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Everyone’s favourite 1980s truant once said “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.“
Separately, everyone’s favourite cosmic antagonist once said “I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.”
Both of these quotes are highly relevant for this season, and you’ll soon see why. (writer’s note – Ferris Bueller and Star Wars? You are getting worse, mate)
This year has been an absolute rollercoaster, and a super quick one at that. In the blink of an eye we find ourselves in October 2022, and at the tail end of our season in the second tier in Norway with Lillestrøm, after the disappointment of last season’s relegation.
When we last spoke, we were 10 games into the league season, unbeaten (!), and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson was making #InViktorWeTrust go viral, along with videos of him scoring goals (Gyökeres, not The Rock).
The 2022 season is now coming to a close. “How did it go?!” I hear you scream. Well, well, well. Let me go ahead and tell you. Probably not all in chronological order, but we’ll get there…
It was still going well! Results in the league were fantastic, the 3rd round of the NM SAS Braathens Cup (catchy name) was sailed through, as was the 4th, and the quarter final!
There were occasional blips.
Then there was a bit of frustrating news. Remember, Philip Slørdahl, my superstar centre back that Leverkusen just HAD to tear away from me, even parting with £3million to do so?! Of course you remember him, if you are still reading this story in episode 12, you must have a memory for detail like Mike from Suits.
Well Slørdahl has moved on again. Was he such a sensation at the top end of the Bundesliga that Barcelona have replaced Gerard Piqué with him and paid £200million for him, giving us a massive kickback?!
Nope. He didn’t play a single minute of a single game, and Leverkusen sold him to perpetual Championship strugglers Middlesbrough, at a loss. What a disappointment.
On that note. Do you ever manage players that are a bit of a pain? I don’t mean those who are deeply unhappy and cause disruption, just players that never really seem to respond that well to anything you say? Where everyone else in a team talk is motivated or inspired, for this guy, FM would say nonchalant, if such an option existed? Well Moshtagh Yaghoubi was that guy for me. He had to go.
As one of my two creative forces in that midfield three, occupying one of those Segundo Volante slots, I had to move fast to replace him. So I did.
Grgic is great. A fantastic all rounder, but his fantastic teamwork, composure, passing and long shots are the icing on the cake.
The following was the craziest game I’ve ever managed. Ever.
4-1 down at 71 minutes to come back and win 5-4! I’ve never seen more frenzied and passionate resilience from a team. By that, I mean I had 6′ 7″ Leonardo Rocha up front, and launched EVERYTHING at him to knock down. A tactic I am unashamed to say I have used more than once.
In other news, ChriJo got the chequebook out (to my surprise) and bankrolled a couple of million pounds’ investment into the youth facilities, which was nice.
Yes. Yes I did.
Everything was going well. Bank balance is in a good place, the Continental A Licence is coming along nicely, the results are good, and then this happened.
Now as we all know, the severity of those injuries are thankfully depicted in “don’t kill yourself, it’s not that bad” orange, as I like to call it. But this was on the morning of the away game at Vålerenga. Our bitter rivals, and the team in 2nd, and very, VERY hot on our heels in the battle for promotion.
So what happened? Did my remaining heroes step up and do my missing goalkeepers proud, romping to victory like a team of galloping greyhounds?
20 minutes played, we are 2-1 down. Lots of time left on the clock though, we can switch it up and wrestle this back from those we fear the most, the Vålerenga Sith! (writer’s note – he’s done it again hasn’t he?)
Nothing we did worked in this match, and after losing 2-1 here, we started to wobble.
Lillestrøm SK compose themselves. As do I. I gather the team, and play them some hits from my 80s playlist on Spotify I love so dearly. It’s inspiring. It seems almost odd, hearing it through a bluetooth speaker in the changing room, I’m so used to hearing it through the soundbar Gordo bought me for my last birthday at the apartment. He might not be the greatest assistant manager in world football, but you can’t put a price on remembering the gaffer’s birthday. Hall and Oates and Fleetwood Mac seem to cheer the boys up a wee bit, and we head back to training.
So the end of the season is upon us.
My Continental A Licence is complete. I ask Mr Johansen (I call him that when I’m after something) if I can go and study for the highest coaching honour available, the Continental Pro Licence. I’m sure he’ll be amiable. He always is.
ChriJo eventually relents when I tickle him a bit and bring him a bag of whisky miniatures. I am now 12 months away from holding the best available coaching badge. The future has just got a lot brighter!
So what happened? Did we get promoted? Did we go up as champions?
Yes we did! And we did it by 4 points! A wonderful season so far. The only issue is that it’s now October 2022, and my contract expires on the last day of the year. What will happen now?
The board offer me an extended deal to lead the team back in the top tier in Norway. With £4m to spend to improve an already cohesive and functioning squad. Should I sign the deal though? Should I?
My heart says yes, but my head says no. I am here to move up in the world, but surely as a newly promoted side, it will be a couple of years before I’m capable of challenging at the top end of the table alongside the big boys for the available trophies?
But wait. Haven’t I still got the Norwegian cup final to play in? The famous NM SAS Braathens Cup? Yes I do!
Promotion and winning the cup in my final game, what a way that would be to go out! That would be 1 league win (and promotion) and 1 cup on the old CV, along with working towards the highest coaching badge available and leaving a team in a fantastic position to challenge the following season. That would free me up to pursue a new adventure. Possibly in a different country, possibly somewhere higher up the world league reputation ranking? (Austria, Switzerland, Belgium?)
But wait a damn second.
The UEFA Europa League! First, there is the near insurmountable concept of defeating Rosenborg to come, before any decision had to be set in stone. I avoid Mr Johansen as much as I can, deleting his meeting requests on Outlook, stalling for thinking time. He finally corners me, but we only have a quick, two minute chat.
This is Rosenborg. Rosenborg who just won the Norwegian top tier for the 7th time in 8 years, by a clear 8 points. Rosenborg who are an entire division above our beloved Lillestrøm, and in red hot form.
Let’s get back to the game. How would it pan out?
The photographer barely had his breath back from capturing the penalty that had fired the champions ahead, when they slot in a second, two minutes later. The goal was so quick he didn’t catch it, so you’ll have to take my word for it. 2-0.
Half time comes and goes. The boys are broken. They are exhausted from the challenge. Come on, lads, we are only one goal behind.
The boys, suffering from cramp, breathless and broken, are crawling towards the finish line.
I cheer them on passionately from the sideline, this isn’t relegation, this is glory! This is two trophies in two matches! This is European football next season! My voice goes hoarse from screaming, and I grit my teeth with anxiety.
Would it be enough?
OF COURSE IT WAS!
Incredibly, a Viktor Gyökeres double takes us from 2-1 down against giants Rosenborg to win 3-2, in one of the most dramatic, nail-biting cup finals I’ve ever watched. We were right to trust him.
I have tears in my eyes as I hug the boys. What a season. What a club. What a moment.
The report confirms what my head refuses to believe. We, Lillestrøm, are back in the big league, with the Norwegian cup in the bag, and some European qualifiers to look forward to. The celebrations will go late into the night tonight! The boys deserve it.
Jakob and Sofia greet me with a box of my favourite noodles as I arrive home and get out of the electric car I’ve realised I absolutely despise. As the end of season formalities tumble into my inbox, I slump onto my sofa back at the Oslo apartment.
Let’s have a look at them together.
So the 2022 season closes, and a smile creeps across my face, as I think of what further future glory could be forthcoming for our Lillestrøm legends.
Next episode, I’ll spotlight some of the boys above, as I don’t think the players have taken centre stage on here quite as much as they deserve! We’ll look at some of the players that have become hallmarks of our success, and some players who have given us priceless memories, but who might be moving on.
I just can’t believe that next season I’ll be managing a team who are in the qualification stages for the Europa Lea…
I just remembered that I turned down Lillestrøm ‘s offer to extend my contract as manager, in that short chat with the chairman, just before the cup final.
My contract expires in six weeks.
Thanks for reading.