Building Speed (Episode 8 – Shep: Managerial Globetrotter)

Maybe I have to be a twat sometimes.

“You’re right, it is working but could something else work better?” The questions hangs in the air for a moment before Ricardo answers by proposing another question.

“Does it need to change? Is there any reason for it to change or is it just taking a step back?” It’s a tough question to answer. Despite that valiant display at Junior and positive showing against Tolima, I can’t help but feel like we’re one cog turn away from it. What ‘it’ is, I do not know but we’re within reach. One more turn of the wrench and we’ll be it, we’ll have it. We’re right there but I can’t figure out what we need to do to get it. I slump back into my chair and pop open the bottle of whiskey next to me. Extending a half filled glass to my assistant, we clink glasses and let the burning sensation explore our mouths before lighting up my throat.

“Fuck me” I cough painfully. “That’s fucking lighter fluid Ricky, what are you playing at?” He chuckles to himself before finishing his own glass and lifting me out of my chair to escort me home. Maybe he’s right and no tinkering is needed. It’s working for now but I’ll continue behind closed doors to try and crack it. He can’t stop me there, no matter how much WD-40 he puts down my neck.

Now then, Jaguares. One of the three other teams in the league who also have 9 points but their record is split 50/50 with three wins and three losses. They also have a -3 goal difference after a few high scoring losses to the big boys so a win here would really help make a gap between ourselves and them.

Marlon Torres and Cufre are back into the mix with Jeferson Torres also getting a chance to impress in the midfield. Rolls Royce are leading the line again and in an attempt to encourage some friendly competition for places, fringe players such as Mojica and Filigrana are on the bench.

img_1081

You know those games of football where the entire 90 minutes blend together into one or two notable moments, a break somewhere around the middle and a sense of gratefulness when the final whistle blows, regardless of the result? This was one of the games. The first half  has next to no interesting areas except a Cufre cross finding Rangel after a deflection but his header goes a couple yards over. The second half carries the complete dull numb feeling as nothing happens until there’s only quarter of an hour left. Some slow build up play from the Bucaramanga boys let’s Rangel peel away and be released down the near side by Jeferson Torres. He cuts back onto his stronger foot and attempts to slot Salazar in but Castillo gets there first. Luckily, he fluffs his clearance as it bounces off the shin of Salazar directly to Romero who wastes no time in smashing it over the shoulder of the goalkeeper to give us the lead.

img_1082

Vallecilla, Filigrana and Mojica are all subbed on in the remaining time but the game doesn’t break free from it’s own self-inflicted shackles as it uneventfully grinds to a halt. It was boring, it wasn’t pretty but we got another three points and that’s all that matters.

img_1083

Those same three points take us into double digits with us now sitting on 12 points. That’s just over half the points available to us so far which is a record I’m quietly pleased about. If we take just over half the total points up for grabs across the Apetura, we’d be sitting around the 30 mark and considering 29 points was enough to seal 8th place for Bucaramanga in last season’s Apetura, I’d fancy our chances of advancing to the knockout stages.

And what better time to further boost our chances of a knockout spot with a game against winless Boyaca Chico. That being said, the only team worse than them is Leones who held us to a draw but my point still stands. Another win today would move us up to fourth for a couple days and while that prospect is mouthwatering to myself, there’s a huge game elsewhere which will dominate the media attention as Junior host Deportivo Cali in a top of the table clash. Both teams are unbeaten and will want to keep that record in tact so it’ll be interesting to see who comes out on top.

Now while the TV cameras aren’t looking at us right now, picking up points is always a way we can force ourselves into the limelight. I want to task our two target men in Rangel and Morison with getting us the goals today as they both start up top together. Aguirre gets a shot in goal as he hasn’t played in a long time and we need him match ready in case the ageing bones of Ramos or Delgado aren’t 100%. Vallecilla’s also starting as he’s done fairly well when called upon so far. Jhon Perez is a player who really hasn’t impressed me during his limited game time yet and with his contract ending in December, he has to prove to me why he deserves a renewal sooner rather than later. He plays behind the big men.

img_1084

It takes 25 minutes for the deadline to be broken when Vallecilla thumps a Chico ball clear to Gomez. Morison just stays onside as Gabby curls a ball down the line for him. Steve beautifully half volleys a cross into the mixer and Rangel rises high to meet it with his head but he hits the post. We keep the pressure on Los Ajedrezados though and manage to win a corner. Cardenas puts a perfect ball into the centre for Gabby to leap and power home with his forehead. It’s a great header from the captain to give us the lead as he made sure nobody was stopping that, aiming for the side netting.

img_1085

10 minutes later, a Cardenas ball makes Rangel battle with Tapia but he comes out on top and finds the head of Morison with a cross but it’s a poor attempt that flies a yard over the crossbar. Steve shouts in frustration as he knows that should be at least on target. He makes it for it not even 2 minutes later when a replica of the previous move takes place. The Cardenas ball, the Rangel battle and cross. Except Morison decides to meet this cross with an exquisite glancing header than clips against the inside of the far post before nestling into the back of the net. After celebrating with the team, he looks to me and flashes a wink my way before chasing down the ball following kick off. The silver haired fox strikes again.

Half-time arrives and it’s a routine ‘same again’ affair. Chico haven’t even looked like threatening so I’m pretty confident we can do the same for another 45 minutes and come out with the clean sheet that has eluded me this far into the league.

After the first six or seven minutes of the first half, I’m sleepily settling down into my seat to watch my team effortlessly hold possession and see the game out to a 2-0 win. But when Vallecilla nutmegs a Chico midfielder before pacing away from another, I sit up in my seat. His cross is headed out by Monroy but Gabby leaps up to head the ball back into the box. It bounces to around chest height as it reaches Steve Morison but is he fazed? Does he resign to the fact that he can’t possibly get anything on the ball at that height? Of course he doesn’t. Steve laughs in the face of adversary, throwing all 200 pounds of his body into the air and connecting with a flying scissor kick that floats straight into the top right. I leap up and nearly knock myself unconscious on the roof of the subs bench but I battle through the pain to applaud the Welshman. What a stunning goal to put this game to bed, even this early on. 3-0, Morison brace. Dream land.

img_1086

With 25 minutes left, Nunez and Jimenez replace Gomez and Perez. Jhon didn’t play badly today but he also didn’t play well. Very, very mediocre and being mediocre isn’t gonna break you into this team. About 10 minutes pass when Jimenez tries to pass the ball out of our box but its bounces to Jossymar Gomez. He runs it wide and passes it into the box for Valdes who turns and gets his shot off over the leg of Torres and into the top corner. We’ve thrown away yet another clean sheet and while I don’t see our opponents coming back to press for a point, I bring on Rovira for Cardenas and ask the team to defend for the last 15 minutes which they do without any real trouble. The game finishes 3-1 and while it’s our best performance to date, the clean sheet issue needs to be addressed. The team walk back in, cheerful and patting each other’s backs but I remain steely faced and give them a bit of a bollocking. After a solid victory, it might seem unnecessary but so is conceding a goal when you’re controlling a game 3-0 up. I can tell I’ve pissed some people off but maybe I have to be a twat sometimes. I might not be the twat this club wants, but I’ll be damned if I’m not the twat this club needs.

img_1087

It seems like the media have bucked up their ideas as Morison receives particular well deserved praise in the papers the next morning. Morison and his brace earned him his first Man of the Match award in a Bucaramanga shirt and there’s even a section highlighting the potential partnership between himself and Rangel. They played off each other well and it’s good to know that a Rangel/Morison partnership is an option. We just need Michael to find the back of the net and we’ll be unstoppable.

img_1088

Speaking of unstoppable, Junior won their fixture 2-1 meaning they are the last unbeaten team. Currently, we’re the only team to take anything from them and we did it in their own back yard. I make sure to remind the lads of that in training because if we manage our third win in a row, we’ll be keeping pace with them too. Santa Fe are the visiting side today and being only a point behind us, stamping them down the table with a victory would be lovely.

It’s basically our strongest side lining up today with Ramos and Torres starting. Morison is the man dropped to the bench as I really want Rangel to get off the mark. He understands and begrudgingly submits to his place on the bench. Santa Fe striker Wilson Morelo is the man leading their 4-1-4-1 formation today and after taking the match ball home last time out, he’ll be confident in front of goal again today I imagine.

img_1089

Not even 5 minutes in, a good switch from Cardenas lands nicely at the feet of Harold Gomez and he plays it forward to Quintero. One more pass up for Salazar allows him to spin and pass along to Rangel. He lays it off for Cardenas about 20 yards out who laces a shot through the legs of Giraldo but Castellanos gets across his goal quickly to palm away for a corner. Unfortunately, it’s a poor one that leads to a Santa Fe counter but Gabby Gomez does well to break it down with a string of tackles.

In the 18th minute, Sergio Romero goes up for a header in the centre circle and takes a while getting to his feet holding that same bloody shoulder. Surely, that thing must be made of fucking fiberglass. I’m debating whether to leave him on as he was fine the last couple times but when he slides in and picks up a silly yellow, I signal for Morison to start warming up. He comes off shortly after and has a bit of a sulk but I can’t justify leaving a half injured, cautioned liability on the field for 70 minutes.

Quarter of an hour after Morison’s first touch, Giraldo is bombing into our half with Cufre stuck between tracking the runner behind him or closing him down. His indecisiveness is exposed as a weighted ball is put down the line for Carboleda. Braian can’t get there quick enough and his first time cross is behind most of the runners but Seijas arrives on the edge to tap it forward for Morelo to whip a shot into the bottom left from 8 yards. A lethal counter attack  from Santa Fe and we’re 1-0 down despite being on top for the first half an hour.

img_1090

It doesn’t take us long to get ourselves back into the match as it’s only 3 minutes after Santa Fe take the lead when we equalise. Gabby Gomez picks up the ball around 10 yards into the Santa Fe half and looks for a give and go with Salazar. Kevin opts for a different option however, offloading to Cardenas. His ball is drilled into Morison who hits it first time through the legs of Lopez and almost through the legs of Moya. If it went straight through, it would have been a relatively comfortable save for the keeper but the ball clips the back of Moya’s calf muscle, redirecting the ball towards the near post. Santa Fe can only watch as their keeper collapses to his right and the ball trickles past his foot to make it 1-1. It’s a bit of luck but we’re entitled to a bit of luck every now and then.

Half-time comes and goes and the first 20-25 of the second half are pass by with the same effect, both sides looking hesitant to commit to any attacks. I bring Nunez and Rovira on for Cardenas and Salazar in hopes that some fresher players in the middle will spur us forward. It almost backfires instantly as a deep cross from Seijas catches Rovira out. Ardoleda outjumps him to put it on a plate for Morelo but Ramos spreads himself well and blocks the effort from point blank range with his chest. That a boy Ramos, that a boy.

With 10 minutes left, it’s looking the spoils are going to be shared with both ourselves and Santa Fe standing resolute at the back. But, when Palacios clips a ball beautifully over the head of sub striker Valencia, the play seems to open up. Gabby takes the ball from him and sees the Santa Fe right back being dragged central, leaving Nunez wide open to receive a pass. Lopez sprints over to cover as Maxi sets himself but it’s too late. His thunderous shot, originally destined for the bottom left, takes a cruel deflection of the instep of the centre back’s foot but maintains it’s venom. As the ball soars into the top right, I can’t help but feel guilty when I leap up and hug Ricardo. Both of our goals have been borderline disgusting but there is no question that we have been the better team and deserving of a 2-1 lead.

img_1091

Santa Fe heads can’t seem to raise again and they pretty much let us pass it around to see the game out. Rangel has a couple potshots blocked in added time and his desperation is really starting to show. It’s been almost 700 minutes of football since he found the back of the net and I can’t help but think a penalty or deflected strike of his own would mean the world to him right now. On the bright side, we’re on a roll with our third straight win and we couldn’t have done it without the leadership of Gomez who put in a true captains performance. He was brilliant at both ends of the pitch, breaking down or starting attacks.

img_1092

The final whistle of that game means finally battled through what’s been a long, grueling February in which we’ve played 7 games. 14 points out of a possible 21 for the month and 18 points altogether is not bad going at all considering we’ve played Junior, Nacional, Deportivo Cali and Santa Fe. We’re playing some solid football, scoring a few goals and are currently smack bank in middle of the knockout spots, occupying fourth place. Happy days.

img_1094

The 2nd of each month is the day that our youth scout comes back to me with a list of potential stars (hopefully) but while I wait for his arrival, I call Jhon Perez into my office. Funds are ridiculously tight and I want to get some deals sorted in the summer window. Jhon is the only player I don’t need, don’t want and we physically own that’s worth any sort of substantial fee. If you’re clever enough, you’ll realise that the meeting is to inform Jhon he is now transfer listed. I was going to wait a little longer but with his contract ending this year, I want to list him now and see if some club wants to take him in time for the Clasura so we can get some money for him. If it reaches July and we don’t have a deal sorted, any deal from that point will most likely be a Bosman rule deal between himself and prospective clubs. Which means no transfer fee and a player we won’t use on our books until next season. It does mean that he needs to be advertised to potential buyers so I make sure to emphasise that putting in the graft and showcasing himself over the next few months can only be beneficial for both him and the club. Ricardo valued him around the million mark in January so I’m expecting around £750’000 for him if an offer does come in. Fingers crossed.

Shortly after, Gallardo comes back with a slight skip in his step which prompts me to think he has an array of young talented Colombian’s for me to drool over. But skimming through his report, it’s disappointing. There’s nobody who really jumps out. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a couple lads who could be decent players but we don’t want decent. More importantly, Alvarez doesn’t want decent. He wants the next James Rodriguez, the next Falcao, the next Valderrama. I look up in disappointment but Lisandro’s postive vibe doesn’t waver.

“I have to ask” I say as I close the file. “What are you so excited about? All of these seem okay but okay isn’t good enough. And okay shouldn’t make a top scout this…happy.”

Lisandro smirks as he pulls a smaller file from under the desk and slides it across the table.

“Andreas Neumann. 17 year old, German. Centre forward who is making waves over in Europe. He’s got the potential Shep, I promise you. I heard about him through a few friends in the network and he’s desperate for a chance in any first team.” He leans closer and stares directly into my eyes while tapping the file. “Anywhere.”

His file is impressive. Andreas has been ripping up the semi-pro leagues in Germany and has had scouts from clubs like Hoffenheim and Everton snooping around. That’s enough convincing for me so I get in touch with Andreas and his parents sharpish. I explain to them that while a professional contract isn’t the offer today, he will signed up to the first team after a month or so. I spent all that money knocking up some youth facilities and Andreas would act as a guinea pig to test them all out before getting his reward of first team football. Also, signing him up fully would leave us with literal pennies in the bank and an even more pissed off chairman. But, at least I have something to show to him now. Andreas Neumann, you may think the Primera A isn’t the most glamorous of leagues to start your career in but trust me when I say it’s an experience. It will provide you with qualities you didn’t think you could obtain, give you a test to see if you can not only make the continental switch but if you can own it. And most importantly, it will nurture you into a footballer. And, with my guidance, a bloody good one at that.

img_1093

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s