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  1. 4th of August, 2012 The Butchers Arms Ground Friendly: Droylsden vs. Wolves Droylsden Wolves: GK Ikeme, DL Ward, DC Berra, DC Johnson, DR Zubar, MC Agostinha Cá, MC Henry, AML Hunt (Sub 90), AMC Januzaj (Sub 90), AMR Hammill, ST Griffiths Subs: De Vries, Stearman, Jonsson, Eusepi, Edgar Ie, Davis, Ebanks-Blake, Batth, Edwards (Sub 90), Forde (Sub 90), Elokobi, Doyle Droylsden: GK Nemes (Sub 45), DL Thomas (Sub 56), DC Martin (Sub 56), DC Brown (Sub 56), DR Moyo (Sub 56), ML Killeen (Sub 56), MC Rick (Sub 56), MC Phelan (Sub 56), MC Pearson (Sub 56), MR Wilson (Sub 56), ST O'Neill (Sub 56) As we're facing an opponent from the Blue Square North, it seemed best to go for an attacking approach with five attach minded players, with Agostinha Cá and Henry holding down the fort in the midfield. It might be a bit of a mismatch with Droylsden having a 4-5-1 themselves but they really should not be troubling us. In the 9th minute, Hunt sends in an indirect free kick from besides the area. Berra rises to meet it and knocks it in. Berra sends the ball forward in the 17th minute to Ward on the left side. Ward sees it to Hunt on the left wing. Hunt hits what looks to be a through ball that bounces into the area and then embarrassingly past the keeper. Even Hunt looks shocked to see it go in. Berra creates again in the 20th minute by sending the ball forward to Henry. Henry sees it out left to Ward who plays it into the box to Hunt. Hunt tries his luck again and blasts it at the far cross bar but it bounces off and lingers near the area until Janujaz taps it in. In the 28th minute, Berra sees the ball to Agostinha Cá who passes to Hammill. Hammill one touches the ball to Griffiths who snipes the ball through three defenders and the shell shocked keeper. Complacency has taken over the squad and the match by the tail end of the game. Bryan races toward goal and tries to pass close to Makendo. Berra does a good job of holding his mark and restricting Makendo's options. Makendo passes to his right to Randy who Johnson and Zubar miscommunicate and stay off of. Randy puts it in. By and far, the biggest weakness the team has shown this pre-season is that they're just a one half team. While I had hoped in the early games that it was a lack of fitness it's appearing more to be a lack of discipline that will need to rectified. We've been winning and getting results but allowing a late goal against a Blue Square North squad that we'd otherwise been manhandling is atrocious. Berra and Hunt were the stars on the day. Berra showed an impressive vision of the field for a central defender and was involved in all four of the goals. Hunt looked lively on the wing and did well to to create and follow through on opportunities. Zubar didn't do do much to win favor for the shaky rightback position with the late goal. Overall, we dominated. We maintained sixty percent of position and had seventeen shots to their two. Of course of their two, one was a goal. Six of ours were on target. Up next we'll see how we fair against a worthy opponent in our last friendly of the pre-season against Leverkusen. Droylsden 1-4 Wolves Berra (9); Hunt (17); Januzaj (20); Griffiths (28); Reidy (81) Man of the Match: Stephen Hunt, Left Winger (Wolves)
  2. 1st of August, 2012 Wolverhampton “We've got a good foundation to work with but fortune favors the prepared.” I've gathered Halsall, Vetere, and Money to assess the future state of the roster. “I don't want to offer contracts to anyone who isn't a viable option at a Premier level as, until I'm told otherwise, that's where we'll be next season. Money get us started.” “The following first team players have contracts expiring: Zubar, Hunt, Edwards, Ebanks-Blake, Elokobi, Batth, Davis, and Griffiths. I've begun preliminary discussions to see what their agents are looking for.” “Who do you think we should keep?” He blinks as he tries to ascertain my meaning. “Sir? All of them. The lot of them are first teamers – if we do make it up, we'll want to keep the core of the squad.” “That's a bit small-minded, isn't it? You're not at Luton anymore. How are we going to compete with Manchester United and City with the likes of these?” I expect more from my right hand man. He's going to have to show more than this. “Well, what do they want for wages?” “Griffiths is currently making €2.3k weekly and is looking for a pay bump to €4.8k through 2016. Davis wants to go from €1.7k to €6.5k through 2016. Batth is also at €1.7k and wants to go to €8.3k through 2017. Edwards is making €13k and wants €17.3k through 2015. Elokobi wants an increase to €14.3k through 2016 from current wages of €9.3k. Ebanks-Blake wants €23.5k through 2016 from €16k. Hunt wants €29.5k from €20k through 2015. Zubar is currently at €13k and wants an increase to €20.5k til 2016. I'd reckon Griffiths and Zubar should be let walk but the rest seem pretty spot on.” “Re-sign Griffiths, Davis, and Batth. Let the rest walk.” “Even Hunt? He's our best player.” “He's an overpaid 31 year old whose best days are behind him.” I turn to Vetere. “Find me a winger.” “But what about the squad rules?” Halsall jumps in. “Surely Edwards and Ebanks-Blake are worth keeping as homegrown backups?” “That's good thinking Mark. But they'll have to show me more than they have to stick with the squad. We can always offer them contracts later on but they're both asking for way too much for what they offer. In the meantime you'd best start developing some homegrown talent to replace them. Any luck lining up loans to get our youngsters some playing time?” “McAlinden will be heading to Wycombe to get some first team action. Ismail will be going to Notts County but I still think that's mistake...especially with Bruno.” Our new signing Bruno has been ruled out for 3-4 months with a torn calf following the Torquay match. “Ismail will be playing for Wycombe and you think he could've slotted into our first team? Besides, I've had Jeff on that since last night. How are discussions coming along?” “It's going swimmingly. I've been in touch with PSV, Leverkusen, Feyenoord, and Castilla to see if we can figure out a deal that will be mutually beneficial. You should see some paperwork in the days to come.” “Now Money, your other mission was to find me players that are overpaid. Who do you have?” “Well, O'Hara is making €40.5k weekly which is twice as much as most of the players on the squad. Johnson is making €34.k weekly which is significant if you won't be starting him. Doyle is making €31k weekly but he's still injured and will likely prove himself once he's back. Mouyokolo is making €17.3k weekly which is huge for a reserve.” “And de Vries at €11.k per week. His contract is for another two years at that. Ikeme is a much better bargain at €3.5k weekly through 2015. Jeff, you'd best be on the lookout for a young keeper to develop.”
  3. 31st July, 2012 Plainmoor Friendly: Plainmoor vs. Wolves Torquay Massimo Bruno, Attacking Midefielder, 18 years old, Belgium (Uncapped) Bruno is a player that I'm very excited about. He's a brilliant distributor that can kill either with a cross or a pass. He's also quite fast and versatile enough to fill in on the right wing. His work ethic needs some work and he isn't the best teammate but he's young and will hopefully grow into it; he's got tons of potential. He's a hell of a turn on investment for Anderlecht - originally a Mons prospect, he joined Charleroi on a free before leaving for Anderlecht on a free earlier this year. We grab him for €1.8M but he's an instant upgrade to the team on a €8.25k per week contract through 30/6/15. Wolves: GK Ikeme, DL Edgar Ié (Sub 86), DC Berra, DC, Batth, DR Stearman, DM Jonsson (Sub 86), MC Edwards (Sub 86), MR Forde (Sub 86), AML Hunt, AMC Bruno (Inj 68), ST Eusepi Subs: Ward (Sub 86), Zubar, Januzaj (Sub 86), Ebanks-Blake, Johnson, Agostinho Cá, Griffiths, Mouyokolo, Henry (Sub 86), Hammill, Davis (Sub 68), Doyle (Sub 86) Torquay: GK Poke (Sub 61), DL Nicholson, DC Storey (Sub 61), DC Sash (Sub 45), DR Oustier (Sub 84), ML Morris (Sub 61), MC Chalmers (Sub 61), MC Mansell, MR Stevens (Sub 61), ST Spear (Sub 45), ST Howe (Sub 84) Subs: Rice (Sub 61), Tait (Sub 61), Leadbitter (Sub 61), Bodin (Sub 84), Yeoman, Downes, Cruise (Inj 61), Thompson (Sub 61), Jarvis (Sub 45), Craig (Sub 56), MacKenzie (Sub 61), Halpin (Sub 84) Now that the team has some game fitness, I want to try the left overload formation that I haven't set the team out with since Crvena Zvezda. Edgar Ié at leftback is not my first choice because he doesn't bring any distribution threat from the flank but he's sound defensively and Ward is too exhausted to start. In the 5th minute, Nicholson launches a corner into center. Howe nods it to Storey and Storey blasts it toward goal! Ikeme makes a wonder save to avoid some blushes. Two defenders close down Hunt on the sideline before he frees the ball up to Edwards. Marcell keeps right on Edwards toes as he moves in on the area. He finds Eusepi in the box; Eusepi breaks left and shoots right! The keeper didn't see it coming but the finish was terrible. Edwards resets the ball to Jonsson with space. Jonsson finds Eusepi on the edge as Hunt cuts in; Hunt finds space between Oustier and Storey and makes a clean finish to the left of the keeper. At midfield, Bruno passes to Hunt on the counter. Hunt sees it to Eusepi who brings it down the field before finding resistance at Storey and Saah. Bruno makes a bullheaded charge into the area clean at two defenders and Eusepi makes the desperation pass. He somehow connects and scores. Just before the half, Edwards clears the ball off a throw in to Eusepi down the field. He slows down to wait for the others to catch up and Hunt senses blood and breaks down left. Eusepi feeds him the ball and he's got the area wide open! The keeps going and the keeper closes down the angle – there's no shot left. What a waste. A moment later Nicholson steps up to take a long, indirect free kick. Howe steps up and hits a wild header at the open goal, it's 2-1. I'm not sure if it's the slew of subs that slow down the game or it's two particularly gruesome injuries. In the 56th minute on of theirs goes and then in the 68th minute, new signee Bruno goes down after landing odd on his right leg and then collapsing. We'll have to get the full prognosis after the fact. The rest of the game is a heartless affair. At the end of the day we had 20 shots to their 4 with 7 of ours on target to just 2 of there's. Possession was fairly even at 56% to 44%, favoring us. Eusepi, Bruno, and Hunt had the look of a deadly trio in the first half. Torquay 1-2 Wolves Hunt (25); Bruno (36); Howe (45) Man of the Match: Stephen Hunt, Winger (Wolves)
  4. 29th of July, 2012 Wolverhampton “How did I end up here ” My head is pounding. The sun bears down on me in the middle of the town center. The granite I'm leaning on is very uncomfortable. “You drank too much, I'd wager.” “Al, you know that's not what I meant.” And I had somewhat suspected that myself. “How did I end up in Wolverhampton. What kind of name is that anyway?” “You took the job; you tell me.” “Oh like I had a choice. The only other legitimate offers I had were assistant positions with wealthy second tier clubs. Hell, MLS clubs thought they had a legitimate shot to get me to manage them.” It was a humiliating conversation when a director didn't understand why I wouldn't interview for that job. “He's got me blackballed in every top league; I'll have to get into one through the backdoor. Wolves were the quickest option. But ugh..How far are we from civilization?” “You're just a half an hour out of Birmingham and 3 hours out of London.” “I miss Spain! The beaches! The sun! The women there...Have you been? The things they wear..or don't wear rather. And they're all gorgeous. I was a superstar; I'd waltz in with CR7 and leave with a lady on each arm.” Truth be told, I don't think they ever knew I wasn't a player and I wasn't going to be the one to spoil that fact. “Are there even nightclubs here?” “I think you're just depressed. Why don't you stumble on home and clean yourself up?” “For a statue, you're kind of a dick.” Maybe all statues are; he is the first one I've talked to. It's got to be awfully depressing standing in the middle of town, watching others go through their mundane, daily lives. And in Wolverhampton. He's probably got some horrible chaffing as he's permanently set upon a horse. “Of course I'm depressed. Alia is special.” “She's just a girl. You're young and you'll learn. But you're a public figure and you're drunk off your ass and you reek so you need to get out of here now.” “She's not just a girl! She gets me. I've known about her arranged marriage for years but it's just something she thinks she has to do. She's so stubborn but she doesn't love him.” She's met him all of three times. If it weren't for her parents endless search of power she wouldn't be in this situation. “I don't even care if she's with me or not; I just want her to be happy.” “It's a tragedy; a modern Romeo and Juliet without Leo. I need you to get up and go home. People are starting to notice you.” I look up and realize Al has gotten off his horse. Up close he bears a very strong resemblance to Spencer from the coffee shop. “I should go visit Cici.”
  5. 28th of July, 2012 The Keepmoat Stadium Friendly: Doncaster vs. Wolves Doncaster A needed boost to the leftback position fell through as our request for a work permit for Hrvoke Cale of Wolfsburg fell through and he was not able to join us on loan. A shame as he would have greatly improved our defensive capabilities. Wolves: GK Ikeme, DL Ward, DC Berra, DC Johnson, DR Zubar, DM Henry, MC Agostinho Cá(Sub 46), MC Davis, AML Januzaj, AMR Hammill, ST Ebanks-Blake Subs: Batth, Stearman, Hunt, Griffiths, Ié, Forde, Eusepi, Mouyokolo, Edwards, McAlinden, Jonsson (Sub 46) Doncaster: GK Maxted (Sub 51), DL Spurr (Sub 51), DC Wakefield (Sub 51), DC McC,Combe, DR Quinn (Sub 51), ML Boa Morte (Sub 45), MC Harper, MC Woods (Sub 51), MC Keegan (Sub 51), MR Hume, ST Paynter (Sub 45) Subs: Sullivan (Sub 51), Bennett, Cotterill (Sub 51), Blake (Sub 45), Vidal (Sub 51), Syers (Sub 51), Travis (Sub 51), Devyne, Husband (Sub 51), Steadman, Jones (Sub 51), Brown (Sub 45) The remainder of the pre-season has a noted lack of challenges with the only real threat coming against Leverkusen on the 11th. Still, we need some practice with a defensive outlook so Doncaster gets to play the unlikely role of favorites in this match. Berra, Johnson, and Zubar play the defensive roles with Ward being encouraged as usual to press forward. Henry, Agostinho Cá and Davis play sort of a second wave of defense from the midfield. Hammill and Januzaj will try to work their way along the left and right flanks attempting to create for Ebanks-Blake who will ideally just sit at the goal mouth. It's a tactic I'd rather use against the likes of a Xavi – Iniesta, Fabregas – Messi onslaught but at least the team will get comfort at it. The formation should perform particularly effective against the 4-5-1 they've elected to field, with their entire team bunched in the middle. Our defensive strategy works to a fault for the first 40 minutes as they can't get through and we don't have the creative flair to. Until Davis beats Woods to a header and sends it forward to Hammill. Hammill sees it to Ebanks-Blake who races to the area, racing past Spurr with just the keeper to beat. He races to the byline where the keeper steps to meet him and Ebanks-Blake puts it in behind him into the net. Ward block a Hume cross and rapid fire sends the ball up to Davis then Januzaj. Januzaj plays it conservative back to Berra who blasts the ball down the field to Hammill. Hammill was clearly watching Ebanks-Blake and gets a step on Spurr and puts it behind the keeper when he comes out to meet him. Off a throw-in, Syers and Husband work the ball up the field just after the half. Husband floats the ball into the area and Brown knocks the ball into the net but he is blatantly offside. Smart positioning from Johnson. Johnson sends the ball to Januzaj in the 77th minute. Januzaj simply nods it forward to Ebanks-Blake who lets it bounce and races after it behind the line. Ebanks-Blake doesn't need to wait for the keeper to move this time and just sets it and scores. A dominate, if cookie cutter, performance. It'll have to wait to be seen how the tactic and the team perform against Leverkusen. We held possession for 57% of the match but didn't know what to do when we had the ball, having only 11 shots and just 4 on target with 3 easy goals. Doncaster wound up with 4 shots with 2 on target but never really looked threatening. It'll have to be seen whether that was tactics or better quality of player. From an individual perspective, Ebanks-Blake did everything he was asked especially with little to work with in terms of distribution. Similarly Hammill showed his ability to handle a large portion of the field without much back up. Berra and Johnson make up a nice duo in the middle of defense with Johnson particularly impressing. Doncaster 0-3 Wolves Ebanks-Blake (37, 77) Hammill (45) Man of the Match: Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, Striker (Wolves)
  6. 25st of July, 2012 Fratton Park Friendly: Portsmouth vs. Wolves Portsmouth Adnan Januzaj, Attacking Midfield, 17 years old, Albania (Uncapped) While Morgan is hesistant about adding unknowns, he's apparently not shy about added prospects from big clubs – a definite note to keep in mind. Januzaj joins for €6.5M on a €4k/week contract through 2015. He's flashy but not too much of a step up from Edwards. He does have the added bonus of being a natural in a position we lack while having the versatility to fill in for either wing. Wolves: GK Ikeme, DL Ward (Sub 45), DC Stearman, DC Batth, DR Ié, Mc Jonsson, MC Agonstinho Cá , AML Hunt, AMC Edwards, AMR Hammill (Sub 65), ST McAlinden Subs: Berra, Johnson, Forde (Sub 65), Eusepi, Zubar, Henry, Ebanks-Blake, Mouyokolo (Sub 45), Griffiths, Davis Portsmouth: GK Eastwood (Sub 45), DL Hurley (Sub 45), DC Michalk (Sub 45), DC Gyepes (Sub 45), DR Dumbuya (Sub 45), ML Maloney (Sub 45), MC Williamson (Sub 56), MC Russell, MR Wheeler (Sub 45), AMC Harris (Sub 45), ST Rodgers (Sub 45) Subs:Moore (Sub 45), Grant (Sub 45), Thompson, Compton (Sub 45), Thompson (Sub 45), Webster (Sub 45), Butler (Sub 45), Walker (Sub 45), McLeod (Sub 56), Fitzharris (Sub 45), Medway, Howard (Sub 45) I realize my folly in the last match was relying on the foundation laid by other men. And where did that get them? They fell. So in that light, we opt for something new, something more aggressive. A fast paced 4-3-3 with Ward having the freedom to move forward while Ié stays back to defend. Jonsson and Agostinho Cá both fill defensive roles allowing our attackers the freedom to roam and create. This formation requires a lot from the midfield - constant tackling and vigilance from the centermids. The call for the advanced players is that they pace at will and attack, attack, attack. The match itself is a dull affair as is to be expected. Portsmouth is having a bad run of luck. After their fall to the Championship, the indiscretions of their owner dropped them even lower into the League One and the FA enforced administration meant the players lost would not be readily replaced. They prove unable to compete with us. In the 10th minute, Batth dispossesses Williamson with a well placed header. Agostinho Ca lobs the ball to Jonsson before it touches the ground. Jonsson pauses before sending the ball to Hunt on the wing. Hunt one touches the ball to Edwards who ignores his defenders and embarrasses the keeper with the pedestrian goal. In the 20th minute, Michalik moves forward with the ball and McAliden steps onto it. Both defenders go to meet McAlinden, leaving Edwards wide open in the area. Easy pass. Easy shot. Easy goal. Horrible defending is apparent once again in the 25th minute. Ikeme launches the ball down the field where Hammill is able to collect just outside the area. He sets it up to McAlinden who makes the poor choice to blast it at the keeper. In the 82nd minute, Ikeme makes a horrific clearance straight to a wide open Thompson who races toward goal. Overexcited, he misses wide and saves Ikeme some embarrassment. The statline ends up with 15 shots for us with 5 on target and 8 for Portsmouth with 0 on target. Possession winds up just barely in our favor which is a little misleading from how we dominated play. Overall, we did a better job of maintaining control for the full 90 minutes but Portsmouth never looked dangerous. Ikeme's solid form continued but he had a horrifying mistake which against another team would have cost a goal. Batth looked dominate in defense and Ié had a fantastic first showing. Jonsson improved upon his last, disastrous appearance. McAlinden had an overall fantastic game but missed an easy shot. Portsmouth 0-2 Wolves Edwards (10, 20) Man of the Match: David Edwards, Attacking Midfielder (Wolves)
  7. 24th of July, 2012 Wolverhampton For the second time this year I find myself exposed. I feel nauseous. Hollow. “Guy, I'm getting married.” The vultures are different but their prey is the same. The bright light shines above and my collar seems to suffocate. “It doesn't matter. It's been arranged since my childhood. You have no right to be mad at me – we were never a couple.” Circling my carcass; intently observing every movement for signs of expiration. Their silence betrays them; women who should be gossiping stand silent. Teens who should be texting ignore their phones. Men stare awkwardly at their hands wresting with their own discomfort. “I have a duty. I love you Guy.” She kisses my cheek and walks out of the cafe. The silence isn't the worst part. It wasn't on the pitch in Munchen and it isn't here now. It's the overwhelming dread, the pressure of knowing what will inevitably follow. But silence can easily be broken, a simple shove and this table would crash and everybody would scream. I'd be escorted from this lovely establishment..and be right on the front page of the local news tomorrow. But on the plus side I wouldn't have to cope with the gossip and mock sympathy that's to follow. My brilliant escape plan is cut short as I'm jarred out of reverie when a shaggy looking man sits across from me and starts eating the remnants of Alia's lunch. “Tough luck that.” He doesn't even pause for a breath between eating and talking. “You know, back when I was in the RAF my ******* brother – and he is a right ******* – stole my money, burnt down by house, pawned by car, knocked up my girlfriend, and didn't have the common decency to call me when my dog, goldfish, parents, grandparents, and aunt all passed away.” The cafe is a lovely little establishment a bit away from town center in hopes of avoiding a crowd, Alia's machination. Still, it's had a decent stream of people for a sunny Tuesday morning. It's got a quaint feel with several cakes displayed along the back way. Our table rests dead center; a regrettably unavoidable circumstance when all other tables had been filled. The other tables mostly line the walls and their inhabitants have resumed drinking their tea if not conversing and still appear to be keeping an eye on me and my new 'friend.' “I'm sorry. Who are you..?” “That's rude lad! I was talking! That's rude. Can you believe this guy?” He asks an old man at the closest table who just shakes his head and gestures to the sky. “Well. As I was saying. So when I got back, I found out my ******* brother had done a real number on my life. That's okay though because my good friend Billy was going to hook me right up. Now, Billy had gotten back a year or so before me and a friend of his had hooked him up real good so he was looking to pay it forward to hear him tell it. You don't know Billy but let me tell you – Billy can spin a good yarn. A real talker, Billy is. I've always been a bit jealous of him in that. He told me that he had it made in the shipping industry. Real easy work, you watch some stuff, you make some phone calls, you make an occasional delivery. Piece of cake. So it was my first night and I drive out to the countryside and, let me tell you, this is not the sort of place you want to be pulling up to in the middle of the night. So I do as I'm told and honk three times and, long story short, I wind up in a jail cell.” He comes to an abrupt halt and sips what must now be lukewarm tea. The old man next to us gets up and walks out of the cafe. I realize that the light background conversation has resumed and that the waitress has started dashing along the tables again. The man across from me flags her and gives her and a wink, “Fresh cup of tea and a slice of your best cake, thank you very much.” His story doesn't really hold up. He doesn't have the look of a military man; his eyes are steel grey but there's no hardness to them. His shaggy hair is actually doing a passable job of covering his encroaching baldness. The greying is more unfortunate but seems to currently have just peppered his hair. From his gut, I'd wager he's spent more time in bars than prison. “Sorry but who are you?” “No apology needed, my good man. Boy, you are an eager one though. I'm getting there, I'm getting there. But where was I? Ah yes, through no fault of my own - as a innocent bystander almost - I had wound up in the county jail. But he next morning I had a lovely chat with the police officer – splendid bloke. He believed me that I didn't know that I was involved with – get this – drug trafficking! He saw my service record and just knew from my affable manner that I was clean. Apparently his friend down at the local pub needed a bouncer for some nice, clean, honest work. So the moral of my story is, no matter how bad things seem, whether your life turns to **** or your get publicly and embarrassingly dumped, things have a way of turning out alright.” His smirk turns more to a Cheshire grin and he leans in, his voice getting quieter. “Now since I saved you a bit of humiliation by putting this crowd to sleep, I think the least you can do is buy me this cup of tea. The name's Spencer, Mr. Manager, and the last thing I'd want is something bad like that to happen to you.”
  8. 23rd of July, 2012 Wolverhampton I've had an exceptionally nomadic life. Moving cities every couple of years, traversing the world in search of new talent, overseeing games in venues throughout the world. As expected, friendships are hard to form and harder to maintain. When I was forced to move on from my playing career, the other boys began to look at me differently, as though I was hideously maimed, as though they were concerned that it might be contagious. Looking back on it now, I understand that they were just boys that didn't understand but at the time it seemed so cruel. It was a situation made worse by the peculiar fact that I remained despite my inability to continue playing. Other boys often were incapable of meeting the academy's lofty standards, or wanted to move closer to home and families, or walk away for hundreds of other reasons. I, however, persisted. The transition would have been much harder if not for Elijah. Elijah was never like the others. A tall, towering brute of a player recruited out of Africa at a young age. Elijah was a few years older than I and for his tenure should have been playing with the B squad but had earned the animosity of the coaches. For his natural size and strength, Elijah has a gentle soul and the coaches knew his heart was never in the game. Still, he was well loved by the players and provided a valuable presence in training with a unique upside should he ever embrace his natural prowess. He was the only player to come visit me while I was in the hospital and while we had spent countless hours playing side by side, that was the moment at which we really began to talk. Topics ranged from his life growing up in Nigeria, his family back home, the struggles of the lower class, the overpowering nature of big business, social strife, and a point of particular interest to Elijah – the current state of the church. The only time I can recall our conversations ever turning to football was the day he told me was leaving the academy and returning home to tend to family affairs. We remained in touch – sporadically through letters while he was home in Nigeria, and through e-mail once he had embarked on his studies abroad. Despite the distance, Elijah and I became the core of a larger, fluid group of friends. Elijah and Simon crossed paths first in Simon's native Australia. In Elijah's early days as a priest, he frequently made trips to hospitals and prisons to speak to the hopeless, the dying, and the lost. Elijah never told me what Simon and he discussed in that cell and I've never asked, but Elijah spoke at Simon's trial and, to hear Simon tell it, was a huge part in his release. Simon suggested online poker as a focal point for conversation and it became a regular fixture. An e-mail chain had begun circulating early last week trying to set up a game night. Two things were clear in this chain – 1) it was Simon's turn to choose the game, invariably meaning poker 2) I had no choice to attend. Each e-mail of the 20 plus back and forth chain contained some variation of “Please come” or "We miss you" or "We're worried about you." I knew they mean it lovingly so I can't help but pop onto my laptop at the agreed upon time. Four are already in attendance, one of whom I do not know. “Guy! So nice of you to join us!” Unsurprisingly, Cici is the first to speak. Her window definitely draws the eye as she has clearly dressed to impress, her luxurious blonde hair crafted to frame her face, her red lipstick and eye liner perfectly set, even for just a night of conversation and game playing. “Are you finally done moping?” Elijah jokes but the concern is audible in his voice. “Of course he is! Did you see how gorgeous he looked during his press conference? I loved the tinted glasses; have you gone hipster?” Cici and I have a history, having dated for 2 (or 3 depending on who you ask) years. She bats her eyes clearly for my benefit and winks. “I wish I could've been there!” “Love, he was wearing the sunglasses because he was blitzed.” Simon has a very keen eye for that sort of thing. An adrenaline junky, there's few things in this world he hasn't tried. the unknown person in the fourth window glances toward their left. Simon's window is in the top left and the mystery person's is right below his but it's clear they're actually sitting right next to each other. “And he should still be moping, he lost me a pretty penny blowing the final.” “Hey all. Sorry Simon but I thought we agreed you wouldn't bet on my games anymore?” Simon chases his thrills in many ways and gambling has proven to be one of his most successful. By the time I met Simon, he'd amassed a fortune and over the years he's lost and regained it several times. “Anyway, who's your friend?” Simon grumbles “Well if you didn't always work for the biggest clubs in the game..” “Rin” replies the newcomer in a complete monotone. They're clearly of Asian descent and now with the name, I suppose Japanese. Their hair is short, almost in a bowl cut but their features are a bit..soft. Other than that brief moment when they turned to Simon, have they blinked? “She and I have been dating for a couple months now.” Simon adds a couple points of clarity. It's a fairly common occurrence for the people we date to join the games. A couple months is a bit soon but it means that Simon is especially fond of her though she's definitely not his usual type. Cici is atypical in that she stayed after our (especially volatile) break up. “She's an absolute genius; being heavily recruited out of school by some of the top companies and governments in the world. She's in tech.” “Uh, how old are you Rin?” Elijah isn't one to miss the obvious and she looks quite young. “18.” Rin replies. An immediate look of judgment passes over Elijah's face. Best to change the subject. Quickly. “Is she coming tonight?” Cici makes a harrumph sort of noise and Simon groans. Elijah answers, “You'd know better than we would; she hasn't been since the last time you came four months ago. What happened between you two?” “Nothing really, we haven't spoken since I left Spain.” Cause and effect might a bit muddled there.. “Liar.” Is Rin's response and I can't really argue the point. The others all chuckle a bit at that one. “Guy, darling, I can't believe you've been back in England and haven't stopped by the estate yet..” As Cici is talking, my attention is drawn to a knocking. “I'll be right back everyone, someone's at the door.” As I walk away, I hear Elijah say to the others “Speak of the devil and she shall appear..” I pull open my door to reveal her beauty. Her pure olive skin is covered by a long, cinched trench, drenched from the evening showers, with hood pulled to mask her face and luscious black hair that falls to the middle of her back. Her huge brown eyes shine brightly and her full lips are pursed in a frown “Guy, we need to talk.” “Hi Alia.”
  9. 22st July, 2012 Stadion FK Crvena Zvezda Friendly Cup Final: Gimnasia (LP) vs. Wolves Marakana, Belgrade Umberto Eusepi, Striker, 23 years old, Italy (Uncapped) Eusepi joins from Varese in the Serie B for €675k and boy do Money and Halswell disagree on this signing. To their eye he severely lacks intelligence on the pitch his max potential is League One. I can't deny that he lacks upside but I don't really need him to change up his game. He's a perfect fit for what I want my strikers to do which is just shoot and score. He also agreed for a salary under Morgan's limit so it's a double win for me and the team. I may have been a touch overzealous giving him €725/week through 2016 though. Wolves: GK Ikeme, DL Ward (Sub 45), DC Jonsson, DC Johnson, DR Zubar, ML Hammill (Sub 45), MC Henry (Sub 45), MC Davis, MR Forde, ST Ebanks-Blake, ST Eusepi Subs: Batth, Berra (Sub 45), Hunt (Sub 45), Griffiths, Mouyokolo (Sub 45), Agostinho Cá, McAlinden, Stearman, Edwards Gimnasia (LP): GK Monetti, DL Licht (Sub 56), DC Blengio (Sub 62), DC Barsottini (Sub 45), DR Plarrou (Sub 72), ML Choy Gonzalez (Sub 45), MC Bochi (Sub 82), MC Fernandez (Sub 67), MR Cabrera (Sub 56), ST Peralta (Sub 56), ST Rojano (Sub 62) Subs: Bangardino, Benavidez (Sub 56), Sapetti (Sub 72), Pereyra (Sub 56), Fernandez Silva (Sub 82), Albornoz (Sub 45), Garcia (Sub 90), Cuevas (Sub 45), Quiroga (Sub 56), Benitez (Sub 62), Chavez (Sub 67) A good tactic can make a poor team look great and great players can make a bad tactic look brilliant. So why am I playing a team of backups in a basic 4-4-2? Familiarity is a large part of it - it's more similar to the tactic they utilized last season than any of my tactics which should give role players and depth options a chance to show off their capabilities. It also let's me get two strikers on the field and give some of the first team a rest. Off the bat it's going to have some negative ramifications, however, as the freedom to roam I allow my players will create a gap if there's no one filling in in a safety net role which is nigh impossible with just two in the midfield. The first chance comes in the 11th minute. Davis blasts it down the field to Ebanks-Blake who meanders to the left side of the area, quickly becoming overwhelmed by defenders. Ebanks-Blake takes a chance and launches it into the area where Eusepi nods it in. Gimnasia has a brilliant chance in the 15th minute. Their keeper clears to the halfway line to Peralta who gets the ball running. Jonsson marks him before tripping. Peralta races towards the area and sidesteps Johnson before getting overeager and blasting it wide. Not a spectacular defensive showing from Jonsson and Johnson. In the 40th minute, Gimnasia show true class, playing a beautiful triangle passing game to work the ball into the net past the dreadful Jonsson and Johnson duo. Fernandez shows the presence of mind to pass the ball back to Bochi who returns it as Peralta works his way in. Peralta plays back to Bochi who involves Licht. Licht sends it forward to Peralta who steps to the edge of the area and sees it short to Rojano who blasts it in. Gimnasia continues to clinically dissect our defense in the 44th minute. Fernandez sends the ball out wide to Plarrou. Plarrou sends it up the sideline to Cabreza. Cabreza sends the ball to Fernandez, wide open on the edge of the area and he scores. The stats definitely don't do us justice – we didn't impress but it was much closer than the numbers indicate. Gimnasa had 16 shots to our 6 with 8 on target to our 1. Possession also indicates that Gimnasia had 64% to our 36%. Except for some absolutely dreadful defending, we didn't play that poorly. The team also continues to indicate that they're a first half team; the rest of the preseason matches will have to indicate whether this is a consistent problem or just players struggling to find their legs and chemistry. In terms of individual performances, Roger Johnson wins the Man of the Match award which is a testament to his up and down game. On the one hand, he did well to limit actual scoring chances on the 14 shots that didn't go in; on the other hand he'll feel he could've done more on the two that went in. He hasn't done anything to indicate he's anything more than a good third option at central defender. Stephen Ward was a glaring nonfactor at leftback, raising concerns for a position already suspect. Eusepi had a decent first showing with the club but some of the credit has to go to Ebanks-Blake who had good runs throughout the match. Gimnasia (LP) 2-1 Wolves Eusepi (11); Rojano (40); Fernandez (44) Man of the Match: Roger Johnson, Central Defender (Wolves)
  10. 21st July, 2012 Stadion FK Crvena Zvezda Friendly Cup: Crvena Zvezda vs. Wolves Marakana, Belgrade Wolves: GK Ikeme, WBL Ward, DC Berra, DC Batth, DR Stearman, DM Henry, CM Agostinho Cá (Sub 60), MR Hammill (Sub 60), AML Hunt, AMC Edwards, ST Griffiths Subs: Davis (Sub 60), Mouyokolo, Jonsson, Forde (Sub 60), Johnson, McAlinden, Ebanks-Blake, Zubar Crvena Zvezda: GK Rodic (Sub 52) , DL Barovnica (Sub 45), DC Maksimovic, DC Jovanovic, DR Trajkovic (Sub 45), ML Cadu (Sub 74), MC Milijas, MC Mijailovic, MR Lazovic (Sub 74), ST Kopunovic (Sub 52), ST Kasalica, Subs: Mrkic (Sub 52), Mitrovic (Sub 52), Dernja (Sub 74), Vidanovic (Sub 45), Asercic (Sub 45), Jokanovic (Sub 74) I sought to come up with a formation to hide our weaknesses and accent our strengths . The main focus of the tactic is Stephen Hunt at AML with Agostinho Cá, Griffiths, Edwards, and Hammill allowed to move about the pitch as they desire. To free up Ward to play more of a distributing role, Henry plays an anchor role and we effectively play with a three man backline of Batth, Berra, and Stearman. The tactic appears to be quite effective – we have space to move and run around Crvena Zvezda when we have the ball. Hunt and Agostinho Cá seem to love the freedom to roam. Meanwhile Crvena Zveza seems at a loss. Time and again they build until they hit the defense at which point we put the full press on them and they force a wayward shot. Whereas we apply pressure all over the entire field, Crvena Zvezda does not and it costs them in the 15th minute. Griffiths finds the ball off a throw in to the area and allows himself ample time to wait for an opportunity. Griffiths floats the ball into the area and Agostinho Cá brings it down. With five men between him and the goal in the area, he plays it very short to Henry who touches it in. Hunt almost adds a quick second after Stearman clears to Hammill on a counterattack. Hammill brings the ball down the field before passing to Griffiths in the center. Griffiths leads the ball toward the area as Hunt and Jovanovic race for it. Hunt sees goal but the ball veers right . The team shows some brilliant cohesiveness in the 24th minute. Hunt brings the ball down the middle before passing short to Griffiths as he cuts in past his man. Trajkovic and Jovanovic come to bear down on him, ending his forward movement. Griffiths and Hammill pass to try to break through but to no avail. Agostinho Cá inches forward and Griffiths spots it – Agostinho Cá runs at his man and shoots low to the ground and scores. Another chance finally comes in the 90th minute where Henry hoofs the ball down the left to Davis. Davis sends the ball across the area in what should be an easy goal by Edwards but he slips on the ball and send sit back to Davis who should be able to walk it in. He hits it right at the keeper who is able to see it to Maksimovic, who clears. The stats tell most of the story in this one – fairly equal possesion and we lead with 18 shots to 13 shots with 7 and 3 on target respectively. Very little danger was had in this game and it's clear both sides were just getting a run out for fitness. Still, the team executed the game plan and came away with a win, it's hard to ask for more than that. Crvena Zvezda 0-2 Wolves Henry (15); Agostinho Cá (24) Man of the Match: Odiquir Agostinho Cá, Central Midfielder (Wolves)
  11. 20 July, 2012 Wolverhampton I need a hand with which to operate. I have selected delicately. Richard Money is a talented man who lacks scruples. He's the perfect tool for what must be done. A reasonably successful player, Money had lengthy stays with Scunthorpe twice, Fulham, and Luton, and a brief stay at Liverpool which involved a European semi appearance with a splendid view of the final from the bench. His playing career gave way to a reasonably successful managerial career. He ended his playing career with Scunthorpe in a player/manager role before earning the manager role proper a few years later. Bouncing from coaching roles, he found himself as manager at AIK in Sweden competing in the UEFA Cup before moving within the league to save Västerås SK from relegation. A return to England saw him lead Walsall to victory in League Two but he opted to leave when it became clear that the club would not continue to rise. Following a brief stretch as Newcastle's Academy Director, Money found himself down in the Conference Premier with Luton. A dark turn saw Money depart the club following a clash with the fans over respect for him and his players. How does a man's career plummet so rapidly, despite consistent success? Money will help me carve the club into a new image. I do not lack for creativity but with the perfect model plastered all over the city, why go with anything else? We are a pack. Loyalty is key. Deserters shall be treated with ferocity. Secrets shall remain with the club and there will be no leaks without consequences. Our young will be nurtured and protected. We will hunt ferociously. We'll roam the fields looking for weakness; when we spot an opportunity we'll strike viciously and unrelentingly. The heels of our prey will be left red from our bite. Our den shall be protected. But what happens when one gets too old to run with the pack? It's sad but at the end of the day it is business. Jody Craddock has been sold to Ipswich for €110k. Better to have a chance to play than to rot in the reserves, right? Recruiting efforts haven't gone as well as offloading surplus. Jérémy Berthod was offered a contract as an upgrade at leftback but he opted to take his talents to Évian TG. Additionally, we had hoped to add Kevin Gameiro on loan but he found the opportunity to be a role player at Atletico Madrid more appealing, understandably. The remainder of my staff has been recruited as well. Steve Weaver, Reserves Manager, and Mark Halsall, Head of Youth Development, are holdovers from the previous regimes. Both are talented men, suited to their roles. Mark had been wasted in the role of Under 18s Manager but I've elevated him, with Terry McPhillips filling his old role and working under him. Halsall will be more focused on bringing talent in and McPhillips will be tasked with managing the youngsters. Halsall has insisted on granting Ismail a new contract which has been reached at €1,400 per week through 2015. Ismail isn't ready for the first team but I don't mind Halsall investing in a prospect. Bobby Downes, Tosh Farrell, Adie Stovell, and Ian Woan will serve as the coaching staff, with Tony Godden and Ludek Miklosko the specialized keeper coaches. Darren Robinson will focus on team fitness. Grant Downie will serve as the team's Head Physio. He's long served at Middleborough. Jon Cooke, Chris Malkin, and Michel Roman will make up his staff. Jeff Vetere will serve as Chief Scout, with Paul Montgomery, Steve Nickson, and Ian Storey-Moore will make up the rest of the scouting staff. Vetere served as an apprentice as Luton Town but went no further than that. He helped establish Rushden & Diamonds youth academy before spells at Chalton and West Ham. Real Madrid snapped him up in 2007 and tasked him with signing the best talents in the world. Dennis Wise specifically sought him out to assist Kevin Keegan and Tony Jimenez, VP of player recruitment, at Newcastle . The past few years, he's had brief spells as head scout of Crystal Palace and Aston Villa.
  12. 19th July, 2012 Wolverhampton 'Steve Morgan, OBE.' If you're this far you know his titles. His accolade given for services to the construction industry; turning £5,000 into a multi-million, market listed company will gain you some recognition. I thrust open the heavy oaken door, giving way to a flash and then blindness. The source of the flare sits partially obscured by a hideous burgundy leather mammoth of a wheelie chair dotted with brass trim. A gaudy gold floor lamp is the culprit, the only light source in the room, is pointed directly at the door in the otherwise dim office.“Savage,” squeaks an old man, who sits atop his throne; “Have a seat.” A bare gargantuan hardwood desk towers above the proffered chair. A pathetic little thing; it can hardly even be called a chair at all. Still, the gesture does not go unappreciated, “I'll stand.” Trying to escape the light, I opt to pace along the wall - a bad habit of mine. Morgan begins unnoticing, “I had really hoped that you and I would get off to a better start than this. I had thought you were still getting settled in so I was appalled to hear about some bizarre transfer activity." He sniggers to himself. "And I'm told that you had some choice words for Elaine.” I run my hand through my shaggy brown hair and count to three before replying. “I had hoped to get off to a good start too but a couple of questionable sales before my start left the team with some massive holes. Zambrano would have been a better distributor than the team has and he would be the only pure attacking midfielder on the roster. He's raw but €875k is not a bad price for a role player. You can imagine my astonishment to hear from Elaine that I'm not allowed to offer more than €1,000 per week. Sunny would have been an upgrade to the abysmal depth of our midfield, he's a defensive midfielder in the mold of Henry. A bit pricy at €1.2M but for some reason he'll want more than amateur wages!” “Watch your tone, lad. I'm just looking out for you. You're a smart kid and you come of a good pedigree. You have the football background, but I've got a lot to teach you from the business side of things.” He shows off a big toothy smile revealing his buckteeth. In my pacing of the walls, I've come to a large framed photo with several suited gentlemen including a much younger Morgan, standing outside a large building, 'Redrow'. “It's a tough task ahead of you – you're not going to do it with kids from 'Numancia' or 'Tenerife'.” I push my glasses back up my nose and give him a smirk. “I've scouted players for Real Madrid, Inter Milan, and Chelsea. You hired me as manager and you won't trust my eye?” "You're used to being the man behind the face; able to work unseen. It might be that these kids are future superstars but we can't let your first signings bomb – the media will tear you a new one.” But the picture doesn't tell the whole story. He parted from Redrow amidst a nasty divorce to his first wife while the company fell to disrepair despite his holdings maintaining a large stake, only to stage a triumphment return in 2009 to rebuild. “You'd be a fool to underestimate the Championship.” “If there are to be restrictions to my transfer activity, I need to know. I can't be in middle of a negotiation only to hear from the finance staff that there will be additional..limitations. It's belittling to me and humiliating for the club.” I spot an interesting looking item and direct my pacing to the other wall. “You aren't at Madrid anymore where you can just **** money away. Especially not my money.” The object of note is a large banner, a remnant from some Morgan Foundation event; a charitable institution that donates £1 million a year to children and family charities throughout Wales and Wolverhampton - presumably providing ample tax relief. Several school seals sit near it– it's fascinating how the richest are always the most worthy of fellowships; how much in a donation does it take to be honored so? “You did much better with the loan signings. I'm surprised that that bridge wasn't burned when you went to the other side.” Edgar Ié, Central Defender, 18 years old, Portugal (Uncapped) (On loan from Barcelona) Ié is one of two loan signings joining from Barcelona's youth academy. He's yet to experience any first team play but he's got talent. He marks and tackles well and has the speed and head for the game to provide a good foundation to build upon as he gains experience. His ability to play rightback could be valuable as well should he prove more reliable than Stearman. Odiquir Agostinha Cá, Central Midfielder, 19 years old, Guinea-Bassau (Uncapped) (On loan from Barcelona) A more talented option than Sunny but we've only got him for this season. He can defend and distribute and his ceiling is very high. He'll rotate in the midfield. “Some bonds are never broken. Some are easily rebuilt when you have a mutual foe.” My eye is drawn to a newspaper clipping that announces Morgan's purchase of the club for £10 with a photo of him shaking Sir Jack Heyward's hand. Another next to it celebrates the Wolves rise into the Premier. Morgan growing up as a Liverpool fan isn't mentioned; nor is his failed public bid for that club in in 2004. The building animosity the Wolves' fans feel toward their chairman isn't hinted. And no trace of successful coach Mick McCarthy or his ill-timed mid-season dismissal. “We're not in the Premier yet.” Without the light in my eyes, I have an almost lovely view of the cityscape. Yet it seems lifeless, black and white perhaps. How is it always raining?
  13. Thanks Tenthree! ------------------------- The drop from the Premier was not without cost. The greatest damage is to the wings but hopefully the worst of the bleeding has stopped. Matt Jarvis was a key winger with blistering speed who has opted to take his talents to West Ham for a respectable €8.75M. There will also be a huge wound to fill in replacing Steven Fletcher at striker who had contributed 22 goals in the last two seasons. Fortunately, there's not many holes that €14M won't fill and he'll head back up to the Premier League with Sunderland. The last loss is another winger – Michael Kightly who spent five years with the team before starting to complain about the terrible locker room, conveniently coinciding with the club's drop from the Premier. We get a paltry €2.3M; hopefully he'll find Stoke's atmosphere less distressing. As it stands, we have three keepers that are capable starters at the Championship level in Carl Ikeme, Dorus de Vries, and last year's starter Wayne Hennessey. 25 year old Hennessey was not convincing as a Premier League keeper over the last couple seasons after holding his own in the Championship in the 2008 and 2009 seasons. He has performed fairly well at the international level, earning 38 caps for Wales. 31 year old de Vries, of the Netherlands, joined on a free last season and filled in for Hennessey on 4 occasions and has four seasons experience in the Championship starting for Swansea. Either de Vries or Hennessey would be favorites to win the starting job if they weren't both out for at least two months - de Vries with a strained back and Hennessey with a torn knee ligament. Fortunately, Ikeme isn't too much of a step down. The 26 year old Englishman is a Wolves youth product who has never broken through to the first team until now. With the other keepers ailing, he'll get his chance to show his worth. As last resorts, we have 20 year old, Irish Aaron McCarey, our reserve keeper, and 17 year old Englishman Jonathan Flatt, a youth product with some potential. The center of the defense is by far the strength of the team. The star is 21 year old Englishman Danny Batth. He spent last season on loan at Sheff Wed in League One, which is appalling considering his talent level. 27 year old Christophe Berra is the next best option to Batth. It's easy to see why he's been called up 20 times for Scotland. 29 year old Englishman Roger Johnson provides a more than capable third option and will be rotated in. 25 year old Frenchborn Steven Mouyokolo provides a decent back up. He has a cap to his name for Congo but he's not likely to earn enough playing time necessary to encourage Jean-Guy Wallemme to call him up again. 36 year old Jody Craddock could fill in if necessary despite the fact that his best days are clearly behind him. He's drawing some interest so it might be time to let him move on rather than to let him rot in the reserves. 17 year old Englishman Dominic Iorfa of the youth squad has potential but if he's seeing any playing time then we're in dire straights. The flanks are neither as strong as the center nor a weakness. 27 year old Kevin Foley is the star of the group and it's a surprise he's only been called up 8 times for Ireland. He might be better utilized in a central midfield role considering the dearth of talent there. He's currently out for at least a month with damaged knee cartilage leaving the next options of 26 year old Frenchman Ronald Zubar and 24 year old Englishman Richard Stearman to prove if I can feel confident in moving him to the middle of the pitch. Stearman edges out Zubar in talent just slightly. He's a little better at distributing the ball and is quicker. Zubar is the better marker and has greater anticipation. Stearman can also fill in in the center with the caveat that his inability to hold a mark makes him a liability. On the left side are 26 year old Irishman Stephen Ward and 26 year old Cameroonian George Elokobi. Ward has the more complete game of the two and has understandably earned 15 caps for Ireland. Elokobi provides an interesting attacking option and if he's moving forward, it could mask his lack of concentration. Anchor and team captain, Karl Henry, 29 years old from Wolverhampton, provides a defensive force in our midfield. After Henry, it gets a little less certain; 25 year old Englishman Jamie O'Hara is an interesting option - he's attack minded but lacks finesse. His natural tendency is to play out of a more central role than I would like, preferring my play makers to sit behind the striker.. He's also grossly overpaid at €40.5k per week and out for 5 months with a severe hernia. 21 year old Englishman David Davis is a youth product that hasn't been able to break into the first team here or on loan. He's of a similar mold to Henry and should be a rotational player. 23 year old Icelandic Eggert Jonsson is a good depth option due to his versatility as he is able to play midfield or fill in as a defender. He's got an impressive 13 caps for Iceland for a backup. The final option for midfield is 26 year old Welshman David Edwards. He's got 24 appearances and 3 goals for his country. Like O'Hara, he's more attack minded than I look for from the center of the pitch. However, he might find a place as an attacking midfielder due to the lack of options there. The losses of Jarvis and Kightly have decimated the team's depth at the wings. 30 year old Stephen Hunt is the best player of the bunch. He's got 39 appearances for Ireland and will likely keep adding to that total. 24 year old Englishman Adam Hammill will fill in on the opposite wing; he's two footed so he could easily play on either side. After the two starters, there's a distinct void. 18 year old youth products Anthony Forde and Zeli Ismail have some potential but aren't really ready to play any significant role right now. At striker we have great depth if not a definite star. 21 year old Scotsman Leigh Griffiths performed well on loan at Hiberian last year and will make a push for the top spot. 26 year old Sylvan Ebanks-Blake hasn't wowed in three years at the Premier level after being a key part of the team's promotion in 2009, providing 24 goals to the cause. 28 year old Kevin Doyle is an interesting player. He's tallied 10 goals on 50 caps for Ireland. His skill set is more suited to a distributor than I generally look for from my strikers – I really like to see a pure scorer. He could likely be put to use if he could adapt to the wing: Finally, 18 year old Northern Irish youth product Liam McAlinden has shown an eye for goal in practice and could really use some first team action, whether here or on loan.
  14. When I was very young, my parents made a deal with the devil. I can't blame them; they were young and in love, enamored by wonders of Paris, caught up in the unsustainable lives of dreamers. I don't remember the day that we parted, I was so young. I like to imagine that I was playing in a park when he approached. My parents were likely nearby, perhaps with the other parents or more likely by themselves having a smoke. Ever the salesman, he promised them happiness for me; fame and fortune and wonders beyond their imagination. More to their immediate needs, he gave them an out. An opportunity for them to be rid of me, guilt free, and funds to fuel their lifestyle. The academy was a wondrous place. I had friends galore and got to play all day! The coaches tried to impress upon me the seriousness of my studies but it always came so easily to me, didn't it? I dreamt of the first team and the success that had been planned for me for as long as I could remember. But the devil is not without his keen sense of irony. By the time I was 15, I exclusively trained with the B team and the word wonderkid had become less a whisper and more of a superlative. Still, the academy is known to produce superstars and I consistently found myself challenged. There was a younger boy who joined the academy after me and he was by far my favorite sparring partner in training. Whenever we went head to head the coaches would stop and watch. After my accident, I would realize that it was because they had never seen anything quite like it. It was fire and passion and finesse and touch and technique against cold and calculating and strategy and calm and resolve. It attack vs defense in its purist form. And in that moment before the life I loved ended I knew with an absolute certainty that I had him figured out. As his left foot summoned the ball I was already moving. So was the pain. When I woke in the hospital, I knew what the doctor's prognosis would be. I didn't know what had gone wrong inside of me or why, I just knew that unbearable, choking agony. As a kindness to me, perhaps, he didn't sugarcoat it. The strain the game was putting on my heart would kill me if I didn't stop. The only world I had ever known was gone in that instant. Was I to return to parents I didn't know? Derelicts that had sold me as a child? The devil was never very far from my side and he had made a promise. If nothing else, he's a man of his word. He claimed to see potential in me. I may have been naive enough to believe him then but now I understand he does nothing without his inevitable gain. And so we made a deal as he and my parents had a decade before. I became his protege; his shadow. To learn and to serve. You see, the devil's not concerned by mortality, what's right, what's fair, what's wrong, he doesn't care about your soul. All he wants is to win. But enough about me.
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