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The Glory Hunter


BobBev

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The Glory Hunter

Sure it's fun taking control of a lower league team and (hopefully) guiding them to success but every now and then what you really want to do is take one of the big boys and see what you can do with them. No more scrimping and saving trying to find free transfers that are prepared to join your bunch of no-hopers. No more struggling with a one-legged coach, a drunken physio and a shortsighted scout. No more half-empty stadium with what passes for a stand on the brink of collapse. Sometimes it’s nice to have money in the bank, to have a full roster of decent backroom staff, a nice big stadium that is full to bursting on match days and some world-class players.

So here’s the deal. I am going to take charge of a variety of big-name clubs in different countries and spend just one season at each seeing just how much silverware I can gather. There will be no transfers in or out and no fancy tactics – a simple 4-4-2 will do nicely thank you.

So having set the scene what better club to start with than the team of the moment, the mighty Arsenal.

Part One – Arsenal

So here we are at the start of my quest for glory at Highbury, a 38,420 all-seater stadium. I won’t bore you with a rundown of the playing staff as we all know who their key players are. I take over on July 13 2003 and in 28 days time we will begin our season with a game against main rivals Manchester United in the Community Shield. We have a couple of players with long-term injuries – young centre back Phillipe Senderos is out for three months with a back strain and backup keeper Rami Shaaban has a broken leg and will be out for six months. We have half a dozen players out on loan and at this point I don’t intend to recall any of them.

I decide to cancel all of the pre-season friendlies and prefer to concentrate on some fairly intensive training instead. It is interesting to see that the bookies make Man United 6-4 title favourites with Arsenal priced at 8-1. I’m not a betting man but at those odds I’d be tempted to have a flutter on the Gunners

As we get ready for the season opener in the Community Shield against United both Martin Keown and Sylvain Wiltord are unavailable because of injury. The match is an entertaining affair with both sides showing their attacking intent. We take the lead early through Kanu but United new boy Anelka equalises within minutes. Thierry Henry gives us the lead just after half time and a penalty converted by Kolo Toure puts us 3-1 ahead with 10 minutes remaining. United get a goal back near the end through Paul Tierney but we hold on for a 3-2 win and our first trophy of the season.

In our first league game Wolves are despatched with a comfortable 3-0 win and then in midweek we record the same scoreline at Manchester City. Fulham are sent home on the wrong end of a 5-0 thrashing but in the closing game of the month we lose 2-1 at Liverpool. We end the month in second place behind Liverpool having scored 12 goals and conceded just two. Henry is our top scorer with three goals and is also our highest-rated player.

We begin September with a 2-0 win at home over Birmingham before starting our Champions League campaign at Deportivo with a 3-0 win but we lose captain Vieira for a week with a foot injury. The league programme continues with a 1-0 win at Leicester and a 2-0 defeat of Southampton. But in the Saints game we suffer a huge blow as Henry tears a calf muscle, requiring surgery and a 5-month layoff – disaster. In the Champions League we get past VfB Stuttgart 2-0 and end the month in first place in the Premiership, a point ahead of Liverpool and Man U. Wiltord has caught up with Henry in the scoring stakes although the injured Frenchman is still our highest-rated player. An unhappy Lauren has not been playing well and young Ryan Garry has become my first choice right back.

October kicks off with a good 3-1 win at Newcastle with Ray Parlour scoring twice for the second league game in a row. After a break for World Cup qualifiers we beat Bolton 3-0 in the league and then travel to Lokomotiv Moscow for a CL group game. Having gone behind in the first half we recover with goals from Wiltord and Campbell before conceding two more, the last in stoppage time, to lose 3-2. Our first London derby of the season is a disaster as we lose 2-0 at in-form Spurs and after a particularly poor performance, Bergkamp announces that he will retire at the end of the season. Our final game of the month is a League Cup tie at Wolves and Wiltord scores both goals in our 2-0 win and he is now our top scorer with 8 goals.

We are now second in the table, two points behind Man U and they come to Highbury for our first game in November. A fierce encounter ends even at 1-1, a result that suits them more than us. Back in the Champions League we gain revenge over Lokomotiv with a 1-0 win at home, Jeremie Aliadiere scoring a late winner after we dominated the game. A very flat performance at Stamford Bridge sees us lose another London derby 1-0 and things go from bad to worse as we lose a bruising encounter at home to Everton 2-0 with Sol Campbell injured. Thankfully our trip to Aston Villa brings us a welcome 2-1 win to avoid a hat trick of defeats. In the Champions League we draw 1-1 at home to Deportivo, a missed penalty by Kanu robbing us of the win. With one group game left we have still not guaranteed qualification to the knockout stage so we need to get something out of our trip to Stuttgart. A workmanlike performance in our final game of the month brings a 1-0 victory over Leeds and despite a relatively poor return in the league we are in 3rd place, three points behind Chelsea and Man U. Wiltord now heads the scoring chart with 10 goals and Ray Parlour has 6 to his name.

December begins with a League Cup tie at Middlesborough and a disappointing 1-0 defeat eliminates us from the competition. Our next league game is at Blackburn and we come back with a 1-0 win. A 3-0 win in Stuttgart allows us to overtake Lokomotiv and finish top of our group but we lose Freddie Ljungberg for 3 weeks with a fractured wrist. We are drawn against French side Marseille in the second round. We revenge our League Cup defeat with a 2-0 win over Middlesborough in the league before blowing a 2-goal lead at Charlton to draw 2-2. On Boxing Day we entertain Portsmouth and our 4-0 win is a perfect Christmas gift. We end the year in second place, three points behind Chelsea and a point in front of Man U and Wiltord is now on 13 goals for the season.

The year starts with a 2-0 defeat of Derby in the FA Cup but then we lose 2-1 at Wolves before gaining a narrow 1-0 win at home to Man City. Campbell made a welcome return to action having had several setbacks in training and I am hopeful that he can stay fit for the rest of the season. The good news is cancelled out by a bad injury to Parlour and he will miss the rest of the season. The bad news continues as we lose 1-0 in the London derby at Fulham and then lose Edu for a month through injury. I had to bring several young reserves into the side for the visit of Liverpool and they played manfully in our 3-0 win. I opt for a more familiar selection for our 1-0 defeat of Blackburn in the FA Cup but the same eleven plays very poorly at Birmingham, losing 1-0. After another disappointing month we are 3rd in the table, three points behind Man U and 12 adrift of Chelsea.

Kanu has been absent for the last few games at the African Nations Cup, reducing my options in attack, and we have really struggled to score. Our scoring problems persist as we can’t find a way through the Leicester defence and the game ends goalless. Our scoring drought continues with another 0-0 draw, this time at Southampton. We also get another injury problem – Jermaine Pennant out for a month with a dislocated shoulder. He had become a regular starter as Freddie Ljungberg has been a bit disappointing. A one-match ban for Freddie leaves me without any recognised right side midfielder for the visit of Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup so Wiltord plays in that position. Sadly he lasts just 10 minutes before retiring with an injury, as does his replacement Pualinho at half time. So Edu, now back in full training and on the bench, comes on for the second half. Thankfully we find some goals in this game and Pires, Aliadiere and Vieira give us a 3-1 win. Our injury problems persist as the rugged veteran centre back Martin Keown suffers a torn groin muscle and will miss the rest of the season. The good news is that Henry is now back in training and looking fit. A 1-0 defeat at home to Newcastle means that we can forget the EPL title now as we are 11 points adrift of leaders Chelsea. Our only realistic hope of glory remains the FA Cup and the Champions League. Henry made his competitive return in the first leg of our CL game at home to Marseille but it made no difference to our scoring ability and the game ended as a 0-0 stalemate.

We stumble our way into the FA Cup Semi Finals with a 2-0 win over Third Division Cheltenham, the visitors giving us the lead with an own goal and centre back John Halls scoring our second. A first-half goal from Henry is enough to see us through at Marseille as despite conceding an equaliser in stoppage time we progress on away goals. We now enter a punishing period in the fixture schedule with tough games coming thick and fast. The grudge match at home to Spurs is won 2-0 with goals from Wiltord and reserve centre back Stathis Tavlaridis. We then suffer a 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford, Wiltord scoring a late consolation goal, before holding league leaders Chelsea to a goalless draw at Highbury. We come back from a very tough game at Real Madrid with a creditable 1-1 draw, full back Ryan Garry our goalscoring hero. The month finishes with a disappointing 1-0 defeat at Bolton to leave us 3rd in the table. We head a group of 4 teams all on 53 points and we are 14 points behind Man U and 17 adrift of Chelsea.

When we lose our FA Cup Semi Final 2-0 to hated rivals Man United our season is in tatters with only the Champions League offering any hope of salvation. The unlikely hero of our 2-0 defeat of Real Madrid is 21-year-old forward Jerome Thomas who scores both of our goals. A bit-part player up until now, he replaced the exhausted Pires and became an instant legend for the Gooners. Alas, Henry suffered a broken ankle in the game and his season is well and truly over! A first half sending off left us a man short at home to Aston Villa so the goalless draw wasn’t a bad result in the circumstances. Young reserve striker Adam Birchall scores his first ever goal for the club to give us a 1-0 win at Leeds. The trials and tribulations of an awful season were all forgotten as we tore Milan apart in the home leg of our Champions League Semi Final, winning 4-0. Thomas scored the opener, Kolo Toure scored twice and Kanu wrapped things up from the penalty spot. We were back to our usual indifferent form in the league, Blackburn going home with a scoreless draw.

Into the final month of the season now and we continue to fire blanks up front, losing 2-0 at struggling Middlesborough. In our return match in Milan we see out a comfortable 0-0 draw to book our place in the Champions League Final where we would face none other than EPL champions elect, Chelsea! We barely go through the motions in our three remaining league fixtures, none of our players willing to miss out on the big final through injury. We beat Charlton 1-0 at home, lose 2-1 at Everton and draw 0-0 at Portsmouth to end the season in 6th place in the league. The Champions League Final is a huge anticlimax as we play very poorly and lose a dull game 1-0, Adrian Mutu getting the winner after just 16 minutes.

So my first attempt at glory hunting ends in abject failure, with my only trophy success coming in the meaningless Community Shield. In my defence we have not had the best of luck with injuries and losing both Henry and Parlour was a major factor. Pires played well, Lehmann, Vieira and Campbell were always reliable but Ljungberg was a bit disappointing. Perhaps my tactics were to blame as maybe they didn’t get the best out of the players but too many of our lads just didn’t perform.

Robert Pires and Ryan Garry were runners-up in their respective playing award categories, Pires made the Premier Division Select and, rather surprisingly, I finished 3rd in the Manager of the Year standings. Chelsea won both the EPL and the Champions League, Man United won the FA Cup and Man City won the League Cup whilst Parma won the UEFA Cup. My overall playing record was as follows

Played 59, Won 30, Drawn 13, Lost 16, Scored 80, Conceded 37.

<pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| Pos | Inf | Team | Pld | Won | Drn | Lst | For | Ag | G.D. | Pts |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 1st | C | Chelsea | 38 | 26 | 8 | 4 | 80 | 25 | +55 | 86 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 2nd | | Man Utd | 38 | 25 | 8 | 5 | 60 | 23 | +37 | 83 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 3rd | | Liverpool | 38 | 18 | 12 | 8 | 52 | 33 | +19 | 66 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 4th | | Birmingham | 38 | 19 | 9 | 10 | 51 | 35 | +16 | 66 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 5th | | Newcastle | 38 | 19 | 8 | 11 | 66 | 49 | +17 | 65 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 6th | | Arsenal | 38 | 18 | 8 | 12 | 47 | 24 | +23 | 62 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 7th | | Aston Villa | 38 | 17 | 10 | 11 | 55 | 36 | +19 | 61 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 8th | | Tottenham | 38 | 15 | 10 | 13 | 59 | 49 | +10 | 55 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 9th | | Portsmouth | 38 | 12 | 17 | 9 | 54 | 52 | +2 | 53 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 10th | | Blackburn | 38 | 13 | 12 | 13 | 52 | 46 | +6 | 51 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 11th | | Wolves | 38 | 13 | 10 | 15 | 52 | 62 | -10 | 49 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 12th | | Fulham | 38 | 14 | 6 | 18 | 42 | 50 | -8 | 48 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 13th | | Man City | 38 | 13 | 9 | 16 | 51 | 66 | -15 | 48 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 14th | | Southampton | 38 | 12 | 10 | 16 | 44 | 54 | -10 | 46 |

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| 15th | | Middlesbrough | 38 | 12 | 6 | 20 | 37 | 65 | -28 | 42 |

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| 16th | | Everton | 38 | 11 | 8 | 19 | 41 | 66 | -25 | 41 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 17th | | Leicester | 38 | 8 | 16 | 14 | 42 | 60 | -18 | 40 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 18th | R | Leeds | 38 | 7 | 11 | 20 | 44 | 61 | -17 | 32 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 19th | R | Charlton | 38 | 6 | 11 | 21 | 39 | 70 | -31 | 29 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 20th | R | Bolton | 38 | 6 | 3 | 29 | 40 | 82 | -42 | 21 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|</pre>

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The Glory Hunter

Sure it's fun taking control of a lower league team and (hopefully) guiding them to success but every now and then what you really want to do is take one of the big boys and see what you can do with them. No more scrimping and saving trying to find free transfers that are prepared to join your bunch of no-hopers. No more struggling with a one-legged coach, a drunken physio and a shortsighted scout. No more half-empty stadium with what passes for a stand on the brink of collapse. Sometimes it’s nice to have money in the bank, to have a full roster of decent backroom staff, a nice big stadium that is full to bursting on match days and some world-class players.

So here’s the deal. I am going to take charge of a variety of big-name clubs in different countries and spend just one season at each seeing just how much silverware I can gather. There will be no transfers in or out and no fancy tactics – a simple 4-4-2 will do nicely thank you.

So having set the scene what better club to start with than the team of the moment, the mighty Arsenal.

Part One – Arsenal

So here we are at the start of my quest for glory at Highbury, a 38,420 all-seater stadium. I won’t bore you with a rundown of the playing staff as we all know who their key players are. I take over on July 13 2003 and in 28 days time we will begin our season with a game against main rivals Manchester United in the Community Shield. We have a couple of players with long-term injuries – young centre back Phillipe Senderos is out for three months with a back strain and backup keeper Rami Shaaban has a broken leg and will be out for six months. We have half a dozen players out on loan and at this point I don’t intend to recall any of them.

I decide to cancel all of the pre-season friendlies and prefer to concentrate on some fairly intensive training instead. It is interesting to see that the bookies make Man United 6-4 title favourites with Arsenal priced at 8-1. I’m not a betting man but at those odds I’d be tempted to have a flutter on the Gunners

As we get ready for the season opener in the Community Shield against United both Martin Keown and Sylvain Wiltord are unavailable because of injury. The match is an entertaining affair with both sides showing their attacking intent. We take the lead early through Kanu but United new boy Anelka equalises within minutes. Thierry Henry gives us the lead just after half time and a penalty converted by Kolo Toure puts us 3-1 ahead with 10 minutes remaining. United get a goal back near the end through Paul Tierney but we hold on for a 3-2 win and our first trophy of the season.

In our first league game Wolves are despatched with a comfortable 3-0 win and then in midweek we record the same scoreline at Manchester City. Fulham are sent home on the wrong end of a 5-0 thrashing but in the closing game of the month we lose 2-1 at Liverpool. We end the month in second place behind Liverpool having scored 12 goals and conceded just two. Henry is our top scorer with three goals and is also our highest-rated player.

We begin September with a 2-0 win at home over Birmingham before starting our Champions League campaign at Deportivo with a 3-0 win but we lose captain Vieira for a week with a foot injury. The league programme continues with a 1-0 win at Leicester and a 2-0 defeat of Southampton. But in the Saints game we suffer a huge blow as Henry tears a calf muscle, requiring surgery and a 5-month layoff – disaster. In the Champions League we get past VfB Stuttgart 2-0 and end the month in first place in the Premiership, a point ahead of Liverpool and Man U. Wiltord has caught up with Henry in the scoring stakes although the injured Frenchman is still our highest-rated player. An unhappy Lauren has not been playing well and young Ryan Garry has become my first choice right back.

October kicks off with a good 3-1 win at Newcastle with Ray Parlour scoring twice for the second league game in a row. After a break for World Cup qualifiers we beat Bolton 3-0 in the league and then travel to Lokomotiv Moscow for a CL group game. Having gone behind in the first half we recover with goals from Wiltord and Campbell before conceding two more, the last in stoppage time, to lose 3-2. Our first London derby of the season is a disaster as we lose 2-0 at in-form Spurs and after a particularly poor performance, Bergkamp announces that he will retire at the end of the season. Our final game of the month is a League Cup tie at Wolves and Wiltord scores both goals in our 2-0 win and he is now our top scorer with 8 goals.

We are now second in the table, two points behind Man U and they come to Highbury for our first game in November. A fierce encounter ends even at 1-1, a result that suits them more than us. Back in the Champions League we gain revenge over Lokomotiv with a 1-0 win at home, Jeremie Aliadiere scoring a late winner after we dominated the game. A very flat performance at Stamford Bridge sees us lose another London derby 1-0 and things go from bad to worse as we lose a bruising encounter at home to Everton 2-0 with Sol Campbell injured. Thankfully our trip to Aston Villa brings us a welcome 2-1 win to avoid a hat trick of defeats. In the Champions League we draw 1-1 at home to Deportivo, a missed penalty by Kanu robbing us of the win. With one group game left we have still not guaranteed qualification to the knockout stage so we need to get something out of our trip to Stuttgart. A workmanlike performance in our final game of the month brings a 1-0 victory over Leeds and despite a relatively poor return in the league we are in 3rd place, three points behind Chelsea and Man U. Wiltord now heads the scoring chart with 10 goals and Ray Parlour has 6 to his name.

December begins with a League Cup tie at Middlesborough and a disappointing 1-0 defeat eliminates us from the competition. Our next league game is at Blackburn and we come back with a 1-0 win. A 3-0 win in Stuttgart allows us to overtake Lokomotiv and finish top of our group but we lose Freddie Ljungberg for 3 weeks with a fractured wrist. We are drawn against French side Marseille in the second round. We revenge our League Cup defeat with a 2-0 win over Middlesborough in the league before blowing a 2-goal lead at Charlton to draw 2-2. On Boxing Day we entertain Portsmouth and our 4-0 win is a perfect Christmas gift. We end the year in second place, three points behind Chelsea and a point in front of Man U and Wiltord is now on 13 goals for the season.

The year starts with a 2-0 defeat of Derby in the FA Cup but then we lose 2-1 at Wolves before gaining a narrow 1-0 win at home to Man City. Campbell made a welcome return to action having had several setbacks in training and I am hopeful that he can stay fit for the rest of the season. The good news is cancelled out by a bad injury to Parlour and he will miss the rest of the season. The bad news continues as we lose 1-0 in the London derby at Fulham and then lose Edu for a month through injury. I had to bring several young reserves into the side for the visit of Liverpool and they played manfully in our 3-0 win. I opt for a more familiar selection for our 1-0 defeat of Blackburn in the FA Cup but the same eleven plays very poorly at Birmingham, losing 1-0. After another disappointing month we are 3rd in the table, three points behind Man U and 12 adrift of Chelsea.

Kanu has been absent for the last few games at the African Nations Cup, reducing my options in attack, and we have really struggled to score. Our scoring problems persist as we can’t find a way through the Leicester defence and the game ends goalless. Our scoring drought continues with another 0-0 draw, this time at Southampton. We also get another injury problem – Jermaine Pennant out for a month with a dislocated shoulder. He had become a regular starter as Freddie Ljungberg has been a bit disappointing. A one-match ban for Freddie leaves me without any recognised right side midfielder for the visit of Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup so Wiltord plays in that position. Sadly he lasts just 10 minutes before retiring with an injury, as does his replacement Pualinho at half time. So Edu, now back in full training and on the bench, comes on for the second half. Thankfully we find some goals in this game and Pires, Aliadiere and Vieira give us a 3-1 win. Our injury problems persist as the rugged veteran centre back Martin Keown suffers a torn groin muscle and will miss the rest of the season. The good news is that Henry is now back in training and looking fit. A 1-0 defeat at home to Newcastle means that we can forget the EPL title now as we are 11 points adrift of leaders Chelsea. Our only realistic hope of glory remains the FA Cup and the Champions League. Henry made his competitive return in the first leg of our CL game at home to Marseille but it made no difference to our scoring ability and the game ended as a 0-0 stalemate.

We stumble our way into the FA Cup Semi Finals with a 2-0 win over Third Division Cheltenham, the visitors giving us the lead with an own goal and centre back John Halls scoring our second. A first-half goal from Henry is enough to see us through at Marseille as despite conceding an equaliser in stoppage time we progress on away goals. We now enter a punishing period in the fixture schedule with tough games coming thick and fast. The grudge match at home to Spurs is won 2-0 with goals from Wiltord and reserve centre back Stathis Tavlaridis. We then suffer a 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford, Wiltord scoring a late consolation goal, before holding league leaders Chelsea to a goalless draw at Highbury. We come back from a very tough game at Real Madrid with a creditable 1-1 draw, full back Ryan Garry our goalscoring hero. The month finishes with a disappointing 1-0 defeat at Bolton to leave us 3rd in the table. We head a group of 4 teams all on 53 points and we are 14 points behind Man U and 17 adrift of Chelsea.

When we lose our FA Cup Semi Final 2-0 to hated rivals Man United our season is in tatters with only the Champions League offering any hope of salvation. The unlikely hero of our 2-0 defeat of Real Madrid is 21-year-old forward Jerome Thomas who scores both of our goals. A bit-part player up until now, he replaced the exhausted Pires and became an instant legend for the Gooners. Alas, Henry suffered a broken ankle in the game and his season is well and truly over! A first half sending off left us a man short at home to Aston Villa so the goalless draw wasn’t a bad result in the circumstances. Young reserve striker Adam Birchall scores his first ever goal for the club to give us a 1-0 win at Leeds. The trials and tribulations of an awful season were all forgotten as we tore Milan apart in the home leg of our Champions League Semi Final, winning 4-0. Thomas scored the opener, Kolo Toure scored twice and Kanu wrapped things up from the penalty spot. We were back to our usual indifferent form in the league, Blackburn going home with a scoreless draw.

Into the final month of the season now and we continue to fire blanks up front, losing 2-0 at struggling Middlesborough. In our return match in Milan we see out a comfortable 0-0 draw to book our place in the Champions League Final where we would face none other than EPL champions elect, Chelsea! We barely go through the motions in our three remaining league fixtures, none of our players willing to miss out on the big final through injury. We beat Charlton 1-0 at home, lose 2-1 at Everton and draw 0-0 at Portsmouth to end the season in 6th place in the league. The Champions League Final is a huge anticlimax as we play very poorly and lose a dull game 1-0, Adrian Mutu getting the winner after just 16 minutes.

So my first attempt at glory hunting ends in abject failure, with my only trophy success coming in the meaningless Community Shield. In my defence we have not had the best of luck with injuries and losing both Henry and Parlour was a major factor. Pires played well, Lehmann, Vieira and Campbell were always reliable but Ljungberg was a bit disappointing. Perhaps my tactics were to blame as maybe they didn’t get the best out of the players but too many of our lads just didn’t perform.

Robert Pires and Ryan Garry were runners-up in their respective playing award categories, Pires made the Premier Division Select and, rather surprisingly, I finished 3rd in the Manager of the Year standings. Chelsea won both the EPL and the Champions League, Man United won the FA Cup and Man City won the League Cup whilst Parma won the UEFA Cup. My overall playing record was as follows

Played 59, Won 30, Drawn 13, Lost 16, Scored 80, Conceded 37.

<pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| Pos | Inf | Team | Pld | Won | Drn | Lst | For | Ag | G.D. | Pts |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 1st | C | Chelsea | 38 | 26 | 8 | 4 | 80 | 25 | +55 | 86 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 2nd | | Man Utd | 38 | 25 | 8 | 5 | 60 | 23 | +37 | 83 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 3rd | | Liverpool | 38 | 18 | 12 | 8 | 52 | 33 | +19 | 66 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 4th | | Birmingham | 38 | 19 | 9 | 10 | 51 | 35 | +16 | 66 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 5th | | Newcastle | 38 | 19 | 8 | 11 | 66 | 49 | +17 | 65 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 6th | | Arsenal | 38 | 18 | 8 | 12 | 47 | 24 | +23 | 62 |

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| 7th | | Aston Villa | 38 | 17 | 10 | 11 | 55 | 36 | +19 | 61 |

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| 8th | | Tottenham | 38 | 15 | 10 | 13 | 59 | 49 | +10 | 55 |

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| 9th | | Portsmouth | 38 | 12 | 17 | 9 | 54 | 52 | +2 | 53 |

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| 10th | | Blackburn | 38 | 13 | 12 | 13 | 52 | 46 | +6 | 51 |

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| 11th | | Wolves | 38 | 13 | 10 | 15 | 52 | 62 | -10 | 49 |

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| 12th | | Fulham | 38 | 14 | 6 | 18 | 42 | 50 | -8 | 48 |

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| 13th | | Man City | 38 | 13 | 9 | 16 | 51 | 66 | -15 | 48 |

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| 14th | | Southampton | 38 | 12 | 10 | 16 | 44 | 54 | -10 | 46 |

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| 15th | | Middlesbrough | 38 | 12 | 6 | 20 | 37 | 65 | -28 | 42 |

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| 16th | | Everton | 38 | 11 | 8 | 19 | 41 | 66 | -25 | 41 |

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| 17th | | Leicester | 38 | 8 | 16 | 14 | 42 | 60 | -18 | 40 |

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| 18th | R | Leeds | 38 | 7 | 11 | 20 | 44 | 61 | -17 | 32 |

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| 19th | R | Charlton | 38 | 6 | 11 | 21 | 39 | 70 | -31 | 29 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 20th | R | Bolton | 38 | 6 | 3 | 29 | 40 | 82 | -42 | 21 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|</pre>

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You earn my respect for at least admitting that you were only able to win the Community Shield icon14.gif.

Defeat to Chelsea in the Champions League Final and a 6th place league finish. It's a good job that you only inteneded a 1 season stay. I'm not sure that you would have had an option.

Better luck with next team.

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Part Two – Real Madrid

Having failed miserably in my hunt for glory at Arsenal, it is time to change countries and take charge of the overpaid Galacticos at the mighty Real Madrid. I take over on July 20th 2003 to find that I am expected to win the Primera Liga. I have a transfer budget of nearly £40M but that is irrelevant as according to my rules I will make no transfers during my sole season in charge. Real play at the 75,000 seater Santiago Bernabeu. I have half a dozen players on long term loans that cannot be recalled and with only 18 players in my A squad I am looking a bit light but frankly the B squad is so full of dross that it’s hard to see who to move to the seniors. I will need to evaluate this after they have had a few games and see who is playing well.

My first game isn’t until the Spanish Super Cup in mid-August so having established my 4-4-2 tactics I concentrate on some serious training until then. We win the home leg of the Super Cup 2-0 thanks to a penalty from Ronaldo and a goal from substitute Guti. In the return match Zidane and Raul both score as we draw 2-2 to lift our first trophy of the season.

The bookies make Deportivo 5-2 favourites for the title with Real priced at 5-1. Our opening league match at Murcia ends in a disappointing 1-1 draw with none of our famed superstars exactly setting the world alight with their performances. Another draw follows in midweek as visiting Espanyol keep us at bay and the game ends scoreless. We are still not firing on all cylinders when Albacete come to town and we get another draw, 1-1 this time. Before our opening Champions League game at Lazio I see that the bookies have made us 5-2 favourites to win the trophy. If the result in Rome is anything to go on then they could be right as we win 4-0 even with the luxury of a missed penalty. We then get our first league win of the season with a 2-1 victory at Athletic Bilbao but follow this with our first defeat. A poor first half performance at home to Betis sees us go into half time a goal down. We play much better after the break but can’t convert pressure and chances into goals and lose 1-0. Thankfully we play better in our Champions League game at home to Vardar of Macedonia, Ronaldo scoring a hat trick in our 5-1 win. So at the end of my first month in charge we have shown some middling domestic form but are looking better in European competition. A win and three draws in the league puts us in 14th place but we head our Champions League group.

Raul and Ronaldo both hit the target on our trip to Osasuna but some poor defending allowed the home side back into the game but thankfully a second from Ronaldo was enough for the win. We then scrape through our Spanish Cup tie at Murcia on penalties before getting a lucky 0-0 draw at Valladolid. I see some improvement in our 3-0 defeat of Celta where Ronaldo scores a hat trick but the form of our galacticos is still very erratic. Our good form in Europe continues with a 2-1 win at VfB Stuttgart and I am pleased by our 2-0 defeat of Valencia. Unfortunately we end the month with a disappointing 2-0 loss at Deportivo and sit in 5th place in the table. Thus far Ronaldo has been our most effective player and he has 10 goals to his name.

November begins with a huge grudge match at home to Barcelona and the fans are distraught with our 2-1 defeat. However, they are much happier with our 3-0 defeat of Vfb Stuttgart that sees us qualify from our group with 2 games to spare and their good humour improves further when we win the Madrid derby at Atletico 2-1. Then in one of our best performances of the season we beat Real Sociedad 4-0. David Beckham stars in our Champions League game at home to Lazio, scoring his first goal of the season late on in the game to give us a 1-0 win. In our final game of the month at Sevilla the home side have two men sent off as we win 2-0 and we now find ourselves in 4th place, 5 points behind surprise leaders Betis.

Our brief run of form is interrupted by a 1-1 draw with Malaga in La Liga but then our second string come back from Macedonia with a 0-0 draw against Vardar to preserve our unbeaten Champions League record. On our trip to bottom club Mallorca we recovered from a poor first half to eventually win 3-1. In the Spanish Cup we travel to D2B side Fuenlabrada, shock victors over Valencia in the previous round, and but for some profligate finishing our 2-0 winning margin would have much greater. With several first choice players missing through injury we still manage to beat Racing Santander 2-1 before being held to a scoreless draw with Villarreal in our final game of the year.

We go into the New Year 3rd in La Liga, 8 points behind leaders Betis and 5 adrift of Barcelona. Ronaldo and Raul have a dozen goals apiece but my highly paid superstars are still not doing themselves justice on a regular basis (how realistic is that?). A poor start to the year sees us lose 2-1 at Second Division Alaves in the first leg of our Spanish Cup tie and then lose 3-1 at Zaragoza, finishing the match with ten men when Raul is injured after I have used all of my subs. I am so frustrated with my players that I openly criticise both Zidane and Beckham in the press – maybe that will improve their performances. Perhaps stung by my attack, the team plays much better in the second leg of the cup-tie, winning 5-0 to go through to the Quarter Final with both Zizou and Becks scoring. Rather unusually we are straight back into cup action with the home leg against Athletic Bilbao and we record an excellent 3-0 win. The bad news is that we lose Ronaldo for a fortnight with a knee injury. Back in La Liga our form dips again as we lose 1-0 at Espanyol with winger Solari sent off. As the month closes we win the return leg at Bilbao 2-0 to go through to the Cup Semi Final. The Spanish FA must be keen to get this competition out of the way for our last game of the month was the home leg of the Semi against Leganes of the Second Division and a 4-0 win leaves us in good shape for the return. So in a month dominated by the Cup our lack of activity in La Liga sees us drop to 5th place in the table and there is increasing disquiet amongst the clubs supporters.

Four more goals follow in our opening game in February with a rare brace from Becks in the 4-2 defeat of recent Cup opponents Athletic Bilbao. A 0-0 draw at Leganes sees us safely into the Cup Final but Ronaldo rather needlessly gets himself sent off so he will miss that game. Our faint hopes of lifting the Primera Liga title evaporate after our 3-2 defeat at leaders Betis in as exciting a game as you will see all season. Our fluctuating form sees us beat Osasuna 2-0 and then lose 2-1 at Albacete before an ill-tempered affair at Valencia finishes 1-0 in our favour. With the League title now out of reach we really needed a good performance in the away leg of our Champions League tie in Dortmund and got just the opposite – a very poor display and a 2-0 defeat. The month ends with another stumbling display as we are held 1-1 at home by struggling Valladolid, we have now dropped to 6th in the table, the board and the fans aren’t happy and the player’s morale is low – I feel that I will be lucky to see the end of the season at this rate.

March starts in pleasing style with an extraordinary hat trick of long-range strikes from Argentinean midfielder Esteban Cambiasso giving us a 3-0 win at home to Murcia. But I am now finding that Real have such an unbalanced squad that the first team players are all becoming very tired with the list of players in need of a rest growing game by game. But their understudies are of such poor quality that it’s almost impossible to let them sit it out for a game or two. But with our league campaign in tatters I decide to go with a full second string for the trip to Celta in the hope that my superstars will be raring to go in midweek against Dortmund. To no one’s great surprise we lose 2-1, although the scoreline was closer than many may have expected. Dortmund came to town defending a two-goal lead and defend they did. With the stadium clock showing 81 minutes the game is still scoreless – but first captain Raul pulls a goal back and then Ronaldo equalises three minutes later. At the end of 90 minutes the score is tied at 2-2 and we go into extra time. Despite subjecting the Germans to a further 30 minutes of all-out attack we can’t find another goal and so it all comes down to penalties. 22-year-old keeper Iker Casillas, a local boy from Madrid, is the hero, saving Dortmund’s first three penalties and our season is still alive.

In La Liga I decide to rest the first team again for the visit of Deportivo and get an amazing 5-1 win. Now clearly the Spanish Cup is not the big deal that it is in England as the Cup Final is held on a Wednesday night in Valencia. Ronaldo is suspended but that apart I field my best 11 for the game against Barcelona and 120 minutes of drama follows. We take an early lead when Ronaldo’s replacement, 21-year-old Portillo, converts a penalty. On the hour mark Kluivert equalises for Barca and with no further scoring we go into extra time. Within two minutes Barcelona are in front when a free kick took a double deflection, unlucky substitute Solari finally credited with an own goal. As we entered the last 5 minutes of the additional period we squared the game as Roberto Trashorras, on for an exhausted Raul, found the net. Then in the 120th minute Portillo won the Cup for us with a last-second goal.

In one of those coincidences that football throws up our next game in La Liga is at Barcelona. I have no hesitation in going with the second string, knowing that in 4 days time we will be at Old Trafford for the first leg of our Champions League Quarter Final. Barca revenge their Cup defeat with a 2-1 win and given their superiority the scoreline flatters us. It was a wet night in Manchester as we face United and we got off to a great start when Figo fired home a free kick inside the first ten minutes. But they came back strongly and we kept our lead solely due to the brilliance of Casillas in goal. But we just couldn’t contain Ruud van Nistelrooy and the Dutch striker turned the game around by scoring twice in the second half. But a 2-1 defeat isn’t the end of the world and we can still turn it around in the second leg.

My only focus now is on the Champions League so the second string are selected for our trip to Real Sociedad and a 2-0 defeat is the result. It may be that my top men are benefiting from only playing once a week as our performance in the home tie against Man United was impressive. Roared on by a huge crowd we set about the visitors with a vengeance looking to overturn the deficit. Our hopes took a blow midway through the first half when Paul Scholes calmly put away a penalty and we reached the break 3-1 behind on aggregate. But after the break we really started to play and goals from Ronaldo and Solari tied the overall scores. With extra time looming Madrid demi-god Raul then found the back of the net deep in stoppage time to send the Bernabeu wild and take us into the Semi Finals.

I am now gambling everything on Champions League success so the second string play in our next two league games, a 2-0 defeat by Sevilla and a 1-0 loss to neighbours Atletico Madrid. We face Inter in the CL Semi Final and return from Milan with an excellent 1-1 draw. We fell behind early on but captain Raul found an equaliser in the second half. But the game is marred by the late dismissal of Ronaldo for an innocuous push – I will be appealing against his ban but have no great hopes of success. Indeed I was right to be doubtful – the appeal is ignored and he gets a two-match ban so he will miss the return leg and the final (if we get there). There are two more league games contested before then though and we win 2-0 at Malaga and draw 1-1 at home to relegated Mallorca.

Some 75,000 fans fill the Bernabeu for the visit of Inter. The visitors look dangerous throughout the game but we take the lead after half an hour through Cambiasso. From then on Inter have the better of the game but they can’t find a way past young Casillas and we hold on for a 2-1 aggregate win. We will face Juventus in the final after they destroyed Arsenal 5-1 in Italy to overturn a 2-0 deficit. Barcelona are also chasing European glory, having reached the UEFA Cup Final by beating dark horses Southampton on penalties in the Semi Final and the will face Schalke 04.

In the 2 and a half weeks before the Champions League Final we finish our league campaign with three straight wins, including victories over top-5 teams Racing Santander and Villarreal, and we grab 3rd place in La Liga. We end up 15 points behind Barca and 20 points adrift of surprise champions Betis. Barcelona are successful in the UEFA Cup Final and this makes us all the more determined to win the Champions League.

Finally the big day arrives – the Champions League Final. There is a feeling of nervous anticipation amongst the players as they realise that this is it – make or break. Looking back on the game, we are rather fortunate – certainly the press say that Juventus were the better team. We took the lead on 25 minutes through Cambiasso but then concede a penalty 5 minutes later and reach the break tied at 1-1. Young Portillo, in for the suspended Ronaldo, is having a serious case of nerves so he is replaced, and Beckham is having a stinker (not unusual that one) so he too comes off. There is no further scoring in normal time, thanks mainly to our keeper Casillas, and so we go into extra time. Raul has been pretty anonymous during the game but in the 114th minute he sneaks into the area and nets the winner.

So the season ends with glory after all. Three trophies are won – The Spanish Super Cup, The Spanish Cup and, most importantly, the Champions League. Despite that I feel that it has been a disappointing season. None of my major stars has really impressed, although Raul has managed 27 goals and Ronaldo 19, but frankly I expected much more from the galacticos. The squad is very weak with no real backup for the star names and if I was playing on I would be investing some of the club’s millions to establish some strength in depth.

My overall record for the season is

Played 62, Won 34, Drawn 13, Lost 15, Scored 107, Conceded 54.

<pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| Pos | Inf | Team | Pld | Won | Drn | Lst | For | Ag | G.D. | Pts |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 1st | C | Betis | 38 | 26 | 4 | 8 | 80 | 36 | +44 | 82 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 2nd | | Barcelona | 38 | 23 | 8 | 7 | 83 | 53 | +30 | 77 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 3rd | | Real Madrid | 38 | 18 | 8 | 12 | 57 | 37 | +20 | 62 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 4th | | Villarreal | 38 | 14 | 16 | 8 | 53 | 43 | +10 | 58 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 5th | | Real Sociedad | 38 | 17 | 6 | 15 | 58 | 50 | +8 | 57 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 6th | | Racing Santander | 38 | 15 | 11 | 12 | 52 | 44 | +8 | 56 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 7th | | Málaga | 38 | 16 | 8 | 14 | 66 | 51 | +15 | 56 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 8th | | Atlético Madrid | 38 | 16 | 7 | 15 | 47 | 50 | -3 | 55 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 9th | | Albacete | 38 | 16 | 7 | 15 | 51 | 51 | 0 | 55 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 10th | | Valencia | 38 | 14 | 11 | 13 | 42 | 37 | +5 | 53 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 11th | | Espanyol | 38 | 14 | 10 | 14 | 35 | 36 | -1 | 52 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 12th | | Zaragoza | 38 | 15 | 7 | 16 | 43 | 46 | -3 | 52 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 13th | | Osasuna | 38 | 12 | 14 | 12 | 50 | 53 | -3 | 50 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 14th | | Celta | 38 | 14 | 7 | 17 | 42 | 55 | -13 | 49 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 15th | | Sevilla | 38 | 14 | 7 | 17 | 55 | 58 | -3 | 49 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 16th | | Murcia | 38 | 13 | 10 | 15 | 47 | 55 | -8 | 49 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 17th | | Valladolid | 38 | 10 | 15 | 13 | 56 | 60 | -4 | 45 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 18th | R | Deportivo | 38 | 12 | 3 | 23 | 36 | 71 | -35 | 39 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 19th | R | Athletic Bilbao | 38 | 7 | 10 | 21 | 42 | 68 | -26 | 31 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 20th | R | Mallorca | 38 | 5 | 9 | 24 | 41 | 82 | -41 | 24 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|</pre>

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Thanks Spav, I'm still struggling for succes as you will see.

Part Three – AC Milan

Despite winning the Champions League with Real my last attempt still wasn’t very satisfying. It wasn’t the kind of dominating, no one can beat us type of season that I am searching for. At Arsenal we suffered when key players were injured, at Madrid there was no depth in the squad to replace the under-performing stars. Time for a rule change I think. After all, what’s the point of taking charge at a rich club and not using some of that lovely cash – so, unlimited transfers are now allowed, both in and out.

Where better to try my hand next than Italy – spoilt for choice on who to pick I finally settle on Milan. They play at the 85,000 capacity San Siro, sharing the stadium with neighbours Inter. I have been given a £6.8M transfer budget to play with I start by casting an eye over the playing staff. The first thing I notice is the size of the squad – there are an incredible 129 players on the books. On closer inspection though, over 40 of them are on loan at various clubs and there are almost 80 players in the U20 squad!!! I have a more manageable 26 in the first team squad, amongst whom are stars such as Shevchenko, Rui Costa, Inzaghi, Rivaldo, Seedorf, Nesta and Maldini.

I take over on Sunday 3rd August and our first scheduled game is the same day against Juventus in the Italian Super Cup Final which for some bizarre reason is being played in the Rutherford Stadium in New Jersey! The game ends 1-1 after extra time and we win the penalty shootout to start my quest for glory with a trophy on day one!

Our next action isn’t until the end of August when we play Porto in the European Super Cup. Before then the bookies issue their odds for the Serie A title – Juventus are 6-4 favourites, Inter are priced at 7-4 and we are 3-1. In the game against Porto we take an early two-goal lead through Jon Dahl Tomasson and Alessandro Nesta. Then the Portuguese have Ricardo Carvalho sent off with 25 minutes remaining and we should be cruising. Instead we concede twice in the last 20 minutes and then lose the penalty shootout, blowing a great chance of winning two trophies in our first two games.

There is little time to reflect on a poor result before we start our Serie A campaign at Ancona and a rather dismal game ends scoreless. We go into out next game at home to Bologna without Shevchenko who was injured playing for his country in a Euro2004 qualifier. During the game we also lose Inzaghi and Tomasson and end with another scoreless draw. It is Champions League action next with a visit to PSV and despite losing keeper Abbiati to injury in the second half we get a good 2-0 win. Our pitiful league form continues with a 1-0 defeat at high-flying Perugia but I see a drastic improvement in the 5-0 defeat of Lecce. We end the month with a 2-0 defeat of Hungarian outfit MTK in the Champions League to head our group.

Before our next game I dip into my transfer budget for the first time, agreeing a £575K deal with Brescia to bring Argentinean forward Raul Gonzalez to Milan. He will join when the transfer window opens in January of next year. Our first league game is a crucial local derby against Inter. When you share the same ground they don’t get much more local than that, although we are nominally playing away from home. Our poor league form continues and we scrape a 1-1 draw, mainly thanks to the fine play of keeper Abbiati who saved a first-half penalty to keep us in the game. Shevchenko is fit for the visit of Lazio and scores both goals in our 2-1 win before leaving the pitch with a slight knock. The Ukrainian is on target again as we return from Newcastle with a 1-1 draw in the Champions League before we end the month by losing 1-0 at Sampdoria. Our league form continues to infuriate me as we simply cannot get into our stride and get a run of wins going and we sit in 7th place in the table.

In the league we start November with a 0-0 at home to Juventus, get a crucial 2-0 win at high-flying Parma and then have a frustrating 2-2 draw at Chievo as, having been in front twice we concede equalisers each time. Our final league game sees us gain a 3-1 win at home to Modena but we loose Seedorf for a month. In the Champions League we have our first loss in the group as Newcastle win 2-1. We then concede a last-minute equaliser at home to PSV and draw 1-1. With one game remaining the group is very tight with ourselves, Newcastle and PSV all on 8 points.

We make our debut in the Italian Cup beating Serie B side Cagliari home and away for a 4-0 aggregate win. In between those games we pick up our second trophy of the season, beating Boca 2-0 in the Intercontinental Cup. Milan legend Paolo Maldini leaves the club in a £325K move to Deportivo. The 35-year-old made over 500 appearances in nearly 20 years and has 126 international caps. Back in the Champions League a 0-0 draw at MTK is enough for us to qualify as runners-up behind Newcastle. Before the short Christmas break we are in league action once more, beating Siena and Udinese, both by 2 -0 scorelines. Despite our less than impressive form we end the year 5th on 23 points, 6 behind leaders Roma.

Our opening game of the year is at Roma, who coincidentally will be our next opponents in the Italian Cup. Captain Alessandro Nesta at last puts in the kind of performance that I expect from a player of his reputation. A rock in the centre of defence, he also provides a late equaliser to tie the game. We took the lead through Rui Costa but the home side struck back twice before we squared the game. The 2-2 draw is not ideal but at least we didn’t lose any further ground on the leaders. My squad strengthening continues with the arrival of defensive midfielder Giuseppe Gemiti from Udinese on loan for the rest of the season. Another new face is attacking fullback Salvatore Russo (I remember him from my Fano game) who moves from Ancona for £500K. In the league we have solid wins over Reggina and Brescia, 2-0 and 3-0 respectively and then a second-half blitz at Empoli sees us score five times in the last 20 minutes to win 6-1. I then complete one further loan deal with out of favour Newcastle forward Lomana LuaLua joining for the rest of the season although he is currently away on international duty at The African Cup of Nations. Speaking of Cups, we go out of the Italian Cup with a 4-3 aggregate defeat by Roma, losing in Rome and winning at home. Our final league game of the month is a 0-0 stalemate with Ancona during which we lose left-winger Serginho for two months with a dislocated shoulder.

The Serie A table is now extremely tight at the top – Juventus are first on 37 points, Roma follow on 36, then we have 34, Sampdoria and Inter are on 33, Parma have 32 with Lazio and Perugia on 31. One of the problems with having some decent talent in the squad is deciding who your starters are but I have now settled on a fairly consistent first eleven. Christian Abbiati is my number one keeper and Dida is a more than capable deputy. At right back Cafu gets the nod with Georgian Kakhaber Kaladze on the left and Russo and the on-loan Giuseppe Pancaro providing excellent cover. In the centre captain Nesta is an ever-present and I have now settled on Dario Simic as his partner although both Martin Laursen and Brazilian Clayton have seen action. In central midfield Rui Costa and Seedorf are preferred with Pirlo and Ambrosini on the bench. Gennaro Gattuso patrols the right with new boy Gonzalez as backup. The left side was owned by Serginho before his injury but now I am going with loanee Gemiti with Cristian Brocchi deputising. Up front I favour Rivaldo and Shevchenko and have Inzaghi, Tomasson, Kaka, LuaLua (when he gets back from Africa) and youngster Marco Borriello in reserve. At this point in the season Serginho is my highest-rated player and Shevchenko is my top scorer.

After a hectic January our schedule in February is a little less frantic. In Serie A we have three straight wins, 1-0 at Bologna, 2-1 at home to Perugia and 3-0 at Lecce, before drawing the Milan derby 1-1 against Inter. But then we out in a truly dreadful display ay Lazio, losing 2-0 and having Gattuso sent off. In the Champions League we come through a demanding tie with FC Bayern, squeezing out a 1-0 aggregate win thanks mainly to the brilliance of keeper Abbiati, voted Man of the Match in both legs.

We begin March with a storming 4-1 defeat of Sampdoria but that would be about as good as it got all month. We had a lucky 1-1 draw at Juventus where we were outplayed but a Rivaldo penalty gives us a point. Then we fired blanks in a goalless draw at home to Parma before beating Chievo 1-0. Winger Serginho made an early return from injury and not having expected such a quick recovery I have not included him in my Champions League squad – a big mistake compounded by somehow also failing to register his backup Gemiti! We then had a disastrous 2-1 defeat at Modena where we dominated the game but the home keeper was unbeatable. That leaves us 3rd in the league, 7 points behind Juventus. In the Champions League, no fewer than four Italian clubs made the last eight – Milan being joined by Inter, Lazio and Juventus. It was no great surprise when we were paired with one of them and I guess that Lazio are possibly the weakest of the other three. But our hopes took a blow when we lost the home leg 1-0 and then disappeared completely when we lost 2-0 in Rome. It was little consolation that neighbours Inter were thumped 4-1 by Man United!

So our form has collapsed, we can’t seem to buy a goal (superstar Shevchenko has scored once in his last nine games), we are out of the Champions League and 7 points off the pace in Serie A – not much glory there!

So, we have six Serie A games remaining and our only hope of the title is to win tham all and hope that Juventus and Roma stumble (although we still have to play Roma at home). We start with a 3-0 defeat of Empoli with Shevchenko scoring twice. Then once again our inconsistency comes back to bite us as we struggle to a 0-0 draw at bottom club Siena and it’s as good as over. Serginho puts in a brilliant performance at Udinese and scores both goals in our 2-0 win. Juventus have now been overtaken by Roma after the team from Torino lost at Parma but we are still 6 points off the pace with three games left to play. Next we face leaders Roma at the San Siro and in spite of a stuttering performance and the dismissal of Cafu we sneak a 1-0 win thanks to a bizzare own goal from the Roma keeper. With Juventus also losing it is suddenly all very tight. Roma are on top with 66 points followed by Juventus on 65, Inter with 63 and then us on 62.

And then the bombshell hits – I am sacked!!!

At the time of my dismissal my record reads

Played 49, Won 24, Drawn 17, Lost 8, Scored 72, Conceded 32.

Milan’s final two games saw them draw 3-3 at Reggina and then lose 2-1 at Brescia to finish 4th. Roma won the title by a point over Juventus, Lazio lifted the Italian Cup, Real Madrid won an all-Spanish UEFA Cup Final, beating Barcelona 2-1 and Arsenal took the Champions League title with a 1-0 defeat of Man United.

<pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| Pos | Inf | Team | Pld | Won | Drn | Lst | For | Ag | G.D. | Pts |

| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 1st | C | Roma | 34 | 21 | 9 | 4 | 60 | 30 | +30 | 72 |

| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 2nd | | Juventus | 34 | 21 | 8 | 5 | 51 | 23 | +28 | 71 |

| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 3rd | | Inter | 34 | 19 | 10 | 5 | 67 | 28 | +39 | 67 |

| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 4th | | Milan | 34 | 17 | 12 | 5 | 56 | 23 | +33 | 63 |

| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 5th | | Parma | 34 | 17 | 12 | 5 | 43 | 28 | +15 | 63 |

| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 6th | | Lazio | 34 | 15 | 9 | 10 | 55 | 43 | +12 | 54 |

| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 7th | | Perugia | 34 | 15 | 9 | 10 | 51 | 37 | +14 | 54 |

| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 8th | | Sampdoria | 34 | 14 | 9 | 11 | 49 | 37 | +12 | 51 |

| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 9th | | Brescia | 34 | 12 | 11 | 11 | 36 | 32 | +4 | 47 |

| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 10th | | Chievo | 34 | 11 | 11 | 12 | 41 | 39 | +2 | 44 |

| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 11th | | Bologna | 34 | 11 | 10 | 13 | 37 | 41 | -4 | 43 |

| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 12th | | Lecce | 34 | 9 | 8 | 17 | 32 | 60 | -28 | 35 |

| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 13th | | Modena | 34 | 9 | 6 | 19 | 35 | 62 | -27 | 33 |

| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 14th | | Ancona | 34 | 7 | 10 | 17 | 33 | 44 | -11 | 31 |

| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 15th | R | Empoli | 34 | 8 | 7 | 19 | 38 | 65 | -27 | 31 |

| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 16th | R | Reggina | 34 | 5 | 12 | 17 | 26 | 60 | -34 | 27 |

| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 17th | R | Siena | 34 | 7 | 5 | 22 | 33 | 62 | -29 | 26 |

| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 18th | R | Udinese | 34 | 4 | 10 | 20 | 29 | 58 | -29 | 22 |

| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|</pre>

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks Spav - will Norway do you?

Part Four – Rosenborg

Italians are so impatient aren’t they – imagine sacking me before the end of my first season in charge! I’ve never been sacked before. Sure, I’ve been made “redundantâ€; I’ve left “by mutual agreementâ€; I’ve even left “to pursue other career opportunitiesâ€; but I’ve never been sacked. So what to do now? Well obviously I have to repair my injured pride and having had three goes now without winning the league I need to make that a priority. So where better to go in search of Glory than Rosenborg in Norway. The country’s richest and most successful team – domestic champions for the last 11 seasons, I’d have to do something really stupid not to win the title there. So let’s wind the clock back to Wednesday 4th February 2004. The Norwegian Premier Division kicks off in around two month’s time and here I am at the Lerkendal Stadion in Trondheim, a 22,500-capacity ground with undersoil heating (useful in the otherwise frozen North I imagine). With over £4.5M in the transfer budget and a first team squad of 23 blond haired, blue eyed Norsemen I get ready to go trophy hunting.

To pass the time before the start of the season I arrange a series of friendly matches and it’s amazing the number of well-known teams that are prepared to come to Norway in winter – maybe it’s the cross-country skiing that attracts them. Anyway we beat CSKA Sofia 2-0, Leeds 2-1, Bordeaux 1-0, Chievo 4-1 and drew 1-1 with Boavista. I also added to the squad with transfers and loan signings, mainly midfielders as I felt we lacked cover in that area. It appears that we have already been eliminated from the Champions League so my objective is to complete the domestic double. The squad isn’t blessed with many household names, at least not in my household. The players that I have heard of include Roar Strand (34), Vidar Riseth (31), Fredrik Winsnes (28) and Harald Brattbackk (33).

Our league campaign begins with a trip to Oslo to play Vålerenga and we get off to a poor start with a 2-0 defeat. But we recovered with wins against Bryne, Viking and Stabæk to end the month in 3rd place, a point behind leaders Brann and tied on points with Odd Grenland. Winsnes was my highest-rated player and young striker Azar Karadas was my top scorer.

May is a pretty poor month overall. We start with a 1-1 draw at Lillestrøm and then beat Aalesund 2-0 before suffering a dreadful 4-0 defeat at Sogndal with Karadas sent off. Our high point of the month is a 9-0 defeat of bottom club Tromsø, without a point at that stage of the season, with new Icelandic striker Andri Sigporsson scoring 4 goals as our opponents collapse. This takes us briefly to the top of the table but then our own form collapses as we lose 5-2 at Odd Grenland and 4-0 at Brann. We then struggle to beat non-league Drobak-Frogn 2-1 in the Cup and then draw 0-0 with Bodø/Glimt to end a busy month in 6th place, 5 points behind leaders Brann.

We start June with a decent 4-0 defeat of Molde in the league but once again we struggle against non-league opposition in the Cup, falling a goal behind to Groruddalen before start man Wisnes inspires us on to a 6-1 win. We then enter the summer break, during which time Euro2004 takes place. Our break is briefly interrupted by the Norwegian Cup and we manage a narrow 1-0 win over First Division Stromsgodset. Following France’s win in Euro2004 a whole host of international managers are sacked as their national associations frantically look for scapegoats.

We are into mid-July now and in the league we beat Lyn 3-1 before another narrow win in the Cup, a 1-0 defeat of First Division Raufoss. As the only Premier Division side left in the competition we should have a decent chance of landing the trophy. This is followed by a disappointing goalless draw at home to VÃ¥lerenga but then we win 3-0 at bottom of the table Bryne.

Due to the scheduling of the Norwegian domestic season we begin qualification for the Champions League shortly and have been drawn against Galatasary in the second qualifying round. Two late goals in the first leg in Turkey give us a 2-1 win and an excellent chance of progression. The bad news was an injury to central defender Martin Hoyem leaving us very short of cover in that position. It comes to my notice that former Man United player Ronny Johnsen is available after being released by Aston Villa and a deal is quickly done to bring him on board. I am too late to register him for the Champions League but he makes his debut in our 0-0 draw at Stabæk. A 3-2 defeat of Galatasary sets up a meeting with Inter for a place in the lucrative group phase of the Champions League. Our indifferent league form continues with a 1-0 defeat at home to Lillestrøm leaving us 13 points behind leaders Brann and with little hope of taking the title. The home leg of our tie with Inter ends goalless and the Italians will be favourites to secure a win in Milan. Back in the league we manage a 2-1 win at Aalesund but then lose 1-0 at home to Sogndal.

A pretty dour display in Milan results in a 2-1 defeat and our Champions League campaign is over. The Board are getting a little tetchy with me and I fear that my days in Norway may be numbered. We now find ourselves in the UEFA Cup draw and we are paired with Hajduk of Croatia. We beat relegation-threatened Tromsø 3-0 thanks to a hat trick from Karadas and then record the same scoreline against First Division Start in the Cup, although had we managed to get more of our 27 scoring efforts on target we could easily have doubled our tally. Our next league game is crucial as league leaders Brann come to town. Thankfully a decent performance gives us a 2-0 win but we are still 10 points adrift. Another Karadas hat trick gives us a 4-0 win at home to Viking as we play our game in hand and we are now in second place, 7 points behind Brann. We book our place in the Cup Final with a 1-0 win over Second Division Tromsdalen and but for a brilliant display by the visiting keeper it would have been a rout. We end the month with UEFA Cup action as we gain a narrow 1-0 win over Hajduk in the home leg of our tie.

Our last lingering hopes of the title vanished when we failed to find the net against visiting Odd Grenland, the 0-0 draw leaving us 6 points adrift with three games remaining. The final straw comes when we suffer an appalling 5-2 defeat at Molde – the Board have seen enough and they ask me to kindly clear my desk! So once again I fail miserably in my blatant hunt for trophies. Fredrik Winsnes was one of the few players who performed consistently well although top scorer Azar Karadas did find the net 20 times.

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BobBev, it looks like you put the moz* on whatever club you take over. So much for Rosenborg's 11 season run becoming a 12 season winning record. icon_frown.gif

Just stay away from my beloved Chelsea, okay? icon_wink.gif

moz* = curse (don't know if this is only used in Australia)

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<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by Spav:

moz* = curse (don't know if this is only used in Australia) <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

I am in Austral icon_biggrin.gif ia and I have never heard of it. icon_biggrin.gif

So how could these other people have any chance! icon_wink.gif

Great story Bob icon14.gif

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Thanks guys - I do seem to have be the kiss of death for any club that I take over icon_frown.gif

For the record at the time of my dismissal my record read

Played 35, Won 21, Drawn 6, Lost 8, Scored 62, Conceded 34

<pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| Pos | Inf | Team | Pld | Won | Drn | Lst | For | Ag | Won | Drn | Lst | For | Ag | G.D.| Pts |

| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 1st | C | Brann | 24 | 10 | 1 | 1 | 31 | 6 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 15 | 12 | +28 | 50 |

| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 2nd | | Sogndal | 24 | 6 | 4 | 2 | 23 | 12 | 7 | 0 | 5 | 20 | 16 | +15 | 43 |

| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 3rd | | Rosenborg | 24 | 8 | 3 | 2 | 27 | 4 | 4 | 2 | 5 | 14 | 23 | +14 | 41 |

| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 4th | | Lyn | 24 | 8 | 3 | 1 | 24 | 4 | 2 | 6 | 4 | 11 | 15 | +16 | 39 |

| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 5th | | Odd Grenland | 24 | 10 | 0 | 3 | 34 | 15 | 2 | 2 | 7 | 12 | 23 | +8 | 38 |

| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 6th | | Stabæk | 24 | 7 | 3 | 2 | 20 | 10 | 4 | 1 | 7 | 18 | 21 | +7 | 37 |

| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 7th | | Aalesund | 24 | 7 | 3 | 2 | 20 | 11 | 4 | 1 | 7 | 11 | 17 | +3 | 37 |

| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 8th | | VÃ¥lerenga | 24 | 5 | 6 | 1 | 22 | 11 | 3 | 6 | 3 | 15 | 14 | +12 | 36 |

| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 9th | | Molde | 24 | 7 | 2 | 2 | 29 | 15 | 3 | 1 | 9 | 17 | 35 | -4 | 33 |

| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 10th| | Lillestrøm | 24 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 16 | 18 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 10 | 17 | -9 | 26 |

| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 11th| | Tromsø | 24 | 5 | 1 | 6 | 20 | 17 | 3 | 1 | 8 | 15 | 38 | -20 | 26 |

| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 12th| | Bodø/Glimt | 24 | 4 | 3 | 4 | 15 | 16 | 1 | 4 | 8 | 11 | 27 | -17 | 22 |

| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 13th| | Viking | 24 | 3 | 2 | 7 | 12 | 23 | 2 | 5 | 5 | 12 | 24 | -23 | 22 |

| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 14th| Pl | Bryne | 24 | 3 | 3 | 6 | 18 | 26 | 1 | 1 | 10 | 7 | 29 | -30 | 16 |

| -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|</pre>

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Part Five - Ajax

Still smarting from my second successive sacking I search around for another club to lead to glory, finally settling on Ajax of Amsterdam and I take over on 19th July 2003. I find no lack of playing resources with a generous 92 players on the books - 34 in the Under-18 squad, 32 in the reserves and 8 out on loan. The club plays at the splendid Amsterdam ArenA which has a capacity of over 50,000. They have £20M in bank with £7.5M in the transfer fund.

The squad features a number of well-known players such as Wesley Sneijder, Jari Litmanen, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Rafael van der Vaart and Wesley Sonck. There is not much time for pre-season preparations and we play just one friendly, a 1-1 draw at home to FC Bayern.

Our first competitive action takes place on August 10th as we face PSV in the Dutch Super Cup. We don’t get off to the best of starts, losing fullback John O’Brien to injury early on. The first half ends scoreless but the games bursts into life in the last 20 minutes. We fall behind to a goal from Mark van Bommel but Ibrahimovic scores twice in 5 minutes to put us into the lead. The improbably named Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink ties the scores on 83 but in stoppage time Nourdin Boukhari puts us back in front and Ibrahimovic completes his hat trick. So we have an action-packed 4-2 win and our first trophy of the season.

Just a few days later we have our first Champions League game, taking on Anderlecht in the 3rd Qualifying Round. With a number of players still not match-fit I have to ring the changes. We ship an early goal but then score four of our own to establish a healthy lead. But then we concede a penalty before the break and go into half time with a 4-2 lead. Then disaster – a defensive collapse allows the visitors to score twice in the last 7 minutes. The 4-4 scoreline may be entertaining for the neutral observer but for me it is a nightmare and we are in real danger of missing out on the group stages.

A slightly uncertain performance in our first league game ends with a 2-1 defeat of NEC and then we totally dominate our next game against RKC but only gain a 1-0 win. I then get some unwelcome news as right back Hatem Trabelsi and left back Maxwell both accept contract offers from HSV and Deportivo respectively. They will leave in the New Year so I will need to be on the lookout for replacements. We then play very poorly at AZ, losing 1-0 before travelling to Belgium for the second leg of the Anderlecht tie knowing that we had to win to go through. I watch in despair as we establish a two-goal lead only to concede three goals in the last 15 minutes. Ibrahimovic equalises in stoppage time but it’s not enough – a 3-3 draw means a 7-7 aggregate and we go out on away goals. I make one signing before the end of the transfer window, bringing in right-winger Jonatan Bonotto from Inter for £1.2M. A hectic, and rather disappointing month comes to an end with a 2-0 defeat at Heerenveen during which Boukhari is sent off. We are in a poor 10th place in the table and already the season is following a familiar and concerning pattern.

September starts with a frustrating 1-1 draw at FC Groningen – a stoppage time goal from Wesley Sneijder looked to have given us the win but we immediately conceded an equaliser. In our next game at home to RBC we won 2-0, despite missing two penalties. Having exited the Champions League we have the consolation of the UEFA Cup and a tie against Dinamo Tirane of Albania. The away leg ends scoreless giving us a decent chance of progression. Our last league game of the month at leaders PSV also ends scoreless and we now sit 7th, 4 points off the pace.

At the start of October we get a good 3-0 win over FC Twente and then win the home leg of our UEFA Cup tie 2-0. In our next league match at Willem II we create so many chances that I can’t believe it when the game ends as a 2-2 draw. We then suffer a major embarrassment in the Dutch Cup as we crash out at the first hurdle, losing 2-1 to First Division MVV.

We start more positively in November with a 2-0 win at home to Feyenoord. But then we play really poorly in the first leg of our UEFA Cup tie against Litex in Bulgaria, retuning with a 3-0 defeat and facing almost certain elimination. Things don’t improve much as we draw 0-0 at struggling Volendam in a game that we could easily have lost. Despite a rash of injuries during the game, thankfully none of them serious, we manage a 2-0 win at home to FC Utrecht. We follow this up with a 4-0 win at NAC Breda before trying to turn around our 3-0 deficit in the UEFA Cup. We need early goals against Litex and that’s just what we get – two inside 20 minutes to reach the break just a goal behind. Perhaps for the first time this season we play the kind of free-flowing attacking football that you associate with Ajax and score twice more after the break for a stunning 4-0 win. We controlled the entire game and the visitors managed just a single shot on target. Our final game of the month was a biggy – a visit from surprise leaders Vitesse. The 1-1 draw could have been worse as we trailed for the majority of the game before finding a late equaliser. Just three points now separate the top five and we sit in 3rd position.

December begins in impressive style with a 7-0 demolition of Roda JC. Central defender Julien Escude scores a hat trick and Rafael van der Vaart gets two. Despite missing an early penalty we manage a 1-0 win at Zwolle in our next game. We then have three weeks off for an early Christmas break. During our time off the draw for the next round of the UEFA Cup takes place and I am shocked to hear that we will face domestic rivals Feyenoord. We get back into action on December 27th and we sneak a 4-3 win at ADO Den Haag. In the league, PSV, ourselves and Vitesse are all on 35 points and are separated by goal difference. Striker Wesley Sonck has been my highest rated player up till now and he is also my highest scorer with 10 goals.

We have just one game in January, winning 1-0 at RKC before a further winter break. During the month both Maxwell and Trabelsi leave on their pre-arranged transfers, leaving me short of cover in the fullback positions. I rectify that in part by agreeing a £750K fee to bring left back Predrag Filipovic from Roda JC.

We showed no ill effects from our enforced layoff, winning our first game in February 3-0 at home to AZ. Our trip to NEC was less successful and we return with a 0-0 draw to allow PSV to get some daylight at the top of the table. Before our next game we get bad news concerning van der Vaart, the young midfielder dislocating a shoulder in training. He will be out for several weeks so Jari Litmanen comes in as a replacement for the 1-0 win at home to Heerenveen. The visit of FC Groningen is hugely frustrating as we spurn chance after chance. We somehow manage to score just once during the game and then concede a late equaliser that gets credited as an own goal. PSV now have a 4-point lead and that could be a vital margin as far as the title is concerned. The home leg of our UEFA Cup tie against Feyenoord takes place just 3 days before we host PSV in a crucial league match so the timing could not have been worse. Despite dominating the game we can only manage a 1-0 win against Feyenoord. In our make or break game against PSV we just come out on top, winning a very even contest 1-0 to close within a point of the leaders.

Our fine run of form comes to an end in early March as we are eliminated from the UEFA Cup, losing 2-0 at Feyenoord after extra time. We may have been suffering from a European hangover when we visit bottom of the table FC Twente and a poor performance results in a 1-1 draw, undoing our good work against PSV last month. We now have ten league games remaining and are three points behind PSV. Assuming that we can go on a winning run then we still need then to drop some points here and there. We do what we need to at RBC and win 2-0 and then win 1-0 at home Willem II.

Van der Vaart is back in the side for our trip to Feyenoord at the start of April and despite not playing at our best we sneak a 1-0 win. A very confident performance at home to Volendam gives us a superb 7-0 win and does our goal difference a power of good. We now have an unbeaten run of 24 league games but PSV show no sign of cracking. We then grind out a 1-0 win at FC Utrecht without playing anywhere near our best. Meanwhile, both PSV and Feyenoord have been going strong in Europe, reaching the Semis of the Champions League and UEFA Cup respectively. We end the month with a narrow 1-0 win at home to NAC Breda but had we managed to hit the target with our frequent scoring attempts it could have been a much more comfortable win. We now have 4 league games left to play and are still 3 points behind PSV and keeping our fingers crossed.

We face a demanding trip to 3rd place Vitesse at the start of May and despite playing against ten men for the second half the game ends scoreless. But the good news is that PSV suffer a shock 1-0 defeat at Volendam so our hopes are still alive. We then beat ADO Den Haag 3-0 and get more good news as PSV lose 2-1 at home to Feyenoord as their long season seems to be catching up with them. They have reached the Champions League Final and have had a hectic schedule of matches. In our penultimate game we win 2-0 at Roda JC leaving us a point above PSV and with our fate in our own hands. For our last game at home to Zwolle we were without top scorer Sonck who was injured in training but it made no difference as we racked up a terrific 5-0 win. A 30-game unbeaten run in the league gave us the title by the narrowest of margins as we finished a point above PSV. Sonck ended the season as our highest-rated player and top goalscorer with 18 goals.

First Division Eindhoven were surprise winners of the Dutch Cup, beating Zwolle 2-1, Roma won the UEFA Cup, beating Parma 1-0 and PSV gained consolation for losing out on a very tight title race by lifting the Champions League, beating Milan on penalties. My overall record end up as

Played 44, Won 27, Drawn 12, Lost 5, Scored 82, Conceded 29.

<pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">| ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| Pos | Inf | Team | Pld | Won | Drn | Lst | For | Ag | G.D. | Pts |

| ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 1st | C | Ajax | 34 | 23 | 9 | 2 | 63 | 13 | +50 | 78 |

| ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 2nd | | PSV | 34 | 24 | 5 | 5 | 66 | 15 | +51 | 77 |

| ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 3rd | | NEC | 34 | 17 | 7 | 10 | 61 | 46 | +15 | 58 |

| ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 4th | | Vitesse | 34 | 17 | 6 | 11 | 48 | 37 | +11 | 57 |

| ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 5th | | FC Groningen | 34 | 14 | 13 | 7 | 59 | 41 | +18 | 55 |

| ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 6th | | RBC | 34 | 15 | 8 | 11 | 57 | 43 | +14 | 53 |

| ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 7th | | Heerenveen | 34 | 15 | 8 | 11 | 40 | 42 | -2 | 53 |

| ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 8th | | Willem II | 34 | 13 | 10 | 11 | 48 | 45 | +3 | 49 |

| ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 9th | | Feyenoord | 34 | 13 | 9 | 12 | 46 | 42 | +4 | 48 |

| ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 10th | | Volendam | 34 | 13 | 7 | 14 | 40 | 49 | -9 | 46 |

| ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 11th | | AZ | 34 | 12 | 9 | 13 | 58 | 56 | +2 | 45 |

| ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 12th | | Zwolle | 34 | 13 | 4 | 17 | 43 | 49 | -6 | 43 |

| ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 13th | | FC Utrecht | 34 | 10 | 10 | 14 | 31 | 35 | -4 | 40 |

| ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 14th | | Roda JC | 34 | 7 | 11 | 16 | 27 | 47 | -20 | 32 |

| ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 15th | | NAC Breda | 34 | 9 | 4 | 21 | 23 | 42 | -19 | 31 |

| ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 16th | R | ADO Den Haag | 34 | 8 | 6 | 20 | 39 | 70 | -31 | 30 |

| ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 17th | R | FC Twente | 34 | 6 | 10 | 18 | 22 | 64 | -42 | 28 |

| ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 18th | R | RKC | 34 | 5 | 8 | 21 | 25 | 60 | -35 | 23 |

| ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|</pre>

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  • 1 month later...

Thanks boys - thought I'd try one more attempt.

Part Six - Dortmund

With a league title under my belt at last I am in good spirits as I cast my eye around Europe looking for my next challenge. I settle on Germany as my next stop and decide to try out Borrusia Dortmund for size. The team plays at the magnificent Westfalenstadion, which has a capacity of 83,000. Amazingly they have no money in the bank at all when I take over on 29th June 2003 but I have been allocated £1.8M in transfer funds. They have 55 players on the books and I see a number of well-known players. I recognise Czech internationals Tomas Rosicky and Jan Koller, Brazilians Amoroso, Dede and Ewerthon as well as Christian Worns, Sebastian Kehl, Cristoph Metzelder, Torsten Frings and Lars Ricken. The bookies make FC Bayern the overwhelming title favourites with us at 16-1 second favourites with VfB Stuttgart.

The German League Cup is played at the start of the season and begins in late July. We win our Quarter Final against HSV on penalties and three days later beat VfB Stuttgart 2-0 in the Semi Final. The final was played against great rivals FC Bayern and we took an early lead through teenage midfielder Stefan Hoffmann. We outplayed Bayern in the first half but they came back strongly after the break. They tied the game on 70 minutes through Roy Makaay and went ahead 5 minutes later, Mehmet Scholl getting the goal. But moments later Hoffmann got his second of the game to put us back on terms. There was no further scoring and the trophy was decided on penalties, Bayern winning the shootout 4-3.

The league campaign gets underway in August with an excellent 3-0 win at home to Hertha BSC. Sebastian Kehl puts us in front shortly before half time and Tomas Rosicky adds a second after the break before being withdrawn what appears to be a minor knock. He is replaced by Stefan Hoffmann who scores our third ten minutes after coming on. Rosicky’s injury is worse than it first appears and he will be out for three weeks with a groin strain. It is Champions League action in midweek with the home leg of our qualifying game against Dinamo of Croatia. The game is quite one-sided and I am disappointed that we have just a single goal from Ewerthon to show for our efforts. We are soon back into league action, travelling to Werder Bremen and getting another 1-0 win courtesy of Cristoph Metzelder. A busy month continues with a trip to non-league Aindling in the German Cup and I field my second string. The home side catch us cold and score in the first minute but then we get into our stride and score three times before the break. But we go to sleep after the interval and concede another goal before was score again late on for a 4-2 win. I revert to my favoured eleven for the second leg of our tie with Dinamo and an even contest remains scoreless until 15 minutes from time when the home side equalise. With extra time beckoning we get a crucial away goal through Amoroso and a stoppage time strike from young Hoffmann makes double sure. A 2-1 win on the night and a 3-1 aggregate victory takes us into the group stages alongside Real Sociedad, Besiktas and Rosenborg. A frantic month is rounded off with a league match at home to Rostock and goals from Amoroso and Ewerthon give us a 2-0 win.

Going into September we are second in the table on goal difference behind surprise leaders Bochum and bookies favourites FC Bayern are 12th, having lost two of their three games so far. Rosicky is back in the team for the trip to VfB Stuttgart and his goal in the first minutes proves crucial as we win 1-0. But no sooner is he fit again that he hurts his wrist in training and will require another three-week layoff. The visit of 1860 Munchen brings another 1-0 win – we are far from prolific in attack it seems but defensively we look pretty good, thanks in no small part to young goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller. With 5 straight wins we have yet to concede a goal in the league, as do surprise package Bochum. We do concede a goal in our first Champions League group match at Real Sociedad and an early one at that. But two strikes from the excellent Hoffmann takes us into the interval in the lead. Amoroso adds a third in the second half for a satisfying 3-1 win. We concede again in the league match at 1.FC Koln and go into half time a goal down. The home side have a man sent off but we fail to take advantage and with less than 20 minutes remaining we go two down. But late goals from Hoffmann and Amoroso salvage a point in a 2-2 draw. We make up for that disappointment in our next league game with an excellent 4-0 win at home to Frankfurt with Hoffmann scoring twice and Ewerthon and Amoroso also on target. We end the month with Champions League action and once again Hoffmann is the man, scoring the only goal in our 1-0 defeat of Rosenborg. We are now on top of the table, two points clear of Bochum. FC Bayern have been on a roll and 5 straight wins has moved them up to 3rd, just ahead of unbeaten Kaiserslautern.

October begins with a top of the table clash as we travel to Bochum. Rosicky is back in full training but still slightly lacking in fitness so Hoffmann retains his place in the starting eleven and the Czech sits on the bench. An enthralling contest ensues as the home side really put us under pressure. They take an early lead and have ample opportunities in the first half to extend their advantage. But we improve significantly after the interval and goals from Amoroso and Hoffmann put us in front. But Bochum don’t lie down and within minutes of our taking the lead they square the game. The 2-2 scoreline flatters us slightly given the balance of play but both sides at least maintain their unbeaten records. The trip to SC Freiburg sees Rosicky come off the bench at half time and come through 45 minutes unscathed, Amoroso and Ewerthon providing the goals in our 2-0 win. It’s off to Istanbul next for Champions League action and a tough game at Besiktas. We fall behind in the second half but Ewerthon rescues a point with an equaliser. Rosicky starts the game at home to Hannover 96 and his corner just before half time provides Ewerthon with another goal. Unfortunately we are slack at the back and the visitors snatch a goal in the second half for a 1-1 draw. At the end of the month we still head the table but it is all very tight with just three points separating the top four. Our star this month has been 33-year-old keeper Guillame Warmuz who has taken over from Weidenfeller after the youngster was injured. Transfer listed when I took over, the experienced Frenchman has had a great month and is recognised with a Player of the Month award.

We open November with a trip to HSV and a rather poor performance brings our first league defeat of the season as we lose 1-0. We also lose the influential Lars Ricken for a month with torn knee ligaments. We bounce back with a 2-0 defeat of Besiktas in the Champions League with Amoroso and Rosicky providing the goals, although with more than half of out 25 scoring attempts off target we really should have won by a bigger margin. We dominate our next league game, beating Gladbach 4-0 – Amoroso excels, scoring twice with Hoffmann and Ewerthon also on target. The same three are amongst the goals again as we dump Hannover 96 out of the German Cup with a 3-0 win at home. We face a tough test in the league next, a trip to high-flying Kaiserslautern. They have lost their unbeaten record but they are in excellent form nonetheless, and in Miroslav Klose they have a striker at the top of his game. It’s a cracking game with both sides attacking freely and I am surprised that there is still no score at half time. The home side take the lead within five minutes of the restart however, but shortly after that we equalise through Amoroso. Despite chances at both ends there is no further scoring and we can be thankful for the brilliance of keeper Warmuz in keeping it that way. I have to rest a few players for the visit of Real Sociedad but we have no difficulty in securing a terrific 6-0 win to qualify for the knockout stages with one group game remaining. We close the month with what will be one of the biggest games of the season, a visit by FC Bayern. My feeling is that if we are to stop the Munich giants from winning their 5th Bundesliga title in 6 years then we have to win today. Unfortunately we fail in that objective as, despite taking an early lead through Ewerthon we can’t build on our advantage and the visitors equalise in first-half stoppage time. They outplay us in the second half and but for keeper Warmuz we would surely have lost. As it is he denies the Bayern attack time after time and we hold on for a 1-1 draw. We have now slipped to 3rd place in the league, a point behind Kaiseslautern and a further point behind FC Bayern. Striker Amoroso is recognised as Player of the Month thanks to his fine strike rate of 7 goals in his last 5 starts.

Our first game in December is a midweek cup-tie at Bochum. After a promising start to the season their league form has fallen away recently and we add to their discomfort with a 1-0 win courtesy of young Hoffmann. We have a nightmare start to our league match at home to Schalke 04, falling a goal behind in the first minute. Our play improves slightly in the second half and Ewerthon equalises on 65 minutes, but that is as good as it gets and we drop points again in the 1-1 draw. We concede early on again in our final Champions League group game at Rosenborg. Despite creating a host of chances we fail to convert and we fall further behind after an hour, finally losing 2-0. In our next league match at Wolfsburg we yet again give away an early goal but this time we are able to mount a comeback with Amoroso and Ewerthon taking us into the break in front. Both sides are creating lots of scoring opportunities – our poor finishing helps the home side and brilliant goalkeeping from Warmuz keeps our lead intact. A tiring Rosicky finally gets a shot on target to increase our lead and then substitute Hoffmann round off the scoring to give us a 4-1 win. The scoreline flatters us but I’m not complaining. We face Second Division Aue in the German Cup Quarter Final next. They defend stubbornly in a one-sided game but we eventually get a stoppage-time winner from Ewerthon. Our last game for some weeks is at Leverkusen and, having taken a first-half lead through Hoffmann, we are denied the win by a late equaliser. We enter the winter break having lost more ground to FC Bayern and we are now 6 points behind with the title slowly slipping from our grasp.

We get back into action in mid-January with a game at Hertha BSC. We struggle for most of the match but eventually gain a 2-0 win thanks to two substitutes. Jan Koller gets our first goal and the second comes from young forward Emmanuel Krontiris who just came back from being out on loan a couple of weeks earlier. Our next game at home to Werder Bremen ends in a disappointing scoreless draw. Despite totally dominating the game we just couldn’t score a goal. Rosicky was the prime culprit – he played very well, often getting in to great positions, but with only 1 of his 8 scoring chances actually hitting the target he is not exactly proving to be a natural goalscorer. Two more points are lost at Rostock with a 2-2 draw. They take the lead early but we equalise through an own goal and the Amoroso puts us ahead just before the break. But we somehow manage to give away another goal and then squander the chance of a win when Amoroso misses a last-minute penalty. At the end of January we are now down in 4th place on 39 points, behind Bochum on goal difference with Kaiserslautern on 40 and FC Bayern on 47.

We begin February with the German Cup Semi Final against Kaisrslautern and the star of the show is Stefan Hoffmann. Just turned 20, the young midfielder is having a fantastic season, keeping Tomas Roskicky on the bench more often than not. He scored a magnificent hat trick inside the first 20 minutes and it was game over as we won 3-0. In our next game the youngster gets his 20th goal of the season, with Dede adding another as we beat VfB Stuttgart 2-0. A rare goal from Sebastian Kehl gives us the lead at 1860 Munchen and Amoroso adds another after the break and we win 2-0. Ewerthon and Hoffmann both bag a brace in our next league game as we easily beat 1.FC Koln 4-0. We have Champions League action next as we play the home leg of our tie against Milan. A cagey affair is settled late in the game when substitute Rosicky gives us a 1-0 lead to take to Italy. Ewerthon and Amoroso give us a narrow 2-1 win at Frankfurt in our final league game of the month. FC Bayern have drawn 4 of their last 5 games in the Bundesliga and we are now just two points behind, trailing a resurgent Bochum on goal difference.

Having scrapped our way back into contention, much of our good work is undone when we lose our first league match in March 1-0 at Hannover 96. We then travel to Milan defending a one-goal lead in our Champions League tie. The home side draw level on aggregate shortly before half time from the penalty spot. We concede a second just after the restart and are in a situation where we have to score to progress. When Milan go 3-0 ahead with 13 minutes remaining all seems lost as we are not playing at all well. But substitute Krontiris gives us hope with a goal on 81 minutes and then two minutes later Hoffmann scores a crucial second. We hold on for a 3-3 aggregate score meaning that we qualify on away goals. VfB Stuttgart and FC Bayern are both eliminated at this stage leaving us as Germany’s sole representatives in the Quarter Finals. Buoyed by the unlikely win, we face the visit of Bochum with renewed optimism. Our opponents had taken over at the top of the table the previous weekend after FC Bayern had another draw and a win is crucial for us. We start well and take the lead on 22 minutes through Ewerthon but the visitors equalise 15 minutes later. Thankfully Ewerthon scores again in the second half and we get a vital 2-1 win. We still trail Bochum on goal difference, and with Bayern winning the next day, we sit three points behind them as they move back to the top of the table. We beat SC Freiburg 2-1 win our next game, a result that was more comfortable than the final score suggests. Metzelder gives us an early lead as we dominate play but fail to push home our advantage. The visitors equalise just after the restart with what turns out to be their only scoring attempt but Hoffmann gets us a winner shortly afterwards. We journey to Newcastle next in the Champions League and come back with a decent 2-2 draw. We go into half time in the lead thanks to Hoffmann but the Magpies strike back twice in the second half before a late goal from Ewerthon squares the game.

Moving into April, Ewerthon scores twice in our 3-0 defeat of HSV with Torsten Frings providing the third. But our hopes take a battering when young midfield star Stefan Hoffman suffers a broken leg and is ruled out for the rest of the season. The return leg against Newcastle ends scoreless and we progress to the Semi Finals on away goals where we would face Man United. Back in the league our title hopes were all but extinguished with a dreadful 3-1 defeat at Gladbach, allowing Bayern to move 6 points clear. However we were able to get a win in the crucial game at home to 3rd place Kaiserslautern, coming back from a goal down to win 4-1 with a Rosicky hat trick and one from Amaroso. The first leg of our Champions League match took place at Old Trafford and in the circumstances the 2-1 defeat wasn’t too bad a result. We lost two players to injury inside the first 20 minutes and barely had a sniff of goal all evening. With time running out we were losing 1-0 to a John O’Shea goal when Ewerthon scored against the run of play. But justice was done when van Nistelrooy scored a stoppage-time winner. We can thank keeper Warmuz for keeping the scoreline so tight. The title race was done and dusted after our visit to FC Bayern - outplayed from start to finish we came back with a 3-0 defeat and our hopes in tatters. With three league games remaining Bayern were home and dry and we sat in 3rd place on goal difference behind Kaiserslautern.

We recover from the disappointment with a 2-0 win at home to Leverkusen as Jan Koller, making a rare start for the injured Amoroso, and Rosicky get the goals. In the return game at home to Man United we had to score to have a change of making the final but despite exerting fairly constant pressure there was no way past an inspired Fabien Barthez. When Nicolas Anelka scored a breakaway goal in the 93rd minute then it was definitely game over. In our penultimate league game at Schalke 04 we made half time two goals ahead thanks to Ewerthon but we tired in the second half and were really up against it. Ebbe Sand pulled a goal back straight after the restart and a tragic own goal by Cristoph Metzelder with two minutes remaining robbed us of the win. We were fired up for our final league match at home to Wolfsburg and had a very satisfying 4-0 win to sneak second place in the table. Our last competitive game of the season gave us a final chance to bet one over on rivals FC Bayern as we face them in the German Cup Final. We got off to a dreadful start, falling behind after just 6 minutes to a brilliant Deisler free kick. But thankfully we were able to fight back and two goals from Amoroso, the first from the penalty spot, gave us the lead at half time. A third from Rosicky shortly after the restart proved to be conclusive and at last we gained revenge with a 3-1 win. Turkish side Gaziantepspor were the surprise winners of the UEFA Cup, beating PSV 1-0 with a silver goal and Inter won the Champions League with a 2-1 defeat of Man United.

On the playing front, Amoroso was our highest rated player with Rosicky and Hoffman also doing very well. Ewerthon was our top scorer with 27 goals, Hoffman managed an incredible 25 and Amoroso scored 22.

<pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| Pos | Inf | Team | Pld | Won | Drn | Lst | For | Ag | G.D. | Pts |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 1st | C | FC Bayern | 34 | 23 | 8 | 3 | 78 | 15 | +63 | 77 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 2nd | | Dortmund | 34 | 20 | 10 | 4 | 65 | 26 | +39 | 70 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 3rd | | Kaiserslautern | 34 | 21 | 7 | 6 | 67 | 33 | +34 | 67 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 4th | | Bochum | 34 | 17 | 9 | 8 | 71 | 39 | +32 | 60 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 5th | | Leverkusen | 34 | 14 | 12 | 8 | 43 | 40 | +3 | 54 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 6th | | Schalke 04 | 34 | 13 | 13 | 8 | 54 | 45 | +9 | 52 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 7th | | Werder Bremen | 34 | 13 | 9 | 12 | 32 | 33 | -1 | 48 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 8th | | HSV | 34 | 13 | 9 | 12 | 43 | 50 | -7 | 48 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 9th | | Gladbach | 34 | 12 | 8 | 14 | 36 | 49 | -13 | 44 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 10th | | Hannover 96 | 34 | 12 | 8 | 14 | 44 | 58 | -14 | 44 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 11th | | Hertha BSC | 34 | 10 | 13 | 11 | 38 | 42 | -4 | 43 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 12th | | SC Freiburg | 34 | 12 | 5 | 17 | 40 | 54 | -14 | 41 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 13th | | 1860 München | 34 | 10 | 9 | 15 | 45 | 50 | -5 | 39 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 14th | | 1.FC Köln | 34 | 9 | 11 | 14 | 31 | 41 | -10 | 38 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 15th | | Rostock | 34 | 5 | 17 | 12 | 24 | 38 | -14 | 32 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 16th | R | VfB Stuttgart | 34 | 7 | 8 | 19 | 25 | 50 | -25 | 29 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 17th | R | Wolfsburg | 34 | 6 | 9 | 19 | 38 | 66 | -28 | 27 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 18th | R | Frankfurt | 34 | 2 | 9 | 23 | 15 | 60 | -45 | 15 |

| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|</pre>

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