Journeyman – 20 – Lille – Don’t cry for me, Argentina

This is one episode of a wider series. To instead start at episode one, please click here.

The truth is I never left you.

So it’s club number four (Varbergs, Lillestrøm, Bordeaux and now Lille) and midway through the 2024/2025 season.

We touched on a couple of players from the Lille squad already, and one of them in particular is proving to be an absolute sensation.

The player in question is Argentinian wonderkid, José Luis Garavano, or as I like to call him ‘JLG9.’ He has 22 goals in 43 league games for the club so far, and just keeps getting better. The good news is, he’s not the only Argentine.

Totally natural.
The man himself.

In transfer business, I offloaded £99million worth of players from the Lille squad. Notably, Diego Laínez went off to Brugge for £25m, 32-year old full back Santiago Arias moved to Bournemouth for £20m and 30-year old winger Ivan Petryak went to Neil Lennon’s Lazio for £18m (writer’s note – what a time to be alive).

We all know Hannibal Mejbri, right? The wonderkid number 10 was already at Lille prior to my arrival and I managed to convince Manchester United to loan him back to me for a further two seasons.

In terms of permanent transfers in, I brought in Hoffenheim’s attacking midfielder Christophe Baumgartner and young PSV full back Mikail Epskamp as squad competition. Malmö’s promising midfielder Kenin Dzafic joined the ranks, as did 36-year old Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Rui Patrício, as between the sticks is a position I really felt we needed competition in.

Kenin Dzafic, 19, Malmö, £2.2million

Onto the more exciting bits of business. I gave my former club Bordeaux nearly £25million for a quintet of players I felt deserved to join me in Lille. Former top-scorer Efe Koulouris, ball-playing centre back Silvan Hefti, long-serving and solid defensive midfielder Otávio and two promising youngsters, goalkeeper Mickael Debord and former Santa Clara man Augusto Caneca.

When I moved club, no one said I couldn’t take half of the old club with me!

I also added to my Argentinian contingent with Iván Gómez. The exceptional all-rounder had been at Estudiantes for his whole career so far (11 years) and will form part of the entirely South American midfield line alongside Fausto Vera and Thiago Maia.

Iván Gómez, 27, Estudiantes, £4million.

Lastly, to join my other wonderkid strikers (Robert Marin and JLG9), I found an incredible player, fresh off the ever-impressing Boca Juniors production line. Introducing Enzo Romano!

6′ 2″, 23, Argentinian, left footed and incredible in all the ways you can see here, Enzo is worth every penny of the £7.5m I paid for him!

One of the players who left was ex-Chelsea striker Bertrand Traoré. It turns out he wasn’t as pleased at leaving as I thought he was, however.

Oops.

Exceptional striker Tomás Badaloni was unfortunately the victim of the strict four non-EU player registration limit, and had to go out on loan. I was delighted, however, when my beloved Rangers came in for him! He has since scored 12 in 24 for the Glasgow giants, and I can’t imagine a better place for him to be plying his trade this year.

For there’s not a player like the Bad-a-loni, no not one, and there never shall be one!

Before we check out the results of the rest of 2024, what happened to those beautiful modern apartments I was checking out before I moved across France?

Erm, I bought one!

I couldn’t help it.
I remain with my beloved Audi.

So what did happen in the first half of the 24/25 season?

Well I utilised my Football Philosophy Index for the first time here in France and did a full analysis of my squad.

Excel, in action. Mr Lopez our owner is sure to be impressed.

My philosophy effectively centres around workrate, decision-making, composure, technique and passing and this data analysis technique helped me figure out which of my players best fit that mould, and which I could improve on.

The chosen 11 in my signature 4-3-3.

Between the start of the season and January 2025, there’s only two competitions in play, Ligue Un, and my maiden campaign in the UEFA Europa Conference League.

In Ligue Un, things could not be going much better.

Things going much better for me (and the underdogs at FM Heathen’s beloved Caen) than they are at the mighty Monaco. Incredibly, Caen are being linked with the enigmatic Paris-based Brazilian Neymar! Rumour has it the manager has a few set piece tricks up his sleeve!
We even beat PSG with 10 men, something I didn’t think was possible!

Robert Marin has bagged 12 goals in 16 games (only 10 of them starts) and Yusuf Yazici has 7 goals and 7 assists from the number 10 position, a decent return for a player who gives us much more than those statistics suggest.

If his performances are anything to go by, Craigy-boy, Marin is doing fine by me.

We also received news that in spite of the exceptional facilities and constant investment, we can’t produce a competent youth prospect for toffee.

Doesn’t look great, does it? The only ‘positive’ is lots of wingers…when I play a narrow system with no wingers.
Money well spent?
The UEFA Europa Conference League.

So now into Europe. It’s my first venture into UEFA’s third most prestigious European club football competition. How’s that going?

Going well so far!

Our performances in Europe only begun to dip once I started heavily drinking rotating the squad during busy periods of the year-end, so it has a been good European campaign so far. I was disappointed that our reward for getting past Estonia’s Flora was a tough tie against Italy’s Cagliari, but we made it through and had a decent group stage. The next phase isn’t until March as there is a whole knockout round in between, for those who finished second in their groups.

I’m happy with that!

I also reached a memorable milestone. 200 games in management!

It’s been quite a journey so far.

So far so good in my 274 days here in Lille. It’s crazy to think that in three month’s time I’ll have been in Lille the same length of time I was ever in Bordeaux.

In summary, I’ve discovered the best wonderkid trio of forwards (JLG9, Romano and Marin), we are playing well in the league and in Europe, the board are happy, there’s £45m to spend and I know the key positions I want to strengthen in the January 2025 transfer window (long-term replacement for the soon-to-be 37 year old goalkeeper Patricio, and a first choice right back).

I’m happy. Are you?

The board are fairly pleased!
23 wins in 38 games, I’m happy with that!

Now that I’ve bought a property here in Lille, it looks like I’ll be here for a good while yet!

The real question is, should I get a dog? In fact, with all the travelling, surely footballers and managers can’t have dogs if they don’t have an other half to walk and feed it? With no Eva, Daisy or Alicia in sight, I couldn’t, could I?

I could call him Gordo?

The January transfer window is upon us, the 9th round of the Coupe de France pits us against PSG (but our board wants the semi-final as a minimum!) and we need to carry on our Ligue Un and Europa Conference form to ensure a successful season. Let’s keep it going, Les Dogues!

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag.

Journeyman – 19 – Lille – Every villain is a hero in his own mind

This is one episode of a wider series. To instead start at episode one, please click here.

Is it too late now to say sorry? Cause I’m missing more than just your Borde (writer’s note – Christ almighty, that was a bad one).

So I did something terrible.

Some of you will agree. Others will say I am looking out for myself, doing what’s right for the journeyman adventure. I tell you what though; it tastes worse than the heartburn from too much of that delicious Bordeaux wine.

If you have paid any attention to the title of this episode (or the images above) you will know what has happened.

I have left Bordeaux after 371 days in charge, for one of their French top tier competitors. I have left the club, however, in an incredible financial position, the dead wood all cast into the sea, and on the fringes of European qualification.

I had been wondering what had been needling me since my mid-season performance review with Joe DaGrosa, and one of my initial instincts were proved to be the trigger for my exit.

As good as Bordeaux were, and with some brilliant individual players, I just felt like even though I’d only been in charge for a year (plus six days, don’t forget those), I felt that to push for the next big step, a serious overhaul would be needed, and I don’t think Bordeaux are the right club for that level of rebuild.

When the Lille job opened up, I gave the club and job ad a cursory glance. Excellent youth facilities and youth recruitment. Superb training facilities. ‘Rich’ financial status. Two of the best young players I have seen in a long time. Something about applying for it just felt right.

Yeah Franck will be upset (plus my forgotten PA Eric and Nicolas at the restaurant), but I felt it was something I had to do.

Poor Franck.

When I arrived at the Stade Pierre Mauroy (It was a long drive, but Bordeaux let me keep the Audi if I kept the payments up myself), I hadn’t realised just how close to Belgium Lille was, up in the north east of France.

49,082 seats, coupled with good corporate amenities and state of the art data analysis facilities onsite.

I shake hands firmly with the club owner Gérard Lopez. He’s an entrepreneur. A man with his head firmly rooted in statistics and data. He’s a great match for me as a manager. Less opera, more Excel.

Mr Lopez. Inspired.

We meet on the perfect green pitch and it’s a casual catch up. The atmosphere is laid back, the facilities incredible, but without pretension. This feels like my kind of place.

There’s eight games to go in the 23/24 Ligue Un campaign and although Mr Lopez would like 3rd place and a shot at Champions League football (the club has finished between 2nd and 4th the last five years in a row), he understands that I may take a little bit of time to adjust to my new surroundings, and get the team playing how I would like them to.

I have a proper look at my new squad, and highlight those two young players that first caught my eye in the moments after Christophe Galtier’s sacking was announced, a mere couple of weeks ago.

Robert Marin, 19, French attacking midfielder or striker.

Young Marin looks like the real deal. A powerful and quick athlete, he has pinpoint finishing, great off the ball movement and is a hard worker.

José Luis Garavano, 20, Argentinian striker.

Another brilliant and agile athlete, José looks unbelievable. Always one to be cautious of the ‘wonderkid’ tag, I don’t want to start throwing around terms like “the new Batistuta,” but JLG looks set for the very, very top.

Just as I was finishing my meeting with Mr Lopez, he did give me one nugget of information that meant that I couldn’t even find time to draw breath before starting work. ALL of the previous coaching team had left along with the previous manager. With 9 coaching slots, 4 physio vacancies and no assistant manager (among others), the first thing that I needed to do was bolster our team behind the scenes.

So I did.

Unfortunately ‘Ally’ did not want to join me here on the other side of France, but do you know what? We never really did get on. Not like Gordo and I, or even the peculiar but lovable Freddy back in Sweden.
From Will Shakespeare to Craig Shakespeare. The ex-Leicester manager and England coach joins me in Lille. He’s got the credentials to not only assist in managerial duties off the pitch, but also to coach on it. Prised him from a 5 year stint as Watford assistant manager.
Of course the Manchester United legend had to join me in Lille.
It’s a comfort to work with who you know, so that’s why I was delighted that four of my Bordeaux staff were keen to move north with me.
All of the other staff I had to quickly bring in at Lille. Shout out to physio Filip Lundgårdh, who although didn’t join me in Bordeaux, was a club physio at both Lillestrøm and Varbergs when those clubs were under my stewardship. Oh, I also can’t forget to highlight ex-Pompey favourite Hermann Hreiðarsson.

What about Bordeaux? Who did they get in to replace me? Another relatively unknown manager, plucked from obscurity in Scandanavia, keen to make a mark in a major European league?

Nope.

I am taking it as a massive compliment that Joe DaG replaced me with arguably one of the best and most influential managers in modern football history, Marcelo Bielsa.

I will always thank Bordeaux for the opportunity. They basically took me from the Swedish and Norwegian second tiers and put me right bang smack in the middle of top division European football. It was a great time, but time to move on.

Home?

I take up Lille’s offer of a modern yet basic rented apartment. It’s one of many they own near the stadium. Maybe after summer I’ll go house-hunting, but something tells me that the luxury of the last place in Bordeaux was a distraction.

That being said, I did see a number of beautiful apartments online when I first started sorting this move out. Some very beautiful modern architecture indeed.

I put all notions of mezzanines and solid marble worktops to one side, and focus on the task at hand. Currently we operate in the exact same space as my former club, somewhere between 4th and 6th in Ligue Un, and battling for those European places.

The new Europa Conference League brings a new dynamic. Introduced in 2021 and won by West Ham, Sporting Lisbon and Hoffenheim in its first three years.

In one of my first games in charge, I manage to get young Argentinian striker Tomás Badaloni (yep, a second striker from Messi-land) among the goals, something that the media were haranguing him about the lack of constantly, since his £7.5m move from Godoy Cruz in his homeland. I reckon he was a great signing by my predecessor, and I was glad to see him point over to me when he hit the back of the net for the first time in a Lille shirt. A bit like how everyone said Ole Gunnar Solskjaer helped Marcus Rashford with his one touch finishing when he first became United manager, but hopefully with better results in the longer term.

Already making an impact.
Tomás Badaloni, 24, Argentinian striker.

One of my early games as Lille boss threw up an awkward tie. Playing my former team Bordeaux, luckily at home. Who would come out on top? The new team I haven’t yet built in my image or the old team I had performing well, now managed by an icon of world football?

Battered them.

I stayed respectful on the sidelines but when I looked over at Bielsa’s grumpy face on the away team’s bench, I did want to do this in his direction.

Me, at the side of the pitch near the dugout.

Where did that leave us? (writer’s note – “Us” still sounds weird when you are no longer talking about Bordeaux)

One more game to go. Three points between third and sixth.

This was my chance. My first opportunity as a manager to qualify for European football properly (my Lillestrøm side almost accidentally getting Europa League qualifier inclusion due to winning the Norwegian Cup doesn’t count. They were destroyed by Hearts in the very first qualifying stage and immediately put out after I left for France, if you were wondering).

Monaco were away at Dijon and although Lorient were at home, they had PSG as visitors. That is, PSG who have won the French top division seven years in a row, and as per the table above, the same PSG who had gone 37 games this season without losing a single one of them.

So how did it go?

The 35th minute.

Just about 35 minutes in and everything is looking good. I am 1-0 up on mid table Strasbourg and looking comfortable. Monaco are being held 0-0 at Dijon, and curiously the same result stands at Lorient with PSG. Could this be it? A 3rd place finish and the potential to be playing in the 24/25 Champions League?

Nope.

What happened was the single most frustrating turn of events in football management history.

  1. I lose a nothing goal to Strasbourg, and cannot get the winner no matter what I throw at them. It finishes 1-1.
  2. Dijon actually manage to keep Monaco at bay and deny them three points.
  3. LORIENT BEAT UNBEATEN PSG 2-0 AND TAKE 3RD SPOT!

That’s right. Your eyes do not deceive you. Clearly “invincibles” is a tag that the PSG players (or management) didn’t want to have marked by an asterisk in their club’s illustrious history, as they barely show up, lose 2-0 and allow Lorient to take the Champions League qualifier spot, as I slip to 5th.

Oh well, UEFA’s third best European club competition it is then.

The curtain falls on the 2023/24 season. I’ve managed eight league games so far in Lille, I don’t have a permanent place to live, and have seemingly less transfer funds than I did when I was Bordeaux boss.

I maintain this was the right move, however, as I get my trusty notepad and pen out, and begin to strategise around who I can move on and who should come in, as the Lille section of my journey to glory properly kicks off after summer.

It’s clearly a beautiful place, home to a stable and ambitious football club, owned by a statistician who must have saw something specific in my ability to bring me in to lead the charge for at least the two years on my contract.

An exciting new chapter has begun, and we haven’t even really seen anything or met anyone yet!

Next time out will cover the summer transfer business, the squad, pre-season results and early Europa Conference qualifier action at least.

Thanks for reading, and welcome to Lille!

Face anything. Fear nothing!

FM Stag.

Journeyman – 18 – Bordeaux – Little by little

This is one episode of a wider series. To instead start at episode one, please click here.

We gave you everything you ever dreamed of?

The Brasserie St Once has a nice calm ambience with only the odd clink of glasses and rumble of quiet conversation piercing the silence. Nicolas, the maître d, shows me to my seat, opposite our president, Joseph.

Mr DaGrosa. Looks pleased.

We swing between 5th and 6th in Ligue Un. We’ve just put Monaco out (on penalties) to set up a tie against relative minnows Clermont Foot in the Coupe de France 11th round. Committed defender Vukasin Jovanovic sealed the victory with the all important spot kick.

The penalty hero.

Mr DaGrosa is delighted with progress. Both on the pitch and off of it, I imagine primarily financially.

I breathe a deep sigh of relief and take a large gulp of a beautiful red wine I haven’t been served here before.

Our report card makes for great reading.

Things are going well. I should be delighted.

Yet there is something needling away at me. I can’t quite describe what it is.

Maybe it’s that I’ve not yet truly settled into that giant apartment? Maybe I think the team is playing at their limit and can’t get much better? Maybe Bordeaux doesn’t truly feel like home?

Maybe it’s nothing that dramatic.

I think it’s time to accept that the fringes of a European qualification position is probably as good as we’ll get this season, and fresh blood is needed.

I go to the market and sign up four players to join us at the end of the current campaign.

Albert Ejupi, 31, Lillestrøm, £26,000.

An emotional purchase more so than a footballing one. Ejupi was my captain way back at Varbergs in Sweden, and I brought him to Norway with me when I went to Lillestrøm. With my support level across the Bordeaux team fairly non-descript, I felt that having another experienced head in the dressing room who is fully behind my managerial methods, is a sensible move. Not quite of the same quality as the other three players I brought with me from Norway (Ng, Nordås and Gyökeres), but Ejupi is a player I trust, and I know trusts me.

Nicklas Strunck, 24, FC Groningen (currently on loan at Ado Den Haag), Free Transfer.

Given the system I like to play with the three players across the defensive midfield line, reinforcements in this area are always welcome. Strunck gives me just what I like in there. An exceptionally hardworking and determined, aggressive team player, the Dane is also a good tackler and passer of the ball. Mentally very strong, I think Nicklas will be key next year.

Antonin Barak, 29, Galatasaray (currently on loan at Toulouse), Free Transfer.

With the wonderfully gifted yet underperforming Franco Cervi doubtlessly heading back to Young Boys in Switzerland after his loan spell, I needed a replacement. For all his qualities, Cervi just hasn’t delivered. There is a clause that would allow me to sign him for Bordeaux permanently, but it’s £8.25million, and he just hasn’t shown me enough to suggest that he’s worth that kind of money.

So in will come Barak at the end of the season. Equally adept at playing right through the central midfield spine, I will require the 6′ 3″ Czech to mainly play at number 10. Strong in all areas, Antonin looks like a fantastic find. Throw in his heroic leadership qualities and imposing physical stature (17 jumping, 16 strength, 16 balance) and I think we are getting the right man in for the job.

Andreja Martinovic, 20, FK Partizan, £825,000.

Oh what joy it brings to find a young player like Martinovic. Even more so when you realise his release clause is less than £1million. The 20 year old Serbian is destined for big things in football. Yes he has his deficiencies that need worked on over time (concentration, workrate, teamwork) but his quality is absolutely unbelievable for his age. 15+ for first touch, technique, aggression, anticipation, composure, flair, acceleration, agility, balance and pace, along with solid dribbling, finishing, heading, decisions, determination, strength and off the ball movement (writer’s note – breathe mate!), it’s safe to say I am excited about his arrival.

Departure – Linus Wahlqvist moves on with my blessing to Al-Shahab for £1.3million after an underwhelming 21 appearances in two years for Bordeaux.

Wait a minute, what’s this?

???

Why on Earth would I be anywhere near the sack race favourites? I know it’s 18-1, so not exactly worth a punt, but still a concern!

The apartment in Bordeaux.

I arrive back ‘home’ and sit down on that welcoming sofa, picking up my copy of Inverting the Pyramid (nice Christmas present from the wife by the way) and lean back to try and relax.

It’s time to see out the season, wait for the new arrivals and go again, pushing for that exciting next step of competing in a European competition.

Our captain Loris Benito, contributes in another action-packed match, an impressive 3-1 home win against strugglers Montpellier.
Mercurial Brazilian Neymar cuts a frustrated figure as Bordeaux hold runaway league leaders PSG to a 1-1 draw in Paris. He’s part of a curious PSG 2024 front three alongside Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane.
To see if I can get an extra 10% out of my players, I design three new training schedules. The boys seem to be enjoying them.

The thing with journeys like this is it’s all about the steps you take to greatness, every rung of the ladder that takes you there. Bordeaux has been an incredible move so far, and little by little, I am getting closer to fulfilling my destiny as a top manager in world football.

I just need to knuckle down, remain patient, and good things will come to me. European potential, better players, better facilities, more opportunity.

BREAKING NEWS

Oh wait a minute. It wouldn’t be a giant leap, but maybe a little step towards greatness? Would it be a good move for me after around a year at Bordeaux? Answers on a postcard, please!

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag.

Journeyman – 17 – Bordeaux – Don’t stop, believin’

This is one episode of a wider series. To instead start at episode one, please click here.

Just a city boy, born and raised in East Glasgow. He took the midnight train, goin’ anywhere.

“It feels like forever since we caught up.”

The words ring loudly in my ear seconds after I instinctively answer the phone with one eye open, half asleep. It’s Gordon, my ex assistant manager at Lillestrøm. I manage to mumble out a few words between yawns, “How are you mate? I’ve been meaning to call.”

I know that he knows that I am lying.

“It was just to let you know that I’ve got a new job, so my family can eat again.”

Gordon is the new assistant manager at Hibs, back home in Scotland.

Gordon Young. Hibernian’s new assistant manager. Clearly ranting at BBC Sport about his old gaffer, and his time in Norway.

I wearily sit up, rub my eyes and congratulate him. He deserves it, our Gordo. I don’t think he’ll ever forgive me for not giving him that skiing trip he asked for (or bringing him to Bordeaux), but I am glad to hear he’s back on his feet. We say our goodbyes, and I slump back on the bed.

It’s pitch black outside. I can hear passing cars, that late night bar chatter and the odd clink of glasses, but it’s clearly very late. I look down at my watch. It’s 3am. It’s the 2nd of January (2024) and I am seriously hungover. I flick the switch to stick the coffee machine on. I am up now, I suppose, I might as well make good use of it, and review what’s gone on in the first half of my first proper season here in Bordeaux.

Before I do, I realise I have mail. Christ, the postmen here work early. I tear open the package and find that it’s a copy of GQ magazine. The lovely Alicia Vikander is on the cover. It makes a nice change from the usual takeaway menus that land on my doormat.

There’s a note alongside the magazine in the giant envelope. It’s just a hand-drawn smiley face, signed ‘Nicolaj Bur.’ A smile creeps across my own actual face, as the coffee machine springs into life.

Let’s have a closer look at this.

At Bordeaux in 2023, I mean!

When I last gave you an update, the board had just agreed to sell my playmaker and chief number 10, Irandust, to Krasnodar, for a sweet £19million.

I had to move quickly to bring in a replacement, but there was no one in the market that really jumped out as being the right player at the right time, so I did something I very rarely do. I snapped a player up on loan.

Franco Cervi, 29, Young Boys, on loan until the end of the season.

I’ve always been a big fan of Cervi, dating back to his Benfica days. I especially like the fact that despite being a tricky, quick and creative playmaker, he is also a determined, aggressive and brave tough tackler. Given my tactical system, where in possession I need a Riquelme, but out of possession I’d like a Makélélé; Cervi looks like a poor man’s version of both. Which still makes him a cracking player.

He’s been my first choice attacking midfielder in 13 games so far. Unfortunately 0 goals, 0 assists and an average rating of 6.7 isn’t quite cutting it. Granted, he is completing over 3 tackles per 90 minutes and 2 successful dribbles, but these statistics don’t make up for the fact that he just isn’t quite hitting the heights. I took him on loan for the season, with the option to buy for £8.25million. I reckon it was a shrewd move (instead of the permanent transfer), as I just don’t think he’s going to be worth that kind of money. We shall see, there’s still a long way to go.

Morning light is breaking through the Bordeaux sky as I hunt through my pockets for a lighter.

I pass by Franck at his concierge station who smiles and nods at me as he always does, as I head out into the cobbled street for a cigarette. I have a think about our other summer signings, how have they performed so far?

Firstly let’s look at the three “Lillestrøm legends” I had to bring with me to France.

Lasse Nordås, £900,000. Now looking a little more like his age, Nordås is developing into a tall and strong option at number 10, as well as in his now favoured target man role. With Cervi not really doing the job, 21-year old Lasse might be getting a more regular role in the team going forward. 3 starts, 9 sub appearances, 0 goals, 0 assists, 6.68 average rating. Interesting additional statistic – 83% passing accuracy.

Perry Ng, £500,000. I had initially thought that Perry the comedian would have been the understudy to last year’s Mr Consistent Sofiane Alakouch or even the Swede Linus Wahlqvist, but instead he slotted in as our first choice right back almost immediately. A great signing. 15 starts, 0 goals, 2 assists, 6.81 average rating. Interesting additional statistic – 4.45 interceptions per 90 minutes, the highest in the squad.

Viktor Gyökeres, £1.2million. In the move that everyone expected, Viktor has been consistently the best trainer at the club since his arrival. There is not a week that goes by that I don’t get a training report with him rated 9.1+. Incredible, really. Competitively, his performances have been strong, and I am convinced there is more to come from him as he learns the language and relaxes into the French footballing culture. 17 starts, 6 goals, 4 assists, 7.12 average rating. Interesting additional statistic – 23 key headers in 17 games!

What about the other new players?

Vassi, Real Madrid, Free. Unfortunately an underwhelming capture so far. In spite of his incredible pace, dribbling, first touch and finishing, the 22 year old Spaniard just hasn’t worked well in our current system. He is another player I have faith will come good, however. 2 starts, 13 sub appearances, 3 goals, 1 assist, 6.84 average rating. Interesting additional statistic – 1.36 shots attempted per 90 minutes, the second highest in the squad.

Haris Belkebla, Gent, £1.3million. Injuries and suspensions have prevented the Algerian from playing a more important part so far. When he is in the team, however, his form has been impressive. Has the highest average rating and chances created per 90 minutes in the squad (0.63). 10 starts, 3 goals, 2 assists, 7.33 average rating. Interesting additional statistic – His 1.36 key passes per 90 minutes is the second highest in the squad, behind Walter Naranjo, who plays in a much more naturally creative role in attacking midfield.

Augusto Caneca, Santa Clara, £500,000. The tough tackling Portuguese has played well so far, improving steadily. A player who can only become more important going forward. 8 starts, 4 sub appearances, 0 goals, 0 assists, 6.73 average rating. Interesting additional statistic – 84% passing accuracy, the highest in the squad.

Kevin N’Doram, AS Monaco, £2.1million. My most expensive signing to date has integrated seamlessly here at Bordeaux. Strong in the air (84% headers won) and tireless across the pitch (13.3km covered per 90 minutes), N’Doram has brought a certain steel to the defensive midfield, and an eye for opportunistic goals. 16 starts, 3 goals, 1 assist, 7.15 average rating. Interesting additional statistic – 0.93 shots per 90 minutes, the highest of any player not considered a forward.

Alicia Vikander, actress. Not a summer signing, but someone I felt I should mention again.

So what does all this mean? I finish my cigarette and head back upstairs. I know that Joe the president wants a meeting early in the morning to discuss our progress, since we are 19 league games into a 38 game season.

Delighted!

Impressively, we sit 5th at the halfway point of the season. A handful of disappointing results aside, it has been a solid season so far. Another half-season like this will see us in the new UEFA Europa Conference League next season. In even better news, we are currently just 3pts behind a Europa League group space, and 5pts behind a Champions League qualifying slot.

A rare dark day this season as we are destroyed by on-loan Liverpool icon Divock Origi.

In other news, my restrained approach in the transfer market has put the club in a brilliant spot financially.

We now have that highly coveted ‘rich’ description.
Bringing in a lot more than we spent, leads to a transfer kitty going into January of £40million!
I finally complete my Continental Pro Licence. All that can stop me from the top jobs in world football now is reputation. The only way to build a stronger reputation is through better performances. Let’s go!
The chosen 18 at the half-way point of the season. That is, when half of them aren’t missing due to suspension or injury.

Now that it’s the January transfer window, my main job is to repel any bids from some of the giants of Europe for some of our top players. We have already had some teams sniffing around top striker Efe Koulouris and first-choice centre back Silvan Hefti. I really hope that the board continue to back me in rejecting these bids. *Cough* Philip Slørdahl to Leverkusen, anyone? (writer’s note – people don’t remember you arriving in Bordeaux, what makes you think they’ll remember the centre back you lost at Lillestrøm?!)

I am thinking I might invest in a first choice number 10. The Cervi loan hasn’t worked and I don’t think either Naranjo or Nordås can capably step up. I wouldn’t argue with the idea of bringing in a top-quality centre back or left-back either. Any thoughts are welcome in the comments!

Since this is a reflective episode, I thought it would be nice to check in at my former clubs, fly over and take in a few December games, especially as the seasons in both Norway and Sweden both finish at the end of the calendar year.

Lillestrøm finish in a respectable 10th in their first season back in the Norwegian top tier.
Unfortunately Varbergs are not so lucky over in the Swedish premier division, as they finish in a relegation playoff spot.
Oh no. Back to the Superettan for the BoIS.

By now it’s morning, and time to head back to the Matmut Atlantique.

I get in the car, stick on the FM Creators podcast and think about that disappointing email I received that predicts that my next youth intake will be a weak one.

What will Mr DaGrosa say? Is 5th good enough?

The journey is pleasant. I hope the meeting is too.

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag.

Journeyman – 16 – Bordeaux – Le garçon star?

This is one episode of a wider series. To instead start at episode one, please click here.

He only calls me when it’s half past five. It’s a headache trying to match up diaries.

I am sat in the board room opposite Joseph DaGrosa, the Bordeaux owner and president. We’ve not long left the Brasserie St Once after a delicious lunch, I’ve managed my first ten or so games here in the south of France and the 2022/23 campaign has just finished.

Mr DaGrosa invites me to the Grand Théâtre later, for a low key celebration of how things have gone so far. To get dressed up in black tie attire to see Tosca, The Rite of Spring, or something else that sounds overly long. Perhaps we’d discuss next season’s transfer budget? Maybe we would chat for a while about that ambitious club vision I hear so many whispers about?

Hey Joe. He’s kind of a big deal.

Of course I have to go. I don’t really have a choice.

Normally I’d be quite excited and overwhelmed by all this corporate extravagance, but I had a prior commitment this evening! The manager of Peñarol is only in town for a few more days.

“Who’s that?” I hear you wonder. We met on a coaching course, we stayed in touch, you know how it goes. We get on well and occasionally compare notes. I did that thing where I said he should “drop in” if he’s “ever in the area.” Oddly, he always does. The travelling all the way from Uruguay must be a nightmare, but despite my three jobs in three different countries, he always appears at my door, one way or another.

This time; somehow he’s got tickets to see the RnB singer The Weeknd at Le Krakatoa tonight, and wonders if I can join him. I’m a fan and he knows it.

Abel Tesfaye, 29. Great singer, awful playmaker. Wouldn’t recommend signing him.

I toy with the idea of dressing up my young PA Eric in a tuxedo and have him pretend to be me at the opera or ballet, but something tells me Mr DaGrosa will see through the disguise pretty quickly. Probably when he realises that Eric is a slim French chap of about 20, and not a bearded Scotsman in his mid 30s, with a penchant for pommes frites and beer.

Lunch?

I guess I’ll just need to see the Starboy another time. Both him and the guy that sang that song from Fifty Shades of Grey.

So, back to business. It feels like I’ve kept the ship steady since Thierry Henry’s departure for another spell at Monaco, but how have results been so far?

Very, very good! 11 games into my spell here and it’s either the incredible wine talking or I am finally getting the hang of this. Highlights have to be the 5-2 drubbing of Marseille in my first game in charge, and the shock 2-0 away win at PSG on the day they were finally mathematically uncatchable in Ligue Un, and crowned champions. Again.

It’s only been 11 games, but my thoughts mirror those I had when I first arrived. I want to stick with the double Segundo Volante pivot 4-3-3 system, a solid midfield owning the middle of the park, and deadly hitman Efe Kolouris putting chances away at the top end of the pitch.

I take in The Damnation of Faust with our president, smoke some very expensive cigars, and agree on some figures for the season ahead. This is where the real challenge begins. An entire transfer window and whole season with me at the helm, are coming soon.

Later, I take a deep breath and finish listening to the end of a podcast about aged number 10s in the Audi. It’s me in the Audi, not the aged number 10s. I park the car at the apartment and give Franck a wave as I head for the lift.

Some players will have to go. I’ve already identified those I think we can lose, without compromising the integrity or personality of a squad who are just starting to get to grips with my tactical ideas.

Six players leave for money, which significantly adds to our available transfer budget. A combined £18.75million is generated as Yassine Benrahou and Moussa Doumbia head for Turkey to Antalyaspor and Gaziantep respctively, fan-favourite Adama Diakhaby opts for Italy with Spezia and Kader Bamba heads for Guimarães in Portugal. Ex Bournemouth left-back Brad Smith returned from his loan spell at Qarabağ to leave us permanently for SPAL. Full back Marc Navarro heads to Dynamo Moscow.

A further 13 players leave Bordeaux with our blessing at the end of their contracts. The most notable are 33-year old Younousse Sankharé, who played over 120 times in 7 years with the club and 32-year old striker Nicolas De Préville, who scored 18 goals in 104 league appearances. We are sad to see them go, but these are the right decisions at the right time. Josh Maja, now 24, also leaves having never really hit the heights predicted for him, back when he broke through at Sunderland in 2018.

I have a plan.

The rest of the squad enjoy their summer break, as I take time to strategise about who to bring in as replacements.

Some new faces join us here at the Matmut Antlantique. I’ll introduce you now.

Kévin is not only the most expensive player I have bought for Bordeaux so far this summer, but the most money I have spent on any player in my career so far. £2.1million is a lot of pennies, but for someone of N’Doram’s quality and character, I reckon it’s worth it. A fit, well-balanced, hard-working team player, N’Doram had been at Monaco for 11 years! That’s quite a footballing education. Sick of all the loan deals out, the now 27-year old needed a more permanent home, and I was happy to provide him one here in Bordeaux.

In the one move you already knew about, Real Madrid’s promising striker Vassi, joins us on a free transfer. The move had been arranged by my managerial predecessor, Mr Va Va Voom himself.

Cheers Thierry!

I wanted another midfielder who could bring some more grit to the middle of the park. Other than last season’s ill-fated 3 appearance stint in Belgium, Belkebla has spent his whole career playing here in France. A brave and athletic hard-working defensive midfielder, Haris typifies the profile of players I like to have as an option in the engine room.

Caneca is a promising Portuguese youngster capable of covering multiple positions. He is far from the finished article, but his incredible tackling, technique, aggression and anticipation had me sold.

For the last three signings (so far), you’ll either shriek with delight or smirk in disgust.

Last year at Lillestrøm, there were certain players who made that club feel like home. Certain players that defined that spell of my career and left it all out there on the pitch for me. I just had to bring three of them here to France.

Despite filling one of my coveted ‘non EU’ registration slots as a Englishman in a post-Brexit mess of a world, Perry had to come over. A solid right back and centre back, Ng played incredibly for me last season over in Norway, even notching up 9 assists from a defensive position. The ex-Crewe defender probably won’t be first choice here in the south of France, but represents a determined and hard working rotational option. Always the joker, Perry tells Eric that he simply “hopped on a cable car from Fjord to vineyard” to get here, instead of flying. For two hours, poor Eric believed him.

Despite continuing to look exactly like a 7-year old Will Poulter, the left winger I trained to become an effective target man has packed his bags and is preparing to play his club football outside of the Norwegian leagues for the first time ever. Still only 21, Nordås has already played in over 100 professional league games, scoring and assisting 20+ of each. I think he still has room to grow as a footballer, and I believe I am the right manager to keep improving him.

But then…

It had to happen!

When I needed another rotational striking option to come in after the exits, there was only one man for the job. I almost choked when the men in charge at my former club were willing to accept little over £1million for the powerhouse who scored 30 goals in 33 starts for me last season in Norway. He historically couldn’t do it when he left Scandanavia the first time in his career for Brighton, but could I be the manager to help him unlock his true potential and carry on for me in France where he left off in Norway? I believe so.

Well the good news for him is that #InViktorWeTrust. We never, ever lost hope.

I reckon our Boreaux are in pretty good shape going into pre-season!

What could we achieve with a whole season ahead of us in our beautiful new surroundings?

Would The Weeknd come back and play Le Krakatoa again before the end of 2023?

Most importantly, what’s your favourite beer to have with chips?

I can’t wait to find out.

All shocked and amazed comments about our transfer activity are most welcome!

BREAKING NEWS

A bit of a spanner in the works as Krasnodar structure a £19million package for my first choice number 10. We can’t turn that kind of money down, so I don’t even argue when Joe decides on our behalf to accept the offer. The question is, who do I replace him with, in time for the 23/24 season kicking off!?

Thanks for reading.

#InViktorWeTrust

FM Stag.

Journeyman – 15 – Bordeaux – Je suis Bordelaise

This is one episode of a wider series. To instead start at episode one, please click here.

“It’s true, pressure is something that goes with football nowadays. You need to accept it, and everything that it involves – the good and the bad.” – Zinedine Zidane.

Welcome to France!

First things first, let’s sort out our physiological situation.

To suddenly be earning £12,750 a week is quite a shock. Life has really transformed since living in the hotel back in Varberg. As much faith as I have always had in my own ability to make a living from football, I never dreamt it could be quite so exquisite.

To adopt a slice of classic psychology, it’s important that we get a roof over our heads before worrying about anything else. Living in a beautiful part of France with that sort of income, this shouldn’t present an issue.

What we ALL need, as far as Mr Maslow is concerned.

The club provides me with a dedicated personal assistant. I keep offering to make tea for him and giving him heartfelt thanks repeatedly for even the smallest favour. I am NOT used to this. He follows me around in a suit.

Eric (I now know his name) helps me find an apparently suitable apartment. One that is not at all irritatingly ostentatious. I get settled in.

Franck.

I am introduced to Franck, the apartment building concierge (it’s a thing?!). Franck shakes my hand enthusiastically, telling me he is a lifelong Bordeaux fan. He is almost giddy with excitement when I tell him I haven’t yet experienced a full Matmut Atlantique, bouncing on match day.

Moving to a new club in a new country is always going to bring a little bit of anxiety.

The biggest reason for that, of course, is when you remember that you have moved to France, and therefore might have to drive a Peugeot or a Citroen. I’ll happily live and work in France, but I’m not driving one of their cars! (writer’s note – ah! So you are a snob about cars but humble about everything else? Just trying to figure you out here mate.)

I’ve never managed in Germany, but man do I like their vehicles. My Volkswagen Golf was of course German, but I really hope this electric car thing is just a passing trend. Sadly, I know that it is not.

While manufacturers still make beautiful cars powered by fossil fuels, I speak with the ‘management liaison team’ at the office (the what?) to get my hands on one. They arrange for me to pick up an Audi for getting me around my new city. I am delighted. They managed to get me exactly what I wished for!

Now THIS is more like it. The latest A7.

I arrive at the Matmut Atlantique for a few meetings and our first training session together.

It’s only when I accidentally take a left instead of a right when heading down a long corridor, that I discover there’s a wonderful restaurant actually on site at the stadium, the Brasserie St Once.

The restaurant maître d, Nicolas, is almost as excited to see me as Franck at the apartment reception was. This is where a lot of the meetings will take place. I like it a lot.

I sit down for a glass of famous Bordeaux wine. Even the ‘house red’ here is better than the stuff in Tesco that is £14 a bottle. Shocking, really. My head is swirling with all the names I now have to remember. Franck is the apartment concierge, Eric is my PA (I only remember that because I call him ‘Cantona’ and he loves it). Nicolas is the maître d at the stadium restaurant. Joseph is the club owner and president of Girondins de Bordeaux, aka our new boss.

On that note, do you think he’d be happy about me calling him Joey? What if I slid into the Brasserie St Once at my first performance review, winked and said “How you doiiiiiin?” in an American accent? At this level, football seems to have become a serious business. He probably won’t enjoy that.

No? Maybe we’ll build up to it.

Let’s fast forward a few days and get down to business. We’ll have a look at what we have here.

After a shock 5-2 away win over high flyers Marseille that I enjoyed from the stands, our new team sit in a very respectable 8th in Ligue Un. I have to stop pinching myself that this is really where we are.

The squad looks in good shape. Thierry seemed to like a 4231, but I am bringing some fresh ideas. The 433 system that saw me promoted with my beloved Lillestrøm is what I’ll opt for, with some minor tweaks. Once I’ve run through the squad’s key men, I’ll dip into a bit of analysis on the tactical strategy I have used before, and will adopt again. (writer’s note – Thank God, I thought you were starting to forget you were writing about football!)

It looks like our star man is Greek international striker Efthymis Koulouris. ‘Efe,’ as I call him, has bagged a decent 24 goals in 60 league games for Bordeaux since his move from league rivals Toulouse in 2021.

My fluent Swedish stands me in great stead when I speak to our first choice number 10, the wonderfully named, gifted Swede Daleho Irandust. The left footer’s dribbling, first touch, technique, flair and vision give me reason to believe that selecting him as the team’s primary creator, is the right decision. The language is also incredibly useful when speaking to our Swedish full back, Linus Wahlqvist.

I meet our club captain, the hardworking and unselfish Swiss left-back, Loris Benito. I wonder if he’ll keep the armband long-term? Unfortunately he has a twisted ankle and we won’t see him in action for the first three or four weeks.

Now for our two most promising youngsters.

Warning! Semi-sensible tactical chat incoming.

I’ve been asked quite a few times about this 433 tactic I’ve adopted, and apart from telling you that it was inspired by a number of articles, blogs, Tweets and comments I’ve read over the last few months, I thought I’d give you a bit more contextual detail.

In an attacking phase, the concept is that the ‘back 7’ will spread out as they push forward. The wing-backs become wide midfielders, on or around the half-way line. The two centre backs and the anchorman form a high line of three, cautious of any counter attacks, but capable of playing a slightly longer, forward ball. The two Segundo Volantes are the key pivots here, as they drive from deep to almost play like a pair of number 10s at their most advanced, freeing up the actual number 10 (Irandust in the screenshot) to roam in and around the front two. The target man’s job is to pluck the ball out of the air and hold it up, while the advanced forward (previously Viktor Gyökeres at Lillestrøm) is the key goal-getter.

In a defensive phase, the responsibilites differ slightly. The number 10 drops to almost become a traditional centre midfielder, alongside the two Segundo Volantes, who adopt more of an N’Golo Kante-esque shuttling central midfield responsibility. The anchorman drops very deep to sit where the centre backs would usually sit, and the two centre backs themselves actually drop even further (on ‘cover’ duty) to try and prevent those nasty balls over the top from hurting us. on the counter attack.

In a case of history repeating itself, my new club is in urgent need of some new staff around the Matmut Atantique. Gordo (Gordon Young, my previous assistant manager) of course would be a good addition (and God knows he’s been calling me), but for this role I have a specific target in mind.

In total, 15 (!) new staff join Les Girondins, with three in particular worthy of a specific mention.

Me (left), Ally (right). Bordeaux is in safe hands.

The next move shocked a lot of the football media, especially in England. Arguably the greatest playmaking midfielder in history comes to the Matmut Atlantique to pass on his incredible wisdom to our current generation of footballers. Could he inspire a class of (20)22?

I close my leather-bound notebook and place my newly gifted Montblanc pen in the inside chest pocket of my suit jacket.

Apparently an appropriate writing implement for someone at my stage of career.

I take my final sip of my Château Leoville-Barton, and stand up from the table at the Brasserie St Once.

I give our maître d Nicolas a nod and a smile as I leave.

There are ten (almost bonus-like) league games to go before the curtain comes down on this season, then I have the summer to train, tweak and improve this Bordeaux team to be the best they can be. On that note, are there any of the old Lillestrøm legends you’d have here at this club? The iconic Viktor? Albert Ejupi, who has been with me since Varbergs? The young Will Poulter, Lasse Nordås?

I get home and step into the beautiful marble bathroom of this Bordeaux apartment. I think about the job ahead as I look at the man in the mirror, remember the time that I turned every performance into a thriller, and do you know what? I won’t stop ’til I get enough.

Did you really think I could stay on the serious football talk for that length of time without building up nostalgic references I just had to get out? Why you wanna trip on me? You must be new here. (writer’s note – Christ.)

Thanks for reading.

#InEfeWeTrust?

FM Stag

Journeyman – 14 – Lillestrøm SK – It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you

This is one episode of a wider series. To instead start at episode one, please click here.

There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do…

So, I signed off episode 13 (lucky for some) asking if my ‘go’ date was to be the 31st of December 2022…

Well, that date has arrived.

Mr Christian Johansen (my boss, the Lillestrøm chairman ‘ChriJo,’ of course), gives me a final call, to give me one last chance to remain in Norway. To lead the charge back in the Eliteserien, the top tier of Norwegian club football, as cup holders and UEFA Europa League hopefuls.

I’ve learned to love this club. I’ve dedicated over a year and a half of my career to putting them back where they belong. It’s a £4,100 a week, two-year deal, along with some money in the bank to replace and improve some of our squad. It’s a very fair offer.

Something doesn’t feel right though.

Yes, I could lead the club to the top of the toppest tree (writer’s note – that’s not a thing), knocking Rosenborg off of it (permanently, this time) within a few years. Yes, I could get through to the Europa League group stage after 127 rounds of qualifying or whatever early stage I would enter at for winning the Norwegian cup.

But I am the journeyman. My goal is to move on up (like Curtis Mayfield) so that people can get ready (like Curtis Mayfield) to see me super fly (like Curtis Mayfield).

(Like) Curtis Mayfield.

BREAKING NEWS

Lockhart exits Lillestrøm at the end of his contract!

So there it is in black and white. I close this wonderful Norwegian chapter in my story and my life, and look for pastures new. Technically my rolling deal continues until the 14th of January, but it’s over. I never did get to see those Northern Lights.

I hand back the keys to the frustratingly awful electric toaster version of the Volkswgen Golf.

Hopefully my next car will be a real one.

I say goodbye to my nice little apartment in Oslo.

Goodbye surround sound.

I share a tearful goodbye with the finest purveyors of both salmon and noodles in all of Norway (as far as I am concerned). They aren’t delighted, but they do understand.

Jakob and Sofia. I will never forget you. I have always enjoyed that regardless of whether you loved or hated me, your faces always looked exactly the same.

I give my assistant manager Gordo (or Gordon Young to give him his full name for probably the first and last time) a manly hug, and wish him well. He hangs back at the office as I leave for the airport, presumably to square things up and make sure the Lillestrøm lads are ok with the manager’s exit.

But wait!

Gordo flags down the plane by hand, seconds before it lifts off the tarmac, at Oslo Airport. Looks like he’s leaving Norway with me.

Unfortunately for Gordo and I, we now don’t have jobs, and I might not be able to bring him into whichever club I work for next!

Gordo says that he is ok with that, but I’m not so sure. On the flight back home to Glasgow to spend some rare time with family and friends, he gives me a powerful, forty minute speech about loyalty. I kindly smile and nod, but he doesn’t realise I’ve actually got one headphone in, listening to Toto.

It looks we are taking some time off, then. Though I’m not sure how to do that!


2023 opens with a bang. Literally.

At the stroke of midnight at new year, my parent’s neighbours (I’ll only be back here a couple of weeks, honest) set off their evidently inexplicably extravagant and expensive arsenal of fireworks all at once. The family cat almost gives birth, despite being male.

Effectively a feline terror attack.

Forty five minutes of prising the cat’s claws from the ceiling later, I have a quick look at the job market before drifting off to sleep.

He was never the same, after this.

I tell you what. The next three months were torture. That’s right, three months without a job!

Although I certainly didn’t get ‘laughed off’ of jobs nearly as much as I did before I landed on my feet with Varbergs, it still happened more than once though! For the record, PSV and Cagliari are now in my bad books for their direct sarcasm. There were some opportunities to impress, however.

Leicester City. This could be an incredible step!
Friend of the manager, Dirigo FM, is NOT a fan. He tweeted this just as I was stepping into the Foxes office for my interview. Maybe not getting it was a good thing and Dirigo was right? They gave it to former striking favourite Jamie Vardy in the end.
On a distracting side note, Gary the Groundsman texts me to tell me that a coach that I hired for Lillestrøm, succeeds me as permanent manager!
Sky Bet Championship Charlton have my phone number. Could south-east London be my next destination? It didn’t happen.
La Liga Eibar’s faithful fan base sound like they are loving the idea of me at the helm! In the end they dismissed me without interview.
Now France sounds interesting! Again, they didn’t even return my phone call.

I’m going to summarise a few of the rest for you now. Believe it or not, there were more. All of these teams either laughed in my face, or opted for someone else after interview, over the course of three long months.

Aberdeen, Empoli, PSV, Watford, Cagliari, Utrecht, Copenhagen, Crystal Palace, Waford, Montpellier and CSKA Moscow.

CSKA was actually looking very, very possible until I was let down at the last minute and they selected someone else.

At least the calibre of the teams is impressive, in spite of my continued unemployment.

But then it happened.

My phone rings.

It’s the first time in so long.

I accidentally knock my glass of Château Recougne off the table in my parent’s front room trying to pick my phone up (that might be a hint).

I breathlessly answer and tell the caller that yes, I can be there in no time (well, in some time), for an urgent interview opportunity.

I rush to Glasgow airport and get on the flight.

I take a deep breath as we take off. I think about the fact that the role I am suddenly in the running for has just been vacated by none other than the legendary Thierry Henry. I chew Nicotine gum, furiously. He only left (in a Renault Clio) a couple of days ago, to go back for a second chance in the Monaco hotseat.

I wipe the sweat from my forehead, as we pass over the Channel and I remember that none other than Zinedine Zidane himself, proudly represented this club for four years, right before he became a global superstar.

I clench my teeth and realise that I’ve run out of things to worry about.

It might be alright. It could be all be ok, couldn’t it?

I land and retrieve my bag. I’m a bit lost, but a kind old soul points me to the airport exit.

A driver from the club picks me up and takes me directly to the owner’s office, at the 41,458 all-seater stadium.

Could this really be happening?

I get out of the car and breathe in the sweet, south-western French air, before nervously heading into the stadium to meet owner and president Joseph DaGrosa, and a handful of other club luminaries.

I exit forty five minutes later.

I’m fairly drunk on delicious red wine.

I am also absolutely gobsmacked to have signed a 2 year deal on £12,750 a week (treble my previous deal!) and my mind is swirling on who to target with the £12million transfer budget I’ve been promised (what’s happening here?!).

This.

Is.

It.

BREAKING NEWS

I am officially the new manager of Bordeaux! Currently in the top half in Ligue Un!

There’s a heck of a lot more detail to come of course, but for now, and for the rest of this post…let’s just enjoy it!

I’ve only been here an hour or so, but Bordeaux is already starting to feel like home.

WOW.

The adventure continues!

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag.

Journeyman – 13 – Lillestrøm SK – I heard you paint houses

This is one episode of a wider series. To instead start at episode one, please click here.

“When anybody says they are a little concerned, they’re very concerned.” Would this be the last time I’d eat at Jakob and Sofia’s? Would that bloody electric go-kart with a VW badge on it be finally going back?

I let the news sink in. It’s mid November 2022, and unless a dramatic turnaround happens, I will be leaving Lillestrøm at the end of the calendar year. Granted, leaving having delivered them promotion back to the promised land, a cup victory, financial stability and with European qualifiers to follow, but leaving none the less.

After my tough time at Varbergs, Lillestrøm really have been good to me. I’ve bagged my Continental B Licence, and I am well on the way towards gaining my Continental Pro (although I really wish I had it now!). My 550 days or so in charge have also allowed me to massively improve all of my managerial characteristics. When I joined, my managing finances rating was at 17% (now at 79%) and media handling at 30% or so (now at 100%). Also, winning the second tier and the Norwegian Cup has improved my reputational ‘score’ to 55%, where it was once 35%.

Things are really looking up. Even being fluently multi-lingual is a nice touch.

31 victories in 57 games have also improved my overall managerial performance statistics. At roughly around the three and a bit year mark of this journeyman adventure, where I started out with no badges, no experience and no clue, I don’t think progress has been too bad.

Decent.

I would consider this a relative success so far!

On hearing the news that I am (probably) leaving, Gordo kindly bought us a pair of matching travel pillows for flights. I have a feeling he’ll want to come with me, wherever I move on to.

Gordon is keen, shall we say, to carry on this adventure with me.

That reminds me. Since I blocked the sixth burner phone number that he has tried to call me using since I last seen him, I haven’t heard from Freddy Danielsson, our former assistant at Varbergs. Was he still wandering Sweden, hunting for me? Had he embarked on a managerial adventure of his own?

Nope. He’s been collecting unemployment benefit for way over a year.

Is it just me or have his eyes got even crazier looking?

That raises a good point, actually. How are Varbergs doing without me? After a good start in the Allsvenkan after their promotion, the last we checked in on them their form had collapsed and they were firmly back in the relegation mire. How did it turn out?

11th!

They comfortably survived! Good on the old BoIS. Their financial status is even showing as ‘okay,’ now. I’m delighted for them, that is a great result.

Our Åråsen Stadion is generally empty at this time of year. Only Gerry*, the lone groundskeeper, is usually around, in his trademark Lillestrøm hat from the club shop, cutting away at the turf for hours on end. He gives me a nod as I enter the stadium and have a quick look at the pitch and the 10,200 empty seats. The cold wind whistles through the silence, and I head towards my office, potentially one last time.

*I’d be astonished if his name actually was Gerry. I just didn’t want to seem insensitive to the staff at the club by being honest and saying I have no idea what his name is, despite saying hello to him every morning for over a year.

Gerry?

Let’s have one last look at the Lillestrøm squad, and I’ll highlight a couple of the key players, after the unbelievable year we’ve just had.

Honourable mentions to Moshtagh Yaghoubi and Thomas Lehne Olsen, who were also part of this year’s success, but have since moved on to pastures new.

I’ve ranked the players on the above list based on how many minutes they spent on the pitch, but there might be a few surprises for you on who some of the key men were.

Perry Ng, 26, 34 starts, 9 assists, 7.17 average rating.

Perry is known as a bit of a joker around the place. Instead of worrying that he spoke absolutely no Norwegian when he arrived, Perry used it to his advantage and wound a lot of the lads up, pretending he had no idea when to pass and when to tackle. The Scouser has settled in better than I ever hoped he could, and as well as having a brilliant season on the pitch, has developed into arguably the mentally strongest player we have in our ranks.

O captain, my captain. Fredrik Krogstad, 27.

Fredrik Krogstad is a different kind of captain to the ones I’ve been used to (like Albert Ejupi I brought to Lillestrøm with me from Varbergs). Quiet and unassuming, Freddy K is my first choice anchorman in our preferred 4-3-1-2 shape, and has protected his defence valiantly. An incredibly hard working team player, he has now played 168 league games for the club, and is such an important and influential figure.

Another Freddy. Spruyt, this time, also 27.

I have to mention Fredrik Spruyt, because he has given us the most incredible value for money. After I plucked him from Belgian outfit RWDM for just £13,500, Spruyt has been a midfield mainstay this year. 32 appearances in total, with 7 assists and an average rating of 7.09. A strong tackler, leader and hard working example both on the pitch and in training, Spruyt has been a wonderful signing.

Will Poulter as a child. What an option to have.

Despite Lasse Nordås’ ultra youthful appearance, the 20 year old left winger-turned-target man has been a fantastic weapon in the Lillestrøm arsenal this season, making such a difference when introduced in games. The combination of his athleticism (15 jumping and strength, and a height of 6′ 1″) and his exciting dribbling ability (15) alongside solid attributes all round, made Lasse essential. 8 goals and 5 assists (and a 7.28 average rating) from 25 appearances, 10 of which were from the bench!

Lass(i)e Nordås.

Very honourable mentions to new goalkeeper Will Jääskeläinen, who lived up to his famous goalkeeping name (17 clean sheets in 28 games), 6′ 7″ hitman Leonardo Rocha, who bagged 11 goals and 8 assists in 27 starts, and new signing Anto Grgic, who not only hit the ground running when Yaghoubi left, but inarguably improved our midfield (an average rating of 7.73 in his first 11 appearances).

That leaves the best to last. We have been trending #InViktorWeTrust for months, but he really has delivered. We listened to the fans and took the £850,000 gamble in bringing in our beloved number 7, Viktor Gyökeres, to the club months ahead of his proposed bosman move. He became Lillestrøm’s record signing, and boy was he worth it.

The King of Lillestrøm.

30 goals in 33 starts. Two of which were the equaliser and winner in the Norwegian cup final. You simply could not write this! (writer’s note – you literally are, mate. Think about it)

It’s almost December. Is it job hunting time, or will I stay for the European qualifiers and first season back in the big time (if ChriJo will have me!)? What would you do?

“Sooner or later, everybody put here has a date when he’s going to go. That’s just the way it is.”

Is my ‘go’ date the 31st of December 2022?

From ‘bonus Eva’ to ‘bonus Daisy.’ That being said, it might be ‘bonus Alicia,’ if some folk have their way!

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag

Journeyman – 12 – Lillestrøm SK – Life moves pretty fast

This is one episode of a wider series. To instead start at episode one, please click here.

I don’t want to upset anyone, but I think Daisy Ridley might just be my new favourite human. Sorry Eva L!

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…

This seems like a good place to start!

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!

I was winning awards again! Jakob and Sofia, you WILL let me sit in for my salmon, please! I think that’s three awards I’ve dedicated to you now, just let me back into Oslo’s greatest restaurant!

There were occasional blips.

Yep. Blip.

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.

Possibly you. On the left. Obviously.

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?!

My former shining light.

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.

I knew you were trouble when you walked in. (writer’s note – Taylor Swift…really?)

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.

A £5million player for less than a million? 4 star ability, 4.5 star potential? This feels like a shrewd move.
Anto Grgic, an absolute steal at £800,000.

Grgic is great. A fantastic all rounder, but his fantastic teamwork, composure, passing and long shots are the icing on the cake.

See?

The following was the craziest game I’ve ever managed. Ever.

Bonkers (3 – Hixxy) (writer’s note – I’d be astonished if any of your readers follow 1990s Happy Hardcore. Astonished!)

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.

Rocha, 25, chests down a lofted ball with ease.

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.

The chairman invests in the next generation of young Padawans. (writer’s note – Did you just say that SOLELY so you have an excuse to post those pictures of Daisy Ridley at the start?)

Yes. Yes I did.

The current youth of suburban Oslo (100% not georgraphically accurate) are smashing it already.
No news here. Just a terrifying image that I had to suffer looking at for a few seconds, so I’ve shared it here, so you have to do the same. You’re welcome.

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.

My only two not useless actual goalkeepers both out injured.

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?

Nope.

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?)

Nope, we can’t.

Nothing we did worked in this match, and after losing 2-1 here, we started to wobble.

What’s with all the drama? Things aren’t that bad!
Well they will be if you keep losing games like that! You were 3-0 down after 50 minutes you lunatic! (writer’s note – he’s even swapping between first and third person while writing this, he’s lost the plot completely)

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.

My beloved assistant Gordo. That’s how he smiles when he isn’t shouting about how bad it was back in Latvia.

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.

Nope! The chairman, absolutely bold as brass, telling me that he doesn’t want me to become a better manager, in case I leave! I’ve never seen this before!

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!

Ideal!
The players finally like me! Apart from Grønner the Goner who will probably be leaving soon (see what I did there?), due to his madcap demands for first team football, despite clearly not being as good as Furu or Salquist at centre-back.

So what happened? Did we get promoted? Did we go up as champions?

Rejoice!

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!

The Lillestrøm legends taking the field for what could be my final game in charge.

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.

What?!
Could I really go from second tier Norwegian football to playing in Europe overnight?

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?

19th minute – Penalty conceded. 1-0 to Rosenborg. This is a bad sign.

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.

24th minute – A Kristoffer Ødemarksbakken (easy for you to say) thunderbolt pulls one back for the Lillestrøm legends. We couldn’t, could we? 2-1.

Half time comes and goes. The boys are broken. They are exhausted from the challenge. Come on, lads, we are only one goal behind.

60th minute – This. Is. It. The talismanic Viktor Gyökeres slots home a signature penalty to even things up with half an hour. I know that #InViktorWeTrust, but he’s not a magician….or is he? 2-2.

86th minute – I DON’T HAVE WORDS. THIS IS POETRY, VIKTOR. THIS IS POETRY! 3-2, I REPEAT, 86th MINUTE, 3-2 TO LILLESTRØM!

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?

YES!

OF COURSE IT WAS!

Like it was never in doubt (writer’s note – no one believes you).

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.

Wow.

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.

Unbelievable.
Inconceivable.
Delightful!
The boys who made it all happen.
The true heroes.

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…

WAIT.

.

.

.

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.

What.

Happens.

Now?

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag

Journeyman – 11 – Lillestrøm SK – You’re the best, around

This is one episode of a wider series. To instead start at episode one, please click here.

Things are going well for a change! Sweep the leg!

It’s the 29th of May 2022, and man do you start to get used to this fresh Norwegian air.

I recently learned that Norway is absolutely mad for cycling, even more so than for their electric cars. In an attempt to reingratiate myself to the Lillestrøm community after ruining everyone’s lives with the relegation of their beloved football team, I buy a bike and want to be seen hitting the road regularly for that sweet hit of fresh air, all eco friendly and green. I’m getting involved. My headphones are going in and the Karate Kid soundtrack is going on. Unlike my usual reaction, Joe Esposito’s ‘You’re the Best, Around’ hits a melancholic note with me, probably as I haven’t felt anywhere near the best for a long, long time. (writer’s note – cheer up mate, don’t lose the thread on this bike anecdote).

This is not some Boris bike nonsense thing either, I’m buying a proper bike. Do you know what? It only cost me 100,000 Krone. I thought paying £800 or so was decent value, what with me being a fancy football manager and all.

I even consider upgrading the e-Golf. If it’s electric cars they like here, what about this bad boy?

Plug it in, plug it in, baby.

I look at the finance options and have one last glance at my online banking app to make sure it’s the right choice. There will be those of you who have figured out this next bit two paragraphs ago, but it was only then that I realised I had my zeroes in the wrong place when pricing my bike and looking at the exchange rate. I had accidentally dropped about £8,500 on a bicycle. A bloody bicycle. I should’ve went to Halfords.

I have to get out of this Tesla showroom. I awkwardly pretend to receive a phone call from an agent when my phone does actually ring while it’s at my ear. I shuffle out the door and leave Gordo chatting to the overeager salesman. Looking like a complete melt aside, it’s genuinely someone from Brighton and Hove Albion calling.

Wait. This could actually be important.

BREAKING NEWS

Viktor Gyökeres is now a permanent Lillestrøm player! I asked, and you guys answered, and it’s now a done deal. By waiting a few more weeks until it hit March, I managed to convince Brighton to lower their demands for #InViktorWeTrust to just £850,000. When the phone call came in from current Brighton manager Brendan Rodgers, I just had to take the little Northern Irishman’s offer, and get our man on a plane over here as soon as I could.

Some 2,000 people showed up at his unveiling at the Åråsen. This was a big day in this modern era of this football club. He did some keepy uppies, smiled a bit and signed some shirts. All while trying to convince everyone that the 90s David Beckham middle parting haircut was “coming back.” He’s wrong about that one.

Wonderful footballer, terrible haircut. Gordo can’t quite believe it.

Given how huge the news is, I have a quick look on the internet to see if the news is reverberating across the footballing world. It turns out that Gyökeres is a feared man.

It turns out that even Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson realises just how dangerous Viktor is. Dirigo FM interviews the wrestling man-turned-filmstar, and Johnson says “My good friend Clive Huxley needs to hear about this.” The People’s Champion calms for a second, before exclaiming, “In Viktor we trust!” Huxley is of course the current Notts County manager, flying up through the leagues over in England. How The Rock became friends with Clive though, is another story. Clicking the image above definitely won’t give you THAT story, but it will introduce you to Clive and his team.

As Viktor joins the squad, so do this year’s youth intake. Let’s have a quick look, shall we?

One player in particular stands out, Richard Strømberg. He has disturbingly low finishing for a supposed striker, but I think there’s something here we can really work with.

The pre-season starts, and with a deep breath I give the chaps a rousing chat. I ask them to forget the failures of last year, to forget that sinking feeling when our survival chances were snuffed out, and just to focus on being the best players they can possibly be, not just for Lillestrøm, not just for Gordo and I, but for themselves.

The emotion in the room is palpable, and a few of the boys have tears in their eyes. It took until a couple of months later for Perry Ng and Albert Ejupi to tell me they were taking the piss.

How I felt during the pre-season meeting. We fight for that inch! Even against Nest-Sotra and Grorud IL, whoever they are.

So how did the pre-season fixtures go? Spoiler alert – really well!

Now although I had hoped he had forgotten, there was the delicate matter of the gauntlet the board threw down at me at the tail end of last season when I survived in the role probably only because sacking me with a whole year left on my deal would probably cost too much.

He definitely hadn’t forgotten. Remember they set me a target of 8 points from the first 5 games? Well as of today, we’ve played 10 league games. Wait and see how we did. Would it be enough?

Wow. I don’t know if it’s the new signings, the new system, the weaker opposition, or more than likely a combination of all of the above, but we are dispatching most of our opponents will relative ease.

I immediately and publicly dedicate my award to Oslo restaurateurs Jakob and Sofia. Although they won’t let me sit inside the restaurant where others could see me just yet, I can order takeaway and collect it from the back door. That’s progress. Sometimes I eat my delicious salmon staring out of the living room window, imagining what it would be like to sit at a table with waiter service again.

I finish my food and breathe a deep sigh of relief, throwing my last pack of Marlboro Red in the bin down beside the sofa. Given that things are now going so well here at Lillestrøm, I’ll have a quick look at the footballing news for my old employers, as I always like to keep an eye out for their results. How were my Varbergs BoIS doing in the top tier over in Sweden?

The mighty Lillestrøm are unbeaten in the league and we are already a third of the way through the season. We’ve also got the 4th round of the cup to come.

Life in Norway really has turned the corner.

Maybe I should go back and see that Tesla after all…

Thanks for reading.

#InViktorWeTrust

FM Stag