Club Brugge – 2051/52 Open Thread
In the end, we decide to bring in two promising prospects to fill out the squad — Gergo Pentek ($3.6M, Ferencvaros) and Armando Redjepi ($2.9M, Partizani). They’re both U21 internationals, who appear to have significant potential.
Redjepi will step directly into the 2nd XI, after the departure of Joakim Holmen ($11.75M plus clauses, Benfica).
Pentek will start from the bench in the 2nd XI, moving into the 2nd XI proper once Yaro Vermeersch moves on. (Vermeersch threw his toys out of the pram when I wouldn’t double his $43.5k per week salary; unfortunately for Yaro, he’s already overpaid in my estimation. Asking for a raise was begging to be ****ed off to the reserves.)
The other big move this summer? Felix Leon to Lionel Messi’s Lazio ($16.5M). This is a move we have planned for, with Leon entering the final year of his contract — Kunle Agu takes over in the 1st XI, with January signing Alexander Andersson stepping into the 2nd XI.
Meanwhile, the campaign kicked off with a penalty-shootout victory over Genk in the Supercup, after a scoreless, sterile 90 minutes of football. It’s better than last year’s loss to OH Leuven, I’ll grant you that.
A friendly against Barcelona, and now… Now, we’re ready for the campaign to kick off in earnest.
Claus Bur sits quietly on the couch, eyes cast downwards at the floor. He doesn’t want to speak.
He knows that nothing waits in his therapist’s eyes but bitter disappointment. He’s been here too many times before.
His therapist clears his throat. Claus glances up, and their eyes meet.
Claus knows he has much to answer for. After the… “Unpleasantness” this summer, Torino manager Xaver Schlager chose to wash his hands of the troubled young Dane. The $81k fee paid by Salernitana is almost more of an insult than a free transfer, especially after his return last year — 1 goal in 12 matches, in Serie C.
Claus knows that Salernitana are hedging their bets. Hopeful that somewhere in Bur’s footballing lineage, the spark of genius lies.
Claus chuckles softly to himself. Spark. That’s an unfortunate word association, these days.
For these therapy sessions are no longer voluntary. They’re court ordered.
His patience exhausted, the therapist breaks the silence with a simple question. “Why, Claus? Why?”
Claus has no answer. Truth be told, he can’t even remember what happened. But the stories he’s heard, the security footage he has seen… He doesn’t recognize the man in the video. But it is clearly him.
Singing Katy Perry’s Firework at the top of his lungs, dancing as flames rise behind him, the 7-11 convenience store adjacent to the Porta Palazzo well and truly aflame, as he occasionally stops to shout abuse at his former Torino teammates who sit back in awe, before returning to his impromptu Katy Perry karaoke.
(Claus’ rendition of Teenage Dream was well-received by the crowd, albeit pitchy towards the end when the horse tranquilizers kicked in.)
“Claus, if it was only arson and public intoxication, perhaps fences could have been mended. Explanations, made. But the things you said about Mazzei’s sister…”
Claus sighs. He shrugs. He has no answer. He doesn’t even remember the things he said. Not the kind of mistake that he could afford to make. And he knows it.
Still, he sits silent.
His therapist tries a different approach. “Tell me, Claus… Tell me about what you’ve done today. Let’s start there. Are you taking care of yourself? You smell like the floor of a movie theater.”
Claus sighs again. He nods, a look of resignation on his face as he chuckles wryly. “And not for the usual reasons, either…”
The therapist does not see the dark humor in the moment.
The sounds of children playing outside penetrate the inner sanctum of the therapist’s office, bringing to Claus’ memory the most perfect day of his young life. The day his mother took him to get a Slurpee and told him who his father was.
It is the last happy day Claus can remember. The last time he felt truly whole. Now, there simply lies a hole where his heart used to be. A whole that no fluffy, frozen beverage can fill, no matter how many Claus drinks.
And he has tried. Sweet urCristiano, has he tried…
But the commemorative 7-11 cup from that fateful day was left behind at the Torino training facility, almost certainly thrown away by one of his former teammates who did not understand the significance it held for Claus.
Or, worse, they did understand and threw it away as retribution for what was said.
Either way, the result is the same.
Just when I thought we were done in the transfer market, Zlatan pulled off a coup using our contacts in Reims.
In all fairness, Ioannis Lefevre being elevated to our 1st XI was never going to be more than a stop-gap measure — a squad player, temporarily handed additional responsibility while waiting for other players to develop.
That’s where Nikos Tsitsibis ($23.5M, Stade de Reims) steps in. Granted, the fee is more than I’d like to spend. But he’ll bring an incredible presence to our back line, stepping straight into the 1st XI on the left side of our back 3.
The early weeks of the season are, again, an exercise in frustration. The dropped points against cross-town rivals Cercle Brugge being the most galling.
Of course, our aggressive squad rebuild is partly to blame. With the departure of Vermeersch ($31M, Panathinaikos), we have only 2 players over the age of 20 in the squad. Yves Tanghe, our 22 year-old backup right wingback, and Jimmy Boonen, a 26 year-old mezzala in our 1st XI.
(Tanghe’s days are numbered. He’s the weakest link in the squad, and we have no heir apparent coming through the youth ranks. As soon as we can identify an appropriate replacement, he will be off.)
With such a young squad, our Champions League Group Stage draw is a big ask — Inter, Jamie Steel’s Valencia, and Sturm Graz.
But what we lack in experience we make up for in determination. It’s just like Zlatan always says.
While we continue to muddle about domestically, we reserve our best performance of the year for the Champions League. The 2nd XI claimed a straightforward 2-0 win away to Sturm Graz, before a scintillating 5-nil annihilation of Valencia at the Gert, with all 5 goals coming in the 2nd half.
Unfortunately we were unable to avenge our 2050 Europa League final loss to Inter on Matchday 3, going down 2-1 at the Guiseppe Meazza.
The only thing that wasn’t perfect about our November? Not that I want to take away from our 2-nil victory over Inter at the Gert, or the 2nd XI’s 6-nil annihilation of Sturm Graz to secure qualification for the knockout rounds, mind you.
Zlatan and I got our phones swapped by accident, the day he was off to scout a player in Amsterdam.
Meaning that I spent the day trying to unsee texts from the likes of “redhead at car wash,” “Tube top, REM tribute band concert,” and “Mommy.”
Anatomically-speaking, I’m quite certain that was not Zlatan’s mom. But I’m not going to ask.
The Champions League Group Stage closes with a narrow, 1-nil loss in Valencia. Frustrating, but not the end of the world. We’re through. We’re soaring domestically. And Zlatan claims that “Mommy” has some friends who will come by for Christmas dinner.
I tried to tell him that all I wanted this year was for the youngsters to live up to the hype, and for Lampard to get a hairpiece before our Champions League knockout round tie. (Sitting 4th in the Premier League, Wolves need him to look a little more lively on the touchline.)
But you know that Zlatan doesn’t listen. He never listens.
“Mommy” and her friends will be here any minute.
Zlatan’s brief, tumultuous relationship with “Mommy” is over.
I don’t think I ever learned her actual name. But Zlatan has reached the “regret” stage of the relationship. That is clear.
But at the same time he remains defensive about pursuing the relationship in the first instance, despite the multitude of “red flags” that were readily apparent to anyone.
“Love is risk, Boss. Love is leap of faith.”
“You didn’t love her. You don’t even know her name, do you?”
Zlatan stammers, before his defensive instinct returns, and he laughs, scoffing at my pedantry. “The Zlatan does not need to know her urCristian name, to know that She was worthy of the Zlatan’s love. You be the knowing of this, Boss.”
“She was obsessed with Ed Sheeran. If that isn’t a red flag in the year 2052, I don’t know what is.”
“What of it, Boss? There is a fine line between obsession and madness. So she was ‘obsessed’ with the Sheeran. That is no crime. ‘Shape of You.’ ‘Galway Girl.’ ‘Lego Hiz-ouse.’ The whole catalog.”
I raise an eyebrow. He’s leaving out the most important part of “Mommy’s” obsession.
Zlatan knows it. He rolls his eyes, only to then — suddenly, without adequate provocation — rip his shirt in two, revealing a massive tattoo of Ed Sheeran’s face covering his entire stomach, with Ed’s eyes glancing downwards in a “come hither” look.
“So what, Boss?! She asked me to get a tattoo. Is just tattoo.”
“Zlatan, she broke up with you the very next day after you got it.”
“Love is risk, Boss. Why are you not listening to the Zlatan?!”
I simply begin humming The Gambler. I can see the cracks breaking in Zlatan’s face as I hit the chorus. No one can resist Kenny. And we both know that this is a hand he played poorly.
“The Zlatan…he… He cannot go to the beach, Boss.”
I nod in commiseration.
“The Zlatan…he… He ****ing hates Ed Sheeran.”
I wrap an arm around his shoulders, sighing. “I know, Zlatan. I hate him, too.”
Frank Lampard’s Wolves arrive in Bruges, sitting 4th in the Premier League table. While Club Brugge have struggled against Wolves over the years (1 win and 1 draw in 9 matches), I’ve personally had some measure of success against Frank.
I bear him no grudges, even if Zlatan has vowed to do unspeakable things to Frank’s final resting place, if and when Frank heads off to that great Cup Final in the Sky. (No matter how many times we patiently explain it to Zlatan, mending the Great Schism has left him with some rather absurd theological ideas regarding the afterlife. He’s also in the “anger” stage of his breakup with “Mommy.”)
We know that this tie is a measure. Of our will to take the next steps in Europe. Of how far we’ve come in Bruges, as we look to close out our 3rd campaign in style. As takeover rumors continue to swirl.
Truth be told, last year’s exit on aggregate to Schalke still aggravates me.
Wolves take the lead minutes later, and for a time it feels like we’ve lost our touch. But youth academy graduate Leander Mestdagh pulls one back on the counter in the 42nd. We’re not dead yet.
We battle on. Both sides looking for the winner. And in the 91st minute, the loose ball falls to Mestdagh 8 yards from goal. He makes no mistake. He buries it, to claim a 2-1 win.
Young Leander has had an incredible campaign, pushing his way into the 1st XI (after playing for the 2nd XI last year and the first half of this season). He’s our leading goalscorer, and with his brace tonight takes over as the leading goalscorer in the Champions League. He has a big future ahead of him.
Another big match in the Black Country on a night where the air has the feel of a storm about to break, the kind of night that sets one’s mind wandering to dark, foreboding places best forgotten.
As the thunder rolls in the distance, a nightmare unfolds for our hosts. Karatas beating Giordano at his near post in the 3rd minute, to give us a crucial away goal. Issifu Dauda leading a brilliant counterattack in the 33rd minute, to make it 2-nil.
Pavicevic makes it 3 in the 64th, only for VAR to intervene. But not even VAR can save Lampard’s Wolves, who are well-beaten on their own pitch, even as Baran pulls one back in the 88th, after we grow somewhat careless, Alibabic turning the ball over in our own half.
2-1 on the night. 4-2 on aggregate.
We will face Matthias Kaltenbach’s Stuttgart in the quarterfinals, after they eliminated Julian Nagelsmann’s Juventus, 3-2 (aet). Stuttgart are having a rough campaign, sitting 8th in the Bundesliga.
Domestically, the Championship Group is ready to kick off after we finished the opening stage 20 points clear of Genk. It would have been more but the 2nd XI has dropped points against Standard and Zulte…inexcusable.
Meanwhile, the youth academy has also proven to be a disappointment, despite the promise shown earlier in the year. The top prospects are Issa Sankara, Sven Simons, and Joel “Ricky” Martin, none of whom really set my blood boiling, if you know what I mean.
But enough about that. We’ve got football to play, lads.
Our work is cut out for us in the 2nd leg, as ze Germans clearly see the Champions League as their last remaining hope in an otherwise dire campaign.
The pattern holds through the first 45 minutes of the 2nd leg…all the way until the 71st minute, when Eichin snakes a shot from distance into the corner, with Agu screened.
We push forward but cannot find an equalizer. We are eliminated, 1-nil on aggregate.
We are frustrated, but realize that this was a step forward. We know from experience that we are not far from challenging for the title.
That, in time, this side can reach those heights.
May 2052 – Season Review.
Another campaign ends on an anticlimactic note. While we have the Juplier Pro League title to console ourselves with, I cannot help but feel regret.
Stuttgart have struggled all year, and we simply could not put away our chances. We had them. Sembolo was simply equal to the task — there’s no shame in that, but there is disappointment.
There is shame, however, in losing back-to-back matches to the Kiwi Farmers — the second of which being the Croky Cup final. Our final run of matches was a muddle. That much is certain.
Perhaps it is simply a function of our inexperience and the disappointment at our elimination from the Champions League, but we need to be more ruthless. More incisive. More… More… Zlatan.
Goals for 2052/53: Win the domestic double. Make a run in the Champions League knockout rounds.
In the Champions League, Matthias Kaltenbach’s Stuttgart continued their run of form, not only reaching the final after eliminating Club Brugge, but winning it all with a 2-nil win over Baptiste Santamaria’s Gladbach.
(It’s the second year in a row that Gladbach have fallen to German opposition at the final hurdle, having lost to Schalke 2-1 in the 2050/51 final.)
In the Europa League, Pavel Kaderabeck’s Chelsea annihilated Jamie Steel’s Valencia, 5-1.
In the Europa Conference League, Hugo Lloris’ Roma beat Srdjan Plavsic’s Saint-Etienne, 1-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?