Kick-Off (Episode 5 – Shep: Managerial Globetrotter)

It started with my team spontaneously combusting and ended with me renting a flat in Sunderland. Scary stuff.

First things first. Congrats to the Colorado Rapids for winning the American Challenge Cup. They kept their momentum after demolishing ourselves in good fashion and beat Veracruz 3-1 in the final. Victory might taste sweet now but the Rapids are the first team in my long list of teams that I seek revenge against. My personal vendetta itinerary.

Anyway, let’s focus back on us. There’s just a week and a half until we kick off in the Primera and getting ready for the season is our main focus. J-League side Urawa Reds bid £370’000 for Aguirre fresh off the plane; it’s declined pretty easily. He’s our only decent keeper under 35 so a polite rendition of ‘fuck off’ is given. Club America receives the same response the next day after lodging £510’000 for our captain with Monterrey completing the trio of expletives when they offer the exact same amount for Gabby. Just fuck off.

One offer that does make me scratch my chin and ponder however is Polish side Jagielloia Bialystok asking to take Jeferson Torres on loan for the season. Playing in the top tier in an European league is a big deal but I feel like Jeferson has a part to play for us, especially when rotation is ripe later on in the season. I turn it down and offer them another promising young holding midfielder called Jose Jaimes but they aren’t too keen on the idea. Worth a try.

All these transfer offers coming in have me hassling my scouts for updated reports and potential future signings. There’s no news on a striker that fits my clincial, strong target man mold yet unfortunately. But, there has been a breakthrough on the wing back front.

21 year old left back Braian Cufre. Currently turning out for Velez Sarsfield in his homeland of Argentina, Eugenio is confident he can slot into our team seamlessly already. Reading his report, it’s hard to argue why. Reasonably quick, a bit of muscle and the engine needed in a modern fullback, he definitely ticks all the boxes. Not to mention that his room to improve is virtually uncapped. When I contact Sarsfield about making an offer, they tell me they are unwilling to sell but upon further investigation, Eugenio finds out that he has a release clause of £1’000’000. So I offer it and bypass a stand-off with the club completely. Try and stop me now.

I have a video call with Braian and his agent. Everything goes swimmingly. He wants to be a rotation player which is exactly what I had in mind. He agrees on just £1’600 a week with a £10’000 bonus for signing on. His agent does try to slap on a release cause which is double of what we’ve paid for him but I audibly snarl upon that suggestion. Does he really think I’m that stupid to allow a release clause so he can be sniped against my will? Does he think I’m Velez Sarsfield?

Luckily, his agent backs down as Cufre seems very keen to join the club which makes me happy. I honestly thought it would be harder than this to convince him but I’m guessing my willingness to pay his release clause shows my faith in him. The contract is drafted, the papers are signed and he takes the #3 jersey.

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Yes, I may have overspent right now but I can guarantee it will be worth it in the long run. He looks like a great addition already and the perfect candidate to take over from Rodriguez when he returns to Aguilas next summer. Welcome my first signing, Braian Cufre.

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Closing my first deal of the window spurs me on to have a look around and see what transfers have been happening elsewhere. There’s not that many of note in all honestly but a couple do catch my eye. The first is Albanian full back Elseid Hysaj moves to Barcelona for £23’500’000 in what I think is finally the perfect replacement for Dani Alves. The other is young Italian midfielder Nicolo Barella joining Brighton from Cagliari for £16’700’000. A signing for the future to say the least. Even if Brighton can’t hold onto him for longer than a couple seasons, I’m sure they’ll turn a decent profit on him.

The 21st arrives quickly as my life for the week prior is just repeating a cycle. Waking up an hour before walking to the Alfonso Lopez. Staff meetings, training and the odd bit of media coverage. A slow meander to a nearby restaurant to collect my pre-ordered delicacies and falling asleep after reviewing clips of our Primera A opponents. It might sound tedious or somewhat mundane but this is as far out of my depth I’ve ever been in my life. Having some structure to follow and minimal surprises suits me just fine.

Game day. The only time I second guess the starting eleven that’s been set in stone for weeks is as I shoot up from a sweat drenched bed following a nightmare. I can’t remember the details but I’m sure it started with my team spontaneously combusting and ended with me renting a flat in Sunderland. Scary stuff.

Our team for Pasto is exactly the same as the team that started against Atlas 2 weeks ago except Ramos takes his well-earned spot in goal. I can’t justify playing Delgado after his awful first half showing against the Colorado Rapids. It’s a very overcast day in Pasto but that hasn’t deterred the fans from coming out in numbers and filling the Estadio Departmental Libertdad. We’ve even got a decent Bucaramanga following which is surprising considering it’s a twenty hour drive. While the last few lads are tying boots and sorting shinpads, I feed Ricardo my pre-game talk. To be fair to him, he delivers it passionately and seems to get the lads pumped up. It wasn’t anything special and half of it was ripped straight from Braveheart but who cares. I take a deep inhale once the changing room has emptied and head towards the beckoning roars of eager South American fans. Let’s win this and get the season started.

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The first chance of my competitive tenure is a Pasto one. In the 11th minute, a deep corner from Hernandez is met by de la Cuesta at the back post who puts a bullet header onto the woodwork. It’s quickly cleared but fuck me, that was too close for comfort. That close call seems to kick us into gear however and we start taking a hold on the game. 10 minutes later, Rangel cuts out a Pasto pass and lays it off to Salazar. He chips a pass to Quintero who plays Romero on the spin. He takes a touch into the 18 yard box before hammering it past the keeper and into the top left corner. It’s a beautiful finish from him and I’m happy to see us looking lively, responding rapidly. Celebrations in front of the away fans are short but sweet. There’s still plenty of football to play but for now, it’s 1-0.

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It takes another 20 minutes for another spell of noteworthy play when Marlon Torres takes the ball forward like a Colombian John Stones, weaving round the desperate lunges of the Pasto front line. He smacks the ball forward for the run of Rodriguez but his ball hits Rangel’s back. It falls nicely for Marlon to take a second bite of the apple with a ball swung in for the back post but it’s an inch too far for Fabio to connect with a diving header. We keep up the high pressure and are rewarded when Rodriguez forces a mistake before linking up with Rangel. After a couple of short passes, the wing back fizzes a pearler of a ball behind for Salazar. Copete does well to stop Kevin’s low cross from falling to Rangel but Romero pounces on the poor touch and toe punts the ball home from 8 yards for his second. A nice cushion before half-time and a brace from Sergio makes me a very happy manager. In fact, all I can do is smile and clap to my team at the interval. I really need to learn Spanish.

Pasto don’t want to give up without a fight as a few minutes after kick-off, they display some easy on the eye passing triangles before squaring across to Rodriguez who releases a shot that’s caught well by Ramos. He hasn’t had to do much, and that’s a credit to our strong back line of course, but the occasional wonder save is much appreciated. Shortly after, more delightful hold up play from Rangel leaves Romero to be played round the back. He tries to pick out the run of Salazar but Alcatraz lives up to his name by guarding his goal with a valiant block. The ball manages to bounce up for Salazar to chest down and strike past the keeper but it rattles the crossbar.

Just after the hour mark, Gonzalez continues his outstanding form with a last ditch sliding challenge to stop Pasto forward Rodriguez from getting a shot off. His long ball up the pitch is nodded down to Romero by his strike partner. He hooks a ball over to Salazar who lays it back into the run of Rangel. He tries to put a cross into the box but it’s cleared by de la Cuesta as far as Cardenas who smacks a volley wide. That’s his last kick of the day as he follows Salazar and Harold Gomez off the pitch with Rovira, Perez and new signing Cufre coming on for the last half an hour. Rodriguez switches to right back to accommodate for our debutant.

With 15 minutes left, a Ramos goal kick is flicked out to the wing for Rovira. He bursts away down the byline and carries it a whole 40 yards before drilling a low ball into the box. Rangel leaps over the ball after hearing a Romero shout but it’s in vain as he scuffs the ball into the ground and all momentum is lost. He really should putting that away and claiming the match ball with that golden chance. Luckily for him, he’s not left to regret it as the game ends at 2-0 with no further chances except a late free kick from Perez landing on the roof of the net.

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It was a game with limited points of interest but we made sure to finish anything we could. Actually, that’s a statement both supported and dispelled by Romero. His second shown that killer instinct as he sprung into action by exploiting a Pasto error but he also had a couple openings where he could have completed his hat-trick. Regardless, we’ve kicked off the season with a win and I couldn’t be happier. Roll on Leones, roll on next week, roll on the rest of this season.

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