EvilDave

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About EvilDave

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  1. You seem to have attracted a decent level of player for a team so far down the system, good win over Titan. I've no idea how the database you're using is put together, but there's absolutely no way a team from Magnitogorsk would be in the same division as one from Anapa in the amateur ranks - they're in different regions even in the Second Division, a professional tier! Also, your title should say футбола rather than футбольных, as it's a noun and not an adjective
  2. I was somewhat frustrated to see that, in the first game after my absence, Adelaide managed to celebrate their ACL win by dropping points at home to Wellington. Not that the Phoenix were a bad side - if anything they were one of the most consistent in the league - but I couldn’t help but feel that if I’d been on the sideline they might just have managed not to blow a two-goal lead. Call it arrogance if you like, but I don’t think my Reds did that on too many occasions. But Adelaide were very much not my problem any more, and while I still liked to keep half an eye on how Prestatyn were doing back home, I could not foresee me taking a long-term interest in the goings-on at the Hindmarsh. Yes, this chapter of my career was significantly shorter than the six years I had spent prowling the touchline in Denbighshire, but it was also a great deal less pleasant - although quite how significant the rose tints of nostalgia had in that opinion I remain unsure. The much bigger question was a simple one: where were we going next? Dean’s list of possible clubs had been interesting to say the least, with Aberdeen and Los Angeles never before appearing in the same sentence. The choice seemed to be between taking a stab at the English game from a slightly lower starting point, or jumping in with both feet into the moe closed and complex American system. Both had their merits, and both certainly had their advantages from my family’s perspective. Whether in Sheffield or London, Rachel would be able to use her past experience to her advantage - she knew the rules, she knew the lay of the land, she knew people in the right place. Bethan and Rebecca would have no problem finding a school place, and with the money flowing across the game from various TV deals, we would not be wanting for anything. That would probably be the case in the States, where the game enjoyed a lower profile but was run largely by a combination of the league itself and very wealthy individuals, who in some cases would bankroll a team to the hilt. Education for the girls would be more expensive if we decided to stay long-term - and I didn’t want my family to be moving constantly at my whim - but with my expected income and Rachel working as much or as little as she pleased, that wouldn’t matter too much. Add to that the appeal of moving to a thriving city like New York or a West Coast cultural centre like LA or Seattle, and the US also had a compelling case. In the end, with all the cards laid on the table, we narrowed it down to three. New York seemed like an obvious candidate, and the lure of the Big Apple was not something lost on my wife. On the American front, Seattle also made the cut, although surprisingly we dumped Los Angeles - they had a man in post, and Dean had said they were quick movers. I didn’t want to be forced into a decision, and the pressure of the Galaxy job would be much higher than the others two MLS clubs. That left us with Wolves, who we took out of the equation on the basis of probability; Aberdeen, which held very little appeal for either of us, Fulham or Wednesday. Did we want the London life and all the pressures and pleasures associated with it, or did we prefer the weight of history and fierce loyalty attached to the Sheffield club? It very nearly came down to the toss of a coin, but in the end we plumped with the Yorkshire outfit - Fulham’s habit of hiring and firing managers on a regular basis ultimately taking them out of the game. I gave Dean the call to go ahead, and a couple of hours later he messaged me back to let me know that the ball was now firmly in the courts of our three options. All I had to do was wait and start packing up our life here in Adelaide - even if none of the three wanted me to manage their team, there was little point in hanging around longer than necessary.
  3. “So then Dean, what have you got for me?” “You sound awfully happy Owain, I’ll do my best to keep it that way. Right, first up there are three clubs with vacancies right now, I’ve sounded them all out and while none bit my hand off, they’d all welcome an application - that’s often the best you’ll get.” “Sounds good Dean, where are we looking?” “Looking at what you told me, I think we can pretty much rule Partick Thistle out. Rock bottom of the Scottish Premier, and their finances are a bit of a mess. Union Berlin are midtable in the German second tier and you’d struggle to build them up given the money sloshing about further up, and that leaves New York Red Bulls. They’ve just finished last in MLS, need an overhaul and have got the money to do it.” “You think they’d be a good fit then?” “The money would be better than Adelaide, you’d be in a great city, Rachel would be able to set up business fairly easily and the girls would have no problems finding a school. Plus you don’t have the language problems you’d have in Berlin - or Scotland for that matter!” We had a quick chuckle at Dean’s quip, and then it was back to business. “Behind that, there are a couple of interesting ones that I’d say are worth making your interest known in.” “How would that work exactly? I don’t feel very comfortable talking to clubs behind a manager’s back.” “Don’t need to worry about that Owain - both clubs I’m talking about have made it clear that they wouldn’t do anything that isn’t completely above board. “Let me explain - Sheffield Wednesday are by far the biggest club in terms of history, but I don’t know how much that bothers you. They’re looking to kick on in the Championship, but they know Paul Clement is likely to leave around Christmas - he’s got too big a reputation to hang around. “Seattle Sounders are in a different position. Sigi Schmid has been there since 2008, but he’s retiring either in two weeks or whenever the owners find someone to step in. They’re a bit like New York - resources by the bucketload but a team badly in need of a makeover.” “It sounds to me like we rule Partick and Berlin out straight away - Germany doesn’t particularly appeal unless someone like Bayern or Dortmund come knocking, and it sounds like Partick are too much of a mess for me to rescue. “That leaves us with Wednesday and the two American teams, which all have their appeals. How do I go about expressing interest?” “You leave that to me Owain, it’s much better if it comes through an agent - looks less desperate. There are another three or four other clubs that I reckon are between 70 and 80 per cent jobs, do you want me to put your name out there for them as well?” “Depends where they are.” “Right you are - Wolves, Aberdeen, Fulham, Los Angeles. Probably in that order - Wolves are a bit of a long shot.” “OK, that’s useful. Let me chat with Rachel and I’ll give you a call tomorrow - there’s no need to rush any of them is there?” “Not really, although LA tend to move quickly if they’re moving.” “OK. Just before we call it a day, can we go through the details a little more closely? Up to this point I’ve done it all myself and used lawyers to pore over the contracts, but now you’re here I’d like to make sure we’re getting the best deal. Is that OK?” “Your wish is my command.” We spent the best part of 45 minutes discussing the ins and out of what ‘a manager of my reputation’ might expect from any prospective employer. From accommodation to cars, Rachel’s employment prospects to the girls’ education. Also included, at Dean’s initiative rather than my own, was the issue of termination and breach of contract - and what the outcomes would be if either I or my new club stepped out of line. It was a lot to take in. I needed a lie down.
  4. Thanks guys, really appreciate you following along. I was a little surprised by how quickly success came in Adelaide, so we'll see what's next... -- That conversation, as you might expect, did not end on the teary high of the flight back from China. My employer did not even pretend to be upset at my departure - he made it quite clear that while he was grateful for the success I had brought, he believed another could have achieved just as much - and indeed turned on me with suspicions that I had been dealing with other clubs behind his back. Naturally I pushed back, informed him of Dean Thomson’s appointment as my agent, and told him in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t because of a better offer that I had decided to hand in my resignation - but because I could not stand to work with such an ungrateful and odious employer. That, of course, did not go down well. McGregor flew into a furious rage, spitting his words as he told me how he had resourced my every move, how he had turned this club around from rock bottom and how I should have been thankful that he listened to ‘that old git Dougan’ and taken a punt on ‘some Welsh no-hoper’ to run his club. By this point, my blood was boiling too, and I could not help but bite. Out came everything. My suspicions, Rachel’s investigation, the conversation I had with his ‘old git’ in Stranraer. I told him exactly what I thought of his selfish and nefarious business practices, what I thought of his character, what I thought of his intimidation tactics and attempts to discredit my management. I told him I would do my damnedest to make sure no manager worth their salt stepped through the doors of the Hindmarsh as long as he was in charge, and that I would not be keeping quiet if the press happened to ask me why I was leaving. I also told him, against every piece of advice I had received so far, that I would informing the police of his activities. That shut him up, and he quietly agreed to host my final press conference for that very afternoon, on the condition that he be there alongside me. With that I had no problems - I did not expect a huge turnout from the media outside of Adelaide at such short notice, and I was not about to fire my best shot in front of such a sparse crowd. McGregor wanted to control my departure, and to a certain extent I was happy to let him put on his mask for the audience. But my resignation letter had already been accepted, I had a meeting with Dean lined up to discuss my next options, and my next step was already planned. The conference itself went off without a hitch. The assembled hacks were a little bemused and had plenty of questions, but I played them back with a straight bat and did not allow McGregor the pleasure of interjecting to defend himself. I had no intention of throwing him under such a small bus, and the farewell handshake which appeared in the Advertiser the next day did indeed give an accurate impression of the events. I was leaving, the paper claimed, because there was nowhere else for me to take Adelaide United. That was true, but not solely because we were the new Asian champions. That night as I awake next to Rachel, my wife’s rhythmic breathing soothing and slowing my furious thoughts, I smiled to myself before drifting off to sleep. Tomorrow there would be no alarm, just an open future and a fresh start. No more worrying about McGregor - not yet anyway - just family life and opportunities abound. I could think of worse ways to spend a day.
  5. The whistle sounded to jubilation from one set of players and crushing disappointment from the other. I sat stunned for a moment as the bench as I realised what had happened, then rose to my feet. Rushing on to the field in celebration, I headed first to Konstantinidis, our match-winning hero and would-be reject. Then it was a combination of hugs with my Reds and solemn handshakes with the beaten Shandong players. Paul Izzo, man of the match with no fewer than 12 saves made over the course of the game, was given a particularly lengthy bearhug - his heroics had, after all, won us the Asian Champions League. As fellow rock Somerville lifted the trophy, there was no doubt that, given the opportunity, I would stayed in Adelaide with this group of players. This group of spectacular overachievers, of against-all-odds champions, of footballing heroes. Every man, whether it be stand-in full-back Orlando, creator supreme Costa or majestic target man Uribe, had played their part perfectly, and it had culminated in the greatest night in Adelaide United’s history. For many of my players, this would be the biggest shop window they would ever perform in. I did not expect Uribe to hang around in Australia for long given his obvious talent and slow start to his professional career in America. Bigger clubs would come calling - for him, for Docherty, Thorbjornsson, Costa and others. For others, this would be the pinnacle of a life’s work - something I saw no clearer than in the tears of Osama Malik during the celebrations. He may not have made it off the bench in the final, but our veteran warhorse had more than played his part in our run to the big day. With A-League fixtures coming thick and fast there was no time for us to stay and party the night away in Shandong, so instead our flight back home between the setting for the celebrations - the alcohol flowing and the Champions League trophy an unwilling vessel for much of the journey. It was only when we touched down on the runway in Adelaide that I felt I had to let the players in on my secret. If anything, they deserved to know before the media scrum found out the following day. “Lads, if I could have your attention for a minute,” I started out to a cheer from the players. They were still in full-on celebratory mode, and I hoped the news of my departure would not knock them too far from their revelry. After all, they were good enough to do it all without me. “I don’t want to put a downer on tonight, or this morning, or whatever time it is, but I feel like it owe it to you, so here goes: “Once we’ve all had some sleep, I’m going to be calling a press conference. Not because I think the papers need to pay us a bit more attention - although they do - but because I’m leaving Adelaide.” The joyous babble turned to silence as my words sunk in, and after a few moments there were a few voices from the back asking me where I was going, why I was leaving, what was wrong. I had to go on. “At the moment, there is no job lined up, but for the sake of my family it’s time for me to go. There are some things about this club that you’ll never come into contact with, and it’s those elements that are making it hard. Let me be clear, Adelaide United is bigger than me, it’s bigger than those issues. It’s you, it’s the fans, it’s the history we’ve just made. “I have every confidence in you, in Jade here, in those fans, to drive this club on long after I’ve gone. I wish it wasn’t like this, but it has to be. Adelaide United, however, will go from strength to strength without me getting your way. I want you to make me that promise.” Instead of a promise, I got a solemn silence. Then, Paul Izzo rose to his feet, began to clap and, rousing his team-mates to do the same, made a simple and yet touching instruction to the rest of the team. “Three cheers for the boss!” Just as he instructed, the cheers came, and for the second time in my short managerial career, I was left fighting back the tears as I walked away from a winning team. I admit there was a little more alcohol involved than in Prestatyn, but the feelings were genuine. Next stop, McGregor’s office, and the chance to pour out everything I had been bottling up for the past few months.
  6. Heck Neil, I'm impressed - the 10th tier of Russian football!? I'm not even sure your team exists, but even I know nothing about the game at that level - consider me following along!
  7. After just five of those minutes, glory seemed like an awful long way away. All my warnings about doing something silly had clearly not entered the ears of Pana Papazis - or at least if they had, they hadn’t been processed by his brain. With Orlando beaten on our left, our most defensive-minded midfielder rushing across to cover with all the elegance of drunken giraffe, his flailing right leg sending Gao Chen sprawling as he crossed the white line into our area. It was a clear penalty, and after being subdued for so long, the Olympic Centre sprung into life. Yu Yong was the man tasked with beating Paul Izzo, and he obliged with a cool confidence, waiting for our goalkeeper to commit before sliding the ball into the opposite corner for 1-1. Now we had a real game on our hands, and we needed to respond - we couldn’t simply sit back and urge Shandong onto us. From the kick-off we very sensibly kept the ball for a couple of minutes, and our next spell of possession ended with Mo Alwan smacking a shot just wide of the left upright. Given we had only previous shot at goal - Uribe’s opener - it was almost as good a response as we could have given. But the pressure returned, and the Chinese side turned the screw slowly but surely. In contrast to our economical attacking, their shot count was already in double figures and Li Yungshon was the next to try his luck. His burst of pace took him into the area beyond Somerville, and his shot was early enough to catch Izzo off-guard and rooted to the spot. Thankfully, it was also off target, flashing wide of our goal and out of play. For the next 10 minutes we barely got out of our own half, fending off another series of Shandong corners with some dogged defending. Jack Adams replaced Alwan in our final substitution on 67 minutes, and in the brief spell that followed we finally mustered something resembling an attack. Brown fed the new man Adams 20 yards from goal, and he let fly with an effort that seemed goalbound until a defender’s head sent it out for a corner. It was a statement of intent if nothing else. What followed was much more. Costa floated in a corner, the Chinese goalkeeper came and missed, and the ball dropped to the feet of Kristian Konstantinidis inside the six-yard box. The man who only stayed at the club over the summer for lack of a replacement, our fourth or even fifth-choice centre-back, simply couldn’t miss and steered the ball over the line to give us an incredible 2-1 lead. Once more the stadium was hushed, Konstantinidis disappeared under a heap of Adelaide bodies, and we were less than 20 minutes from a famous victory. Our opponents once again stepped it up, but this time we had a lead to defend and one heck of a prize just within reach. Gao Chen’s latest effort flicked the post on its way wide, and moments later goalscorer Yu launched a cross from deep which Izzo could only watch bounce off the crossbar and back into play. We were living dangerously, but so were Shandong. With so many men pouring forward, Adams suddenly found himself flying through the middle and bearing down on goal, but a heavy touch put an end to any dreams of an emphatic finishing touch. Lao Yunshung fired over, Izzo caught a tame header from Gao. The clock ticked into the three minutes of injury time signalled by the fourth official, and it kept ticking. Ticking into the first minute, ticking into the second and on into an everlasting third. Shandong ventured forward one last time. A tired lunge from Brown got nowhere near either ball or man, and Yu was allowed to continue forward. A quick one-two did away with Papazis’ attentions, and suddenly the playmaker found himself 25 yards out and bearing down on goal. He faked a shot to create half a yard of space, and let fly.
  8. From that first attack, Gao Chen decided to test his shooting boots and fired in a shot that had Paul Izzo scrambling. Thankfully, our goalkeeper was alert to the danger, parried the ball round the post and then screamed at his defence for backing off too easily. If Shandong were going to come at us all evening, the last thing we needed to do was give them space to operate in. Alex Somerville, captain in place of Osama Malik on the bench, headed the set-piece away and we cleared our lines. The opening 10 minutes saw three more Chinese corners, and the pressure mounted quickly. Each one was either plucked from the sky by Izzo or knocked clear by a defender, but we could not possibly defend for 90 minutes like this. As time ticked on, Lao Yunshung became the next man to force a save from our goalkeeper, and moments later Somerville wound up with the first yellow card of the night after a frustrated challenge out wide. Already we were living dangerously. As the half hour mark approached, Eliot McDonald became the next man in the referee’s notebook, and all of a sudden we looked in danger on the flanks. That proved to be the case from the resultant free-kick, with a Shandong winger breaking past a challenge and whipping in a ball which Greg Schultz had to stretch to clear. When our American man-mountain stood up limping, I know he was struggling. But we won possession from the throw, and for the first time were able to mount an attack of our own. Despite being deployed in a central role, George Costa found himself exchanging passes with Somerville down the right, and suddenly a pocket of space opened up for him. Without even looking up he bent a cross right into the danger zone, and there was Manuel Uribe to head past the keeper and give us the lead with our first attempt of the night. The next 10 minutes saw Shandong ramp up the pressure once more, and this time it was their Peruvian striker Alex Rodriguez who saw fit to take the game by the scruff of the neck. First, he glided past a struggling Schultz to fire one wide of Izzo’s bows, and a couple of minutes later his next effort was high and handsome. When the half-time whistle blew moments later, Uribe’s goal remained our only shot of the game, but it was the only one that counted for anything. For all Shandong’s pressure and effort, they had yet to figure out a way past the combination of Alex Somerville and Paul Izzo, and that meant we had the advantage. With the stadium falling quiet as a result of our goal, we had started to take the crowd out of the game. Now all we had to hold on to what we had, and we would be Asian champions. That was the message the players got from me at the break, but I was then faced with the much more difficult decision of who to leave on and take off in our defence. Somerville and McDonald both had yellow cards to their name and I wasn’t about to let Shandong take us apart from the outside, while Schultz could barely run, let alone last another 45 minutes and possibly more. In the end, the decision made itself. Somerville was our captain and was leading by example, so he got the nod to stay on with a warning to calm his tackling. John Orlando limbered up to replace McDonald on the left, while Konstantinidis stepped into the breach in place of the injured Schultz. Both men were told to expect a busy second half, to stay alert, to watch their men and to stay on their feet. The last thing we wanted to do was give anything silly away, and the message came across clearly. Back onto the field they went, 45 minutes from glory.
  9. What Dean told me was that returning to Wales was off the cards - my reputation and wage demands put me ‘out of their league’ as he put it. I would not find another club in Australia quickly, and of the British Isles, he could rule out both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. If I wanted to go down the Scottish route, there were one or two Premier League clubs who might be interested in my services. Neither were in Glasgow, so the pressure levels would be fine. In England, I would be looking at a significant portion of the Championship, and a couple of sides at the bottom end of the top flight - assuming we beat Shandong. Without a win, I’d lose the continental champion tag and be less desirable. Outside of returning home, Dean suggested that the best bet might be MLS and one of the American clubs interested in switching managers. The money was good, the nature of the league meant every team was fairly competitive, and English was obviously the primary language. As wildcard options, he also thought the German league system might present similar opportunities to the English set-up, and my language skills would be balanced by the natives’ proficiency in my mother tongue. The final ‘other’ option, and something I was still very much unsure of after being burned last time round by the small-minded idiots in Gibraltar, was the idea of international management. More travel, but a great deal more down-time and, if the right nation was involved, a limited amount of pressure. Of course, November was hardly high time for sacking international bosses, and so it would have to be a country in deep trouble for them to consider taking me on. All of this served both to boost my ego, spin my head and give me plenty to think about as my team lined up to face Shandong in the Champions League final. I stood with Jade North on the sideline as the competition’s anthem blared out of the speakers in the Jinan Olympic Centre, where 57,000 mainly Chinese fans were waving their flags in support of the home team. Our allocation, a small pocket of Australians in the corner, were vocal to a fault, but were simply drowned out by the locals. Moments later our hosts kicked off proceedings, and for the first time since leaving Melbourne I was forced to focus fully on the match at hand. My own future could wait a few more hours, and then there was the small matter of telling Brett McGregor where to stuff his dirty job and walk out on a work in progress. I don’t know whether Jade could sense my worries or not, but he was as excited as anyone in the crowd. “What do you reckon boss,” He asked with boyish enthusiasm, “reckon we can have ‘em?” “I reckon so Jade,” was the only acceptable reply. “We’ve had tougher teams than this to get here.” It was true, we had. On paper, Guangzhou, Al-Gharrafa and Al-Ittihad were all better teams than Shandong, but the game wasn’t played on paper. In addition, we were without Docherty - suspended after a booking in each of the semi-final ties - and Thorbjornsson, who carried a knock and couldn’t be risked. We were not at all at full strength in midfield, and we couldn’t hide that fact, so we could only hope that their replacements - Seamus Brown and Corey Smith - could do the job. The 90 or 120 minutes that lie ahead could very well determine the future of my managerial career, and indeed the ongoing business of a certain Brett McGregor. As our defence braced itself for the opening Shandong attack, I retreated back into my seat. It was going to be a tough old night.
  10. After moving out of earshot of any of our players - as far as they were concerned, Dean was an AFC official travelling with us, we began our conversation. A conversation that may well have determined my future. “So then Owain, this is effectively it. Win or lose, you’re still planning on stepping down, am I right?” “Right you are Dean. As much as I don’t particularly like it.” “Well it sounds like it’s for the best. I’ve got a list of clubs here who may well be interested in you - some will hinge that on the result of the final, which sounds fickle but it’s the world we live. What I need you to do is tell me what sort of club you want to move for.” “I think a priority for me is who I answer to. If it’s someone like Chris Tipping, the money on offer is less important - although cutting my earnings does not appeal at all. If it’s someone like McGregor, it’s a no from the start. A board - well, if there’s politics involved and they want to drag me in, I’ll want to think long and hard. The people employing me matter.” He motioned for me to go on. “Then there’s family. Rachel is brilliant, and she can set up shop wherever we end up, as long as there isn’t a whole host of red tape in her way - it’d stress her out. I’m not saying things need to be easy, but we’re not putting up with something out of the Soviet Union. “The girls need school, and that’s a huge consideration. Can we go somewhere new at seven and five where they’ll fit in straight away and not miss everything in Adelaide? It was hard enough for them to leave Prestatyn, and they were younger then. It pains me to think about, and I don’t know what the answer is. Bethan has learned a bit of Italian at school, but other than that they only speak English, as do Rachel and I. Language and environment are a big part of the package.” Again I got the nod. “At that point, it comes down to what sort of club I want, rather than what sort of place we move. In an ideal world, it’d be a club with the potential to challenge, the money to do it, and lacking the pressure of being odds-on favourites each year. I’ve enjoyed that at Prestatyn and Adelaide. “I also haven’t been outside of the top division in a country for some time, and it would take a big team to convince me to change that. I guess it might be possible in England, or if there was a fallen giant elsewhere in Europe. What I’m not doing is heading to the Norwegian Third Division for a bit of peace and quiet. “Basically, I want somewhere I can be left alone to do my work, where the odds and the system aren’t hopelessly stacked against me, where the boss or bosses stick to their word, and where Rachel and the girls can live happily without having to overhaul their lives any more than they already have to. Is that too much to ask Dean?” “What you forget Owain, is that you’re the man in power here, particularly if you beat Shandong. Your demands are, well they’re demanding. But they’re not unlike those from any other manager out there, and the fact you haven’t really mentioned money will stand you in good stead. One more thing quickly - what do you want to do about housing?” “If it’s included, great. If not, as long as they provide something temporary, we’ve got the capital to buy and settle.” “So you think this may be your last move?” “If the club is right, yes. If it isn’t - who knows.” “OK Owain, let me tell you what I’m thinking right now…”
  11. There we would take on Shandong Luneng, a Chinese side who, like Adelaide, had never played in a continental final. They had overcome our group stage opponents Yokohama in two thrilling matches, emerging 8-6 aggregate victors after two 4-3 wins. As if to further stack the odds against us, their superior record throughout the competition meant we would be playing our winner-takes-all, one-off clash on Shandong soil, in their own stadium. It seemed hopelessly unfair, but I could do nothing about it. The date was set. Before then, and just days after our dramatic win over Al-Ittihad, we faced a trip to last season’s nemesis Brisbane Roar. They looked less of a force than they once did - top scorer Fabio Romo had left for Ajax and their first-choice goalkeeper had not renewed his contract - but they still remained a strong team and a real contender for the Finals Series. At least in theory. What actually happened was that after Uribe opened the scoring just eight minutes in, Brisbane fell apart and we put our foot down, doubling the lead before the break and then netting twice more in the second half for another 4-0 romp and a measure of revenge for the Grand Final defeat just a few months ago. Morale was good, very good in fact, and our ACL form seemed to be boosting our chances on the home front. A front I was by now thoroughly ambivalent towards. That ambivalence continued into November, as the countdown to Shandong kicked in. We would play the final on 12th, and before then faced domestic matches on both the 4th and 8th. My appeals to the FFA fell on deaf ears - I did not enjoy a particularly pleasant relationship with Australia’s footballing powers - and there was no hope of getting either match postponed. Some nonsense about TV schedules and ‘fan expectations’ meant we had to jeopardise our shot at glory, and I would just have to suck it up. It made little difference to anything as we picked up another win at home to the Newcastle Jets, only an injury-time penalty from Shane Thomas ruining a perfect day for the team as we ran out 2-1 winners. That led straight into the first derby of the season away at the Victory, and this time I was going to rub my employer’s nose right in it. I selected what was effectively a shadow squad to travel to Melbourne, watched surprised and pleased as Dusan Lalovic earned us a 1-1 draw, and then headed straight to the airport where I met the players who would travel to China. On that flight, I would be joined by Dean Thomson, and we had plenty to talk about. In less than a week my Adelaide career would be over, and I needed to know what was happening. Assuming my agent had been doing his homework, he would be able to present me with a number of options, from which I would then make enquiries and applications. In my own mind it was a relatively simple process, but I’m sure in reality the situation was much more complex. For that reason alone, I was glad to have Dean in my corner.
  12. Before the second leg, we had the small matter of Western Sydney Wanderers to deal with away. Given the distances we were suddenly used to travelling, a trip over to Sydney seemed like a short hop, and although it took us a while to get going, we did so in some style. Thorbjornsson opened the scoring in the 63rd minute on the rebound, and we then blew the Wanderers apart in the final few moments, netting three times in the last seven minutes to record a 4-0 romp. Given that I was long past caring about the A-League, it was impressive just how good we looked. But the main event came four days later, with the arrival of Al-Ittihad at the Hindmarsh for the second leg of our continental semi-final. Would this spell the end of my reign in Adelaide? Would I move one step closer to living out the dream of my morally bankrupt employer? With a million questions drifting through my mind, the Uzbek referee blew his whistle and we were off in what could have been my final game in Australia. The first half, as you might expect, was tight. We had the away goal advantage and that suited us fine, but we knew a single strike for the visitors would put them in the driving seat. We couldn’t bunker down as we did against Guangzhou, we couldn’t run roughshod as we had against Al-Gharrafa. We were forced to hit the reset button, to play as if it were 0-0 and everything depending on the 90 minutes ahead of us. That was how a close first half was played out. That is, until two minutes before the break, when patient play down our right saw Somerville tee up Docherty for a low strike which caught the heels of a Saudi defender and flew into the corner of the net. In purely mathematical terms it changed nothing - the visitors still needed to score to stand a chance - but in terms of momentum it came as huge shot in the arm as we went in at the break. Had Lucas Docherty, the man who thwarted us in his Brisbane days, put us on the way to the biggest prize in Asian football? Our opponents flew out of the traps in the second half, and only a highly alert Izzo prevented them for drawing level almost instantly. This was make or break for them, and they knew it. They needed a goal or it was game over, and everything came at us. Wave after wave of attack came, and eventually a reward - with 20 minutes to play, Omar Abdulrahman chancing his arm from 25 yards and hitting the top corner. That really was the reset button - 1-1 on the night, 2-2 on aggregate, nothing to separate us and 20 minutes to settle it in. Al-Ittihad didn’t know what to do - they couldn’t keep bombing forward - we didn’t know what to do, and so inevitably we move to extra time. The 90 minutes quickly became 105 and both sides struggled to assert themselves on a broken game, and almost as quickly the clock ticked towards the fateful 120 minute mark and penalties. If my reign as Adelaide boss were to be determined from the penalty spot, I’m not sure I could have coped. It was. But not in a shoot-out. After 122 minutes of action, we had one more attack left in us. Docherty found Adams, and in his weary state our forward played his attempted through-ball straight to the Al-Ittihad defender. Who missed it. Racing in behind was Uribe, and the panicking defender simply hauled him down inside the area. The referee had no choice but to point to the spot and send off the offender, and Corey Smith was forced to wait for a good four minutes as the guilty party trudged off, his team-mates on the field protested, and my opposite number was calmed down by the fourth official. Finally, the whistle blew and Smith stepped forward. Top corner. Never in doubt. Adelaide United were in the Champions League final.
  13. Vote sent and hereby claimed - crazy to think it's this time of year again...
  14. With Dean on high alert for any clubs looking to employ a beleaguered but generally successful manager for their club, Rachel beginning to look into winding down her business in Adelaide on the quiet, and the girls continuing their busy school lives completely oblivious, we opened the A-League season at home to Central Coast. Once our closest rivals, they were now also-rans, and I did not expect them to trouble us too much. I was also fairly nonplussed about the entire domestic scene given my imminent departure, and so it was difficult to drum up a pretence of passion on the sidelines. Thankfully my men had the ability to get things done on the field, and so I had little deflection work to do. It took Uribe all of 11 minutes to make the Hindmarsh fans forget about Bernie Ibini, and Hill added a second from the penalty spot in the second half to get us off to a winning start. Costa and Hill both limped out of the game in the second period to tackles which earned Luke Chipperfield a red card, and we would take on Al-Ittihad without two of our key men. Our second of three games in a week thankfully saw us pick up no further injuries, and for once I seriously considered rotating a few players in for exactly that eventuality. We travelled to Melbourne Heart and, without really moving past third gear, swept them aside 4-0 with two more goals for Uribe, a third for Docherty and a last-minute cherry for Papazis. Our hosts were a shadow of last season’s contenders, but I wasn’t about to feel too sorry for them. Just three days later we were in action again, and back at home to Perth Glory we suffered. Twice in an end-to-end first half we fell behind and pulled level, but as I withdrew key players in the second period, Frank Walter struck on the break to render Alwan and Chettleburgh’s first goals of the campaign somewhat redundant. With a continental semi-final in five days’ time, I did not feel too crushed by the defeat. All of that meant that, despite the absences of Hill and Costa, we were in reasonable shape heading into our long trip to Jeddah to take on Al-Ittihad. The Saudi side had not made it to this stage of the Champions League for several years, but still retained vast experience at this level - enough to put us to shame. Again, the bookmakers failed to recognise our achievement in even reaching the last four, and expected us to be humiliated. Once again, they would end up with egg on their faces. This time there would be no defensive masterclass, so classic counter-attacking goal, but instead a performance to be proud of and an even game to excite the fans at the King Abdullah Stadium. All 60,000 in attendance went home entertained, and looking forward to the return leg after a pulsating 1-1 draw. After 14 minutes things looked bleak when Tala Am-Shamrani broke free to beat Izzo, but just 10 minutes later we were granted a reprieve when, from a dead ball the referee whistled for a penalty - a penalty which Corey Smith duly buried. We flew home very much in the tie, very much in the competition, and very much believing we could still lift the trophy.
  15. Qatar is a long way from Australia, and our Qantas flight seemed to take forever to make it to the Middle East, My wife and kids stayed very much at home as I pursued Champions League glory, and so I spent most of my waking hours on the flight going over tactical details with Jade North. He didn’t seem all that enthused - we very rarely changed the way we play significantly - but it passed the time before touchdown rather nicely. Two days later, we lined up at the stadium in Doha with everyone but ourselves expecting the home team to take us to town. The Qatari side were defending champions but had only scraped through their first knockout round on penalties, and we had already proven against the likes of Seoul and Guangzhou that we had the ability to take on the bigger teams and win. With a full-strength team on the field, we fancied our chances. In the first half, the nerves of both teams began to show. Chances were snatched at and shots drifted wide, while passes in the midfield were rushed and found touch far too often. The 23,000 spectators in the stand must have wondered what they had let themselves in for, how Adelaide had ever made it this far and how Al-Gharrafa had ever won the competition less than a year ago. Unsurprisingly, it was goalless at the break, and that suited me just fine. The same eleven trotted out for the second half, and this time things were a little more controlled. The Qataris, led by former Spurs forward Nacer Chadli, tried to speed things up and cause our defence problems, but we stood firm and strong against their attacks. We too looked dangerous, and the end of one swift counter saw Uribe’s shot blocked and roll into the path of Seamus Brown, who made no mistake from 11 yards out. The away goal gave us a lift, and if the home team had been finding things difficult before, they looked even less likely to score now. Chadli cut an increasingly frustrated figure on the Doha turf - so much so that his manager took it upon himself to substitute his star player - and with just two minutes to go, we struck again. Uribe was again involved by holding up the ball, and his reverse pass found Adams at full speed to drive home a rising shot. Two away goals, 2-0 to Adelaide, and surely a place in the semi-finals? Well, yes. In the return leg a fortnight later, Al-Gharrafa looked leggy and tired after their long flight from Qatar. Just 20 minutes in, debutant Lucas Docherty stepped up and hit a skidding free-kick under the dive of their unsighted goalkeeper, and on the stroke of half-time Jamal Hill turned in a corner to give us an unassailable lead. The visitors finally pulled one back through the boot of Yannick N’Djeng midway through the second period, but they had left themselves far too much to do. We would face Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ittihad in the final four and, on the basis of recent years - and despite back-to-back Asian titles in 2004 and 2005 - they actually had the weakest pedigree of our three knockout opponents. Those ties would not be played under after the start of the A-League season, so we would have fixture congestion to deal with, but even so the thought very much remained - we could actually win this.