This is episode three of a wider series. To start at episode one, please click here.
The conference room at Estadio Hernando Siles is as stifling as ever. A small flock of dedicated reporters have gathered to hear The Strongest manager Fernando Teixidó review his team’s performance over the first half of the 2019 Boliviano campaign.
Among the gathering is an uncomfortable looking man in his fifties, sat on a plastic chair which is marginally too small for his hulking frame. He takes a small pencil from behind his ear and starts thumbing through a tiny notepad, awaiting Teixidó’s arrival. He resembles a classic hardboiled private detective, but one who has spent too long staking out the dark streets, and it has visibly taken its toll. He doesn’t wear a black fedora, nor is this New York in the 1930s, but he shares the same cynicism and glowering expression as his noir fiction counterparts.
The man in question is Carl Hagedorn and he is a prickly 53-year old football journalist for theangrylinesmen, a football news and analysis website.
Hagedorn has covered South American football for a number of years, and is known to be a fearless critic of those he aims his laser focus at, but has a warmth and humour in his writing that is not often read.
Rumour has it that new, yet ubiquitous talent-hoovers The Athletic tried to recruit the experienced Englishman, but he chose to remain with the smaller online publication. Only he could tell you why.
The Strongest manager Fernando Teixidó arrives and confidently struts towards the long table at the front of the room. The Peruvian seems in good spirits, and rightly so. His team are sat top of the Bolivian league, unbeaten in the opening 13 games.
He has not yet met his nemesis, however…
“Hi Fernando, Carl Hagedorn from theangrylinesmen here. I hope you are well.”
The pleasantries did not last.
“How did it feel to be dumped out of the Libertadores despite not losing a group stage game?”
Wow. What an opener.
“Well….Carl, is it? How I feel is irrelevant. My players performed admirably. They gave me everything. We were 40 seconds away from topping the group. This is life sometimes.”
The manager’s back is up. This is not the welcome he expected.
“Surely you have to take a large portion of the blame as manager? Winning one and drawing five surely suggests you can’t instil a killer instinct in this group of players? An ability to actually win football matches instead of just avoiding defeat?”
Fernando is certainly taken aback, angrily yet slowly taking a sip of water and leaning back, thinking carefully before responding.
“Do you work for Bolívar, Carl. Is that it?“
A few chuckles emanate from different corners of the room before an awkward silence.
In typical football manager fashion (in more ways than one), Teixidó looks Hagedorn right in the eye and replies…
“Surely you have something more pertinent to ask me about?”
“Ok then, Fernando.” Carl leafs through his small notepad, each page covered in scrawling notes. “What about your team receiving 14 more yellow cards than any other team in the league so far? Sounds like poor disclipine to me. No?“
The English writer really knows how to get under the skin of those in the spotlight. In fact, he’s made a career out of it.
He’s like if Piers Morgan had a dangerously high BMI and could tell you everything about the Venezuelan third division.
“What is this?”
The Strongest manager looks around the room in disbelief, like he expects Ashton Kutcher or Jeremy Beadle to pop out and tell him that the line of questioning is for humour and drama alone.
“Ok, I’ll bite, Mr Hagedorn.”
“I am proud of the way my team plays. Yes, they pick up a lot of cards but that’s because every one of those boys leaves 100% of themselves out there on the pitch, every single game. Do you understand? 14 more yellow cards than any other team you say? Do you think I haven’t seen the data? That I do not study it and know it inside out?”
Teixidó is on a roll.
“What about the 13 league games without defeat? What about more successful dribbles (12 per 90 mins), chances created (43), shots on target (53%), crosses completed (31%) and goals scored (32) than any other club in the top division? How much do I know, to talk out of turn though…Carl?”
Teixidó is so angry, his father’s Dylanisms are even leaking out.
“This press conference is over.”
And so it was.
In a flash Teixidó was gone. Carl Hagedorn added some more scribbles to his tiny notepad, a wry smile creeping across his face.
The Strongest’s press officer nervously shuffled papers still sat at the table on his own for a further, silent minute. He did not look up or make eye contact with Hagedorn, nor any of the other journalists in attendance. He then suddenly stood up before announcing “Thanks. That will be all today,” and exited promptly.
That was intense.
Welcome back! We are officially half way through season one!
Last time I promised to have a look at some goals for this save. For context, here are some facts about The Strongest’s historic success. As always, most images are clickable.
In short, domestically very strong (pun intended) but useless in continental competitions, if that’s not too harsh.
The Sudamericana and Libertadores are in my sights as goals for this save, but for now, we are a long way off being good enough.
That being said, performances have been impressive so far. Sitting on top of the table undefeated is no mean feat, especially when the bookies have us finishing 3rd this year.
Bolivia has some of the best team names on the planet. Blooming, Sport Boys, Destroyers, Always Ready and of course The Strongest. It’s incredible.
As expected, striker Rolando Blackburn has been in inspired form, and has bagged 13 goals so far in all competitions.
Wálter Veizaga has been explosive in the Segundo Volante role driving from deep. The 30 year old has been with the The Strongest since 2012, and is my key man in midfield.
Surprise package has to be 34-year old Colombian striker Jair Reinoso, who has notched 5 goals. His 19 vision attribute has proved an interesting weapon too, as he has also contributed 3 assists, while deployed as an Advanced Forward.
Now we know that Teixidó plays his Ancelotti-inspired 4-3-1-2 the vast majority of the time, but what about when protecting a lead?
A switch to this 5-3-2 system is not only solid defensively, but retains the opportunity to counter attack when required.
I am really enjoying my time managing in Bolivia, apart from realising that this custom database has a frustrating detail that I am fairly sure is an error.
This makes ‘Get Stuck In’ a difficult inclusion, despite being a hallmark of the way I like to play. I haven’t yet decided whether to tweak my approach, or just live with the constant suspensions.
Especially when you select your first choice 11, and are presented with this…
I always keep the first transfer window closed in a save (realism innit?), so given that we are now half way through the first campaign, I decided to approach the board to ask for some funds. Some of the players are complaining about a lack of depth in defensive midfield.
They may have a point. I play three of them in every game, and two of the five players I have in the squad who I deploy there are a natural centre back and left back respectively, training for the new position.
So an entirely unexpected negotiation occurred, when I thought president María Quispe would simply throw me out of her office.
Let me be clear, £550k is a lot of spending money in Bolivia. I can really improve the squad with that kind of dough.
So much so, that I have at least three targets in mind already. Three players I have been scouting who I think are affordable, and can add something to the team. A promising Brazilian, an established Peruvian, and maybe even a home-grown targetman. But more on that next time!
Thanks for reading.