of Player of the Match awards

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Within 2 minutes of the match kicking off, Amonike gets away down the right and drills a cross in for Antunes, who smashes us ahead.

10 minutes later Pinhalnovense are actually making a game of it though, and a good passing move is capped with a Grou through ball and a tidy Fidalgo finish.

Half way through the first half we’re back ahead, when Benjamim sends Kevin through on the right, and the vice captain runs inside before slotting the ball under the keeper. Back ahead and this is the polar opposite of the last time these teams met.

As the half goes on, we pull away more and more from Pinhalnovense and we start to run rings round them. As we approach the 40 minute mark, Magina chips the ball to Kevin on the right, and he whips a ball from the byline to the far post, where Amonike easily makes it 3-1.

Pinhalnovense, who are actually starting to earn back my respect, soon close the gap though. From a well worked free kick, Pires passes short to Outtara, who dribbles forward to the edge of the area and hammers the ball into the top corner.

At half time I encourage the team. I want more goals. But we don’t fashion another chance until there’s 15 minutes to go, when Olivier drills the ball forward and Magina runs through on goal, but his low drive is blocked by Melo.

A few minutes later, Kevin is brought down on the right wing, just outside the area. Amonike whips a cross in and Lassina Touré guides a good header back across goal to score our 4th and hopefully put the match to bed.

In the dying minutes, Magina puts Hurley through and the attacking midfielder runs powerfully through on goal, but he skies his left footed shot.

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When the final whistle goes, I shake Sousa’s hand and smile, before applauding our 2 fans that have made the journey, and then the hundreds of Pinhalnovense fans. I’ll give them that one. That was a great game with some quality football and I’ve gained a great deal of respect for our opposition.

We finish the first phase of the Championship undefeated, with 48 points out of a possible 54. Now there’s just the small matter of the Promotion Stage to deal with.

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Mini-sode 38.5 >

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No Fuss (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep37)

I take a deep swig from my water bottle. The water tastes sweet. Almost like vindication.

Start from the start with episode 1

< Episode 36

Miguel Oliveira is off in the Summer. I thought I’d rip that bandage off as quickly as possible to spare you the heart ache. I lost faith in Miguel’s ability about 5 or 6 matches after I arrived and was not planning on offering him a new contract, so Panachaiki have swooped in and arranged to whisk him away to Greece on a free transfer. Good luck to him. If he throws plates half as well as he throws away his marking responsibilities he’ll be fine.

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Annoyingly, having just played Barreirense in Barreiro last week, we’re now playing Fabril do Barreiro in Hero Creek. We could have stayed through and had a nice holiday there if we were playing at their place, but never mind.

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Fabril are the team that play with that narrow diamond that prompts us to focus our play down the wings, so that’s what we’ll do. Diogo Coelho is better at going forward than Mauro Aires, so he comes in at left back, Fernando Batista keeps his place on the wing after helping to rescue a point for us last week, and Renato Silva starts. I want to give him another chance seeing as the benched Cristiano Magina is sulking.

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After half an hour, nothing has really happened. I’m getting quite tired of our poor first half performances, so I tell the team to attack. We may as well go for it against these.

5 minutes later, it’s clear that our right back, Vitor Miranda, has received the message. He finds himself on the edge of the Fabril box and chips the ball to Hurley. With 2 touches, Hurley brings the ball down brilliantly and skilfully uses the outside of his boot to send the ball fizzing in off the post. That man just oozes class. I take a deep swig from my water bottle. The water tastes sweet. Almost like vindication.

When half time rolls around I tell my Heróis to drop back slightly stop attacking quite as often. We have the lead now and all we need to do is protect it. I don’t want us leaving ourselves open at the back.

The 2nd half is a quiet affair. On the hour mark a Coelho corner is headed in by Olivier to double our lead in the simplest way possible. I bring on Rúby and Ávila shortly afterwards but they don’t have much of an impact. We happily let the clock tick away and leave with another 3 points.

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That was one of those matches that just sort of happens. We got what we wanted with no fuss whatsoever. I’m fine with that at this stage in the season. Let’s hope for a carbon copy away at Amora.

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What won’t be a carbon copy though is our lineup. Aires comes back in for Coelho as we don’t want our fullbacks pushing quite as high seeing as we’re away. Rúby starts in place of Benjamim, who I think could use a kick up the arse as his performances are dropping. Amonike and Bruce Ávila start as a pair of orthodox wingers in place of Batista and Kevin, and Magina comes back in to lead the line. Watching the last match, I forgot that Silva was playing.

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Quarter of an hour in, Magina releases Amonike down the right wing. The winger gets his cross into the 6 yard box where Ávila is arriving, but he gets it all wrong and heads wide from close range. I make a mental note to myself not to drop Kevin in future.

5 minutes later, Zé Miguel swings a deep cross from the right over to the far post. Afonso gets to the ball ahead of Miranda but can only cushion it unthreateningly into Azevedo’s arms.

Just as I’m wracking my brains for something constructive to say in my half time team talk, Zé Miguel gets in the thick of it again, but this time he pulls Lassina Touré’s shirt in the Amora area, granting us an injury time penalty. Magina steps up and confidently strokes it to the bottom left.

That actually makes my half time team talk incredibly easy. I tell them they look alright and ask them to go and get another to kill the game off.

Not 2 minutes later, Hurleys pass is knocked on first time by Amonike, and Magina places it into the bottom corner. Ask and you shall receive. I surely can’t let Magina go.

With just over an hour gone, Zé Miguel lays the ball off and Vaz strikes it very sweetly from the edge of the area, but his shot cannons back off the bar.

That’ll do as a warning. We revert to Heróis Original, Jaime Seidi replaces Hurley and joins Rúby in our withdrawn double pivot.

Rúby is jumping for joy now that Seidi is by his side. Unfortunately, you could describe the kind of jumping he’s doing as “At Vaz’s shins”, and “With 2 feet”. He’s already booked but he picks up a straight red anyway.

I don’t look at Rúby as he wanders towards the tunnel. I’m too busy talking Thiago up. He’s nervous, and rightfully so, but I have faith that he’ll do a job. He and Kevin replace Antunes and Ávila and our shape changes to more of a 4-2-3 with wingers.

We still have chances to further our lead after Rúby’s red. About 10 minutes later, Amonike dances past Pardal and runs through on goal, but Ascenso saves well.

Just after that, our resident penalty magnet Lassina Touré gets brought down again, this time by Machade, and Magina has a chance to bag his hat trick. This time though, his penalty is tame and not far enough into the corner, and Ascenso gets to it pretty easily.

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I don’t really care, the only difference as a result of CM9 missing that 2nd penalty is that he has to buy his own ball. We picked up another win, kept another clean sheet, and built up another bit of momentum to take with us into the Promotion Stage.

Now the only team that stands in the way of out unbeaten phase is “Boring, Boring Pinhalnovense”. If it weren’t for them we might be on for a 100% record in the first phase, and I want my revenge.

Episode 38 >

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Back To Work (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep36)

Barreirense put up a fight in Hero Creek, taking the lead twice before we finally turned the tables, and now we’re travelling to Barreiro

Start from the start with episode 1

< Mini-sode 35.5

Tears have been shed today. I imagine that back in my home country, the land of Big Ben, white cliffs and Spitfires, the national flag is flying at half mast. Sweden, of course, will be in just as mournful a mood. I spare a thought for the good people of Vellinge, where my name is mud and the burning of my likeness has become a local holiday. I know that wherever they are, Darius Vassell and Michael Ricketts are crying big, slow tears. The world of football has lost a strange but intriguing man. Enjoy your retirement, Sven.

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Some awards have been dished out since our last match. Not Angrense-related awards, but global ones. And they all seem to follow a theme…

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Despite Barcelona finishing 3rd in La Liga, Lionel Messi has had to build an extension to his trophy cabinet in order to store the Footballer of the Year, World Golden Ball and World Player of the Year awards. Mesut Özil will probably be slightly annoyed at finishing runner up 3 times despite guiding the Gunners to their first Premier League win in 12 years, and Luis Suarez completes the trio, placing 3rd in all 3 awards.

Unsurprisingly, they all took a place in the World Team of the Year too, forming the front 4 in a 4-2-3-1 with Neymar, the final component in Barça’s MSN. Behind them is an extremely attacking central midfield partnership of Tottenham’s Dele Alli and Manchester City’s £39Million summer signing James Rodríguez. Bayern dominate the defensive positions, with Manuel Neuer joining defenders Jérôme Boateng and Mats Hummels. Real’s Marcelo and Juve’s Bonucci make up the XI.

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This is it then. Back to work. We’ve already qualified for the Promotion Stage so we shouldn’t fear anyone at this point, not even 2nd place Barreirense. But a result here isn’t a given. Barreirense put up a fight in Hero Creek, taking the lead twice before we finally turned the tables, and now we’re travelling to Barreiro, a place that we’re becoming rather familiar with thanks to the fact that seemingly half of our group is based there.

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Hurley, although recovered from the injury sustained in our last match, is suspended for this one, so Rúby comes in alongside Benjamim. Batista, who I heroically rescued from being snapped up by a much bigger club yesterday, starts on the right.

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3 minutes in, and after a good Barreirense move that culminates with a Santos through ball and a Caraballo shot that’s saved by Azevedo, Olivier swings a foot at the ball to clear our lines, but only succeeds in smashing it against the striker’s shins. The ball rolls over the line and they’ve taken the lead over us again.

Barreirense continue to dominate the first half but without making any sort of chances. On the half hour mark, I tell Os Heróis that we are to play on the counter. That evens the match out again, but it isn’t until the stroke of half time that Antunes lays the ball off for Batista, whose whipped cross is accidentally turned in by Dujardin for the equaliser.

With 20 minutes to go, Breimyr picks up what I would describe as a soft 2nd yellow for getting too close to Kevin. Despite playing against 10 men, and despite the introductions of Coelho, Thiago and Silva in an attempt to take control of the match, we aren’t able to find the winner.

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I’ll take that. They’re a good team. Now we realistically only have to make it past Pinhalnovense on the final day to achieve an unbeaten phase. Well, Fabril do Barreiro and Amora too, but come on.

Episode 37 >

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Franjo Vs Borba (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Mini-sode 35.5)

I laugh for a moment. I can’t tell whether he’s joking or just confused.

Start from the start with episode 1

< Episode 35

During our last training session before the Barreirense match, Miguel Borba comes walking onto the pitch. This is pretty unusual, he usually keeps his distance from the first team. He gives me a weak smile and a nod before turning back to the training pitch. “Fernando!” He shouts, “Come with me please.”

Fernando Batista looks puzzled as he takes off his bib and runs over. Borba gestures for him to follow him inside.

“Miguel,” I call after him. He doesn’t turn around or stop walking. I jog after him, not knowing whether or not he’s heard me. “Miguel,” I repeat once I’m practically alongside him. He still doesn’t acknowledge me. “Miguel, what’s going on?”

Finally the chairman gestures to Fernando to keep going and turns to me, looking sheepish. He waits for Fernando to walk inside and around a corner. “We’ve accepted an offer, Franjo. Belenenses have made an improved bid for Batista and we’re selling.” I laugh for a moment. I can’t tell whether he’s joking or just confused.

“No we haven’t”, I smile. “I haven’t accepted any bids for Fernando.” Borba is avoiding eye contact with me.

“No Franjo, I have accepted their bid.” He turns to continue walking. I stand there, frozen for a moment. Did I mishear this entire thing? Am I hallucinating again? Is this one of my weirdly relevant dreams?

No, this is definitely real. Miguel steps inside and around a corner. I sprint after him. “YOU’VE DONE FUCKING WHAT?” I roar from the doorway. My eyes are wide and I think I feel like I’m turning red. I turn the corner as Borba stops and turns back to me, guilt written all over his stupid face.

“This is my club, Franjo,” he says with a hint of sadness. “I’m selling him.”

I’m aware that I’m not blinking. I’m just staring straight at Borba. “How much?” I mutter.

“£23.5k, rising to £54k.” He makes eye contact with me for a moment, then stares back at the ground.

“£54k?!” I laugh, as a wide, maniacal smile stretches across my face, “That’s not even the most we’ve been offered!” He continues to look at the floor. My smile fades but I’m still staring. Still not blinking. “Pull the plug.” I tell him, as calmly as I can.

“I can’t.” He mumbles.

“You can. Pull the bloody plug, Miguel. Reject the offer. I’ve not said no 200 times just for you to go over my head like this.” He says nothing. “What happened to bringing the youth through?” He still says nothing.

“Miguel, if Fernando walks out the door today I’ll be right behind him.” The words just sort of fall out. They echo just for a moment, and then the two of us are stood in silence. I think I’m serious. I’m not 100% sure but I think I am. “We could have a good crack at promotion here but I won’t work for a Chairman who sells my most promising players behind my back”.

Borba looks up at me. I glare back at him. I think he sees on my face how serious I am. He sighs, walks into his office, and reemerges a few seconds later with Batista in tow. Batista looks at me. He seems extremely confused.

“Come on, mate,” I say calmly. “Back to training.”

Fernando walks past me and back outside. As the sound of his studs clacking on the concrete outside fades away, I look at Borba, who is actually looking right back at me now. He has a quizzical look on his face, like he’s trying to solve a riddle. Without another word, I turn and follow Fernando outside towards the training pitch.

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Episode 36 >

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Sick (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep35)

“Pedro,” I croak, before coughing down the line, “I won’t be coming in for the match today. I’m very sick.” I cough again.

Start from the start with episode 1

< Episode 34

I reach across to the bedside table for my phone. Finding Pedro’s name in my contact list, I dial the number. The phone rings twice before Pedro picks up the phone. “Hello?” He asks.

“Pedro,” I croak, before coughing down the line, “I won’t be coming in for the match today. I’m very sick.” I cough again.

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“Oh no,” comes Pedro’s reply, ” What’s wrong?” I pause for a moment.

“That’s not important,” I mumble. “Just keep me updated will you?”

“Of course,” says Pedro. I hang up without saying goodbye, like in the films.

I know this is highly unorthodox, but I really can’t make it in today. I have a very generic and non-specific illness that will keep me out for exactly 1 match. When you think about it, it’s amazing how rare it is that Managers miss a match through illness. It really is. Surely we’re allowed to pick up the odd stomach bug or bout of flu. I genuinely can’t think of a single time this has happened off the top of my head, but here we are.

One of the symptoms of my illness is that every time I drift off to sleep, I have the same dream: I go to Viana’s stadium, I pick the team, I start the match, and then everything freezes and I wake up. It’s really odd. I guess it does make a change from the other recurring dream I’ve been having. The one on top of Pico das Cruzinhas. The one where I’m falling…

That reminds me actually, I haven’t picked the team. I scribble a quick text to Pedro:

Pedro, team for today:

MEATLOAF

Azevedo, Miranda, Touré, Olivier, Coelho, Benjamim, Hurley, Batista, Antunes, Kevin, Magina

Cheers,

Franjo

It takes quite a long time to write. I keep deleting Magina, writing Silva, then deleting Silva and writing Magina. This goes on for a while. You probably have questions, so let me answer the easy one first. Serginho started the season strongly but hasn’t been particularly impressive of late. I definitely don’t blame him for Belenenses knocking us out of the Taça de Portugal but in general he’s given me no reason to keep him as our undisputed number 1. Azevedo gets a chance to steal the shirt today.

Magina… Magina is a good striker. He threw his toys out the pram during the summer but we didn’t have any matches so I didn’t need to drop him. The fact is that I want to keep our good run of league results going. Our performances have been dropping but I don’t want to chop my nose off to spite my face. We might end up losing a match if I keep CM9 sidelined, and it would be purely because of my pride. I’ll take the knock to my pride and keep plugging away for an unbeaten first phase. Plus, it would be unfair to rush Silva into first team football when he’s not ready, and Arruda’s making his own noises about wanting to leave for first team football. Magina starts.

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Pedro actually does pretty well. He keeps me updated on the key events and I fear for the worst when Pipas opens the scoring for Viana, but Magina bags a goal either side of half time to get us the win. He also gives a rare substitute appearance to Wilson Dias. Well in Pedro.

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Luckily, I’m fighting fit for the next match – At home against Despertar. They’re doomed to the relegation stage, having lost over half of their matches and sitting in 6th.

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We just need to avoid defeat today, and then 4 more times after Christmas to complete our unbeaten phase. We go unchanged. We go Meatloaf.

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With less than 4 minutes gone, Batista sends a cross in from the right and Hurley puts us ahead with a simple finish.

It’s a cagey half but before half time we get a 2 goal cushion when Antunes sets up Hurley for his 2nd, a significantly more impressive strike from the edge of the area.

The 2nd half is not entirely impressive by either side. Paulo Cézar goes relatively close a couple of times, dragging a shot wide from the edge of the area before bobbling a bizarre 30 yard shot comfortably into the arms of Azevedo. Apart from that, we are not troubled. Hurley picks up a knock but he’ll be back for the next match.

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With that win, we officially qualify for the Promotion stage of the PT Championship. We’re 11 points clear of Barreirense and 13 points clear of Moura. This season so far has been absolutely outstanding.

And that’s it for December. Christmas is only a week away, and after that’s out of the way it’s time for January. January is a huge, huge month. We face Barreirense first, the closest team we have to a rival, followed by presumably simple ties agains Fabril and Amora, and we finish the month against those bastards Pinhalnovense. The team who first cost us our winning streak. It’s going to be a hell of a month.

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Mini-sode 35.5 >

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Silva Lining (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep34)

Something’s wrong. Somebody’s there… or something’s there.

Start from the start with episode 1

< Episode 33

I jolt awake once again. I keep having the same dream over and over. I’m walking up the gravel path towards Monte Brasil, watching the clouds change colour and shape above me. I keep walking, climbing higher and higher up the winding path. For a while a golden retriever appears and trots happily alongside me, before disappearing into thin air. The dream always ends the same way. I reach the pinnacle of Pico das Cruzinhas. I get to the view point overlooking Hero Creek but something’s wrong. Somebody’s there… or something’s there. And then I’m falling, and the ground is rushing forward to meet me… I try to hold onto the memory of my dream but it just keeps slipping out of my grasp.

As my eyes adjust to the light I remember that I’m on the plane, travelling to our next match. Aljustrelense aren’t a particularly threatening opponent. They’re sitting 7th in our group, level with Évora, Viana and Amora below them on 7 points. So really, they’re joint last. They’ve won 1 match out of 10 so we should be brushing them aside.

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Mind you, our first loss of the season has thrown me off slightly. I feel like we need an injection to get us going again, to ensure that we don’t start to spiral. In a departure from my usual starting lineup, I bring in Coelho, a potentially very good fullback that I’ve largely ignored so far since signing him, Rúby, a potentially very good ball winner that hasn’t been able to break into our solid midfield, and Batista, a winger that’s chock-full of potential and who I just think could do with the playing time.

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Ok I’m worried. This is the 4th league match in a row where we’ve offered absolutely S.F.A in the first half. At least against Belenenses we started well before falling off a cliff. The first thing of note that happens is in the 54th minute, when André Luís takes a dislike to Hurley and so tries to break his leg with a 2 footed lunge, earning himself a straight red. A few minutes later I bring off Batista and replace him with Amonike, in the hopes that fresh legs against 10 men will make something happen.

And something does happen, although I can’t really credit the substitution. With 25 minutes to go Rúby receives the ball on the edge of the area after Coelho’s chip from the left, and drills a shot into the bottom corner to put us ahead.

10 minutes later I bring on Renato Silva for Magina. That does the trick. Just a couple of minutes later, the young striker’s shot is blocked and Amonike gets to the rebound and doubles our lead.

Shortly afterwards, Silva gets a goal for himself, drilling the ball home after a Hurley pass set him up.

And pretty much straight from kick off, Antunes plays a long ball over the top, Silva beats Dias to the ball and slots it home. 4-0.

I bring on Wilson Dias for a rare appearance in place of Antunes, and Liu Yuhao goes close to pulling a goal back with a shot that just flies wide, but it’s not until injury time that Aljustrelense start to threaten. Matthew Silva cracks a shot against the post from 25 yards, and then Mota’s volley from a corner is blocked on the line by Miranda.

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I’m not happy. Yes that’s silly. We won 4-0, but should I be happy with that? Can I be? Should I get the team a big card that says “Congrats on eventually beating one of the worst teams in the group after they had a man sent off”? I am impressed however with Renato Silva. After he showed such pre-season promise, culminating with a debut goal, he’s dropped off disappointingly, but he came on, scored 2 and inadvertently set up another to add some gloss and spare the rest of the team’s blushes.

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I receive a pleasantly surprising call later in the week. As it turns out, I’ve been given the Manager of the Month award for November! And not even out of our group, out of the entire Championship! I’ll take that.

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I’ve also been keeping a closer eye than usual on our Under 19 side lately. I’m aware that I picked the 3 most promising youth players when they came through our academy and have given them, and them alone, chances in the first team. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the fact that I hadn’t given more youngsters a go so I’ve been following my youth team’s progress to look out for anyone else that’s deserving of a chance. Meet Thiago.

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Thiago has been on my radar for a little while. He’s not quick, he’s got some maturing and some technical development to do, but my God he’s been putting in the performances for the Under 19’s. He’ll come in on the bench for the Évora match.

In other news, guess who wants to leave again? Good old CM9.

“I’m growing tired of this, Cristiano.” I told him bluntly when he came to see me. I understand why he wants to join Levadeiakos, they’re 3rd in the Greek Superleague. But I can’t let him go. Maybe at the end of the Season things will be different. Maybe if we win promotion we’ll be able to bring in a good enough replacement, but we’ve got no chance of getting one while we’re in the Championship. Selling him might solve the problem of Hélder Arruda though. I’ve not been able to give him nearly as much game time as I’d like, but I don’t think he could step into Magina’s shoes. And besides, until a team makes me a decent offer, keeping him is a no-brainer. We’ve still not had any advance on £30k.

Anyway, to cut a long story short we had a row. He told me he could make my life very difficult if I forced him to stay and I told him that he’s dropped for the Juventude Évora match.

Speaking of, 3 cheers for them winning their first match of the season! They just bagged a 2-0 victory at home against Despertar, moving themselves up to 8th in the league.

I’m just about fed up with my “First Team” offering nothing in the first half of games, so I’m making mass changes. Will I use this match as a chance to give first team opportunities to players who haven’t featured much this season? Yes. Is it a risk against a team with new found confidence and perhaps even momentum? Try not to think about it.

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We’ll hit them down the flanks and we’ll hit them fast. Serginho starts, but I’m even considering his place. His performance against Belenenses wasn’t the best. Serpa, Seidi (Our captain for the day), Olivier and Xéxé start across the back. Benjamim and Hurley keep their places in the centre, with Amonike, Antunes and Ávila behind Renato Silva. Magina watches from the stands.

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There is early action, but not the kind that we want. Pereira slams a free kick off the bar after 17 minutes to put us on edge, and with 25 minutes gone, Ruizinho latches onto a Pestana through ball but shoots wide of the near post. The visitors are doing all of the threatening so far.

5 minutes later though, Hurley passes inside for Renato Silva, who rifles the ball in from 20 yards. That’s more like it. That’s 3 goals in 40 minutes from Renato now, if he keeps up that kind of goalscoring record I’ll pay for Magina’s flight to Greece myself.

Unfortunately our lead doesn’t last long. 10 minutes in fact. Benjamim slides in well to win the ball from Ruizinho, but Pestana picks up the loose ball and puts it in the bottom corner to equalise.

On the stroke of half time, Silva releases Benjamim inside the area, but the keeper closes down the angle well and saves his shot.

As we make our way tentatively into the second half, I bring on Coelho as a more attacking alternative to Xéxé, and Kevin for Ávila, who has had a quiet game.

Only a few minutes later, we break forward. Amonike gets away down the right wing, reaches the byline and drills the ball across goal. It goes through to Kevin at the far post, who shoots – straight at the post. The rebound comes back to him and this time he chips it back across goal. Amonike gets to it – and hits the other post. This isn’t going to be our day, is it?

With quarter of an hour to play, it’s Évora who have the final chance: Ruizinho plays through Pestana, who gets free in the box, but Coelho charges down his close range shot. I bring on Arruda for Amonike, but the rest of the match just flies by.

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On one hand, I’m not happy. Of course I’m not. We’ve drawn our 2nd match of the season and it’s against lowly Évora. On the other, I can’t really blame anyone but myself. My mass changes didn’t pay off apart from Silva’s goal. We were unlucky with the Kevin/ Amonike incident, but we still should have won that.

Episode 35 >

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The Beautiful Game (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep33)

I never thought he had this kind of goal in him.

Start from the start with episode 1

< Mini-sode 32.5

I’ve had a pretty exciting week. Most of it has been spent preparing for our home game against Moura, but on Friday Miguel Borba paid for the 2 of us to fly out to Senegal, where we watched their World Cup Qualifying loss against Burkina Faso. There were plenty of familiar faces: Sadio Mané, Idrissa ‘Gana’ Gueye, Khouma Babacar and Bertrand Traoré to name a few. Unfortunately, Burkina Faso’s number 14, Lassina Touré, didn’t make his international bow, but I’m still very proud and it’ll have been an incredibly valuable experience for him. Here’s hoping he can keep his form up and make the next squad too.

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33 bf v senegal 1

Moving on to domestic matters then, and our own CM9 is closing in on an SC Angrense assist record. He’s picked up 9 so far and we’re not even half way through the season, so I’m confident that he can break Jordanes Medeiros’ record of 10 assists in a single campaign. But can he break it today when we welcome Moura to our place?

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33 preview 1

Moura leapfrogged Pinhalnovense a couple of weeks ago and now sit behind Barreirense in 3rd. I’m still wary of them, because they must be doing something right. Thinking back to our first match of the season, you might think that a 2-0 away win with 10 men would mean we’d thrash them with a full team and home advantage. But that match wasn’t at all comfortable, and it was only Renato Silva’s late debut goal that added gloss to the scoreline. Plus, they only lost that match and the one that followed against Amora, they’ve not been beaten since. These are not to be underestimated. Meatloaf, anyone?

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Well what a mess. Another half where we barely threaten. Half an hour in, Antunes hits the post after Kevin squares it for him from the right, but apart from that it’s been 45 minutes that nobody involved will remember fondly. To make matters worse, the first 20 minutes of the 2nd half are just as bad.

Fuck it. I’ve never made a triple substitution before but I need to communicate my unhappiness. The youthful trio of Batista, Ávila and Silva replace Amonike, Kevin and Magina.

One of the first things Ávila does is swing a corner to the far side of the area. Conceição comes to head it away but mistimes his jump and doesn’t connect. The ball falls just behind him to Fernando Batista, who hits the ball left footed on the volley. I watch on, mouth agape, as the ball flies past the keeper and into the back of the net.

They’ve done in under 4 minutes what the more established players failed to do in over an hour, and in absolutely fantastic style. Fun fact: The number of minutes played when we opened the scoring was the same as the combined age of our front 4: 69.

With quarter of an hour to go the match has finally come alive. Moura put together a decent move but Ávila breaks away on the counter. He gets it to Hurley, who passes to Silva, and he lays it off for Batista… as I watch Fernando smash the ball into the top corner from the edge of the area, I’m confused more than anything. I’m impressed, don’t get me wrong, but I never thought he had this kind of goal in him. I watched him spurn 2 excellent chances against Amora not too long ago and now he’s like a young Ryan Giggs. He’s scored a ridiculous brace today.

With 10 minutes to go, Dinis latches onto a Bacan through ball and jabs it past Serginho, but we see the game out. I’m becoming worryingly used to this sensation of being very very impressed with certain players and being not at all impressed with others. I’ll never get that first hour back but Batista’s goals were the kind that justify the entry fee into Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo.

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33 pre match 2

Next up is our Taça de Portugal match against Belenenses, a Liga Nos side, but not a good one. They’re 15th in the league, having lost 6 of their 11 matches so far, but they’ll still be heavy favourites by virtue of being 2 leagues above us.

I’m not worried. I have genuine faith in this side. They let me down from time to time by not playing to their potential, but on our day I’d genuinely back us against any team in Portugal. We beat Sporting before the season started after all! Yes it was a friendly, but still. Having said all of this, I’d be foolish not to try to make us more solid. Our system isn’t designed for top tier sides; we leave ourselves open, secure in the fact that the vast majority of players in the opposing teams are awful.

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In the end I decide to go for Project: Meatloaf, but with Jaime Seidi replacing Antunes as a holding man in a 4-1-2-3 formation. I’m trying to make us more solid at the back while still leaving us well enough equipped going forward. We’ve still got Hurley charging forwards, we’ve still got Kevin and Amonike creating chances in wide areas, and we’ve still got Magina up top.

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Quarter of an hour in, Hurley slips a pass through for Kevin, but João Diogo slides in fantastically to knock the ball away. Unfortunately the loose ball rolls to the far post, where Amonike arrives to knock the ball in. I’m already mid air, celebrating. This could actually happen.

Before the half hour mark, Benjamim slots a pass through for Magina, who stays cool and places the ball into the bottom corner. I’m not mid-air anymore. I’m stunned. I can see Pedro and my coaches bouncing around in my peripheral vision, I can see the players piling onto Magina in the far corner of the pitch. I consider making changes, but it’s surely too early. We can’t take our foot of the pedal with an hour still to play.

We don’t. A minute later, Hurley continues to make a mockery of the Belenenses defence by playing the ball right through them, but Kevin’s effort is well saved by Figueiredo.

With 10 minutes to go before the break we’re still piling the pressure on, but Belenenses win the ball and break quickly. Maurides puts in an incredible low cross from deep on the left wing, Valente is all on his own 6 yards out, but he hits a tame shot straight at Serginho. We got let off there.

We try not to let it rattle us but Belenenses take heart from how easily they were able to slice through us. With 3 minutes to play before half time, Maurides sets up Valente, who shoots into the bottom corner to pull a goal back.

2 minutes later Maurides is released on the left by Valente, and he puts in another low cross to the far post. Araujo puts it away to equalise. I feel sick. I missed the warning sign 10 minutes ago when we were 2-0 up. We’ve been sucker punched and then kicked to the floor.

We hold on until half time but I can tell that something isn’t right once we get into the dressing room. We’ve conceded twice right before the break and now the players have got nothing to do but sit there and think about that for 15 long minutes. Their nerves are shot. My nerves are shot. I put on a brave face, hoping to lead by example. I tell them that they’re unlucky not to be in front.

It seems to work. For a while after the second half begins we look calm and composed. And then with 20 minutes to go, Araujo crosses the ball in for Maurides in the centre, who heads it home. 2-3.

I change our system to Heróis Original. It’s a less offensive system so we should push a little less, giving Belenenses fewer chances on the counter attack, while pushing Hurley up to a number 10 position in the hopes that he’ll be able to create more in the final third.

The calmness has evaporated from my poor Heróis. 5 minutes after Belenenses take the lead, Vitor Gomes plays in Maurides, who smashes the ball into the top corner. We’ve gone from 2-0 up to 2-4 down.

That’s enough now, I think. I throw on Antunes in place of Seidi. There’s no point having a holding man now. We need to go for it. Hurley returns to his attacking central midfield spot and Antunes will be the one behind Magina.

The change is nearly rewarded instantly when Hurley plays a through ball for Antunes, but the young playmaker drags his shot wide. Nevertheless it’s good to see us threaten again.

With 10 minutes to go, Vitor Gomes gets a chance on the edge of the area but shoots straight at Serginho. We counter, playing the ball quickly back up the pitch and winning a corner. The corner is cleared but then Antunes finds Amonike on the left wing, who drills a cross into the centre for Magina to volley in from close range. 3-4. I’m numb at this point. My facial expression doesn’t change. But I know we’re not done yet.

We keep pushing. We’ve got our swagger back. The nerves are a distant memory. Magina brings the ball forward. There’s 3 minutes of normal time to be played. He takes on a couple of defenders and passes to Antunes… Then Benjamim… Then through for Hurley… He takes a touch just outside the area…

There are a few moments in my short career that I doubt will ever leave my memory:

The moment that former pub-teamer Lago scored away at Qviding, after The Hammer nodded on a long ball and the defender fluffed his back pass: The first goal of my managerial career. The fleeting vindication of my Hammerhead Formation.

The moment that Burrnie scored the winning penalty against Hammarby IF: My first win, and my first giant killing.

The moment Benjamim rifled in a last minute winner away at Torreense in my second Angrense match: The moment I realised I was managing a team of winners.

The moment that Hurley made it SC Angrense 4, Belenenses 4: The moment that I made a mental note to write the brilliant bastard into my will.

When the past 18 months finishes flashing before my eyes, I realise I’m stood by one of the advertising boards, celebrating with some of the die hard Angrense fans. I turn back to the pitch to check I didn’t imagine the goal. I didn’t. Hurley took a touch on the edge of the area and smacked the ball to the keeper’s right. Maybe the keeper should have done better, it was a good height and not the hardest hit shot he’ll have seen, but I’ll ignore that for now. Nothing matters but the scoreline.

I send on Batista for Kevin. Kevin’s been fairly quiet and Batista impressed after coming off the bench against Moura. Vitor Miranda gets the armband from Kevin as the vice captain heads for the touchline.

We head into extra time. I forgot how much I hate extra time. I genuinely prefer penalty shootouts. I wish we could just do that straight away.

Minutes from half time in extra time, Araujo’s cross finds Maurides in the 6 yard box, but he connects badly with his head and the ball bobs over the bar.

5 minutes after the break, Valente releases Araujo on the right. He goes through on goal and my stomach turns, but his shot hits the side netting.

The match dies down. Our players are tired. Their players are tired. With a couple of minutes to play and penalties looming, I turn to Hélder Arruda on the bench.

“You’re going on mate.” I say, with a smile and as much false confidence as I can muster. Arruda nods solemnly. “You can take a penalty, yeah?” I know full well he’s one of our best. He nods again. I bring off Aires, our left back, who does not do well when he takes penalties in training. I tell Arruda to stand in for him, to be aware, and to hoof the ball clear if it comes near him.

30 seconds from the 2 hour mark, and the end of extra time, Belenenses win a corner. Araujo crosses the ball in, but it’s too close to goal. Serginho comes to punch it clear – and misses. The ball hangs in the air for what seems like a long, long time. And then Valente gets above Magina at the far post and heads home via the bar.

I’ve never known this place so silent. I watch Valente as he runs away, arms aloft. I look over to the linesman, but his flag’s still down. I look over to the referee, but there was no foul. I know there was no foul. The goal stands. And the final whistle goes straight after kick off.

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This has been turbulent. I’m drained. I’m disappointed but I’m unbelievably proud. We gave a Liga Nos side a bloody good run for their money. From the 40th to the 80th minute we capitulated, but either side of that period we fought and we fought well. I have a heavy feeling in my gut that my decision to take off Aires and replace him with a striker has cost us the chance of a penalty shootout and the opportunity of passage into the 5th round, but oddly I think I’m OK with it. Would I do that again if given another chance? Probably. I rolled the dice and brought on a good penalty taker for a bad one.

I tell you what though, I’ve never known 2 matches that sum up football better than the 2 that I’ve played in the last 8 days. The tedium, the frustration, the beauty, the underdog story, the heartbreak, the resurgence, the jubilation, the drama, the suspense, and the… heartbreak again. If ever I meet someone who doesn’t see the appeal of the beautiful game, I’m going to sit them down and tell them all about it.

Episode 34 >

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