Club Brugge – 2053/54 Open Thread
A summer spent in quiet contemplation? After 30 years in management — almost to the day — one must enjoy the quiet times.
I’m not ready to embrace a quiet life. Yet. But that day is coming. Zlatan won’t admit it, but even he cannot keep this up forever.
Of course, knowing when to call it quits is an art, not a science. It is also only half the battle. For when the moment comes, following through on your convictions is often harder than you would expect.
Seeing the Greek phone number on my cell, I have to shake my head. The siren song of Athens has a strong pull, but one that I tell myself I’m capable of resisting. The reality is that I don’t know that, after all these years, I could face the memories of Selene, the daily reminders, without the everyday distractions of football management.
No, I have another destination in mind. But that’s an idle thought for another day. We have a job to do in Bruges, a task to complete amidst the fairy tale canals of this medieval city. After that, one more job. Maybe. One last rodeo before we ride off into the sunset.
Zlatan is already on board. He knows that a homecoming is both long overdue and in order.
June 2053 — Squad Management.
The big decisions in anticipation of the summer transfer window are straightforward.
Issa Sakara, called upon to deputize briefly in the last campaign, will head out on loan for the year. He needs more time than we will be able to give him.
Albert Grille is returning from a solid campaign on loan, and will join the first-team squad. He needs minutes, which means that Abdullah Mesinovic will drop into the midfield and take up a more natural for a man of his talents — creator, as opposed to finisher. The big question being whether he or Jimmy Boonen will start for the 2nd XI.
The question may not be “which one will start,” but which one will move on. I nearly shipped Boonen off to China in late February, and other clubs are sniffing around Mesinovic. Neither would be missed. Neither is a game-changer.
In fact… Perhaps the best course of action would be to sell both, and bring in a talented young prospect…
June / July 2053 — Transfers; Odds & Ends.
Ultimately, we reach an agreement to sign Benjamin “Big D” Demeulenaere from Panathinaikos ($16M) — an Oostende product who I have long coveted, but one who spurned our advances last year in favor of a move to Greece. We kept an eye on him, tracking both his progress and the way Joris Chotard ignored him.
Demeulenaere will step into the 2nd XI, retraining as a mezzala. Boonen and Mesinovic? Transfer listed.
In all candor, we also had our eye on Rodolfo Silva and even reached agreement on terms with both O’Higgins and young Rodolfo.
The problem being that we only have room in the first team squad for one signing. The margins between Silva and Demeulenaere were thin. Both are quality players with immense potential. Silva would have been cheaper in terms of the transfer fee, but insisted upon higher wages — not to mention the excessive fee sought by his agent, and warning signs that he might not settle in well abroad. In the end, we went with Big D, aka “the one that got away.”
And there simply is not enough room in
my heart the squad for both of you. I’m sorry, Rodolfo. It’s not you, it’s me. I hope we can stay friends.
The traditional curtain-raiser of the Supercup is the usual, mundane spectacle. A 2-nil win failing to satisfy our desire for meaningful football.
The Champions League draw cannot come soon enough.
The late summer breeze wafts through an open window of a sterile office building in Salerno’s Quartiere Europa, softly adding to the silence within the room, a silence of three parts.
The most obvious part is the hollow, echoing quiet of Claus Bur‘s heart, as he thinks back to Christmases and birthdays missed. Football matches gone unseen by the estranged father Claus has never truly known.
The second silence is smaller, the sullen memory of the sound of a pen scratching, now gone silent as of Claus’ therapist sits across from the young man. Unmoving. Waiting. Claus can hear the echoes of his therapist’s pen clearly in his mind, and they serve as a counterpoint to the first silence — an alloy of sorts.
The third silence is not an easy thing to notice. For it can only be seen in the eager eyes of young Claus, hopeful that the promise of new love might be the beginning of a new chapter in his life. It is a silence as deep and as wide as the promise of summer itself. As heavy as the weight of expectations that once lay upon his shoulders. It is the patient sound of a man who is finding his stride at Salernitana, and just might be ready for his real life to begin.
“Why don’t you tell me about this new girlfriend, Claus?”
“I don’t even know where to begin…it’s just…even her name. Sandrine. It’s…perfect. Unique. It reminds me of my two favorite things, sandwiches and tambourines.”
“And, what is it that she does? How did you meet?”
“She’s an escort.”
A fourth silence now enters the room, the silence born from awkward pauses — a silence that is somehow louder than the sum of its individual parts, and drones in young Claus’ ears. An intolerable, shrill whine.
The therapist exhales, secure in the knowledge that Claus provides nothing else if not job security.
As the awkwardness hangs in the air, Claus begins to mumble vague assurances.
“Oh…no. It’s not like that. She doesn’t escort me. We met in a marketing class at the adult learning annex…”
The silence drags on, broken only by the comforting sound of a pen scratching notes on a thick pad of paper.
A short while later, Claus walks to his car, his mind at ease and turning towards training that evening. A new season is nearly here. He needs to get into the right frame of mind.
Turning the key in the ignition, Claus embraces a renewed sense of purpose and optimism.
“Siri, play ‘workout mix.'”
Siri’s cold, comforting warble is all he needs to hear, as he pulls into traffic with the Eat, Pray, Love soundtrack at full volume.
It is going to be a good year.
The Champions League draw finally arrives, and it is everything we wanted. Felix Uduokhai’s Milan, semifinalists last year. Leandro Bacuna’s Atletico. And Kobenhavn, for whom Zlatan harbors a wholly irrational hatred…although, for the sake of posterity, I must note that his hatred is nothing if not logical.
The early days of the campaign have gone well. We’re off and running. We’re ready.
The first match of the Champions League campaign see us away to Atletico at the Wanda Metropolitano, and we spot Leandro Bacuna’s men 2 goals. Nevertheless, we battle back to claim a 3-2 win, and carry that momentum forward into the Milan match at the Gert, smashing the Italians 3-nil.
That’s more like it.
As frustrated as we were 6 months ago to crash out of the Champions League semifinals, something is in the air in Bruges.
We reach the November international break with a perfect record in all competitions, including the 2nd XI dispatching Kobenhavn home and away — 3-nil and 5-nil, respectively. Meaning that I must endure Zlatan running around the house in a codpiece shouting “this is Blauw-Zwart” for the next 10 days.
This run will end, inevitably. So we might as well enjoy it while it lasts. Zlatan also got me a codpiece. It would be rude not to at least try it on…
Meanwhile, the 2nd XI dropped the first points of the year away to Gent. Unacceptable. Extra rations of grapefruit may be needed. Although we don’t want to shortchange the academy, who seem to have another decent group of prospects coming through.
After four years, the takeover rumors persist but have lost some of their ‘oomph.’ We must ignore them and remain focused. It is as simple as that.
The first leg in Roma was always going to be a challenge. Hugo Lloris’ men would be up for it, and looking for revenge. They managed to strike first, but we leveled in the 91st minute thanks to a brilliant free kick from Dauda.
It wasn’t pretty. It didn’t need to be.
Full credit to Roma, though — it is only the 2nd match of the campaign that we have not won outright.
The Gert has stood witness to many epic nights during our tenure in Bruges, but tonight was a special night.
A packed house. Baying for blood. And local boy Leander Mestdagh did them proud.
After falling behind early, Osman Karatas claims the credit for an 18th minute equalizer that by all rights belongs to Leander, even if Karatas had the final touch. Mestdagh would not be denied his just due, though, snatching goals in the 28th and 73rd minutes to seal the tie, before hitting the post in the 76th to set up Pentek for our 4th.
On top of that? Mestdagh was tasked with dropping deep in the defensive phase to man-mark Julian Cely, Roma’s deep-lying, playmaking midfielder, who endured a quiet night.
4-1 on the night. A decisive result. A marker laid down.
We carry the momentum forward into the final match of the Jupiler Pro League’s opening stage, finishing 21 points clear of Genk, 26 clear of OH Leuven. While our 11-point lead is not to be taken for granted, we know that there is but one final hurdle in our path to immortality here in Bruges — the Champions League.
Although, in all candor, I want to sign Wout Verbeke-Vansteenkiste if only to make Roy Hodgson will have to pronounce his name on live television. Is that cruel?
April 2054 – Champions League – Quarterfinal, First Leg.
The first leg in Turin is a tense affair. The hosts are aggressive, but struggle to adapt to our utilization of PM Haaienkanon, but with the pressing forwards withdrawn into the attacking midfield strata.
And we’ve been ruthless on the counter. In the 21st minute, Murillo bursts into the box past Mazhoud, only to be taken down from behind. A stone-cold penalty, which Pavicevic dispatches with ease, sending the keeper the wrong way.
We are rising to the moment.
In the 54th minute, Osman casually flicks the ball past Ruperti, the keeper caught in no-man’s land. 3-nil, the Italian giants suffering epic humiliation in front of their own supporters.
April 2054 – Champions League – Quarterfinal, Second Leg.
Back at the Gert, we know that the Italians will have to attack in numbers. Accordingly, we set up again in the strikerless version of PM Haaienkon — soak up pressure, get forward in transition, and overload them in sustained periods of possession.
We come out of the gates flying, with Bilal Erdogan (continuing to deputize for the injured Dauda) burying one from close range in the 2nd minute. Juventus have barely had a sniff. Weston McKennie looks on from the technical area, aghast, as if witnessing Zlatan stomp on the head of a small child.
We lose our focus in the tumult, however, and Juventus strike back immediately, drawing level on the night after Pavicevic is caught in possession deep in our half by Belgian legend Arthur Bruyere, as we build out. Juventus’ high press paying dividends.
The pattern of the 1st leg begins to recur — Juventus enjoying possession, while we look dangerous whenever we touch the ball. Case in point, as a lightning-fast counterattack led by our wingbacks in the 18th minute sees Mntambo arrive late in the box, unmarked, to calmly bury one into the corner. 2-1 on the night.
Osman makes it 3-1 in the 28th, as Ruperti is again caught in no-man’s land. McKennie is near tears as our supporters sing to him, mocking his tactical prowess.
Pentek volleys in a 4th in the 64th minute, a proper thunderbastard that will lead the highlight reels for weeks, followed by a direct challenge to McKennie during his goal celebration.
The celebrations begin anew at the final whistle. A 7-1 dismantling of one of Europe’s elite. Zlatan and I do not join in, however, as we know the hard work is only beginning. We will face Florian Martin’s Wolves, who defeated Inter on penalties.
April 2054 – Champions League – Semifinal, First Leg.
Back in the Black Country. A full stadium, brimming with hate. An aggressive opponent, looking to bounce back from a shock defeat at home to 18th-place Bournemouth over the weekend.
We will begin the match with the strikerless version of PM Haaienkanon, while Wolves are in an aggressive 343.
In the 29th, the inevitable happens. Wolves are over-committed in the attacking phase, and we tear them to pieces in moments, with Leander Mestdagh administering the coup de grace. We claim a second minutes later, but it is called back by VAR.
Dauda curls home an unstoppable free kick in the 57th minute, from 30 yards. While it is way too early to book our tickets to Istanbul in a month’s time, we’re hitting our stride at exactly the right time.
As if to prove the point, Mestdagh grabs a 3rd in the 68th minute, firing into the top corner to finish off another rapid counterattacking move.
Alibabic makes it 4 in the 83rd, a rare goal from the man who specializes in creating chances for others, leading the supporters to begin a never-ending version of the “Alibabic And The 40 Thieves” calypso, picking up speed and volume with each refrain.
An utterly ruthless display. Beautiful. Priceless. We’re 90 minutes from the Ataturk, lads.
May 2054 – Champions League – Semifinal, Second Leg.
Wolves appear to have learned their lesson, reverting to a back 4 for the return leg at the Gert — although, truth be told, it is probably 90 minutes too late.
The first 45 minutes are almost ideal — Wolves unable to accomplish anything while in possession, while we threaten. The breakthrough comes in the 55th, Dauda playing Pavicevic in behind the Wolves line.
As the minutes tick by, the supporters know we’re off to the Ataturk.
A triumphant result, no doubt. We will face Alexsandar Dragovic’s Manchester United in the final, after they eliminated Felix Uduohkai’s Milan, 3-1 on aggregate.
90 minutes. The culmination of 5 years’ work.
May 2054 – Champions League Final, Atatürk Olimpiyat Stadyumu.
This is what it all comes down to. 5 years of work, boiled down to 90 minutes.
Our form has continued through the end of the domestic campaign, and we have every reason for optimism. We’ve only lost one match all year, inclusive of friendlies — the 2nd XI away to Genk in November.
While he floundered at Fiorentina with the Champions League squad we built, against the odds Dragovic has led United to a 2nd place finish in his maiden campaign at their helm — their best finish in nearly 20 years. Is this a one-off, or are United reverting to form?
United are favored, which is what we would prefer. We will start the match in the strikerless version of PM Haaienkanon, in anticipation of United employing an aggressive 4141.
The early minutes are all United. No cause for concern, but we need to be more assertive in transition and possession. After 20-odd minutes, I’ve seen enough. We push the shadow strikers forward, with Mestdagh tasked to man-mark Roberto in the defensive phase.
While the minutes tick on, we continue to deny United any meaningful look at goal. And in the 42nd minute, the moment we’ve been waiting for arrives — Mntambo intercepting a pass in our half, launching forward at pace, with United’s centerbacks initially tracking the runs of Mestdagh and Pavicevic, leaving Mntambo free to drive at goal. He buries it. 1-nil.
Halftime. Orange wedges, tea and an interpretive dance from Zlatan, explaining what he will do to the squad if we don’t return to Bruges with the trophy. (Frankly, I’m not even sure that is anatomically possible. But I’ve seen that glint in Zlatan’s eye before. I wouldn’t put it past him to try.)
On the hour mark, Garcia gets a header on goal from a corner, but United clear off the line, deflecting the ball off the crossbar. A narrow miss. Moments later, Mntambo nearly makes it two after an intricate exchange in the build-up, followed by incisive verticality to set him in on goal. We claim the corner, but need to take these chances when they come.
In the 70th, Willems replaces Murillo while Pentek is on for Mestdagh.
Minutes later, Andres pounces on a loose ball in the box. United are level.
Disaster in the 83rd, as United’s talismanic Serbian forward Karaklajic scores a wonder goal.
We push forward, relentlessly searching for an equalizer. And are rewarded in the 90th minute when Geerts slides a pass through to Pentek breaking to the back post, unmarked. All to play for.
We’re going to extra time. Erdogan replaces Dauda, as Sang-Ho replaces Geerts. Both sides look to win it without the lottery of a shootout; we have our chances but cannot find the back of the net. It will be penalties.
Almenara steps up first, sliding the ball past Agu who guessed right but couldn’t get there. Pavicevic sends Renaud the wrong way, drawing us level. 1-1 after the first round.
Roberto slides it home to draw United level. But Pentek has ice in his veins, beating Renaud who guessed correctly. 3-2 after three rounds.
Andres steps forward for United, but Agu stretches to the corner, tipping it wide!!! Alibabic steps forward. Is this the moment?! Renaud guesses correctly…BUT HE CANNOT GET THERE! BRUGGE HAVE DONE IT!!!
Our supporters launch into the Alibabic And The 40 Thieves calypso as the confetti cannons fire endlessly, erasing 76 years of heartbreak and recrimination.
The celebrations run long into the night, as thousands of our supporters dance in the streets of Istabul.
Over a late night glass of champagne, Zlatan, Jesse and I share a look. An exchange of nods. No words need be spoken.
We know that, while this result heralds be the end of our tenure in Bruges, it is not the end.
But that’s a discussion for tomorrow. Tonight, we must bask in the moment.
June 2054 – Season Review.
The victory celebrations in Bruges are entering their third day in the Markt when we take our leave, wandering away from the main stage where the lads from Jedward are closing out an epic set with their reggaeton remix of Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy.”
We walk slowly past the Jan Breydel statue — with Jan clad in an Alibabic kit, de Coninick in an Agu kit and gloves. Epic. Fitting.
Word has yet to leak, but our resignations have been submitted. The end of an era.
Social media is already already abuzz. We’ve pulled this “trick” too many times for our departure to shock anyone. The discussion has already begun as to who will replace us, with Miguel Beaza, Steven Berghuis and Jamie Steel being the favorites.
Gladbach have been calling, after the depature of Baptiste Santamaria for English giants Everton, which only goes to show that you can’t account for taste. We politely decline their overtures. You can’t go home.
In the middle distance, the opening notes of “Live and Let Die” are unmistakable, echoing in the warm summer’s evening as the sun starts to set, Jedward clearly kicking off their encore set.
Zlatan nods in the direction of the belfry. “Been to the top of the tower, Boss?”
I nod. “Yeah… Yeah, it’s rubbish.”
“It is? The guiding book says it’s a ‘must see.'”
I give Zlatan a skeptical look. “Well, you ain’t going up there.”
A look of confusion washes over Zlatan’s face. “Pardon the Zlatan? Why?”
“I mean, it’s all winding stairs. I’m not being funny.”
The look of confusion mixed with pain on Zlatan’s face is priceless. I thought he was just leaning into he joke, riffing off of me. Leave it to Zlatan — a man who knows the lyrics and dance moves to every Taylor Swift song — to blank on a quality pop culture reference.
“What exactly are you trying to say, Boss?
“What exactly am I trying to say? You’s a bunch of fookin’ elephants!“
I should know better than to insult Zlatan’s physique, but I couldn’t ignore the opportunity. Zlatan is agile, but I’ve got a few decades on him and he knows continued pursuit is futile. (In all fairness, I’m a dead man if he catches me. I’ve seen that glint in his eye before.)
As he tires out, I clue him in to the joke. He laughs good-naturedly, but I’ll pay for that at some point.
Whatever, it was worth it.
We’re still catching our breath when Jesse wanders over, his neck draped with dozens of strands of Mardi Gras beads, glancing at us and looking up towards the belfry, nodding.
“Hey, guys. I wouldn’t go up there, it’s really narrow.”
A low growl emanates from Zlatan’s throat.
Jesse motions for calm, asking the question of the hour.
“What’s the word from your contacts, Zlatan?”
Zlatan shrugs. “Patience. All good things come to those who wait, the Zlatan always says.”
Jesse and I nod. Maybe it’s the setting sun, but Jesse’s legs look really…long this evening. I shake my head in confusion. That…was an odd thought. Something about the shadows, perhaps.
“Race you to the top, Zlatan?”
“**** off, Boss.”
The World Cup kicks off soon and, for the first time in decades, we are unemployed.
Goals for 2054/55: Wait for the right job to open up. Play a lot of Mario Kart.
The Champions League is rather thoroughly covered above, as Club Brugge shook off decades of pain to claim the ultimate prize.
In the Europa League, Matthias Kaltenbach’s West Ham beat Pablo Fornais’ Koln, 2-nil.
In the Europa Conference League, Joshua Guilavogui’s Tottenham beat Joaquin Correa’s Kiwi Farmers, 3-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?