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170 "Just keep swimming"

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  1. I'm in a similar spot. My most serious FMing came as a student, then I was fortunate enough to work part-time for a number of years. Now I'm married and working full-time, plus trying to take care of my physical health a bit more than in the past, I just don't have the time to sink into a good long save, let alone write about one. That doesn't mean it won't ever change, and I do enjoy keeping up with what others are up to here and on FMCU, but I suspect your theories that the rise of the streamer/YouTuber is pulling people away from here is at least part accurate. Which is a shame, because I don't find FM to really work in that format and would much rather read a good yarn!
  2. “Owain, I know I told you a couple of months ago that I was thinking about stepping down and that such a statement probably causes a lot of uncertainty, but I wanted to reassure you that until that happens, there will be no change in the situation here.” Ralph Krueger had called me in to a meeting the week before the Community Shield for a chance to set our season’s aims and objectives – and, it appeared, to update me on the club’s search for a replacement chairman. “I appreciate that Mr Krueger, and I appreciate your continued support. I feel very confident that I’m not lacking in the resources I need to do the job.” “I can see that from your transfer business – I can’t help but notice that our income has exceeded expenditure so far, is there a reason for that?” “The main reason is simply that I am happy with the squad at my disposal, but the other factor involved here is simply the amount of money we have been able to raise by selling on players we have developed over the last couple of years. If you look at the deals for Hansen, Papuga, Kramer, even Ruane to an extent, we’ve been able to recoup a lot of money for players on the fringes of the squad. Even Acuna, who we have had to spend to replace, brought in enough to cover his replacement, and we only signed him on a free transfer a year ago.” “And you’re absolutely sure there are no holes in the squad?” “Yes. I’ve given this some thought, and we have enough to field two unique starting line-ups and have three or four players in reserve, which should be enough – that also discounts any young players I choose to bring up. If the right man is made available at a good price then I’ll move for him, but the current team is in a good place.” “You have no regrets about the Andrew Martin deal?” “Even if Martin scores 30 goals for Arsenal and wins the World Cup for England, I think it was the right decision. It would have been a lot of money, and would have required us to completely change the way we play. That seems like a huge gamble for a club in our position.” “OK Owain, I just wanted to make sure. You sound convinced though, and that’s enough for me. Speaking of the club’s position, what are your thoughts regarding the season ahead – we’ve spoken before of progress, but it’s a little difficult to see what progress looks like from here.” “I’d agree it certainly makes things more difficult, although there’s no problem I’d rather have! Personally, I think retention of the Premier League is within our grasp, and if we fail to do so it would be considered a backward step – that has to be the goal. I’d like to see us do better in the FA Cup, as I feel we haven’t done as well as we could have done in that competition, and as for the Champions League it’s almost impossible to say. Only Real and City have retained it in its current format, and the level is so high it’s hard to pitch a realistic ambition. Of course we’ll be aiming to win it, but I think to expect the trophy would be to add unnecessary pressure on the players.” “Those are helpful thoughts Owain, and I’m inclined to agree. In many ways this season will be similar to that of a team newly-promoted to the league – survival is paramount, and a cup run a welcome bonus. I feel for Southampton, replace survival with the title, and the rest is true – our consolidation just happens to be on the top of the league. Does the pressure of winning the league sound excessive to you?” “No – we’ve done it before and so should be able to do it again. There is nobody we fear now, and I honestly believe that over 38 games we can be the best in England.” “Let’s settle there then – retain the title, and anything else comes a distant second. Of course, unless you take this team down then the chances of your job coming under threat – certainly from me at any rate – range from slim to zero, but it’s useful to have the targets in place. Besides which, your contract gives you the right to extend.” “Yes Mr Krueger, and thank you once again for the faith you’ve shown in me.” Had I really just agreed to keep the Premier League trophy at St Mary’s? Krueger’s expectations seemed realistic enough – I mean, I had basically set them for him – but at the same time, having the favourites tag around our necks would be a wholly new experience for my Saints, and one we had not yet had time to get used to. If we crumbled under the pressure, it could make for unpleasant viewing. Conversely, if we thrived under the stress, we had the potential to play out another glorious season.
  3. January 4th 2020 Manchester United manager Mark Wilson has come out fighting in the media following rumours of a dressing revolt at the Old Trafford side, stating that no player is bigger than the club and that anyone not willing to stay committed to the team is welcome to leave – the latter apparently confirming that Fred and David de Gea, who has been vocal in his opposition to being dropped for Sergio Romero, are available for transfer. In other United news, Wilson confirmed that Juventus’ Georgio Chiellini, 35, will be joining the club in the summer after his contract with the Italian giants runs out. Wilson stated that the veteran centre-back ‘remains a world class player who everybody at the club can learn from,’ and that he was delighted to secure his signature. With a rumoured war chest of around £70m available for him to spend, expect more moves from a club desperate to make positive news. January 6th FA Cup Third Round: Coventry City (L1) vs Manchester United (PL) Grant; Laird, Bailly, Fosu-Mensah (Lindelof 52), Williams; Lingard, Garner, Mejbri (Mata 65), Gomes (Martial 65); Rashford, Greenwood A youthful Manchester United side did just enough to avoid embarrassment and overcome Coventry in what was very nearly an FA Cup giant-killing. Against a team featuring veteran goalkeeper Lee Grant, 16-year-old Hannibal Mejbri, and a centre-back pairing making their first starts after long injury lay-offs, the hosts seized on uncertainty in the United ranks and took advantage, Jordy Hiwula beating Grant with a strong header after just seven minutes. They held that lead for more than an hour, but substitute Anthony Martial restored parity with 20 minutes to play, earning and converting a penalty after a driving run into the box. Three minutes later Hiwula missed his shot at glory, firing wide from the spot after Eric Bailly’s handball, and it would cost Coventry dear – in the first minute of stoppage time and with a replay looming, Mason Greenwood stabbed in from close range to book United a trip to Bristol Rovers in the next round. They will have to be much better than this. Coventry City 1-2 Manchester United
  4. I am thrilled to still be alive in this. I suspect it's due to Angola's expectations being pretty low, but even so - I'm celebrating the victory! Great work as ever Mark.
  5. The fixture list could hardly have thrown up a kinder opening game for the new Milan manager. Away from the demands of the San Siro faithful, taking on newly-promoted Reggina on the opening day of the new Serie A campaign. Reggina had come up through the play-offs, scraping into the promotion picture in the final weeks of the season before emerging as surprising winners. They had recruited several new players over the summer who were continuing to gel, and on paper Milan were big favourites. It was the ideal game, therefore, for Raphael to wheel out the 3-4-3 in competitive play. Alex Meret sat behind a back three of new signing Mastronardi in the centre, Armando Tagliapetra on the left and Dutchman Kay den Otter on the right – the former instructed to push into midfield in possession and provide an additional option. Gaspar got his debut in the left wing-back slot, inverting the role and underlapping fellow newcomer Fabrizio Lisi ahead of him. On the opposite flank, 21-year-old Miroslav Stojanovic would operate more conventionally, hugging the touchline while his winger, Marco Rossi, looked to drift infield and wreak havoc behind lone striker and Austrian star Mario Saurer. That left the midfield pair, which would be made up of the more physical specimen of Turkish international Hasan Aydin, and another 28-year-old that Raphael was very familiar with, managing the creative Thibauld Renaud at his third club after handing the Swiss playmaker his professional debut more than a decade earlier at Servette. With three at the back and the wing-backs covering if needed, Raphael believed the new system to have enough defensive backup to risk just two men in the centre – especially with the two men in question of the calibre of Aydin and Renaud. The two of them, as expected, were more than enough for lowly Reggina, whose new signings had arrived later in the window than Raphael’s and for whom team cohesion was an obvious issue. The central pair controlled the game from the opening moments, and it did not take long for Milan to get off the mark. Renaud was at the heart of things, finding Rossi breaking infield, who in turn slipped in Saurer for an easy finish inside the area. Before the break Lisi added a debut goal to a strong performance, and in the second half a Renaud free-kick was flicked beyond the goalkeeper by substitute centre-back Luis Ribeiro to complete a comfortable victory for the Rossoneri. The calendar remained kind for the next couple of games, although the training schedule was not as pleasant for new signing Lisi, who strained a calf muscle and would miss his first opportunity to line up at the San Siro. Even without their quickest signing of the summer, Brescia were defeated 2-0 in front of more than 75,000 in Milan to make it two from two without conceding a single goal. That clean sheet was broken in the next game at Atalanta took a first half lead in Bergamo, but right wing-back Stojanovic proved the unlikely hero – first winning a penalty converted by Diego Jota and then firing in a low cross which Saurer skilfully diverted beyond the goalkeeper to turnaround. The Serbian’s two assists made the difference, and after three games Milan were being talked about as unlikely title contenders. That status would be tested in game four however, as the first of the big guns lined up across the field from Raphael’s men. Parma, fuelled by wealthy owners and still reeling after missing out on Champions League football by a single point last season, were one of Italian football’s rising forces, and after two wins and a draw, the scalp of Milan would go a long way to cementing them as a title challenger themselves. If three wins from three had heightened expectations, the Parma game dampened them somewhat emphatically. A headed opener from Saurer had the Rossoneri faithful in high spirits, but the joy was shortlived. By half time I Crociati were back on terms, and the second half could only be described as a disaster for Raphael’s men. Latvian striker Edgars Ivanovs beat Meret to make it 2-1, moments later Aydin picked up a second yellow card to reduce his side to 10 men, and in the final 10 minutes Ivanovs grabbed his second and laid on Parma’s fourth to turn a worrying defeat into an embarrassing rout. After being hailed as Milan’s new king, Raphael quickly found himself on the receiving end of some vicious criticism. A battling 1-1 draw away at Napoli performed the odd combination of reassuring fans that they wouldn’t be a whipping boy for the top sides, but also saw them disappointed by dropped points for the second game in a row. For most teams that had finished 9th in the previous season, 10 points of a possible 15 at the start of a new campaign would be promising enough. Milan, however, were not most teams, and already a few dissenting voices were making themselves heard. If he wasn’t already aware of how big a job he had taken on, Raphael was quickly being told.
  6. Stepping out onto the Amazon Arena turf as manager of an opposition team was a very strange experience – not least because despite being in charge of the visiting side, the Sounders greeted me with a king’s reception, rolling out the red carpet for their former manager and chanting my name throughout the 90 minutes. Clint Dempsey, after greeting with a hearty handshake and embrace before kick-off, must have felt a little out-of-place for the love-in, but I was deeply touched by the Seattle fans’ regard for me. Once the game itself got underway, there was a genuine exhibition feel to the game. Both Sounders and Saints were going out of their way to pull off every trick and flick in their repertoire, and the result was an end-to-end game of football which would have had defensive coaches tearing their hair out in frustration and neutrals marvelling at the spectacle. I had promised my old employers nothing less than a first-choice Southampton team, and so we lined up with the same side that had started the Champions League final. Seattle, despite being in the middle of their own season, played a full-strength side as well – their seven-point conference lead allowing Dempsey to risk his key players – and so the pendulum swung from one end to the other and back with remarkable rapidity. Of course my Saints won through in the end, a brace from Escalada book-ending a strike from Sidibe and long-ranger from substitute Hossam, while the hosts got two of their own through one of my old players, Bheka Sibandze showing the sort of form that had fired him to the top of the MLS scoring charts and made him a firm favourite of the crowds that flocked to the Amazon Arena. The 4-2 win was as entertaining as they come, with both sides drawing plaudits from the crowd for the skills on display, and while there was no doubting the over-the-top nature of the game – the two teams sharing a lap of honour afterwards for no discernible reason – it was by far the most fun we had enjoyed on the tour, and provided an appropriate moment to begin preparing for home. The flight out of Seattle-Tacoma was a long one, and there was plenty of thinking time on the trip back to Hampshire. Had I done the right thing in giving Chris more to think about? Would he actually serious consider moving on from the city he had made his home? Should I have offered him a job at Southampton, even aside from the traditional director of football position? Perhaps most importantly, would he ever be the man I had known in those first couple of years again? Perhaps I was being unfair on the man – to expect him to bounce back and carry on as if nothing had ever happened would be tactless to say the least – and yet at the same time I felt as if Chris was a man with so much to offer that it seemed equally unfair to leave him stewing in his own despondency. He was a man I loved dearly and wanted the best for, but perhaps I also needed to allow him to figure things out on his schedule rather than mine. After all, I could no longer manage him in the same way I once had, and that was perhaps for the best. What I could manage were the next couple of weeks – the first weeks of the summer holiday which Bethan and Rebecca would spend at home, the last couple of weeks of tuning up my Saints team in preparation for the season ahead, no doubt a whole host of media duties ready to be carried out in advance of both the Community Shield and first round of Premier League fixtures. We would take on United in the curtain-raiser, open the defence of our title at West Ham, and then return to New Anfield for a huge game against Liverpool in just our second fixture of the year. It would only get more intense from there, and already I could feel the stress levels rising. We were about to begin all over again.
  7. January 1st 2020 Premier League 21/38: Manchester United (8th) vs AFC Bournemouth (10th) Romero; Laird (Wan-Bissaka 67), Jones, Maguire, Williams; Lingard (Townsend 67), Pogba, Fernandes, Townsend (Martial 75), Dzyuba, Martial Manchester United rang in the New Year to a chorus of boos at Old Trafford, with Mark Wilson’s side drawing a blank against Bournemouth amidst news of discontent in the squad. Bournemouth arrived in Manchester determined not to be beaten, and Eddie Howe’s side put in a dogged defensive performance to ensure they did precisely that, forcing a goalless stalemate to extend United’s winless run and live them mired in midtable. With a disappointing performance coming against rumours of both David de Gea and Fred demanding moves away from the club – neither featured – it seems Wilson has a great deal of work to do in the transfer window to try and placate the demands of the fans. Manchester United 0-0 AFC Bournemouth
  8. Sent and claimed, Mark - sorry for the delay and thanks for organising.
  9. Apologies for leaving this until the last possible minute - a new job and mad few months have meant I've not been around nearly as much as I'd have liked, but I'm hopeful that changes in the near future even if writing time is somewhat diminished. I've claimed my votes in the thread.
  10. Votes sent and claimed - sorry for leaving this so late!
  11. December 28th Premier League 20/38: Manchester United (9th) vs Chelsea (5th) Romero; Wan-Bissaka (Dalot 62); Tuanzebe, Maguire (Jones 86), Shaw; James, Pogba, Mata, Townsend; Dzyuba, Rashford (Greenwood 71) An improved Manchester United were the stronger team at home to Chelsea, but could not force the winner in a hard-fought draw at Old Trafford. With Mark Wilson making several changes to his line-up just 48 hours after a draw at Leicester, United were the dominant side in the opening stages, and deservedly took the lead when an Andros Townsend free-kick deflected off the Chelsea wall and beyond Kepa in goal. The Spaniard did well to deny Artem Dzyuba a second, and his save would prove crucial – a rare Chelsea attack in the second half earned a corner, from which Fikayo Tomori powered a header past Sergio Romero. United continued to push but to no avail, and the two sides settled for a draw which does neither team any favours. Manchester United 1-1 Chelsea
  12. We had quickly moved one from Los Angeles up the West Coast to Portland, where a bumper crowd came out to watch us take on the native Timbers. My old Sounders rivals put in a decent showing against a slightly stronger team than the one which had brushed off the Galaxy, but were no match for my side and ended up conceding twice in the dying minutes, allowing us to put some gloss on the scoreline with a 3-0 win. Richard Boakye made his debut and played all 90 minutes, grabbing the first goal in the process, and the Ghanaian international looked like he would fit in nicely with the rest of our forward line. From Portland it was time to head back south to Seattle, where we would spend five full days of the tour – taking in the headline match against the Sounders, a chance for my players to unwind and bond again after the summer break, and the opportunity for me and my family to visit old haunts and catch up with old friends around Washington state. As I’d mentioned previously, the key appointment in my diary was a catch-up with Chris Henderson, the man who served me so well as technical director at the club for the majority of our tenure, and whose wife Jackie’s battle with cancer had such a deep impact on everybody at the Sounders at the time. It was a battle which forced Chris to withdraw from his duties – allowing now-manager Clint Dempsey to begin his staff career at the club – and which she ultimately lost, passing away as we attempted to lift the MLS Cup and inspiring us to do so in her memory. Some of those memories were just that – distant thoughts which seemed to belong to a different era and in some ways a different Owain Williams – and yet others felt as vivid as the clear blue Seattle sky, the intensity of such emotional times embedded deep in the souls of those who had been there. Rachel had grown increasingly close to Jackie in her last months, spending a number of days and hours with her as the cancer gained the upper hand, and even though she wouldn’t be joining me and Chris for our get-together, she had to fight back the tears merely when asking me to pass on her love. When I did meet him, Chris remained a man of few words – it was clear his wife’s death was still affecting him years down the line, and the liveliness of character that had made him such a bright and effective colleague broke through only when revisiting certain memories or people. He was undoubtedly pleased to see me – his warm greeting could not hide the fact – but there were several moments over lunch when it was clear that my old technical director was in part a shadow of the man he had once been. Although it was not my place to do so, I gambled with a more direct line of questioning, a line which I would have immediately shut down had anybody tried to pry into my own personal circumstances and emotions. However, Chris was both a man I knew well and a man I remained at sufficient distance from to give me very little to lose. “Chris, this is going to seem like a strange question, but do you ever think about leaving Seattle?” The silence lingered longer than was comfortable for either of us. “I don’t suppose I do really. I’ve been here more than 20 years now, this city is home. It’s what I know, it’s who I know, I don’t think I could just go and settle somewhere new at this point. Not at my age.” “Don’t give me the age dodge Chris, you’ve got plenty of life left in you yet. I just wonder whether it’s good for you to be around all the memories all the time, whether a fresh start wouldn’t do you some good.” “I don’t know Owain – I’m not in your position, when I could walk into any job I wanted around the world. Not that money is an issue, but I’d need something to do, and trying to settle in a new place while learning a new job, I’m not sure it’d be good for me.” “Chris, you’re selling yourself short – there are clubs all over America who would kill to have a man of your talents running their front office. And if they aren’t, I’ll write a reference and tell them how stupid they are to think otherwise. Even in Europe, there are plenty of teams running with a director of football model, and you’d be the perfect man for the job – buying, selling, getting the best contract details. I mean, if we had the position at Southampton then you’re the man I’d come for.” “You would?” “Chris, you performed miracles when I was here, there’s no way the club achieves what it did back then without you. You’ve got a lot to offer, and I think a change of scenery might be good for you.” “I’m still not sure Owain, I just don’t know.” It was clear Chris wasn’t entirely on board with my plan, and by this stage was beginning to avoid eye contact with me, gazing through the restaurant’s glass frontage onto the street outside. For fear of pushing the point too far, I decided to shut down that particular line of conversation. “It’s OK, it was just a thought. Maybe have a think about it? I know it’s been a rough few years for you, it can’t be easy and I can’t imagine what it’s been like – but if you ever need a friendly voice or someone just to listen, you know you can call me anytime.” With that, we melted back into more light-hearted conversation, me reminiscing once more about the glory days of the Sounders and Chris asking a few more questions about life at Southampton. It may not have gone quite the way I had hoped, but the seed had been planted and neither of us had burst into tears. Given the circumstances, I counted that as time well spent.
  13. December 26th Premier League 19/38: Leicester City (6th) vs Manchester United (9th) Romero; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Kolarov; James (Townsend 50), Fernandes, McTominay (Pogba 66), Martial; Rashford (Ighalo 81), Greenwood Manchester United conceded late again at the King Power Stadium as their winless streak in the Premier League extended to five games against a determined Leicester side. With both teams making changes to cope with the hectic festive schedule, it was the visitors who struck earliest with Marcus Rashford firing home, but the lead was short-lived courtesy of a long-range curler from Maddison. The introduction of Paul Pogba from the bench led to an immediate United lead as the Frenchman teed up countryman Martial, but once again his side’s late-game frailties made an appearance, the visiting defence leaving Kelechi Iheanacho completely unmarked in the area for him convert Maddison’s cross. Leicester away is no easy fixture, but to have the win in his grasp and see it slip away again will be of huge frustration to Mark Wilson and the United staff. Leicester City 2-2 Manchester United
  14. “Boss? Can I have a word?” I had told my players that even though we were away across the Atlantic my door was open during the day – the evenings were strictly family time, and I expected my men to need that as much as I did – but I had not really expected anything serious on a pre-season tour. However, Luke Shaw looked troubled, and so I ushered him in. “I’ll get straight to the point, because I can’t figure out how else to say it. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, and I think this is going to be my last season.” I sat quietly, motioning for him to unleash the torrent of thoughts that was clearly ready to rush out. “Like I say, I’ve been thinking. I was never going to make the England squad for the World Cup – I’ll be 35 by the time it’s over, and I’ve seen the competition, and I didn’t want the disappointment of being overlooked. Now I look at the squad we’ve got here, with Vandinho and Raul and some of the kids coming through, and I don’t know what I can add to that. I mean, I still feel like I can put in a shift, but my body lets me know about it for days afterwards and I don’t want to do myself damage now that I can’t undo. I think what I’m saying is that it’s time for me to stop. I’m not thrilled about the idea, but I’ve come to accept it.” “Well Luke, are you sure? I’m not going to pressure you one way or the other, but you need to be sure on something this big. You don’t want to live with regrets.” “That’s the other thing boss – I can’t have any now. I’ve played for my country more than 100 times, I’ve played in front of 80,000 at the Bernabeu every week, and thanks to you and the lads here I’ve won the Premier League and Champions League with the club I grew up with. It’s what you dream of as a lad, and I couldn’t have asked for any more.” “Weren’t you a Chelsea boy growing up?” I smiled as I teased him to lighten the mood, and thankfully Shaw read my intentions well. “Sure boss, but I came here when I was eight – I’ve got roots, I‘ve got something with the fans, you know?” “I do know Luke, I do – I see it whenever you’re out there on the pitch. If your mind’s made up, can I ask you another question? Do you know what you’re going to do next?” “Well money isn’t going to be a problem, so I can do what I like really. I don’t think I’m going to end up on the TV, but I hadn’t got much further than that.” “That connection with the fans – do you want to keep it growing?” “How do you do that if you’ve packed it in?” “Stay on. We can arrange for you to start your coaching badges this year if you like, and you can head back to the academy and share your experience and skills with the next generation. I can’t think of many young kids wanting to play for Southampton who aren’t going to be excited by the prospect of Luke Shaw coaching them, and if you find you like the job we can think about putting you on a path to the first-team – if you want it that, there are plenty happy teaching the youngsters. What do you think?” “It sounds interesting boss, coaching had crossed my mind but I don’t know whether it’s for me.” “Well, have a think about it and let me know. You don’t need to be a lecturer, just to be able to explain why you do what you do and how you do it – I reckon you can do that to the boys in the academy.” “Alright boss, I’ll give it some thought, chat to the missus and let you know what I think. You’re sure there’s a role for me at the academy?” “If there isn’t Luke, I’ll create one for you.” “Thanks boss, I really appreciate that. Cheers.”
  15. December 21st Premier League 18/38: Brighton and Hove Albion (11th) vs Manchester United (9th) Romero; Dalot (Laird 80), Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; James, Pogba, Fred, Townsend (Lingard 55); Dzyuba, Rashford (Martial 70) Two more points went begging for Manchester United after a failure to finish allowed Brighton a late equaliser at the Amex. After an even and largely uneventful first half, United looked to have made the decisive move when Dan James wormed his way into the box and beat Mat Ryan low at his near post. However, their inability to kill off the game – Marcus Rashford in particular guilty of missing two glorious opportunities – came back to haunt them as, with Diego Dalot forced off by injury, Aaron Mooy bundled his way past substitute Ethan Laird and shot past Sergio Romero with just two minutes to spare. United are now five points and as many places off the top four, and will need to find some form in the second half of the season if they have any hope of living up to their Champions League aspirations. Mark Wilson could be looking for a Christmas miracle to save his and his team's campaign. Brighton and Hove Albion 1-1 Manchester United
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