The next leg – Singapore

Out of the frying pan, into the fire. An odd saying but it rings true here I think. I’m stepping into a club I know nothing about, a club that has been on a downward spiral ever since its inception a decade or so ago. I can’t wait to get stuck in, so lets get this show on the road!

The first thing I’m presented with is a report from my new assistant manager Mohd Suhaimi, who tells me that Omar Daud is our brightest youth prospect at center half, and Shaiful Esah is our best overall player at left back. Both look decent enough for this league and I expect both will have a part to play this season.

After reading through the team reports I’m greeted by a young nerdy looking guy, who tells me he is the clubs data analyst

‘Dmitri, based on last seasons stats, of all our shots at goal 20% of them were on target, of those shots on goal only 13% of those were turned into goals’

‘Right. Speak to me in basic terms please’

‘Basically, we need to be more lethal up front’

‘Right. What about defence’?

‘You mean lack of. We conceded worse than a goal per game as this club struggled again’

‘Got ya. So basically, we need to work on putting the ball in the net at 1 end of the pitch, and keeping the ball out of our net. I know just the player to help us keep the ball out. Thanks for your time’

As I walked to my office, I’m trying to myself I know 1 player I want to sign, and if reports in Malaysia are to be believed, he’s not best pleased I got sacked.

I make the call

‘Hello?’

‘Carlos, it’s Dmitri, how are ya?’

‘Boss! Yeah am fine, pissed off with how you were treated though. The new guy doesn’t seem all that good. How are you?’

‘Good Carlos, I’m good. Look I know this may be seen as tapping up, but it’s not. You don’t have an agent so I’m asking, I’m going to be going in with a bid for you, and as you’re out of contract next season I think we’ll be able to get you for a minimal fee, that’s if joining me here would appeal to you?’

‘Boss, are you for real? Of course I’ll come to Singapore, this club’s not the same without you here. Put the offer in, I’ll sign today!’

‘Patience Carlos. These things take time. As soon as we can we’ll sit down and get the deal sorted. Speak soon’

The offer goes in. A trusted comrade and I’m sure he’ll win this team points on his own. Now I just need to assess the team before making any moves.

Training. Day 2.

Just as training finishes my phone rings, it’s my friend and assistant Ilja

‘What’s up Ilja?’

‘You’re never going to believe this, but DPMM, they’re a team in Singapore, their manager has left’

‘DPMM? Hmm, where do I recognise that team from?’

‘That documentary in your flat last year, it was where Steve Kean was managing’

‘Ahh yes, now I remember. So their manager leaving, why does that concern me?

‘Well, the name being touted by the press to take over is Steve Kean!’

‘Haha, really? Oh good, I hope he does go there, it’ll be very intersting’

I get back to my office and start making calls. The offer for Carlos is in, the contract is there he’s just waiting for Penang to do the process their end, it’s a done deal just about. Now I need to make sure the defence in front of him is solid, I speak to a number of agents and people within the league and sign defenders Helmi Mohamad, Rusyaidi Salime and box to box fielder Jake Barker-Daish, all 3 of who will be starters.

The next day the fixture list is announced, along with pre season predictions

We’re playing the champs and Hougang’s former manager in our first game. We’re also predicted to finish 6th this season, which is a 1 place improvement on where this club finished last season

Before we get the season underway I confirm to the board that I am aiming for a top half finish and to be competitive in the cups. As well as that the singing of Carlos Espinoza is confirmed!

Pre match Press conference

‘You take charge of your first game tomorrow, are you excited about managing in Singapore?’

‘Yes I can’t wait, everything is set up to go, I’m confident of getting a win tomorrow’

‘As for this club itself, they’ve struggled haven’t they. Are you the man to turn things around?’

‘I don’t want to talk about the past, it’s a new beginning for me, the club, the fans everyone connected with Hougang. If I can make my mark here and win something then I can be happy with that, but I’m not getting ahead of myself, I will keep expectations to a realistic level’

‘What is your feeling after singing Carlos Espinoza? Will he start tomorrow?’

‘I’m absolutely delighted to have signed Carlos again. He was a rock for us at Penang last season and I am confident he will be a key player here this season. He was bought to be in the first team and that is exactly where he’ll be’

‘Are you concerned the Penang fans are unhappy with this transfer?’

‘As much as I feel for their fans, the new manager made it clear to Carlos he wasn’t wanted, he wanted to bring his own team in which is understandable, and personally after the way the board acted with me I don’t care what anyone at Penang thinks of me or this transfer. I will have the last laugh. Thank you that’s all for today’

On my way out of the press room, I get a notification on my phone

Well well well, this is interesting. It was just speculation but he’s actually gone back. Well now I definitely can’t wait to play DPMM. Our rivalry continues.

The first game of the new season is here, and I can’t wait to get stuck in. Whilst I’m only looking to improve the clubs 7th place finish last year, I would like a decent cup run but realistically, it’s all about building towards improvement, baby steps if you will.

We’ve got the champs first, and their new manager is who I replaced here. If there’s a good test to start off with, its Home United.


Next episode – Can we hit the ground running?

Previous episode – What happens next….

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What happens next….

‘He deserved to be sacked, he over promised and under delivered’ – Those are the words of Sarawak manager Steve Kean as the news comes out of Penang that they have sacked their manager Dmitri Tarasov after he failed to deliver on his promise of promotion. Speculation persists on who will replace him, we’ll keep you updated.

As I watch the news on my telly, I sat in my living room, thinking what do I do next? A failed Sunday league footballer sacked from his first management job. Was I too naive to think we wouldn’t get promoted? Was I too confident in the team’s ability to see it through? We had a couple of draws in the run that we dominated the games and if 1 of our chances had gone in, we’d have been promoted.

What was my downfall? I don’t want to think it’s my ability that hindered us, we had some bad luck along the way. Either way whatever the reason is, it just wasn’t meant to be this season. My phone rang just then..

‘Hello?’

‘So you got sacked, don’t worry about it, this is part and parcel of the life of a football manager. Look at Steve Bruce, he always gets sacked yet ends up in another job, same with Fat Sam and Alan Pardew. Keep your head up’

‘Who is this? Is this the guy that sorted out the deals for Katende and Carlos?’

‘Yes, your guardian angel. Listen, keep your ear to the ground, there’s going to be an opening very soon, like today that you should put your name in for. It’s not a massive club but somewhere you can make your mark’

‘Really, where at?’

‘Remember what I said Dmitri, just put your name out there, the jobs yours’

Click.

Who is that? He always rings and leaves these messages, but he’s always been right so far. I put the telly on and I switch the channel to Astro Supersport who cover football in Asia, there’s a reporter standing outside the ground of Hougang United who play in Singapore

‘That’s right, the manager of Hougang Saswadimata Dasuki has made the move to league champions Home United, this is despite another poor season for Hougang who finished a disappointing 7th in the league. Home United manager Vincent Subramaniam has retired from football after leading the club to the league championship. Either way Dasuki has landed on his feet as he leaves a struggling team and takes over a championship winning side at Home United. News from around the league suggests Hougang are keeping their cards close to their chest on potential replacements, with rumours coming out that the chairman has identified 1 leading candidate for the job who he wants to bring in. More on this as we get it’

As soon as I hear that there’s an opening in Singapore I get straight on the phone

‘Hello’

‘Ilja, it’s Dmitri. Can you make the media aware of my interest in the Hougang job?’

‘1 step ahead of you pal, I’ve already circulated your name to the media.’

‘Wow, cheers. How did you know I’d be interested in that job?’

‘I’ve known you all my life, I know you better than you know yourself. Plus it’s the perfect opportunity for you, small club in a lower rep league, not too big ambitions and when you achieve success there your stock will increase. Plus I think it’s the ideal place to building your rep’

‘Cheers man. Just another question, you didn’t ring me earlier did you?’

‘What, no you just rang me?’

‘Oh okay, no worries, speak soon’

The next day a report from the Singaporean Football Gazette ran with my name being touted as the favourite for the job. As I made my way to the gym in near my apartment in Penang, I’m asked about the speculation

‘Look I’m happy to be considered for the role, and I am definitely on the lookout for another management position, but the club has to be right and I have to be right for the club. Saying that you can take this a confirmation that I am interested in taking over at Hougang’

The next 2 days went by without anything of note happening. I kept thinking about getting sacked from Penang, thinking about my tactics and if I should concentrate on other formations, I rewatched a lot of the matches we played last year to try and figure out what I could’ve done better. Just then the phone rang with a number I don’t recognised calling

‘Hello?’

‘Dmitri, my name is Bill, I am the chairman of Hougang United. Can we meet?’

The interview

‘I can assure you that any promises I made at Penang were made with the intention of being met, we had a squad that was good enough to win the league, there were 2 stupid games against the bottom 2 that we just didn’t score, we did absolutely everything but in both games we just couldn’t convert’

‘I understand that, I’m not even concerned about you over promising, I thought you did the right thing. My only concern is how would you feel taking over a team that, let me be blunt, is poor. We’ve not won a single competition and have struggled for a long time?’

‘It will bring the best out in me. I know my track record of promises isn’t too good, but I promise I won’t leave this club of my own accord until I’ve won something here. That trophy cabinet is dying to be filled’

‘I like that attitude. Let me go away, speak to the rest of the board and I’ll come back to you shortly’

That interview felt more like an informal chat. As far as interviews go that was probably the easiest I’ve ever had. It’s all of 2 hours later that the phone rings..

‘Dmitri, welcome aboard’

Hougang United

Well here I am in Singapore. Hougang to be precise. This is a club that has only been around since 2010 and has won absolutely nothing in that time but has been runners up 3 times in the league cup.

Last season they recorded another 7th (out of 9) place finish, winning 6 games all year

This poor performance can be summed in by 1 player, apparent star man Jang J-Yoon who is a natural center forward, yet played all season at center half last year

At 31 he is someone I’d like to keep around next season, so I arrange a meeting with him.

‘Jang, hi, I’m the new first team manager Dmitri Tarasov’

‘Hi Dmitri, look I’m not going to waste either of our time here, I want out of this club, I’ve grown to hate it, I hate being here and I’m leaving when my contract runs out at the end of the month’

Well that went worse than I had imagined. Good riddance, I don’t want players here that don’t want to be, this is a new start, and trust me I’ll have the last laugh.

This brings an end to an eventful couple of weeks. I got sacked by Penang, then the mysterious guy rang me and told me I’m lined up for another job, then I get offered that job and here I am in Singapore, looking to continue to build my rep.

It might not be pretty, but by hook or by crook, before long they will know the name Dmitri Tarasov!


Next episode – The next leg – Singapore

Previous episode – The day after (mini-sode)

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)

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

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.


————————————————————————

Next episode – Attack. Defend. Hope….

Previous episode – A call to arms

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

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….

————————————————————————

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

Previous episode – How to become a football manager

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