Positivity (Episode 17 – Shep: Managerial Globetrotter)

This is the point at which my ‘new life’ has simply become ‘life’.

“Ricky, I wish I could but you know how it is right now. Money is tight and it’s not really my place to say.” I tap away at my keyboard while my assistant manager slowly paces up and down the room.

“Por favor Connor. I just ask you bring it up to Alvarez, I’m sure he’ll…”

“I’m gonna stop you there mate” I interject. “Oscar isn’t exactly my biggest fan, he wants me to make money so trying to give more money away won’t go down well. While I can send out scouts and bring players in with his money, I can’t give you a pay raise without his approval. Go and have a word with him, not me.” Gervais opens his mouth but stops himself before nodding and backing out of my office. He definitely deserves a bigger paycheck as he does just as much as I do around here but I can’t give him that. I’ll obviously push for him to get a bonus but my relationship with Alvarez isn’t exactly built on trust. I’m getting there with my team doing the talking but it’s a long way before I can go into his office and ask for pay raises.

Back to footballing matters, Boyaca Chico are the unfortunate bunch to face us next as we’re on a five game win streak. Aguirre is in goal while Vallecilla and Gonzalez return to our back line. Quintero and Asprilla also start with Morison and Romero up front. Romero scored a brace a few days ago so let’s hope he can carry that momentum on and grab another goal or two today. Of course the main aim to get three points, regardless of the goal scorers but seeing Romero bang in goals regularly would be a welcomed positive.

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It only takes 12 minutes for the deadlock to be broken. Gabby clears a wayward pass up the pitch and it’s flicked on by Cardenas for Vallecilla. Morison drags wide to create an option and receives. He turns back and crosses for Romero who hits a waist height volley from the edge of the box round into the top left corner. A classy little finish for his third goal in two games and an equally pleasing bit of build up play to work the ball from defence to attack. It’s almost reminiscent of Zidane against Leverkusen as it’s a quality bit of technique to keep it down.

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The game settles into a more disciplined affair for the remainder of the first half but a few minutes from time, Boyaca get themselves back into the game. We’re unable to clear a Chico corner past Romero and they do well to work the ball back into our box. Juan Diaz lays it off to Edwar Gonzalez who swings his leg back high before tapping a forward pass to Valdes. His attempted trickery works as Vallecilla is playing him onside, allowing him all the time he needs to smash past Aguirre from eight yards out. Our wing back does raise his hands in an apologetic way but it doesn’t rescind his error.

Once the second half kicks off, Jhon Gomez must have gave the half-time team talk on his life as they come right back at us. Rodas takes the ball past Quintero and Asprilla in the 49th minute before passing to Valdes. Torres can’t tackle him before he shoots but Aguirre pulls a strong right handed save out of the bag to keep us level. About ten minutes later, Juan Diaz hoofs a 50 yard diagonal ball towards Rodas but Harold and Aguirre are both intent on getting there first. The ball bounces off the back of Rodas’ head with Aguirre’s attempted punch missing both player and ball while Gomez has a foot raised in a desperate hope of clearing the danger. After the amalgamation of Colombian footballers, the referee blows his whistle and points to the spot. It’s awarded for Harold’s foot which is a fair argument seeming as his foot was around chest height. It’s only when Ricky tells me do I realise that this is the first ever penalty awarded under my management which is a bizarre statistic. Especially for the feisty leagues of South America.

I bring on Rovira for a tired Cardenas before the penalty can be taken and whilst I needed Sherman off the pitch anyways, it’s also a mind game. Making that sub right now gives Mosquera, the Chico penalty taker, more time to think. He might have had the top right set in stone as he placed the ball down but as he has to wait for Rovira to slowly jog over to the box, doubt could creep in. What about the bottom left? What if I try to chip it down the middle. Do I put my laces through it or pick my spot? All those thoughts rushing through his head as he takes a couple steps back. The referee, now satisfied with the positioning of the players outside the box, gives a sharp blow on his whistle. He runs up, sweeps across to his left and watches in disappointment as the ball bobbles wide of the post. Aguirre dived to the right but luckily, I got into his head. 1-1 it remains.

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In the 67th minute, I bring Cufre and Neumann on for Asprilla and Harold Gomez in a hope to inject some fresh pace into our game. Not even five minutes pass before I’m almost made to regret one of the changes as Diaz and Rodas knock the ball around Cufre with ease before the latter hits a bullet from outside the box that whistles past the post.

With four minutes of normal time left on the clock, Neumann threads Morison down the side and Steve uses his imposing frame to protect the ball from the opposition. He uses a few nice touches to manuover round a tackle and drills a pass to the far side for Vallecilla. He controls and sets himself with his first touch and hits a grass cutter that kisses the base of the far post to the audible displeasure of the Bucaramanga fans. It would have been a disgusting goal if it nestled into the bottom corner.

Alas, the game comes to a close and with it, our perfect record evaporates into the Santander air. Our unbeaten run is still in tact however, and seeing as it was far from our best showing, I would say a point is a good and fair result. If either team deserved to win, it was Chico.

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In a surprising development from my conversation with Ricky a couple days ago, Alvarez swallows his pride and sends me an email saying the job we’ve done with Neumann is admirable. He can’t wait to see him thrive under my guidance and hopes more talent is waiting to be found and nurtured in our youth academy. I avoid the glaring temptation to reply with smug undertones and thank him for his words while placing a mere suggestion of Ricky’s impact sneakily into my response. Building bridges people, building bridges.

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Nunez joins Asprilla in the complaints department, requesting more game time and I make the same promises to him that I did to Yuber. It will come very soon and at a high volume too. Jiangsu Suning cap off an eventual day with a whopping £2’050’000 bid for our young German starlet. It’s a hell of a lot of money, especially for this club but he’s happy here and sees a move to Asia as a distinct downgrade and I have to agree. If he’s going anyway, Europe is his inevitable destination.

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The transfer dealing that really interests me me however is 19 year old Andres Alvarez signing for Swindon Town. The fee was only £250’000 but they signed him from fellow Primera A side America de Cali. This deal means English clubs are watching our players and our teams. Consequently, English clubs are watching me.

Elsewhere in the transfer market, Jamie Vardy has made the switch to Germany. £24’300’000 was the price to let Schalke lure the cult hero away from Leicester and I imagine he’s getting a pretty penny too. Jerome Boateng also makes an unexpected move to Atletico Madrid for a much more substantial fee of £47’200’000. The thought of him and Godin as a partnership is unfair. They might as well stick a brick wall up in front of Oblak instead.

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It seems like good news just keeps on coming. Junior lost to Huila the other day which means we are top of the league. Tolima are also unbeaten but with four draws and two wins putting them down in 7th place. Our next opponents La Equidad have had the most average start possible with two wins, two draws and two losses on their record whilst they have scored and conceded eight goals.

The Equidad game is before the match-up against our first quote unquote ‘big’ side in Santa Fe so ideally, I’d want our best team fit to face them. But, after facing them, we’ll play America de Cali and Once Caldas who are in 5th and 6th retrospectively within the following week so our strength in depth is going to be tested over the following fortnight.

Ramos keeps his spot in-between the sticks. Cufre and Rodriguez are our wing backs and seeming as La Equidad have chosen a midfield heavy 3-5-2, instead of their usual 4-2-3-1, they have my blessing to bomb forward as much as possible to drag the centre backs out wide and create gaps in the middle. Jeferson Torres and Jaimes are both in midfield with today with our Argentine wet blanket Nunez as the creator. Neumann supports Rangel as a striker.

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It takes just over half an hour before either team has a chance and it starts when Jaimes shoulder barges a man off the ball then backheels it to Torres. An Equidad defender drags out of their line so Jeferson chips a ball over into the gap for Rangel to volley but Novoa does well to throw a hand up and parry away. It looked like it was going over anyways but doesn’t mean the save was any less impressive. That’s literally the only chance of a mind-numbing first half so I ask for us to attack them in the second half and try to force a breakthrough.

Literally nothing. Twenty five minutes into the second half, some tight first touch passing from Equidad leaves Zapata open from 16 yards to smash his shot just wide of the far post. As that was that first attempt of attacking play for the entire second half, I use all my subs in one go with Palacios, Cardenas and Romero coming on for Jaimes, Gabby and Nunez. Palacios will again take up the holding midfield role for the remainder of this game while Neumann will drop back to accommodate for Rolls Royce.

0-0. Ninety minutes and we couldn’t even muster a shot on target all game, which while it’s undoubtedly uncharacteristic, is not fucking good enough. We might have gotten lucky and played against a team as evenly uninspiring as ourselves but we need to do better than that.

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Another peculiar big transfer that adds to this crazy summer window is Fernandinho trading the gloomy skies and sky blue of Manchester for the borderline Mediterranean climate and sky blue of Naples as he puts pen to paper for Napoli. He is arguably the integral part of that City side that allows everyone else to shine so it’ll be interesting to see how they perform without him.

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Back in Colombia though, life in Bucaramanga has finally become the norm. Up until recently, this almost felt like a really long holiday with a job thrown into it. But the difference is that fact there’s no difference. When you live your life day-to-day, it’s the lack of change or variation that usually goes unnoticed. However, when adjusting to a new life altogether, the realisation that nothing has changed from the last day? Or the day before that? This is the point at which my ‘new life’ has simply become ‘life’. It’s a comforting acknowledgement that the risk I took in December last year was worthwhile.

As Santa Fe are the strongest side on paper we’ll face in August and we’re just one game away from being unbeaten for the whole month, our best available eleven start bar a few exclusions. Morison and Romero are in front of Salazar, Rovira replaces Gabby in the middle but elsewhere, it’s the starting eleven I’d choose every week if fitness and injuries weren’t an issue.

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We get off to a promising start when a bit of footwork combined with a few give and go’s leaves Salazar free to shoot from the edge of the area just a minute in but it’s mere centimetres away from the right side of the post. We really bombard Santa Fe for the next 20 minutes and finally get our reward when Romero is in possession with his back towards goal. He dinks a ball out wide for Gabby to collect and he does so with a heavy flick back that loses the defender. He whips in a cross with pace that Cardenas meets with a bullet header to give us the lead. For a team that plays a narrow formation, we create more often than not from wide positions and score a large amount of volleys and headers. Make of that what you will.

In the 38th minute, another loanee who’s really stepped up his game in Rovira plays a great ball for Romero to run onto but Sergio fluffs his chance with his poor outside the boot effort sailing closer to the corner flag that the goal. We come in 1-0 up at half-time and I make the sole change with Vallecilla taking over from Cufre at left back.

Ten minutes into the second half, Salazar sets our sub wing back away with a fancy flick and Marvin curls a ball round the back for Morison. He looks up and finishes it beautifully into the far bottom corner with his left but celebrations are cut short as the linesman has his flag raised. It’s a very close call but a correct one so respect to the man in black on the far side.

We’re not made to regret officials actually doing their job correctly for too long though as we add our second goal on the hour mark. Salazar is doing what he does, taking the piss out of the Santa Fe midfield and plays a lovely ball over for Morison running down the touchline. His first time cross is a high and arced one for Romero to assess but he leaps up and bicycle kicks it down past the keepers left leg and into the back of the net. While it’s not got the same wow factor of an acrobatic goal that finds the top corner, it’s still an amazing piece of skill from him to pull that off. Castellanos does get a fingertip on it but he can’t keep it out of his net.

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In the 65th minute, I bring Mojica on for Salazar and a couple minutes later, he’s already having an impact. Our corner falls to Gonzalez who was back tracking out of the box. He tries to pass to Cardenas but his pass deflects to Mojica who attempts to find the bottom right with a finessed shot but Castellanos is fully extended to push that away for another corner. That corner comes to nothing unfortunately and in the 71st minute, I make my third and final change with Gabby replacing Cardenas for a more defensive set up.

In the 82nd minute, Morison is again played down the near side, this time by Rovira. His front post cross is an absolute beaut and Mojica floats in almost as if he was sitting open legged in mid air to glance it past the keeper for 3-0. Unusual but appealing technique from Harrison as it’s a nice goal to watch. He’s came out with a point to prove today and it has been noted by his manager. It’s also been noted how my requests for defensive football aren’t necessarily met the majority of the time but if we’re winning games, who gives a fuck?

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We nullify Santa Fe’s late push for a consolation goal in the remaining time and hold on for a solid 3-0 win. An well rounded performance today with the main surprise being Mojica’s display. It’s the first time he’s looked exciting in the yellow and green of Bucaramanga so he’s looking likely to start the next game. This result also means we finish August unbeaten which is a proud statistic I’ll be sure to bring up to the press, to Alvarez. Hell, to any fucker who’ll listen.

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Another promising statistic after that game is that Ramos currently has five clean sheets in all of his five appearances. It’s unreal that he’s turning 38 in a few months and still proving he’s one of the best keepers in Colombia. However, with Delgado retiring and Loaiza being a lackluster third choice, a goalkeeper will need to brought in over the next season or so to prepare for his retirement. Our scouting network has pointed out a couple options but we won’t look into them too much until the season has finished.

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Now when Alvarez calls me for a quick chat, I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of dread. Our relationship has been on a rocky road for some time now and not the good kind with marshmallows and chocolate. But when I enter his office today, there’s a smile spread across his face. Not a fake grin or a deceiving smirk. A genuine smile.

“Shep, please come round to my side of the desk.” He ushers me round until we’re both admiring the Estadio Alfonso Lopez through his window wall. I know that’s not their official name but I couldn’t tell you what they’re actually called. I discreetly shuffle, uncomfortably waiting for him to break the silence. He lifts his right arm up and wraps it round my shoulder in a unexpected move of endearment.

“I know we don’t see eye-to-eye but I must thank you.” I turn to him, the confusion evidently shown by my scrunched face. “Six home games in a row” he laughs. “We have sold every single ticket. For the first time in years.” He turns to face me and places both hands on my shoulders.

“Thank you for bringing my club back.”

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