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[FM22] The Fourth Glass, Vol. III: Straight Outta Sagarejo


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October 2033 (continued).

I don't know if it is complacency or the difficulties inherent in having a squad battling on three fronts, for club and country. But we are leaving points on the table this month -- controlling matches, but not putting our opponents to the sword.

Porto annihilate us 3-nil on the night where we debut our new away kits, though I can't for the life of me figure out why Mat chose to swap out our kits now. Regardless, we claim our 6th straight title on Matchday 33 at the Chele Arena.

Meaning that our focus can turn to the Champions League and World Cup qualifying.

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November 2033 - World Cup Qualifying.

All roads lead to Tbilisi.

For this is where our fates will be decided, as we host Turkey and Wales over the course of 4 days.

While the Wales match is clearly what will define our final position, we cannot sandbag the Turkey match -- Wales host Andorra that same day, meaning that if we lose to Turkey we will almost certainly find ourselves third heading into the final matchday.

Of course, those on the optimistic side of the spectrum realize that a win would see us draw level with Turkey on points. Surely, a win isn't in the cards, no matter how comprehensive our recent humiliation of Fenerbahce was...and the fact that we managed a draw in Istanbul, in June... Though, a win is possible, isn't it?

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The GFF have swung from being critical of our performance to firing up the hype train, introducing new kits ahead of the Turkey match. They're saucy. But the GFF is tempting the Football Gods now, all but demanding that we be struck down for their hubris. At least they didn't brand them our World Cup '34 kits...yet.

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In the hours leading up to kickoff, the pundits are questioning whether we will abandon our attacking principles in favor of a more measure, practical approach. They clearly don't know us at all.

Within the first 3 minutes, we've hit the post. Yet still, we concede first, against the run of play. I stand silent on the touchline, while Mat loses his damn mind next to me. Raging against the linesman who kept his flag down. Bastard.

Down 1-nil at the half, we're not dead yet. We've created chances. One of them will fall our way.

Yet we are unable to find purchase in the 2nd half. With 30 minutes to play, we increase the intensity. Increase the aggression. Increase the risk.

Keburia finds the net in the 90th minute -- as he wheels away in celebration, Mat notices the linesman's flag is raised. Double bastard.

VAR confirms. Offside, by the slimmest of margins. It is all I can do to keep Mat from assaulting the linesman.

In the 93rd, Khurtsidze is through on goal but smashes it a mile over the bar. Ironic, since he is only in the side for his goalscoring prowess...even though he never scores for us. The ****.

Khurtsidze launching the ball into orbit is the final kick of the match. We fall, 1-nil.

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Wales defeat Andorra, which means we drop to 3rd.

Meaning that all will be decided against the Welsh. 90 minutes. All to play for. Anything but a win, and we're done for. And even with a win, qualification is not assured.

The pundits are fully of criticisms, second-guesses and holier-than-thou pronouncements. The ****s.

I manage to avoid Moyes in the build-up to the match, but once kickoff arrives. I can feel him watching me. Waiting. When the Welsh hit the post early, I can hear him calling my name. When I don't respond, he chuckles. "Don't worry, Red...I've got my eyes on you." Creepy ****.

At the half, we are dead in the water. Lacking a spark. Fire and brimstone ensues, metaphorically, as I hand the team talk off to Mat. It's all a blur to me -- but whatever he said, it worked. Jalaghonia smashes the crossbar in the 48th minute -- a thunderbolt from distance. The Welsh cannot clear and Mukbaniaini is hammers home the loose ball, but the defense is adamant that he was offsides. VAR intervenes, in the favor of our more glamourous opponents. Moyes' soft, raspy laugh is audible even above the din of the Paichadze, sending shivers down my spine.

****.

As the minutes pass, our desperation goes. The more we attempt to increase the pressure, the more the Welsh look likely to find a goal of their own.

VAR intervenes yet again in the 83rd minute, as North flops to the ground feigning a push in the box. Penalty.

As torrents of abuse fly from the stands, Mamardashvili stands equal to the task, as Spencer dinks a cheap ball down the middle, only to be undone by his own arrogance. Moments later, Mikautadze forces a big save from the Welsh keeper, and our guests clear the ensuing corner.

Time is ticking away on our dreams. With 3 minutes of injury time, we cast our lot -- pushing everyone forward with urgency.

To no avail. The whistle blows. The dream is dead. A scoreless draw.

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I refuse to leave the pitch until several hours have passed, the floodlights long-since extinguished.

6 months ago, we would have bitten your hand off for a 3rd-place finish. Now, it feels like nothing less than abject failure, even as we celebrate Mamardashvili's record-setting 112th cap.

The GFF are pleased that we managed to be competitive, though their kind words are tempered by the threat of the sack if performances don't "improve."

The only consolation? Wales fail to qualify through the second-place table, leading to Moyes' resignation and retirement.

Two things are certain, as Mat and I finally climb into the car for the drive back to Sagarejo. First, we will be avenged. This aggression from UEFA will not be allowed to stand. Second, Khurtsidze will never play for the Crusaders again. Our failure to qualify isn't his fault. But it is.

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Sorry not sorry, Aleksandre.

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November/December 2033.

The let-down of the World Cup qualifiers is quickly put behind us. The media are all-too happy to have someone to blame, and they've adopted our line -- Khurstidze is to blame. It's wildly unfair. Not that I mind. He can do one.

Especially after his wild celebration following our shootout loss in the Davit Kipiani Cup final, after we deadlocked at 2-2. The cheeky ****. You're dead to me, Aleksandre. Dead.

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Aleksandre didn't leave us a choice, really.

Let Aleksandre content himself with his single Davit Kipiani Cup. We're hunting bigger game -- scalping the likes of Chelsea (2-1) in front of a record crowd of 18,343 and Fenerbahce (5-2) in Istanbul.

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It All Comes Flooding Back To Me, Like A Forgotten Melody From A Dream

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December 2033 - Season Review

Is this stagnation? For the third straight year, we've finished 3rd in our Champions League Group. This may be our most successful campaign (with 3 wins), but it feels at times as if we are not making progress.

That is the cynical view, of course. We've also been shifting from a squad relying (in part) on talented foreign players to one dependent almost wholly on Georgian talent. Young Georgian talent, no less.

Doubts may creep in, but we are improving our lot. Slowly by slowly. For example, we managed to hit 149 goals during the league campaign, a delightfully absurd total in any league.

If we can continue along this path, there is reason for hope for both club and country. Progress is the key. Steady progress.

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The Board -- in their infinite wisdom -- again agree to expand the stadium, adding 1,791 seats to reach a 5,000 capacity. It doesn't match the ambition shared by Mat and I, but it is better than nothing.

For the 8th year running, one of our players claims the Jughashvili Medal -- 18 year-old Giorgi Beridze, who fought his way into the 1st XI after arriving from Saburtalo.

Despite ceding our Davit Kipiani Cup title to Dinamo Tbilisi, we place 3 players into the tournament's Best XI, and 7 players in the Next XI.

Surprise in the Erovnuli Liga 2 awards, as Bidzinahsvili claims both Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year, while leading a large Gareji contingent in the second tier's Best XI and Next XI, with Gabedava claiming the Golden Boot.

In the Erovnuli Liga proper, Mukbaniani celebrates having joined the club by claiming the Erovnuli Liga Player of the Year, with Luton Town-bound Jalaghonia taking home Young Player of the Year. 13 players are selected to the Best XI -- 8 starters and 5 on the bench.

Goals for 2034:  Win the lot, domestically. Qualify for the Champions League knockout rounds in 2034/35. Continue to identify and develop Georgian players, with an eye towards qualifying for Euro 2036.

Squad | Erovnuli Liga | Transfers
Finances | Income | Expenditure | Reserves

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Edited by ManUtd1
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January/February 2034 - Odds & Ends; Transfer News.

The gut punch lands much sooner than I expected, with the Europa League draw seeding us against Zvonimir Soldo's Eintracht Frankfurt.

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A proverbial "mission impossible" in years past, "mission improbable" is the more apt description these days.

We've come so far. Yet have so much further to go. The criticisms are trite. Predictable.

I will not deny that -- on occasion, during the dark days of winter -- I, too, have had my doubts. Thankfully, Mat never wavers in his convictions that we are on the right path. At times, we clash like brothers over two fundamental question.

First, whether foreign signings will help or impede progress towards the lofty goals we have for both club and country -- will they show our Georgian players the path, or stand in the way? Second, should we adopt a more pragmatic approach, tactically, or retain our swashbuckling, aggressive character?

At this point, the only thing that I can be sure of is that there is no objectively right answer to either question.

I can see that -- perhaps -- our Georgian focus has swung the pendulum too far in one direction. Not that we're changing course in any meaningful fashion. A more measured approach may be called for -- threading the transfer needle, so to speak.

Tactically, we have discussed plans for such a pragmatic approach, but I do not think Mat would let me betray our core principles in this manner. He recognizes that it would retain some of our panache. But neither of us is ready to take that step.

Not yet, at least.

Though I did find him arranging the Khinkali in a very Nagelsmann-esque fashion the other day, even if he would deny having done so.

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Erekle Jalaghonia's departure for the green pastures of Luton Town is still imminent when the GFF announce that he has been named the Georgian Player of the Year and Georgian Young Player of the Year. Tragic, but we have young players at the club, ready to step in.

Giorgi Barbakadze, Aleksi Tebidze and Giorgi Khardzeishvili follow Erekle out the door, joining Santiago Solari's Rennes, Bo Henriksen's Brentford and Oostende, respectively, for a combined $6.9 million, each with 50-percent next sale clause.

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To replace them, we promote Revaz Rotiashvili, Revaz Gogia and Bakar Gabedava from the reserves, and sign Beka Nikoleishvili ($240k, Saburtalo), leaving us with a strong squad, 3-4 players deep in each position.

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Television rights payments continue their steady increase -- the Erovnuli Liga rights rise to $372k per team, with the Erovnuli Liga 2 rights rising to $179k per team, up from $315k and $157k in 2033 (respectively).

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February 2034 - Europa League, First Knockout Round.

Nerves abound, ahead of our showdown with ze Germans in Tbilisi.

Doubts creep in. The never-ending debate between pragmatism and romanticism. We decline the pundits' invitation to prioritize pragmatism.

And for a time it appears to have been a wise decision. We take the lead on the hour through Pataria, but promptly concede the equalizer en route to a 1-1 draw.

In the second leg, we take the lead -- not once, but twice -- through Mukbaniani in the 17th and then Khukhua in the 27th, only moments after ze Germans had equalized.

But ze Germans can only be held off for so long. A Herrlich hat-trick sees us crash out, losing 3-2 on the night, 4-3 on aggregate.

After the match, I sit by the hotel pool. The sounds of the city in the distance my only companion, until Mat steps out of the shadows to join me in silent contemplation. I didn't even hear him approach.

No words need be spoken. We know each other's every thought implicitly. A German Shepherd randomly approaches, though where it came from we can only guess.

Mat speaks to it in broken German, leading to a wagging tail at the possibility of treats and belly rubs. After several minutes, it's clear that Mat has taken a shine to the dog.

"You really like that dog, eh, Mat?"

"It's nice to be affectionate to something German. You don't get the opportunity that often, you know."

"Well, wash your hands when you're done. You know I'm allergic to anything German."

"That's ridiculous. What about Ilse, that we met at that hofbrau outside Munich?"

"I think she was Austrian, mate."

"Ahh... Yeah, that makes sense then."

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Ahead of the Georgian Super Cup tie against Dinamo Tbilisi, we are declared the clear favorites to retain our Erovnuli Liga crown, with 9 players named to the pre-season Dream XI -- Machardze, Pataraia, Arason, Beridze, Duarte, Mukbaniani, Khukhua, Chighladze and Divali.

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Chighladze and Keburia are favored for top goalscorer, with Arason, Duarte and Macharadze favored for best player, and Arason and Beridze also up for best young player.

Against our rivals, there is no doubt. It is as comprehensive a 2-nil win as one can hope for. Thoroughly professional. Job done.

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March 2034.

Ahead of the first match of the Erovnuli Liga campaign, the club announces the sale of 1,180 season tickets, only a modest year-on-year increase from last year's 1,119 tickets. A reflection, perhaps, of the demographic "glass ceiling" on our local support.

In the absence of European football, the start of the Erovnuli Liga campaign is something of a dull affair. There are another 6 months until European football resumes...practically an eternity. It gives us time to mold and shape this young squad. But I am restless.

Giorgi Khardzeishvili is named #47 in the NxGn 2034 -- the first time a Georgian player has claimed such an accolade. I do not begrudge Giorgi his moment, but I can't help but be confused. He has yet to make an appearance for Oostende, and was 3rd on our depth chart as the left-sided inverted winger, with promising players coming up through the ranks who were bound to displace him...hence why we were ready to let him leave.

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Speaking of our young squad -- Hatami's extended trial finally comes to an end late in the month. He will join the reserves for the immediate future, with his position in the depth chart to be re-evaluated in the summer and at the end of the current campaign.

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March 2034.

Ahead of the first match of the Erovnuli Liga campaign, the club announces the sale of 1,180 season tickets, only a modest year-on-year increase from last year's 1,119 tickets. A reflection, perhaps, of the demographic "glass ceiling" on our local support.

In the absence of European football, the start of the Erovnuli Liga campaign is something of a dull affair. There are another 6 months until European football resumes...practically an eternity. It gives us time to mold and shape this young squad. But I am restless.

Giorgi Khardzeishvili is named #47 in the NxGn 2034 -- the first time a Georgian player has claimed such an accolade. I do not begrudge Giorgi his moment, but I can't help but be confused. He has yet to make an appearance for Oostende, and was 3rd on our depth chart as the left-sided inverted winger, with promising players coming up through the ranks who were bound to displace him...hence why we were ready to let him leave.

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Speaking of our young squad -- Hatami's extended trial finally comes to an end late in the month. He will join the reserves for the immediate future, with his position in the depth chart to be re-evaluated in the summer and at the end of the current campaign.

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April/May 2034.

Another long-term "trial" ends with Mark Kamau joining the first-team squad after scoring 54 goals over the course of 2 years with the U19s. The devil on my shoulder (aka, Mat) keeps telling me to retrain him as a libero. And I have to admit that I'm tempted...as much as I love the idea of Rotiashvili as a libero, there is no comparison between the two. Rotiashvili will return to the reserves for now, while playing from the bench with our 2nd XI.

Speaking of the U19s, no longer will the name of Gareji Sagarejo be seen as cannon fodder for the mighty in Europe -- our investment and belief in Fabrika has seen us claim the UEFA Youth League, even though it wasn't high on our to-do list.

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A 3-2 win over Inter Milan in the final capped a brilliant run through the knockout rounds which included shootout victories over Villarreal and Dortmund, and saw the winning goal scored by recently-signed trialist (pending final signing) Anto Brkic. True, we dropped several 2nd XI players to the U19s for the final, but it was worth it.

Our facilities are in tremendous shape, but we use the UEFA Youth League title as leverage for further investment in both our training facilities and youth facilities -- Fabrika has only just begun.

And with this victory, comes renewed interest from foreign youth who once scoffed at the prospect of a move to Kakheti.

Case in point? Achille Awoa. Already a Cameroonian U20 international at the age of 15, learning his trade for Canon Yaounde's academy. A well-rounded beast of a striker.

2 weeks ago? Not interested.

Now? Now he's willing to negotiate. His opening demand is a 2-year contract at $500 per week, with relatively standard appearance clauses.

There's only one thing to do. Mat takes over the negotiation, putting his arm around young Achille.

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"5 hundo? No, no, that just won't do. See, you need some walkin' around money, when you hit the streets of Sagarejo. How does $800 per week sound, rising to $1.3k per week once you've played 30 matches, with a 10% raise each year?"

The cheeky **** makes sure to read the fine print, though, and realizes our offer is contingent on a 3-year contract, with a 3-year extension clause. He counters. $1k per week, rising to $1.2k after 20 matches.

I can't sign the contract fast enough. Sure, he won't arrive until January 2037, but he is a beast. The kind of player you build a team around. A player destined to conquer the footballing world as a libero for Gareji.

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The GFF won't mind if I manage Cameroon, too...will they? Maybe we just won't tell them.

Paata doesn't rate him. But that's because Paata is, on his best day, an unsharpened pencil when it comes to spotting talent.

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May/June 2034 - European Review.

In the Champions League, Julian Nagelsmann's Bayern Munich defeat Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool on penalties, after a 1-1 draw.

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2033/34 Champions League: Overview | Knockout Rounds

Zinedine Zidane's Virus claim the Europa League title with a 2-1 win over Diego Simeone's Atletico at the Boris Paichadze, thanks to an 86th minute own goal.

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2033/34 Europa League: OverviewKnockout Rounds

And, in the Europa Conference League, Sergio Conceicao's Wolfsburg defeat Patrick van Leeuwen's Lazio on penalties, after a scoreless draw.

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2033/34 Europa Conference League: OverviewKnockout Rounds

In the active leagues: Vincent Kompany's Manchester City reclaim the Premier League title, 4 points clear of Vladimir Ivic's tycoon-fueled Aston Villa; Zidane's Virus defend their La Liga title; Didier Deschamps' Juventus win the Serie A title; Julian Nagelsmann's Bayern did Bayern things, albeit finishing a scant 3 points clear of Marco Rose's Dortmund; and, Roberto Martinez's PS-****ing-G did PS-****ing-G things.

Finally, we receive $18.95 million from UEFA -- our allocation of left-over television revenue and coefficient ranking pool funds.

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The Erovnuli Liga rises 5 spots to 33rd in the competition reputation rankings, just behind the Spanish second tier.

However, Georgia drops another 3 spots to 17th in the nations coefficients table -- backsliding for the second straight year -- meaning we lose a Champions League spot in the process.

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At the least, Gareji reverse last year's regression in the club rankings -- rising to 28th in the club coefficient rankings -- behind Ajax and Rennes. The problem being that is where the good news ends. While we sit 50 spots above Dinamo Tbilisi, it's because they and other clubs continue to struggle in Europe, falling down the rankings and tanking our national coefficients.

Looks like we're going to need to carry this burden ourselves.

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South Korea 2034 - World Cup Review.

The excitement was there to be had. Giants were slain. Legends, born. Hearts, broken.

The Spaniards just had to ruin it all. Like they always do. First, it was "don't run through the house with a pickle in your mouth, Rezo, that's misbehavin!" Then, it was "beating Poland 5-nil in the World Cup final."

****s.

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2034 World Cup: Overview | Knockout Rounds

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June/July 2034.

While everyone's eyes are focused on the World Cup, I can't get over the reports coming in from Fabrika, about the quality coming through this year's graduating class. Centerbacks and strikers? In the right world, they're one and the same.

I had planned for a quiet window, but in early July the rumors heat up, and several players insist upon leaving for greener pastures in more reputable leagues. Tantrums are thrown. Unkind words are spoken, leaving all involved unhappy. Unsatisfied. In the end, Keburia, Duarte and Mukbaniani follow Asamoah out the door.

I always knew Duarte and Mukbaniani were mercenaries, anyways. Asamoah had not developed. And Keburia? We owed it to him to allow his departure, after all he has given for the club.

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We won't miss them, I tell myself. We promote Gocha Guruli, Mehrdad Hatami and Vakhtang Abzhandadze to the 2nd XI, to backfill the first-team squad. It's their loss, not ours.

Of course, I tell myself that while a feeding frenzy ensues with various other players. Dvali and Beridze the key targets, but they have contracts through 2037 and 2038 (respectively), with extension clauses. They aren't going anywhere, no matter how angry they get.

All of the transfer drama -- the lack of loyalty -- sours my mood, adding to the frustrations of the World Cup.

Thus, when the news arrives that Cameroon's manager has resigned in disgrace following their early departure from South Korea (as one does), my interest is piqued. If our players are not going to be loyal to what we are building here in Sagarejo for the sake of the Crusaders, why should I be loyal to the GFF?

Meaning I faced a dilemma. Apply for the Cameroon job, and take the opportunity to guide young Achille for the next 15-20 years, for both club and country? Or, stay the course with the Georgians.

Mat and I talk a bit, before I decide to sleep on it.

Only, while I slept, Mat submitted an application in my name. (As one does.)

Within days, the offer arrives from Yaounde. Meaning tough decisions have to be made. Opinions, considered. Pros and cons, weighed.

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There's only one person I can talk to about these things. Even if he is an utter thunder****.

Mat.

(Just last week, he made me take down all the mirrors at home and around Fabrika. Why? Because they make him "uncomfortable." I don't need a mirror to show me how I look. I transcend mirrors, beotch.)

"I really think the footballing world is beginning to consider me, Mat. Managerially."

Mat just groans.

"I was wondering if I should make a move. Accept the offer. Take over the Indominable Lions, showcase Achille for 15, 20 years. Not just here in Sagarejo -- for both club and country. Put the likes of Messi, Ronaldo and Pele to shame."

"That's a terrible idea, Rezo."

"That's exactly what I thought, because we have a contract with Georgia. Even if it is for 10k per week less than what Cameroon have offered..."

"That's not what I meant, Rezo. You don't even know if this kid can meet the potential you see in him. He could be the Cameroonian Ravel Morrison, for crying out loud."

I just let his words wash over me. Silly words. Mat doesn't know what he's talking about. Achille is going to be the Cameroonian Ronaldo -- the oily Ronaldo. Not the fat one.

No, this boils down to a simple matter of respect.

"You know me, Mat. Contracts have meaning. My word is my bond."

He just nods, knowing the look on my face. I'm on a roll.

"I mean, I come from a family of honor."

Mat chuckles softly, shaking his head.

"Ok. You know what? Fine. Directly, I come from a family of home invaders, identity thieves and -- in my Uncle Giorgi's case -- the 'Butt-Stabber of Zemo Alvani.' But my lineage is one of honor. So, to clean the deck ethically, I'm going to ask the Federation's permission to take some time and consider the Cameroon job."

"Please videotape that exchange, Rezo."

Suffice to say that it did not go the way I expected. Unkind words were spoken by all sides. And, in a rush of blood to the head, I tendered my resignation. They did not hesitate to accept it.

Which leaves the path clear for chacha football to take root in Cameroon.

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Stepping aside from the narrative for a moment, there are two factors weighing on this decision. Maybe three.

My biggest regret from the FM21 cycle is selling a player who might be my all-time favorite player in FM -- the legend that was Miguel “Katchip” Katchipwisayla. As discussed at the time, the only reason I sold him was that Duruji Kvareli was pivoting towards developing Georgian players for the Crusaders. While it made sense, narratively, I've always been frustrated that: (1) we didn't find and sign him sooner; (2) I didn't keep him around, because he excelled even in a tactical setup that used but did not maximize the impact of the libero, and (3) we later returned to PM Draugr, the spiritual predecessor of my current tactic, PM Draugrson, which did emphasize the libero's role.

In short, I feel like I had the libero of my dreams...and I wasted him.

I've been looking for the "new Katchip" ever since.

Accordingly, having stumbled across Achille Awao at the age of 15, I feel compelled to do everything I can to make him into the greatest footballer the world has ever seen. Foolish? Absolutely.

And, let's be honest -- doing something stupid like taking an objectively brilliant striker and trying to make him into a world-class, goal-scoring libero is deliciously fun.

Trying to get him 1000 appearances and 1000 goals in the process? Even better. Truth be told, I've never attempted to get a player to hit either threshold. And, it may be impossible to do with a libero. But that makes me only more interested in trying to make it happen with Achille. I also think that the Erovnuli Liga and Cameroonian national team is a perfect club-country combination to try it with.

So, let's do this.

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Maybe I'll come to regret taking the Cameroon job.

But there's no fun in not trying. We can always return to Georgia later in the save -- and, as explained in the intro post -- having won the World Cup with the Crusaders in both FM20 and FM21, that is not the focus this year.

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August 2034.

Chaos reigns. I can barely tell which day is which -- they all simply bleed together into one.

Sleep is but a distant memory. A fleeting moment on the best of days. The eye of the hurricane.

With Georgia's tumble down the coefficient table, we face a 3rd Qualifying Round tie against Maribor, but make quick work of the...wait, where are they from? Mat doesn't know either. Regardless, a 3-nil win at a cozy stadium somewhere in Europe is followed by a 7-nil romp back in Tbilisi.

Facing Breidablik in the Playoffs, I have little cause for concern and manage to sleep on the flight to Iceland following a 5-1 win in Tbilisi. (Mat insists that the in-flight movie, The Fast & The Furious XXVI -- 2 Fast 4 Backlash, was epic. I'm skeptical, as they've been derivative **** since XIX, and the lazy title of this one gave me no reason to think that the Vin Diesel DnD storyline would be resolved.)

The 2nd XI are handed the job of finishing of our Nordic friends, and claim a 3-1 win to see us return to the Group Stage.

Our reward? I'm hopeful that -- the Greeks and Austrians having gained an automatic first seed -- a favorable draw will allow us to at least dream of reaching the knockout rounds, even if we do not belong there... Yet.

Those hopes are quickly shattered, as we're drawn into Group E with Roberto Martinez's PS-****ing-G, Diego Simeone's Atletico and Basaksehir. **** my life.

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September 2034.

A dream start to life with Les Lions Indomitable – 5-nil over Sierra Leone, and 3-nil over DR Congo – leaving us 3 points clear in AFCON Qualifying.  The media howled at my inclusion of young Awoa in the squad.  Rest assured, you jackals, we will have the last laugh.

The fading light of summer sees us welcome Basaksehir to our temporary home in Tbilisi, as club football resumes. A must-win match. No question about it. But the Turks fail to bow before us, having the temerity to fight back. Earning themselves a point in the process. 1-1 is not going to be good enough, lads.

The result is not good enough.  We will need luck to have any hope of advancing to the Champions League knockout rounds, as has long been our goal.

The annual youth intake arrives, and it has some promise for certain. 

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Davit Khvaratskhelia could be immense – some say he is the most promising player in years.  But time has a way of breaking such promises.  We must be patient with Davit.

Other promising players include Niko Kharshiladze, Nika Dighmelashvili, Davit Baladze, and Lasha Abulashvili.

We do not need the distraction, but out of nowhere the media soil themselves as rumors swirl of a Qatari investor being in talks to take over the club. We do not need the money.  Nor do we want his money.  

We just want to be left alone, in peace. To conquer in our own way and time.

But we cannot control the media. Steady on, lads. Ignore them. We're good for the title. As if the league was ever in doubt.

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October 2034.

The news reaches us, last of all. Somehow, that strikes me as wrong. After all we have done for the club, we're kept out of the loop.

The Qatari tycoon has completed his takeover of the club. "Things may never be the same," the media cry, speculation rampant as to the hordes of headline signings that are in the offing.

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Only, nothing has changed. Not a penny invested.

I'm too busy scouting Cameroonian U18s to care. And I haven't seen Mat for days.

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October/November 2034.

The pundits scoffed when we named Awoa to the Cameroon squad for our friendlies in October against Mozambique (5-2) and Kenya (2-1), and then handed him his first appearances, from the bench. Let them laugh.  They can’t see the brilliance that is within him, the talent he will become.

When November rolls around, I don’t hesitate to name Awoa to the squad to face Sierra Leone and Madagascar.  One win and we’re through to the Cup of Nations.  Simples.

He isn’t in the matchday squad against Sierra Leone, but a 2-nil win means we have qualified for Egypt.  Accordingly, I see a no-risk option to hand Awoa his first start.  My faith is repaid in the 47th minute, when he calmly steps forward to take a penalty – slotting it home for his first international goal.  Composure, personified. He claims his brace in the 88th minute, crashing home a header at the near post to finish off our 5-nil rout.

We qualify with ample room to breath.. 

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It isn't just his first international goals. Awoa is the youngest player to appear in a Cup of Nations qualifier, and the youngest goalscorer. Not a bad day at the office. Though his minutes may be limited in Egypt, Mat has a word with his club manager to get him minutes at libero before his move to Gareji in two years' time.  For the greater good.

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Domestically, the new Chairman finally invests in the club, not that we see it reflected in our transfer or wage budgets. The expansion of the Arsen is also complete, to a total capacity of 5,000 (3,800 seated).  With the financial backing at our fingertips, though, our dreams are much, much bigger.

Regardless, those dreams are for another day. We continue to romp domestically, while facing uphill battles in Europe. We took a shock, early lead against Roberto Martinez's PS-****ing-G en route to a hard-fought 1-1 draw. We matched the determination of Diego Simeone's Atletico, securing 1-nil losses both in Madrid and back in Tbilisi. Facing a loser-out match in Istanbul, we conceded 2 early goals before waking up and barnstorming our way to a 5-2 win over Basaksehir, securing pasage through to the Europa League knockout rounds.

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It Does Not Matter How Slowly You Go, So Long As You Do Not Stop

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December 2034 - Season Review

Suffice to say, this is not the way we expected the year to go.  We get thumped 4-nil by PS-****ing-G on Matchday 6 to close out the Champions League Group Stage, securing our 3rd place finish.  Revenge is taken against Dinamo Batumi in the Davit Kipiani Cup final – hollow, perhaps, some small measure of revenge is better than none. 

Mat seems to be pouting, as I haven’t seen him lately.  Not that I’m too fussed, we’re busy and working hard, but the workload is manageable with him focused on the administrative and scouting efforts for Cameroon.  I don’t mind that he’s working while I sleep – it’s a balance that appears to be working…  

…except for when I woke up in the middle of a field the other day, with a disembodied voice talking to me.  Couldn’t figure that one out.  As always, best not to think too hard about that one.

Showing its ambition, the Board declares their intention to build a new stadium – mere months after our latest expansion (to 5,000) was completed.  No complaints from us, mind.  There is little they can do to improve our fortunes on the pitch, our finances, and our academy, so this is much appreciated.

The awards season is once again quite favorable to GarejiBregvadze claims the Jughashvili medal – the 9th year in a row one of our players has been deemed the most stylish youngster in Georgian football, home and abroad.

Gabedava claims the Davit Kipiani Cup Player of the Year, with 7 players named to the tournament’s Best XI and 7 in the Next XI

Bidzinashvili is named Erovnuli Liga 2 Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year, with Eklu claiming the second tier’s Golden Boot and Slotyuk securing the Golden Glove.  9 players are named to the Best XI, with 4 players on the substitutes bench.

In the Erovnuli Liga proper, we set a record for points and individual goals scored, through Dvali’s 34, claiming the Golden Boot in the process. Arason is named Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year and Foreign Player of the Year.  We put 8 players into the Best XI, with another 6 on the substitutes bench.

Finally, Khukhua is named the GFF Young Player of the Year and GFF Player of the Year.

When the champagne stops flowing, however, reality must return.  There is much work to be done in the new year ahead – not the least of which being another tilt at the Europa League knockout rounds and the Cup of Nations.

We draw PEC Zwolle in the Europa League – a very favorable draw, all things considered.  The only trick will be squad management, as Mat has been working feverishly to secure the signature of every promising young Cameroonian player he can find.  We have numerous players set to arrive in January, and will need to carefully consider our XIs.

Cameroon is placed into Group F for the Cup of Nations – another favorable draw, which will see us square off against Mali, Guinea and Cape Verde.

Goals for 2035:  Win the lot, domestically. Make a run in the 2034/35 Europa League knockout rounds.  Qualify for the Champions League knockout rounds in 2035/36. Identify, sign and develop promising Cameroonian players.  Make a run in the 2035 Cup of Nations.

Squad | Erovnuli Liga | Transfers

Finances | Income | Expenditure | Reserves | Awoa Watch

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January 2035 - Odds & Ends; Transfer News & Squad Review.

As noted previously, the Europa League draw was favorable, seeding us against PEC Zwolle.

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And, Cameroon has been placed into Group F for the Cup of Nations, where we will face Mali, Guinea and Cape Verde.

The influx of talent is a veritable fire hose. Prior to our appointment with Cameroon, we had secured several key, foreign players for the future. After our appointment, Mat has been nothing if not focused on securing the most promising, young Cameroonian players available.  He has certainly achieved his goals in terms of quantity.  Quality?  Only time will tell.

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Between now and the close of the Georgian transfer window, we've secured 9 signings:

  • Theirry Kamieni ($135k; Bamboutos), a speedy winger who should terrorize the Erovnuli Liga once he has developed and learned our tactics. Whether he can perform at a higher level is the only question. He will play as a left inverted winger.
  • Francis Mbarga ($175k; Coton Sport), a player born to swing between our mezzala and advanced playmaker roles.
  • Richard Talla (loan; Lens), a towering centerback who seems destined for greatness.  The only question is whether he will develop.  
  • Leonel De Dieu Kamga (loan; Grenoble), a goalscoring false nine in search of development. Dieu has been languishing in France and needs retraining, but there is potential here.  
  • Alex Azong (loan; Montpellier), a player we quickly identified as one for the future with Cameroon, who is getting minutes in Ligue 1. With Montpellier willing to send him on loan, I'm hopeful we can refine him if not steal him outright.
  • Serge Mbock ($600k; Frankfurt), speaking of stolen players, Mbock looks ready to make his mark as a ball-winning midfielder in Georgia. If he can develop, he may have a future with Cameroon, as well.
  • "Fat" Franck Ngongang ($33k; Stade Renard), already capped at the U23 level, he's the best young Cameroonian goalkeeper we can find. He'll get minutes with the 2nd XI, in hopes that he will develop given a lack of depth with the national side.
  • William Mvondo (loan; 1860 Munchen), a player with some potential at right wingback, in need of development and refinement.
  • Emmanuel Noah (loan; Marseille), as can often be the case when looking for wrong-footed wide players, we're lacking in immediate options with Cameroon for the left inverted wingback. I think Noah might be the answer. He's getting minutes with Marseille, which tells me my scouts are right to predict big things from him. A bit of retraining and he will fit the bill.

A strong group of players, each of whom could theoretically play a role for both club and country, looking forward.

Given registration restrictions in the Europa League, my intention is to include Azong, Noah and Dieu in the squad for the knockout rounds. But that may depend on outgoing transfers.

During the Summer 2035 window, we will have only 2 arrivals:

  • Iljo Jakimovski ($135k; Belasica), a North Macedonian international who can play as either a mezzala or advanced playmaker in our system. An absolute steal, who could easily be the best player at the club in short order.
  • Bruno Ntamack ($130k; PWD Bamenda), a centerback with some promise.  He will join the 2nd XI upon arrival, in hopes that he will grow into the role.

During the Winter 2036 window, another 4 arrivals are already secured:

  • Elvir Cosic ($1M; Željezničar), who appears to be a bargain even in the 7-figure range. He could be world-class as a right wingback.
  • Benjamin Manga ($59k; Union Douala), yet another right wingback, albeit one who is much less developed. He'll play with the reserves at first, and be given time to develop. If he can.
  • Anto Brkic (free) has been at the club on a long-term trial, pending his official arrival on his 18th birthday. He ran riot for the U19s as a mezzala last year, and could be a massive player for us.
  • Alioum Noah ($105k; Coton Sport), a promising attacker that needs minutes and time to develop.

Finally, we have 3 confirmed arrivals in January 2037:

  • Duval Nolla ($100k; Stade Renard), yet another attacking midfield with promise, who can play across our entire front line. In theory.
  • Patrick Bell ($75k; Colombe Sportive), another possible inverted wingback. We have few readily-apparent options, so need to build our own even if he isn't right-footed.  A possible diamond in the rough.
  • Achille Awoa ($200k; Canon Yaounde), last but not least, the libero of my dreams. I've already said enough about him. If he can develop, he will be an utter beast. He's on the path to 1,000 goals and appearances, but it is a long journey.

When all is said and done, we have a wealth of talent on the verge of joining up.  The only question being whether certain players will develop in the manner anticipated.

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Television rights payments continue their steady increase -- the Erovnuli Liga rights rise to $424k per team, with the Erovnuli Liga 2 rights rising to $208k, up from $372k and $179k in 2034 (respectively).

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January 2035 - Cup of Nations, Squad Review.

Our first big test with Cameroon is imminent.  The Cup of Nations, hosted by Egypt.

Usually, we might spend July binge-watching Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Real Housewives of Tbilisi, but not this year.  We have work to do.

FECAFOOT are insisting upon a semifinal appearance -- a target that may exceed the competence of the squad I've selected, which has a healthy dose of youth, more so than most were expecting.

The 23-man squad is talented enough to reach the semifinals.  We simply need to perform.  

Before we dive into the competition proper, let's take a quick look through the squad.  We will be playing PM Draugrson, the tactic that began on the beta and has continued with only the most modest tweaks (to set pieces) ever since.

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Cameroon's 1st XI, Egypt 2035

Goalkeepers.

Herve Ngongang is the clear starter, at this juncture.  After that, things get dicey.  Simon Ngapandouetnbu is our backup, but that's all he is.  "Fat" Frank Ngongang joins us in Egypt as the player I see taking over the gloves in the long-term, a consideration we cannot ignore.

Defenders.

Lucien Agoume will serve as our starting libero for the foreseeable future.  If Agoume were younger, I'd be pulling out all the stops to sign and retrain him.  As things stand, he has the task of anchoring the defense and attack.  He's got the quality.  Awoa is his backup -- the legend-in-waiting.

Julien Akono and Loic Mbe Soh are the starting centerbacks -- a solid pairing, though this is the last major tournament for the latter.  Parfait Akono and Alexandre Mpondo are the backups, and should provide competition for Gareji's new signings, over time.

As noted above, Cameroon lacks depth at right wingback.  Steven van der Sloot will take the starting role in Egypt, though he doesn't have many years left in a role which -- in our tactics -- demands pace and contributions in all phases of play.  William Mvondo will deputize, as I see promise in him for the future.

At inverted wingback on the left, Wilfried Eto'o is the immediate choice, with Emmanuel Noah serving as his capable understudy.

Midfielders.

Former Gareji standout Alain Fokou will pair in midfield with Steve Abega, as our ball-winning midfielder and mezzala, respectively.  An incredibly young duo that could serve as the fulcrum of the side for years to come.  Their backups are Serge Mbock and Danny Loader, the latter of which is in the squad for his last major tournament.

Attacking Midfielders.

Up top, we have a wealth of attacking talent.  In the 1st XI, Serge Ndjitap will be flanked by Francis Essomba and Alex Azong.  The 2nd XI sees Dieu as the advanced playmaker, with Justin Edoa and Richard Kamga cutting in from out wide.  The talent of this group speaks for itself.  The only issue may be their youth.  At 28 and 25, Essomba and Kamga are the elder statesmen of the front line; while Essomba is brilliant, I'm not particularly impressed by Kamga and see him eventually fading from contention as younger players develop.

Final Thoughts.

Overall, I think we have a strong squad.  I will readily concede that, in trying to balance youth and experience, I may have tilted things too far towards the former.  Such is my inclination when managing at the club and international levels.

We struggled to find the back of the net in our only pre-AFCON friendly -- a 3-1 win over Togo in the friendly confines of the Stade Omnisports Ahmadou Ahidjo.  If we pack our shooting boots, we'll be fine.  If not, my tenure could be over before it truly begins.

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January 2035 - Cup of Nations, Group Stage.

The opening match against Cape Verde is, on paper, the most straightforward match of the 3.  Knowing we cannot take anything for granted and cannot drop points, we put the 1st XI on the pitch.  An early goal from Azong sets the tone.  Fokou doubles our lead in the 56th, at which point it is time to ring the changes.  It isn't the wild romp we were hoping for.  But 3 points are 3 points -- 2-nil at the final whistle.

Mali dropped their opener against Guinea, meaning that a win will ensure qualification for the knockout rounds.  Equally important, it would allow us to rotate the squad for the final matchday to ensure fresh legs going forward.  We start brightly, and earn a penalty in the 6th minute...only Ballo is equal to the task to deny Essomba, and we cannot convert the rebound or in the mad goalmouth scramble that ensues.  (On the bench, Mat grumbles discontentedly.  We both know Awoa would have buried it.)

We tweak and adjust the tactics, trying to find a breakthrough.  The chances are falling our way, but we cannot convert.  Scoreless at the half.  The tension builds in the early minutes of the 2nd half.  Finally, we find the next in the 63rd minute -- finding Abega alone at the penalty mark after a series of quick passes unlocks the defense.  As our substitutes prepare to enter the fray, Azong claims his 2nd of the tournament -- a header which crashes off the back post to double our leadMali counterpunch almost immediately, as Awoa is caught in possession -- fodder for the pundits, no doubt.  Yet, the 16 year-old finds his sea legs and doesn't let a catastrophic mistake shake his resolve -- he is the youngest player ever to take the pitch at AFCON.  We see out the night comfortably -- a 2-1 win which guarantees a knockout round appearance.  

We rotate the squad to face Guinea.  It might mean we progress as 2nd, but winning the Group is not our target.  Winning the Cup, is.  Guinea are in control through the 36th minute, when they are reduced to 10 men after a lunging, two-footer from behind.  Yet, even with the extra man, we seem incapable of creating chances.  The inevitable happens as we push forward in search of a winner -- Guinea break, Bangoura finishing calmly.  Fokou draws us level in the 86th, as we push everyone forward, but we cannot find the winner.  A 1-1 draw is fine, in the grand scheme of things, albeit frustrating on the night.

We finish 2nd on goal difference.

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We will face South Africa in the Second Round, after the Bafana Bafana finished 2nd in Group B.

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January 2035 - Cup of Nations, Second Round.

The South Africans are no joke.  It is not as if we expect there to be "easy" matches at this stage of the competition.  More that this is not an opponent we can look past.

We start brilliantly, on the front foot.  In the 3rd minute, Essomba curls one to the back post to find Azong 1-v-1 with his marker...he rises, hammering home yet another header, his third of the tournament.  Though the Bafana Bafana are creating more chances, we look dangerous.  Fokou hits the post in the 38th, so close yet so far.

Mat whispers softly, as if for my ears only.  "The next goal could be everything, Rezo.  Mark my words.  A turning point."

No ****.

South Africa clear off the line in the 44th.  So close.  Again.  We head into the half with a narrow, 1-nil lead.

Just over an hour gone, we are coming in to our own.  Controlling the match more.  But still we sit, one goal to the good.  Loader replaces Abega.

In the 80th minute, as the game stretches, space opening up for both sides to exploit, we strike.  Van der Sloot firing beneath Kuzwayo mere moments after Mpandle was denied at the other end.  2-nil, with 10 minutes plus stoppage time to play.

But our concentration lapses.  We concede almost immediately, gifting South Africa a chance to recover.

We recover our composure.  Resolute.  Defiant.  We fight until the whistle. A 2-1 win sends us through to the quarterfinals.

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We will face Cote d'Ivoire for a place in the semifinals, after they defeated Nigeria on penalties

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February 2035 - Cup of Nations, Quarterfinals.

The Ivorians are the biggest challenge we have faced with Cameroon.  An immense side.  

There are no changes to our XI.  We have relatively fresh legs, and simply need to find the back of the net.

For the first 30 minutes, however, neither side can accomplish that one task as each clear off their own lines.  We look more dangerous, but need to make it count.  And, as if he heard my thoughts, Essomba does us proud, heading home from close range after Ndjitap finds him lurking at the back post.

At the half, we are sitting in an enviable position -- controlling possession and creating chances.  The pattern holds in the 2nd half, even if we are spurning our chances.  We look good value to advance with 15 minutes to play...if we can see the match out.

We battle.  We fight.  But the Ivorians are not done for.  Not yet.  A 91st minute equalizer.  Cruel in the extreme.  Extra time will be needed.

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But neither side has any legs left.  No chances of any note are created.

Penalties will decide the tie.

Substitute Loader is up first, in what may be his final kick for the national side.  He buries it.  1-nilKarim levels for the Ivorians.

Eto'o sends Fofana the wrong way to restore the advantage...only for Amad to equalize.

Agoume doesn't blink, finding the bottom corner.  3-2.  Neither does Datro.  3-3.  Something has to give.

Fokou steps forward, and smashes his penalty just beyond the reach of the keeper, in off the post.  4-3.  Yet, Toure, having equalized in injury time, does not shrink from the occasion, drawing Cote d'Ivoire level once more.

Ndjitap calmly buries our 5th, sending Fofana sprawling in the wrong direction.  5-4.  It's do or die for Singo...9 inch-perfect penalties thus far.  Singo makes it 10. 5-5. 

Sudden death awaits.

Mbe Soh steps forward and -- with all the swagger of a young Michael Owen -- smashes it into the top cornerJunior Bita slides his penalty just beyond the reach of Ngongang.  12 penalties, 12 goals.  

Edoa makes it 13.  7-6.  Mat can't watch.  He's lying in the fetal position, moaning, as Ouattara steps forward for Cote d'Ivoire.  No one pays Mat the slightest bit of attention.  All eyes are fixed on the goal in front of the Ivorian support.  Everyone's nerves are frayed.  Everyone's nerves, save Ouattara who puts it just beyond Ngongang's reach.

Mat whimpers.  Mvondo will take our 8th penalty.  And the youngster is equal to the task.  8-7.  Surreal.  Mat begins to mumble something about purgatory, clutching at my leg.  Again, no one pays him the slightest bit of attention.  It is as if they cannot see or hear him.  Ballo take...and he does his best Roberto Baggio impression, sending the ball a mile high.  

15 perfect penalties.  1 abject failure.  A nightmare for the Ivorians.  A dream for Les Lions Indomptables.

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On balance, we deserved the win.  Tanzania await, following their 3-nil upset of Burkina Faso.  On paper, the Taifa Stars are no match for us.  But are legs are tired.  Heavy.  We look past them at our peril.

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February 2035 - Cup of Nations, Semifinals.

Against Tanzania, there is no room for complacency.  Yet, I cannot help myself -- we rotate a handful of players into the XI.  We need fresh legs.  And we have a squad for a reason.

In the opening stages, I cannot help but feel like we've miscalculated.  Horribly.  Tanzania are creating chances, lurking dangerously, with several enormous players crashing into the box looking to wreak havoc.

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Then, in the 18th minute, we win a corner.  And Agoume is yanked down at the near post as he tries to claim a header.  Penalty.  Stone cold.  Eto'o buries it.  Calmly. 1-nil. And the tide begins to turn in our favor, as we control play and create chances...none of which are taken.  We take a 1-nil lead into the half.

Tanzania's keeper mis-handles a straightforward shot from Fokou in the 54th minute, gifting us our second.  2-nil.  Can we can start to breath easy?  I have my eyes on fitness levels, hoping to rotate out several that are starting to tire.  The danger being that we're looking ahead to the final, with a lot of time left on the clock...  The doubts are dispelled, however, when Dieu hits a goal worthy of his name, finding the top corner from 25 yards to make it 3-nil.

The supporters' dreams are nearly fulfilled.  We ring the changes, allowing Fokou, Abega and Agoume to rest.

In the dying moments, substitute Mbock claims his first international goal to put the finishing touch on a massive win. 

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The Tanzanian fairy tale is over.  Ours is only beginning.

We will face Tunisia, who defeated Ghana 4-3 (aet) in the other semifinal.

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February 2035 - Cup of Nations, Final.

Arturo Reyes' Tunisia await.  They're no better than sides we've vanquished.  They're also no pushover.

Our 1st XI will take the field.  Eto'o and Fokou have the heaviest legs, but that isn't saying much.  90 minutes on a wet, windy night in Cairo.  What's not to love?

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The early stages are like the first days of a relationship.  Tentative.  Hopeful.  Probing, to gauge the response.  Yet neither side have reached the promised land.

In the 29th minute, the Tunisians strike.  Hamdi breaks free on the right before finding Chouchane in the box -- his looping head nestles softly into the side netting to give Les Aigles the lead.  

We put on a demonstration of slick passing, to no avail.  Halftime arrives, still down 1.  Not good enough.

We tweak and adjust, attempting to increase the intensity.  Put the Tunisians under pressure.  But with more than an hour gone, it's clear that it isn't working.  Noah, Loader and Edoa are brought on.  The instructions are clear.  Punch them in the jaw.  Repeat.

But we used up all of our luck earlier in the tournament.  The goal we so desperately need does not arrive.

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Egypt 2035: Overview | Knockout Rounds

Our runners-up medals?  They taste of failure.  Regret.

I tell Mat, and he tells me to stop complaining.  I tell him to stop being a ****.

The representatives from FECAFOOT are delighted.  I tell them to stop being ****s, too.

We weren't good enough.  And I hate nothing more than losing.

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February/March 2035 - Europa League, 1st Knockout Round.

While our focus has been on Egypt, back in Sagarejo the squad continued its preparations for the coming campaign.  Given the signings we've made, numerous players were allowed to leave, including Gabedava, Arason, Guruli, Bregvadze, Abzhandadze, Eklu and Kobakhidze.

Surprising no one, we are favored to retain our Erovnuli Liga crown, with 7 players named to the pre-season Dream XI -- Machardze, Pataraia, Beridze, Mikeltadze, Bedoidze, Khukhua and Divali.  

Chighladze and Dvali are favored for top goalscorer, with Pataria and Khukhua favored for best player, and Pataria, Malania and Khukhua up for best young player.

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Ahead of the first match of the Erovnuli Liga campaign, the club announces the sale of 1,331 season tickets, a modest increase from last year’s 1,180 tickets.

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The first leg in the Netherlands is an exercise in frustration.  We are, hands down, the better team.  But we do not put the ball in the net and our hosts find a late winner, to claim a narrow 1-nil lead heading back to Tbilisi.

Ahead of the 2nd leg, Mvondo arrives to complete our 25-man squad.  He isn’t eligible to play, obviously, and Dvali is out for another few weeks; Chigladze steps in to play on the left.  

It’s now or never.

At least, now or…next year.  But that doesn’t sound as dramatic.

Khukhua opens the scoring in the 10th minute, opening the floodgates after a slick build-up.  He’s unplayable on the night, claiming 4 goals in a 5-nil rout that sees us progress to the Second Round.

We draw Steven Gerrard’s Hoffenheim, who sit 7th in the Bundesliga and defeated us twice in the 2030/31 Champions League, during the Group Stage.

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March 2035 - Europa League, 2nd Knockout Round.

We’re in over our heads against ze Germans.  That’s for sure.  Having fallen behind on the stroke of halftime, we manage to claw one back in the 60th…and then find another almost immediately, which is upheld by VAR much to the delight of the home support.

We batten down the hatches for a long 30-odd minutes of football – and manage to snatch a 3rd against the run of play.  Epic.  

A stunning 3-1 win which puts one foot into the quarterfinals.

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Only, one can never count ze Germans out.  

In the 2nd leg, we take the lead – not once, but twice.  But the fates are not with us.  Just when it looks like extra time will decide the tie, ze Germans find a 90th-minute winner.

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Classic Germans, that.

We’re out of Europe.  Our inability to progress deep into the knockout rounds is a source of endless frustration, even though I know deep down that it is a problem of our own making.  Revamping the squad to favor promising Georgian players, then adjusting after taking over with Cameroon.  

The pieces of the puzzle are here, mind.  Our 2nd XI romps to a 5-nil win over Lokomotivi in the Super Cup – our 7th consecutive title – and the Erovnuli Liga should prove no obstacle.  All eyes must be on year-on-year improvements on continent, though, to go hand-in-hand with the Cameroonian influence on Fabrika.

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April/May 2035.

The bitter taste of failure lingers in my mouth.

I do not like the bitter taste of failure.

Not even the naming of two former players in the NxGen 50, Koba Bregvadze (#30) and Bakar Gabedava (#34), can wash it away.

It tastes like burning.

Macharadze is demanding a transfer away.  I’m not of a mind to force him to stay.  I’ve seen this movie before, Luka.  Loyalty is a two-way street. 

Frankly, Luka’s erstwhile replacement in the squad (not the 1st XI), 18-year old Aleksandre Sirbiladze, is making a name for himself on loan at Lokomotivi, claiming 3 assists in a Cup match against Sulori.  We’ve long had high hopes for Sirbiladze, this may be the time for this Fabrika graduate to shine.

The U19s could have used him in the latter stages of the UEFA Youth League, falling to Lyon in the final, 2-1, ceding their title to the French.  Brkic continues to demonstrate his promise, claiming 8 goals in 10 matches to lead the way.

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After much delay (associated with me taking a new job), we're finally ready to get going in here.

It's the summer of 2035.  Birds are singing as the sun strikes an early morning Tbilisi. 

Mat is off doing Mat things.  (As he is wont to do.)

Rezo?  He's ready to the ball back rolling on this whole "take over the world thing."

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June 2035 - European Review.

Another frustrating year, if I'm being honest. 

In the Champions League, Jurgen "Der Keine Hosen" Klopp's Liverpool defeated Roberto Martinez's PS-****ing-G on penalties, after a 1-1 draw.

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The Europa League saw Mauricio Pochettino's Newcastle defeat $teven Gerrard's Hoffenheim, 1-nil.

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And, in the (rebranded) Europa Conference of Champions League of Winners, Brendan "Captain Fantastic" Rodgers' Arsenal brought joy to a dementia-addled Boris Johnson by completing the clean sweep, with a 1-nil win over Santiago Solari's Leverkusen.

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Meanwhile, in the active leagues, Klopp's Liverpool claimed a close-run Premier League title race, Julian Stephan's Inter Milan ran away with the Serie A title, Julian Nagelsmann's Bayern did Bayern things, Diego Simeone's Atletico won their first La Liga title in 14 years, and PS-****ing-G can **** right off.

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Meanwhile, the Glory that is Gareji rose to 26th in the European club rankings, sandwiched between Rodgers' Arsenal and Hernan Perez's Lazio, with the Erovnuli Liga rising to 30th in the European competitions table, even as our coefficient drops to 19th -- meaning Champions League qualification becomes a much longer road.

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Posted (edited)

June 2035 - International Update.

Cameroon kick off the summer with form that is nothing if not painful.  Dire 1-nil wins over UAE and Iraq leave much to be desired. This isn't good enough, you muppets.

The U20s are determined to impress, however, do us proud with a run to the final of the U20 World Cup in Spain.

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Even though FM is a filthy liar that lies even when it is lying, I'm going to take this as confirmation that this year's Fabrika graduates will be epic.

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Posted (edited)

June 2035 - Transfer News.

The two previously-confirmed arrivals for the transfer window are formally announced at the end of the month -- Iljo "Richard" Jakimovski ($135k, Belasica) and Bruno Ntamack ($130k, PWD Bamenda)

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Ntamack will obviously play as a wide centerback with our 2nd XI, with Bebiashvili making way and likely moving on.

If I didn't already have Kamau and Pataria at libero (with Awoa arriving in January 2037), I would retrain Jakimovski to play in our back line.  As it is, he will train (for now) as an advanced playmaker to flush out his positional flexibility, while filling in the gaps elsewhere -- we simply didn't have a Cameroonian contingent in the plans when he was originally signed.  And, as time has gone on, his ceiling looks to perhaps be lower than we expected.

Though we do not expect any further signings, only time will tell.

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July 2035 - Summer Transfer Window Round-Up.

In the end, Macharadze leaves us without even a casual goodbye -- just like that ****, Mariam, from karaoke night down at Fat Giorgi's, the new pizza place in town.  A purely transactional relationship.  No heart.  

Ngongang steps into the 1st XI, with Sirbiladze recalled from Lokomotivi to deputize.

Pataria also departs for greener pastures, meaning we've recalled Rostiashvili from the reserves -- a player with bags of potential, that couldn't seem to unlock during his last spell with the senior squad.  Nikoleishvili also joins him in making the step up, to replace the soon-to-be-departing Mikeltadze.

It's a record-setting window, which makes the bean-counters back at headquarters quite pleased.

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July 2035.

The sweltering heat in Sagarejo this summer has played to our advantage.  Unbeaten since our elimination at the hands of ze Germans, we have launched into the new European campaign with vigor -- a straightforward 4-1 win over Linfield which gives the visitors far too much credit.

After nearly two months with a light schedule, we're back to 2 matches per week. Just the way we like it.  It feels right, like a well-tailored suit.  

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Posted (edited)

August 2035 - Champions Leauge, Third Qualifying Round.

When we spotted APOEL a goal in Nicosia against the run of play, I wasn't nervous.

When we conceded a penalty, I maintained my composure.

When we gifted our hosts a 3rd, however, that is when I lost my mind (and Mat lost his pants, but that's another subject altogether).

Full credit to the lands for not giving up, as we battled and Talla found the winner in the 91st.  A wild night in Cyprus ends with a 4-3 win -- an evening of swings, roundabouts and missed opportunities.  We romp to a 6-nil win back at the Arsen to see our way through to face Slavia Prague in the Playoffs. 

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August 2035 - Champions League, Playoffs.

Bedoidze gets his wish -- a late transfer to Espanyol for $3.9M plus 50 percent of next sale.  It isn't ideal, but as we continue to evolve the squad, it is necessary.  Jakimovski and Mbock will battle for the ball-winning midfielder spot in the 1st XI...a battle that demonstrates our progress, but one that emphasizes the simple, undeniable fact that our burgeoning potential is not enough.  We must build a squad that can stand up in Europe. 

4 straight 3rd place finishes in the Champions League Group Stage has not satiated my appetite.  Nor will it ever.

In Tbilisi against Slavia Prague, tired legs weigh us down.  We cannot find our rhythm.  A dire, scoreless draw ensues.  Meaning we travel to the Czech Republic with our backs against the wall.

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Khukhua is back from a knock, but will play from the bench behind DieuDvali sees the first chance of the match fall his way, cutting inside from the left flank, but he fires just over.  At the break, an unstoppable free kick for our hosts is all that separates the sides. We're still struggling to get a foothold in the match -- not for a lack of quality or effort, mind.  No, we are simply missing a spark.

Mat takes my halftime comments far too literally.  As the whistle blows to start the second half, he stands in the technical area, striking matches and flicking them at the pitch.  At the linesman.  The opposition.  The fourth official.  They all just ignore him, but glare at me, as if I can rein him in.

We draw level in the 62nd minute, Toroshelidze firing home after Malania picks up the rebound from Dieu firing off the post and finds him open in front of goal.  Khukhua immediately enters the fray, hitting the post with his first touch...will he bring the spark we need?

The game opens up, tired legs stretching the play.  Neither side can take their opportunities, though, meaning we are bound for extra time...in which we concede almost immediately.  

Mat begins to brood again, playing with matches on the bench.  A dark scowl shadowing his face.

We create all the chances we need.  

Yet, we do not take them.

The final whistle blows.  

Reaching the knockout rounds of the Champions League?  Not this year.  That's for certain.

For the first time since the 2029-30 European campaign, we fail to even reach the Group Stage.

Mat doesn't speak to me -- to anyone -- after the match.  Muttering darkly to himself.  Ominously.

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August 2035 - Europa League Draw.

Surprisingly, our European record means we enter the draw as a 1st Seed.  

A ray of sunshine.  

Momentarily, at least.

We draw Vladimir Ilic's Aston Villa, Zorya and Sebastian Dailly's Amiens -- teams from 2 of the "big" 5, far from the straightforward draw we were hoping for.

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September 2035 - International Break.

Typically, the international break feels like it is wedged into the calendar.  Stuck where it doesn't belong.  

(In that regard, it brings back uncomfortable memories of middle school.)

But I digress.  This time around?  We needed the break.  A chance to cleanse the palate, so to speak.

Friendlies against the Gambia and Uganda in Yaounde are just the ticket.  (After all, why would we travel for a friendly?!)

We aren't brilliant.  But we're good enough.  And it was an excuse to play some Mario Kart with Awoa, to build rapport ahead of his transfer.  Time well spent.

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September 2035 - Youth Intake Review.

The indefatigable, ever-optimistic promise of youth.  The ephemeral "what if" that accompanies each graduating class.

This year, our hopes are not necessarily met, but not dashed.

A slew of "good" talent in the mix -- another Macharadze in goal, Koberidze looking solid in the back line, Givi "the Greek" Abzhandadze looking like a monster in the attack, and even the token Norwegian (which any self-respecting club must have in this day and age).

Is it the class we dreamed of?  Is there anyone in here ready to push for time with the senior squad?  No.  And, no.  But we'll take it.

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Posted (edited)

September 2035.

Another "vintage" night in Europe, to kick off the Europa League -- conceding 2 goals on 2 shots to the Ukrainians before romping to a 2-goal lead...only to concede a 3rd and endure 5 nervous minutes before the final whistle in a 4-3 win over Zorya.

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"Vintage" being a euphemism for "crap."  Although I am certain the proverbial "neutrals" "enjoyed it," the ****s that they are.

The reserves claim their 5th straight Erovnuli Liga 2 title -- a testament to our continued strength in depth (for the like of Georgia) even if we have been unable to mount a serious European campaign.  

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Matt was incredulous.  "How good can that Hillier guy be?  An English bloke with a Frenchified name like that?"

Oh.

****.

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I think Hillier heard Mat making fun of his name during the pre-match warmups.  

Took it all personally, like.  

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Posted (edited)

It's all gas, no brakes in Birmingham on Matchday 2, featuring a 22-minute hat trick from the French Poodle and 7 first-half goals.  The funny thing?  Statistically, we could have won the match.  If we hadn't conceded 7, of course.

But we did.  So we didn't.

Another fun night for the "neutrals" -- 2 matches into the Group Stage, and we've scored 7 while conceding 10.

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Posted (edited)

October 2035.

Frustration is the word of the day against Algeria, as the lads never get out of 1st gear.

Against Zimbabwe, however, a relatively young XI comes out flying, led by Awoa -- who smashes a free kick off the bar in the 3rd minute and claims our 2nd with a penalty en route to a PotM performance.  It isn't the rout we wanted but it is enough as we put the last friendly of the year to bed, with qualifiers ahead in November.

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Sometimes I worry that I'm not the hero everyone thinks I am.

Mat assures me that this is the time, that the signs have been met. But I still wonder if he has the wrong man. So many people depend on me. They say I will hold the future of Georgian football on my arms.

What would they think if they knew that their champion - their hero, their savior - doubted himself? Perhaps they wouldn't be shocked at all. In a way, this is what worries me most. Maybe, in their hearts, they wonder - just as I do.

When they see me, do they see a liar?

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October 2035 (continued).

2 wins from 6 matches?  Not good enough lads, even if we are on the verge of wrapping up the Erovnuli Liga title.  If we can sneak a win over over Amiens, then perhaps we can start turning the corner...

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