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  1. London Colney, Wednesday 7 July, 2039, present days When Penny got out of the minibus, she saw the Arsenal logo on the brick wall by the main entrance. She went straight to it and slowly, delicately, passed her left hand over the sign, caressing it. She sighed and murmured: «I never thought I’d be yours again old friend…» Jon and Max followed her and stood on both her sides, staying silent. The trio stood in silence for a few seconds before going through the now open door of the main complex. Once inside, a group of people was waiting for them. In the forefront was one of the two Managing Directors of the club, Kim Franssen. «Welcome home Penny, Jon and Max! - Thank you ma’am» said Penny for the three of them. - «I thought that it would probably be appropriate to let you see them before going any further…» said the executive. The group parted and in the back, stood ten former Arsenal Ladies players and coaches. Penny recognized them all and she felt the emotions coming up fast. Before she even could recover from the shock, all the women came to her to give her hugs. Some tears were shed in those first minutes at her new job. All the women came to her with the same bit, that had a taste from the olden days: «Welcome home Sarge!» Both Jon and Max were seeing something they never thought possible; Penny was drowning in emotions, in public, and it wasn’t rage! Even when Villa made her a little ceremony for her departure, she didn’t shed a tear! If they found it funny, they also noticed something else: The manager of one of the biggest club in England, who was a woman, was met by another woman who was leading the ship as Managing Director. For them, to have Penny as a manager was no problem at all… If it ever was, it was long gone… but today, they thought they were part of a bit of history. They looked at each other and both smiled. As they looked away, they saw the executive come to them and offering her hand. They both got greeted personally. «Welcome to Arsenal. We’re happy to have you with us» she told them. It was Max that spoke first. - «The pleasure is ours ma’am. We can’t tie our shoe laces without mum so, we follow!» The three of them laughed. Once all the welcoming was over, Penny, Jon and Max got treated to a little tour of the facilities. She was surprised, and happy, to see that one of the people in charge of the facilities was a former Arsenal Lady; Sue Chambers. Cameras from Arsenal TV followed them and numerous pictures were also taken. After all the touring was done, Max went back to the Data Analysis Center to meet his boss and co-workers more thoroughly and Jon went to see the staffs that were already working with the squad outside. As for Penny, she had to go to a meeting with the club’s management. The meeting ended at lunch and Penny was escorted toward the player’s cafeteria. Padraig Roche, the remaining Fitness coach, was waiting for her at the door. He would present the players and staffs who were there. She knew almost all of them, for playing against them with Villa; tunnels and post games handshakes does that. Lots of players got up and came to her, offering a handshake and presenting themselves. About twelve had come when, in front of her, stood Diego Pearce. She couldn’t keep it to herself: «You’re already here you lazy ass!!!» she said in a stern voice, so loudly that all in the place could hear. «What the hell was that? Quarter finals only??? Pfff!!!Even sooner than me!!!» - «Sorry boss! My manager didn’t want to meet you… we caved!» he said with a big smile. Both of them started to laugh. A few seconds later, Diego started to speak again. The tone was now subdued, full of sadness. «It was like our last CL Final together boss… Everything perfect until the last tap… Four frameworks, two outward nets… Just nothing wanted to go in… Even during the shoot-out…» She saw the pain of the souvenirs in his eyes, which were becoming a bit glossy. «I’m happy to see you here boss…» he said before hugging her tightly, his head now engulfed in her shoulder and hair from her long ponytail. - «I’m happy to be here my boy…» she answered, stroking her player’s hair gently while wearing a comforting smile. The embrace between the two lasted for at least fifteen seconds. The sight of this 6”2’, 180lbs, man and the 5”11’, 150lbs, woman was something to watch... All in the cafeteria got to see a deep connection between the two but mostly, they all saw the respect Diego got for this woman with steely eyes. When he finally broke the hug, he wiped his eyes before lifting his head up to smile at her. Jon, from his end, felt something creep in him. Penny, the woman who took this boy from the Academy when he couldn’t even shave yet, was looking at a world class midfielder, a superstar in all respect and scales, who, in turn, was showing her all the respect he could offer his boss who pretty much made him who he was today. Jon’s thoughts slipped toward the shock that would hit the squad, which was witness to this embrace, during their first team meeting with her after lunch, especially following such a display of affection…
  2. Birmingham, Penny Stiles’ house, Sunday 2 May 2038 Penny has gotten five calls for interviews in the last two weeks. The end of the campaign in the Premiere League was two weeks away and she’s got calls from four of the league’s teams. Despite the season only ending in a month, she also got calls from two German teams in the Bundesliga. After taking a careful look at the teams, she’s decided to accept interviews with three: Manchester City, Arsenal and Bayern. Darren Crow, her agent, has asked her to postpone the decision by a few more weeks because he strongly suspected that Real Madrid and Inter would fire their managers in the coming days but she just wanted to get on with it. As she was plugging her kettle, the doorbell rang. «Come in Max, it’s open!» she screamed at the top of her lungs. The analyst instantly opened the door. Dropping his jacket on the balustrade, he proceeded up the stairs. There was no ceremony. For two years now, he was coming to her house to work; he was living only three doors away. Since she was living alone, she had set up three giant screens and the FA had rigged a good network in the place; they’ve been watching every conceivable game to make tactical analysis and player evaluations. «Hey Penny, I wasn’t supposed to work today… Got some more games sent?» Max said as he arrived at the top of the stairs. She usually would let him have Sundays off. - «Nothing like that. Come at the island, the water will be ready soon» she answered. She was in a pensive mood Max noticed, which wasn’t unusual, but it seemed to be different today he thought. He put his backpack by the kitchen wall and went to sit at one of the island’s stool. She had put cookies on a plate to accompany the tea. He almost laughed. She saw that the man was holding his laughter; she showed him a middle finger. She put her phone between them and selected Jon’s contact icon. She made the call and selected the freehand button at once. It rang three times before he picked up. «Hey Penny!» said Jon. - «Hi Jon, I’m with Max right now. - Hi Max! - Hi Jon!» said Max. «Congrats for coming back in Premiere! - F*** you!» The three of them laughed… but it was hollow. Only two years after Penny left for the Three Lions, Aston Villa was relegated to Championship. The manager who replaced Penny emptied the hard accumulated war chest she had left behind. In two transfer windows, he spent over nine hundred million pounds in transfers, sold two third of the squad and exploded the wage budget from one hundred and thirty million pounds to two hundred and fifty million. From twenty three, the main squad became twenty seven players big. The club finished in eighth place; not even enough to qualify for a European competition. He was fired and a new manager came in. The remnant of the war chest was cleaned up and more players were brought in. The main squad ending up with thirty one players; four couldn’t even be registered. Mutiny ensued; he was fired before the January window. The one who replaced him couldn’t transfer the overstock because all the contracts were too high and because of all the unhappy players, the squad’s morale was at rock bottom, and it stayed there. The club ended the campaign in eighteenth position and got relegated. Eleven years of work, to bring the club to the top of the Premiere League, and third on the EUFA ranking, got scrapped in two years. «Ok, we’ll have enough time to pull each other’s leg later» said Penny to stop the laughter. «I wanted to talk to you because both said you wanted to come with me to my new club after the National team, right? - Yes, I did» said Jon on the phone while Max just nodded with his head. - «Well, I have some news on that front and, before saying yes to a club, I want to know where you want to go». She saw Max lean a bit forward; he now knew why he had to work alone so often lately. «In the last weeks, I went to some interviews, three in fact. I got more calls than that, and my agent think I should have waited a bit for La Liga and Serie A to end because of Real Madrid and Inter… but I wanted to settle things quickly. As of right now, all three teams want to negotiate contracts with me: Manchester City, Arsenal and Bayern, in Munich. So, I have one question for you: Where do you guys want to go?» Both men stayed silent. She had to a start talking again. «So? - Bayern?» said Jon at the end of the line. - «Yes» answered Penny. «Opinion? - City will be a hell hole!» said Max. «They have a rather young team but with huge contracts. That would make it difficult to do anything if we need to. Besides, they are eating managers for over ten years now. Arsenal is underperforming like crazy. Bunch of chokers maybe… or a succession of bad managers? They ate five of them in the last four years! I still think they should be in CL nonetheless with the squad they have. Bayern might be a hoot though. Great team, but getting old. - I agree on City» said Jon on the phone. « For Arsenal, well, it’s London and I agree about underperforming. They gutted us by getting Diego and Domingo when we dropped and yet, they can’t do anything worthwhile! Bayern would be fun for sure; well establish team with great players but we probably would be managing a transition toward younger players. Their youth teams haven’t been good lately so, it would be market work mostly. I think it would be well suited for you though, a transition toward younger players… - But which one do you want to go to Penny?» asked Max. - «I don’t know… Well…» Max saw her becoming shy and this, he was surprized to see that. «…I must say Arsenal is pretty tempting. I come from there, you know? Bayern, I’d say it would be very fun to arrive in a good team with high expectations. I’m scared about the type of play though, very different from PL... City? I went because, well… I just wanted leverage against others clubs… - Shrewd bitch!» said Jon. Max laughed. - «Personally, I don’t really care» said Max once he got his composure back. «I asked to go with you after the Three Lions, I follow where you go and that’s it. - Penny…» said Jon, «…it’s fun to go back to our roots…»
  3. A hotel lobby, Wednesday 7 July, 2039, present days When Penny Stiles arrived in the hotel lobby, she saw Max, her analyst, waiting for her. «Hey minimax! - Hey old hag!» he shot back. - «Jon isn’t there yet? - Nope. Shouldn’t be long though …» As he said the last word, they heard the elevator bell. Both turned their head. The elevator doors opened and Jon emerged from the car. - «There you are you tardy!» said Penny. - «Here I am you limping harpy! Still grumpy as usual I see!» She offered him a smile in response. - «The damn edge was so high that I had to sit on it just to be able to enter the bath!» Max looked at her, dumfounded. - «Your bath’s edge is that high? - There was no rail to hold on to…» Both Jon and Max knew Penny very well and could easily imagine her, swearing in the bathroom… Jon Stead met Penny Stiles for the first time almost fifteen years ago. She’s just been given the reign of Aston Villa and he had gotten an interview to become her Assistant Manager. If the first thing he noticed was the crutch, because it was unmistakable of course, the second thing was her eyes; they relayed determination, and ambition. The process took over one hour but in less than fifteen minutes, he was under her spell. Five days later, he signed his contract and since then, he blessed himself for accepting the call from the first woman manager in the Premiere League. When she left for the National team, she convinced him to stay at Villa but also to be her Assistant Manager with the Three Lions. For Max Gunn though, it was a different story. He ignored her initial phone call for a job interview fourteen years ago; he was an analyst with Swansea at the time. He wouldn’t do the same mistake twice when she called again three years after. Villa was solidly entrenched in third place on the table at that time, and she would get her place in the Champions League. In the Europa League, she was in the Semi-Finals and, for what he saw, he thought she would reach the Final, and get her win; Villa was on fire since January already. She effectively did got it, and with style too; a soul crushing 6-0 win against poor Wolfsburg. When she left Villa, she asked him to follow her, on FA payroll, fulltime with the Three Lions. The trio started to walk toward the exit and they could see a minibus with the Arsenal logo waiting for them, with a tall man in his thirties right in front of it. Once they exited the hotel, the man came to them at a brisk pace and with a wide smile. «Hi! I’m Eric and I am from the team’s hospitality crew». Penny extended her hand forward to shake the man’s. Jon and Max followed. - «Thanks Eric. I’m Penny, here are Jon and Max. - I hope all the accommodations are to your liking». Penny decided to put her personal pride away. - «Everything is perfect. Shall we go?» The man waved the trio toward the vehicle. As they hit the road, Penny got her tablet out and started to sift through some pages of text. Jon and Max stayed silent. They knew that she liked to re-read what she considers to be main topics of future discussion. Both men had talked at length during the flight from New York to London. Max had gotten a hold on every single reports, about all the players in the main squad and, with Jon, they went through them while trying to make them fit, or not, with what they knew. Penny, who was dead tired, simply withdrew from the talks by unfolding her sleeping seat; first class flights have privileges. As the trio were getting out of the airplane, Max gave the excerpt of the different conclusions Jon and he had come to. At least, they knew four players very well. Domingo Ruiz, the goalkeeper, was bought by Penny seven years ago; he was among the top ten goalkeepers in the world. Diego Pearce and Leon Smith were both former Villa Academy players she integrated to the main squad rapidly. Finally, there was Reuben Edge, a solid central defender they learned to know and like with the Three Lions. They all thought, Penny first and foremost, that to have four players who had played for more than three or four years each for her in a club, would give leverage to her reputation. The fourth was a bonus; he knew her in a setting that was very different, where expectations are almost unbearable in England, whoever you might be. She wouldn’t be able to use Reuben and Leon right at start though; they both got a respite after the World Cup. As for Domingo, the man would be playing the World Cup final in three days…
  4. For those who know me in the FM Stories section, and for the rest of you FM enthusiasts, I just opened up a blog to put more of my stories: http://thefictionchronicler.home.blog. The blog will get all my stories, including exclusivities. The blog is as lean as possible, making it a good place to go when on commutes and data usage is a concern. You can follow me in multiple ways, including Twitter at https://twitter.com/_TheChronicler.
  5. You gave yourself a time limit, like 25, 50 years? Otherwise, best of luck!
  6. Ok. Thanks for the swift answer and thanks for the entire thread. It was as pleasurable to read it as it was informative!
  7. I was thinking of wing to wing plays between the left and right backs.
  8. Great read Cleon! I got a question though. With both side backs often getting narrow, does this create a lot of wing to wing lateral balls? I am thinking of this mainly on longer possession times, when the team is trying to pry the defense...
  9. Emirates Stadium dressing rooms’ corridor, Saturday 27 November 2038, 13H58 Just before the players’ warm-up, there was the meeting with the referees to attend to. When Penny emerged from the Gunners dressing room, she saw Cynthia exiting the Visitors'. A multitude of cameras started capturing the moment. Eleven news and telly crews were there plus Arsenal TV and Villa’s. About fifty photographers, from all over Europe, began their own waltz; flashes everywhere and hundreds of clicks in just a few seconds. Cenyr and Reuben (Edge), the Gunners captains arrived in the back of Penny and stayed there. She stayed immobile, looking at Cynthia at the other end of the corridor. The referees’ chambers were right in front of the Gunners dressing room; she wasn’t the one who needed to walk the most. Cynthia’s team captains, Joel Okafor and Mark Bradley, arrived behind her as well. The three Villans were smiling. The manager told her men: «Let’s go meet them…» The small group started to walk toward Stiles and her captains. The photographers and camera crews were following them, filming and clicking away, while some reporters were shouting questions that nobody was answering. Cenyr, the Arsenal captain murmured to Penny: «Do we go meet them boss? - «No, they can walk. The Emirates?…» Penny paused for a second before continuing. «…this is my place…» The End
  10. Congrats to our resident Gooner against Valencia! There'll be a happy camper tonight!
  11. Emirates Stadium, Saturday 27 November 2038, 13H25 The bus left Bodymoor Heath at 11h15. All the players still were digesting their lunch. The mood was very positive. Sitting in front, Cynthia and Rudy (Heylen) were talking about the coming match. The trip was just about two hours long and she was slowly feeling the pressure starting to slowly, but surely, strangle her... She decided to get her phone out and text Brad, to say hello, asking how the was the train trip and trying to get some needed distraction. After a few seconds, she got a video call with all the children making faces and joking while talking. They also were waving Villa flags. «Where did you get those?» she asked. It was Désiré that answered. - «The people from the club said that they were mandatory!» All laughed! When she hung up, she saw Rudy smiling. «They’re cute at that age… Mine are way old now… Just not enough to have kids yet!» He smiled while she laughed; it was what she needed. The bus was now pulling into the underground parking at the Emirates Stadium. It was another football grounds where she was setting foot for the first time. Cynthia, as a matter of habit, took a picture just as she was getting out the bus. Since she arrived with Leeds, she was documenting every single stadium she was managing a match by taking a picture while exiting the bus; it was her personal diary, in some sort of way. Brad made jokes about the fact that all the pictures were mainly showing underground parking zones but, for her, it was a way of saying: «This is where I entered the place!». Someone from security came to her: «Hello ma’am. I’ve been instructed to offer you to go at the dressing room via an indirect route that would keep you from meeting the media». She was surprized by the offer. - «What? You mean that they already are there, in the corridors? - Not all but a lot, including your team’s camera crew. A lot of them are making live comments before the match itself». She turned toward Rudy. - «You think she would have taken the offer?» The assistant manager didn’t hesitate. - «I’m sure she’d say no. Despite how tempting the offer is… My guess is if she smiled to them, it was a way to give them the finger. If she was her usual marble face, she probably was just telling them they weren't worht the effort of smiling...» Cynthia turned toward the security guard before speaking. - «Thanks, but no thanks…» The man smiled. - «Ok ma’am. Just be advised that there are a lot of peoples in there…» Rudy smiled behind Cynthia. - «Come on “shorty!”» She laughed at the quip! Rudy took his bag, shouldered Cynthia’s, and led the way toward the Visitor’s dressing room; he knew the way…
  12. Emirates Stadium, Saturday 27 November 2038, 13H05 When the bus entered the underground parking lot at the Emirates, Penny was just happy to be inside her own territory. No one complained about leaving the training grounds fifteen minutes earlier than usual. Leon (Smith) and Diego (Pearce) even gathered the squad for a little stint. Both knew her well and thought that a good laugh would be beneficial so, they made every teammate wear studded slave collars with a leash. When she met the squad in the vestibule of the main building, she saw all of them there, standing at attention, while presenting their leash to her. She started to laugh… Leon came to her and said: «We’re all ready boss… Which one do you want today?» Cenyr and Dominguo (Luis) each presented a whip to her: one looking like Indiana Jones’ while the other was a genuine army martinet! Hilarity ensued! The ride toward the Emirates was calm; the players were slowly going into their zone; just like the staffs. Jon was sitting with Penny in front. «The boys are all good Penny». She looked at him. - «How was this morning’s warm-up? - All went well. I can tell you that even the fitness coaches were impressed. - Really?» He looked at her, debating for a few instants whether he should talk about it… - «Yes. All know the stakes of today’s game and also the pressure around the game itself. I can tell you that Cenyr and Reuben (Edge) made sure that all knew about it». Penny was surprised. - «You’re telling me that the captains made a squad meeting to talk about all of this? - Yep! One after the little meet earlier this week and one this morning at warm-up…» When she was getting out of the bus, she noticed the security guard waiting, apparently for her because as soon as she was out, he came to her: «Ma’am, since there already are a lot of camera crews in the corridor, I’ve been told to come offer you an alternate route to the dressing room. This should minimize the risk of bumping into them». She weighted the offer for half a second. - «Thanks, but I’ll take the usual path - Ok ma’am. You want me to escort you? - Nope. Thanks...» she said before taking her backpack from the bus crew that was getting all the bags from the storage space. As she entered the main corridor leading to the dressing room, she didn’t bat an eye to the cameras and reporters. There were some asking, screaming really, questions but she just continued to walk toward the dressing as if they weren’t there…
  13. Bodymoor Heath, Saturday 27 November 2038, 07h00 Amanda was giving Cynthia a bear hug. The girl knew that today, she would go to London to see her mum be the boss in the big place and she was very, very happy about that. Brad had pressured Cynthia early in the season to make sure she would get tickets at the Emirates so all the family could come and see the event. When she asked who to talk to for getting the tickets, Cynthia was told that four tickets already were secured for her husband and the three children in the VIP box of the club; Aston Villa showed class even more. Train tickets, to travel with some of the club’s low executives, also were included so that all would be easier to coordinate. All Brad had to do was bring the children to the train station at ten o’clock. When Cynthia arrived in the kitchen, she saw that all were ready; all were wearing the Villans’ away kit. Brad smiled while coming to pick Amanda from his wife’s arms to put on her own official shirt. Her breakfast was already on the table; she only had a few minutes before leaving for Bodymoor Heath. The other children offered her smiles, hugs and kisses. The atmosphere was good and light at the kitchen table. Went she went to fetch her purse in the master bedroom, Brad put in place his little scheme. When she exited the room, she saw her husband, with the three kids, waiting for her at the door, all with candies for her bus ride in their hands. A huge shiver went down her spine… As she parked her car at the training grounds, it was fifteen past eight. She noticed that Villa TV already was doing a piece by the main door of the building. What was new for her was to go through a gauntlet of reporters with cameras at the entrance, just in front of the security gate. Nonethelss, when she passed by the club’s TV crew, she decided to say hello with a big smile. In the cafeteria, she saw that Rudy (Heylen) was already there with some of the coaches. She waved at them; he made a sign to come join them. «You ready for the big circus?» he asked when she arrived by the group. - «Could have hoped to sleep a little better but… yes, I am! - Trouble going to sleep? - Not really, it’s when I woke up, for the regular night trip to the bathroom, that proved difficult to go back to sleep…» All smiled at her. They all understood; almost all of them had trouble sleeping last night. When she entered her office, with Rudy in tow, she did as usual and looked at the mural. This time though, she stopped. She took a few seconds to look at Stiles, in her eternal winning pose… «I’m coming…» she said with a determined voice…
  14. London Colney Training Grounds, Saturday 27 November 2038, 07h00 Penny got in her car and started to drive toward the training grounds. She didn’t sleep well last night and she felt… edgy. When she arrived at the crossroad to engage in the path to the grounds, she saw that there was a group of cameras waiting for her and the players. When she turned on the road going toward the gate, she saw that there now were security guards blocking the journalist from going any further. As she entered the main building, she saw the Head of security. He gave her a smile while listening to his talkie. She passed him and went straight to the cafeteria to get a coffee. As usual, the staffs were all smile and once she had her morning fuel in her hand, a nice strong Arabica dark roast she asked for a few weeks back, she proceeded toward her office. Once in, she opened her computer to check her emails. Since she didn’t have her job cell or her tablet, she needed to check them on the real thing. She already knew that she, leaving the press conference, was a very big deal that has been relayed, by every media, about two hundred times per media since yesterday… She still remembered the talk she got with Kim Franssen, the Managing Director, after the press conference. The PR girl also was convened. If the boss didn’t like the gesture, at least Penny got some kind of backing from PR when she said that it was a concentrated event of stupidity, voluntary stubbornness and/or lack of brains. When she presented the vid of the event, Kim had to finally accept that, yes, the media never even listened to any of the answers. It only was an exercise of having their own journalist asking the same question, over and over again… The final nail was put in the coffin of the meet when the PR girl said she wasn't surprised at all. This is when conveyed that the latest numbers showed close to one thousand hours of telly/video coverage in England alone, related to the coming match from last Monday to Thursday alone. Those numbers included TV shows, news outlets, vlogs and video channels plus the usual fans or football related sites. Twenty seven former Arsenal and Aston Villa players were interviewed just on that specific subject! The written coverage was about two million words in England while they got about one point five million words for the four main football countries in Europe. Even Kim was astounded by the numbers… Penny got off relatively easy; in her entire career, it was the very first time she ever left a media event like that. If she felt her boss understood, she was just happy the PR department have kept all that crap about numbers for themselves in the last week, by not sending her the daily review since the talk with Kim earlier this week. A knock on the door made her look away from the screen; it was Jon. «Hey Jon. - Hey Penny, slept well… or at least ok? - Like the last WC semi-final… crappy and too short» she sighed… - «Well, I can tell you, you are not alone, the wife even threw me out of the bed!» Penny laughed a little. - «Really? - Yep… Two hours of turning and turning without finding sleep was too much for her!» he said with a wide smile.
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