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

Discussion
Mr WT Franco - Part 2 (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep82)

What’s the worst thing about having a 24 day gap between matches? Is it the fact that the momentum from your 2 wins beforehand will inevitably have evaporated by your next game? Is it Emil Sambou starting a World Cup Qualifier for Gambia and being hooked after 45 quiet minutes, before his team triumphs over Ethiopia without him?

Or, and this is my vote, is it the fact that Nathan Gertse waits 20 days before damaging his foot and being ruled out for up to 3 weeks?

Oh well. The time has come for my very first SA KO Cup match and today we host Bidvest Wits. They’re a good side but I’d like to try and dominate today as the home side, so we’ll go with the controlling variant of Project: Foxy. I also want to give match fitness to a couple of the lads who need it. Left winger Sello Japhta, for example, has returned to full training but is lacking match fitness so he comes in for Aiden Jenniker. Unless he really impresses today though, Jenniker’s going back in for the next match as he’s had a good couple of games in Japhta’s absence.

Sullie also comes in replacing Carl Lark, and I’m giving Khat a run out up front. He deserves it for bearing with me so far this season. Captain Cele comes in replacing the injured Gertse at centre back and Ryan Moon replaces Richards to build his fitness back up after shaking off that bruised thigh.

A quarter of an hour into the match, Alexander backheels the ball to Myeni on the right side of our penalty area. Myeni crosses to the far post and Dutiro’s there to head the ball back across goal, but it’s so off target that it doesn’t even go out for a goal kick and ends up back with Myeni. He starts the routine again, picking Dutiro out at the far post, and this time Dutiro scrambles it into the net, but the linesman’s flag goes up against him and the goal doesn't count.

With half an hour gone though, Hlanti runs down the left for Wits and drills a low cross into the 6 yard box, and Mkatshana’s there to tap it in. 1-0 Wits. I take the opportunity to encourage my lads to play quicker and run at the opposition defence. Our passes aren’t getting through their well organised defence as they’re standing off us and keeping their shape well.

On the stroke of half time, Japhta runs forwards with the ball. He squares it for Sullie, who takes it past Dutiro and passes to Sinbad in space. Sinbad moves forward to the edge of the box and shoots, but the ball flies comfortably over the bar. To be fair, at least they took my instructions on board. That's the most dangerous we've looked so far.

7 minutes after the break, Hlanti swings a corner into the centre for Wits. Yende leaps to beat Japhta in the air, nodding the ball on for Mkatshana at the far post, who heads in their 2nd goal of the day. With very little to lose, I urge the team to attack to try and find a way back into the match.

5 minutes or so later, Dutiro powers forwards unchallenged through our half. He gets to the edge of the box and shoots wide, but I'm worried by how easily he exploited the space in the left side of central midfield there, so we change to a 4-2-3-1, with Gogotya coming on replacing the holding man Diale and slotting in alongside Sinbad. While we’re at it, I replace the once again quiet Sullie with Saileg Richards, who’ll play on the right wing with Moon coming inside to play behind Carl Lark, who replaces Khat.

With a quarter of an hour to go, we win a free kick on the edge of the box, just right of centre. Japhta hits it over the wall towards the right hand side of goal, and although the keeper gets a glove to the ball, he can’t stop it from rippling the back of the net. We're back in the game.

As we enter the final 5 minutes, Japhta’s still trying to claw us level. He plays the ball inside for Ryan Moon 30 yards out, and the stand-in attacking midfielder runs towards goal, jinking past Miambo. He shoots towards the top right corner of the net but can't quite find it. The ball flies inches wide.

https://youtu.be/dv9h3uPcr5A

The final whistle blows, confirming our exit from the SA KO Cup at the first hurdle. If I’m being perfectly honest, it wasn’t that much of a priority for me this year. The first thing I need to do realistically is make sure Santos don’t get dragged into a relegation scrap. Still though, it’s not a great feeling. Luckily, not many fans had to share that feeling with us as we attracted a record low attendance of 3,862 people to the game.

Now then, THIS is the real quiz. 3 days after our SA KO Cup exit we face Ajax CT at home in the league. There are quite a few layers to this match, the first one being that we’re on 13 points in the league and just 1 behind the top 2, so we could actually go top with a win. Ajax CT are trailing with just 9 points so far. The second layer is that Ajax CT are our fiercest rivals due to the 2 clubs’ close proximity. The clash is known as "The Old Cape Town Derby", and I’m definitely not interested in losing my first derby.

The final and far more personal layer to this match is that letter. That fucking letter I received whilst managing GieKSa. Cast your mind back to the rejection letter addressed to "Mr WT Franco". Straight from the desk of Ari Efstathiou, Chairman of Ajax Cape Town Football Club. I can just picture it now: After we kick Ajax’s arse on the pitch, I’ll shake the hand of the man who did get the Manager’s job, Serame Letsoaka, and then I’ll walk into the stands, straight up to Ari and I’ll say "Hey, Ari". He’ll turn to see me, regret plastered all over his face, and I’ll say "It’s Franjo." And then if I can arrange it in time, shades will just appear over my eyes and somebody will play a sick guitar sting as I walk through the ecstatic home fans, high fiving them as I go.

So that’s the plan for after the match, but what about on the pitch itself? Well, for one thing we’ll stick with the controlling variant of Project: Foxy. We’ll tweak it slightly though, going with a higher tempo and harder tackles. If this is a derby match I want to give these fans a derby match. I want it to be all action, blood and thunder. Japhta actually keeps his place ahead of Jenniker on the left as he was arguably our only player to have a good game against Wits. I also give Maloka a chance to wow me in place of Sullie, Sambou comes in for Khat, and Tlali comes in to make his first appearance of the season as Moe has sadly not found form yet.

Nearly 5 minutes after kick off, we're looking good. We're dominating these extremely early stages. And then Lebysa loops a cross into our box, over our goalkeeper Komo, and onto the bonce of Doutie, who cushions the ball into the net.

What happens next is no surprise. In fact, It's becoming choreographed. Just over 10 minutes after we concede our first, Phohlongo plays in Chideu in our box, and he rolls the ball under Komo to make it 0-2. We're capitulating and there's so much more of the match still to play. After spending only a couple of months here, I fear for the mental fragility of my squad. It seems that we can be so quick to fold if we concede in the first half.

At half time, I give the team a good old fashioned bollocking. 0-2 down against our fiercest rivals, and we've got no chance of pulling it back. We aren't even playing! 4 of the 5 shots that we've had were taken in our 5 minutes of dominance at the start! I tell them to pull their fingers out, get back down the tunnel and attack, attack, attack.

At the hour mark, they've done nothing of the sort, and my misery is almost compounded when Phohlongo squares the ball to Mdabuka on the edge of our box, and he leathers it against the bar.

I make some changes, bringing Gugu Gogotya and Sullie on for Japhta and Maloka. We change to a narrow 4-3-1-2 and I want the full backs bombing forwards on the overlap as we focus play through the centre.

With 13 minutes to go, I feel like I'm bashing my head against a brick wall. We've still offered nothing at all. Lark comes on replacing Sambou. 5 minutes later, Ajax go close again when Nyambi's played in by Losper, but Komo parries his shot behind for a corner.

The last few minutes are a bit of a blur. First, the fourth official signals for a minimum of 2 minutes of stoppage time, then those minutes pass, then Ajax win a free kick 25 yards out, and then Doutie bends the ball into the top corner of our net. We finish my first Old Cape Town Derby match having had 7 shots, 4 of which were in the first 5 minutes. I'm really, really unimpressed.

https://youtu.be/rNuq7DeEExA

I suppose we can take solace though in the fact that at 20,836, the match's attendance was actually a record high for us. I wonder if we've just broken a record for breaking both attendance records in such quick succession.

But to be honest, it's not much of a consolation. It's back to the training ground for this lot, because we've obviously got a lot of work to do.
Joseph’s The Future (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 82.5)

As the lads troop in after training, I knock on for Goolam Allie, the club Chairman.

"Franjo!" He exclaims as he opens his office door. "How’s the reaction?" He asks this after every post-defeat training session. It’s a very good question to ask to be fair. I can tell that he actually cares about the team, which is sadly a sought after trait among Chairmen nowadays.

"Not bad", I answer in a non-committal kind of way as I follow him to the large ornate desk at the far end of the room. "But we’ve got a problem."

"Oh?" Allie raises his eyebrows. "What kind of problem?"

"A big, long term kind of problem." He gestures for me to go on. "This squad, generally speaking, has a losing mentality. There's barely any determination at all in that dressing room." Allie raises his eyebrows even further. "Look at our matches so far", I continue, "If we can keep the game goalless, we have a good chance of snatching a goal in the second half." He nods in agreement. "But on the other hand, if we go behind in the first half, it’s not just that we can’t get back into the game, it’s that we stop playing altogether. This squad, with the exception of the Highland Park match, cannot cope with going a goal down and that’s a big problem."

He leans forward, resting on the desk. "So what do you suggest?"

"We need to bring in players that will fight back after going behind."

Goolam gives me a knowing smile. "Franjo, we aren’t a club that throws money at our problems, that’s why we’re so financially solid..."

"I know, I know, but I’ve found a lad", I interject. "Not only is he the kind of player that we need to stop the club going backwards, but he would arguably be our best player at 19 years old! 19!" There’s a pleading tone in my voice that I don’t really like, but I really am convinced that this signing is a crucial one. "His name’s Joseph Ekwalla. He’s a central midfielder. Clifford spotted him playing in Cameroon..."

"Well there you go", laughs Allie, "How many times has he played for Cameroon?"

"He’s played for the Under 20’s..."

"Zero." Says Allie, with a rather more stern tone now. "So it’s a non-issue. He’ll never get a permit anyway."

"We can try and get him in as an exceptional talent, he’s brilliant!" I retort, feeling myself becoming more and more frustrated. "Joseph’s the future of this club. Him and players like him."

I can tell my persistence has won his attention now. I’ve not really asked him for anything since arriving in Lansdowne and I’m hoping that goes in my favour now. "How exceptional a talent is he?" He asks.

I play him the DVD that our scout Clifford Maphutha made for me. A highlight reel showing Joseph’s touch, his skill, his attitude, passing range and fitness. When it ends, Goolam smiles at me, genuinely this time. "How much do you need?"

"We can get him for free but his agent wants £5k", I reply. "Non negotiable."

"Fucking agents", he sighs. I shrug and nod.

"You’ve got your £5k", he smiles, holding out a hand. I shake it and beam back at him. "Go and sign that lad before somebody else does."
Smoke Me A Kipper (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep83)

"Right then lads", I begin, "All I want you to do today is keep in mind what I've been telling you this week. What should be going through all of your heads when the scores are level?"


"We can win this", replies the dressing room in monotonal unison.


"What about if we take the lead?"


"We can win this", they reply, a little louder.


"And can anybody tell me what should be going through your heads if we happen to concede a goal?"


"WE CAN WIN THIS", they shout.



Thanda Royal Zulu, like our last opponents Ajax CT, have rejected my application to become their manager in the past. I don't forget a thing like that you know, and aside from my pride, I want us to redeem ourselves for our poor derby performance by beating these today. Having come up from the First Division last season, they're one of the favourites for relegation, so nothing but 3 points will do.


I had a thought recently that I should tweak Project: Foxy, as nobody that I've given a chance as the attacking midfielder in the system has put in a decent performance yet. As well as that, fairly often we find ourselves outnumbered and dominated in midfield if a team is playing a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-1-1 formation. I'm going to give this one more try today, but if we fail I'm changing things up. Young centre back Gary Havenga will make his first appearance of the season, replacing Tlali while Cele reverts to his most comfortable position on the right side of defence.



Elsewhere, Aiden Jenniker is coming back in for Sello Japhta on the left wing, Sullie gets one more chance behind the striker, and Carl Lark replaces Emil Sambou up front. I do consider dropping Komo as we've been shipping a fair few goals in the last couple of matches, but my coaches and I agree that he's really developing at the moment as a result of his exposure to first team football, so he stays in. We'll be looking to Ryan Moon to make things happen on the right wing today as TRZ have a very solid looking deep midfield triangle, so playing through the centre probably wouldn't work.



10 minutes in, Lark forces a mistake by centre back Ngidi and robs him of the ball before running clean through on goal. The goalkeeper Peters shows good awareness though, running out to close down the angle and making it difficult for Lark, who can't find a way around him.


It's a quiet first 40 minutes in the way of chances, but we're really dominating the play. Smelling blood, I urge the players to start downright attacking 5 minutes before half time. 2 minutes before half time, and during one such attack, Sullie loses possession and TRZ counter attack. Ngcepe holds the ball up well just outside our box and lays it off for Hadebe, who lashes his shot into the top corner from 25 yards. Bloody hell.


10 minutes after half time, Ryan Moon spots Lark running through the central channel. He plays a brilliant long ball over the defence and Lark takes the ball in his stride. As Peters comes out again to close down the angle, Lark stabs at the ball and it rolls under the keeper, hits the right post, rolls across the line, hits the left post and eventually settles in the net. Thanks, Lady Luck.


The hour mark passes and I haul Sullie off the pitch. I don't know when he'll get back on it to be perfectly honest, all I know for now is that he can fuck off home. Khat comes on but he's also running out of time to impress. Almost immediately afterwards, we put together a good move that culminates with Khat chipping the ball out to Jenniker on the left. He tries a low cross but its blocked by Mkhize... And so begins another counter attack. May plays a long diagonal through ball behind our defence and Ngcepe latches onto it in the box, before blasting the ball past Komo. Why did I tell us to keep attacking after watching how well they counter attack? After knowing that counter attacking football is their only option as they try and scrape enough points to stay in the division? Because I'm just a regular person, albeit with half a robot face. I put my trousers on one leg at a time like anyone else. And sometimes people are fucking stupid.


Nevertheless, we'll keep attacking. We can either pull level or we can concede again and lose 1-3, and at this point it won't make much difference to ship 1 extra goal. I do make a couple of changes though, bringing on Gogotya for Sinbad and Japhta for Zulu, dropping Jenniker to full back to accommodate the winger.

As we enter the final 10 minutes, Thanda Royal Zulu's free kick breaks down and now it's our turn to start a counter attack. Carl Lark gets the ball and surges forward against the back-pedalling defence. He then makes the unfortunate decision to have a bash from 30 yards and the ball flies well wide. They make counter attacking look so easy.


A couple of minutes later, Japhta gets the ball on the left wing. He swings an excellent cross into the box from a deep position and Peters comes out to claim it, but he's beaten in the air by Carl Lark, who loops a header over the keeper and into the far top corner of the net. I'm relieved, but this isn't a time to celebrate. It's a time to drop deep and not over extend ourselves.


A couple of minutes later however, Ryan Moon plays a through ball behind the TRZ defence and perfectly into Lark's path. All he needs to do is pull the trigger, complete his hat trick and earn us the 3 points, but he takes a touch allowing the defenders to catch up and when he does shoot, Mkhize is there to block it.



https://youtu.be/wCnC8l6Vbnw

Let’s be honest, a draw isn’t ideal, is it? Fair play to Carl Lark, he really pulled us out of the shit there, but overall I still want more. I still expect better. We have a 17 day break before we host Chippa United in our next match, and I’ll be using that time to work on something different.



Project: Foxy MK II isn’t designed to be in any way groundbreaking. It’s designed to address the issues that we’ve found in Project: Foxy. First of all, we’re going with a standard 4-1-2-3 as oppose to the asymmetrical 4-1-2-2-1 that we’ve been using. The benefits of this are twofold in that firstly, we’ll be tougher to break down in midfield, something that has been a problem with the old system. Secondly, it gets rid of our attacking midfielder problem. Khat, Sullie and to a lesser extent Maloka have failed to impress me in any way, shape or form behind the striker, so we’re binning the role entirely, at least until we can bring in someone better. You may be thinking that this will leave us short at the front, but to make up for that, Sello Japhta will play in a very similar way to Ryan Moon does on the right, acting more as a wide forward than a winger and giving us essentially a 3 man attack.



The overall system is designed to keep us tight, keep the scores level, and have enough going forward to nick a goal. Focussing on defence seems like the sensible thing to do with a squad that has a fatal allergy to going a goal down at any point ever. We’ll keep ourselves extremely narrow to prevent teams from playing straight through the middle of us, which has also been a problem so far this season. We’ll sit deep, remain compact, and congest the middle of the pitch, forcing the opposition to head out onto the flanks, where we’ll close them down, win back possession and hit them on the break. Well, that’s the theory anyway.



We work on our shape, our discipline, and most of all our defending throughout the break. In other news, Keenon Blignaut tells me that he needs to leave the club for first team football and I tell him that I agree wholeheartedly with that statement. He’ll be sold as soon as a bid comes in.



Khat tweaks his hamstring in the build up to the match whilst playing a reserve friendly against Grassy Park. He’ll miss the next couple of weeks, but I don’t think we’ll miss him all that much.



I also complete my National B License qualification that I started when I first arrived in Lansdowne, and seeing as the European Championships qualifying stage is over, I chance my arm by sending my CV to the Football Associations of 2 nations thay have sacked their Managers after not qualifying; Liechtenstein and Iceland. Because why not?




Finally, we’re still waiting on news of Joseph Ekwalla’s work permit. Terms have been agreed and graciously funded by Goolam Allie, but as usual we have to wait a full month to see if he can join us. It really is a piss-take.




When the match does arrive, I name quite a changed side, with the recently recovered Gertse restored to the starting line up along with Moe, Gogotya and Japhta. It’s time to see how our new formation fares.



Straight from kickoff, Gogotya picks out Moon on the right with a great sweeping pass. Moon speeds down the line, past Ngcobo and crosses from the byline. Carl Lark gets his head to it but is denied by a great save by Akpeyi.


Quarter of an hour into the game, Seanego whips in a dangerous corner but Adolph heads it over the bar from the edge of the 6 yard box.


After 20 minutes they really start putting us under pressure. First, Seanego forces a good save from Komo with a powerful header, and then when the ball’s worked back around to the edge of the area, Ace Sali tees up Langwe, but his low drive towards the bottom corner is tipped behind by Komo.


With half an hour gone they’re still on top, and Gogotya makes the fatal error of leaving his man to close down Ace Sali, already being marked by Sinbad. This leaves a Langwe-sized hole in midfield, and Ace Sali picks him out. Langwe has all the time in the world to play a first time pass through for Seanego, who knocks the ball past Komo and in. I promptly make it unequivocally clear that I want Sinbad and Gogotya to stick to their positions and not leave the exact same giant gaps in midfield that I’ve just spent 2 weeks trying to get rid of.


With 7 minutes to go before half time, Seanego’s corner is flicked on by Ngobe and nodded into the net by Kama at the far post. 0-2.


But then, a miracle. An absolute bloody miracle. My team collectively decide that we can win this match. Straight from kick off after the goal, Sinbad plays it back to Moe on the half way line, he plays a long arcing ball over the top, and Carl Lark’s there once again to nod the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper. We aren’t done yet. I’m so proud.


Less than 2 minutes into the second half, Cele receives the ball on the right wing and whips a cross in first time to the edge of the area. Lark arrives, Lark heads the ball, Lark finds the bottom corner of the net. I feel faint.


It’s an even game from that point on. With 20 minutes to go, we go on the counter to make sure we don’t concede late on and ruin this fantastic fightback.


With 15 minutes to go we win a corner. Japhta steps up and curls it into the box, but it’s headed clear - As far as Sinbad, 25 yards out. Sinbad gets the ball out of his feet, keeps his head down... And drills the ball straight into the bottom right hand corner. I join the 7 odd thousand Santos supporters in leaping to my feet, arms raised in jubilation. What a comeback. What a match. So long, Langwe. Sayonara, Seanego. Smoke me a kipper, Ace Sali, I’ll be... Oh for fucks sake, it’s been ruled out.


I mean yes, Gertse, Moe, Gogotya and Moon were all stood in offside positions as the defenders moved away from goal and Sinbad took the shot, but they werent really interfering with play. It clearly wasn’t supposed to be a pass to any of them. They weren’t in the keeper’s way or even his eye-line. Oh well, still 2-2.


5 minutes later, Ryan Moon chips the ball up for Carl Lark in the box. He tries to make it a hat trick of headers, but this one doesn’t have much pace and is easy for Daniel to catch. I give Maloka a late cameo in place of Sinbad, but the game ends 2-2.



https://youtu.be/dUkcxP9qY3Q


I think overall there are definitely positives to come from our last 2 matches. I’ve bemoaned the lack of determination in the squad but they’ve certainly shown some to come back from 0-1, 1-2 and 0-2 in the space of 2 matches. You could even make an argument that we should’ve won that last one, but I’m not too sure.


That evening, no sooner do I get back to Geen Rook Nie, get up to my flat and fall into bed, than my phone begins to ring. I lazily dig it out of my pocket and look at the screen. It’s Keith America, my assistant. My greeting is half frustration, half confusion. "Hello Keith?"


"Boss", he says breathlessly, "We’ve just had a call from the LFV!"


"The Liechtenstein Fussballverband, AKA The Liechtensteiner FA, sure." I say, incredibly learned in the names of the Football Associations of foreign nations.

"Wait... Fuck off."


"Do you want to be the manager of a National side?"


Franjo: The New Glenn Hoddle (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 83.5)

Everyone’s got an earliest football memory. Everyone who loves football at least. Everyone remembers that moment that grabbed them and made them fall in love with the game.


Not uncommonly for an Englishman born before the Millennium, when you could arguably describe our national side as "Good", my earliest football memory is of an International Tournament. Strangely though for someone who became a lifelong Everton fan, it was a Liverpool player that ignited my love for football. My earliest football memory is from when I was 6 years old, very soon to be 7. On 30th June 1998, I watched on an awful old CRT television the scenes unfolding at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in Saint-Étienne, when David Beckham chipped the ball through the centre for our promising teenage striker: England’s no. 20 - Michael Owen. He paced past an Argentine defender, then skipped past a second, and with the goalkeeper rushing out to close down the angle, he found the far top corner of the goal. Weirdly, and thankfully, I don’t remember too much else from that World Cup 98 match, but I do remember we had an assembly at School the next day about the dangers of being a stupid, petulant little floppy-haired let down.


In recent years, especially since Euro 2004, England’s World Cup and European Championship performances have gotten worse and worse, but the great thing about International football... Well, the great thing about International Tournaments is that if your own nation hasn’t qualified or hasn’t performed, you can forget all about them by watching any number of other matches. You can watch The Spanish, The French, The Brazilians, The Germans and The Welsh. Root for someone else, anyone else, and it’s just as good. The World Cup for many fans is the absolute pinnacle. It’s non-stop football every day with endless twists and turns, followed invariably by The Germans lifting the trophy.


I say all of this because I want to be a part of this World. I want to do for some young Liechtensteiner kid what Glenn Hoddle once did for me. I want one of my players to do for them what Michael Owen once did for me. I want to make Liechtenstein fall head over heels for the beautiful game.


And I know what you’re thinking: "But Franjo, Liechtenstein is a primarily German-speaking doubly landlocked principality in the Eastern part of Central Europe. Their population is small and their land is largely mountainous, causing them to favour the winter sports above a good old game of footy."


Fair point, but what brings a nation together more than cheering their national team on at a major international tournament?


"But Franjo, Liechtenstein have never qualified for a major international tournament. In fact since they started entering the qualification stages in 1996, they’ve finished bottom of nearly every group and had some horrendous results, including an 11-1 loss to Macedonia in a qualifier for France '98."


Yeah, OK, but...


"Franjo, Liechtenstein are currently ranked 160th in the FIFA World Rankings, and the highest they’ve ever ranked on that list is 150th. They even slid down as far as 190th in recent years."


But with a little hard work...


"I think the tattoo of your half-robot face I had done on my inner thigh is becoming infected".


Great. Look, the way I see it, by the law of averages, Liechtenstein will get to a World Cup or a Euros at some point. Yes, we’ve failed to qualify for the 2020 Euros, which prompted the LFV to sack long suffering manager Rene Pauritsch and hire yours truly, but that gives me time now to get to know my players and prepare for qualification for the 2022 World Cup in Canada, not forgetting the European International League that we’ll be playing next year.


And our European Championship qualifying campaign wasn’t even all that bad. I mean, yes we got thrashed by Belgium and Bosnia & Herzegovina... And Scotland... Twice each... But we did do the double over Andorra, ranked 202nd in the World, scoring 5 and conceding 0 in the process. So you know, that’s something.




I’ve lined us up against some varied opponents next year: Friendlies against the Faroe Islands, Denmark, Estonia and Russia should give me a good idea of what I’m dealing with here.



I move quickly to put together some International experience in my backroom staff. In the days following my appointment, I appoint former PSV Eindhoven and Netherlands centre back André Ooijer as my assistant, swiftly followed by former Spanish internationals David Albelda and Marcos Senna, amongst many less well known names.




The good thing about a national side like Liechtenstein’s is that it doesn’t come with all the baggage and expectation that comes with one of the big ever-presents. If we do anything, if we even reach a play-off for a major tournament, we’ll be written into Liechtenstein history. But I don’t want to just do anything.


I’ve never shied away from a seemingly insurmountable task, just ask the poor citizens of Vellinge. I want the phrase "Nicht Können" removed from the Liechtenstein dictionary. I want all 36,000 of the good people of Liechenstein to put down their fucking skis and book themselves a flight and a hotel in Canada.


Let’s take Liechtenstein to the World Cup.


It feels good to be an International Manager, and to some extent I’m buoyed by the fact that I’m getting plenty of practice trying to make a mediocre bunch of footballers play well in my day job. I’ll need to do it all over again when I pick my first Liechtenstein squad, but that’s about 4 months away, so for now let’s focus on South Africa.



Bloem Celtic are our next opponents. We travel to their place fairly pessimistic, as their last match was at home against Kaiser Chiefs and they won 1-0. I’ll say that once more, they beat Kaiser Chiefs in their last match.


Mind you, we’re feeling pretty good ourselves. The squad seems to be making good progress. We could have capitulated in both of our last 2 matches, but we didn’t. We kept going and came away with a point from each, which is promising.


Bloem Celtic love to play through balls to unlock defences and hopefully we’ll fare better than most with our narrow, compact Project: Foxy MK II system. We make no personnel changes from our last match. Let’s get at them.



The first half, on the whole, is a quiet, scrappy affair. 2 moments stick out for me though: Firstly, the free kick that Lakay bends into the top corner in the 23rd minute, and then just before half time when Khasipe’s cross is volleyed in at the near post by Chapman. We go on the counter, optimistic that we can pull the game back in a similar way to our last match, but we can’t. The second half is just as quiet and just as scrappy as the first. Despite me telling the full backs to push forwards in the 55th minute, despite bellowing well worn clichés from the touchline like "PUSH UP!", "GET FORWARD!", "GIVE HIM AN OPTION" and "SELLO YOU WANKER, HOW HARD IS IT TO COMPLETE A PASS?!", neither team creates anything of note.



https://youtu.be/oR5qW_cRtns


It’s a straightforward win for Celtic and an instantly forgettable game. I intend to forget about it instantly.



As we pass into December, Khat comes back into the fold after his injury and I wait on tenterhooks to find out whether our potential new star Joseph Ekwalla will be joining us. 

The decision will be made on the 2nd, but before that I need to choose the Liechtenstein captain and vice captain. I decide, very boring of me I know, to keep the existing ones in place as I don’t know the squad too well just yet, although I did go and watch Lugano take on Vaduz the other day.



There weren’t many stand out performers if I’m honest and it was a dull sort of game. Several players impressed for Lugano but it’s a real shame that none of them are Lichtensteiner.

 Anyway, versatile defensive player Sandro Wieser keeps the armband and Burnley’s excellent holding midfielder Marcel Büchel stays as vice captain. That’s right, I’m coaching a bloody Premier League player.

 We'll get to know them better a bit later on.

Then comes the hammer blow. Ekwalla’s work permit is rejected. I appeal the decision immediately, citing the fact that he’s an excellent young footballer. The powers that be will sleep on the decision and inform me tomorrow morning, right before our match against Orlando Pirates.



The next morning, I’m up at 5 O’Clock. I’m checking my phone every 2 minutes, waiting for the final verdict. I’m not sure why. It’s not like they’re going to text me. They’ll ring, and I’ll hear them ring because I’ve checked about 20 times and my phone is definitely on loud and on the highest possible volume. Nevertheless, every 2 minutes like clockwork.

Just after 9, the call finally comes. The transfer of Joseph Ekwalla... Is ON! Punching the air, and ending the call as soon as my ridiculous in-built English politeness will let me, I ring Joseph’s agent and tell him to get our new player on the plane. We’ve had one ready at an airport in Garoua, Cameroon since yesterday morning. Joseph’s hastily flown over, plonked in front of his contract, which he signs to make the move official, given a Santos FC tracksuit and lead into the dressing room to meet the other lads, who are already changed and ready for our home match against Orlando Pirates.


"Lads, this is Joseph", I announce, quite out of breath as we barge through the door just minutes from kick off. "He’s a new signing from Cameroon and he doesn’t speak much English. He’s on the bench today, make him feel welcome, yeah? Does anyone speak French?" My question’s greeted with silence. "Parlez vous Français?" I ask hopefully, and no doubt incorrectly.


"Oh sorry, I do", pipes up Emil Sambou.


"Right, yeah. Emil, sit with me and Joseph on the bench today, I don’t want him just sat silently on his own."


The only change today is that Issouf Paro is fit enough to replace Moe, who is dropped to the bench after once again failing to impress. Joining him on the bench is the fit again Khat and of course our new no.25 - Joseph Ekwalla.



For the first half hour, we look good. We dominate, have a couple of half chances and generally pin Orlando Pirates back. Right on the half hour mark though, Rakhale plays a nice pass around the corner and into our box for Happy Jele, who shoots towards the near post. Komo gets down to it but let’s the ball squeeze past him and into the net.


5 minutes later, Nyauza sets up Qualinge, who’s cutting in from the left wing. He takes a touch and hammers the ball into the top corner. I let out a quiet groan. We’ve already lost. Again.


At half time and after my inevitable rant at the players, I bring on Ekwalla for Diale, who was on a booking anyway. Sinbad will drop back as a playmaking holding man and Ekwalla will have license to get forward and just play his natural game.


5 minutes into the second half, a floated Jele cross is glanced in off the head of Ndora and the game is well and truly over. I throw Khat on for Gogotya and we go to an attacking, structured 4-2-4, because why not.


With 20 minutes to go, Emil Sambou comes on replacing Carl Lark, who’s had a quiet game.

Almost 10 minutes later the cherry is placed on top of the Pirates’ performance when Qualinge drives forwards with the ball and tries to drill a low cross into the box, but it deflects off Jenniker’s foot and sneaks in at the near post, wrong footing Komo. 0-4.


Fully resigning myself once again to the fact that my team aren’t going to claw back even a consolation goal for us, I start to just watch Joseph Ekwalla. I had to ask the Chairman specifically to green-light his transfer, so I want to know that he was worth it. Now baring in mind the fact that he’s been thrown in at the deep end, moved to a new country with a new club, started to learn a new language and on the same day has been thrown on when we were 2 goals down, what strikes me is how un-phased he is.


There’s one point where he stands 30 yards from their goal, smack bang central, and plays the ball to a player in space. They run into trouble and need to look for a pass and who’s open? Joseph is. Still right there, available for the pass. He gets it back and instantly knows who’s in the best position for the next pass. He plays it straight away, but they too run into trouble, and he’s there again. And then again. It’s a small thing, but it’s so, so promising. He’s there having flown in this morning, keeping us ticking over, providing an option, identifying the next pass and playing it, cool as a cucumber.


I once said of young striker Renato Silva that if I one day made it to a top club, he could follow me. Maybe that was rash, but with Joseph... there’s a hell of a footballer in there is all I’ll say. I think he’s got a big, big future.



https://youtu.be/Hnj9g4s1aI8


If you don’t find the positives on a day like this you’ll drive yourself mad, and our new signing is definitely one. Hopefully in January we’ll be able to pick up a couple more promising young players, but for now all we can do is keep plugging away, trying not to let our season disintegrate as badly as our squad’s confidence does after conceding.
Half Time (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep85)


We need players. More specifically, we need my kind of players. Hard workers, fighters, scrappers. Reliable footballers who know what it takes to win. I’ve been harping on this for a while but the winter break’s on the horizon and we need to think about who can come in and help to change the personality of this squad. To start with, let me introduce you to free agent Sony Norde, who’s actually been on trial with us and playing in our Reserves for about 3 months.



Sony is a versatile attacking midfield option, is great technically and physically and has about as much determination, flair and work ethic as the entire pre-Franjo Santos team combined. He’s also an experienced international for his native Haiti. I’ve come to the conclusion that I need him in this squad, so I offer him a contract and he signs immediately, qualifying almost straight away for a work permit thanks to his inclusions in recent International matches. The only problem and the reason I’ve taken so long to sign him is that as a senior player he can’t be registered in the squad until January, so he won’t be a part of the 3 matches we still have before the break. He’ll continue playing in the reserves and getting his English up to speed for now.



Sundowns are our next opponents and they represent a significant challenge for us. While we’ve spent the past few weeks free-falling down the PSL table, Sundowns have been enjoying a steady start to the season, sitting 4th with 6 wins in 11 and a game in hand over pretty much everyone below them.



I’m taking Komo out of the firing line today. It’s been about 6 weeks since he went a match without picking the ball out of the net at least twice, although to be fair the rest of the team haven’t helped. Unsurprisingly, it’s also been 6 weeks since our last win. If we’re not careful this could turn into another GieKSa situation, so let’s try and get back on track, shall we? Also coming into the squad are Gary Havenga, Siyabonga Zulu and Joseph Ekwalla for his first start, at the expense of Cele, Japhta and Gogotya.



It takes 36 seconds for Nxumalo to latch onto Mosadi’s low cross and boot in the opening goal. 36 seconds. Moving on...


Almost 25 minutes in, we see promising signs from young Ekwalla when he receives the ball from Moon in our half and surges forwards past 2 Sundowns midfielders. He then takes a shot from 30 yards that flies wide, but still.


That run seems to remind the team that you can still play football even if you’re losing, because within 2 minutes we score probably the best team goal I’ve seen from one of my teams; An 18 pass move starting deep in our half and ending with a whipped cross from Jenniker and a point blank header from Moon to equalise. Brilliant football.


10 minutes on, Ekwalla surges forward once again and plays a perfect ball through the defence for Lark, who times his run brilliantly but tries to place the ball in the top corner and puts it just wide.


Half time passes and we come out well in the second half. We win a corner in the 52nd minute and Moon whips it in. Gcaba slices his clearance and the ball bounces off Havenga before falling perfectly for Diale, who thumps it past the keeper to put us ahead.


We last for all of 8 minutes before Monare’s long ball is pumped into our penalty area, Nxumalo rises above Zulu to nod it on and Ntuli is unmarked at the far post to volley the equalising goal past Visser. It was nice while it lasted though.


The game fizzles out out a bit after that. Sundowns don’t seem to want a winning goal too badly and our heads go down, resulting in a bit of a stalemate. I bring on Japhta and Sambou, replacing Zulu and Lark shortly afterwards, and then Cele on for Gertse who’s on a booking about 10 minutes from time.


2 minutes before the end, Motupa runs forward powerfully and shoots from the edge of the box, but it’s well wide of Visser’s net. Once the 90 minutes are up, Ekwalla intercepts a pass meant for Nxumalo and the South African International sees red in every sense, sliding through the back of our Cameroonian prodigy and earning himself a very slightly earlier bath than the rest of his team.



https://youtu.be/7BLWC6Oyp9Y


I can live with that result. We gave as good as we got against a good side and that puts me in a pretty good mood, which turns into a very good mood the next day when Goolam Allie agrees to invest in our youth facilities. I really like Goolam. He’s a smart man, a fair man and he really does want what’s best for his football club.



Now then. Today is a very big day because today the World Cup European Qualifying Groups are drawn. The matches won’t actually start until March 2021, but I’m exciting to see which teams we’ll be going up against. It’s one of these situations where I don’t know whether I want a tough or easy group. A tough group would give us the chance to go up against some of the biggest names in world football, whereas an easy group would give us a better chance of qualification. We’ll see. Oh, and we’ve been seeded 6th, which isn’t all that surprising.


Group 4


1st Team: Liechtenstein (Ranked 160th)



Now seems a good as time as any to tell you properly about how Liechtenstein did in the qualifiers for the last 2 major tournaments. In our qualifying group for World Cup 18, we finished dead last, admittedly in a tough group with Spain and Italy, but we only picked up the 1 point from Israel. We did slightly better in our Euro 2020 qualifying group as I've mentioned before, finishing 5th out of 6.


2nd Team: Lithuania (Ranked 137th)



Interesting. I’ll admit, I don’t know too much about Lithuania. Former defender Marius Stankevičius’ name rings a bell, but I don’t remember him well at all. They kept things relatively tight against their World Cup 18 qualifying group, sneaking 2 1-0 victories over Malta and 3 1-1 draws; 2 against Slovenia and another against Slovakia, finishing stranded in 5th, 8 points below Scotland and 9 above point-less Malta. In Euro 2020 qualifying, they finished dead last in their group of 5, picking up a solitary point against Macedonia.


3rd Team: Montenegro (Ranked 75th)



Montenegro could be a dark horse in this group. They’re a small nation but they’ve got some well known players, such as Inter centre back Stefan Savic and Torino striker Stevan Jovetic. In their World Cup 18 qualifying group, they finished in a respectable 4th place, with 2 wins against Kazakhstan, another against Armenia and a draw with Denmark. They did OK in the Euro 2020 qualifiers too, finishing 3rd in their group, but to be fair a long way off 2nd placed Romania.


4th Team: Finland (Ranked 55th)



Finland are an interesting team. Like us, the 3rd best team in our group actually finished bottom of their World Cup 18 qualifying group, even below newly eligible nation Kosovo. They had a frustrating Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, drawing 5 of their 8 games and finishing 4th out of 5 teams. There’s also every chance that by the time we take them on, 34 year old captain Niklas Moisander, 32 year old vice-captain Tim Sparv and 32 year old key player Roman Eremenko could have all retired. Could we have drawn them at just the right time?


5th Team: Russia (Ranked 25th)

OK, I’ll take Russia. There are some very good teams in this tier and I think we’ve avoided some big hitters by drawing these. Fun fact: The hosts of World Cup 18 were actually dumped out of their own tournament on Alphabetical Order in the Group Stage by Australia. They've made short work of their admittedly quite weak Euro 2020 qualifying group though (That also contained Montenegro), winning 8 matches out of 10. Also, we have a friendly scheduled against these next year and that match has just got a lot more serious.


6th Team: Poland (Ranked 14th)



Wow. OK, this is, dare I say it, the “easiest” group we could’ve asked for. I say "Easiest" because we still realistically stand little to no chance of finishing higher than 5th. Poland are a good team, of course they are, but bearing in mind we could’ve had France or Germany, I’ll take that all day long. They had a mixed experience in qualifying for Euro 2020, finishing 2nd out of 5 on 13 points, just 1 above Israel. Manchester United’s Robert Lewandowski actually retired from International Football after Poland were dumped out of World Cup 2018’s Second Round in a 2-1 defeat against Portugal, which is a boost. They’re still a very good team though and hand on heart, they’ll probably beat us comfortably. Twice.



Of course, the aim of these qualifiers is to... well, qualify. So that’s what we’ll be looking to do. The top team from each group qualifies for the World Cup, along with the best 3 2nd placed teams. I’m really looking forward to this. It’s a shame the qualifiers don’t start for another 15 months really, isn’t it.




And... Oh good, we’re now ranked 170th in the world. Already we've fallen 10 places under my leadership. We’ve not even kicked a ball under the new regime yet, FIFA!




Anyway, where were we? Oh yes, Santos FC. We’ve just signed Sony Norde but he’s ineligible for the time being. Next up is Maritzburg United at their place, who are struggling even worse than we are

.

There’s only 6 points between us and them at the minute though. A loss today would bridge the gap between us and the bottom 4, which I’m not too keen on doing. We set up almost identically to the Sundowns match, except with Japhta replacing Zulu and Jenniker dropping back to defence.



The first half is predictably quiet, with the exception of Mnyamane’s goal after 13 minutes; a far post header from a Nkanyiso Cele cross. Oh dear.


After 15 minutes of moping, orange slices and yet another bollocking from me, we head back out refreshed and rejuvenated for the second half. On the hour mark we also go on the attack.


With 20 minutes to go, Radebe’s corner is met by Shandu, who rattles our bar with a header. With 7 to go, Zulu and Sambou replace Jenniker and Lark. In injury time, a Sinbad volley grazes the top of the bar. It’s another one of them. Even though we played OK, the result is nowhere near good enough.



https://youtu.be/knaEOO-MwJg



OK, we're 2 days before Christmas. Let's tie this half-season up then with a trip to Bidvest Wits. They beat us handily in the SA KO Cup but now we're better equipped to stop them... Sort of. We're ready... Ish. Let's just get this done, eh?



I've made the executive decision that Visser is as much as a fucking liability as Komo, if not more, so we may as well let the young lad get some experience. He's still improving after all. Khat's back on the bench at the expense of Emil Sambou, who has been shocking so far this season. He's out of the squad altogether today.



3 minutes in, Ryan Moon charges down the right wing like a man possessed. He whips a cross in towards the edge of the 6 yard box and Carl Lark, who's impressing me more and more for his natural goalscoring ability, stoops to head the ball over the line.


The ball's straight up at our end after kick off and Alexander floats a dangerous cross into the box. Gary Havenga heads it clear but only as far as Tshabalala, who nods the ball down for Scott on the edge of the area. Scott whallops it towards goal and the ball crashes off the underside of the bar, off the line, against the post and finally caught by the grateful Komo.


10 minutes in, Hlanti swings a corner in for the hosts. Komo claims it well, rises and plucks the ball out of the air. The referee blows his whistle though. Issouf Paro, captain for the day in the absence of Cele and Sambou, pushes Alexander in the area, allowing his keeper to make the catch. Wits have a penalty. Sikhakhane steps up - And powers the ball low past Komo to equalise.


10 minutes or so later, we have a dangerous looking indirect free kick, but the cross isn't great and Wits clear. They counter attack through Harrison, who takes the ball through our half and onto the right touchline, before crossing for Mkatshana, whose header crashes in off the bar. Within 17 minutes, we've gone from winning to losing. To be fair, we haven't played that badly, and I tell the lads that at half time. We're genuinely quite unlucky to be behind.


The second half starts slowly, and is quite uneventful until the 68th minute when Wits win another corner. Hlanti whips it in again, Rodgers nods the ball on from the edge of the 6 yard box, Mkatshana lays it off and Sikhakhane gets his second goal of the day with a drilled finish from 8 yards. I'm saddened that we've gone from 1-0 up to 1-3 down, but that was a fantastic corner routine. We go on the counter to try and draw them out so that we can hit them on the break.


A few minutes later we win a corner of our own. Japhta's cross comes in but the ball's headed clear. Sinbad takes it down 25 yards out and runs to the right side of the box before attempting a cross. None of our players manage to get to it, but it does deflect off Hlanti and wrong foot the keeper, pulling the score back to 2-3.



https://youtu.be/AfBfbWJLSb4


So there we are. Half time in the Premier Soccer League and we're a respectable but unexciting 12th in the table. Look, the performances aren't that bad. Most of the time. Some of the time. The results are the problem, as they so often are in this business. We've got about 6 weeks now to get back on the training pitch, get some new bodies in, tighten up our leaky defence and start playing as a unit. If I've learned anything from GieKSa, it's that the second half of the season is crucial. In a way, even more crucial than the first. I intend to make the second half of this season a bloody good one.

Winter Break (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Meta-sode 85.5)

Morning all,
It’s time for another winter break. I’ll take a week to get everything together and then be back to go through a signing-heavy (I hope) winter break and then our very first International squad selection for Liechtenstein’s friendlies against the Faroe Islands and Denmark, where there’ll obviously be plenty of new faces to meet.


I never really said it before, but cheers for sticking with the story after I took some time out. The Katowice fiasco was thoroughly unenjoyable to write towards the end and it sort of knocked me for 6. It took a while to get excited for the story again but now I’m relishing the challenge of sorting out Santos and Liechtenstein and really enjoying writing about it again.


So yeah, thanks! I hope you’re excited for the prospects of rebuilding a truly frustrating squad in South Africa and a World Cup Qualifying campaign with Liechtenstein as much as I am.


See you in a week!


Cheers,


Franjo
That group for Lichtenstein must inspire some hope. Not of qualifying, but of not finishing bottom - which would be an achievement in itself.

Was that the mighty Tshabalala that I remember "starring" for South Africa at their World Cup in 2010? Good memories!

Enjoy your winter break
Sometimes you have to stand in the shadows; to see the light.

OYSTON OUT
Yep the group actually turned out as well as I could’ve hoped for haha, it’s a shame we probably will still come bottom after such a lenient draw.

And no it wasn’t THE Tshabalala, I wondered that too! But nope he’s an assistant manager now

Cheers mate
Dropping Like Flies (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep86)

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way, on Christmas Eve Magesi FC buy Blignaut for £4k, Hey!


You’re trying to fit it to the tune, aren’t you. Don’t worry, it doesn’t fit. The extra syllable in Magesi kills it to be perfectly honest, but what is Christmas time all about if not a spirit of accepting small imperfections and having a good wholesome time with those closest to you?


In that vein, I have indeed bundled Keenon Blignaut off to the only club stupid enough to put in a bid. I was fed up of his moaning about wanting first team football. He should have thought about that before he got injured at the same time as Dino Visser, shouldn’t he. Merry Christmas, me.



Pretty much as soon as our last match finishes before the break, I start scouring the world for talent. The first footballer that tickles my fancy is EPTA’s 19 year old, Cameroonian, out of contract centre back Isaac Sohna.



He’s not great technically, but unless you’re after the next Lionel Messi, the technical side of a footballer’s game is the easiest part to coach in my opinion. You can make a player work on his first touch, technique, tackling, marking or heading, but the things that you really need a young footballer to be born with are athleticism and a good brain, and bloody hell does Isaac Sohna have both in abundance. He's fairly quick, strong, and I can't fault his mental game at all, but bravery, determination, positioning and work rate are all particular highlights. I offer him a contract, but as he’s another Cameroonian only capped at Under 20 level we’ll have to wait the obligatory and infuriating month to find out whether he can move.


Khat comes to me just after the new year. He’s seemingly made a new years resolution that he wants to play regular first team football, so he wants to be allowed to leave. It’s with quite a heavy heart I accept and place him on the transfer list. My “Chosen One” idea didn’t really pan out, did it?



We then have the headache of whose contracts we want to renew. I’m reminded of this in early January when Golden Arrows try to tempt Gertse away with a contract offer. We have quite a few others whose contracts are running out in the Summer and we have to balance this. On one hand, there are a lot of players who’ve disappointed me with their performances and have no place in my squad once I bring in suitable replacements, plus it’ll be good to free up some funds by getting some of their wages off the books, but on the other I don’t want to let everyone go and have the pressure in the Summer of having to make shoddy signings just to fill the bench because I’ve not left myself with enough of a squad.



I offer Gertse a new deal, as he’s been one of the good ones in my opinion and I don’t want him to leave to a rival. I also offer new deals to Ryan Moon and Sello Japhta, but they both price me out and I’m forced to withdraw from negotiations with both of them. That could be a problem. Another worry is that Joseph Ekwalla doesn't want to sign a new deal as he already feels that he's outgrown us. He's got 18 months left before his deal expires but that really vexes me. After much deliberation, Sinbad, Zulu, Diale, Lark, Gogotya and Havenga are also offered 1 year extensions and they all sign on the dotted line. That’ll do for now.


Now, let’s talk about Issouf Paro. When I came to the club I knew the kind of player he was. Physically intimidating, a good ball winner, but prone to switching off. Unfortunately, his lapses in concentration have far outweighed his technical and physical defensive ability so far, so I had planned to drop him after the break and try a defensive partnership of Gertse and Havenga, who have both been pretty solid. That being said, I’m not prepared for what happens next. In training, only a week or so into the new year, Paro breaks his leg. It’s a real gut punch and we’re all genuinely devastated for him. He’ll miss the rest of the season and possibly the start of the next one.



We need to shake it off though. As horrifying as it was to watch his lower leg snap like a wishbone, we need to prepare for the second half of the season. We start with a match against our Under 18’s, just to get back into the swing of things and get our confidence up a bit. I decide to introduce the squad to my old favourite Project: Meatloaf, as most of the friendlies I’ve been able to arrange are against weaker opposition that we should dominate. They enjoy the freedom of the new system, and Lark, Havenga and Japhta get the goals in a predictably dominant 3-0 win. I also very deliberately don’t substitute a single player. I put out what I think will be my first team going forwards and I want them all to experience what winning a match feels like again. It’s been a while at this point. Sello Japhta comes away with a strained wrist but he’ll be fine in a week or so. He won’t be alone in the treatment room either; Ryan Moon picks up a strained thigh in training a couple of days later and will also miss about a week.



https://youtu.be/qiFRckSDN-I

With Paro’s tibia currently splintered like an old matchstick, we need backup at centre back. I’ve identified the man I want to provide it, and made a loan offer to sign him; Platinum Stars’ youngster Eliphas Thoahlane.

Thoahlane is a 19 year old South African lad and he looks pretty promising. He’s solid technically, a good, brave and aggressive leader and he’s got good fitness levels. His contract also expires in the Summer so if the loan goes well we may even snap him up on a free. He joins us a couple of days after the loan bid.




The time then arrives for the South African FA Cup First Round draw, and we’re handed what should be a fairly comfortable home tie against First Division side Jomo Cosmos.



Over the next few days, I turn down loan bids from Maritzburg United and Chippa United for Zulu, as well as a loan offer from Cape Town City for Sinbad, who they want as back up to their first team. I reject it. As he's one of the first names on my team sheet, it also feels like a bit of a dig, which annoys me.



Our next friendly is against our Reserves. Again, today is just about getting everybody’s confidence back up. I name no substitutes for the first team so that Reserve team Manager Sifiso Baloyi can name whoever he wants in his lineup. We want a bit of a challenge after all and it’s a good opportunity for those in the fringes of the squad to impress me. My plan’s shot to tatters a bit when Saileg Richards, in my team while Moon gets over his injury, twists his ankle early on and we’re left to play the majority of the game with 10 men. Nevertheless, young left winger Manqoba Cele is also in my team replacing Japhta and he really shines, looking dangerous throughout and setting up new boy Sony Norde for the only goal in our 1-0 win. It’s also worth noting that young Thoahlane has a solid game for the reserves.



https://youtu.be/-KKrxe0wsoA



A few days later we're ready to step outside our little Santos bubble and actually play a friendly against another team. Jomo's Power come over for a kick-about and we send them away mourning a 5-1 loss, with our goals coming from Moon, an own goal and a brilliant hat trick from Sambou, who I brought back into the lineup as Carl Lark's gone off the boil a bit. Safe to say he'll keep his place for now. I also give run outs to young defensive midfielder Junaid Mobara and young striker Ernil Mobara (No relation).



https://youtu.be/v2Bs2B9BJCA




Worryingly, Sony Norde picks up a dead leg during the match. He's only out for a couple of days so it isn't the duration of the injury that worries me, it's the fact that we've lost Japhta, Moon, Richards and now Norde in quick succession. My 3 behind the striker and a backup right winger have dropped like flies and I need to keep an eye on that.


I needn't have been worried about Ryan Moon though. Next we travel to the imaginatively named United FC and record another 5-1 win. Emil Sambou scores a second hat trick in as many matches and they're all set up by Moon, who bags 2 goals himself. Bloody hell, what a performance. Sometimes you have to swallow your pride and follow your gut, and this is one of those times. I offer Moon a new 2 year deal on his terms, which he's thankfully lowered anyway, and he signs.



https://youtu.be/V81_A7qTshs

Almost a week later we get a couple of frustrating pieces of news. Firstly, Sello Japhta's looking at another injury layoff. He's strained his back and will miss 3-4 weeks, which at this point means he'll probably miss a couple of competitive fixtures.



On top of that, young centre back Isaac Sohna's work permit is rejected, which I appeal, and is then swiftly rejected again. I call the deal off, but it leaves a really bitter taste in my mouth to do so. I can't help but feel that he'll be Santos' "One that got away" at some point in the future.



Cultural Roots are next to visit as we carry on our promising run of friendlies. I find myself actually feeling a little disappointed when the final whistle blows and Emil Sambou only has 2 goals to his name, with Diale getting the 3rd in a 3-0 win. I don't know where this Sambou's been all season but I'm smacking my lips at the prospect of unleashing him on the League. Sadly, Saileg Richards is reintroduced after his injury but immediately twists his knee and will miss another couple of weeks.



https://youtu.be/jRFcqwCfii8

As January draws to a close I reject several transfer offers for young Luvo Modise as most of the clubs interested want me to pay too big a chunk of his wages. I do accept a reasonable offer of £1k from Platinum Stars though, who we've loaned Thoahlane from.



In fact, speaking of Thoahlane, I offer him a contract. He looks good and I want to get in there early to secure a permanent transfer at the end of the season when his deal expires. As soon as they secure Modise though, the slippery bastards trigger a 1 year contract extension on our loanee centre back. I see how it is, Platinum Stars. I see what you did there. You just made my list.



I also reject a loan offer from Highlands Park for Nathan Gertse, because he's one of my starting defenders, so I obviously don't want him going to a rival. I do however let young attacking midfielder Sakhile Maloka head out on loan to the tremendously named Future Tigers for the rest of the season. I do love some of these South African club names.



And with that, the transfer deadline passes. If I'm honest I wanted more reinforcements than 1 loanee centre back, but our funds are pretty tight and I'm not going to get shoddy players in for the sake of it. We'll plug on until the end of the season and hopefully have better luck in the market in the summer. We've got 2 friendly matches left against comparatively bigger sides than the ones we'e played so far.


The first is a trip to Stellenbosch, a first division side. Sambou scores yet again for us but 2 late goals for the hosts resign us to our first defeat of the break. What's more gutting is that Sony Norde strains his thigh and will miss 3-4 weeks. I honestly don't know how or why my attacking players have sustained such heavy and frequent injuries in the last month.



https://youtu.be/pRa-jPKQNSs



And finally, a real challenge. We host Brøndby IF, a Danish Superliga side. They represent a considerable step up to anybody we've played so far. I'm highly encouraged by the performance to be fair. Carl Lark opens the scoring in the second half but Brøndby fight back late on after Zulu gets a second yellow and a red, sending us down to 10 men. It's an even game though and I'm actually quite disappointed not to hold on for the win.



https://youtu.be/hTqM3nOcZt8


The real heartbreak however is that our standout performer recently, Emil Sambou, comes off in the first half with a broken ankle and will miss the rest of the season with Issouf Paro. He'd scored 9 goals in his last 5 games. I'm absolutely gutted.



Just to try and balance out the attack/defence injury ratio before our first competitive game of the calendar year, Dino Visser then goes and rules himself out for a few weeks with a back strain, but I'm planning on sticking with Komo anyway.



I didn't enjoy my first ever winter break in Poland, but this one's been different. It's been a real mixed bag, but if it wasn't for all the injuries I'd have probably gone as far as to say that I enjoyed it. We've got our confidence back, played with some freedom and swagger in a more entertaining system, and had a look at some of the next batch of possible academy graduates. I didn't get all of the reinforcements that I wanted, but I got a brilliant little defender, which we needed, and who knows maybe it's a blessing in disguise that I didn't make any more signings. Maybe the young homegrown lads will come through for us.

Welcome back!

Future Tigers should have a badge which is a tiger's face with a bit of the old cyborg look to almost half of it.

Bad luck with the injuries, hope the form continues into the competitive games though
Sometimes you have to stand in the shadows; to see the light.

OYSTON OUT
Half Moon - Part 2 (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep87)

We were battered and we were thrashed, and yet, I smile. We were humiliated and mocked, and yet, I smile. We were outplayed in every area of the pitch, and yet, I smile. Today we face Cape Town City as underdogs for the second time this season, and yet, I smile.


Why? Because if the clueless rabble I threw at them on opening day picked up 3 points, complete with a journeyman striker at the heart of defence, we can absolutely turn them over this time.



Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to be careless about this. I know that we’ve been using Project: Meatloaf in our friendlies for the last month, but we are the away team today and it’s a very open system. Besides, with Japhta, Norde, Richards and Sambou all missing I’m not convinced we have the players to make it work. No, today I’ll be reverting to Project: Foxy MK II. It’s safer, more solid and suits us better while we don’t have a decent no.10. Our only available goalkeeper Komo starts between the sticks, with a back 4 of captain Cele, Gertse, Thoahlane and Zulu in front of him. Diale holds midfield with Sinbad and Ekwalla the creative players in the middle, while Jenniker and Moon flank Carl Lark.



We start well. 10 minutes in, Sinbad takes the ball down on the half way line and bends it over the defence for Lark in the right channel. Our striker brings it under control as he gets into the box but then shoots over the bar.


Just 7 minutes later, Lark gets another chance though. This time, new loanee Thoahlane hoofs the ball over the Cape Town City defence and Lark wraps his left boot around it, fizzing it into the bottom corner to open the scoring.


We have first blood and we have the upper hand. I don't know whether Cape Town City have spent the winter break just wolfing down mince pies and malva pudding instead of training, but they look shellshocked. Before 25 minutes has passed, Ekwalla curls a beautiful pass through their defence and Lark's there once again with a well timed run to poke the ball under Mukuruva for 2-0.


We very nearly make it 3-0 just 2 minutes later when Moon makes another incision through the defence, passing it into space for Lark, who I'm starting to suspect was relieved to hear about Sambou's injury as it's meant that he's kept his place and is now playing out of his skin to show that he deserves it. He runs through on the right and shoots towards the near post but this time the keeper catches it, much to the relief of the home fans.


We take our 2-0 lead into a buoyant away changing room at the break and I just tell the lads to keep up the performance levels. When we step back out onto the turf it becomes clear that CTC haven't learned their lessons though. After just 3 minutes we catch them playing an extremely silly high defensive line and Moon plays another pass over the top for Carl Lark. He runs through on goal once more and shoots, but Mukuruva makes the save.


And then 5 minutes later, Moon receives the ball from Thoahlane on the edge of the CTC penalty box following a corner, and he drills our 3rd goal into the bottom corner. Game over and I'm all smiles. I'm ready to kill the game off and collect an extremely well deserved 3 points, even throwing on young trio Junaid Mobara, Ernil Mobara and Manqoba Cele for 10 minutes of first team football. However in the closing stages an undoubtedly frustrated, humiliated and emasculated CTC defender catches Ryan Moon with his studs and leaves a deep cut on his right leg to ruin my good time.



https://youtu.be/kBOgWBvkzCE



Bloody hell, what a dampener. Moon will miss 3-8 days thanks to his gashed leg, which means he may not be ready for our trip to Highlands Park. Under normal circumstances that wouldn't be such a problem but in the absence of Sello Japhta and Sony Norde he and Joseph Ekwalla are really our only attacking outlets, and I'm wary of putting too much pressure on a still pretty recent teenage signing who doesn't yet speak the same language as his teammates.



Speaking of Ekwalla actually, that appearance triggered a little wage bump for him and he's now on £1.1k per week. I don't think that's particularly a lot for someone of his quality and would happily double it, but he still doesn't want to discuss a new contract, preferring to keep his options open with a view to a move away in the Summer.




Oh well. Highlands Park are up next and we’re as confident as we’ve ever been. We travel to their place with Moon, Japhta and Norde all more or less back to full fitness, but none of them are quite back to fitness. I'm going to need to make a decision though because a team without any of them looks quite toothless on paper.




After much deliberation, I name the same lineup that thrashed Cape Town City, with half-Moon on the wing and Japhta and Norde both on the bench. A repeat performance with no complications would go down very smooth.



8 minutes in, Ryan Moon goes down clutching his ankle. He rolls his hands over one another in the universal signal for "Substitute me". There are no nearby pillows to scream into so I make do with just watching on silently. My gamble has backfired almost instantly. Sullie comes on. For fucking fucks fucking sake.


After a quarter of an hour, Singh cuts in from the left wing for Highlands Park and shoots from 25 yards out, but the ball goes flying over wildly.


7 minutes later, Highlands Park have us under the cosh somewhat. We give away a free kick about 30 yards out and it goes short to Abubakar, who runs into the box and shoots for the near post, squeezing the ball past young Komo. 0-1.


The pressure from the home team stays applied until the half time break, and we've offered very little. Carl Lark's not shown any of the dangerous attacking runs that I saw against Cape Town City, so I replace him with Ernil Mobara. Leading the line when we're a goal down is a lot of pressure to put on such inexperienced shoulders, but maybe he'll pull something out of the bag.


10 minutes into the second half Ernil gets his chance. It's Joseph Ekwalla with his back to goal that plays a magnificent through ball into the young striker's path and he goes near post with his shot, but Mpandle gets a hand to the ball and shoves it against the post and away.


With half an hour to go, we bring out the Meatloaf, with Japhta replacing Jenniker on the left and Ekwalla pushing up as a 10. We still struggle to make an impact though. As we enter the last 10 minutes, Highlands Park go close when Thobela robs Gertse. He runs to the edge of our box and shoots, but Komo catches the ball easily.


With a minute to go in normal time, Zulu underhits a backpass to Komo and Thobela nips in, this time blasting the ball into the net to kill off any silly hopes I had of a fightback. In the second minute of injury time, Ngwenya rises above Gertse to meet Oluwafemi's free kick and head home a third. It's a toothless display that makes our 3-0 win seem like a very, very long time ago. The final whistle is a relief.



https://youtu.be/2Im1HIEvUN8

Ryan Moon will miss 4-5 weeks with a sprained ankle. In a way I'm thankful that his gashed leg had no bearing on that. It was just a bad tackle from a Highlands Park player and the timing was coincidental. We'll miss Ryan, of course we will. It'll be tougher for us trying to put together attacks without him charging down the right... And yet, I smile.


Why?


Fuck knows.

Death and Taxes (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep88)


I want to dwell on our last league performance about as much as I want to listen to a Joe Pasquale-voiced audiobook version of a collective autobiography written by all of the dickheads that have ever won Big Brother, so it’s a good job that it’s SA Cup time really, isn’t it.



Jomo Cosmos will be our guests today in the First Round and I expect us to get straight back on track. As the home side and comfortable favourites I’ll be serving Meatloaf for tea (The system, not my hostile feline friend) garnished with a few different faces. This doesn’t sound appetising at all actually, the metaphor stood up better in my head.



Komo starts in net of course with a back 4 of Cele, Havenga, Thoahlane and Jenniker. Gogotya and Norde start in the centre of midfield, with Richards, Sullie and Japhta behind Khat, who’ll get another chance to impress as the lone striker even though he’s almost certainly leaving when his contract expires in the Summer.



The first 20 minutes consist of both sides tentatively trying to work the other out. 22 minutes in however, Shabalala runs forward into our half and draws Thoahlane out of position, before chipping a pass through for Kone, who’s running into the space that our centre back leaves. Kone brings the ball into the box and slams it beyond the flailing hand of Komo and into the far bottom corner of the net.


Kone tries for a second just a couple of minutes later with an ill-advised pot shot from 30 yards, but it flies well wide.


A few more minutes pass and we’re finally on the attack. Sullie receives the ball just outside the Jomo Cosmos box... And loses it promptly. It’s hoofed high into our half and over our defence. Kone has the beating of both Thoahlane and Havenga for pace and he takes the ball down, brings it into our area and places it into the bottom corner for 0-2.


This isn’t the pallet cleanser that I’d hoped for. With under half an hour gone I’m already forced to send us on the attack. The problem is that our defensive line was already high enough for Kone to cause us problems, but I can’t drop the line back without leaving a chasm of space between defence and midfield. We’ll double down, raising the defensive line even more and trying to catch their pacy forward offside.


The half time whistle blows and we trudge back into the changing room, all eyes on the floor. I’m already resigned to losing this game to be honest. I could go on again about the personality of the squad but I’ve played that record so many times that it’s covered in scratches and always skips the bit where I say “determination” 3 times in the same sentence. Junaid Mobara, Joseph Ekwalla and Manqoba Cele replace Thoahlane, Norde and Japhta to give them all an extra bit of game time.


Jomo continue to cause us problems in the second half. Just 5 minutes after the restart, Shabalala skips past Gary Havenga before having a crack at goal from 25 yards, but the ball flies wide.


On the hour mark, Gogotya’s hoofed ball forward is headed at goal by the lesser spotted Khat, but it’s straight at Modiba, who catches the ball easily.


After the hour, Mhlongo chips the ball around Mobara and Kone runs onto it yet again. I might actually have my scouts watch him after the match. He hits it first time with power but Komo tips the ball impressively over the bar with his fingertips.


With 20 minutes to go, Shabalala plays a pass through us once again. Kone gets there ahead of Mobara and shoots, but Komo rushes out to make a good save. He’s helpless to stop Kone from wrapping up the game and his hat trick on the rebound though. We’re out of the cup and have taken a thrashing from a lower league side. It’s not been a good few days.



https://youtu.be/d4fJXcKZfuE



Our chance of redemption comes against Golden Arrows and I sorely want us to make the most of it. We’re playing at home again so I’m going to see once and for all if this team can play Project: Meatloaf in competitive matches.



Komo plays behind Moe, who’s running out of chances of redemption himself after a half-season where he’s just not been able to get going, Gertse, Havenga and Zulu. Sinbad and Ekwalla make up the central midfield partnership, with Richards, Norde and Japhta in front of them and Lark the lone striker. I’ll be making a couple of changes tactically from the Cup game; we’ll play a much higher line and the offside trap from the start and we’ll make ourselves a bit narrower to stop the onslaught of passes through the central channels.



3 minutes in, Ekwalla’s looking typically busy. He presses a Golden Arrows defender and wins the ball for us in the attacking third. Carl Lark takes over and plays a pass in front of Saileg Richards, who cuts in from the right, runs through on goal and slides the ball into the far bottom corner to score his first professional goal. I look over to Ryan Moon, sat just above the dugout in his suit. “He’s after your place here, Moonie”, I grin. “You’d better get fit again quick!” He smiles and flips me off and I laugh as I turn back to the pitch. An early goal from a homegrown lad never fails to pick spirits up.


After a quarter of an hour, Khanyile plays a long ball over the top for Mothiba to run onto. Havenga can barely keep up with the forward but does manage to force him out wide enough so that his shot flies harmlessly into the stands.


On the half hour, Zungu chips the ball over the top, this time for Nxele on the left. He lets the ball bounce in the area before squaring it for Mothiba, who tucks it into the net. In my day they called that a bullshit FIFA goal, but sadly there’s no law against it here in the analogue world. 1-1.


Fearing a repeat of the Jomo Cosmos game, where they hit the ball over the top of our defence about as many times as I’ve had hot meals, I drop us back to a 4-2-2-1-1. We’ll play more conservatively and play a deeper back line.


Nothing much happens after that, which to an extent is what I wanted. I make some changes in the second half, swapping us to Project: Foxy Mk II, bringing on both Cele’s and Aidie Jenniker, but the match ends 1-1.



https://youtu.be/8PS6TBqp9qE

I just don’t think that Project: Meatloaf is a viable system at the minute. It’s become my go-to strategy when I’m struggling, but like at Katowice, I just don’t have players technical enough to handle a more dominant, fluid style of play. I’ll have a think on it.


Oh, in other news, Sello Japhta took a knock in the match and will miss 5-8 days, because if there’s one thing we’ve learned in the past couple of months it’s that 3 things in life are certain: Death, Taxes & Santos FC’s attacking players each sustaining more injuries than Homer fucking Simpson.

Crisi-Tunity (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep89)

I’ve prepared a horribly challenging general knowledge quiz for you today, so let’s get straight into it:


Q: The dog says...?


A: “Woof!” Good start!


Q: The mouse says...?


A: “Squeak!” Indeed it does, doing well so far!


Q: The Khat says...?


A: “I’ve gashed my leg and joined the ever-growing queue of Santos FC attackers sidelined for the upcoming home clash against Kaizer Chiefs”. And thus concludes the quiz.



Let’s be fair, Khat’s gashed leg doesn’t exactly lose me any sleep the night before the match like Japhta, Moon and Sambou's respective injuries did. Yes, I’ve only used him a couple of times and yes, mainly as a Libero or an attacking midfielder, but in truth Khat could’ve come close to breaking a world high jump record this year as he’s flopped almost as spectacularly as Dick Fosbury. It does however mean that we have absolutely no depth at the top end of the pitch other than the untried youth players, and to be fair a recovered but still incredibly unfit Sello Japhta.


Dino Visser’s back after his injury, which although not the most exciting news in the world does mean that we’re back to having more than 1 goalkeeper in the squad, which has to be a good thing.



As I mentioned, today is the day we welcome Razorlight to the Athlone Stadium, which after giving it some thought isn’t the worst time to have an offensive crisis. Famous American Airport John F Kennedy once said that “In the Chinese language, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters, one representing danger and the other, opportunity.” As satisfying and comforting a thought as this is, it’s not strictly true. The second character roughly means “A point where things happen or change”, which could be interpreted as “Opportunity” but could also be interpreted as “So much shit hitting the fan that the fan explodes and every man, woman and child in the vicinity is covered in a blanket of flaming wreckage. And shit.”



Nevertheless, today I choose to agree with Mr Kennedy, so let’s think about how this crisi-tunity could work in our favour. Firstly against a comfortably better side I’m inclined to play more defensively anyway, decreasing the number of offensive roles in the side. And then taking that a step further, we have defensively minded players who can play the sort of attacking roles like on the wings, so why not chuck them in too? We’ll play a more solid 4-1-4-1 variant of Project: Foxy Mk II with orthodox full backs Aidie Jenniker and Phil Cele coming in on the wings. Thoahlane also comes in for Havenga at the back.



3 minutes into the match, Franz Ferdinand win themselves a corner, but the ball’s cleared and we counter attack. Sinbad passes to Carl Lark on the edge of the area, who turns his marker, shoots for the bottom corner, and squeezes the ball past Khune and into the net. Santos FC 1, Hard Fi 0.


By the 10 minute mark the Pigeon Detectives restore the natural order through Morris, who slides the ball under Komo after an impressive dribble and cross from Harrison set him up.


Straight from kick off we attack. Ekwalla passes to Sinbad, who runs into space in the centre. He takes the ball forwards and shoots from 20 yards, but it flies high and wide of goal.


A few minutes later, Morena floats in a cross from a deep free kick on the left wing. Thoahlane attempts to head it clear but he only succeeds in nodding it on to the far post, where Harrison arrives to head the ball over Komo and in, giving We Are Scientists the lead and completing their 12 minute turnaround. Why can’t we do that?


After half an hour, Mphahlele receives the ball on the right wing and crosses it low into our box. Harrison gets there and hits the near post, and when he tries to put the rebound away Komo rushes in to block it. It could've easily been 1-3.


It takes another 10 minutes to become 1-3 actually. On the stroke of half time, Ntshangase finds Morris on the edge of the box, who hits a shot on the turn and fires the ball straight into the bottom corner.


At half time I don't have much to say. In fairness, it's been a very even match so far, with the only real difference being that Maximo Park have found the back of the net twice more than we have. I tell the boys to keep going and send them back out.


Just over 10 minutes after the restart, Baloyi underhits a backpass to Khune and Carl Lark steals in to tap the ball into the net. I punch the air with delight. That's exactly what we've needed; a light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe it'll be enough to inspire the lads into bagging an equaliser.


Under 2 minutes later, Mphahlele swings a cross in from a Kasabian corner and Moseamedi rises above Gertse to head the ball against the post, against Komo and in. Well, bollocks.


With 20 minutes to go, I bring on Saileg Richards, Sullie and Sony Norde in place of Philani Cele, Marothi Diale and Siyabonga Zulu and we go on the attack. It works to an extent, as Jenniker's cross from the edge of the area finds Sullie, who directs the ball into the bottom corner on the volley and after 8 months actually makes a contribution to the team. It isn't enough, but to be honest I'll take a hard fought 3-4 loss against The Fratellis. The Fratellis are an extremely good team after all.



https://youtu.be/Qvh-L6wK4o0



After Carl Lark's man of the match performance, he's on 5 for the season. He'll actually break a Santos FC record if he gets the award one more time, which really goes to show how well he's done for someone who wasn't even in my first team at the start of the season.



Can you take confidence from a loss? I feel like we can. We were good against Babyshambles and if we can play like that against a team that are incapable of scoring 4 goals, we'll get a result, right? I think it makes sense, but it's time to test my theory against Mthatha Bucks.



As we're the home side I'm giving Project: Meatloaf one more try. Out come Moe, possibly for the last time, Diale and Zulu and in come Richards, Norde and the fit again Japhta. Jenniker and Cele, who did their jobs pretty well against the league leaders The Courteeners, both drop back to full back to facilitate Richards, Norde and Japhta moving up behind Carl Lark.



After nearly 20 minutes and a good period of Santos FC possession, Thoahlane hits the ball long to the edge of the Mthatha Bucks box. Norde takes it down expertly and runs through on goal, but his shot is disappointing and goes straight into Hoffman's arms.


5 minutes later, Ekwalla finds himself in plenty of space 30 yards out. He chips the ball down the left wing for Japhta, who cuts it across first time for Lark, who buries it with his first touch. Meatloaf in action.


With the exception of me shutting up shop with Marothi Diale coming in as a holding man 20 minutes from time, that's all she wrote. It's a deserved 3 points and a promising display to boot.



https://youtu.be/pswhMKGrrYI

With 10 games to go, we're 10 points clear of the relegation zone with a game in hand. If you rewind a year it's clear that sometimes that gap closes on you fast, but I feel comfortable enough. Goolam Allie instructed me to avoid a relegation fight with Santos and I think we'll do that. I just want to take my 11th/12th/13th placed finish and get to the Summer, because despite the promising signs and the green shoots that pop up every once in a while, a part of me can't wait to rip this squad apart and bring in some new faces.
Here Comes Franjo (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep90)


“Breathe in deep, Stevie!” I cry, seeing my landlord approaching the Geen Rook Nie building that I’ve just exited with Chappie bounding along at his heel. He fixes me with a confused look. Stevie, not Chappie. “Breathe in deep and smell the optimism!” I continue.


“11th, aren’t you Franny?” He replies, unlocking the gate.


“Ah, for now we are, bru”, I wink. “But I’m feeling good. Moonie’s back in contention for the Supersport match and...”

 I lean in towards him and lower my voice, “...Keep this under your hat, but Sello’s just signed a new 2 year contract extension”. I lean back and look at him in anticipation of an expression of excitement or happiness. He just raises an eyebrow.



“Are you optimistic about paying last month’s rent, bru?” He replies. Oh shit.


“Well, they aren’t paying me enough, clearly!” I splutter through an impressive fake laugh. Everyone can relate to the ‘Bloody fat cats’ brand of humour.


“That’s not really my concern, mate.” He says, clearly made of stone.


“No, sorry”, I mutter, “Just a joke, I probably didn’t set the direct debit up properly. I’ll send it you now.”


A stray golden retriever strolls by, eyeing Chappie curiously. Chappie begins to emit a growling noise from beneath her floppy grey fringe. “Oi, no!” Growls Stevie, silencing her immediately. He turns back to me and continues “How’s Joseph Koala been playing?”


“Ekwalla”, I correct him, sounding more hurt than I expected. “Do you not come to the matches?” He shakes his head.


“Nah, too steep for me nowadays.” He shrugs. “Even this shirt’s a bootleg, bru.” He tugs on the badge of his Santos jersey to demonstrate to me that it’s coming away from the fabric.


“I probably shouldn’t know that”, I laugh. He chuckles. “I’ll try and get you a shirt and a ticket to a match”, I continue, “and in return, you try and remember the name of the best young footballer in African football, yeah?”


He raises his eyebrows and nods. “Deal, bru”.



A trip to Supersport United beckons today. They’ve proved themselves to be a very good side so far this season and are buzzing around near the top of the league, so we need to be on top form. Those of you with very, very, very, very good memories will remember that I’m actually the boss of Liechtenstein as well as Santos and after this match is over I’ll experience the first ever International break as a fan, player or manager that I actually give a shit about when I lead my other lads out for friendlies against the Faroe Islands and Denmark.


The break factors into my thinking today as Sony Norde is already travelling back to Haiti and is therefore unavailable, and with about 2 weeks before our next match that means that I’m going to risk the very-nearly-back-to-fitness Ryan Moon to actually give us some bite in attack. Richards drops out of the lineup to accommodate him and Diale comes in replacing Norde in our Project: Foxy Mk II system.



Both sides are slow to start, and after half an hour we appear to be eyeing that 2 week break longingly. The excellently named Dové Womé swings a corner in and Komo comes to claim it, but misses the ball completely, leaving Ritchie to tap the ball into the empty net to open the scoring.


Over the next 10 minutes, Supersport continue to dominate the match. After a particularly rampant passing move, Ritchie goes for his second goal, cutting in from the left and shooting right footed. The ball flicks off Grobler’s head and bounces in to make it 0-2.


We do attempt to fight back before the break though when Ekwalla plays the ball through for Moon, who runs across the edge of the box to find space before forcing a good save from Williams with a left-footed drive.


On the hour, Supersport go close to their third when another Dové Womé corner is headed against the bar by Ritchie, but we survive. I bring on the youthful trio of Junaid and Ernil Mobara and Manqoba Cele, who replace Diale, Lark and Japhta.


Nel goes close soon after with a shot from the edge of the box that flies just wide, but we still hold on right up until the 83rd minute, when Mayo skips past Phil Cele on the left and gets to the byline, before drawing the ball back for Grobler. Grobler tries to find the top corner from 7 yards and hits the bar, but luckily for the home side, Dové Womé puts the rebound away from close range.



https://youtu.be/TrBORqm8kLQ


I’ll be honest, I could’ve done with a bit more of a confidence boost ahead of my first ever International matches, but there’s no sense in moping about it. We still have plenty of reasons to be optimistic, for example we’ve announced another affiliate with an Amateur South African club called Vasco CT. They’re small but they’ve got decent facilities and might bring through some good youngsters that we can swipe.




Another reason to be optimistic, you say? How about the newest addition to South Africa’s U20 squad? I'll give you a clue, he's South African and under 20 years old... That’s right, Komo’s been called up to his national side’s Under 20’s! I’m really genuinely pleased for him. I don’t think of him as an 18 year old goalkeeper anymore, I think of him as an important part of my team. He’s slotted straight into top flight football and here’s hoping he makes his international youth debut soon, swiftly followed by a full call up to South Africa’s squad!



And finally, what better reason for optimism is there than a new batch of youth players? A new truckload of clay to mould in my own image. I’m told by Head of Youth Development Alcardo Van Graan to keep a careful eye on 16 year old striker Thembinkosi Maluka, as well as 15 year old attacking midfielder Luke Fanteni. I’m actually so impressed with their trials that I sign them straight up for our Under 19’s, much to the delight of our impressively ITK social media followers.






This does mean that they're ineligible for the Youth Candidates in the traditional U19 v Youth Candidates match though, so Fanteni comes off the bench for the U19’s and Maluka is overlooked entirely, because why give a run out to a promising young star when you can stick Khat up front?



I’ll definitely be having words with U19 Manager Wilford Mothapo about that, but in the end it's a demolition job by his side, with goals from Manqoba Cele, Ivan Wagner and 2 Khat penalties giving them a one-sided 4-0 win over the candidates.



https://youtu.be/eAYCtRXIGX8

After the match, I offer what I think will be my final contract extension of the year, but I’m not entirely enthusiastic about it. Captain Philani Cele has definitely had a mixed season, but has probably had more bad performances than good ones and his influence in the dressing room is non-existent. I offer him a 1 year deal and he signs, but to be honest I don’t know if he’ll be here past the Summer. And he certainly won’t be keeping the armband.


And just like that, I stop being the Santos FC manager, obviously not permanently, and become the Liechtenstein manager. I get a few calls on my way to the airport. Some of my Santos players ring to give me some words of encouragement, as well as Hurley, Kevin, my old assistant Dennis Lawrence, Joakim, who I'd completely forgotten about to be fair, and even Nuno, the SC Angrense groundsman. It's only when they all get in touch to wish me luck that I realise I'm about to be thrust onto the World stage. Sort of. I doubt Liechtenstein's friendly against the Faroe Islands will be on BT Sport for example, but you know what I mean.


Here come the nerves. Here come the butterflies.


Here comes Franjo: International Football Manager.

Liechtensteiner (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep91)

I always envisioned that if I ever became, for example, the England manager, I'd pick my sides the right way. I'd pick a system and pick players to fit that system. I'd favour hard workers, team players and good personalities to make a revolutionary England side that could dominate and battle in equal measure and could also be trusted not to turn into rather unconvincing stone statues of themselves the moment a major tournament started. We'd build a club mentality, put round pegs in round holes and we wouldn't just bring in whichever 16 year old happens to score on his professional debut the week before the squad selection deadline just to appease the England fans and their literally insatiable desire for players to be dropped the moment they turn 24 and replaced with teenagers. We'd be rational and measured about new call ups and how they'd fit into the side and we'd be a fucking team for once. It sounds great on paper doesn't it.




The problem is that while this approach is very doable if you're managing one of the larger nations with large pools of players to choose from, things are very different when you're managing a small team with a small pool to choose from. Like for example if you're managing Liechtenstein. If you're managing a nation like Liechtenstein your options are quite limited in that you have about 15 eligible chaps that you can describe with at least some degree of accuracy as "Footballers", most of whom are holding out for a call up from the Swiss, so you'd better just make do with whoever you can get and pray furiously to your chosen deity that they gel together or you're going to be a bit buggered.



So without further ado, let's meet the players I dragged... Er I mean called up to the Liechtenstein squad to be in my preliminary starting lineup.


Goalkeeper - No 1 - Benji Büchel


If I tell you that our starting goalkeeper is currently doing sod all warming the bench for English League One side Oxford United, it'll probably give you an unrealistically high expectation of the rest of the squad. Seriously. Nevertheless I do genuinely think he's quite a good goalkeeper. At 30 and with 27 caps he's got some experience behind him and should be in his prime or there abouts, at 6'2" he's a dominant figure in the area and in general he's just a well rounded goalkeeper and a safe pair of hands. I wish Oxford would throw him at least a cup game once in a while though because at the minute you might say that they're hiding his light under a Büchel.



Right Defensive Full Back - No 2 - Daniel Kaufmann


In case I've never formally introduced myself, hello, my name's Franjo and I play natural centre backs at full back in a style reminiscent of Tony Pulis. To be fair, having scoured the nation for an actual right full back I wasn't exactly bowled over by my options so I thought that Kaufmann would do a job. At this point I should probably mention FC Vaduz, a club based in the capital of Liechtenstein of the same name that are playing in the Swiss Challenge League, having been relegated from the top tier in the Summer. They're sort of the Swansea of the Swiss football league system and we'll be hearing about them quite a lot because basically every player in the Liechtensteiner National pool has played for them at some point, including Kaufmann who played for them for 7 years. He's currently playing his club football for amateur side La Chaux-de-Fonds in the Swiss 3rd tier, but is another experienced International at 29 years old and with 60 Caps and at 6'1 is a good fit for my usual style of fullback. He's physical enough to get by, has half a brain and can defend and I think that's about as much as I can ask for.



Defensive Centre Back - No 4 - Simone Grippo


Now that's more like it. I'm hoping that as long as we have a relatively strong spine we'll have the basis of a decent team and that spine starts with Grippo. Predictably, and we'll see a pattern start to emerge with our better players, Simone's of Italian descent and played for Switzerland at all youth levels before finally settling for Liechtenstein 2 years ago when he gained citizenship after spending 5 years at FC Vaduz. He's since earned a move to Sparta Rotterdam in the Eredivisie, and little wonder as he's a brilliant all round defender and holding midfielder, if a little slow. At 6'2" he's another big unit and at 31 he's in his prime, so I'm very excited to see how he does for us.



Centre Back - No 5 - Maximilian Göppel


Bringing a bit of youth into the side, I originally wanted 22 year old Max to be my starting left back, but having realised that Kaufmann's going to play on the right and not in the centre, a lack of options means that Max is going in at centre back. He's currently playing for Vaduz, because obviously, and already has 27 caps at quite a young age. His main strength is his brilliant pace, which I'm hoping will mean he pairs well with Grippo, but he's a decently rounded defender. The only thing that irks me is that he's 5'11" and not great in the air, but again, hopefully Grippo will compensate for that.



Left Defensive Full Back - No 3 - Roman Spirig


So with Max Göppel playing at centre back, a chance has presented itself to Roman Spirig, who's also 22, started out at Vaduz and is currently contracted to Czech First Division (Top tier) side Sigma Olomouc. He's probably a more rounded player than Göppel and is certainly a better ball winner and decision maker, but he doesn't have any of that electrifying pace, which does worry me slightly as he'll be playing opposite wingers, who generally speaking are the quickest players in a side. He's pretty new to International football having made only 9 appearances, but I'm willing to bet that it's because he's constantly been playing second fiddle to Max at left back and I hope that he'll grab this chance with both arms.



Defensive Ball Winning Midfielder and Captain - No 6 - Sandro Wieser


Sandro Wieser is an interesting player. When I first landed this job the first decision I had to make was to choose a captain, and seeing as my off-hand knowledge of the Liechtensteiner national team was sorely lacking, I decided to take the boring option and just keep the current captain and vice captain in place. Free agent Sandro, recently released by Championship side Reading, is another versatile central defensive player like Grippo, but for me he lacks a bit of class. Technically speaking he's fine. He can win the ball and he's comfortable on it, he's good in the air and he can even smash in free kicks. Mentally he's aggressive, brave and a team player, which I admire especially in a ball winning midfielder, and physically he's OK. He's not going to win any foot races but he's strong and can get about the pitch relatively well. He's not that great a leader, so I may consider his position in the future when deciding who gets to wear the lovely fluorescent armband. For now though, he's still one of our better players and is still an important part of the team.



Defensive Deep Lying Playmaker and Vice-Captain - No 8 - Marcel Büchel (No Relation)


I don't want to twist the knife for Sandro Wieser, but if I were to choose the captain now, it'd almost certainly be Marcel Büchel. I won't, because without knowing this squad too well it's difficult to know how they'd react. I could very soon have a mutiny on my hands if Sandro's universally beloved and Marcel's a complete dick. Anyway, Marcel's without a doubt our best player, followed closely by Simone Grippo. He's contracted to Steve Clarke's Burnley side in the Premier League after spending his career bobbing between Serie B and Serie A in Italy, most notably "playing" for Juventus in the same way that Tomáš Kalas "played" for Chelsea. At 29 he's another that's probably in his prime and I think I'll need him to pretty much run this team. He's got an excellent footballing brain, he's very good physically and he's equally adept at defending, attacking and being the playmaker in a side.



Central Midfielder - No 7 - Vinzenz Flatz


This is where it all falls apart a little bit. For the life of me I couldn't find a good central midfielder in the whole of Liechtenstein and I want the 2 actual good ones that I've mentioned so far to be varying degrees of holding man. Vinzenz Flats, to put it nicely, is the best of an awful bunch. He can tackle and he can pass, but that's about all I can say for him. He did have one season at Vaduz but now plays for Kriens, a semi-professional Swiss team in the Promotion League (3rd tier) and at 25 and 5'11" he's a good age and height, but I wouldn't count on him becoming a regular in my side.



Right Winger - No 10 - Simon Kühne


In the 'Ryan Moon' attacking winger role, we have Simon Kühne. He's another free agent, released back in the Summer by Swiss First League (4th tier) side USV Eschen/ Mauren. I think it's a little harsh that nobody's snapped him up though. He's a decently rounded versatile forward and I reckon he'll do a job on the right for us without any fireworks. Again, he's a good age at 25, he's a pretty hard worker and knows what he's doing off the ball, which thinking about it actually is probably not a great "best quality" for a footballer.



Left Wing Target Man - No 11 - Pascal Schürpf


Yes, his surname might sound like the noise you make when you sip the residue from the lid of a can of pop, but Pascal is our left winger and he looks like a good quality player. Surprisingly, he plays for a team you may have heard of called FC Vaduz and is one of their main players. He's something of an anti-winger, a term I've not really used since bringing Janga and Kwarko in on loan when I managed GieKSa. He towers above your average winger at 6'3" and is very strong, good in the air and has most of the qualities you'd look for in a wide target man, although I'd like it if I could go 5 minutes without having to mention that one of my players has absolutely no determination. He's another experienced player at 30 years old and is a very rounded player.



Advanced Forward - No 9 - Yanik Frick


Handily, our striker Yanik comes his own family friendly exclamation that I can make whenever we inevitably fail to score against a larger team. At 21 and with only 6 caps he's pretty new on the International scene but I've got to say he's got some relatively impressive pedigree. He's on loan from Austrian Premier League side Sportclub Rheindorf Altach at Preußen Münster in the German Second Division and he's got the makings of a decent centre forward. He's 6'2", relatively strong and quick and he's got a decent first touch, can dribble and knows where the net is. I look forward to seeing how he develops because he could become a Liechtenstein stalwart for years to come with the right guidance.



These players will be brought together in my specially adapted Project: Foxy Mk III system. I thought as I designed the original for an underdog team and we've had a small amount of success with it in South Africa, it made sense to adapt it for my International side too, who will be the underdog in the majority of our matches. The main difference is that we'll be setting up with 2 holding men to protect our defence; Wieser and Büchel, and we'll be focussing everything down the wings, where our wide men can cross the ball in for Yanik.





My first match, as I may have mentioned, is against the Faroe Islands at home. The Faroe Islands are the 132nd best national team in the world, which means that they're relatively easy pickings for 131 national teams. As for us, they're a much sterner test as we're currently sat at 162nd place in the FIFA rankings. As an International spectacle it seems a bit underwhelming when I walk out of the tunnel to see 2086 fans filling just over a quarter of the 7838 seater Rheinpark Stadion, partially shielded by the roofs over the stands from the rain drizzling down over Vaduz, but for me this is a special night. The referee blows his whistle and my first International match begins.



A quarter of an hour in we hit the Faroe Islands on the counter attack and Schürpf finds Yanik Frick just inside their half. Frick dribbles forwards over the sodden turf as the defenders backpedal to surround him, but he does quite well, getting to the edge of the box and shooting just over the bar.


The majority of the first half is nothing special, but we're quite comfortable sitting deep and allowing the Faroe Islands to push high up on us and shooting from distance, or losing the ball and allowing us to counter. With 41 minutes played, Schürpf hits the left byline and drills a cross in to Frick, who collects the ball in the box with his back to goal. He squares it to Kühne, who stays calm and collected as he turns and places it into the far bottom corner to put us ahead.


Our goal seems to immediately rile our opposition though and when Hendriksson crosses the ball into our box from a deep free kick on the left a few minutes later, Nattestad gets a header at goal and rattles Büchel's crossbar. Spirig puts it into row Z but as we enter 1st half injury time, the Faroe Islands keep plugging away and are rewarded when Giessing's right wing cross to the far post is volleyed home from a tight angle by Magnussen, sending us in for the break with the scores all square.


Back in the changing room, I bring on experienced right back Yves Oehri for Max Göppel. Göppel's pretty knackered by aside from that, I already regret my decision to play a centre back on the right and a left back in the centre. Yves may not be great, he may be 33 years old, he may not even be starting for SC YF Juventus, his Swiss 3rd tier side and he may be playing shit when he comes off the bench for them, but he's played 66 times for this country and damn it, he's a right back. Kaufmann moves into the centre.



Pascal Schürpf also makes way, again as he's very tired, and I bring on Robin Gubser; a left winger with decent pace and not a whole lot else. At least he's actually playing for SC YF Juventus, albeit not that well.



The pressure from the visitors doesn't let up in the second half though, and it takes less than 7 minutes for Magnussen the goalscorer to tee up Hendriksson on the edge of the box, who's venomous shot hits the bar, bounces against Benji Büchel's back, rolls in agonising slow motion across the goalmouth and in.


A quarter of an hour later, they all but put the game to bed after Oehri gives away a free kick. Hendriksson crosses to the far post where an incomprehensibly unmarked Davidsen is waiting to twat the ball into the top corner with a scissor-kick volley, like a budget Scandinavian Paulo Di Canio.


Again if we haven't met, Hello, I'm Franjo and when in doubt I get the Meatloaf out. With 25 minutes to go we change to the fluid 4-2-3-1 named after my 2nd favourite pet cat and I bring Guillaume Khous on in place of Vinzenz Flatz and stick him up front, with Frick dropping back into the hole. Guillaume is contracted to US Orléans in the French National league and is a natural striker who can also be applied on the left of a 3. He's very physically fit and has a decent amount of skill.



With 10 minutes left we go on the attack in search of at least making the scoreline a bit more respectable, but we're almost immediately caught out again when Hendriksson springs Danielsen in the right channel and he luckily shoots well wide of the near post.


As the clock ticks towards the 90 minute mark, we're caught on the counter attack and Danielsen plays a good ball through the left channel for Thomsen. As he runs through on goal, Simone Grippo makes a brilliant last ditch slide tackle, but the loose ball rolls to Magnussen and he tees up Thomsen again, who blasts number 4 past Büchel.


I need a whiteboard. Somebody get me a whiteboard.



https://youtu.be/nZGsHBx9kRQ



I'm creating a new system. Am I being rash? Probably, but I trust the little voice in my head that says "This system is not the way to go", drowning out all the ones that tell me to burn things. I'll keep it in mind as an option but what are friendlies for if not experimentation? I want simple, disciplined, defensive football and you don't get that with a 4-2-1-2-1. The roman army didn't scatter themselves about, being all continental and cool. They lined up in a row, got their shields out and formed a bloody impenetrable wall. Probably. My point is that we need old school football and an old school formation. We need solid banks of players to block our opponents off with a blockade of defensive solidity. We need to win the ball and either lump it into the box or just have a shot. Hence, Project: Liechtensteiner.



With Project: Liechtensteiner, we'll be narrow, deep and compact and we'll absolutely worship our 4-5-1 defensive shape, keeping it together at all times. We'll be a 10 man defensive unit, with players encouraged to let the opposition have the ball and try to play it past us, secure in the knowledge that we're making it as difficult as we possibly can.



The Faroe Islands beat us 1-4. Believe it or not, I didn't take this job so that I could turn up every few months and watch us get battered. I know that it was our first match together and we went a bit ballsy towards the end, but while I'll accept defeat against the Faroe Islands I won't accept a battering. The worrying thing is that while the Faroe Islands are 132nd in the FIFA World Rankings, our next match is away at Denmark, who are 34th. We'll have to hope that our new system pays dividends.


I've chosen to make one change for this match, with Roman Spirig coming out of the side and being replaced by Yves Oehri, who came on against the Faroe Islands. He plays at right back so that Kaufmann can move into the centre, and in turn Göppel can move onto the left.



Things don't get off to a particularly good start for us. We keep Denmark quiet to begin with but with nearly 25 minutes played, Nissen finds space at the right byline to get a cross in and Falk heads the ball past Büchel and into the net.


Within 13 minutes though, we pull level again. Pascal Schürpf jinks past Nissen and has a pop from 30 yards, but just as the ball seems to be heading wide of the far post, Frick arrives 8 yards out to redirect the ball past the already committed Kasper Schmeichel and into the net. It's a stroke of luck, but I'll take it.


With 25 minutes to play, Marcel Büchel gives the ball away and the ball's hurled back into our box. Göppel clears it before it can reach Poulsen at the far post but only as far as Thomsen, who tees up Pione Sisto to stroke the Danes back in front. They go close to a 3rd just a few minutes later, but when Bruun Larsen passes through for Jørgensen on the left, he shoots from too narrow an angle and into the side netting.


I then bring on Gubser again for Schürpf, who's still lacking fitness, as well as 18 year old Vaduz central midfielder Yanik Negele in place of Flatz. Negele's rated very highly by everyone involved in the Liechtensteiner set up and I'll be keeping a close eye on him to see how he develops because Flatz hasn't impressed me in that central midfield role and Negele could make the role his own.



We continue to be dominated and to be fair we continue to hold on, only really scared in the 87th minute when Durmisi's corner is nodded on by Bruun Larsen and Zanka heads it against the top of the bar.



https://youtu.be/i53BoSK-pvI


I feel like I find myself in this situation quite a lot; trying to convince myself why losses are a positive thing. Maybe it says something about the standard of team that I manage or maybe it says something about me as a manager thinking about it, but I think we can genuinely take a lot of heart from this result. For the majority of the match we held Denmark at arm's reach, forcing them to try long shots from behind our wall of defenders and midfielders. We didn't threaten much ourselves, but I didn't expect us to and it was certainly a pleasant surprise that we scored against such quality opposition. Project: Liechtensteiner may be the way forwards but I'll continue to think as I get to know the players better and better. For now though, I've overseen 2 matches as Liechtenstein Manager and although we lost them both, we improved significantly in the 2nd. I think I'm alright with that for now.

The Best Laid Plans (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep92)

After the Denmark match I’m eager to get back to Lansdowne. My first toe-dip into International water has been interesting but I’m looking forward to finishing off Santos’ league campaign. And not only that, I’ve also had an itch to scratch ever since we lost the first Old Cape Town Derby under my regime. It’s time for our return visit to our fiercest rivals: Ajax Cape Town.



I decide to make no changes from the team that lost 0-3 to Supersport in our last outing. There were no individually awful performances that day apart from Carl Lark, but I don’t have many options up top and the lineup that day was about as strong as we can muster, so I stick with it.



It takes only 4 minutes for Doutie’s corner to be flicked on by Pholongo and redirected via the head of Nyambi at the near post, and it takes just over 4 minutes for me to find a water bottle and send it skimming down the touchline with a good satisfying kick. After half an hour it could be 0-2 when Mzwakali cuts in from the left wing and shoots, but he blazes it over the bar from 20 yards.


Some worrying news breaks a couple of minutes later when Joseph Ekwalla goes down and stays down clutching his side. He can play on though, so he does. Lark then celebrates by dribbling the ball forward towards the Ajax CT box, but his shot goes just over.


Sony Norde, back in the squad today after concluding his trip back to Haiti, comes on as a half time substitute replacing Sello Japhta and I’m hoping that after several injuries and International interruptions we’ll finally have a look at what Sony offers to the team in his favoured left wing role.


That seems to do the trick and we come out swinging for the 2nd half. 5 minutes after the break, Ryan Moon chips a cross in from the right and Thoahlane rises like a salmon to power a header towards goal, but the ball cracks against the bar. Within a minute we push forwards again and this time Sony Norde lays the ball off for Moon. The winger sets himself before driving a shot at goal, but it comes back off the far post, completing an absurdly unlucky minute. The score remains 0-1.


Fortunately though we pass on our woodwork lurgy to Ajax 2 minutes later when Doutie's whipped cross is met by Nyambi, but he too hits the bar with his header. This move signals that the pendulum of play is swinging back at us and a couple more minutes later, Graham runs forward and shoots low, but it's easy for Komo to collect.


With 23 minutes to go we win a free kick near the left byline. It's a great opportunity for an equaliser and Ryan Moon steps up. He crosses into the box, but it's headed clear - And Ajax counter. Their move culminates with Mzwakali's shot deflecting off Graham's back and bouncing over to Doutie on the right, who volleys the ball into the bottom corner to double his team's advantage.


I bring on Siyabonga Zulu and Ernil Mobara for the last 20 minutes in place of Ryan Moon and Aidie Jenniker, who've had pretty poor games. It does us little good though and with 12 minutes to go, another Doutie corner is nodded on by Nyambi and tucked in by Cardoso to finish us off. We've lost 0-3 to our rivals. Again.



https://youtu.be/ViDz2E-kKSA


I've never had the luxury as a Manager of having a strong enough squad to beat my rivals and it's really starting to get on my wick. Our chance for this season has gone though and we've just got to play our remaining 8 matches, make damn sure we stay in the division, reinforce in the Summer and get them next time.



Joseph Ekwalla thankfully only comes out of the match with a bruised rib, which should heal in a few days. Relegation scrappers Polokwane City are next up and he should be back for the match, but a few days before that Dino Visser, Moe and Sullie all rap on my office door and demand I give them all first team football. Captain Philani Cele tries talking to them but it doesn't do the slightest bit of good, further reiterating my stance on his future captaincy prospects and forcing me to handle the situation myself. Managing to hide the amusement I find in their bare faced cheek, I simply give them a wry smile and explain that I have other options for their positions who are doing a better job than the 3 of them. Not that the others are setting the league on fire but I reckon even Chappie would offer us more defensively than Moe, and Sullie's contribution has been equally laughable. They accept my explanation and it calms them down for now, but long-term I'll have to think of something to appease them once and for all, like dumping them on the pavement outside our stadium on the first day of the Summer transfer window with "£2.50 or nearest offer" tags clipped to their collars.


They say that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and I quite agree. My best laid plans for the Polokwane match are to switch to Project: Meatloaf, drop the defensively minded Diale and finally bring in Sony Norde in the number 10 role where I think he'll flourish. The 'Of Mice And Men' reference is quite apt though because the only way that I can explain another fucking injury to Sony Norde is that I absent-mindedly raised Lennie from the dead and recruited him as a fitness coach, and he's been mistaking the poor Haitian for a puppie and squeezing the shit out of him until he hears something pop.



Norde will miss 5-6 weeks with strained ankle ligaments, so it's unlikely that the injury was actually sustained by a fictional resurrected oaf and I'll let Lennie off with a warning if I see him. More annoying news swiftly follows when Liechtenstein's friendly against Russia is cancelled due to a clash with their match against Austria. I manage to rearrange it for September but I'm fairly sure that that's when the European International League kicks off so I'm not sure whether we'll get to play it. I really want this practice match against Russia before our World Cup Qualifier so this is pretty frustrating news.



While I'm at it I also arrange friendlies against Wales, Georgia, Qatar, Costa Rica, Bhutan, USA and China this year, but again I'm not sure how many will be cancelled after the schedule for the EIL is announced.



But every cloud has a silver lining and in this case it's that I've been given the funding by Santos to start studying for my National A License. I'm on my way.




As well as bringing Norde in for Diale I had planned to drop Aiden Jenniker after some less than stellar recent performances, but he's ruled out anyway for about a week just before the match. Zulu comes in at left back and against my better judgement I select Moe instead of Cele at right back as he's not been great either. We do still go for Project: Meatloaf but with Sinbad and Diale behind Ekwalla in midfield.



The match is a bit dull to be perfectly honest. Shilongo tests Komo early on, capping a good run with a shot from 25 yards, but our young keeper catches it comfortably. After 25 minutes Ekwalla spots the Polokwane keeper off his line and has a crack from 35 yards but he hits it over, and just after half time Shilongo gets on the end of a knock down from Kumalo but again can't beat Komo. Ernil Mobara, Philani Cele and Sullie are all introduced but they can't help us find the breakthrough.



Ordinarily I'd take a 0-0 but I was really hoping for a reaction here. I thought the players would be hurting as much as I was after another thrashing against Ajax but I suppose not. I really can't wait for the summer, you know. So many of these players are in dire need of being taken down to the river so I can tell them all about how we're going to get a little place with a cow and pigs and alfalfa for the fucking rabbits.

Ernie (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep93)


We’re coming to a point now where I’m going to have to make a decision. I’ve already decided that I’m not going to leave Santos in the Summer unless I’m presented with an offer I can’t refuse, as I genuinely think that the only thing this club needs to be relatively big hitters is a change in attitude and a bit more quality. I’ve said a couple of times though that Philani Cele is probably not going to remain my captain beyond the end of the season if he stays at the club and vice-captain Moe will almost certainly be sold as soon as the window opens. Issouf Paro and Dino Visser have also worn the armband this season but the former’s shinbone is in more pieces than an exploded lego factory, leaving him in limbo in terms of how well he recovers and whether he’ll be a part of my plans, and the latter is consistently being kept out of the team by young Komo. So I need to choose who’s going to be our captain going forwards. I’m uncomfortable with the idea of giving the armband to a new signing until they’ve spent a while integrating into the team, so in the Summer I’ll most likely be choosing somebody that’s already on our books.



We’re playing Thanda Royal Zulu today, who are managed by former Charlton Athletic and South Africa striker Shaun Bartlett. I’m going to give someone new a chance to lead us out against Bartlett’s boys and I’m sure it won’t surprise you to learn that that someone is 19 year old Cameroonian prodigy Joseph Ekwalla.


If that’s not enough of a breath of fresh air for this stagnating team, I’m also handing a full debut to 17 year old Ernil Mobara, who’ll lead the line in place of Carl Lark, who went off the boil quite a while ago, 22 year old centre back Gary Havenga is back in for Moe with Gertse shifting across to right back and on the bench we have 15 year old playmaker Luke Fanteni, one of our latest batch of youth recruits.



12 minutes in we’re dominating TRZ and when Japhta’s corner is headed clear we win possession straight back through Diale. He plays a smart one-two with Japhta on the right wing and then whips in a cross for Ryan Moon, who powers a header past the keeper to put us ahead.


Instead of sitting back content with the lead, the team seems to smell blood. It’s no coincidence that within a minute of the goal, Captain Joe’s the man leading by example by driving forwards in search of a second. He lays the ball off for Japhta, who smashes it from the edge of the box and it cracks against the angle between post and bar before flying up into the air. Ernil Mobara leaps for the rebound but Mtebule gets there ahead of him and heads it clear. I like what I see though.


10 minutes later, we’re still in control. And what’s better is that we’re playing some nice football. Thoahlane receives the ball during one such move and plays a long ball into the Thanda box. The keeper comes out to claim the ball but he’s beaten to it by Sello Japhta, who sends a looping header into the unguarded net for 2-0.


This time, Thanda Royal Zulu come straight back at us less than a minute after kick off, breaking up one of our moves and starting a counter attack through Ngcepe, who brings the ball into our half. Sensing that their chance has finally arrived, the TRZ players all bomb up the field desperately, but that proves to be their undoing when Diale nicks the ball from Ngcepe and boots it over the defence for Mobara, who’s about 10 yards clear of the centre backs but is being played onside by their left back. The debutant Mobara brings the ball down, takes it into the box and chips it past the poor onrushing goalkeeper and into the top corner.


I’ve kept a respectful poker face so far so as not to rub it in for my opposite number, but that goal breaks my resolve. I leap to my feet grinning like a madman and punch the air in triumph as Ernil sprints away from goal, pointing both hands up to the sky. He runs straight over to the dugout and I give him a high five, before he’s mobbed by the other players, both playing and benched, in a flurry of hair ruffling and back patting. He’s off the mark on his full debut, and I couldn’t be more bloody proud.


The best part of it is that Ernil’s clearly not content with 1 goal. When we win a free kick 20 yards out a couple of minutes later he sends Japhta and Moon away and takes it himself, hitting it powerfully over the wall but against the post.


The last action in the first half comes just after the half hour mark when Captain Joe slides the ball behind the defence for Ryan Moon, who cuts it across from the right wing for Mobara, but even I can see that he’s 2 feet offside when he smashes in what he thinks is his 2nd debut goal. Sadly the score stays at 3-0.


My half time team talk gives itself. We’ve played probably the best half of football I’ve seen us play and I just tell them to keep it going. Evidently though, Shaun Bartlett makes a more convincing argument to his players because they come out the better team in the second half. Just after the hour mark, Matlokosi crosses well from the left byline and Bunting meets it at the far post, cushioning it down for Ngcepe, who hits it and forces an excellent reflex save from Komo. From the resulting corner, Samodien’s cross is met by Matlokosi and he heads it against the outside of the post and wide. I respond by implementing Project: Foxy Mk II to try and be a bit more solid.


A few minutes later though, TRZ threaten a comeback when Ngcepe slots the ball through for the danger-man Matlokosi, who places it in Komo’s top corner from 8 yards to pull one back.


It doesn’t last long though. With 13 minutes to play an extremely controlled and patient passing move from Santos culminates with Sello Japhta playing a through ball for Mobara, who slams the ball into the bottom corner to make it 4-1. As well as being incredibly happy for him though, I’m suddenly gutted that he was stood offside the 2nd time he stuck the ball in the net. He would’ve had a professional debut hat trick if not for that!


I bring on defensive midfielder Junaid Mobara, left winger Manqoba Cele and attacking midfielder Luke Fanteni for the last 10 minutes in place of Diale, Japhta and Sinbad. It’s a nice luxury to be able to give these youngsters a bit of time and not one that I’m allowed very often, so I enjoy watching them play. We nearly make it 5-1 in the 89th minute when Ekwalla plays a one-two with Ernil Mobara before striking the ball from the edge of the box and hitting the bar. The ref blows to signal full time and we’ve been on the right end of a drubbing for once. It feels bloody great.



https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=yWhgB8gHSkM



That’s what we need. That’s exactly the kind of pick-me-up we’ve been crying out for. We just have a couple of bits of admin to take of before we take this swagger into the next match against Bloem Celtic. First of all, to save me the headache, I’m going to refer to Ernil Mobara our debutant goalscorer as “Ernie” and Junaid Mobara, the promising defensive midfielder as “Juno”.




Secondly, after young Luke made a cameo debut, he's set a Santos FC record as the youngest ever played to wear our shirt in a professional match, clocking in at 15 years and 356 days. He's got potential, that lad.




And finally, Komo's now played 20 games for us, which means he's getting a bit of a wage bump. Well in, Komo.




Unfortunately we'll be the victims of his success as we host Bloem Celtic though, because he's been called up to South Africa's U20 squad again and will miss our match. Nevertheless we'll get by without him and it'll be worth it in the long run for him to get the experience and confidence boost that comes with an International youth team call up. Dino Visser will replace him in our lineup and will take the armband so that I can have another look at how it fits him.



The first half is not much of a spectacle. The 2 teams square up and patiently test each other. It's about 7 minutes after half time when things get interesting, kicked off by a comedy of errors from the Santos defence. First Zulu strays way away from his designated position, then Thoahlane covers for him, getting the ball from the left back position and dwelling on it for far too long. Nyondo sees this and immediately nips in to steal the ball away on our right wing. He crosses the ball into the centre for Chapman, who's in acres of space after strolling casually away from his marker Havenga, and puts it past Visser easily from close range. I am displeased.


With half an hour to go I withdraw Zulu and Ernie, replacing them with Jenniker and Lark, and with 17 to play I complete my substitutions with the introduction of Gugu Gogotya in place of Diale.


With 10 minutes to go we finally kick into gear. Ekwalla springs Moon with a good ball through the defence. Moon shoots first time but Msibi parries the ball away. Japhta gets to the rebound though and slots it into the mostly empty net to equalise.


We barely have time to celebrate though. With 5 minutes to play, Zuma finds Nyondo on the right wing and he chips a cross into the centre once more. This time, Mathosi powers a header past Visser to regain his side the lead, and indeed the win.



https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=f_Z_gXbSLqI

I'd love some consistency and I'd love to have a run of games between the frustration headaches instead of them being a core part of my Saturday night routine. Nevertheless, winning felt really good however temporary the feeling might've been and Ernie's given me some food for thought for the future, as too have Juno, Fanteni and potential future Santos captain Joseph Ekwalla.

Safe (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep94)

Sometimes you need to face the music and admit that you did something that turned out to be a mistake. At the beginning of this year, a book called “How to Watch Football” by Ruud Gullit convinced me that signing Khat and using him as a Libero was a good idea. As it turns out, it wasn’t, and for that I apologise on behalf of Ruud Gullit. Writing that book was clearly a mistake and we all really deserve an apology from him.


I’m only kidding. It was my call and it was a bad one, but I don’t regret it and I don’t blame myself for the same reason that I don’t blame the creators of Scrubs for making a ninth season: If you don’t try these things, how are you going to find out what works, what doesn’t work and what retroactively ruins the entire show and shits on a perfectly good ending?


I mention this now because this bold new style that blew up in my face and a subsequent lack of football has turned out to be enough to convince Khat to call time on his career. His contract was due to expire in the Summer and he’s decided that Santos FC will be his last club.



Cheers Khat, thanks for only complaining when I stopped playing you and not when I was crowbarring you in behind the centre backs. I also convince Goolam Allie to fund a National B License coaching course for him while he’s still with us, because quite honestly I feel bad.



Speaking of people falling out of favour with me, we have a problem: Both Santos FC left backs are absolutely awful. Aiden Jenniker, the strongest on paper, had a promising start to the season but has since been patchy at best. I didn’t expect much from Siyabonga Zulu, but he’s somehow managed not to even live up to that level of expectation. The only good games he has are when he has absolutely nothing to do and that’s not good enough. Jenniker’s suspended for our next match away at Chippa United after picking up 4 yellows and I’m dropping Zulu after he was noticeably absent in the build up for both of Bloem Celtc’s goals last week, both of which came down his wing.



“Franjo you zany bastard, Santos don’t have another left back! How are you dropping them both?” You might hysterically ask after slapping your gawping, shocked and confused face with both hands simultaneously, Kevin McCallister style. Well I have a plan.



You know how I often use centre backs as full backs? It’s not a choice thing, it’s out of necessity. What if we could have a swashbuckling attacking full back? What if we already do? What if he’s been here the whole time, right under all of our noses? It dawned on me the other day when I was speaking to Sello Japhta and he told me how he had indeed sparingly played at wing back during his career. “How about full back?” I asked, and here we are. Sure he’s rusty, but I don’t mind him messing up or making mistakes at this point in the season. We’re winding down to a safe, boring, bottom half finish and nothing’s really going to change that. I start training Sello as a full back and he’ll start there today for the Chippa match too. Manqoba Cele will make his full debut on the left wing, but otherwise we line up with our standard Project: Foxy Mk II, with Ernie also brought out for a rest and Carl Lark restored up front. I’m quite excited.



4 minutes in Joseph Ekwalla, captain for the day again, finds Carl Lark and the overly eager striker has a pot shot from way out on the right wing. Unfortunately it’s off target and hits the side netting, because obviously.


They try again a few minutes later, with Ekwalla playing a brilliantly precise long ball up to Lark. He takes the ball to the edge of the box and shoots, but again it’s off target, this time flying wide.


After 20 minutes I encourage the lads to try to work the ball patiently into the box, to put a stop to the pot shots.


With 10 minutes of the first half to go, Langwe passes short to Manganyi from a Chippa free kick. The young midfielder turns and plays in Ngobe behind the defence, who curls the ball beautifully into the bottom corner to put the hosts ahead.


With half time looming, Chippa continue to push us, but just before the 45 minute mark Ekwalla breaks up one of their attacks and plays a lovely ball onto the right wing for Ryan Moon. He bursts down the right flank and crosses when he gets to the byline, chipping the ball in at the perfect height for Carl Lark to run onto, but he heads straight at Daniel in net, who catches the ball easily.


Just to drive home the message that this might not be our day, within a minute Ace Sali sets up Mbenyane just inside our penalty area and he aptly drives the ball home into the bottom corner.


The second half is no better. I bring on Ernie for Lark with 20 minutes to go and he hits the post with a header from another Moon cross a few minutes later. Juno then replaces Diale to little effect and with 5 minutes to go Joseph Ekwalla damages his foot. The game ends 0-2 and again I’m displeased.



https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=rykPTSrJYR8



Joe will miss 11-14 days with his damaged foot, which isn’t ideal with mathematical safety within reach. I call a team meeting to tell the team to get us the extra 2 points we need with minimal fuss. The majority of the Santos players however feel that I’m under appreciating our good position and think that I should be giving them more credit than just saying “Get it done”, so in trying to rally them together I manage to actually split the changing room, which is just fantastic.


And in the end I needn’t have bothered. Before we actually get to our match away at Orlando Pirates, Highlands Park lose their match 0-3 against Maritzburg and in doing so confirm our safety on 27 points, as they’re 15th and with their remaining 3 matches the most points they can possibly accrue is 25. Morale in our dressing room is still rock bottom though, so I make a mental note to look at the fixture list before holding my next team meeting, because I’ve fucked that right up.



Anyway, with safety confirmed, we land in Johannesburg a partially relieved but divided team. Morale and fitness are both issues for a few players, but Sony Norde is at least fit enough for a spot on the bench. Gugu Gogotya replaces Joe Ekwalla in the starting line up, giving our central midfield a sense of extra defensive solidity, and I begrudgingly bring Jenniker back in for Manqoba Cele, restoring Japhta back to the left wing. I’m going to keep training him as a left back though as you never know when an attacking full back’s going to come in handy.



10 minutes in, Qualinge bursts through the middle of the pitch and powers straight through our midfield, but shanks his shot well wide from 20 yards.


He tries again a couple of minutes later, this time cutting in from the left wing. This time Gertse robs him of the ball though and hoofs it long. Just like that it’s us who are threatening as Lark gets behind the centre backs and runs through on goal, before stabbing the ball beyond the keeper and into the bottom corner.


5 minutes later the Pirates should equalise when Nyauza gets his head to Rakhale’s corner at the near post, but he only manages to direct the ball against the angle.


We take our well earned 1-0 lead into the changing room at half time and I tell the boys to just keep it going. Apart from that header we’ve kept them to half chances, although we’ve not created much apart from the goal. 10 minutes after the break Gogotya’s surrounded on the ball by Orlando players and is pressed into losing possession. Orlando put together a good passing move and eventually get it out on the right for Happy Jele, who whips a cross in for Ndoro, who heads in the equaliser.


Another 10 minutes pass and all we can muster is a pot shot into the side netting from Moon, who’s so far out on the right wing he’s practically taking a corner. At the other end we’re being put under more and more pressure so I bring on Sony Norde, half fit as he may be, for Japhta. He may provide another outlet that we can use to break Orlando’s spell of dominance.


A few minutes later their substitute Baloyi dribbles to the right byline and gets a cross in. The ball gets all the way through to Qualinge at the far post, who has the goal gaping as Komo struggles to get over from the other post, but somehow he puts it wide. We get away with that one.


They keep the pressure on. A few minutes from time, Qualinge is in the thick of it again; This time squaring the ball for Motupa, who dribbles towards goal and shoots from 20 yards, but Komo catches it easily. I bring on Phil Cele for Moon and drop us back to a 4-1-4-1 in the hopes that it’ll help us hold on.


And then in injury time it happens: Matlaba hits the left byline and gets a cross in. Ndoro meets it with his head and hits the bar from close range, and in the blink of an eye the ball bounces back down and Baloyi half volleys it into the net. It’s a gutting moment until my eyes pan over to the linesman on the far side of his pitch, flag raised against the goalscorer. Good lad. 1-1 it ends.



https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=4QmfsvFyqUs


It’s a decent point, that. Orlando are a good team and they should’ve beaten us really as they were the better side. But I’ll take that and now we’re on the home straight, with only 3 games remaining before the end of the season, the summer, and the shake up.

All Hail King Carl (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep95)

All hail King Carl!


Alright, it’s not exactly been plain sailing for Carl Lark this season and he’s had to endure some extreme form troughs as well as enjoying the peaks, but he’s set 2 Santos records for number of goals scored (13) and number of player of the match awards (6) in a single season, breaking Emil Sambou’s and Tyren Arendse’s records respectively with time to spare. Fluctuation in form aside I think we can all agree that that’s not a bad season at all. Nice one, Carl.




With 3 matches to go and with little to play for, we welcome Maritzburg United to the Athlone Stadium today, who are managed by former Sheffield United and Zimbabwe striker Peter Ndlovu. They sit 2 goals below us, also on 28 points in 13th and it would be rather nice to open up a bit of a gap.



Thoahlane’s unlucky to miss out as he overcomes a damaged shoulder just in time for the match, but then picks up a thigh strain in training, ruling him out for a few more days. On the upside though, Sony Norde and Joseph Ekwalla are both back in contention after overcoming their respective injuries. Or you’d think so wouldn’t you, but now that Sony Norde’s just about fit again he’s been called up to the Haiti squad and will not be available, much to my frustration. Haiti must've hired Martin O’Neill.



Without banging this drum again too much, and taking into account the fact that we could drop a single league position, we’ve really got nothing to lose now and I’m hoping for new and better quality incoming faces in the Summer. I’m also hoping to start next season with a squad capable of dominating a match with Project: Meatloaf, so I want to use these matches to give my current crop of players the chance to get used to my way of playing and to show me they can handle it. Ekwalla and Cele come in for Gogotya and Thoahlane, with Gertse shifting across to centre back. Let’s see what they can do.



They do great. 12 minutes in we take the lead when Ekwalla slides the ball through Martizburg, who are penned inside their own box. A lesser player would take it easy after beating 2 club records, but King Carl makes sure he gets on the end of the pass and tucks it away.


The scores are levelled 5 minutes later though when Shandu dribbles down the right and crosses for Mnyamane, whose first effort is kept out by Komo’s feet but who tucks away the rebound.


A few minutes later the action continues though. It reminds me of Angrense, where a lot of games were open and non-stop end to end football, which is a pleasant surprise. This time Moon gets away down the right and whips a cross in towards the far post, where Japhta arrives to bury it in the back of the net. 2-1.


Before the half hour mark we get our third when Sinbad plays a beautiful pass down the right wing from inside the centre circle. Ryan Moon reaches it at the byline and pulls the ball back for Lark, who puts it in from close range.


A few minutes later Mnyamane hits the post after connecting with Ndlovu’s drilled cross, but then deep into first half injury time Jenniker pushes the striker to the floor and gives away a penalty, which Khumalo places firmly to Komo’s left to make it 3-2.


The second half is not such a frantic affair, which I’m pleased with. With 20 minutes to go I bring Moe on for Moon and we go to a counter attacking 4-1-4-1 to kill the game off. We nearly go one better with 15 minutes to go too, when Sinbad curls a free kick against the bar.


Lark goes off with 10 minutes to go after taking a knock on his heel, earning a standing ovation from the Athlone as he’s replaced by Ernie. We see the game out to claim an impressive and somewhat stylish 3 points and open up a 3 point gap over our opposition. Perfect.



https://youtu.be/VXgbdOkYoiY



Phil Cele’s Santos career could well be over after suffering a back strain that’ll keep him out for 4-5 weeks. I’m still torn on whether I want to keep him at the club, but I’ll leave that decision for another time.



Bidvest Wits are up next, the 2nd placed team in the League behind Kaiser Chiefs. They need to win today to have any hope of catching the League leaders. Bear in mind that this is the same Bidvest Wits that knocked us out of the SA KO Cup First Round 1-2 at the Athlone. The same Bidvest Wits that beat us 2-3 at their place.



Well do you know what? I’m sick of Bidvest Wits and I certainly don’t want to do them any favours. We’re at home again and we're going Project: Meatloaf. The fit again Thoahlane replaces Cele with Gertse going back on the right and Zulu comes in for Jenniker.



The first half is quiet, with Moon going closest to opening the scoring 8 minutes in when Ekwalla plays the ball through for him and he stings the Keeper’s palms with a powerful but poorly placed shot.


The first proper action comes almost 5 minutes into the second half, when Sinbad passes to Ekwalla 20 yards out, who flicks the ball straight on into the path of Lark again. Our top scorer shimmies past the centre back and captain Khumalo and shoots, but Keet parries it away. The loose ball rolls away as far as Moon though and he squeezes the ball home from a tight angle to put us ahead.


With 10 minutes to go, Mbatha plays a good ball through our defence for Rodgers, who runs through on goal but is denied by the outrushing Komo. We shut up shot once again with a 4-1-4-1, with Jenniker coming on for Japhta on the left wing, and we see the game out to claim another well deserved win.



https://youtu.be/TYAKi8VcsOg



And with that it’s official - Kaiser Chiefs have won the South African Premier Soccer League. You’re welcome lads.



Before our final match of the season, the draw for the European International League is drawn. Liechtenstein are in division D, as we were in 2018/19 when the European International League was introduced. That time we were in a tricky group with Macedonia, Kosovo and Andorra and we finished 3rd, well below both Kosovo and the promoted Macedonia and only winning the 2 Andorra games. There is no seeding so we could very well end up with a particularly easier or more difficult group. Fingers crossed for the former.



Group 1, 2, 3 & 4


1st Teams: Azerbaijan (Ranked 118th), Gibraltar (200th), Armenia (Ranked 78th) & Andorra (204th)


No clue here as to who we'll be facing. I wouldn't mind Gibraltar or Andorra, especially the latter who we have a proven track record against. The other 2 look very tricky though.



Group 2


2nd Team: Liechtenstein (Ranked 170th)


That's what I like to see. We've been drawn in group 2 with Gibraltar who only became eligible 4 years ago. Their key man Jake Gosling plays for Stockport County in the Vanarama National League, so that's a good omen. They finished dead last in the last International League Division D campaign, winning only once against Kazakhstan in a group also containing Georgia and Malta.


They also lost all 10 matches in their European Championship Qualifying Group, which again contained Kazakhstan, but also Estonia, Sweden, Denmark and Portugal, so it's probably fair enough.



Team 3: Moldova (Ranked 123rd)


Interesting. I've got to admit I know absolutely nothing about Moldova. They very nearly did get promoted from Division D in their last EIL campaign, winning 11 points from Cyprus, Faroe Islands and San Marino and finishing just 1 point behind the Cypriots, who won promotion. They might be tough opposition. They did come 5th out of 6 in their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign though, above Malta but well below Belarus, Montenegro, Romania and Russia.



Team 4: Montenegro (Ranked 87th)


Ah, of course. Well at least we'll get some more practice for our World Cup Qualifying group! Interestingly enough so do the other 2 teams, who'll face each other in Group 5 of the World Cup Qualifiers. Montenegro actually got relegated from Division C in their last EIL campaign, only managing a narrow win over Bulgaria and a draw against the eventually promoted Scotland in a group also containing Northern Ireland.


For anyone unfamiliar with the European International League by the way, it's a simple format. There are 4 Divisions; A, B, C and D and groups are drawn and matches played every 2 years, with one team getting promoted (And in the higher divisions, the bottom team getting relegated, but not in Div D). We'll play each team in our group home and away starting in September.



Now that the EIL's scheduled, our friendlies against Qatar, Costa Rica, USA, Bhutan, China and of course Russia are all cancelled. Russia seem unwilling to rearrange this time too so it looks like we won't be getting this particular practice match.





Anyway it’s time to tie this season up with a bow. We finish with a trip to Pretoria to face Sundowns. It’ll be a tough match as I’m going to stick with Project: Meatloaf even though it’s more suited to home games. As we’re guaranteed a minimum 12th placed finish now though (A 14-0 win could take us 11th, just saying) I’d rather have the team get more practice than a result today. In that vein I’m also going to make a triple half time substitution in advance: Young Thembinkosi Maluka will make the bench for the first time and will be introduced half way through for his debut along with Ernie and Luke Fanteni. In terms of our starting lineup, the only change I make is that Jenniker comes back in at left back, replacing Siyabonga Zulu, who’s picked up a 4th yellow and so a 1 match suspension.



Sundowns get off to a promising start when 10 minutes in, Anele flicks the ball ahead of Ntulli, who runs one on one with Komo and hits the post with a placed effort.


On the half hour Sundowns are at it again, this time counter attacking after our corner’s cleared. Motupa dribbles near enough the length of the pitch down the left wing, and skips past the challenge of Gertse to reach the byline. He chips a cross in for Andria, who heads the ball past Komo and into the net to put the home side ahead and claim a fantastic assist for Motupa.


Not long after, Mosadi’s corner is nodded on by Andria and directed towards goal by Gyimah’s diving header, but Aidie Jenniker boots it off the line. The ball’s worked around before Mosadi passes to Ntulli just inside the box and he shoots well, forcing a good diving save and another corner from Komo. From the corner though it’s our turn to counter, with Japhta receiving the ball and playing it over the defenders that didn’t venture forwards for the corner. Moon receives the ball and runs through on goal before shooting at the near post, but Onyango makes a good save to deny him.


Moon goes close again before half time; after he's released by Lark he bursts into the Sundowns box, but shoots straight into the arms of the keeper. At half time my pre-determined changes take place, with Fanteni, Ernie and Maluka replacing Diale, Sinbad and Lark, with Ernie playing as a number 10.


Just into the second half, Mosadi’s floated cross is met by Anele, who loops a header high and wide of our net. It’s not until 10 minutes from time that Sundowns double their advantage, when Mtshall crosses and Andria arrives to volley in his second of the day.


A silver lining arrives 5 minutes from time for us though, when Japhta plays a nice ball through for Maluka in a good position, who shoots from 12 yards and forces a good save from Onyango. 0-2 is the final score of the final game of the season.



https://youtu.be/qOQBejD8-ms



Since Santos were promoted to the PSL in 2017, we’ve finished 13th in 2018 and 13th in 2019. In 2020 we've finished 12th, which is improvement. Slow improvement, but improvement nevertheless. But now it’s time for the players to head off on holiday, and for me to get stuck into reshaping this squad. I can’t wait. Summer 2020 is going to be a good one.


A Summer Advent-ure (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Meta-sode 95.5)

Alright guys,


Summer 2020’s upon us, which means I’m gunna pop off again and prepare for the new season, and I’m in quite a new position as I’m not actually sure how long this Summer’s going to take.


As it happens this Summer’s even more hectic than the previous ones in that on top of the usual Year 4 Review, World Roundup, pure story episode (That I’ll probably skip this time to be fair) and time consuming pre-season episode, this year we’ve actually got International Friendlies to play and the European Championship to look at too.


In short, I’ll be releasing at least 4 mini-sodes and I’m going to set myself a target of coming back for pre-season on Monday 11th December (2 Weeks), but it could be later if all of that takes longer than I’m anticipating.


So yeah, cheers for reading and have a good... Start of advent, I suppose. Oh, and if anyone tells you you that advent calendars are for kids, tell them that Franjo says to stop spreading their moany, grumpy, Grinchy shit all over the holiday season and have a fucking chocolate.


Cheers,


Franjo

Looking forward to the next batch of episodes and seeing you develop this team.

Missus made me an advent calendar this year
Sometimes you have to stand in the shadows; to see the light.

OYSTON OUT
Looking forward to the next batch of episodes and seeing you develop this team.

Missus made me an advent calendar this year


Cheers mate haha nice, what kind? Is it one of the fancy non-chocolate ones? Like every day you get a G&T or a sock or a lego Millenium Falcon?
Year 4 Review (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 95.5.5)

Heads up - I originally said I'd be "back on the 11th (2 weeks)" but that's only 1 week. I'll be back on the 18th, sorry for my maths!


4 years, 4 clubs. I've enjoyed my first season with The Peoples' Team and I want to stay on and improve them next season, unless someone like Bayern fancies snapping me up... Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, hint, hint, Mr Rummenigge... Let's have a look back on year 4.



Santos FC

Final Position: 12th

Record: W9 D7 L16

Key Player(s): Sandile Stanley "Sinbad" Sibande, Sello Japhta, Joseph Ekwalla, Ryan Moon, Carl Lark

Highlight: Our 3-0 away win over Cape Town City in February

Lowlight: The supremely talented Sony Norde managing only 6 appearances (3 starts, 3 sub appearances) in half a season


Weirdly, in terms of my record this season there's not been a huge difference between my season at Santos and my season at GieKSa (We drew 3 more and lost 3 more in Poland), but it's all about perspective I suppose. In 2018/19 we had a great first half of the season and a horrible second half, whereas I feel like we've just had a consistently mixed bag this season. It's like in the last months of Katowice I had to eat a 10 gallon tub of cottage cheese in one long sitting, whereas this year I've just had a spoonful per week and I've been able to mask the taste with other food that doesn't taste like arse, making it a lot easier to stomach. Oh, I hate cottage cheese unless that isn't clear.


Ajax CT winger Sameegh Doutie won the Player of the Season award for the PSL, annoyingly. It's bad enough that our biggest rivals did the double over us by an aggregate scoreline of 0-6, but for them to have the best player in the league really grates on me. Credit where credit's due though, consistently good performances combined with 11 goals and 9 assists in 27 matches make him a worthy winner.



The Lesley Manyathela Golden Boot Award is named after a supremely talented young Orlando Pirates and South Africa striker who tragically died in a car accident aged 21 after winning the award himself in 2003. The award this year goes to Chippa United's 19 year old forward Tsepo Ngema, who struck 18 times in 27 matches. He was closely followed by 2 other top strikers though: Paulos Harrison of Kaiser Chiefs and of course our own King Carl.



"Mid-table" is a generous way of looking at a 12th placed finish in a 16 club league, but that's where we ended up according to The Cape Town Football Express, who report that we've pleasantly surprised everyone that had expected us to battle against relegation. Maybe that'll bring in a few more fans next season, because our average attendance of 8,481 is quite embarrassing when the Athlone holds 35,000. I know football fans have a lot of clubs to choose from in Cape Town, but come on! We're the peoples' team! Without the people we're just a... Blank, nondescript team! Like West Bromwich Albion!



Speaking of the people though, the ones who did show up to cheer us on have named King Carl our player of the season with 40% of the vote. I've said a few times so I won't bang on about it, but Lark's had a good solid season and I'll hope for more of the same next year. Top assister Ryan Moon, who also won the Young Player of the Year award, was the deserved runner up with 29% of the votes, with Sinbad completing the top 3 with 19%. The Team of the Season is extremely predictable, with Komo in net, Phil Cele, Gertse, Thoahlane and Jenniker across the back, Sinbad and Diale in midfield, and Moon, Ekwalla and Japhta behind Lark.




Going back to King Carl for a second, here's some more key stats for our Player of the Year:


He won 7 Player of the Match awards, more than any other player in the League and a new Santos record.



He scored a goal every 124.47 minutes, the 3rd highest in the League.



54% of his shots were on target, which is 7th highest in the League and just behind Ryan Moon on 56%.



Siyabonga Zulu's match-winning goal against Polokwane City in October wins the goal of the season award. We didn't see many screamers this year, but sometimes a well worked and well finished goal in the right context is just as good if not better.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zcz0TwjQAQ

Joseph Ekwalla has been named signing of the season, which is fair seeing as he was one of only 3 permanent signings I made and the other 2 players made about 10 appearances between them. Joe has added a real touch of class though and I'm tremendously excited about how good he can be, especially as in his 18 matches he made 23 key passes, which is joint 6th highest in the League and just behind Ryan Moon, who made 24. My priority for the Summer is to tie the Cameroonian down on a longer contract, as his current one expires next Summer and he's still not currently interested in committing.



The first time I saw Sinbad play, I thought he looked like a quality player. Maybe even our best player. The problem with quality players though is often that they don't try as hard as the others. They often don't need to because they're talented and special, and will try even less once they get into their 30's and their legs start to go. But on a scale of Hatem Ben Arfa to Cristiano Ronaldo, Sinbad is definitely further towards the latter, running 242.71 miles over the course of this season, which is the 3rd highest distance covered in the League. And at 32 years old too. What a bloody pro. Oh, and he completed 88% of his passes, more than any other Santos player.



As an appreciator of the art of defending, it'd be remiss of me not to acknowledge the efforts of Nathan Gertse, who made the 6th most key headers in the league (60) and Eliphas Thoahlane, who won 88% of his headers, the 3rd highest percentage in the league. Good job, lads.




Maybe I'm in some sort of weird rebound state of mind after last year, but I really like Santos FC. As an Everton fan, AKA "The People's Club", I really identify with the community feel around Lansdowne for this club. As I've said before, I think the only thing standing between us and some kind of success is the slack, negative attitude embedded in the team, and an extra sprinkle of quality wouldn't go amiss either. I tried to rectify that in the Winter break and I failed, but with any luck I'll be rectifying it over the next couple of months. Overall, it's been a good year.



Former Clubs



GKS Katowice


GieKSa have had a great season, and do you know what? I'm really, really happy about that. If they'd been relegated I would've felt guilty for leaving them in the lurch, or selfish that I jumped ship before my reputation took another relegation-sized blow. I mean, both of those things are still true, but at least they got themselves sorted out. After a single solitary point stood between Katowice and the 2nd tier last season, they actually finished in the top half of the table this time around, and so had a crack at the Championship Group as oppose to the Relegation Group. They finished 8th out of 8, but still, they did bloody well to get there in the first place, finishing 12 whole points above the relegation zone.


I was replaced at the helm by extremely promising young Polish manager Tomasz Kaczmarek, who took the probably rather sensible approach of dismantling pretty much the entire team straight away. His 4 most frequently used players were familiar faces though: Jack Hamilton, the goalkeeper who remains the player that I've spent the most money on in my career but didn't play a single competitive match for me, Danny Wilson, who I named captain and has kept the armband throughout the season, Shurendo Janga, who always showed promise but not enough consistency, and Damian Garbacik, who in all fairness was a solid player for me. Hurley, Kevin and Goncerz are all still on the books but have struggled to break into the team this year.



SC Angrense


Much to my immense excitement, Os Heróis are only going one way. They've had another great season and are improving year after year, obviously because of the great infrastructure that I set up and left behind. Pedro Amora is still in charge and after an impressive 9th placed finish in his debut season, he's lead Angrense to 5th in the Second League. Taking into account the fact that they finished behind Champions Sporting B and FC Porto B, neither of whom are allowed to be promoted to the top tier, they were only 1 place away from getting promoted again!


In terms of familiar faces, Jaime Seidi is still the club captain, although like I did, Pedro uses him primarily as a calming substitute when protecting a lead. Benjamim's still on the books, but didn't manage a single appearance this season, and Cristiano Magina's still got it, scoring 13 goals in 40 appearances in all competitions.



FC Höllviken


Honestly, there's not much that I can say about poor Höllviken that I didn't say last year. They're still in the 5th tier of the Swedish Football pyramid, they're still lead by Captain Wani Mukoko and vice captain Mattias Andersell and they still rely on Ghanaian midfielder Lawrence to make things happen for them. I hope they start to rise back up through the divisions soon, but it's not happening yet.


Höllviken aside though, it's been a good year for my former teams, and indeed for my current team. Let's hope for improvement in Vellinge, Hero Creek, Katowice and Lansdowne over the next year.

Year 4 World Roundup (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 95.5.5.5)

Once more. I'm going to try this once more and it's going to work. It's going to work, because who's the boss? I'm the boss. Franjo's the boss. My eyes narrow with concentration as I raise a balled fist, slowly extending a finger to point at my target.


"Meatloaf", I growl, "Sit". Meatloaf does not sit. The thought doesn't even cross his mind. He just looks up at me with those big green eyes, portraying only complete ignorant innocence. I've had these cats for 2 years now. Sheltered them, sustained them, loved them. They're still complete arse holes though. And they still won't sit, stay, lie down, roll over, play dead, high 5 or leap through the hoop of fire on command. That last one was perhaps overly ambitious, I'll grant you. I watch as Meatloaf flops down from the bed onto the floor and pads away towards his food as Burnie watches on from my side. That's a point, actually...


"Burnie, sit!" Burnie doesn't even seem to hear me. He too flops down and pads away to the food bowl. Fucking cats. I reach for my old laptop. It's really looking its age nowadays, covered in scratches and scuffs from general wear and tear. It really shouldn't be that battered as I only use it once a year, but I suppose I have to take into account the feline factor. I boot the laptop and start having a look around the world of football.



So as usual, Arsenal won the... Oh, hang on... They didn't?! Manager of the Year José Mourinho's Manchester United won the Premier League?! Oh right, sorry! The King is dead, long live the King, apparently. José Mourinho has not only stopped Arsene's run of 3 straight league titles, but he's done it in ridiculous fashion. Manchester United have been virtually unstoppable this year, dropping points in only 6 matches and accruing 99 points, breaking the records for number of wins in a season and number of points in a season in the EPL. Lead by Captain Ander Herrera and fired to victory by the goalscoring of their jaw dropping attacking line up, featuring Paulo Dybala, Robert Lewandowski, Paul Pogba, Gonzalo Higuain and Juan Mata, United really have had a remarkable season and finished 19 points clear of Klopp's 2nd placed Liverpool. Wenger's Arsenal and Pochettino's Spurs filled out the top 4, while Manchester City finished 5th, prompting the sacking of Pep Guardiola at the end of the season. He's been replaced by the legendary Zinedine Zidane. Chris Hughton's overachieving Stoke City were the last team to sneak into the European places at the expense of 7th placed Chelsea, who also sacked their Manager Antonio Conte and replaced him with PSG's Unai Emery.


At the other end of the table there was a frantic finish. I mean, not for Newcastle, they finished dead last and had sacked Mark Warburton by the end of 2019. They brought in former Scunthorpe and Norwich manager Darren Way to replace him but he couldn't prevent them from ending the campaign at the foot of the table. But the other relegation spots were up for grabs: Going into the final match, Hull City, who have since replaced long serving manager Marco Silva with Michael Laudrup, were on 35 points and Swansea, who sacked manager Ryan Giggs after Christmas and replaced him with Carlo Cudicini, Steve Clarke's Burnley and Everton, who kindly freed up Laudrup for Hull in March and replaced him with Serie A stalwart Stefano Pioli, were all on 38, all 4 clubs having very similar goal differences. Swansea got thrashed by 2nd placed Liverpool, Hull overcame the odds to beat Southampton and Everton and Burnley played out a brilliant 3-3 draw to make sure they both ended up safe on 39 points, flooding 606 phone lines with accusations of match fixing from people exclusively using very angry East Yorkshire accents.


Paulo Dybala was the Champions' top goalscorer but in the league he was eclipsed by Chelsea's Mauro Icardi. Özil had another spectacular season, playing consistantly brilliantly for the Gunners and laying on the most goals for his team mates once again, while Paul Pogba and Juan Mata both had brilliant seasons too. Pogba in particular had such a brilliant season in fact that he was named both Players' Player of the Year and Footballer of the Year. Spurs' Dele Alli, still only 24 years old, won the Players' Young Player of the Year award once again, making it 4 times in 5 years for him, and United's David De Gea won his 3rd Golden Glove in 4 years.



The Players' Team of the Season is pretty much as you'd expect, with David De Gea in net, Spurs' Toby Alderweireld, Chelsea's Aymeric Laporte, Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny and surprise inclusion Aaron Creswell of West Ham in defence. United duo Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba are joined by the Gunners' Mesut Özil and City's Kevin De Bruyne in midfield, with top scoring duo Mauro Icardi of Chelsea and Paulo Dybala of Manchester United up front.



Only 1 of last year's relegated Premier League teams is heading back up to the top tier: Sunderland, managed by former Port Vale manager Rob Page, of whom I was extremely sceptical after he was appointed last year. He's proved me wrong though, taking the Black Cats up as Champions at the first time of asking. They'll be joined by Roberto Di Matteo's Norwich City and Steve McClaren's Ipswich Town, who had to navigate tricky play-off ties against Robbie Nielson's Fulham and Paul Heckingbottom's Barnsley.



This season's La Liga table has a suspiciously similar look to it as last year's. For the second year in a row, Manager of the Year Luis Enrique's Barcelona won the league, falling only 1 point short of Manchester United's tally in the Premier League with 98. It was close between Barca and Diego Simeone's Athletico Madrid though, who finished on 97 points, 8 clear of Marcelino's 3rd placed Real Madrid. Damir Canadi's Bilbao had a great season too, scraping past Javi Garcia's Villareal into 4th place and nicking a Champions League spot.


Madrid based duo Cristiano Ronaldo and Sandro Ramirez were the league's top scorers with 23 and 20 respectively, while Leo Messi set up by far the most goals and had an incredible season, as did his team mate Neymar. Messi also won the Player of the Year award, just pipping Neymar and Real's Gareth Bale to that particular accolade, while Barcelona's Marc-André ter Stegen won the Goalkeeper of the Year award.



Bafflingly in a league where Barcelona and Atleti accrued 195 points between them, the Team of the Year is made up mainly of Real Madrid players. Barca stopped ter Stegen is in net, with Atleti's Alessandro Florenzi and Barca's Samuel Umtiti joined in defence by Real's Raphaël Varane and Sergio Ramos. The midfield is comprised almost exclusively with Real players, namely Gareth Bale, Eden hazard and Cristiano Ronaldo, with Sevilla's Franco Vázquez thrown in for good measure. Messi and Sandro lead the line.



As I google "Bundesliga table", my heart skips a beat. What if this is the year? What if this is the year that somebody apart from Bayern have won? What if this is the year that we get a bit of variety in the Bundesliga? And then I slap myself across the face for being so fucking silly, because of course Bayern Munich won the Bundesliga. They won it comfortably ahead of Thomas Tuchel's Borussia Dortmund, as per usual. I've nothing against Manager of the Year Carlo Ancelotti or his Bayern side, but I'm just a little bored of looking at the Bundesliga. Well done to them all the same, though. And well done to Slaven Bilic's Schalke for breezing into the 3rd Champions League spot and to Roger Schmidt's Bayer Leverkusen and André Breitenreiter's Borussia Mönchengladbach for making the Europa League.


As usual, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels had terrific seasons at the heart of the Champions' defence, while Dortmund's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was the league's top scorer by some distance. The player that came closest to matching the Gabonese's 25 goals was Mainz's Greek striker Dimitris Diamantakos with 16. You might think the fact that no Bayern player got close is a little odd, but to be fair they rotated their strikers quite a lot, with Thomas Müller bagging 8, £35million Summer 2019 signing Romelu Lukaku getting 7 and £47million Summer 2019 signing Kelechi Iheanacho getting 5. No doubt they'll be splashing out a bit of cash this Summer to rectify the situation. Red Bull Leipzig's Emil Forsberg and Dortmund's Mario Götze set up the most goals in the league.


I'm stopped in my tracks when I see that the awards for Footballer of the Year, Players' Newcomer of the Year and Players' Player of the Year were all won by the same young Bayer Leverkusen midfielder who's name I've not heard before: Kai Havertz. He certainly looks like a future World-beater. I think. My scouts don't know too much about him to be honest.


And finally the Team of the Year doesn't contain many shocks at all. Bayern 6some Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Joshua Kimmich, David Alaba and Arturo Vidal are all in there, along with Leverkusen's Kai Havertz, RBL's Emil Forsberg and Dortmund trio Serge Gnabry, Mario Götze and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.



Serie A used to be a lot like the Bundesliga in terms of one club ruling the roost, but since Juventus lost the 2017/18 title to Roma the other teams have started to smell blood. This year, for the first time in 9 years, AC Milan have won Serie A, and quite comfortably too, with Manager of the Year Ramón Díaz's men finishing 4 points above Juventus, who sacked Leonardo Jardim in March and brought in who else but Antonio Conte, and Luciano Spalletti's Roma. I'm annoyed in a way because if there's anyone who knows how to make Serie A a boring non-contest with Juventus winning the league every single year again, it's Conte. Napoli were the team to slip back into the Champions League in 4th, and Palermo and Udinese both bagged Europa League spots again.


Napoli's Gerard Moreno and AC Milan's Carlos Bacca each scored 21 goals this season, making them joint top goalscorers, with Moreno's 5 additional assists in 3 fewer matches granting him the top spot. He was one of the league's top performers in general, winning the Fans' Player of the Year award, while Juve defender Leonardo Bonucci won the Player of the Year award. Palermo's Federico Mancuello set up the most goals with 16, followed from a distance by Sampdoria's Dennis Praet with 11. Juventus' Gerónimo Rulli won the Best Goalkeeper award for the 2nd year running.


A glance further down the Serie A table makes me widen my eyes with excitement though, because who's that that's slipped into the relegation zone with Verona and Spal? S.S. Lazio. How have Lazio been relegated?! They've gone from 3rd place in the league to a first relegation since the mid 80's in 5 years! And they're a huge club too; One of the most decorated clubs in the country. Do they need a Manager? Could I have a chance? Oddly, after sacking Cesare Prandelli in December, they poached Sampdoria boss Giuseppe Iachini, who promptly sold their best player in Stefan de Vrij and lost 12 out of 15 matches, ensuring their relegation, and they want him to stay on! I honestly don't get it, but good luck to him. I'll be keeping my eye on the sleeping giants from afar. Watching. Waiting. Casually emailing over my CV after every loss.



Despite not winning the league, Juventus still dominate the Serie A Team of the Year, with Gerónimo Rulli in net, and Mario, Leonardo Bonucci and Alex Sandro joined by Inter Milan's Stefan Savic in defence, who I'll be getting very familiar with when my Liechtenstein side play Montenegro in both the EIL and World Cup Qualifiers. Juve's William Carvalho and Sami Khedira are selected in midfield along with Inter's Marcelo Brozovic, while Napoli's Gerard Moreno is joined by team mate José Callejón and Roma's Mohamed Salah up front.



If a couple of the other leagues looked similar to last year, then Ligue 1 is practically identical. The only real difference being that Christophe Galtier's 6th placed AS Saint-Etienne didn't get a Europa League place this time. Once again, Manager of the Year Unai Emery's Paris Saint-Germain won the league before the manager resigned to join struggling Chelsea, but it was a close run thing this year. José Barros' Monaco went level on points with PSG with 3 games remaining and were trailing purely on goal difference, but both teams took 9 points from their last possible 9 and finished on 102 points, with the Parisians still on top. Jocelyn Gourvennec's Olympique Lyonnais finished a distant, distant, distant 3rd on 74 points and took the last Champions League place, while Dieter Hecking's Olympique de Marseille and Sébastien Bannier's Girondins de Bourdeaux took the Europa League places. Incidentally, PSG are still looking for a new Manager, but they must have already gone on holiday as they aren't returning any of my calls.


PSG's Edinson Cavani's showing no signs of slowing down at 33 years old and was the league's top goalscorer with 22, slightly eclipsing Lyon's Alexandre Lacazette with 20. Monaco's Kylian Mbappé was the top performing player in the league, followed closely by team mate Daniele Rugani, and Marseille's attacking midfielder Óliver assisted the most goals with 16, just 1 ahead of PSG's Mateo Kovacic, who was also voted Best Player. The Champions' Gianluigi Donnarumma won his second Goalkeeper of the Season award in as many years.



The Ligue 1 XI of the Season is made up entirely of players from the top 2 teams, which ordinarily I'd scoff at but when both teams have racked up 102 points it's probably fair enough. PSG's Gianluigi Donnarumma is in goal, with team mates Raphaël Guerreiro and Marquinhos joined in defence by Monaco's Daniele Rugani and Fabinho. The Champions' Marco Verratti and Mateo Kovacic are in midfield with Monaco's Thomas Lemar, Bernardo Silva and Kylin Mbappé, with PSG's Edinson Cavani up front.



The Europa League was won by Premier League runners up Liverpool, who've had an excellent season under Jürgen Klopp. They started the knockout stages as they meant to go on with an entertaining 4-4 away goal win over Leverkusen in the first round, before pummelling Valencia 7-1 in the Quarter Finals. They scraped past Leicester City in the Semis, who had themselves breezed past Schalke and Palermo in the knockout stages, and the final was set up against Roma at Porto's Estádio do Dragão. Roma had had a good run of results themselves, embarrassing Manchester City 5-2 in the first round, before seeing off Vitesse on penalties and AC Milan in the Semi-Final. The red side of Merseyside enjoyed complete domination in the final over their Italian opponents, who lost Samu Castillejo and captain Kevin Strootman to injury, the latter of which took them down to 10 men in extra time as they'd used up their substitutions, and within 6 minutes Liverpool broke the deadlock through substitute Adam Lallana. Kostas Manolas was then sent off reducing Roma to 9 men, and there was no way back.




The Champions League was won surprisingly by Real Madrid, who beat their fierce rivals and La Liga Champions Barcelona 2-0 in a final held at Ajax's Amsterdam ArenA. Both teams had to knock out European giants on the way, with Madrid knocking out Tottenham, Bayern Munich and AS Monaco while Barcelona beat Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea and Arsenal. The final was rather different to the Europa League final in that it was the losing side that dominated and the winning side that were down to 10 men when Eden Hazard earned a 2nd yellow card after 69 minutes. Ronaldo had already put Madrid in front though and with 8 minutes to go, Toni Kroos doubled their advantage to secure their first Champions League win in 4 years.



I know realistically that I've got no chance in hell of landing the PSG job at the minute. And I've probably got no chance of getting the Lazio job either, if they ever decide to actually sack the manager that's taken them down. I can feel these jobs getting closer though. Maybe not by much, but they are getting closer.


Full of self-confidence, I cast the laptop aside and leap to my feet, staring straight at my 2 cats, who both look up at me curiously. "MEATLOAF, BURNIE... SIT!" I cry. They don't. Meatloaf goes back to eating and Burnie walks away towards the litter trays to take a shit. Fucking cats.

Done (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 95.5.5.5.5)

The work of a Football Manager is never done, so while my Santos team jet off on their holidays and before I can get down to the Summer shake up of my club side, I’ve got some International friendlies to play with Liechtenstein.




As inexperienced as I am at this side of Management, it’s my opinion that we need to use these friendlies very carefully as they’re the last ones we’ll have before we get to competitive football in the shape of the European International League in September, and I think the best thing to do is to pick a system and use it in all 3 friendlies. Our training time is obviously limited as we only get together every few months, so hopefully this’ll build some much needed familiarity. Our Project: Liechtensteiner served us pretty well as we took a respectable 1-2 loss away from Denmark a few months ago, so that’s the system we’ll be sticking with.



We start with a trip to Georgia. We’re very similar personnel-wise as we were against Denmark but I’ve had to shuffle the pack a bit. B Büchel is in net, with Oehri, Grippo, Kaufmann and Spirig across the back. Schürpf, Wieser, Flatz, M Büchel and Göppel are our 5 man midfield, and Frick leads the line.



We get off to a bad start. I had my eye on Jano as soon as the lineups were announced as he’s the only Georgian player that I knew from reputation alone and as I recall he’s got some skills. 8 minutes in, he gets clear on the left wing and skims a cross in for Mchedlidze, who powers the ball in from 6 yards out to put the hosts ahead.


20 minutes later, Jano swings a corner in towards the near post. In an excellently drilled corner routine, Mchedlidze nods the ball on, Dvali heads it back across goal from the far post and Kverkvella heads it over the bar. It should be 2.


5 minutes later Georgia are still on top and they win a free kick on the edge of the box. Arabidze drills it through our wall and hits the post; Another near miss.


At half time I tell the Liechtensteiner boys not to panic. It’s only 1-0 and we’re only here to settle into our system and our team. Even if we do lose it’s not the end of the world.


Less than 5 minutes after the restart, Jano cuts in from the left flank and surges towards our box. He shoots from 20 yards but hits it straight at Benji Büchel, who catches it.


With 35 minutes to go I bring on young Yanik Ngele for Vinzenz Flatz, as I simultaneously both don’t want to drop him in at the deep end and want him to get used to playing for his country, as he’s one of our brightest young prospects.


With under 20 minutes to go it’s still 0-1, but Georgia threaten once again when Samkharadze receives the ball on the edge of our box and toe pokes a shot against the bar. I bring on Valentin Flatz and Domuzeti for run outs in place of Kaufmann and Frick. Valentin is a fairly functional centre back and captain of Swiss amateur side FC Schaan, while Enis is a fairly consistent scorer for Swiss semi-pro outfit FC Balzers.




A few minutes later Domuzeti gets a rare half chance for us after Wieser finds the forward in Georgia’s half with a long ball. He runs towards the box and shoots, but can’t get any kind of accuracy on the strike and sends it high and wide.


Targamadze has a very similar chance a few minutes from the end but also puts the ball wide, and he’s followed almost immediately by Zivzivadze cutting in from the left wing and shooting from 20 yards, but he also puts it wide.


To be fair, we have to put the fact that we hold out at 0-1 in the closing minutes down to poor Georgian finishing as much as anything else, but in the 90th minute a Dvali cross is met by Zivzivadze, who volleys into the net from close range to kill the game off.




I’m not particularly encouraged by that performance. We’re definitely set up a little bit too defensively and giving the opponents chance after chance to score will almost inevitably end with them doing so at least once. Nevertheless, Project: Liechtensteiner may suit us better against better teams like it did against Denmark and I still want us to keep at it to build familiarity, so we travel back to Vaduz to host Estonia. Perhaps unwisely, I make no changes whatsoever.




Much like in Georgia, we get off to a stinker. It takes 13 minutes for a well worked corner to break us, with Pruuli whipping the ball in, Kübar flicking it on at the near post and Laas touching it into the net.


To be fair, we do a much better job today of nullifying Estonia throughout the match. In fact it’s not until 70 minutes have been played that goalscorer Laas slides the ball through for Likvak, who hits the ball very sweetly and sends it crashing off the underside of the bar and in.


Striker Niklas Kieber of YF Juventus comes on for Frick in the last 10 minutes as I continue to try and find someone who can get us firing and a few minutes later Pruuli sees a hopeful shot fly over from the edge of our box, but otherwise that’s all she wrote.




Is it ideal that I’ve now lost my only 4 International matches? No, not really. Is it annoying? Absolutely. Is the annoyance turning into panic? A little bit, yeah, thanks for asking.




I’m now in something of a difficult position. If I stick to my original plan and keep the same lineup and system when we travel to Wales, I run the risk of losing and having to throw everything out before the competitive fixtures because what we have provably doesn’t work, so the familiarity I’ve been working to achieve will disappear faster than a fiver on the steps of FIFA HQ. On the other hand if I abandon the plan and go for something else, we’ll be underprepared and almost certainly lose anyway, so we’ll be in the same situation but with 3 failed systems making everything seem that bit messier.



I decide to make one minor change for our match in Llanelli: Lucas Eberle, vice captain of FC Schaan, the same side that Valentin Flatz captains, comes in replacing Yves Oehri, who really hasn’t impressed me. Otherwise we stay unchanged against a good but thankfully Bale-less Wales side.



I’m actually a little bit starstruck when newly appointed Welsh boss Avram Grant seeks me out for a chat before kick off. This is the first time I’ve gone up against a famous football manager. A former Premier League manager. I jokingly assure him that my team will not be going easy on his, to which he laughs rather condescendingly. He may as well have patted me on the head and ruffled my hair.



That’s it. We’re fucked. My defensive Project: Liechtensteiner is done. As much as I’ve been grasping at straws and trying to make excuses for it, this is the 3rd consecutive match where we’ve gone behind in the first 15 minutes, and this time it only takes 4. Middlesbrough's Chris Gunter swings a cross into our box for this one, and Fleetwood's Wes Burns meets it to head the ball into the net. As a defensive strategy you might say that this one’s got some major fucking flaws. I’ll address it after the match though, there’s no point trying to change us 5 minutes in. I stand on the touchline silently, feeling dejected, annoyed, and frankly like I want to chuck the towel in. International football is beating me.


With 25 minutes gone, West Ham's Aaron Ramsey takes the ball down expertly and jinks past Vinzenz Flatz, before passing to Everton's Tyler Roberts, who places the ball into the far bottom corner to make it 0-2. We go on the counter attack in the hopes that we'll be able to put at least a couple of attacks together.


Alas just 10 minutes later, Burns takes the ball down the right wing and crosses it to the far post, where 17 year old Tommy Burns arrives to put the final nail in our coffin with his first International goal, despite not even having made his Premier League bow for Manchester United yet. Yanik Negele and Swiss amateur side SV Muttenz's defensive midfielder Thomas Eggenberger come on for us in the second half, but that's it. 270 minutes of International football and we've lost 3, scored 0 and conceded 7.




I think the match really affects Avram Grant. He clearly feels bad enough about thrashing my poor defenceless Liechtenstein side that he retires from Management altogether just a few days later, after only 73 days as Wales boss. I'd like to say that I know how he feels, but I don't. If everybody in history had quit every time they wanted to, the human race would still be living in wooden huts. If you want your house to stay standing, you'd better dig foundations. If you want your walls to stop falling down, you'd better get some cement and stick them together brick by brick. If you want your roof to stay on, you'd better make sure it's properly supported, and if you want to qualify for a major tournament with Liechtenstein you'd better get the fuck back to the drawing board.

Euro 2020 (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 95.5.5.5.5.5)

Ah, there's nothing quite like an International Tournament, is there? The daily doses of football, the national flags waving patriotically everywhere that you look, the crushing disappointment when you remember that your nation is essentially the whipping boy of International football...


Euro 2020 is a special tournament, as it's the first European Championship not to be hosted by any one nation, but across several European Cities: Amsterdam, Baku, Bilbao, Brussels, Bucharest, Budapest, Copenhagen, Dublin, Glasgow, London, Munich, Rome and Saint Petersburg. Pretty much all of the big hitters in Europe qualified, although the UK and Ireland and Scandinavia didn't do too well, with only England and Denmark qualifying from those areas.


The Group Stages didn't throw up that many surprises. Romania had a great group stage in Group C, winning all 3 of their matches against Albania, Croatia and even Germany. England, Portugal and France were the other teams to keep a 100% record throughout the group stage. The top 2 teams from each group qualified for the knockout stages along with the 4 best 3rd placed teams, and this threw out some interesting little situations. For example, FYR Macedonia qualified from Group A despite only picking up 2 points for draws against Belgium and Ukraine. I'd feel hard done by if I was supporting the Czech Republic for example, as they were placed in a very difficult group with France, Italy and Serbia and they picked up 3 points for a win over Serbia but finished 4th, so couldn't proceed despite having more points than Macedonia.



Again, there were no particularly surprising results in the Second Round. Some big nations were eliminated like Belgium, Poland and Austria, but at the hands of Germany, France and Italy that's hardly surprising. Serbia did well though, beating Romania on penalties and progressing to the Quarter Finals, where they knocked out reigning European Champions Portugal in extra time. Also in the quarters, England were eliminated by Germany, Spain were knocked out by France and Holland were sent home by Italy. Serbia's run finally came to an end with a routine loss to Italy in the Semi Finals, and Germany knocked out France to set up a Germany v Italy Final at Wembley, which the Italians won in extra time courtesy of a goal from CSKA Moscow's Manolo Gabbiadini.




I enjoyed watching the Euros. I always do. After guiding Liechtenstein to 5 losses in 5 matches, the tournament leaves a sour taste in the mouth though. I desperately want to take my team to a European Championship or World Cup tournament but it's not something that's often accomplishable with pure elbow grease and nothing else. We'll keep trying, keep plugging away and maybe some day we'll get there.

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