Here we go…

My first full season in charge of a football club is about to get underway. I have my starting 11 set, tactics for the season are set. We’re sticking to Operation – Fundamentals as our go to tactic, a rigid 4-4-1-1 set up.

Here’s my first 11 that I hope will bring me promotion:

Goalkeeper and captain, Carlos Espinoza

Right full back Mohd Azrul Ahmad

Left full back Mohd Raimi Nor

Canter halves Ugo Ukah & Kamarul Kamaruddin

Right midfielder Yong Kuong Yong

Left midfielder / winger Mohd Fitri Shazwan

Central midfielders Mohd Syukur Saidin & Kang Seung-Jo


Playing in the hole behind the striker will be Mohd Faiz Subri

Finally lone striker Jerome Katende

This is my starting 11 assuming there are no injuries or suspensions, but of course the team will be rotated when those arise.

Game number 1. Malaysian Premier League 2019 season

‘It’s a clean slate today. Nothing from last season matters, this is a fresh start. Stick to my game plans and we’ll do well. No messing around today either lads, I want us to get off to a good start and get the 3 points in front of our fans. That will set us up nicely at the start of the season’

‘The boss is right lads, we can win this today, have no fear’ Carlos yells to the team, who have no idea what he just said.

‘Carlos, I get you’re enthusiastic, but I was relaying that message to Mohd Sukri so he can translate to the team. You are the captain but with the language barrier we’ve got to get our message across in a different way than you’re used to’

‘Sorry boss, I just want to win this game, and as captain I need to give my team as much confidence as I can’

‘That’s a good mindset to have Carlos. Now let Mohd tell the team what we said, and lets go win this game!’

As soon as the whistle goes for kick off we’re at them in a flash. They couldn’t handle the runners from our midfield and foul Seung-Jo within 3 minutes of the game and we’re given a penalty, which Seung steps up and buries! We strike early on and wait for inevitable attack from their side.

We do withstand a bit of pressure but nothing comes of it really and we look good defensively. We then doubled our lead with a neat finish around the 25 minute mark, could this be game over already?

After the restart they pressed forward but we stood firm and again scored another goal, this time Katende getting his first of the season with a great header to give us a 3-0 lead going into half time. My half time team talk was pretty much telling the team I’m happy with how it’s gone and to keep the pressure up.

Second half came and we’re given another early penalty which Seung buried, 4-0 and that is game set and match with 40 minutes to go.

They didn’t muster anything up of note and we rode out the rest of the game. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come!

After the game I speak to Kang Seung-Jo to congratulate him on a great performance, however he has something of his own to tell me

‘So Sanna is hinting he wants to leave? I could’ve done with his pace from the bench really. What’s your take on the situation? I ask our translator to ask Kang.

‘Kang says – Well he’s got pace, but he’s very selfish. A number of times last season he let us down by trying to do too much on his own. In his head he’s bigger than Penang and thinks very highly of himself’

‘Thanks Mohd. Tell Kang that I haven’t actually seen that much from Nyassi, I’ll happily let him go, I aren’t going to push the move though he’s got to do that himself’

Nyassi steps in and Mohd translates ‘I’ve been thinking for a while now that I’ve outgrown this club, I want a move to a bigger team’

‘Well firstly thanks for your honesty. Second, there’s no one interested in you as far as I am aware. Third, you’ve done next to nothing in my time here to suggest you’ve outgrown anything, you could’ve done more to help us last season’

‘Look I’ve been professional enough to let you know my feelings, I want out and I need you to help me get my move’

‘Not a chance, not a chance in hell. You want out of this club, you’re going to have to sort that out yourself. No way am I wasting my time dealing with a player that can’t be bothered to put in the work at a club that pays his wages. You’re on your own with this’

He storms out, pathetic really. He’s quick, that’s about it. He can rot in my non-existent youth team for all I care.

Coming in for our second game of the new season I locked horns with that twat Steve Kean and Sarawak. As soon as I got to their pathetic excuse for a stadium he greets me at the players entrance

‘Hey up laddie, looking forward to getting beat again today?’

‘Shut up. You’re lot are going to be lucky to get anything from this game. I can see the hunger in my teams eye, we’re winning this one today’

‘Cute talk kid. All this nonsense about getting promoted has gone to your head, we’ll be bringing you back down to Earth very soon’

He irritates me that bloke. As for the game itself, well I let my team do the talking for me. Despite Sarawak clearly playing to catch us on the break, we absolutely battered them all over the pitch. They took an early lead but our training ground work on set pieces paid off as we got a goal from a corner to equalise. We were by far the better team all over the pitch but just couldn’t get the break through. Steve Kean must’ve thought they’d got away with a draw as right until the 89th minute it was still 1 a piece, that was until Katende buried a low shot to make it 2-1 to us! Back to victories to start the new season.

After the game I try to catch up with Steve but he’s conspicuous by his absence and I can’t find him anywhere. I wasn’t going to gloat, I would’ve like to tell him I made good on my word that we’d beat his team the next time we played them, and we did.

Following on from me putting Steve Kean in his place, I did the same to the Perlis manager who tried to question our resolve and showed them just why I think we’re going to get promoted this year, as once again we bossed the game and came away with another 2-1 win. As expected from a promoted team battling to stay up they showed a lot of desire and worked hard chasing every second ball, and whilst we were losing going into the second half, they did defend well and were good for their lead. The game changed when they had a man sent off for a 2 footed challenge, the free kick given we scored from. We then got the winner later on to give us 3 wins from 3. Hopefully this puts the rest of the league on notice that my assessment of my team and confidence of going up is shown to be true

But in football things can change quickly, as Sabah avenged that 6-0 drubbing we gave them in my third game last season as we went down 1-0 away. It was an even game and either of us could’ve won but we won’t dwell on this.

Back home we entertained Negeri in a game neither team deserved to lose, but ultimately we did. 2 all going into the full time whistle and they managed to grab a late winner on 91 minutes. The most frustrating thing was we switched off defensively at the end and in my mind that late goal could’ve been avoided.

We end the month on a high however as we beat PJ Rangers 2 nil to finish February in second place. A good all round month all things considered, the 2 losses were avoidable I feel and our work on the training ground will continue.

‘There’s a long way to go, but I think we keep this up and my prediction of a top 2 finish will come in. What’s your assessment?’

‘Agree with you completely. We worked hard on set pieces in training and have scored a few goals form them in game, and always look threatening from set plays. We could do some more work on the defensive end however’ my assistant Keith Gumbs says.

‘Right then, this weeks training will be set piece attacking, then defending, followed up with ground defence. Weeks 2 and 4 will set piece delivery, aerial defence and week 3 will be about keeping possession, how’s that sound?’

‘Noted boss, I’ll get the schedules together’

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Next episode – Taking the initiative

Previous episode – Attack. Defend. Hope….

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Attack. Defend. Hope….

‘That was unbelievable from Espinoza. How did he keep that out?!? Bakri was wide open just left of the penalty spot and with a free header, he hits it towards goal and towards the far post. The flight of the ball confuses Espinoza who starts by taking a step to his right only to somehow twist his body to his left and palm the ball over the bar. That save has probably, just about saved Penang’s season’

‘Carlos, some effort there son, that’s exactly why we brought you in!’

‘No worries boss, was just doing my thing’

Why is he so laid back all the time? Part of me thinks if we hadn’t have brought Carlos here, that would’ve gone in right at the death of the Johor game, and possibly we would’ve been relegated. That was some save it’s got to be said.

Post game press conference

‘Dmitri, that save in the dying moments of the game has got to go down as 1 of the saves of the season would it not?’

This is strange, the reporter in our post-match press conference is speaking in English.

‘Yes definitely, that’s exactly the sort of thing Carlos pulls out of the bag. He’s just about kept us in this division with that save’

‘Looking back, and I don’t mean to be blunt but this has been a pretty poor season for Penang hasn’t it?’

‘Yeah, totally agree with you. But first and foremost, the chairman brought me here to keep this team in this division as priority number 1, and we’ve achieved that. But overall this club could’ve done better’.

‘Have you thought about next season yet? What are your plans?’

‘Well, I know we should keep our aims to ourselves but I’m going on record now and saying that next season I’m aiming for promotion. I have a 3 year plan in mind and promotion to the Super League is the first step on that road, which will be achieved next season if we all put in the effort and stick to my plans’

‘But won’t promising promotion next season after narrowly avoiding relegation this season come back to haunt you?’

‘I can live with that risk. The type of players that we’re targeting coupled with the players already here we should achieve a top 2 finish. Thank you that’s all for now’

I leave the press room and head straight down the tunnel to the away locker room.

‘Right lads we got lucky today, extremely lucky. Any other day they could’ve scored any of those chances they had, Carlos kept us in the game when you switched off defensively, we cannot have any of that next season, because next season I’m aiming for promotion and I will not accept anything less than 100% commitment from you all’

‘Right on boss, we can do this’

‘Thanks Carlos. Mohd, please relay my message to the team’.

Mohd Sukri, our player liaison officer and translator relays my message to the team

‘Boss, a couple of the lads don’t think we’re in a position to challenge for promotion and…’

‘Mohd, tell them we will not be flirting with relegation if they all give 100%. If they can’t commit to that then they are free to leave. This squad very nearly got relegated and I’m in no mood to be in another relegation fight. I can’t stress enough how close relegation was’

With that the players leave the locker room and go on their end of season break. I’m glad this season is over really, my first job in management and we almost went down. Okay so we ended up a full 3 points away from the relegation zone, but if Carlos hadn’t have pulled off that world class save, and Felcra had taken 1 of their chances in their final game, we could’ve gone down. My first 4 months in charge and it could’ve been oh so different.

My aim now in the off season is to improve the squad and get them in a position to not even think about the bottom end of the league, I want to be going hard for promotion and tell the board that we will achieve promotion this season.

Review of the clubs disappointing season now and confirmation it was a bad one all around.

To give the perception that this is a club committed to succeeding next year I sign a new contract as I truly believe we can gain promotion this season. A nice gesture from player of the year Kang Seung-Jo as he backs my staying here. I am expecting big things from him this term so to have him on side is definitely a plus.

Chairman’s office 1st December 2018

‘You can’t be serious? How can he can stay here after letting 29 players leave!!’

‘Dmitri, when you signed for us you agreed to work with our director of football Mohd Faizol, he’s good at what he does’

‘If letting 95% of my youth team leave, as well as 6 players that were in the first team then yes he’s absolutely fantastic at what he does!’

‘Look you said yourself you want to build your own team and gain promotion this year…’

‘Yes I know but how can I build a team around a core of players if the clubs first choice right winger, center half and a versatile player are all allowed to leave? I need assurances he’s not going to interfere with my squad building, or team selection or anything really! I was hoping to use some of the youth players, there were some good prospects there that could’ve played a role this coming season’

‘Look, what’s done is done, he didn’t feel resigning those players was good for the club therefore they left’

‘I’m not happy at this, please don’t let him interfere with my plans. If you want this team back in the Super League, let me do my thing’

‘Thank you for your time Dmitri’

29 players! 29 pissing players he let leave including a couple of good prospects! How does anyone let that happen, that’s my youth team bar 2 players gone. Okay so the first team wasn’t the best by any means and struggled but to lose 6 players before getting anyone else in, or even lined up is madness. I’ve got some work to do.

First up we sign a center half. Kamarul Afiq Kamaruddin comes in on a free transfer and will be a starter.

We then sign right sided midfielder Zairul Fikri Keram who will provide competition

Both of these signings should hopefully help the team in our bid for promotion. My aim is now to concentrate on training defence and set plays as next season we’ve got to be hard to break down, and if we can be strong at getting goals from set plays then I think we’ve got a good chance.

‘Dmitri, I need a word’

‘Oh not you Mohd, I’m not in the mood to speak to you’

‘It’s important Dmitri. Our assistant manager Karupiah Gunalan has agreed to join Melaka as their new assistant’

‘Are you fucking kidding me! How long have you known about this?’

‘Well they made an approach a couple of weeks ago’

‘And you didn’t tell me, or even try and negotiate a deal with him??’

‘Well no, I didn’t think he’d leave’

‘You didn’t think he’d leave?!? You really are something else do you know that!’

‘Is that a compliment?’

‘NO!’

‘I’ll make some calls and get us a new assistant manager in’

‘No, you won’t. It’s me that needs a new assistant so I will find one. Get out of my office now!’

This guy is unbelievable, literally unbelievable! The new season starts in a week or so and we’re predicated to finish 3rd, which if the other 2 finish above us won’t be enough for promotion. I had training all sorted out, my tactics were finalised and now my assistant takes that knowledge and goes off to Melaka. I need a new right hand man and I need 1 soon.

31 Jan 2019. The day before the new season

‘I think it’s ridiculous that the manager of a promoted team can even suggest we could get relegated. I’ve put things in place here to ensure that not only do we not get dragged into a relegation fight but we’re set up to get promoted this season. That’s all for today thank you’

I leave the press conference confident for our new season, but also annoyed that the Perlis manager thinks his team will stay up and ours won’t. The prick.

My mobile rings and an unknown caller is ringing.

‘Hello?’

‘Dmitri, don’t worry about Gunalan leaving, he wasn’t that good anyway. I’ve made a call and there’s an experienced, and good assistant on his way to meet you. His name is Keith Gumbs’.

‘This again, who are you, why do you keep arranging these things for me?’

‘Just think of me as your guardian angel. Listen to what Keith says, he’s got a lot of good ideas but don’t deviate away for your own plans, stick to your guns’.

Beep. He hung up. Who the hell is this guy? Why does he keep doing this to me? Anyway I’ve got a team to prepare for the new season.

As I walk into the trainers room I’m greeted by a tall dark skinned man wearing a tracksuit and with a clipboard in his hand.

‘Dmitri, I’ve spoke to the squad on the tactical briefing for tomorrows game with Johor 2. As you pointed out they’re weakest on the wings, so we’ll get the ball out wide and get as many crosses into Katende as we can for him to try and bury or knock down for the 3 runners from midfield. We’re sticking to your trusted flat back 4 all on defensive duty’

‘Right, erm okay. Who are you?’

‘Keith Gumbs, your assistant manager. I’ve set today’s session up already and we’re working on attacking corners and free kicks this morning then aerial defence this afternoon’

‘Yes that’s what I had planned for today’s session. Hang on, how long have you been here?’

‘Since the press conference this morning. Can’t believe what the Perlis manager said about you, we’ll show him won’t we!’

‘I guess. So erm, shall we go and start training?’

‘Sure thing boss, lead the way’ he says with a smile on his face.

This gets more and more wired as the days go on. He seems confident, maybe he’s trying to impress me? Oh what do I know, he’s here, he speaks English so we should get along, I hope. As I go to training I’m greeted by the reporter from this mornings press conference who spoke to me in English

‘Keith Gumbs has been hired as your assistant, does this change your job at all?’

I think to myself wow that news got out quick. I answer with a smile and move on.

So the start of a new season is upon us. I think the team’s ready, I’m ready and hopefully the fans are ready for what I hope is going to be a good season. We start this season off where we left last season, with a game against Johor Darul 2.

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Next episode – Here we go

Previous episode – The run in