The run in

In our final 4 games of the season, we start off with Felcra at home. This won’t be the season defining game by any stretch but a win here would do wonders for my chances of keeping this team in the league.

Same set up as the last 4 games in that we go 4-4-1-1, except Katende makes his debut up top and Carlos is starting at goalkeeper.

Half way point of the game and I don’t know if this is an even game or not. They’ve seen a hell of a lot more of the ball than us, but we’ve been more consistent in the shot, despite only having 1 on target. In my half time team talk I tell the team this game is there for the taking and we should push on from here.

Press on we did, however we just didn’t have that cutting edge. We pressed and pressed and despite not having the ball much, when we did we just went on the offensive, until it all came tumbling down in the 70th minute. We gave away a sloppy foul inside the box which Dias smashed right down the middle, wrong footing Carlos in goal to take the lead. We didn’t make anything of the game from then and went on to lose a disappointing game.

That defeat coupled with Sarawaks draw puts us back in the relegation one point behind Sarawak. It’s all heating up now in our final few games.

Next up is Mifa, and a game I think is a must win, or at the very least a not lose kind of game. I don’t want to move away from the 4-4-1-1 approach we’ve used so far, and really I don’t have many other options other than to stick with it.

Pre match team talk is pretty much non existent. I try telling the team we’re the favourites and as such we should go out there and really dominate the game. As soon as the whistle goes I notice they’re playing a 4-3-3 formation, are they trying to use the FM18 match engine exploit here??

From the kick off I try and encourage the team and it pays off. Almost no time has gone since we conceded early on and we’re back in the game. Sarudin playing in the number 10 role behind Katende gets the ball on his right foot inside the area and its buried straight in, 1-1!

We then took the lead when Katende grabbed his first for our team went he buried a close range effort, and it was no more than we deserved. We let the lead slip shortly after however as they equalised on 31 minutes when our defence went to sleep and allowed a tame looking through ball to get right the way through.

Second half kicks off it’s pretty much more of the same as both of us are trying to get the upper hand, which we did on the hour mark. Another case of unfortunate positioning as we had a low cross come in from the right by-line which was knocked in by their center half to give us the lead going into the final 30 minutes. We actually pressed them again from there and managed to get in another goal to take the lead to 4-2. Despite the winning margin we held on at times as we were put under some pressure late on and despite them only registering 1 more shot on target, this could’ve been a 4-4 draw on another day.

I’m happy with this win as we showed we can score goals, it’s just our defending left a lot to be desired. Felcra lost as well so today worked out okay for us. We’ve just got to hope Sarawak drop points to keep our hopes of survival in tact. I try and get under Steve Kean’s skin in my post match press conference

I even attended the Sarawak game hoping to apply some pressure, but they played well and won 2-1 to put the pressure back on us. Hopefully we don’t let this slip.

Next up we’ve got Felda United who have already had promotion confirmed and have had a great season so far, winning 15, drawing 3 and losing twice. This is going to be a tough game for us but hopefully we can keep up with them in this one.

‘There’s not much that I have to say here lads, we’re playing catch up. That twat Steve Kean and his team won their game 5-2 against UKM and that’s really helped their goal difference. Now just because we’re playing champions elect Felda don’t let that worry you, they’re beatable and now that we’ve got that rock in goal Carlos….’

‘Cheers boss’

‘Let me finish Carlos! Anyway, we’ve got a confident man between the sticks now and a big unit up top in Katende, we should be able to cause them some problems’.

Mohd relays my message to the team. I’m really going to have to pick up more Malay if I’m to get my points across myself. The team actually respond well to my team talk, some of them even encouraged by my feedback.

This is a big game, if we lose and Mifa win we’re right back into the relegation zone, win and regardless of other results and we could be as high as 8th. I’m very nervous, this could go really badly for us, but with Carlos commanding his area and being very vocal with the defence we’ve got a chance. With Katende up top he’ll only need half a chance and we could get something out of this game.

We held our own in this one despite them having a clearly better side than ours. We disrupted their flow quite a bit giving away some fouls here and there and the only thing of note was the 2 bookings we got. A pretty even game and if any of our half chances went in we could’ve won this one.

That draw helped us out in a way. It’s still in our own hands to avoid relegation, however there’s 2 teams below us that can still survive if they win and we lose. It’s down to the final day and we’re up against it in Johor’s B team who are the overwhelming favourites going into this one.


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Next episode – Attack. Defend. Hope….

Previous episode – A call to arms

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A call to arms (mini-sode)

‘Right lads, 4 games and 12 points left to save your season. Don’t any of you ever think you’re too good to go down, you’ve got yourselves into this mess, now it’s time to get yourselves out of if, yes what is it Carlos?’

‘Boss, I’ve just arrived here, just like the big lad at the back, we never got the team into this mess’

‘Right yes okay not you or Jerome, but you 2 are here to give the rest of us a chance of staying in the division aren’t you’

‘Yeah boss yeah for sure’

‘Right where was I? Oh yeah, look I didn’t come here all the way from Moscow to get relegated, I didn’t come all this way to watch you piss this season up the wall. I didn’t want to talk about next season, but next season I wanna be challenging for promotion out of this league, not back into it. Do you hear what I’m saying lads?

‘Yes boss, loud and clear’

‘God dammit Carlos! I get you’re the only English speaking player but just pipe down for a 1 minute please. Mohd, please relay my message to the non English speaking members of the team.

Our player liaison officer / translator spends a minute or so relaying my attempts at a battle cry, a motivational speech so to speak. He finishes speaking, and there’s a quiet hush all around the room. He turns and shrugs his shoulders.

‘For Gods sake, right tell them Carlos here, our new first choice keeper rejected an offer from Atletico Madrid to join us here, actually no don’t say Atletico, say erm, Perth Glory, yeah that’s more believable.’

‘But boss I didn’t turn….’

‘Carlos shut up for a minute will you please’

Mohd turns back to the team, and relays my message I think. Then as if like magic they all sat up, looking at our new keeper with wide eyes, the kind of eyes a fat kid gives a chocolate cake. They’re mesmerised by him. Somehow I think it’s worked, I think they’re on board, well with Carlos, maybe not me.

I catch Mohd on his own after the meeting.

‘Did you tell them what I told you to, about Perth Glory?’

‘Yes, of course boss’. Something in his tone tells me he’s lying 

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Next episode – The run in

Previous episode – Steve Kean, we meet for the first time

Steve Kean, we meet for the first time

I’m looking forward to this, I’m sure it was Steve Kean that rang me that day and told me to stay out of his way. Hopefully I can show him what I’m made of, Moscovites aren’t easily intimidated I tell you that much! We meet Sarawak away in my first away game as Penang manager.

I try and play down the importance of this game to the team and tell them the pressure is all on Sarawak, which it is in a way. The team respond negatively, maybe this is their way of saying they’re not on board with me just yet.

We start well enough but after 7 minutes they take the lead with an absolute worldie of an overhead kick. The ball got crossed in and somehow Gonzales, with his back to goal hit the ball with a perfect connection and the ball went in. Not going to lie, it was an absolute peach of a goal.

I tell the team to press forward, and press we did. We’re camped in the Sarawak half for the next ten minutes but from a shot of ours inside the area they get us on the break. Their winger plays a delightful ball over the top of our defence which finds Roskam unmarked, he doesn’t even take a touch and places the ball to our keepers left, 2-0. Not good at all.

Despite being the better team overall we then found ourselves 3 down. We gave away a dubious penalty. At first showing it looked like a dive but the ref gave the penalty. If it wasn’t game over at the half it definitely was now. We just didn’t have an answer for them from then on and it was damage limitations really, Sarawak were comfortable.

At the full time whistle I turned and saw that smug twat walking towards me, I can see his shit eating grin a mile away

‘I told you not to cross me laddie’

‘Piss off. We were all over your lot, you just took your chances. I’ll have you next time’

‘Shut up youngster, you’re not cut out for this. You keep on worrying about relegation, I’ll worry about getting my team promoted’

The arrogance on that guy. His team are in the same situation as mine, I don’t know who he thinks he is. I’ll have the last laugh Steve, mark my words.

The next day I’m sat in my office when the phone rings

‘Hello’

A soft toned male voice speaks ‘Dmitri, a word of advice’

‘Not this again. Steve I aren’t playing these stupid games, you won the match move on, I’ll beat you next time’

‘Steve? No this isn’t Steve’

‘Then who is it?’

‘A friend. Listen, you’re going to need to make some signings in this transfer window if you’re going to have any chance of staying up. I’ve made the calls already, you just need to agree terms’

‘Sorry what? Made the calls? Terms? With who?!?’

‘You need a striker, I’ve text you the agent of Jerome Katende’s number, call him he’s ready to join you.’

‘Eh, what?!? Isn’t that classed as tapping up?’

‘No. Just do it. You also need a keeper. Carlos Espinoza is on his way to the training ground, he should be there soon, he’s also ready to discuss a deal. You can thank me later’

‘What the hell are you talking about? I’ve got a keeper, and a striker…’

‘A keeper that’s conceded 30 goals already, and a striker that couldn’t score in a brothel. Speak to these 2, you won’t regret it’ Click. He hung up, whoever he was. Did I just dream this?!

Just then there was a knock at the door

‘Come in’

‘Dmitri, there’s a tall guy here saying he has a 10 o’ clock with you, he says his name is Carlos’ the clubs press officer Phoebe says

‘Yes, erm let him in, is he alone?’

‘Yes he is, just got a bottle of water with him’

‘Thanks Phoebe’

Carlos walks in with a confident demeanour. He looks me in the eye and speaks perfect English

‘Hey boss, thanks for the opportunity. I’ll be brief, I want a 1 year deal, first team status, optional extension if we go up’

‘Well you clearly are a man that knows what he wants. How do I know you’re the player I need?’

‘Trust me boss, I am. I’ll win this club points on my own’

‘Okay, you’re on’

He walks back out of the office, to his car I assume. Surely this can’t be how a football manager signs players?? My phone vibrated and a text came through:

Here’s that number I told you to ring. He’s expecting your call, don’t prat around. You’re welcome

Well I might as well ring that number.

A couple of rings and a voice answered, ‘Hello?’

‘Erm, hi, this is Dimitri Tarasov, Penang manager…’

‘Yes yes I know who you are. Right as you’re aware from our previous conversations Jerome is happy to sign a 1 year deal with you and he will expect to play at least 80% of games, he wants a minimum fee release clause but as we both know, he will score the goals to keep your team up this year and will help propel you into the Super League next year so there’s a very small chance of him leaving. Email me the contract and we will sign and send back this afternoon. Bye for now.’

Wow, that was even less brief than my meeting with apparently my new number 1 goalkeeper. I knew football management was a strange gig but this is something else. Just who was it that set these meetings up? Hopefully I’ll find out, or maybe it’s best that I don’t? Anyway we’ve got a big game against Sabah coming up and we need continue our push towards survival

As with all our previous games, we’re setting up with the 4-4-1-1 and same 11 that has started the last 3 games. I tell the team to give the fans their money’s worth, but inside I’m just praying for a win and a good performance. I’m nervous, this could go drastically wrong.

We start off well, we move the ball around quickly and look threatening going forward. Around the 26 minute point they get a yellow card as Muhimian gives away a foul. Nothing comes of the free kick and the game continues when minutes later they receive another yellow card, this time Lokman is booked for another foul. Play continues then stops almost straight away as Mustakim is booked for a foul, their third yellow in as many minutes. Then as if their players were trying to 1 up each other, Salleh goes in from behind on Raduwan who breaks free, and as Salleh is the last man he’s given a straight red card. This could be our chance to take the game away from them. We have the ball out wide which got crossed in before being cleared. Then a moment of pure madness as Lokman, who was booked no less than 5 minutes ago brings down Seung-Jo to receive his second yellow card and his teams second red! This is going to be our day there’s no doubt about it. From the kick off we press on and finally take the lead as Raduwan hits a curling shot from inside the area. Right on half time we add a second to effectively kill the game off.

In my half time team talk I’m conflicted. Part of me wants to make a couple of subs and keep some players fresh for the remaining games in our survival battle as this game is as good as over. But the other side of me wants to send on another striker and try and grab a few more goals to improve our goal difference. I go with the latter and put 2 up front, Nyassi playing as an advanced forward and the midfield has been moved around. Not long after the restart Sabah are given another yellow, Junimin given a yellow for constantly fouling. 5 more minutes later and they are down to 8 men as Junimin is given a second yellow card to go with the 1 he literally just picked up, this could end up a cricket score! We just kept the ball and pressing on with confidence, plenty of chances came and the game ended with us as 6-0 winners. The main thing was getting as many goals as we can in this one as this kind of opportunity might not present itself again.

With that victory it leaves us with 4 games to go, and our run in consists of Felcra who are 1 point below us in 11th, a must win game. MIFA who are 3 points and 3 places above us in 7th, again a game I see as must win. Felda United who are top of the league and unless anything catastrophic happens will be promoted, so a game in which we’ll be lucky to get anything from. Finally we’re away to Johor’s B team on the last day. They are currently 4th in the league, and all being well we would’ve had survival wrapped up by then, but I’m not getting ahead of myself here, there may only be 4 games left but that is a lot of football to play.

‘How do you think it’ll go, the relegation fight I mean?’

‘Are you asking me, or asking me to ask Karupiah?’ the player liaison officer & translator asks

‘Oh yeah sorry, he doesn’t speak English. Well give me your opinion first’

‘Well, we can definitely get something out of the Felcra and Mifa games boss, I’m sure we can’ says Mohd Sukri, the player liaison officer

‘Yeah, and what about Felda & Johor?

‘Honestly, I think the best we can hope for is that Felda have already got promotion sorted by the time they play us, and Johor have an off day. They’re both much better than us’

‘I know, well we can try. See what he says’

A minute or 2 passes by as Mohd speaks in Malay to Karupiah.

‘He says we’re screwed’

Ever the optimist

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Next episode – A call to arms

Previous episode – The first game

The first game

Penang v UiTM

Here it is then, my very first game as a football manager. Am I nervous, yes. Am I afraid of what might happen if we get absolutely battered, yes. Am I excited, HELL YES!

As soon as the game starts we’re on them in a flash, so quick actually as Kang Seung-Jo gets the ball edge of the box and lets fly…

Top corner, 2 keepers wouldn’t have saved that! 34 seconds in and I couldn’t have wished for a better start!

Around half hour played and we’re given a penalty, and a chance to increase the lead. Up steps Seung-Jo…


Straight down the keepers throat! Anywhere else and it would’ve been 2-0. Oh well we go again.

Ten minutes later and that man Seung-Jo is played in on the edge of the box again

And hits a first time shot…

Bottom corner this time, 2-0 and we’re looking good going in at half time dominating and winning

My half time team talk consisted of telling the boys how happy I am and to keep it tight, they’re probably going to come at us in the second half.

Which they didn’t actually, and we ran out comfortable winners in the end. A perfect game, despite the penalty miss. We looked really good in this game, hopefully a sign of things to come.

Not only that but Steve Kean lost his first game as Sarawak boss. Today’s been a good day.

Post match press conference

The clubs press officer Phoebe Singh is present as I don’t speak Malay, and she speaks English, Malay & Russian.

‘What did he say?’ I ask her.

‘‘The guy from the Malaysian football Gazette asks – Dmitri, a win in your first game you must be pleased with a performance as impressive as that?’

‘Tell him yes I’m very pleased and looking forward to the next game, maybe chuck a joke in there for good measure’

She speaks in Malay, and what I think is the punch line to the joke gets no reaction from the journalists. Phoebe then says ‘The man from Goal.com wants to know what your aims are, short and long term’

‘Thanks, tell him he must be blind or stupid not to see our short term aim is survival, long term we’ll wait and see’

She repeats what I said, I think, or maybe something else as the guy that asked the question stands up, shouts something at me that I don’t understand and storms out.

‘He doesn’t like you’

‘I gathered that, any more questions?

‘No, no more today Dmirti’

‘Thanks Phoebe’

3 days later we’re up against UKM, and I have a meeting with the team to discuss how we’re going to tackle this one

‘Right lads, that 2-0 win is just what we needed, lets build on this and claw our way to safety. What do you say? ‘Hows that sound?’ I asked the translator, who is also our player liaison officer to ask my assistant Karupiah

‘Good, do you want me to tell him to tell the team word for word?

‘Yeah why not.’

He speaks to my assistant, who in turn speaks to the players.

Silence. Literally nothing.

‘I think they’re all on board boss’ the translator says with a slight smirk on his face.

‘Shut up’

I’ve got some work on here convincing this lot to follow my lead. The problem I have is I’ve come here to try and stop this club from suffering back to back relegation’s and morale is low. Not only that but I’m an unknown manager so already the support from the squad is really low. In the tactical briefing I tell the lads to go out and carry on where they left off from the last game. No response form anyone. This could be tough.

We set up with the same line up and formation as last time and I really could do with another win here, especially in front of our home fans. For whatever reason the team kept giving away silly fouls and despite dominating shots and having slightly more of the ball we never really threatened their goalkeeper. A bore draw but a silver lining being we didn’t lose, and that should be seen as a good sign for a team that’s used to losing.

With the draw my first month as a manager ends, and I’m undefeated in all of my games here, well all 2 of them but you get the point. We end the month out of the drop zone for now. Onward and upward an all that….

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Next episode – Steve Kean, we meet for the first time

Previous episode – How to become a football manager

Operation : Fundamentals

Penang, Malaysia.

As clubs in this country go, Penang has a decent enough history, winning the Super League 3 times, Malaysian FA Cup once and the league cup 3 times. Chuck in a Charity shield for good measure and this club has a decent history. Despite this they’ve had 3 relegation’s from and 2 promotions back to the Super league before their most recent demotion.

The team sits 11th in the club which is in the relegation zone 3 points from safety, and just above Penang indecently are Sarawak and Steve Kean! With 3 wins in the league getting knocked out of the FA Cup at the quarter final stage, there’s some work to do so we best get to it.

I walk into the locker room, all 22 players sat around waiting for me to speak. Do I go in with a nice guy approach? Should I be conservative and try and win them over early? Well I’m Russian and volatile by nature….

‘Right, you don’t know me and I sure as hell don’t know any of you. What I do know is you’ve all been piss poor this season and you’re looking like heading into another relegation. Buck your ideas up and buck em soon’

My assistant manager is telling me something in Malay I think, I don’t know I don’t speak the language yet but the player liaison officer translates

‘They hate you already boss’

‘Thanks’

I’m not even going to assess this team until we’ve played a couple of games. There’s no point trying to see who are the ‘better’ players until I’ve seen just how bad they are in competitive matches. I’m going to assume this is a poor bunch, well as far as being favourites for promotion but currently residing in the relegation zone they must be poor. This is probably the proverbial baptism of fire, or something.

We kick off my career with 2 home games, and 2 must win games. First up are fellow relegation place holders UiTM, who are 3 points behind us but with a better goal difference, we could end up bottom of the league if we don’t win this game. My tactical briefing is (excuse the pun), brief. I tell the team to go on the attack from the off. No reaction from the squad, maybe they’re still annoyed at me for being so blunt? Anyway we set up with a structured 4-4-1-1 and we’re sticking to the fundamentals of football. Lots of closing down, long balls over the top and a high work rate. I need to win this game. Whilst this won’t be the game that sends us down, I need to make my mark and put the league on notice that I’m not here to get relegated.

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Next post – The first game

The journey begins

Moscow. September 2017.

Salyut Stadium

FC Zelenograd v FC Troitsk Russian amateur division 3

I knew. Straight away I knew. As soon as I took the hit from behind and felt my knee go, I knew. As  soon as my team mate yelled ‘fuck sake ref, that was studs up’ and as soon as the ref blew, I could tell it was bad. I hit the ground like a sack of hammers. The ref ran across, he could tell something was up and was waving the medics on. Even in the amateur leagues of Russian football there are experienced medical professionals on hand. Players from both teams came rushing over and hounded the ref, all while I lay on the ground, in excruciating pain.

The day after

As I lay there in the hospital bed, waiting, just waiting for someone to tell me how long I’m going to be on the shelf for, the pain was still there but the morphine they’d given me made me feel like I wasn’t bothered by the pain. I knew the pain was there but the pain killers definitely helped, all the while all I could do was wait. It was 10 past 11 AM when the doctor walked in, and as soon as he made eye contact I knew it was bad news. He didn’t even have to say much, the look in his eye told the whole story.

‘Give me the verdict, how bad is it?’

‘I’ll get straight to it Dmitri, you’ve torn all the ligaments in your left knee, I’m sorry to say this but your career as a football player is as good as over. You’ll walk again, that’s not in doubt but as an athlete, there’s no chance of you returning I’m afraid’

That’s when time stopped. Everything froze. My mind’s eye went blank, my mind was empty. My career over. I’m not the most technically gifted athlete out there but I was making a living playing Sunday league football. This is my bread and butter, this is the only working life I’ve known. A deep dark depression sets in, a sudden realisation of never stepping foot on a playing field again, what am I going to do.

As time went on and I got to walking with the aid of crutches, I’m at peace with never playing again. I mean I’ll always have that hunger and desire to play and win, but what can I do? I’ve had messages of well wishes from my team mates at Zelenograd as well as well being comforted by Artem Osetrov, the left back that gave me my career ending injury. He was really cut up about it but it is what it is, I hold no grudges and this could’ve happened at any time in my career. My manager at Zelenograd, Alexandr Bykov came to see and really made think about what I’m going to do next

‘Have you given any thought to your next moves Dmitri?’

‘What do you mean boss, in my rehabilitation?’

‘No no I mean in terms of your career, what are you going do?’

‘Not much boss, my career’s over remember?’

‘What I mean son, is what are going to do NEXT? As in the next step in football, surely you’re not giving football up completely?’

‘Well I’d not thought about really, in fact I haven’t given football any thought at all’

‘Well you always were professional and kept a cool head on your shoulders, have you thought about management at all?’

‘No not in the slightest. I can’t see any Russian team giving me, a failed Sunday league player a job as manager’

He cuts me off ‘Well get yourself out there! Nothing is going to come to you, you only get out of this profession what you put in. You said you’re a failed ex pro, I’d say you didn’t fail you were unlucky, why not use this experience to right any wrongs. Give back to football as a manager what you couldn’t as a player’

‘I’ll give it some thought. Nothing can happen any time soon, I’m still on crutches and walking on my own 2 feet seems a million miles away’

‘Then get your head down, read a few books, watch a ton of football matches and keep your ear on the ground for any potential openings. I’m not saying you’re going to walk into a job tomorrow, you’re still young you’ve got a long road ahead of you, I’ll always be here to lend an ear if this is the path you choose to go down Dmitri’.

And with that, he was gone. But what he said stuck with me, you only get out of this profession what you put in. Until my recovery is complete I’m going to watch as much football as I can and decide if management is for me.

My name is Dmitri Tarasov, I am a Moscow native, and this is my story.

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Episode 2 – How to become a football manager