7 years ago
7 hours ago

They said I was the best. If I was narcissistic, I’d agree with them without questioning it, but the numbers don’t lie. FIFA have this hall of fame thing, whereby they calculate your standing based on the competitions you’ve won as a manager, and each competition is given so many points. The World Cup by default is given the highest number of points, but I don’t know exactly how many points each competition is worth, but just looking at the hall of fame, you can see why some people call me the best. But if you’re reading this, my memoir, you’d already know who I am and what I’m about.

In my home town the French speaking people there, of which there many bilingual folk, they call me Lé Champiὸn, the Champion, but the younger people who don’t speak much French, simply call me the best. Of course, to be called the best, someone needs to have worked their way up to such a standing with in the footballing community, and I’m no different.

You’ve picked up my autobiography because you know my name form 1 medium or another, and you’re either interested in my story, or you’re part of a book club and my memoir is the book of the week. Either way, my name, as you know is Chris Irvine. For many years I’ve been a football manager. I’m from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. And this is my story.


This is a story detailing my save on FM. It's going to be in an autobiography style. Updates will be at least once a week. Feedback and criticism is more than welcomed.
7 years ago
7 hours ago
Part one - The beginning

Chapter one – From humble beginnings

To most people, I’m known as Chris Irvine, but my real name is Cristoff Alexander Irvine Junior. My father is a native of Paris, and my mother was born and raised in Quebec, Canada. My father was a professional footballer, my mother spent many years as a translator for the French FA, and that is how they met. The story goes that my father was negotiating a new contract with the team he played most his of full career for, Red Star FC based in Paris, and the new director of footballing operations, today that role is simply known as the director of football, he was Spanish, and my father spoke French and is fluent in English. Hence the need for a translator. I don’t know why my mother was in France, but it’s good that she was as they hit it off and fast forward to 1986, in the Winnipeg general infirmary, young Cristoff junior was born.

By this time my father had quit full time football in France to concentrate on being a part time footballer in the Canadian football system. It was his life long dream to retire in Canada and as such, managed to get a free transfer to FC Cavalry based in Calgary. My mother had also quit translating and got a part time job when they moved to Winnipeg. Football wasn’t and in many ways still isn’t that big a deal in Canada. Whenever I’d hang out with friends or family and I’d mention football, most of the time people started talking about the NFL. Now don’t get me wrong, I do like the NFL (go Chiefs!) but with a professional footballing father, it was really only me and him that were interested. My interest piqued big time when in 1996 when, at 10 years old, we went on a family vacation to England. My father had distant relatives in England in a city called Newcastle Upon Tyne. I’ll never forget the minute I got off the plane and met my long lost uncle Lou

‘Hi Chris great to see you! Oh my, you must be Chris junior, welcome to the Toon!’

At this time I didn’t even know where about in England I was and what the Toon was

‘What’s the Toon? I said

‘It’s where the Geordies live’ Uncle Lou replied

‘The Geordies? What’s a Geordie?’

‘Someone from the Toon of course!’

Still to this day I don’t understand what that means, but anyway it was quite obvious this was a city full of football fanatics, and the team just so happened to be top of the Premier League. The manager at the time was stark raving lunatic called Kevin Keegan, and after watching the repeat of match of the day from the night before, Newcastle beat the Tottenham Hotspurs 3-1, I was immediately hooked on this guy with long curly hair. We managed to go see Newcastle play and that’s when I knew I had fallen in love with the beautiful game.

Back home in Canada, I made it on to the high school soccer team. I wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t good. After graduating, and getting a place at Michigan University to study sports science, I had it in my mind that I was going to the next big footballer coming out of Canada. Once in the Michigan Wildcats team, we won back to back to back Big 10 League’s in my 3 years there, I was selected to be an all American, despite being Canadian. My stats in the 3 years I spent at Michigan were 58 games, all as starting left back, 26 assists, 11 goals, 18 man of the match performances and Big 10 League MVP in my second season. I was touted as a potential late first round / upper second round pick in the MLS draft. Unfortunately for me, I went undrafted in the 2006 draft, and was at a dead end as a player. With a degree in sports science, 3 quality years as a player I couldn’t get a job in the MLS, so I had to do the next best thing.

My coach at Michigan, Doc Spencer had got the head coach job at lower league side the Las Vegas Mobsters. In the next 8 years, I was the Mobsters starting left back for the first 3 years, then I was club captain for the following 5 and even doubled up as club physio for the final year I was there. We didn’t win any cups, but I genuinely think I would’ve enjoyed my time in Vegas more than if I had got into the MLS. Every day was fun, if we lost we still held our heads high, when we won we partied all night it was magical. In my final year as a player, I went for a 50/50 loose ball, and the attacker missed the ball but caught my ankle perfectly. I’ll never forget the day of the operation

‘Mr Irvine, there’s good news and bad news’ the doctor said

‘Good news first I guess’

‘Well, you’ll definitely walk again, your ankle won’t be 100% its former self, but you will walk’

‘And the bad news?

‘You’re never going to play again’

Talk about being blunt. He literally told me I’ll never play again and left the room. I was 28 coming up to my 29th birthday, and right back to square one. Okay so I had nearly 10 years playing experience, as well as that degree I’ve got, but nowhere to go with it. I didn’t wallow in self pity, I just concentrated on my recovery, I still held my job as the Mobsters physio part time but the desire to play was still there.

During the recovery phase of nearly a year, I spent a lot of time with Coach Spencer, and took in a lot of games and was his unofficial assistant manager. I relayed his instructions to the team, took training sessions and gave my advice and opinion during, before and after games. Being in a position of responsibility of a football team really gave me the itch to try my hand at managing, so it was decided between myself and Doc that once this season as finished, I was going on a holiday with my folks, and from then I would return as his official assistant manager full time.

However, I would never return to Vegas.

7 years ago
7 hours ago
Chapter 2 – An unexpected start

Whilst on holiday in Spain we went on a trip to a small country off the south coast of Spain, Gibraltar. On our way there, my father revealed something about him I never know. Before hanging up his boots as a player, he had spent 1 season as a player / coach at a team in Gibraltar, and had always said he’d liked to go back. Whilst there we went to go to see the team he played for, Saint Josephs FC in a pre season friendly against Hellas Verona.

After the match, a 2-0 win for the visitors, we got talking to the clubs directors and chairman, who were all very friendly with my father. I told the chairman, a man named Stuart Rodriguez about my current situation and we had a good couple of hours of talking.

After a week of sight seeing, I got back to The Victoria Stadium and saw the team lose to Boavista’s reserve side. I could tell this side were struggling defensively and the assistant manager looked quite dejected on the sideline. After the game we got talking to the chairman again, except this time he asked me to join him in his office for a chat. I didn’t think much of it at first.

The chat was quite relaxed, the chairman was clearly passionate about his team, he told me about the new strips for the season, a new 3 year long sponsorship deal and if they could stay in the league that season, they may just be turning professional. We again discussed my background as a semi-pro in Vegas, my almost but not quite getting picked in the MLS draft, as well as how my experience of working as Doc’s assistant had given me the itch to become a manager sometime in the future. On that Stuart said he felt that an outsider would help bring a fresh outlook on football here, and he also said that an outsider, an unknown could just be the spark that kept this team in the league. As I was leaving my father walked in and carried on talking as I went down to the fans area.

Later that evening in a restaurant my father had said that Stuart had mentioned that he’d be interested in giving me the position of manager, if it was something I would consider. The thought hadn’t actually crossed my mind, my mind had been on returning to Vegas as Docs assistant, but I thought well what the hell why not. The next day I met with Stuart and we discussed the position, and said it is only fair I apply officially, so I sent an email, cover letter and my small CV.

Two days had passed by without hearing from Stuart. During that time I was becoming more and more excited but anxious about this job. I had also convinced myself that he had other applicants, more experienced and more local guys that he was interviewing, but just as I was getting ready to go sightseeing or whatever the plan was that day, I got an email notification on my phone. I can still remember the email word for word:

Thank you for your time the other day. After thinking things over, discussing this with your dad as well as taking your own experience and ideas into consideration, I am happy to say please see attached document, an offer of employment to be the new first team manager of Saint Joseph’s football Club.

Chris, you are the man I want to save my team from relegation. Take your time thinking it over, but be mindful the season starts against Lynx FC in 4 days time.

Speak soon.

Stuart Rodriguez
Saint Josephs Chairman

My first job offer to be a football manager! At first I was a bit annoyed that he had discussed this with my dad, I didn’t want to be known as Chris Irvines son, I just wanted to be my own Chris Irvine, but at the same time I couldn’t quite believe it, so I raced down to where my parents were to tell them the news. They were quite as shocked as me, but very supportive. My dad was extremely supportive, of course he knew what I was in for moving to a foreign country, he’d done it from France to Canada then to Gibraltar and back again, but he spoke English and French, I spoke the same 2 languages, but I wasn’t sure how many people, if any in Gibraltar spoke those languages.
I signed the contract electronically and emailed it back.

My first official day as manager was 8th September 2016. Saint Josephs FC were the perfect team for me in many ways. The Primera division consisted of 10 teams of which the bottom 2 went down. The perfect thing for me was, that no matter how badly we played, the pressure was never on Saint Josephs as they were expected to go straight back down. So with my cynicism hat on, it wouldn’t matter if we got spanked every week, but with my optimist hat on, the pressure would be on every other team as they would always be favourites for the games, so I could tell the team they could play without any added pressure. That was my plan at least. Throw in the fact that this is a small town country, the stadium holds 3,000 fans, but I saw first hand that only the main stand was ever open, holding around 650 fans. I felt that there wouldn’t be no added pressure from the fans because of this.

On my first day I was still checked into my hotel a few blocks away from the ground. In my excitement I had completely forgot to consider where I would be living whilst here! Not one to let details slip, Stuart had told me he was willing to pay my accommodation for my first year here, which I couldn’t believe! Turns out however, which I found out around a year or so later, is that he had bought an apartment for his son and his new wife, but when his son had left his bride at the altar and ran off with a bridesmaid, Miguel was so disgusted (Stuart and his sons ex-fiancé’s dad were friends from school and had multiple business ventures together) he had actually disowned his son for all the shame he had brought on the Rodriguez family. So the flat was mine for the time being.

After that I was introduced to various people, the director of football, coaching staff, catering and HR. The clubs assistant manager was Javier Casquero who I had watched from the stands for the 2 games had made time to sit down with me and go over various reports on the team and other things like scout reports.

Once the pleasantries of my first morning were out of the way I met the first team out on the training pitch, you know my first ever time meeting a team as a fully fledged first team manager, and it couldn’t have gone any worse. It went something like this:

‘Afternoon lads, how is everyone?’

Silence. Nothing. Not even a peep.

I look at and nod at chap standing in a tracksuit, who gives me the thousand yard stare me blankly.

It didn’t take long to realise they don’t speak English. Obviously. So how best to communicate to them?

I blurt out ‘Me. Chris. Your. New. Boss. Amigos’ in that stupid dumb downed way of talking English speaking people do when they’re speaking to a non-English speaker

Still nothing. I was half expecting to see tumbleweed roll past

‘Me. Show. You. How. To. Play. Football’. I took a nearby ball and kicked it towards goal. Boom, top left corner.

‘See. Me. Good’

Absolutely nothing from the team. Not one of them said a thing. I then yelled ‘For fuck sake lads give me a fucking clue!’ before I heard ‘Hahah you’re funny’

Turns out the assistant manager is actually fluent in multiple languages, Spanish and English being 2 of them. He went on to tell me the full squad speaks Spanish, a couple do speak English but the majority of the squad are Spanish players. He turned out to be a pretty good translator and had a plethora (great word!) of tactical knowledge and ideas. He would become my most trusted colleague in my time at Saint Josephs, he was 39 at the time, was experienced enough with 6 years of coaching experience at Las Palmas in Spain and this was his first assistant manager job, and it wouldn’t be his last either. A steady hand and the right type of person I needed at that time, he helped me both in the club and outside of working hours.

As for our tactics that first season, I didn’t want to over complicate things, and this season was about one thing, staying in the league, nothing else. We kept it simple, 4-4-2 with 2 flat banks of 4, very structured so each player had 1 role each game, and really looking back, we just played to our strengths, namely getting long diagonal balls up to the front 2 of target man (and all round pain in the ass!) John-Paul Duarte and poacher type player Michael Garcia. These 2 played well with each other, knew each other’s games inside and out and were the perfect big man little man combo.

The next few days flew by, and by the time of our first game against Lynx FC (great team name!), I had a team talk in mind. We’d worked on a few things in training, mainly touching on how we’re going to be getting the ball to the front 2, and what I wanted from each of the team individually.

I couldn’t wait to take charge of my first match as a football manager!
7 years ago
7 hours ago
Chapter 3 – Don’t be scared, it’s just a kids game.

You always remember your first of everything, your first football match, your first day of school, the first girl you kiss and so on. As this was something close to me and I wanted to keep a log of everything, I made a vow to myself to keep a log of every match I ever had as a football manager, and I’m proud to say that it was something I stuck to from the first match against Lynx right up to now. I don’t remember every single detail of every match, nobody could, but with my log of games, dates and scores, I also kept newspaper trimmings of my games as well as keeping a diary, I was able to jot down memorable moments, feelings and whatnot, which came in handy for my memoirs, which you are currently reading.

In my diary, on the date of 24th September 2016, I wrote down our opponents, the final scoreline and my own personal feelings of what it meant and how I felt, which I won’t put in much detail here, but I’m sure you can understand how it felt. I did this for every match I had.

Our opponents in my very first match as a manager, Lynx FC were the favourites to beat us, mainly as per the Sport Pesa, a Spanish footballer reporting publication, but what I saw in the team was a desire in to do well. It was as much a fresh start for them as it was me, despite a lot of them being there when they got promoted. None were more committed and dedicated to doing well than a mountain of a man, center half Francisco Marquez Heras, or Frank for short. This guy was what you’d call a friendly giant. Born in Seville in Spain, he’d been in Gibraltar all his playing career, he was 6 foot 4, around 18 stone, 16 of which looked like muscle, but he was one of the most professional players I’d ever met. In the build up to the game, he approached in me the dressing room when I’d got there before everyone else. He spoke broken English.

‘Boss, I will do well as I can, make big impression, make you look good’

This gesture made me feel immensely proud. Here was a player that was such a professional and took his game so serious, he was going out of his way to help me in my first game as a manager.

‘Thanks Frank, that’s really kind of you to say, but I am feeling nervous’

He could tell I was nervous

He replied with ‘Don’t be scared boss, football is just kids game played by men’

From then on he was the first name on my team sheet, and really helped me in my first season as a manager. I thanked him for his kind words, and told him in a way I hoped he would understand that I really appreciate him saying that, and I hoped we could work well together.

As the team made it’s way to the pitch, the opposition manager approached me, held his hand out and shook mine, but spoke in Spanish. I just smiled and said thanks, speak soon and walked off. My Spanish was coming along slowly but wasn’t anywhere near good enough to hold a conversation yet, but he smiled and went to his dugout. I looked around the stadium and guessed there were around 500 fans in attendance. After the game it was confirmed there were only 312.

As for my first taste of football management, I couldn’t have dreamt for a better start. As noted above you remember your first everything, and I remember this game as if it happened yesterday. As the game kicked off, we played the ball to our defence, just as was discussed the day before. Frank played a long ball forward, Durate outjumped the center half marking him and flicked the ball onto Garcia, a true route one big man little man football move, Garcia took a touch, stopped just as the defender went to make a tackle, and as he did Garcia played the ball along the edge of the box and central midfielder Steven Romero Garcia Luis, or just Steven as he wanted to be known, placed the ball under the keepers left. 39 seconds in and I’m winning my first game of football as a manager! I stayed calm and collected, and without celebrating wildly I just fist pumped the air, took a hi-five from my assistant Javier Casquero, and sat back in the dugout. The inevitable response from Lynx came and we soaked up a bit of pressure when almost 8 minutes later, the exact same passage of play happened again. Frank played a long ball up to Duarte, he outjumped his marker, not for the first, or the last time in this game, Garcia takes a touch except this time he’s through on goal, hits it with his right and it’s in the back of the net. 10 minutes in and it’s 2-0 to us!

Despite the scoreline, Lynx didn’t give in and went on the attack. With our structured approach they rarely threatened us from then on, and right on the stroke of half time Garcia got another for us. The 2 up top worked wonders again. Duarte took control of the ball, held it up long enough for Garcia to make a darting run forward, Duarte plays a lovely little through ball and he’s one on one with the keeper, 3-0 and the ref blew for half time! I thought to myself this football manager lark is quite easy!

My first ever half time team talk was just me telling the guys how proud I was, how happy I am at the score and how well we’ve played. We brought on a couple of subs and just stuck to the game plan of soaking up pressure and playing to our strengths. The 3-0 half time score didn’t change and we saw out the second half without any worries. I wasn’t going to get ahead of myself after this win, but after our next game against Manchester United 62 (I wonder where they got the inspiration for that name from?) I couldn’t help but get excited. We picked up where we left off as we thumped them 5-0 with Duarate showing both sides of his personality. He scored 4 of the 5, and assisted Garcia for the other goal. After the game I pulled Duarte to one side and told him I thought he was superb in front of goal and that with performances like this we’ll never need to worry about relegation.

‘You were superb in front of goal John, keep it up and we’ll never have to worry about relegation’ I told him, in what I thought was a well earned bit of praise

‘Meh, relegation, even if this club goes down I’ll still top the scoring charts’ he said with a look of pure disgust ‘A bit of advice from an experienced head (he was 3 years younger than me) You should be having these man up chats with the defence, they’re piss poor, I’ll keep doing my thing, you worry about them’ and off he went.
It made me a bit angry at first, but then as time went on I just got used to his arrogant self centered ways. He also conveniently forgot to mention that in our opening 2 games, we’d scored 8 goals, okay he had 4 of them, but we kept 2 clean sheets, so I think the defence were doing their bit early on.

As the days went on, we carried on training and working on the things that got us 2 wins and 8 goals, we didn’t change anything up just yet. The next 2 games of our season ended with a 3-0 win against College Europa FC, before we conceded our first goal albeit in a 3-1 win over Mons Calpe in the league. These 2 wins saw us sitting top of the league after 4 games. I wasn’t concerned when we were soundly beaten 2-1 by Gibraltar Lions though no one can expect to win every game by 3 goals, but we were still top at the end of my first competitive month of football, with a record of 5 played, 4 wins and that 1 loss. We were level on points with Lincoln Red Imps who had won the league the last 12 years and are the only professional team in Gibraltar.

The end of my first month and I couldn’t have been happier, proud and delighted at our early season form. The main thing was going to be keeping this up.
7 years ago
7 hours ago
Chapter 4 – That unknown manager Chris Irvine

I had lived in Gibraltar for coming up to 4 months now. As Saint Jospehs were a semi pro team, we only trained 3 times a week, but my assistant manager Javier Casquero and I spent more time together after training. As there is only 1 stadium in Gibraltar, Victoria Stadium, and every team uses it as their home ground, we were given time slots to go there and train. When the team were off doing whatever they were doing when not training, or in John Duarte’s case being a massive prima donna, we discussed tactics, football philosophies and just generally hung out together. We did spend a lot of time together and it never got awkward or we never got sick of seeing each other, we really were in this together and bounced off each other really well.

During the season I tried to practice my Spanish as much as I could. Whilst most of my briefings and team talks were relayed to the team by Javier, I secretly thought that they would listen to him more then they’d listen to me, and maybe respect him more. With that in mind I really ramped up learning the lingo and by the time December rolled around, I was having conversations in Spanish, team talks, briefings and even speaking to people not connected to the club, such as fans after games, the odd media person in attendance and people in restaurants and what not.

The learning the language came in handy as I had my first taste of a falling out with a player. Well falling out may seem a bit harsh. The clubs HR lady came to tell me the transfer papers had come through from Cannons FC, another team in Gibraltar. When I questioned her on this she kind of just shrugged it off as if it was nothing. I looked at the sheet of paper in front me and there it was in black and white:

Transfer of Ayala, Jose Antonio, of Saint Josephs FC of Gibraltar to FC Cannons of Gibraltar.

Official transfer date 01/06/2017

This was revealed to me on the second of January 2017. At this time of the season, we’d played well enough and Ayala was an integral part of our play. We were second in the league, only 5 points behind leaders Lincoln Red Imps, so for him to be leaving for a team that was sitting second bottom really irked me. When I asked him about this, he said his agent had negotiated a good deal from Cannons, and his words not mine, playing for unknown manager Chris Irvine has been a painstakingly terrible experience. I asked him why does he think this? We’re second in the league, we’re playing well and Cannons were looking like going down? From his half arsed response I got that I am unprofessional, not able to motivate the team and there was no future at Saint Josephs. Fair enough I thought, we’ll see what happens during the next 6 months of the season. Until the end of the season however, Ayala was put in the reserves and I told him he won’t be anywhere near the first team. Petty I know, but this was the first real test of my nerve as a manager.

Despite Ayala’s best effort to derail our form, we continued picking up points, but also picking up the occasional bad result to boot. Case in point, 2 games in January. First up we played College Europa FC and played a 5-3 loss. It really was an end to end game, they scored, we scored, they scored again, we scored again. We went in at half time actually winning the game 3-2. But 7 second half minutes really took I tout of us. They equalised in the 67th minute, and by the 75th minute they were winning 5-3. Whilst there was enough there to win the game, we obviously let our concentration levels drop and were punished. There was absolutely no excuses for the next game though. Mons Caple FC, 5th in the league and I’d say at that time an even side with us. 30 minutes into the game there were 4 goals, all 4 scored by their forward Juan Pablo Pereira. The hair dryer treatment came at half time where for the first time, I think first time anyway, in my career I absolutely lost my shit with the team. I was expecting some sort of response, but the response I got were another 4 goals, only 1 more for Pereira, and a hat trick for his strike partner Michele Di Piedi. 8-0 and this is most definitely the lowest point of the season for us. We got the team in the next day and we made them do double training sessions, but not before making the team watching all 8 goals again, three times.

This reaction seemed to work as we had the Rock Cup coming up, Gibraltar’s version of the FA cup. It was a nice distraction from our league games, as we were drawn against lower league side Gibraltar Phoenix. We turned them over 3-0 which set up a nice run of games for us, in which we picked up more wins over Gibraltar Lions, Europa Point, Gibraltar United and Lynx FC, before we went down just, and I mean only just to Lincoln Red Imps who scored in the final minute of injury time. Whilst we were winning games, so were College Europa who had managed to overtake us and sat in second whilst we found ourselves third heading into the quarter final of the Rock Cup.

We had drawn this game against Mons Calpe and I was confident that if we continued where we left off, we’d be straight in the semi final, and hopeful we could avenge that absolute 8-0 drubbing.
5 years ago
3 days ago
This is really different, liking it so far mate.
7 years ago
7 hours ago
This is really different, liking it so far mate.

Cheers man, glad you enjoy so far
7 years ago
7 hours ago
Chapter 5 – Almost perfect.

Getting to the semi final of the cup would be a great achievement for me in my first year as a manager, and that is exactly what we did, when we beat Mons Calpe 2-1 to get some sort of revenge for that absolutely abysmal showing when they beat us 8-0. Shortly after the game we’re drawn against Manchester 62, who we haven’t lost to in the 2 league meetings so far, so another game where I was confident of winning.

To continue with the good news, for April 2017 I was awarded my first ever manager of the month award, and to this day I still have the bottle of (cheap!) champagne I was awarded by the Gibraltar FA for the award. We won 4 of our 3 league games the previous (the loss being that 8-0) and spirits were definitely high. Which meant one thing of course, we lost our next 2 games in the games in the league against Glacis & Europa Point, before redeeming ourselves with a thumping 4-0 win over Gibraltar Lions.

With 2 months of the league season to go this was the first opportunity I had to sit down with various members of the playing squad to discuss extending their contracts. I never had any issues negotiating my own contracts whilst I was a player, I never demanded much as I was pretty much just happy playing, and I wanted that mentality to rub off on the players, which I think it sort of did. Before I sat down with any of the playing squad, and coaching staff for that matter, I signed my own contract extension with the club when the chairman and I had a meeting on the afternoon after the Lions game. This was my first ever extension and maybe a bit naively I accepted the first offer that was presented to me, a 50 euro a week wage rise to 400 euro a week, as well as a clause that meant any other team would have to pay 80% of my remaining contract to hire me, which I didn’t even think about at the time, however a word of advice dear reader, remember this part as it comes in handy later on in the book. Back to discussions with the team and it got off on the worst foot possible. I sat down with midfielder Jose Luis Verdejo who I was certain would sign as he had played in every game, however when he sat down with me he refused my first offer, citing he wanted a higher basic wage as well as some other bonuses. He was polite enough about this though. So he went away and I said we’d pick up again later. Ivan Laboto, Carlos Sanchez, Felix, Jesus Camo, Michael Garcia and Francis Picardo all said the same thing, and basically refused to sign an extension.

So if you’re keeping track, that’s our starting left winger, left full back, right full back, goalkeeper, two central midfielders and 1 of our main forwards all saying no. My thought process at this time was maybe if I could get John Duarte, who at this time had managed 11 goals and 15 assists, most of his assists going to Michael Garcia, then the others would resign.

My meeting with Duarte went something like this:

Me - ‘John, hope you’re well, I want to discuss your contract, and maybe extend…

John as he cut me off – ‘Nah, I’m leaving at the end of the season, Lincoln will approach me and you can’t match what they’ll pay me’

Me – ‘Well maybe if we can discuss that?’

John – ‘No’

Me – ‘Are you sure? You’re our main guy here, I can’t afford to lose you?’

John – ‘No’

With that he left. Now as the years have gone I have learned that the team is the most important thing as a manager, but to my credit if I do say so myself, what I did next worked out for the better, for the most part anyway. For you see, when we got to training the next day, I did what my assistant manager Javier later said was a genius move. I hadn’t quite realised, but Johns attitude and general behavior had up until this point pissed off most of the team, so at our pre-match session before the first of our final 4 league games against Europa Point, I announced the team

‘Okay lads, standard set up 4-4-2. The team for tomorrow is Felix, Moto, Remorino and Frank as the back 4, Yepes on the right, Torres you’re on the left this time, Caballero and Carlos as always you’re in the middle’ Just then I saw Verdejo stir in his seat, he was the starting left winger and he thought he’d lost his place to Torres who was a good back up and this was his first start.

‘Up top as always Garica, and Jose Verdejo you’re playing off Garcia tomorrow and it’s something we’re going to discuss in the session following this team meeting.’ As the team left for the training pitch Duarte approached me

John – ‘Good joke Chris, Verdejo isn’t really starting at forward is he?

Me – ‘Yes actually he is, see you on the training pitch’

Side note, maybe me being a bit pedantic, but I absolutely hated being called Chris by my team. Duarte was the only one that did it. I thought to myself you’d never catch Beckham, Keane or Bruce calling Alex Ferguson Alex, or any England players in the team calling Bobby Robson Bobby or any of the invincible calling Arsene Wenger by his first name would you. I learned that it was him being his usual unprofessional self.

The result? A 2-0 win for us with Verdejo assisting Garcia for our opener and Garcia assisting Verdejo for our second. It was a master stroke and just the move we needed. Sticking with the same line up we played the semi final of the cup against Manchester and much like the Europa game, we came away with a win. Verdejo grabbing 2 and Garcia getting the third. These 2 clearly liked playing alongside each, and were going to be the starting forwards in the final 2 league games, as well as my first cup final, which was against Europa Point, who had beaten Lincoln Red Imps in their semi final. Whilst they did well to beat them, we were much more confident in beating Europa Point than we would’ve been playing Lincoln, or so I thought.

Lincoln were still reeling from that loss against Europa and I was expecting the inevitable backlash as we played them in our penultimate league game. Up until this point in the season, in the league Lincoln had a record of 25-0-0, a perfect 100 percent win rate.

After the game, Lincoln had a record of 25-0-1. Almost perfect.

We came out 2-1 winners with none other than Verdejo grabbing the winner, again. My decision to drop Duarte had most certainly paid off.

That win over meant we could finish no lower than second place in the league, as we held a 4 point advantage over third placed Gibraltar Lions, meaning the final day win over Gibraltar United was just for us to keep up the good form. The second placed finish meant we would be appearing in next seasons Europa League.
7 years ago
7 hours ago
Chapter 6 – So close, yet so far.

Finishing second in my first season was very much unexpected, but very welcomed. I felt in myself I had come into my own and was really getting into being a football manager. We had, for all intense purposes over achieved. Was it the new manager effect? Was it beginners luck? Who knows, but we were in the Rock Cup Final and my confidence was sky high. Saint Josephs FC were in their 10th Rock Cup Final, but I wouldn’t make it a 10th final with a win. Here was where I made my first big mistake as a football manager.

On the day of the final, I was unusually relaxed. I’d made finals in the lower leagues of American football, as well as during my time at Michigan and nerves didn’t really affect me too much. I had the usual pre match presser, gave nothing away in terms of team selection and just smiled at the 1 reporter there.

Heading into the game, we had won our last 4 games, 1 against the top dogs, and had Verdejo scoring for fun (5 in 4). Right before kick-off I announced the team. I usually did this an hour or so before kick-off, but I just said to the team it would be the same starting 11 that started the last 4 games. Here is where I made the first big mistake of my career.

I told the team, calmly, that they should just relax, and the result would come. We’ve won the last 4 games, we’re not changing anything and we’ll have our hands on that trophy. The lads seemed relaxed. At the time I didn’t realise most of them were a little too relaxed. I quickly picked up on this 9 minutes into the game.

For you see, after 9 minutes and 6 shots, 5 on target for our opponents, they opened the scoring. Their forward Jaurequi had latched onto a perfectly weighted through ball and toe poked the ball under Felix in the goal, and it was no more than they deserved. I yelled from the touchline and we finally got ourselves into the game. We pressed when we had to, we sat back when they had the ball but didn’t face much more pressure. Our own pressure paid off when Garcia and Verdejo linked up really well and equalised on half time.

During the break, I tried to explain that whilst I said we would win before the game, I went the other way and lost the dressing room when I said I demanded a better showing in the second half. Only Garcia seemed to react as he was straight back out to the pitch.

I should probably let you know at this point, Duarte hadn’t turned up for our pre match briefing, or even to the stadium pre game, his head was all but gone from Saint Josephs, and good riddance. I’d have the final laugh however.

Back to the cup final, and the second half was marginally better than the first. Both teams were going for it, and by the 70th minute, I had a decision to make. Verdejo had contributed for the first goal, but was looking jaded. I had no out and out striker on the bench, so I brought Verdejo off and replaced him with Moto and told him to play off Garcia in the hole.

Once the sub was made Caballero went in 2 footed on Europa goal scorer Jaurequi bit that didn’t end his game, but it did end Caballero’s, as he was given a straight red and that was that, our hopes of winning the final were gone. I had to persevere with Moto and Garcia up top, but brought center mid Carlos off for versatile player Picardo to try and catch them on the counter.

2 minutes after our reshuffle, Jaurequi got the ultimate revenge on Caballero by scoring to put them 2-1 up, and hit the final nail in our coffin on 87 minutes as he sealed his hat trick. In the dressing room after the game, the team were dejected, the realisation of what had transpired kicking in now. I didn’t say anything as I grabbed my stuff, got changed in silence and left.

It was at that moment I decided to myself that I was going to go about my team talks in a much different fashion.

In the days after the cup final, we were given the Gibraltar FA’s club of the season award which was a nice nod to our progress I thought. Now here’s where things got a little bit interesting for me.

If you remember from a previous chapter I told you to keep in mind the release clause the chairman put in my contract. At some point around the time of my signing the extension, Chris Rodriguez was approached by Lincoln Red Imps as to my availability. I wasn’t told about this, but Lincolns manager Julio Ribas had told them he wouldn’t be signing on at the end of the season, and was leaving. Here was a manager that had won the league 3 times in a row, as well as a couple of Rock Cups, Lincoln winning the league for the last 12 years, they really are the Celtic of Gibraltar. He had won it all in Gibraltar so was going back to his home country of Uruguay. Once news of his departure had broken, my name was instantly linked as the number one candidate for the job. Was I really being linked to the top job in the country after only 1 season? I wasn’t expecting to hear anything, and I certainly wasn’t going to press the issue myself. Privately I was thinking to myself if I went in for and got that job, it might open doors for me later down the line. The Gibraltar football press ran an article and 1 line jumped out at me:

‘Anyone who gets the Lincoln job, is guaranteed a league title on their resume’

As Ribas had won the last 3 with Lincoln, he’d taken his 3 league titles and got a job in Uruguay. A league title, albeit in Gibraltar would definitely open doors for me, but Saint Josephs had been good to me by giving me my first start in football, and really, we’d had a better season than Lincoln Red Imps, hear me out! They were expected to win the league, expected not to break a sweat and almost had a perfect season had it not been for that loss to us. We’d been expected to sit near the bottom of the league and struggle to stay up, we finished second. We were expected to go out of the cup early on, we came runners up.

I didn’t declare my interest in the job and the reports kept saying I was the front runner but the topic never came up in meetings I had with the chairman. A couple of weeks went by, the players were all on their end of season break, and I read the morning report that confirmed that Lincoln had appointed the Lynx FC manager Albert Parody. They’d finished 6th in the league but the main talking point was that apparently, this was news to me at this time, Lincoln had spoken to Stuart Rodriguez and were apparently put off by the 80% release clause in my contract. I’d have thought if that they had approached my current club they’d have to at least let me talk to them, but after asking the chairman he flat out refused this was the case. He’d assured me he hadn’t spoken to Lincoln about me, and he said he had no reason to lie to me about it, so I took his word for it.

I never mentioned it again.
Number 1
13 years ago
1 week ago
I'm admiring the ambition for this concept. Good start - keep it up.
7 years ago
7 hours ago
I'm admiring the ambition for this concept. Good start - keep it up.

Thanks for the positive words man!
7 years ago
7 hours ago
Chapter 7 – New signings

This coming season was all about at the very least replicating our showing from my first season in Gibraltar. New singings were a must as 8 players all left after not renewing their contract. My main players, as in the guys I built the team around this season thankfully signed on for another season. Garica, 21 goals in all competitions, Verdejo who had found a new lease of life up front, Steven and Carlos our 2 starting central midfielders and Veras the center half and first name on the team sheet. Goalkeeper Felix had left so we needed a new keeper.

As the whole scouting and signing player’s thing was new to me, I had a meeting the clubs director of football Angel Jose, an ex footballer turned scout turned director of football. He suggested a few players who were interested, so we arranged trials for them and I was impressed. From the trials I managed to sign attacking midfielder Raul Segura who was a Lynx FC player last season. We also managed to sign full back Miguel Tirado who can play at the left or right back position, and signed goalkeeper Jamie Robba who was last season back up keeper at Torquay United in England, as well as having 7 caps for Gibraltar to his name, he brought some good experience with him.

It wasn’t long before the team was taking shape, when the availability of a player was brought to my attention. Attacking midfielder Liam Walker, capped 25 times by Gibraltar, had left College Europa at the seasons end. This was quite a big thing really, as he was one of the so called better players in the Gibraltar national side, and had played 2 seasons at Lincoln, winning the league twice of course, when before then he’d played in Israel, as well as making 30 league appearances for Portsmouth in England after starting his career in Spain. All in all he’d made over 250 league appearances, and at 29 still had a lot to offer, especially in the Gibraltar Premier League. His tally of 5 goals and 11 assists were decent enough numbers in the side that pipped us to the Rock Cup last season, and I thought instead of letting the director of football know what I was going to , I just did it. I spoke to my assistant Javier Casquero and asked him his opinion on approaching Liam, and he was all for it. He said he knew Liam’s agent, a man name Roque Marquez who had a number of players on his books, most being based in Spain. I found his number on a document held in the clubs books and gave him a call.

When his office answered I explained who I was, what club I was calling from and left a message. Not long later, maybe 10 minutes, he rang me back. After the pleasantries were over, he said Liam was actually interested in speaking with me and the club and they were going to be contacting us in the future, so it was a nice surprise I called them. I didn’t believe it to be true, but I thanked them for the interest and we agreed to meet for a face to face to discuss him signing for us.

We met in a small café right on the Gibraltar / Spain border, it was a nice quaint little café and the meeting went well. His agent asked what our plans for the season were, I confirmed we’re looking to match the second place finish in the league as well as hopefully, with a bit of luck, winning the Rock Cup this year. They asked about his minutes and what position I saw him best in, I confirmed in no uncertain terms he would be in our starting 11, probably playing behind the striker, as Verdejo, as much as he’d impressed late on last season probably wasn’t going to be up to 27 league games, plus the cup games at 36, and that I was toying with the idea of playing 1 up top with an attacking midfielder behind him, all being that midfielder being Liam Walker. The agent confirmed they’d discuss it between them and get back to us. On my way out I told Javier I thought the meeting went well and that they seemed keen, Javier was more concerned about us approaching a player without telling the club or director of football, but I wasn’t concerned. If we pulled this signing off, no one will care as he is a quality player, if not, well then I’d address that at the time.

I was confident that with the players we’d already signed, as well as a couple of youth prospects coming through we’d have at the very least a season like the one that had just finished. It was a couple of days after speaking to Liam’s agent and they’d not got in touch. I did ask the director of football how long these things take, when he replied that Liam had signed the deal and was on his way to us that afternoon! I couldn’t believe it at first and asked him why I wasn’t informed. The agent was just following the protocols he’d been used to by contacting the club and not the manager, but I wasn’t concerned. We’d signed a great player and one I genuinely thought could turn our fortunes around, not that we’d had a bad time of it, we just needed that spark I thought to get us over the line, and maybe get our hands on that Rock Cup.

From then the usual pre season stuff came out from the media and as for the 13th straight year Lincoln Red Imps were overwhelming favourites to win the league, despite a new boss in charge. As well as that, despite our cup run and subsequent second place finish last year, the press had us finishing fourth, 2 places above the sixth place finish from last seasons predictions. I thought it was a bit insulting really, but I didn’t let it bother me, it was probably due to Duarte spitting his dummy out and leaving that we weren’t predicted higher, but with Garica playing well all season last year, with Walker coming in, Verdejo looking like the best impact player we could’ve asked for, a solid back line and an experienced goalkeeper, I felt this season was going to be a good one.

Before our first game against Mons Calpe, I told the team exactly what our starting 11 would be, assuming no injuries, suspensions or loss of form. The team I set up with was going to be 4-4-1-1.

GK Robba
RB Moto
CB Heras
CB Remorino
LB Tirado
RM Yepes
CM Lopez
CM Segura
LM Catinzano
AMC Walker
ST Garcia

This was the strongest starting 11 I felt we could field. Verdejo was happy to be an impact player and genuinely was a model professional for me. We had 2 young lads, forward Ghio and winger Warner, both Gibraltan who came though the youth ranks, and they were on the bench. At the time I lied to them and told them I wanted to integrate them into the team, but really they were there as we needed a minimum of 6 home grown players in the match day squad, and I only had 4. However, as time went on, they would certainly get their chance to impress.
7 years ago
7 hours ago
Chapter 8 – Second season syndrome?

It didn’t take long for my initial thoughts of a good campaign, and Liam Walker being integral to them to play out. 15 minutes into our season opener against Mons Calpe (who thumped us 8-0 last season) and Liam was on the score sheet. A bit of build up play resulted in him getting the ball, inside left channel and curling an incredible shot around the keeper into the far corner. We doubled our lead when Walker and lone striker Garcia linked up well, last season Garcia was the small man in our big man little man combo, but this time he received the ball 40 or so yards out, passed to walker and moved around the defender, as he did walker dinked the ball over the top, Garcia took a touch to steady himself, then buried the ball under the keeper. 2-0 and we’re cruising. The icing on the cake was when our new man hit an absolute worldie to make it 3-0 and game over. Edge of the box, he’s unmarked, Garcia this time turns provider and is doubled teamed but manages to squeeze the ball to Walker, he doesn’t even look up and hits it with his laces, keepers in no mans land and the ball nearly took the net with it! If there was ever a debut to show your new team mates what you’re all about, this was it!

If you remember from previous chapter, I mentioned about changing up my team talks, well on this day, I decided just to tell the lads how well they’d done, and that naming my intended starting 11 was justified with that win. Before leaving I said if we carry on like that, we’ll have a good season.

We then went on a good run to kick off my second season in Gibraltar. We gained a draw against Manchester 62, before getting wins over Galcis (3-0), Gibraltar United (5-1), drew with Lynx (0-0) and beat Gibraltar Phoenix 4-0, before the first of 3 league games against Lincoln Red Imps.

Before the game I was approached by the new manager Albert Parody who told me, in the most arrogant way possible, that he was always Lincolns first choice as manager once Julio Ribas had decided he was going back to Uruguay. I laughed it off and told him confidence is sky high at Saint Josephs, and if he hadn’t noticed we’re the leading scorers in the league with 15 goals in 6 games. He just gave me a smile with his shit eating grin and walked off.

I was nervous about this game, yes we beat them last time in the league last season, but they were still the big boys and were again unbeaten coming into this game. But a funny thing happened again. We were both unbeaten before the game, we were 4-2-0 and they were 5-1-0 with a slightly better record. They were top, we were second. But after the game, the record read 5-2-0 and 5-1-1. Once again we’d stopped Lincoln Red Imps unbeaten record. For the moment at least we were sitting top of the Primera division, and it was a good feeling.

Following beating the champs were wins against Gibraltar Lions (4-2) and College Europe (3-2) which gave me my third manager of the month award in 14 months as a manager. Things were looking good and we were top of the league, closely followed by Lincoln and Europa Point. But that old saying all good things must come to an end kicked in, as Mons Calpe beat us 2-1 in a game where we were second best all over the pitch. Drastic measures weren’t needed as we were all annoyed by this result, and we bounced straight back with a win over Manchester (2-0) that saw us sitting second in the league, 11 games played and on 26 points.
College Europa were sat top of the league, Lincoln had actually lost the 3 games following the defeat to us and were in 4th place at this time.

As January was nearly here, it meant that the upcoming transfer window was opening, and it wasn’t long before I was approached by someone as a potential signing.
7 years ago
7 hours ago
Chapter 9 – A familiar face

Before the draw for the Rock Cup was made, I received a phone call, it was a number I had saved so I knew who it was, but I was surprised by who was ringing.

I answered, and a familiar voice spoke to me. He seemed sincere enough in his tone, and was asking for 2 things. The first was the opportunity to train with us, I asked why, he said he’d not been able to secure a contract at another club so was out of shape, and the second thing he asked for was the opportunity to prove himself, and hopefully win a new contract with us. The voice was none other than John-Paul Duarte. The same John-Paul who assured me that the reason he wasn’t singing a new deal with us last season was because Lincoln, the same Lincoln that we’ve beat twice now, were close to signing him on a deal that we surely couldn’t match. I had a million responses in my head that I wanted to say, ranging from fuck you, to oh you’ve come crawling back, but I held my tongue and I told him the truth at first.

I told him we simply didn’t need him. Liam Walker had come in and been our star man so far, Garcia was banging goals in left right and center, and our midfield was playing well there was no way I could drop any of them, or change things up to accommodate another striker. He then went off on one, claiming I’m riding the coat tails of my father and that I’m nothing of a manager and my luck would soon run out. I responded by telling him, defiantly, that nobody promised me anything, and we’re where we are on merit, nothing else. He then just hung up the phone.

Moving away from the absurd, we were drawn in the Rock Cup second round against Europa Point who were relegated last season, but were top of the Second Division. We took bottom of the league  Glacis lightly though as our first game in the New Year ended with a 2-1 loss to them, the only bright spot being a goal from Verdejo, but we were 2 down and it was the last minute of the game. After the game he approached me and explained that he’s decided to call it a day and retire at the end of the season. I wasn’t expecting it, but only he knows if it’s the right decision, and he assured me he’d be giving 100% from now until then, and he certainly proved that as the months went on.

Leading up to the cup game we beat Gibraltar United (3-0) and played a 3 all draw with Lynx FC. I made it clear to the team that we’re not taking either Europa Point, or this cup lightly. We did run out 2-0 winners, Verdejo proving his point by grabbing both goals. We were drawn against Lincoln in the quarter final. Usually, drawing Lincoln would be somewhat of a worry, but they’ve been poor this season, not to mention the 2 wins we’ve taken from them already. I was confident heading into that game.

Until then though, I kept this to myself, but it was around this time (end of January) that I genuinely believed we could win the league. We went on another great run, taking points from Gibraltar United, Gibraltar Lions, and leaders at the time Europa College and then Mons Calpe. Then we had the semi against Lincoln Red Imps. Historically Gibraltar’s biggest team. Currently 4th in the league, disappointing for them, and we came in to the game both in good form (5-1-1) as well as beating Lincoln in the last 2 games we’ve played.

The game itself was what you’d call a good cup game. Both of us wanted, nay needed the win. We took the lead through another Verdejo goal, a lovely ball over the top by Walker and Verdejo hit it first time. They equalised on 78 minutes and all the while looked like going to penalties. I remember screaming at Liam Walker to do something, anything to get this win, and in the final minute, he got the ball just past center circle, went on a mazy run, wrong footing 2 defenders and slipping the ball into Garcia’s path who buried it! 2-1 and we’re into the semi final!

That win was bitter sweet in many ways. Sweet because we’d got the win, and we’re 1 step closer to the cup final, but bitter because that game was Albert Parody’s final game as Lincoln boss, as they sacked him on his way out of the stadium. Football can be a ruthless business sometimes. As I made my own way out some time after everyone else, I’m hounded by a couple of reporters who are saying I’m once again linked to the job. This happened at the start of the season, I’m linked to the job, apparently they’re put off by my release clause, but this time I just told the reporters that I’m happy we got the win, I’m disappointed for Albert, but he’s not get the results this season, and that I’m happy at Saint Josephs. And just like the first time they apparently wanted me, nothing came of the interest. Their loss really.

We were drawn against Gibraltar Lions in the cup semi final, a team we’ve not lost to in the last 3 meetings between us, and we rounded out March with a 1 all draw with Manchester 62.

With only 2 months left in the season, I was offered, and accepted a new 1 year deal to stay with Saint Josephs. It was a no brainer really. Privately I thought we’ve got 1 hell of a chance to win the league, we’d just have to catch College Europa first, and we’re well on course to get to the cup final again.
7 years ago
7 hours ago
Chapter 10 – The end is near

We had 5 games left to go in the league by April, and the cup semi was also coming up. Good form was a must, and the boys didn’t disappoint. A 3-0 win over Gibraltar Phoenix preceded a 6-0 win over Lynx FC that didn’t flatter either of us as we were fantastic, Gibraltar Lions felt the follow up as they were battered 5-1 by us, the Walker/ Garcia combo working wonders as usual then we played the same team in the semi of the cup.

That 5-1 drubbing had me confident we would win in the cup against Lions, but it must’ve lit a fire under them because they came out swinging in this game. They held no punches and for the first time since going down to Glacis at the start of the year, we were put under some serious pressure. I’m not kidding, they were by far the better team. I thought complacency had started to creep in, but at half time there was a heated exchange between Frank Heras, my center half, Liam Walker and full back Moto. Harsh words were exchanged, threats made but the bottom line was the team, all 11 of the players on the field were in unison, we’d been poor. Frank made a costly mistake early in the first where he mis-controlled a routine sideways pass and in his attempt to recover tried passing back to Robba in goal, but he was off balance and the ball trickled away, with Daniel Pinot, one of their front 3 on the day, picked it up, pelted toward goal and tucked it under Robba’s feet. From the restart myself and Javier Casquero were screaming at the players, and really one of us should’ve taken charge there, and as it transpired during the same heated conversation in the dressing room myself and Javier had our first real bust up. He blamed me for not organsing the defence, I told him come on, it was a simple mistake by Frank, I was sticking up for him as best I could. He’d been there for me since I came here and was my most trusted player on the field, and I told Javier he should’ve left me to relay instructions. Of course we were in agreement our bickering on the side-line had confused the team, and low and behold we were 2-0 down before half time.

During the break, once we’d all calmed down, we decided to match them like for like formation wise. Verdejo was to go up top with Garcia, and Walker was to start in the forward position but drift in and out between striker and attacking midfield. These 3 were going to be key for us if we were to get something from this game. The 3 in the middle were to be Sequera, who I told to try and dictate play, Carlos and Yepes were to be the runners trying to get the ball back. Under no circumstances were the back 4 to stray forward, we had to be structured at the back. On the way out for the second, I pulled Frank aside and told him he was unlucky for the mistake he made, he just smiled and went out on the pitch.

The second half was the Frank Heras show, really it was. Straight away they were obviously going the route one way, and time and time again we lost possession and they hoofed it forward to their strikers, but time and time again there was Heras to head the ball away, punt it out of play or head it down towards Nixon his center half partner. Nothing got passed him in the first 10 minutes of the second half. From one of those long balls, Heras nodded down to Nixon who in turn passed it back to him, Frank looked up, spotted Verdejo making a run to left and played a long ball of his own over the top, Verdejo controlled it, faked going inside and went straight for the byline. The defender had no chance, and Verdejo whipped in a low cross which the keeper got a touch to, but it fell straight to Garcia who smashed it home, 1-2 and game on!

We kept plugging away, bombing forward but when we got caught and they attacked, there was Frank to clean up each and every time. By the time the fourth official put up the board to indicate 3 minutes of extra time, it looked like we were going to luck out. We’d not had any corners in this game but managed to get one right before full time. Walker whipped in an in swinging corner but it got cleared. Moto, edge of the box opens his body up to shoot, but instead he catches everyone off guard and plays it back out to Walker who’s still on the right wing. As every one of our players was offside they stepped back, as they did Walker swung the ball to the far post and there was Frank who was still forward from the corner, rushing in, eyes on nothing but the ball and plants a picture perfect diving header into the net to take us to extra time! It was nothing short of magical, and for the first time this season I really jumped out of my seat in celebration.

Extra time literally came and went in this game, both teams were out on their feet, neither of us committed men forward, and penalties seemed likely. When the ref blew the whistle, I named the 5 men who would be taking penalties, Verdejo, Walker, Yepes, Garcia and Moto. I told them it was up to them what order they took the penalties, but it was them 5 no one else. Robba in goal stood with us and told us which order they were taking the kicks. He seemed confident.

Both teams missed their first pens, Walker hit the post and Franci for them skied it.

Yepes stepped up and buried his, Perez for the hit right down the middle but Robba’s leg was there to stop it going in.

Garcia, buried his, Verdejo’s effort was save, and Sayers wrong footed Robba for them.

Last 2 now, and up stepped Moto who smashed his into the net, 3-2 on pens and they had to score.

Munoz for them stepped up, did a stupid little Pogba-esque slow run up, tried to do that little stumble trick but Robba was on to him, he hit the ball to his right and Robba’s left, and Robba guessed right and not only saved the shot but held on to it as well, it was a weak effort really, and we’re into the final of the Rock Cup again!

Our reward for that semi win is a final against bottom of the league and relegation threatened Glacis United who beat us the last time we played. We have to be confident, but wary of them.

Our penultimate game of my second season was our final meeting of the season with Lincoln Red Imps, and what has become custom in our meetings, we beat them 2-1, and at the same time Glacis beat league leaders College Europa 2-0, and this was significant for us.

Going into the final game the league looked like this:

1 – College Europa 57 points

2 – Saint Josephs 55 points

Meaning if we win our final game, coincidentally against College Europa, we’d win the league. If we failed to win, they would win the league. It was all to play for.
7 years ago
7 hours ago
Chapter 11 – I’m on a mission for commission

2 games and potentially 2 trophies. I’d been here last season, sort of. We’d finished runners up in the league as well as losing in the cup final. I really didn’t want another runners up medal in either competition, neither did the team.

In what was at the time my biggest pre match team talk, I told the team we weren’t favourites to win the league, but we’d exceptionally well to get to where we are. The pressure was all on College Europa, which it was. I felt we could go into the game relaxed and just play to our strengths. The team seemed to agree with me.

As noted earlier in my memoirs, you always remember your first of everything, and this game was no different. This is one that sticks in my mind vividly. As soon as the ref blew his whistle to start the game, I knew. I knew as soon as we had the ball in those opening few moments of the game, I knew we were going to win it. Straight from kick off Garcia played it to Tirada out wide on the left, he ran 8 or 9 yards, passed in field to Walker, who took on the defence, cut inside on his right foot and rifled the ball at the keeper. It was dead center and the keeper should’ve made a routine stop, but he flapped at it and the defence eventually punted it out for a throw. That’s when I knew this is it for us.

It wasn’t long before we took the lead. I just thought if we pressured them we’ll get the upper hand. The keeper was all over the place, he didn’t look confident at all. Any crosses that came in he missed catching them, when he rushed off his line he hesitated, I told the team to put pressure on by not allowing short goal kicks. On a passage of play shortly before half time we got the lead by playing Garica inside right channel, he took it passed the defence and the keeper made his move, but as he did Garcia trapped the ball, looked for the run of Walker inside, as he did the keeper spotted him and Garcia chipped the ball up and over him into the empty net.

During half time I just told the lads I’m happy with how it’s gone, I told the front 2 to keep pressuring the keeper, he’s not having his best day, and the defence really hadn’t had much to do up until that point. From the first whistle to the last in the second, we never looked like losing this one. We added 2 more goals, both mistakes by their defence and keeper, and we were crowned, quite rightly so, Gibraltar Primera League champions, which is Saint Joseph’s first league win since 1996, a full 22 years ago!

Winning this league obviously isn’t that big a deal outside of Gibraltar, but the last year, and for the 12 that preceded it, everyone was expecting Lincoln to be crowned champions again. Well they would’ve done, had it not been for that pesky Chris Irvine and his band of unfancied but totally committed footballers!

After the celebrations had calmed down, I was alone in the changing room, writing in my diary as it happened, and Stuart Rodriguez walked in, with a bottle of whisky and 2 glasses. He told me he knew I’d be the last one to leave, I always made the point of being the first in and last out, and he came to speak to me alone. Without going into too much detail, we finished the bottle of whisky, and Stuart told me how much this league win meant to him and his family, and that he’ll forever be grateful for our efforts this season. He also gave me an envelope, and in this envelope would be the thing that I used to negotiate every contract I signed from that moment on. Inside the envelope was a cheque for 5 thousand euro. I told him I couldn’t accept this, but he insisted on my taking it. He said it was the least he could, Saint Josephs were in for a windfall for just qualifying for the Champions League, and with the money they were going to get the club would have no debt and be able to run on a profit for at least the next 2 seasons. Once I took the cheque I decided there and then from now on, I was going to put an emphasis on bonuses based on competition wins. I figured I’d have more negotiating power if I took a lower basic wage, I jotted down in my diary this was going to my mission for commission. It’s something I’ve stuck to ever since.

Just before the upcoming cup final, Frank approached to say he was going to retire at the end of the season, but before I had chance to reply, he told me he had reconsidered because we’d won the league, and he wanted to be part of the team that attempted to retain it. He was always an absolute professional with me, and I thanked him and told him we would be going all out next season again, but that we’ve got the cup to win first. In the run up to the cup final, the end of the season awards were made, and I had won the manager of the year award, which was a nice honour and well deserved. Liam Walker got signing and player of the year, and Michael Garcia’s 21 league goals made him the division’s top scorer.

We then had the cup final, and I was so determined to win this after finishing runners up last year, I was too nervous to attend my pre match presser that day.

Someone who wasn’t nervous however, was outgoing player, and hat trick hero      Jose Verdejo. He was in inspired form, he controlled the game and I was concerned that he was going to be too big a miss next season. But as we were given the cup, and Jose and I shared a moment, he said something to me that will stick with me forever. When I told him how happy and proud of his performance I was, I said it will bring a tear to my eye knowing he’s not coming back next season. He replied with ‘Boss, cry later, but for now let’s enjoy the laughter’ and we partied long into the night.
7 years ago
7 hours ago
Chapter 12 – Oh God, not my nose!

That night myself, Javier and the team, all 24 registered players had played a part in our league and cup double, had done the next logical thing – party all night! We had a small celebratory party after the league win, but we knew we had the cup game coming up, so we kept it small. After this game though, the shackles were off and we went all out to make it a night to remember.

The chairman had managed to call in a favour and rented out the lounge area of the biggest hotel in Gibraltar at short notice. I happened to get there last out of everyone, very uncharacteristic of me, but when I walked in I was showered with cheers and applause. The general feeling was it was down to me giving the team all the motivation they needed as well as the right tactics and only losing my temper when necessary (see the semi against Glacis for proof!). As I made my way over to the table holding the punch, the DJ came over, shook my hand and asked me if there was any type of music I wanted to be played. I told him I’m a massive synthwave fan, he just looked at me blankly was said ‘okay dude, I’ll play some hard house’. I did get talking to him later that evening and found out he’s from the USA and was doing a tour, mainly the party hot spots Lanzarotte, Ibiza and Benidorm, when he found himself a small job in Gibraltar to pass the time.

As the drinks were flowing, I had the bright idea that as I would soon be having an extra 5 thousand euro in my bank, I might as well splash out that night, so more or less paid for everyone’s night without giving it a second thought. I’m not sure exactly how long we’d been partying, but at some point Frank Heras was on the dance floor, dancing in what can only be described as choreographed mayhem, what else could you say about a 6 foot 4 mountain of a man swinging his arms here there and everywhere? He was getting a bit boisterous, and I was asked to go calm him down. As I made my way over to him, staggering and trying my best to keep my balance, I was caught square in the face by one of those long gangly arms of his. He hit me for 6 and I was out cold.

I was out cold for 5 hours, and when I woke up in the hospital, there was this pretty face just staring at me. In my half asleep half concussed state, I’d never seen such a beautiful face in all my life, I started to think this was an angel Saint Peter had sent to greet me at the Pearly Gates, or that I was in Purgatory or something. As I came to, I realised it was the clubs media relations director, an English lady called Rose Greene. I’d never looked at her twice before, I don’t actually think I’d ever even spoken to her, but I knew who she was. She said the players had carried on with the night as they expected me to be back, but Javier insisted on going with me, she said she’d come with me so Javier could stay with the team. I could barely remember what had happened and when she told me, I instinctively went to rub my nose when she yelled ‘No darling, not your nose!’ and she said it had been broken by Franks big fist, as well as fracturing my cheek bone. I just said oh God not my nose!

She asked why I said that, and I remembered a time during my years at Michigan that my mother had said footballers get a lot of facial injuries, and that I was too handsome to suffer such a thing, and a broken nose would never look the same again, to which I promised her I’d never get a broken nose as long as I was playing. Turns out I was right, no broken nose as a player, but 2 years into management, and here I was with a broken nose!

Once I was released from the hospital I was told to take it easy, but Frank was really upset about what happened and offered to repay me, by taking on another night out! Bless his heart, he paid for both our drinks and we had a great time. By 1AM I was in a small bar where there were a handful of people, and 1 of them recognised straight away, it was Rose. She was sat with her friend and I went over, my intention was just to thank her again for helping me out and seeing to me in the hospital. When her friend said she was leaving with a guy she’d been chatting to, Rose asked me if she could stay a bit longer with me. I didn’t’ think anything of it other than she was being friendly, but from then until all these years later, we were inseparable. Vince Irvine, if you’re reading this memoir son, this was how I met your mother.

The cup win was the catalyst for me and the team to prove this season wasn’t a fluke. We were expecting Lincoln to be right back up there after a poor season, as well as the other teams making moves to improve. With Verdejo retiring I made a move to replace with him Tony Hernandez who had let his contract run down at Gibraltar United and jumped at the chance to join us. That signing was followed up by Anthony Bardon joining before 2 more players joined us to really improve our title winning squad.

As Lincoln had gone through 2 managers, 2 caretakers and a really poor season, Callum Driver and Bryan Goncalves grew disillusioned there and also left on a free and were signed by us. They bought into my vision of retaining the league, and were excited by the prospect. Both had only joined Lincoln during preseason last year, and their time there wasn’t enjoyable. Both had a point to prove and I felt both could help us retain.

The club had never featured in the Champions League, so it was Saint Josephs maiden appearance as well as my own debut in the UEFA Champions League. We were drawn against HB Torshavn of the Farore Islands and the first leg was away. The flight there was horrible and full of turbulence, and little did I know but Michael Garcia was petrified of flying. I told him he could either drive his way to Denmark or Sweden, and then take a ferry up to Torshavn, or however else he was to get there. But by car to Denmark was around 34 hours, passing through 5 countries, then however long on a ferry up to the Farore Islands. The logistics of it weren’t viable, especially for a club like ours and with money not really being there, I told him, reluctantly he would have to sit this one out.

As for our first game in the Champions League, we had a goal chalked off early for offside, but that didn’t dampen our spirits as we ran out 2-1 winners. 2 away goals was a great result, and the goal they scored wasn’t ideal but we were happy with the result. The return leg was much of the same as we won with the same score line to record a 4-2 aggregate win. I wasn’t getting ahead of myself but I couldn’t help but think we might just make the groups.

Next up were FK Aktobe of Kazakhstan. This time around we were drawn as the home team in the first leg, and we scraped a 1 all draw, Garcia grabbing our equaliser. The return leg didn’t feature Garcia, but we didn’t deserve to win, but neither did FK Aktobe as we played out a 0-0 draw, meaning they went through on away goals. We were disappointed, but knew without any extra away games to far off destinations might just help us in our conquest to retain our league crown.

Before we could concentrate on getting ready for the new season, Javier Casquero, my assistant and my steady hand for the last 2 years had a chat with me, and it was something I wasn’t ready for. Real Gijon in Spain’s second division had approached him to be their assistant. He knew the manager from their days at Las Palmas, and he wanted to take the opportunity to progress. I was shocked at this, but I didn’t begrudge him. I told him a man’s got to do what he feels is right, and if going to Gijon was what Javier wanted to do I would let him go with my blessing. If for nothing else, it was definitely progression for him and I hoped inside I would be given a similar sort of opportunity. He told me some great things about me and our time together, and he said he hoped our paths cross again in the future.

Little did either of us know at that time, but it wouldn’t too far into the future that our paths would cross again.


I'm going away for a week tomorrow, so there won't be another update until a week on Monday at the earliest. Thanks for reading!
7 years ago
7 hours ago
Chapter 13 – The heat is on.

Before the start of my third season as a manager, Stuart Rodriguez must’ve had too much champagne as he told me he expected the club to win all 3 competitions this season, the league, the Rock cup and as we won the league last season we were in the Pepe Reyes cup, Gibraltar’s version of the Community Shield. I was confident of at least challenging on all 3 fronts, but didn’t want to guarantee we’d win them all. I told the team in our first meeting back that we’d be going all out to win every game, they all seemed on board.

After learning of Javier’s move back to Spain, the clubs chief scout Juanjo Bezares approached me with some ideas on how to approach the season, and he had some good points. We had 2 strikers other than Garcia, Rolando Ghio and Juan Torres, both youth prospects but neither ready to play a full league season, so we decided that we’ll keep Garcia up top on his own with Walker playing in the hole behind. He also gave me food for thought on set pieces, defending and even what side to play the full backs. I just came out with asking him if he wanted to be my assistant manager, and that we can get another chief scout if he wanted the new role. He jumped at the chance and I now had my starting 11 confirmed, my tactics and assistant in place, and the desire to take the league by storm.

Despite doing the double last season, the media still had us finishing second, behind a supposedly rejuvenated Lincoln Red Imps. I could see the reasoning, if Man City or United had a poor season, or if Barcelona finished lower than second, they’d still be considered a big threat and one of the favourites to win their league. What I wasn’t expecting was that Lincoln would carry on where they left off. By December they’d have sacked their third manager in 2 years. Apart from beating us 2-1 in the third game of the season, Lincoln recorded only 2 more wins, 2 draws and 12 losses. They were kept off the bottom of the league on goal difference.

I almost forgot to mention, we’d actually won the Pepe Reyes cup, beating College Europa (again!) as they were runners up in the league and cup, 3-1. One third of the way there to claiming all 3 trophies the chairman wanted us to win.

Our form from the start of the season up to December looked like this:


We were on a roll, and looking like capturing the title again, and confidence was sky high. 14 wins, 1 draw and 2 losses saw us sat atop the league on 43 points, a comfortable 7 points above College Europa in second. Surely it was a matter of time before we were crowned champions.

We continued the good form, beating Lincoln again in the league, despite their new manager winning his first 3 games in charge, and we had safely made passage into the semi final of the rock cup against the same team. Football has a funny habit of drawing teams against each other, but confidence was sky high, Lincoln were in damage limitation mode and I was hungry for more medals.

From January right up until the cup semi against Lincoln, we never lost, and the semi was another poor showing from Gibraltar’s biggest club as we overturned them 2-0, Walker assisting Garcia for both our goals to put us in our third Rock Cup final in 3 years.

There was also the small matter of our league games, and the next one was a game against 7th placed Europa Point. Ironic name really, as we only needed a single point from this game to guarantee us the title.

I told the team not to rest on our laurels, and consistent form is needed if we were going to grab all 3 trophies that year, and by the finish of that match we’d secured 2 of the 3. We had Europa on the back foot all the way through this game, they threatened once or twice, but we were always in control. 1-0 to us flattered Europa as it could’ve, and probably should’ve been more, but we got what we wanted, and that was at least a point, and our second successive league title! We secured the league with 3 games to go, unlike last season where we secured it on the last day. I wasn’t moaning to have secured it, but we never once looked like not winning the league that season.

For some reason, maybe it was because I’d already won it, but this league title felt different than the first one. I was still ecstatic, happy and elated with the win, but it just felt, different. We went and won the final 3 games of the season to give us confidence heading into our third cup final in as many seasons.

In the build up to the cup final, there were questions surrounding my future with the club. Stuart was considering taking a loan out to go with the money we’d made in the Champions League to turn the club professional, and my contract actually ran out in 4 weeks time. Not only that, but this cup final would be my 100th game in charge of Saint Josephs.

I said to myself that even if we don’t win the cup final, I’d already won all there is to win in Gibraltar, but the desire to try and turn Saint Josephs into a proper long term contender to Lincolns crown was there in my mind. If we turn professional, we’ll be able to win more league titles, and the long term objective would be to try and make the group stages of the Champions League. But then the other side of me thought how long will that take? If we go pro, will there be money to build a consistent title winning team? Sure I’d got by on free transfers, but Lincoln won’t struggle for much longer, and I am ambitious and I’ve always wanted more.

Right there and then I made my decision, and come this time tomorrow, win or lose, my future at Saint Josephs will confirmed.
7 years ago
7 hours ago
Chapter 14 – The beginning of the end, or the end of my beginning?

As I stood there and watched Liam Walker rifle in a 35 yard thunderbolt with his left foot that 2 keepers wouldn’t have saved, I knew there and then it was time. A fitting way not only to celebrate my 100th game as a manager, but to go out after winning 2 leagues, 2 cups and the super cup in my first 3 years as a manager, I made the decision to leave on a high. I’d not told anyone and acted as anyone would after winning back to back cups. Me and the team partied hard, Frank didn’t break my nose this time, I woke up in my own bed and not at the hospital, and when I did I looked over at the cabinet in the second floor flat Stuart Rodriguez had let me live in for the last 3 years, and saw 2 runners up medals, 2 league and 2 cup winners medals and my 2 manager of the year trophies.

Lying next to me was Rose, who despite neither of us asking, we were definitely more than just friends. When she woke up, we talked and I told her I’d made the decision to leave. She understood my need to move on to progress as a manager and move up in the footballing world, and I was genuinely nervous when I said the next thing that came out of my mouth. I sounded like a 15 year old boy talking to his crush for the first time

‘Look Rose, I don’t think it’s going to be in Gibraltar, my next club I mean, and erm, well, I was wondering, only if you’re not busy, if you’d, you know, come with me?’

I stammered and stuttered my way through a sentence where I was trying to ask her if she’d come with me if I left Gibraltar. Her response made me realise why I loved her so much

‘Of course it won’t be in Gibraltar you silly goose, as soon as we (I love how she always says we!) won the league a few weeks ago, I knew we’d be moving on. We’re a team me and you, I’ll go wherever you go, but promise me 1 thing’

I said yes sugar, anything

‘Make sure at some point in our lives, you take me to Paris’

I made a vow there and then that at some point in the future, whether as a manager or when I retired, that I’d take her to city my father was from.

On my way to Turnbulls Boulevard where the Saint Josephs HQ office was situated to see Stuart, I rehearsed what I was going to say over and over, but just couldn’t come up with the right words. Once I was there and we were chatting, he knew something wasn’t right, and it was him that approached the subject first.

He told me he’d knew it would be hard for him to keep me at Saint Jospehs, after the things we’ve won in 3 short years, he said there’d be plenty of teams outside of Gibraltar willing to take me. I assured him I’d not approached anyone during my time here, I’d not gone and made any contact, and that I was telling the truth when I said I was going to take a few weeks off and relax, and enjoy not working for a short amount of time. We both spoke truthfully and I said I would be forever grateful for the opportunity he gave me, and that no matter where I end up or what I end up doing, I will always have Saint Josephs to thank for giving me that start. Stuart told that my dad came in and made a big impression all those years ago, but it was his son that really changed the club and the culture. Without me he said they’d never have challenged Lincoln, or won what we had won. We wished each other the best in our future endeavors, I shook his hand, and said thank you before leaving his office for the last time.

Privately, I wanted to test myself at another club, and to make sure that my time at Saint Josephs wasn’t a fluke or beginners luck, and that I could make it to a team without my father’s help or reputation helping me.

My record at Saint Josephs was 71 wins, 12 draws and 17 losses. 2 league wins, 2 cup wins and 1 Pepe Reyes cup win. Not too shabby for a first time manager eh!

As noted previously, I made sure to include competition bonuses in my contracts from my third one onwards, and for winning the cup I was awarded 5 thousand euro, as well as a tidy 9 thousand for winning the league, and with this money I spent 2 weeks in Spain travelling from city to city.

Before we left I took a call from my old assistant manager Javier Casquero, and he asked how things were, he’d seen we won the league and cup again, and I told him I’d resigned and would be looking for another job after my holidays. As it turns out, Javier had also got himself a new job, this time not as an assistant but as the manager of CD Tudelano in Spain’s third division. I was happy for him, but I wasn’t surprised, he was a great assistant and motivator, so him getting a job as a manager was always only going to be a matter of time.

Whilst in beautiful city of Zaragoza in Spain, Rose remarked how nice it was and how she’d love to live here. Whilst I was on holiday, I couldn’t stop thinking about the future and started looking at the available jobs in Spain by looking on Fifa’s website. It was amazing to me just how many teams there were in Spain. I noticed teams from places I’d been to but didn’t realise had a team there, Ibiza and Lanzarotte have a professional team and both were playing in the third tier, the Segunda Division B, not only that but Benidorm have a team and they’ve just been promoted to the same division. All 3 of these places I’ve been to but never once knew they had a football team. All 3 had managers though, not that I thought anything of applying.

I can’t remember when it was, but I took a call from Javier again and he had said that his team were due to play in a tour of Gibraltar and would I like to go along with him. I politely declined, the next week was all about relaxing with Rose. But just as that phone call ended, another took place, it was my father, and he had some news.

My father always wanted to give back to the game, and as such became interested in representing players as an agent. He’d done small things like talking to clubs about contracts and bonuses from his own experiences. But in the 3 years of my being in Gibraltar, he’d gained a licence to become a fully-fledged agent. I was overjoyed at this, as I knew it was something he’d wanted to do for a long time, then he told about one of the first players on his books. An aging center forward by the name of Jonathan Forte, who was born in and played his full career in England had hired my dad as his agent. My dad’s company was called Chris Irvine Sports Ventures, and my dad had brokered a deal for Jonathan to join a club in Spain, FC Andorra.

Like San Marino Calcio in Italy, FC Andorra were from the small country of Andorra, and played in the Spanish football pyramid. They had been promoted to Segunda Division B last season, finished just above relegation places and the manager Paco Lopez had left to join a team in Portugal, so there was an opportunity there. During my dad’s time negotiating a deal for Jonathan, he’d been discussing things with the chairman Pelayo Corominas. Not only that, but my dad was in Andorra, and as I was only a couple of hours away, I thought now would be a great time not only to see him, but introduce him to Rose.

By the time I’d got to Andorra a couple of days later, I met my dad at a hotel near the stadium, Camp d’Esports D’Aixovall. The city of Saint Juliά de Lória was beautiful and full of life despite being small in comparison to Spain. I’d introduced him to Rose, met Jonathan who was getting the rest of his stuff sorted and preparing to live in Spain and travel to Andorra each day, before a familiar face walked in. I instantly knew who it was and was a little bit star struck, but he approached us, said hello to Jonathan and my dad and introduced himself as Gerard Pique, Barcelona and Spain defender, and FC Andorra owner! His first words to me I will always remember, and it was the start of a fantastic relationship between us both

‘Hi, you must be Chris junior, I’ve heard a lot about you, and I can’t wait to hear about your time in Gibraltar’ he said in Spanish.

I couldn’t help but think back to my first meeting with Stuart Rodriguez in Gibraltar when talking to Gerard. Except this time I told him all about my time there, training, signing players, being linked to Lincoln three times, and winning the league and cup twice as well. I showed him my pre and post-match notes I’d made in a journal I carried with me, and told him how I always want my team to play to their strengths, not just my tactics. It took me by surprise when he asked me if I ever thought about managing in Spain, and when I said I’m looking for another opportunity and Spain is definitely as good a place as any, he looked me dead in the eyes and said ‘Chris, you’re perfect for us. We’re looking for a steady hand to keep us in the league, and push on from there. If you accept my offer to become our new first team manager, you’ll have my full backing’

So after 4 weeks since leaving Saint Jospehs, a job I got because of my fathers reputation, I was being offered the manager’s job at FC Andorra, on the back of my father’s business relationship with the owner of the club.

Remember when I said I wanted to try and make it in football on my own without my dads help? No, me neither.
7 years ago
7 hours ago
Part 2 – Heading North?...

Chapter 15 – Just a small town guy

On my first official day as FC Andorra manager, I spent time with the chairman as well as Gerard. After the formalities were done, I had to find a place to live, and wasn’t sure whether to try stay in Andorra or a neighbouring city in Spain. After choosing Spain, and travelling to Andorra for work, it was only an hours drive, we settled in Castellbo, a short drive from Andorra and a place where I was sight seeing only a few days earlier.

My first official meeting with Gerard as manager came later that day, and he said they were short staffed. The previous manager Paco Lopez had taken his assistant with him to Portugal, and the other staff, bar the physio and club doctor had all left. Gerard was new to this kind of thing and knew his first few months were going to be tough. He also said that the media and some directors of the club were expecting him to pump his millions he’d earned so far as a player into the club, and that he wasn’t willing to do that just yet. I told him that thought had never crossed my mind, and that I was happy to build a team as I had in Gibraltar based on free transfers and loans, as well as promoting youngsters. I felt we had a good connection straight from the off.

He did tell me that once the previous manager had left he had received a number of applications for the managers job, but after speaking with my dad and then speaking to me, his mind was made up on me being offered the job. He also had some applications for the assistant managers job as well as a coaching job. Now here’s where my juices got flowing, as he’d said to me that I was in full control over hiring staff as well as transfers, but he understood if I wanted a director of football. He said that he himself is wary of giving his friends jobs as they may take liberties and expect preferential treatment, and that some of his former team mates had approached him about giving some of them roles with his club. My mind started racing, former team mates of Gerard Pique possibly working for me at FC Andorra! Who could they be, Xavi? Iniesta? Messi was still playing so wouldn’t be him. Maybe some former Man United players, Berbatov? Nani? Van Der Sar? Or even Owen Hargreaves who was a coach at Bayer Leverkeusen with a growing reputation.

I never found which former team mates of Gerards had applied at that time, but 2 names that were interested were former Chelsea and Brazil defender, Alex, and former Rangers winger, Spaniard Nacho Novo. I immediately picked up the phone to Nacho and we met that evening. He knew Spanish football inside out, and I felt I saw a lot of Javier in him, so I offered him the job of assistant manager. The next day I spoke to Alex, who was a formidable center half in his day, and I could tell his knowledge would be a great asset to me and the team, so he was offered the role of first team coach. With these 2 on board I was looking forward to my firs training session and to meet the team.

There was a bit of fanfare surrounding my new team, as Gerard was the owner, the media, and fans I thought, were expecting a big name to take over. Real Madrid Castilla, Real’s reserve side, assistant manager and legend of the game Raul was touted as the man to take over at FC Andorra, and bring with him Fernando Morientes and Guti as his staff, but it was mainly unknown Canadian manager Chris Irvine that got the nod, so I felt I had to hit the ground running. The team were all supportive of me from the get go. They all knew with who the owner of this team was and the spotlight he commanded that many eyes were going to be on us, and I just told them in my first meeting to not only enjoy the pressure,  but thrive on it, mould into our game. As a club in the Spanish football pyramid, we’re a small fish in a big pond. But as a club from Andorra, we’re the biggest club here, as the Andorran football system is really small, but I made an effort to go and watch some of the local teams.

The club had never won any trophies, but the only aim was to survive in the Segunda Division, group B, the third tier in Spain. I knew I could do just that, and had told the chairman in my initial meeting with him I was aiming for a top half finish. I also insisted on taking a lower basic wage than what was offered, I was offered 3 thousand euro, I took 1 thousand a week, and nice 20 thousand bonus if we reached the play offs, a top 4 finish. I felt I had the upper had here, as the chairman wanted to just survive, and if I did that then job done, but if we managed a top half finish, even better. I had my heart set on staying here as long as possible, and was made to feel very welcomed by everyone. Everything just felt right in Andorra for me.

With 2 members of staff secured, I wanted to bring in 1 more staff member, and a couple of players to join the team, as a few had left so there weren’t many on the books. Gerards warning about not hiring his friends played in my ear, but I knew 1 person I wanted to hire. Not for sentimental reasons, but because I knew he was committed enough to improve himself, me and the team. I rang Jose Verdejo, who had retired last year after winning the league and cup with me in Gibraltar, and took a year out to spend time with his family. He’d mentioned to me he wanted to be a scout to help unearth young players and be a part of a team to try and bring success. After speaking to him, I offered him the role of chief scout, this was for a few reasons. The first was that he didn’t want to spend too much time away from his wife and new-born twins, so I said as chief scout he would only have to travel once or twice a month, and that he would be responsible for sending our other scouts out and about. The second was that I wanted a trusted face around the club whilst I was there, so I said I wanted him with me as much as possible. Finally, his wife was also from Spain, Barcelona to be precise, so he moved his family into Andorra which his wife was happy with. His wife and Rose got along really well, and I think they helped each other settle. With him as my new chief scout, this was the start of our working relationship, as he would be my most trusted member of staff from here on out.

The backroom staff was taking shape, and I signed 1 last coach, former Lincoln Red Imps goalkeeper Raul Navas. I was certain he’d be a great asset, coincidentally once he’d retired from playing is when Lincolns demise started. We also made moves for some reinforcements to the playing squad. Ukrainian center half Ivan Zotko joined on loan from Valencia for the season, and Cape Verdean winger Jovane Cabral joined us on loan from the famous Sporting Lisbon academy. Both players would be starters for me.

My first 3 weeks flew by. We’d had a handful of friendlies against local sides, as well as playing a game against Real Zaragoza’s reserve side, and we all felt fresh and ready for the start of the season, in which we’d be playing 38 games, my first full proper season as a manager.

My first game was against Athletic Bolboa’s B side at our home stadium. Nerves? What nerves?
7 years ago
7 hours ago
Chapter 16 – The name of the game is inconsistency.

I vividly remember Jonathan Forte telling me he was nervous heading in to the game against Athletic Bilboa, he’d been used to playing in England, and as a back to goal center forward. But in Spain he felt the pressure to perform, I’m not sure why, all the pressure was on Bilboa. But I told him I felt the same way, and I was a bag of nerves as well. I really wasn’t, but I wanted him to feel at ease. The result? A man of the match performance from him as he controlled the game up top, got an assist to strike partner Cifu as we won 1-0 in my first game as FC Andorra manager. This win meant I continued on with my own little record of winning the first game of each new season.

Whilst I wasn’t nervous before that game, I was certainly a nervous wreck in our next game, an away trip to Tudela to face Deportivo Tudelano, who’s manager was my former assistant, and friend Javier Casquero. They were the favourites for the game, and I was nervous about facing a friend in a competitive game for the first time. In the build up to the game we met up and chatted and not once mentioned the game. As soon as the players left the tunnel and went to the pitch, we locked eyes, shook hands and then Javier looked at me and said ‘Sorry Chris, this is where the student beats the teacher’ to which I replied, quite mockingly ‘Believe me when I say, we’re not going to lose’ and we took our seats.

The thing that we had that Tudelano didn’t, was an aging winger by the name of Fernando Cudrado, who was coming into his 35th birthday and into his final year as a player. From right wing he controlled the game, it was like he was 23 again as he didn’t miss a trick and scored the opening 2 goals for us. He scored either side of half time, and grabbed 2 assists as well as we rounded out 4-0 winners. As soon as the game ended myself and Javier shook hands and we never spoke of this game again. I told the team how good I thought they were and that performances like that are going to mean a good season for us.

The next 4 games were very up and down for us as we lost 3 and drew 1, but that only meant we were sitting 8th by the end of my first month in Andorra. I felt a bit of consistency was needed as soon as possible, but it didn’t come straight away, as we lost the next 3 games which put us as low as 18th (of 24 teams) at one point early on. We had team meetings to address this form, and decided that we’ll focus on defence first, and adopt a counter attacking direct style of play. This was down to the 2 of the clubs strikers, Cifu and Marong both being your typical target man builds, so we played to their advantage. We worked on set pieces and from October onward we really showed the league what Chris Irvine and FC Andorra were made of.

11 wins from October to February, with a solidary draw thrown in meant we were unbeaten in 12, and we had some big scoring games, 7-0 against Ebro, an incredible 6-4 away win over Atletico Astorga and a 5-2 win over Logrones meant we were also the leagues leading scorers.

During this run, we were forever conceding stupid goals, and I had lost patience with the clubs first choice keeper Manuel Mendoza. He was given a free transfer and I signed my keeper at Saint Josephs, Jamie Robba who would be an inspired signing. Also during January Tudelano made the decision to sack Javier Casquero, who had only won 2 games in his time as a manager. I rang him to offer my condolences, and he confided in me that he felt he wasn’t up to the task of being a first team manager, and was thinking of going back to being an assistant or coach. I told him it was nonsense to think like that, and that he just had a bad run, I was sure he’d be back in the hot seat of a club before long.

So with a new first choice keeper and the team playing well, I was confident of progressing, and the next 4 games were against the teams around us in SD Leola, Guijuelo, Leonesa and Sestao River. We beat all teams comfortably, 4-0, 2-0, 2-0 & 2-1 respectively, which meant we were sitting second in the league on 62 points with 8 games to go. That 20 thousand euro bonus was looking like coming my way!

In a surprising twist of fate, a day before my 34th birthday Rose told me she was pregnant. I was soon to be a father, and life was good for now.
7 years ago
7 hours ago
Chapter 17 – There’s no way we’ll do it.

I remember having a team meeting in Andorra with only 2 games go, and our top scorer was striker Cifu, who had scored an incredible 38 goals for us at that point. All we needed was to win 1 of our last 3 games to get into the play offs, and at that point the clubs chairman Pelayo Corominas walked in and pulled me to one side. He seemed sincere in his tone when he said he was happy that we were near the top of the league with 2 to go, but said to me there’s no way we’ll finish in the play offs. Now I wasn’t sure if this was some sort of reverse phycology to gear me up more or not, or if he was worried that he’d be paying me that 20 grand I asked to be inserted into my contract?

Whatever it was, we won 2 and drew the last game of the season with Burgos to finish second in the league on 76 points. This meant we’d go into the play offs against the teams from the other 3 groups in this division in the play offs. Gerard Pique was at our final home game and congratulated me and the team with a case of Don Perion, which I later found out had cost 850 euro per bottle! The chairman shook my hand and said he was surprised we’d finished second, but wasn’t expecting anything form the play offs. I was getting more and more concerned he didn’t like me, and I wasn’t sure why.

These play offs determined which 4 of the 16 teams would be promoted, and I told the team I was happy just to be here, and there’s no pressure on us, if we progress through the play offs, then great. If not, we know we’ve got enough to get here so we’ll push on next season. I think the team all knew we’d overachieved, so were relaxed heading into the first game, away at Orihuela. They’d finished 4th in Group 3 and had just scraped in on goal difference.

We took them lightly however and they battered us 3-1, with us grabbing an all important goal right at the end of the game. They probably didn’t think much of that goal and just thought it was a consolation. It wasn’t, as in the reverse game at home, we beat them 3-0, meaning we went through 4-3 on aggregate. The team came out with a passion and energy Ortihuela weren’t expecting and it showed. I thought to myself maybe, just maybe we’ll do it. I didn’t want to get ahead of myself though.

But after dispatching Barakaldo 2-0 away and 2-1 at home to put us 1 step closer to an unexpected promotion, I couldn’t help but think we’re actually going to be promoted. We just had to beat Universidad Catolica de Murcia Club de Futbol, or UCAM for short. They were a good side, probably the best in all 4 groups of the Segunda Division B, as they finished first in Group 4, lost only 4 times out of 42, so the pressure, for the first time this season I thought to myself, was certainly on.

For the first time in my managerial career, I was short on words. Sure enough by now after 4 seasons of play at 2 clubs, I had become what you’d call a confident speaker, and when leading the team out to the pitch I never got nervous. No disrespect to my first team, but leading Saint Josephs out to 300 fans, the biggest gate we got was 1,890 fans for the return leg against FK Aktobe all of which probably weren’t Saint Josephs fans either, as well as leading out at Andorra to no more than 700 fans average, wasn’t really nerve racking. Don’t get me wrong, initially it was very scary, but I think playing at home in front of smaller crowds helped me early on. Okay so the away days in Spain were different, Real Madrid’s reserve side Castilla regularly pulled in fans in the 4,000 range, Real Union, Ebro and Palencia averaged 3,500 fans each home gate, but the pressure never really bothered me as the away team, as each away game we tried to quiet the crowd with low paced defensive football, and for the most part it worked.

However, here on this day on the 14th of June, the team in our home dressing room all looked at me for my words of wisdom before the game. I didn’t lie, I said ‘I don’t know what to tell you. We weren’t meant to be here, little ol’ FC Andorra had done the impossible, so just go out there, play how we’ve played all season long, and let’s see where we end up’. Nacho Novo gave some words of advice, don’t let the occasion get to you, the pressure is all on UCAM that kind of thing. Jose Verdejo who sat in the dugout with me for all the games so far told the team their left back had agreed a deal with Racing Santander, so was probably not going to be as committed, this would a great advantage for us.

As the game kicked off, I instantly noticed Gonzalo Hernandez, the left full back for UCAM, was walking very nonchalantly, like he didn’t want to be there. Great. I told Caval who as usual was our starting left winger to swap sides with Bolkiah on the right, both were full of pace but Caval, on loan from Sporting Lisbon, had something else about him. He could do these step-overs and half turns in a blink of an eye, he was going to be something special I just knew it, and I was happy to be a part of his development.

Caval went off on a run down the right, he was right footed so I was expecting some balls into Cifu and Forte, but once he’d made his way into the final third, he was so much quicker than everyone else, they had to keep up with him, he’d turned Hernandez inside out by feigning going outside, just to cut in on his left, he then went back outside where Hernandez went in for an aggressive tackle, but Caval just toe poked the ball outside the onrushing full back, then dinked in the most delightful floating cross to the near post where Cifu had finally caught up with the play and buried a Shearer like picture perfect diving header to put us 1 to the good. The UCAM manger was screaming from the touchline and Hernandez, who clearly didn’t look like he cared just threw his hands up in a what was I meant to do kind of way and they got back in position.

The next passage of play saw UCAM give us a scare as they threatened to equalise and got a corner for their troubles. As was routine, all 11 of team were back, and Caval and Bolkiah were edge of the box. The corner came in and was cleared by Robba in goal with a punch that landed right at Cavals feet. I saw the glint in his eye as he turned and played a though ball to Bolkiah who had set off down the right. As Bolkiah leapt forward I noticed they were in UCAM’s half within seconds and only Hernandez was back defending. I knew what was coming. Bolkiah cut inside on his left, played in Caval who did a number of step overs and sprinted down the left wing with Hernandez struggling to keep up. Caval stopped, trapped the ball and went to the byline. The keeper came off his line and as he did Caval played the ball back along the box where Bolkiah tapped into an empty net. 2-0!

The UCAM bench were screaming for an offside flag that never came. The fourth official and linesman both agreed, and explained to the UCAM manager that the ball was played backwards, not forwards, and the goal stands.

From half time, I was surprised to see Hernandez still on the pitch. He’d not had a good game but was still playing. We survived the inevitable comeback from UCAM and held on to our 2 goal lead with Robba in goal making some fine stops.

In the dressing room at full time, I told the team exactly what was on my mind. ‘We’ve got 1 hand on the promotion door guys, you’re nearly there!’ I was like a kid at Christmas in the days leading up to the return leg.

Could I really get promoted at the first time of asking?
7 years ago
7 hours ago
Chapter 18 – I’m not crying, you are!

For the first time in a number of weeks, we had a pre match press conference before our return leg against UCAM, and the reporters were certain that in UCAM’s home ground Nueva Condomina, the fans would play a big part and they’d overturn the 2 goal deficit. I reminded the press there that we’d played in hostile crowds before so weren’t too concerned with the intimidating atmosphere.

I won’t lie, I actually was concerned that the atmosphere might play a part in this game and as was a usual occurrence I spoke with Gerard, not daily but definitely a number of times each week. As the La Liga season had ended, Real Madrid won it again, Gerard was now on his end of season break and I had expected him to come into the dressing room before the game, he would actually be attending in the directors box, or at least thought he’d see the team before game day. He surprised me when we spoke when he said he wouldn’t do this, as it would look like he was undermining my authority and that he wasn’t going to get involved in the team at all. I really appreciated this. So on the day of the second leg, when we spoke he told me we’d done fantastically well, and that win or lose, this season was to be considered a great success. I really felt we had a great understanding.

During the build up to the (at that time) biggest game of my career, I had a brief chat with the UCAM manager, Jose Mendoza, who seemed rather sombre in his approach. As with Pelayo Corominas telling me he didn’t think we’d make the play offs, Jose told me he wasn’t confident in his team today, he felt we’d already won and that he was looking just to get a respectable result, nothing more. I took this as reverse psychology and didn’t think much of it. Turns out I was right.

15 minutes into the game, we’re 2-0 down. Had my team literally taken my words for granted? As I sat and watched the second goal go in, a penalty which Robba conceded which was dubious at best, VAR was only being used in La Liga at that time, then I looked at Nacho who had a dejected look, and Jose Verdejo who was scribbling notes down on my bench and gave them a look of pure disgust. It was only when I looked up at the directors box did I get some inspiration. Gerard was there acting like a fully dedicated fan, screaming and waving his arms around. Chairman Pelayo Corominas had a smug look on his face like he was expecting us to get beat.

2-2 on aggregate and half time came, finally. We’d been second best, Robbas error for the penalty overshadowed his overall performance, he’d certainly kept us in this game making a number of key stops. At half time I told the team despite me saying we weren’t expecting to be here, at least show some desire in the game. There’s nothing worse than complacency. I took my frustration out on Caval, somewhat unfairly I later admitted to him, when I said to him ‘do you think Jorge Jesus is going to put you in the Sporting Lisbon first team playing like this?!’ I could see it hurt him, he was visibly upset, he was still only 20 years old and I’d gone in too hard, but it lit a fire in him and he got us back into the game.

In the second half it was end to end. We needed a goal to put us in the lead, as did UCAM. We struck first in the 67th minute, Caval once again turning their right full back out of position, a cross came in, Forte headed it down into Cifu who poked it over the line, 3-2 on aggregate!  Our joy was short lived however as they equalised straight from kick off. A route one ball into the box wasn’t cleared and they got onto it. Robba made the stop but the ball was bundled home. 3-3 on aggregate, 3-1 on the night.

As the clock ticked towards the 90 minute mark, UCAM had done everything they could to get the goal they needed, and Robba was in excellent form. From one of the 14 second half corners they had, a new Segunda Division B record by the way, we got them on the break, just like in the first leg. Caval, who was visibly out on his feet, and Cifu lead the counter. A nice one two got Caval one on one with the keeper, but he made the stop, and the effort from Caval was tame. But we had a corner in the 90th minute. As the board went up, 3 minutes were to be played.  We took our time getting ready for the corner when I had a moment of madness. I screamed to Robba in goal to go up for the corner, we might as well as go for it. He looked at me, smiled and ran the full length of the pitch. As he set off running, Dimas floated in the corner. This next passage of play was a thing of absolute beauty.

The ball went over everyone to the far post.

Their defender headed it away.

Jonatahan Forte then headed it back towards goal. Remember that Robba is still making his run toward the box, he wasn’t very quick.

As Forte headed the ball back in Zotko also got his head on the ball around the penalty spot. He headed the ball down and it went into the onrushing Robba’s path.

The players from both teams stood in awe as 6 foot 4 goalkeeper Jamie Robba rose up, and connected with the ball on his left foot and volleyed it into the goal! 

Carlsberg don’t do attacking corners, but if they did it would be like this! If Messi, Ronaldo, Suarez or Mbappe had scored this goal, ESPN would do a feature length premier on it, but as it was just little ol’ Andorra scoring it, it wasn’t given much attention. I still get goose bumps when I picture this goal in my mind.

As the team celebrated and pounced on Jamie, the realisation was setting in. A goalkeeper had just scored the winning goal in the play off, an absolute thunderbolt of a volley at that, and we were mere seconds away from being promoted! I don’t remember much else of the remaining few moments, but once the whistle went the scenes were incredible. FC Andorra, the little club that could, with an unknown Canadian manager in charge, had just won promotion to the Segunda division, Spain’s second tier!

After the celebrations pitch side had calmed down, and we were in the dressing room showering in champagne, I pulled Jamie Robba aside and looked in his eyes and saw tears of joy, I said it’s okay to cry, you’ve done something goalkeepers can only dream of. He said get stuffed boss, I’m not crying, you are!

We hugged it out, got more champagne tipped over us and carried on the celebrations.
7 years ago
7 hours ago
Chapter 19 – A blossoming love / hate relationship

After becoming 20 thousand euro richer, in the days after the play off win, most of the attention was not on me or the players, but on the owner Gerard Pique. All the reports were saying how he had bought the club and in 2 years had got them promoted to the Segunda Division. There was also reports saying he was going to be giving the manager, not Chris Irvine, but just the manager, a transfer kitty of 50 million euros and aiming for a place in La Liga, where he would leave Barcelona and play his final years at FC Andorra. I spoke to him daily from this point on, we spent time going over tactics, players, training camps the whole works. He never got involved in my running of the team, and insisted that he had no intention of inserting himself into the running of the team. I was happy at this and still maintained we had a great relationship. The same couldn’t be said of mine and the chairman’s relationship.

Pelayo Corominas had told me the day after the play-off win that there would be no transfer budget and that I was to rely on selling players to raise funds. He also insisted on no scouting outside of Spain and that the scouting budget was to be cut. He also warned me not to contact Sporting Lisbon to try and re-sign left winger Caval, apparently Pelayo was friends with the Sporting Lisbon chairman and had been told Caval was not available. As well as this, he had taken the decision to exercise the clubs right not to expand the stadium. In the Segunda division, stadiums have to have a capacity of at least 6,000. Andorra’s tiny stadium was 2,024. I agreed this was a good decision. I never aired my concerns about the chairman with Gerard. I didn’t want to seem like I was moaning behind the chairman’s back, after all the chairman was in charge of the money side of the club, and I never really knew what the kind of agreement they had in place. I wasn’t that interested in boardroom stuff anyway.

It was during this off season that the steroid scandal in Spain was reaching it’s peak. There were high profile players at Atletico Madrid, Malaga and Valencia that had been investigated and the Spanish FA were in hot water over this incident. I never really bothered keeping up with it, only taking in bits when it was mentioned, but 1 afternoon I was summoned to the chairman’s office where Pelayo sat, and introduced me to a man that identified himself as Pelayo’s lawyer! There’s something surreal about seeing a lawyer or police officer, your heart starts racing and you think shit, what have I done? Pelayo said it was regarding the current steroid investigation, and that my presence was required in court, then the lawyer produced a subpoena! I asked what or who this was regarding but there was a no disclosure agreement in place, and that it concerned one of my players. I was told not to mention it to anyone, and that the trial started in a few days. The player in question has also been subpoenaed and will be there.

I contacted a lawyer of my own and discussed things with him in the few days between getting the news and the date of my questioning. The lawyer had told me he knew who the player was, but to avoid any potential tampering with witnesses I was not to know who the player in question was. By the time I’d taken my place on the stand, swore to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, I was still no wiser. The state appointed solicitor opened with the question that both answered my own question, and made me think that steroid use was actually going on under my nose.

‘Mister Irvine, are you aware that firstly Francisco Cifuentes Fernandez has been accused of using performance enhancing supplements, and two, that the figures and evidence back this up?’

Cifu. No way, he was a model professional, there’s not a chance he’s been juicing up I was sure of it. This was my response when asked. As the morning went on, I was asked about how Cifu had got hold of these steroids, who he’d given them to in my squad and why I had let this happen. I was shocked that this was happening, but stood firm as I was telling the truth when I said I was completely unaware of any steroid use in my team. All the while this was going on, I couldn’t help but notice a wry smile in Pelayo’s face, like he was getting some satisfaction out of me being in this position. The conversation then turned to me using the steroids. I asked why I would be taking them, to which the solicitor argued that this was apparently a blatant attempt by me to divert the courts attention away from my using the steroids, but the judge sided with me on that one. She said I’m not an active player, and if I was suspected then it needs taking up separately.

Back to Cifu, and I had to agree, begrudgingly, on some level with the lawyer’s next line of questioning. Up until this season, Cifu had played in the lower leagues of Spain, averaging a modest 11 goals a season playing on average 38 games a season, which translates to roughly a goal every 3 and a bit games. But this season was a little different. Cifu had made 35 appearances in the league, plus the 6 play-off games, and scored an incredible 42 goals. The lawyer made the point that Cifu, for all intense purposes, was a decent, solid lower tier forward. I agreed but when I tried to explain my point he cut me off. He asked me did I not find it hard that this player had averaged 11 goals over 38 games so far in his career, but then finished this season averaging over a goal game before the play offs? I said I didn’t think anything of it, as from the moment I walked into Andorra (the previous manager signed Cifu before he left) all I saw in Cifu was a driven, professional and passionate about football person. As any manager would, I tried to stick up for my player, and stood firm when I told the court that I intended to play to the teams strength, in that my aim for each game was to get the ball to the strikers quickly and in a direct fashion. I argued the point that Cifu was 31, and coming into his prime and that I fully appreciated that this season was a breakthrough year for him, and why not? He’d played in the lower tiers of Spain, and when the new manager (me) came in and made a point that he was the focal point of my attack, I fully expected a good season out of him, and he exceeded all my expectations. Once my questioning was over, I was asked to stay for the cross examination of Cifu, so I did.

I could tell he was nervous on the stand, but as the day went on, the court heard testimony of Cifu’s doctors and agent, as well as character statements from some players in my team, I knew nothing about this, apparently the chairman had arranged these statements without me knowing about them. I was shocked, absolutely shocked when I found out that the club’s physio was actually distributing anabolic steroids, but no cases at Andorra were found. His trial was to begin the next week, and he was subsequently sacked from the club. But the turning point of the case came when the clubs doctor took the stand on day 3, and gave a list of the prescribed medicine Cifu was taking. As it turns out, one of the painkillers Cifu was taking for an injury he sustained last year, a broken ankle, contained a substance which was on the Spanish FA’s banned list and is commonly used in performance enhancers. The doctor was expected to know this but claimed he didn’t, and I believed him. Cifu was also supposed to know this, but why should that responsibility lie on the shoulders of a player? By the end of the 4 day trial, the clubs doctor was also sacked, and the punishment handed to him was a 2 year jail sentence suspended, and his licence put on hold for those 2 years, as well as having to take a refresher course in medicine. He was never the same after this and quit being a medicine for good. The next sentence shocked me. Cifu was given a 12 month playing ban and ordered to take a drug rehabilitation course, as the banned substance is addictive and he’d been taking the medicine for the best part of a year. As unhappy for Cifu as I was, I was concerned our time in the Segunda Division may not be long with him missing the full season. I always prided myself on being loyal to my players, but I didn’t know what to do without our leading scorer for the season. I thought I’ll address this at a later date.

After the hearing, things between myself and the chairman just seemed to be deteriorating more and more by the day, and the team were on their well earned summer break. I went against the chairman’s warning and contacted Sporting Lisbon to discuss signing Caval on an extension to his current loan deal that was due to run out. I even had a sit down meeting with the Sporting manager, Jorge Jesus in Lisbon. I took Jose Verdejo and Nacho Novo with me, without the chairman knowing. Apparently Pelayo had been in contact with Sporting and was told that Caval was unavailable and was expecting to play a bit part role at Sporting in that coming season. I looked like a real idiot when I told Jorge about this, as he had said had I not contacted his club, he was going to ask if we’d have Caval for another season to aid his development. It was then that I knew the chairman had lied to me, and for what? Caval was an integral part of our season. After the details of the loan were discussed and agreed, Jose and Nacho went off and I stayed at Sporting Lisbon’s stadium, the very impressive Jose Alvalade Stadium, and had a good couple of hours with Jorge Jesus.

We spoke about formations, player roles, his long and decorated career, my short but trophy laden 4 year career, and tactics, specifically possession based systems. After listening to Jorge, who I have to say at this point, just radiated a cool, calm person and when he spoke, you listened as you felt every word was true. Once I’d heard what he had to say, mainly about 1 striker systems, and that he felt for us in the coming season a structured approach would help us, I decided I wasn’t going to replace Cifu, instead I was dropping a striker for a midfielder, and set up playing a 4-2-3-1 formation.

If 4-2-3-1 can win Jorge Jesus league titles in Portugal and Saudi Arabia, I was sure it would help Chris Irvine stay in the Spanish second division!
7 years ago
7 hours ago
Chapter 20 – Lost in battle

In the build up to the new season, it was announced that finally the United Kingdom would be leaving the EU. This wouldn’t affect me at that time in Spain, and the details of the new work permit rules would be announced in due course, but it was big news, as foreign players going into the UK would be affected. Gibraltar, where my first 3 years as a manager were spent had decided against leaving the EU.

After my incredible and eye opening meeting with Jorge Jesus, I contacted Racing Santander and extended young midfielder Ismael Garcia’s loan for another season. He was a bit part player the previous season, but with me focussing more on midfield I would be using him more. As a side note, despite having a director of football, I always made sure myself and Jose Verdejo were involved in all transfers and contract discussions. I never felt comfortable having someone else involved in these kind of things.

We also made other signings to the team, defensive midfielder Sulayman Marreh and Tarsi Aguado who would both be starters for our maiden season in the Segunda Division. Both were hard working box to box types and really complimented the players already at the club.

With the steroid scandal over, I made as much effort with Cifu as I could. I made sure nothing changed for him and his routine, other than not being able to play which of course was a big thing, stayed the same. I was keen to do everything in my power to help, and I was really concerned he may have withdrawals from the medicine, or worse, get depression. It was at this time my father started to represent him as well, however if any contract negotiations took place, I wasn’t allowed to take part, due to a possible conflict of interest, but I was certain because of what had gone on he’d be leaving at the end of the season anyway, but I kept that thought to myself.

With a week left to go before the season opener, a home tie against Girona, I had a meeting with Gerard. We discussed my need for a new center half, as back up, and how we were both optimistic for the season. After an hour or so, I got a call from none other than Ernesto Valverde, Barcelona’s manager! So if you’re keeping track, within a matter of weeks I’d had a sit down meeting with Jorge Jesus (who would become a sort of confidant to me) as well as a telephone conversation with Ernesto Valverde, 2 of the great managers and champions of the game! We talked about us signing a young center half by the name of Antonio Almeida, who was on loan at Real Betis last season. It was a no brainer for me, he had played 27 times last season in this division, was quick for someone that stood 6 foot 2, great with the ball at his feet and could tackle the best of them. Also at 21 but with enough experience to make an impact, he was held in high regard at Barcelona and was touted as a future Gerard Pique / Carlos Puyol hybrid. When he arrived at the club the next day, he was as professional as they come and didn’t let the hype or praise get to him. He listened to everything myself, Nacho Novo and the other coaches said to him, and just like Caval, had a lot of promise and I was honoured to have played a part in his development.

Everything was set for the new season, we worked on the 1 up top formation, as well as making more of an effort on set pieces, something which I would become known for throughout my career. I always felt teams didn’t make much of set pieces, especially in Spain. What we had at that time was a big center forward in Marong, all our center halves were big bulky units who could go toe to toe with the biggest and baddest of them in the league, so why not give being the best at set plays a shot? This was no more apparent than in our first game at this level, a sell out crowd of 2,024 in Camp d’Esports D’Aixovall against Girona. Did they take us lightly? Possibly. Did we earn the 2-0 win? Certainly. Did we deserve both goals from corners in the second half? Without a doubt. The first goal was a corner whipped into the near post, forward Marong nodded back across the goal line and center half Asmael Athuman rose above everyone else to head home. Why change a winning formula? The second was a carbon copy of the first. Ball into the near post, flicked on by Marong and Alemida, the young defender on loan from Barcelona grabbed his first senior goal to give us a 2-0 win. My streak of winning the first game of the new season continued, I was 5-0!

The games were coming thick and fast for Andorra, and the quality difference from Segunda Division and Segunda B was apparent right from the off. Where we sometimes dominated games in Segunda B, here in this league we struggled for the most part. In more than 1 meeting with Gerard and the board, chairman Pelayo Corominas had remarked we’d got promoted too quickly, we should’ve aimed just stay in the division last season, and we’re not ready for this league. This irked me every time, how can you get promoted too soon? If a team is good enough, and we certainly were, then we were in this league on 1 thing and 1 thing alone, merit! Nothing would hurt the players more than if they knew the chairman was berating them and saying they weren’t good enough for the Segunda division, but I never told them what he was saying. Whilst we might have struggled, we were still picking points up at the right time. We earned a credible draw with Cordoba, we beat Huesca, Ponferradina (who had been promoted with us), Elche and Mirandes to grab a decent if unremarkable 17 points on the board by the end of November which meant we were sitting 16th of 22. Not bad for a team that wasn’t good enough!

Of course we suffered some big defeats, Granada, Getafe, Rayo Vallecano, Mallorca and CD Lugo all showed their superiority over us, and whilst Robba played in every game this season, he kept a lot of the score lines respectable. My biggest concern, and it was shared by Nacho Novo and Jose Verdejo was that our leading scorer at that time was center half Ismael Athuman. 7 goals, all from corners by a defender. Marong had 5, but he just wasn’t getting the service he needed to be a consistent threat. Whilst I wanted to stick to my plan of 1 up top and control midfield, we were just over run in midfield every game due to the quality difference and Marong was cutting an isolated figure up top. He just wasn’t comfortable playing on his own, and he, as did the rest of us, missed his strike partner, and 42 league goals Cifu. We kind of changed things up when we put Caval in the AMC position to try and run off of Marong, it worked to some extent, we beat CD Guadalajara 1-0 in the next game, with Caval scoring the goal, to which I thought great this is what we’ll do for now. But 3 games in December saw us not only lose to CD Lugo, Racing Santander and Hercules de Alicante, but Marong snapped his hamstring in the Alicante game, and we were without a first team striker.

Somewhat fortuitous, that Alicante game was on 19th December, and our next game wasn’t until 13 January, I had to decide were either of the 2 young strikers in our ranks, Ghio (18, 3 first team appearances, no goals) or Mendez (19, 7 appearances, 1 goal) going to do what Marong had struggled to do or not? Side note, Jonathan Forte hung up his boots by this point and was a club ambassador for FC Andorra.

Fortunately for me and Andorra, there was light at the end of this small tunnel, as on New Years Eve, I was sat in my living room waiting to go to an event my dads company was running in Spain for New Years, there was a knock at my door, and this changed everything.
7 years ago
7 hours ago
Chapter 21 – Come in Number 9

There’s moments in your life that when you think back you just sit, or stand or whatever you’re doing and just smile. I was like a father that had seen his kid just get picked for the school football team, or when you see your son drinking his first pint (legally anyway) and you stand there with the biggest and most proud smile on your face.

I opened the door and let the person walk in. We didn’t need any pleasantries or anything like that, we were (and still are) on good terms. He came in, sat down, I poured him a drink and the words that came out of his mouth were like built up frustration finally being released. He spoke with such venom, anger and most of all passion. He called Pelayo Corominas names I won’t repeat on here, I agreed with all of them in case you’re wondering, he said he’s had enough and he’s ready to make a change and be an important figure again, and most of all I saw the fire in his eyes when he said ‘Chris, you’ve looked after me through all this, I’m going to pay you back because they won’t be keeping me down any longer, no more Chris it’s done!’ I said what’s done? What are you talking about? He replied with:

‘Have you not heard? The Spanish FA overturned my 12 month ban, I’m officially an active player, and because of this Andorra don’t need to register me to play, as I’m already contracted. Boss, thanks for sticking with me, I’m back!’

First of all I was absolutely ecstatic that the FA have overturned Cifu’s ban, it was nonsense that he be held accountable for something he knew nothing about, him getting back in the team could just be the spark we needed, as well as some long overdue goals! But then I told him I hadn’t heard, no one from the club had told me about this. After we shared a moment I picked up the phone and rang Gerard, but hung up immediately when I remembered he was in Colombia for Christmas. During my talk with Cifu, he said that Pelayo seemed dead set against appealing the ban, and kept telling him just accept it, the club doesn’t need any more negative publicity, and that Cifu should focus on keeping in shape to get on with another club in 12 months. I told Cifu I had the feeling Pelayo just doesn’t have the clubs best interests at heart, and seems to have his own agenda. So I called him, and my suspicions didn’t change any either.

When I was speaking and asked about the overturned ban, do you know what the little rat said to me, all he could be bothered to tell me? His reply was, in a half assed way, oh I knew there was something I had to tell you. That was it! Nothing more. Here was our leading scorer and one of the main reasons why we’re in this division getting some of the best news of his career and all the chairman could say was oh I knew there was something I had to tell you! At the event on New Years, I asked my dad about how managers get offers from other clubs, how easy is it to take your staff with you as a manager, we spoke about my options but that nothing would be decided until the end of the season in July of that year. But then I thought about Gerard, and if he felt that Pelayo was up to something or not. I decided to keep my thoughts to myself, and just hoped that with Cifu back, we could push on and avoid getting dragged further down the league. As well, it may mean my stock would continue to be on the rise.

With Cifu back as a player, he had been training all the while banned so was in top condition, just having no match fitness, our first opponents of the New Year were Tarragona who were 7th in the league and aiming for a play-off spot. As the team went out to the pitch, Cifu held back and stopped me going out. He said he wanted to walk out with me, and as the other 10 players went out, they all turned around and watched as Cifu made his way to the pitch, all 2,204 fans of both teams stood in unison and gave him a standing applause. He wasn’t overwhelmed by this and come the end of the game, he certainly enjoyed the occasion.

As he made his way toward the tunnel at full time, he was stopped by a reporter, since this was national news a lot of eyes were on us, and the game was shown on TV. As the reporter from Sport Pesa asked his question, Cifu replied ‘I want to thank Chris and Gerard Pique for sticking with me, and to let the fans know that Number 9 is back, and I’ve got a point to prove!’ He most certainly did with a goal in the second half that wrapped up a 3-1 win for us. This whole situation was the turning point for us that season.

We kept picking points up from then right up until March, where our little revival was stopped dead in tracks with a 6-0 mauling away to Huesca. Here was where I really lost my temper, and handed out 1 week fines for poor performances to a number of the team. I really didn’t want to, but even a promoted side looking to stay up has to show some desire, and I had to let them know that we’re still in the fight of our lives and were not safe yet.

Things continued to be up and down for us, and Caval’s time at Andorra came to an abrupt end when he tore ligaments in his left leg, which would keep him out for up to 3 months, the exact time left on his loan deal. We had no choice but to send him back to Portugal. I told him, honestly, that I hope we could work together again in the future.

As for our own final 12 weeks, we kept hanging on in there and fluttered between 13th and 19th in the league, being as high as 11th one week toward the end of the season. With 3 games to go we were 5 points above the relegation places and sat 17th, 2 places above the drop zone, and just needed to win 1 of the last 3 to survive, or draw 1 and hope Ponferradina and Balompie, 2 teams that came up with us didn’t win any of their last 3.

With the first of the games left, we travelled to Guadalajara, and we were 4-1 down by the 75th minute. We regrouped and a couple of Cifu goals later, heading into the final minute we were losing 4-3. But we didn’t have what we needed and lost. Luckily so did the 2 teams directly below us. 2 left, still 5 points in front.

Our penultimate game, and final home game of the season saw us playing Racing Santander. Much like the previous game, we found ourselves losing in the second half, this time 2-1. But it was slightly earlier in the 61st minute. Again we regrouped and showed the fighting spirit lacking in the Guadalajara game. By the 85th minute things were looking good. Cifu again scored 2 goals, to bring his total to 19 games, 11 goals and we were looking like winning and surviving in the league. What happened next I hear you ask? Well Santander got a second wind, thumped home a 30 yard screamer to level the score to 3-3 in the 90th minute. Okay not too bad, we get a draw and a point, and hope the other 2 teams aren’t winning. Then the unthinkable happens, and Santander bundle home a low cross to give them a 4-3 away win. I’m not going to write what was said here after the game, but I’m sure you can use your imagination.

So 1 game to go. The league table looked like this:

17th – Ponferradina 44 points. G/D -15

18th – Andorra 44 points. G/D -16

19th – Balompie 42 points. G/D -22

If we win our next game and Ponferradina didn’t, we’d survive. If they win and we did, we’d go down. If we both lost and Balompie won, they’d survive. So basically, we needed to beat Real Zaragoza on the final day, and hope Ponferradina didn’t win. There were nerves all around.
7 years ago
7 hours ago
Chapter 22 – The great Andorran hope.

I didn’t want to get relegated. Wait that sounded stupid. What I meant was I really didn’t want to go down because we’d done so well to get here. Obviously anyone would have said they would prefer to have gotten just 1 more point by this stage, or had we not let that 2 goal lead slip against Racing Santander, or even drew that game we’d be in a better position than we were, but we had to do what we had to do. So I phoned Jorge Jesus.

He’d said a year or so before I could call him any time and he’d gladly talk to me, and why wouldn’t I call him? He’d just won the Portuguese top division for a third season in a row with Sporting Lisbon, Benfica and Porto both looking shells of their former self, and with Braga now looking to become Portugal’s second biggest club, he was rightly so the top manager in Portugal. We spoke candidly, I told him my concerns about going down, and what I could do to try and stop that from happening. He gave me some really sound advice, advice I would later pass on to my players and staff, and 1 thing he said to me stuck out and helped me from this point on in my career. For the record, if anyone is wondering, we spoke in English. Like me, he is fluent in 3 languages, Portuguese, Spanish and English.

‘Chris, stick to your guns, don’t change what you believe is right. If you go down at least go down swinging. If you change anything to appease a player or fan or club director, you’re not being true to yourself. Being a manager means one thing, managing.’

We spoke more after he said that and I really got some confidence and inspiration from him. I decided there and then that we’d be trying out a new system, a system designed to win games, to dominate and really show what I and my players were capable of. But that would be next season, as we had a massive game with Zaragoza first.

In the build up to the game, Zaragoza had nothing to play for. They were mid table, no chance of going down but really, a club that size should be in La Liga. But they had a good team and were playing at home. But in a surprising twist, the manager gave debuts to 3 young players, which helped us in a way. 2 were forwards, 1 by the name of Humberto Vasquez who would go on to become Zaragoza’s biggest sale by leaving for Inter Milan a few years later for 48 million Euro, the other was David Villa, not that one, but a young player with a lot of pace. Due to these young players both being extremely green, their forward line never really threatened us, and we were the better team all over the pitch.

It was clear this team were on their holidays and by the time Cifu nodded home in the 60th minute to give us a 2 goal lead, the Zaragoza team didn’t look dejected, they just looked like they didn’t care. I didn’t want to know how Ponferradina were getting on, as I didn’t want any more pressure on the team, but when Nacho came over and said they were losing 3-0, and at that time we were 18th with a better goal difference and safe, I could relax, slightly.

That was until 85th minute, where Zaragoza pulled one back to make it 2-1, and Ponferradina, fighting for their lives managed to get their own game to 3-3! We were level on goal difference, but as we were winning that meant we had 47 points to their 45. If we concede and they score, we’re going down. As the fourth official held up the board to show 3 extra minutes, we had to sit tight, keep the ball and not do anything stupid. It worked as Zaragoza didn’t really press us, and we saw out our 3 minutes to win the game 2-1. There was another goal in the Ponferradina game, luckily they had conceded late on to Elche and that sent them down and effectively kept us up!

It was a massive relief all around to see the end of this game and survival on the last day of the season. We’d secured survival as favourites to go straight back down, and much like the first 4 years of my managerial career, I’d overachieved. It made me wonder if teams would stop underestimating us now, but from my most recent chat with Jorge, I decided to go out and play to our strengths and change things up tactically. This thought was confirmed when I met a young Andorran player in our youth team by the name of Quique (pronounced key key ) Valera.

Our head of youth development David De Coz, as well as my right hand man Nacho Novo were both in agreement that we had an exceptionally talented player on our hands here, and they weren’t wrong. The Spanish media were bigging this kid up, the Andorran national team had earmarked him as the next big thing, the best Andorran player for a long time, and word in the media was that Real Madrid wanted him even at that early stage. The best way to describe him would be if he was in a football manager game, he’d be described as a wonderkid. He was just what we needed heading into my third season in Andorra.

He was comfortable in central midfield, but he excelled as deep lying playmaker playing in the defensive midfield position. Left footed, with vision I’ve never seen in someone at 18, able to pin point a pass to anywhere he wanted, great at dead ball situations and work rate unheard of, it was no wonder Madrid were interested, and not just for Andorra but the game in general, a new star was born.

But for me to get really prepared for another season in Andorra, and to improve on what we’d already achieved, I needed 2 things. 1 was a new contract. My existing one ran out at the end of June that year. It was no secret I was enjoying life at Andorra, and I had a great relationship with the players, the fans, Gerard the owner but not the chairman. I really wanted to achieve some good things with Andorra. The second, which ties into my poor relationship with the chairman, was clarity. I arranged 2 meetings that off season, one with Gerard and one with Pelayo. The first was with Gerard. I told him how much I wanted to stay for at least another season, and I told him I was confident we’d be able to improve on the 18th place finish. He couldn’t agree more that keeping me was something he wanted too. We agreed an extension there and then. But that was when the first meeting went south. The new manager at Barcelona was Unai Emery, and he wanted to usher in change at The Nou Camp, and so most of the older players, bar Messi, were told they would be asked to leave, Gerard being one of those players. He’d knew this was coming, so had made moves to sign a 1 year contract with AS Roma in Italy. I was concerned by this as he wouldn’t be as readily available to put my mind at ease regarding the chairman, and I was worried he would not be as committed to Andorra as he had been. He assured me this was nonsense and that I am reading too much into my issues with the chairman. I took his words at face value and told him I would continue on as I already had.

My meeting the chairman was different. A lot different. First I told him I had agreed a 1 year extension with Gerard. Pelayo was angered with this as he wasn’t informed and had been expecting me to leave. I asked why that would be the case, but he just waved it off. Then I asked about the steroid scandal and why he didn’t tell me Cifu had been cleared. Again he just waved this off as irrelevant. I also brought up there being no transfer funds, despite Andorra being the only club in the Segunda division that didn’t have any debt at that time, and that we were well below the wage budget. He just seemed dismissive and then went on a tirade about how he wanted to hire a bigger name manager, to bring in bigger named players to increase the profile of the club. I told him, confidently, that not many managers would have got Andorra promoted at the first time the previous year, as well as staying up the season just gone. But he said it wasn’t that hard a task, and that any manager worth his salt could have done the same. Before I had chance to reply, he said as I’d signed an extension without him knowing, to sack me he would have to pay the full contract to me and that would upset Gerard. He said he’d have to stick with me for another 12 months, unless there was reason to sack me.

Our relationship from then on was damaged at best, and in all my time left in Andorra, I only spoke to him once more after this meeting
7 years ago
7 hours ago
Chapter 23 – Regista nights.

During my third season in Andorra, my stock as a manager began to grow some, and as I had already discussed, privately, with my father how a manager can get noticed and move on, and taking into consideration my waning relationship with the chairman, I thought maybe this would be my last season here. Okay so I wasn’t being forced out, not directly anyway, but I just didn’t feel I could continue to grow a club, or the players and even myself under the current climate with the chairman.

As such, during this season, I was linked with other clubs in the Segunda Division, Real Zaragoza, Cadiz and Las Palmas. Now I always considered myself to very loyal and professional, so I didn’t acknowledge in public the links to Zaragoza or Cadiz, but once the Las Palmas job came up, I applied. My name was linked from the off, and I thought why the hell not go in for it, I’ve earned the right for my name to be linked to the job so I might as well apply.

After waiting a few days, and with no word from either Gerard or the chairman, I was invited to an interview with the Las Palmas chairman. You have to remember that this is technically my first interview for a position, my first 2 roles have kind of just been handed to me, and so I was nervous going into the interview.

I was asked why I’m applying, I was questioned on my lack of variety in my career so far, the chairman of Las Palmas, Manual Vizcanio had even said I’ve done so well at Andorra, why am I looking to leave, and this is where I think I ruined the chance of getting the job.

I didn’t lie, I told him there were differences between myself and the chairman, and that I don’t think he has mine or the clubs best interests at heart, and so I am looking to move on for the good of my career. I assume looking back that this was why I wasn’t offered the job, and the role was given to Matteo Armand. I was disappointed but not deterred. Side note here, Gerard had extended his stay in Rome by another season, so my time with his was limited even more

So Andorra were heading into their second ever season at this level, and we had signed some players and had Quique Galera playing in the defensive midfielder role with the intention to control the game and we started off well. The role he was destined to play was the regista. Think Andrea Pirlo mixed with Gennaro Gattuso. I’m not kidding, this kid had it all. He never lost possession, he could win the ball back at ease, and he had quick feet for someone at 6’ 1’’, never got flustered and could pick a pass with his eyes closed. He really was destined for the top.

The season started as the last one ended, when we beat Zaragoza again, then took points from Mallorca who were relegated last season, Huesca, Sabadell and surprisingly Las Palmas and their new manager. Tarragona beat us, but we kicked on from then too by recording 3 more wins up to the end of October, where the next game against Real Betis, another relegated side looking to bounce back, which would be my 200th game in management. 100 games for Saint Josephs, and now my 100th game as FC Andorra manager. The years were just flying by!

Betis didn’t put much of a fight against us as we were rarely troubled in a routine 1-0 home win, Orihuela, Reus, Cadiz and Grenada were all beaten by us as we solidified third place in the league heading into the New Year. We did suffer defeats to Alaves, Girona and Alcorcon but we couldn’t win every game. Then I was linked to more teams, not just in the same division.

La Liga’s bottom side at the time Espanyol were looking for a new manager, I was the third favourite for the job, but nothing came of it. Real Betis then made a call, and I was tempted, but they were at the bottom end of our league, and we were second and could possibly be heading for automatic promotion, so I declined. Then teams in France got in touch. FC Bourg-Peronnas, Tours FC and SM Caen were all keen on me, I did speak to each of them but didn’t really feel like leaving a third place team in Spain trying for promotion, to go to any of the bottom three second tier in France teams at that time. Plus I always wanted to go to Red Star FC in France, and none of those teams really appealed to me then. Don’t get me wrong, as an avid French football fan, Caen certainly had the history, and the transfer budget they offered was good, but I was still right in the thick of it at Andorra and we were looking good to go up that year.

So with me still committed to Andorra, and the players playing well, Cifu was not only our leading scorer but he was the league’s leading scorer at that time with 21 at the start of February. Caval’s replacement on the left wing Franchu had chipped in with a league high of 15 assists, Galero in the holding midfield role also had himself 9 assists in his first full season as a player. Linking up with Mario & Athuman, they were combining to create a midfield trio that played off of each other extremely well, and we went into each game looking to win each one with absolutely no fear. This really was our coming out party!

In the final 3 months of the league, despite the confidence, despite the fact we’ve played extremely well and felt on our day we could beat anyone, we endured a miserable run of form. Luckily for us our form in the first 34 games was good enough to keep us in the top 6. With all that was happening on the pitch, off the pitch I was in a whirlwind.

Auxerre came calling. Another Ligue 2 side in France with a rich history and a big bank account, I was tempted to take over the 12th place side, with the intention of building something long lasting with that historic club. Ultimately, I turned them down. Girona also made contact, again something I did consider as they were also much better suited to promotion with top notch finances and facilities, despite at the time lurking around in 10th in our league. Real Betis, Real Sociedad and Valenciennes all reached out. All were good prospects, all but Betis were in a higher division, but I just felt loyal to Andorra and Gerard, not Pelayo but the club and the team, MY team. I’d built this team up of nobodies, free transfers and 2 loan deals and we were on course for promotion, if not automatically then a place in the play offs. We were making remarkable progress, and I really wanted to see it through.

Rightly or wrongly, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I turned them all down.
7 years ago
7 hours ago
Chapter 23 – Regista nights.

During my third season in Andorra, my stock as a manager began to grow some, and as I had already discussed, privately, with my father how a manager can get noticed and move on, and taking into consideration my waning relationship with the chairman, I thought maybe this would be my last season here. Okay so I wasn’t being forced out, not directly anyway, but I just didn’t feel I could continue to grow a club, or the players and even myself under the current climate with the chairman.

As such, during this season, I was linked with other clubs in the Segunda Division, Real Zaragoza, Cadiz and Las Palmas. Now I always considered myself to very loyal and professional, so I didn’t acknowledge in public the links to Zaragoza or Cadiz, but once the Las Palmas job came up, I applied. My name was linked from the off, and I thought why the hell not go in for it, I’ve earned the right for my name to be linked to the job so I might as well apply.

After waiting a few days, and with no word from either Gerard or the chairman, I was invited to an interview with the Las Palmas chairman. You have to remember that this is technically my first interview for a position, my first 2 roles have kind of just been handed to me, and so I was nervous going into the interview.

I was asked why I’m applying, I was questioned on my lack of variety in my career so far, the chairman of Las Palmas, Manual Vizcanio had even said I’ve done so well at Andorra, why am I looking to leave, and this is where I think I ruined the chance of getting the job.

I didn’t lie, I told him there were differences between myself and the chairman, and that I don’t think he has mine or the clubs best interests at heart, and so I am looking to move on for the good of my career. I assume looking back that this was why I wasn’t offered the job, and the role was given to Matteo Armand. I was disappointed but not deterred. Side note here, Gerard had extended his stay in Rome by another season, so my time with his was limited even more

So Andorra were heading into their second ever season at this level, and we had signed some players and had Quique Galera playing in the defensive midfielder role with the intention to control the game and we started off well. The role he was destined to play was the regista. Think Andrea Pirlo mixed with Gennaro Gattuso. I’m not kidding, this kid had it all. He never lost possession, he could win the ball back at ease, and he had quick feet for someone at 6’ 1’’, never got flustered and could pick a pass with his eyes closed. He really was destined for the top.

The season started as the last one ended, when we beat Zaragoza again, then took points from Mallorca who were relegated last season, Huesca, Sabadell and surprisingly Las Palmas and their new manager. Tarragona beat us, but we kicked on from then too by recording 3 more wins up to the end of October, where the next game against Real Betis, another relegated side looking to bounce back, which would be my 200th game in management. 100 games for Saint Josephs, and now my 100th game as FC Andorra manager. The years were just flying by!

Betis didn’t put much of a fight against us as we were rarely troubled in a routine 1-0 home win, Orihuela, Reus, Cadiz and Grenada were all beaten by us as we solidified third place in the league heading into the New Year. We did suffer defeats to Alaves, Girona and Alcorcon but we couldn’t win every game. Then I was linked to more teams, not just in the same division.

La Liga’s bottom side at the time Espanyol were looking for a new manager, I was the third favourite for the job, but nothing came of it. Real Betis then made a call, and I was tempted, but they were at the bottom end of our league, and we were second and could possibly be heading for automatic promotion, so I declined. Then teams in France got in touch. FC Bourg-Peronnas, Tours FC and SM Caen were all keen on me, I did speak to each of them but didn’t really feel like leaving a third place team in Spain trying for promotion, to go to any of the bottom three second tier in France teams at that time. Plus I always wanted to go to Red Star FC in France, and none of those teams really appealed to me then. Don’t get me wrong, as an avid French football fan, Caen certainly had the history, and the transfer budget they offered was good, but I was still right in the thick of it at Andorra and we were looking good to go up that year.

So with me still committed to Andorra, and the players playing well, Cifu was not only our leading scorer but he was the league’s leading scorer at that time with 21 at the start of February. Caval’s replacement on the left wing Franchu had chipped in with a league high of 15 assists, Galero in the holding midfield role also had himself 9 assists in his first full season as a player. Linking up with Mario & Athuman, they were combining to create a midfield trio that played off of each other extremely well, and we went into each game looking to win each one with absolutely no fear. This really was our coming out party!

In the final 3 months of the league, despite the confidence, despite the fact we’ve played extremely well and felt on our day we could beat anyone, we endured a miserable run of form. Luckily for us our form in the first 34 games was good enough to keep us in the top 6. With all that was happening on the pitch, off the pitch I was in a whirlwind.

Auxerre came calling. Another Ligue 2 side in France with a rich history and a big bank account, I was tempted to take over the 12th place side, with the intention of building something long lasting with that historic club. Ultimately, I turned them down. Girona also made contact, again something I did consider as they were also much better suited to promotion with top notch finances and facilities, despite at the time lurking around in 10th in our league. Real Betis, Real Sociedad and Valenciennes all reached out. All were good prospects, all but Betis were in a higher division, but I just felt loyal to Andorra and Gerard, not Pelayo but the club and the team, MY team. I’d built this team up of nobodies, free transfers and 2 loan deals and we were on course for promotion, if not automatically then a place in the play offs. We were making remarkable progress, and I really wanted to see it through.

Rightly or wrongly, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I turned them all down.
7 years ago
7 hours ago
Chapter 22 – The last dance saloon

April saw us lose to Real Betis after I turned them down, the caretaker getting his first win at my expense. Orihuela took points from us, as did Reus and Grenada which meant for the first time in my career, we’d lost 6 on the bounce. Obviously Pelayo had to have some say, and the day after the Grenada game the little rat with the shit eating grin turned up at training, and told us all how disappointed he, the board and most of Gerard Pique were of our terrible form. I felt I had to stand up to this little suited up glorified pen pusher, and reminded him, sternly, that we’ve done extremely well and we were still 5th in the league, above the likes of Las Palmas and Grenada (joint favourites to win the league) in 7th and 9th respectably, Real Betis in 8th, Mallorca all the way down in 15th and Real Ovideo in 6th place. I could tell the players were all a mix of pissed off, confused and angry at the little runt’s speech, and if I wasn’t mistaken, this was the first, last and only time in my nearly 3 years in Andorra that he’d spoken to any member of the team. I don’t even think he spoke to Cifu during the trial the year before. Some chairman!

The next game for us was 5th versus second as we took on Almeira at home. This game will be remembered by me and Andorra fans as a game we dominated but lost. We hit the post 7 times, a Segunda division record, Cifu had 2 one on ones and missed them both, and the coup de gras was a missed penalty by Franchu. Actually one of those post hits was the penalty. But Almeira went and got a goal in the 85th minute, their 1 shot on goal. We were all dejected at this and our 7th loss in a row. The saving grace was that Las Palmas, Grenada and Alcorcon kept trading wins and losses to keep the gap between us which kept Andorra just in the play offs. But something had to give if we were to achieve a top 6 finish.

That something wasn’t a change on personnel or formation, no team talk to pick us all up, I just continued telling the team we’ll get through this, we’ve got ourselves in the top 6 for a reason and just keep doing what we’re doing. We weren’t playing bad but just hadn’t won. That was until we went to Oviedo and thumped Real Oviedo 3-0 to give us a much needed win. From then on it was all systems go. Cordoba, Racing Cub, Girona, Alcorcon and Alicante all tried and failed to beat us, as we went on a run of 5 wins and a draw to see us finish a respectable 4th in the league and on 70 points. A new record high for FC Andorra. Gerard was over the moon, Pelayo just sent a company wide email saying well done and that we’ll speak soon. What a little twat he was!

Our reward for that 4th place finish was a 2 legged play off tie against a team I turned down earlier that season Las Palmas. They got themselves into the play offs on the last day of the season.

An end to end away leg saw us go down 3-2, they managed to grab the winner late on. But we weren’t deterred and in the reverse fixture, we took it to them and as was the case for most of the season we dominated the game. We got our reward when Cifu nodded home at the far post. 3-3 on aggregate. All we had to do was not concede as the away goals rule was in effect and with us scoring those 2 away goals, we were on course to progress.

Which we did. The noise in the tiny stadium was deafening for a crowd of 2,024 fans. I forgot to mention in my contract I had a clause guaranteeing me 15 thousand euro if we made the play offs. Pelayo never mentioned it, but the money Andorra received for getting this far in the league eclipsed that, and at the end of year meeting it was announced that Andorra had made a healthy profit of over 4 million euros in my 3 years there. This profit would end up becoming a major talking point within the days after the play offs.

We had to get passed Cordoba over 2 legs in the paly off final. Cordoba had been in La Liga as recent as 2 seasons before this one, but the pressure was on them to perform. We were overwhelming underdogs. The media were pretty much saying it would be a matter of how many goals Cordoba were going to score against us. We all went into the first game with the mind set of we’ll give it our best shot, we’ve got nothing to lose but everything to gain. We’d beaten and drawn with Cordoba this season so we just had to do that again, but alas football doesn’t always go the way you want it to go.

Cordoba raced out to a 2-0 half time lead which wasn’t totally deserved. We kept at them but just didn’t have that quality in the final third. I thought if we could just get a goal, an away goal we might just nick this. But again, the footballing gods were against us that day as Cordoba grabbed another to seal a 3-0 in for them.

The return leg came, and the team talk was the usual, give it your all, we’ve done well enough, we’ve got nothing else to lose. I thought if we didn’t make it through this game, we’ve surely got enough to repeat this finish in the following season and who knows, we might just go up automatically. Everything was set for a fantastic game of football. We’d already beaten Cordoba in the league, we just needed to do it again but by 3 goals.

I was sure, convinced even, that we’d win this game. I’d had that dream where you’re standing with the trophy, and the fans and players are celebrating with you. This was it, I could feel it, this was when the footballing world would stand and take notice.

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