Club Brugge – 2050/51 Open Thread
The aftermath of his father’s World Cup-winning run in Brazil left Claus with nowhere to turn. No one to speak to. No one who truly understood his pain.
Other than his therapist, who sits across the room, an exasperated expression crinkling his eyes. Someone less prone to fearing the worst might mistake that look for concern. But Claus is virtually certain that his therapist’s concerns begin and end with the payment of his bills. On time. In cash. His therapist knows that the checks will bounce, more likely than not. He’s played that game before.
Trust in the room is at a low ebb. More so than usual. Claus can feel the weight of life pressing down on him. The weight of his struggles on the pitch, the challenge in proving himself to the distant father-figure who barely acknowledges his existence.
The therapist unceremoniously interrupts Claus’ reverie. “We’re almost out of time, here. You haven’t said a word. Surely, there’s something you’d like to say. If not to me, to your father.”
“He changed his number, remember? I couldn’t reach him if I tried.”
The therapist sighs inwardly. “Perhaps we try some role playing?”
Claus grimaces. He’s trying to therapize me again.
“Not again, please. That never works.”
“What if we change things up this time, Claus? Swap the roles? I’ll be you, and you can be your father.”
“But I don’t want to be my father.”
“Good, Claus. Good. That’s the spirit. Really get into the character.”
July / August 2050.
Our return to the domestic scene is less than celebratory. We are focused, but — more’s the pity — so are our opponents. Everyone wants to take a bite out of the World Cup-winning managerial trio. And our pre-season preparations have not been as thorough as they should have been. OH Leuven take advantage, our lack of focus handing them the Super Cup on a platter.
The quiet reality of our new normal settles in like an unwelcome houseguest. I’m content. But after a few weeks, Zlatan is restless with no international fixtures to prepare for. I encourage him to see the sights, but he’s having none of it.
It isn’t that I’m not tempted. The simple reality is that the international jobs on offer have no appeal. We need to wait for something more…interesting.
I sent Zlatan out to scout, but his reports lacked their usual detail, even if they remained colorful. I had him focus primarily on a replacement for Flavio Rojas — who, at the age of 30, has one year left on his contract and is seeking terms that we’re not willing to offer. One kid at Wolfsburg looked to have the technical ability, but Zlatan vetoed the move after watching him for a few weeks. “Boss, young Muller has the touch of the Scholes, but mental fortitude of soggy chicken nugget. ‘No bueno‘ says the Zlatan. We cannot be the doing to sign him.”
In the end, Flavio leaves for Napoli. Kevin Garcia steps into the 1st XI in his place, with Diederik Schepens ($4.4M, Zulte Waregem) stepping into the 2nd XI after Zlatan gave the move his approval. Zlatan’s favorite thing about young Diederik? His “glorious” mane of hair. If this transfer goes tits-up, at least I know who to blame.
Our stumbling start to the campaign continues with a loss away to Gent and a draw at Mechelen. Not good enough, lads. Not with everyone gunning for us. We will have the September international break to steady the tiller.
And while we claim top seeding for the Champions League thanks to our Jupiler Pro League title last year, we draw a tough group — Matthias Kaltenbach’s Stuttgart (last year’s runners-up), Hugo Lloris’ Roma, with Romanian champions Universitatea Craiova drawing the short straw. Nothing less than advancing to the knockout rounds will suffice.
The October international break is imminent, meaning there’s only one thing to be done. Get Zlatan on the road to scout some of our youth targets.
We love the look of Dieter Van Goetham, but stories of his poor attitude are legion. The question begin, could a strong personality like Zlatan rein him in?
Zlatan was dispatched to the Belgian U20s camp during the October international break, to see what he could learn.
In disguise, naturally.
Standing outside the team hotel in his Tom Cruise mask, no one the wiser, Zlatan was perfectly positioned to gain some insider information. Much to his surprise, Dieter’s father appeared soon thereafter, lighting up a cigarette, a tired look on his face. Looking more than eager to find someone to talk to. After a few minutes of casual conversation, Zlatan dares broach the subject of parenting, vaguely referencing a son working on a fishing boat based in Malmo.
“You know, Tom — it is Tom, right?”
Zlatan/Tom simply nods.
“Parenting, right? I… Sometimes I don’t know what to do, man.”
Zlatan/Tom just nods again, grunting in agreement.
“It’s hard to communicate with them, yeah? Like, you don’t even recognize yourself in them. I don’t.”
Zlatan/Tom decides that this is the moment to jump in. “Yes, yes. You are frustrated like the Zla…the Tom’s father was, because the Tom was a little clumsy as a young boy, a little too artsy-fartsy, because the Tom broke a blood vessel in his eye crying at My Girl…”
“What?! No. My son? He’s legitimately a bad person. Like, my son is an awful human being.”
Zlatan/Tom is dumbfounded. “What? Is just a kid, no…?”
“He set up numerous social media accounts, just to cyberbully me.”
Zlatan/Tom finds himself at a loss for words. The pain in Dieter’s father’s eyes is unmistakable.
At this moment, Dieter himself saunters up, staring at Zlatan/Tom. A challenge in his eyes.
“You trying to hit on my dad, old man?”
Zlatan/Tom coughs, shocked at Dieter’s utter and complete lack of humanity. He had heard stories, but this was surreal. No one has ever spoken to Zlatan with such derision.
Dieter mistakes Zlatan/Tom’s hesitation for weakness, and begins to berate his father for some perceived slight involving dinner the night before. Zlatan/Tom cannot believe what he’s seeing and moves to intervene, reaching his arm out towards Dieter.
“Hey now, you should not be the talking to your father like that–“
Dieter recoils as if bitten by a snake, staring Zlatan/Tom up and down, a sneer on his face.
Zlatan/Tom turns to leave, having seen more than enough.
Sensing weakness, Dieter begins to laugh, threatening to call the police and report Zlatan/Tom for exposing himself to children.
Afraid of being left alone with his son, Dieter’s father reaches out to catch Zlatan/Tom’s arm, fear in his eyes. “No… Don’t go.”
Dieter steps in between them, staring at his father. “Shut up, Greg.”
“I… I wish you would just call me ‘Dad.'”
“And I wish you would suck my ****, Greg.”
Zlatan/Tom meets the eyes of Dieter’s father. Dieter’s father whispers softly, his eyes dropping to the pavement between them. “Yeah… He takes after his mom. You know how it is…”
Dieter simply laughts, as Zlatan/Tom claps Dieter’s father on the shoulder. Words cannot convey the regret he feels, walking away. But there is nothing more to be done.
“Godspeed, brother,” Zlatan whispers.
Back to Bruges. Stuttgart come to town next week, and there’s work to be done.
The results against ze Germans are less than ideal. A hard-fought 1-1 draw at home, followed by a scoreless draw in Stuttgart that we didn’t deserve. We sit 3rd in the table. We will need a result at the Olimpico on Matchday 6 to have a chance at reaching the Champions League knockout rounds.
The international break is upon us. Zlatan’s restlessness has given over, though.
We’re going to stay home and play Mario Kart this time around.
Zlatan has made me promise that, no matter what happens, we’ll stay in Brugge. Together. A latter day Taylor and Clough, if you will (ignoring Jesse’s contributions, although I really uncertain what he brings to the table beyond his extraordinarily long legs and encyclopedic knowledge of The Office).
Zlatan is adamant.
“We stick together, Boss. No matter what. You are the Zlatan’s best friend in the world, you now. We share a toothbrush!”
I make a mental note to swing by the store after our match against the Romanians, which turns out to be a pedestrian 1-nil win on Champions League Matchday 5. Stuttgart only manage a draw against Roma, meaning that we go into the final match with a slight advantage over ze Germans.
The only problem? We play in Rome, while they’re away to Craiova. We likely need to take all 3 points in the Eternal City. Lost in thoughts about tactics, I forget to swing by the store to pick up a new toothbrush.
I’ll just steal one from the hotel concierge in Rome…
On the pitch, nothing is going well. Roma strike first and, while we equalize, we’re reduced to 10 men in the 65th. We need a miracle. 20 minutes later, 17 year-old Meris Pavicevic slots home against the run of play. With the final whistle, we’re through.
We draw Miguel Baeza’s Schalke in the First Knockout Round. A big ask, as they sit 2nd in the Bundesliga. But we’ll take it.
I’m disappointed to out of the Croky Cup to OH Leuven, but that competition was and always will be secondary to our primary aims. The league title. And making a run in the Champions League.
Our youth intake preview isn’t dire. Things are looking up as we head into 2051, especially after we repay OH Leuven for eliminating us from the Cup with a 4-1 win on their ground. An early Christmas present, if you will.
The transfer I’ve been expecting for the past year has finally come to pass, 30 year-old Jose leaving for Beijing Guo’an for $27M (plus add-ons). Meris Pavicevic, the hero of Rome, will step to the 1st XI with youth academy graduate Leander Mestdagh moving into the 2nd XI. Again, this is a move we anticipated, so there are no plans to sign a “replacement.”
That doesn’t mean that we aren’t on the lookout for possible acquisitions. Quite to the contrary. Jesse and Zlatan have been running the rule over targets all season, with Belgium’s Winter Break an ideal time to hit the road.
The only other player I considered accepted an offer for was Felix Leon, our 27 year-old goalkeeper who is firmly established as Mexico’s No. 1. His six-figure wage demands are not what I’m looking to pay. And Kunle Agu is ready to step into the 1st XI.
We also signed Swedish U19 international Alexander Andersson ($1.3M, Hammarby) who is our third-choice keeper for now but will step into the 2nd XI when Agu promotes to the 1st XI.
A less than impressive month, but 1-nil wins are worth 3 points, too. We’ve also opened up a 14-point gap on Joaquin Correa’s Zulte, and a 17-point gap over Marcelo Gallardo’s OH Leuven.
February 2051 – Champions League First Knockout Round, First Leg.
As the first leg against ze Germans arrives, we sit 20 points clear in the league with only 4 matches left before the split.
We welcome Schalke with open arms, and 2 goals in the first 10 minutes — Karatas heading home in the 2nd minute, with Pavicevic then beating Guerreiro at his near post in the 7th. The question being, can Miguel Beaza’s men steady the ship?
We extend our lead in the 24th minute, as Pavicevic heads home to claim a brace. It is — by far — the most ruthless 24 minutes of football seen in our tenure at Club Brugge. We’re firing on all cylinders.
It can’t last. It doesn’t.
Now we are the side of whom questions are being asked. The side who needs to steady the ship.
We manage to do so, and find ourselves at loggerheads. The match balanced on a knife’s edge.
Schalke hit the post in the 63rd minute, countering from an opportunity at the other end. Something has to give.
In the 72nd, Holmen deftly slots the ball home. 4-2. A jaw-dropping double save from Leon in the 91st minute maintains our 2-goal cushion, ensuring that we will take a lead back to Gelsenkirchen.
A tremendous first leg, of which we are rightly proud. Having conceded 2 away goals, though, nothing is certain at this point.
March 2051 – Champions League First Knockout Round, Second Leg.
The return leg in Gelsenkirchen will be our 100th match at Club Brugge. Time flies when you’re having fun, yeah? We’re unbeaten in the league since the opening weekend, sitting 21 points clear at the top of the table with one match to play before the split.
But our attention this evening is on ze Germans. We know they’ll look to take the match to us, and will look to hit them in transition in PM Haaienkanon.
As expected, the first half is all Schalke. We hold firm until the 45th when they snatch 1 back, our lead reduced to 4-3 on aggregate. But still we hold on. 50 minutes. An hour gone. We offer very little going forward, but if our defense can continue to deny our hosts meaningful opportunities, we have a chance.
But in the 80th minute, Schalke finally turn their dominance into an aggregate lead, with Ndao smashing it home.
Now, we must find a way to change the narrative To find purchase going forward for the first time on the night.
Guerreiro denies Vermeersch in the 90th minute. It was our best chance of the night. We have 4 minutes to find a goal…Garcia heads over from the ensuing corner.
Our prayers go unanswered. We are eliminated on away goals, after a 4-4 aggregate draw.
We were utterly brilliant in the first 30 minutes of the tie, before Schalke’s experience and talent took over.
Our Champions League run has ended. But we will be back.
Our 21-point lead holds through the end of the initial stage, meaning that we start the Championship Stage 11 points clear, without the fixture congestion of last year.
The youth intake does not bear mentioning. If Zlatan tries to bring it up again, there will be consequences.
The only player worth considering is Albert Grille, a solid young player who seemingly has the potential to eventually push for a spot in the squad.
May 2051 – Season Review.
After the hustle and commotion of our short-lived run in the Champions League knockout rounds, the quiet finale to the Belgian domestic calendar was anti-climactic, to say the very least.
We claimed the title in mid-April, with 5 matches to play. Meaning that we could give our 2nd XI meaningful minutes without concern for the result. Truth be told, after that night in Gelsenkirchen, the domestic fixtures have simply washed over me as I wallow in regret. Letting that tie slip through our grasp, after starting so well…
And the Smurfs had to go on to win it all. We had them beaten. We played them off the park. Ok, maybe it was only for 30 minutes. But the pain is visceral.
We always knew that returning to the pinnacle of domestic football would not be the challenge. With consecutive Jupiler Pro League titles under our belt, our focus must be on progression in the Champions League. Building towards a title run.
Some of the pieces are already in place. Questions remain around others. While we have no immediate plans in the transfer market, we are monitoring several players who could conceivably join our Champions League “crusade,” as Zlatan has taken to calling it. The Board has already agreed to expand the Gert to aid in our assault on Fortress Europe, an effort that will leave us with the largest stadium in Belgium.
Goals for 2051/52: Win the domestic double. Make a run in the Champions League knockout rounds.
In the Champions League, Miguel Beaza’s Schalke reached the pinnacle with a 2-nil win over Baptiste Santamaria’s Gladbach.
In the Europa League, Matthias Kaltenbach’s Stuttgart beat Thitiphan Puangjan’s Partizan on penalties, after a 1-1 draw.
In the Europa Conference League, Nico Elvedi’s Chelsea beat Sporting, 4-nil.
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?