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How to end the season on a high, or low.

‘We’re going to get at least a point, I know we are’

‘Yes boss we are’

‘Then no matter what happens in the closing stage, we’ll be in the play off final, and in the Confederations Cup as well’

‘You’re right boss’

‘I think we’ll win the play off as well no matter who it’s against. We’ve got Chang banging the goals in and the defence has really stepped up haven’t they’

‘That’s correct boss’

‘Mo, do you just agree to everything I say?’

‘No boss’

‘Okay good. Get the lads ready. We’re going to work on set pieces today’

‘Okay boss’

That’s my new assistant manager, Moussa Kouako. He’s from The Ivory Coast. God only knows what he’s doing in Taiwan, actually saying that I’m here too, but he’s come here because my assistant manager had buggered off to Royal Blues, apparently I’m not a very good leader, or something to that extent was what he said on his way out.

But now I’ve got Mo here with me, and well he seems to be okay. When he arrived at the club the day after my old assistant left, he assured me he had contacts in The Ivory Coast who would be willing to help him once he got settled somewhere, and he reckons he works with the Toure brothers at their football academy there.

I genuinely doubt both of these are true, but I needed an assistant manager, and he was the first person to apply, well actually thinking about it I wasn’t informed of his application, he just turned up. I’ll have to ask him about that, I’ll write that down to check it out later.

I’m actually a little bit nervous heading into this next game against Taiwan Power. We drew 2 all a few weeks ago with them, but this time we just have to not lose to them again and we win the opening stage, which means we’ll automatically qualify for the play off and the Confederations Cup, which I promised the chairman I would do. But with Chang banging goals in all over the place, and the team desperate to win it, I can hope that we don’t mess it up, and we do what we have to do.

Taiwan Premier League, opening stage final game

Nothing is going to get us down today. It’s a big day all around. The players are buzzing, Mo has really taken everything in his stride and got everyone committed and ready for the game.

We had discussed how to address this one. Do we go on the offensive as we have done so far, or should we sit back and grind out a result? We all agreed we’d try and attack from the off. Better to control the game then to chase it.

As we had done all season long, we set up with Chang up top leading the line. I tried to give a few words of wisdom before the team headed out, don’t overthink it, play to the whistle and don’t try anything fancy, yes Mo what is it? No, we’re not going to put 10 men behind the ball. Why, well that will just be asking for trouble won’t it. Let’s set up as we have so far all season okay? He seems happy enough.

As the team made their way to the pitch for kick off, I took my seat in the dug out and the game kicked off. Not much was going on in the early stages. Taipower are passing the ball around and they’re looking for an opening, but we hold our position and it looked as if we’d be hard to break down. I turned to get a drink to sit with. As I sat back Mo turned to me and was talking with his clip board in hand

‘Boss, I see a problem already’

‘Go on’

‘Chang is screaming at the ref’

I stood up and lo and behold our leading scorer Chang was right in the refs face, the ref’s quite a bit taller than Chang, what’s he saying, actually why’s he so mad?

‘Mo, find out what’s going on’

‘Did already. Chang fouled in the box. Penalty Taipower’

‘Fuck off!’

‘Okay, to the dressing room?’

‘No, not literally fuck off, it’s a figure of speech. Anyway is it really a penalty?’

‘That’s what the linesman says’

I made my way to the touchline where the ref had finally made his way over to discuss it with the linesman.

The ref had given the penalty based on the linesman’s view, but Chang was adamant it was outside the box. There’s no video replay here, not that it mattered, the ref’s given it so there’s no turning back now. My players are furious, and the ref’s not having any of it. He’s lecturing Chang over it, I can see him being booked here. The ref must’ve taken into account the need for us not to lose this match and given Chang a warning. But this is not what we need, a penalty to our opponents in a game we can’t lose.

I try screaming at Chang to calm down, but by this time Taipower have placed the ball down and are ready to take the penalty. Huang Po in goal is waving his arms trying to put their player off. Please guess right, please save this penalty

When the penalty is taken, our keeper does guess correctly, but the ball is played into the top corner out of his reach. It was a good penalty actually. Be quiet, don’t be praising them. Sorry.

It’s okay. We went down the last time we played Taipower and got back into the game, we can do that again here today. Remember that drink I grabbed earlier? Well now would be a good time to change it to whisky.

I scream at the players PUSH ON, TAKE IT TO THEM, but of course only 1 of the players speak any English, and it’s broken at best. But they get the hint and do indeed start pressing on trying to get an equaliser. But as we’re pressing, our opponents can see the gaping holes down our right hand side and the ball finds it’s way to their left full back, an he has the whole left wing to himself.

By the time our players have tracked back to try and recover it’s too late, as he’s buried the ball into the net with a fierce left footed thunderbolt, 2-0 after only 10 minutes

It’s not looking likely there will be a fightback here. The team do try in vain to push on, but almost straight away they’re pushed straight back. We’ve got nothing on going forward, and in defence we’re all over the place. I look around at Mo who’s sat there with that fucking clipboard as I ask for some hint or something to get us back in this game

‘Boss, we need to attack more. More chances means more goals’

‘Well thank you Captain fucking obvious!’ Think I’ve been dealt a bad hand with him. Well if we can just hold on to half time maybe, just maybe we can regroup and go at it in the second half

Despite my previous assistant being the translator for me, the club’s secretary was fluent in Chinese and English and was made my new translator.

‘Tell them I’m really fucking pissed off’

She speaks in Chinese. Not a single peep from the players

‘Tell them I want to see more from them in the second half’

Silence again.

I’ve lost the dressing room. In less than 1 year I’ve managed to come in, win most our games but lose some key games, this 1 included, and get within 1 point of winning the opening stage, and then completely lose a dressing room of players.

Just then Chang stands up, goes absolutely bonkers, throwing bottles around and screaming in Chinese, I think its Chinese he’s yelling, but still no reaction from the team. Maybe they just can’t speak? I don’t know, but what I do know is by the time we managed to score in this game, in the 72nd minute, we’d already lost. We were then only 3-1 down, but the damage had been done.  Taipower’s fourth and our second within the last 10 minutes meant absolutely nothing. We’d failed in the opening stage and had no one but ourselves to blame. The closing stage is all that matters now.

Nothing less than top place over the next 14 games will be acceptable.

All we had to do was draw but we couldn’t manage that. 1 point, 1 fucking point is all that was in it. The closing stage starts in 10 days. And in those 10 days the team are going to be in training for 9 of them. No excuses. No pissing around. There’s no reason we can’t win another 8 games at least, and not lose 5. I won’t, I can’t fail this time around.

Next episode – The beginning of the end, or the end of my beginning?

Previous episode – Hope, and lots of it

Episode 1 – This is not another European journeyman

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