Matelica — Jump In The Fire (1)

Having heard of the incredible turnaround I engineered in such a short time at Deportivo de La Coruna, I’m approached about a different opportunity with a very similar objective. Matelica Calcio would like me to replicate my success with their club and get them promotion-bound almost immediately. They explain that the situation in Matelica would be somewhat different as we wouldn’t be starting out in four million pounds of debt and the facilities aren’t quite of the same calibre. We’re also on the ascendancy having just won promotion from Serie D (along with Palermo!) last season rather than the two relegations in three seasons that Deportivo have suffered.

I’m never one to shy away from a challenge so I get the family together to discuss it. They’ve quite enjoyed the weather, the house on the Mediterranean and the change in culture, so they’re on board with going on another adventure. My now-trilingual kids could really do with adding another language anyway. Let’s do it! As with Spain, I’ll go ahead to get things set up and then have them follow once we’re sorted.

Matelica Chairman Mauro Canil greets me at the San Francesco d’Assissi airport in Perugia and we get acquainted as we drive the hour north-east to our new home ground.

Basically he seems a wee bit overly ambitious and impatient considering what he brings to the table but at least be won’t be interfering much.

As we’re pulling up to the stadium, I realise that when I was told the club’s facilities weren’t as good as Depor’s, I neglected to ask HOW not as good. EXTREMELY not as good would have been the answer. As it turns out, the majestic sounding “Centro Sportivo Giovanni Paulo II” isn’t quite like what I’d become accustomed to in A Coruna. Mauro seems quite impressed with it, however, so I feign excitement.

He then excitedly ushers me over to the office to meet the other staff members. The office is also not what I’m used to.

The rest of the staff all seem quite excited to have me aboard but it’s clear we’re going to need more people here to get this place up to snuff. This may have been good enough for Serie D last year, but more coaches, more scouts and more physios are necessary to compete at the next level…never mind the fact that improvements to our current staff would also be welcome. I keep the last bit to myself.

As I sit down in my office (cubicle, basically) I’m pleasantly surprised to see that it has an internet connection. It’s time to get to work.

Let’s see what we’re dealing with. We’ve got 425k to spend, but only 187k in the bank. That’s nice of the board. Our stadium (or stand) seats exactly “-” people. Our average age is 21.4 with a top earner of 1.3k/week. Well, let’s get started.

My first order of business is to get some new staff in here. And that’s quite hard to do when barely anyone interested. Why do so few people want to come here?

Oh. That could be why. Turns out the only person in Italy that knows about my Deportivo stint was Mauro. I’m the worst manager in the country, apparently.

On the staff list, a solitary physio is interested and he’ll cost 20k to get out of his contract. A lone scout is interested too and he’ll cost 60k. And they’re both from the same club. How bad must the Maltese team Hamrun Spartans be?

A bunch of coaches are interested but most of them are under contract and it’ll cost me to get them. The only three interested coaches want player/coach terms. So I try for all three. Turns out that they’re all ancient players that I’ve heard of. Craig Holloway, the former Arsenal youth goalkeeper that used to become a star in an old computer game. Championship Manager 01/02, I think it was. I used to love that game. I still do but I used to too (RIP Mitch Hedberg). Jamie Cureton, the former….it would just be quicker to list the teams he HASN’T played for. And Julian Joachim, joint 6th top scorer in the Premier League for Aston Villa in 98–99 with 14 along with Alan Shearer and Robbie Fowler.

I turn to the uninterested and unemployed staff . I bid for every unemployed scout and offer what my current guy is making. I bid for every unemployed physio and offer what my current guy is making. And truly, for some of the physios, I’d force them to recite the Hippocratic Oath on arrival based on their abilities…or lack thereof.

I join the staff out to the pitch for the afternoon, more as an observer than anything else at this stage. The players look pretty grim. And I mean that in two different ways. They appear to be grim (gloomy) as they try to impress the new boss that just cleared out and replaced 95% of his Deportivo team. And grim (terrible) as in not very good at football.

We’ve got 15 players in the first team with 5 additional loanees. I do my customary depth chart and see that we’ve got a few solid players and some young…potential? I’m not sure that’s the right word. Either way, this is not enough to do any real damage at this level. I’m flabbergasted with how poor some of these loan players are. I mean, they’re all here for free but only one of them is likely to see the field. And that’s BEFORE I go on a player finding spree. I prep my “Thanks but go home” emails prior to my player search. I’m definitely going to have to hit the market. Hard.

I see a few more stragglers arrive at practice and ask Assistant Marco (as opposed to Scout Marco) why they’re late. These guy are apparently the entire reserve team (we have one of those?) and after watching them join practice, I note that a few of them should be up here with us.

Our reserve goalie, Martorel, instantly becomes my #1. Rossetti is on par with my best first team strikers and wants assurances about his future. I tell him he’s now a first team player. I have a reserve left back that I’m told should be first team...if he wasn’t out for 11 months with cruciate ligament damage. Other than those three, the youth players are all dross. I mean, they’re youth as in young and players as in people participating in a game or sport. Still, it’s rather nice to find a couple more usable pieces.

I’m currently happy (ish) with seven players, but three of them are strikers:

That leaves a lot of gaps to be filled and even those gents above have large amounts of room for improvement. I list every player not named whatever those seven were named to see if there’s any interest. And is there ever! Each and every one of my listed players is wanted. They must really have impressed during the promotion campaign last season! That’s great news. I could really use some more money.

Even though we HAVE a bit of money doesn’t mean I have anyone to spend it on. My interested player search doesn’t reveal anything except names, places and values. Not much to judge a players ability on.

So I move on the loan market hoping to bolster the squad. I doubt I’ll get too much assistance through this channel as there are only either lousy or no attributes to be seen. Based solely on value (575k) and team (Betis B) I decide to ask for Jose Manuel Irizo.

Oh. Question 1) How do I already have 5 loanees? Question 2) How quickly can I get rid of the four I don’t want?

Answer 1) No idea, but not sure it matters. Answer 2) Tomorrow.

Every loanee except Volpicelli is released immediately so I can try to arrange some actually helpful loan offers tomorrow.

I take a player hunting break for a bit and switch to house hunting. Our sojourn to Spain has really made us appreciate the climate and being close the water. The climate shouldn’t be too different and since we’re a bit too far inland to actually live on a coast, a lake, river or a pond would be nice. Or a pool. And a view wouldn’t hurt either.

A 20 minute drive south of Matelica, I find this gem perched up high in the Apennine Mountains. That should do nicely. Privacy and luxury. I love those things. And for just under 900k euros, cheaper than the place we’re leaving in Spain. My real estate agent is making a killing from me recently. Luckily for me, the house has been vacated already, so I make the offer and suggest closing by next Sunday.

So, it’s on to free agents next. This is gonna be interesting. No free agents from my player search are interested. And I’m not signing players if I’m not certain that they’ll improve us. So the only players I’m comfortable signing will be players with international caps so I can at least watch some footage and figure out if they’re any good. But how many former Italian internationals are jobless and interested in joining our team? Probably, none. But how many unemployed previously capped Bolivians/Djiboutians/San Marinese might be interested? That’s what I’m going to try to find out.

I populate my short list with capped players from around the globe. They run the gamut from awful to incredible. The incredible ones aren’t nearly as interested as the awful ones unfortunately. I bid what I can (2k/week max) for a bunch of players asking for more, just hoping someone will bite.

I’m even tempted by this chap.

The only Montenegrin forward named Vucinic I’ve ever heard of turned out to be quite good, so that 100% success rate intrigues me. But I decide that I’d rather not be another Graeme Souness/Ali Dia joke for the next hundred years.

I then find this (non-diamond) geezer is no better than my current strikers and STILL wants 10k/week! I’ve heard rumours of a bad attitude though, so maybe I’ve dodged a bullet.

I do make a bunch of bids to players from footballing hotbeds Syria, Puerto Rica, Oman, Zimbabwe and others. Not many that I’ve heard of personally, other than a few inexplicably available former Deportivo players of mine. Very odd.

The only other avenue for improvement at the moment is to check out the swap market. I check out some of the teams that are interested in my players, but to no avail. I either don’t have any data on their players or they’re uninterested in joining. I’ll check with those teams again when/if we receive any offers.

I take a look around our league next. The good news is that I can see how good (or bad) a lot of the players are at rival clubs, so I make a few cash bids. I even use some of our players as make-weights in a few deals. The bad news is that there is a zero percent I won’t confuse Legnago with Legnano at least once.

The player hunt today took a lot out of me. And as none of the unemployed scouts said they were interested in joining me, I do make the bid for the sole interested and currently employed one. It’ll cost me 60k, but I need him. And he’s not bad with 13/14 for judging ability and potential.

I’m long past burning the midnight oil here and I’m wiped. I fondly recall the days of getting excited when I no longer required the Murphy bed in my last office in Spain. Here, I’m provided with an inflatable mattress, a pillow and a sleeping bag. Fingers crossed for that house. I check out the pictures one more time before I blow up my bed and doze off.

I awake to an achy back and lying, for all intents and purposes, on the floor. Technically there’s a sleeping bag and a deflated air mattress under me, but that’s not much help. And it’s FAR too early in the morning. It’s still twilight, so it’s probably in 5s somewhere. Might as well get started…

I have enough messages to keep me going all morning. There’s a whack-load of rejected transfer bids from teams in my league. No acceptances yet, sadly. There are a whack-load more messages about other teams bidding for players I want. Not much I can do about that as I can’t really bump up any offers from what I’ve already offered. But I’m very pleased to see that we do have a whack-load of bids for our players. Seventeen bids for eight of my players. I go through looking for swaps (only one) and I accept some offers and negotiate higher fees with others.

Looking over the loan list, I’m informed that our four unwanted loanees still haven’t headed back their parent clubs yet. It’s bloody tomorrow already, lads! Get going!

I enjoy a quick stroll around the town to find a few things: my bearings; a new mattress; and some food. The hardware store had a lovely new mattress with a plug-in pump, so I splurge on it. On the way back, I come upon a lovely pastry place and the proprietor is kind enough to let me point at stuff to order it. He has some delicious looking garlic loaves. “Due, per favore”. I’m gonna like this shop.

During our Monday afternoon training session I start to get a little more involved. I’m beginning to form some ideas about our potential tactics. We’re going to have to have a slightly more defensive formation than at Depor, as we’re definitely not the big dogs of this league. I’m thinking about a slight variation of a 4–1–2–1–2.

We just need to plug a few holes still. We (Assistant Marco, Coach Fabio and I) also start getting the players introduced to their positional sessions rather than being lumped in together in general training all the time. Things seem to be running smoothly, so I pop back to the office to have a quick cat nap prior to ploughing back in to the personnel side of things.

The planned power nap on my shiny new mattress turns in to a semi-coma that lasts until the wee hours of the next morning. Last night really screwed me up. I suppose I’m not the spry, function-on-no-sleep type of guy I used to be.

Well, at least by NOW our loan players will have left. I make my pair of loan bids and cross my fingers. The fella I’d REALLY like is already out on loan, but his contract is up in the summer. He’s short-listed with a reminder set on my phone for Jan 1st 2021.

Four more bids have arrived for two more players and some heavy (relatively) hitters are involved. Odd (Norwegian Prem) wants a DMC of ours and Venezia (Serie B) want a LB. There are other offers on the table for those players already, so I request a bit more cash from each of them.

By Tuesday evening the bad, good, bad and good news is that another transfer bid is rejected, both loans are accepted, one loan is rejected by the player and they accepted the house offer! I’m really looking forward to some relaxing evenings out on that rooftop patio.

These days are certainly flying by. I spend a bit of time doing something I should have done a long time ago: learn about this league.

Our first matches are all Cup matches. We’re in the Serie C Cup (Group L) starting in only twelve days, so I hope I get some help in by then! The format here is that the best ten Serie C1 teams get a bye while the other 80 Serie C1 and Serie C2 teams compete in sixteen groups of 5. The sixteen group winners and the six best runners-up up join the ten byes in two-legged knockouts til there’s a winner. This will be the only Cup we’re entered into, as the Italian Cup is only for Serie A, B and select C1 teams.

Fermana and Sambenedettese are BOTH C1 teams while Fano and Notaresco are our level in C2. Looking around, I see that some groups even have three teams from C1 teams and others have one, so I don’t feel too hard done by.

I see that Juve U23 is in this Cup, and looking at their squad, I’m unimpressed. But so is their 32yo striker. He’s unsettled and trying to force his way into the team. Fella, I get it. You’re 32 and this is a U23 team. But you certainly can finish better than anyone on my team.

Juve, how about 40k for him?

After this cup group, we then play league matches every Sunday from the 2nd of September to the 5th of May, save the 23rd and 30th of December and the 6th of January with Thursday the 3rd of January thrown in for good measure. Lots of time to recuperate between matches, assuming we don’t make the Finals of the cup.

The Serie C/2A league seems pretty straight-forward. Home and away with everyone. Top goes up. Next four play-off in two two-legged semis and a two-legged final to see who else goes up. Bottom five do the reverse. 18th goes down, next four worst play-off in two two-legged semis with the two losers playing a two-legged final to see who else goes down. The board lured me here with promotion-talk but set a far more attainable “avoid relegation” as my goal, so let’s just aim for 13th or better to be on the safe side.

Wednesday morning brings some excitement. Lots of “Final Offers” for players come in, so I cancel the lower bids I’d previously received. The solitary swap offer is accepted but a Final Offer of exactly the swap player’s value arrives too. I’m torn. I accept both and negotiate terms with Philip Wistrom, a Swedish LB who seems fine. Maybe I’ll just let my player decide where he wants to go and I’ll either take the money or the player…

Juve accept my Brighenti bid! And his terms are reasonable! I give him what he asks for and hope for the best. He may not be our saviour but anything that I’d be willing to let see the pitch is a helpful addition.

He quickly agrees (after my other loan bid was rejected by the player) and he’s confirmed by Wednesday afternoon. Our first new player is arriving in a position we didn’t really need. Hooray!

It’s August 1st, so Mauro checks in on the Board’s behalf over a nice dinner at some hole-in-the-wall diner. He seems happy enough and is looking forward to a long and successful era under my management. Very nice of you to say, Mauro, but I’m completely gutting this team and have approximately one replacement lined up. Still, long-term I think we’ll come out ahead. I casually slip our stadium into conversation, and how we currently have a “- seater”. Mauro lets me know that there was a requirement to increase from Serie D to Serie C2, so we’ll have a nice round 5000-seater by kick-off in a week. Rome may not have been built in a day, but our stadium needs to be built in a week!

By the way, if ever you’re in Italy, you should try the pasta. It’s delicious.

Speaking of that lone incoming replacement, I greet him at the stadium just as Mauro drops me back there. Welcome to Matelica, Andrea Brighenti.

I don’t have buyer’s remorse, per se, but his previously unknown attributes don’t blow me out of the water. Still, he’s on par with my current strikers skill-wise, so he’ll do. And just so I’m not out of pocket over this deal, Masani, a useless RB, is off to Piacenza for 40k to balance out the ledger for the day.

The excitement REALLY heats up on Thursday morning. In between the numerous scouts telling me they’d rather stay unemployed than come work for me, we get a few more “Final Offers” along (lower bids cancelled) a few new offers, an agreement from our new 60k scout and our first few free agents acceptances!

I thank the sweet Lord baby Jesus there are no non-EU restrictions in Italy. I’m pretty sure I’ve got a direct line to him now, since our facility is named after Pope John-Paul II. I also get a swap offer for a player that I’ve already agreed to sell for 250k. And it’s a F LRC who’s valued at 525k and he WANTS to come here. Currarino is probably better than any of the other players that would want to come here and in a position we need, so I offer what he’s asked for.

By Thursday night we have a bunch of new arrivals, a bunch of departures and a bunch of acceptances. If we ignore the far greater number of bunches of rejections, this has been a great day!

All three player-coaches are in and they’re all absolutely terrible at football. But having some ex-talent running some training sessions is better than having no one running them…I think. They get bumped down to the reserves as they’re cluttering up my first team.

The incoming players don’t blow any minds, but they’re fine.

The trio of new players arrive first thing the next morning from different corners of Africa: Bissau-Guinea, Gabon and Uganda are in the house.

By the afternoon we get add a solid Omani CB and line up a few more players for evening arrivals. It’s getting to the point where I’m withdrawing some deals due to already having better players in those positions.

Friday night’s news includes our very first scouting report. Our first match in the Serie C Cup is against Sambenedennese and the sheer number of recommendation stars from Scout Marco is worrisome. They’re far better than us on paper, but there’s still 9 days til the match. None of the good ones are interested in joining us at the moment. Their heads will turn when we leapfrog them in the Italian football hierarchy.

Four more arrivals tonight. Three more coming on Saturday morning. The turnover here is absolutely incredible. When the window closes, I’m going to add up the number of different languages our team speaks. We’re basically a footy United Nations.

I was thinking about just transfer-listing him straight away, but we do need depth (a few of the newbies are injured) and when I compared him to the players we were off-loading, my bid for him made sense.

I’m awoken on Saturday by some honking at the gate as a few more cars arrive. There’s only one major airport in the area so why they each need a car, I’ve no idea.

My original depth chart has absolutely massacred. Only five players left from my original squad still in the first team, and one of them is even listed!

My Saturday night ends with a new starting LB entering the squad and couple of goalkeepers (we only have one right now) agreeing to contracts and arriving tomorrow morning.

We decide that since this is our last free Saturday until December, we’re going to enjoy it. Matelica has a (and only a) night club called the Much More Club. Half team-building, half celebration, half trying to figure out if any of us can communicate with each other. Should be fun!

Tonight marks the end of my first week here. Tomorrow brings my family, keys to ournew house, a week of hard prep for a Cup game against a team a league above us and far fewer transfers (hopefully).