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Spav

It Was Just One Of ‘Those’ Weeks! [A Short Story]

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Sunday 27th April 2008:

The Nou Camp stadium was packed to its 98,000 capacity for the big match on Sunday afternoon. I followed my players out of the tunnel and took my seat in the visitor’s dugout as they took their places on the pitch ready for the kick-off. With the referee’s whistle imminent, I took a brief moment to close my eyes and reflect on what it had taken to get to this position. My Espanyol side were about to take on our cross-city rivals Barcelona in a local derby that would most likely determine the fate of the 2007/08 La Liga championship title.

***** ***** *****

A football career in England and Spain had left me with a love of both countries. I had stayed on in Spain after my playing days had finished and eventually taken up a coaching role. In July 2001 Liverpool took a chance on me and offered me their manager’s job. Two seasons of team building were followed by back-to-back Premier League titles, an FA Cup win and victory in the Champions Cup. The realisation that I had achieved everything that I could at Anfield prompted my surprise resignation in June 2005 and I returned to Spain for a well-earned break. In October 2005 Espanyol offered me their top job and I realised that I needed the challenge of management again. Two fourth-placed finishes followed as I took the club into the heady realms of the Champions Cup, but when the 2007/08 season got underway it looked to be ‘our’ year.

A 3-1 loss in mid-December at Sevilla would end up being the last time that Espanyol tasted defeat in 35 matches in all competitions – a record which took the club up until the present day and our late-April clash with Barcelona. Along the way we had progressed to the final of the Spanish Cup, worked our way through to the semi-finals of the Champions Cup and forged a three-point lead over Barcelona at the top of the La Liga table. Victory today would give us a six-point break over our opponents with four matches remaining to play and if we managed to achieve the win, then I was sure that we would be able to hold onto our points lead and take the title.

***** ***** *****

A shrill blast of the referee’s whistle bought me back from my reverie and I looked out to see Barcelona kick-off the match. Their defence played it around a few times before the ball made its way out to Saviola on the right wing. A quick flick with the outside of the Argentinean’s boot saw the ball transferred into the path of his Dutch strike partner Kluivert and the big striker was suddenly away. My Spanish U-21 international defender Guerrero had been dominant all season, but he was caught flatfooted so early on. He chased after Kluivert as he closed in on the penalty area and made a desperate lunging tackle. Alas, he was too late and he only took Kluivert’s trailing leg, causing the Dutchmen to come crashing down. The referee was on the spot in an instant and before Guerrero had even got to his feet he had the red card out and was sending my defender from the ground. Twenty-six seconds had passed and we were down to ten men in the biggest game of the season!!

I got over my initial shock and leapt to my feet to charge out into my technical area. The Espanyol substitutes hadn’t even taken their seats yet, so I motioned to Mexes to come over and ordered him to get ready. Reluctantly I called my attacking midfielder Nikiforenko from the field and sent on the defender in his place. There were eighty-nine minutes to go and I was going to do my best to ensure that we at least got a point in this vital match.

Barcelona was initially hesitant about pushing too many men forward to exploit their one-man advantage and as a result the first chance fell to Espanyol when Tamudo’s header forced Buffon into a flying save after 8 minutes. A few minutes later Villa’s left-footed volley bought a similarly fine save from Buffon. Barcelona stayed calm though and it was Saviola who sparked them into life. The Argentinean picked up a loose ball thirty yards out and suddenly skipped past Mexes. Vargas was then also beaten and a crisp shot from sixteen yards skidded under Costanzo’s dive to put Barcelona 1-0 up after 21 minutes. Veron was now starting to dominate in the middle for the home side and Costanzo was busy making smart saves from Aghahowa and Geovanni. The Nigerian Aghahowa was looking particularly dangerous on the right wing and he raced past Mista after 37 minutes before sending over a strong cross. Olivera met it at the near post with a glancing header which beat Costanza and Barcelona had made it 2-0. The pressure was now intense and Olivera rapped a 43rd minute shot against a post with Costanzo leaden-footed. In injury-time Saviola snatched at a half-chance and blasted his shot over the crossbar from ten yards. We were lucky to only be two-down at the break.

A slow start to the second half was blown away when Geovanni surged into the right side of the penalty area and clipped the ball towards the far post. Olivera met it with a powerful header, but Costanzo blocked the effort with a superb save. Unfortunately the ball then fell kindly for Saviola and he crashed it into the unguarded net to make it 3-0 after 54 minutes. With the points seemingly in their possession Barca’s manager Rexach made a defensive substitution by taking off Geovanni and replacing him with Xavi after 66 minutes. Their momentum slowed and it appeared that they were happy with their three-goal lead. Ze Roberto had been in and out of the game for us, but he came up with a killer pass after 77 minutes which allowed Villa to chase hard and then produce a vicious volley which flew past Buffon to pull the score back to 3-1. It gave us momentary hope, but a chastened Barcelona defence tightened up and snuffed out any further chances in the remaining fifteen minutes.

Our 35-match unbeaten run had suddenly come to an abrupt end in the most unfortunate of circumstances. All of the hard work that we had put together in the previous four months to build a three-point lead at the top of the table had been undone in one fell swoop by a referee feeling that intense pressure that only the crowd at the Nou Camp can generate. The season wasn’t over, but it had certainly had a trickier look to it now.

Barcelona 3 (Saviola 21, 54, Olivera 37)

Espanyol 1 (Villa 77)

Costanza, Vargas, Guerrero, Nadj, Ze Roberto, Vernazza, Mista, Nikiforenko (Mexes), Tamudo, Tsigalko, Villa.

Barcelona’s 3-1 win had taken them to the top of the table where they had joined us on 76 points, although they took the top spot due to their superior goal-difference. There would be press conferences and recriminations from both the board and supporters after this vital loss to our biggest rivals, but already my mind was thinking ahead to our next match – on Wednesday we travelled to the country’s capital to take on Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in the first leg of the Champions Cup semi-finals.

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Sunday 27th April 2008:

The Nou Camp stadium was packed to its 98,000 capacity for the big match on Sunday afternoon. I followed my players out of the tunnel and took my seat in the visitor’s dugout as they took their places on the pitch ready for the kick-off. With the referee’s whistle imminent, I took a brief moment to close my eyes and reflect on what it had taken to get to this position. My Espanyol side were about to take on our cross-city rivals Barcelona in a local derby that would most likely determine the fate of the 2007/08 La Liga championship title.

***** ***** *****

A football career in England and Spain had left me with a love of both countries. I had stayed on in Spain after my playing days had finished and eventually taken up a coaching role. In July 2001 Liverpool took a chance on me and offered me their manager’s job. Two seasons of team building were followed by back-to-back Premier League titles, an FA Cup win and victory in the Champions Cup. The realisation that I had achieved everything that I could at Anfield prompted my surprise resignation in June 2005 and I returned to Spain for a well-earned break. In October 2005 Espanyol offered me their top job and I realised that I needed the challenge of management again. Two fourth-placed finishes followed as I took the club into the heady realms of the Champions Cup, but when the 2007/08 season got underway it looked to be ‘our’ year.

A 3-1 loss in mid-December at Sevilla would end up being the last time that Espanyol tasted defeat in 35 matches in all competitions – a record which took the club up until the present day and our late-April clash with Barcelona. Along the way we had progressed to the final of the Spanish Cup, worked our way through to the semi-finals of the Champions Cup and forged a three-point lead over Barcelona at the top of the La Liga table. Victory today would give us a six-point break over our opponents with four matches remaining to play and if we managed to achieve the win, then I was sure that we would be able to hold onto our points lead and take the title.

***** ***** *****

A shrill blast of the referee’s whistle bought me back from my reverie and I looked out to see Barcelona kick-off the match. Their defence played it around a few times before the ball made its way out to Saviola on the right wing. A quick flick with the outside of the Argentinean’s boot saw the ball transferred into the path of his Dutch strike partner Kluivert and the big striker was suddenly away. My Spanish U-21 international defender Guerrero had been dominant all season, but he was caught flatfooted so early on. He chased after Kluivert as he closed in on the penalty area and made a desperate lunging tackle. Alas, he was too late and he only took Kluivert’s trailing leg, causing the Dutchmen to come crashing down. The referee was on the spot in an instant and before Guerrero had even got to his feet he had the red card out and was sending my defender from the ground. Twenty-six seconds had passed and we were down to ten men in the biggest game of the season!!

I got over my initial shock and leapt to my feet to charge out into my technical area. The Espanyol substitutes hadn’t even taken their seats yet, so I motioned to Mexes to come over and ordered him to get ready. Reluctantly I called my attacking midfielder Nikiforenko from the field and sent on the defender in his place. There were eighty-nine minutes to go and I was going to do my best to ensure that we at least got a point in this vital match.

Barcelona was initially hesitant about pushing too many men forward to exploit their one-man advantage and as a result the first chance fell to Espanyol when Tamudo’s header forced Buffon into a flying save after 8 minutes. A few minutes later Villa’s left-footed volley bought a similarly fine save from Buffon. Barcelona stayed calm though and it was Saviola who sparked them into life. The Argentinean picked up a loose ball thirty yards out and suddenly skipped past Mexes. Vargas was then also beaten and a crisp shot from sixteen yards skidded under Costanzo’s dive to put Barcelona 1-0 up after 21 minutes. Veron was now starting to dominate in the middle for the home side and Costanzo was busy making smart saves from Aghahowa and Geovanni. The Nigerian Aghahowa was looking particularly dangerous on the right wing and he raced past Mista after 37 minutes before sending over a strong cross. Olivera met it at the near post with a glancing header which beat Costanza and Barcelona had made it 2-0. The pressure was now intense and Olivera rapped a 43rd minute shot against a post with Costanzo leaden-footed. In injury-time Saviola snatched at a half-chance and blasted his shot over the crossbar from ten yards. We were lucky to only be two-down at the break.

A slow start to the second half was blown away when Geovanni surged into the right side of the penalty area and clipped the ball towards the far post. Olivera met it with a powerful header, but Costanzo blocked the effort with a superb save. Unfortunately the ball then fell kindly for Saviola and he crashed it into the unguarded net to make it 3-0 after 54 minutes. With the points seemingly in their possession Barca’s manager Rexach made a defensive substitution by taking off Geovanni and replacing him with Xavi after 66 minutes. Their momentum slowed and it appeared that they were happy with their three-goal lead. Ze Roberto had been in and out of the game for us, but he came up with a killer pass after 77 minutes which allowed Villa to chase hard and then produce a vicious volley which flew past Buffon to pull the score back to 3-1. It gave us momentary hope, but a chastened Barcelona defence tightened up and snuffed out any further chances in the remaining fifteen minutes.

Our 35-match unbeaten run had suddenly come to an abrupt end in the most unfortunate of circumstances. All of the hard work that we had put together in the previous four months to build a three-point lead at the top of the table had been undone in one fell swoop by a referee feeling that intense pressure that only the crowd at the Nou Camp can generate. The season wasn’t over, but it had certainly had a trickier look to it now.

Barcelona 3 (Saviola 21, 54, Olivera 37)

Espanyol 1 (Villa 77)

Costanza, Vargas, Guerrero, Nadj, Ze Roberto, Vernazza, Mista, Nikiforenko (Mexes), Tamudo, Tsigalko, Villa.

Barcelona’s 3-1 win had taken them to the top of the table where they had joined us on 76 points, although they took the top spot due to their superior goal-difference. There would be press conferences and recriminations from both the board and supporters after this vital loss to our biggest rivals, but already my mind was thinking ahead to our next match – on Wednesday we travelled to the country’s capital to take on Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in the first leg of the Champions Cup semi-finals.

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Amaroq, somehow I think the story's title gives away what is likely to happen next. icon_razz.gif

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Wednesday 30th April 2008:

Another huge crowd – just over 75,000 – greeted us on this Wednesday evening in Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium. The lead-up to the match had focussed on Espanyol’s 3-1 loss to Barcelona the previous Saturday and how the ‘pretenders’ bubble had suddenly burst. Real Madrid was still a formidable side even though they sat third on the La Liga table a sizeable six points behind Barcelona and us. Our two league clashes this season had also gone in Real’s favour with a 3-2 win for the Madrista’s at home and a 2-2 draw at our stadium. Team selection wasn’t an issue as I sent out the same eleven that had started the match against Barca four days earlier. It was my strongest line-up and it had taken us to where we now found ourselves. An apologetic Guerrero was determined to spend more than half a minute on the pitch this time.

***** ***** *****

Both teams eyed each other off for the opening couple of minutes before our first serious attack forced Ferdinand to knock Mista’s cross away for a corner. Vernazza took it from the right and Tamudo rose high to force his header home via Iker Casillas’s shoulder for a 1-0 lead to us after just 4 minutes. Real Madrid responded quickly through their leading scorer Luis Tejada as the Panamanian striker forced Costanzo to make a smart save two minutes later. Luis Tejada was giving Guerrero plenty of concern with his lightning pace and he bought out another quality save from our keeper at the expense of a corner after 16 minutes. When the ball was played in by Valeev, both Nikiforenko and Ze Roberto got in each other’s way and failed to make a decent clearance. Ivan Campo got the ball and with his back to goal he laid it off for Luis Tejada to rifle it through a crowd of players to make the score 1-1. The game was certainly alive now and both sides threw themselves forward at every opportunity. Mista scraped the outside of the post with a half-volley after 22 minutes, Moran headed just wide for Real after 26 minutes, Vernazza forced a one-handed save from Iker Casillas after 34 minutes and Morientes was denied when Costanzo stole the ball off his bootlaces after 37 minutes s the chances flowed for both sides. As half-time approached Solari darted into the box and went down theatrically under the challenge of Ze Roberto. I held my breath as I watched the referee – I’d seen plenty of penalties like these given in front of a baying Real Madrid home crowd – but he kept his whistle in his pocket this time. When half-time arrived I couldn’t believe that forty-five minutes had flown by so quickly.

I had little in the way of instructions to give my players at half-time other than to carry on as they were, but my counterpart Vincente Del Bosque made his intentions clear as he replaced his wing-back Roberto Carlos with an additional striker in the form of Eto’o and went to three at the back. All was quiet for a while as both teams adjusted to the new formations, but all that changed in the 61st minute. Moran’s hopeful cross was floating comfortably into the arms of Costanzo when Luis Tejada decided to bounce off Vargas and throw himself to the ground. The home fans screamed in protest and amazingly the Slovakian referee pointed to the penalty-spot!!

My players surrounded the referee in protest, but he would not change his mind. With a smirk on his face Luis Tejada took the spot-kick himself and nestled it low in the left-hand corner to put Real Madrid 2-1 up. I urged my Espanyol players forward in search of an equaliser, but Real Madrid pulled back and flooded the midfield. Nadj and Vieira typified the sense of the moment as they clashed heads heavily in going for a loose ball, but both were able to continue after treatment. Eventually the clock ticked into the final ten minutes as Real continued to hold us out. With my players pouring forward a counter-attack was inevitable and it finally came in the 86th minute as Vieira broke free down the right wing. Ze Roberto valiantly chased back and tried to block the cross, but he was too late and the Frenchman played a precise ball into the centre. The player arriving was Luis Tejada and he completed his hat-trick with a fine volley from twelve yards that gave Costanzo no hope. Real Madrid led 3-1 and that would end up being the final score.

Real Madrid 3 (Luis Tejada 16, 61 pen, 86)

Espanyol 1 (Tamudo 4)

Costanza, Vargas, Guerrero, Nadj, Ze Roberto, Vernazza, Mista, Nikiforenko, Tamudo, Tsigalko, Villa.

Replays after the match would show that Luis Tejada clearly dived to win the crucial penalty, but it was too late to change things now. A mammoth effort would now be required in seven day’s time to overturn Real Madrid’s 3-1 lead. My main concern however was the morale of my Espanyol team. We had been beaten 3-1 consecutively in two vital matches and I was worried that all the confidence we had built in our earlier 35-match unbeaten run would now be seriously undermined. Our next opponents were Valencia in four days time and the fate of our league season would rest on the result of that match.

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Sunday 4th May 2008:

We desperately needed to get our season back on track if we were going to have a chance in the title race. Barcelona’s superior goal-difference meant that we needed to rely on them dropping points in order to pass them on the La Liga table. The opposition today at our Lluis Companys home stadium would be Valencia – a team currently in a fine run of form and an opponent that had held sway over Espanyol in the three seasons that I had been at the club. There was only one change to the team as Guerrero was suspended after his red card against Barcelona and Mexes started in his place.

The start made by my team was encouraging as we got into a good rhythm and were clearly dictating the terms of the game. Half-chances fell to Nikiforenko and Vernazza in the first ten minutes before Valencia’s keeper Contreras was forced to make his first serious save after 14 minutes when he had to concede a corner by turning aside Tsigalko’s low shot. Valencia soaked up the pressure further before constructing their first decent chance after 24 minutes when Astudillo got to the bye-line and pulled back a cross for Salva to head straight into Costanzo’s arms. Valencia was seeing a lot more of the ball now and we had to sit back and cop some pressure ourselves. A swift counter-attack by Ze Roberto after 34 minutes saw him break free down the right and the Brazilian playmaker sent over a delightful cross which Tamudo headed powerfully towards the top corner. Contreras was equal to it however and he dived smartly to his left to tip it over for a corner. This signalled another wave of pressure from Espanyol as Mista found the side-netting with his 38th minute volley and Tamudo headed over with a 42nd minute attempt. At half-time the score was 0-0, but we were definitely unlucky not to be leading.

As often happens the interval interrupted the flow of the dominant team and it was certainly the case with us as Valencia took the initiative at the start of the second half. Costanzo blocked Astudillo’s shot with his legs after 50 minutes and only a fine tackle from Mista denied Placente from lining up a shot from ten yards out after 52 minutes. Valencia penned us into our own half for a few minutes before Nadj and Ze Roberto conjured up an attack for us. It ended with Ze Roberto drilling a firm cross to the far post where Villa stooped to head the ball past Contreras and put us 1-0 up after 54 minutes. The relief was palatable – both with the players and the Espanyol fans. It wasn’t to last long however as we fell to the class sucker punch after scoring as we allowed Astudillo to break down the right wing behind Mista. The Argentinean picked out his compatriot Placente at the far post and he volleyed past Costanzo to make it 1-1 after 56 minutes. The game was really on now and both teams lifted their endeavours even further. Desperate tackles flew in from players of both sides as Vargas and Vernazza were booked whilst Valencia’s Makelele and Sergio also went into the referee’s book. In the 73rd minute a seemingly harmless long ball was fired over our defence by Milito, but it kicked up on a divot and Mexes was forced to lunge forward in an attempt to head it back to his keeper. His attempt was totally miscued however and the header by Mexes looped over Costanzo and into our net for an own goal!!

Another disaster had befallen my Espanyol team and the player’s heads had clearly dropped at the manner in which we had fallen 2-1 down. Valencia were obviously happy with things the way they were at the moment and they dropped back to protect their lead. The Espanyol player’s efforts appeared half-hearted and I yelled fiercely from the sidelines to try and get them going again. A hopeful cross from Nikiforenko after 85 minutes dropped kindly for Tsigalko, but he snatched at the chance and ballooned it over the crossbar from twelve yards. The final chance fell to Tamudo after 89 minutes, but he tamely headed the ball into the arms of Contreras. A couple of minutes later the referee put us out of our misery as he ended the match which signalled Valencia’s 2-1 win and the probable end of our title aspirations.

Espanyol 1 (Villa 54)

Valencia 2 (Placente 56, Mexes own goal 73)

Costanza, Vargas, Mexes, Nadj, Ze Roberto, Vernazza, Mista (Roger), Nikiforenko, Tamudo, Tsigalko, Villa.

Our 2-1 defeat by Valencia was coupled with Barcelona’s 6-1 thrashing of Levante and pushed them out to a three-point lead with just three matches remaining. However Barcelona’s fixtures were against teams in the bottom six and they were not expected to drop any points in the run-in.

Epilogue:

We would go on to win our final three matches in La Liga, but Barcelona would win all three of theirs as well and go on to take the title by a three-point margin – 88 to 85. In the Champions Cup we fought hard in the second leg of the semi-final, but could only come away with a 1-0 win over Real Madrid courtesy of a 3rd minute strike by Tsigalko. Real therefore won 3-2 on aggregate and advanced to the final. We did get ourselves some minor consolation though when Espanyol retained the Spanish Cup with a 5-0 victory over Real Betis in a repeat of the previous year’s final. Goals from Ze Roberto, Tsigalko (2) and Tamudo (2) gave us one trophy for the season, but it could so easily have been three.

In the end it came down to a red card, a penalty and an own goal which dictated the way in which our season finished. It was just one of ‘those’ weeks!

THE END

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Excellent effort Spav, and a definate contender for Short Story of the year me thinks icon_smile.gif unlucky on the League and Euro fronts but well done on the Spanish Cup icon_smile.gif

Btw, are you using CM4 by any chance...Maxim Tsigalko was an absolute legend on that game, only player on any version of any CM/FM game to hit 300 goals for my club icon_smile.gif

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Pfft! As if anyone is going to remember a short story written in November at awards time! icon_rolleyes.gif

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@ sherm - CM01/02 original datatbase for this game, thanks. icon_cool.gif

@ HD - I know, I know, but the opportunity just presented itself at this time and I wouldn't have felt okay about writing it and holding it for a few months to post. icon_smile.gif

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<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-title">quote:</div><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-content">Originally posted by HD:

Pfft! As if anyone is going to remember a short story written in November at awards time! icon_rolleyes.gif </div></BLOCKQUOTE>

Don't worry Spav - I'll remember. In fact I'll write myself a reminder right now if I can just remember where I put my pen...and my diary. Anyway, a good read so let's hope it encourages a few more of us to post the odd shortie or two.

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<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-title">quote:</div><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-content">Originally posted by BobBev:

<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-title">quote:</div><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-content">Originally posted by HD:

Pfft! As if anyone is going to remember a short story written in November at awards time! icon_rolleyes.gif </div></BLOCKQUOTE>

Don't worry Spav - I'll remember. In fact I'll write myself a reminder right now if I can just remember where I put my pen...and my diary. Anyway, a good read so let's hope it encourages a few more of us to post the odd shortie or two. </div></BLOCKQUOTE>

I apologise for being too subtle. Take a look at when this year's Short Story award winner was written!

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Thanks for the comments, everyone. Just remember me in October 2008. icon14.gif

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