En Duda (Episode 18 – Shep: Managerial Globetrotter)

Football’s fucking mad.

Transfer deadline day. One of the most exciting days of the footballing calendar. Unless you’re a Newcastle fan then it’s not exactly thrilling when you’re linked to the fourth mediocre French bloke in the space of eight hours. But, for the rest of the footballing world, there are always some amazing deals done in the last 24 hours. Even the day before transfer deadline day, PSG spend £46’100’000 on Jordi Alba while Liverpool add to their mammoth array of attacking quality by signing Napoli midfielder Marek Hamsik for £55’300’000. Anfield is already a great place to watch football but this man linking up with Mauro Icardi, Mo Salah, Shaqiri, Mane and Firmino is a mouthwatering prospect. I’m a bit surprised he left Napoli as he was a club legend and has made over 400 appearances for the Azzurri but money talks.

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Now onto the main event. While I was expecting an almost silent deadline day. Deportivo Toluca leave a voicemail for me with a bid of £370’000 for Gabby Gomez. It’s obviously declined.

Within the first few hours of the final countdown, Arsenal agree to sell veteran defender Laurent Koscielny to Villarreal for £14’500’000. Chelsea, who clearly must not be strapped for cash, throw another £52’000’000 Valencia’s way for former Bolton Wanderers loanee Rodrigo. Looking at how Sarri likes to play his football, I think that he will be the perfect striker to lead the line for them.

With six hours left however, the will he/won’t he transfer saga of this window finally comes to a dramatic close in a deal which will have the red side of North London in jubilation. Christian Eriksen takes a page out of Coutinho’s book by getting himself a transfer to Barcelona for a ridiculous £103’000’000. It’s a hell of a lot of money for Spurs but with less than half a day remaining, you have to doubt they’ve got a replacement lined up.

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In the aftermath of the Eriksen move, you’d think Tottenham would see the rest of the window out or bring in a big money replacement for the Dane but that would be too sensible. Instead, they allow Bayern Munich to replace Jerome Boateng with Toby Alderweireld for £44’700’000 which sends Arsenal twitter into absolute hysterics. Hummels, Alderweireld and Chiiellini don’t make for a bad back three. Nathan Redmond also makes a move, looking to Reiss Nelson for inspiration as he’s loaned out to Bundesliga side Freiburg for the season.

My day of sitting on my arse drinking with a dodgy stream of Sky Sports News on the TV is rudely interrupted by La Liga 2 side Las Palmas ringing my phone to make an offer for Marlon Torres. Paco Herrera suggests £1’400’000 would be sufficient enough to lure him away from Colombia and while Spain is the dream destination for South American footballers, I don’t want to lose our heir to the captaincy. I also don’t have any depth at centre back or enough time to find a decent replacement. Marlon is flattered by the offer but is adamant he’s happy to remain here for the time being.

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In the last hour before the window shuts, Manchester United seal a £65’000’000 deal for David Alaba as a tasty replacement for the ageing Ashley Young. Fair play to Mourinho for getting that one over the line. There’s only a few minor deals in the last half hour before the end of the day with a healthy £666’260’000 being exchanged today. Football’s fucking mad.

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Now in a piece of unfortunate news, ex-Bucaramanga midfielder Jhon Perez has had a torrid start to live in Germany. Not only was he struggling to settle in Hamburg with fans becoming restless, he’s now broke his ankle and will be out until the new year. I really wanted it to work for him as an advert to my boys and what they can achieve but maybe it’s better this way. They might think twice before forcing a move to Europe after watching Jhon flop.

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Slightly depressing and sinister notes aside, we’re almost over the schedule hump. America De Cali are who we face today and in a couple days time, we play Once Caldas in what’s looking like a very important game. After that, assuming we don’t self combust and drop put of the top eight, we’ll only play a game a week up until the knockout stages. We have a lot of tired players so there’s plenty of rotation with one eye on the Caldas fixture.

Delgado is in goal today as I want him to get a few more games under his belt before he retires. Palacios and Rodriguez are in with Gonzalez and Cufre to make up the back four. Jeferson Torres and Mojica, two players slowly infiltrating my starting eleven after strong performances, both start with my two favourite boys up front in Morison and Neumann. While the big milestone for me was escaping August unscathed, another couple wins across this week would make me ecstatic.

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Just five minutes in, the Red Devils are left looking red faced as a Mojica through ball is blocked but he keeps possession and uses a tidy bit of footwork to escape pressing defenders and find Morison. Gabby’s making the run and is played into the box before he lashes a first time strike across the keeper into the far side of the goal. Sweet as a bloody nut from el capitano to give us the early lead.

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The half hour following the goal is filled with constant pressure from ourselves but we’re just unable to find a clear cut chance. In the 38th minute, another one of our attempted attacks wins us a throw in right next to the corner flag. It’s worked out to Jeferson who’s about 25 yards out and he tries to whip a shot into the top left but the keeper catches it well. Seconds before half time, America de Cali venture forward for the first time all game. Cabrera and Cuero work it around Gomez and Torres in midfield before Cuero is released down the right. He puts in a deep inswinging cross which Gonzalez is crimially beaten to by the arriving Aristeguieta who powers them level. Literally seconds away from what would have been a near immaculate half of football. I make the one change at the break with Quintero bringing some muscle to the midfield over Cardenas.

Straight from kick off, Neumann passes it back to Gonzalez and starts making the run. It’s hoofed high over the top and Neumann challenges the keeper making it difficult from him to punch it further than Mojica. His shot is blocked by Cuero but Quintero follows up with a finesse which is blocked, this time by Arboleda. The ball glides into the air for Neumann to try head over the backtracking Bejarano but he gets the weakest of a hand to it. It isn’t enough as the ball is going to land neatly in the bottom right corner but Bernal slides in to boot off the line. It’s looking like a game of finite variables.

America de Cali really get a foothold in the second half and manage to take the lead in the 67th minute. A pass into Aristeguieta is misjudged as it’s too powerful form him to control but his poor touch lays it up for Rivas to shoot. Palacios dives in to block but it falls to Dajome who toe punts it into the centre for Cabrera to tap into an empty net. 2-1 and it’s honestly very hard to swallow as we’ve been the better side. I use my remaining substitutions before play resumes with Rangel and Harold coming on for Mojica and Rodriguez.

We really do push back at them and with ten minutes left, Operation: Spearhead is called into action but a minute from time, Rivas plays a through ball cutting directly through the middle after we commit forward. Rivera and Delgado are both rushing to meet it but it’s Rivera who arrives first with a pass across to Joseph Cox who chips it over Palacios’ slide and puts the game to bed with a scoreline of 3-1. For fuck fucking sake.

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The final whistle not only brings an end to the game but also to our dream of an unbeaten season. America de Cali are a strong team though and we had lots of shattered players out there. We really gave a decent account of ourselves so there’s no bitter taste left in my mouth after. We had to lose at some point and I’d rather we lost here than in a few days.

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The reason why I’d rather lose there is because we’re still top of the league regardless after this weekend. But only by goal difference with the team in second being? Our next opponents Once Caldas of course. We face Junior next weekend too who are one of the four teams on nineteen points, just one behind us. This game is the definition of vital.

Now you might think that in a vital game, the one player you want in your side is your club captain. Normally, I would agree but when Gabby comes to me asking for a rest, I have to oblige. In his absence, Marlon Torres captains the side today with Palacios, Rodriguez and Harold Gomez. Rovira is in our captain’s usual spot while he watches from the stands with Jeferson Torres on the bench. Salazar returns to the side with his electric form and I’m hoping he can influence Romero and Rangel to bang a few goals in.

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Seven minutes in, Rangel scoops a pass out to Gomez who turns inside and drills it to Salazar. He dummies it for Cardenas who sets himself and hits a swerving strike off the far post from 25 yards. Very close to a cracking opener but the chance isn’t dead as it’s cleared for a throw at the near side. It’s taken by Salazar to Romero who passes it back to Rovira. David Lemos tries to pull him off balance but it only makes his shot even more menacing as it curls loosely with Cuadrado at full extension enough to push it away from the bottom left.

A quarter of an hour in, Caldas take a corner quickly to Lemos at the front post. He does brilliantly to flick his header towards the near top corner but Ramos reacts with catlike reflexes to tip it onto the crossbar. The rest of the first half plays out without the same excitement of the first fifteen minutes except for one chance on the 43rd minute. It starts with a switch between our wingbacks and Gomez cushioning a first time ball behind for Romero with admirable skill. Correa swings a foot in wildly but Romero stays on his feet before clipping a low cross in for Salazar. He manages to connect clearly but Moreno blocks the shot and their keeper pounces to avoid Rangel finishing the scraps.

It takes twenty minutes of the second half before either team has a sniff at goal but it’s ourselves who fashion the chance. Salazar picks the pass to Rodriguez while being swarmed by three Caldas players and the left back whips a dangerous cross to the back post for Rangel but the keeper gets across quickly to catch his header. A few minutes later, Cardenas, Quintero and Rodriguez are all removed with Nunez, J. Torres and Cufre taking to the field.

In the 71st minute, Jeferson gives me a welcome sense of deja vu as he muscles a Caldas shirt off the ball and finds Rangel. The return pass bounces awkwardly for him but Torres flings a heel up to knock the ball into the space in front of him with delightful skill. He takes it into the box, cuts onto his right foot and takes a shot but it deflects off the defenders knee and hits the near post before going out for corner. Thoughts about the wonder goal that could have been are momentarily present until the corner is headed out to Salazar who shoots an inch wide of the far post. Surely there’s a goal in this game.

With eleven minutes to go, a moment of sheer brilliance unfolds in front of my eyes and in front of the lucky Bucaramanga fans inside the Alfonso Lopez. A Caldas corner is heroically headed out by Rovira to Nunez. Like a fellow 5’5 Argentinian, he only has one thing on his mind. He takes the ball from the edge of our box and into their half. Knocks it past Restrepo, flicks it away from Velasco and races down the far touchline until he’s level with the penalty spot. He looks up and produces the most perfect cross for the run of Salazar. Kevin catches the ball with his instep from just outside the six yard box and I let the roar of the Leopardos overwhelm me as the ball soars into the top left. Absolutely breathtaking.

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We utilise the physicality of Rangel and hold the ball in the corners as much as possible in the last minutes of the game and it works as we seal a 1-0 victory. We peppered Caldas from all angles until we managed to break them down with a lethal counter attack and a moment of sheer brilliance for Maxi Nunez.

If we have players capable of things like that on the bench, I worry for any poor bastard that have to line-up against us. Especially next weeks victims.

Junior: revenge will be mine.

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