You take the rough with the smooth….

May 2019

Half way through my first full season in charge of a football club and we’re right where I expected us to be, second in the league and playing well. Okay so we lost 3 league games but in those games we were clearly the better side but just didn’t take our chances. We held leaders PKNP to a draw but they’ve got a 5 point cushion above us. We’ve got to play hard and take our chances to keep the pressure up.

In the first game of May we avenged our cup loss to Johor 2 by beating them 2 at their place. A great all round performance from us with 2 early goals they never got back into the game.

Back to back victories as we beat Perlis 3-0 at their ground. Whilst they are a promoted team looking to stay in the division, they put up a good fight but we took our chances, something we didn’t do just a few games ago.

As I walk towards the press room in our stadium my phone rings

‘Hello’

‘Right laddie. I avoided you last time as I couldn’t be bothered with your gloating, but this time, this time mark my words son, you’re going down. And this will be the start of your downfall this season’

I recognised that Scottish accent straight away, that husky bitter voice on the other end was Steve Kean

‘Sorry  Steve, you just sound bitter. I promised you I’d get the better of you and I did, this young inexperienced manager besting the old guard’

‘Take nothing for granted bonnie lad, when the season is over and done with, you’ll look back on this match as the beginning of the end’

Click.

Sounds like sour grapes to me, anyway who is trying to kid the beginning of the end? Can he see into the future?

We’re overwhelming favourites going into this match against Sarawak, and why shouldn’t we be, we’ve been on a roll recently and Sarawak have been average at best so far.

Right, where to start with this one. We had more shots on target, more clear cut chances but less possession. Well it was more of the same really, we had chances but didn’t take them, the opposition did take their chances. Same old story.

On my way out of the stadium Steve Kean is stood there, a grin as wide as he big stupid bald head. He looks me in the eye and says 2 words – ‘Told ya’ and walks off. The prick.

We had Sabah at home next and we didn’t deserve to win this 1 and we didn’t. A poor game matched the result.

In between this the groups for Malaysian league cup are drawn, and we’ve got fellow second division sides PJ Rangers & Negeri, as well as Super League team Kuala Lumpur. The cup kicks off when the league season ends.

Negeri Sembilan Press conference

‘Dmitri, your Penang side have struggled in the previous few games, despite this your name has been linked to not 1, but 2 jobs in the Super League, Perak and Felda. How do you feel knowing you’re struggling at Penang yet higher division teams are interested in you?’

‘Look, we’ve only had a couple of poor results, it’s not as if we’re hitting panic stations just yet. And on the speculation stuff, firstly until something concrete comes up I’ve no further comment, however I will say those 2 teams currently occupy the relegation places, and say I’m blowing my own trumpet but I have a good record of saving a team from relegation don’t I?’ I say that last part with a smirk on my face

‘But what is more important in your mind, taking this team up to the Super League, or keeping a team already there in that division?’

‘As I said, I’m not making any further comment on the speculation, as that is all it is for now, and unless you have any more questions about Penang and our upcoming game this presser is over. Thank you’

Perak and Felda, really? They can’t be interested in me. We beat Felda not that long ago, plus I’m barely a year into my life as a manager. It must just be paper talk. Just then my friend and personal assistant Ilja approached me

‘Hey man, you’ve had 6 calls whilst you were in the press conference, you really need to ring them back, like ASAP’

‘Okay, who was it?’

‘Well Abdul Puhat, that Perak president rang 4 times and Ghani Mohd rang once, I said I’d get you to call them back’

‘Okay who was the other call?’

‘Don’t know, some guy, he said something about being an angel? Anyway he’ll call you back later he said’

‘Thanks man’

Wow, so the speculation is true. I better get on the phone.

Later that day

‘Dmitri, look thanks for taking the time to do a Skype interview at short notice, I know you’re a busy man. Like I said we’re just considering our options at the minute, and we’ll do what we feel is best for Perak FC in our attempts at avoiding the drop’

‘No thank you for taking the time to speak to me Mr Puhat’

‘We’ll be in touch’

Perak are a big team in Malaysia, certainly bigger than Penang at the minute. Maybe I’ve neglected my current team taking time to speak to Perak, but I don’t think they’ll hang around for me. I’ll ring Felda back now.

A short time later after speaking to Felda, I’ve arranged a meeting with them to take place in 2 days time. I just hope this doesn’t get out, it might cause some concern with my current squad. Anyway enough of that lets get this game with Negeri out of the way

Once again another poor result. This one is especially hard to take as it was 0-0 right up until moments left in the game. 6 minutes of injury time and right at the death their player hit an absolute worldie of a goal that flew straight past Carlos in goal with the last kick of the game.

We have got to turn this around soon, I’ve promised promotion and the longer this poor form goes on for the less likely promotion will happen. I’m not too concerned, but I am starting to doubt the teams resolve. The transfer window is open after the PJ Rangers game, I may just look into signing someone.

As for the game itself, we went behind in the first and were easily the worse team and deserved to be losing going into half time. I went absolutely nuts in the locker room, the last few games worth of frustration came out as none of the team were expecting it from me, they all perked up and we took it to PJ in the second half. We drew level with half an hour to play but the same old story of not having that cutting edge came through again as we were held to a 1 all draw.

As I make my way to my office to get ready for my interview with Felda, my phone rings, it’s the president of Perak

‘Dmitri, I won’t take up too much of your time. We’re not going to offer you the job, whilst we were happy with your proposed vision, we’ve gone with a more experienced manager to lead us to safety. Thank you for your time’

Ahh well, Perak may be a bridge too far right now. At least I can try and get the Felda job.

I attend the interview and despite feeling confident going in, I’m actually not sure if I want to go there. I mean we beat them early on this season and they’re rock bottom of the league. I feel like have a better chance of taking Penang up and keeping them there then keeping Felda in the league. We’ll see what the outcome is.

In the build up to our next league game against league leaders PKNP, murmurs of poor dressing room atmosphere surface. I’m not concerned, this type of stuff gets reported all the time, we just need a good performance here to keep our hopes of promotion alive.

A decent performance it has to be said. We went behind early on but equalised before half time before adding 2 more goals late on to kill the game. A very much needed win.

After that we went back to struggling to kill the game off. Another game, another performance where we just didn’t take our chances. 1-1 with bottom of the league Mifa is definitely a poor result.

To add salt to the wounds, not only did we struggle to put anything past second bottom UKM, who are by all accounts probably going down with Mifa, but I got an email telling me I didn’t get the Felda job.

Well this has been a very rough period for us. With 2 games left of the season, we need to win both games to have any chance of going up. With Johor & Terengganu having their B teams in this division, if either of those finished in the top 2, the next placed team would get the promotion spot, but as Negeri & PKNP are above us, we’ve got to rely on ourselves getting the job done. We’re 4 points off top and just a point behind PKNP, so realistically we’re looking at finishing second. Do I have faith that we can finish second, yes I do, but judging by this recent run am I confident? Secretly no I’m not, but I’ve promised the club, the fans and the players promotion and I’ll give it everything I’ve got going into the final 2 games.

‘Hello?’

‘I told you when we beat you that would be the start of your downfall. We may not be above you, but at least you’re struggling. You won’t go up this season, you’re too arrogant. You over promised with your guarantee of promotion, and now you’re under delivering. You’ll be lucky to be there next season’

Click. That twat. But he’s right, when we lost to Sarawak that was the start of our poor run. Fingers crossed we can pull this off……


Next episode – The final 2 games (part 1)

Previous episode – How’s it looking (mini-sode)

Advertisements

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’

————————————————————————

Next episode – Taking the initiative

Previous episode – Attack. Defend. Hope….

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.

————————————————————————

Next episode – Here we go

Previous episode – The run in

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 

————————————————————————

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

————————————————————————

Next episode – A call to arms

Previous episode – The first game

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.

————————————————————————

Next post – The first game