22nd of December. I wake up with the light streaming in through my hospital window. Its been 6 days since the crash and I’m being checked out today. Aside from a broken rib and a severed index finger on my left hand I’m in relatively good shape. The concussion is a bawbag but can’t be helped. Carmen got out two days ago but she hasn’t spoken to me since. I hear a knock at the door.
The chairman walks in with the largest bunch of grapes I have ever seen and sits down next to the bed. I’m not hugely pleased to see him given the incident with the horse head car and suggestions that he may murder me should I not make significant ground in the second half of the season. He explains that due to a mix up with envelopes, he gave me a letter and car keys from a local businessman called only known as PLP — who he tells me is very enthusiastic in his support for the club. What I had received was intended for the chairman, allegedly as a joke. When he says this last bit I smell the fresh horse manure of the local fields wafting in through the window.
Whilst I’m pretty sure that this could lead to club chaos down the line, I choose to accept his apology. He looks grateful, if a little worried. I ask if there is anything I can do to help but he shrugs and says “Let me make it up to you…the window is open”. I tell him the window being open is my choice and he shouldn’t apologise and he laughs. I know what he means.
And I know what I want.
From the moment he steps off the plane, wearing knock-off Ray-Bans, a vest emblazened with ‘Mexico 86’, scruffy grey joggers and a roll-up hanging out the corner of his mouth , I realise that this man was born to be here. A potent lower league threat, I feel that Adolfo should be able to elevate us in the middle of the park particularly given that outrageous passing rating.
After a couple of weeks off, we strengthen further. I was relatively happy with us defensively but I wanted a different option to supplement Corbalan and Bressan — which leads us to a long search of African nations for vaguely capped centre backs. And in another deep dive into the very soul of Argentinian free agents on the ‘Find’ screen, we find an absolute gem of a youngster.
They’re both outstanding additions to our squad, and they should make a big difference going into the second half of the season. I decide as a consequence of signing two foreigners to sell Moreno, and he is packed off to Belgium. Or he would be if he didn’t miss his flight and the deadline, meaning he has to rot in the reserves for 6 months and I have to continue to pay his wages. Well, the wages that I don’t fine from him out of pettiness for being a dick.
I get back onto the training ground in the third week of January after a holiday and sign-off from the doctor. Milton and Hans have been running things and it’s clear to see that things have been going well by the fact that only half the squad have turned up. I look for Mario but he is nowhere to be seen. I check my phone and nothing.
A quick scroll through social media reveals that he has tagged himself at the local Vineyard with a placard saying “Lobo Winery”— the one we had planned to invest in…I phone him and he answers. I don’t even give him the chance to say “Hola” before launching into a diatribe somewhere between Malcolm Tucker and Roy Keane. Needless to say he is fucking transfer listed and I’m never speaking to him again.
However I wake up on the 2nd of February with a spring in my step. Football is back at the Jose Fierro and there is a palpable air of excitement in the air in town. I walk into town towards the ground, and I’m joined by El Gigolo, Guillermo and Mancuso en route. We stroll through the streets, taking pictures with the fans, looking like a shit/dangerous boyband, and on the last 500 yards we join in with the Ultras approaching. The warm-up has the zip of a cup final and I’ve never seen our 16 man squad look so menacing. The only worry I have about this game is the fact we are playing Gimnasia y Esgrima de Concepcion de Uruguay — as reading their name gives my head the re-occurrence of concussion symptoms.
Adolfo and Rodriguez have chances in the opening ten minutes with similar degrees of failure before the game goes quiet. In the 25th minute out of nowhere, a Gimnasia midfielder takes opposition to Corbalan holding him and he pushes him, which earns him a relatively silly straight red. We look keen to capitalise but we are thwarted by the keeper Orcellet whom I think was vaguely competent in the previous game. This frustration continues as he saves twice from Guillermo and from Adolfo but in the 45th minute, he can only push a shot into the path of Pico who curls in the rebound to give us a deserved lead.
The price of this is that in the build up, Adolfo gets injured and is stretchered off in agony. I punch the dugout wall, forgetting the half finger I have and giving myself a fright when Initially think part of my hand is missing. Having rejigged the attack, Guillermo links up with Pico and goes on a run straight from kick-off and is brought down outside the box. The defender is booked but screams at the referee and gets a second yellow. It’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen — which distracts me from the fact the referee sends us straight in for half time without the free kick taking place. 1–0 at half-time is no less than we deserve and I applaud the boys back into the dressing room and fire them up for more of the same, switching to our attacking formation.
In the first 20 minutes of the second half, i’m repeatedly irritated by our lack of go forward or go-fucking-anywhere. We create next to nothing so I swing the axe, with El Gigolo being replaced by El Bivouac and Begbie replacing the bewildered looking Sylla. This stings us into action and with 15 minutes to go Rodriguez is teed up by Begbie to head over the keeper to make it 2–0. I keep on at the boys, telling them to press forwards and a Cabrol corner is headed in by Rodriguez in the 89th minute. Straight from kick off, El Bivouac wins a header and Cabrol plays a gorgeous outside of the foot pass into the stride of Guillermo. He stops, turns his man, and unleashes a howitzer past the keeper, sending the 6000+ crowd wild as our dominance is eventually realised. 4–0 is a statement.
After the game, the boys are greeted by a coach at the gates which I usher them on to to take us to Yerba Buena, located to the west of the city and widely renowned as an affluent party suburb. We get dropped on the main strip and spend our night hopping from bar to bar — before boarding the coach to a mansion on the outskirts at 02:30 where El Gigolo has laid on some entertainment via his old Venezuela days. It all goes a bit Caligula and I’m glad when I return to the villa the next say, where I can cry in the shower and scrub myself to within an inch of my life.
We’ve been placed in an 8 team group now, and on the face of it I would definitely claim to be favourites. Central Cordoba, our next opponents, finished 23rd in the regular season — and we make the trip down on the Thursday to the picturesque city of Rosario where we are placed in a riverside hotel with stunning views of the Parana River. Our venue for the game is less picturesque and more like Muirhouse in the 80’s, complete with Irvine Welsh narcotic confectionary strewn over the pitch when we arrive. I’m livid and get straight on the phone to the FA to complain— but they’ve blocked my number so I get Beavis to do it. I focus on the game and other than Oliva coming in for Adolfo, it’s more of the same.
There’s a big crowd in including 1200 Ultras — and Walter Pico sends them into raptures when he puts us into the lead in the 8th minute. However there is something a bit off with the team today. Maybe it’s Milton talking sense, maybe it Hans not being a massive prick, but I feel uneasy. In the 20th minute, they equalise and we don’t look hugely bothered. I start shouting at anyone who gets within 5 yards of me and look for more, which eventually bears fruit as Guillermo gets on the end of a Pico cross to give us a 2–1 lead at half-time.
I spite of this, I rip into the players at half time. I paid for the Mansion last week and I’m seeing little to no return whatsoever from the boys. I use some fairly violent imagery to describe how I’m feeling and the boys look a little on edge but more with it. They pepper the Cordoba goal in the first 8 minutes of the half with further chances for Guillermo and Pico well saved. But when they grab the ball in midfield in the 53rd minute we switch off — and Veron heads in for 2–2. I reach for the emergency Agave and American Spirits and sulk in the dugout and tell Genar Andrinua — our previously mute coach- to deal with tactics. This lasts as long as the 70th minute when we fail to pick up Palacios from a corner and we are now 3–2 down.
I am so furious that I accidentally set fire to Beavis when I errantly spit out a mouthful of Agave with my zippo open. Whilst Milton attends to him, I tell the players to switch to attack mode and that if they don’t salvage this game they can hitchhike home. Finally I get a reaction and Demichelis heads home a corner before the magical Cabrol slots one home from 16 yards to put us 4–3 up. We continue to fire forward in waves, and El Bivouac, Guillermo and Cabrol miss further chances. in the 90th minute we are breaking forward again when a turnover puts them just inside our half with a man advantage. They surge towards the area and the ball is pulled back to the penalty spot where it met by midfielder Portugal…..
I go into the changing room and keep it short. We are not champions yet, and we’ve a lot of work to do. Principally on the basis of that game we need to drop German Lux, as his name is an anagram for Stupid Fucking Bellend, and we desperately need to teach big Mo Sylla Spanish. I grab Bressan and Corbalan and tell them I’m restoring them to the starting XI as a pair but to take big Mo under their wing. They nod and grin — they’re good lads.
The last match also alerted me to the fact that I don’t have an assistant manager. I had envisaged Mario stepping into that role and us laughing and joking away in OUR vineyard. But as he is dead — to me — he is out of the equation. I make a few calls and receive a couple of responses, but I have to leave these to go to voicemail as we have a big game on our hands back at the Jose Fierro. Godoy Cruz are the visitors and it’s been a short turnaround from our visit to Rosario. I make three changes as Dolgetta drops out for Delgado, Bressan replaces Sylla and the ever disappointing Oliva is dropped for Barreto.
Its the dullest first 45 minutes of the season so far which I spend looking at the team sheet and examining the litany of odd names on the opposition teamsheet. Bernardo Ragg, Daniel Dobrik, Mariano Juan (surely backwards), they even have a young swanlike left-back in Fede Bessone. I’m slapped awake by Beavis in the 47th minute to see that German Lux is prone on the turf having been beaten for a header and we are 1–0 down. I’m furious, though mostly due to the fact I don’t like napping in the day and I forgot to drop German after his useless outing last time out. However straight from kick-off Rodriguez takes the ball down the right, centres for Guillermo, and he smashes it into the bottom corner for 1–1. If i hadn’t slept through 80% of the half I would be angry but I need coffee so I climb the stairs to the Directors Box and nick the free stuff. Whilst in there, I spot a man wearing an eyepatch with a dark suit on, who eyeballs me but says nothing as I run out with 2 mugs of diesel.
I’m dreading the possibility of a second half filled with the same amount of action as a Samuel Beckett play. Instead of waiting for Godot — Delgado sticks one in the back of the net in the 54th minute. And its a glorious way to open his account with a stop, turn, beating his man and then firing across the keeper to give us the lead. We look good but Carnero is annoyingly good for them up front and he hits the bar in the 65th minute. In the last game I sent Perez on to man-mark him and he was fucking useless, so I send Begbie on to do the same job and tell him to go full-metal-fud, along with the big physical presence of El Bivouac. We gain possession immediately and a long ball into the area is headed in by El Bivouac for 3–1 in the 66th minute and it should be easy street.
The 78th minute, two things happen. Firstly I run out of coffee. Secondly, their giant striker Abaurre heads past the very shaky Lux to make it 3–2. But a minute later El Bivouac has a carbon copy of his goal chance, I get ready to scream but he puts it over the bar, causing anguish and a fair amount of violence on a nearby water bottle. Hans asks me how long is left so many times in the last ten minutes I tell him to fucking stand on the roof of the dugout and stare at the town hall clock down the street. When Abaurre gets a shot off in the area, Hans falls off and behind the dugout, which causes me to double over and I miss the end result due to my hysterics. Turns out it went over the bar and we win 3–2. Easy win……..(fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck)………..
I’m invited up to the directors suite after the game to present the Man of the Match award to El Bivouac, who in spite of only playing 25 minutes caused chaos and mayhem when he came on. I can forgive his missed chances given his age and he seems keen to make an impact going forwards. I shake his hand and congratulate him, before seeing a familiar figure at the bar.
I wander over next to Carmen, and order a triple Agave on the rocks. She turns round and seems surprised to see me before breaking out into a smile. I ask her how she is and we fall back into the same routine as we were in pre-car-crash. I eventually ask her “Why have you been so quiet?”
“Well, when I found out about the note, I realised I was in trouble. I thought it would be better to stay away” she says, shying away towards the corner of the bar as I follow. “But the chairman explained it was a mistake?” I query, as I follow her to a table round the corner of the bar, usually reserved for anyone with more than a fiver.
She turns round and looks at me with a look, half of terror and half amused, as she sits down at the VIP table, next to the same one-eyed man who saw me nicking all the coffee earlier.
“Allow me to introduce you to my father” She says, an icy, hesitant tone in her voice. I reach out to shake the cyclops’ hand but he sits there static as a gargoyle. He clears his throat and a gravelly voice croaks towards me.
“Hi, you probably know me as PLP”