Capitulation (Episode 22 – Shep: Managerial Globetrotter)

“We are due a win… right, Ricky?”

“Right listen up.” I’ve taken to speaking in English more than Spanish in recent weeks as I’m able to vent and articulate my frustration clearly. “We’ve well and truly fucked up. The last couple months have been unacceptable and luckily, you all did a good enough job in games prior to that. I don’t have a clue what’s happened recently and frankly, I don’t want to waste my life thinking about it. But this game is a lifeline, an absolute gem on a silver platter!” There’s a few forced smiles and sniffles in the silence before I continue.

“Leones at home is the best game we could ask for right now. They’ve got less points then games, they’ve only just managed to score their tenth goal last week. We can romp these, this can be the turning point. I can feel it.”

I turn sideways and grab a marker pen so I can direct eyes to my taps on the whiteboard. “Nelson, you’re back in goal. Quinones, Quinny we’re seeing how you can do today. This is your chance mate, really take it and do your best for us today. Rovira, you’re in the middle and Maxi?” I look around the sea of faces and can’t spot our little Argentine playmaker. “Where’s Maxi?”

He peers out from behind the towering frame on Gonzalez, shuffling his shinpad around in his shock. “Ah right, Maxi. I want you to get behind the Leones defence. Make the runs and one of these boys in midfield will try pick you out. Everybody else, you know what I ask of you and let’s pray you all do it today. We’re due three points lads. Go and out there and get them.”

The players erupt into momentary applause for jogging out the changing room. As he goes to follow them out, I catch Ricky by his shoulder.

“We are due a win… right, Ricky?”

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The first half hour is actually pretty promising. We pass the ball well, look to make the right passes and are resolute at the back, Quinones in particular seems to have taken my words before the match to heart as he’s throwing his weight about and appearing calm and collected when he wins the ball. In the 25th minute, a Cardenas throw in lands at ¬†Salazar’s feet. He spins quickly and curls a gorgeous ball into space for Gomez on the other side. His first time cross is viciously attacked by Rangel but the ball pings up over the crossbar. All in all, I’m liking where this is going. We really can win a game.

In the 33rd minute, Leones have their first attack when Otero has the ball on the touchline. Marlon Torres tackles him but after a few bounces, he has the ball again. Torres tries and succeeds again but the ball ricochets off his calf muscle behind him and Otero has already rounded him. I’ve seen it before it even happens. I’ve seen it so many times over the last couple of months. Back post cross, header, 1-0 (insert Colombian team name here). And what happens? A wicked cross to the back post for John Sanchez to blast a header into the back of the net. Call me Mystic bloody Meg.

For once though, we don’t let our heads drop. And in the 41st minute, we’re fighting back. Cardenas passes across goal to Salazar. His hurried chip into the middle is headed out as far as Rovira. He volleys a pass sideways to Quintero who lets the ball roll across his body before releasing but Cadivid is equal to his shot and pushes it out for a corner. Said corner is punched out by the keeper but Gabby keeps the move alive by heading it to Harold Gomez. There’s a perfect gap to find Rovira on the edge who controls the ball and strikes the sweetest of strikes past the helpless Cadavid for our first goal in five weeks. An unlikely scorer of an even more unlikely goal. Game on.

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We come out of half-time seemingly rejuvenated, belief oozing out of every touch and every pass. Just seconds after we’re back underway, Nunez feeds Harold Gomez down the right. His early cross is met by Cardenas inside the D and what a header it is. Unfortunately, it just brushes the woodwork the wrong side of the top right corner but it’s motivating.

In the 66th minute, a series of short passes across the Leones defence leaves Harold Gomez as the last man and he cuts inside but his shot is poor. A few minutes later, I make all three subs with Neumann, Mojica and Cufre come on with instructions to push for the winner.

In the 80th minute, Quintero waits before playing Neumann through on goal. Andreas hits an absolute beaut across goal into the top right but the linesman had his flag raised. He was definitely offside but you just want that bit of luck to get us going forward again. Five minutes later. a Rangel through ball is cut out by Restrepo who transforms into Jonjo Shelvey and pings an unreal 50 yard pass across the pitch for Sanchez to chase. We’re understaffed at the back and the writing is on the metaphorical wall. A perfect cross that bounces right at Yeison Zabaleta’s feet for him to calmly sweep past Ramos at his near post. We throw away points, water’s fucking wet.

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We’re unable to bring it back in the final minutes as we suffer yet another loss. We were miles better than them but lapses of concentration cost us what could be a vital point. Honestly, I don’t see a point in the foreseeable future when we turn this around.

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The week inbetween the penultimate and final games of this league season are relatively quiet. I’ve given up on the tough love approach and opted to treat my squad like the U8’s team they’ve been playing like. Congratulating every little thing they do, assuring them they can do better next time. How have things went so pear shaped?

Our final game of the season is on the Sunday meaning that half of the teams have already played all nineteen of their games before we face Huila. In some good news, we cannot drop lower than 6th as America de Cali and Atletico Nacional are the only teams who can push us down from our current spot in fifth place. The best part is that they are playing each other today and no matter the result, only one of them leapfrog over us. Taking into account a series of variables, four out of six possible scenarios would pit us against Atletico Junior in the quarters.

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Our final game of the season doesn’t actually mean all that much but a win today would lift the Bucaramanga camp before a challenging knockout campaign. Gonzalez and Palacios start in front of Ramos with our strongest midfield four (on paper). Morison returns from his suspension and goes straight into the lineup next to Romero.

The sun setting over the Guillermo Plazas Alcid gives me hope that as the sun sets on the Clasura, a long overdue victory can bring a close to what’s been an awful few months of football.

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Kill me now. Eleven minutes in, some Huila one touch passing on the far side allows Herrera to picks out Amaya with a pacey cross that is headed into the top left corner. One thing I’ve painfully noticed is that almost all the goals we’re conceding come from crosses and headers. Gonzalez isn’t exactly small at 6’3 and both Palacios and Torres have good jumping ability. We shouldn’t be getting beat in the air this often.

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One thing I will give to my boys is that after the battering we received from Medellin, they always try to get themselves back into the game. A couple blocked passes from Romero find the ball rolling to Cardenas’ feet. He does well to hold off the defender and find Gabby. He sets himself before hitting a tasty dipping strike off the crossbar which the keeper claims on its way back down.

Half an hour has past when we’re on the attack again. A fluent move from a throw in is worked to Romero. His fake shot is read but a lucky bounce puts him in with just the keeper to beat but he rattles the woodwork with a powerful strike. It’s cleared for a corner which Morison climbs for but it’s headed off the line by Tipton. Palacios does well to win another corner on the opposite but this one is much less threatening. Half-time seems to arrive pretty quickly after that and I don’t really have much to say. We’ve had our chances and while I’d usually feel confident we can bring it back, I know deep down this game is already lost.

Shortly after Huila get the second half underway, a pass into the middle for Morison causes a lot of problems. The Huila defence are cramped together, leaving loads of space for Quintero to receive the ball. The pass is slightly over hit but he cuts back and gets a decent shot away. Banguera manages to save with his trailing leg. The corner from Gabby is won by Gonzalez but his bullet header is just wide. Ten minutes later, Herrera plays Diego Gomez through in a carbon copy of the play that lead to their goal. Gomez puts it on a plate for Amaya to nod home his second. Mojica and Jeferson Torres are brought in retaliation with Operation: Spearhead being the tactical change for the rest of the game.

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Straight from kick off, we pass it around a high pressuring Huila side and Mojica finds himself in on goal but his low shot to the near post is saved. He’s not shaken after that good chance goes to waste as he manages to half the deficit in the 64th minute. Romero tackles Trejo and Cardenas swoops in to put a ball through for Morison. He knocks it one further with his man catching for Mojica who whips a shot into the bottom left with his strikingly blue left boot to make it 2-1.

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In the 79th minute, we quickly work the ball forward to Romero who plays Cardenas through. He glides past Trejo but Banguera makes an outstanding reflex save, his left hand swiping the ball up over the bar. The rest of the game passes without any incident and our final game of the Clasura is yet another loss. I’ve been trying to keep my calm for so long now but I’m at my breaking point. The breaking point I predicted all the way back at Heathrow airport before I even knew any of the teams in the Colombian league. I’m ready to give up.

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Nine games without a win going into the playoffs. America de Cali beat Nacional meaning that the Apetura champions miss out on the knockouts whilst America de Cali push us down into sixth. The worst possible scenario however has unfolded. Junior picked up three more points and jumped into third.

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Nine games without a win. Two legs against the same Junior side that booted us out of the Apetura. One mammoth task:

Revenge.

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