FK Partizan / Côte d’Ivoire – 2036/37 Open Thread
Euro 2036 Review.
Scotland/Wales 2036 is in the books, with Nuno Espirito Santos’ Spain claiming the title after a 3-nil victory over Aykut Demir’s Turkey.
Some beautiful upsets along the way, as Silas’ Portugal finish 4th in Group C (is it time for urCristiano to claim his rightful place as their manager, and lead them to glory?!). Simone Inzhagi’s Netherlands and Aaron Hunt’s Germany were eliminated in the Second Round, followed by Gennaro Gattuso’s Italy, Gunter Schepen’s Belgium and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s England in the quarterfinals.
Partizan Squad Review; August 2036.
We’re almost 5 years into Nicolaj Bur’s tenure at Partizan. Domestic dominance is secured in Serbia (and has been for some time now), but Europe is proving to be a tough nut to crack.
Let’s pause the insanity for a few minutes and take a look at where Partizan sit on the macro and micro levels.
In Europe, we only have reached the knockout rounds once (2034/35), although 2 solid runs in the Europa League (2033/34 and 2035/36) attest to our growing strength. Our coefficient has risen substantially, as well, such that we now sit 14th in the European club coefficient table:
Other Serbian clubs have not been holding up their end of the bargain, though. Perhaps it has something to do with me poaching their most promising youngsters during my first few years in Belgrade…
The European competition coefficients table tells a similar tale. Why is this relevant, you ask?
As you’ll note below, after I renewed almost everyone’s contracts during the 2035/36 campaign, we’ve got some players who are getting upset at not being allowed to move elsewhere. We have the wage budget to keep offering new contracts (we’re only using $382k of the $1.4M budget), but I generally resisted doing so during the 2036 summer transfer window.
The question being…where are we as a squad? We were so young and full of promise the last time we did a full-blown squad review — how have we pushed on? Sure, the results in Europe suggest that we’re on the cusp of breaking through, but is this squad truly good enough? We got a moderately-challenging draw in our 1st year as a 2nd seed, with a mouth-watering rematch against Georg Margreitter’s Schalke, Remy Riou’s Roma, and Ognjen Vranjes’ Aston Villa.
Before we dive into the details, let’s take a quick look from the 30,000 foot view at the 22-man squad, fixtures/results thus far, and competitions overview:
Also, a quick reminder — we’re still playing PM Haaienbek, our Nagelsmann-inspired “sharkmouth” tactic.
At the time, I thought that Begaj looked like the better player, but Gueye seemed like he might have more potential. In the end, Begaj maintained his edge in terms of pure attributes, and eventually surpassed Gueye in terms of the coaches’ perception of his potential. That means that Begaj was our undisputed number 1 last year, with Gueye shipped off to Nurnberg in the summer for $4.7M (plus additional fees/etc).
I would have kept Gueye around, but for the presence of Branko Platisa, a youth academy graduate who has spent time out on loan. He was ready to be promoted into the 2nd XI, and was roughly on part with Gueye. He’ll feature in our 2nd XI for the foreseeable future.
Our liberos are Milos Jeremic and Ousmane Kouassi, both of whom are extremely strong. I’m also grooming Kouassi for the long-term [Ed. – This sentence, officer. This sentence right here.] with the Ivory Coast. They’re both solid, even if neither is truly world class.
The 1st XI ball-playing defenders are Cedomir Elesin and Vukasin Vujadinovic — again, solid players. The backups here are Sasa Radunovic and Miroslav Jelcic. I’ve mentioned Radunovic before — he’s a capable squad player, but doesn’t look like he’ll ever break into the 1st XI. Jelcic, on the other hand…he could turn into the best centerback of the group.
The wingbacks in our 1st XI are Andrija Zivkovic and Razak Godwin, both of whom are brilliant in the system. Their backups are Fabrice Dao and Sava Bobar, neither of whom looks likely to seriously challenge for a 1st XI position in the long term.
Corporo-humanoid Doctor Congo is in he midst of throwing his toys out of the pram, because I rejected a number of large transfer offers, and his repeated transfer requests. But he’s a beast at roaming playmaker. He isn’t going anywhere. Davor Svilar is our more-than-capable backup here.
The mezzalas in our 1st XI are Nikola Baric and Fabrice Kouao, backed up by Ognjen Terzic and Zoubir “Zoob” Aouameur. Terzic isn’t quite a fit for our system — being more of a pass-oriented playmaker than a central winger, but every time I think about selling him…I just can’t. He’s perfectly content to remain in the 2nd XI for now; if he gets upset, he’ll be gone as soon as I manage to pronounce his name correctly. Zoob, on the other hand, is a massive talent — the sky is the limit for him. We’ll do what we need to do to keep Zoob happy…the sharks are circling, though — we rejected a ton of transfer offers for him during the last window.
Up top, our starters are Emmanuel Ibrahim and Jovan Vukojevic. Ibrahim has been our best shadow striker since he arrived, and he hasn’t ever put up too much of a fuss about leaving…but he’s getting restless again. Vukojevic is a converted winger — tons of talent, who occasionally goes missing in games.
Nikola Zarkovic and Didier Kone are the shadow strikers in our 2nd XI. Zarkovic consistently bangs in the goals, even if our coaches’ assessment of his current/potential ability is well-beneath the other 3. He could probably fit right into the 1st XI without causing any problems. Kone is one I’m hoping will take up a role with the Ivory Coast in the long term…hopefully he continues to develop.
At the end of the 2034/35 campaign I commented that I thought this side was 1-2 years away from truly challenging for the Champions League title, if we had a little luck. That was probably a tad optimistic, but I don’t think it was too far off the mark.
Bottom line — I think the pieces of the puzzle are here. It’s a question of time, and replacing any players who leave (we’ve got a slew of younger players out on loan — none of whom are 1st XI quality, squad players at best).
Fair warning…if we don’t progress deep into the knockout rounds this year, I might overreact and invest heavily in a new batch of promising youth players (tossing some 2nd XI players in the process), with my eye on the 2-3 year horizon.
Suffice to say that life is good in Belgrade right now.
The Ivory Coast have won 4 from 4, securing qualification for the Africa Cup of Nations with a big result in World Cup qualifying — at home against Sudan (2-1), away to Malawi (2-nil), hosting Tanzania (1-nil), and away to Ghana (2-1). We need to be more lethal in front of goal, but three points are three points.
With Partizan, we’re also on a roll — undefeated thus far, scoring goals for fun domestically. In Europe, we conspired to drop points at home against Aston Villa (a wild 3-3 draw), while securing massive away wins over Roma (3-1) and Schalke (1-nil).
We sit atop the Group with a favorable schedule ahead, hosting ze Germans in two weeks’ time, a match that could put us into the knockout rounds if Roma takes care of business in the West Midlands.
Of course, we haven’t accomplished anything yet. There’s an immense amount of work to be done.
Fun fact of the day: during the Ottoman Empire, Belgrade was known as Dar-al-Jihad, “House of War.”
Our goal is to make Stadion FK Partizan nothing less than the physical embodiment of that moniker…at least, until the Board stop being ****s and agree to build a new stadium.
I suspect that ze Germans would agree that the we’re well on our way to accomplishing that goal.
After 4 matches, we sit atop the Group with 10 points. We travel to Aston Villa next, followed by a visit from Roma on the final matchday. Roma got smashed 3-nil in the West Midlands so we aren’t through yet. However, if we snatch a point in either match, we’ll qualify for the knockout rounds.
It has been a long night at the office, talking tactics with Zlatan and Jesse. Bozidar had a few ideas, but those mainly involved using Google translate to come up with vaguely-foreign sounding names for tactical concepts.
We will not be implementing an inverted shadow-fetcher, Bozidar. Thanks for the suggestion, though.
As I walk in the door, I can hear voices and laughter in the living room. Stana was out with friends tonight, drinks and dancing. It seems like they decided to continue the party here.
I walk around the corner, and Stana cries out a hello, echoed by her usual coterie of hangers-on…and another familiar face, who looks at me with knowing eyes.
I stand in shock, as Stana comes over to throw her arms around me and welcome me home, exclaiming how I have to meet their new friend. Something about “feeling like they’ve known each other for years, almost like a sister.”
It’s a good thing that Stana has been drinking, because she doesn’t notice my half-hearted response. Nor does she notice the stunned look on my face. Or the fact that my eyes have not left those of her new “friend.”
It’s Selene. Watching me like a predator in need of a meal, the beginning of a smile teasing at the corner of her mouth, an Appletini dangling precariously in her hand.
**** my life.
Truth be told, it was nice to get away from Belgrade. Selene and Stana are thick as thieves these days, spending hours together each day.
I’m relatively certain that Selene has kept quiet about our past. But at some point Stana is going to notice the long, lingering looks Selene gives me.
The night before the match against Aston Villa, we wandered Birmingham’s High Street, enjoying cultural sights and sounds unlike any you’ll find on the continent.
Zlatan’s favorite was a manic, street preacher who was giving a full-blown sermon, it seemed. The left side of his head was shaven completely, while the right was long and braided. 2 fingernails on each hand were long and lacquered, a bright royal blue. At the end, he exhorted the crowd, begging them to “take the oath,” which he repeated several times. “Obey the Forerunners, await the Return, and serve Those That Come Home.”
Whatever that means.
The next night was epic at Villa Park. Another 3-3 draw. 180 minutes, no less than 12 goals. Never let it be said that we did not entertain.
More importantly, this vital away point means that we’re not just through to the knockout stage, we’re through as winners of Group D.
We finish Group play in style, defeating Roma 1-nil in Belgrade. An epic night at the Itchy Kitty ensues, especially since the Smurfs crashed out of Europe, finishing an embarrassing 4th. Perhaps it isn’t truly revenge for the loss in Vienna in May, but we’re only looking forward.
Zlatan was showing the lads a video of the preacher from Birmingham, apparently the guy is a bit of a nut and has been making his way across Europe, gathering a following of sorts. In the midst of the laughter, though…I noticed something. Something decidedly strange.
The tattoo on the inside of his left wrist. Three interlocking diamonds.
The exact same tattoo Stana has on lower back.
I don’t believe it at first, but when Zlatan pauses and rewinds…it is unmistakable.
I look out to the dance floor, to see Stana dancing. With Selene. They’re both watching me.
How am I ever going to get out of this one…?!
And what is with that tattoo…?! That has to be a coincidence, doesn’t it?
Malmo’s fall from grace is so depressing that Eeyore called it quits last night and tried to hang himself. Fortunately, Piglet intervened and it looks like he’ll live. Grim days, though.
As the Champions League knockout stage draw approached, the consensus was clear – Marcelo Gallardo’s Liverpool and Edson Seidou’s Manchester United were the sides to avoid.
The sides everyone hoped to face? Lionel Messi’s Anderlecht or Thierry Henry’s PAOK.
We draw Miguel Cardoso’s Sevilla. I’ll take that, as Sevilla sit 9th in La Liga right now, in the midst of a rough year.
What a difference a year makes. We outplayed Sevilla in the Europa League last year, but this was a truly comprehensive win over 2 legs.
1-nil away in Sevilla, and it could have been more.
3-nil in Belgrade, followed by a raucous night at the Itchy Kitty. I could feel Selene’s eyes on me all night, but for once I could ignore it. We’re riding on a high, undefeated in all competitions, through to the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
I could tell that Selene was furious with me for ignoring her, but I really don’t know what she expected. She has no right to sneak her way into my life, after the way she left, like a thief in the night. She has no right to interfere. To meddle. Most of all, she has no right to be so angry with me. But I knew better than to say anything, or start a discussion about boundaries.
In part because of how angry she was. In part because I didn’t know how I would respond. If I’m being honest, my heart still aches for her at times.
But then she cornered me, near the bar while Stana was distracted.
She wanted to talk about “us,” about all of the plans we had made in Athens. Her smile, the look in her eyes, it could have stopped my heart and I would have been grateful.
“Whatever you think, Selene… You were never out of my heart, but I had to move on. What was I supposed to do?! Why are you here, now?!”
“I love you, Nico…I have alwyas loved you, and always will. You know that. You must.”
“You left me. I moved on. As hard as it was, I moved on.”
“You did love me. Until that raven-haired trollop stole you.”
“No one ‘stole’ me. You left. Where did you go?! Why are you here?!”
“I like you like this. Arrogant and proud, full of your own strength.”
“Why are you here, Selene?”
“Do you know that it was Rahvin who sent the Darkhounds after you tonight?”
This isn’t making any sense. “What are you talking about, Selene?! You know what, I don’t care. You can’t change the subject. Why are you here?!”
She doesn’t immediately respond, immediately. “I would have come sooner, to help you, but I cannot let the others know I am on your side yet.”
Maybe it’s the black-label Serbian rum. Maybe it’s the emotions flooding back. But her words don’t make sense.
I fumble for the words to express the thoughts running through my head, but Selene speaks before I can vocalize anything approaching a complete thought. My head is spinning. Her words, becoming more distant. Hazy. But I can still make them out.
“You ward your dreams against me, Nico. Dreams have always been mine…I can break through the warding, but you wouldn’t like it.”
The room is spinning now, but her words cut through the disorientation.
“I have watched the girl’s dreams, too. You would not believe a simple country girl could have such dreams…”
Darkness begins to close in, and I can feel myself falling.
The last thing I hear is Selene’s voice. Muffled. Whispering. “Remember that I am your only hope of surviving, my love… Beside me, you can rule everything that is or will be…”
I wake the next morning at home. Disheveled and hung-over, to say the least.
It doesn’t take me long to realize that Stana is gone.
Not “gone out for coffee,” either. Gone.
We’ve drawn Murat Musaev’s Monaco in the Champions League. There are no easy draws at this stage.
Not that anyone is thinking much about this. Stana has been missing for more than a week, and no one has seen Selene either.
The police suspect foul play, but have been candid. There’s no evidence to support it. It’s as if they simply…disappeared.
Zlatan is hosting a vigil tonight at the Itchy Kitty. She would have wanted it that way.
The celebrations are muted, as thousands of supporters gather at the Itchy Kitty to watch the second leg in Monaco.
Joyful, for the results on the pitch. Muted, out of respect for the personal tragedy that has befallen the club’s owner and Chairman, and his de facto son, manager Nicolaj Bur.
There is no news of the Chairman’s daughter and her friend, both of whom have been missing for weeks now. There are no leads. And little, if any, hope.
Partizan will face Bur’s former side, Panathinaikos, in the semifinals.
The first leg against Panathinaikos has been billed a “Bur-Bowl 2037” by the pundit class. In all fairness, it is better than what they were calling it to begin with.
In this, our biggest moment since our arrival in December 2031, we stood tall. We showed our mettle. When Tuchel’s men snatched an equalizer against the run of play, we bent but did not break. We responded immediately, with force.
We’re 90 minutes from the final. If we can hold our nerve in Athens.
I arrive in Athens two days before the match, one day ahead of Zlatan, Jesse and the squad. Belgrade is a hotbed of stress these days, both on and off the pitch. The police have all but given up any active search. The entire city sits on the edge of a knife, balanced precariously between mourning Stana’s loss (all but the most blindingly optimistic assume that this is no longer just a ‘disappearance’) and ebullient joy at the heights Partizan have ascended to.
I wander the streets and parks, eventually finding my way out to the statue on the outskirts of the city. The excavation continues, slowly, but surely. For a moment, I think I see her out of the corner of my eye. A flash of white in the middle distance.
No, not Stana. Selene. It must just be my eyes playing tricks on me.
And I have no time to pursue idle fancies. The lads arrive first-thing tomorrow morning. We’ve got a match to prepare for.
Panathinaikos manage to deal us our first loss of the year, in all competitions. But it doesn’t matter. We’re through to the final.
We’ll face Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus, who progressed thanks to a 94th minute penalty in Turin. Because that’s not suspicious at all.
Jamie and Gary will be here in due course, as we live-blog the final in its own open thread.
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?