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Bill Belichick's Serie A Adventure (An FMM story)


Vossenoren
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My name is Bill Belichick. Some of you may confuse me for the greatest football coach of all time. Some of you may think that when I say the greatest football coach of all time, I am talking about a fictional person. I can see why, because Bill Belichick is the greatest American Football coach of all time. He, also, is not me. I am just a nobody using his name. And I coach what the rest of the world calls football, and what my countrymen call soccer. However, I do want to be exactly like him, complete with unparalleled success.

 

We pick up the story at the start of my sixth year as a manager at my current club. My first foray into management was not really worth mentioning, so we won’t. Mention it. Any further. 

 

All that matters is, I was given my chance at unparalleled success on a wet Thursday afternoon, while I was in my office in Boston. When I say my office, I meant the one-bedroom flat I was renting, and when I say Boston, I mean Boston, Lincolnshire. I had no particular ties to Lincolnshire, but Belichick (the real one) works in the greater Boston area for the New England Patriots, so Boston, England made sense after my time in Germany which is not being mentioned, and a railway ticket is cheaper than airfare back Stateside. No matter, the call came from Italy. Fermo, to be exact, a pretty small town on the Adriatic Coast, of which I got a pretty good view taking the train on the way from Porto San Giorgio. Fermana FC were in trouble: dead last in the Serie C/B with ten games to play, a squad full of loan players, and no money. The board decided that, given the level of quality managers they could attract locally, they’d take a YOLO-type shot on a young American with a vaguely Slavic name (which, coincidentally, meant nothing to them).

 

Now, if you finish last in the Serie C, you go down automatically. All they wanted from me was to strengthen the squad, which to me sounded like relegation might be a real possibility and possibly what they were expecting. Fast forward to the end of the season and, thanks to a fair string of results, I managed to go up two places and finish 18th to force a playoff, which we managed to win. As my idol does, I believe in a defense-first system. With the players I had, and the improvements I made over the following five seasons, I designed a formation and system which successfully managed to keep the door shut at the back, allowing less than a goal a game, while the development of talented young players and a few savvy vets saw us steadily climb the table, finishing 10th in 21/22, 2nd the following year, before back to back 1st place finishes sent us from the C/B to the Serie A in two years. All that, however, is in the past, and now we find ourselves in the big time. The super-talented squad which took the lower divisions by storm has now been measured, weighed, and found wanting by my staff. Not to mention the fact that the meteoric rise of previously unknown Fermana had attracted the attention of clubs around the country and indeed the continent, and a number of the players who made that rise possible were poached away (and there is also the fact that my former top scorer is now my scout). 

 

The board, ever courageous, indicated that they expect us to battle bravely against relegation, and looking at the team report that my staff had handed me, I could not muster anything other than agreement. This unlike last year, when, fresh into the Serie B, I guaranteed that we’d stay up (and was stunned to find that we were good enough to win the whole thing). I knew then that we had talent, and that our players would likely blossom in the new environment. I had no indication that the same would be the case in the Serie A. Players that my assistants had previously described as gifted and superb were now too slow, too weak, and too stupid. So for the first time, I decided it was time to spend some of the money that the club had earned by selling the stars of our team. The staff indicated that our main weaknesses were all in defensive midfield, with subpar wingbacks and no dominant anchor man. Thus, I brought in Claud Adjapong, a 27 year old Italian right wingback, once a prodigy at Sassuolo, where he never managed to break through, despite several appearances for Italy’s U21 side. Adjapong had been sold for a pretty penny to Club Brugge; I paid eight and three quarter million Pounds for his services, almost quadrupling their investment. My scouts assured me that he would provide an injection of pace on the wing, while he has no appreciable weaknesses. Once he got to Fermo, this proved to be an accurate description, and it soon became clear that he was a good sight better than the rotating threesome we’d had there before. Next came Spanish left wingback Javi Lopez, a 23-year old former U21 international who could not break into the Alaves setup and had just last year lit up the Scottish Premier League for Kilmarnock. Another pacey player, with good defensive pedigree, and again proved to be an immediate improvement, for only seven and a half million Pounds. The third and final purchase was Lecce’s Sergio Maselli, a long-term member of their first team despite only being 24, who may have been a liability in the air, but brought a host of attributes that I valued highly, including decision making and a good attitude. He is also an upgrade over our aging anchor man Taffertshofer, and good enough to be a front runner at a position where we have a lot of young up-and-comers. 

 

As I mentioned above, I believe in defense first. My tactical system began its life as a 5-3-2 with two wingbacks and two ball winning midfielders, playing on the counter with my pacey and undersized forwards. As the players at my disposal got better, and my opposition seemingly did not, I frequently found myself struggling to score, with too many defensive-minded players with nothing to do, and one of my defenders ultimately became a defensive midfielder, sweeping up runs in the midfield and protecting my back two. This allowed me to outnumber the opponent in midfield, and eventually we switched from counterattacking to control. Now, one of my midfielders is a shadow striker, and the current system is a 2-3-2-1-2. Initially, in the Serie B, I had planned to go back to the counter, but the system worked too well as it was, and so I kept it. I plan to do the same in the Serie A, unless forced to do otherwise.

 

Like my namesake, I value hard work, good decision making, and people who will do their jobs. I can’t stand to watch players beat themselves, I can’t stand giving away points, and I can’t stand paying more than I have to in order to get what I want. I believe in getting rid of players before they become a liability, and I would rather get rid of someone a year too soon than a year too late. I believe in taking someone that no one has heard of before and making them look so good that someone else can’t wait to (over)pay them (and me). Of course, there are several differences between the Football and football, and one of them is squad size, and another of them is finances. In the NFL, your team can have only 53 players, and all the wages are paid by the league, and your team has a salary cap. In the NFL, there are 22 starters (11 on offense and 11 on defense, as well as a designated kicker and a designated punter). Thus, squad places are at a premium, and developing a young player is a much higher risk than it is in our beautiful game. However, there are plenty of lessons to apply from Big Bill, and I assure you I will tell you about them on the way.  

 

So, now you know where we came from, and where we are today: In the Serie A, expected to get massacred on a weekly basis, with players who are suddenly expected to be wildly out of their depth. In a small town on the Adriatic coast, with a stadium that will hold a mere fifteen thousand and which, until two years ago, never saw more than a thousand. The expectations are low, the hopes are low, and the team’s reputation is low, though at least the bank account is very much full. Let us embark on my Serie A adventure.

 

Edited by Vossenoren
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Stage one - August and September

 

August, for me, is always a very busy time of year. The preseason starts, cup competitions fire up, and the new league season looms on the horizon. In my office, a real office, in Fermo, Italy, I have a giant wall-sized magnet board covering each of the four walls. On the wall facing me, there are magnets with writing on them, each with the name of one of the players on the books at Fermana FC. The wall is divided into three broad sections: First Team, Reserves, and On Loan. At the start of August, all the names have a chance to end up in either of the first two sections, and by the end of August, a big share of them will have ended up in the third. I don’t believe in loaning players, I never have. I think it is stupid to pay for the privilege of sharpening someone else’s tools. I do believe in loaning out players. I positively love having other clubs pay my wage bill and sending me back players who are better than they were when they left. Few things bring me greater joy in this beautiful job, managing the beautiful game. By the end of August, 20 players had been sent out on loan, leaving 58 at the club divided between the first team and reserves. Back in the Serie C days, those numbers would have been reversed, but Serie A and B players are pickier about where they let themselves get sent, and rightly so. 

 

One player, a 20-year old German midfielder named Erick Paul, seemingly attracted loan offers from half the teams in Germany, but he shot them all down until I finally gave up and took him off the loan list. He’d had three previous loan spells since we’d snapped him up in 2022, each more successful than the last, culminating in his being named the Serie C/A player of the year last season with Pergolettese. Still a raw prospect, whom my staff now rated as potentially decent in the future (as opposed to last year when they thought he’d be a star, Serie A standards you know), it seemed a bold move to insist on staying at the club, but who knows if it will pan out.

 

Our first encounter with a Serie A club this year would be Lazio in the season opener. By some strange coincidence, they are also the only Serie A club I had ever coached against in the past (not counting fellow Serie B promotees Torino), losing a cup tie at the Stadio Olimpico in a respectable 1-0 loss. It would have to wait, however, as our first competitive game would be a third round qualifier for the Italian Cup against Lecce, a team that had proven a tough opponent in the Serie B just a season ago. The bookies were actually on Lecce’s side, despite our home advantage, but the bookies hadn’t had a good look yet at Jonah Kaltner, a supremely talented German shadow striker, who’d just turned 19 that summer. A dead ball expert with pace and power, intelligence, and a silky touch, Kaltner opened the scoring before Lecce had even touched the ball, calmly finishing after a clever one-two and leaving the goalkeeper to scoop the ball out of his own net. Not too long before halftime, he repeated the feat in the exact same way, and despite grabbing a goal back, Lecce went home 3-1 losers.

 

Lazio proved that last year’s result had not been a fluke, and despite a valiant effort that kept the score close after Raul Moro had opened the game for Lazio as Kaltner had done for us in the game prior, before we’d ever even put foot to leather, Simone Palombi ultimately sent us packing east from Rome with a 2-0 defeat in our pockets. A week later, we’d host Sampdoria, a club on the rise, who in the past six years had gone from bottom feeders to European hopefuls. We ground out a useful and totally respectable 0-0 draw against them, which left the eleven and a half thousand fans in attendance (and both goalkeepers) fast asleep, with only 8 shots in the game, and only a single save required, but it got us our first Serie A point, and gave me the feeling that perhaps we were not as badly out of our depth as had been suggested at the start of the season. 

 

Veteran striker and club captain Nuha Marong, now 32, a big and powerful Gambian with 35 caps and 7 international goals to his name, managed to save our bacon in the game that followed against Genoa. Marong signed for us on a Bosman from Fenerbahce three seasons ago when I needed a veteran with leadership abilities, and over those three years has blessed us with 36 goals in 82 appearances. Now, on the downslope of his career, he will probably see himself phased out over this season and possibly the next, but when we found ourselves 1-0 down after a half-hour of dominating the game because a ball ricocheted off young and talented defender Savo Gogic (whom we purchased over last season’s winter break from FC Twente), Marong leveled the score on the hour mark, earning us our second Serie A point, in a game that I believed we might have been able to win.

 

A week later we faced a tough double header: Bologna at home, and then the Zebras at Zebre stadium. Slight underdogs in the first match, we ran the score up to 2-0 in the first hour with goals from Kaltner and 19-year old German Maik Boakye, a tall striker who’d shown consistent improvement in his three years at the club, joining in our last Serie C season for a mere thousand Pounds, first as an option off the bench before a late season run saw him score a number of crucial goals to get us to the Serie B, and then again as a rotation player and frequent relief man for Marong. Boakye will be hoping (and is expected) to make the grade as a Serie A striker. Bologna grabbed one back on 66 minutes, before Boakye put the game out of reach in the 88th. Belgian wingback Jordan Lukaku got a consolation goal in injury time, but the day would be ours (though I did not enjoy conceding twice). Then, with tired legs, it was off to Turin to face the inevitable beatdown at the hands of Zebre. Despite my initial inclination to send out a defensive-minded, counter attacking team, I decided to play as we normally do, and pretty soon it became clear that we would very much be able to do so. Zebre did not overrun us, our boys did not look out of place, and with 10 minutes to play and the score tied at zero at one of the legendary clubs in one of the legendary stadia in the game, I gave the lads free reign to pursue the win by any means necessary, and three minutes into extra time, we got a goal from no other than young Erick Paul. We had stolen an incredible victory!

 

Four days after that, we put away Cagliary at the Bruno (our home, Bruno Recchioni) 3-1 with a brace from Kaltner and a goal from Boakye after falling behind early, but it came at a cost. Our Irish midfielder, the Notorious One as I like to think of him, Conor Coventry, pulled up with a groin strain which would put him out of business for a month. Released by West Ham in the summer of 2022, Conor joined our club for free and quickly cemented a place in the heart of our midfield with his energetic style. I named him the Notorious One not just because he’s Irish and his first name is Conor (though that certainly helped), but also for his aggressive style of play which has seen him booked about a dozen times a season all three years he’s played for us so far. The coaching staff suggest he’s a decent enough player for the Serie A, but I’m not quite ready to say goodbye to his pugnacious play, clever passing (to the tune of 25 assists in 3 years) and rocket leg (22 goals, not one I recall from closer than 25 yards). 

 

All in all, September closed with us in 8th place in the Serie A on 11 points, with a positive goal difference, 12 million to spend in the transfer market and a stunning 78 thousand Pounds remaining in the weekly wage budget (we only spend just over a hundred thousand a week at present). I can’t help but wonder how long it will be before someone comes knocking about Jonah Kaltner, who has been outrageous in these early months, leading the team in goals (5) and assists (4), and generally lighting up the field every time he steps foot on it. He’s valued at ten million Pounds right now, with no clauses which would force me to sell him should someone come knocking, but he is an ambitious sort and I don’t think he’d like it if I forced him to stay. 

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The waning months - October through November

Naturally, on the back of winning the Serie A Player of the Month (ahead of teammate Maik Boakye, who made it a point to say he cares more about what the fans think than awards anyway. Yeah, sounds good…), Jonah Kalter gets hurt in training with a twisted knee and will be out for three weeks. Right ahead of our game against AC Milan. He let the team know he would be cheering them on from the stands, though, which is classy as hell, but that does me no good whatsoever. 

 

Once again as the match started developing I couldn’t help but feel satisfaction in the fact that the team did not look horribly out of place in the San Siro, playing against the likes of Donnarumma, Kovacic, Romagnoli, and Tahith Chong. The Serie A champions from two years ago let us have the ball for much of the first half, and so I let the team have the chance to play as they normally do. Unfortunately, the possession did not turn into chances, and Milan managed several shots at goal and, just before halftime, Portuguese striker Rafael Leao found himself one on one with Zizz, Nunzio Zizzania, our goalkeeper, and left him helpless with a cool finish in the bottom corner. At halftime I changed our style to more counter-attacking play, and told the men not to worry about the short passing, just find the open man. This did result in more chances, but just around the hour mark it was Leao again, this time from twenty yards, top shelf, where momma hides the cookies, as a famous American broadcaster puts it. Poor Zizz could only offer a courtesy dive, there was nothing to be done. The rest of the game sort of sputtered out, and so we went home with the loss in our pocket, but a creditable performance.


Zizz has been my first choice goalkeeper since 2023, after a carousel of goalies before him, including our current coach Tschauner, who had been the first choice before him. Zizz managed to beat out fellow rookie Russo for the starting job, but the 24 year old simply outperformed everyone else I tried in goal. Zizz suffers from nerves from time to time, but when he’s on, he’s on. He can shoot his own shadow before it has a chance to draw, fantastic hands, and can at times pick a magnificent pass to launch a striker through on goal. In his time with us, he’s only allowed 49 goals in 62 games, including 9 in 8 matches so far this season at the highest level. 

 

The key to team building that we Belichicks understand is that stars don’t make a team. Hard work makes a team, sacrifice makes a team, focus makes a team. Over twenty years in the NFL, Bill Belichick managed to win approximately three quarters of the games he’s coached, and has won more Super Bowls (league titles) than any other team in the history of the league, which has been around since 1966, the first Super Bowl. In those fifty four years, one other team has managed to win six Super Bowls, but it has taken three coaches and two separate decades (1970s and 2000s) to win those six. No other team has more than five. Bill has six as a head coach. For those two decades, he has had the same starting quarterback, Tom Brady, until 2019. Brady was drafted in the sixth round (which is the second to last round of the NFL draft) and worked his way into the starting role, and has kept it by being more driven, more focused, and harder working than anyone else in that building for 20 years. He also took team-friendly deals when his contract came up, ensuring that the team had enough money to spend on talent to put around him. It is that sort of team leadership that I am looking for in my players. When your best player is in the building before everyone else, and stays until everyone has left, and puts the team before his own gain, no one else on the team has any excuses to do any less. If your star is grinding and sacrificing, even though he’s long since earned the status and job security, the rest of the players should understand that the standard can’t be any lower than that. 

 

On October 18th, Parma came to town, casually swept us under the rug and left again with a 1-0 win that was never really in doubt. The reserves, on the same day, grabbed a 2-2 draw against Sampdoria reserves, at the cost of a 2 month injury to poacher Nicolo Cudrig, who had been competing for a starting place on the team but busted his knee cap in the game. But never mind that. Teamwork. I knew, when I took over at Fermana, that the first thing that needed to happen was a culture change. Culture, as anyone who has ever picked up a book about running a business will tell you, is the key to running a good organization. Ours, at Fermana, was awful. A culture of losing, and a culture of skating by on talent. All the more tragic since there was very little talent to be had to skate by on. I did not want that, because hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. So, I did what anyone would do with a substandard squad and little money to spend: I spent that money on staff. Upgraded the coaches and found a good scout. Good coaches can make bad players a little better, but bad coaching can make even great players bad. I immediately instructed the scout to find me young players with a team first mentality and a willingness to work, all the better if they also had some talent. I had to gamble on being able to stay up to start building the team I wanted the next year. As mentioned before, I managed to do so.

 

Our chance to bounce back came against Crotone, and we did, with a third minute goal from Nuha Marong in an otherwise eminently forgettable match, which was only enlivened by promising young midfielder Nauzet Garcia, who was brought on in the dying minutes of the game in the classic time wasting move and promptly took his chance to recklessly throw himself into a tackle and get sent right back out of the game by the referee.

 

Next was the triumphant return of Jonah Kaltner, at the Bruno against Empoli. He wasted no time, streaking wide open through the middle of the Empoli defense where he received a nicely weighted pass from Maik (Boakye) to open the score for us after ten minutes. Kalt and Maik work together well that way. Maik then doubled our lead with ten minutes left in the game, on a stunning 60 yard diagonal through ball from Koppel, one of our not-good-enough wingbacks that prompted the purchase of JLo (Javi Lopez). JLo had picked up a yellow, however, and so the German connection was made for that stunning goal (We have a lot of Germans at the club, including a pair who have retired and joined the scouting staff). 

 

Now, what makes Belichick so special is that the NFL is a league which is designed to have parity. This is a foreign concept in the world of sports outside of the United States, but in the States, fans like to know that their team has a chance. So, each year, teams are given picks in a draft to distribute youth players among them (read: college players), and the worst team gets to pick first, while the Super Bowl winners pick last every round. This, in theory, along with the salary cap system, should ensure that all the best players don’t end up on a couple of teams while the rest struggle to keep up. The other oddity of the American way is that they don’t purchase players from each other, partly because all the players are paid by the league, anyway, and partly since it, presumably, would lead to an unfair advantage for teams in bigger markets with richer owners (see also the New York Yankees). Instead, players are traded for one another, and for draft picks. Draft picks can also be traded for other draft picks, and there is a value chart that most teams use to figure out what makes a fair trade. Often, teams will look to bundle picks from different rounds in order to go up and have a chance to draft a player that they rate highly. Some teams prefer to go the other direction (otherwise the system won’t work), and Belichick tends to favor trading down, increasing the number of picks available to him, but in lower draft slots. This, to me, is part of his genius, because the draft, like all scouting, is a guessing game. Sure, some players live up to their hype, and it can be pretty obvious sometimes which player will turn out better than the next, but there are plenty of highly touted players that never pan out for one reason or another. This is true in both footballs, and this is why I like the idea of having more bites at the apple. Why throw all your eggs into one or two baskets, and hope that your focus on a few prospects that you have really high hopes for pays off? Why not collect as many young players who may turn out to be good enough and do so on the cheap? This is what I did. I found every young player my scouts could bring me, and snagged them up, either for free or for a small fee, usually between one and two thousand Pounds. Since I didn’t have too many star players to whom I owed huge contracts, I was able to build up quite the stable of young talent, especially since, as mentioned before, other teams couldn’t wait to pay them for me. 

 

Eros Capriulo, a big and strong 19 year old Italian striker with a knack for finding space and clinical finishing ability, who graduated from our youth academy in 2022 and had been impressing in loan spells around the Serie C managed to snag us a last minute equalizer at Atalanta as the weather turned cold and wet in the Italian Alps and we struggled all game to create chances. Up next was a visit from Torino, the other club promoted last season. We went in slight favorites, 4 spots ahead of them in the table. The Bruno was packed with twelve thousand fans bundled against the cold in the weak afternoon sun. Our finishing rather let us down in the first half as both Maik and Eros managed to miss the goal by a dozen yards from inside the box, threatening only to harm innocent spectators in the stands. We were generating plenty of chances, though, so I was hopeful that eventually someone would notice the goal and put one in there. Those hopes began to dim as shots continued to zip past the posts unabated. We managed to force a few saves, win a few corners, but as the game was winding down I despaired of finding a winner. I brought on two kids and the aging Marong, in the hopes of sparking something and in the last minute of the game 18 year old Spaniard Tarazona, a youngster with a De Bruyne-esque skillset, managed to find his way through the defense, but his shot was straight down the pipe and the goalkeeper managed to beat it away, leaving us with a point a piece.

 

The month of November ended with a trip to Benevento, a side who were struggling and one against whom I was hoping to pick up a good result. As the match started, I noticed we were controlling the play with ease, and for the first ten minutes we got eight out of every ten touches. It was only a matter of time, I figured, and it was. They hit us on the counter, bang, one to nothing Benevento. Not good. I told the team to go get them, and we pushed forward even more aggressively. Only one of their players routinely made it into our half, and so that guy scored. Two-zip Benevento. Finally, Maik grabbed us one back from an excellent header, and I thought we were back in business. Bang, counter strike, down three to one. At this point, I started questioning if I even knew how to coach. Then, we grabbed one back on a header from Vincent Garande, our massive French centerback, and I thought, maybe… but alas, we could not make any more of our chances pay, and so despite having nearly twice the shots and twice the shots on goal, Benevento had scored one more goal than us, and we went home defeated.

 

So, by the end of November we were in a very comfortable 10th place, still one goal to the good, still rich. I decided to offer one of the younger players who played a big role in our journey from C to A, Andrea Orlandi, one of two players who had been on loan at the club on whom I spent money to keep the next year after I started. He’d given us 127 appearances, eight goals, and twenty-two assists over his time, and at one point looked like the answer behind the strikers, but it became clear this season that he was well out of his depth in the bigs, and Kaltner was much, much, much better, so I shopped him around, and ultimately he agreed to sign with Serie B side Entella in a deal worth two million Pounds. The other player, Ciro Palmieri, a poacher who lit up the Serie C while on loan from Lille, had been sold last winter, also to Entella for half a million, after providing us with 39 goals and 19 assists in 132 games.  He’s only managed to score three and assist twice in his 31 games for Entella so far, but he is playing at a much higher standard this year than he did in the second half of last season.
 

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Christmastime on the Adriatic

The month opens with a visit from Serie B side Catania for the Coppa Italia, and it is one of the rare games in which we are actually favored. Of course that means we must immediately present them with a free chance to score as Gogic gives the ball away to their striker with nobody between him and the goalkeeper, and they make no mistake. I’ve mentioned before, I truly hate giving the opposition gifts like that. Luckily, we bounced back, and in a mad scramble at the opposing end in which three players saw their shots stuffed, Kaltner ultimately managed to bundle the ball over the line, and we were back at one a piece. Right before the half, Kaltner had a chance to put us up one, but his shot pinged off the post and back out, and so we go into halftime with the score tied, though leading in shots at eight to one. The first movement of the second half saw Kaltner play a delicate one-two with Maik on the edge of the box, sending him through on goal alone and he did not waste his second chance. Not satisfied with that, he piled on a third five minutes later, in a messy fashion through a forest of legs, but they all count the same. This afforded me the chance to run out Pacifico Pirole for a good 40 minutes. He’s a sixteen year old Italian virtuoso with a nice burst of pace and would come on in place of Maik. The kid did little more than occupy their left centerback, but I hope he enjoyed the experience.

A stretch of tough games faced us as December wore on, with Napoli, Fiorentina, and Sassuolo on the slate. Napoli outclassed us, especially as I’d had to rest a number of starters who’d played in the cup tie. The game started bad with 18 year old center back Alfredo Tellado, a Girona youth academy product, picking up a yellow in the 3rd minute and coming up with an absolute horror of an own goal in the seventh. Napoli had seen their shot stopped by Zizz, but the ball was loose and laying in front of the open net. Tellado was first to get to it, but, despite the fact that the ball was stationary, he somehow bundled it over his own goal line while under no appreciable pressure at all. I couldn’t take any more of that, so I swiftly told veteran Taffertshofer to get a quick warm up and gave Tellado the hook. 18 year old Luca Acampora, a product of our own youth academy, managed to pull us level against the run of play on the hour, but Napoli were just too much, and Eljif Elmas put us out of our misery in the 83rd. 

We looked a lot better in our game against Fiorentina, in no small part thanks to Kaltner’s return. He opened the score for us in the 16th minute, and we looked like the better team on the pitch at times. However, former Salzburg striker Karim Adeyemi, who’d joined Fio for 25 million pounds last season, had other plans, scoring a brace in the second half while we stalled out, and snatching all three points for his team.

The trip to Sassuolo heralded the return of pacey striker Nicolo Cudrig from injury. The 23 year old Italian is not tremendously well thought of by our coaching staff, but he is, at least in theory, an upgrade over that old warhorse Marong.
We caught them on the break in the 20th minute with (who else) Kaltner running at goal. As he attempted to slide the ball past the goalkeeper, his effort, which would have gone wide otherwise, bounced in a fortunate way off defender Magnani’s foot into the back of the net to put us up, well against the run of play. Cudrig’s return lasted all of 25 minutes before going off injured again. Eros took his place. I had already been looking around the transfer market for a couple of strikers, and it seemed like I had better hurry up and find some. The second half got underway with Kaltner just skimming the bar above the upper left corner of the goal from twenty five yards out after turning on his man and putting him on skates. Kaltner has continued to be unparalleled, and every match rating site I’ve looked at has him as the single best performing player in the Serie A. Quite frankly I’m stunned that no one has come knocking yet, but I hope that when they do I’ll be able to get a king’s ransom. Another terrific break saw Maik clean on goal after a sublime pass from Acampora, and he did his job well, putting us 2-0 up with only 15 minutes left to play. Sassuolo threw everything at us, and through a tragic deflection off a rifled cross Koppel was left humiliated after he put the ball past Zizz, but that happened in injury time and we managed to hold on for all three road points. That was the last of the December games, and the time was upon us to do some work in the staff room. 
 

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On 18/10/2021 at 03:47, mark wilson27 said:

Echo what Mr Hoskins says, welcome to our little part of the forum. Looking forward to see how this progresses

Do people just go round echoing what Neil says? Though also being called Neil. I can vouch for it being some what of a sensible strategy.

Welcome to the forums. Enjoying the story. Though I am slightly concerned.

If you intend to be EXACTLY like Bill. Your going to need an operation to remove the majority of your personality. Also, your going to have to find various nefarious ways to cheat and swindle your way through the game.

Otherwise best of luck

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20 hours ago, Mandy42 said:

Do people just go round echoing what Neil says? Though also being called Neil. I can vouch for it being some what of a sensible strategy.

Welcome to the forums. Enjoying the story. Though I am slightly concerned.

If you intend to be EXACTLY like Bill. Your going to need an operation to remove the majority of your personality. Also, your going to have to find various nefarious ways to cheat and swindle your way through the game.

Otherwise best of luck

That is possibly my favorite aspect of Bill, his personality. He's kind of hilarious, if you get his sense of humor. Plus I like the fact that he gives the media absolutely nothing. But, there IS the cheating. Though you know what they say, if you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin'.

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6 hours ago, Vossenoren said:

That is possibly my favorite aspect of Bill, his personality. He's kind of hilarious, if you get his sense of humor. Plus I like the fact that he gives the media absolutely nothing. But, there IS the cheating. Though you know what they say, if you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin'.

JUST WIN BABY!

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8 hours ago, Mandy42 said:

JUST WIN BABY!

Raiders fan? 

 

And idk, I guess I should say no comment in game, but Bill has a special way of giving no comment without saying no comment. 

We're on to Cincinnati :cool:

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12 hours ago, Vossenoren said:

Raiders fan? 

 

And idk, I guess I should say no comment in game, but Bill has a special way of giving no comment without saying no comment. 

We're on to Cincinnati :cool:

no I'm a Broncos fan.

But the Al Davis mantra seems to fit well with the "if your not cheating your not trying" 

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New year, new signings

We have made a couple of moves over the past few months, securing some new players when the transfer window opened on January 1st, 2027. 

Jose David Planas (18) - Gernika, 35K - A massive Spanish center back with good  potential.

Steven Fraga (17) - Almeria, 1.5M - A hardworking Spanish target man with good potential.

Juanto Vera (18) - Murcia, 2.7M - An athletic Spanish center back with world class potential.

Jacopo Da Riva (25) - Atalanta, 2M - Physical central midfielder, who should compete for a starting job

Meanwhile, Orlandi (2M, Entella) and Capriuolo (1.9M, SCP07) have departed.

Early in the transfer window, we got a visit from Udinese. They started strong, dominating possession, but a careless foul put Kaltner in position to take a free kick, which their goalkeeper Sergio Herrera only managed to push away, right into Maik’s path, and he made no mistake. An early 1-0 lead! The onslaught continued unabated, and it would be a Udinese player, right back Paolo Ghiglione, who would find the net next. Unfortunately for him (but not us) it was a 30-yard backpass from the right flank that evaded his goalkeeper (reminiscent of Spain at Euro 2020). 2-0! Right before the half, Maik beat the offside trap, but came off second-best in his one-on-one with Herrera.
Early in the second half Adjapong got himself booked, and I don’t like having players out there on a yellow, because I feel like it robs them of the freedom to play without limits, and I hate nothing more than to see a player leave with a double yellow. On came Scalera, and young Fraga, who’d been brought along due to our absolute dearth of strikers (only five under contract) came on to replace Marong, who really started showing his age fast. I worried that it may have been too soon for Fraga yet, but there was some margin for error. Maik continued to make a nuisance of himself on the break, but couldn’t get past the goalkeeper, but Kaltner found an excellent one-two (his specialty) with Fraga and made it 3-0! Steinwender, possibly trying to be a gracious host, scored a spectacular header past Zizz to get on the wrong end of the scoresheet. 3-1. In the dying minutes of the game, Udinese clawed another one back on a stunning volley from Tunjov, and I started to worry that my team were going to fall apart completely. Luckily, we managed to hang on and take a tidy three points at home, moving us into 9th place. Fraga managed to put in a respectable performance and you could see the fire in him to learn more.

Talented young Canuck Mathieu Desjardins joined us from Forge for 170K, in a bid to add some competition in an area where I had been struggling to find regular starters, while Prestianni went out the door for 400K to Izarra, a Spanish B2 side. Meanwhile, Scalera’s substitute appearance against Udinese would be his last for the club as he was sold to Chemnitz for 850, 350K of which went to Viterbese as part of his sell-on clause. 

Inter Milan were next, and Desjardins and Fraga would be in the starting lineup at the expense of GiGi and Marong, respectively. Young Savo Gogic would be wearing the captain’s armband. I expected to have a difficult game against an all-star cast of players, and wasn’t sure how many chances we’d get to test veteran goalkeeper Jordan Pickford’s superior reflexes. Indeed it was Romelu Lukaku who opened the score in the 3rd minute, running onto a through ball and rifling it past young Zenga, who I’d given the chance to start in place of Zizz. Hamed Traore then pounced on a weak clearance from a corner to blast in Inter’s second goal after 12 minutes, and things were looking bleak already. Fifteen thousand hopeful fans at the Bruno sat in agony as wave after wave of Inter attacks swept through our defense, but after the initial two goals, we stiffened up and we managed to escape the first half without further damage. Pickford, meanwhile, managed to finish the entire morning paper undisturbed at the Inter end. In the second half he was finally called upon to rush out and narrow the angle on Kaltner, who had once again managed one of his crafty one-twos, but the end product was lacking and Pickford could go back to his sandwich. In the seventieth minute he had to put off finishing the crossword to pluck a corner kick out of the air. More positively, we’d managed to keep the door closed for the entirety of the second half and avoid the massacre that had threatened to unfold, though Koppel did his level best to ruin that by getting himself sent off for a reckless foul in the 88th. 

A chilly drizzle greeted us as we welcomed AS Roma to town, with much of the squad still feeling the effects of the game against Inter, necessitating a complete overhaul of the lineup. It would be us who started on the front foot as Simon Del Prete, a young Italian winger who can also play behind the strikers, managed to finish a ghost one-two, as he passed the ball to Marong, who was pulled down as he tried to run onto it, and then Del Prete ran past the pile-up onto his own pass to rifle the ball home. Roma seemed to be completely uninterested in the match against us, creating only a single chance for themselves in the first half, while we managed to generate ten, four of which on target. New signing Da Riva picked himself up an injury, leaving me to hope it was not too serious. Fifteen thousand at the Bruno leapt up as one when Nuha Marong doubled our lead with an excellent flick-on header over goalkeeper Cardinali just minutes into the second half. Finally in the seventy-second minute, Roma managed to wake themselves from their slumber with a stunning goal by Slovenian poacher Zan Celar, leaving David Zenga watching in awe as it curled into his near-side top corner. He nearly pulled them level on the break five minutes later, but the flag was up, and Zenga had closed the angle down in time. Nuha Marong then missed a sitter at the end of regulation for us, leaving us to sweat out the final three minutes of extra time, but we would hold on and take three points from an uninspired Roma team. Da Riva would be out for three weeks, which was a bummer, having strained his thigh.

My attempts to sell off the players who were good enough to get us to the Serie A, but not good enough to keep us there continued by shipping GiGi Galeotafiore to Serie C/C side Latina Calcio for a Latina club record 875K (a lot for a Serie C side). Lunetta followed him out the door on his way to 2.Bundesliga side SV Darmstadt for a cool 1.8 million, and the Notorious One to League One side Burton Albion for 1.5 million (after repeatedly turning down Serie B sides because he didn’t want to drop down a league). Perennial backup Marco Pompetti was sold to Rosenborg for 575K.

On the other side of the ledger, I acquired 20 year old Ivan Mladenovic from Radnicki in his native Serbia, whom he has already represented 17 times at the youth level. He is crafty, with a silky touch on the ball and a strong aerial presence, and not lacking for pace (though not blisteringly fast, either). 

A trip to Zebre stadium, in Zebre City, against Zebre, and definitely not Juventus, followed in the cold January sleet for the Coppa Italia. It would mark Mladenovic’s debut, and the return of Kaltner to the lineup following his rest against Roma. Mladenovic, already a fan favorite, was also nominated to be the captain for this game, having instantly earned the respect of his teammates. He rewarded all the faith shown in him as he volleyed home a deep cross from Adjapong to put us up after only fifteen minutes of play. A tough break for the zebras as Weston McKinnie had to leave the field injured after only 20 minutes. David Zenga, who had made the most of his run out into the first team and managed to retain the spot for the murderer’s row of legendary Italian teams we faced in January, kept our lead by turning Kulusevski’s effort over the bar, but was unable to keep Vrioni at bay from close range just before the half. At the half I kept youngsters Juanto Vera (18) and Pacifico Pirola (17) in the dressing room as they were clearly out of their depth, Vera making a number of mistakes and Pirola being kept out of the action entirely. Maik would join Mladenovic up top, while young Alfredo Tellado, who had been confounding expectations with the reserves team on a regular basis, was given the run out in central defense. Kaltner managed to scare the hell out of a ball boy behind the Zebre goal after about fifteen minutes of the second half had passed, but it would once again be Vrioni, in a scramble in our penalty area, who would find the net and put our hosts 2-1 to the good. They would put the game out of reach just before the 90 minutes with another messy goal from a throw-in, and while I’ll never be excited to lose a game, I felt at peace with the result against a team which was simply so much better than us. 

Meanwhile, I managed to convince the board that we needed to increase the size of our backroom staff, and they agreed. I asked around among the senior players at the club, and Eunan O’Kane, 7-time Irish international whom I had signed to mentor youngsters at the club, told me he would like to coach, while still playing for a bit. I gladly offered him the job, and he took to it like a fish to water.

I broke my own rule against loaning players in order to gain the services of 18 year old poacher Goncalo Palhina, a world-class prospect currently at FC Utrecht, whom I would love to have on my books permanently, but his valuation and wage demands made that impossible at the time, so I hoped that loaning him and getting him on the Adriatic coast, playing for me would help convince him that Fermana was the place to be. His contract still had another year on it, so an end-of-the-year Bosman was out of the question, and Utrecht would not consider a buyout clause, but getting him into the building was a good first step. 

Having sold Lunetta, I now needed one of our young left backs to return to the club ahead of the match against Lazio, to back up Koppel, while JLo served his one-match ban for getting yellow carded in every game he played. Peitz (19) was at Hannover in the 2.Bundesliga, where he’d played 12 games so far and was holding his own decently. Our coaches believe that at this point he would be capable of competing at the Serie A level, and would probably be a good starter when he reached his full potential. Warnick (19) was at Elfsborg in Sweden, and was lighting it up in the Premier Division. He was not judged as game-ready by our coaching staff, though with similar potential to Peitz. Finally Mirabella (19) was in Romania at FC Voluntari, where he’d managed 3 assists, 3 yellows, and a red in 7 games, while playing well. Our coaching staff told me he was the most developed of our three youngsters, and so I put him on a plane home and told him to be ready to play.

Temperatures were near freezing at the Bruno as we hosted the team ranked second in the Serie A wearing the famous sky blue. The first half was all Lazio as our tired boys spent most of the half just hanging on to their asses, but at least we managed to limit their chances as they limited ours to two a piece. Not exciting for the fifteen thousand at the Bruno huddled against the cold, but let’s be honest, I didn’t give a damn about that. Sure, ultimately my job is to make the fans happy, but if there had been a hundred goals scored that half, at least 70 of them would have been Lazio’s. Maik came up hobbled right before the half, and was still feeling the effects of that enough at halftime that I chose to leave him in the dressing room, putting Mladenovic on in his stead. A moment of carelessness on Del Prete’s part saw him stripped of the ball in our half, which was promptly converted into a 1-0 deficit by Palombi. Palinha showed a flash of his potential by receiving the ball to feet and executing a move that left Lazio center back Vavro with his pants around his ankles, but he was closed down before he could finish it by tucking it into the net. All the same, the crowd loved the bit of skill. With 10 minutes to go and my side gasping for breath I signalled for all-out attack, one last charge to steal a point from our superior opposition. We immediately won a corner and Garande managed to win the aerial duel and put a header on goal, but sadly right at the keeper, and ultimately that was all that our fifteen minutes of fury (after injury time) was good for, and Lazio snuck out of the building with three points in their pockets. 

Before the match against Sampdoria I decided it was time to recall a center back, because we had sold GiGi and were lacking in depth at the position. We had quite a stable of players to choose from, so I sat down with the backroom staff. We narrowed our choices down to Per Bremer and Mauricio Torreira. Bremer (19) was playing for Mariupol in the Ukraine, and starring in that league. He has also indicated that he doesn’t believe he’ll learn much playing at that level of competition. Wonderkid Torreira (19) is back in his native Holland playing for AZ, and playing very well. While there was not much to separate their abilities at the time, it seemed that Torreira would go on to be the better player. We decided that the best course of action was to recall both of them and so that is what we did. Bremer had played a match recently and wasn’t fully fit yet, so Torreira was given the start in the center of our back three, while Bremer was put on the bench.

The weather in Genoa was miserable for our trip to face Sampdoria, just above freezing with a nasty rain, but little wind. Sampdoria were fifth in the table, and yet another very tough game in an unforgiving January. Zizz returned between the posts after regaining his confidence in the reserves for much of the month. The first half was a snooze fest, with only a single (poor) chance generated by either side. Once again, that suited me just fine. In the second half, Kaltner briefly delighted the fans by streaking through the defense completely unmarked, dancing around the keeper and burying the ball into the net, but alas, VAR cut his celebrations short.  Sampdoria threatened to score from a free kick given away in a dangerous position, but the man on the post stopped it from going in. With five minutes to go, they earned a series of corners, but eventually Zizz rose up and plucked one out of the air, giving us some room to breathe, and the game finished scoreless, almost a dictionary definition of a bore draw, with only four shots in the match and two saves.

The second to last match of January saw Genoa visit us at a frozen Bruno, glistening in the snow. They started off in violent fashion, grabbing a yellow card and, in an unrelated incident, hurting Maik, though he was at least initially able to run it off. Not to be outdone, Canuck Desjardins celebrated his return to the side with a 10th minute yellow card. Boakye seemed badly affected by his injury, so I pulled him after only fifteen minutes and sent on Mladjenovic. The first half hour definitely favored Genoa, and I instructed my boys to be more vigilant on defense and look for opportunities to counter, instead. Both teams spent the rest of the half fouling each other and not much more, leading me to wonder if perchance I’d stumbled into a hockey match, instead. Due to the chippy nature of the contest and the strict reputation of the referee, I opted to leave Desjardins in the dressing room and sent Forjan out for the second half, which started much where the first half left off, with a bunch of fouling and a yellow card, this time for Vincent Garande. Eventually, a poor clearance and some incisive passing allowed Genoa to open the score, much to my dismay. I told the boys to throw caution to the wind, and try to even the score. First, though, Tedesco snagged himself a yellow card. I took him off and sent Tarazona on for the final half hour of the match, and sat back as I’d played all my cards. Zizz came up with a tremendous save as Genoa carved through us again on the break, while Kaltner almost equalized in the 71st minute, seeing his shot just barely miss the target. Once again our high pressing game took a lot out of our players, and I sympathized with their plight, but drove them on relentlessly all the same. We definitely took the game by the horns despite that fatigue, but all we managed to come away with was yet another yellow card as Ricciardi went into the book for an overly exuberant tackle. 

In order to bolster the squad I brought in 26 year old Danish striker Jens Odgaard from AGF for 5.5 million to provide a physical presence up front, and 21 year old Parma goalie Bartolomiej Maliszewski, who’d been languishing in limbo at his club despite having a fair bit of talent. He would compete with Zizz for the starting job, and my staff indicated that he might be a slight improvement already. We also snapped up talented Cameroonian left back Yvan Elekobi, who already had five caps and a goal for his country at age 18. He arrived for just five thousand Pounds. A number of other young African prospects failed to secure work permits, and so I was unable to add them to the roster. I also loaned 24-year old midfielder Tom Berger with an option to buy, which I planned to exercise if he lived up to expectations. 

Finally, we traveled to Bologna to play in the wind and rain on the 31st of January. New signing Tom Berger put his stamp on the game early, finishing a clever one-two with Del Prete to put us up. Bologna responded with a goal on the half hour. After the half, Odgaard had a couple of chances to put us up by hitting Bologna on the break, but he couldn’t find the end product. He could, however, find Del Prete with a nice short cross, and Del Prete headed the ball past the goalkeeper at the near post. I brought Maik in with about fifteen minutes to play, and he opened up the Bologna defense with a nice run, playing the ball square for Palhina to put us up 3-1 in the 81st minute. Some terrible defending on a corner by JLo let Bologna back in the game in the 89th as Schouten found himself all alone with the ball at his feet in the middle of the penalty area. This left us with five nervous minutes to see out a big road win, but we did it and ended January on a high note. 
 

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23 hours ago, Mandy42 said:

no I'm a Broncos fan.

But the Al Davis mantra seems to fit well with the "if your not cheating your not trying" 

Rough couple of years since Peyton left... I'm a Browns fan, mainly, so I know the struggle

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February '26


Our first match of February saw us play host to Zebre on a cold and rainy afternoon at the Bruno, which was packed to capacity. Canadian midfielder Desjardins, who had already been panned by the fanbase, opened the scoring for us after half an hour by heading home a corner at the near post. That would be the only goal in a match which we dominated from beginning to end, much to my delight.

Next came a trip to Cagliari. We opened the score in the third minute with a wonder strike from Odgaard, 25 yards out in the top corner, the goalkeeper could only offer a courtesy dive. Yet despite our dominant play, we found ourselves level again as some lazy defending on a set piece left Nandez one on one with Maliszewski, or B-Mal for short. In the 36th minute I decided to pull both wing backs off the field, as neither of them seemed to be contributing positively, sending Ricc and JLo on for Koppel and Adjapong. At halftime, I felt that we had lost our edge, and so I told the team to go for broke. That seemed to do the trick as Berger put us back in front with a rocket from 30 yards. However, our joy was once again short-lived as Cagliari drew level five minutes later. Odgaard then fired us back in front five minutes after that, with a low drive from an angle. Finally in the 75th minute I felt as though I could breathe a little easier when Odgaard headed home his third, off a JLo cross. 

A mild day at the Bruno saw us hosting giants AC Milan on February 21st. The game wasn’t even 90 seconds old when they took the lead, passing our back line to pieces. A few minutes later, a careless back pass gave Maik a chance to level the game, but Donnarumma’s giant frame denied him. In the 12th minute, however, we did manage to draw level as Kaltner capped a series of nice passes by sliding the ball into Odgaard’s path, and he put it in the back of the net. Not in the least bothered, Milan immediately took the lead again in the 20th, exposing our young defense. Ten minutes later, they made it three by heading home a cross following a poor clearance. A hesitation to clear a deep cross saw Siefkes robbed of the ball in the penalty area three minutes into injury time of the first half, allowing Leao to finish his hat-trick. When the helter-skelter half finally ended, there had been 19 shots (9 ours, 10 theirs) with 12 on target (5 ours, 7 theirs) and our game looked pretty much over. Our defense looked badly outmatched, and our midfield barely seemed to have been a part of proceedings at all. I decided to leave Siefkes, Adjapong, and Desjardins in the dressing room, bringing on Torreira, Ricciardi, and Forjan in their place and hoping fervently that no one would get injured in the second half. We managed to claw one back in the 82nd minute as Maik rifled home a shot at the near post, after having missed his first five chances in the game. As the match went on I saw all the ways in which I had coached us right out of the game, trying to play too expansively, having the player responsible for marking their advanced striker roam out of the back line, and I made sure to tell the players that the loss was my fault first. 

After the game, at the press conference, when asked what had happened, I informed the media that Milan had scored more goals than us. They then asked about Siefkes’ horrible performance, and questioned if he was ready to play in the Serie A. I told them that he was good enough to play, which is why he was. They then turned on Adjapong, who had also struggled, despite having an above average season otherwise. My response: “He’s fine.”

The last day of February saw us take a journey on a rainy, but mild, day to Parma to play the local FC, who were struggling and found themselves in 16th place. Wonderkid Tarazona, who’d earned his starting spot in the line-up with an excellent performance the previous weekend playing for the reserves and had taken the place of Desjardins, opened the score by volleying home a corner after about a half an hour of play. We finished the first half as the better team, but I still brought Adjapong back on in place of Ricciardi, who had gotten the start this week as Ric’s play had been mediocre at best and he had managed to get himself booked in the process. Ten minutes into the second half, my strikers combined to double our lead as Maik headed a deep cross from JLo into the path of Odgaard, who slotted it home with apparent ease. With the two-goal cushion I felt safe sending Del Prete on for 30 minutes in place of Kaltner, who’d had an excellent game but looked to be tiring a little. My plan to take away their main threat, Danish striker Andreas Cornelius, out of play by draping Garande all over him like a cheap suit paid off, as he barely touched the ball and managed only one wayward shot.

Jens Odgaard’s excellent month saw him make the Serie A team of the month and be voted player of the month, much to his and my delight.

Meanwhile, I decided to allow Zizz a spell on loan at Lillestrom, after Maliszewski had wrested the starting spot between the sticks from him.
 

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The Art of Football

Bill Belichick is an avid student of Sun Tzu, as many principles that govern war are equally applicable to sports. Legendary Dutch coach Rinus Michels is attributed as saying Football is War, and so it is.

Quote

Sun Tzu, the Art of War:

The art of war [is] governed by five constant factors, to be taken into account [...]. These are: 1. The Moral Law; 2. Heaven; 3. Earth; 4. The Commander; 5. Method and Discipline.

The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him [at all times]
Heaven signifies night and day, cold and heat, time and seasons.
Earth comprises distances, great and small, danger and security, open ground and narrow passes, the chances of life and death.
The Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage, and strictness.
Method and Discipline [should be] understood as the marshaling of the army in its proper subdivisions, the graduation of rank among the officers, [...] [and] the control of military expenditure. 

These five heads should be familiar to every general: he who knows them will be victorious, he who does not will fail.

 

A leader can’t be a leader unless his followers believe in him, which is why I believe in motivation. Any coach who runs out the same tactics and game plan in the rain, snow, and shine is not a good coach. Prevailing conditions affect gameplay, and failing to take that into account will lead to failure (i.e. trying short passing on a pitch that is too sodden or too hard, trying long balls on a slick surface, etc.). Earth is the play space, and understanding where space can be found game to game will dictate success. Trying to play behind a deep defensive line will lead to few chances and many intercepted passes, and so on. The Commander should be self-explanatory, but note that one of the qualities is strictness. Lack of discipline and effort will kill a team faster than lack of talent. Finally, Method and Discipline are tactics and training, as well as making sure there is sufficient leadership within the squad. It is on that note that I decided to strip Marong and Taffertshofer of their captaincy and vice-captaincy, as they were no longer a factor in the first team despite still being with the club. Kaltner was appointed the new captain, with Boakye as his deputy.

A couple of knocks in training saw Berger and Del Prete miss the first game of March against the croutons, against whom we were favored to win. Crotone found themselves in 15th place, while we were proudly mid-table in 9th. The Bruno was wet from a persistent drizzle coming in off the Adriatic, but the temperature was mild and thirteen thousand showed up in hopes of seeing us overcome what was perceived as a lesser side. We started by kicking in the door with a long cross to Odgaard, whose header was only just scrambled past the net by the goalkeeper, and kept the pressure on through the early minutes. As these things go, it was basically inevitable that we’d give up the first goal of the game on a counter, so we went ahead and did that. Jonah Kaltner managed to break his relatively long goal drought after twenty two minutes to draw us level by running around the keeper with the ball at his feet and leaving the visiting defense in tears. He had a chance to double his (and our) tally, but fired his shot straight down the pipe at the goalkeeper. Maik squandered a chance right before the half, and so despite outshooting our guests 8 to 1, we went into the locker rooms tied at one a piece. I decided to give pacey striker Cudrig a run out in the second half in place of Maik, who had been wasteful these last two games. Watching Ric open the second half with an absolutely tragic attempt at playing the ball down the line, which skidded forlornly into the puddles along the advertising boards, inspired me to warm Adjapong up and introduce him into the game five minutes into the second half. Tarazona finally broke the tie after 58 minutes by curling in a dream of a free kick. One of the things I absolutely don’t believe in, which always annoys me when I see it happen in any sport, is sitting back once you take a lead, and so I did not allow the boys any slack and encouraged them to roll our visitors clean off the field. Cudrig nearly put the game beyond doubt in the 76th, but his shot rippled the wrong side of the side netting. Finally, our relentless pressure got to the visitors and an absolutely horrible decision by their goalkeeper to keep the ball at his feet while Kaltner and Cudrig stormed at him saw him turn it over and Cudrig slot it home, allowing my tired sphincter to finally unclench. Cudrig then scored another poacher’s goal from another defensive mistake in injury time, to run the score up to a deserved 4-1 victory.

Bad news followed as young Luca Acampora tore his groin muscle, ending his season. Shortly afterward, Tarazona joined him on the injury list for a month with the same injury. 

Young Valeriano Mirabella decided to join his friend Zizz at Lillestrom on loan for the rest of the season.

The late winter rains continued in our mid-March trip to Empoli, another match in which we were now considered favorites, as they found themselves in 17th place while we had managed to jump up one spot to 8th. Desjardins and Adjapong found themselves back in the starting line-up following our mini injury crisis and the subpar play of Ricciardi on the wing. Empoli had clearly missed the morning headlines and came out swinging like they were the better team, before retreating into a low block which allowed us no way in. Not satisfied with the way things were going early on I signalled a change to a more counter-attacking gegenpress, looking to turn the ball over high up the field and launching a quick transition. This seemed to change the line of demarcation in our favor and got us our first couple looks on goal, and suddenly we were the team asking all the questions. At the half I decided to introduce a pair of promising youngsters in 16-year old Gab Tedesco and 18-year old Cameroonian international Elokobi, hoping to spark something. They replaced slightly more experienced Desjardins (20) and JLo (23), neither of whom had really been able to make a mark on proceedings. On the hour mark, Empoli were awarded a penalty as Gogic was adjudged to have impeded his man, and though Maliszewski managed to parry the initial effort, nobody got to the rebound in time and Empoli opened the score with the follow-up. I brought on Maik in place of Cudrig, and told the boys to go get ‘em. The referee had other ideas, however, awarding another penalty to the hosts, this time for Bremer tugging a shirt inside the box, and so it became a two-score game. My gamble on youth did not pay off as the kids looked lost at sea, and ultimately we went down in deserved defeat. They say you can’t win them all, but man I hate losing the games we should win.

The miraculous 21-day streak of 11 degrees and drizzle continued as we once again packed the Bruno ahead of the match against direct rivals Atalanta, who find themselves one place behind us in the league table, but are coming in on a hot streak. I attempted to take a similar approach as I had to the Parma game, assigning Gogic to take Tammy Abraham out of the game, and for a while it was going well, and we looked like the better side, but then just before half the 15-time English international split the defense with a clever pass, allowing Omur to score. Abraham then doubled the score by picking the ball off Maliszewski’s foot as he dallied on the ball, and so we went from looking good for most of the first half to being in a big hole. I brought on Maik for Paulinha, whom I’d given a chance to start the game, and hoped our fortunes would turn. With about a half an hour left to play I sent on Cudrig and Berger as a final roll of the dice, and was rewarded in the 69th minute as Cudrig found himself all alone at the far post, putting the game back within reach. Berger and Cudrig linked up again five minutes later, but the goalkeeper just managed to parry the young Italian’s efforts. Ultimately, though, we failed to make our chances pay in the second half and allowed Atalanta to close the gap to just one point in the league table. I had been eyeballing 7th place, which may have gotten us into Europe next season, but last year’s shock league champions Sassuolo were occupying that place, 6 points ahead of us with 8 games to play. It is thus that March ended for us, with the pre-season goal of battling bravely against relegation far in the rearview mirror.
 

Edited by Vossenoren
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Double groin injury! Oh the scandal!

Need to impose some strictness on what these lads get up to with their groins off the pitch! Or at least reduce the number of hip pump goal celebrations! 

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Considerations of Victory

 

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Sun Tzu, the Art of War:

[In] your deliberations, when seeking the military conditions, [compare the following]:

Which of the two generals has the most ability?
With whom lie the advantages of heaven and earth?
On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced?
Which army is stronger?
On which side are officers and men more highly trained?
In which army is there the greater consistency both in reward and punishment?

By means of these considerations, I can forecast victory or defeat.

In New England, discipline, preparation, and training are paramount. Under my leadership, in Fermo, that is now also the case. I have worked tirelessly to build up the club’s facilities and we have one of the best backroom staffs in the league. In New England, each player is taught their job and its place in the greater scheme, and is expected to know and understand it by heart, so that the team can make decisions and react to situations as one, because everyone at all times understands exactly what will be expected of them. Discipline is paramount in New England as in Fermo, and Belichick has not hesitated to punish players thought to be beyond reproach, including one controversial decision to bench a starter and keep him out for the Super Bowl, a move he has never bothered to explain, despite the fact that the team lost that particular game. It is clear to me that this was in order to make clear the expectations for discipline within the team, and that ability does not excuse anything, and definitely not everything, that he would rather lose with players who do their jobs the right way, than win with players who don’t. It is in this vein that I have told several people who believed themselves to be starters that they would not, in fact, be starters unless they earned that job, most recently Russo. This did not go over well, and Russo, the out-of-favor goalkeeping prospect, started acting out in training. I issued him with a formal warning, which got his head on straight. He apologized and immediately exhibited greater professionalism and determination in training the next day.


With some injury problems going around, I decided I needed a little more depth in the center of the park, so it was once again time to look around at our players out on loan to see who was ready to start fighting for a starting spot. Ultimately, from the bevvy of choices we had at the position, we narrowed the list down to three: 19-year old Spanish defensive midfielder Nauzet Garcia, who was holding his own nicely in the Ukrainian first division; 24-year old Italian defensive mid Sergio Maselli, who had struggled for us early in the season but was dominating the Hungarian top flight; and Matti Westerhoff, the 20-year old German defensive mid, who was playing very well for Cambuur, although he did have three red cards on the season. Sergio, the most experienced, was the most match ready, though we believed that all three would stand a good chance in the Serie A, but had the lowest ceiling of the three. Noz (Garcia) was the least match ready, and about average in potential, while Matti had by far the most potential, but I feared that he might be too weak-minded. Ultimately, I decided to leave Noz and Matti to grow on loan and brought back Maselli for a second bite at the apple.

Young Tellado (18) was given another chance at some first team football in central defense to give Torreira some rest against Torino on a cool, sunny April afternoon in Turin. Mladenovic also returned to the starting line-up after a lengthy absence. I put Garande on their lone forward Ibrahimi and told him to stay on him like flies on ****. A half an hour into proceedings, Odgaard opened our account by heading in a JLo cross, in what had until then been a very even game. Figuring that Torino would start to lean forward, I signalled the guys to look for counter attacking opportunities, and one presented itself almost instantly, a 3-on-2 attack, but we did not execute well and Kaltner allowed himself to be shepherded out to the corner, much to my dismay. At halftime I brought Maselli on for Berger, who had been making too many mistakes. Kaltner, whose form seemed to have dipped, squandered another great chance early in the second half. Finally after 70 minutes, Kaltner seemed tired and I was tired of watching him struggle to impact the game, so I brought on Cudrig and switched to three up top, with Maik Boakye as a target man, flanked by Kudrig and Mladenovic. This did not lead to further goals, and we ended up winning the match 1-0. A poor match, but the three points count the same. Garande dominated the opposing strikers, winning 8 of his 10 headers, and allowing Ibrahimi only two shots and his replacement none. 

Kaltner opened his account back up with a spectacular free kick to give us a 1-0 lead hosting Benevento, who were in 16th place and. A Gogic header from a Kaltner on the half hour mark put us up 2-0, and by halftime we had outshot them 8-1. An early yellow for JLo in the second half gave me an excuse to run out young Elekobi again, hoping for a better performance from him against lesser opposition. Mladenovic made it three around the hour mark, running onto a first-time pass from Adjapong while the opposing goalkeeper watched. I ran out Maik and Desjardins for 25 minutes, and immediately Maik took his opportunity by bending a long-range curler into the top corner following a deft bit of one-touch passing from Desjardins and Kaltner. Desjardins got himself a goal from a deflected shot in the dying seconds of the game, and we kept all three points at the Bruno by way of a dominating 5-0 display. Vincent Garande continued his habit of shutting down the opposition’s lone striker, allowing Moncini 7 completed passes, two shots (1 on target) and 3 headers won out of 10.

A trip to Milan followed to face the Nerazzurri, and young Garande was bound to have his hands full going one-on-one with Romelu Lukaku. He did a tremendous job of it for the first half hour, but alas it would be Brazilian winger Malcom who opened the score for Inter after running past Tellado. Much like our meeting earlier in the season, Jordan Pickford was a spectator for the entirety of the first half as Inter managed to shut us down in a way few other teams had been able to this year. At the half I brought on Maik Boakye in place of Mladenovic, hoping that he would be able to use his superior strength and size to get a bit of action up front. No dice. With 20 minutes left in the game, I took off Kaltner and Odgaard and brought on Cudrig and Palhinha, going to three in the front, and I signalled the all-out-attack, figuring that, if we were probably going to lose, I’d rather go for the points and lose by 3 than meekly allow us to be spanked. And boy did I get what I asked for! Inter took all three points in a 3-0 victory as they managed to unravel our now stretched defense. Garande did put in a whale of a performance, keeping Lukaku off the scoresheet and largely ineffective. His replacement, Martinez, did manage to score however.

The following week we would host 6th-place Napoli at the Bruno on a fine spring day. Tellado made way for Torreira to return to the back line, while Napoli switched things up by coming out with two in the front rather than the expected single forward. I set Gogic and Garande to man-mark their strikers, freeing up Torreira to sweep up behind them. Barely 10 minutes into the match I was forced to make a switch, bringing on Boakye to replace the injured Odgaard. The first half was an ugly affair, with a ton of stoppages as Calvarese lived up to his reputation as a harsh referee. We enjoyed a slight advantage, but at the break it was still scoreless, so I decided to roll the dice once more and commit to an all-out attack to start the second half. After about 10 minutes I decided to replace JLo, whose main contributions to the game had been a 33% pass completion rate and a yellow card, with Elekobi. Finally, after 68 minutes of play, we managed to bundle a ball over the line, thanks to Maselli, with Kaltner credited with the assist. I told the boys to go back to trying to control the game and take fewer risks. As Napoli pursued the equalizer, I signalled to look for a counter attack, and brought on Forjan for the last 15 or so minutes for some fresh legs in the center of the field. We managed to double our lead in the 85th minute after a quick combination, started by Elekobi, who played a nice lateral pass to Forjan, who fed the ball forward to Boakye. Boakye, having drawn the defenders to him, slid the ball through to Mladenovic, who slotted it home. Credit a key pass to young Elekobi, who had the best match of his senior career with us so far. The bad news was that Odgaard would miss three weeks with a twisted knee, meaning that he would likely miss all but one of the four matches remaining in the regular season in a crucial stretch that included Fiorentina (8th) , Sassuolo (6th), Udinese (12th), and AS Roma (4th). We were tied with Fiorentina on points, with a superior goal difference, but Fiorentina was one place above us because of head-to-head results, having beaten us 2-1 at the Bruno in December. 
 

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All Warfare is Based on Deception

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Sun Tzu, the Art of War:
All warfare is based on deception.
Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; When using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; When far away, we must make him believe we are near.
Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.
If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him.
If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.
If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. 
Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.
These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand.
The general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few. Thus, to do many calculations leads to victory, and few calculations to defeat

If that doesn’t sound like Bill, I don’t know what does. So how to apply this to the beautiful game? Dynamic tactics, switching between holding the ball and counter attacking, doing your homework on the opposing team and their players. Making them play, as Bill likes to say, left-handed - that is to say, figure out what they like to do and take that away, forcing them to find a different way to beat you. (One of the things that drives me insane when I watch football is players like van Dijk, Maguire, and David Luis, who are known to be excellent distributors of the ball, being allowed the chance to play the ball out from the back and picking out incisive passes. I would tell my striker: if we don’t have the ball, go stand on that guy. You don’t have to run, chase, or any of that stuff, just go stand by van Dijk, and make someone else bring the play forward.)

May began with a trip to Florence to face Fiorentina, with whom we were actively battling for league position. Odgaard was out, due to injury, bringing Boakye into the starting lineup, while Kaltner was starting to feel the toll of too many games and would be on the bench, with Del Prete getting the start. Our hosts were awarded a penalty after 10 minutes, but Maliszewski saved Dutch attacker Donyell Malen’s effort (a Dutchman missing a penalty, go figure), and the rebound was fired into the side netting by Malen as well. Having thus survived two clear cut chances, we went on to continue trading blows with the team in the lovely purple shirts, with each side racking up shots and fouls at an alarming rate. Right on the stroke of half-time, Del Prete managed to open the score for us, finishing calmly from around the penalty spot where he had mysteriously been left completely unattended. At the half I left both starting central midfielders (Maselli and Da Riva) in the dressing room because they had both been booked, and sent out Forjan and Berger in their respective places. Despite the fact that I felt we were the better team in the second half it would be Malen who atoned for his earlier misses to level the score. With JLo once again playing like **** I told Elekobi to get his shirt on and sent him out, having previously considered taking off Boakye, who was looking a little more tired. With 10 minutes left I gave the all-out signal, hoping to steal the three points and breaking the tie with our hosts both in the game and in the league table. And indeed we succeeded three minutes later with Boakye heading home an Adjapong cross. I immediately signalled a return to our normal tactics, with a dose of time wasting thrown in. We managed to hold on, and left the field exhausted but victorious, having stripped Fiorentina of their tie breaker advantage and taken three of the most valuable points yet back to Fermo with us. Elsewhere in Italy, Lazio rattled off their fifth consecutive win to seal the Serie A title by virtue of being 13 points clear of second-place Sampdoria with 3 matches left to play.   

Next, another pivotal game against last year’s champions Sassuolo, who were just ahead of us in the table. A win here could be pivotal and might get us in with a shout at Europe after all. Would you believe, after 15 minutes, Maik opened the score with a fantastic strike, sending a packed Bruno into raptures. The rest of the match saw chances aplenty for both sides, but heroic work by Maliszewski saw us hold on to that slim lead, and no further goals were scored. This result, along with Napoli getting crushed by AS Roma put us in 7th place with a 2 point cushion. Sassuolo and Inter were one point ahead of us in the table, and it looked like there was a chance that in 4 years we might have gone from Serie C to Europe! Still, there was work left to be done, and we were on to Udinese.

We would be without Adjapong, who had to serve a 1-match ban due to collecting too many yellow cards, so Torreira was slid over to the right wingback position and Bremer took his spot in central defense. Udinese played with a single striker, 18-year old Costanzo Vacaro, so it would be a chance for Garande to show his stuff and try to shut him down. Our game plan took a massive hit when Da Riva got himself sent off while I was talking to my assistant about some aspect of our progress in the game. I signalled for Kaltner to drop back into the center of midfield and hoped we could steal a goal on the counter, while keeping Udinese at bay for an hour with ten men. We did not manage the former, but we managed the latter, and managed to salvage a draw from this disaster. I was not happy at having wasted a chance at putting us one game away from European football on our own terms, it was exactly the kind of shooting ourselves in the foot that I preached against time and again. That frustration was somewhat lessened when I found out that none of our direct rivals had gotten a good result either, with Sassuolo losing to AS Roma, Napoli losing to Sampdoria, Fiorentina drawing 1-1 at Lazio and Genoa and Inter tying at 1-1. This meant that a draw on the final day at AS Roma would see us into Europe as both FIorentina and Napoli were 3 points behind us. We were in 6th, being tied with Sassuolo on points but having gotten the better of them head-to-head (their goal difference was vastly better, +20 vs our +9). We could even jump Inter for 5th place, they were one point ahead of us, but either 5th or 6th would get us into the Euro Cup group stages, while 7th would get us in the Euro Cup II playoff.Champions League Football had been out of the question for a while.

I gave Da Riva a formal warning for his sending off, and he accepted it without comment.

That left us with a week to prepare for the most important game of the season, a trip to Rome to face the yellow and red. I prepared the boys for a long drawn-out battle and emphasized defensive responsibility. A win would be awesome, of course, but above all I wanted to make sure we got that point. Still, playing to draw is playing not to lose, and that is a losing proposition. I told them to look for opportunities to counter, and to take shots when they presented themselves. The first half ended with the score still tied at zero, thanks in large part through Maliszewski’s heroics. In the 55th minute I took of Elekobi, who’d earned himself a run in the first team, and brought on JLo, who had earned himself a run on the bench. With 20 minutes left I replaced Kaltner and Mladenovic with Del Prete and Odgaard. Odgaard was back from his injury, but had not been fit enough for me to start him. Mladenovic had actually had a better game than Boakye, but I believed in Maik more, he’d come through for us enough times that I preferred to leave him out there. On the stroke of 90 minutes, Petrelli had a clear-cut chance to drown us in misery as he got free on the edge of the box, but his shot missed the target and we managed to steal a point from the Stadio Olimpico, and seal European football! Sassuolo managed to snag a 1-0 win at Sampdoria, which hurt my feelings, dropping us down to 7th place, and we would have to wait to see who won the Coppa Italia to find out our fate.

I was awarded my fourth consecutive head coach of the year award, this time the Serie A variety. I was honored, of course, but more delighted that the team had achieved what they did. Savo Gogic and Jonah Kaltner made the Serie A team of the year (4-2-3-1: Strakosha (Lazio); Aina (Fiorentina), Smalling (Roma), Gogic (Fermana), Bolingoli (Sampdoria); Meacci (Sassuolo), Laimer (Sampdoria); Chong (AC Milan), Kaltner (Fermana), Diaz (AC Milan); Malen (Fiorentina). Kaltner and Boakye had been in the running for young player of the year, finishing 2 and 3, but it was Meacci who took the award.

Antonio Russo decided he’d had enough of warming the bench and requested a transfer. This I granted. I shopped him around and got three offers the same day, which I accepted. He promptly rejected all three of them, feeling as though he was too good for them. What a tool.  
 

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World Cup 2026

North America was abuzz with their first opportunity to host the World Cup since USA ‘94. Mexico, Canada, and the USA were sharing the hosting duties. 

Groups were as follows: 
Group A: USA, Poland, Saudi Arabia
Group B: Spain, Peru, Morocco
Group C: Scotland, Tunisia, Argentina
Group D: Germany, Australia, Egypt
Group E: Croatia, Nigeria, Qatar
Group F: Cameroon, Portugal, Tahiti
Group G: Austria, Chile, South Africa
Group H: Colombia, Japan, Sweden
Group I: Algeria, Canada, Serbia
Group J: Belgium, Honduras, Senegal
Group K: Costa Rica, France, Ivory Coast
Group L: China, Netherlands, Uruguay
Group M: Haiti, Italy, S Korea
Group N: Iran, Mexico, Ukraine
Group O: England, Ghana, U.A.E
Group P: Brazil, Panama, Wales

One team from each group would be eliminated through group play.

The USA opened proceedings with a casual 3-0 drubbing of Saudi Arabia with goals from Dest, Reyna, and Richards. I myself had flown to Dallas to witness Spain take apart Morocco in the group B opener thanks to four goals from Barcelona striker Ansu Fati, whose scoring record for Spain defies belief (51 goals in 57 caps), although it makes sense given that he’s scored 203 in 304 for Barcelona. 23-year old Pedri provided the other goal in the match. Elsewhere on the day Scotland squandered a 2-0 lead to reach a 2-2 draw against Tunisia, while Germany took care of business against Egypt 3-0.

The next day there was a bloodbath in Baltimore, which is pretty much par for the course in Baltimore, between Austria and South Africa, a contest which Austria won 3-0 but at the expense of Everton’s central defender Wober, who sprained his wrist and would miss the other group game against Chile, and Hoffenheim midfielder Grillitsch, who tore his ankle ligaments and would miss the rest of 2026 altogether. Meanwhile, South Africa’s Banda also left the game injured. Japan, meanwhile, upset the Swedes at the Azteca 2-0. In the evening, Ndidi and Iheanacho helped Nigeria to a 2-0 win over Qatar, and I was in Kansas City to watch Joao Felix provide the only goal in the Portugal-Cameroon game.

Canada opened their World Cup by getting their boots smoked by Algeria, with an embarrassing 4-0 scoreline at the Olympic stadium. Canadians were not bothered, though, as it wasn’t hockey. Meanwhile, China held the Netherlands to a 0-0 draw. In the evening, Senegal beat Honduras 3-1, while the Ivory Coast beat Costa Rica 3-0. I didn’t attend any of the games.

On Sunday, I was in Philadelphia, watching my Ghana boys destroy the UAE 4-0. I had previously managed Ghana while still in the Serie C/B, but felt that I couldn’t give them the attention they deserved. I was glad to reconnect with some of my former players, though. In the evening, a brace from Heung-Min Son helped Korea to a 4-0 smashing of Haiti, the Chelsea striker had failed to score a single goal or produce a single assist in 15 games for the Blues after his 19.25 million pound transfer, having been excellent indeed at Tottenham for years, but he finally broke his year-long duck at the World Cup. Mexico took care of business against Iran (3-0), while Wales put Panama away in convincing fashion, another 4-0 rout with goals from Daniel James, Rabbi Matondo, Joe Morrell, and Calum Kavenagh.

On Monday, having stayed in Philly, I watched Argentina score three unanswered against Tunisia, ending their World Cup, while elsewhere Poland beat Saudi Arabia, eliminating the Saudis, and Egypt beat Australia 2-0. The Aussies now needed an improbable win by 2 goals against Germany to move on. Peru beat Morocco 2-0 in Dallas to secure their spot in the next round that evening.

Tuesday saw yet another 4-0 drubbing, this time Tahiti at the hands of Cameroon, while Japan secured a spot in the next round with a 2-2 draw against Colombia at the Azteca. Having travelled up the Atlantic seaboard to Baltimore, I watched Chile eliminate South Africa with a 2-1 win, but the better ticket would have been Croatia shellacking Nigeria 5-1 in Mexico at the Estadio Jalisco.

The next day in Denver, Belgium blew the doors off Senegal, 5-0, with a brace from Lukaku, while Uruguay took care of China 3-1 in Mexico. In the evening, Serbia and Algeria achieved a draw in Canada, while Thierry Henry’s France were upset by the Ivory Coast at Commonwealth Stadium, also in Canada, a game I attended to see Savo Gogic get a full 90 minutes in his first international appearance for his country, a proud moment for me as well as him. 

Football then began its journey home as the Three Lions took care of Ghana in Baltimore with a goal from Chelsea’s Smith-Rowe, who’d returned to London after a 2-year adventure with Rangers where he’d dominated the SPL. Mancunian Greenwood and Liverpool winger Harvey Elliott put Southgate’s team three goals to the good. That evening at the Rose Bowl Chelsea’s Moise Kean scored two as Italy beat Korea 3-0. (All in all, Chelsea looking good at the World Cup). Ukraine beat Iran in Kansas City, while Brazil mercilessly slaughtered Panama 5-0 at the Azteca, despite Atletico’s Renan Lodi getting sent off. I was thinking of going down to Mexico for the remainder of the World Cup, since that’s where it seemed all the goal fests were to be found. 

On Friday, the Scots lost a boring game to Argentina, but goal difference would see them go on to the next round, while Germany took care of Australia, who would have to begin their long trip home from Philly. In the evening I attended the USA’s game against Poland at BMO field. The crowd was left stunned after 4 minutes when Atalanta defender powered home a header, but goals by Weah and McKennie saw America leave with the three points. In Dallas, meanwhile, Spain beat Peru 1-0 thanks to Borussia forward Carbonell’s first international goal in his second cap.

My first day in Mexico I watched Sweden demolish Colombia 5-1, with Marseille striker Luis Suarez (not that one) providing the only Colombian goal at the Azteca. Either game in Mexico would have been entertaining to go to, as Croatia wrecked Qatar 5-0 in Jalisco. In the evening, Tahiti’s World Cup adventure ended with a 5-0 loss to Portugal at Arrowhead, while Chile secured first place in group G with a 2-0 win over Austria.

Canada were eliminated by Serbia thanks to goals by Ilic and Savo Gogic (my man!), while I watched from the stands at FedEx field, home of the Washington Football Team, who had still not come up with a better team name. Van Bommel’s Netherlands side boringly advanced to the next round without experiencing a goal on either end of the field in the group stage. Belgium advanced that evening having scored 10 goals in 2 games, following a 5-0 win against Honduras, Lukaku accounting for 2 more goals, tying him with Pasalic, Lovren (not that one), and Ansu Fati at the top of the Golden Boot race. France beat Costa Rica 5-0 at the gorgeous Mercedes-Benz stadium in Atlanta. 

On Monday, the Queen began preparing OBEs for every member of the England team as they coasted past the UAE 5-0, with Mason Greenwood contributing a hat trick. The real heroes on the day were Wales, however, who beat Brazil 1-0 at Estadio BBVA thanks to a Kavanagh goal. Italy destroyed Haiti 4-0 in the evening, while Mexico traveled north of the border to Denver to obliterate the Ukraine 5-0 at Mile High.


 

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The Second Round

I reluctantly traveled to New Jersey to watch the USA play Peru. We took an early lead through Villareal’s Giovanni Reyna. Peru struck back seven minutes later, but Tenerife’s full-back Shaq Moore won the day for us with only his second international goal. Meanwhile, Germany beat Scotland in Atlanta 1-0. The Scots only managed a red card and an injury to Kiernan Tierney.

A quick dash south to Philadelphia and I managed to catch Spain dismantle Poland, beating them 3-0, but their World Cup hopes took a big blow as Ansu Fati twisted his knee and would be out for the next three weeks. At Mile High, Argentina beat Egypt with a late goal from Dortmund winger Lucas Ocampo. Former MLS player (formerly of Atlanta United, now at Guimaraes) Barco strained his back, and would miss the match against Spain, though he would have missed it anyway due to yellow card accumulation.

The next day, Croatia comprehensively beat Cameroon (4-1) with a brace from PSG’s Gvardiol, while Portugal wrecked Nigeria 5-0 with two goals from Atletico forward Joao Felix, while Nigeria suffered injuries to Akpoguma, Sadiq, and Iwobi. I was at Arrowhead in Kansas City that evening to watch Japan and Austria reach 90 minutes without a goal, then score a goal each in extra time, with Austria winning the resulting shootout. Meanwhile in Texas, Chile beat Sweden 3-2, all goals coming in the first half.

Thursday saw the Netherlands score their first goal, AC Milan’s Tahith Chong was responsible for it, but the Ivory Coast had already taken the lead earlier in the game, so the game went to overtime, and Wolves’ right back Wilfried Singo dashed Dutch hopes and put Mark van Bommel squarely on the hot seat. An all-Africa matchup in Washington saw Algeria take apart Senegal 4-0. Despite a red card to Espanyol left-back Daam Foulon and injuries to free agent Dennis Praet and PSG midfielder Xian Emmers, Belgium managed to put Serbia away in Philly as I watched on from the stands. My boy Savo played the whole match, but did not play well. Meanwhile in Mexico, goals continued to flow like water as Thierry Henry ensured that he’d never be allowed back in France, following a 4-1 creaming at the hands of Uruguay.

Italy crushed the Ukraine 3-0, with Moise Kean scoring yet another goal, putting him at 4 for the tournament, one behind Lukaku and Algeria’s Messeguem, who plays his pro football for Nice. Goals from Morrell and Daniel James saw Ghana eliminated at the hands of Wales, who would have to play the rest of the World Cup (aka, the next game against Italy) without Middlesbrough’s Kavanagh, who hurt his shoulder. I, meanwhile, had travelled to Atlanta to watch the marquee matchup of the round: Brazil vs England. This proved the right call as the Three Lions humiliated Brazil, with two goals a piece from Foden and Greenwood, as well as contributions by Everton;s James Maddison and the shockingly prolific Harvey Elliott. Seville center back Fikayo Tomori got himself sent off at the end of the match and will not be available for the match against Mexico, and nor will Emile Smith-Rowe, who bruised his thigh. The queen, meanwhile, was scrambling to look for Duchies to hand out, rather than just OBEs. As implied, Mexico, too, won their match against Korea.

Third Round

I was at the Rose Bowl on Saturday to watch the American dream die as we were mercilessly slaughtered by the Germans, 3-0. Chelsea’s Pulisic hurt his chest, so he will be watching from the stands injured when they open up the season against Derby, rather than watching from the stands fully fit, as he’d done most of the past four years. Spain felt the absence of their best striker as they went down in defeat to Argentina, despite taking a 1-0 lead after a Pedri goal in the 69th minute. Dortmund’s Ocampo and Inter’s Martinez swung the game around in the last 15 minutes.

On Sunday I abstained from returning to the blighted wasteland of New Jersey, and came to regret it as Chile and Portugal scored seven goals between them in a 120-minute affair. The game went into extra time tied at two apiece. Only three minutes into extras, Barcelona winger Trincao put Portugal up with his second goal. However Chile answered with two goals in five minutes to steal the win, and eliminated Portugal. Later that day at Arrowhead Pasalic grabbed his fifth goal of the tournament as Croatia eliminated Austria 2-0. He was now one goal behind Greenwood in the golden boot race.

Meanwhile back in Italy, many of my players returned from their loan spells, and I would have to miss the next few days of games as I flew back to Italy to deal with the end of the previous league year and the start of the new one. As such I missed Belgium beating the Ivory Coast, and Uruguay ending Algeria’s dream run with a 3-1 victory at Lincoln Financial in Philly while I was on the plane.

The next day I evaluated some youngsters, offered two of them senior contracts, and went over the team reports with the staff (more on that later). I also met with the board of Directors and was told they were expecting a mid-table finish. What a difference a year makes.

We would not be participating in Europe after all, I had found out, as Zebre, who finished a dismal 10th last year, had won the Coppa Italia and thus qualified for the Euro cup, dropping Inter into the Euro Cup II, and us out of Europe altogether. 

It was also time to say farewell to a few players: After 5 seasons, right back Manuel Ricciardi would be moving on. He’d never been the first choice and at 26 he was never going to be. The same for 24 year old right winger Altieri, who really didn’t fit into my scheme and wasn’t that good anyway. Former youth player Giandomenic Fiammetta, now 20, would have to pursue his dreams elsewhere after three years out on loan, a mediocre season in the Serie B his most recent experience. Veteran Zabaleta, who I had only signed to mentor other wingbacks, was completely obsolete and let go to consider retirement, while Eunan O’Kane would probably retire and focus solely on coaching. Utrecht renewed Palhinha’s deal, which meant I would not be loaning him again with a view to signing him permanently.

While all this was going on, Football turned out not to be coming home as co hosts Mexico booted England from the World Cup with a goal from Ajax center back Edson Alvarez. The last of the Home Nations left the tournament later that day as Moise Kean and Alessandro Bastoni scored a goal each to eliminate the Welsh.

We completed a few signings, with a few more waiting on work permit decisions (why this isn’t handled beforehand will always be a mystery to me, if the transfer is agreed upon). We signed 19-year old Czech right back Kaderabek, who has already represented his country twice, from Dukla Prague on a Bosman, as well as highly touted 17-year old German striker Luca-Andre Mende from Schalke’s second team. Equally talented Italian defender Pietro Zeni (17) was stolen away from Reggina’s youth system, while 20-year old Slovenian right back Denis Skubic (5 caps already) came to us from Domzale for free.

Antonio Russo was sold to Toledo for 650K, while we snapped up another goalkeeper for 875K in the form of 18 year old Costa Rican Ronald Ruiz, who was given a work permit. His value immediately skyrocketed to a projected 9 million pounds, leading me to believe I may have stolen him, relatively speaking. 
 

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The Quarter Final and On

Argentina continued their run as they ran up a comfortable 3-0 lead over Croatia before late goals by Vonic and Pasalic made the last 10 minutes interesting at Mile High, while I was elbow deep in contracts and ink. Chile overcame a last-minute equalizer by Germany and beat them on penalties in the seventh layer of hell New Jersey. 

I hired Nando Copete as a coach, and signed 20-year old Burkina Faso native Allah Idris Kouda, a 14-time international midfielder with two international goals to his name. 

The loud rending of clothes and gnashing of teeth emanating from outside alerted me to the fact that Romelu Lukaku had put Belgium up 1-0  in extra time against Italy at Jerryworld, which would also be the final score and tie him with Pasalic and Greenwood on 6 world cup goals. Mexico was the last of the host nations eliminated as Maxi Gomez, Valencia’s striker, scored a brace to help Uruguay to a 3-0 win.

I’d hopped onto a flight and made it back to LA by Tuesday, July 7th, in time to watch Lukaku take the Golden Boot with a brace against Chile in the first of the semi finals. Chile had no answer, and Gert Verheyen’s Red Devils were now one game away of realizing what the so-called golden generation could not. They would be facing Uruguay, who managed to brave the stench of Jersey to see off Argentina on penalties, in what proved to be a horrible game equal to the horrid location.

The Argentines would end up with Bronze medals following a 2-0 win over Chile, with yet another Ocampos goal, his 6th of the tournament. However, all eyes were on New York City’s smelliest suburb, the state of New Jersey for the final at MetLife, where 90 scoreless minutes were followed by goals from Sassuolo’s trequartista Schiappacasse and that man Lukaku, before the ‘Guay hoisted their first World Cup since 1950 on penalties, leaving Belgium with the dreaded silver medals. Lukaku’s Golden Boot and Golden Ball will have been a small consolation indeed.
 

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The Highest Form of Generalship

Quote

Sun Tzu, the Art of War
[To] fight and win all your battles is not a sign of supreme excellence. Supreme excellence is to break your enemy’s resistance without fighting. Thus, the highest form of generalship is to baulk the enemy’s plan. The next best is to prevent the junction of your enemy’s forces.

Loosely translated to the game, excellent teams don’t win by being better everywhere, they win by knowing how to stifle the opponent’s plans and break their spirits by frustrating them.

With the excitement of the World Cup behind us, it was time to get back to work. I managed to secure 20 year old Brazilian full-back Marcelo Oliveira Silva on a loan with a 6 million pound buy-out clause, and my coaching staff appeared very excited about his potential right away. I also signed 17 year old Chilean midfielder Humberto Basay for 4.9 million, and 18 year old Colombian utility player Jorge Luis Guarin, who can play both as a right back or a central midfielder, and only cost us half a million. The staff are delighted by Guarin’s potential and quite bullish about Basay’s, as well.

Werder Bremen came with a 16 million pound offer for Tarazona, but my staff tell me that he might become one of the best players in the world, and so while I accepted their offer, I also extended one of my own, and Tarazona signed a lucrative extension. We also received 275K from Guenouche’s sell-on clause as Atalanta had sold him on to Empoli for 1.1 million, recouping the money they’d spent to bring him over, for a grand total of 4 appearances over three seasons. Nicolo Cudrig also attracted some attention as Eintracht Frankfurt sent us an offer for his market value of 5.5 million, plus a quarter of whatever they sold him for in the future. I hastened to accept this bid and prepared to bid him farewell. I also sold veteran left back Christian Koppel to Bodo/Glimt for half a million, and 19-year old Luca Acampora, former academy product, to Serie B side Monza for 1.3 million. I sold Zizz to PAOK for 1.1 million, after he’d lost his job to Maliszewski, and his value took a stunning plunge to two thousand pounds! Just for a laugh I asked Tschauner to scout Zizz, and he came back with a report saying Zizz wouldn’t make it at the club, but should be available for around 150K. Very interesting, indeed; and most Belichickian of me, to sell a player for far more than he is worth after making him look good. Verona then came knocking for Sergio Maselli, to the tune of 7 million, I’d only paid 2.4 million for him from Lecce the year before, and he’d been sort of underwhelming while here, so that was a no-brainer as well. 

The season opener against Inter would be a tough test, as last season we had not managed to so much as bother Pickford in either of our games. This season, we did a lot better, even managed a goal thanks to Kaltner, but ultimately the rails came off a bit and we lost 4-1, a tough start to the season.

We also moved on from Marigosu and Ghisolfi.

The next match was our home opener at the Bruno against Crotone, on a warm summer afternoon with the stands more than two-thirds filled. I kept the same lineup as the previous week, as I didn’t think it was fair to judge the players by what had been our boogeyman so far. Early in the match Crotone defender Barrios managed to make a stunning clearance off the line on a Kaltner effort, but we would not be denied for long as Da Riva slid a nice pass into the path of Boakye, freeing him up near the penalty spot, and he made no mistake. Kaltner continued to inspire the best out of Crotone’s goalkeeper Dahne, forcing three great saves in 10 more minutes of play, but it would once again be Boakye who put it in the back of the net, this time heading home a deep cross in the 21st minute. Kaltner finally got his goal in the 39th minute, cheating down a JLo cross and slotting it home in Bergkampian fashion. A few minutes later he’d score his second, receiving a pass from Tarazona on the edge of the area, unmarked, before turning and firing it home, sending us into halftime with a 4-0 lead. At the half I left Da Riva in the dressing room, as he’d been booked in the first half. Westerhoff would take his place. Crotone dug in for the second half, which was largely boring as hell, but Mladenovic managed to get his first goal of the season off the bench, sliding home a clever pass from Kaltner, and that would be the final score. 

During the next week, young Colombian midfielder Guarin earned his first cap, always a proud moment, playing a full 90 minutes against Ecuador in a friendly. 

On a warm September Saturday we traveled to Turin to play Torino. The early going was a bit shambolic, but after 22 minutes they suddenly carved our defense up with a nice pass, sending Czech veteran Karol Linetty clean through on goal to put our hosts up 1-0. I decided to fight fire with fire, and signalled the boys to push even higher up the pitch. Torino managed to deploy the offside trap against us with great effect, so at half time I told the boys to try to run at them and work their way into the box, rather than trying to get in behind them. This solved our offsides problem, but we simply could not break down Torino’s defense, and we ultimately lost the snoozefest of the year.

A week later we would host Parma on a fine evening at the Bruno, once again at two-thirds capacity. We were expected to be the better team, and we came out swinging, forcing a clearance off the line right off the bat. We kept the pressure up the entire first half, but no goals. Early in the second half I brought on youngsters Guarin and Mende in place of Adjapong and Boakye, hoping that would spark our team to score. Ultimately, the dedicated and disciplined defense of Parma kept us from generating any real chances, and I felt as though I’d been Belichicked, given a dose of my own medicine, and I did not like it. We outshot Parma 12 to 3, but none of those chances were great chances, and only 3 of our 12 shots were on target. Altogether not a great display in what was a terrible game to watch.

Up next, a trip to Genoa on a warm but rainy Wednesday afternoon. A few changes to the starting line up saw Kaltner and Tarazona on the bench to get a bit of rest, and Maik as well to think about why he couldn’t score. In their places there would be starts for the young trio of Tedesco (17), Pirola (17), and Mende (17). Due to the Genoese lining up in an expansive 4-3-3 I told JLo and Adjapong to push up into midfield after about 20 minutes to take advantage of the space left on the wing and get closer to their fullbacks on defense, trusting Bremer, Gogic, and Garande to take on their front three one-on-one. Gogic then opened the score for us, just as I’d been contemplating redoing our offensive set pieces as we’d not scored from a corner in ages. Mende’s first start came to an upsetting end as he had to leave play with an injury, sending Maik out onto the field after 34 minutes, hopefully with renewed vigor. JLo, enjoying his new role farther up the field, scored our second after Odgaard flicked on a free kick toward the far post. At half time I left Da Riva and his yellow card in the dressing room, sending Forjan out in his place. Da Riva had been excellent in midfield, linking up play and passing quite efficiently. Forjan picked out passes as though he’d been in the game from the start, sending Adjapong through free and clear on the wing, though he mangled the cross, and later putting Maik in a one-on-one with the opposing goalkeeper, though he missed the shot. The party slowed down some in the 71st minute as Garande pulled the emergency stop on his man who was about to run free into the box, earning himself an early bath. Pirola made way for Nauzet Garcia, who took Garande’s spot in the heart of defense. We played on as though nothing had happened, however, and Odgaard made it three-nil with a fantastic free kick. Two minutes later he made it four-nil on the break, after being launched by a crafty cross-field pass from Adjapong. That would be the final score, and amid a chorus of boos and whistles, an embarrassed Genoa side slunk into the tunnel, while we celebrated with the traveling support.

Garande would be banned for one match, while Mende would be out for three weeks with a thigh strain. 

Three days later, we would face 3rd place Lazio with an exhausted squad. Fortunately, Tedesco and Kaltner were rested last match and would be ready to go for this one. Future legend Juanto Vera would play in defense alongside Gogic and Garcia, while young Mirabella would spell JLo on the left, and Boakye and Mladenovic would lead our attack. The Bruno was rocking despite the rain, and we were ready to kick things off. I noticed young Mirabella looked shaky early on, but it was only some fantastic goalkeeping on the other end that stopped us from taking a lead after ten minutes. It would not take long, however, for Kaltner to make a chance pay and after 16 minutes we did take a deserved lead. Mladenovic then managed to rocket a ball off the inside of the post, but it pinged off and out of bounds across the sideline. I made a mental note to have the groundskeeper check for structural damage. Meanwhile Boakye’s case of the yips seemed to be continuing on as he had a chance, at admittedly a tough angle, to score one-on-one with the goalkeeper, but missed the frame so badly that it didn’t even go behind the goal. Mladenovic was bested by Strakosha in a one-on-one later, and by now we had only scored one of three clear cut chances, and I was starting to get an ominous feeling. That ominous feeling was harshly verified as Lazio scored a controversial goal and Mirabella complained vocally enough to earn himself a second yellow card and a trip to the dressing room before everyone else. This, to me, is the ultimate stupidity, and something I will not tolerate. JLo came on for Boakye and resumed his normal spot, and we now had a lot of work to do. Kaltner went ahead and did that work, right after the start of the second half, combining magnificently with Mladenovic and Tarazona in a 1-2-3 that sent him through on goal. He bent the ball around Strakosha beautifully, and put us back in the lead 2-1. My little German Bergkamp! The fun wouldn’t last though as Lazio awoke once more from their slumber and equalized from a header. Suddenly, Lazio were all over us, and soon after the score was 2-3, as one of the many waves of attacks resulted in a deflected shot that left Maliszewski stranded. Something had told me to wait to make my final substitution, and that feeling, too, proved correct as Da Riva came up lame just minutes after I almost used it. Luckily we managed to avoid going down to 9 men and Forjan could take his place. We then managed to grab our third goal from a poorly cleared free kick, as Savo Gogic rifled it through a forest of bodies and into the far corner with five minutes left in regulation. That would be the last goal of the game, and we managed to hold on to a point in the end, though what might have been if we’d stayed at full strength?

Mirabella was given a formal warning, though every fiber of my being wanted to fine him two weeks wages for his stupidity, that would not have been fair. He would serve a one match ban, while Da Riva would miss three weeks with a thigh strain. Deja Vu? The press seized on Mirabella’s red card to suggest that he was somehow a madman who was always getting sent off, which was not true, having only been sent off four times in his four-year professional career (more than I like, but not outrageous, and only once for my team). When asked about it, I told the press that we were focused on the upcoming match against Atalanta. 

On the last day of the month, Juanto Vera suffered a groin strain in training which would see him miss a good portion of October. 
 

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Bye bye, Superman


October would start with a trip to Atalanta, without the injured Mende, Da Riva and Vera. Mirabella would not be available, either, due to suspension. Atalanta, meanwhile, had their own injury problems, as Freuler, Toloi, and Lanna would be missing for them. It was a cool evening at Gewiss Stadium, and we were underdogs. It appeared Atalanta would run out a 4-3-3 with Tammy Abraham up top, so Vincent Garande would have his work cut out for him. The first half was balanced and uneventful, we struggled to impose our will on our hosts, so I signalled for a more counter-attacking approach. I left things as they were at the half, being the clear underdog a stalemate was a good result. In the second half, Adjapong picked up a yellow, prompting me to send Guarin out in his stead. On the other end, Tammy Abraham went off after about an hour without contributing to the match, credit Garande, but right afterwards Atalanta broke the deadlock with a rebound fired into the corner from range by Ghanaian international Kudus. I subbed off JLo, who was making too many mistakes, and Tarazona, who was struggling to find good passes, bringing on youngsters Elekobi and Tedesco. Right afterwards, we equalized through a Garande header from a corner! Atalanta set their stall out to attack, hoping to regain the lead. This had the result that we got more chances because they left us a lot more space, while our defenders dealt brilliantly with their attacks. We ultimately did not manage to score again, but took a valuable point home with us.

The day I had been dreading finally came on October 5th, 2026. My inbox was full of offers for Jonah Kaltner, now widely recognised as one of the best players in the world. Manchester United, Lille, and Tottenham all tendered offers of 31.5 million, Tottenham indicated that this would be their final offer. I negotiated, and Tottenham did indeed drop out, but Lille and Man United both offered 34.5 million pounds. Kaltner did not wait around for me to offer him a better deal, and put pen to paper for the Red Devils. I will miss my German Bergkamp, but he has more than earned the move. We get to keep him until the new year, however, on account of the international transfer window. With the money coming in, I made two moves of my own, securing deals for promising 20-year old Brazilian goalkeeper Gallo’s from ATM, and Celta de Vigo’s wonderkid Helguera (18), who can play on both wings in defense. 

Mirabella’s return from suspension was delayed prior to the game against Lecce as he strained his calf, and would be out for three weeks. Meanwhile, Torreira, Del Prete, and Mende had recovered from their injuries, though Mende was not match fit just yet. The other two would start on the bench for now. The Bruno was busy despite the rain, and we came out firing, nearly scoring in the first minute of the game. It took only 8 minutes for Kaltner to find the back of the net, after a nice pass from Mladenovic gave him space in the box to shoot. Odgaard missed a sitter in the 20th minute, and we were punished five minutes later as Piazza managed to lose Garande and score, having been played onside by Gogic. Uncharacteristically sloppy from my defenders. It would not stay that way for long, however, as Kaltner rewarded my kindness to him with a laser to the top left corner. I found myself distinctly unimpressed with Jens Odgaard’s first half, and told him to hit the showers at halftime. Maik Boakye, who had been struggling with his form, would take his place. This was the right move, as he was sent speeding behind the Lecce defense on an incisive Adjapong pass, and rippled the net with a nicely placed finish to the goalkeeper’s far side. I sent out Tedesco to replace a tiring Tarazona, who had been having a much better game. He almost scored from a free kick, but Lecce’s goalkeeper managed to turn it around the post. No further goals meant we would take all three points with a nice 3-1 victory. 

Just before the match against Fiorentina, Nauzet Garcia picked himself up one of the disturbingly frequent 3-week injuries going around; his was a calf strain. This left me with the kind of dilemma coaches dream of: which of my highly talented center backs to start in his stead? Bremer had been solid for us in five appearances so far, Torreira had not yet played in the Serie A this season, and Juanto Vera was back from his injury and had played very well in his lone first team game. Ultimately, Per Bremer would get the nod, by virtue of being the most developed of the three young men, with Vera taking his spot on the bench. Da Riva also returned from injury, relegating Forjan to the reserves after some decent performances. Boakye would return to the starting line-up, too. It was a fine day in Florence for an important game between teams who had finished close in the table last year and would most likely find themselves near one another in the final standings this year. We were sixth, while they were 9th at kickoff. It was clear early that Fiorentina were looking to impose their will, and they were having quite a bit of success early on. I decided to change my strategy, telling the boys to look for the counter, and dropping Kaltner back into central midfield, while Da Riva would play in an anchoring role to take the sting out of Maldini’s dangerous runs from midfield, allowing Garande to focus on their striker. Our two attack-minded midfielders, Kaltner and Tarazona, were clearly exposed in their lack of defensive nous, and we were getting overrun, so I went to the bench early and brought Guarin in for Tarazona after 20 minutes. The only bright spot early on was Mladenovic being far too much for Fiorentina’s Aina, forcing Aina to resort to fouling him repeatedly. Much to my chagrin, right as we were starting to settle into the game, Maliszewski committed one of his stunning mistakes, lingering on the ball and allowing the opposing striker to take it away from him. The open net beckoned all to invitingly, and we were down 1-0. Mal is a good goalkeeper, but that **** drives me nuts. At half-time, I left JLo in the dressing room, as he failed to make much of an impact on the game, making too many mistakes and giving the ball away regularly. Young Elekobi was sent on in his stead. I used my final substitution earlier than I typically like to send Odgaard on for Mladenovic, who had slowly disappeared from the game and was looking tired. We equalized with about fifteen minutes to play as Elekobi got his first goal of the season from a corner kick. That would be the final score, and we left Florence with a useful point from a match in which we had been second-best. 

I realized that we had very few players capable of mentoring our young talent, so I went on the free agent market to find some savvy veterans to have around the clubhouse. I found Swedish striker Robin Quaisson had no club, but his price was much too high. Instead, I signed 33 year old Spaniard Inigo Ruiz de Galaretta, who had fallen out of favor at Cesena after three years as a solid starter; I set him to mentor Chilean youngster Humberto Basay. We also picked up 32 year old Spaniard Denis Suarez, formerly of Barcelona, Celta de Vigo, and most recently a bad investment by Lazio. My assistant suggested that Kaltner would learn a lot from him, but that seemed like a waste of time to do Manchester United a favor, so he was tasked with developing 17-year old Iacopo Re. 31-year old Spaniard Chele, also capable of acting as a physio, was signed as well, though it did not appear there was a match in the mentorship department right away. 31-year old German defender Luca Dahn, a veteran of the lower leagues, was brought in and set to work with Torreira. The final addition was 31 year old Irish international Callum Robinson, who had been released by West Brom. I set him to work with young Fraga.

Kaltner was still tired from the previous match and would be on the bench as we hosted Udinese at the Bruno on a short turnaround. Del Prete would take his place. The stands were pretty full despite a persistent drizzle on a mild afternoon. Udinese had apparently not been told that they were meant to be the underdog, and we were lucky not to start by picking the ball out of our goal as they rang the goalpost and the ball rolled invitingly across the mouth of goal before being bundled behind by Bremer. We then opened the score as Garande’s big ass nodded home a strong header from a corner kick. Boakye mystified the crowd by doing everything right to get himself alone before the goal and then missing blatantly in the end, but luckily Da Riva was not so afflicted when he picked up a loose ball at the edge of the box following a throw-in, and slammed it home. We went into the locker room at halftime up two goals, but I did not feel as though we were as dominant as the scoreline suggested. I contemplated some moves, and ultimately decided to replace Adjapong with Torreira. Udinese came out and grabbed a goal back after Garande failed to mark their striker Vaccaro completely, but we restored our lead a minute later as Del Prete cut through the defense and slotted his chance home. A crucial audition for the soon vacant shadow striker position. Both teams had a few more chances, but no goals materialised. We lost Kaltner for three weeks in training the day after, because of a damaged shoulder. 

Another quick turnaround and we faced SPAL on the final day of October. Guarin, Tedesco, Pirola, and Fraga were all given a chance to start the game in order to rest Da Riva, Tarazona, Mladenovic, and Del Prete. Pacifico Pirola decided to stake his claim for Kaltner’s place by scoring his first of the season early in the match. Despite dominating most of the first half, we went into halftime tied at one after some sleepy defending. Garande tried to blame the officials, and was given a yellow card for his troubles. At half-time I pulled Garande and Fraga, both on yellows, due to the referee’s reputation as a stickler. Torreira and Odgaard took their respective places. Pirola and Tedesco combined after 55 minutes to put us back ahead, with Tedesco scoring a stunner from distance. After 75 minutes we had still left the game uncomfortably close, and I decided to bring Boakye’s uninspired effort to an end, sending Mladenovic on for the last fifteen or so minutes. Pirola then cemented a man of the match performance by stealing the ball in the opposing penalty area and setting Odgaard up to score from inches out at the near post. He would certainly be given a real chance to make that spot his own upon Kaltner’s departure. Not bad for a kid who was almost released over the summer. Tedesco nearly doubled his tally by rattling the crossbar in the dying minutes of the game, but the final result would be a comfortable 3-1 win, as we took care of business like we were supposed to. 

At the end of the month Bremer and Kaltner found themselves in the Serie A team of the month, with Kaltner winning player of the month and Bremer coming in second in the voting. We were tied on points with Zebre and Atalanta after eleven games, with Zebre in 4th, us in 5th, and Atalanta in 6th, only three points off league leaders Sassuolo, though the Milan clubs each had a game in hand, which if they won those it would see them one and two in the table, with Inter 6 and AC 5 points ahead of us.
 

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Slowvember

Ronald Ruiz would make his debut in goal as we hosted Zebre in the cold November rain in front of a packed Bruno. We would be without Adjapong (suspension) and Kaltner (injury) while the Zebre would be missing Dybala and Vrioni due to injury. Despite their overwhelming talent, Zebre were content to let us dictate play and so the majority of the early game took place in their half. Our finishing, however, was tragic, as we missed the target on all five shots in the first half an hour. We did manage one shot on target in the half out of seven as Maik got through one-on-one with the goalkeeper, but came off second best. At the half I brought on Juanto Vera to protect Gogic from himself after picking up a yellow. After an hour I pulled Boakye, who had once again been struggling in front of goal and ran out Mladenovic. My final tactical move was to bring on Tarazona for Tedesco, who had also been wearing out and struggling to make a big impact. Ultimately it made no difference and we held them to a draw, a good result against a much bigger club.

Young Mirabella stubbed his toe in training and would be out for a further two weeks.

We then hosted Sassuolo, once again at a rocking Bruno. This would be our last match without Kaltner as he recovered from his injury. Sassuolo were the rare Italian side to line up in a flat 4-4-2, putting the main man marking responsibilities on Bremer and Gogic, while I instructed Garande to sweep up behind them. We faced an onslaught almost from the word go, spending most of our first half attacking. Our biggest chance came as Del Prete got sent through one-on-one, but his shot hit the crossbar of all things. Fraga appeared to be struggling in the first half, but I wanted to give him a chance to turn things around, so I sent the same eleven out for the second half. Our stout resistance was finally broken in the 69th minute as Diallo found himself in some space at the point of the penalty area with a freely bouncing ball after a subpar clearance and he produced a magical volley that left young Ruiz stranded. I finally pulled Fraga off and told the boys to go balls to the wall to see what we could do. After all, if we lose by one or lose by five, a loss is a loss, and I’d rather roll the dice to try and get a result. It was for naught, however, as Sassuolo patiently absorbed our efforts and then strolled out the door with three points in their pocket, and the other hand throwing a peace sign.

Our final match of the month would be the third straight in which we were +300 underdogs, as we traveled to face Sampdoria at Luigi Ferraris. Kaltner was back in the lineup and created havoc immediately, creating a great chance from a free kick and then nearly burying the rebound. I’m gonna miss him when he’s gone. The first 45 at Luigi’s Mansion went by without anyone distinguishing themselves. Finally the deadlock was broken after 68 minutes as Odgaard sent Kaltner sprinting into the penalty area with two defenders hot on his ass before slotting it in the far corner. That would be Kalt’s last act in the game as I didn’t want to overtax him on his return, and Del Prete came on in his stead. I signalled the boys to be ready to counter as Sampdoria would surely ratchet up the pressure, now. However it seemed Sampdoria were content to take their L, and allowed us to continue to dictate play, and Del Prete made it 2-0 from just inside the box. So, just like that, we went home winners. 

Four points out of three matches with much bigger clubs was a good haul for November and we finished the month in sixth place, tied on 23 points with Lazio. The top of the table started taking on a distinctly Milanese flavor as AC were in first on 30 points with a game in hand and Inter were 4th on 26 with two games in hand. Savo Gogic made the Serie A team of the month.
 

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