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How to make your way in the Primera Liga (or not as the case may be)

Dixie Flatline

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Now into my fourth season at Cartagonova, we've reached the Primera Liga in what has definitely been a roller-coaster ride. Before I take you along for the ride again, it's probably the best time to recap where we've been.

In season one, I found the club down on its luck and the club found me also down on my luck after I needed to leave Seville and a legal scandal far behind. After trials and tribulations, Cartagonova was promoted. Find out how, here:

In 2001, in Spain, the Rain still falls mainly on the Plane!

In season two, I tried to establish the club as a potential promotion challenge and after a slow start we climbed our way up the ladder. But internal divisions, inevitably sparked by player ambition, cost us eventually a tilt at promotion so we had to be satisfied with the upper table. However, with better players, hopefully season three would see a real promotion tilt!

May too far away

And so in season three, adding a class striker, some good defenders and switching players around unearthed some real gems. But still the internal divisions wouldn't go away and when Stan Collymore starts moaning, you soon know about it. Would it derail our attempt to win our first trophy and give Tenerife the chance to snatch it away dramatically? Find out here:

When Sunday Comes

Now, we're ready to begin... icon_redface.gif

21st of June 2003

Officially the new season starts today as I’m called into the chairman’s suddenly spacious office ( icon_wink.gif ) to be briefed about the directors’ expectations for the coming season. Quite obviously, the board expects me to deliver them from the spectre of relegation from the best league in the world. To help me, they authorise that I can spend up to £6.75 million, mainly generated by £5 million in TV rights. I also discover the fixture list has been released. We start the war with a battle at home against Sporting Gijón on the 24th of August 2003. Next, we host Real Vallodolid on the 14th of September 2003 before our first away match takes us to Extremadura on the 21st. Then the big match - Barcelona at home on the 28th of September. I hope everybody is making plans early! icon_smile.gif We visit the defending champion on the 22nd of October and the club I spurned to remain at Cartagonova, Deportivo, on the 2nd of November.

I start spending the money immediately, offering Real Betis £1 million for Romanian international defender Iulian Filipescu. He is a well-rounded defender and at 29, he would actually reduce the average age of the back-line! icon_wink.gif I have some competition from Guingamp, but the French club doesn’t know I’ve stolen a march on them, and I hope that the lure of remaining in the Primera Liga would be sufficient to attract the player (Real Betis was relegated at the end of the last season).

I also make a loan bid to Feyenoord for 23 year old striker Niels Kokmeijer. I don’t really have much more room for a striker (although two left the club at the end of last season), but this man has all the attributes to be a truly great striker, except perhaps a yard of pace. But he is an excellent shot and can dribble his way through a packed defence, while he is also pretty good at set-pieces.

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Now into my fourth season at Cartagonova, we've reached the Primera Liga in what has definitely been a roller-coaster ride. Before I take you along for the ride again, it's probably the best time to recap where we've been.

In season one, I found the club down on its luck and the club found me also down on my luck after I needed to leave Seville and a legal scandal far behind. After trials and tribulations, Cartagonova was promoted. Find out how, here:

In 2001, in Spain, the Rain still falls mainly on the Plane!

In season two, I tried to establish the club as a potential promotion challenge and after a slow start we climbed our way up the ladder. But internal divisions, inevitably sparked by player ambition, cost us eventually a tilt at promotion so we had to be satisfied with the upper table. However, with better players, hopefully season three would see a real promotion tilt!

May too far away

And so in season three, adding a class striker, some good defenders and switching players around unearthed some real gems. But still the internal divisions wouldn't go away and when Stan Collymore starts moaning, you soon know about it. Would it derail our attempt to win our first trophy and give Tenerife the chance to snatch it away dramatically? Find out here:

When Sunday Comes

Now, we're ready to begin... icon_redface.gif

21st of June 2003

Officially the new season starts today as I’m called into the chairman’s suddenly spacious office ( icon_wink.gif ) to be briefed about the directors’ expectations for the coming season. Quite obviously, the board expects me to deliver them from the spectre of relegation from the best league in the world. To help me, they authorise that I can spend up to £6.75 million, mainly generated by £5 million in TV rights. I also discover the fixture list has been released. We start the war with a battle at home against Sporting Gijón on the 24th of August 2003. Next, we host Real Vallodolid on the 14th of September 2003 before our first away match takes us to Extremadura on the 21st. Then the big match - Barcelona at home on the 28th of September. I hope everybody is making plans early! icon_smile.gif We visit the defending champion on the 22nd of October and the club I spurned to remain at Cartagonova, Deportivo, on the 2nd of November.

I start spending the money immediately, offering Real Betis £1 million for Romanian international defender Iulian Filipescu. He is a well-rounded defender and at 29, he would actually reduce the average age of the back-line! icon_wink.gif I have some competition from Guingamp, but the French club doesn’t know I’ve stolen a march on them, and I hope that the lure of remaining in the Primera Liga would be sufficient to attract the player (Real Betis was relegated at the end of the last season).

I also make a loan bid to Feyenoord for 23 year old striker Niels Kokmeijer. I don’t really have much more room for a striker (although two left the club at the end of last season), but this man has all the attributes to be a truly great striker, except perhaps a yard of pace. But he is an excellent shot and can dribble his way through a packed defence, while he is also pretty good at set-pieces.

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22nd of June 2003

Real Betis agrees to the bid I make for their Romanian international and allows me to talk terms with the defender Filipescu. He wants to be merely in squad rotation, but I believe he would anchor the defence this season and therefore I offer him important first team player role. He wants £10,000/week and a signing-on fee of £190,000, and mindful that Guingamp might get a scent of what is happening, I up that to £11,500/week and £250,000 to ensure I well get my man.

23rd of June 2003

Old boy Alberto Rivera has still not made the grade properly at Real Madrid, though he does chip in occasionally, playing the odd game or two. But today he is made the subject of bids of £3.9 million from Real Zaragoza and Malága. I’d love to match their bids, but I feel that the amount of money is too much for my club.

Feyenoord’s striker Niels Kokmeijer tells me bluntly that he has no inclination to join Cartagonova on loan for the season. Far enough.

In the evening, I am contacted by Iulian Filipescu who says that he is delighted to join the club. I tell him to have a couple of weeks off and report for pre-season training in a fortnight. In the meantime, I make notes to get down to the club facilities manager and organise for a number ‘4’ guernsey to be made up for the Romanian international. I also spent some time this morning organising a three-game trip to France in the lead-up to our first match of the season. We visit second-division Nice and top flight Lens and Monaco after we host Manchester United at Cartagena on the 6th of August! icon_smile.gif While Man United isn’t the champion club it has been in the recent past, I still think the name alone will bring the fans through the turnstiles!

The day is complete when the coaches inform me that a young player by the name of Francisco Ãlvarez is good enough to start training with the first-team players. Taking a look at the videos of him playing in the youth team, I can see where my coaches are coming from. Playing in the anchor role in front of the back four, he shows a willingness to pound over every blade of grass on the pitch with some ability. At 17, he’s not going to get a match this season, but I’ll leave him in the capable hands of Dunga, Enzo Francescoli and Luis Sosa. They’ll need to work on his strength, because I do notice he consistently gets bumped off the ball.

24th of June 2003

Iulian Filipescu joins the club this morning and I introduce him to the club staff and Fernando Couto who is in the town as I’m negotiating a contract extension with him.

I learn in the evening that Couto has decided to reject my contract offer. He wants almost double the wages I am prepared to offer somebody of his age, and he tells the press that he is unhappy with me. It’s the first I’ve heard of it, because so far he’s been very civil with me in our negotiations and I’ve come to rely upon him in some of the preparations for the games.

Luis Sosa retires from his playing career. He actually never played a game for the club, but he is a good assistant.

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25th of June 2003

On the day full-back José Ramón Dacosta joins the club, I learn from Romário that the great Brazilian striker, currently player-coach with Granada, will join Cartagonova as soon as possible. I’ve been chasing him for a while and even though he is 37 years old he has certainly looked after himself and I can definitely find a use for him on the field, the least of which is scaring all Manchester United fans if he is in the starting lineup for that match! icon_smile.gif

Pablo Box signs a new three-year contract that increases his min. release clause to £3 million. He is followed by Ismael who also puts his signature to a three-year contract with a minimum release clause of £2 million. Gustavo Cañizares is delighted to put pen to paper on a contract that sees him take home £6,750/week for three years plus a £2.5 million min. release clause. Not so willing to sign contracts is my assistant Luis Sosa and the young rookie Francisco Ãlvarez.

30th of June 2003

Roberto Sosa arrives at the club and immediately comes into my office to introduce himself. I note how slowly he walks and I hope that my coaches can do something about that.

1st of July 2003

Several more players walk through my door to introduce themselves again. I direct Ballesteros to the defenders in the club because he will be working closely with them, Ismael Ruiz, our new defensive midfielder, has a chat about the nightlife in Cartagena with Ãlex Fernández. Gabriel Heinze is a little late to catch up with Ballesteros, but I send him down to the club rooms to snag a locker for the coming season. Rufete preens himself and catches the eye of the receptionist on his way in. I merely grin to myself as I can see the player’s arrogance exude through every pore. And finally Juan Eduardo Esnáider walks nonchalantly through my door, throws down his bag and offers me a big Argentine hug for taking him out of the nightmare that is Juventus.

The board contacts me in the evening and asks me around for a couple of drinks to get my feeling on how the squad is shaping for the difficult season ahead. After they listen to me politely spout rubbish about all the great signings I’ve brought to the club in the last couple of weeks, they floor me by saying that they think Fernando Couto should not be a member of the squad. I’m stunned by this attack on one of the club’s leading defenders and after a moment spent sipping the beer to catch my thoughts I spring to the Portuguese’s defence. But I do see the board’s point of view. His contract is up for renewal at the end of the season and he wants more than £10,000/week. We’re still a small club and that is big money for an aging warrior even with the quality of Couto. Much as I don’t want to admit it, it might be wise to get some money now rather than risk losing him to a rival club for free.

6th of July 2003

After Vidal and Jofre refused to sign the new contracts I presented with them, I am much happier to hear that Ballesteros and Rufete both put pen to paper on their improved deals that will tie them to the club for at least three seasons. I’m sure both of them will be an integral part of our fight against relegation this season.

Osasuna’s Shimon Gershon is again on the transfer list for approximately £3 million, which is a considerable investment. But given his ability to play almost anywhere down the spine and his innate talent, I might just throw down the money, assuming he is interested in joining the club. Another player who might be tempted into coming to the club is Mallorca’s Lluis Carreras, who has again fallen out of favour with his manager and is available for about £1 million. I’m also monitoring Dundee’s Walter del Rio who is looking to move to a bigger club. I’m sending scouts to Dundee to run their eyes over the player as his club takes on Manchester United. The final defender I’m closely monitoring is the Norwegian Per Vener Rønning who is with Segunda Liga Levante. At 20 years of age, he is already quite talented and can play anywhere in the left or centre of the pitch.

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8th of July 2003

Czech international defender Tomas Votova was released by 1860 München during the summer and after Zeleznic approaches him about joining that club, I immediately authorise the club’s lawyers to fax a contract to the player and I follow that up with a personal phone call trying to convince the player to join the club.

11th of July 2003

Gonzalo del Bono is a player who grew up under the River Plate youth system and after spending the last Argentine season on loan with Almirante Brown, a second division club in Argentina, decided to leave River Plate and seek his fame and fortune elsewhere. I hope he’ll see the light and come across the Atlantic to join Cartagonova, but there are some Argentine clubs after his signature, so the battle for him could be bloody. But I think it’s worth it, because at 22 years old, he is already an above average midfielder.

14th of July 2003

The start of a new working week sees Dunga knock on my office door. I usher the Brazilian into the room and ask him what’s up. He tells me that Sabadell has offered him the position of assistant manager at the club. I ask him whether he really wants to join a Segunda Liga club that really doesn’t have that much of a chance of moving into the Primera Liga, or remaining with a club that has a solid future.

To tell you the truth, Dunga isn’t the most effective coach going around and I don’t think I’d be that tempted to stop him leaving the club. I’m already lining up possible replacements, including Stefan Effenburg and Ed de Goey who have taken the FIFA coaching course and are apparently quite good at the coaching side of the game.

18th of July 2003

Unfortunately, Tomas Votova decides to remain in Germany, joining Borussia M’gladbach, which is not the first time that club has stolen a player that I’ve been interested in away from me! icon_mad.gif

In the evening, Dunga contacts me to inform me that he has decided to move to Sabadell as its assistant manager. I’m not going to stand in the way of him, even though I think he is making a mistake. But then again, I believe Dunga needs Cartagonova more than Cartagonova needs Dunga.

19th of July 2003

A lazy Saturday morning is interrupted by the ringing of the phone. It is the manager of Treviso, Signor Gianfranco Bellotto, who is inquiring after the availability of Alessandro Birindelli and is willing to throw £220,000 away, erm, at me to capture the full-back. Since that meets his min. release clause (he is one of the few players I haven’t bothered to negotiate a new contract with), I’m obliged to allow Treviso to talk turkey with the defender, but I wouldn’t have blocked it anyway.

Dunga leaves Cartagena for Sabadell and once I see his car leaving the town, I leap into my office and contact Stefan Effenburg about a player/coach role at Cartagonova. Unfortunately he wants a lot of money to sit around and supervise training, but even his very name would be an excellent attraction at the club so I dream up some type of contract and e-mail it through to him.

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20th of July 2003

Real Madrid released its heart and soul of the club over the past few seasons, Hierro, in the summer. I’ve been waiting until he is desperate enough to come to the club before making an approach, but the hated Real Zaragoza short-circuits my plans and I’m forced to offer Hierro, the former Spanish captain, a very nice contract, especially since he is already 35 years old.

In the Copa America, Paraguay upsets Brazil with a 1-0 victory in Buenos Aires. Derlis Soto of Argentine Primera Liga side Huracán netted after 49 minutes to spark wild celebrations in Asunción. Bolivia captured third place yesterday on penalties against Mexico after the two countries drew 1-1 in Buenos Aires. Chile dropped out at the quarter-finals after being defeated by Bolivia. Javier Margas didn’t play a game thanks to a knee injury he suffered just before the start of the tournament, although he did sit on the bench for the quarter-final.

Birindelli is delighted to leave Cartagonova for the less pressured environment of the ambitious Treviso, who is also looking to capture Brazilian icon Leonardo after he was released by Barcelona. I agree with alacrity to the transfer and we bid farewell to the former Juventus full-back. As a club, we take a loss of almost £600,000 on him after I paid £850,000 to Juventus for him two seasons ago. His fact-file: Alessandro Birindelli (D/DM R, 28 y/o, ITA): 50(3) apps, 2 assists, av. rate: 6.38.

23rd of July 2003

My scouts enjoy themselves in Dundee but do remember to go to the friendly between Dundee and Manchester United. After United defeated the home side 1-0, my scouts report that Walter del Rio is a fairly good player. From the videos I saw, I reckon he is slightly better than they give him credit for - playing as a right-back, he completed half his tackles and was an effective outlet in defence for the home club.

Reported interest in Iván Vidal by Espanyol forces me to call a meeting with the player and his representative as I try to tie him to the club for a considerable period of time. A current release clause of just £300,000 is far too low for a goalkeeper of his calibre and if I can increase it to something more substantial, I will be rather happier. The trouble is, Vidal obviously regards himself as the club’s established keeper and demands a wage packet of £9,500/week which is slightly more than double his current wage of £4,200/week. I claim that the club could not let him go for less than £3 million, so both sides in the negotiations make their positions clear.

Bad news filters through from Argentina as Gonzalo Del Bono obviously believes he isn’t yet ready to make the grade in La Liga, opting for Huracán instead.

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25th of July 2003

More bad news as Hierro opts for Real Zaragoza. icon_mad.gif

26th of July 2003

Finally some good news as Iván Vidal puts pen to paper on a contract that ties him to Cartagonova for three years, unless somebody can come up with £3million to meet his new min. release clause.

29th of July 2003

I continue to sign up the players to long-term contracts and the latest is Michel, who has his wage packet raised to £9,750/week with a minimum release clause of £5 million.

30th of July 2003

Stefan Effenburg reveals his lazy side as he decides to cross the town to join 1860 München, saying that he can’t wait to work with manager Werner Lorant. I wonder what reception the former Bayern captain will receive when the cross-town rivals meet?!

In the evening, Jofre decides finally to append his signature to the contract I’ve presented to him. He signs on board for the typical three year run, believing that I will help his career flourish. He now earns £7,250/week with a min. release clause of £3.5 million.

After losing Dunga to Sabadell, Effenburg going to 1860 Munich and Ed de Goey going to Inter Milan, I move in for the kill for the young Brazilian coach Toninho who looks a very well-rounded coach. After interviewing him via video conference from his base in Sao Paolo, I offer him the job. He goes away to think about it, and then tonight replies that he would jump at the chance of being part of the backroom in a Primera Liga club.

31st of July 2003

Two names go onto the transfer list this morning. I decide that Adrián Carretero just has not pushed on like he should have and I think he really would be better off in a lower league. Therefore, he’s on the list for £350,000. Similarly, Sietes has not been the player I thought he would be and with other left-sided defenders now at the club, I think he has fallen so far down the hierarchy that there’s not much point keeping him. Interestingly, I see that Málaga is apparently preparing a bid of £500,000 for him. Perhaps I’ve made a mistake?

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2nd of August 2003

The first bids for Sietes arrive on my desk this morning. Espanyol offers me £500,000 for the defender. I raise the stakes to £850,000 up-front plus £250,000 over twenty league matches. Caracas also offers me £500,000 for the left back, and I respond by demanding £850,000 over six months.

3rd of August 2003

Big scores are recorded in the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup held this time in Brazil and Argentina. In the first semi-final, played at Brazil’s spiritual home, La Maracanã, Argentina breezed past Nigeria 3-1 with goals to Roma’s Walter Samuel, Fiorentina’s Cristian Bardaro, and Juventus’ Ariel Ortega. Nigeria’s goal came from Adebowale Ogungbure. But the more interesting result came from the second semi-final where Italy obliterated a hapless France 5-1 in Fonte Nova. Braces to Gianluca Zambrotta of Juventus and Lazio’s Lamberto Zauli plus Filippo Inzaghi’s late goal slaughtered France who only had Nicolas Anelka’s penalty to show for their work.

I defy my bosses by negotiating a new contract with Fernando Couto that sees him put pen to paper on a three-year deal worth £1.5 million. That works out to £10,000/week, which makes him the second-highest paid player at the club. I sure hope that we stay in the Primera Liga else there will be a fire-sale next season just to balance the books!

I’m beginning to become very worried about the future of Stan Collymore at the club. He is still not happy despite helping to guide the club into the Primera Liga and to make matters worse he tells me that he is homesick. Apparently the arrival of Keith O’Neill has sparked fond memories of home and he may start seeking a return to England sooner rather than later. Given that his contract expires at the end of the season and I’m not likely to sign up the player for any longer, I may have to transfer-list him in order to get some money for him. icon_frown.gif

4th of August 2003

Granada offers me £110,000 for Carretero. I raise those stakes to £150,000 plus a 10% sell-on clause.

Espanyol’s manager returns with the numbers I like to hear - £850,000 plus £250,000 after 20 league matches for Sietes. Caracas also responds with the bid I wanted from them, but I’d rather Sietes sign for Espanyol because we would receive more money for the defender. Hence, I ask for a delay from the Venezuelan club. It turns out that I need not have worried, because by the evening, the deal is done and Sietes prepares to leave the club. His fact-file: Sietes (D/DM L, 29 y/o, ESP): 36(6) apps, 1 goal, 1 assist, 1 MoM, av. rate: 6.58

Keep smiling! icon_smile.gif

Dixie Flatline

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Thanks, Ell_G and Kazema! icon_smile.gif Hopefully this story will be entertaining! icon_biggrin.gif

My most important pre-season continues...

5th of August 2003

I’m interrupted in the morning by some more transfer bids. This time, Málaga’s manager Víctor Manuel García Ruiz latches upon Misrad Hibic as a player that should join the club, so he offers me £130,000 for the Bosnian international. He is completely foolish if he thinks I’m going to accept that bid for the defender! icon_biggrin.gif Salamanca’s manager, Aad de Mos, also offers me £130,000 for the same player and I can’t wait to tell him exactly what to do with the transfer bid.

Premiá has its sights set on the right midfielder Javi, who has suffered in his own private nightmare for the last season and just hasn’t progressed like he should. Given that the bid of £200,000 meets his min. release clause, I accept the bid.

Ponferradina offers me £150,000 for Carretero, and I try to push that up to £200,000 before I agree to let them speak to my player.

I’ve been chasing Ourense’s defender Óscar Ãlvarez for about a month now, and the price has been steadily increasing. Finally I get some positive response from my counterpart at Ourense, but the counter-offer is rather steep: £2 million up front plus £750,000 after 10 internationals. This is double his nominal value and I’m not sure whether I want to pay that much for a player who does not always play for his current club. I offer Ourense £1.3 million plus £800,000 after 20 internationals.

France’s porous defence lets Nigeria score four times against Les Bleus with goals to Ifeani Udeze, Mutiu, Emmanuel Olisadebe and Abdul Sule. Nicolas Anelka again was on the scoresheet for France, but it was too little, too late.

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6th of August 2003

Dos Hermanas offers £220,000 for Carretero, which is a value I can live with for the midfielder. Hence, I accept the offer. I take a risk and turn down Granada’s £170,000 deal for the midfielder, hoping that Dos Hermanas can put together a package that entices Carretero sufficiently.

Unlike previous matches, the final of the Confederations Cup between Argentina and Italy is a tense, low-scoring affair that is eventually resolved in the Azzurri’s favour when Gianluca Zambrotta finishes off the Argentines in extra-time with the golden goal.

Javi decides that Premiá’s terms are good enough to join the D2B club so he prepares to leave the club before the imminent arrival of Manchester United for this evening’s friendly. Javi’s fact-file: Javi (M R, 24 y/o, ESP): 4(7) apps, av. rate: 6.36

Friendly - Cartagonova v Manchester United

It’s the first time we’ve kicked a ball in anger since early June 2003, and I’m sure some of the players will be a little rusty. But I still think this is a good opportunity to check out just how good some of the players I’ve signed really are. I mix in regulars with some of the new players, but obviously I can’t try out all the players I’ve brought into the club at once and some sit on the bench, while others miss out altogether.

Noel Whelan (those two words should tell you just how much Man United have fallen since Ferguson left the club) tests Vidal early on but we take the lead on 19 minutes when Collymore’s cross is headed home by Filipescu and I’m rather happy! icon_biggrin.gif But Manchester United have played a few more games than we have at the start of this season and they begin shifting up the gears. Their pressure is eventually rewarded with an equaliser on 43 minutes to Whelan but at half-time I’m happy with what we’ve done. I make some changes through the course of the second half and one of them, Esnáider for Morán, should have brought a goal on 71 minutes when the Argentine midfielder heads over the bar from Redondo’s inviting cross. But Giggs hits the post late on with a delicious free kick, reminding people that before Beckham emerged, Giggs was the player responsible for set-pieces.

Final score: Cartagonova 1:1 Manchester United

MoM - Stan Collymore

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7th of August 2003

Club Marino joins the chase for Carretero by making a bid of £240,000 for the midfielder, split into £180,000 now plus £65,000 after 20 league matches. Ponferradina offers me £200,000 straight for him.

8th of August 2003

Salamanca renews interest in Hibic, offering me £150,000 for the Bosnian international. Needless to say, I don’t give the offer a second thought before I turn it down.

Carretero picks his destination - it is Dos Hermanas, which means we receive £220,000 for the midfielder. I’m broken-hearted with his departure. No, really. icon_biggrin.gif His fact-file: Adrián Carretero (M RC, 25 y/o, ESP): 1(4) apps, 2 goals, av. rate: 6.8

9th of August 2003

Again I cannot complete the reading of the Saturday newspapers without being interrupted by the telephone. This time it is Wim Jansen looking to buy Misrad Hibic from Cartagonova for the laughable sum of £180,000. Good luck next time, matey, because I’m not selling you one of the better defenders for such a small amount.

10th of August 2003

We’re in the lovely Riviera town of Nice preparing for our match against the town’s local football eleven when I’m contacted again by Wim Jansen who today offers me £220,000 for Misrad Hibic. Again I take no time at all in turning down the bid. After all, there’s a sun-tan to be had out there on those beautiful (?) pebble beaches! I really should turn the mobile off but he’s been leaving messages everywhere and I can’t just escape this mad Dutchman.

Friendly - Nice v Cartagonova

I swap the team around for our match against Nice in our first match of our tour of France, and Luis Prieto, Ismael Ruiz, Oliver, Roberto Sosa and Magno all have the chance to showcase their talents for the first time this season. Magno sets up our first goal with a powerful shot that the Nice keeper pushes into the path of Ruiz, who tucks it away. We’re the better team in the first half but on 52 minutes, Nice replies with an equaliser scored by Konan-Kan, the Ivory Coast international striker. However, we take the lead back on 75 minutes when Rufete’s corner is headed home by Luis Prieto. We again hammer away at Nice’s goal but can’t find the third goal to ensure our victory, but in the end it doesn’t matter.

Nice 1:2 Cartagonova

MoM - Jean-Gabriel Padovani - the Nice keeper and captain did a sterling job against some strong strikers including Magno, Roberto Sosa and Juan Eduardo Esnáider.

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13th of August 2003

Friendly - Lens v Cartagonova

With some of the players still feeling the effects of our previous match against Nice, I make a few changes to freshen the side. Dacosta, Hibic, Cañizares, O’Neill and Gabrich all have the opportunity to begin the match as I decide to use this match to check out some of the lesser lights in the side. And in the first half, we’re practically overrun by a confident Lens revelling in its ability to knock one-touch passes between each player. Thankfully, the only reward for the French side comes on 34 minutes when Esteban Fuertes finds the net with a header over Filipescu. I tell the boys at half-time that they’re lucky to be only 1-0 behind because we’ve been too cheap with possession and should have been punished much more. But in the second half, instead of pushing forwards for more goals, Lens seems happy to sit back and let us have possession. We eventually find the equaliser ten minutes from time when Redondo tees up Esnáider who swerves a shot into the back of the Lens net. But the scores remain level only until injury time when Ziani wriggles his way through the midfield before letting fly with a thunderbolt that Vidal cannot stop. We lose 2-1, a fair reflection on the game’s play, I think.

Final score: Lens 2:1 Cartagonova

MoM - Esteban Fuertes

14th of August 2003

Whilst on the lovely French Riviera preparing for our last match on tour against Monaco - long days on those pebble beaches, watching the women go by - I’m contacted by Vicente Santos, one of the scouts I inherited from the previous manager’s reign at the club. Apparently, Real Betis has offered him a position as coach in the Segunda Liga. He actually isn’t that bad, so I decide to offer him an improved contract to stay with Cartagonova.

Ourense are still looking to prise £2.7 million out of us for Óscar Ãlvarez split into £2 million up front plus £725,000 after ten internationals. I try to juggle the figures slightly - £1.5 million now and £1.2 million after ten internationals.

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15th of August 2003

Salamanca must have monitored our match against Lens, because Aad de Mos rings me to offer me £275,000 for Misrad Hibic. I still don’t want to sell the Bosnian international defender, at least not until I have some better centre-halves than him, so I turn down the Dutchman’s offer. Hanging up the blower, I take the players into Monaco’s casino. It’s time to show the boys who is the boss! I’ll have thirty thousand francs on red nine! icon_smile.gif

16th of August 2003

Friendly - Monaco v Cartagonova

The last stop on our French sojourn brings us to the lovely Principality of Monaco to play the team supported by the Princes Rainier and Albert and once managed by Arsene Wenger. Now managed by Claude Puel, he invites me over before the match for a quiet couple of glasses of France’s finest. He confides that he finds it extremely boring living in Europe’s tax haven, although the annual Grand Prix does liven things up just a little. I tell him we should swap jobs for a season or two, if he wants some excitement.

Anyway, we’re supposed to be here to play a football game and eventually we make our way out to the pitch. And it’s like my players want to get back to the beaches as soon as possible, because Oliver and Cañizares set up Gabrich on 3 minutes and the big Argentine recalls his glory days with a powerful volley past Cassard. With Sonny Anderson forced from the field with injury, we go further ahead on 38 minutes when Romário’s cross is weakly punched by Cassard into the path of O’Neill and the Irishman drives the ball into the back of the net! icon_biggrin.gif But we take our eyes off the ball and Pontus Farnerud heads home Marquez’s excellent cross just two minutes later. I ask the defence to concentrate on defence in the second half, but of course they go and let Monaco score the equaliser on 54 minutes when Christanval picks out Micoud with the perfect pass and the French international thunders home the header. We have the better of the remainder of the half, but Gabrich, Zamorano and O’Neill can’t punch that decisive hole through Monaco’s defence and our French tour ends with a 2-2 draw.

Final score: Monaco 2:2 Cartagonova

MoM - Philippe Christanval

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In the dinner party hosted by the royalty of Monaco, our quiet celebrations are interrupted by the announcement that Iulian Filipescu is in the Romanian squad for its matches against Germany and Iceland, Keith O’Neill is welcomed back by John Aldridge for Ireland’s games against Belarus and Cyprus, Misrad Hibic has the chance to add to his twenty cap collection as Bosnia picks him for matches against Switzerland and Azerbaijan, while Fernando Couto returns to Portugal’s squad for its friendly against Andorra.

Ourense still won’t cut me any slack over Óscar Ãlvarez, reiterating a demand of £2.7 million, but with the transfer deadline less than a week away I would like to have the ink dry on the deal before then. Then again, the manager did drag me away from a very lovely dinner with some very beautiful dinner companions… icon_wink.gif I at least try to spread the payment of £2 million over six months and have the defender play thirty times for Spain before I pay an extra £750,000.

17th of August 2003

A week before the start of the season proper, Celta Viga and Athletic Bilbao clash in the annual Spanish Super Cup, another meaningless trophy played over two legs. In the first leg, played at Balaídos in Vigo, Celta overcame the disaster of going a goal behind early on thanks to Arteaga, to blow the Basque boys off the pitch with four goals, including a hat-trick to Jesuli.

18th of August 2003

On our regretful return to Cartagena (damn, the French Riviera was nice!), I find that Marseille’s manager Abel Braga has desperately being trying to contact me over my bid for its 24 year old central defender Zoumana Camara who is almost as good as Jusué. The messages reveal that my bid has been accepted and I have permission to talk to the player. Shrugging off the tiredness from the flights from France to Madrid and then from Madrid to Cartagena, I dive into my office and set up a live link with the player whereupon I make my pitch for leaving France and trying his luck in Spain.

But as luck would have it, my bid for Ãlvarez is accepted by Ourense. In a dither, I bring my assistant manager into the office and talk it over with Luis Sosa. He recommends a commonsense course to take - that’s rather strange! icon_smile.gif Anyway, he recommends that I offer a contract to Ãlvarez because the lawyers can always deal with the eventuality of us backing out of the transfer. So I duly offer the defender a deal and hope with fingers crossed that Camara gets back to us first, because he is by far the better defender.

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21st of August 2003

Just two days before the transfer deadline, I authorise the club’s accountants to shift a total of £4.4 million into the bank accounts of Platense, Levante and Paniliakos as the aforementioned players are all delighted to agree terms with the burgeoning superpower of Spanish football (well, we all can dream, can’t we?! icon_biggrin.gif ).

Then I hit a snag, because with the money splashed out on Miranda and Arnau, we apparently don’t quite have the money to meet the transfer fee plus Rønning’s signing-on fee, so that deal collapses for the moment. I will continue to monitor the situation and if he fails to re-negotiate a new contract with Levante by the winter you can be assured I’ll be after him like a dog in heat.

23rd of August 2003

A final, desperate bid to land Ghanaian international right-back Stephen Tetteh collapses due to the closing of the transfer window, so without further ado, I present to you the 2003/04 squad analysis…! icon_smile.gificon_cool.gif


Francesc Arnau (28 y/o, ESP): Signed from Paniliakos, a Greek club, just days before the end of the transfer period, he is there to provide some solid experience to the goalkeepers already at the club. He may or may not be given the starting jersey but he at least has 18 more games experience in the Primera Liga thanks to his spell at Barcelona. But when judged on talent, I think Iván Vidal just shades it.

Iván Vidal (24 y/o, ESP): Signed from Gandía two seasons ago for just £70,000 he might well prove to be a very shrewd investment. Kept us going when Veiga left us last season for Osasuna and will be a better player for the experience. He is a well-rounded without being a spectacular keeper, but he does have the best talent in the goalkeeping stakes at the club so far this season. Given No. 1 after being forced to make do with No. 13 on his back for the last two seasons, and I expect him to earn it this season.

Joaquín Moso (24 y/o, ESP): Actually played 1(1) times for Cartagonova last season and when he left Trabzonspor at the end of the season he was more than willing to rejoin us again. A solid and competent keeper but definitely not a world-beater. Still he will do as an adequate back-up if I ever need one.

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Iulian Filipescu (29 y/o, ROM 33 caps, 1 goal, SW/D/DM C): Signed for £1 million from Real Betis at the start of the season, he has experienced relegation from the Primera Liga twice already in his career and I hope that he is determined enough to prevent it from becoming three times. An experienced campaigner, he is a tough-tackling no-nonsense defender who will blend in well with my style of play at the club. What’s more, he has a flair for leadership and has the international experience to walk the talk, so to speak. I’ll be looking to him to keep the defence in check. Fairly handy at set-pieces, too.

Misrad Hibic (29 y/o, BOS 20 caps, SW/D C): The second of our eastern European bloc in the club, he commences his third season with Cartagonova under somewhat trying circumstances. Became unhappy last season when I decided not to go with him on a regular basis, but the truth of the matter is that he is not quite good enough to earn that spot, but then again isn’t quite bad enough to be put on the list. And I’ve had plenty of opportunity to sell him with clubs like Tenerife and Salamanca enquiring about his availability over the summer. Unhappy with me and his contract is up for renewal, so if relations don’t improve I will try to cash in on him.

Ballesteros (27 y/o, ESP, D/DM RC): I believe it’s fantastic that we’ve picked up this versatile and quality defender for nix in the summer of 2003. A strong powerful player who can turn in good performances in the centre or on the right of defence or midfield, he will be an integral part of our battle against the drop this season. Interestingly never fit into Rayo’s plans very well and like Michel, I hope the club from the capital comes to regret its decision to let him go. Also has top flight experience with Tenerife.

José María Lacruz (25 y/o, ESP, D RL): Yet to display the talent I think he has on the pitch in the friendlies he has played so far this season, and I hope that after spending £1 million on him he doesn’t turn out to be a waste of money like Birindelli was. But there were signs that he is a good defender, and his turn of pace will be useful when we play the counter-attack style on the road. Fairly quiet chap, he seems happy to get on with the job, and that will go down well with me.

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Pablo Casar (24 y/o, ESP, D RC): He might find himself dropping down the hierarchy with Ballesteros and Lacruz arriving at the club who can both play his position, but I think he has the potential to be well worth the initial investment in him. But he needs to improve to remain a part of this club.

José Ramón Dacosta (28 y/o, ESP, D/M L): Signed on a free transfer from Ourense, there is really nothing in his training nor his appearances in the friendlies to suggest he will be little more than a squad player. A willing trier, but not much more at this point in his career. I might do well to cash in on him at the end of the season.

Gabriel Iván Heinze (25 y/o, ARG/ITA, D LC): Never really made the grade at Real Vallodolid and spent last season on loan to an Argentine club. After extensive scouting, my scouts recommended that I seek his signature so I did. Apart from being a fast full-back, there isn’t that much going for him so I think he’ll have to remain contented with only a bit-part role this season.

Ismael (27 y/o, ESP, D LC): A more than adequate debut season in the Segunda Liga last season, but he might find that the Primera Liga is slightly higher in class, to say the least! icon_smile.gif Still, perhaps one of the better full-backs at the club, so he has it within his power to lock in a regular spot in the starting eleven this season, despite the other defenders arriving at the club.

Fernando Manuel Couto (34 y/o, POR 74 caps, 7 goals, D/DM C): The board still wants me to get rid of the big Portuguese defender but I decided that he is good enough to warrant offering a new contract and we were both delighted when he signed on the dotted line. His experience with big clubs and big occasions, I’m sure, will hold us in good stead this campaign and despite his growing years I still feel he is one of the best defenders at the club. I’m sure he will enjoy working along side Filipescu and Ãlvarez.

Luis Prieto (24 y/o, ESP, D C): Probably a medium-term investment, I signed him on a Bosman from Éibar in the summer. His lack of pace is of some concern with me, but I think the coaches can mould him into a good, solid defender for the years to come. May come in to the reckoning when the pressure is off, but I don’t think he’ll be an automatic start just yet.

Javier Margas (34 y/o, CHI 95 caps, 6 goals, D C): He is ruled out of the first match of the season with a bruised thigh, but I think he is raring to have a crack at the Primera Liga. Was a good defender last season and I think his international experience combined with his knowledge of the club will help both of us succeed in our goals this season.

Óscar Ãlvarez (26 y/o, ESP, D C): Made an impressive debut in our last friendly against Real Sociedad and being the most expensive player purchased by Cartagonova, he needs to demonstrate he is worth every penny of the hefty transfer fee. A mite slow, his big strengths are, well, his strength, stamina, tackling, marking and aggression and he demonstrated those skills against Sociedad. Hopefully they will translate to the real stuff and I’m sure that three class centre-halves in Filipescu, Couto and Ãlvarez will serve the club well.

Pedro Alberto (34 y/o, ESP, D/DM C): I’m not sure why I actually signed this person now. Nothing more than back-up and a long way down the queue at that. He came from the champion Athletic Bilbao but spent most of the season in the ‘B’ side.

Keep smiling! icon_smile.gif

Dixie Flatline

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Thanks Overtone! icon_smile.gif Glad that you're enjoying the story and that you've managed to track it down after I've started up all those different threads. I can promise this will be the last one for a while.

Anyway, back to it! icon_biggrin.gif


Ãlex Fernández (29 y/o, ESP, DM C): Now in his third season at the club, I hope he can continue improving his form and become a consistently good midfielder. Wasn’t quite as productive last season as he was the season before, but we made good use of his defensive qualities. Probably will start the season as the anchor midfielder ahead of the back four.

Francisco Ãlvarez (17 y/o, ESP, DM C): A product of the Cartagonova youth system, he has the potential to become a good midfielder, but the coaches need to work on his physical attributes because, well, he hasn’t got any. He can barely jump, runs like a turtle and has the strength of a nerd. On the plus side he is good at making decisions and works well within a team. Also knows how to string a pass together. I very much doubt if he’ll get a game this season and I do need to determine whether I’ll keep him because he is only a rolling contract. But Spain’s U-21 coach has called him up to that team so there is hope for him yet.

Ismael Ruiz (26 y/o, ESP, DM C): Will probably start the season as Fernández’s deputy in the all-important anchor role mainly because he isn’t quite as proficient at tackling and marking as Fernández. Spent most of his career with Racing Santander but was at Las Palmas last season playing the entire season there. Still, his form in the pre-season friendlies hasn’t altered my perception that he is in this squad purely as cover.

Pablo Box (24 y/o, ESP, M RC): Returning home from a miserable spell with Villarreal, the home-grown hero needs to justify his rather expensive transfer fee of £800,000 this season. His ability to pick out a good pass at pace coupled with his leadership qualities mean I can find a place for him somewhere, but not quite sure whether he starts every match. Probably a certainty for the bench, but little more than that this season.

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Gustavo Cañizares (29 y/o, ESP, AM RLC): Signed a new contract over the summer that ties him to Cartagonova until he is 32 and gives us a crack of making a profit on his rather inflated transfer fee of £1.2 million. Performed competently at mainly right wing but I think his place there this season is under threat from Rufete (hey, that rhymes!). Still, he did look promising in the friendlies against Lens and Monaco, so he has hope of snaring some first team appearances this season.

Lawal (22 y/o, NIG 8 caps, AM RC): Failed to make an appearance in Nigeria’s recent Confederations Cup campaign but he has made some encouraging progress under the watchful tutelage of Enzo Francescoli. He is slowly improving in all facets of wing play and hopefully at some stage he will find himself more involved in the first team activities of the club. But I hope he decides to stay with us because his contract expires at the end of the season and I would hate to have somebody capitalise on our good work without us being compensated for it.

Paulo Miranda (24 y/o, ARG, AM RLC): I’ve tracked the career of this young Argentine midfielder for several seasons now and I was glad to unveil him to the local press yesterday for £1 million. I’d say he resembles a younger Juan Veron and if he is at most just half as good as that midfielder is, I’d be very happy. Perhaps his mental side just lacks a little bit because he is a little shy competing for the ball, but otherwise his silky smooth skills he demonstrated to us this morning on the training track makes me believe that the million bananas I spent on him are well worth it. If the lawyers can find a Spanish grandmother in the hills I’ll be even more pleased.

Fernando Morán (27 y/o, ESP, AM RLC): The surprise revelation of last season with 18 goals and 10 assists from 40(1) appearances, switching him from right wing to attacking central midfield produced extraordinary results. I know it. You know it. He also knows it, because he is refusing to negotiate a new contract, hoping that he can move cheaply to a ‘bigger’ club. But while he is still here I hope he continues his excellent form.

Rufete (26 y/o, ESP 1 cap, AM R): Our token Spanish international, he made his only appearance for the country while at Málaga but fell so far out of favour with the establishment there that he spent half of last season at lower Segunda Liga side Badajoz (in fact, Badajoz was relegated). He is determined to resurrect his career with us and a £3.5 million min. release clause in his contract ensures we’ll make a hefty profit if and when he moves on. But in the meantime, I expect a lot from this gifted winger who showed against Manchester United he has lost none of his craft and trickery, making the goal for Filipescu with the corner and doing his fair share of defensive work.

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Jofre (23 y/o, ESP, AM/F L): Into his third season with the club and I can see signs that the player is maturing skill-wise at the least, though his dismissal for a silly offence last season showed that his head still has some way to catch up. Still believes that I can make him as a player, but I think the presence of Michel and the capture of Oliver might just shake him a little bit. Hopefully it will be in a good way. He always has had the pace to burn through defenders. What he needs now to develop to truly make it under my reign is the close ball control and passing attributes that I crave.

Michel (27 y/o, ESP, AM L): I’m still indebted to the idiotic Rayo Vallecano manager who decided his club would be better off without Michel because his poise, passing ability, flair and creativity made him one of the best midfielders last season. Combine a keen eye for goal with his ability to make defenders dizzy also produces a fair amount of goals from the left wing and I think we have a great midfielder. If he does well this season, I think he might just be in line for a call-up to the national squad, but that’s thinking too far into the future. Was a little reluctant to sign a new contract, what with Barcelona sniffing around him and all, but to our mutual satisfaction and, let’s face it, my relief, he signed on the dotted line meaning he won’t go for anything less than £5 million.

Keith O’Neill (27 y/o, IRE 20 caps, 4 goals, AM/F LC): He had a horrid time at Middlesbrough and he needs to work on his own self-esteem and confidence before he can return to the player he might have been when he was at Norwich. But moving to Spain has helped him to return to the international fold already and I hope that encourages him to work hard on the track and earn himself a place in the starting eleven. Performed competently in the pre-season friendlies without being a stand-out, so he might find himself regularly on the bench.

Oliver (24 y/o, ESP, AM L): Signed from Real Oviedo for £400,000 he is a terrific prospect and definitely the first back-up for Michel. Has pace, agility, passing skills and an eye for goal like you wouldn’t believe. Could make a real impact this season if he has the chance.

Cristian Ãlvarez (23 y/o, SLV 7 caps, AM C): My coaches believe he is a potential superstar and looking at how far he has improved since he signed for us just a season ago it’s not hard to see why. He was the man against Monaco, probing and pulling the strings from his role behind the front two, and if the strikers ahead of him had made better use of their chances he created, it would have been more than a 1-0 victory. But with a ridiculously low min. release clause given the player he has developed into I desperately need for him to sign a new contract, but so far he is holding out on me.

Juan Eduardo Esnáider (30 y/o, ARG 2 caps, 1 goal, AM/F C): Thought a move to Juventus from Espanyol back in 1999 would bring him fame and fortune but it turned out to be an Italian nightmare and he was glad to be back in Spain, albeit with Cartagonova. Playing just 17 games in 5 seasons isn’t the way to develop the skills and the confidence and it’s little wonder that he has taken some time to adjust to the way we play on his arrival. But I have high hopes for this powerful, skilful midfielder for offering an alternative when the chips are down.

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Stan Collymore (32 y/o, ENG 2 caps, S C): One of the most popular players with the fans, he formed a deadly partnership with Redondo last season that took us to the top of the Segunda Liga. From 33(2) appearances, he scored 18 times and set up 5 more goals. But his intense dislike of Fernando Couto combined with a growing homesickness means that I might have to transfer list him before too long, what with his contract expiring at the end of the season. And that would a real shame because I want him to finish his career with us.

Iván César Gabrich (30 y/o, ARG/SPA, S C): Probably on his last chance with Cartagonova but he is just too good to let go cheaply. He has done well in the pre-season games, but somebody has to miss out on a regular starting spot next to Redondo, and it may well be the big Argentine striker.

Magno (29 y/o, BRA/ITA, S C): Like Gabrich, he is little more than a back-up striker these days but he feels he’s better than that and is letting me know loud and clear. With his contract expiring at the end of the season, he might be transfer listed now in order to get some money for him. Perhaps his best attribute is his dribbling skills, but I feel that he isn’t prolific enough to really give me cause to play him regularly.

José Manuel Redondo (27 y/o, ESP, S C): After an outstanding first season with the club where he was the top scorer and the most creative of players in terms of assists, I hope he will continue his great form with us this season. Signed on board until 2007, he has the potential to become the club’s first icon.

Romário (37 y/o, BRA 76 caps, 54 goals, S C): Signed as a player/coach for free from Granada, he is more than likely to not have a big playing part in this campaign, mainly because his bonuses are an exorbitant £11,500 per goal and per assist! icon_eek.gif Nevertheless, he is still more than capable of showing up some of his younger colleagues and he might be worth throwing on now and then, particularly against Barcelona! icon_biggrin.gif

Roberto Sosa (28 y/o, ARG, S C): Signed on a Bosman from Udinese where, like compatriot Esnáider, he had a nightmare of a career, I hope that he can step up to the plate to form a good partnership with Redondo. His severe lack of pace might be a handicap but otherwise he is an excellent striker and I hope the goals flow for him like they used to.

Iván Zamorano (36 y/o, CHI 69 caps, 36 goals, S C): We all thought he had played his last professional game of football last season but he decided against hanging up the boots in preference of one last opportunity of having a crack at the best league in the world, the Primera Liga. And his experience and prowess will be mighty useful when it comes to grinding out the results. Nine goals from 9(8) appearances last season shows that he still has the killer instinct.

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The Primera Liga 2003/04 Preview

With acknowledgments to Tricky Winger!

Alavés finished last season mid-table and despite capturing Polish international keeper Jerzy Dudek from Feyenoord on a Bosman transfer will probably not improve much on its 11th place. Javi Moreno will be expected to lead the lines up front for the Basque club but his goal return over the last few seasons have, to say the least, been rather disappointing. In fact, Alavés has been poor in front of goal, scoring only 41 goals in the last campaign. But Wim Jansen has done well with limited resources to secure the club’s long-term future in the Primera Liga and he will do well to finish inside the top ten.

Athletic Bilbao finished the 2002/03 season as the champion of the Primera Liga, breaking the Barcelona stranglehold over the title. But the club’s insistence on signing only Basque players, while admirable in the day and age of itinerant players, means that replacing players of the calibre like Julen Guerrero and Ismael Urzáiz, who both went to Bayer Leverkusen, with Jon Kortina, Jorge Barbarin and Edu Alonso is very difficult. Of course, the romance associated with the club evokes memories of Celtic’s triumph over Inter Milan in the European Cup. But with Bilbao’s commitment to the European Champions’ League combined with its defence of the crown, one would be forgiven for thinking that Luis Fernández’s resources will be stretched beyond breaking point and the club will be lucky to finish inside the top five. A lot will rest on the shoulders of Spanish international Joseba Etxeberría, Aitor Karanka and Jorge Pérez.

For fans of Atlético Madrid the days of 1996 are a long time ago now, and after returning to the Primera Liga last season, Asier De la Cruz needs to make improvements to the squad to keep the club in the top flight for another season after it squeezed out of relegation in the last days of the season. De la Cruz has spent cautiously over the summer, preferring to add experience and youth in Rubén, César Elías Santis and Alberto Artigas to the club’s squad rather than splashing out on bringing a ‘big name’ to the club. A lot of the responsibility for the club’s future rests with Toni, Córcoles and Salva. Juninho remains at the club after some tense times last season and he hopes to make an impression in the new season. Still, one cannot expect too much from this club just yet, though the quality through the squad should see it avoid relegation for another season.

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Undoubtedly, Barcelona is in the ascendency at the moment, despite losing its domestic crown to Athletic Bilbao last season. Winning the European Champions’ League more than made up for that loss and Spain’s most successful club in the league and cup will hope to continue its great run under boss Lorenzo Serra Ferrer. However, Barcelona possesses an aging squad and while Rivaldo and Lilian Thuram are still excellent players, there must be some doubts over whether they can maintain their extraordinarily high standards given they are now the wrong side of thirty. But Patrick Kluivert is undoubtedly the best player in the world and at 27 years old, he is cherry ripe for another extraordinary season before Holland chases glory in the European Championship. Players like Gabri, Gerard and Simão should ensure that the club’s future is still just as bright as it is now. Surely, Barcelona must be the favourite to claim La Liga’s crown.

Cartagonova’s meteoric rise from the third division into the top flight is simultaneously a fairy tale and a lesson to other smaller clubs in the lower reaches of Spain’s football league. Formed only in time for the 1995/96 season, chairman Señor Manzano’s astute hiring of Señor Flatline has transformed the club into a potential giant of Spain’s football. But the manager’s credentials as the pick of the crop of Spain’s next generation of managers will be tested like never before as he attempts to preserve Cartagonova’s status as a Primera Liga club. Señor Flatline has spent money and brought many players to the club in the off-season, but again he will rely upon José Manuel Redondo to score the goals and Fernando Couto to hold together the defence. In Paulo Miranda, he potentially has signed the next Juan Veron while plenty of players like Michel, Iulian Filipescu and Rufete have been given second chances by the manager. With a fanatical fan base helping to turn the Estadio Cartagena into a cauldron that most teams fear, Cartagonova’s fate this season may well be determined by its home form.

Celta Vigo’s cup success both in Europe with the UEFA Cup and domestically with the Copa del Rey has not been enough to shift the club above fifth place in the league. But Víctor Fernández has spent more than £20 million on improving the squad, bringing highly regarded players like Andrés Olivera, Quique Ãlvarez, Sharbel Touma and Mattias Asper amongst others. But losing Argentine international Gustavo López is a big blow and his influence and creativity will be missed. Defending the UEFA Cup this season might be a distraction upon the men from Vigo, but surely another top five finish is not beyond the club. Whether they improve upon that is another question.

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Deportivo La Coruña’s pre-season preparations were interrupted by board ructions which saw the old chairman swept away by an alliance led by Pablo Ferrer, who appointed Miguel Casquero as the new manager after Cartagonova’s Señor Flatline turned down the opportunity to manage the 1999/2000 champion. On the brink of bankruptcy even with the funds injected by the new chairman, Deportivo has had to sell many of its highly priced stars like Paolo Montero who left for Ajax for £12.25 million, Roberto Baronio who went to Atalanta for £9 million and Edgar Davids who rejoined Juventus for £16.25 million. The sales netted the club £43 million, some of which has been spent by the new manager, but clearly this season will be a season of rebuilding, and it would be absurd to consider Deportivo a chance for the title. But the triumvirate of Diego Tristán, Roy Makaay and Turu Flores will still cause many defences plenty of problems over the season, while César is an important man in the defence.

Elche has quietly built itself as a solid Primera Liga performer after its promotion from the Segunda Liga in 2002/03. However, Deportivo managed to lure away its manager and his replacement Miguel Rubio has not had much success at Lleida in the last three seasons. Several players were signed by Casquero before he left the club and of those Hélder, the Portuguese international defender, Vladimir Ivic, the Yugoslav midfielder, and Jesper Grønkjær, the Danish winger, will be the most important to Elche’s cause this season. But as always, Elche’s hopes are pinned on the Argentine striker Pedro Guede who remains as prolific as ever.

Paco Flores needs to be rather frugal with his money as Espanyol continues in the shadow of its great cross-town rival Barcelona. But so long as Argentine international Martín Posse remains at the club, Espanyol always has the chance to cause bigger clubs plenty of problems. Mauricio Pochettino starts the season on the sidelines and his future at the club is apparently clouded over a dispute about his wage, but his defensive qualities will be absolutely necessary for the club to survive another season. He will be helped by new man Roberto Ayala, who was signed from Valencia in the summer, but Sietes, who failed to shine at Cartagonova, is a risky investment for Señor Flores.

Extremadura is another promoted club from last season and Andoni Goikoetxea has spent cautiously in attempting to preserve his club’s status as a Primera Liga club. In Håkan Mild, Antonio Mata, and Marco Etcheverry he has brought in plenty of experience but a lot of the responsibility for the goals will come from David Karanka. Full of willing triers, one might believe that Extremadura will struggle to cope with the pressures of top flight football.

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Málaga put the disappointment of relegation in 2001 behind them to win promotion the following season and in 2002/03, finished a creditable ninth. Víctor Ruiz has spent more than £8 million on consolidating his club’s status in the Primera Liga with Turkish international Tayfun and Argentine striker Mauricio López the pick of the transfers into the club. But as usual, Darío Silva, Miguel Angel Zepeda and Ismael will be the players the fans rely upon to bring success to the club. A top ten finish beckons for this club.

The island club Mallorca has like many other clubs this season, splashed the cash in order to bring some success to the club. With the opportunity to play in the UEFA Cup via the Inter-Toto Cup an attractive outcome for Señor Juande Ramos, he spent £10 million in the off-season bringing in players to strengthen an already impressive squad. But as usual Alberto Luque is the man who can bring success to the club with his goals vital to the plans of Señor Ramos. He will continue to be supported by Roberto Losada, the ex Real Oviedo striker. But an aging squad, including Finidi George, Ãñigo Uribarri, José Emilio Amavisca and Carlos Roa are all the wrong side of 30 and are not growing any younger. Still, Mallorca should give other clubs a run for their money this season.

Osasuna escaped relegation by the skin of its teeth on the last day of the last season and it needed to recruit some new players to ensure its survival this season. The club needed Veiga, the former Cartagonova keeper, to be the hero and he certainly was. But the big problem is a lack of firepower, and Señor Miguel Lotina has tried to remedy that by bringing in Oktay, the Turkish international striker, on a Bosman free transfer from Las Palmas and Peruvian international Pablo Zegarra from Salamanca. Still it may not be enough for Osasuna to survive the trap-door for another season having finished the last three seasons in 17th.

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Señor Vincente Del Bosque is in charge of an unhappy squad at Real Madrid and not even capturing the title might save his job after this season. With star players like Raúl, Luis Figo, Fernando Morientes and Alessandro del Piero all unhappy for one reason or the other, squad morale cannot be guaranteed and despite the imposing atmosphere of the Santiago Bernabau stadium, victory in the league is not assured. Yet, surprisingly, Señor Del Bosque has chosen not to strengthen the squad, despite the resources at his disposal. Further, losing players of the calibre of Hierro, so long the beating heart of the capital’s leading club, and Marcel Desailly may not be easily replaceable. This season will be a searching season of the club’s character and a finish outside the top three is certainly foreseeable unless conditions change considerably.

Sporting Gijón is the club that Cartagonova boss Señor Flatline admits he wants to model his club upon. After promotion to the Primera Liga in 2001, Sporting has finished no lower than sixth and has participated in the European Champions’ League. The revenue from the European odyssey has allowed Señor Vicente Cantatore to spend a lot of money building the club’s player resources in the off season with former Valencia and Inter Milan midfielder Francisco Javier Farinós the leading transfer. But Brazilian striker Da Silva is the man who is expected to take the big step this season and become the star player he is clearly capable of becoming. Supported by Martín Rivas and Claude Makelele, Sporting Gijón is a club clearly capable of finishing this season in the top four.

The retirement of Russian icon Alexander Mostovoi has left Marcello Lippi looking for a star striker to fill the breach for Tenerife, promoted to the Primera Liga at the end of last season behind Cartagonova. But the recruitment of Pedro Rafael Ojeda is perhaps not quite what the fans are looking for and the responsibility for scoring the goals will probably be at the feet of Chispa Delgado and Hugo Morales. However, with a defence boasting Federico Lussenhoff and Omar Rodriguez is clearly capable of defending well, and Tenerife should be safe from relegation, at least this season.

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Desperate to break Barcelona, Valencia turned to Guus Hiddink to lead the club to glory, but again it could manage no more than being the bridesmaid in both the European Champions’ League and the Primera Liga, losing the final of the former to its great rival Barcelona and finishing third in the league. Interestingly, Señor Hiddink has chosen not to spend much money in the off-season, bringing in only Israeli international Idan Tal from Strasbourg, Rogério from Real Betis and Fernando Niño from Getafe to the club. But Valencia boasts players like Gaizka Mendieta, Vicente, Hugo Leal and Martín Palermo amongst its numbers and surely this will be the year of Valencia. Won’t it?

It hasn’t been a big spending summer for Villarreal manager Víctor Muñoz, with monetary restrictions putting the brakes on the recruitment. Idrissa Keita should strengthen the defence, while former Badajoz striker, Héctor Andrés Bracamonte should give the forward line some punch. But the midfield will rely heavily upon Walter Gaitán to create the chances for the strikers and another finish in the lower half of the league is not out of the realm of possibility for the club.

Real Zaragoza has spent its money wisely in the summer to recruit players like Hierro, Sixto Peralta, Diego Placente, Djalminha, Iván Rosado and Francisco Javier Jusué from various clubs. With Iván Kaviedes, Juanele and Alen Paternac providing the ammunition up forward and Luis Cartero, Francisco Jusué, Milan Martinovic, Jordi Ferrón stabilising the defence, if Señor Fernando Castro Santos can integrate the signings into the side, Real Zaragoza could be a dark horse for the title.

Señor Dixie Flatline’s predictions:

Top Five:

To be relegated:

Don’t think I would have tipped my club to be relegated this season! icon_biggrin.gif

Keep smiling! icon_smile.gif

Dixie Flatline

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I missed out a team...

One more team! icon_smile.gifReal Vallodolid has been unable to match the spending sprees conducted by other clubs in the summer, bringing in only experienced Argentine defender Hugo Ibarra from Boca Juniors. But there is experience in every position in Francisco Ferraro’s team, and matching its seventh position in the Primera Liga last season is not beyond the ability of the team. Attacking midfielder Christian Colusso is by far Real Vallodolid’s most impressive player and if he creates the chances Rodolfo Bodipo and Juan Antonio Pizzi should be capable of putting them away. In defence, Horacio Carbonari and Bolivian international stalwart Juan Manuel Peña and club captain should allow Señor Ferraro a reasonable feeling of security.

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24th of August 2003

Primera Liga - Game 1: Cartagonova v Sporting Gijón

It starts here. Our fight for survival and the biggest adventure of our lives.

Collymore almost gives us a fairy-tale lead on 2 minutes when he rifles a dipping shot at Bizzarri’s goal, but the Argentine keeper does well to parry it away. A few moments later, Redondo powers a header from Michel’s cross at Sporting’s goal, but Bizzarri dives across and pushes it aside. On 11 minutes, we concede our first goal in the Primera Liga when Madsen takes Farinós’ pass, dribbles through Filipescu before hitting a powerful shot through Vidal’s legs. icon_mad.gif But we’re the better side and when Couto and then Redondo force great saves out of Bizzarri, I think we’re coming closer to that equaliser. But Filipescu tempts fate not once but twice when Sporting believes it has good claims on a penalty for aggressive tackles, yet the referee comes to our aid, ignoring the linesman twice.

At the break I congratulate the players on their sterling first half of Primera Liga football and I tell them that they played a lot better than the scoreline shows. I decide, however, that Collymore should make way for Esnáider, and it turns out to be an inspired substitution. After we withstand some early Sporting pressure, Ballesteros’ cleaerance is superbly controlled by Couto, rolling the years back, before the Portuguese captain passes into the path of Redondo and Redondo lashes it home from 25 yards! icon_smile.gif On 74 minutes, Couto breaks up a Sporting attack by cleanly tackling Lediakhov before finding Esnáider with a defence-splitting pass, and the Argentine gives us the lead with a powerful finish to crown his debut. Then, with 7 minutes to play, Morán administers the death rites to Sporting with a fantastic goal, converting Michel’s good work down the left. Sporting look to fight back, but Vidal holds firm to deny them the goals they need and we celebrate a great first victory in the Primera Liga! icon_biggrin.gif

Cartagonova (4-3-1-2): Vidal; Lacruz, Filipescu, Ãlvarez, Ballesteros; Michel, Couto ©, Rufete; Morán; Redondo, Collymore (Esnáider 46).

Sporting Gijón (5-2-1-2): Bizzarri; Brandán (Martín 84), Rivarola, Rivas, Ettien, Mario (Otero 90); Barselleta, Farinós; Lediakhov ©; Calderón (Rubén 60), Madsen.

Final score: Cartagonova 3:1 Sporting Gijón

MoM - Fernando Couto

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In two previous seasons at the club, Fernando Couto had made no more than three goals, but in one match in the Primera Liga he creates two! The board is understandably delighted, as am I, and we end the weekend in third position on the ladder, although the Real Federacion Española De Futbol (otherwise known simply as the Spanish FA) decrees that the first round should be played over two weekends, so only half the sides actually played this weekend!

Iván Vidal and Fernando Couto are selected in the team of the week’s starting eleven.

A 1-0 victory in Bilbao doesn’t prevent Celta Vigo claiming the Spanish Super Cup 4-2 on aggregate.

25th of August 2003

Moving into the Primera Liga obviously increases the media’s attention on the club and it already starts. I’m shown several newspaper reports by my trusty sidekick, Luis Sosa, about the future of Stan Collymore. They say he is homesick and that he is already negotiating through English agents about a return to Great Britain. I try to deny the matter to the press in a series of telephone calls to the various journalists writing these stories, but of course when there is even a little smoke there must be a fire and not even the most hysterical of blanket-waving can extinguish these flames.

I’m approached by a representative of the official supporters’ club asking me whether the revelations of Collymore’s unhappiness living in the area are true. I’m almost tempted to tell him that I really don’t like the town all that much either and I don’t blame Stan “the Man†for seeking to live somewhere more hospitable, but I grit my teeth and pretend that Stan is absolutely fine living in his one-room apartment (only kidding, it also has a bathroom/kitchen/entertainment room all rolled into one!).

Then I get the dreaded call from the chairman, Señor Manzano, who tells me he is disappointed that our Stanley isn’t settling into the area as we would have liked. Well, considering that Stan has been here for three seasons and has played the most league games out of anybody at the club, I think it’s a bit late now to reconsider whether we should have signed the guy in the first place! Don’t you? icon_biggrin.gif

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26th of August 2003

Málaga’s manager Víctor Ruiz interrupts my time of contemplation and meditation right before breakfast to offer me £400,000 for Misrad Hibic. I’m like a bear when I wake up - a real mean, angry bear who doesn’t like to be annoyed by idiotic people wasting their time on lost causes. Get my drift? icon_smile.gificon_wink.gif

Before I can close my eyes and return to blissful sleep, Hércules’ big boss-man Yosu Ortuondo thinks he can tempt me with a nice round bid of £1 million for Iván Vidal. Keep dreaming, mate, like I wish I was!

28th of August 2003

Big transfers are the talk of the town today with Feyenoord splashing the cash to bring Clarence Seedorf back to Holland from Inter Milan in a move costing £24.5 million. José Mari leaves AC Milan in a deal worth £6.75 million, joining Germany’s Borussia Dortmund.

29th of August 2003

Matías Almeyda joins the big-name transfers by moving from Parma to Juventus for £10.5 million.

30th of August 2003

It is international match day today and Fernando Couto makes a triumphant return to the Portuguese national side in its demolition of Andorra 4-1 in Lisbon this afternoon. He wasn’t a star so he might not be selected again. In European Championship qualifiers, Iulian Filipescu tried his hardest, but a penalty converted by Heidar Helguson on 53 minutes allowed Iceland to sink Romania in Reykjavik. It’s an even worse afternoon for Misrad Hibic as Switzerland overcame the early set-back of a Muslimovic goal on 3 minutes to defeat Bosnia 2-1 and the defender was injured on 28 minutes. Hibic is diagnosed has suffering strained ankle ligaments.

In other internationals, Russia thrashed 4 past Moldova in a 4-1 victory in Moskva, Holland took it easy on San Marino 2-0 in Serravalle. Not even a virtuoso performance from Ryan Giggs could save Wales from losing 3-2 to Georgia in Tbilisi. Greece and Northern Ireland drew 0-0 in Athens, while Malta almost caused the upset of the weekend as Iván De la Peña rescued Spain with a 76th minute goal to salvage a point in 2-2 draw. That allowed Norway to sneak away with a 2-0 victory over Albania in Oslo.

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia provided the upset of the day defeating Denmark 3-1 in Skopje. Scotland’s 3-0 victory over Armenia in Glasgow allowed the Scots to move to within 3 points of Denmark at the top of Group 5. A brace from Henrik Larsson allowed Sweden to defeat Israel 2-1 in Stockholm. In Group 7, Ireland’s Robbie Keane’s 10th minute goal was enough to defeat Belarus. Cyprus dented Belgium’s qualification hopes by drawing with Belgium 2-2.

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2nd of September 2003

David Ãlvarez is picked for the Spanish U-21 side’s 1-1 draw with Norway. Ironically, Norway’s equaliser is scored by transfer target Per Vener Rønning through a penalty.

3rd of September 2003

Iulian Filipescu couldn’t stop why Romania from losing 3-2 to Germany in Bucharest as not even Viorel Moldovan’s late goal could stop Romania dropping another three points. In fact, Romania threw away a 1-0 lead at half-time as Oliver Neuville and Fredi Bobic scored the goals. Holland defeated Russia 3-1 in Amsterdam, leaving Russia and Slovenia to slug it out for the runners-up spot in Group 2 in a month’s time after Slovenia thrashed San Marino 4-0 in Ljubljana.

4th of September 2003

Good news as Ghanaian international full-back Stephen Tetteh rejects the terms offered by four other clubs, including Portuguese club Salgueiros, to agree terms with us. He joins just before Christmas 2003. I’m fairly excited about this deal because he is a strong, powerful defender with the ability to dive into the tackle and also distribute the ball well out of defence. Moving to Cartagonova should allow him to add to his collection of 9 international caps for Ghana.

5th of September 2003

I’m informed by the Spanish FA that we will travel to Toledo to play the town’s side for a spot in the second round of the Copa del Rey. But that’s a fair way off and to tell you the truth, I don’t think a good run in the cup is great for the club’s focus on Primera Liga survival. But it at least gets the fans going and playing a D2B club, we should at least move into the second round.

[b10th of September 2003[/b]

Yves Baré is a man that many clubs would like to poach as a scout. The latest is Mallorca who wants to tempt the Belgian to scout for the resort club. I, of course, don’t really care about the £80,000 compensation we would be due if he does agree terms with Mallorca, but I guess the increase in the player wages must carry over to my back-room staff. I only wish it could carry over to me, because as far as I know, I’m not really being compensated for all my hard work! icon_mad.gif Anyhoo, I offer him a new contract with an improved wage packet (by about £400/week) in order to appeal to his loyalty to the man who gave him a start in this business.

12th of September 2003

Just two days before our next match with Real Vallodolid, I lose Fernando Morán to a strained neck for up to a fortnight. On the up-side, that allows me to pencil in Pablo Miranda’s name for a debut against Vallodolid at home next Sunday.

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13th of September 2003

Yves Baré, back in town for a moment or two while on his European scouting mission, signs on the dotted line on an improved contract. Mallorca’s interest suddenly goes away, just like that.

14th of September 2003

Primera Liga - Game 2: Cartagonova v Real Vallodolid

Three weeks after our first match in the Primera Liga, we finally get back onto the park. With Morán out of the side, the home crowd gets their first look at new boy Miranda. And the Argentine is instrumental in creating the first goal for Redondo after just five minutes. His cross is powered into the net by the striker and I’m ecstatic, as is the majority of the crowd! icon_biggrin.gif Things become even rosier when danger man Christian Colusso is forced off the field after 11 minutes. Even the referee takes our side when he rules out Bodipo’s equaliser on 23 minutes for off-side against the Vallodolid striker. We then play havoc with the Vallodolid defence but we cannot convert the opportunities before the break.

Into the second half after an encouraging team talk at the break, my players continue to create the chances but my strikers cannot convert them. icon_mad.gif That is until Couto launches a long ball into the box where Rufete surges into the box to head home the Portuguese’s pass! icon_smile.gif He almost repeats the trick a minute later when he can only shoot Redondo’s pass into the hands of César. But when Lacruz and Michel combine to set up the winger on 73 minutes, he doesn’t miss the third time! We’re toying with our opponents now, the crowd completely on our side. But we lose our concentration in the final minute of play and Bodipo catches us out.

Cartagonova (4-3-1-2): Vidal; Lacruz, Filipescu, Ãlvarez, Balleteros; Michel, Couto ©, Rufete; Miranda; Redondo, Collymore.

Real Vallodolid (4-1-2-1-2): César; Marcos, Garcia Calvo, Peña ©, Ibarra; Gómez (Vicente 55); Zapata (Doriva 91), Sales; Colusso (Ciric 11); Guerrero, Bodipo.

Final score: Cartagonova 3:1 Real Vallodolid

MoM - Rufete

The victory moves us into second place, behind Real Zaragoza on goal difference. Rufete is named in the starting eleven for the team of the week, while Lacruz and Filipescu make the bench.

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21st of September 2003

Primera Liga - Game 3: Extremadura v Cartagonova

After a relatively quiet week where we concentrated on training and ensuring that all our ploys work to perfection, we travel to Almendralejo to play perennial rival Extremadura. In two previous seasons’ worth of games, nothing had separated us, but I think we’ve done better in the transfer department. Redondo almost sets us on our way when he jumps high to meet Collymore’s cross, but Mata does enough to put him off. Then on 25 minutes, José Lacruz needs to come off the pitch complaining about an injury. I set the physios to work upon him, while Ismael makes his way across to the left-back position. But when Morán, back in the side after missing last week with injury, feeds Redondo, the skilful striker skips past the challenge of Luis López and fires the shot past Ronny Gaspercic on 27 minutes! Right before half time, the same combination works again with Morán nutmegging Mild and Etcheverry before crossing into the box. Gaspercic is slow to come out off his line and Redondo smashes the header past the Belgian keeper! icon_biggrin.gif It’s a brilliant way to end the half, and I tell the players that they’re doing remarkably well.

Extremadura’s players have been fired up at the break and they come out breathing fire in the second half. When Iván sidles his way past Couto and centres the ball for Lobo, the striker drives a rasping shot past Vidal and our lead is slashed to 2-1. Collymore hasn’t yet scored in the Primera Liga, but he almost does on 60 minutes when Morán feeds him only to see Gaspercic turn his shot away athletically. We control the rest of the play, not letting Extremadura have another sighter of Vidal’s goal and even Couto has a shot saved deep into the match!

Our perfect start is preserved and next weekend we host Barcelona! icon_smile.gif

Extremadura (5-3-2): Gaspercic; Berges, Mata, López ©, Sanz, Zandoná; Etcheverry (Francisco 63), Iván, Mild; Lobo, Karanka.

Cartagonova (4-1-2-1-2): Vidal; Lacruz (Ismael 25), Filipescu, Ãlvarez, Ballesteros; Couto ©; Michel, Rufete; Morán; Redondo, Collymore.

Final score: Extremadura 1:2 Cartagonova

MoM - José Manuel Redondo

Redondo is on the team of the week’s bench after his great effort in defeating Extremadura.

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26th of September 2003

Another quiet week on the training track in preparation for our huge weekend match with Barcelona is illuminated as we sign up exciting Spanish U-21 international midfielder Francisco Ãlvarez for three years. I think he has come along pretty well since he was invited to train with the first team at the start of the season and that he deserves the contract.

28th of September 2003

“… We hope you’ve marked today’s date down in the calendar, fans of Cartagonova, for today your team takes on Barcelona, the biggest club in all of Spain. The surprise leader of the Primera Liga has the opportunity to cause the biggest upset in many a long year in front of their fanatical supporter base at the Estadio Municipal de Cartagena which shall be full to overflowing. It seems remarkable that Señor Flatline has pulled together a mish-mash of young players and players rejected by other clubs and moulded them into a team that seems capable of taking on anybody in the division. But today will by far be their biggest test and it’s one that even Señor Flatline is not confident they will pass. After all, Barcelona has talent in every position and in Patrick Kluivert, the club has the best striker in the world.â€

“We have just been handed the teamsheets by the two managers and I think that Señor Lorenzo Serra Ferrer has sprung a surprise this afternoon with Kluivert being forced to play up-front by himself and he has left Rivaldo on the bench in favour of his young compatriot Thiago Motta who is given his first team debut today. In fact, Barcelona seems to adopt a very defensive formation with a flat-back four, three defensive midfielder strung across their defensive third, and two attacking midfielders, Luis Enrique and Motta, supporting Kluivert. On the other hand, Señor Flatline has decided to remain with his tried and true formation…â€

Except that I change the tactics slightly. We don’t normally play the off-side trap but with Kluivert needing to work by himself, I think that he will be itching to play off the shoulder of our defender and hope to bring in Enrique and Motta into the play. I want to counter that by pushing my defenders as far forward as possible so that it makes it more difficult to get in behind the defence and attack Vidal. And it works. on 16 minutes, Enrique passes the ball into the area for Kluivert but the whistle goes and while the Dutch international completes the formality of putting the ball into the net it is immediately ruled out for off-side.

Filipescu’s free kick is picked up by Collymore and the Englishman moves forward looking for options. He finds his strike partner Redondo lurking with intent and the strong forward keeps a hold of the ball waiting for the cavalry to arrive. It comes in the unlikely form of Couto, making huge strides from midfield, and after 17 minutes into the fourth match of the season, he has his first goal ever for the club! And what a time to score it, against Barcelona! icon_biggrin.gif It doesn’t need Serra Ferrer to jump up and down on the touch-line for Barcelona’s players to figure out they should attack us. And we’re under the pump for a while, but thankfully inaccurate finishing from Kluivert preserves our lead and when Morán finds himself in space, his shot strikes the post. icon_frown.gif It seems to be Kluivert against the world as the Dutchman is doing fantastically to fashion for himself chances, but with four defenders constantly milling around him, not even he can find the time to strike accurately and we reach the break with our lead intact.

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A quick, buoyant team talk is followed by Couto having a few words and then we leave the players to themselves to think about the potential glory that may await at the end of the next 45 minutes. The officials call us out for the start of the second half and I can see a tense Serra Ferrer having a few last minute words of encouragement for his team. Personally, I think he should change formation, but I’m not about to give free advice to my opponent! icon_biggrin.gif But when Ballesteros dispossesses Motta only to see the ball roll to the feet of Gerard and the midfielder sets up Enrique just five minutes into the second half, I think our lead has disappeared. Yet, we’re saved by the linesman’s flag! I could kiss him! icon_cool.gif

I watch the clock tick slowly through every minute anxiously as Barcelona continues to pile on the pressure on Vidal, who is doing a sterling job. Filipescu is doing his best to protect the young keeper, but the attacks keep coming from all directions. But Barcelona can’t crack our resistance and when we sling together that one perfect move that puts the ball at the feet of Collymore, his trademark rocket launches into the back of Dutruel’s net and we’re suddenly 2-0 to the good with just 13 minutes to play! icon_biggrin.gificon_cool.gificon_eek.gif Barcelona continues to throw everything at us, but to no avail and the crowd is singing the name of every player on our side at the end of the 90 minutes!

Cartagonova (4-3-1-2): Vidal; Ismael, Filipescu, Ãlvarez, Ballesteros; Michel, Couto ©, Rufete; Morán; Redondo, Collymore.

Barcelona (5-3-2-1): Dutruel; Sergi, De Boer, Paz, Thuram; Xavi, Guardiola ©, Gerard (Rivaldo 80); Enrique, Motta (Dani 75); Kluivert.

Final score: Cartagonova 2:0 Barcelona

MoM - Iván Vidal

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But Real Madrid’s massive 5-1 victory over Elche at the Bernabau stadium pushes it to the top of the ladder after the fourth game of the season on goal difference from us. We are the only two clubs to have taken maximum points from all four games so far.

As you might imagine, Vidal makes it to the select team of the week. It was a performance that must surely draw the attention of bigger clubs (like Barcelona, I suppose) and also the national boss. I’m extremely happy with what I consider to be our best performance of the season, although we did enjoy a large slice of luck. I congratulate each player personally on their individual contribution to a great team effort, but Vidal, Couto, Redondo and Collymore are especially congratulated for their efforts. Surprisingly, the board considers itself pleased with the result. Obviously I’m imposing too much of a high standard on myself! icon_biggrin.gif

Here is the ladder after 4 matches in the season:

Keep smiling! icon_smile.gif

Dixie Flatline

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Wow, great start!

Actually, I'm not that surprised, I really liked some of your summer pick-ups, e.g. Rufete and Esnaider.

I can see you're promising that this thread will be the last one for a while. I hope that doesn't mean you will leave Cartagena after this season?. Many fans, including me, would be disappointed.

And thanx for crediting me for the team run-downs, but I'd like to point out I took the idea from Okkas myself.

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Thanks to one and all!

Yes, thank you all indeed-y for your words of high praise. I bow my head in modesty! icon_wink.gif Hopefully we can keep it up, but speaking realistically, we've surprised a few and once they've worked us out, we'll slip up.

Also, thanks Tricky Winger for putting me on the right track. I tip my hat to Okkas for his good idea. icon_smile.gif



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The fall-out from Barcelona's defeat at the hands of Cartagonova

“... Cartagonova continues to defy the odds. Everybody marvelled as the little club from the south of Spain recorded three straight victories to kick off its Primera Liga campaign. But when the fixture list brought the giant Barcelona to the Estadio Municipal de Cartagena, all the experts and pundits agreed that the run would finish here for Señor Flatline and his brave players. But to everybody’s amazement and the home crowd’s delight, Cartagonova’s players defied the odds and notched up the biggest scalp in its short time in the top flight. Barcelona’s strangely negative tactics and poor finishing denied it the opportunity to really challenge Cartagonova’s defenders, but credit where credit is due, as Iván Vidal turned in a virtuoso performance to stop Barcelona pegging back Cartagonova’s lead. When the referee finally blew his whistle, Señor Flatline was obviously the most happy man on the pitch, congratulating each player individually as one of the most memorable matches in the history of the Primera Liga was laid to rest in the history books.â€

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Following the weekend’s matches, the first manager’s head hits the chopping block and it is Atlético Madrid’s president Señor Jesús Gil acts as the hangman by firing his manager Señor Asier De la Cruz. He barely lasted seven months in the job! icon_smile.gif

1st of October 2003

Primera Liga - Game 5: Tenerife v Cartagonova

Just three days after our famous victory over Barcelona, I need to raise the players for another big effort against fellow promoted club Tenerife, who is currently struggling in 19th position. As I noted in the club previews, Señor Lippi seems to have lost his cheque book because his three signings in the summer have all been Bosman transfers, including goalkeeper José Ceballos from Racing Santander, Numancia’s Argentine striker Pedro Rafael Ojeda and ex-Fiorentina midfielder Fabio Rossitto. To worsen things for the ice-cool manager, star striker Chispa Delgado has fallen out with the club and is on the definite outer, looking for a transfer away from the Islas de Canarias. Losing Mostovoi to retirement was bad enough for Señor Lippi, but things have just gone from bad to worse.

Not that there is any such sentiment for my compadre who must be feeling the pressure. I’m bringing my players to make an impact here and continue our unbelievably wonderful run of form. I give Rufete and Michel the night off and introduce Paulo Miranda and the forgotten man, Gustavo Cañizares to the starting eleven. My defenders are asked to tightly mark Ojeda and Pier, the Tenerife captain, while I’m looking to my full-backs to curb the influence of playmaker Hugo Morales. But things become very easy when after just six minutes, Collymore is in the thick of it. Trading the one-two’s with Miranda and Redondo, he bursts his way into the box before landing a telling shot past Ceballos! icon_biggrin.gif Then on 18 minutes, the Englishman forces Ceballos into dropping a stinging drive and it falls into the path of Morán. The midfielder thunders the rebound in off the post and we’re 2-0 to the good! With my defenders doing their jobs well, we consistently outmuscle Tenerife and set up further opportunities which are not converted later in the half.

But it’s a relaxed and happy team talk at the break, with the players trading jokes and high-fiving each other. Once again, there isn’t much to say to them, because they’re walking the talk out there on the pitch. My thoughts stray to Señor Lippi, with whom I’ve developed a good friendship, but I have to remain focused, so everybody gets an encouraging pat on the shoulder as we’re called into action. After the first half, where Tenerife couldn’t even fashion half a chance on Vidal’s goal, I expected them to come out breathing fire, but to my relief, my players continue to control the match. It takes them to the 60th minute mark to finally threaten but my defence does well to put the strikers off their stride. I make a substitution on 67 minutes, with the disappointing Cañizares making way to Oliver (Miranda swaps to the right side). We earn our third goal with a penalty awarded against David Charcos for a push on Redondo, and the striker himself easily converts the opportunity. Collymore and Ãlvarez almost add to the scoreline later in the match, but we’re extremely pleased with the 3-0 victory on the road! icon_smile.gificon_cool.gif

Tenerife (4-4-2): Ceballos; Javi López, Moisés (David Charcos 61), Lussenhoff, Zé Maria; Hugo Morales, Torrado (Juan Luis 67), Rossitto, Nan Ribera (Dani 52); Ojeda, Pier ©.

Cartagonova (4-1-2-1-2): Vidal (Moso 87); Ismael, Filipescu, Ãlvarez, Ballesteros; Couto ©; Miranda, Cañizares (Oliver 67); Morán; Redondo, Collymore.

Final score: Tenerife 0:3 Cartagonova

MoM - Fernando Morán

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As you might have picked up, Vidal is injured late in the match and when the physios get to work upon him in the dressing rooms, they come up with a serious diagnosis. He apparently managed to twist his knee lunging for a cross and will miss up to three weeks of football. That gives Moso and Arnau the chance to impress me.

Speaking of impressed, my mobile phone goes off as soon as I’m in the bus to the airport to go back to the mainland and it’s the representative of the board of directors. They are extremely delighted with the result, and they should be because Real Madrid’s 1-1 upset draw with 16th-placed Espanyol leaves us the only team to have taken full points from the first five matches of the season. It’s a start that is even astonishing me! icon_biggrin.gif

We have a bit of a break until our next match. It is 18 days until we host Celta Vigo at the Estadio Municipal de Cartagena. Speaking of Celta Vigo, it went down to Barcelona on penalties in the European Super Cup played in Monaco. A disappointing crowd of 18,482 saw both clubs hammer each other over the period of 120 minutes, but they couldn’t break the deadlock. In the end, two missed penalties by Sergio and Sergio (I’m not kidding here. Celta has two Sergios on its books) decided the game in Barcelona’s favour.

Back in Cartegana in the early hours of Thursday morning, I yawn and check the messages. The board has left me one. They are very pleased with my general performance as manager. Hmm. If they are willing to tell me when they’re happy by the phone (in fact, an answering machine), I wonder what will happen if I fail to live up to their expectations in the future? Also, they still think that Couto should not be a part of the team any longer. Well, the last time I checked, I’m still the poor sod picking the eleven players who go out and represent their precious club and as part of my job description, I’ll pick the eleven players who I think will succeed. If that number includes Couto, then they’ll have to find a way to deal with it.

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3rd of October 2003

Francisco Ãlvarez plays the first half in Spain U-21’s 3-0 victory over Albania U-21. He didn’t do very much. Oh well. He’s only 17 and he’s still learning the fundamentals of his craft. What more can you expect?

4th of October 2003

Today is the day of the final group matches for qualification for the European Championship and several big reputations are on the line. In Group 1, Germany and the Ukraine celebrated their automatic qualification with victories over Luxembourg (3-0) and Iceland (3-2) respectively. Holland completed the clean sweep of Group 2 with a 2-1 victory over Moldova to end the qualification phase with ten wins from ten matches. Giovanni van Bronckhurst and Roy Makaay scored the goals for the Orange Shirts. Russia edged past Slovenia to earn a play-off place with a 2-1 victory over its Eastern European rival in Moskva. Georgia topped Group 3 on goal difference from Poland as Georgia defeated Lithuania 3-1 in Vilnius. Disappointing Yugoslavia defeated Wales 2-0 in Belgrade, but both countries will merely be spectators next summer. As a result of this enforced holiday, the Yugoslav FA relieved Bora Milutonovic of his position.

Spain finished second behind Norway who earned direct qualification. The Spaniards will have to fight Switzerland for the qualification to the championship. Spain defeated Albania 2-1 in Tirane, while Norway easily accounted for Northern Ireland 3-0 in Oslo. Denmark finished a point clear of Croatia in Group 5 after the Croats threw away all three points against Armenia, as they conceded an injury-time equaliser in Split. Scotland and FYROM shared the points in a meaningless 2-2 draw in Skopje. Gordon Strachan was immediately fired after the final qualifier. Ex St. Johnstone striker Kiegan Parker, now of Spurs, scored a brace on his debut.

The Czech Republic ran away with qualification from Group 6, winning 7 out of 8 games, including a 2-0 victory over Latvia in Riga. Austria earned the right to play Russia with a 3-1 win over Israel in Vienna. In Group 7, Italy and Ireland earned automatic qualification. The Azzurri finished eight points clear of the Irish, while Ireland finished above Belgium on superior goal difference. Belarus, Cyprus and the Faroe Isles were the makeweights in the group. Belarus drew 1-1 with Belgium in Minsk. Ireland comfortably defeated the Faeroe Isles at Landsdowne Road 3-0, while Italy did it even easier against Cyprus, defeating their opponents 4-0.

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Roy Hodgson’s sorry time at the helm of England looks set to end after the Three Lions finished second-last in Group 8. To make matters worse, they lost their last qualifying match 2-1 against Estonia in Tallinn, despite Manchester United’s Noel Whelan giving his country the lead. A surprise loss to Slovakia saw Finland surrender the opportunity to top the group, with Bulgaria finishing a point clear. However, both countries automatically qualify. In Group 9, Jean Tigana’s reign as manager of France seems set to end after Les Bleus missed out on qualification for the tournament they won three years ago. Despite boasting players of the calibre like Lilian Thuram, Zinedine Zidane and David Trezeguet, they finished fourth behind automatic qualifier Turkey, who celebrated with a 2-1 victory over Bosnia, and Switzerland, who finished in second and plays Spain in the play-off. France defeated Azerbaijan 4-2 in Paris, but it was too little, too late.

The automatic qualifiers:

Portugal (host nation), Czech Republic, Italy, Holland, Georgia, Norway, Denmark, Bulgaria, Turkey, Germany, the Ukraine, Ireland and Finland.

The play-offs (to be played on the 8th of November 2003 and 12th of November 2003):

Croatia v Poland

Russia v Austria

Spain v Switzerland.

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8th of October 2003

A good young Argentine defender by the name of Marcelo Moya has caught my eye and after Racing makes a bid for him, I feel that the time is ripe to also throw my hat into the ring. Eventually my bid is accepted, and I make a pitch to him about joining the Primera Liga and more particularly Cartagonova. I’ll keep you updated on how we go with this player.

10th of October 2003

It takes Moya a couple of days to make up his mind, but I’m happy to announce via press release that the Argentine defender will join the club from the 15th of December for £400,000. From the scouting reports and the videos that I’ve seen of him, I can tell you all that he is versatile and can play anywhere across my favoured flat-back four, while his strength and tackling ability makes him a formidable defender. His capacity to set up attacks with his strong passing ability should also add value for money. Perhaps a future Argentine international, but that may be a little optimistic, given the quality already in the Argentine national squad.

With money beginning to erode thanks to the big pay packets some of the players enjoy, I decide that a few of the fringe players like Magno and Misrad Hibic should be placed on the transfer list. I consult with my backroom staff and they reluctantly agree with me, although they consider both players to still have a future at the club. Well, I don’t, and they’re taking up valuable wages that could be put to better use. I put out the press releases late on Friday evening, but the media latches onto the story, immediately linking Dutch club AZ, Uruguayan club Defensor Sporting and Portugal’s Académica with Magno. Hibic attracts interest from TeBe Berlin, Vélez Sarsfield and NK Zagreb.

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