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I remember being nervous, my hands clammy, worrying I might drop the phone. It's against my ear ringing, be sods law if he didn't pick up. I was huddled in the corner of what I hoped was a secluded corridor, moments earlier I had been sat at a circular desk being given news my ears didn't really believe, words that I had to fight to stop my jaw hitting the floor. The other occupants of the room had wanted to press ahead, get the social media storm started, make public announcements. My response, a rather undignified,

"I need to call my dad"

Out in the corridor, time stood still, then suddenly the other end of the phone came alive,


"Hi, dad, it's me, you ok? I didn't wake you did I?" He works nights as a postman, I am continuously amazed at what he puts his body clock through.

"No you didn't and I'm fine, you?" His tone became slightly wary, unsolicited phone calls from his first born son were not unheard of but they stretched to being quite rare in the age of Whatsapp. A door further down the corridor opened and a head popped out, glanced both ways before stopping on me, the gaze became questioning, accompanied by a gesture that I should come back inside.

"Yeah I'm fine, look I can't talk long, I just thought you might like to know before everyone else, I've  got a new job."

"Your leaving Halifax? What for?"

"I'm the new manager of Chelsea." Time froze again, I held the phone against my ear to ensure that I hadn't given my dad, a life long Chelsea supporter, a heart attack, before I quickly added "Look I have things to sign, I'll talk later, start thinking if you want a box or not." I hung up with a grin, though in truth my hands were still clammy and I wiped them on my trouser legs as I went back down the corridor and into the interview room. 


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Well that was June 2018, it's been a whirlwind first few weeks since that clammy handed phone call, my feet don't feel like they have touched the ground!

First there was the meeting with Bruce Buck to discuss all things Chelsea, I was quite happy to accept the information he had for me on the club's history, I'm pretty sure I can impress dad when he inevitably quizzes me about it. Amusingly on the father phone calls front he seems to have taken it upon himself to offer me his tactical advice and personal insights into the strengths and weaknesses of my squad, something he didn't do in my previous job! Next came a talk on the style of play the club wanted to be represented by, possession based and attacking, also it marked the beginning of a worrying trend that would take me some time to shake.

It's no secret that I felt like I was dreaming, that any minute now I would wake up to find myself disorientated and drooling into my pillow, but until then I very much felt like a minnow who had been unexpectedly dumped in a very VERY large pond, thus I nodded a lot and agreed with things that were suggested to me by people who I believed had far more experience than myself. I hadn't been a yes man at Halifax, but it seemed I was beginning the slippery slope to becoming one here.

I  think that might have been what led Gianfranco Zola to treat me the way he did, looking back I am pretty sure he played a practical joke on me! He came to me shortly after the first practice session on one of those early July days and told me in a very serious tone that

"You know, there is a tradition amongst managers at the club, that they watch the pre season friendlies from the stands to get a better overview of the squad and the team."

"Really? isn't that what video study is for these days?" He just looked at me, shrugged in a way that only an Italian (or maybe a Frenchman can) and walked off. So for the inter squad friendly and the first 3 games of our Holland pre season tour I watched from the stands, until I stopped when they players started looking at me funny, and I found Zola giggling to himself like a school girl on more than one occasion (the man has quite a high pitched laugh!)

Potential hazing aside I did develop some concerns from my birds eye view high up in half full Dutch stadia. I would sit up there with a big yellow jotting pad and a pencil so I could make notes, my choice of materials was comforting, like being back at school, I managed to refrain from doodling in the margins, but I will admit to a few nibbles on the end of the pencil. The outline of my thinking went like this:

I didn't have the youngest squad, in no particular order, Giroud, Cahill, David Luiz and Fabregas were all of advancing years and just as importantly were milking every additional year they could play for as much money as it was worth! I knew I would have to find a way to move some or all of them on, but moving experienced embedded players would be one problem, finding clubs that could afford their wages would be another.

I also had the feeling it was going to be a long and hard season ( for the club anyway, I might not be here that long if I don't do well!) Two of the players on my "getting old and expensive" list were my central defensive pairing, and while I had much more faith in Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen, I felt the older two, Cahill's lack of pace and David Luiz's unpredictability were problems I couldn't live with.

My final reservation about the pre season period was the fact we were coming off the end of a world cup, thus many of my "heavy hitters", Hazard, Kante, Kovacic, Giroud, Loftus-Cheek, Barkley, Cahill would not be back from holiday until the later stages of pre season, or even the start of the season itself. Most of those I didn't mind overly, they had played hard for their country and I wanted them refreshed and ready to play for me. The one exception to this rule was Cesc Fabregas, I seem to remember him sitting comfortably in a TV studio not playing on the pitch, however he was going to be late back to training as well!

So I must admit, a lot of the time sat up in the stand making notes were musings about the future and who would play where when everyone was available, as those first few friendlies were all about just plucking warm bodies out of the available reserve teams and seeing who played well and getting people fit. For his sins (perceived or otherwise) I set Zola on the day to day training which I oversaw from afar. HOW DO YOU LIKE THEM APPLES Gianfranco, but I set up individual tailored training for everyone in the first team, just to make them aware I wasn't a complete voyeur and social outcast, this train of thought also had me steering well away from any Arsene Wenger esque long coats. Over those first few weeks my notepad soaked up a general feel for my squad:

Kepa Arrizabalaga is definitely my stand out 1st choice, but then for the amount of money he cost he bloody well better be. "Big" Willy Caballero (yes I am that childish sometimes) will be backup and Robert Green can cut his teeth and maintain his fitness in the Europa League.

Defenders: I am happy with Marcus Alonso, Emerson on the left. Cesar Azpilicueta and Davide "Frank" Zappacosta (I doubt I am the only person who has created that nickname for him) on the right. However Victor Moses doesn't easily fit into my formation as all the work he did under Antonio Conte makes him unsuitable for the more conventional back 4 I intend to play. My centre back concerns remain, I think Luiz is likely to be a liability back there and I will play him (if I play him at all) as a holding midfielder. Sifting through reserves at the club, while Ethan Ampadu shows promise I am not so sure he is ready to take the brunt of the work this season, I however don't want to loan him out, he too could play in a holding midfielder role, hopefully so I can justify selling Luiz!

Moving into Midfield, in a more attacking formation  Jorginho is the stand out choice for a deep lying playmaker role, the only issue is he can't play every game all season and there is not another realistic fit in the team. Instead of going looking in the transfer market (we have maybe £40 million available at the start) I figure I can rotate Kante, Luiz, Ampadu into that position as a ball winning midfielder as the situation dictates. Though Kante's performances for France where he marauded forward once winning the ball suggested he might be a better fit further up the field, making him the engine of the team, the phrase "box to box threat" is underlined multiple times on my yellow pad. As is my want, when I try fit a player to a role I look if I have a backup player who can fit the same role thus not to confuse my simple cavemen footballers by having to change the tactics en masse every time we change personnel or formation. Through film study and watching training it seems Danny Drinkwater is the surprise understudy to fill the shoes of the hard working Kante.

The final member of my central midfield three was always lining up to be Mateo Kovacic, other than his rash horror tackle in the World Cup I had liked what I had seen of him, plus if you don't use loan players that you have the option to buy at the end of the season, how do you know if you want to buy them? He operated in a role that I had never heard of before, a drifting channel finding forward creative midfield player, finding positions wide of centre but not a winger, it was called a Mezzala, I'd never heard of it before, but then we hadn't had many of them hanging around the car park in Halifax. Cesc Fabregas, when he finally returned off his holiday, proved able to play in the position, Ross Barkley could at a push, but Loftus-Cheek could not, he was suited to a more advanced, more defined central attacking midfield role which wasn't currently in my tactical thinking. This was really my first stumbling block, Loftus-Cheek had talent, he was young and his wages were reasonable I didn't want to lose him, but I didn't see him as the corner stone to build a tactical system around, decisions decisions...

Speaking of cornerstones to build a team around, with the likes of Hazard, Willian, Pedro and the young and talented Hudson-Odoi in the squad I would be a fool not to want to play two high wingers or inside forwards in my formation, four names for two spots seemed like a healthy rotation to me, there is a big tick on my yellow note pad for that position.

Not many ticks in the main striker position, one option being the older and expensive Giroud, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, his World Cup performances had been ridiculously impressive, even though he had only scored two goals, the same as both John Stones, Harry Maguire and closer to home Victor Moses. I felt he brought enough to the team to be given a shot. I also hoped Morata would show his quality and help carry the team. I was however slightly annoyed, with Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi plying their trade on loan I felt rather underwhelmed by our squads options at the tip of the spear. 

Edited by Mandy42

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Posted (edited)

It always amuses me looking back, how quickly I became acclimatised. Don't get me wrong that whole first season my bum was squeaking like a dogs chew toy, but I've just re read the last entry in whatever this is, my diary? Memoirs? am I taking notes for an eventual autobiography, or just capturing the moments because I reckon I'll be gone before the wind changes. Anyway, enough rambling, I looked back over my last entry and laughed, I indicated that "maybe £40 million available at the start" like  that kind of transfer money wasn't Jerry Maguire "SHOW ME THE MONEY" money compared to what I had available to me previously. Hell I think I initially signed someone up for Halifax to come try out for us, the cost was a six pack of special brew and a lap dance at La Salsa, unfortunately, financially at least he wasn't exactly first team material.

Anyway sat in the stands of half empty Dutch stadia is a world away from Halifax, the beer is better for a start. Another benefit to that time sat in the stands was my ability to do a lot of thinking and working. I considered myself pretty technologically savvy, my brother is a lot more capable than me, his only downside is the fact he doesn't like to travel, you might not see the relevance but hang in there. He does database and website work for a small firm and he got headhunted by this guy who wanted software developed for use in professional football teams. Basically the idea was a global training academy, software that could measure a youth prospects physical attributes, IE height, weight, reach, jumping height, the list goes on and on. All this data would be entered into the program and compared to historical data from current professionals and ex players to see if their was a correlation. The idea was that every club that used it would input more data and the more data the program had the better its comparisons and predictions could be. According to my brother the Chinese were mad keen on the idea, which was the rub, my brother didn't like to travel and thus eventually had to turn down the job as he would be expected to travel to China to set up existing infrastructure. However I would be keeping my eyes out for a story of a 13 year old Chinese guy who got signed because he had the exact physical attributes as say Didier Drogba or Peter Crouch at that same age, stranger things have happened.

Anyway, my laboured point is that it's amazing what can be done with technology these days, so while yes I was physically sat in the stands my phone had me connected to my scout reports, training plans, and for amusement the BBC gossip column surrounding football transfers. Sitting in the sunshine in Doetinchem as we played our 1st friendly against De Graafschap, watching David Luiz labour across the pitch and being at fault for the only goal we conceded against the "Super Farmers" I pretty much confirmed my long term plan to replace him there and then. So I started in on my scouting reports, a name popped up pretty much instantly, Chris Mepham of Brentford, he was 20, Welsh and received glowing reports brimming with potential from the scout team, he also, very handily was not David Luiz. I asked my head scout to collate any and all info we had on him and present it for me asap. Maybe I felt giddy with my new position, maybe I felt the £40 million burning a hole in my pocket or perhaps I felt the weight of expectation baring down on me and thus I wanted to act quickly, look decisive.

As we grew into the game and halfway through the second half scored what would ultimately be the final goal to make it 3-1 to us my eyes once again drifted to my phone. I flicked through various apps and as I stated previously found myself on the BBC sports app looking for some light relief. What I found was an article (which I had to translate from Dutch) suggesting that Matthijs de Ligt was wanting away from Ajax, I raised an eyebrow at this but didn't dismiss it out of hand. Even I had heard of this young man, tipped alongside Frenkie de Jong to be the next powerhouse of Dutch football. Sometimes it seems luck and proximity is all you need, did I think the story was bogus, maybe, did I feel it was worth the at most hour and a half drive up to Amsterdam to check into it myself, of course I did. 

Edited by Mandy42

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Thus I found myself a few hours later sat in a corner table of Barney's Coffeeshop on the Haarlemmerstraat, yes it was that kind of Coffee shop, and no I didn't partake. Maybe I should have as I was feeling more than a little nervous, de Ligt is represented by the one and only Mino Raiola, he dealt with Paul Pogba's record breaking transfer fee and to celebrate bought Al Capone's mansion for crying out loud! Sitting at my corner table I do get the feeling I'm waiting for a football gangster, but I will be keeping that sentiment to myself.

Mino arrives, recognises me, tall, thin, pale, and I recognise him, glowing, vibrant, wide. He joins me and doesn't partake either, we eye each other over our mugs of coffee for a few seconds before he offers up a hand.

"This is rather unusual," he begins, as greetings go it's not the warmest I have ever received

"It's definitely a first for me as well," Honesty is usually the best policy, or they wouldn't have made a slogan out of it. He nods with a rueful smile on his face, or that might just be his expression as he takes a sip of his coffee.

"So, why are we here?" His English is flawless, probably even better than mine, but then he does speak six languages so I firstly shouldn't complain and secondly probably am not qualified to comment.

"I wanted to enquire if the rumours about your client at Ajax wanting a move away were true?" If he is going to be direct then I have no problem matching him.

"You do not own a telephone?" I cannot tell whether he is joking, but it doesn't really matter as I intended to answer regardless

"I thought you would take me more seriously in person," he looks at me with a raised eyebrow so I continue, "I'm not going to kid myself, or you, I'm a little fish at a big club, I'm an unknown so just my name in a list of other managers and my name on the other end of the phone probably isn't going to cut it, face to face he can decide if I'm worth investing it."

"Isn't it slightly arrogant to suggest my client is investing in you, not the club you represent?"

"Maybe, but not in our circumstances, if I'm not successful then I could be gone at the latest by the end of the season, even if I am successful it isn't a given that I get to stay on, yes a new manager might factor your client into their plans, but they might as easily not, so in the end we are investing in each other, I need him in order to increase my chances of success and he needs to believe in what I want to achieve." I took a breath, and a swig of my drink, I wonder how I looked right then, not only to Mino but to anyone who had glanced over at our table. I know my voice had risen, I know I had been leaning in, it always amazes me when the passion for this game and line of work reach up out of nowhere and just take the reigns, probably not the greatest bargaining position to utter the words "I need him in order to increase my chances of success," but then my zeal and passion were probably my biggest selling points in any deal we might make.

Mino obviously agreed, or he saw someone he could rinse for a lot of money, either way he put his coffee down and picked up his phone.

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So it's the evening of the 7th of July 2018 and I am watching my second intra squad friendly on the week. For some reason we played ours in Aldershot, so it shouldn't surprise me that Ajax vs Ajax U19s is being played at the home of the Amsterdam Crusaders, a Dutch amateur American Football team who train and play a stones throw from Schipol airport. This becomes immediately apparent as the team warm ups are conducted to the howl of airplane engines.

There aren't any stands, no seating, me and Mino are leaning against the advertising hoarding that surrounds the pitch. We have set in line with the edge of the senior sides penalty area, hopefully the U19s pose some attacking threat so I can se de Ligt actually defend. As the players come out to start the game I still am expecting Mattijs de Ligt to line up with the U19s, I know he is the Ajax senior captain, I know he has been for two years now, making him the youngest player not just at Ajax but in the whole of Dutch football to be named captain.

I settle nonchalantly against the hoarding, I know I want to build my team around him, Mino knows I want his man, but that doesn't mean I have to telegraph it to the rest of the world. The game gets underway and most of those thoughts drift away, pushed out of my head by the sheer enjoyment of watching one of the purer forms of football. The phrase "this is how the game should be played," is more than likely overrated and overused but standing there on the side of this particular patch of grass, it feels like it applies. There are no cameras, only a sparse crowd of onlookers, no chance that the sporadic noise we make can stand up against the backdrop of the airport.

I am reminded of my dads words on the subject, that football constantly resides somewhere along the spectrum of sport at one end and entertainment at the other, his argument that social media, all the time spent on pundit analysis and the resistance to take up technology are all feeding into the drama and spectacle surrounding football rather than enhancing it as an actual sporting contest. He particularly dislikes the anti technology argument that "the soul of football" will be lost, I tend to agree with him that when you see a primary school kid rolling round on a Sunday morning like he needs his leg amputating all because he got pushed over, then you have to question if there is anything left of football's soul to save.

Here on the hoarding there is none of that, the helpless rage that all but consumes you when you know a decision has incorrectly gone against you feels like a world away, this is 22 men playing not to an audience but to ply their craft, improve their cohesion as a unit and impress their boss. Through it all de Ligt is imperious, he doesn't put a foot wrong and stands out like a huge red and white sore thumb. The 90 minutes fly by and at the end I am the one to offer my hand to Mino, without words we convey that he will be in touch with his client and then with me.

Until then it is back to the supposed normality of my own squad and our continued Dutch friendly tour.

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If June felt like a whirlwind then July goes by so quickly it feels like an outer body experience. De Graafschap was the first of seven friendlies that month the first 6 of them away from home. Time was spent in hotel conference rooms and borrowed training pitches at local clubs. We were watched everywhere, which I suppose is the point of a pre season tour, reduce the distance between the players and the fans so that when we go back home and the season starts those fans will remain interested. It isn't half tiring though! constant media questions about players coming in, players coming out, players still on holiday. I'd never been asked before,

"What does Cesc Fabregas' holiday selfie suggest about his attitude towards the coming season?" I bit my tongue and didn't reply with

"If he returns to camp without getting either of those lovely ladies pregnant I am sure he will be relaxed and ready to work." Instead I opted for the more tactful team talk via the media option of "I hope he enjoys himself as there is a lot of hard work to do for the coming season." And on and on it went.

FC Den Bosch was our next opponent, the "Blue White Dragons" an nickname that is instantly apparent as soon as you see their team badge. We were a lot more decisive and the tempo was higher, we scored 5, Ross Barkley with a hat trick following a pair of delightful free kicks. On the one hand I was upbeat, I liked that my method of letting the players decide who was the best set piece taker for a given situation had paid dividend already, on the other I was slightly concerned, my idea of playing 4-3-3 hinged on only having space for one properly attack minded central midfielder. I had three at the club in Loftus-Cheek, Barkley and Kovacic, I doubted rotation would keep them all happy and I was unsure who my clear favourite was going to be.

Another slight concern was a defensive error that cost us the clean sheet, while a 5-1 score line is not a problem, the idea that we might get into the habit of switching off and let in sloppy goals was not something I wanted to be thinking about, and yet, it was what I was thinking about on the way back to the hotel. Once there however, there was another reason to be upbeat, the first signing of my reign had been completed, it wasn't de Ligt, I was still waiting to hear back regarding progressing to contract talks. No, quickly and very much under the radar we had completed the signing of Chris Mepham from Brentford for just shy of £15 million.

I felt at once giddy and a little scared, I would be judged on my signings just as much as any other part of my running of the club, if Chris played well and improved the quality here then it would be successful if not people would look back at this moment as my first mistake, the first nail in the coffin of my failed journey as Chelsea manager. I shrugged it off for now, let the giddiness wash over me, in todays market under 15 mil was a steal for a young and promising centre back!

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You're doing very well. Glad to have you here -- Chelsea is an intriguing team to play and we don't get a lot of stories about them. Well done so far!

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12 hours ago, tenthreeleader said:

You're doing very well. Glad to have you here -- Chelsea is an intriguing team to play and we don't get a lot of stories about them. Well done so far!

thank you for the comment and the interest, hope you continue to read and enjoy it!

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Next stop on our tour was the town of Nijmegan and the team Nijmegan Eendracht Combinatie, or N.E.C for people like me who quite easily butcher pronunciation. It's three days since our last game and thus three days since my 1st signing and already there are problems. The first of which is purely a media problem, new managers and their first ever transfer are supposed to be big media events, plus Chelsea is a big club, I am sure there are sets of fans out there who disagree but I don't care, we are and that's final. So the fact that my first signing Chris Mepham has made his way from Brentford to Cobham to train while I am away on the continent with the pre season tour is considered a considerable oversight on my part. How dare I do such a thing, the home press appears very much put out by my behaviour and their inability to get a picture of me next to my first signing while he grins moronically while holding his shirt up. Further more they are probably bemoaning the negative effect of social media on their pure form of righteous journalism, our supporters app has already churned out an exaggerated montage of all kinds of Mepham related photographs, chief amongst them a picture with Marina Granovskaia our director of football, in which he is grinning moronically and holding up his shirt.

The second problem is that of money and time, the £40 million I felt was such a considerable amount has had a £15 mil chunk taken out of it. I am under the impression that £25 million might not be enough to secure the services of a 19 year old Dutch superstar. I pore over the finances, I can't really call them books because they are all displayed on a computer screen (yes I am aware of the invention of a kindle). There does seem to be some wiggle room by reducing the wage budget in order to free up more transfer funds, I will investigate this further if Ajax actually come back regarding a deal.

Which brings us to the 3rd problem, a phone call I received this evening.

"He's interested," I feel like an extra in a mobster B movie. Mino Raiola's English is no less flawless from coming out of a telephone.

"Fantastic, how do we proceed?" That giddy, scared transfer feeling is growing again in my stomach, though the giddy percentage drastically outweighs the scared on this occasion.

"You are not the only interested party, it might be best if you outlined to me your plans for him and the club so I can pass that information along and allow him to make a more informed decision." I wasn't an idiot, I knew my enquiry would have triggered a chain of events, most likely orchestrated by Mino himself, where it was made known that de Ligt most definitely did want away from Ajax. He was probably making similar calls to the other clubs on a list, gauging interest by the levels of the incentives they offer, striving for the best deal for both him and his client. Conversely there could be no other interest a slightly less subtle ploy to wring the most from a single interested party. The truth of the matter was I couldn't afford to call his bluff, while I could afford to tweak the wage budget and give myself every chance of signing his client.

"Well it's a little bit on the spot but I can confidently say a player of his skill would quite easily fit into the match day squad, he would probably start off on the bench and look to embed him into the starting eleven later in the season and be an important fixture there come next season." I took a breath, not long enough for Mino to interrupt but long enough to let my head get ahead of my mouth. "With regards competitions I obviously want to bring as much success to the club as I can, this season I would settle for securing Champions League football, with a push to challenge for the title next season."

In truth I didn't catch what Mino said in response, we conducted some conversation closing clichés and he put the phone down, I was still in shock at voicing my intentions and hopes out loud, they instantly become more real and as such more daunting when you express them to another person. In the end I grounded myself in the reality that my future hopes were irrelevant, football was a fickle business, the revolving door at Chelsea even more so than most. If I didn't succeed this season then what I wanted beyond that wouldn't really amount to much anyway.

I put the phone call out of my head and went back to looking at the highlights from our confrontation against N.E.C earlier that afternoon. Another decent performance, 4 goals this time, a second hat trick in a row for Ross Barkley and in the con column our 3rd game without keeping a clean sheet. I was holding my opinion on Ross, I was English after all and unfortunately my feet were definitely in the "Wayne Rooney Syndrome" camp when it came to my fellow countrymen's footballing abilities. Ross could score as many goals as he liked in friendly and unimportant matches, it didn't mean he was guaranteed to perform when it mattered. 


Edited by Mandy42

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Defensive mistakes, it's all fun and games until you make a defensive mistake. The reason I am not overly happy about sloppy play, even when we win the game 5-1 or 4-1, is that sooner or later someone is going to get sloppy when you don't have such a cushy cushion. Today we played VVV-Venlo, known (amongst other things) as "The good old," well they put up a good old fight, and we just weren't at the races. They are a Dutch yo-yo club, in the last ten years they have spent exactly 5 years in the Eredivisie, and the other 5 in the lower Ereste Divisie. I know it's only a friendly and I know we have a lot of players still resting from the world cup, but GAH! we should not be held to a 1-1 draw in the arse end of Limburg (no offence to anyone who lives there, I'm sure it's a magical place.) However, for a new and not exactly reputable manager in a position such as mine, it does not fill me with confidence, not one bit. We have 4 friendlies left, then the Community Shield, and I am sure that Man City will have a fair bit more about them than "The good old."

I need a drink....

So I find myself scoping out my hotel mini bar, as I can't exactly be seen to be developing alcoholic tendencies this early in my Premier League managerial career. So while all I really want to do is go downstairs and requisition a bottle of Jose Cuervo tequila or maybe some Kraken rum (I always have to whisper "release the Kraken" when I open the bottle) I am stuck squatting in front of the fridge in my room surveying my options. Much like todays performance, it is not very inspiring.

The phone rings...

I grumble, stand up, petulantly kick the fridge door closed and search for my mobile.

"What?" woe betide the day we lose, if this is the way I react to a friendly draw.

"Eh, sorry boss, is this a bad time?" It's somebody back at Cobham and I don't recognise the voice, maybe because I am arguing with myself in my head. I don't think I would be this upset if we lost, if we lost and were **** poor, then yes I probably would be, but if you put in a good performance then I could accept loosing. It's the level of performance that has me spitting feathers

"No it's not a bad time, just a little tired and got a headache, sorry, what was it I could do for you?" Now I have satisfied my inter turmoil and successfully classified how upset I would be depending on individual results I can now function in this conversation.

"Sorry to hear that boss, just wanted to check with you, Ajax have responded to our formal offer for Matthijs de Ligt, they are demanding a non negotiable counter offer of £30 million, I know you had been doing some calculations on possible budget adjustments. Can you make that fit? How do you want us to respond?"

SNAP THEIR BLOODY HAND OFF! Was what went through my head, but after a seconds reflection and an introspective pause I managed

"That's close to the top end of what we can afford, but we can make that work, go ahead and accept please."

"Ok then, thanks boss, will keep you informed, hope the headache improves." Headache? what headache, Ajax have come back with an affordable price! Todays lacklustre performance is dwindling into the background, that excited transfer feeling is coming back, racing back! Sod the mini bar I feel fine now.

Edited by Mandy42

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Our last game in Holland is against PEC Zwolle, affectionately nicknamed the Blauwvingers (Bluefingers) which I can understand on a day like today. It might be mid July, but its flaming cold at the Mac Park Stadion in Zwolle. However the cold weather cannot cool my good spirits for three reasons.

Secondly, we win the game 5-2, there are no real stand out performances, which seems daft when we have scored five goals, but the team just worked well as a unit, they looked good for the first time consistently and it was obvious they had been working on the desired concepts in training. I refused to let my mind wander to the fact that my international stars still had to learn those concepts and the squad might go backwards before it went forwards when they arrived.

Thirdly, even though we didn't keep a clean sheet, which had been a worry of mine for a few games now, that was through no fault of our own in this game. They dispatched a penalty which comfortably fell into the "it's a friendly why not" category, and their 2nd was a bending, dipping, fizzing free kick you can only really curse that it came against you rather than someone else's team, all while you try find a replay to watch it again.

Finally, although technically firstly, two days ago we got our man, Matthijs de Ligt was now officially a Chelsea player. £30 million and the promises I had laid out had seemed enough to sway both club and player to our cause. At 1st I couldn't believe it, and then, when my world went completely mad I truly couldn't believe it. Social media exploded with pictures of de Ligt in every colour of Chelsea shirt we had worn for the last five seasons. I informed my staff that I would not be interviewed on the subject until we got back to Cobham, as I felt it was disrespectful to hold any kind of press without me sitting next to the man all the fuss was about. On a private note I had no intention of intentionally allowing myself to be recorded over the phone for the media  to steal sound bites of me for future use, I was sure over the course of the season they would get ample opportunity as it was.

The thing I really struggled to get my head around was how a lot of the coverage became about me. I mean I was aware that I was a story, non league managers don't get jobs at Premier League clubs, especially not the fairy tale story of managing your fathers and therefore your own favourite club. So by now my life had been pretty much dissected and vast generalisations been made about my potential character, which was generally good, and my potential chances, which were generally bad. This time however, for possibly the first time, the headlines were more positive than shocked.

Greenwood Means Business - suggesting how hard we must have worked to make the deal happen, luring such a sort after star to a top team yes but one with an uncertain future with me as it's manager.

Chelsea on the Defensive - Linked to the fact that my 1st two signings had both been central defenders, also both considerably younger than the current crop I had available

Dutch Wonderkid Signs with Young Mystery Manager - Yes I was young, and yes I wasn't experienced, but since I had gotten the job I didn't consider myself a mystery anymore! This article cemented my opinion that how long I stayed in the job would be as much about my performance in the public court of opinion and the media as it would my results on the pitch.

Foundation of a Dynasty? - This was probably my favourite headline. Firstly when I think of the word Dynasty it doesn't conjure up any TV shows but instead American Football, certain successful teams have been said to have "created a dynasty," and  those teams are still revered and discussed today, I liked that idea a lot! However more generally that article suggested that in buying young and talented central defenders I might actually have a clue what I was doing, and I might be around a lot longer than people gave me credit for. 

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As far back as I can remember (I always wanted to be a gangster,) no... as much as that is an amazing film, it's not the topic of this story so I will start again

As far back as I can remember my father and grandfather were always encouraging me to collect things.

Somewhere in the loft of my parents house I think there is still a complete set of those ugly Natwest pigs. More interesting collections were stamps and coins, as I grew older it lost some of it's interest, though even now with my grandfather having sadly passed on I still have the Royal Air Force 75th anniversary coin he bought me. I also have the Royal Mail Star Wars stamps my dad sent me so I guess I haven't completely abandoned collecting.

On a football related note, my dad had this awesome idea of a way to commemorate the last season of the old football league. He enlisted my help, something to do together and well more likely to get responses if you involve a 9 year old boy (technically I was 10 by the start of the 1991-92 season but oh well). He wrote a letter to every club in the top division asking if his son could have a match day program from a game of their choosing in order to create a collection from the clubs in the last ever iteration of the competition. As the weeks went by and the programs began to come it, it became exciting, would we get all of them? What games would they select? Were we going to actually read them or put them away to keep them pristine?

In the end we received all of  them, from Leeds United at the top to West Ham United at the bottom, 22 snap shots of the season packed away for posterity in my parents loft. As I reminisce about that now, maybe that's why I started this, first putting my thoughts onto the page and then later going one step further. I have started a scrap book, taking my favourite headlines regarding my tenure at the club. Maybe I want it sat in a loft somewhere for posterity, maybe I want to capture an external view of my journey, or maybe the collective influence of my family affected me more than I recall, either way, the 1st page headline is:

Happy in Holland; Grumpy in Germany

 After our five games in Holland we had a seven day rest, we returned home, press conferences were finally held with me and my two new signings, the media attempted to huff and puff and stir up the stories again but they were pretty stale being so far removed from the initial fan reaction from our social media. We trained, we trained well, players slowly dripped back into the squad as they returned from holiday. I made the realisation that those who had gone the furthest into the tournament would not be due back from holiday till after the Community Shield, which didn't fill me with deep joy, but at the same time I had no control over it so I let it slide.

For seven days life felt good, we had played 6 games, won 5 and drawn 1, scored 23 goals and conceded 9, yes it was only pre season, and yes with no disrespect to our opponents we were yet to play anybody, but there was optimism. Then we went on a long weekend to Germany.

SV Werder Bremen on the Saturday, Schalke 04 on the Tuesday, teams I had actually heard of, seen on the television, knew from getting into European competition on a regular basis, basically the next step up in testing the squad. Two lacklustre performances as bleak and lifeless as an artic winter. 1-1 against Werder and 0-0 against Schalke, I was not amused at finally keeping a clean sheet.

I tried to keep my cool, putting it down to players being rusty from holiday integrating into the squad and that pre season was about not getting injured, working on fitness and concepts, but in the back of my mind I knew we played Inter Milan in 3 days at home, and then 2 days after that the curtain would  go up on the season with the Community Shield against Man City. Those games felt like a huge step up, I was scared, if Man City battered us at Wembley the sharks could be circling before the season even got underway.

Edited by Mandy42

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Which by itself is a pretty basic headline, but I quite like it, because yes we were playing Inter, but we were at home for the first time and that made it something of an event for me. Was it special, yes, but it wasn't first competitive game special, I didn't want to get carried away and blow my mind too early, though at the other end of the spectrum I didn't want to not enjoy the ride until it all ended quickly and suddenly.

The home crowd reaction was definitely interesting, the supporter response so far had also been along a spectrum, from hope, optimism and support at one end to dismay, cynicism and ridicule at the other. I hadn't quite been called a "Northern Monkey" but it wasn't exactly far off. The peak of the support had been the de Ligt signing, but I assumed that had been tempered by our two below par performances since then.

As I walked down the tunnel for that game, I've no idea what moved me to touch the team crest displayed above the steps, but I did, the sound outside was like nothing I had ever heard before, it was both low and guttural while at the same time being uplifting and euphoric. A diverse mass of people coming together to form a complex organic unpredictable sound, it was breath taking.

Out of the tunnel, the Shed End away to my left and the Matthew Harding Stand on my right the noise hit me like a physical object. I hadn't expected to be booed but I hadn't expected to be welcomed so warmly either, in a bit of a daze I made it to the touchline and turned a full circle, hands above my head returning the clapping I was receiving from a sold out Stamford Bridge. This isn't as big headed as it sounds, I wondered how many of that sell out crowd were actually there for me, I bet there was some casual optimism and interest over the new manager but my money would have been the pull of the man in the other dugout.

The Inter game had worried me from the start, not just because it was a huge step up from the other friendlies we would play, not because it meant pre season was done and we would be into the thick of competitive football, a little bit because they had a players that terrified me, and a lot about them being managed by the man I had succeeded at Chelsea. I turned to the away dugout and standing there immaculate in his suit despite his stubble was Antonio Conte. He looked me up and down and then up again, as I was over a half a foot taller than he was, finally meeting my gaze with a look that whispered This is what they replaced me with? We moved together for a handshake and he leaned in whispering in my ear in his thick Italian accent,

"They might be clapping now, but they can quickly eat you alive." He smiled all the time, stepping back and reclaiming his hand, I nodded a little dumbstruck, smiling like a fool with nothing really to say, my experienced paled in comparison, so I shuffled off to my technical area and awaited kick off.

Football is a simple enough game on the surface, but the deeper you look the more complex it becomes, comparison in any sport is inevitable, like going all the way back in time to school yard top trumps, whose the best at finishing, whose faster, who would beat who, the fantasy streams on and on with no regard for time, Pele, Ronaldo, Messi, Shearer, points are scored for the more obscure references, but there is never a definitive answer. Yet there are names in the discussion that hold more weight than others, players whose stats or exploits stick in your mind accompanied with an emotion like awe or dread. Thus when you come up against them, a small amount of that sensation comes flooding back.

One such player for me was Mauro Icardi and he was leading the line for Inter. He was 25, had been at Inter since 2013 and in that time had made 159 appearances for the club scoring a very impressive 100 goals. He was also trending towards getting better year on year, with his last season being his most prolific yet, 34 appearances, 29 goals, the man was a beast! I was terrified of him.

With the mix of fear, anticipation and excitement that had built me up to the game, if I am honest I don't remember much of it, which is a shame because we were perfect. Well we weren't but more on that later. Maybe it was being at home, maybe it was the fans convincing the players that I was worth playing for, maybe they simply raised their game for the better opposition, possibly Inter weren't up for it or interested. We won 2-0, and other than Icardi having a last minute chance to break behind or defence and chip over our keeper he didn't really have a sniff. The chip was quite telegraphed and Kepa caught it with ease. We weren't perfect because I always remember my friend telling me

"Perfect is the enemy of good," in the regard that perfection is unattainable and more likely undefinable, especially in front of a sell out crowd in a football stadium. The search for perfection is thus futile, improvement is fine, improvement is encouraged but not if on the way towards an unattainable goal you lose sight of the fact that while trying to be perfect and failing, you ended up being pretty darn good.

On that day against Inter we were good, good enough that at the final whistle there was a little more warmth in Antonio's gaze, a slightly more equal handshake and a nod of the head as we parted ways on  the touchline.



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Blue is the Colour

You can say many things about the Community Shield, the most common of which are the debate on whether it's a friendly or a real competition, and whether it should count towards the trophy haul at the end of the season. One thing however that is certain is the fact it will get a headline in pretty much every paper. On any other day your not guaranteed a back page, or the hallowed front and back double bill! But as the only game of the day, and the curtain raiser of the season I had my fair share of headlines to pick for the scrap book. The one I chose had the vaguest ring to it, obviously on the back page of the newspaper the score line would be visible and there is probably a big colour picture of some crucial moment that indicates the winning team. But here, in the sanctity of my diary come scrapbook, if and when it is eventually found in the dark corner of a loft, or basement, or a draw somewhere, then the chosen headline will be wonderfully ambiguous and you'll just have to read on.

Back in the present the headline is also a rather accurate description of that day, yes there were some fans from both sides in second and third choice strips but the majority of supporters were all decked out in various shades of the colour blue. Wembley was a sea of blue, Wembley.... if I had thought the noise and atmosphere at Stamford Bridge for my first home game (albeit a friendly) had been special, this was unbelievable. It was almost a shame, in a distant corner of my mind, the thought that this day had arrived too soon, that normal fixtures after a day like today would lose some of their lustre, seem drab and ordinary by comparison. Who was I kidding, I hadn't played a competitive fixture yet, I was living the dream, and regardless of how long this dream continued, I figured it would not become drab and ordinary anytime soon.

That said, regardless of whether today was about a proper trophy or not, these were the days you lived for, as a manager or a player, they were rightly special. Right there on the touchline I made some kind of pact with myself to ensure I experienced everything on offer today, and tried my hardest to get back to days like this as often as possible.

Before kick off the last of the media hype was in full swing, not only to them was it definitely a trophy and definitely something both managers were dying to win, it was also a crucial sneak peek into how both sides were preparing for the coming season. I didn't want to get involved, I was nervous, excited, scared and rather sadly already jaded with the sports media coverage long before I started this job. Of final note, I am just going to lay this out bluntly, I can't stand Pep Guardiola. That isn't really fair, it's not the man himself I dislike, not entirely, but the image or persona of him being the greatest football genius ever. It just smacks of the over exaggerated hyperbole filled world football especially but most sport in general has become. Ok he's won 7 league titles, 5 domestic cups, 3 Spanish super cups, 2 Champions League titles, 3 UEFA Super Cups and 3 FIFA Club World Cups, and pause for breath.

But, of those 23 different honours 21 of them have come in what I want to call uncompetitive leagues. His Champions League wins have come in two seasons at Barcelona where he also won the league, a league and European trophy double is special, but not overly special when the league is likely to be decided between 2-3 teams anyway, which allows rotation of players to target other more difficult competitions. A theory which is borne out when he went to Germany, he was domestically dominant there, but he couldn't win the Champions league there, his single Super Cup win came courtesy of the previous managers Champions League success. He most certainly hasn't been able to be dominant in Europe while at Manchester City.

Maybe it's just professional jealousy, as Chelsea manager I obviously can't really complain about clubs with lots of money to spend, you have what you have and it's not always a fair playing field. If domestic dominance and uncompetitive leagues guaranteed European success then Celtic and Rangers would have more European honours than anyone. I think the most frustrating, dislikeable thing about the man is that with his success comes this idea that his brand of football is somehow the best or correct way of playing it. I understand that fans want to see football that is easy on the eye, attacking and successful but there are many ways  to skin a cat and they are mostly neither right nor wrong just simply different. This brand of football though, where players should be given space and freedom to express themselves ties into having players with fantastic technical skills who however may not be the most robust of specimens. This leads to angry press conferences about heavy tackling and players being targeted and suddenly teams not letting his team play the way they want are playing bad, ugly football. All the while more and more technically gifted players are running rings around defenders but on the rare occasions they cannot get past them they go down on the floor as if they have been shot. The trend continues until tackling is a dying art form and defenders are scared to be in the same post code as fast, nimble magicians with the ball at their feet. Full backs no longer put challenges in out wide, they just attempt to reduce the crossing angle or block the incoming cross out for a corner. I'm not saying Pep Guardiola is the father figure of simulation, but his brand of football and breed of footballer is a considerable contributor.

None of which stopped me from shaking his hand and smiling and nodding, we wished each other all the best for both the game and the coming season, which was more than I had to say in my previous game, then we shuffled to our individual technical area and awaited kick off.

I wasn't in the technical area long, I don't think we touched the ball in the first ten minutes, continuing to watch was like going back into the boxing ring at the start of the next round knowing the clock was starting it's countdown all over again and you had to survive till it ticked down. Those opening ten minutes felt like being punched in the stomach, repeatedly, with each blow I retreated backwards till I was sitting, probably slightly slack jawed, in the dug out next to Zola. I'm a normal human being, I have doubts, with players missing still not back from holiday my three man midfield of Jorginho, Danny Drinkwater and Ross Barkley felt cobbled together in the extreme. Barkley, Morata and Hudson-Odoi had all shined brightly during our good performances in pre season but I was still sceptical. Also in the back of my mind was the knowledge that at least my dad, but probably a larger proportion of my family were in the crowd, pre season was over, this was officially the first real deal and they were here and the longer this one sided affair went on,  the more I began to feel embarrassed.

On fifteen minutes Morata hit the bar, completely against the run of play, a break from a City corner led to a recycled ball being crossed from deep on the right and we hit the bar. Not our longest period of possession, but almost. An "OOOOooooooo," from the crowd and some sporadic clapping followed, then the status quo was resumed. In the first ten minutes City were averaging an attempt on goal a minute, they had maybe left their shooting boots in the dressing room because only two of them had been on target, but the message was clear, the game was being played in our half, and we weren't the ones with the ball. We were behind inside twenty minutes, for all the smooth passing and beautiful flowing movement it annoyed me that their goal came from a corner. A John Stones knock down and a Fernandinho tap in. Compared to their silky sophisticated style we looked like Neanderthals but we were obviously Neanderthals who couldn't even defend a simple set piece. 

The remaining twenty five minutes of the half continue in much the same vein, last ditch tackles go out for corners, the ball skims the bar or flashes past the post more times than I can recall, the Chelsea fans are almost silent, the City fans are jubilant and keep singing,

"Stand up if your Champions!"

My mind drifts back to the game three days ago and Antonio Conte, not just what he said, but the fact this team under his management only lost 1-0 to City, a Kevin De Bruyne drive was the difference, that wasn't a bad result, this might not be a bad result. I shook my head to bring myself out of that particular train of thought, I looked up and it was stoppage time at the end of the first half, and we had a free kick. Ross Barkley was standing over the ball, just outside their penalty area, just inside the left hand corner. The whistle blew and time stood still, after an eternity he stepped up and wrapped it up and over the wall, the ball looked amazing, glinting in the light, spinning and tumbling as it curled downward destined for the bottom corner. Time returned to normal as it flashed out of sight behind the wall, the City keeper just visible as he sprung desperately towards the ball. Whole sections of the crowd went wild, the sound was akin to a bomb going off, Ross had his arms in the air, I was out of my seat and in the technical area. The referee consulted his watch, waited, shook his head and awarded a corner. Seconds later the big screen showed a replay of the goal line technology readout, a sliver, a tiny sliver of the ball remained in front of the line, but it was enough to send us in at half time still behind, which on balance was probably fair as we deserved to have been buried.


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Battered and Blue would have probably have made a decent headline at halftime, or maybe a #BnB was trending wherever those kind of things go to trend. Regardless I somehow manage to stagger from the technical area into the dressing room. I have a moment where I feel I might throw up, there is a vision of television pundits, highlights of Man City being confident and dominant on the ball, then a replay of their goal from every possible angle, plus slow motion high definition throw in for good measure. Afterwards there is a brief token mention of our meagre opposition, a header against the bar and a free kick cleared off the line. Once that has been dealt with then the talking starts, a lot of rueful shaking of the head.

"What did they expect they employed a nobody."

"He just doesn't have the experience or ability to manage at this level."

"They are very lucky to only be the 1 goal down."

I take a few deep breaths, the vision slowly clears, replaced by all of the players sitting about the dressing room looking up at me, it is silent, somehow I have made it in my trance like state to the dead centre of the room. I feel angry, humiliated, my family came all the way south to watch that? I can feel it slowly rising inside me, it wants a target, it wants to be released, I do the opposite, I stamp on it, smother it, regain some sense of inner calm, it might cause some internal damage, give me an ulcer in my future, but if I let it out then it most certainly will cause damage. What is worse than an inexperienced nobody? An inexperienced nobody who screams and rages too early in his managerial career.

Lots of people talk about footballers being spoilt, and pampered and not deserving of the wealth and fame that comes with their job, analogies of grown men kicking an inflated pigskin around and such forth. I must admit that with poverty, homelessness, conflict and a myriad of other things that could do with help, the amount of money thrown around in football is obscene, I sometimes see it as the modern day gladiatorial games, keep the masses entertained and they won't see the wider bigger picture. That isn't to say that footballers don't feel pressure, admittedly they aren't conducting brain surgery or running into burning buildings to save lives, but then I am a believer that pressure isn't job dependant, it's dependant on us being human. Thus during pre season all my team talks had been laid back, friendly, calm:

"The pressure is off, build up fitness, have fun, enjoy yourself, get back into the swing of things." Now however, the gloves were off, the pressure was on, because the pressure was on me. I took one last deep breath, and one last look around the room.

"That wasn't really good enough was it?" The looks on their faces indicated it wasn't what they expected, perhaps they thought I would start ranting and raving, spittle flying from my lips. No such thing, I was going for the disappointed grandfather tone, calm and in control but without a doubt in charge and assertive. Nobody answered, there were a few shakes of the head, but no words. "We are better than that, I know that, you all know that, you have 45 minutes to show everyone else that." A few more nods, and a few heads came up. "Send a message to every other team we are going to play this season, that we are ready, that we won't be pushed aside, that we have more to offer than what you showed in that first half." I paused to let that sink in, doing a slow turn around the room. "The fault has to lie with me, I sent you out with a plan and it hasn't worked as I hoped, we are showing them too much respect, get in their faces and get the ball back, get up the pitch and show them what we can do when we have the ball, if we concede the we will have do so trying to get back into the game, and I can't fault that." With that I let the position coaches and medical staff have the rest of the time to go over tactical tweaks with the Ipads and check the players over for any physical concerns.

It was like chalk and cheese, we kicked off the second half and for the first ten minutes they couldn't lay a glove on us. If I had to tell you how, I am not certain I could, we just seemed faster, better, the passing was crisper, at the base of the midfield Jorginho had more time to move the ball, Drinkwater, Barkley, Hudson-Odoi and Willian all making themselves available for him to find them, and then for them to find each other. City responded either the only way they knew how or simply the way they had been trained to, they intensified their press, hounding the ball, pushing onto us more and more chasing the mistake. The space they left was unreal and we flooded into it, the game became gloriously open and exciting, yes we were still loosing, but at least now we were making chances and looking like we had the ability to change that.

Then we did, Jorginho played a ball over the halfway line taking three pressing City players out of the game and giving Ross Barkley all the room in the world to run into. He maraudered forward forcing the City back line to make a choice. Morata peeled away to the right dragging Otamendi went with him leaving John Stones to step up and try win the ball back. Barkley delivered an inch perfect pass for Hudson-Odoi, cutting in from the left, to run onto, their wingback had been caught up the pitch and he was one on one with the keeper. A slick first time finish saw the ball slide under Ederson before he could get himself properly set. Just under half an hour to play and we were level!

The possession became much more shared after we equalised, both teams continued to create chances but the fitness levels just weren't there to continue at such a frantic pace. I shuffled the personnel, bringing on Loftus-Cheek for Drinkwater, Ethan Ampadu had to replace a limping Jorginho and I was holding onto my last substitution as the possibility of penalties grew closer. Pep Guardiola had no such thoughts, on 75 minutes he threw on Sergio Aguero in an attempt to find a winner but it became almost immediately apparent that the Argentine was in now way match fit. On the other hand we seemed to be showing our late game quality, as we approached 90 minutes we saw more and more of the ball, not creating a great deal but probing and recycling the ball, maintaining the pressure. Once again I contemplated introducing Olivier Giroud for Morata, especially as we were putting more balls into the box in the latter stages, however just as I informed him to strip off and get ready one such cross from Willian glanced off Morata's head and dropped into the bottom left hand corner.

In all honesty I didn't see it, I saw the supporters reaction in the stand behind Olivier's head, then I heard the noise as I wheeled back around, we were 2-1 up with five minutes to play. I did a full 360 spin on the spot, partly to take in the crowd as I punched the air, but also to ruefully grin at Giroud and tell him to put his pants back on. Instead I motioned Matthijs de Ligt off the bench and sent him on for David Luiz. A defensive swap and starting to deliver on my promise of sending the Dutchman in off the bench.

We held on for the win, I couldn't believe it, I still really don't believe it, the rest of the day passed in a blur of hand shaking, back slapping and jumping in place. Many times I have tried put the mix of emotions I felt into words, as of yet, those words still fail me.

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Got Your Six

I like metal, not the tangible stuff you can pick up and hold, though if you offered me gold, platinum or similar precious metals I wouldn't be averse to them. I mean the musical kind, Power, Speed, Heavy, not so sure about Death there is a considerable amount of screaming, Operatic is alright but depends on the mood. Metal music is great for blowing off steam, releasing  tension and building up positive energy, its hard to feel down about life in general or anything in particular if your banging your head to a guitar solo or smashing out some air drums. That is probably why I picked this headline, but more on that later.

There was a full week between the Community Shield win and our first home game in the Premier League against Burnley, and while lifting the trophy and coming from behind against City had done wonders for my confidence, it is the nature of confidence that it is slow to grow and quick to shatter. There was nothing left to do in that week but prepare, train, work, study film, repeat. Two things were immediately apparent, now that everyone was finally back from holiday, firstly it was clear that not all of my big name World Cup players would be fully fighting fit come opening day,. Secondly with everyone back the squad looked bloated in some areas and sparse in others.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, looking back I would probably have wanted to do things differently, but I was new, lacking in confidence, and easily lead. I doubt a defence of "Zola made me do it," would get me much leeway but that is generally how it came about. Gianfranco came into my office midway through that long dark week of the soul with a couple of propositions.

"I think Ruben Loftus-Cheek would be best suited as being retrained as a striker to improve his adaptability and increase his chances of getting in the team." I looked up from my desk and wondered if this was another one of his pranks.

"I'm not sure that's the smartest idea I've ever heard..." I remained unconvinced.

"He has good strength, pace and technical skills, he has decent finishing which we can improve, develop his aerial threat and he could shine in the position." I sat silently for a moment and shuffled some papers around my desk, one of which happened to be the squad depth chart. We had Tammy Abraham on loan at Aston Villa, Batman was sunning himself in Valencia, which left only Morata and Giroud at the club in terms of out and out first team strikers. If he showed potential Ruben could be used as a stop gap to get us through the season, it wasn't like there was any money left in the transfer pot to go out and get a better option.

"If you think he can improve us in that area then go for it," Zola smiled, nodded, but stayed where he was, "There something else Franco?"

"The coaching staff don't feel Chris Mepham is ready for the step up to the Premier League." I grimaced at this, I had heard some such rumours, that his training hadn't been going as well as had been hoped, some of the optimism that had come from his initial scouting reports had dwindled, he was still a talent, but he wasn't the instant impact into the squad that they had suggested a month earlier. I consulted the depth chart once more, the same coaching team suggested that it was a toss up between our two Welsh defenders for 6th place, with Ethan Ampadu possibly shading it on account of him being able to play defensive midfield as well. Luiz, Cahill, Christensen, Azpilicueta and de Ligt (not necessarily in that order) all came before him.

"What do you suggest?" I asked almost resignedly

"A loan, probably to the Championship, though abroad would not be out of the question if the right offer came along, I think pushing for first team football is a must." I nodded again, this time Franco turned and left. The next day Chris Mepham had joined West Brom on loan until the end of the season, though he was recallable if required, a month to the day after I signed him, it didn't feel like my finest hour.

4 days later, 12th of August 2018, our first League game at Stamford Bridge did feel much more like my finest hour, the crowd were amazing, still riding the high of the Wembley win, more of them seemed to have left their reservations about my ability behind and come in good spirits. Our performance did little to tarnish that belief. The game was over as a contest by halftime as we were 3 goals to the good. Come 60 minutes I was able to rotate in N'golo Kante and Eden Hazard to rapturous applause from the crowd, ten minutes later I swapped Cesc Fabregas in for a once more limping Jorginho, and the Spaniard made an instant impact, recording  two assists in the final twenty minutes to take our tally to 5. A slight blot on the copy book was a 90th minute penalty awarded to Burnley that Ashley Barnes converted as a consolation. I felt it was soft, it didn't even come with a booking, it felt like the referee in a boxing match giving the little guy a slow count so he could just about make it to the end of the round to throw the towel in, all the while looking at the big bruiser who had just knocked him down, shrugging his shoulders and going "What am I supposed to do?"

So Got Your Six, could have simply referred to the number of goals scored in the game, it was however an album name for a metal band called Five Finger Death Punch. Five being the number of goals we had scored, and a fist pump being the celebration I was unconsciously doing every time we scored, which I was already catching social media stick for. Maybe the connection wasn't anywhere other than in my head, but either way I liked it.      




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