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FK Partizan / Netherlands – 2032/33 Open Thread

August 2032.

It will be a great shock, I’m sure, to know that — in deciding to revamp/refresh the Partizan squad…I may have gone a little overboard.

None of the young Dutch players I wanted to sign were willing to leave the Eredivisie for Belgrade…and other targets were swayed by the riches of Manchester United, etc.

In my frustration, I did the only reasonable thing… I went all-in for a bunch of youth prospects, and transfer-listed the older players who simply weren’t going to take us to the next level.

At the end of August, we have a 23-man squad. There isn’t a single player over the age of 21.

Yes, the youth movement in Belgrade is well and truly begun, and will be led by our biggest signing, Emmanuel Ibrahim. (We didn’t want that Danish fella anyways, so take that, Manchester United…)

Sink or swim time in Belgrade.

It was frustrating to be dumped into the Europa Conference League by Steaua, but that’s beside the point. This year is all about gaining experience — the Board’s expectations are low, but rise sharply for 2033/34.

So we’d best make good use of our time.

PSA: Seattle Red is off on vacation until January 4th, so the Nearly Men will be a little quiet until then…stay tuned, though, for updates on the Toffee Nose and Red Jackals series!

August 2032 – Partizan Squad Review.

The last thing I needed now was Zlatan being a diva. Again.

“Boss, is just the September international break. The Zlatan needs the time to devote to campaign.”

What is there to be said, that hasn’t been said 100 times.

“We’ve been over this, Zlatan. I don’t care what dragon ate which wizard on Game of Thrones. They’re not going to change the ending, no matter how many times you petition HBO, or how many times you ignore the strict no contact orders put in place by the courts.”

“Boss, you are not listening to the Zlatan. Listen to the Zlatan. The wizards will never be fix. Go down in history, forever, as stupidest ending to greatest show in history.”

I just nod, and am already starting to tune him out.

“Listen, Zlatan. We pay you to be both here with Partizan and with the Dutch. If you’re not interested in wearing two hats any longer, then maybe we just need to discuss–“

“The Zlatan always wear two hats, Boss. You know this. The Zlatan started this fashion trend. Do not insult the Zlatan.”

“It was a metaphor, you know ‘Love is a Battlefield’ and all that.”

“The Zlatan rejects the premise of that filthy song, and you know it. Love is not battlefield, Boss, and you should not treat it so disrespectfully.”

“Disrespectfully? I saw that film you took of yourself with Serbian Alex Morgan. Don’t talk to me about disrespectful.”

We’re getting nowhere, fast. I try to bring us back on course.

“Zlatan. You want time off. For a campaign. Which one.”

Honestly, there are too many to track.

“Is simples, Boss. The Zlatan is ready to heal the wounds of the past, to bring together the peoples in harmony.”

I immediately see where this is heading. I thought Zlatan had forgotten about it, and hid the DVD…apparently to no avail.

“Zlatan. I don’t care what you saw in that Guy Ritchie flick you insist is a documentary. The Great Schism is a 1,000 year-old theological and political problem. Greater minds than you have tried and failed–“

“The Zlatan will hear no more of your heresies, Boss. Documentary. Is historical fact that Ecumenical Patriarch rejected the papal legate for having the sexy times with the Belgian princess fathered by the Pope hidden in large phallic tower, before big dance number at the end. Fact. Fact, Boss. If was not fact, Sir Ritchie would not have made the Pope such angry man. Why the Pope not happy that his daughter have new boyfriend?! The Zlatan does not understand your insistence on this point, Boss.”

Zlatan is impossible to talk to when he gets like this.

He’s got that look in his eye, the same look he gets when playing Risk.

I know that fighting will only make him dig in his heels further.

“Zlatan. You’ve written letters to the Pope about this. You made that YouTube video with Kanye, in Aramaic. It was moving. What makes it different this time? Why do you need time away from your duties here and with the Netherlands?!”

Zlatan pauses before responding, meeting my gaze levelly, looking even more determined than usual.

“Because, Boss. Is simples. The new Pope — that Colombian with hipster beard — has written back to the Zlatan and has asked to meet the Zlatan over tea, to discuss the Zlatan’s proposal to resolve the lingering dispute over the immaculate conception.”

“‘Dare to Zlatan’ is a marketing slogan, not a one-size fits all solution to every problem in the world, Zlatan.”

“Take that back, Boss. Take that back right this now, or the Zlatan will have no choice but to Dare to Zlatan all over your pretty little face, kind of like video with Serbian Alex Morgan.”

There’s an image of Zlatan’s ‘pretty little face’ that is seared into my brain forever.

And if I’m being honest, I know that if I deny him this opportunity, he’ll be useless for months. Sulking, complaining. Until he finds another distraction.

“Fine. The September international break. You can have it.”

“If it goes well, Boss, the Zlatan will need the October break, too. Even the Zlatan cannot mend the Great Schism in 10 days. 12, maybe. Better the Zlatan be safe than sorry, yes?”

I manage to keep a straight face, as I think about the ways to rub it in his face when this effort fails spectacularly.

“You’ve got it, Zlatan. But before you pack your bags, let’s do a quick rundown of the squad, yeah?

As indicated at the start of the open thread (above), we’ve made some considerable changes at Partizan in the summer of 2032.

11 new players have landed, with ~9 members of last year’s squad being told they have no future, and thus sold or sent out on loan.

Yeah, we pretty much made Ed Woodward look like a complete **** this summer. Not that he needs the help.

Again, as noted above, it’s a youth movement. Full stop.

We’re running with a 23-man squad, playing the same shadowganche tactics detailed previously over at strikerless.

There is a slight chance that we’ll see one more player leave (and another arrive) before the transfer window closes in two days’ time. More on that below. Let’s get to it.


As those of you who follow us on Twitter might remember, I was less than pleased with Lazar “Top Gun” Slavkovic‘s performance in Europa Conference League Quarterfinal (First Leg) away to Gent this past Spring.

Was it wrong to hold one highlight-reel-hilarious mistake against Lazar?


Do I still harbor an irrational grudge against Lazar for this one mistake?

I am untethered and my rage knows no bounds.

Do I feel even a smidgen of guilt, as a former goalkeeper, for judging Lazar so harshly?

The only guilt I feel is for letting him board the plane back from Belgium that night.

When the LA Galaxy offered us $825k for Lazar, I laughed my head off and agreed.

This means that we will enter the 2032/33 season with 2 keepers in the squad — Gentian Begaj ($150k from Gostivar) and Moussa Gueye (free, ASPIRE Academy), both of whom have massive potential.

They will likely split time evenly this year — while Begaj looks better at the moment, my scouts and coaches have all thought that Gueye has more potential.

We asked tennis legend Charles Poole — will Nicolaj Bur regret entering the 2032/33 season with 2 relatively-inexperienced goalkeepers?


In the 1st XI, Florim Terziev is our starting libero, with Ilija Vidovic and Cedomir Elesin ($1.7M from Sindelic, after being sold by my predecessor for $63k and a bag of magic beans) as the two ball-playing defenders.

Roar Govasmark and Razak Godwin ($325k, Wikki Tourists) are the starting wingbacks, and collaborate off-the-pitch in an acoustic guitar/oboe duo Razak & Roar. Their debut EP drops next week.

The 2nd XI has Luka “Nasty” Nastasijevic at libero, with Ilija Cuk and Vukasin Vujadinovic ($375k, Metalac) at centerback, with Sava “Bubbles” Bobar and Andrija Zivkovic ($475k, Radnicki Nis) as the wingbacks. Vukasin wants to be loaned out…I have 164 days to ‘keep’ the promise that I made, apparently after drinking way too much Serbian Rum, because I don’t remember making it and have no intention of honoring it.

(Ironically, Luka and Sava were both nicknamed on the same night at the Itchy Kitty, during the same ‘incident.’ On second thought, it really isn’t ironic after all. On advice of counsel, nothing more can be said.)

Central Midfielders

In midfield, Nikola Baric and Milos Jeremic ($150k, Radnik Surdulica) are the Mezalla and Carrilero (respectively) for the 1st XI, backed up by Albion Aga and Miljan Aleksijevic. 4 midfielders, ages 17, 18, 18 and 19. What could go wrong?!

Bozidar summarizes our recruitment philosophy.

Attacking Midfielders

Up top, our 1st XI consists of Emmanuel Ibrahim ($150k, Hearts of Oak) as the shadowganche, Nenad Mizdrak as the Inverted Winger, and Rajko “Grandpa” Stamenkovic as the Attacking Midfielder. Ibrahim is probably our best player. Nenad is agitating for a move, and I won’t miss him if he goes.

In fact, we’ve got a ready-made replacement in Jovan Vukojevic ($900k, Javor), who is the Inverted Winger in our 2nd XI.

Nikola Zarkovic is the 2nd XI’s shadowganche, with Ognjen “Two Times” Terzic ($525k, Rad) as the Attacking Midfielder. (Ognjen’s nickname also originates from the incident-that-shall-not-be-discussed at the Itchy Kitty.)

Bojan Ismaili ($525k, Shkendija) is the 23rd man on the roster, coming off the bench for the 2nd XI. If Nenad leaves, he’ll step into the 2nd XI as an Inverted Winger.

Final Thoughts

We’re so ridiculously young that any results this year will be welcome. We have a ton of talent. We just need time to nurture it.

August 2032.

Ahh…the European Conference League, my favorite competition of all — HEY. What the ****!?

Manchester City?! Boo!

September 2032.

Even from a distance, through the television, I can see Zlatan’s ego growing.

He’s only gone and done it, securing a promise from the Vatican to attend a summit in November with the Ecumenical Patriarch. Hosted by Zlatan. In Belgrade.

I text him with news of our victories over Montenegro (with a young Dutch XI) and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s England, but he doesn’t deign to respond.

He’s going to be insufferable, isn’t he?

September 2032.

Zlatan is more distracted than ever, right when we need him the most.

Away to our eternal rivals, up 3-nil after Ismaili tapped one in, in the 68th minute…only to submit under the relentless pressure of the home side. I’ve never felt so low.

We’re a young squad. We must learn to kill off a game.

It’s going to be a depressing night at the Itchy Kitty.

October 2032.

This is gloriously insane.

I can’t see how this ends well, not with these attributes. That being said, it remains unclear whether we are living in the best timeline (or the worst)

October 2032.

Zlatan continues to be distracted. What was going to be one (or perhaps two) international breaks away has instead become full-blown neglect of his duties, as he prepares for the big summit next month.

Mind you, his preparations consist almost entirely of watching The Da Vinci Code repeatedly (“is good research, Boss, very accurate”), conducting “internet research” on methods of achieving an Immaculate Conception (“but no will be getting the pregnant if the Zlatan does it like this, Boss, is science”), engaging Bozidar in lengthy debates about the best music for the “opening ceremony” (“it has to be the Kidz Bop, yes?! All of the beats and none of the filth!”), and writing The Book of Zlatan, laying out the theological principles which he claims will mend the Great Schism.

Sure, the Dutch are flying (even with a number of young, promising players in the squad) — with a full-strength squad claiming a 3-1 win over Italy, followed by a youthful XI smashing Montenegro, 5-1. We have control of the Group and will secure passage through to the Nations League semifinals if we can hold our nerve on Matchdays 5 and 6.

Nevertheless, we could use Zlatan to keep this young Partizan squad in line. After the humiliation away to **** Star, we managed to fall on our faces away to Saburtalo, jeopardizing our chances to progress to the knockout rounds. Sure, we still sit atop the Super Liga table, but we need to improve.

One more month. At least, in theory.

I never thought I would say this, but for once I do not appreciate how easily distracted Zlatan can be. We could really use his full attention.

The red and orange dots make Baby RNGeebus cry.
Half of our goals-against came in the last 20 minutes of the **** Star match. Yes, I’m still bitter. Why do you ask?

November 2032.

A bleak November afternoon in Belgrade, although the sun is breaking through the clouds when a group of people emerge from the front door of what appears to be a nightclub. The neon sign out front reads “The Itchy Kitty,” decorated by a crudely-drawn cartoon Siamese cat, with a smaller sign below advertising “Ladies Night” in the CockPit Lounge, every Friday.

An odd site for the location of what might be the most important theological summit in nearly 1,000 years. Then again, the fresh coat of paint recently added gives the 1980’s-era nightclub a veneer of class, if you squint.

The huddled masses outside reflect the entirety of Christendom. Waiting for days now, watching religious figures come and go for these high-stakes talks, punctuated by the occasional celebrity sighting. Reverent in their devotion, the anticipation has been building all day on the back of whispers that the discussions have born fruit.

Now, the masses wait for the signs that were promised. The fog machines usually arrayed around the Itchy Kitty’s main stage have been re-purposed, surrounding a path which leads to a stage erected beneath the Itchy Kitty sign.

Black fog, to signal disagreement.

White fog, to signal consensus.

The group quickly disperse, one man heading to speak with the DJ, as another hurriedly checks the fog machines. The crowd can sense it. Something has happened inside. The end of their watch is nigh.

Feedback suddenly echoes through the parking lot, reverberating off the cracked pavement.

The DJ adjusts a few knobs and smiles to himself, the reverb fading.

The unmistakable refrain of the Kidz Bop version of Europe’s “The Final Countdown” strikes like a bolt of lightning from a clear sky.

Yes, something has happened inside. The crowd surges forward in anticipation, straining against the barricades in place.

The fog machines whir to life as the first chorus begins.

White fog bursts forth, accompanied by shouts of joy. The masses embrace. Tears flow like sweet red wine. They are become joy.

The front of the Kitty is now shrouded in white fog, pierced by lasers shooting into the sky.

The leather-studded double doors open, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic strides forth, hand in hand with Pope Juan I and His All Holiness, Photios III. You recognize Pope Juan I from his days as a rampaging wingback for Deportivo Cali in the late 1980s, when he was known by his free-flowing mullet and his given name, Stalin Pinzon. Photios III is nothing less than the living embodiment of a Nordic God, 6’4″, his uncut beard flowing in the light breeze. Others follow behind them, but the cameras follow the trio as they approach the stage.

The crowd roars with unbridled joy as they mount the stage, prompting Zlatan to take the lead solo on air-guitar while gesturing to Pope Juan and Photios to join him on air-bass and air-drums.

They politely demure.

As the solo ends, Zlatan takes the microphone. His words are inaudible, even amplified.

What words can truly be said? The Great Schism has been mended. The white fog spilling forth carries more weight than any words could, as nearly 1,000 years of religious quarrel dissipate like the setting sun.

Zlatan raises a hand, calling for quiet. Pope Juan and Patriarch Photios involuntarily flinch, pulling away from Zlatan before rearranging their garb, calming themselves.

The shouts of joy continue, unabated. Zlatan again gestures for quiet, and the crowd settles down enough for his amplified voice to be heard. The Pope and Patriarch step forward, arm in arm, and invite a man standing behind them in a toga to step forward.

At first, the fog and lasers reflecting off of his well-oiled physique and visage obscure his identity. But once he speaks, all recognize the voice as that of none other than Cristiano Ronaldo, the legendary footballer who now manages Augsburg, and whose presence in Belgrade has been rumored all week.

“A reading,” Cristiano intones, “from the Book of Zlatan.”

A hush falls over the crowd, their attention focused on the Portuguese legend, who reads slowly. Enunciating each words as one might savor a lover’s first kiss.

“Guardiola went up to Manchester. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, Baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, Baldy!” He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Zlatan. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys. Amen.”

The crowd responds, enraptured. “Amen.”

Cristiano turns and embraces Zlatan. As he pulls away, you notice spots of oil staining Zlatan’s elegant four-piece suit. They stand arm in arm, surveying the crowd and all that they have accomplished.

The Pope and Patriarch embrace.

The crowd cheers in ecstasy, as the Kidz Bop version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” begins to play.

Someone props the doors of the Itchy Kitty, as word begins to spread — it’s an open bar tonight. All night.

November 2032.

Time flies when you’re having fun:

December 2032.

We finish 2032 on a high. Maybe it was Zlatan’s renewed focus. Maybe it wasn’t. There’s really no way to tell, is there?

Kidding aside, the youth are coming together at Partizan and we finished the calendar year strong, the only notable blips being the 2nd XI losing away to Smederevo and the 1st XI getting FM’d by Kolubara:

More importantly, we’re 12 points clear of Metalac with a game in hand:

We also redeemed ourselves somewhat in the Europa Conference League, securing a date against Basaksehir in the knockout rounds. We simply weren’t going to top City…at least, not this year.

The Dutch finished their Nations League campaign with 6 wins from 6, after a 1-0 win in Genoa and a 2-1 win at Wembley. We’ll face Spain in the semifinals next June. We also got a favorable World Cup qualifying draw, with Scotland being our most difficult opponent.

February 2032.

Our reward for smashing Basaksehir 7-nil on aggregate?

A date with Diego Simeone’s Dortmund.

The Turks did not want to #TasteTheBean...
…but they were not given a choice.
That’s going to leave a mark. I appear to have angered RNGeebus somehow.

March 2033.

I arrived at the office this morning to find this card on my desk.

The door has been locked all night. But it seems that I left the window slightly ajar…

March 2033.

Ahead of the big match against Dortmund, a solemn reading from the Book of Zlatan (4:36-49), with Bozidar on air-saxophone.

Tonight the music seems so loud,
I wish that we could lose this crowd.
Maybe it’s better this way,
We’d hurt each other with the things we’d want to say.

We could have been so good together,
We could have lived this dance forever.
But no one’s gonna dance with me,
Please stay.

And I’m never gonna dance again,
Guilty feet have got no rhythm.
Though it’s easy to pretend,
I know you’re not a fool.

Should’ve known better than to cheat a friend,
And waste the chance that I’d been given.
So I’m never gonna dance again,
The way I danced with you.

Now that you’re gone,
What I did’s so wrong, so wrong,
That you had to leave me alone.

March 2033.

Our Europa Conference League journey is over. We hit the post in both legs, with an early goal called back for offsides in the 1st leg.

We had our chances and didn’t take them. It’s as simple as that.

Oh, and our 2nd XI got smashed by David De Gea’s Cukaricki over the weekend. Suffice to say our brilliant start to 2033 is over.

To be continued

If you’ve stumbled upon this post and are finding yourself a bit confused… Don’t worry.  The basic concept behind the Nearly Men save is explained here.  Just need to catch up? Each installment in Nicolaj Bur’s story can be accessed through the Nearly Men Archive.

And if you just can’t get enough…join us for The Ballad of Toothless Bob, a series that explores the world of Nicolaj Bur, away from the pitch. What is Project Arcturus? What lies beyond the twisted redstone door, deep in the bowels of the Santiago Bernabéu?

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