Paul Delos Santos
3 years ago
1 month ago

Chapter 1 – Failure

“I quit.”


I picked up my box of belongings out of the office and walked out the door. I then sat in my apartment, called my agent, Celine, and asked her, “What now?”




I’ll never forget the day it happened. When Ukraine’s Bukovyna Chernivtsi offered me the job of being the manager of their football club. It was my first job as a manager. I had just gotten my National C license, making me somewhat qualified to run a football club. To be honest, though, I still had my doubts, but trial by fire is the best way to learn and this was going to be a fire. 



But the fire was a little too hot. Perhaps, it was my inexperience. Maybe the lack of talent. Maybe a combination of both, but my time in Ukraine was never destined to be long it appeared. I should have known from the beginning that it was never going to pan out. We went 1-2-1 in friendlies against teams we should have probably beat­­. At the time, I shrugged it off as the team getting used to my tactic and managerial style. 


Then the regular season started and it was more of the same. We lost our opening two matches, but each was by one goal apiece, giving me a sense of hope that we would turn the ship around. Hope fueled by winning three of our next four games, putting us firmly in a position to make the promotion group when the league split. I didn’t think much of the 0-0 draw to Mariupol. I figured it was a small blip in the road and we would recover and get back to our winning ways because the team had looked good in training. At least, I thought they were. They looked good, but then again, I didn’t really know what good training looked like. I never played professionally, so any athletic feat that was done at a high level looked good to me. So odds are, they probably weren’t training hard and I was just a fool. 


Then came the avalanche.

3-0 defeat to Prykarpattia.

3-0 defeat to Polissia.

2-0 defeat to Dinaz.

4-0  defeat to Karpaty.


We failed to score a goal in five weeks and lost by a total of 12 goals.  When we finally scored, it was part of a 2-2 draw with Epicenter. Then we lost two more games and drew one, officially putting us in the relegation zone group. All hope was not lost. We could avoid the drop if we just found our form.


We never did. We drew 1-1 with Dinaz and lost 3-1 to Epicenter. I didn’t want to admit, but I was in over my head here. I don’t know what it was, but I was clearly the problem. I started cleaning out my office, knowing what I was going to do the next day. 


I walked into the building on March 13, 2023 with a letter in my hand. 


“I quit.,” I said. Handed the paper to the general manager and walked out with my stuff.


I drove back to my apartment and sat there and immediately called my agent. 



“What do you want to do?” Celine asked. “I can look around for jobs that might want to hire you despite being on the job for 212 days and then resigning.” 


I understood what she was saying. Who would want to hire a coach that couldn’t survive a season in the Ukrainian second division and was well on his way to being relegated. 


Was this the end of my dream of winning football championships and trophies? Did I waste all that time just to flame out and barely last a season? I thought about going back to my old day job, but that would be admitting failure. It was the reality I wasn’t ready for.


“Find me another job, please,” I said. “I’m not ready to give up just yet.”


“OK, let me call you back when I find something. I’ll start asking around,” Celine responded. 


“Thanks,” I replied. “Just let me know. I’m willing to go anywhere.”


“Anywhere, huh?” Celine said.


I thought about it and just shrugged, even though she couldn’t see me. 


“OK. We’ll find something. Don’t you worry,” she said.

Paul Delos Santos
3 years ago
1 month ago

Chapter 2 – A New Home

“Great news! I got you an interview in England,” Celine said through the Zoom window.


I smiled. I couldn’t help but imagine taking an English side from wherever they were on the UK Football pyramid to its highest possible position. I envisioned managing in the Premier League one day and lifting that trophy.


“With who?” I finally uttered.


“Dulwich Hamlet. They want to interview you via Zoom. Can you do 4 p.m. your time?”


“Of course! I’ll start preparing.”


“Good. If not, you might not be in Europe much longer.”


“Wait. What?”

“It’s hard finding interviews for you. Unless you’re willing to go to semi-professional team, nobody wants to hire a coach that barely lasted a season in Ukraine’s second division,” she said. “You understand right?”


I gulped. I knew I made Celine’s job harder by resigning from Ukraine with six games to go. But man, I figured I would get another chance somewhere with a professional team. 


“But don’t worry too much if this doesn’t work out. You did say anywhere.” 


I forgot I said anywhere and knowing her, she would make calls around the world to get me a job. I just didn’t think it would work out. I spoke English and Spanish and now some basic Ukrainian, but moving to another foreign country seemed daunting. Yet, I knew all of it would be for naught if I nailed the Dulwich Hamlet interview.


“Good luck,” she said. “Give me a call afterwards.”




“How did it go?” Celine asked.


I thought it had gone well. I put forth my vision for the club. I reassured them that what occurred in Ukraine was more of an outlier than a pattern. Everything seemed like I was going to get the job. 


Then bad news came a few days later. 


They passed on me. 


I called Celine immediately on Zoom and we discussed what was the next steps. 


“How do you feel about Asia? Particularly, India,” she asked.


I had no qualms about moving countries, but India seemed to be a bit foreign. I thought Celine would have some Korean connections, but India was the location she was pushing me to. I didn’t know what to do. But I said anywhere, so I took an interview with Kerala FC in Calicut, not expecting anything but more experience. I thought I would have to go semi-professional and work my way up the long way, taking on part-time gigs to supplement my income. 


I had begun searching for work outside of football that would supplement a part-time coach’s salary in a variety of countries: Northern Ireland, Wales, England, Ireland, Norway. If it had a semi-professional team, I was gearing up to apply for it with the list of teams Celine had forwarded me.


Little did I know that fate would want me to go somewhere where I would be uncomfortable. Few days after my interview with Kerala FC, they offered me the job. After discussing it with Celine, we figured it was worth rebuilding my reputation there. 


I accepted the job and packed my bags for India.


When I got to India, the apartment I was put in was smaller than the one I had in Ukraine, but it was fine. I didn’t need a ton of space. Besides, this was going to be a brief stop on my journey back to European football. I looked at the training facilities, and they weren’t bad by Indian standards, but they could be better. The team, however, had some holes. OK, it had a lot of holes, but none that I couldn’t fix without signing a few things. The first thing I did was sign a few foreign players in the form of Gao Huaze and Timothy Potteiger to fill a few of the holes in the attacking midfield and goaltending areas specifically. I picked up quite a few Indian-born players to round out the roster since I could only have five foreign players. 


After interviewing and meeting the team, I figured the best way to play for my team. I settled on a 4-3-3 formation. The biggest thing I had learned from my time in Ukraine was to let the players learn the formation and learn how to play instead of constantly panicking and tweaking the formation because of how we played. When we lost my debut 2-0 to Delhi FC in the Durand Cup, I didn’t let it bother me. I had to trust the process. It happened to work as we ended up winning our next two games 4-2, 2-0 respectively before being eliminated from the Durand Cup in the quarterfinals in extra time. 


The three friendlies after the Durand Cup gave me hop, going 2-0-1, but I didn’t expect to win the next seven games in a row before inexplicably losing a 1-0 game to an inferior opponent. The hot start, however, was enough to put us in first place. Not much ended up changing after that, we only lost one more league game and finished the 20-game season with 14-2-4 to win my first trophy.


When it was all over, I took a breath and felt relieved. The Ukraine fiasco was behind me, and I had officially won a trophy. Now, that’s not to say it was the most challenging league, but I still felt like accomplished. I went back to my apartment and immediately called my agent to talk about my plans for the next season.


“So, what now?” Celine asked.


“Let’s run it back,” I replied.


With that, I signed an extension with Kerala FC and started prepping for the next season.

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