2034/35 Open Thread
My primary target has been a right wingback…but the only targets initially identified by our scouts who would return my calls would not improve our XI. Others simply laughed at my increasingly frantic texts.
The staff try to console me, telling me it’s their loss. But I’m not so sure.
The good news is that our return to CAF competition meant that some players were willing to give us a look, when they’d previously rebuffed my advances.
The first to sign up? Geslin Ndongala, who joins on a free from rivals Proline.
Nominally an attack-minded midfielder, there is no question where we will field young Geslin. He will step directly into our 1st XI, replacing Makasi as our starting libero. It’s an obvious upgrade.
Next up? Morgan “Moobs” Mubiru, who joins on a free from rivals URA, having rejected offers from Vipers and Proline.
Mubiru takes over as our starting mezzala, dropping Majwega down to the 2nd XI.
4 signings. It may not look like much, but in the process we’ve replaced the central spine of the 1st XI. So long as players settle into the rhythms of life at the Mandela, we are prepared to defend our domestic titles.
The big question being how we will perform in the Champions League…which will largely be a function of the draw.
China 2034 – World Cup Review.
Before diving into the campaign, let’s take a quick look at the 2034 World Cup.
A shock for all, as Sandro Schwarz’s Russia defeat Stefano Pioli’s Italy, 4-2 in Guangzhou, to win it all.
July 2034 – Champions League, Qualifying Draw.
The moment of truth arrives in Cairo.
Of all the teams we could draw, in the end we have to consider ourselves somewhat fortunate. We will face Onze Createurs in the Preliminary Round — not an “easy” draw by any measure, but far from the “worst” we could have seen.
Should we eliminate the Malian champions, we will face the winner of the Enyimba – Ferroviario tie, which will prove a far sterner test.
August 2034 – Champions League, Preliminary Round.
With our pre-season friendlies in the bag, it is time for the real test.
(I must confess, the stadium announcer’s decision to play Mr. Mister’s Kyrie ahead of the match against Kiira Young was an inspired choice. ****ing tuuune, lads.)
But if we do not beat the Malians, our African journey will be over. And, then? Then, there will be complaints.
The first leg is away, in Bamako. We concede early, only to hit back…and have it chalked off by VAR. We do not relent, however, and equalize through Muhammad in the 16th minute. Our new signings begin to turn the tide, with Odokonyero opening his Jogoo account 5 minutes later, heading home a curling, Ndongala free kick…with Rodrigues hammering home from 20 yards, mere moments later.
(We keep telling Rodrigues to put a new name on the back of his jersey, but he keeps demurring. For now.)
The wide open nature of the match continues, with the Malians immediately finding their 2nd, before Ntege has another goal chalked off for offsides. We’ve found the back of the net 5 times in 30 minutes now…surely more goals are to follow…
Muhammad makes it 6 in first-half injury time, and the only question in my mind is whether we’ll hit double digits. Our defense has not covered itself in glory, but — as in physics — football is relative. At the very least, we will head back to Kampala with a monumental away-goals advantage.
We manage to keep things tight at the back in the 2nd half, and will head into the 2nd leg as firm favorites to advance, an 8-2 win in hand — a triumphant return to African competition, if ever there was one.
At the Mandela, our task is simple.
Don’t concede 6.
And, if we do concede 6…find a way to score at least one of our own.
The buzz is building ahead of the match, as our season ticket sales jump by more than one-third, to 221. The hype train is getting ready to leave the station, lads. Best be on it.
A sterile 2-1 win at the Mandela guarantees our progression. Once we hit 2, our foot was taken off the gas. I can’t blame the lads, truth be told. The tie was long since over.
We will face Enyimba for a spot in the Group Stage, after the Nigerians progressed with a 5-1 (agg) win over Ferroviario.
September 2034 – Champions League, First Round.
A spot in the Group Stage feels like a pipe dream. But it may only be 180 minutes away. Can we seize the opportunity that is before us?
The first few minutes in Aba, it feels like we are about to be over-run. But we manage to gain our sea legs, and find a late equalizer. A 1-1 draw is more than we could have hoped for.
Back at the Mandela, we’re greeted by Mr. Mister for the walk-out music, setting the tone for the night. Muhammad snatches one late in the first half — chasing down a loose ball, refusing to let it go over the endline and firing from an absurd angle…only for the keeper to be out of position. 1-nil. The narrowest advantage.
We take to the pitch in the 2nd half, to the crowd singing I’m Shipping Up To Kampala, a twist on the Dropkick Murphys‘ classic, only with more jumping around and the lyrics tweaked to reflect our run at the Champions League. It puts us in the right mood, with Mubiru grabbing one less than a minute after play resumes, off a long throw from Isidro. 2-nil.
Enyimba launch forward, and we look to counterpunch. To end any hope of a comeback. But they strike first, pulling one back in the 85th. Squeaky bum time.
Disaster in the 89th, as Enyimba find the back of the net and take the lead on away goals…only for VAR to rule it out.
Moments later, cherishing an epic 3-2 win on aggregate — albeit one some will claim comes, courtesy of the CAF mafia. I, for one, will not complain.
The 2nd XI have not covered themselves in glory — drawing away to Onduparaka (despite controlling the match in its entirety), and narrowly defeating the ninjas from Jinja. But it is ok.
We’re off to the Group Stage, lads.
The moment arrives. We avoid the nightmare draw in Group C (against Africa Sports and ASEC), but find ourselves facing a tough road against 3 strong North African sides — CA Bizerte, JS Kabylie and defending champions CS Sfax.
It’s a big ask. But…if we could sneak our way into the knockout rounds, it would secure our financial future.
Mere days ahead of our first match in the Group Stage, confidence is at an all-time high.
The “Jogoos Out For Villa” social media campaign got off to a dubious start thanks to the (intentional) double entendre that some took far too literally. Suffice to say there is…excitement building through Kampala for the lads’ African adventure.
All good things to those who wait.
December 2034 – Champions League, Group Stage (Matchday 1).
We fought like warrior poets. Yet we fell, 4-3, thanks to an 86th minute strike.
The Football Gods are heartless, fickle ****s.
No matter how emphatic our moral victory was against Kablyie, we know that we need to improve.
Even though we have a promising preview of the Class of 2035, we dip into the market and sign a new goalkeeper — Ugandan international Bonfils Ouedraogo, whose KCC contract expired in the summer. He refused to sign for us at the time, but after 6 months of unemployment, Bonfils has had a change of heart. We cannot register him until January, but — once eligible — he will step directly into our 1st XI, replacing Abege.
We intuitively understand that every little bit will help, and Bonfils’ arrival cannot come soon enough.
After our late collapse against Kablyie on Matchday 1, we host the defending champions at the Mandela. CS Sfax are clearly the better side — on paper, and on the pitch. But we begin to dream when Odokonyero finds the back of the net shortly before the half…only to let it slip away in a 3-1 loss.
A chance for redemption at the end of the month, hosting Bizerte. We dominate, but concede early. Mubiru fires us back level off a long throw in moments before half, triggering the thousands in attendance to the droning, incessant call of Moooobs from the crowd, like a deranged herd of Scottish cows.
Yet we fail to capitalize on the momentum generated by our supporters — I can’t help but feel it is not a point gained, but 2 points lost.
We aren’t out of the picture just yet, of course. But it will take a Herculean effort to progress beyond the Group Stage.
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 of Africa is explained here, and each installment in Brendan Rodgers’ story can be accessed through the Nearly Men of Africa archive. You can also join Seattle Red on his dedicated discord channel, hosted by Dictate the Game.