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My name is Franjo, and I will be a Football Manager.

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Wtfranjo's avatarGroup Wtfranjo
2017-05-08 08:59
00 32 posts joined May 08, 2017
Save Us Franjo´╗┐ (Franjo: ´╗┐A Journeyman Story - Ep1)

The final whistle goes, and pure elation washes over me. I can see it, hear it, and I can feel it. We've won. It's all been leading to this. All of the late nights, the tears, the despair, all of the shit I've been through in my managerial career... It's all been worth it. I lead the team up the steps towards the trophy. The path is barely visible through our adoring fans: leaning in, cheering, patting backs, ruffling hair, taking selfies. This is for them. All tens of thousands of them, and the millions watching at home. We're moments away from lifting the Trophy. We have done it...And then I wake up. Bollocks.

Becoming a Manager isn't something that just happens. You can't just wake up and walk into a Football Stadium asking if they have vacancies. Management is something that most in the profession have spent their lives learning. My name is Franjo. And I will be a Football Manager.

But who will I manage? I'm an Everton fan so the Everton job would be nice. I'm English, would I take the national job? Sure. It's a poisoned challis but I'd fancy my chances. Then there's your Barcelonas, your Bayern Munichs, Juventus, or even Paris Saint Germain... I could always just retire in the Bahamas after a week if it goes tits up.

Realistically though these jobs are a long way away. I'm a hopeful. A rookie. A nobody. I've been looking for a way into management for some time now. Looking for the right first step on the right ladder. And today, Saturday 30th July 2016, I think I've bloody found it.

FC Höllviken are perfect. They're a small, pretty unknown, semi-professional club floundering in the Southern half of the third tier of Swedish Football. They might just be the kind of club that would be desperate enough to take a chance on an unknown, untried manager. I send in my extremely bare CV.

The next morning I have 1 new email. It's Alexander Lundgren, Höllviken's chairman, and he wants me to attend an interview later today! They're more desperate than I thought.

We have a good chat, despite the language barrier. He's concerned, rightfully so, about my lack of experience. I tell him that everyone starts somewhere and that seems to put him at ease. I tell Alexander that I'm a firm believer in bringing through youth players, so a lack of funds doesn't rattle me. I tell him that I'm the man who can save his club from being relegated from the third tier. I think it goes pretty well.

I don't know how many of you will have experienced this in your lives, but there's no situation that makes you refresh your emails quite as often as being unemployed. "Maybe they've replied now? No of course not, it's only been 5 seconds... but how about now?"
4 days pass and I've heard nothing from Alexander. Given that I applied for the job at midnight and had an interview 11 hours later this is making me increasingly nervous. Clubs are hiring new managers all over the place and I only applied for 1 position. If I don't get it I may be out of work for a few months yet.

A week since my interview and still no word. 8 days. 9. 10. 11 days after my interview I refresh my emails for the infinitieth time and there it is.

From: Alexander Lundgren, Chairman of FC Höllviken.

Subject: "Save us Franjo"
Signing´╗┐ 15 Awful Players (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep2)

I don my trusty grey coat, grab the essentials and throw them into a rucksack. I'm going to Sweden. Specifically the Locality of Vellinge, the seat of the Vellinge Kommun municipality, and home of FC Höllviken. I've been given a contract until the end of the season, about 3 and a half months away at the end of November. I've told Alexander, the Chairman, that I can save his club from relegation. Fun fact: there are 26 games in a Swedish First Division South season and my new club have already played 18 of them: Won 3, Drawn 4, Lost 11. We're 5 points from safety. This is going to be a very tough first gig.

I get to work as soon as I land in Vellinge, organising my first training session with the players. Our first match is in 2 days against Oskarshamns AIK, who are 9th place in the league, so there's no time to lose.

I arrive at our stadium, Höllvikens IP, to see that only some of the players are present. I choose one at random and ask him to gather the whole squad. He stares at me blankly. The penny drops and my heart sinks. This is it. This is my squad. All bloody 11 of them. And 3 are injured. "Under 21's?" I plead. "Under 19's?" Blank stares all round. Right, well this should be a doddle then.

It seems the only selection decision I'll have to make, apart from which fans to pluck from the stands and give shirts to on a match day, is in net. And it's an easy decision. On one hand we have Cyrile Tchouata Kamajou, a towering figure who can catch a ball OK and his reflexes are good, but whom the subtleties of the game seem to escape.

On the other we have Niklas Hammer, my pick of the two. He's an equally mountainous man who's not as steady of hand or as quick of mind as Cyrile, but he does seem to be the more rounded of the pair. And of course I'm going to play anyone whose name is as cool as Niklas Hammer, because obviously.

At right back, we have Oscar Vilas Nilsson, a short young man who seems decently rounded without being impressive in any way at all.

Our only natural centre back is Simon Henningsson, a big powerful defender who I think I'll be able to rely on to do a job. He's also an able centre mid.

At left back we have the surprisingly impressive Tobias Malm. He's rapid across the ground and incredibly well rounded. In my opinion he is far too good for this team.

And then we have our Mr Versatile, Jason Grannum. He can play anywhere across the back and on either wing, although he's most comfortable on the right wing. If I get the chance though I'll be taking that no.77 shirt away so fast it'll make his head spin.

The first of our central midfielders is Ali Burrniku, a good, rounded, no-nonsense midfielder who's also able to play as a holding man.

The second is Joakim Nilsson Ingves, who also happens to be my assistant manager. And I have a suspicion that he'll be my captain. He can do pretty much everything apart from run quickly.

And that's all of the fit players we have. I **** you not. But let's press on into the treatment room.

Egzon Sejiraca is a versatile right footed winger. Fast, skilful and able to take on a man and cross. He mercifully is in light training and will be back in 4-8 days.

Andreas Wihlborg is another versatile winger. He's also quick and otherwise pretty rounded. He'll be back in 3-9 days.

Andreas Persson is our only striker. He's quick, gets in good positions and can finish with his feet and his head. He's irreplaceable so is obviously out for the longest stretch: About 4 weeks to be specific.

I find myself looking pitifully at this sorry lot. They are, in all fairness, better than I expected. I just wish that there was twice as many of them.

Alex comes out to call me and Joakim into his office. He pours us coffee and gives me a sympathetic look. He knows we're ****ed. He knows it'll be a tough ask to fill a team for our next match, never mind avoid relegation. We chew the fat for a while. I agree to hold a press conference tomorrow and I inform them that I'll take control of as much of the running of the club as I can. It's a grim meeting.

I decide that Joakim may as well be my captain. He's already my assistant and he seems like he knows what he's doing. I give the vice captaincy to Tobias Malm, the impressive young left back.

Joakim waits until now to hand me the squad report, which consists of 8 positive points and 26 negative ones. I bin the squad report.

So the solution to my situation seems clear: assess the squad while trying to grind out results, and then make signings to bolster the squad once I know what we need.

The holes in this logic are that:

- The transfer deadline is tomorrow so there is no time for assessment.

- The signings we need are Everything

- We have absolutely no money to spend, not even on wages

So with that all in mind I spend transfer deadline day driving around local parks recruiting anyone who looks like they have the potential to one day kick a ball in a straight line (In game terms I offer non-contracts to a bunch of my greyed out/ made up players) until I have an actual squad. They may not be pretty, they may be **** in absolutely all areas, but my god they... are available for selection.

I won't show you them each individually, just trust me they're bad. But they're footballers. And footballers can be trained and drilled. There are plenty of underdog stories that start out bleaker than ours, and plenty that end happily.

Now that we've got a squad, all we need to do is win some matches. That could be trickier than it sounds with this rabble though.
I'm Ready ´╗┐(Franjo: A Journeyman ´╗┐Story - Ep3)´╗┐

Journalists can smell fear. They feed on it. Fear and misery. My first press conference as a football manager and I'm dissected and probed for every bit of boring detail they can squeeze out. I'm asked about 30 questions. "I just want to get back to work" I mentally plead with them, but it's quite clear that I'll be kept until they're full up. With fear and misery.

When I'm finally allowed to leave I wander back to my office to watch the video of Oskarshamns AIK's (my first opponents) last match. And I mean an actual VHS video tape. Apparently I've got to bring Höllviken into the 21st century as well as save them from relegation to the fourth tier. They often play in a standard 4-4-2 and focus their play down the left, but they've got decent players all over. Their main threat is a young striker named Tidjani Diawara, but thanks to my bold strategy of playing with attribute masking switched on I know **** all about what makes him so great. We reckon he's either half decent or one of the best in the world at heading a ball.

I plan to start off with a flexible, counter attacking 4-1-4-1. I know we're at home, but we're ****. We have a bit of pace about us but that's just about it. Other than that I'll be making things extremely simple: Stay disciplined, don't be an idiot, pass it to Tobias Malm. The left back will be my main outlet for today and we'll see how he takes to it. My starting striker has 3 for finishing, so I think we'll be fine.

I have 10 random folk I found in the local parks in my first match-day squad. 4 of them are starting. I give most of them first team squad numbers, seeing as jokers like Grannum have picked numbers like 77 and left the good ones unclaimed, in a bid to inspire a performance out of them.

I decide to give the lads a good-cop team talk. "There's no pressure on you today" I tell them, "I just want to see what you boys can do. Joakim you're on set pieces, put it on Simon's head" I smile and nod towards Simon Henningsson, our massive centre back. Then I turn, walk into the tunnel and gesture for them to follow.

Once out I go to shake hands with Jan Stahre, the OAIK manager, but he crunches my hand in his with a dark smile and says something that I'm sure is probably rude in Swedish. Jan can **** off though. I'm ready for this. My team is ready. Ish.

In the first half we match OAIK stride for stride, blow for blow. Our new striker Mattias Andersell goes closest with a shot just past the near post and a few more efforts from his teammates fly just wide too.

At half time I tell the team they're unlucky not to be in the lead and send them back out to nick a result.

We start slowly, and OAIK smell blood. They run us ragged in the first 15 minutes, barely allowing us a shot while they get quite a few in. Not good ones, but still. The one chance we do have is in the 57th minute when Andersell again finds himself in space after a good pass from Pärsson and lashes a shot from the edge of the area against the inside of the foot of the post. The ball's cleared and from the resulting throw in Grannum has a decent shot that's caught fairly easily.

On the hour mark a lofted through ball is misjudged by big Simon Henningsson at the back, and he misses his header, allowing the OAIK striker Diawara to nip in 6 yards out. Luckily my sweeper keeper, Niklas "The" Hammer quickly rushes out to close down the angle and the striker's only option is a lobbed shot which goes narrowly over.

I make 2 subs straight away: I bring on Filip Lago for Mattias Andersell, who has been very good for a man so woefully unequiped to play in his position, and the injured Egzon Sekiraca for young Christoffer Axelsson. He may be knackered but he can play. One moment of magic from him may be all we need.

From that point it's blow for blow again. Both teams have decent half-chances but no one can find a breakthrough.

And then it happens. 12 minutes from time Diawara picks the ball up 20 yards out, looks up, and drives it into the far bottom corner. It's a good finish, but it's so so cruel. Our heads drop from that point on. I push us to attacking but the game is already away from us. We lose 0-1.

The dressing room is silent after the match, and we go our separate ways from the stadium with barely a word spoken. I'm proud of them, but I feel like telling them that would only make them feel worse. Plus I'm still not sure they understand a single word I say. On another day Andersell's 2 shots sneak in and we come away on top of the world with 3 massive points. But not today. Today we circle closer to the relegation plughole than we did yesterday. We need a miracle.
Franjo: Enemy of Football (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep4)´╗┐

So here's the thing. You come to a small club in danger of dropping down to the 4th tier of their national league system, you unfortunately lose your first game in charge and morale is low. What do you want least at this point? How about a cup match away against a team from the top tier? Well, take my hand my friend and let me whisk you away to Sweden's capital. Stockholm, here we come. To play ****ing Hammarby IF.

Now normally I'd relish this kind of challenge - A chance to play a team at their place 2 leagues above us? Hell yes. Except in a situation as dire as ours this just seems like a no-win situation. We can't throw the match because we need every bit of morale we can muster, so I need to play the first team. The match is on a Wednesday, so it's going to knacker and possibly injure my 8 good and uninjured players. We're going to lose, so morale's going to drop anyway, it's just a case of not getting embarrassed. And with 7 games to play and 6 points to make up to even get out of the automatic relegation places and into the play-off spot, we just don't need a cup match at all.

I hold a team meeting, which actually goes very well. I tell the team that we've got the quality to turn this around, and they believe me the poor bastards. So morale for now is high.

Everybody's job today is to defend. I tell them as much. We will play very narrow, deep, defensive, compact and we will try not to get obliterated. I name the same line up as my first match and hope that consistency of selection will do us a favour at some point. Before the match I again tell the team that they're under no pressure here, but even I don't believe that.

We're under the cosh straight away, with Lidberg connecting with a Silverholt cross and heading over from point blank range.

Half an hour in Jarrett smashes a shot from outside the area off the far post. We've barely had a sniff but at least we're mainly restricting them to long shots like that, which is better than nothing.

Our task isn't made any easier towards the end of the first half as Grannum and Vilas Nilsson both pick up injuries. But they can both stand, so they both play on.

At half time I do nothing but encourage the team and tell them they're unlucky not to be winning, a complete fabrication but again they believe it.

It's another cagey 20 minutes before I bring on Sekiraca for Axelsson, just like in the first match. Sekiraca started full training yesterday and while he was nowhere near ready to start today he'll have 25 minutes to shine here.

With 15 minutes to go Silverholt heads just over from a Hammarby corner, and I tell the team to waste as much time as possible. They oblige and we last until the end of 90 minutes. We have had 1 shot, a free kick that Joakim hit straight at the wall, but it doesn't matter. If we can last another half an hour we go to penalties, and then it's anyone's game.

Lago comes on for Andersell, who's predictably had a quiet game, but he's closed down defenders and put in a shift bless him.

7 minutes after the restart, Torsteinbø hits a free kick over from 25 yards and we can breathe again. As it turns out we can only breathe comfortably for 3 minutes, because then Jajic cracks off a shot from 20 yards that has power but no accuracy. It flies wide. I take this opportunity to bring on Erik Hoffman for his debut. I can't afford to rest my "good" players so I take off Pärsson, another former pub-teamer, for a well deserved break.

Extra time half time comes and goes quickly, and Hammarby's Rômulo then tests my ability to resist soiling myself by first heading just over from a Solheim cross, before swinging a cross of his own in for Lidberg, whose powerless header is caught by The Hammer.

The referee blows for the end of extra time and I celebrate with a subtle fist pump. I'm secretly delighted. This is probably the best scenario we could have hoped for. We have defended admirably today, with Henningsson picking up the player of the match award as the pick of the back line. But everyone's done their part. Admittedly we only had that 1 shot in the entire 120 minutes, but now we'll have at least 3 or 4 from the penalty spot and we just have to score more than Hammarby.

Both teams score their first penalty: Silverholt for Hammarby, Joakim for us. Torsteinbø puts Hammarby back in front, and then with thudding inevitability, young striker Lago's effort is saved by Tim Markström. I let out an audible groan. I don't mean to, it just happens. "Don't let this all have been for nothing" I think desperately, "Our valiant defending, the fact that I've knackered our first team by playing them mid-week for 120 minutes and possibly injured 2 of them".

From then on we match Hammarby: Solheim scores, Hoffman scores, Lidburg scores, Grannum scores. It's 4-3 and Hammarby win if they score their 5th penalty. Dusan Jajic steps up, picks his spot... SAVED BY THE HAMMER! We can level the scores here. VILAS NILSSON SCORES! 4-4 after 5 penalties each, and we go to sudden death.

Rômulo...Scores for Hammarby

Malm...Scores for Höllviken

Magyar...HITS THE BAR! Hammarby have slipped and given us our chance.

Burnniku steps up to win the match for Höllviken...AND SCORES! Cue the pandemonium from the travelling fans! The players run over to the corner full of Höllviken fans, some diving into the crowd as others just applaud and celebrate. I walk behind them, smiling from ear to ear but holding back. Taking my time. I'll applaud the fans, and I'll pat the players on the back, but they deserve the chance to celebrate together. This is their win.

We've done it. You've done it. You beautiful bastards. This is a landmark day. This is a show of intention. This is not a team that will go gentle into that good night. These aren't wishy washy prima donnas, happy to sit back and fade into the fourth tier, playing only to pick up a paycheque. These are men who will tie the laces on their worn black boots and fight for their honour. If we only have 7 shots in these 7 games and we stay up, then that's what we'll do. We will find the win in a no-win situation. We'll play the worst football this league's ever seen if it means we can grind out the results. This is my army. And I am Tony Pulis. I am David Moyes. I am Sam Allardyce.

I am Franjo: Enemy of Football. And I couldn't give less of a ****.
Ms Alexandersson (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 4.5)

The Celebrations in Stockholm are short and sweet. We've got a league match against 10th placed Utsiktens BK in 3 days so taking our time basking in our big win is a luxury we just can't afford. To be honest I don't even celebrate much in the dressing room. Not long after I take a seat on the bench reality hits me: Yes, we held on to knock out a Swedish Premier League team, but at what cost? Grannum and Vilas Nilsson have gone straight into a side room with a physio to be assessed, the rest of the team's dead on their feet. These aren't top athletes, these are part-timers. 3 matches in a week in our position isn't fair.

I try to keep hold of the positives though: It is a big win, it's great for morale, and if we can keep a clean sheet against Hammarby we can keep one against anyone in our division.

The entire team's staying in a B&B on the outskirts of Stockholm, which strikes me as odd as there are 20-odd of us all told, but we pile into the team bus after a while even so. I sit alone at the front, thinking about Saturday and Utsiktens.

When we arrive at the B&B we're greeted by a sweet looking old woman with long grey/blond hair, who's wearing the thickest pair of glasses I've ever seen, as well as a knitted Red and Black FC Höllviken jumper. This is starting to make more sense. She's waving from one of the doorways. Fair enough, this is an extremely big house and should cater to all of us comfortably by the look of it. The old woman introduces herself as Ms Alexandersson and greets every one of us with an enthusiastic hug and a wide smile as we walk in. We each go straight to bed and despite thoughts of Utsiktens still swirling around in my head, it isn't long until I feel my eyes close.

And then I'm stood in the living room of the B&B, talking to Ms Alexandersson. I can't really tell if it's a dream or not, and frankly it's not a priority that I find out, as I'm starting to cry. Slowly at first, and then uncontrollably. "I don't think I can do this" I sob, as Ms Alexandersson hands me a handkerchief, which is also emblazoned with the FC Höllviken crest.

"Why?" She asks calmly.

"I just... don't know... what to do...for the match... on Saturday" I manage, between deep breaths. "They're tired... injured..."

She looks at me quizzically: "What did you think was the right thing to do with this lot when you first arrived in Vellinge?" She smiles.

"4-1-4-1...defence first...focus down the left" I splutter.

"And did it work?"

"We lost..."

"Ah but did it work?"

I take a moment, and then reply "I suppose so. We were OK. Worth a point." I'm not crying anymore. Ms Alexandersson gives me a wide smile.

"Don't overthink it" she winks.

And I'm awake. After a quick breakfast we all pile back into the team bus and Ms Alexandersson waves at us from one of the doorways as the bus begins to pull away. I catch her eye and she mimics pulling something out of her left trouser pocket. I reach into my own left pocket and pull out the FC Höllviken handkerchief. I look up, aware that I've turned bright red. Ms Alexandersson smiles widely and winks before the bus accelerates away, leaving her still waving in the distance. Well that's embarrassing.
Don't Overthink It (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep5)´╗┐

I'm surprised at how nice my little office is at Höllviken's training ground. I think this is where the squad's budget probably went. It's most likely the reason I inherited 11 players but it is fairly nice. There's a good solid dark wooden desk. I'm no expert, I couldn't tell you whether it's Mahogany or Oak or whatever, but it looks good. There's a couple of chairs, a nice TV for watching opposition videos, a pretty comfy leather sofa, and a fully stocked drinks cabinet. Now that I've written it all down, this is definitely where the squad budget went. There's a knock at the door: "Come in" I call. It swings open and standing there is my head physio, Patrick Ekman, giving me a sympathetic look. I wish everyone would stop doing that. "Bad news?" I sigh.

"Not all bad" he replies. "Grannum's out for about 3 weeks, but Vilas Nilsson's fine, Wihlborg's ready to come back in and Sekiraca's just about there."

He's right, that's not all bad. I was expecting 2 new injuries after the Hammarby game, and if my right winger's injured it's good that 2 replacements are ready to come back.

"Ok cheers Patrick" I force a smile and he ducks back out of my office, closing the door behind him. I'd probably be fairly optimistic for the next game, except that my squad's exhausted and Ali "Burrnie" Burrniku, scorer of giant-killing penalties since 2016, is suspended for our next game after picking up 3 yellow cards.

I take out the Höllviken handkerchief that Ms Alexandersson gave me yesterday and study it, turning and folding it delicately in my hands: it's hand-made. A labour of love for this club. Our fanbase may not be the biggest but the team I put out tomorrow has got to be right. The system has got to work. Good honest Swedish folk are depending on me.

The next day I decide to follow Ms Alexandersson's advice: I don't overthink it. We go back to the counter attacking system that we used in our first match: yes we lost, but we matched OAIK. If we do that again with a little bit of luck we can nick a result.

Fitness is an issue but I can't afford to rest any of my first team. Henningsson in particular looks exhausted but we have no defence without him, so he starts. Joakim's also looking off the pace but we need our captain too.

Hoffman did OK after coming on against Hammarby so he'll be the holding man until Burrnie finishes his suspension, the newly fit Wihlborg comes in for Grannum on the right wing and a fresh-faced fellow named Truls Nylander comes in for the equally young Pärsson in the centre of midfield, as the latter could do with a rest.

I'm fairly sure I don't need to point this out at this point, but every league game now is a big game. And I mean a BIG game. I reckon we need at least 3 wins out of our 7 remaining games to have any hope of staying up, and today we play Utsiktens BK, who are currently 10th in the league. And we play them at our place. If we can't win this match, we can't exactly expect to do well against the bigger teams. Utsiktens have been underperforming themselves this season so one of us is going to claim a massive 3 points.

We start the game poorly. We're slower to every ball, we're fouling them over and over as they dance through our defence, we're shattered and we're being outplayed.

In the 12th minute, just after one free kick had gone over, Bergholtz takes another, and puts it on target. It's straight at the Hammer but he fumbles it. We're 1-0 down already. This is the worst possible start. In a bid to stop us conceding any more direct free kicks I tell the team to stand off slightly and to stay on their feet.

My instructions do what they were meant to, but they don't stop the onslaught. In the next 7 minutes 1 shot is blocked by Henningsson, a header from the resulting corner goes just wide, and another shot goes over.

And then Andersell picks up an injury. It's not the worst news in the world as he's probably no better a striker than I am, but he came close to scoring in my first match and I was hoping that a run in the side would bring out the best in him. Lago comes on in his place.

The match dies down and the only thing that really happens for the rest of the half is that I swap us to a standard mentality.

At half time my nerves get the better of me. The fact that we're slipping further into the relegation quicksand, the fact that we've not scored a single goal in the 255 minutes of my tenure so far, the fact that I'm failing.

I shout, and I scream. I tell the boys to sort themselves out, to pull their fingers out and stop embarrassing themselves. Where's the character I saw on Wednesday?

Quickly after half time I bring on Sekiraca for Axelsson and swap him with Wihlborg so they're on the right and left respectively. 2 senior wingers in their preferred roles should give us a boost.

10 minutes after half time Stefan Bouvin, my understudy centre half, picks up an injury. Again it's not the end of the world as he's about as good at centre back as a Madame Tussauds Waxwork of himself would be, but another injury during a match certainly weakens us. I can either use my remaining substitute to take him off and bring on another **** centre back, or I can leave him and make a change that might just give us a chance.

I opt for the latter. I bring off defensive midfielder Nylander and replace him with fellow debutant Kevin Lantz. Lantz will go up front with Lago, who will act as a poacher to try and break our goal drought. Hoffman fills in in midfield.

Ladies and gentlemen, Höllviken will play 4-4-****ing-2.

Over the next 10 minutes though Utsiktens are still the dominant team. They have several chances go wide or over, and we still have no answer. I tell us to go back to the counter attack, go more direct as play at a higher tempo.

In the next 2 minutes both teams go very close. Hyseni has a shot from 20 yards that's destined for the top corner, but The Hammer pulls off a top class save. We go straight down the other end and Sekiraca goes 1 on 1 with their keeper, only to put his shot just wide of the near post.

With 20 minutes to go McVey hits the post after a decent Utsiktens move and I swap us to attacking in the hopes that we'll grab the equaliser, but the last 20 minutes are dead.

Another league game at home, another match without scoring, and another 0-1 loss.

I head back to my office and start looking through the drinks cabinet.

I end up doing a lot of thinking. After my first match I could at least look back and wonder what could have been if luck had been on our side. Today we were obliterated, and frankly 1-0 flatters us. Drastic action is needed. We need goals. We need a senior striker. But the only position where we have any senior depth is... Goalkeeper...

I pick up my phone and dial. It rings for a moment before The Hammer picks up.

"Niklas! I want you and Cyrile to meet me for emergency training in half an hour. We're going to see how well you can shoot."
The Hammerhead Formation (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep6)

Stuart Pearce made the call with David James, Jurgen Klopp did it with Shamal George, and now I, Franjo, will put a goalkeeper up front. Because honestly why not? I've never even met our only senior striker Andreas Persson, I had low to medium hopes for Andersell but now even he's out too. Why shouldn't I put a technically challenged but mentally and physically rounded footballer up front?

"How are you feeling?" I ask The Hammer.

"Strange" he smirks, gesturing to his black outfield away kit. "My hands feel cold".

"You'll be alright" I smile, give him a reassuring punch on the arm. I immediately recoil slightly and pray that he doesn't reciprocate, because if he does I'll probably end up in a heap against the wall of the tunnel. He doesn't though. I make my way out of the tunnel and into the dugout.

I've thought long and hard about my tactics for this match. We're facing Qviding FIF away, who I heard from my backroom staff have a key player named August Wängberg. Stop laughing. Now I don't know much about August Wängberg, thanks again attribute masking, but what I do know is that for a centre back he's fairly short and limited in the air. So it's absolutely the right time to unveil my secret weapon.

"I want you to bully Wängberg. I want you to bully him so badly that he runs back down the tunnel crying. I don't want you more than a foot away from him at any time", I had told The Hammer previously, "We're going to get the ball to Wihlborg and Sekiraca and they're going to float crosses in for you. All you need to do is stand still, punch that little **** Wängberg right in the face and nod the ball down for Lago". As far as I know Swedish law doesn't specifically forbid physical assault, although it is frowned upon.

Ladies and gentlemen, prepare yourselves for The Hammerhead Formation.

In all honesty it's 4-4-2 with a keeper up front.

Also, Bouvin and Vilas Nilsson are injured and suspended respectively, so Billy Sahlén and Isak Franck come in for their debuts. I opt for a stopper/cover defensive pairing for Sahlén and Henningsson, because for one thing it's the system that best suits Sahlén and I want his introduction to be as painless as possible, and for another I think a stopper role will suit Henningsson. He's definitely the Mertesacker of our team.

Our plan nearly pays immediate dividends on the 5 minute mark, when Malm receives the ball from a throw in, plays it long to the hammer, who despite being double marked by Wängberg and their central midfielder Alimi, nods the ball on into the path of Lago. Lago hits it first time, trying to place it into the far corner, but his effort comes back off the post.

Nearly 90 seconds later, a simple pass is played through for Johansson, who easily shrugs off Billy Sahlén and places the ball into the bottom corner. I kick every water bottle in my vicinity. This sums everything up.

After quarter of an hour Wihlborg has a half decent shot from 20 yards but it flies wide, and nothing much else happens until 4 minutes from half time when a bad Sekiraca ball is intercepted and hoofed into our box. Johansson nods it on for Jörnvil but Cyrile smothers the ball at his feet. In torturous slow motion though the loose ball rolls to Johansson, who passes it coolly into the empty net. I turn and silently walk down the tunnel. I think of the promise I made to Alexander when I took this job. I think of the other men I've seen destroyed by the remorseless monster that is football management. But the monster won't take me down, at least not without a fight.

Some of those lads' hearing will never be the same. I hope they can still hear my fury after they slip from this mortal coil and I hope it inspires them to be reincarnated as slightly less useless footballers. I make full use of my 15 minutes at half time, I shout, swear, throw things and punch the wall. I'm livid. I'm at the end of my tether. And the worst part is I'm not livid with them. If Lago's shot goes in after 5 minutes our whole season looks different, the whole match plays out differently. But once again we can't score for love nor money and we can't stop anyone else from scoring. It's my first match all over again but with an extra goal to boot.

The match is quiet for 15 minutes after half time, and knowing that we need to take a chance, I push our wingers forward to form a 4-2-4 and tell them to attack Qviding, and pump the ball into the box for The Hammer.

And then, after almost 20 more minutes, it happens. Our debutant right back Isak Franck hoofs a ball forward from the halfway line. The Hammer, who is now triple marked, leaps to nod it on for Lago, who takes a touch, and then pokes the ball past the keeper and into the bottom corner.

And just like that we're OK. We're 1-2 down and we stay that way until the ref blows his whistle for full time, but we've scored a goal. An actual goal! A sweet drop of vindication has landed in this sea of Swedish ****! The most beautiful green shoot I've ever seen is sprouting through salted earth, and it's making everything it touches OK.

It could grow to be a majestic beanstalk: it could grow higher than the clouds and I could climb right to the top. I could find a limitless supply of golden eggs, and take down the giants that want to grind my bones to make their bread. I could save my starving family and buy us a new bloody cow. This could be the start of an excellent new adventure.

Or it could be spinach. I hate spinach.
A New Low (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep7)

"We need to be careful, Östers are absolutely flying" Joakim warns me. "They've won 8 of their last 11 and drawn the other 3, this might be our toughest match of the season. The bookies have them at to 1-6 to win, I'm surprised they've not already stopped taking bets"

"Never tell me the odds" I snap, hoping that they don't have Star Wars in Sweden. We're sat in my office planning for our away game against Östers IF at the weekend, and it does seem like an insurmountable task. They've been eating teams far, far, far further up the table than us for breakfast.

We're interrupted by the sound of a car driving into the training facility car park. Joakim and I exchange confused looks. No one at FC Höllviken can afford a car. Intrigued, we stand, walk out of my office and around to the car park to see an unfamiliar young man closing the door of his mustard-yellow Saab. I note with interest from the license plate that it's older than most of, if not all of, our players. And Joakim's 31.

Joakim sighs with relief at the sight of him. "Andreas!" He exclaims. Andreas? I don't know anyone called Andreas... Andreas struts towards us and removes his sunglasses.

"Did somebody order a star striker?" he asks, very coolly, like a Bond villain. I assume that's what he said, he was speaking in Swedish, but he seems like the kind of twat that would say obnoxious things like that because it's becoming painfully obvious that this is our only actual senior striker, Andreas Persson. And he reeks of star-strikerishness. I'd almost completely forgotten we had him to be honest but he's come in to resume light training.

After I get over the initial resentment I realise that his return to training is a huge and welcome relief. I've not used any strikers that aren't **** kids or goalkeepers up to this point and it's sort of become the norm. Plus he can finish, he has pace, and he can get into good positions. He might be just the injection we need, but he's not quite ready yet.

In the meantime though we're now propping up the Swedish third tier and it doesn't feel good. We're still 6 points off the relegation play-off spot so I think that's still an achievable goal, but we've only got 5 games to get there, and our goal difference is so bad that we're definitely going to need more than 6 points. We need to turn our run around: We've lost 6 games in a row in the league and if we lose our next 2 we can pretty much forget staying up. And I can forget about having the option to stay.

So let's start the fightback today. We play a variation of our Hammarby-vanquishing defensive 4-1-4-1 with The Hammer as a lone attacking target man and attacking wingers giving him plenty of service.

The match starts in a familiar way: we have an excellent chance after 5 minutes when The Hammer puts a ball through to Wihlborg, who slots it under the keeper only to turn mid-celebration and see the linesman's flag raised. I'm speechless. Another heartbreak inside 6 minutes for FC Höllviken.

Aside from a couple of harmless free kick attempts from ÖIF and a booking for Pärsson, the first 40 minutes pass without incident. In the 41st minute Pärsson trips an opponent and picks up his 2nd booking and thus a red. Another familiar scenario plays out over the next 2 minutes: The space between midfield and defence in our necessitated 4-4-1 is exploited and Cyrile has to tip over a Drott effort from 20 yards, but from the resulting corner a scramble breaks out inside the area and Johannesson is left to poke the ball home from 6 yards out. Hello 0-1 my old friend. You'll never know how much I hate you.

In stark contrast to our last match, I just have nothing to say at half time. We seem to be unable to execute a game plan effectively. Whether we hit the post or have a goal disallowed, whether we have key players injured or go down to 10 men, we just can't make it work. We sit in sombre silence through the break and go back out with barely a word spoken.

With 25 minutes to go I bring on Hoffman and Persson for Sekiraca and Wihlborg and swap us to a narrow 4-3-2 with overlapping full backs, but I still can't cause a spark. Our fight seems to have dissipated today. With 4 minutes to go I tell the team to attack, and with 3 minutes to go we're 2-0 down when Ostlind finds space, shoots for the near post from an extremely narrow angle, and Cyrile parries it into the net. We never manage a single shot except for Wihlborg's offside effort 6 minutes in. There is a very thick silence in the changing room after the match. Yes they're sat in 2nd place but this is unacceptable. Morale is at a new low.

Safety is drifting further away with every match that passes. With every game we lose there are 3 fewer potential points on the table. We need 7 points minimum out of a possible 12 to survive, barring some kind of mathematical miracle, but we can make our own luck to some extent. We still need to play the teams in 11th, 12th and 13th. And beating all 3 of them would be a bloody good start. Plus Andreas Persson should be fully fit for the next match and I sincerely hope he's as good as he thinks he is, because he's starting.
Swede Dreams (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep8)

I don't want to get out of bed today. Don't make me get out of bed. If I get out of bed I'll have taken another step towards getting relegated in my first ever managerial role. No, I'll just stay in bed where everything is warm and safe. **** you alarm clock. **** you sunlight. **** you Swedish First Division South. I keep having a recurring dream where Henrik Larsson and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are taking turns punching me in the face and laughing about how little I know about Swedish Football. Then they throw me into the deep dark pit: a swirling vortex of nothingness where nothing exists and nothing escapes.

Now, I'm a realist. I'm aware that I have to get out of bed. I'm aware that while the world would keep turning if I were to simply shut out the sunlight, pull the covers over my head and hibernate until the people of Vellinge had forgotten my name, there is a slight possibility that FC Höllviken would stand even less of a chance without me. And our fates are intertwined: I need to save them in order to save myself, specifically with regards to my career. They didn't have to be my problem. I could have stayed in England and never known the names of Niklas Hammer, Joakim Nilsson Ingves or Alexander Lundgren. But I made them my problem. I made them my children, they are all my responsibility. There's no backing down from this.

Dragging myself out of bed, I decide to go down to Höllvikens IP early so that I can use the whole morning to think of how we need to approach this match tactically. I grab a coffee, walk into my office, sit down at my desk with paper and pen in hand, and begin to strategise. We're up against FC Trollhättan, who are in 12th place, 2 places and 6 points above us in the league. This is our biggest match so far in that if we are to make any sort of push for survival, it needs to start today. After this match we play 3rd place Norrby IF, which is essentially a write-off, and then we finish the season by hosting 13th place Prespa Birlik and finally travelling to 11th place Husqvarna FF. We have been given a tremendous opportunity to push by being scheduled to play all 3 of our fellow relegation candidates in our final 4 matches, but a loss today will be crippling for our survival hopes. A loss today could signal the end.

Looking up from my desk I see Henrik Larsson and Zlatan Ibrahimovic striding into my office, both smiling darkly. I cower and sink lower into my chair. They're here to punch me in the face again, they're going to throw me down the deep dark pit. I'll never get out of the deep dark pit. They move towards me menacingly, both moving around different sides of the desk to cut off my escape, and then suddenly a third figure enters the room. A figure I recognise and greet with relief: Ms Alexandersson marches into my office and begins hitting the 2 legendary Scandinavian strikers over the head with a cartoonishly oversized mallet, emblazoned with the red and black FC Höllviken crest. They run sobbing from the room and I beam at the old woman and thank her for her assistance. "Is there anything I can do to make it up to you?" I ask enthusiastically. She smiles widely.

"Don't overthink it" she winks.

I jolt awake at my desk. Checking my clock I realise that I won't be alone for much longer. The players and staff will be arriving soon. But it doesn't matter. I know how we're going to set up.

"4-1-4-1", I tell the players. "We play on the counter attack, we stay disciplined, we exploit the left. Is that clear?" My question is greeted by murmurs and nods. I note with interest that this will be the first match in which I play something that resembles a first team. We are playing 10 senior players today, which is probably a club record. Cyrile starts in goal in case The Hammer needs to be an emergency striker, and Vilas Nilsson, Henningsson, the fit again Grannum and Malm start across the back. Burrnie will hold his place in front of the back 4, and Sekiraca, Joakim, Hoffman (Our only non-senior player today, but he's been solid so far) and Wihlborg form the midfield 4. Andreas Persson returns from injury for his first start under my stewardship after returning to full training earlier this week. He'll be a poacher.

For 40 minutes Trollhättan's 4-4-1-1 cancels out our 4-1-4-1, resulting in one of the cagiest halfs of football we've seen all season, and then Joakim swings in a free kick from close to the corner flag on the right hand side. It's headed straight back to him by a defender and he tries again, looping a cross towards to the far post. And something incredible happens: Simon Henningsson is shoved by Trollhättan's Mehovic and the referee points to the spot. A penalty! The only thing we've been any good at all season! Joakim steps up and rifles it into the bottom corner. We've taken the lead for the first time this season and it feels excellent.

When the team comes in for half time I put on a calm face. Inside I'm nervous, excited, and sceptical of our ability to hold on, but there's no reason for them to know any of that. I tell them not to get complacent and send them back out.

Within 2 minutes of the restart, Berntsson receives the ball from a throw in and is tripped inside the area by Burrnie. The calm face mask falls to the floor. Yohan Lundgren scores the penalty. I want to go back to bed. I put my head in my hands and wonder if anyone would notice if I just slept through the rest of the game. And then a 2nd incredible thing happens: We respond almost instantly. A Joakim corner is swung towards the 6 yard box, glanced on by Sekiraca, and Burrnie is on hand to stab the ball past the keeper. I don't think I've ever been this proud. I'm pretty confident that if I spawned 500 children who each did something amazing like solve world hunger, or cure a deadly disease, or 498 other incredible things, I would not be as proud of them as I am of my team right now.

We stay as we are. Having never been in this situation before I'm not quite sure what the best course of action is, but doing nothing seems to work. The game dies down until the 75th minute, when Sekiraca plays a brilliant killer pass behind the defence and into the path of Persson, who slots the ball under the keeper. Dumfounded, I tell the team to completely fall back. To just defend. I even feel confident enough to bring off the tiring Wihlborg and replace him with young Axelsson.

The match ends 3-1 and our survival push has finally started. Larsson and Ibrahimovic won't haunt me tonight. I'll sleep soundly, dreaming only of the soft rippling noise of the ball hitting the back of the net, and the roar of our literally tens of supporters at Höllviken IP.
Mo Dizzle & The Newbie Crew (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep9)

The last 2 weeks have been completely different around the FC Höllviken camp. Our win over FC Trollhättan was perfectly timed, just before a break. We've had 2 weeks to regroup and train hard and the atmosphere has been electric. Not only did our win give everyone some much needed cheer and optimism, but I also took the break as a chance to bring in some trialists with a view to bolstering our squad for the last 3 games. I brought in 25 hopeful players, arranged U23 friendlies every few days so that they could dazzle us, and a few of them did just that.

Allow me to introduce you to our 4 new players:

Wani Mukoko came in and gave a decent account of himself, bagging a goal and a couple of decent performances in a couple of friendlies. He may not have the best shot, but he's quick and agile, with a decent touch and a good sense of where to be to have the optimal chance of scoring. He'll provide decent and much needed back up to Andreas Persson.

Stefan Andersson is a 16 year old centre back who's showing a lot of potential. He's not a rounded player but he's good enough in pretty much every essential area for a centre back. And if either of us get the chance to stick around beyond the next month I should be able to develop him into a good solid defender.

Every fibre in me fought against signing Lawrence, the short Ghanaian central midfielder. I think it's because of his extremely questionable mental attributes, or possibly because of how easy it will be for opposition midfielders to bully him thanks to his small stature and fragile frame. But my God he gave some good performances in the 5 friendlies he played, so in he comes as our only non-Swedish player. Prove me wrong mate.

And last but by no means least is quite possibly the most promising of the lot. We have brought in Muhamed Dizdar, who I instantly dubbed "Mo Dizzle". He protested but he's already signed the bit of paper, so Mo Dizzle it is. He is an extremely rounded midfielder, a solid athlete, mature beyond his years at 22 years old, and who can resist the prospect of a couple of 30 yard screamers? His determination, teamwork and work rate are also particularly exciting to me as I value these attributes highly. I think Mo Dizzle could be the last piece of our first team puzzle.

In addition to arranging these trialists, the other 21 of whom are still with our under 23's by the way and may still be brought in, I also arranged a senior team friendly against Mjällby AIF, who are comfortably 9th place in our division, to keep the first team squad's fitness up. We lost 3-1 but that's OK. I'd rather make sure we keep our focus and push ourselves than crush some poor, even punier side than us 6-0. We've had a good break, played a practice match against good opposition and we've had an injection of fresh blood. And the only team that can stop the good times from rolling now are Norrby. They're about as intimidating as a team that sound like they're named after a cartoon dragon can be. They're 3rd in the league and have racked up way more than twice our points tally for the season so far so my hopes are not high.

Another thing that could put an end to the party atmosphere is if Husqvana FF get 2 or more points from their last 3 games, as that would relegate us to the 4th tier with immediate effect. But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Which we will, because one of those games is against us.

I name an unchanged side from the one that beat Trollhättan 2 weeks ago but with our new signings on the bench to make the difference if required, as they currently lack match sharpness. The Hammer is injured so he misses out entirely, but he should be back for the next match.

The game starts slowly and the first thing that happens of any note is Gashi wandering away from his "marker" Grannum to connect with a Petterson corner after 20 minutes. His header hits the back of the net, but for once I don't feel aggrieved, I don't feel angry and I don't feel upset. Depressingly, this was always part of the plan. 5 minutes later Brandt shoots from 25 yards but it's uncontrolled and flies high and wide.

At half time Grannum is still struggling. He's a natural right winger who can also play as a centre back so I don't begrudge him the odd poor performance. I bring on 16 year old Andersson to make his debut in Grannum's place, hopefully that will sure us up in defence.

No. No it doesn't. Less than 2 minutes after the restart (I'm becoming suspicious of how often I'm writing that exact phrase) Brandt finds Qoraj in acres of space on the left wing, and he drills in a low cross that deflects off big Simon Henningsson and past the helpless Cyrile in net.

The only chance of note we have is also the last mildly interesting thing that happens for either side, when with 33 minutes to go Sekiraca tries a pot shot on the turn from 25 yards and the ball almost trickles out for a throw. It doesn't though so at least he's spared that embarrassment. I concede that the better team has already won and throw on Mo Dizzle and Mukoko for their debuts, replacing Hoffman and Persson. Hoffman has been fine today and Persson hasn't had much to do, but that's not his fault. The rest of the match drags and it's quite a relief when the final whistle goes.

In an unprecedented show of decency I smile, pat my players on the back, shake my opposite number's hand and thank the officials before heading into the changing room to tell the lads not to worry. "This match was a distraction, nothing more", I urge them. "The real matches are 2 weeks from today, and 2 weeks after that".

It does worry me slightly that Husqvarna have picked up a point and if they pick up another we'll effectively be relegated, however their last 2 matches are against Landskronal BoIS, who have already wrapped up the title and should actually destroy Husqvarna's confidence quite nicely, and then us. They need to lose both games. We need to win both of ours.

The miracle we need isn't out of our reach. Not yet.
Out of Our Hands (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep10)

Nothing seems real today. Everything is blurred and distorted. Everything seems so fragile, like it could give way at any second and collapse, taking my team and prospects with it. Our fates are not our own today.

Regardless of how we do against the first team to have their relegation confirmed: Prespa Birlik, a draw for Husqvarna FF against top side Landskrona BoIS or a win for FC Trollhättan against 5th placed IK Oddevold would see us pretty much relegated. Everything here could crumble and there's nothing we can do to stop it. What we can do though is make sure we win our final 2 games. We need to stop worrying about the things we can't control and just focus on the things we can.

We've had another 2 week break since our loss against Norrby, which I saw as another chance to get our new players up to speed and to test us against good opposition. "I've arranged a friendly against AIK" I had announced triumphantly to the players after the Norrby game. They just stared at me with their mouths open. AIK are 4th in the top tier of Swedish football and I had jumped at the opportunity to test ourselves against them. They beat us 1-0, which I interpreted as a small victory.

We've not signed any more trialists as of yet, but our 4 new players are settling in very well: Wani Mukoko gets on with the rest of the squad, Stefan Andersson has already won the respect of most of the players for his clear ability and professionalism at such a young age, Lawrence is seen as something of an enigma but I think he's getting along with everyone, and pretty much the entire squad has already forgotten Mo Dizzle's original name, much to his horror.

KSF Prespa Birlik don't seem to have any stand out players, but the last thing I'll allow us to do is let our guard down and assume that the win will come purely because they're the only team in the league who are officially shitter than us. We'll start off the same as we have been doing, 4-1-4-1 on the counter, focussing play down the left. Mo Dizzle and Stefan Andersson get their first starts today in place of Erik Hoffman and Jason Grannum. The Hammer returns to the starting line up and almost cries with joy when I tell him that he's actually starting in net. He's back from injury and I've been less than impressed with Cyrile.

As soon as the game starts I can feel something different: for possibly the first time during my tenure FC Höllviken are the more confident team. We have a few half decent shots that don't really test the keeper during the first 20 minutes, but it's clear to me that we're in charge here.

When that realisation takes hold I tell the players to control the game. Prespa aren't going to try to bring the game to us so we may as well take it to them. I also make sure the midfielders know to pass the ball into space as Persson has run the channels well so far.

10 minutes before the break it almost pays off when Sekiraca plays a good pass into the left hand channel. Persson takes the ball, brings it forward, and smashes it just wide of the far post.

2 minutes later Mo Dizzle finds Persson with the ball 30 yards out, and Persson looks up to see Joakim making an uncharacteristically explosive attacking run through the Prespa defence. The ball is put right into his path and he leathers it into the top left corner from the edge of the area for his 2nd goal of the season. I leap to my feet, teeth gritted, hands clenched into fists and held aloft. We might just be able to do this.

At half time I put on my calmest face and tell the players not to get complacent. I can't stress enough how afraid I am that Prespa will turn this around on us to end my FC Höllviken reign not only in abject failure, but in humiliation too.

I barely have time to sit back down in the dugout and open my notebook before it happens. Joakim finds Sekiraca with a great ball over the top, Sekiraca dribbles towards goal before picking out the unmarked Andreas Persson, who slots the ball past the poor keeper. 20 seconds into the second half and they've doubled our lead, the brilliant bastards.

10 minutes later Prespa fire a warning shot, 1 of only 3 they've managed so far, when a counter attack ends in Borg shooting into our side netting from a decent position. I tell the team to drop back slightly to standard and bring on Lawrence for Mo Dizzle, both of whom are still short of match sharpness.

With 25 minutes to go though, Joakim is almost having too good a time. He effortlessly plays another perfect pass over the defence and into the path of Persson, who simply lets the ball bounce in front of him before smacking it on the half volley into the top left corner. Game over, and it really is a beautiful goal.

2 minutes later Prespa start to rebel against my narrative, and Wilklund hits a pot shot from 30 yards out that cracks off the post and bounces away. I drop us back to defend. With 10 minutes to go they're still plugging away, intent on pissing me off, and a hopeful deep cross is pumped into our box. Simon Henningsson, 6 yards from our goal, decides that this would be an appropriate time to try to control the ball and chests it down, only for Milenkovic to steal it and tap it past The Hammer.

We don't get the clean sheet but to be honest I couldn't care less. We'll take the 3 points. We'll welcome the 3 points with open arms. The 3 points can even have my bed and I'll sleep on the sofa. Our future is back in our hands, and it'll all come down to the last match.

Husqvarna FF will be quaking in their boots.
The Offer (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 10.5)

With another 2 weeks to go before our final league match, a trip to Husqvarna FF, I decide to arrange a friendly trip to league leaders Landskrona BoIS. The away game practice will do us good and as you'll know by now, I find that there's more to be gained in a tough friendly lost than an easy one comfortably won.

We lose 3-0, and it's fairly comfortable, so by my own logic we definitely gain more than Landskrona... Don't think that we didn't put up a fight though, we had a go and we scared them at times, but their quality showed. It wasn't an obliteration like my 2nd league game against Utsiktens BK, or my 4th against Östers IF, and we can take some genuine pride from that.

The next day Alexander Lundgren, the club Chairman, calls me at home and asks me to come into our training ground. He's secretive about his reasons for doing so and that strikes me as odd, but intrigued, I head over anyway. When I arrive he's stood by the desk in my office, holding a sheet of paper and looking uncomfortable. "I would like to extend this offer to you now," he begins, "I would like you to sign a new year-long contract. I think you can win next week, I think we can avoid relegation and I have confidence that you'll bring success to the club given a full season."

I'm taken aback. I didn't expect this. Is he trying to give me a boost? Is he showing me he's got faith in our ability to stay up? Even if we do stay up I can't guarantee I'll be here next season. I think it would be a bit "meta" of me to explain to him what a Journeyman save is.

Instead I smile. "Put the contract away Alex", I tell him. "Let's get next week out of the way and then get the paperwork sorted." He looks glum, but agrees. I feel quite sorry for him. He's a lifelong Höllviken fan and I can tell he believes in me, maybe to a fault. He's the Bill Kenwright to my Roberto Martinez.

We stand in silence for a moment, and then I grab a football from the corner of my office. "Come on" I tell him as I walk out towards the training pitch. I trudge across the soaking turf straight to the penalty spot in front of the nearest goal and put the ball down, before taking up my position in the middle of the mud-bath that is the goal-mouth. The nets are still up. Luckily someone forgot to take them off after the last training session.

Alex follows me and stands in front of the ball, still looking a bit glum, but now confusion's been thrown into the mix too. "Smack it" I say calmly. He steps back, runs up to the spot and leathers the ball into the top left corner, I genuinely try to get there but I've got no chance. My dive falls well short and I end up in a muddy heap. "Bloody hell Alex, how long were you going to keep that secret?" I laugh as I get to my feet, "We could've used you instead of Lago at Hammarby".

He looks slightly less down as he takes his place in net and I grab the ball and take it to the penalty spot. "What do you think our chances are of a win next week?" He asks. I think for a moment.

"Honestly, pretty good" I reply, hearing the surprise in my own voice. I run up and try to place the ball into the bottom corner, but I catch it badly and it greyses the wrong side of the post, skimming off the wet grass as it goes. "5 each, obviously" I grin.

"Obviously" he laughs.

We continue talking, and from then on I match Alexander: He scores, I score, He scores, I score. It's 4-3 and Alex wins if he scores his 5th penalty. He runs up, smashes the ball central, I SAVE IT! And catch it too. Pretty impressed with myself there. We swap places once again.

I step up to level the scores... I drill the ball low towards the bottom right corner... and off the post. The ball rolls about 2 feet away and then gets stuck in the bog-like ground.

Alex trudges over to pick it up and then turns back to me. "Unlucky" he says quietly.

"Bloody Swedish weather's worse than ours" I laugh. "I'll bring proper boots next time I come in".

"Or a boat" sighs Alex, as he glances towards one of the most waterlogged areas of the training pitch. Despite my attempt at cheering him up he's clearly still worried.

"We'll be alright" I reassure him as we start to practically swim back to the office building. "We've got a decent squad now and we're injury free. We've picked up a couple of wins lately and we're the ones with momentum".

Alexander says nothing.

"Muhamed Dizdar's looking sharp too, he could be the difference for us" I suggest hopefully.

Alex scrunches up his face, "Who?"

"Mo Dizzle."

"Oh right, Mo Dizzle. Yes, he does look like a good player."

I think that's lifted his chin a bit. He's slightly more cheerful than he was when I first saw him this morning anyway, but we do need a win next week. It isn't just Alex we're playing for, it's Ms Alexandersson, it's the season ticket holders, it's all those good honest Swedes who are counting on us.

Let's not let them down.
SuperFran (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep11)

I've been thinking a lot about Superheroes lately. So often in the comic books they sacrifice their happiness and their lives for the greater good. They are the unthanked heroes of their cities. But often they are loved. Maybe not by all, but by those who can see how much worse things would be without their intervention. Am I a superhero, you ask? I couldn't say. There are many factors that make superheroes superheroes. But actually no. No I'm not.

Maybe I could be. Maybe if the stars align and I can drag this club back from the brink of the deep dark pit I'll be given the key to Vellinge. Maybe local children will go trick or treating at Hallowe'en, wearing a rubber replica of my face over their own. Maybe posters bearing my likeness will be made and hung up in the bedrooms of every Höllviken fan around Vellinge. I can be a superhero, but only if we beat Husqvarna FF today. 3 points and a bit of luck are what we need to reach the relegation play-off spot and get free of the automatic places.

When the team bus pulls up to Jönköping, home of Husqvarna FF, I'm sat at the front next to Joakim. Barely anyone's spoken for the entire journey. Joakim's face is drained of colour and I get the feeling that I look equally ill. I certainly feel it.

We disembark and make our way to the away dressing room. It's a silent, sombre walk. Everyone knows what's at stake today. I'm using the FC Höllviken handkerchief given to me by Ms Alexandersson as a pocket square. We need all the fortune we can get today and I'll be thrilled if the homemade hankie proves to be a good luck charm.

When we get Husqvarna's team sheet I realise that they're fielding 3 strikers. We're prepared for this, don't get me wrong: they've been switching between a 4-4-2 and a 4-3-3 recently, but it still scares me. Their narrow 4-3-3 may overload us in the centre, but it gives us the opportunity to exploit them on the wings. We'll be focussing the left as usual and we'll be hoping that Malm, the left back who I initially had such high hopes for, finally comes through and helps Wihlborg to double up on their right back, who looks like he'll be pushing forward and leaving space.

The match starts slowly, with both teams testing each other out. For 30 minutes it's a gritty, scrappy game, until Svensson, the playmaker in the team by the look of it, hoofs the ball forward from the halfway line. Karlefjärd, not being marked closely enough by anyone, takes it down and lays it off for Karlsson with one touch, leaving Karlsson to drill the ball into the bottom left corner from the edge of the area.

I feel like I've been hit with something heavy and blunt, only I can't feel the pain of it yet. This can't be how we go down, it won't be how our season ends.

7 minutes later we have a free kick from the left hand side, close to the byline. Joakim curls a cross into a mess of bodies, Burrnie takes it down on his chest 5 yards out and hammers it straight at the keeper, who parries it out for a corner. I take the opportunity to tell the team to pass into space, to use the pace we have in Persson, Sekiraca and Wihlborg.

At half time I am Churchill. I am Braveheart. "Do it for Vellinge!" I cry, "Do it for Ms Alexandersson! Get your game faces on and let's see some passion!", I can hear the crescendo of an orchestra building in my mind, providing a beautiful and overly dramatic soundtrack to my speech of speeches. I sound fantastic. A single tear starts to fall down my cheek as my voice cracks "Do it for yourselves."

When I finish talking, each and every one of them runs back down the tunnel clapping, shouting, completely pumped up. I smile. My trusty grey coat billows in the wind like a cape as I step back out of the tunnel. We aren't done yet.

With 25 minutes to go we're matching Husqvarna. The chances today have been at a premium but it's an eerily even match. I put us onto control, we need to start to take the game to them. We need to fight.

Not long after, a Svensson free kick comes in from the right wing and falls for Eriksson-Ibragic, but his shot is straight at The Hammer. 10 minutes later they counter one of our pushes and Iskander gets a cross in to the far post, but Hamidovic's header is easily caught.

With 15 minutes to go we go all out attack. With 10 to go I bring on Lawrence and Mukoko for Dizzle and the quiet Persson. As much as we try, as much as poke and prod and match Husqvarna stride for stride, we don't manage a good chance for the rest of the 90 minutes.

The final whistle goes and I stand facing the pitch, unblinking, staring at nothing in particular. We were so close. So ****ing close and we fell at the final hurdle. We had momentum and we were getting better, we were finally at the point where I could field 11 senior players. If only I could've have this squad for my whole tenure, we'd be clear of relegation by miles.

We've managed 2 wins in 8 league games. On the face of it that sounds awful but considering my predecessor won 3 in 18 I think we did pretty well. Pretty well isn't good enough for a football manager though. I know what's coming. There's only a week left on my contract after all.

Back in the changing room I bring the squad together and thank them sincerely for their efforts. I single out Joakim, The Hammer and big Simon Henningsson for praise as we would've failed weeks ago if not for their efforts.

I say my goodbyes and leave the dressing room with a heavy heart as I start to walk towards Alexander's office. I meet him in the hallway halfway down, it seems he was on his way to get me. He looks genuinely saddened as he shakes my hand, and offers me a bottle of whiskey from his own drinks cabinet, which I note is of far higher quality than the stuff in my office, but I suppose that's neither here nor there now. He forces a smile and wishes me luck. I offer it back, and then finally we officially part company.

I may yet be a superhero somewhere, someday. But not here. Maybe this isn't my Gotham City. Maybe this has merely been my origin story. Every superhero needs a tragic back story. After all there would be no Batman without the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Nor would there be a Spiderman without the untimely death of Uncle Ben. Maybe there can be no Franjo without the death of my beautiful Swedish dream.
Franjo: PE Teacher (Franjo: A Journeyman Story Ep12)

23/10/2016

1 Day since FC Höllviken Termination

I'm OK I think. I feel like I've been through a mature and amicable break up. Yes I'm disappointed and yes I wish I could have done certain things differently, but in the end we severed ties for the good of both parties. I'm hopeful of finding a new job quickly so I've kept my flat in Vellinge as a short term solution. As long as I find a new job in the next couple of weeks I should be fine. I've applied for an interesting position already: The top job at Persiraja Banda Aceh, an Indonesian Premier Division side.

This is exactly the kind of adventure I'd really be up for so fingers crossed. Welling Chairman Barrie Hobbins just emailed me too to see if I'd be up for an interview, but I sent a very gracious and friendly reply explaining that I would have to decline.

I made myself a promise when I stepped onto that Vellinge-bound flight in August that the next time I returned to Blighty I'd be a success. I think we can all agree that that time is not now.



5/11/16

2 Weeks since FC Höllviken Termination

It's been a slow couple of weeks. I applied for a couple more managerial positions: The first was Changchun Yatai in the Chinese Super League, which was probably optimistic as the teams in that league are not known for snapping up unknown British managers.

The other club was KFUM-Kameratene Oslo in The Norwegian First Division, and I have to say I do quite like the idea of staying in Scandinavia for now.

I've not heard back from either, but I did just get back from an interview with the Persiraja Chairman Syarifuddin Latif. I think it went pretty well so I'll update you as and when the wheels start turning.



14/11/16

3 Weeks, 2 Days since FC Höllviken Termination

Well ****. The wheels didn't start turning on that one. Khair Rifo took the Persiraja job. I had another interview offer from England: Truro Chairman Pete Masters was in touch but again I politely declined.

I wish other countries' clubs were as excited to meet me as English ones are.



2/12/16

1 Month, 1 Week, 3 Days since FC Höllviken Termination

I had to leave my flat. Nothing's happening job-wise and it's been 6 weeks at this point. For now I'm crashing on Joakim's sofa. He doesn't seem pleased about it.

I've been offered interviews by Hemel Hempstead (Who I turned down, but I'm starting to think I might have to go home earlier than I had planned) and Finn Harps' Chairman Sean Quinn, which was exciting. Ireland is certainly a possibility for me.

I applied for vacant positions at Danish First Division side Naestved Boldklub, Malaysian Premier League side Perlis, and Belarus Highest League side Granit Mikashevichi.

At this point I'm throwing my hat into every vaguely realistic ring I see. I am the Oddjob of Football Management.



16/12/16

1 Month, 3 Weeks, 3 Days since FC Höllviken Termination

I had an interview with Granit General Manager Marina Bystraya this week, and had a couple of offers from Gosport and Curzon Ashton which I duly turned down. I'm not sure how long I can keep doing that though, Joakim's getting very cranky.



1/1/17

2 Months, 1 Week, 4 Days since FC Höllviken Termination

Happy Christmas, New Year, etc. Gennardy Mardas landed the Granit job, the jammy ****, so I've enjoyed a festive period of being locked in the guest bedroom while Joakim has friends and family round and doesn't want me getting in the way. I was also offered an interview at FC United today.

My replies to these English clubs are still negative but they're getting less polite.



18/1/17

2 Months, 3 Weeks, 6 Days since FC Höllviken Termination

Do you know what no Football Manager will ever tell you about being out of a job? Do you want to know the big secret?

It's boring as ****.

I mean I suppose it's the same for most unemployed folk really, after a while you just want to get back into that routine, you're sick of being at home/Joakim's house. All the days start to merge into one.

But ask a Football Manager how he felt between jobs and it's "Oh I spent time with my family and watched a bunch of football from countries you've never even heard of". Admit it you're all bored, that's why you jump at the chance to come back and be hated, picked apart and humiliated all over again.

On a related note I'm really ****ing bored of unemployment. It's been almost 3 months and I'm getting worried that I just won't be able to get another job abroad. I think I'm just seen as "Franjo, who took FC Höllviken down".

Maybe I'll get 1 more stab at a job in England and then be thrown on the pile with Dave Hockaday and Alan Curbishley. Maybe I'll become a PE Teacher. The cranky, bitter kind too. The kind that obviously wanted to make it as something else and so takes it out on the kids by teaching them bad cricket ball throwing technique so they'll never be any good.

Brackley, Bath & St Albans all phoned to see if I'd like an interview. I told them all to **** off. I'm not going to be your PE Teacher just yet.



22/1/17

3 Months since FC Höllviken Termination

It's the 3 month anniversary of the day I got sacked from Höllviken, and in something of a whirlwind, I found another open position, and they offered me an interview immediately.

Sport Clube Angrense are a third tier Portugese club based in the municipality of Angra do Heroismo (The Creek of Heroism. Seriously. What an insanely cool name for a place), which is located on the volcanic Island of Terceira in the Portugese archipelago of The Azores.

I'm basically interviewing to manage a team based in Hero Creek on Volcano Island in the middle of the Atlantic ****ing Ocean and my excitement has gone from zero to sixty very, very quickly.

They're about to start the relegation phase of their season after finishing 5th in the first phase (Don't worry, read the next update, I'll explain there).

I met the Chairman Miguel Borba this afternoon. I think it went fine but I've thought that after a couple of interviews in the last few months. I think I might just have an un-hireable look about me. Maybe it's the half-robot-face thing.



28/1/17

3 Months, 6 Days since FC Höllviken Termination

<Email>

From: Miguel Borba, Chairman of SC Angrense

Subject: Save Us Franjo, But Actually Do This Time
Our New League 101 (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 12.5)

Listen, I thought I'd just take a breather from this epic and relentlessly thrilling story to explain that the Portugese Championship is a confusing, confusing league for someone like myself who's used to very basic set ups such as the Premier League or EFL.

So with that in mind let me give a quick overview for those who, like myself, had never looked at the Portugese third tier before I took this job. Let this be your reference sheet if things get confusing.

The League initially works with 8 groups of 10 teams playing round-robins between themselves. The top 2 and bottom 8 sides of each group then proceed to the Promotion stage and Relegation stage respectively.

For Clarity, WE ARE HERE. The First Stage has ended and we are into the Relegation Stage.

During the Relegation stage, teams are mixed up and put into 8 groups of 8, and they start with 25% of the points that they accrued during the First Stage. The bottom 2 teams in each group are relegated and the 6th placed teams all go into the Relegation Playoffs.

During the playoffs the 8 teams pair off and play sort of a 2 legged quarter final, with the losing 4 teams getting relegated. The winners then go through to the second round of the playoffs where they pair off again and play sort of a 2 legged semi final, with the 2 losers getting relegated and the 2 winners staying up. Overall 22 out of 64 teams are relegated during the relegation stage.

And this bit doesn't apply to us, not yet at least, but just because I'm a thorough guy, in the Promotion stage you have 2 groups of 8 teams but they start on 0 points and the top team from each group gets promoted and qualifies for the Champions Playoff to determine the winner of the Championship. The 2nd place team in each group qualifies for the Promotion Playoff and the winner unsurprisingly gets promoted.

Does that make sense? Cool, it doesn't to me really either, but you know, "Learn by doing" and all that.

Actually I feel quite bad that this "mini-sode" doesn't have any impact on the story I'm telling, so here you go: I travel to Hero Creek on Volcano Island, rent a studio flat and adopt 2 cats, who I dub Meatloaf and Burnie (Not to be confused with Burrnie, the holding midfielder from Höllviken). Meatloaf because when he lies down he tucks his legs under his body and looks like a little brown meaty loaf of bread, and Burnie because as a darker cat he also looks like a meaty loaf of bread, but a burnt one.

There we go, I hope that quenches your thirst for story. I hope it sates your hunger for Narrative.

See you tomorrow for the start of our Angrense Adventure.
A New Day in Hero Creek (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep13)

I feel like I'm being microwaved. I've moved from snowy Southern Sweden to Volcano Island, which is a molten stone's throw away from the equator. The temperature difference is staggering. It's so hot that my whole flat is spinning, which only adds weight to my microwave simile.

Nevertheless nothing will get me down today. I'm back in a job, and without wanting to sound bitter about my Höllviken experience, I feel like I've got a fair shot at this one. For starters I've got a squad. I've not met them yet, i've only seen a list of names, but I did note that there was more than 11 of them. For another thing I'm taking over a club that's in a pretty good position and I get to handle every single Relegation Stage match.

Put simply, ain't nothing gonna break my stride. It's a new day here in Hero Creek and a chance to start over for everyone. I leave Meatloaf and Burnie sleeping at the foot of the bed and head out to meet the players and staff at Andrense's training base.

I decide to walk there and the sun blazes against the back of my neck the entire way. Despite only living about a mile away I'm exhausted by the time I arrive. This is going to take some getting used to.

I make my way inside, find my way to the dressing room and push open the door. A roar of celebration greets me, and I stand in the doorway stunned for a second, looking around at 20-odd beaming faces. Some of them stand and come over to shake my hand or pat me on the back, others just cheer and applaud. I'm so confused.

One of them, a short, weathered looking gentleman, pushes a phone into my hands as he ruffles my hair. ESPNFC.com is loaded on the phone's browser and the headline on the page reads "Franjo takes charge at Angrense". The article seems to be all about how SC Angrense have bagged the mastermind behind a tiny Swedish Club's triumph over a titanic top division club.

I laugh, both confused and relieved. This is who I am to Angrense. I'm not "Franjo: who took FC Höllviken down", I'm "Franjo: Giant Slayer". I'm "Franjo: Hero of the Little Man, Vanquisher of Top Tier Bullies". I'm not sure how much they know about the rest of my Höllviken stint but I'm certainly not going to bring it up.

We head out for the first training session under my regime. I'm joined by Miguel Borba, club Chairman, and Roger Mendes, my new assistant manager. Maybe I just miss Joakim but Roger doesn't exactly scream "Brilliant Assistant". He may be handy but I don't think I'd trust him to help me make the big decisions.

Training goes brilliantly. I feel like I've been watching football being played in slow motion for the last few months. These players are fantastic. I put together a preliminary plan for our first match against Carapinheirense on the 12th of February:

Délcio Azevedo looks like my best goalkeeper. At only 5'9" he's a little short for a stormtrooper but he has decent communication, handling, reflxes and there's barely any quality that lets him down apart from perhaps his eccentricity. Also I suspect his name translates as "Delicious Avocado", but I'm still waiting on confirmation.

Vitor Miranda will be our defensive right back. He's very well rounded (And you must know by now how much I love rounded players) and apart from being a little slow there aren't any parts of his game that I'm worried about.

Miguel Oliveira looks like he'll be a solid centre back with the added benefit that he looks quite comfortable on the ball. I'll keep that in mind if I ever want us to play out from the back.

Ivan Santos is a very nice upgrade on Simon Henningsson. He's a mountain of a man who's not actually any slower than the rest of my defence, so that's good. Again, he's also fairly comfortable on the ball.

Oh Captain my Captain. Our skipper Gonçalo Valadão as it turns out is the short, weathered looking gentleman who handed me the phone when I arrived. In contrast to the rest of the players you've seen so far Valadão has an achilles heel: he's pretty slow and not a great athlete. At 35 however I'm willing to look past that. I won't be looking for fireworks, just for him to tidy up on the left hand side and lead by example with his mouth-watering mental attributes. He's also right footed and a natural right back, but I have faith that he'll do a job on the left.

Jaime Seidi will be our holding man. It was a toss up between him and Oliveira, but as the more technically gifted of the pair he gets the nod. He does look excellent. Determination, Team Work and Work Rate are the first things I look at and he's got no problems in that area. Or any area really.

Next to him will be Benjamim, who I think would have a good shot at winning the "Most Average Player in the World" award. And I mean that in a good way, look at all those 10's. He's fairly physically imposing and will be on box to box duty because of his unbelievable roundedness.

Marco Aurélio looks like a good player on the right wing. Chances are he'll swap between the right and left because he'd do a decent job cutting in on his right and having a shot as well as being an out and out winger.

Jordanes Medeiros is a skilful player. He's OK mentally and physically but technically he's one of our best. He'll do a good job as an advanced playmaker, making things happen and carving out chances with his good dribbling and passing. He's already agreed to join Waasland-Beveren at the end of the season which is a shame, but we've still got him for 5 months.

Pedro Aguiar is my vice captain. Like Aurélio he's adept on the left and right and so will most likely be swapped between them, and what he lacks in pace he makes up for in his excellent mentals and his unexpectedly good aerial presence. He's our very own Kevin Kilbane. In fact I'm calling him Kevin.

Finally in this preliminary lineup is Cristiano Magina, unsurprisingly the club's top scorer this season. He's a very very smart player, pretty solid physically and for what strikers need he's good technically too.

Our tactical plan will start out as a very simple and slightly asymmetrical 4-2-3-1 and we'll tweak it as we go.

As pleased as I am with the squad, I do identify a couple of weaknesses. Valadão, our captain, should do a fine job at left back but he is still 35, right footed and first and foremost a right back, so I wouldn't mind having a good natural left back to understudy.

Our goalkeeper Azevedo and central midfielder Benjamim are good, but not great. It would be nice to bring in replacements but they won't be priorities. We could also do with a third striker to give us a bit of depth up there. The long-term priority will probably be finding a suitable replacement for the outgoing Medeiros. Lastly the team in general lacks a bit of pace, so that's something to keep in mind when deciding who to sign.

With all that in mind, I get straight on the phone:

"Alex! It's Franjo... Franjo... I was your... penalties... nevermind. I'd like to find out how attached you are to some of your players".
The Mid-Season Break (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep14)

I haggle with Alex for a while over the prices of several of my former players. I have around £8k to spend on transfers which is a nice little luxury. I'm instantly put off by his valuation of Left Back Tobias Malm, as he wants close to £15k.

In all honesty Malm never lived up to my expectations in Sweden so I'm not too gutted. We agree that £1k will be enough to prise away both my former roommate Joakim:

And the man with the funkiest name in all of Sweden, Mo Dizzle:

But after speaking to them both they seem unwilling to relocate from Sweden to Volcano Island. I'm disappointed but to be fair Mo would've only been a squad player and I just wanted Joakim to rejoin me as my assistant. As I said to my new assistant Roger upon meeting him: "Let's face it Roger, you're no Joakim". He looked very confused.

I do however offer a contract to young Centre Back Stefan Andersson, who I signed for Höllviken and who is on a youth contract so can move for free. He accepts and I fly him out immediately.

My coaches don't think much of Stefan but I've seen a lot of potential in him. He came into our Höllviken side and helped steady the ship towards the end with solid performances at the tender age of 16. He'll go into our Under 19's for now and I'm interested to see how he develops.

I decide to take my eyes away from Höllviken. It's a shame that Joakim and Mo won't be joining me but it's time to look at other targets. I look over the Stats from the first stage of our division, the PT Championship, to see who's impressed at this level so far this season. Enter Gonçalo Reyes:

He's been playing very well so far this year for Operário Lagoa, who are through to the Relegation stage, so I splash out £1.5k to bring him in. He's a very rounded midfielder and can make things happen in the final third. He'll be a good option for Benjamim's position or I may bring him in for "easier" home games as a more attacking alternative to Jaime Seidi. I also name him "Hurley" for short after Hugo Reyes, as I'm one of the minority that still likes the TV show Lost even after seeing the ending.

Over the first few days as I run around completing the Andersson and Hurley deals I notice that there is significant interest (and quite a lot of it from larger Portugese clubs) in one of our young players whose contract is up in the Summer:

Rúben Miranda is a solid defensive midfield prospect and will definitely have a part to play in my team so I quickly tie him down with a £200 per week deal. It's probably more than I should pay a player who I don't see being in the first team right now but I am very excited about how good he can become. I also offer new contracts to my preliminary starting 11 as they will all have a part to play and all of their contracts seem to be up in 5 months time too.

February 1st rolls around and brings with it our first friendly of the mid-season break. We travel to Vitória do Pico, an amateur side not that much smaller than us, and start with the preliminary lineup I selected when I first arrived. We hammer them with shots and we play some good football, eventually taking a 3-1 win. Miguel Oliveira, our starting centre back, opened the scoring with a good header before a 20 yard thunderbolt from substitute and resident utility man João Borges, who I saw in my research shares his name with SCA's first captain, who scored in our very first match in 1929:

And then a penalty won and tucked away by back up Striker Wilson Dias:

And finally, Vitória's Macedo ruined our clean sheet by scoring a nice volley from just inside the area.

Our next and final friendly is a home game against Lyngby, a Danish Superliga club, and we start with the players who came on as subs in the first friendly. It's a risky decision to play the B team as Lyngby are a much bigger side but I want to see everyone before our first competitive match next week, so I also include the other players that I haven't seen yet on the bench, including Stefan Andersson.

We lose 3-0 to an Ojo header, a Danilo close range shot and a well worked goal finished by Kjaer in the dying seconds. On the plus side it was a very even game and we actually made the best chances, but finishing them was a problem. I have doubts that Dias, the back up striker who came on to score in the first friendly, is capable of leading the line on his own against decent opposition as he's best suited to being a pest in the defensive forward role and probably isn't technical enough to be a lone striker.

I regret nothing though. The whole squad's fitness takes a boost and I get an idea of who's ready and who's not. I definitely need another striker, but also another left back as Reis was disappointing and doesn't look very good in general.

Sadly Stefan Andersson puts in a slightly below average performance after coming on but he still needs time.

And so with only a week to go before our first competitive match I start putting out feelers for our back up left back and striker. It doesn't take long to identify 2 men who fit the bill: Hélder Arruda, a striker who's scored 9 goals in 21 games for fellow PT Championship side Praiense, who have made it into the Promotion Stage:

And Chileno, a solid looking left back from Hurley's former side Operário Lagoa, who are on our level in the relegation stage.

I agree fees with Praiense and Lagoa of £1k and £500 respectively, and enter talks with both players. I offer Arruda a decent contract that should tempt him away, and then go to talk to Chileno. It's at this point that my chickens come home to roost: it seems that in offering my first team new contracts and offering Arruda a decent deal, I've used all of the money available to me and Miguel Borba will only allow me £45 per week to offer to Chileno. I apologise to him and his agent, and then withdraw our bid. I'm slightly annoyed, but never mind. We'll go back for him later.

Arruda's transfer goes through the following day, so I think I'm done transfer-wise for the time being. There's just the small matter of winning matches to attend to now.
Nuno (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 14.5)

Here's a fun thought: I'd better not fuck this job up. If I manage to take Angrense down I may find that even the tiny English clubs don't want me. I may have to turn to...the Scottish Premier League. I shudder involuntarily, then shake it off. There can be no room for that kind of thinking today. Today is the day we put down a marker: Franjo has arrived in the Portugese Championship. I've come here to sign FC Höllviken players and win football matches. And I'm all out of willing Höllviken players.

Our Relegation stage saga kicks off against Carapinheirense, who finished dead last in their First Phase group and will start on 3 points, which puts them 7th, but joint last, in our group. We are 3rd with 6 points so we really should be starting with a win here.

I head down to Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo early and sit high in the main stand. The Carapinheirense match won't kick off for a good 6 hours. I imagine the players, in formation ready for kick off. I imagine the fans, filling the stands and singing their hearts out. I imagine myself, stood on the touchline: watching, waiting, studying.

The smell of freshly cut grass cuts through the fantasy. I look down to see that the groundsman has started to give the grass a final trim before the match. He spots me looking down at him. I smile and nod. "It's looking good" I call out. Without really acknowledging me he turns back around and continues cutting the grass. He must not have heard me, I'm quite far away up here.

I go down to the pitch to properly introduce myself. I want to be a Manager of the people. The truly great Managers know their clubs inside and out. They know the groundsmen, the tea ladies, everybody. That's how you build a team beyond a team.

"Olá" I say enthusiastically once I'm in earshot. He looks up from his mower to stare blankly at me. He's an odd looking man up close, with thin grey hair only covering parts of his head. He has an incredibly elongated, droopy face, like all of his features are struggling under twice as much gravity as everyone else, and his skin has the look of bad fake leather. I get the feeling he's either very very old or he's spent his entire life baking in the hot Terceira sun. Or both I suppose. He lowers his head and continues to mow.

"O-Olá?" I stammer, far less confidently than before. His head stays down but I get a grunt for my trouble. "FRAN-JO" I say loudly and slowly, in that incredibly disrespectful way that we English talk to the rest of the World. "NAME... OF... YOU?" I catch myself that time and feel a pang of shame, I sound like Steve bloody McClaren. He looks up at me cautiously wearing a grimace, as if he doesn't like my smell.

"Nuno" he grunts in a low, gravelly voice. I smile and nod. Manager of the people. "Manager?" He enquires.

"Yes" I mumble, suddenly doubly ashamed now that I know he speaks at least some English. He begins to laugh as he looks back down to his mower.

"Um gerente Inglês!" He cries. "Eles contratou um gerente Inglês!" His laugh builds momentum as he and the mower trundle away across the pitch and their sound fades.

What a strange bloke. I really could do with a phrase book. I've picked up "Olá" but after that I'm pretty stuck for Portugese. And I can't keeping talking in brolly-wally, I'll be laughed out of every job I get.

I can feel that it's starting to rain. I turn up the collar on my trusty grey coat and head back down the tunnel. It's time to get ready for our first match.
The Magina Vonologues (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep15)

“I just want to see your natural games today” I announce assertively in front of the dressing room full of players. Roger is translating for me as I speak. “Conditions are awful out there. It’s windy and it’s chucking it down with rain, so just show me what you can do”. I pause to give Roger a chance to catch up, and then smile widely, looking around at them all. “Don’t overthink it” I wink.

I stride out of the tunnel and towards the dugout, using my trusty grey coat to shield me from the sideways rain. There must be a couple of hundred fans here at least. It’s time to make a good impression.

I pass by 2 fans stood together in the front row. “VAMOS HERÓIS!” They cry, upon seeing me.* I turn to them and smile. I like it. I have noticed in my first couple of weeks that the club doesn’t really have a nickname. We’re just referred to as Angrense. But yes, we are The Heroes of Hero Creek. “VAMOS HERÓIS!” I echo back to them, raising a triumphant fist into the air. The crowd in earshot cheer and begin to sing the phrase in unison.

We start quickly: in the 4th minute Carapinheirense’s midfield seems to disintegrate in the rain and Kevin takes advantage, making an easy 15 yard pass forwards towards Magina. The striker jinks around a defender and hits a shot towards the near top corner, but their keeper Igor is on his toes and catches the ball with relative ease.

In the 17th minute Vitor Miranda hoofs a ball forward on the volley and Magina brings it down on his chest. He shimmies once again around a defender on the right wing and drills a low cross in to Medeiros 10 yards out. Medeiros takes a touch and then hammers it past the keeper into the far top corner. I leap to my feet, beaming from ear to ear. This is more like it! This is proper football! A fantastic start and it looks like there’s more to come.

I’ve not even sat back down before the ball comes forward again. Seidi passes to Kevin, who’s 20 yards out. He plays a fantastic ball through the left hand channel and Medeiros has got the beating of his marker Soro for pace, so much so that Soro trips him and gives away a blatant penalty.

Now I don’t want to brag, but back in Vellinge we had an excellent penalty scoring record, so naturally I’m practically celebrating our 2-0 lead already. Aurelio steps up, picks his spot, puts it straight down the middle, and Igor parries it away. 1-0 it stays.

With 10 minutes to go before half time, the game has died down significantly. I tell the team to control the game, to push slightly further forward and to get in Carapinheirense’s faces. I don’t want to full on attack this weaker side and leave us open to the counter attack, but control should make us start theatening them again at least.

4 minutes from the break we win a free kick 20 yards out in a very slightly left-of-central position. Valadão the skipper steps up. He curls the ball over the wall and as far into the top corner as it is possible to go. 2-0! It’s a superb effort and that’s surely enough to kill the game.

Half time comes around and I gather the team in the dressing room before showering praise onto them. But for the grace of Igor it would be 3-0! They were electric at times this half and if we play like that every match we are in for an extremely comfortable few months.

Just over 10 minutes after half time Carapinheirense push forward on the counter attack. A Namora through ball catches Oliveira flat footed and Bacurim squeezes into the area behind him. He shoots low to the right but Azevedo gets down brilliantly to push it behind. The corner comes to nothing.

Just 2 minutes later Cristiano Magina, who I am starting to think the absolute world of, picks the ball up 40 yards out, dribbles expertly past 2 defenders and lets fly from 25 yards. His shot goes wide to the right, but he gets a standing ovation from me nevertheless. “GOOD EFFORT MY SON” I bellow into the wind and rain. “MORE OF THAT”.

With half an hour to go I decide to make a defensive change: Benjamim, our central midfielder, is replaced by Rúben Miranda, who drops back alongside Seidi in a defensive midfield partnership.

15 minutes later Magina goes down and stays down after a heavy challenge. My heart sinks. Please no. Please, please no. He looks like he might be able to play on but I bring him off as a precaution. Arruda comes on for his debut, but the last 15 minutes goes by in the blink of an eye.

We were dominant today. Utterly, utterly dominant. But I’m not happy. I enjoyed Magina’s jinking run and long shot combo but we need to be making more quality chances like we did for the first goal. This could have been more comfortable and I’ll be tinkering to try to make amends in future, but for now we’ve picked up an opening day win, and I suppose that’ll do.



*”Vamos Heróis” translates to “Come on Heroes”, which was suggested by u/TooMuchChaos2 and u/Haevollgutoder on reddit, cheers guys! VAMOS HERÓIS!
What Does Kevin Do? (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep16)

Midweek games: A chance to build momentum? Or a surefire way to obliterate your team's fitness? I think largely it depends on your perspective, which is going to be determined by whether you win or lose. If you win, you'll feel like any fatigue caused is negligible: a necessary byproduct on the road to victory. Whereas if you lose you'll feel like the match was an unnecessary obstacle scheduled only to annoy you and destroy your squad.

So let's find out what this match is to us shall we?

Tonight we travel to the municipality of Torres Vedras, just North of Lisbon, and Campos Manuel Marques, home of Torreense. They sit at 5th place in the PT Championship, having started on 6 points like us, but having lost 2-0 to Sporting Ideal in their first match. We're 2nd on 9 points, however I am well aware that we started with a good points advantage and possibly the easiest game of our season, so we won't be getting ahead of ourselves.

It occurs to me during the flight over to mainland Portugal that we may see a major discrepancy between our home and away form at this club. Whoever is travelling for our matches is in for a long, long journey over the Atlantic. I think we'd better do everything we can to make Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo a fortress.

16 pre game

We stay pretty much unchanged from the first match, except that Magina is out (Mercifully only for a couple of days) so Arruda makes his full debut up front.

16 torreense formations

Nearly quarter of an hour into the match, Medeiros picks the ball up on the half way line, plays a one-two with Kevin just to his left, then dribbles forward and around a defender and shoots from the edge of the area, just putting the ball wide to the right. I'm torn on whether I should tell him and Magina (When fit) to stop being so ambitious with their shooting, or whether I should just leave them to it, it seems to be their natural game. It's how they want to play. Watching those 2 is like watching a 16 year old Wayne Rooney, before the English public and media did what they do so well: Ruined him.

After half an hour with the match still deadlocked, I decide to make that decision properly another time. There is no Magina in the squad today so Medeiros can step in line. We will control play and we will work the ball into the box as a team.

Half time comes and goes without incident. In all honestly this isn't a very exciting match.

7 minutes after the break, Vitor Miranda picks out Aurélio on the right wing, but Torreense's left back Burguette slides in to knock the ball away. It bounces down the line for us though and Medeiros picks it up on the right wing. He chips it in towards the runner in the area, IT'S ARRUDA! ARRUDA SCORES! I'm on my feet and punching the air, a full debut goal for our new striker: a nice volley with his instep.

"A nice signing", I think to myself, "and well worked by Medeiros". I smile smugly. Roger sees me and gives me that frown-with-a-raised-eyebrow look that smart-arses often do. But Roger's cynicism can't hurt me now. Not while I'm swaddled in this warm, soft blanket of vindication.

5 minutes later a decent Torreense passing move ends with Esgaio hitting a looping shot from the edge of the area which hits the angle and bounces away. It takes less than a minute more however for Burguette to hoof the ball forward from the half way line. Over our striker it goes, over the midfield, and crucially over 6'4" centre back Ivan Santos. Bonifácio takes the ball down unopposed and places it into the bottom corner. Goodbye vindication blanket. Hello again Roger. Put your eyebrow down you dick.

With 18 minutes to go Valadão stands over the ball 25 yards out. We have a direct free kick in a central position. Surely this is the moment. "VAMOS CAPITÃO", I shout, making full use of the teachings of my brand new Portuguese phrase book. Valadão smashes it over the wall, and off the bar. I groan as the ball bounces away and is cleared.

The 90 minutes are up and the referee signals for 2 minutes of injury time. I've not made a substitution or even a tactical change since the first half. The game is on a knife edge and I don't want to rock the boat.

With 40 seconds to go in injury time, Torreense come forward. My heart is in my mouth. They work the ball around well, and Pereira picks it up 25 yards out. He hits a hopeful shot, but Azevedo catches it easily. I breathe a sigh of relief.

Azevedo drops the ball and looks up for options, before hoofing it forward towards Kevin. Kevin nods it on but a Torreense defender boots it away again. Now Valadão gets the ball and hoofs it forward again. There are 15 seconds to go. Arruda with his back to goal nods it down to Kevin, who shimmies around a defender, avoiding his challenge.

He looks up and time seems to stand still. What does Kevin do? He's about 25 yards out from goal but defenders would surely block any attempt at a shot. He's got Arruda right in front of him with 2 Torreense players marking him out. He's got Aurélio in the centre, again marked out. And he's got the runner on the far side, Benjamim. He isn't marked as he's only just arriving and I don't think Torreense have spotted him, but it would require a truly needle-threading pass to find him through the tiny gap in the wall of Torreense players. So what does Kevin do?

Kevin threads the fucking needle.

Benjamim shoots...AND SCORES! He wellies it from the edge of the area into the left hand side of the net! I do a Klopp-esque run onto the pitch to join in the celebrations, my vindication blanket attached to my shoulders and flying proudly behind me like a cape! "VAMOS HERÓIS!" I cry, before the players echo my words.

It's a weird atmosphere to be honest. Pretty much dead silence. By the looks of it, our supporters don't really travel, and I can't blame them don't get me wrong, but there are 2 supporters of ours cheering and screaming amongst a sea of over 500 home fans. I did notice that Carapinheirense had brought a single lonely fan to our game on Saturday, where nearly 300 of ours turned out, so maybe no fans travel to Volcano Island either.

Nevertheless what an incredible ending to a so-so match. Benjamim, the unlikely hero with the goal. But I'll learn from this match. We were not good value for the win. It could've easily been Torreense celebrating the 3 points.

16 torreense post game

Negatives? Our centre backs with a combined height of nearly 12 and a half foot were done by a hoofed ball over the top, and in general we looked sluggish and static off the ball, letting Torreense play around us.

Positives? The team showed a never say die attitude and didn't stop fighting. A good goal from Benjamim, great assists from Medeiros and Kevin, and a full debut goal for Arruda. Plus, even though he hit he bar today, O Capitão is excellent at taking free kicks and that's a big plus.

So there you are, midweek games are fine. Sure, they knacker your squad, especially if you make the questionable decision not to bring on any substitutes at all. But they build momentum, and we've now got momentum in abundance.
The Tagus Piranhas (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep17)

"We've won 2 in 2! We've started brilliantly!" I bark stubbornly.

"You fail soon" replies Nuno lazily, without looking at me. "Aurélio never misses penalty, and then you come, Gerente Inglês, and..." he blows a raspberry with his mouth. I'm growing increasingly frustrated with Nuno. I don't know why I've showed up early at Estádio Municipal again.

"Are you suggesting that my presence as an Englishman was the reason that Aurélio missed his penalty against Carapinheirense last week?" I ask, exasperated.

"He make you feel at home, Inglês" he says offhandedly. It's annoying because he's one of these people who can just effortlessly piss you off. There's no malice in his tone but he just winds you up by indifferently pressing your buttons. I turn and start to walk away, leaving him to finish cutting the grass. "You fail soon, Inglês" he calls after me.

Probably the most annoying thing is that he might have a point. We play Vilafranquense later today, a side from Vila Franca de Xira, a municipality on the Tagus River. They're known as the "Piranhas do Tejo", or the "Tagus Piranhas", which makes me a tiny bit jealous.

The Tagus Piranhas are 3rd on 10 points and we're now 2nd on 12 points, but this is the most nervous I've felt before an Angrense match so far. We won't be the only in-form team playing on this shoddily cut grass today.

I'll be making minimal changes for the match. We are still in good form after all. Jaime Seidi has picked up a one game suspension after his yellow card against Torreense took his tally to 5 for the season, so young Rúben "Rúby" Miranda takes his place in the holding role.

I also take my time deliberating whether to bring the fit again Cristiano Magina back into the fold in place of Arruda, who of course scored on his full debut in Magina's absence. It's a toss up but I opt for Magina on the grounds that he's more familiar with the squad and is our top scorer this season.

Within 2 minutes Os Heróis are threatening: Rúby brings the ball forward into Vilafranquense's half and plays it out to Kevin on the left wing. With a brilliant piece of skill Kevin takes the ball around 1 man and then splits the defence with a through ball. Magina runs onto it but his near post shot is saved by Martins.

After 25 minutes we've had a few shots, but not good ones. I take the steps that I've taken in both other games so far: Control the play, work the ball into the box.

The first half is frustratingly dull and we go in for half time deadlocked. "We can win this game" I tell the players, via Roger. "We've had the only good chance, they've had nothing. Keep your chins up and go and nick us a goal."

7 minutes into the 2nd half a corner is cleared by big Ivan Santos, but the ball is whipped back in from the right wing. It's impossible to tell who in the penalty area scrum it actually deflects off but eventually it's laid off to Rosado, who tucks it home under Azevedo.

As much as this seems like bad news, I'm weirdly OK with it. I know that this team are fighters, I learned that in Torreense, but until now I've not seen how they react when they go behind. I'm intreagued to see how the handle it, situations like this can give a Manager vital insight into his team.

With half an hour to go I decide to press our home advantage. I make a double substitution, bringing on Hurley for his debut and Reis for his first appearance under my stewardship. The players to make way are Rúby and Vitor Miranda and we switch to a conventional 4-2-3-1 with Valadão as a defensive wing back on the right, Reis as an attacking wing back on the left and Hurley as an attacking central midfielder next to Benjamim.

10 minutes later, Magina picks up an injury. I really hope I haven't got the Portugese equivalent of Daniel Sturridge on my hands. He seems OK to play on but like in the first match I bring on Arruda as a precaution.

With 15 minutes to go I tell the team to attack and to play with some fluidity, but at this point it's been about 75 minutes of football since we seriously threatened Vilafranquense and I'm losing hope.

With under 10 minutes to go a Vilafranquense corner is cleared only as far as Ely, whose long range shot reflects off his teammate Esteves and wrong-foots Azevedo as it trickles into the far corner. The goal doesn't count as Estevez is ruled offside but to be honest that doesn't lift my spirits much.

I've said before that Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo needs to be our fortress. Results like today: Gutless 1-0 losses against any team, even the good ones like Vilafranquense, are unacceptable. We have such a huge home advantage, probably one of the biggest home advantages in club football, such is our geographical isolation from the rest of our league. Similarly we have one of the worst away disadvantages, and that's why we need to get something out of each and every home game.

The worst part is that I know Nuno, wherever he is, is looking at this result and giving me a great big telepathic "I told you so" in Portugese.
Project: Meatloaf - Part 1 (Franjo: A Journeyman Story Mini-sode 17.5)

"What do you think?" I ask. My face scrunches up slightly as I try to come up with an answer to the question that's been plaguing me all weekend. "I mean, I know there wasn't much that we could've done about their goal... to be fair it was a good finish and we did initially defend the corner well, but..." I let out a sigh. "I don't know. Why were we so ineffective?"

Burnie stares blankly back at me from my lap, his little feline head cocked slightly to one side. "You're not much help you know mate", I tell him sympathetically. I scratch him behind the ear and pick him up to put him on the floor so I can get up. I need to think, and to think I need to walk.

I've watched Saturday's match too many times now and the answer's in my head somewhere. I just need to filter out the shit and find it. Why did we lose? We were nothing like the team I saw in the first 2 matches. The team that dominated and fought and scared the life out of the opposition going forwards.

I throw on my trusty grey coat and open the door of my flat, intending to go for a walk, when I hear hissing and yowling: The telltale sounds of a cat fight. The kind with actual cats. I turn around to see my that my other cat, Meatloaf, is attacking Burnie. Meatloaf is smaller, scrawnier, scrappier and obviously more insecure than his brother. He's pinned Burnie down and he's biting and scratching him.

But just then something clicks. Burnie is crouched, defensive, and still. He looks petrified. He's showing Meatloaf too much respect. If he wanted to he could throw the little bastard off and win the fight, but he won't. Meatloaf is offensive and dominant... he's a dick, but he's winning.

I slam the door, which shocks Meatloaf into running away, and I throw my trusty grey coat onto the bed, unsure of why I put it on in the first place as it's intolerably warm here on Volcano Island.

I have work to do. In our last match against Vilafranquense, even though we had the home advantage we were timid and careful. Almost petrified. We should have been the aggressor. We should have taken the game to Vilafranquense. We were Burnie. We should have been Meatloaf.

Next weekend we play Associação Naval 1° de Maio, or Naval for short. We're away but they're a team we should be beating, so I decide to adjust my tactics. We'll make a new system and try it on them.

It's time for Project: Meatloaf
Project: Meatloaf - Part 2 (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 17.5.5)

I think for a while. We could set up Project: Meatloaf to attack the opposition. We could go all out aggressor, but I'm not convinced we have the squad for it.

If we break it down, to attack effectively you need to turn the ball over high up the pitch. To win the ball high up you need a high defensive line. To have a high line you need pacey defenders to minimise the threat of the opposition counter attacking with long passes into the space you leave behind. Our defenders are slow. They're good, don't get me wrong, but too slow to play in an attacking system as they'd be incredibly vulnerable to the counter.

If we tried to attack with a deep line to make up for our defenders' lack of pace we'd leave a massive amount of space between defence and midfield, which would cripple us both defensively and offensively. In short, all out attack isn't really an option with the players we currently have. So control it is. We'll control the game, raising the back line slightly but not too much.

I never mentioned this to you, but when I first arrived in Hero Creek my first instinct was to set us up to play with a back 3. I saw the 4 quality centre backs at our disposal (I don't think you've even met one of them yet) and thought we'd better use as many of them as we can. But to do that we'd need either wing backs or wide midfielders that will track back, as playing with a defensive back 5 would leave us short going forward, and we don't really have either. I'm sure Kevin and Aurélio would give it a go if I asked them but I'd rather leave them further upfield. Plus, we have 2 very solid full backs, one of whom is our captain, so I decided on a back 4 with a holding man instead.

In the system we've used so far, which we'll call Heróis Original, our holding men, especially Jaime Seidi, have been excellent. Crucial. They've started almost every single attack by bringing the ball into the opposition half and playing it out to one of the more offensive players. The holding man role has so far worked sort of like a quarterback for us. But against weaker, more defensive opposition I think Benjamim can handle the defensive dirty work and bring the ball forward on his own.

In dropping the holding man we'll free up another attacker, so we'll have Hurley as an attacking central midfielder next to Benjamim in the interest of having more bodies pushing into the final third. This was actually my original plan with Hurley anyway and it seems like a good time to give it a try. I was also unsure about Benjamim when I took over but he's impressed me in my first few games. He's a jack-of-all-trades with the right attitude and you can never have too many players like him. And a last minute winner never harms your reputation does it?

Our wingers are an interesting problem to solve. When I made Heróis Original I worried that playing Kevin as an inside forward, while giving my fullbacks no attacking responsibility whatsoever due to their lack of athleticism, would leave us lacking width, especially on the left. Eventually I plan to bring in a quicker left wing back which should fix the problem but that won't be happening this transfer window. And besides, I'm still very happy to have O Capitão on the left for now.

Ironically, despite my initial concerns I think Kevin's probably been our best player so far. In terms of chance creation he's been excellent. If we ever manage to work the ball into the box to create a good goalscoring chance you can bet that Kevin's played a major part in the move.

I've been less thrilled with Aurélio. I'll be completely and totally honest with you: I couldn't care less that he missed that penalty against Carapinheirense. We won 2-0 and that's all that matters. It's his overall involvement so far that bothers me. It probably doesn't help my opinion of him that he's so easily comparable to Kevin, who's been as good as he has, but Aurélio just hasn't created much for us so far. In Project: Meatloaf Kevin and Aurélio will be encouraged to swap wings every now and then. In addition to keeping the opposition defence on their toes it'll also give me a chance to see if Aurélio can play better on the left. Is the problem him? Or is it the right winger role that I put into Heróis Original?

Medeiros and Magina will keep their positions and their roles. They're both such exciting players; the kind of players that make you get up out of your seat whenever they get the ball, even if they're in their own half. Plus, they're the kind of players that the opposition will lie awake before matches worrying about.

Medeiros has given me no reason to doubt his ability to create from any area of the pitch, and he's popped up with a goal too. Magina has made some brilliant runs both on and off the ball, and has laid on a goal for Medeiros, but has had a frustrating start to my tenure with no goals and 2 injuries so far. Like Medeiros though, I have no doubts about his ability at the minute and I'm happy with his back up in Hélder Arruda if he does turn out to be an injury prone player.

We'll also work the ball into the box because we have far more passing ability amongst our attackers than speed or aerial presence.

So what we've got is a pretty simple 4-2-3-1 on control fluid, working the ball into the box. Underwhelming? Perhaps. "A 4-2-3-1 Wide, Franjo! How adventurous!" Fine. But it can't always be "Let's chuck a goalkeeper up front". Sometimes you just need to tweak what you've got to get the best out of your players and the worst out of the opposition's. Anyway, it's not about the formation. It's about the system. Fluidity is essential to Project: Meatloaf. Getting forward in numbers is essential. You could argue that it's a better system than Heróis Original, or a riskier one, but to be honest it's just slightly adjusted to rebalance us towards attack against more defensive sides.

Our defence is solid, I have faith that our front 4 will do fine, although I'll be keeping an eye on Aurélio's contribution, but everything will hinge on our central midfield pairing and I'll be keeping a close eye on the battle between them and their opposition numbers.

One thing's for sure: our match at Naval will be an interesting one.
Project: Meatloaf in Action (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep18)

Have I got everything I need? Probably not. I hate flying. Not because of any kind of irrational fear; I've seen all the statistics, like that you're more likely to fall off a flaming rollercoaster into a Sarlacc than be involved in a plane crash or whatever it is. No, my dislike of flying stems from the fact that more often than not, you have to go from an airport. Airports are the worst.

We're flying to Figueira da Foz on the West coast of mainland Portugal for our match against Naval tonight and I need to leave soon, the team bus from Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo leaves in just over half an hour. As I head towards the door I see Meatloaf and Burnie both laid at the foot of my bed, looking up at me with cautious intrigue.

"I hope we make you proud today mate" I smile at Meatloaf, "and Project: Burnie is in the works!" I reassure Burnie, before stepping outside and closing the door behind me. I set off walking fast. I know the chances that they'll leave for Lajes Field Airport without their Manager on the bus are slim but I don't want to hold us up. I don't even stop to stroke the Golden Retriever I see sat in the car park of my building, which for me is quite something.

I arrive in time and our knackered old team bus trundles its way to Lajes Field. Somehow even though we get there 3 hours early and it's the tiniest airport I've ever seen, we still have to run to board our flight. And then run again after they change which gate we're leaving from. I hate airports so much.

To be fair, the trip over to Figueira da Foz goes pretty seamlessly and we arrive at José Bento Pessoa, Naval's ground, in pretty high spirits. Naval are currently occupying the relegation playoff spot in our group with 7 points. They've lost 2 and won 1 so far so they might be a decent side to pick our form back up against. Despite our loss against Vilafranquense we sit in a respectable 3rd place with 12 points.

I address the team in the changing room before the match "Is everyone clear on their jobs?" Grunts and nods from the players. My heart's pounding, I'm excited to see Project: Meatloaf in action today. I turn to Hurley, who's not started a match before today. "Hurley, compreendo?" He nods, but he looks nervous.

"Is it true that you named this system after your cat?" Interjects a smirking Roger.

"VAMOS HERÓIS!" I cry as I turn and walk down the tunnel.

We start well, with our first good chance coming just over 10 minutes in: Naval's Oliveira heads a cross clear of the box and Benjamim takes it down well. He squares it for Hurley, who passes it on first time for Kevin. He's 10 yards out on the left and if he shoots left footed I think he scores, but he goes with his right and drags his shot into the side netting.

10 minutes later we're still threatening. Vitor Miranda plays a lofted pass down the right wing for Medeiros, who chests it down and lays it off for Aurélio. Aurélio thinks about the cross but instead plays it back inside for Medeiros. He lays it off for Magina, who slots the ball into the bottom left corner. 22 minutes in and we've scored a good team goal, that's what I want to see. It's not only a good move, it's also a smart one. I can tell the players are enjoying using their brains in this fluid style, I can see their cogs turning. It's great for Magina to get his first goal under my regime too, the relief on his face is clear. Project: Meatloaf is paying dividends so far.

Just 2 minutes later we're at it again. You wouldn't know who the home side is here, Naval aren't getting a sniff. Medeiros plays a good cross into the 6 yard box and it's headed away by Ildefonso. Fred Jesus, a man whose parents I respect very much for their choice of name, tries to head the ball further clear but can only put it into space on the left wing. Hurley goes to pick it up and puts an in-swinging cross into a dangerous position. So dangerous in fact that it nearly flies into the top right hand corner and Naval keeper João Tiago has to claw it out, but the ball only falls a couple of yards out for a confident looking Magina to dink back into the net. 2-0 and we are looking as excellent as I've seen us.

At half time the dressing room is cheerful. There's a real buzz and the players really seem to be enjoying themselves.

"Excellent", I say to them through a toothy smile, "You've played well so far." For the 2nd half we're going back to Heróis Original. We've got a good lead but we can't get cocky, nor can we sit back and invite them on. We'll be our usual standard selves and we'll utilise Hurley in the holding man role.

The first 20 minutes is quiet and I'm fine with that. Maybe one day when my team has wrapped up the La Liga title with weeks to spare I'll try and drub some fools, but for now 3 points is all I want, and killing games off with a 2-0 lead is an excellent way of wrapping up 3 points.

I bring off Kevin, who's been quiet today, and bring on Amonike, who I'm quietly confident in. His defining moment for me so far was a 30 yard defence splitting pass in our first friendly that lead to a goal. Since our wingers are no longer swapping I station Amonike on the right where he's most comfortable and put Aurélio on the left.

Just a couple of minutes later our Oliveira takes a short free kick from just inside the Naval half and passes it to Medeiros. Medeiros dribbles down the right wing and passes to Amonike a few feet away, who holds the ball up, draws away 2 defenders and lays it back for Medeiros. From there he drills a dangerous looking cross along the ground towards the 6 yard box that deflects off the outstretched foot of Ildefonso and bounces past the keeper to make it 3-0.

With 15 minutes to go I replace Hurley and Medeiros with Rúby and Seidi, swapping us to a more withdrawn 4-2-3-1 with 2 holding men and a box-to-boxer.

Seconds later Chuca does his best for Naval bless him, he makes a powerful sideways run from the centre to the left wing and shoots from the corner of the area. The shot goes a long, long way wide.

With 7 minutes to go I tell the players to fall back completely and defend, and we see the match out without breaking a sweat.

Hurley was excellent today. He did exactly what he needed to, gave us an extra man and an extra attacking outlet, chasing loose balls and making forward passes. Magina was brilliant too, scoring 2 poacher's goals and looking dangerous throughout. Our defence was solid, our midfield was well balanced. I am a very happy manager.

I realise that it's difficult to compare our last 2 matches. There are so many variables, what with being at home against a good side and then being away against a pretty bad side, using different tactics with slightly different personnel, but my God that result feels good after last week's disappointment. That's the kind of performance we need to be putting in every game, at home especially: Dominant, fluid, exciting and brilliant.

Ah shit I've got to fly home now haven't I.
The Green Island (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep 19)

The Heroes' confidence has been high this week. With that 3-0 win over Naval fresh in the memory there’s been a real swagger about them in training. I contemplate how refreshing it is to work with such a confident bunch as I sit and eat my Portugese supermarket own-brand cornflakes. Hopefully we can keep the good times rolling today: we play Grupo Desportivo Vitória de Sernache, or Vit Sernache for short at 4 o’clock, who are travelling all the way over from Cernache do Bonjardim: a parish located smack bang in the middle of mainland Portugal.

Vit Sernache are a curious team. They currently sit 2nd bottom in the league with 6 points. So far in the Relegation stage they’ve beaten Vilafranquense, who are the only team to beat us so far, and lost to 3 teams including Naval, who we just decimated. Nevertheless we are at home against the 7th placed team and I will not accept anything less than 3 points.

As I slurp the last of my Portugese supermarket own-brand milk out of the bowl, I hear a familiar voice from behind me: "Inglês, I tell you last match yes?" It's Nuno. And he sounds infuriatingly chipper. He walks around to the front of my table and stands there, almost smiling. The bastard. "I tell you last time Inglês! You fail! I tell you!" he's giggling now. He seems either unable or just unwilling to hold back all of his feelings of schadenfreude.

"I honestly don't know why I keep coming in this early on a match day" I groan, shoulders slumped. Nuno ignores me completely.

"You know how you do today Inglês?" he whispers as he crouches down and moves his Droopy-Dog-shaped-handbag of a face closer to mine.

"I fail?"

"YOU FAIL INGLÊS!" He quickly straightens up again, beaming and nodding enthusiastically. Well, enthusiastically for Nuno.

I stand, pick up my empty bowl and look him right in the eyes. "Well we'll see won't we Nuno. We'll see if I fail today." I assertively place my bowl in the sink and walk out of the Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo cafeteria, leaving Nuno looking surprised and possibly slightly impressed.

I turn my attention back to match prep. I feel like I may have been harsh in my criticism of our right winger Aurélio when creating Project: Meatloaf you know. He’s been fine. It’s just that in general, standards have been set very high so far and “fine” has actually meant that I’ve been able to single him out as one of the weaker performers. Anyway, I’m giving Amonike a start today in his place. I’ve got a decent amount of confidence in him and he sort of got an assist last week. He set up Medeiros’ cross which hit a defender and went in. Other than that, we’re unchanged and let’s get another result like last week's!

We start… In fact no. No, I’m not doing it. I’m not telling you about this match. OK fine, do you want to know what happens? Do you want me to describe every moment of importance in this match? Here you go: Luís Carlos has a shot from 30 yards that nearly goes out for a throw, we go 4-2-4 and I beg my team to attack, and Roger falls asleep for a bit. That's it. That’s all of it. We're dominant but we create no good chances at all. The Vit Sernache supporters get the last laugh because none of them bother to make the bloody trip, so they don't have to endure possibly the most boring 90 minutes of my career so far. It goes without saying that my main priority immediately after the match ends is avoiding Nuno.

We'll fast forward a week, because I'll be damned if that's me done for the day.

Our next match is upon us then and we have another flight to catch, but for once we're not flying to mainland Portugal. Our next match is away against Sporting Clube Ideal, who are the only other club in our group that's based in the Azores. I suppose they're the closest thing we have in our group to a rival. They're based in Ribeira Grande (Big Riverside, not exactly Hero Creek is it?) on the largest Island in the archipelago: São Miguel (Known as The Green Island. Again, I'm pretty sure Volcano Island is the cooler option).

I'm wary of SC Ideal. So far they've beaten Torreense, Naval and erm...Sernache, and they've lost to Caldas and Vilafranquense, who are the top 2 in the group. In other words they've only gained 1 less point than us and they're yet to play the extremely thrashable Carapinheirense, while we're yet to play the league leaders Caldas, who aren't doing too badly...

They've also won 2 out of 2 at home and I'm very reluctant to let them make that 3 out of 3, so I'm pumping the breaks on Project: Meatloaf. We'll revert today to Heróis Original in the name of progress and we'll welcome Seidi and Aurélio back into the fold. Needless to say Amonike didn't impress me last match, but then nobody did. Hurley has been excellent but he's not the right fit for this match. Aurélio is going to get a chance in the left inside forward role, and Kevin will be our right winger as I'm still trying to figure out how to have 2 good wide players in this team.

5 minutes in we give away a silly free kick in a central position. Artur Santos puffs his chest out Ronaldo-style and smashes the ball over the wall. I let out a tiny squeal as it looks to head towards the top left corner, only to crash back off the bar.

2 minutes later we have a chance of our own. As SC Ideal push forward, big Ivan Santos steps in to hammer the ball upfield. Magina collects it 40 yards out and drives at their defence, bamboozling a defender with his footwork before mishitting his 30 yard shot which flies wide to the left.

Nearly quarter of an hour into the match Ivan Santos plays another long ball forward towards Magina, but João Jesus beats him in the air and heads it away. Seidi gets to it first though and sends a looping volley onto the right wing, which is nodded on by Kevin. He catches it well and the ball skips through the Ideal defence and is picked up by Magina on the right hand side of the area. He takes a touch, turns and shoots towards the near post but João Botelho makes a good save, tipping it wide. A good move, but not very clean. I tell the players to work the ball into the box to make clearer chances.

The match goes quiet for the next 20 minutes or so before The Heroes start threatening again: From a throw to the right of the SC Ideal penalty area, Vitor Miranda plays a one-two with Kevin before sending a cross deep into the box. Aurélio gets his head to the ball but lacks both power and accuracy, so much so that the ball goes very wide but doesn't actually go out for a goal kick. Xéxé, SC Ideal's left back who I weighed up alongside Chileno as a transfer option a few weeks ago, picks the ball up and clears it down the left wing, where César brings it forward on the counter. He plays it to Amaral, who dribbles to the edge of our area and squares it for Santos. As Santos looks up he's surrounded by defenders, but one of them is slightly out of place. Oliveira has drifted towards him and left space for Cabral to exploit. Santos plays a perfect through ball into the path of Cabral, who tucks it away at the near post.

My head drops. This isn't good. Our form is all over the place. It's not as if we're doing well at home and playing badly away like I initially anticipated, we're just struggling to gather any momentum regardless of the venue. And this isn't the first time Oliveira's made a mistake like that. I've got my eye on him.

"Fuck it", I say as I get to my feet. "Hurley, warm up."

Jaime Seidi is sacrificed, Hurley comes on and Project: Meatloaf is back on. We need to take this game to SC Ideal and the only other time we went behind under my stewardship we lost. Let's get at them early to prevent a repeat of that.

5 minutes later, Amaral powers forward again before shooting from the edge of the area, but Azevedo saves it well down to his left.

I get into the changing room at half time before the players, and think about what I'll tell them. I'm not actually angry, but I am frustrated. This team is a puzzle that I keep getting stuck on. Saying that, we've not been bad today, Magina's had a decent chance... And a speculative one. "You've been unlucky so far" I calmly tell them. "Both teams have had chances, but they've had the best one and we're 1 down because of it. Go and make some even better ones, we can beat this lot!"

Just over 10 minutes after the break a decent move results in our corner. Aurélio swings it in with pace towards the near post and big Ivan Santos loses Cabral, the goalscorer who was marking him, beats Diaby and Xéxé in the air and powers the ball home with his head. By the time the back of the net ripples I'm up and punching the air: "VAMOS HERÓIS!"

Not long after, the goalscorer Santos takes a free kick in our half and plays it short to Valadão. The skipper passes it to Hurley, who flicks it on first time for Benjamim. Now forward to Medeiros while bodies are getting forward all around him in support. Magina takes it off him, dropping back like a false nine which catches me slightly off guard, and lays it off for Benjamim again. Back to Medeiros, who plays a great pass behind Xéxé for Kevin on the right wing. Kevin takes a touch and drills a low cross into the area, which hits Touré's foot and trickles past the keeper Botelho, but very slowly comes back off the far post. The ball's cleared but we're playing some great fluid football now.

With just over 20 minutes to go I bring Arruda on in place of Magina to freshen up the attack, and with 15 to go we get another chance. Miranda's throw inside our own half seems pretty harmless but he gets it to Hurley, who takes a touch, looks up and launches the ball over the SC Ideal defence. Arruda chests it down and sprints into the area, but the angle is a bit too narrow and his near post shot is tipped behind by Botelho.

We're just 2 minutes from the end now. This has been an end to end game and there could still be a winner in it. Artur Santos picks the ball up on the edge of our area but Hurley gets in well to tackle him. He plays it to Medeiros who plays it first time to Kevin. He takes it forward slightly and releases the ball to Arruda, who plays it quickly on to Hurley, and then Benjamim. Benjamim holds it up, turns and plays an excellent ball on for Aurélio on the right wing. Aurélio, presumably with my criticism still ringing in his ears, swings a beautiful cross in for Kevin, who's unmarked at the far post, and his powerful header flies back across goal towards the top corner, but he's denied by a top class, fingertip save from Botelho.

Kevin is instantly replaced by Amonike. Not because of the header, I'd already decided on the change before that chance. Maybe this is Amonike's moment.

1 minutes to go and Benjamim presses Besugo, who was dilly-dallying on the ball in his own half. Arruda picks it up, holds it up, and plays it through for Medeiros, but Diaby slides in to tackle brilliantly. The ball rolls to Aurélio, but he's tackled too by Dinarte, who launches it up to Amaral. They're starting to counter us and I get the familiar sensation of my heart dropping right through my stomach. Amaral plays it to César on the left who runs powerfully forwards and shoots from 25 yards. His shot flies towards the top left corner but is caught by Azevedo.

It's end to end right up until the final whistle 2 minutes into injury time. I shake hands with Luís Roquete, the SC Ideal manager and head back down the tunnel a contented man. João Botelho deservedly picks up the player of the match award, he pulled off a couple of excellent saves today.

Now that is a draw that I can get behind. That is a draw that I can condone. We went up against a solid side and played a breathless game of football. On balance if anyone was going to take all 3 points I'd like to think it would've been us, but a draw is absolutely a fair result. It's funny how 2 identical results can cause polar opposite emotional responses. I know the scores weren't the same but that doesn't really figure into it to be honest. I suppose if we hadn't gone behind we couldn't have had the satisfaction of coming back to salvage a point but other than that the scores of these 2 games were meaningless. We played an awful game of football and then we played a great one, and I'll happily call that progress.
The One True Giant Slayer of Hero Creek (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 19.5)

SC Angrense have beaten FC Porto this season. Seriously. Porto. We beat them in the cup under my predecessor, Eduardo Almeida. Roger told me in the midst of a heated Connect 4 battle this week. Things turned sour after I trapped his line of 3 during the late-game and the insults turned personal. I think he just wanted to hurt me, so he told me.

I can't even be the giant slayer can I? I can't even have that one thing. It wasn't a full strength Porto team obviously, but that doesn't matter. I'd love to beat a side like Porto with nearly 2000 packed into Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo.

Oh and here's the kicker, "we" won in extra time. Well la-de-fucking-da Eduardo. Höllviken could have had 15 shots and 3 goals from open play against Hammarby too if we'd wanted to. We could've won without the lottery of a penalty shootout too if we'd wanted to.

This is very much the same feeling you get when you think you've done OK in the dating world in your time and then you find out your girlfriend used to date FC Porto.

Oh, what's that Eduardo? You couldn't even beat Caldas SC during your tenure? The side currently sat at the top of our Relegation stage group with 6 wins out of 6 and the only side we haven't played yet? You only managed 1-1 and 2-2 draws against them? And also Hammarby are better than Porto anyway? Yeah fair points Eduardo.

I think it's quite clear what I need to do. After Sunday, when the Volcano Island natives are asked who The One True Giant Slayer of Hero Creek is, their collective answer will consist of 2 syllables, not 6. Unless those 6 are: "Franjo, who crushed Caldas".
Boa Sorte (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep20)

My heart is pounding. My breathing is rapid. I crouch behind a low section of demolished wall, pressing myself hard against the cold concrete. I turn around and sneak a peek over the top of the wall to see him: The gargantuan form of Eduardo Almeida, crashing through buildings like they were made of paper. He looks a lot like a 100 foot tall Ricardo Carvalho. Actually he looks indentical to Ricardo Carvalho. Do I even know what Eduardo looks like? Nevermind, he's spotted me. He lets out a blood curdling screech and makes a beeline towards me. There's no point in hiding now. I stand, shedding the limited protection of my little piece of wall, raise the slingshot in my hands (complete with a suitably large rock) and pull the elastic back, priming the weapon and aiming it right between Eduardo's stupid eyes. He screeches again, diving towards me as I let go of the rock, my eyes locked on his.

I jolt awake in my bed, sweat soaking through my SC Angres branded pyjamas. After checking the clock next to my bed I decide it's late enough to wake up so I get up and make myself a coffee. Today's the day. I think to myself. The big one.

Caldas are visiting today. As in Caldas who have torn through our league so far, winning all 6 of their Relegation Stage games. And although the structure of our division means that there's not that much riding on this game (I don't think there's much chance of either of us finishing below 5th, so our positions are pretty meaningless), this is a massive test. A chance to show how good Os Heróis can really be. And yes, it's a chance for me to prove that I'm better than Eduardo Almeida, my predecessor who drew with Caldas twice this season before his deserved sacking.

I head down to Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo early again for some reason. For once, Roger is already there, locked in conversation with Nuno and Miguel Borba, the club Chairman. The 3 of them are speaking very quickly in Portuguese. Upon seeing me Miguel stops talking and looks up at me, prompting the other 2 to turn to look at me as well. If I had to describe all 3 of their faces in 1 word, I'd say "Sheepish".

Miguel quickly forces a smile and walks over to pat me on the shoulder. "Boa sorte, Franjo" he says warmly, before walking past me and around the corner. I'm not sure what he just said. Is that the bloke who used to play for Fulham?

Nuno gives me a stiff nod. "Boa sorte, Inglês" he mumbles before walking the other way, towards the pitch. I suddenly feel quite uncomfortable. I've not spoken to Miguel Borba much since joining the club but I've never known Nuno to be short of words. Or insults. And I'm fairly sure Boa Sorte retired quite a while ago. And in fact, his name might have been Boa Morte.

That leaves me and Roger. He looks uncomfortable, his body language pretty much confirming that the conversation I interrupted was about me. "Big one today then" I say to break the awkward silence.

He smiles and nods, "Yeah, good luck". OK now I'm definitely suspicious.

To be honest I don't care what they were talking about, we're doing OK. Although apart from all the other reasons that I've already mentioned, I would quite appreciate a win today as we've failed to get one in our last 2 matches. We are still 3rd though, 8 points behind our opponents today but only 1 goal behind Vilafranquense in 2nd.

I opt for Project: Meatloaf for the match. The system came about after we showed Vilafranquense too much respect and lost for the first and only time of my reign so far, so I don't want us to make the same mistakes today. We'll make Caldas deal with us, we won't sit back and wait to be offered an opportunity to counter.

To distract myself from the nerves while I'm waiting for kick off on the touchline, I look up "Boa Sorte" in my phrase book. It means "Good luck". That's quite nice. Although I also discover that "Boa Morte" means "Good Death". I'm a little bit horrified.

The first half hour flies by. 10 minutes before half time my worst fears are realised when a Santos corner is turned in by Militão's head. To make matters worse, Caldas keep coming forward and we're struggling to hold on until half time.

With a couple of minutes remaining before the break, Jacuvenal tries to find space in the corner on the right wing but Hurley wins the ball from him. In the interest of safety first, Hurley attempts to smash it away - and hits it directly into the corner flag that's about a foot in front of him. The ball bounces back to Juvenal, who exchanges a quick one-two with Louro and whips it in to the far post, where David Brás is quite uncontested as he doubles Caldas' advantage.

0-2 at half time. I probably deserve this. I think that I might have gone the other way, showing too little respect to a team who look like at the very least they should be fighting for promotion. But in for a penny, in for a pound. There's no point trying to shut them out now. I tell The Heroes to close down more and retain possession. We need a foothold in the match.

Almost straight from kickoff, André Simões plays a great pass over the top onto the left wing. Brás keeps it in at the byline and drills a cross in, but it hits the near post and Ivan Santos clears.

Just a minute later they're coming down the left again. Cascão swings a cross in to the far post and Louro volleys it in from point blank range. This is a disaster.

I call Valadão over immediately to take my tactical instructions. We're going to attack Caldas. Their entire game is coming from crosses into the box and we can't deal with it, so we'll also use a higher defensive line. At least that way they'll find it more difficult to get players into the box to aim at. I also tell o capitão to tell the lads to roam from their positions. Be more fluid, be unpredictable. I'm rolling the dice here, if this backfires we could be 7 or 8 down by full time.

Valadão gets the word out and the teams retake their places for kick off. The whistle blows and the ball goes straight back to big Ivan Santos. He chips it over to Kevin on the left who dribbles diagonally into space in the centre. He sees Magina running into a channel and plays him in masterfully. Magina controls it, skips around Militão's slide tackle and chips the ball past the outcoming keeper into the top right hand corner.

What a goal! What a bloody goal! Magina foregoes the celebrations and picks the ball out of the net to take back to the centre spot. Good lad.

Caldas look visibly shaken. They obviously didn't expect a fightback. Soon after, Rodrigues holds the ball up from his position at the base of the midfield and is pressed by Benjamim, who nicks the ball away. He slots it through for Medeiros who plays a slick one-two with Magina and then smashes it goalwards. The next part happens in slow motion: his powerful shot smashes against the inside of the right post, rolls across the line, hits the left post and rolls away. I ask Roger to fetch me a bottle of water. He obliges. I place it on the floor and boot it away.

Not even 5 minutes later, Ivan Santos plays it out to Kevin on the left once again. Kevin tries the same diagonal dribble as before but finds that the middle of the pitch is far more congested than last time. Magina is unreachable so he picks out Medeiros instead, who plays it quickly through the defence for the onrushing Hurley. Hurley slots the ball effortlessly under the Caldas keeper. How's this happened? We look bloody unstoppable!

Under half an hour to go and the score is 2-3, but Caldas seem to be back in the game after that ridiculous 10 minutes at the start of the half.

Brás receives the ball on the left and holds it up before laying it inside for Simões, who's breaking forward. And then it happens. The first domino that falls is Oliveira, who leaves Rodrigues, the man that he's marking, to close down Simões, who is already being pressed by Benjamim. He only takes a couple of steps forward but it's enough. Simões sees his chance and slots the ball straight past him for Rodrigues, who's now in acres of space. Ivan Santos panics and comes across to close him down, and in doing so leaves his man Sabino wide open himself. Sabino receives the ball from Rodrigues and slots it into the far bottom corner.

On one hand, that is strike 3 for Oliveira. By my count that's the 3rd time in 7 games that he's had the bright idea to leave his marker and it's cost us. On the other hand, to quote Will Graham, "This is my design". I told them to play fluid football. I told them to close down more. I did think it was implied that he shouldn't wander off when he's marking a striker but I've only got myself to blame. I either need to find a way to explain more clearly to him what his job is or I need to find someone who can make better decisions to replace him.

I immediately bring on Arruda for the once again ineffective Aurélio. Maybe a striker on the wings will give us more going forwards.

With 20 minutes to go it hasn't paid off, so I implement another tactical change. Amonike comes on for Benjamim. We'll play with the same 4 defenders, 1 defensive deep lying playmaker (Hurley), 2 on the wings and 1 attacking playmaker (Amonike, Medeiros, Kevin) and 2 up front (Arruda, Magina). We need Hurley to play some of his patented lumped passes forwards for the strikers to run onto.

Sometimes football will push you to the floor. Sometimes it will then hold out a hand to help you up. Sometimes it will then withdraw it's hand so that you fall back down. Sometimes it will then kick you repeatedly in the face.

In the 92nd minute Rodrigues plays a good pass into the path of Sabino, who gets goal side of Oliveira and smashes the ball past Azevedo. He seems like a quick, powerful striker, so I won't blame Oliveira for that one. It's a good goal and definitely the final nail in our coffin.

A minute later Hurley gets the ball short from an Oliveira free kick, holds it up and passes it to Amonike, who runs inside and chips it over to Kevin. Kevin takes it down on his left, smashes it on the half volley with his right, and it clips the top of the bar as the whistle blows. 2-5 at full time. Not ideal is it.

We have a 2 week break before we welcome Torreense to Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo, and I've got some thinking to do. Does Oliveira start? Does Aurélio start? I might need to schedule a friendly to help me make these decisions. And I won't lie, I already have someone in mind...
Connect 4 (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 20.5)

"Marco Aurélio is our best player"

I frown. "What on Earth gives you that idea Roger?" I ask calmly, as I slot a red circular disc into the left hand column. Roger shifts uncomfortably in his seat.

"Well... me and the coaches, we've ranked the entire squad out of 5 stars and we've given him 4.5, more than anyone else in the team..." he explains feebly as he slots in a yellow disc on top of my red one.

I frown further still. "What a bizarre thing to do". I pop a red one in the next column.

"Yeah well, we need him to sign a new contract. If we don't tie him down he'll be off on a free in 3 months." Again, he places a yellow disc on top of mine. "Just like me actually", he raises his eyebrows at me. I ignore him.

"Well as long as we're arbitrarily handing out star ratings like some poor yelp critic with nothing better to do Roger, I'll give him 2.5 out of 5. A middle of the road rating for a middle of the road player." I pop a red one in the next column again, Roger needs to act fast. "Besides, I talked to him when I handed out contract extensions at the start of the season, he's not interested and neither am I. Match point."

Roger seems confused. "Well who else are we going to play on the right?" He asks. I run my fingers through my hair.

"I don't know mate" I shrug, "We've got plenty of options. Borges, Amonike, those lads that Saint Eduardo sent out on loan at the start of the season. What's the other lad's name? The one we signed up from the academy the other day with the Android 16 haircut?"

"Batista? He's 15! We can't rely on him!"

"I can't rely on any of the wingers I've seen here apart from Kevin" I reply honestly, "If Batista does well for the under 19s he'll get his chance. We've got quite a few promising players in the youth team now." I see Roger's hand hovering over the slot I've just used, a yellow disc held between forefinger and thumb. "Roger we've been over this, if you copy every move I make you'll just stay a move behind me and I'll win." I sigh.

He looks up and smirks. "Oh don't worry Franjo, I've got a plan." He winks as he drops a yellow disc down on top of my red. I immediately drop a red into the next column, still staring exasperatedly at Roger.

"I win" I say bluntly. "I have successfully connected 4. It wasn't close."

I can see him trying to process what just happened. If this were a cartoon I'd be able to see the hamster inside his head full on sprinting on its wheel. And then he looks up at me, with a face like a 5 year old who's just had his ice cream knocked maliciously out of his hand and onto the floor. After a long and uncomfortable pause, he lets out an anguished moan. "I was only 1 move away from winning!"

I need a new assistant.
Miniature Heróis (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep21)

These are exciting times for SC Angrense: A new batch of Miniature Heróis have made the step up from our academy to the under 19's squad, and I've started looking for a new assistant to replace Roger. First let me introduce you to the 3 brightest young talents to join up with the youth squad:

Carlos Antunes - 16 years old - Attacking midfielder

He's small, quick, a determined and hard working player with good skills, a good touch and decent passing and technique.

Fernando Batista - 15 years old - Versatile right winger

He may have some work to do in terms of the technical side of his game, but to be fair that's the easiest side to improve. He's also small and quick, a determined and hard working team player with decent aggression and flair.

Renato Silva - 15 years old - Striker

He's got the potential to be a very rounded centre forward. He's a good athlete, a good decision maker (I find that this attribute is like gold dust among young players) and has decent finishing, movement, speed, work rate and flair.

I'm not sure when we'll see these lads take to the field in a competitive match but I certainly have high hopes for them, especially as we will soon have vacant attacking midfield and right wing spots that I will be looking to fill.

We had a friendly match against FC Porto in the middle of our 2 week break. I wanted a good performance against a good team to set us up well for a good second half of our Relegation Stage campaign, and yes, I wanted another chance to prove that anything Eduardo Almeida can do, Franjo can do better.

I tweaked Project: Meatloaf slightly, telling both centre backs to close the ball down much less and stick to their positions. Hopefully this will put an end to some of the erratic decision making that our defenders, Oliveira especially, have been making. For the friendly I also gave Jaime Seidi a try at centre back alongside Oliveira, who is on extremely thin ice. I've only used Seidi as a holding man so far and I wanted to give him the chance to show that he can play in defence if needed.

4514 (Only 750 of which were Porto fans) showed up at Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo to watch my very first televised match. The first half was a cagey affair and not an awful lot happened until the 55th minute. Aurélio received the ball after a Porto push forward and played an excellent pass over the top down the right wing that Cristiano Magino took down. He sprinted to the byline and drilled the ball in for Medeiros to tap home from the edge of the 6 yard box.

With 20 minutes to go it was Oliveira that turned provider, launching a good long ball over the top of the FCP defence. Again Magina was there to collect but this time he was hacked down in the area by Leite. Aurélio tucked the resulting penalty into the bottom corner to put us 2 up. A couple of minutes later though Gonzalo Martinez's deep free kick was met by an Alario header, and 5 minutes after that, André André played a great pass over our defence and Alario slotted the ball home again to equalise.

The match ended 2-2 but it gave me a lot to think about. Everyone played well, but Oliveira and Aurélio both put in good performances and threw doubt onto my recent criticism of them. Perhaps when instructed properly Oliveira is a fine centre back. Perhaps in the big games, Aurélio is Senhor Creativity. Seidi showed that he can absolutely be trusted at centre back and I also gave Antunes and Batista a run out towards the end of the match, just to give them a taste of what playing against a top team can be like.

So I got what I wanted, a good result against a good team. Actually we did far better than the sensible part of my brain ever thought we would. I may be yet to better any of Eduardo's achievements in our unrequited rivalry but I'll take a draw against Porto.

So here we are a week later, and it's time to start the second half of our league campaign. To start with we welcome Torreense, who we beat in the reverse fixture thanks to a last second Benjamim strike. In terms of how we'll set up, Project: Meatloaf is a must with us playing at home against a lesser side and I will give my "best" line up one last shot before I start dropping people. We've now not won in 3 competitive matches and we really need to turn that around. We're 9 points off the relegation playoff spot so I'm still not particularly worried on that front but I want to show that we're improving and I want to see us finish 2nd behind Caldas, who may as well have already wrapped up 1st place. 1 of our new miniature heróis, attacking midfielder Carlos Antunes, makes the bench. Ideally I'd like him to replace Medeiros when he leaves in the summer but it may be a bit soon.

6 minutes in Burguette hoofs the ball forwards from outside his own area. Bonifácio gets behind santos and sprints through on goal, but shoots straight at Azevedo.

10 minutes later we win a free kick 20 yards out, just right of centre. 36 year old Captain Valadão, who I sincerely wish was 10 years younger and could play on for 10 more years, smashes the ball at goal. It deflects off the wall and wrong foots the keeper, before flying into the far bottom corner. An excellent start for Os Heróis. I get so lost in the moment that I give Roger a high five, before we both awkwardly look at the floor and sit back in the dugout.

5 minutes before half time Torreense counter us after cutting out a bad Aurélio cross. The counter consists of a great high tempo passing move, before Esgaio holds the ball up 35 yards out and slots it through for Bonifácio who smashes it from 20 yards. The ball rockets into the top of net above Azevedo and we're all square again.

Just after the break another awful Aurélio cross results in another Torreense counter attack. Bonifácio holds it up this time and threads a pass through for Zílio. He dribbles into the left side of our area and santos slides in to win the ball. Zílio goes to the ground and my heart stops, but it turns out the challenge was perfectly timed and play goes on. Mirandas tries to make a clearance but can only smash the ball against the fallen Zílio, and it bounces kindly for Bonifácio 6 yards out who can somehow only leather it against the bar.

This sudden dangerous counter attacking trend prompts a subtle tactical change. We'll be fairly narrow and we'll close down less, making ourselves more solid defensively and minimising the chance of Torreense being able to thread passes through the channels like they have been doing.

Almost 10 minutes later Hurley plays one of his patented long balls over the top and Magina takes it down, dribbling skilfully down to the right byline. He looks up and whips it in to the centre of the box where Kevin leaps up and heads it powerfully into the top left corner.

On 65 minutes yet another counter starts from yet another poor Aurélio cross. This time Leo slides the ball through for Bonifácio who picks it up about 35 yards out. He attacks the space between our midfield and defence and dribbles to the edge of our are. Benjamim stays with him but can't win the ball. He hits his shot well to the top left corner and it brushes Azevedo's fingertips as it flies in. All square again.

With 15 minutes to go I bring on Amonike and young Antunes on in a straight swap for Aurélio and Medeiros. Despite his part in the Porto draw I've lost patience with Aurélio, and as I say I want to see if Antunes can do a job in Medeiros' absence so he comes on for his debut.

Within a couple of minutes Leo gets the ball to Bonifácio again, who brings it forward but shoots straight at Azevedo. We definitely need a defensive midfielder on now. Torreense have adapted to our narrower shape by running at us instead of passing through us and the space between our midfield and defence is killing us. So with that in mind I swap us back to Heróis Original and bring Seidi on for Hurley in the holding man role.

5 minutes later Miranda puts the ball down the line from a throw in. Antunes takes it down and puts it inside for Amonike, who steps past his marker Eustáquio and drills it in for Magina. With one deft touch he pokes into the bottom left corner from 12 yards. Fuck it, I high five Roger again. We get another late winner and the match ends 3-2. Torreense must hate us.
Nothing Compares (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep22)

As much as I enjoy the drama of our matches against Torreense, I'm glad they're out of the way for the season. We've now got 6 matches left to show this league what os Heróis are doing and which direction we're going in and I'd appreciate it if we could grind out some wins without the need for late winning goals.

Our next 2 matches are away, starting with a trip to Carapinheira today to take on Carapinheirense. They were the first Portuguese team I went up against, in what was probably the first match in my career that my team comfortably won.

I'm making a few changes in terms of both Project: Meatloaf and our personnel for the match. It's not that I underestimate Carapinheirense, we just need to experiment at some point and it may as well be today against one of the worst clubs in the PT Championship.

Aurélio is dropped unsurprisingly as I have concerns over his form and it's become clear that even if I wanted him to stay beyond the summer, he wouldn't sign a new contract. Amonike takes his place on the right.

Medeiros is left out for a similar reason, I'd like to use this match as an opportunity to try out a potential replacement as he's leaving in the summer. 16 year old Carlos Antunes makes his full debut in the number 10 role.

Benjamim's form has dropped slightly but to be honest I just want to give Rúby a match as I'm very excited about how good he could potentially become. He'll play in a slightly deeper role than Benjamim usually does, as a ball winning midfielder who also has license to wander up and support attacks.

5 minutes in, Antunes passes it to Hurley, who floats a pass onto the right wing. Amonike picks the ball up and crosses it to the near post, where Magina chests it down and fires it in to put us ahead. 7 minutes later he goes close to doubling our lead when Kevin comes inside from the left and plays him in. Magina turns round his marker and drives it low towards goal, but it cannons back off the post.

Nearly 20 minutes in Antunes gets the ball and picks out Kevin's run through the left, splitting the defence. Kevin speeds past a slide tackle and drills it in to the far post for Magina to knock in. 2 goals to the good already and we're looking good. The cushion lasts less than a minute though because Seidy gets the ball pretty much straight from kick off and slots it through for Bacurim, who places it into the bottom corner.

The half hour mark comes and goes, but not long after we catch Carapinheirense as they push forward and Antunes dribbles the ball out on the counter. He runs over the half way line and passes it through for Kevin on the right, who chips the ball into the box. Magina is obviously there and he obviously scores on the volley to complete his 33 minute hat trick. I consider for a moment if it would be possible to have him crowned King of Volcano Island but I imagine that there'd be a lot of paperwork involved.

Again though it's like a reflex for Carapinheirense: Not 2 minutes after the net bulges at their end, they're down at ours. Namora holds the ball up 25 minutes out and picks out Seidy, who should be marked by Oliveira but I have no idea where he is, worryingly. Rúby tries vaguely to stay with him but Seidy wriggles free and places the ball against the inside of the post, before it trickles agonisingly slowly across the line and in. I decide that a Carapinheirense comeback would be detrimental to my plan of not smashing the away dressing room up at the break, so I tell us to close the ball down more and play slightly narrower, restricting the space that Carapinheirense will have to play the ball through us.

We hold on until half time and beyond though and we're still leading after almost an hour when I make a sensible double substitution: Benjamim and Medeiros come on for Rúby and Antunes. Their added experience should help us tie this match up.

Sure enough, with 25 minutes to go Medeiros plays the ball in to Magina who has his back to goal on the edge of the area. He spots Hurley making a dangerous run and picks him out. Hurley just has to pull the trigger and he does. Our 2 goal cushion is back. I have half a mind to throw everyone back to defend so the home side don't instantly come back at us but I stand my ground and ignore the urge to change for the sake of it. 10 minutes later however I bring on Arruda for Magina because he deserves a bloody ovation to himself.

2 minutes from the end Benjamim comes forward with the ball and chips it to Arruda on the edge of the area. He takes it down and squeezes into the near bottom corner, just to really stick the boot in on Carapinheirense.

That's more like it, I think as the whistle goes and the players applaud both of our travelling fans. A comfortable win, admittedly against the weakest team in the league. Hopefully now we can build a bit of momentum for the run in.

My experiments had mixed results. Antunes was quiet, understandably so, but I still want to give him more chances. Rúby was OK but thinking about it, I'm not sure I've seen him make an appearance for us and not get booked, which could be worrying if he keeps it up.

I've seen enough from Amonike though to convince me that he deserves a new contract. He was due to leave in the Summer but he'll now be staying for at least another year.

One more thing to note is that Magina's ludicrously good relegation stage campaign has made him the joint 4th top scorer in the entire PT Championship (Along with 3 others). For those that don't remember there are 80 teams in the PT Championship, so I am extremely impressed with his tally of 15.

A week down the line and our plane is en route to Vilafranquense's home: The municipality of Vila Franca de Xira, in the Lisbon District.

This is an odd situation as our last match against them prompted me to create the more aggressive Project: Meatloaf system after we slumped to a 0-1 home loss. However today we are away, so I make the decision to revert to the same Heróis Original formation that we used that day. In come Seidi, Medeiros and Benjamim, out go Hurley, Rúby and Antunes. Aurélio also comes in for Amonike, who needs a rest. Hopefully this time Vilafranquense will underestimate us.

Actually I say it's the same system but I have made a subtle change. Our scouting report revealed what may be a chink in our opposition's armour: their right full back likes to bomb forward down the wing and I want to use this to our advantage. I instruct Medeiros to play predominantly on the left with Kevin to double up on that side, hopefully overloading the right sided centre back who could be left on his own. Magina's starting position will be moved slightly to the right to compensate.

It takes half an hour for either team to find a way through in any meaningful way. Magina picks the ball up on the right hand side of the penalty area and tries to cut the ball back for a team mate, but his pass is wayward. Medeiros gets to the loose ball first though and plays it first time to Kevin on the left, who floats the ball back across to the far post, where of course Magina is waiting. He rises high above his marker and powers a header in to the far top corner to put us ahead. Joint 3rd top scorer now if anyone's keeping track.

I'm wary of us being caught immediately after the goal so I tell the team to play on the counter and work the ball into box carefully. We need to soak up the pressure that's sure to come at us now and then be clinical when we do get chances.

3 minutes later Aurélio's cross is headed straight back to him by Anta and he tries again, this time successfully getting the ball to Magina at the near post. Magina takes it down on his chest and lays it back to Medeiros, who puts the ball into the empty net. I'm surprised that we find ourselves 2 up 10 minutes from half time away at Vilafranquense but I'm absolutely not complaining.

5 minutes before half time though, just as I'm daydreaming of wiping the floor with this side that so cruelly took a win at Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo, Carlos David passes to Duk on the edge of our box and he turns and crashes a shot off the bar. For a moment I think that Azevedo is going to get to the rebound but Figo beats him to it and pulls one back for Vilafranquense.

To be fair we hold out well after that and do a pretty good job of killing the game off. With 20 minutes to go I tell the lads to defend, and make ourselves compact by going narrow, staying on feet and sticking to positions. I want to make it as difficult as possible for them to get through to Azevedo in our goal. With 10 minutes to go I bring Rúby on for Medeiros to make us even more solid. We now have a back 4, with Seidi and Rúby as holding men and Benjamim just in front as a box to box midfielder. And to be honest that's that. Vilafranquense don't threaten us at all through the second half. I mean we don't threaten them either but I'm fine with that. I would have taken a point against these before the match and we've taken all 3.

I tell you what, you can score as many goals as you like against the punching bags of the division, but nothing compares to the feeling you get after grinding out a victory over a good team. A team that may even be better than you. Today was a victory for tactics, for hard work and for defensive solidity. And that's 3 wins out of 3 since the mid-stage break.
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