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[FM08] American Calcio - 30 September 2007 - Padova v Citadella, Serie C1A


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#1 tenthreeleader

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Posted 26 January 2015 - 09:40 PM

Author's notes: This is written using an older version of the game, FM08, to this date still my favorite incarnation of the game series.  So bear with me historically as I relate my travails with Calcio Padova, a club which this season is actually bankrupt in real life, and the start of the managerial career of my favorite character ever, American manager Rob Ridgway.

 

Major European leagues loaded including Italy, England, France, Germany and all Home Nations.

___

American Calcio

How do you return a once-great club with great expectations to its former place of prominence?

I am about to try to find out. My name is Rob Ridgway. I'm 36 years old and I'm an American far from home.

In trying to perform my task, I am faced with a number of handicaps that are sadly becoming too common in the modern game. Calcio Padova, of Italy’s lower league known as Serie C1A, is not a club with unlimited resources – in fact, money is very tight for a club of its ambitions.

The senior squad roster is filled with players in their thirties and there isn’t a young player under my club's contract who is ready to step up and carry the club forward in a meaningful way.

If we are to achieve the success the board craves and the supporters desire, we’ll have to do it with old players and then buy or sign younger ones who can cement any success gained by the current group. It’s not an optimal way to do business.

But that’s football. You do what you’re told or they’ll find someone who will.
 

# # #

Italian football is unlike any other on the planet.

English football is known for power and physical play. Spain’s is known for exquisite skill. Germany’s is known for free-scoring matches and a wide-open style. But Italy? Well, Italy is different.

Italian football is known for its technical excellence, its flair and quite frankly, its theatrics. The national side got a huge amount of criticism worldwide for the behavior of some of its players during the 2006 World Cup and I can certainly understand why.

One of the Azzurri’s preliminary matches came against my nation, the United States, and the result was not an artistic one for the beautiful game. A nine-man American side held on for a highly credible 2-2 draw that was thrilling to watch but which I felt was abominably officiated. Italian players seemed to writhe in agony on the pitch at every passing breeze while two of my compatriots saw red.

And I say this as an American managing in Italy. So much for being afraid to express an opinion.

Italy went on to claim the Jules Rimet Trophy after the infamous Zinedine Zidane / Marco Materazzi head-butting incident in the final against France, but won itself few friends worldwide in the process. Not that this matters to the hardcore Italian fan, of course. Winning is the only thing that matters here.

The Italian game is recovering from one of the biggest scandals in its history, with the “Old Lady” itself, Juventus, having won its way back to Serie A after implication in the 2006 match-fixing scandal. The implication of Juventus and several other clubs saw Juve stripped of three Scudetto championship titles and kicked out of the Champions League.

That is part of life here, where doing anything and everything you can to win is considered part of the ethos. They say if you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere, and in this game if you can make it in Italy, you can make it anywhere.

That is not to take sides in the “which nation has the best league” debate. It depends on what kind of football you like.

England has powerhouse teams and is known for strong, physical play, but Italy seems to do better in European competition. Germany has a few giants and some technical aficionados say Spain’s La Liga is the best football going.

At this point, who’s best doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is that I’m in the game, and looking for my chance to show what I can do.

# # #
 

My career in this game lasted sixteen seasons and ended just last spring. I spent time in Scotland, England and the United States before coming to Italy to finish my career.

I started in the States, before earning a contract with Falkirk, then in Scotland’s lower leagues.

I spent two seasons there before being snipped by Rangers for £1 million. I spent three tremendous seasons there and genuinely loved every minute of the “Ibrox experience”.

But it wasn’t going to last forever, and with a rising reputation as a central defender I wound up going to Reading, then of the English First Division. I spent six seasons there before returning home to the new Major League Soccer, where I played three seasons with the Chicago Fire.

But at that point in my life, at age 33, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to get into management and returned to Europe to try to do the impossible. I was financially secure, and wanted to try to get into the business in the best place I could.

I played my final two seasons at Frosinone, a solid Serie B side here in Italy, while studying for my UEFA coaching badges. I retired in the spring, just before my 36th birthday, with a bevy of experience in four different countries under my belt. I felt I was ready to get started, and so did a club named Calcio Padova.


# # #

Padova has a link with players from my nation. They made onetime Los Angeles Galaxy general manager Alexi Lalas the first American to play in Serie A when they signed him in 1997.

Alexi was the firebrand of the 1994 United States national side. His long red hair and trademark goatee held in place by a rubber band made him instantly recognizable and a bit famous as well, as the World Cup was contested in North America for the first time. Alexi is currently trying to help MLS grow through the fame of mega-signing David Beckham.

My own experience with MLS was a bit different. I am very proud of my nationality and very proud to support the national team, but I am of the opinion that for Americans to succeed in the world’s game, we must go to the world rather than have the world come to us.

You don’t get better playing against yourselves. You get better by going to where the action is hottest and making something happen for yourself.

That’s why most of my career was spent in Europe. Even though I didn’t get the exposure at home I might have gotten by spending more time in MLS, I still was capped 46 times for my country and scored four goals. I gained a reputation as a good teammate and teacher, even as I also gained a reputation as being absolutely unafraid to speak my mind.

I didn’t disrupt any of the changing rooms I was in but if someone asked me my opinion I gave it without hesitation, or “spin”. I thought what I thought and that was it.

For some people, that kind of frankness is difficult to accept. But in football, where winning is everything and in many cases the difference between financial success and failure, a direct approach is often the best way to work.

The people at Frosinone were happy to accept me as a stabilizing influence on a young back line for the last two years of my career and I was one of the very few players to leave for MLS and then come back to Europe. So there was that to consider as well. I feel I led their back four by example and helped their young players grow.

So when I looked to get into the management game it was with the full blessing of my employer, who sent me on my way with their best wishes and recommendations – and that certainly didn’t hurt as I tried to get my foot in the door.

It was Padova who gave me that chance and I’m grateful for it. The club is quite hungry for success and suffered the humiliation – and I choose that word quite carefully – of three relegations in the late 1990s. Padova plummeted from Serie A to Serie B to Serie C1 to Serie C2, from which it was promoted two years later.

Since then, however, the club has tried to rejuvenate its fortunes through its stadium, known as Euganeo. Repeated political difficulties delayed the renovation of the stadium, which now holds 29,000 spectators as well as an athletics track, which is hugely unpopular with the hardest core of the club’s support.

The new Euganeo is a start. Still, to see the great stadium with the 2,000 or so spectators a Serie C1 club draws flecked among the 29,000 seats is a bit sad. I’d like to bring the supporters back and along with it, rejuvenate the club’s fortunes.

I’ve only had a few weeks here so far to put a stamp on the squad but I’ve done some things that I expect will help in both the short and the long term. Chairman Marcello Sestaro has taken a couple of moderately deep breaths and opened his wallet, but his pockets are none too deep.

First, the squad needed strengthening to challenge for the honors expected, and with not a lot of money to spend that meant hitting the loan wires. Chief among them was goalkeeper Paolo Orlandoni, a 35-year old veteran from Inter Milan who I expect to galvanize our entire defense. He can still play, and goalkeepers who are older are not the worst things in the world for a club.

He is there to help free transfer Jeremy Busarello grow. The 17-year old Belgian played at Sint-Truiden last season my scouts say he’s a key to the future of this club. I would like him to learn from Orlandoni, though I would not mind loaning the player to give him first-team experience while Paolo and backup keeper Andrea Cano mind the store for this season.

Also at my recommendation we have started a feeder program with Serie A side SS Lazio, which has resulted in defender Andrea Guglielmi and midfielder Simon De Cristofaris heading here on loan. While neither of them are what I would consider to be top-flight young players, giving them first-team experience while hopefully gaining promotion may lead to better candidates heading our way in future years.

I also have loaned 19-year old striker Daniele Paponi from Parma. This kid is going to be good, and if he plays well for us he is the kind of player I would like to be able to keep around. He is very much in my own physical mold – he’s 6’2” and 194 pounds, just six pounds lighter and the same height I was when I played.

Not surprisingly, I am an advocate for players over six feet tall. Most footballers are well under that height and that shouldn’t be surprising, as most top-level players use pace as one of their primary weapons.

However, every club needs a power player, one who can shut down the other guy’s finesse. And since most Italian clubs place a premium on being damned hard to score against, the power player can be an important part of a club.

Most clubs have theirs at the back, with your correspondent being a case in point. So to potentially have one up front is a great equalizer.

I have also purchased the contract of 32-year old central defender Stefano Sachetti for €14,000 and if he plays well it will be a steal. The former Serie A defender bolsters us right where we need help and I think he still has some tread left on his tires as well.

Also in on a free transfer is 34-year old Argentine defender Pablo Paz. He is older than I would have wished, but still plays at a high level of skill and can play four positions – right back, central defense, holding midfielder and central midfielder. Holding midfielder is an important position in my lexicon.

My preferred formation is 4-1-3-2 and that means I have to have a holding midfielder with some brains. My choice as club captain, Federico Crovari, is the first choice there but Paz is a more than capable backup.

He, central defender Mario Donadoni, and fellow back Vasco Faísca all have important roles to play. Faísca is going to play alongside Sachetti in the middle when he isn’t backing up our other prize loan signing, Italy u-21 defender Massimo Gotti. They will do the lion’s share of the work on the back line and I am depending on them.

In midfield, we have interesting choices as well. Andrea Rabito is a talented offensive midfielder with whom I am well familiar as Padova co-owns him with Frosinone. Andrea Gentile and loanee Eder Baú make up much of the rest of a talented group with 33-year old Bosnian international Vedin Music providing backup on the left side.

We are probably deeper there than at any other position – so deep, in fact, that I will ask Gentile to train as a striker to give us added depth at that position. Rabito and Baú are also center forwards and obviously if I use them in midfield I can’t use them up front, which affects our depth.

Up front, perhaps our most talented player is 36-year old Roberto Muzzi, a journeyman who has spread his talent across Serie A even as he hasn’t been able to stick with a club for more than a few seasons. We need his experience but he is also our highest paid player at €625,000. To contrast – that is nearly ten times my starting salary as manager. In fact, there are nine players who make more money than I do in the starting eleven. So to be the boss is a bit daunting.

30-year old Massimiliano Varrichio is probably going to be Muzzi’s foil up front. Roberto was deadly in our friendlies, netting five times in six matches against opponents who were largely inferior to us, while Massimiliano was caught up in a bit of a battle with our other strikers.

Whether Roberto translates his strong start into Serie C play is yet to be seen, but I think he can do it. So does Roberto, and for that money he’d better.

We are old in key positions, yes, but the upside to this is that we have 23 players on one-year or loan contracts. The capability does exist to replace some of these players even if it may be more expensive in the short term to do so, through assuming larger contracts. That’s where we have to be very careful.

I’d prefer to have fewer loan contracts, because obviously it is harder to build understanding and success if you are changing out your senior squad every year, and I’d like our youth system to start producing players who will be of help to the senior squad. But the nature of Italian football is transitory.

Loyalty, unless your name happens to be Maldini, can be hard to come by. My job is to build a consistent winner and I want that winner to become younger than this team will be, by quite a few years.


# # #

 


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#2 tenthreeleader

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Posted 27 January 2015 - 02:14 PM

What to see in Padua, Italy

 

And, of course, what to see in Venice

 

I am both helped and hindered by the region in which Padova, or Padua in the Italian, is located.  It is in the province of Veneto, which obviously includes the world-famous city of Venice.

 

There are thirty football clubs in the province and this season, not one of them is in the top flight.  That is a help, in that any club able to make the big move will gain from it financially in relation to its neighbors and rivals, and a hindrance in that top-flight players have no real reason to play in the area.

 

Venice is of course a fabulously beautiful city, known around the world for the rivers and canals that partially submerge the city.  The climate here ranges from temperate to downright oppressive in the late summer months, and it’s in that type of weather where we will do our early training.  The Mediterranean is a lovely place to live, and so is the Adriatic coast on which Venice is located. 

 

Padova is less than forty miles from Venice and that appeals to me a lot.  I detest cold weather, so a career in Italy would be ideal if I can make it happen.

 

Our training sessions are short in the summertime and heavy on aerobic activity when we train indoors, as we occasionally do when the sun is quite simply blazing.  Traditionally, Italians take a long lunch break and this carries through to football, where players rest out of the hot sun when it’s 90 degrees Fahrenheit or more on the training pitch.

 

It’s safe to say that for a tourist, Venice is wonderful.  For an American who has some money to spend, it can be paradise.

 

That isn’t to say that I am going to spend my time on the beaches.  Far from it.  I’m going to be at football matches, scouting personally when I can to help the hard-pressed scouting staff especially in the area of advance scouting.

 

That is part and parcel of being a modern manager.  Video plays a more important role than ever in scouting, but there are things you can’t tell on television and that means getting in the car and going to the match to see them for yourself.

 

So I am going to be out and about, as they say back home and I know I need to do this especially as I am learning the league.  I keep good notes when I watch football, but it will take time to build up the kinds of notes I will need to be a long-term success.  I will rely on the scouts in the short term even as I build my own knowledge at the same time.

 

Like teams all over the world, the Italian clubs have a series of cups to play for, and like England the Cup competitions are separated by divisional level.  The Serie C teams in the four brackets (C1A, C1B, C2A and C2B) play for the Serie C Cup, while the rest contend for the Coppa Italia, or the Italian Cup.

 

The Serie C Cup, for which we will contend, is divided into group stages like the UEFA Cup or the Champions League.  The top two clubs in the group advance to the knockout stages and the Padova board expects to do quite well.

 

They expect the semifinals from my club and they further are expecting promotion to Serie B as well.  To do that, I either have to win the league outright or qualify through playoffs.  Italian football also has a feature known as the “play-out”, which can be odd to American fans who have no experience with relegation.

 

The bottom team in Serie C1A is automatically relegated, and the next four teams play to stay in the league.  It’s the only type of competition I know of where if you win, you’re out – and in the league for next year.

 

My goal throughout this process will of course be to win, but also to build through youth.  However, those goals are too often mutually exclusive, so to say I have a tall order in my first managerial assignment is an understatement.

 

# # #


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#3 Nick Fenn

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Posted 27 January 2015 - 11:55 PM

Good read, like the story style of format!


"In Portugal, we say the bigger the ship, the stronger the storm. Fortunately for me, I have always been in big ships."- Jose Mourinho

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#4 tenthreeleader

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Posted 28 January 2015 - 02:07 PM

Good read, like the story style of format!

 

Why, thank you, Nick ... hope you enjoy what follows!

___

 

I speak several languages, and may need to use all of them on the training pitch.

 

I speak English, German, Swedish and Spanish fluently, and am taking a crash Berlitz course in advanced Italian, which I started to learn when I joined Frosinone.  It’s the least I can do, to try to learn the language in the country in which I play. 

 

Thankfully, most of my career was played in English-speaking nations but my interest in European history and languages has stood me in good stead.

 

Of these, obviously Italian will be the most vital, but two of my assistants speak English so they can translate for me when needed until I have reached fluency with the language. 

 

The exception to this is Paz, with whom I can hold a perfectly wonderful conversation in Spanish while most of my squad members wonder what we’re talking about.

 

The language issue here is of primary importance in teaching and learning tactics.  The formation I’ve put in is 4-1-3-2 with an attack-minded central midfielder, making it basically a 4-4-2 diamond when we have the ball in the attacking third. 

 

It’s very important that I be able to communicate with the players while they learn this new system, or failing that, through a surrogate.  It’s vital that I learn the language quickly.  I already speak it fairly well through learning other Romance languages, but I have to work hard and quickly to get this particular job done.

 

# # #

 

Our friendly schedule was largely successful and we were surprisingly fluent in our new formation in our last few games, which included a 3-1 home win over Serie B Bologna.  That was a very pleasant surprise, even if I am under no illusions about being able to keep up that sort of scoring pace when the games begin to count.

 

I’m very much atypical to many here in terms of my outlook on the game.  My players aren’t going to play for 1-nil and they aren’t going to park the bus when we lead unless we are killing off the last moments.  They are going to play with a nose for goal and hopefully just enough flair, which was shown most notably by Muzzi in the friendly schedule.  We do have a few people who can score goals and I want them to show their skills.

 

In short, I want us to be entertaining to watch.  That means a couple of things at the back: first, I need a relatively narrow pitch because I have a comparatively elderly and slow defense even if it is quite experienced and very good at keeping the opposition off the scoreboard.  Second, I need some new defenders in the long term because eventually I will want to re-widen the pitch to take advantage of the talent we have in the wide positions.

 

For now, I’m asking the wide players to play through the inconvenience of a narrow pitch so we don’t start shipping goals faster than we can score them.  It’s a balance, but the basic fact is still true: if the other guys don’t score, there’s no way we can lose.

 

For my part, I don’t want the players so overwhelmed with tactical nuance and positional necessities that they forget how to play football.  Still, I’m convinced that with the players we have, we can make this work.  A wrinkle the other clubs won’t have seen may be what Padova needs to gain the promotion we all want.

 

# # #

 

My first match in charge is against one of Padova’s chief local rivals, Venezia, in the Serie C Cup.

 

Our Group G is regionally constructed.  Group opponents Venezia are about thirty miles to the east; Portogruaro – Summaga, known simply as “Portosummaga” to most, is fifty miles northeast; Rovigo is about forty miles south, and Chioggia is about thirty-five miles to our southeast.

 

The board expects Padova to reach the semifinals of this august competition and to do that, I have to start by finishing in the top two of this five-team group.  I am confident of our ability to do this, but to have the first match be a derby is a complication upon which I hadn’t planned.

 

To have it be on the road is something else entirely.  All week long I trained the club on staying mentally sharp, especially while we learn the new formation.  Failing to do this, in a derby match played away from home, will be disastrous on a number of fronts. 

 

Our friendly schedule saw us play reasonably well against clubs of our size or even bigger, and manhandle the part-time clubs we send players to as part of a feeder program.  We had 31 attempts at goal against Bassano Virtus, for example, one of our junior clubs, and I was rather amazed that we only managed a 2-nil win out of the deal.

 

But those were friendlies, and while we learn the 4-1-3-2 tactic we have to be smart about our training and our attitudes for the matches that count.  Playing cup ties from the beginning of the season is a great way to start with meaningful matches, but slow starts in these types of meetings can put managers under pressure right from the off.  And that isn’t good.

 

I figure we need at least one win out of these two upcoming matches, as we host Portosummaga on Wednesday in a match I frankly expect us to win.  Three points out of six will be acceptable, four points of six will be good and six out of six will be terrific.  I don’t even want to think about zero points out of six.

 

# # #

 

The good thing about starting with a derby is that we don’t have to travel until the afternoon of the match.  Especially for my first match in charge, I want a normal day because frankly, I don’t need the added aggravation of pressure on top of the nervousness I already feel.

 

The friendlies were not so bad from that standpoint, and we even played an away match in France, so we had to deal with crossing borders and checkpoints and what not.  That was not normal for this club and it was good to deal with it.

 

It would be wonderful to have to worry about Europe one day, but now is not the time for that.  I worry first about a club less than forty miles to the east and how to try to get three points off of them starting tomorrow night.

 

I watched a video of Venezia from last season on my DVD player as I prepared for bed tonight, and took notes on players who are still with the club.  The scouting is, not surprisingly, weak, the advance scouts have seen only one of their friendlies, and we’ll have to rely on our own abilities as players to get us through rather than having a detailed scouting report on the opposition.

 

That is part of life in Serie C, and as I tried to sleep, and found sleep wouldn’t come, I realized that this part of a manager’s life – the worry – isn’t one I like.  And it didn’t take long to come to that conclusion.

 

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#5 tenthreeleader

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Posted 29 January 2015 - 02:22 PM

Sunday, August 19
Venezia v Padova, Serie C Cup

 

Now this part of managing, I like. 

 

We left it plenty late, and it was all hands to the pumps late on, but Andrea Rabito’s wonder strike late in the second half gave me a win in my first match in charge.  But even in victory, I seem to have trouble.

 

It was a bit odd to travel to one of the world’s great cities only to play before an announced crowd of just 1,629 at the Pierluigi Penzo stadium in Venice.   It also appeared that about a quarter of those were our support, who had plenty to cheer about at the end of the match.

 

From an emotional standpoint, today was as normal as I could make it. 

 

We arrived at our training ground at Euganeo, our home stadium, at 1:00 p.m. for the trip to Venice.   I spoke as best I could to the squad, with my staff interpreting when I had trouble, and I gave them my thoughts for the match.

 

“This is a match you can win,” I said, and waited for the reaction from my players.  I saw quiet confidence and I was pleased at that.  The mood of the squad after reeling off five wins on the spin in the friendlies was good and I really do want that to carry as far into the season as possible.

 

“You are going to the home of a rival for a cup tie that’s important to this club,” I said.  “The management is expecting quite a bit and that is reflected in the pay packets you’ll get for advancing in this competition.   I played against Venezia last season and they are strong, talented and self-assured.  But they are not better than this club, I can assure you of that.  We have a good tactic, you are learning how to make it work and I want you to stick with it.  You have seen that the 4-1-3-2 will create chances and that’s what we will need to succeed this evening.  Go do it for yourselves.”

 

We looked at a little video, ate a very late lunch as a team, and finally boarded the coach for Venice at 4:00. 

 

As manager, I get the window seat in the front row on the right and my staff sits right behind me.  I think every club team in every sport in the world does that on its coach trip, but Padova is comparatively fortunate in how it travels.

 

The senior squad travels in a custom-designed coach, which has 28 seats.  I am allowed 18 players for the match including seven substitutes, and I take three coaches with me on the road plus two physios.  The remaining four seats are mine to distribute, between additional coaches, players who I would like to take to the match, or other staff as I see fit.  The seats recline and it is very nice for longer trips, especially on the homeward leg where players are either in need of treatment or simply want to relax tired limbs.

 

As for me, I spent enough time on cramped coaches in my early days to really appreciate the value of getting to stretch out my long legs.  I even napped a bit on the way to Venice, which was both surprising and refreshing to me at the same time.

 

Italians have a habit, as I’ve mentioned, of taking long afternoon breaks due in part to the heat of the summer.  Plainly, we’re in the heat of the summer now – it was 91 degrees Fahrenheit when we got off the bus in Venice – and people do tend to slow down a bit when the sun is at its zenith.

 

So it was not at all unusual for the players to see me sacked out in my chair.  Frankly, I was hoping to get my mind off things for even a few minutes on the way to Venice and sleep was the perfect way to do it.

 

Unfortunately, I also had a dream, which woke me up.  I dreamed that I scored an own goal in the match, which was rather ridiculous, since I’m no longer a player, but the thought of it was enough to disturb me from my rest.

 

So I flipped on my personal mp3 player and slipped on a set of Bose headphones for the last fifteen minutes of the trip, and that seemed to help.  Soon, we were entering Venice and the beauty of the old city engulfed me.

 

Of course, Venice itself is an island, and the stadium is in the extreme southeast corner.  You drive on the SR11, the Ponte della Liberta, to cross the Laguna Veneta and enter the city.  The stadium itself is on the even smaller Isola di Sant’Elena, and the winding path our coach took had me looking out the window with rapt attention.

 

We made the last turn onto the Isola di Sant’Elena, and pulled up behind Pierluigi Penzo to prepare for the match.

 

Unlike some of the stadia in which we will play this season, Pierluigi Penzo is an all-seater, even if the vast majority of the ground is uncovered.  They are like we were – a club which has fallen upon hard times, which is a bit of a surprise since Venice is a bigger city than Padua.  So we are very much in the same boat, we are fighting for the same thing, and the clubs just don’t like each other very much.

 

So the atmosphere was lively for those fans who chose to show up at the match.  I mentioned earlier how odd the 2,000 fans we put into the 29,000-seat Euganeo seems.  Well, there were fewer people than that in the 32,000-seat Pierluigi Penzo, and at times it seemed like we were playing in a tomb.

 

The players performed tentatively but fairly well in the first half and I was quite pleased to get to the changing room still scoreless after the first 45 minutes.  However, we were down a player and that was cause for serious concern.

 

Fabio di Venanzio, my first choice on the left side of midfield and an excellent crosser and passer of the ball, went down after a high and hard challenge just before the half-hour.  Right away I knew it was bad because Fabio didn’t move his left leg. 

 

Often when a player here goes down under a hard challenge he will roll around on the pitch both in pain and to try to draw a foul or a card against the offender.  This wasn’t like that.  It was worse – really, honestly worse.

 

This was difficult for me to watch personally.  Yes, it was a bad injury and they are always hard, but I know Fabio pretty well. 

 

To call him a journeyman would be polite.  In a career lasting seventeen seasons, Padova marks his eleventh club, all in Italy.  He also spent last season at Frosinone, as my teammate. 

 

But instead of acting, Fabio simply gritted his teeth, and grabbed his knee to hold it in place.  That was very bad and as soon as the physios were allowed to sprint out to him by the referee, the process began. 

 

I arrived immediately afterward to offer what comfort I could.  The physios immediately iced the knee and wrapped it and I headed back to the bench, nodding to Gentile to warm up because we both knew he was going into the match.

 

Stretcher-bearers took Fabio off the pitch and as the stretcher passed the bench, Mauricio Balló, one of my assistants, got my attention.

 

“We are going to the hospital,” he said, pointing to the stretcher.  “Fabio said he heard a pop.”

 

I nodded, making the substitution and stopping to talk with the player on his way up the tunnel.

 

“Fabio, hang in there,” I said, squeezing his shoulder.  He was white with pain, and simply grunted his assent.  With that, he was gone and I hoped we would have him back for the trip home.  Obviously, we won’t have him on the pitch for some time.

 

# # #

 

We got to half after creating some decent chances and I saw no reason to be anything other than positive. 

 

“You hung in there and you can still get this job done,” I told them.  “Fabio will be all right and even though he won’t be around for awhile we can get this job done.  Stick with the system, help each other and let’s get a result tonight.”

 

With that, we went back onto the pitch and walked into a buzzsaw for the first twenty minutes.  Venezia was all over us, passing the ball well, working it into good positions, and taking good shots – which Orlandoni turned aside in a first-class performance.

 

That said, when we counterpunched we hit hard, and on 75 minutes we made them pay. 

 

Gentile was the provider, working the ball nicely to the edge of the Venezia eighteen with Gotti, before the entry ball found Rabito right at the edge of the arc to keeper Giuseppi Aprea.

 

Andrea spun, shot, and produced a sublime 18-yard finish, which beat Aprea to his right-hand post, and tucked neatly into the corner of the goal. 

 

Rabito ran around like a crazy man while the traveling support screamed its appreciation.  The echo in the huge stadium was somewhat eerie to hear, but at least the ball was in the net.

 

His manager also reacted with a bit of emotion, as I jumped into the air with fists raised before getting some control over myself.

 

There were still 15 minutes to go and as the bench began to celebrate, I immediately signaled for a change in formation.  We were missing Crovari tonight, out with a leg injury from the Bologna friendly, and I yelled – in Spanish – for Paz to get over to me.

 

Pablo wore the armband tonight and he did very well.  I made motions with my fingers that I wanted a flat 4-4-2 with the defensive line set deep.  He nodded and I told him to hurry up.

 

If I thought the first twenty minutes of the half were active, the last fifteen were worse.  They piled forward, going to a 4-2-4 in the late going to find an equalizer.   Yet, the harder they pressed the better Orlandoni played.

 

I even considered 5-4-1 at the end but the lack of a pressuring up-front player might have given them even more midfield dominance than they presently enjoyed.  I finally settled on 4-5-1 for the final moments, taking the exhausted Muzzi off the pitch for the final five minutes of the match.

 

And we held on.  The whistle blew for full time and far from scoring an own goal, I had succeeded in my first match in charge.

 

We exchanged handshakes on our bench, and then with the disappointed Venezia staff, and headed for the tunnel.  The first player I saw was di Venanzio, on crutches but seemingly not in quite as much pain.  Balló approached and gave the verdict.

 

“The doctors say it is certain he has a ligament tear but we can’t do a scan until morning when the swelling goes down,” he said.  “Right now we have given him medication to keep him comfortable but for now the only thing to do is take him home and let the local doctors treat him.”

 

Fabio had a crestfallen look on his face.  Every player wants to play and Fabio knows he won’t be back for a long time thanks to tonight’s incident.  And since he’s 33 years old, he’s concerned about a lot more than just his season.

 

I allowed him to precede me to the changing room and gave him a look of understanding.  I won’t throw an injured player under the bus but I have to prove that’s the case by how I treat Fabio now that he can’t play.

 

I gave brief interviews to Padova’s local daily papers, praising Rabito and Orlandoni for the quality of their play, and soon we were dressed and ready to return home.  We got onto the coach – di Venanzio with help – and I turned to address the group.

 

“This is what I told you could happen,” I said.  “You deserved this game and you deserved to hold them off.  Defensively we have work to do but nothing happened tonight to tell me that anything is really broken.  We’ll get better, you’ll get better as individual players, and that work will begin tomorrow morning.  Let’s go home and enjoy the win!”

 

Venezia 0-1 Padova

 

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#6 tenthreeleader

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Posted 30 January 2015 - 02:13 PM

Monday, August 20

We are preparing to host Portosummaga on Wednesday night in the Cup, and I already have my first controversy as manager.

                                                                             

I told the papers last night that I appreciated the play of both Paz and Sacchetti in their debuts, and only one of them reacted well. 

 

Paz answered as I’d have expected a captain to behave but the veteran Sacchetti told the press today that I’m expecting too much from him.

 

So I had a little chat with my defender today after training, and we cleared the air. I did most of the talking.

 

My Italian, which is improving rapidly, stood me in good stead. 

 

“Stefano, I’m the manager and that means I get to have expectations,” I said.  “It also means I get to praise you.  You did play a good match last night but if you are worried I expect too much from you, I can always lower those expectations.”

 

He knew what that meant. 

 

“I don’t want for you to make me responsible for so much of the team’s success,” he said in the only answer he could have given me.

 

“I’m not,” I explained.  “But, Stefano, when you play well you’re going to get praised.  Now I’m not the kind of guy who rips players in the media, but you have to know that the other players are going to feel it too, when they do well.  I’m not saying you have to like praise but I am saying that when I say something nice about you, you can accept it without worrying if you’re going to be able to keep your place.  Do I make myself clear?”

 

“You do,” he said, a trace of a smile crossing his face.

 

“Good,” I said, as we shook hands.  “Now let’s get back to work.”

 

# # #

 

Tuesday, August 21

Portosummaga is a part-time team, meaning many of their players have other jobs as well as playing football. 

 

That’s a great way to cut the wage bill, of course, but it’s also a poor way to build a football club.  Players train when they can, with the understanding that they will do their best for the club, but if a player can’t get off work for a training session, sometimes the manager must accommodate him.

 

Nearly all youth players are on part-time contracts so they can go to school.  In Europe, some clubs will pay for the education of their top young players as part of their agreements.  In fact, for some kids, that education is better than what they could have received at home, wherever it happens to be.

 

Then, if the player is really good, a bigger club will often snap them up.  It’s highly annoying for the manager, and for many fans, of a smaller club but it’s also good business and if the money received for a youngster is good enough, it may even help keep the club afloat.

 

We aren’t at that point yet, but if I ever get a “wonderkid”, the pressure will be on, both for the player and for his manager.

 

# # #

 

My hometown newspaper called tonight for an article they are doing on my taking over here.  I hope that will turn out to be a good thing both for the club and for the growth of the game in my homeland.

 

I cut my teeth playing in the burgeoning American youth system, and the paper followed me throughout my career – ironically, more so in Europe than when I played in MLS.

 

I guess when I was playing in Europe, I was special and different, and now that I am back in Europe the circumstances surrounding my hiring and my nationality are news once more.  There are no other Americans managing in Italy and I may be the only one in Europe, which would make me completely unique.

 

Padova’s American connection is also newsworthy once more, and I do think that this wasn’t lost on the board when they made the decision to hire me.  Good press is good press to most people, even if some fiercely patriotic Italian fans doesn’t necessarily like the idea of an American running the Biancoscudati.  That’s perfectly understandable.  I don’t know how much I’d care for the idea of a European coaching the Pittsburgh Steelers.

 

However, I like the idea just fine and the feedback we’ve gotten from beating Venezia surely hasn’t hurt.  The board does seem to like the idea of beating a rival, and I like the idea of being off to a 100 percent start on the road.  So for now, anyway, things are ‘duckies and bunnies’, to use a favorite phrase of mine from the States.

 

The interview centered on my adjustment to management, and the fact that they had pretty much forgotten about me when I played at second division Frosinone.  I spent about half an hour on the phone with the reporter when the question got asked I really didn’t want to hear.

 

“What about personally, Rob?  Did you ever hook up with Kate again?”

 

“I’d rather not go there,” I said.  “To answer your question, no.  And really, I don’t see why it matters to the story.”

 

I got an apology, and also another comment that made me feel a little better.

 

“I was hoping for a happy ending for you there,” the reporter said, and I had to admit I was hoping for one too, back in the day.

 

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#7 Minja

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Posted 30 January 2015 - 02:18 PM

Like I told you in another your story, nice style and interesting like a reading the good book. :)

Only, this story remind me on the one I read some few years ago somewhere on Internet. I remember that was involved even some Manager's old girlfriend from England... Are you author of that story, also?



#8 tenthreeleader

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Posted 31 January 2015 - 11:11 PM

That is possible, Minja.  Possible indeed. :)

___

 

Kate Southerland is 34 years old.  When I met her eight years ago, she was an advertising manager at one of the larger PR firms in the United Kingdom.

 

I was halfway through my time with the Royals and was starting to become a mainstay on their back line.  Professionally I was happy, I was making very good money, and was setting myself up financially for the rest of my life.

 

During my time with Rangers, I spent a fair amount of time in the pubs in the blue areas of Glasgow, though not compromising my ability to play.  I was looking for fun and companionship, as you might expect a 24-year old American to do when he’s overseas.

 

But when I was transferred south of the border to England, I sort of withdrew while I learned the city and made myself useful for my new club.  Then I met Kate and it turned my world upside down.

 

We met at a club function where her firm had been hired to do a campaign promoting the Reading Youth Fund.  I was one of the players selected to represent the team and at first I was there simply to fulfill my obligation and to be nice to deserving children.

 

Yet by the time I left, I was smitten by the prettiest woman I had ever laid eyes on. 

 

Five-foot-eight, with long brunette hair, a figure to die for, a wonderful career and an even better accent, Kate was everything I ever wanted. 

 

I didn’t think I was in her league – in fact, as good as she already was at her job I wondered which of us made more money – and tried to put her out of my mind.

 

I saw her again a few weeks later at a second Youth Fund function, and her first words to me were ones I remember to this day:

 

I’m trying to figure out why you didn’t ask me out last time we talkedIt makes a girl feel insecure!”

 

My answer was pretty plain: “Because I couldn’t imagine why you’d accept.”

 

Ask,” she said, as she started her work.  “I think you might like the answer you get.”

 

So I did, and she was right.  I very much liked the answer I got, and we spent the next three years in a wonderful relationship.  She had just been divorced, though I couldn’t imagine why her ex-husband would have wanted to be done with someone so obviously perfect.

 

I was very happy in a very stable relationship.  Then, in 2002, Reading didn’t renew my contract and I got an offer from Chicago in MLS.  I accepted the offer and proposed marriage to Kate as I prepared to head home to the States.

 

And Kate said no.

 

She didn’t want to leave Berkshire, didn’t want to leave England and even though she adored me she felt she couldn’t leave her family.  I was under contract and I had to go – and it cost me a relationship I valued above all else.  Now I am in Italy, and she is remarried after an incredibly painful period for both of us.  She stayed true to her word, though, and still lives in Reading last I heard.

 

I would never say that leaving for Chicago was a mistake.  I wasn’t done playing, wasn’t ready to retire and still thought I had something to offer.  But I hadn’t counted on losing Kate over it and it haunts me to this day.

 

It affected my first season with Chicago, no question about it.  And it turned out one of her co-workers, an unreasonably lucky fellow named Peter McGuire, swooped in and married the woman I adored.

 

I wasn’t anywhere near the player I had been while in Europe that first season, but in the MLS of that time it didn’t matter as much.  I was still more than good enough to get the job done but my mind was literally a thousand miles away on some nights.

 

I tried to reach her.  I tried to win her back. 

 

We had a very long and tear-filled conversation six weeks after I left for Chicago and she quietly, but firmly, told me she could not marry me unless I lived in England. 

 

I tried to get out of my contract with the Fire and even asked them to allow me to transfer back to England, but it never materialized.  The only other option was retirement and I wasn’t yet ready for that.

 

I was trapped, in a sense, and before I could get back to Europe, the door finally closed.

 

When I finally was able to return to the Continent and Frosinone, it was of course far too late.  I keep wondering if I’ll ever see or hear from Kate again, but when I think too long or too hard about it, I need to have a drink, and I hate that.

 

So the reporter’s question hit very close to home.  Kate is like an open wound to me now, which is really a shame since we spent so much wonderful time together.  And if I write any more about it, I’m going to break down again.  That won’t do.  So it’s time to stop.

 

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#9 tenthreeleader

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Posted 02 February 2015 - 04:57 AM

Wednesday, August 22
Padova v Portosummaga, Serie C Cup

Another “good news, bad news” sort of day for my team.  We won our second Serie C cup match on the spin but we lost another left-sided midfielder.

 

Varricchio was the man of the moment for us, scoring a brace as we won with some style against the part-timers from the northeast. 

 

We should have put up a performance tonight and we did – thirteen attempts to eight even if they had more on target than us by a 5-4 margin.  But again, Orlandoni was excellent in goal even if they didn’t have a truly good scoring opportunity, and Varricchio made the most of his opportunity to start.

 

Yet now I am worried about Gentile, who twisted an ankle tonight and will miss a fortnight.  With Gentile gone that gave Vedin Music a chance to play and he has something to prove.

 

Before the match tonight, Vedin was told he is no longer in Bosnia’s international plans and he was pretty upset.  It’s difficult to play for most national sides when your club team is in its country’s third division, and the fact that he’s third in my pecking order hasn’t helped him either.

 

Yet, I can help Vedin.  He can help himself, too, by playing well now that he has this chance.  He does not possess the skill set of Di Venanzio or Gentile, but he showed me great industry on the left flank tonight and I am very happy about that.  In short, he worked his ass off and that’s the kind of play most managers will notice.  He earned another look, and that is sure to buck up his ideas.

 

What pleased me was that we came out and took this match by the throat.  Varricchio started us off just ninety seconds into the match, volleying gleefully past Sergio Marcon from fifteen yards in a snazzy little strike that got us off to a flying start.

 

Again, our crowd wasn’t big – just 2,765 showed up at Euganeo for the cup tie – but most of them were happy at the quality of our start.  About 300 traveling fans made the trip from Portoguara for the match and we were determined to get them on the back foot right along with their players.

 

Thankfully, we did.  Our midfield play was much better than Sunday night and it should have been, considering the comparative quality of our opposition.  We were the better side tonight at home and frankly Venezia was a better team than we were on Sunday playing on their home pitch.

 

As solid as we were positionally, that unfortunately did not translate into offensive fluency.  It may not for awhile yet, as we learn the tactic and most importantly its nuances.  We are still not reaching the level of understanding I want us to reach, and a fair portion of that is understandable.  The players, many of whom are new, have to learn each other, and I have to settle on as close to a regular eleven as I can.  I prefer to get lots of people into matches to keep legs fresh, but at this level I can’t afford the size squad I’d need to play a purely rotational policy.

 

That is part of the challenge too, of course, and since we have to play three matches in the first eight days of our season including Sunday’s Serie C opening match against Lecco, it means if a player is competent, he’s going to get to play this week.

 

But Music really showed me something.   He’s desperate to play, he has a good attitude and waited for his chance, and I need to reward that, now that he’s shown me his desire to play.

 

Half the battle in this game is finding players who want to wear the shirt.  The game is full of players who feel they deserve to wear the shirt, but the ones who are going to run through walls for you are the players you need to keep.  Vedin is happy to work hard and he has been patient to get his chance.  Now, he’s got it.

 

# # #

 

Massimiliano was quite good as well.  His second goal, right on the stroke of seventy minutes, flew past the despairing Marcon and really showed there wasn’t going to be a way back for Porto.

 

Finding the correct strike combination is going to be a test for me.  Muzzi is the most talented player on the squad despite his 36 years of age so he needs to play, and the trick will be to find a pacier player for him to work with.

 

Roberto still has a decent turn of speed but at his age he’s not as fleet of foot as he used to be.  In fact, I don’t know of too many players who get faster as they get older.  Varricchio staked his claim today but Paponi is waiting for a chance and I’d love to get his talent into the eleven in some way.  I loaned him for a reason.

 

Varricchio was in high spirits after the match, as you might expect, and I got to congratulate the squad on a professional job well done.  I would have preferred a wider margin but then I would have preferred a greater dominance in scoring chances as well.  First things first.  We played reasonably well but we didn’t dominate, which we need to do against a club of lower caliber.

 

Padova 2-0 Portosummaga

 

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#10 tenthreeleader

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Posted 03 February 2015 - 02:20 PM

Thursday, August 23

We have three days to prepare for our opening Serie C match, against Lecco at Euganeo.  I like that better than two days, obviously, but I’m already having to be careful how we train due to the injuries we are already seeing.

 

I’ll have Crovari back for this match, and I’ll get my first actual match viewing of my captain in the holding midfielder position.  Paz has done quite well deputizing for him, with Giuseppe Anaclerio also playing a role in the position.  But having Crovari back is a real addition from a leadership standpoint as well as from a footballing one.

 

Obviously, he is pleased to be back as well.  As captain, he wants to lead from the front and that’s certainly understandable.  I have a motivated player here and we are both very interested in cultivating that motivation.

 

The mood of the squad is very good after our two Cup wins and Lecco isn’t fancied by the media to be much of a player in this year’s competition.  So I am quietly hopeful of another strong performance on Sunday afternoon.

 

We’re rotating players back into the lineup.  Muzzi, who didn’t play against Portosummaga, will go back into the front line next to Varricchio, who has earned a second start with his brace. 

 

He may not be able to go, though – he picked up a knock late in the match and I am watching his fitness closely.  I also used players like Mario Donadoni, who’s a second choice to Sacchetti and Faísca, in the back line but they will drop to the bench for the league contest.

 

People are getting to play.  The exception to this seems to be De Cristofaris, who frankly has such a difficult time in recovering from match play I can’t consider playing him more than once a week.  His fitness levels are frankly shocking for a player of his age and I’m already thinking he’s not much of a loan signing until he gets himself into shape.  My hope is that Lazio has better players than this waiting in the wings.

 

But if not, I have to go find them myself.  That is the part of management I’m already figuring will be the greatest challenge.  

 

My scouting staff is small but my coaching staff is large – too large for the board, in fact, but for the purposes of player acquisition it is perfect.  I need recommendations I can trust and that’s where these gentlemen come in.  We all want to see Padova succeed and for these gentlemen, jobs depend on it.  Mine does too – so that’s why we need to work together.

 

# # #

 

Today’s training session was focused fully on Lecco, as we have a week following Sunday’s match to rest before we are next in action.

 

I took it easy on the players today with the exception of a bit of sprint work to get lungs working and get the blood moving through stiff legs.  The whole key to physical training in my mind is to make sure some gets done every day, even if you’ve just played. 

 

When I played, I would make sure to run at least half a mile each day, even if I had played a full ninety minutes the day before.  Unless I was injured, I was going to get my roadwork in, to keep my fitness at peak level.

 

I still am doing the roadwork, except now I’m doing it on a treadmill after the players go home for the day.  Obviously, I have a few things to do now that I wasn’t doing when I was playing.

 

So today was relaxed and light.  May it always be that way.

 

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#11 tenthreeleader

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Posted 04 February 2015 - 02:05 PM

Friday, August 24

I made arrangements to travel tomorrow night for a little personal scouting, to take in the first Serie C match of the season.

 

I will be heading off to Lombardy tomorrow to see Cavese play at Pro Patria, and though I won’t enjoy the windshield time, the scouting is necessary.  We’re playing Cavese fairly early in the schedule and I need to bone up on both teams.

 

But that wasn’t the biggest news of the day.  I received quite an unusual visitor today and frankly the visit has me scratching my head.

 

I had just finished the day’s training when my office intercom buzzed and the club secretary said there was a lady waiting in the foyer to see me.  I had just put a DVD into my office player to get a look at Lecco’s last friendly match.

 

“Club business?” I asked.

 

“No, she says it’s personal,” Christina Angelotti responded, and I frowned.  That made no sense to me.

 

“All right, I’ll be there in a minute,” I responded, sighing heavily.  I really had no idea.

 

I walked to the front and was greeted by a strikingly attractive red-haired woman.  She approached, hand extended, and to my great surprise spoke without trace of an Italian accent.

 

“Rob, my name is Patty Myers,” she said, and I shook her hand.  “I just came to see if I could get a few minutes of your time.”

 

“Very nice to meet you, Ms. Myers,” I said, looking down at her from about five inches difference in height, “but may I ask why?”

 

“Of course, but could we sit for a moment?” she asked.  She didn’t look threatening, anyway, and it didn’t look like she was there to serve any legal papers or anything like that, so I agreed.

 

“Very well, if you wish,” I said.  “We can use my office.”

 

She gave me a very nice smile and I couldn’t quite read what it meant.  I looked at Christina, a vivacious lady in her mid-fifties, and she gave me a non-committal look in reply.

 

“Christina, if you’d be so kind as to hold my calls for a few minutes,” I said, and she nodded.

 

“Certainly, Rob,” she replied.  We were speaking in Italian and I didn’t know if my guest was familiar with the language.

 

“Pardon the Italian,” I said to my guest in English.  “Christina doesn’t speak English and I’m trying to get fluent as quickly as I can.  I don’t allow anyone to speak English to me here when I’m working.”

 

“È problema”, she smiled, and I knew she had understood every word we had said.

 

“Fine,” I said, blushing a bit.  “I didn’t mean to offend.”

 

“You didn’t,” she said, smiling at me.  “Now, may I bother you for a few moments?”

 

# # #

 

I allowed her to precede me down the hallway to my modest office and I showed her into a place that was still reasonably neat but on its way to becoming rather untidy.

 

I sat behind my desk and motioned her to a chair opposite.  “Very well, Ms. Myers, what can I do for you?” I asked.

 

“Well, it’s Miss, first of all, and I’d appreciate it very much if you’d simply forget all that and call me Patty,” she said.

 

“That’s fine, but what can I do for you?”

 

“You’re going to get a letter soon,” she said.  “I’m here to warn you because it involves both of us.”

 

I frowned.  “I’ve done nothing wrong, and I’ve only just met you,” I said.  “And I don’t have time for games.  Suppose you tell me exactly what this is about.”

 

She nodded.  “I know you haven’t done anything wrong, but first, you need to know.  I work for the State Department.”

 

My eyebrows shot up, seemingly trying to hide in my hair.  I wondered if somehow my work visa had been compromised and that thought made a cold chill run down my spine.

 

“It’s nothing like that, I’m not a diplomat or a police officer,” she said.  “Are you familiar with the biennale?”

 

“It’s an art festival, isn’t it?” I said.

 

“Well done,” she said with a smile.  “Yes, it is.  Anyhow, most people don’t know this, but when American artists come here, they are sponsored by the government.  I am staying in Venice through November as a liaison.”

 

I had no idea my government did things like that. 

 

“My tax dollars at work,” I smiled, and we shared a light moment as she giggled in reply.  “All well and good, but what does that have to do with you coming to see me?”

 

“Well, my last posting was in London, and I was involved in a project in a nearby city with two people you know,” she said.  Suddenly, my mood grew dark.

 

“Let me guess,” I said, and she nodded her head.

 

“You don’t need to,” she answered.  “It was in Reading.  He’ll be writing.”

 

I felt like I had been punched in the solar plexus.  I took a deep breath and leaned back in my chair. 

 

“All right, so tell me about this letter,” I said, and suddenly her pretty face lost some of its brightness.

 

“I had a romantic relationship with Peter,” she said, which hurt her to say as much as her prior sentence had hurt me to hear.  “And I understand Kate had a relationship with you.” 

 

I nodded because I didn’t feel like talking.

 

“Peter knows I’m here and he’s guessing I may have tried to reach you,” she said.  “Well, he’s right.  It’s just a sad situation but he doesn’t think much of me and he thinks that you came back to Europe to win back Kate.”

 

I sighed.  “Did anyone tell him I missed England by about a thousand miles?” I asked irritably.  “What a ridiculous thing to think.  Anyway, why does that bring you to me and what difference does it make if you talk with me or not?”

 

“I thought you should know,” she said simply.  “This letter would have hit you from out of the blue and I didn’t want that to happen to you.”

 

Now my expression grew a bit softer, which seemed to help Patty a bit.  “And why didn’t you want that to happen to me?” I asked.

 

“Because we’ll soon have something in common,” she said.  “After you get that letter we’ll both be equally angry with the same person.”

 

# # #

 

Patty and I wound up talking for about half an hour before she returned to Venice.  She seemed like a very nice lady and I was left once again to remark on the unfairness of life as we talked.

 

I finally thanked her for coming to see me and for the warning, and she drove back to Venice to resume her work. 

 

But tonight, I’m having a difficult time concentrating.  I don’t like what might be coming, and I don’t like the thought of someone taking a cheap shot at me who has already cost me so much by finding his own happiness.

 

To this point, I have never begrudged Peter McGuire anything.  He got what I wanted and I have had to deal with that for the last four painful years of my life.

 

And now, he evidently does not seem to have had enough.  If what Patty Myers has told me is true, I can expect a letter that is probably going to put me into a very bad mood over the next few days. 

 

I can’t afford this – I can’t afford the distraction when I am trying to guide my new team to that all-important strong start it needs.  So I have to be strong and put it out of my mind for the benefit of my club.  That will not be easy.

 

Being home alone is no fun.  Being home alone and angry is even less fun.  To say I’m unhappy about this would be an understatement.

 

# # #


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#12 tenthreeleader

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Posted 05 February 2015 - 03:56 PM

Saturday, August 25
It was a long trip to Busto Arsizio, over 150 miles due west and it took over two hours each way. And it was darned hot so it was a very long day. So you really have to want to scout to go and see the match I saw today.

The town itself is less than half Padua’s size at just over 80,000 population – but when you’re only 25 miles from the giants of Milan, chances are your supporter base may be a bit small.

Pro Patria is an interesting club. For a start, I find its name, which means “For the Fatherland” in Latin, to be immensely appealing. You don’t find an American club named “For God and Country”, for example, which is a bit of a pity.

That said, Pro Patria may have a lovely name but at least for now, they don’t have a very good football club. They did score, but wound up with a 1-1 draw against a Cavese side that looked a lot better than Pro Patria from the goal outward and to my way of thinking deserved the three points. I think if we play 4-1-3-2 like we can play it against either of those clubs, we would do just fine.

After the match I made the long drive home and watched DVDs of Serie C friendlies until the wee hours. It isn’t much of a life, but to become good in this business, you need to do the less exciting things as a matter of course.

I am used to more sleep than I have been getting, though, since I naturally did not scout matches personally as an active player. That will take some getting used to. I have to learn to pace myself even as I scout opposing teams, master Italian and try to manage my football club at the same time. I have been getting about five hours sleep a night and that is going to catch up to me sooner or later.

But today was also a day to think about the events of yesterday on the long drive. It served to pass the time and also to get my mind worrying, which isn’t something I either care for or had planned.

I admired Patty for her forthrightness and also for her desire to seek me out. But I really wondered why she would bother. She was obviously quite upset and I didn’t blame her for that, but a 40-mile trip out of her way seemed a bit much to call my attention to something I would receive in any event.

I couldn’t let those thoughts preoccupy me as I watched the match, however. My players expect that I will censure them if I catch them not paying attention to a match we’re playing and I owed them the same level of concentration in return when I am watching a match on their behalf.


# # #
 
Yet on the road home, I was under no such restriction and I thought openly about what was coming, along with revisiting my team sheet for tomorrow for the umpteenth time.

I’m not as nervous as I was at this time last week but at the same time, a home win tomorrow will mean quite a bit.

I’ve made a change up front - Paponi will make his home debut alongside Muzzi at the top of the 4-1-3-2 since Varricchio won’t be at full fitness. I’ve called up Antonio DiNardo from the reserves, after he lost out in the striker derby in the friendlies, to provide bench support because I already have tired players.

Dropping Antonio to the reserves was a bit of a difficult move in the first place because, like the injured Di Venanzio, Antonio was my teammate last season at Frosinone. He came here on a free transfer and he’s here because Serie B didn’t exactly agree with him.

Last season he scored six goals in twenty-five matches and was deemed surplus to requirements. In fact, keeper Andrea Cano is another Frosinone old boy, but he left there before I arrived. Now both players are regulars on my bench.

I know full well what Antonio can do – I trained against him almost every day for two years. So far he hasn’t said much but he clearly wants to play. That is good.

Again, the overall fitness of this club is not good and that must change. I want players who can give me two matches in a week if necessary and there are too many on my existing roster who don’t fit that bill. That is not acceptable.

Stefano Mazzocco will get the nod at the let side of midfield because Music isn’t ready to play two matches in a row. So I already have injury and fatigue trouble and it already hurts. That isn’t fun but in a fatalistic sort of way, it also isn’t terribly surprising.

# # #

I suppose that is the Scandinavian part of me. As a part Swede, I can’t stand prosperity.

“Sooner or later, we’ll pay for this,” is the general reaction from the populace whenever something goes well in my homeland, and that’s the feeling I have at the moment with so many players not able to turn out.

I do attribute a portion of this to fitness though all our injuries so far have been match related. You don’t bounce back as quickly if you aren’t in shape and right now, we’re not in shape.

I know we’ve got work to do there. But I am trying very hard to avoid being distracted by my conversation with Patty Myers and so far, I’m failing.

I missed an evening of what is already becoming a favorite activity of mine -- catching the English-language movies at the Multiastra on Via Tiziano Aspetti. There, anyone from the States or England can go to pretend they’re home for a few hours if a touch of home is what they need.

That’s a way for me to get a touch of home without being ostentatious about it. I’m not homesick by any stretch – I’ve spent most of the last sixteen years living in Europe and have no qualms about it – but it’s nice to simply watch a movie every now and again without having to constantly translate everything I hear in my head at the same time.

But at the moment, I’m thinking about other things. My mind is frankly a mess as we prepare to face Lecco tomorrow. In terms of personal timing, Patty Myers’ visit to me was right on the money. In terms of professional timing, it came at the worst possible time.

# # #

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#13 tenthreeleader

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Posted 06 February 2015 - 02:00 PM

Sunday, August 26 - Padova v Lecco – Serie C1A

I let my players do the thinking today.

 

Before a decent crowd of 3,835 at Euganeo, the strikers played well – but one of them was not Muzzi.

 

I’m down two more players with injuries.  First, Roberto left with a dead leg 26 minutes into the match.  DiNardo replaced him in the lineup and immediately put out a strong strike partnership with Paponi, which opened my eyes quite a bit.

 

And we were solid in terms of our fluency as well, with Paponi scooping over from ten yards just before the break for our best scoring chance.  I felt good about our chances at the intermission and told the players that.

 

“This play will get the points,” I promised them.  “I like how you are moving the ball and I like how you’re starting to get the idea of how to move off the ball in this formation.  You’re giving options to each other and that’s how it is supposed to work.  Keep working hard and make it happen for yourselves.”

 

With that, they did.  DiNardo started it four minutes after the restart, heading home powerfully from Baú’s cross from the byline on the right, leaving keeper Nicolas Caglioni no chance.  Di Nardo’s reaction was what you might have expected from a player called up from the reserves as injury cover.  He wants to stay and was delighted to have taken his chance.

 

The goal opened up Lecco a bit.  They had been hard to break down in the first half but now trailing, they shifted to a more aggressive stance.  And then we hit them on the counter, with Paponi doing the business ten minutes after DiNardo’s goal.  The two goals today were first goals for the club for both players and the crowd was well pleased with our new-found potency in front of goal.

 

But then, in the midst of prosperity, my Scandinavian tendency toward inviting disaster struck as Stefano Mazzocco went down with a leg strain, as well, limping badly as he reached the touchline in front of our bench.  That’s now three left-sided midfielders and my top striker who are out injured and it meant I turned to Music, who I had planned on resting today.  I had to use Vedin for much more of the match than I wanted to use him.

 

With no match for a week, though, this wasn’t as big a problem as it otherwise might have been, but now I must trust my physios for timing on when players will return.  Failing that, I’ll have to hit the loan wire late in the transfer window and that is rarely a good thing.

 

Padova 2-0 Lecco

 

# # #

 

The reaction of the crowd was appreciative, and I hope that means we’ll see a few more of them.  More and more clubs are starting “fan days” now, which are days specifically tailored by the club to attract more fans.  That can include reduced admission prices or free admission for kids, for example.

 

Euganeo has plenty of open seats, though, and I am thinking we could use a fan day or two to get people into the stands.  It’s quite a pretty facility, and I would much prefer to see it even half full.  Or even a quarter full.  Four thousand people in a stadium built for 29,000 is not good.

 

But then, given the club’s recent history, I wouldn’t expect people to be busting down the doors to see us play.  We have to earn them back and I understand that.

 

So we have work to do.  Matches like today’s are part of getting that work done.  It’s all about winning football matches and that is how it ought to be.  There are other aspects of the Italian demeanor in this game that cause more difficulty.

 

Such as blaming officials for absolutely everything that goes wrong.  Italian football’s history is replete with controversy and scandal, and it was most recently manifested in the match-fixing saga that most heavily penalized Juventus.  Other clubs were also involved but no one was punished as harshly as the “Old Lady”.

 

I say that to say this: for some people here, it’s perfectly natural to assume that when you lose, it was because someone else bought off a decision-maker like a referee or a league executive.  In the States, that sort of talk is less prevalent (though not unheard of), but here it’s nearly second nature.

 

It’s a built-in excuse for those who lose often, but it’s also tiring for those who win to explain that they’re on the up-and-up.  Especially when Juventus wasn’t.

 

But you don’t to give money to an official, or try to rig the referee selection as Juventus did, to create controversy. 

 

There are stories about whether or not the chairman of AS Roma reportedly bought all the top-flight referees new Rolex watches a few years ago, and additional stories regarding whether the officials gave them back.  This is an especially popular story to fans of Roma’s archrivals, our parent club SS Lazio.  I stay away from stories like that.

 

Point being, I’m staying as far as I possibly can away from the kinds of things which will destroy reputations.  Even my meeting with Patty Myers happened with an open door and a full understanding with my staff of where I was and whom I was with.

 

I will never close my door when I am meeting with someone in my office.  I don’t care who it is.  It can be my chairman, Marcello Sestaro.  It can be a board member.  And it positively will remain open when I am meeting a member of the opposite sex.  I will not have it said that I was engaged in a secret meeting and that is that.

 

It’s a bit of a roundabout way to say what has to be said here, that I am trying to be as transparent as I possibly can, so I can feel as little guilt as possible.  Perhaps that’s the Scandinavian in me.

 

 

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#14 tenthreeleader

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Posted 07 February 2015 - 07:45 PM

Monday, August 27

All I have to say is that Patty Myers was right on the nose.

 

I got a most unflattering letter today and when I reported to the training pitch this morning I was in something less than my best mood.  In fact, I was ready to spit nails.

 

The registered letter I got today was what started all the unpleasantness of today.  Miss Myers hit the bull’s eye – Peter McGuire’s letter must have been very hard for him to write while looking so far down his nose.

 

I saw no real reason for him to write it.  He’s got what he wants – Kate – and I don’t.  There’s no need to rub it in.  But evidently he thinks there is.  So he wrote:

 

Mr. Ridgway:

 

I am writing to make you aware of developments that have occurred since my marriage to my wife Kate.  In writing, I need to be blunt so I will not need to write again. 

 

Stay away from Kate.  I have it on good authority that you hope to resume your former place and I will not tolerate it.  I will take any steps I deem appropriate should you approach or attempt to contact her by any means.

 

You will further have likely heard from a former acquaintance of mine, Patty Myers.  No doubt she will have tried to tempt you into a foolhardy state of mind regarding the state of my marriage. 

 

My wife has had a difficult stretch, made more difficult by your abandonment of her to pursue your football career.  We are quite happy, with two children, and I have spent five years undoing the damage you did.  She is only now returning to what she was before she had the misfortune of meeting you.

 

Stay away.  That is my final word.

 

Peter McGuire

 

# # #

 

There’s a certain amount of righteous indignation that necessarily follows from someone taking a cheap shot at you in writing.  When they are repeated, the indignation grows.  So it was easy for me to snap off a much shorter reply, also by registered mail, which went out this afternoon.

 

# # #

 

Mr. McGuire:

 

I am in receipt of your letter of August 23.

 

I consider your words to be a threat to my person, and your assertions both beyond the pale and unworthy of my reply.

 

I wish Kate nothing but the best.  And as the father of Kate’s children, I suppose the same should apply to you, if I could be arsed to say it.  But I can’t.

 

You are a little man, Peter McGuire.  And we both know it.

 

Rob Ridgway

 

# # #

 

With that, I filed away McGuire’s missive and went out to run my training session.  I took a regular turn with the defenders so I could work with my players while working off some significant frustration.

 

During training, my assistant, Filippo Masolini, noticed my mood right away.  He’d have to have been blind not to.

 

Filippo has been through the wars.  Like me, he retired last year, and like me, he was a defender.  But unlike me, he had Serie A experience.  He played seven matches for Cessena in 1988-89 and, again like me, his top-flight experience had come quite early in his career. 

 

My top-flight experience came with Rangers.  Falkirk was promoted to the Scottish Premier League after I left Ibrox, and Reading made the Premier League after I left as well.  Of course, Chicago is in a top-flight league too, but since MLS does not offer promotion and relegation, it’s a whole different game there.

 

Filippo is sort of like baseball player Crash Davis in the movie “Bull Durham”.  He’s the guy who made it to ‘The Show’ but only for enough time to realize he was there before he went back to the lower leagues, never to return.

 

Yet, he’s been to Serie A – top-flight experience in the country from which virtually all my players hail and which styles itself as the best in the world.  We have a “good cop bad cop” relationship beginning with the players, with Filippo very much the “good” side of the equation.

 

For now, what I care most about is that my players know who is in charge when I have to be the heavy.  I think I can help these players get where they want to go and if Filippo wants to play the hero with them he has my full blessing.  The best relationships are like that – the boss is the boss and the assistant deals with the players, with the captain excepted.

 

Crovari has all the access to me he wants, as the players’ representative.  It has to be that way.  I accept a certain amount of directness from Federico since I allowed him to give it to me by naming him captain.  I want open and honest communication with him at all times.  Sometimes it won’t be pleasant but it has to happen as part of running a professional club.

 

We’re in a good mood today, having won yesterday, and the drill work was light while legs recovered.  We had lunch and then spent the heat of the afternoon in our air-conditioned meeting room watching video of Sassuolo, our opponents this coming Sunday.

 

I am optimistic.  I think we are on to something good – on the pitch.

 

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#15 tenthreeleader

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Posted 09 February 2015 - 03:56 PM

Tuesday, August 28

McGuire ripped me wide open today with another mailing, and to say I’m outraged is kind.

 

Today’s letter contained family pictures and a hand-written note scrawled on company stationery: “Stay away!”  I am ready to go to the authorities.  It’s simple harassment and I won’t tolerate that.

 

Seeing pictures of Kate for the first time in five years was interesting in a sad way – she’s still gorgeous and obviously motherhood agrees with her as I knew it would when I asked her to marry me.  Yet seeing her holding a child that wasn’t mine cut me all the way to my bones.

 

“I could just scream,” I said aloud, as I opened the mail that came from a disguised address.  That by itself was enough for me to go to the authorities and as an American citizen, I had special recourse open to me.  I picked up my office phone, and after a moment’s hesitation, placed a call.

 

The operator on the other end of the line answered my call.  “United States Department of State, Venice office,” she said.

 

“Patty Myers, please,” I said, closing my door.

 

# # #

 

After a moment, she picked up.  I took a deep breath.

 

“Patty, this is Rob Ridgway in Padua,” I said.

 

“Rob!  How nice to hear from you!” she replied, with a joy I had a hard time understanding.  “I hope you weren’t too upset by that letter.  Was it bad?”

 

I felt upset and frankly, a little set up.  “Of course it was bad,” I said.  “It was crude, insulting, unbecoming a gentleman, an outright lie – shall I go on?”

 

“I’m sorry,” she said.  “I was hoping if you called for me you’d be in a better mood.”

 

“Can’t help it,” I said.  “It was just a vile letter.  Right out of the gutter.”

 

“Sometimes that’s how Peter is,” she said.  “I wish it had been different.  May I ask what you did?”

 

“I wrote him back, telling him to leave me alone,” I said.  “And today I got a second mailing – family pictures, sent from a fictitious address, with a note telling me to stay away.”
 

“That’s brutal,” she answered with surprising candor.  “Even for him, that’s brutal.”

 

“You sound like you’ve had experience with his moods,” I said, and I could almost hear her face falling in reply.

 

“Yes, I have,” she said.  “I have to ask … did he say anything about me?”

 

“He wasn’t kind,” I admitted, and I’m sure her face fell still further.  “So I’ll tell you what.  I have a bit of an odd request.”

 

“Not too odd, I hope,” she said, in a desperate attempt to introduce levity to the situation.  It wasn’t a good idea.

 

“You’re very important to the process,” I said.  “I want to register a formal complaint.  I need someone to take my statement and I would like that person to be you, if that’s all right.”

 

“I don’t see where that would be a problem,” she said, “but you’re right, it’s unusual.”

 

“That isn’t the unusual part,” I said.  “I’d like to give you my statement in Venice.  I have some questions I want to ask you and I don’t want to be on the phone when I ask them.”

 

There was a pause on the other end of the line, and then she spoke.  “All right,” she said.  “As for your complaint, I have a suggestion.”

 

“Fair enough,” I answered, and then it was her turn to surprise me.

 

“How about I take it now so we can enjoy a nice dinner without having to worry about business?  I think I owe you at least that much and frankly I wouldn’t mind some intelligent conversation.”

 

I thought it through, and realized I might indeed survive the experience.

 

“That sounds like a deal,” I said.  “How about Thursday night?”
 

“Perfect,” she answered.  “I know a nice place near here that I think you might enjoy.  Now, tell me your story.”

 

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#16 tenthreeleader

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Posted 10 February 2015 - 04:04 PM

Wednesday, August 29

Today hurt like hell.  I really can’t describe it in any other way.

 

The day didn’t start out as badly as it finished.  It was much better, in fact, and we are training well for a trip to face a good Sassuolo side.  This trip will be a bit of a jaunt by comparison to those we’ve taken so far, and the road experience will do us good.

 

I do have a nice problem to worry about up front, though.  Muzzi will not return to training until tomorrow after his dead leg in last Sunday’s match and as a result he won’t be fully fit for Sunday.  Varricchio will be able to play and is in form, but DiNardo and Paponi both found the back of the net against Lecco.

 

So I have four players who can do the job and my choice is now to choose between them.  They are training well and when I am on the pitch with them I am already learning that I can forget my troubles and simply enjoy the game – which is what I did the last time Kate broke my heart.

 

Yet, there is other news.  While I am preparing to travel to Venice tomorrow night to meet Patty Myers for the evening, I received another letter today and it wasn’t from McGuire.  It was from Kate, and after I got home tonight I had a hard time.

 

I’m starting to dread the trip to my office to open my mail.  I honestly don’t know why McGuire has been such a hurtful little toad to me – I have had no intention of approaching Kate and frankly doing so would have hurt far more than it would have helped.  Someone said something to him and I have to know who it was.

 

But then I got back to my office and found another letter, addressed to me, from Kate’s firm.  However, underneath the return address I saw “K. Southerland” written in her own quite distinct handwriting.  The fact that it was her maiden name gave me pause and stopped me from throwing the letter straight into the wastebasket.

 

I sat at my desk, with the letter in the middle of it on my blotter, and I stared at it for twenty solid minutes, as if I could open the envelope by telekinesis.  If I could do something like that, though, I’d never have retired as a football player, that much is for certain!

 

“K. Southerland,” I mused, staring hard at the writing before making my decision. 

 

“Oh, what the hell,” I said, picking up the envelope and slicing it open.  “This better be good.”  What I read, to my great surprise, actually was.

 

# # #

 

My dear Rob:

 

Please, first and all, forgive me for causing what I know will be a painful moment for you, assuming you even read these words.

 

Yet I must write, to apologize for Peter’s conduct.  He had been told by a former girlfriend that you were living and working in Italy and had drawn all the wrong conclusions about why you were there.

 

He has been quite impossible and I told him that knowing you, it would not be necessary to write.  Unfortunately, that did not help.  He has the wrong idea about you and you must believe I am working as hard as I dare to correct those ideas.

 

When we parted, I took it as hard as you did.  One of the things Peter did to win me over was to convince me that you had deserted me to go to America.  I know now that this wasn’t true.  You wanted to go home and you wanted me to go with you, as your wife.  I don’t blame you for this.

 

You know I couldn’t go with you, but please understand that I don’t blame you for anything that happened between us.  It just didn’t work, and sometimes things just aren’t meant to happen no matter how much you want them to.

 

Here is the most important thing, Rob. I will always love you.  My fondest wish for you is that you find life’s best.  I know you can’t write back to me so I must ask that this be the last word between us.  You deserve better than he has given you and I wanted it to come from me.  Be happy.

 

As ever, yours.

Kate

 

# # #

 

Carefully, I folded the letter and put it in my safe.  A tear rolled down my cheek as I closed the door, and I took a deep breath before I got up to go home. 

 

“Be happy,” I sighed.  “How can she say something like that?”

 

As I got up I saw Christina standing in my doorway, with a look of concern on her face. 

 

“Rob, are you all right?” she asked me, with just a touch of maternal concern.

 

“I will be,” I said.  “Maybe not right away, but I will be.”

 

She nodded.  “I gather some unpleasant times are being recalled,” she said, using a curious choice of words.

 

“The worst I ever had,” I admitted.  “It hasn’t been a good week.”

 

“This too shall pass,” she advised.  “But if you don’t mind my saying so, I think Signorina Myers is hoping for a bit more of your time.”

 

This was the first time Christina has shown anything like an interest in my personal well being and this wasn’t lost on me.  I decided to reward her concern with a frank answer.

 

“I thought that too,” I admitted.  “But I need to speak with Signorina Myers about a few things before I consider anything like that.  You should know I will be in Venezia tomorrow evening and I am leaving directly from the afternoon training.  If anyone needs to reach me I will have my BlackBerry with me.”

 

“Very well,” she said.  “I’ll do my best to make sure you and Signorina Myers are not disturbed.”

 

I laughed out loud.  “Christina, how on earth did you know that?” I asked.

 

She smiled and preceded me out the door, the day’s work completed.  “There are some things a woman just knows,” she replied, and I had to admit she was right.

 

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#17 tenthreeleader

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Posted 11 February 2015 - 02:08 PM

Thursday, August 30

I am getting too damned old for this.

 

Last night I did several things I have warned my players not to do as professionals and several things I fastidiously avoided doing when I played. 

 

Kate’s letter, as beautiful and loving as it was, threw me into a tailspin and I was glad to be at home when I bottomed out.

 

As a result, I was in a rather delicate condition when I reported to run training this morning, a condition I dared not show.  It was going to be a big day for me and I knew I needed to be in better shape by noon than I was when I fell out of bed this morning.

 

So I dragged myself out of bed early, reported to the training compound early, on foot, and worked out.  I live ten minutes from Euganeo downtown and I elected to run to training as part of working last night out of my system.

 

I am not proud to admit it but last night I drank pretty heavily.  I am not a big drinker as a rule and that is for obvious reasons.  Alcohol has ruined the careers and lives of many a footballer and even legends like George Best had their careers cut short by the bottle.

 

That’s the worst part about being alone, frankly.  There’s nobody to talk to and I was seven time zones away from anyone I trusted enough to help me.  So I gave in, and I’m not proud of that in the slightest.

 

But by the time I arrived at Euganeo I was ready to work and an hour in the weight room and on the treadmill allowed me to sweat out the worst of it – with the exception, of course, of a hammering headache – before reporting to the training pitch. 

 

We had a sharp (except for me), quick (again, except for me) morning (over my objection) training session followed by agility work after lunch.

 

Also, the striker situation sorted itself out today.  DiNardo will be dropped after two straight poor training sessions.  It will be Paponi and Varricchio up front with Muzzi making the bench for a substitution if needed. 

 

DiNardo wasn’t happy – no player likes to train poorly after scoring, since it can cost him an extended run in the team – and his frustration was directed as much at himself as it was at me for not selecting him. 

 

The senior squad players generally know who will be in the squad at least a day before a match unless we have midweek play, but they do know if they screw up in training it can easily cost them their places.

 

I won’t tell anyone who my starting eleven will be due to the culture of gambling in the country.  It’s just not worth the risk and the mudslinging that inevitably will take place when I make my first wrong move as a manager.  That first misstep is also inevitable.

 

So my objective is not to make trouble for myself, but a repetition of last night’s events will surely do that.  I think I got it out of my system last night, though, and really I have no choice but to move on.  I moved on five years ago and I will have to do it all over again now.  It wasn’t easy then, but I know I can do it again.

 

I’m concerned, for the short term, much more about Sassuolo than I am about Kate.  It has to be that way.  Peter McGuire can’t really hurt me, but Sassuolo’s striker Roberto Colussi sure can, and he can have lot more impact in a much shorter frame of time.

 

If that sounds trite, I apologize.  But it’s true.  Kate floored me when I wasn’t looking yesterday and the question is no longer what I do about it – which is good, considering my answer was wrong.  The question is now how do I prosper and get, as Kate called it, “the best in life” for myself.

 

But that will need to wait long past Sunday and it will take a long time to realize, if I get there at all.

 

# # #

 

Following the afternoon session I climbed into my car and roared off to Venice, my mind filled with questions.

 

Obviously, Patty was the person Kate referred to in her letter.  But why did Patty come to me with the information she had?  Why would she care?  Was it to protect her own reputation?   Why did Kate feel it necessary to defend me to McGuire, if he had convinced her that I was a deserter?

 

And perhaps the most important questions were addressed to myself: did I really want to get involved in all this?  Shouldn’t I simply concentrate on managing my football club and doing my job?  Could the timing for all this have been any worse?

 

As I drove, I realized my answers to my own three questions were “No”, “Yes, you idiot”, and “Probably not”, in that order. 

 

More than once I thought about turning back, but as I drove eastward one additional thought became increasingly clear to me.

 

I needed to hear Patty out.  She had filed my complaint regarding McGuire with the authorities.  And, she obviously had a good reason for coming to see me.

 

I drove into the city as we had traveled on the coach last week, and wound up at the Westin Hotel Europa.  It’s just a few blocks away from the famous Piazza San Marco and less than two miles from Venezia’s home pitch.

 

I was further hoping for a quiet dinner, since me being sighted in Venice would not be a positive thing in the eyes of many of our supporters.  There are places players and managers don’t go, and even though Venezia isn’t an archrival, it’s not the best place for me to be seen.

 

Still, I did feel I was there on business to a point and so I wasn’t terribly worried even if I should be seen.  I pulled into the hotel lot and looked at my watch.  I was two minutes early for our 6:00 meeting time and I would probably be fashionably late for my engagement.

 

That said, I detest being late.  So I hurried to the hotel restaurant, gave Patty’s name to the maitre d’ and hoped for the best. 

 

He nodded and showed me to a quiet corner table where she waited for me, anxiety on her pretty face.

 

“Hi, Patty, I’m sorry I’m late,” I said, and she actually rose to greet me.

 

“Rob, I’m just glad you decided to show up,” she said, her relief now beginning to show.

 

“It was certainly the least I could do,” I said, making sure she was comfortably seated before I sat across from her at the table.  “Thanks for all you’ve done to help me.”

 

“It’s no problem,” she said.  “I got the information to the chief of station and it’s taken care of.  You should hear from them tomorrow, in fact.”

 

“I’m happy to hear that,” I said.  “But as you might guess, I have some questions.”

 

“I have answers,” she said simply.  “And depending on how you like those answers, I may have a few questions of my own.”

 

“You speak well in riddles,” I smiled, and she gave a wry smile in return.

 

“I’m only a liaison, but there are times working for State has its advantages,” she said, as the waiter came to the table with a wine list.

 

I smiled at her and she ordered a wonderful little wine.  I had no doubt it would be good and a few moments later when the waiter returned with the bottle, I affirmed my judgment even as I blanched a bit at the sight of more alcohol.  Just about anything would have been an improvement on the whiskey I drank last night.

 

“I’m sorry, Patty, I’m not at my best tonight,” I said.  “Last night was pretty difficult.”

 

“What happened?” she asked.

 

“I got a letter,” I answered.  “I think you should see it.”  With that, I produced Kate’s letter from my pocket and handed it to Patty to read.  I wanted her to see it – and I needed answers.

 

She read the note and finally, looked up at me.  “She loves you,” Patty said, and I nodded.

 

“Like wings on a bicycle – nice, but useless,” I said.  “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life to get over her.  Now I have to do it all over again.  Why?”

 

“I know the answer to your question, Rob,” she said.  “It’s the deeper reason why I came to see you the other day, and now it’s time to talk about it.”

 

# # #

 

I had planned to spend the dinner hour in Venice but I ended up staying five hours. 

 

We ate dinner and wound up taking a long walk along the Piazza San Marco at sundown, when I wouldn’t be recognized.  The heat of the day made the cool of the evening quite a nice change indeed.

 

And over the course of the evening, she told me what she knew.  It certainly helped.

 

“He’s not a nice man,” she said of McGuire, and I could certainly agree with that.  “I was working in London a month ago and I went to see him on business.  He told me some things I really didn’t want to hear.”

 

“I can imagine,” I said.  “I think I heard some things I really didn’t want to hear as well.”

 

“Well, try this on for size.  I didn’t know he was married to Kate when I was with him,” she said, and I nearly walked into a street lamp.

 

“When I found out, I was humiliated but he said he’d wreck my career if I told anyone,” she continued.  “It was blackmail.  He wants me quiet because he thinks if you find out, you’ll tell Kate and take her back.”

 

“Bright boy, our Mr. McGuire,” I said angrily.  “And you’re here to get away from him?”

 

“Partly,” she said.  “But I need to ask some questions now, if you don’t mind.”

 

I nodded.  Most of mine had been answered and I was convinced of her forthrightness in fairly short order.

 

“Do you really want Kate back?” she asked.  “When I saw him, it was like he was foaming at the mouth over you.  He’s really frightened of you, I think.”

 

Wondering why she would care and why it was really any business of hers, I took a deep breath but responded anyway. 

 

“I put that idea out of my mind years ago,” I said.  “It still hurts like hell but no, I don’t want her back.  They are making a life even though it appears to be based on more than one lie.”

 

“I want to get away from him,” she said.  “All he could talk about was this playboy football player who was in Italy and how he wanted to teach you some humility.” 

 

She sensed my growing anger.

 

“I couldn’t believe one person could be as beastly as he was making you out to be,” she added.  “And since he had hurt me so badly, I knew he was lying.  So I wanted to meet you.  It seems odd, doesn’t it?”

 

Her expression finally revealed her inner sadness, so I tried to lift her up with my answer. 

 

“He played you and he deserves whatever is coming to him for that.  I should write Kate back but at this point I don’t know if it would do any good.”

 

“Maybe it would,” she suggested, and I asked her to explain.

 

“She still loves you,” Patty reminded me.  “There has to be a reason for that.”

 

She looked down at the ground as we walked.  “I made so many bad choices, Rob, and now here I am trying to put my life back together.  I have my job, I still have my career and if he tries to ruin me, I’ll fight him.”

 

“Good,” I answered, suddenly with more protectiveness than I had any right to feel.

 

“Kind of you to say,” she said, and we continued our walk.

 

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#18 tenthreeleader

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Posted 12 February 2015 - 03:36 PM

Friday, August 31
I forced myself away from the roller coaster that is my personal life for today’s training session, though when I had spare time my thoughts went back to last night’s meeting in Venice.

I think Patty was also trying to tell me she likes me, but I could certainly understand her reluctance to “pull the trigger” given her history. I know I can understand my own reluctance given mine.

I had to put those thoughts firmly on the back burner today as we went through a hard training session under cloudy skies before Sunday’s trip. I am pleased with how the squad is starting to catch on to the tactics, and we did some additional 4-4-2 variant work as a result once today’s tactical training was properly done.

Obviously, the players need to know how I want them to play other formations too. Installing a whole new formation with all of its component set pieces is a big thing, but we aren’t going to stay in 4-1-3-2 for the entire season. We’ll be doing different things, playing different widths, using five-man midfields, playing with three forwards, and all kinds of necessary things.

Most of these things are second nature to professionals. Others can be surprisingly difficult to teach.

Those adjustments take time and we need good tactical instruction to make them happen. Once they do happen, though, we’ll take off and fly right. I am looking forward to that.

# # #

Heading into Sunday’s match, the only serious injury woes we have are to our left-sided midfielders, which means Music gets the call again by default.

Vedin is quite disappointed that his international career seems to be over. At age 33, he knows he isn’t going to get too many more chances to play, so when he features for me he is determined to make his name so he can get in with a shout of making the national team again.

I’ll have a motivated player for the short term, no doubt about it. He has worked very hard the last couple of matches and a prolonged run of good form might just get him where he wants to go.

So today his training was excellent. He provides us a veteran presence and even though he is older than I might like, every team needs an “evergreen” player who can perform to expectations. That person can also lift others, with Manchester United’s ageless Ryan Giggs being the example there.

Vedin has earned his place, and I am very anxious to see what he does while our other competing players are out. The spot is his if he wants it, and he knows that. But he has to show me he wants it, and that is where he knows he must work.

So today’s training was fierce and competitive. We have competition for spots now due to the team’s early success and my full intention is to make these players get in top condition and work for everything they get.

I am not here to be their buddy. I’m here to be their manager and help them realize some goals. That won’t come without work, because in my experience the work hasn’t been done around here for some years in the manner it needs to be for success to become a habit.

I made the point at the end of drills today. The players had had a good workout and were looking for the last whistle to hit the showers. But then they started to coast and the quality of the drills slipped dramatically.

I noticed it and blew the whistle, but not in the way they thought.

“Gather around,” I said, pointing to a circle around me. They stood and I spoke, all in Italian.

“For 70 minutes I’ve seen a good training session,” I said. “For the last fifteen minutes I’ve seen lack of concentration, complacency and a desire to get done early. Well, we aren’t going to get done early today, gentlemen. We’re going to do a little running and I’m going to be at your head. I want to make this crystal clear: you train like you play, for ninety minutes from start to finish. And when we don’t do this, it’s due to a fault of mine so I will lead from the front. We’re doing intervals. Line up.”

For me, intervals involve running to the edge of the keeper’s six-yard box and back; to the top of the penalty area and back; to midfield and back; and finishing with a sprint the length of the pitch and back.

The 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team called intervals “Herbies” after coach Herb Brooks and they knew if they didn’t perform in a game their next practice would feature a lot of them. And a hockey rink is a lot shorter than a football pitch.

After two sets of intervals, I saw pace and desire again so I ended the workout. They wanted to quit running so they worked right up to the winning post.

“That’s what I want,” I said. “Hit the showers. I’m glad you finished on a winning note. More often than not, if you work like that to the end, you will finish games the same way.”

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#19 tenthreeleader

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Posted 13 February 2015 - 02:35 PM

Saturday, September 1

Today the senior squad tapered training for tomorrow’s trip.  I like the alliteration, and I do like how we are prepared.  I won’t guarantee a road result, but I am pretty sure we’ll compete.

 

The day was short as a result and I spent the rest of my afternoon watching Serie A on television.  That was fun – I have spent a fair amount of time of late watching football that is, shall I say, less technical than the top flight.

 

I spent a fair part of my day musing about Kate and her idiot husband.  I thought about poor Patty and how the creep who took my Kate away had so cruelly used her as well. 

 

And the more I thought about it, the more I respected Patty’s effort to try to find me.  In the end, I thought, she was simply looking for a friend and I certainly respect that.  I also need that, so I was quite grateful for her initiative.

 

I called her this evening and rather belatedly thanked her for her kindness in seeking me out.

 

“It’s no problem,” she said.  “I also understand how badly you were hurt.  I didn’t expect you to go out of your way for me like you’ve done.”

 

I felt a sense of selfishness and shame as she spoke.  “But I haven’t,” I admitted.  “Patty, I am sorry about that.  It sounds to me like you need a friend and I’m happy to be that person if you like.”

 

“Well, I have friends,” she said, and I figured I had paid the figurative price for all my questions and reluctance.

 

But then she surprised me.  “What I need is someone I can confide in,” she said.  “Do you want to be that person?”

 

I replied before I thought, but I liked my answer when it was done.  “I do,” I said.  “You’ve certainly earned that and I want to help.”

 

“Now that gives me something to hold onto,” she said.  “I’m just as sad as you are, Rob.  I just haven’t had the chance to tell you my whole story yet.”

 

“Now I feel selfish,” I said.  “Patty, I am so sorry.  All I’ve talked about is me and that isn’t fair.”

 

“You can make it up to me,” she said.  “How about I come to Padova next week and you can take me to dinner after your next home match?”

 

“Now that I would like,” I said.  “We don’t play at home until a week from tonight.”

 

“I have plenty to do in Venice this week with the Biennale,” she said.  “I would rather be exploring our friendship but that will come in time.”

 

I believe she’s right.

 

# # #

 

Sunday, September 2
Sassuolo v Padova - Serie C1A

 

Mother said there would be days like this.  However, I could have picked many other days on the calendar I might have preferred.

 

We had a two-hour coach trip home this evening to think about a match that was not as close as the score and which could easily have been much worse than it was.

 

We lost, we lost convincingly and we were lucky not to have been blown right out of the Stadio Enzo Ricci.  But I repeat myself.

 

As bad as today was, we actually managed to get to halftime with a nil-nil scoreline despite having put no meaningful pressure on the Sassuolo goal.  But in the second half, we lost our shape, we lost our composure and in the end, we lost the match.  At least we didn’t lose our dignity.  The only saving grace was that it was a long way from home.  Had it been at Euganeo, there might have been issues.

 

Even the crowd was disappointing – only 1,179 bothered to show up to see the match.  Most of them went home happy – and then there was me.

 

As it stands, I am examining my own preparation in light of all the crap that went on this week in my personal life.  I have done the very best I could to keep it all away from me but obviously I have failed.

 

The players very definitely lost their tactical nous in the second half and the result was sort of like the wheezing noise you hear in the cartoons when an engine conks out.  We were not getting any gas to where it mattered and the result was an attack that sputtered at the very best.

 

We had six attempts at goal in the ninety minutes and only three of them went on target.  Defensively we were halfway decent, only making two mistakes.  Unfortunately they both wound up in our goal, and that’s what happens sometimes.

 

The first mistake came three minutes after the break when Roberto Colussi shook loose between Faísca and Sacchetti and slotted home past Orlandoni, who got a hand on the ball but couldn’t shift it onto the post.  He rose, angry at himself, but I couldn’t fault Paolo for what had happened.  It was a hell of a play to get a hand on the ball in the first place and I chose to stay positive after conceding.

 

We trained all week with the idea of making sure Colussi was accounted for on the pitch.  But despite our best efforts, sometimes the other guy just beats you.  This was one of those cases and I was happy to see our players bear down soon afterwards. 

 

That turned out to be a good thing, because Baú’s hustle earned us a penalty soon afterwards.  Just three minutes after Colussi’s goal we were on the spot.  DiNardo was bundled over in the area by defender Nicoló Consolini after taking a very good entry ball from Baú.  Referee Giovanni Fatta wasted no time in pointing to the spot and Baú grabbed the ball.

 

Unfortunately, Baú then clanged his penalty off the crossbar and over the goal, which hurt a lot.   Hurt me, that is.  The crossbar seemed to be none the worse for wear.  Goalkeeper Geoffrey Barretara never even had to move. 

 

Baú stood on the penalty spot, head buried in his hands, and suddenly it was up to his captain, and to me, to get the side motivated again.  Eder had made a wonderful play to get the ball into position, and then muffed the chance.  We had momentum and just like that it was gone. 

 

Football, like all team sports, is a game of momentum and from that moment we were on the back foot.  Playing away, there’s not much you can do about it, and that was certainly true in our case.  From that moment, Sassuolo took the initiative and had us on the back foot all the way to the end.  It seemed only a matter of time before they hit us again as we were out of ideas in attack and hanging on in defense.

 

They earned a penalty of their own eleven minutes from time when Sacchetti grabbed Colussi’s shirt in the area and held him back.  Fatta was equally quick to give the penalty, and the Sassuolo striker tied everything up in a nice neat little package by wrongfooting Orlandoni from the spot to kill us dead.

 

I wanted to see spark and determination from the players down two goals and I saw enough of it to make me stay my hand a bit after the match.  Still, we hadn’t played well, our formation work in the second half was quite poor, and they took advantage of that to beat us with ease.

 

The whistle blew for full time and I shook hands with the Sassuolo staff before figuring out what I was going to say to my players as a losing manager for the first time.

 

We trudged off the pitch to our changing room and the sting of the loss was already starting to set in.

 

Baú, ever the professional, was already apologizing as we entered the room, but I put a stop to that by simply motioning everyone to their seats.  As one, they turned to face me and I spoke to them in Italian.

 

“We all need to learn from this,” I said.  “Obviously, this was not an acceptable effort and that starts with me.  Our first half was decent but the second half was the worst we have been all season.  Eder, I appreciate you apologizing for missing the penalty but we had fourteen players get out there and we all lost two-nil.  The moment we take individual responsibility for a group loss is the day we take a step backwards.  Everyone who steps on the pitch when we lose shares responsibility just as everyone who steps on the pitch when we win shares the credit.”

 

“I want you to hold your heads up,” I said.  “We hold our hands up too, because we didn’t play well, but we have another match at Rovigo on Wednesday and we’ll have to be ready.  I want us thinking about playing better on the road because we’ll need to put in the tactics for Wednesday starting tomorrow morning.  The good news is we have the chance to get right back out there and fix what went wrong today.  Think about how you played on the way home and about how you can play better next time you are out there.  Hit the showers and let’s get out of here.”

Sassuolo 2-0 Padova

 

# # #

 

With that, I faced our media and repeated what I told the squad. 

 

“It’s good that we get out there again on Wednesday because this leaves a bad taste in our mouths,” I said.  “Full marks to Sassuolo for taking the wheels off us, though.  They are a good side and we’ll look forward to the rematch at Euganeo.  But now I have a group of players who have lost for the first time in their new system and we have things we need to fix.”

 

“What are those things, besides looking lost off the ball?” I didn’t appreciate the tone of the question but it was one that deserved to be asked based on performance.

 

“That’s really the biggest one,” I admitted.  “Positionally we were absent in the second half and that’s going to get you punished in this formation.  When you play three wide across the middle with a holder, everyone needs to be smart or we’re going to get abused.  There isn’t a lot of natural width in that formation, so if we want to hold out own there we have to be smart positionally.  In the first half we were but in the second half we weren’t and you saw the result.”

 

“How much did the missed penalty hurt you?”

 

“They always hurt when you miss, whether you win or lose,” I said.  “I’m not ready to throw Eder Baú under the bus for it, though.  Misses do happen from the penalty spot.  It would have been great to have an instant answer for their first goal and who knows, if we had scored we might have gotten a point out of here today.  But on the whole we did not deserve the points and we didn’t get them.”

 

“Are you thinking of changing formation?”

 

“No.”

 

“Why not?”  Now that was a challenging question.

 

“Because this one has put together a series of victories and hasn’t been defeated until today,” I said.  “The players are growing into it but you’re going to have growing pains when you try anything new.  I do think that will work itself out over time and I’m optimistic.  We have a 100 percent start in the cup and today was the first time we haven’t looked sharp in this formation, so I am not going to ring the changes based on one result.”

 

The interview ended and I headed back to the coach where the players were starting to arrive in dribs and drabs.  Twenty minutes later we were on our way back home and the bus was quiet.

 

I could hear occasional waftings of music from various mp3 players near the front of the coach but as I looked back I saw players sitting, eyes closed, either resting or thinking.  I was hoping it would be both.

 

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#20 tenthreeleader

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Posted 14 February 2015 - 04:16 PM

Monday, September 3

The morning media weren’t kind. 

 

Il Padova was less than impressed with Biancoscudati and their whiz kid manager this morning, with the simple phrase “Waste of Time” on the front of their sport section along with a photo of Baú missing his penalty.

 

That sort of thing is no fun at all and as I welcomed the players back to training this morning I wanted to make sure they understood my feelings.

 

“We got ripped in the morning papers and we deserved it,” I explained.  “We just didn’t play well and we need to do better.  You don’t need me to tell you that.  But to stop this negativity in the press, we’re going to need a road result.  Let’s work on making that result come Wednesday.”

 

I kept things light today.  I want the players to know that the loss hurts, but the loss is done and now we need to get things back to an even keel.  I’m also quite interested in making sure my own preparation for a match again drops to what I feel it was for this one.  Managers are entitled to personal lives, of course, and they’re even allowed to get beat by a better club once in awhile, but I don’t feel in retrospect that I was good enough.  So I can’t and won’t blame my players.

 

I have mentioned that this culture tends to blame everyone except the person who loses.  I won’t accept that and I won’t let my players accept it either.  This is where I can make it up to them and help make them better.  I want accountability, not finger pointing.  I want re-commitment, not sulking.  And I am going to start with myself.

 

# # #

 

That said, I did get e-mail today which put a smile on my face.

 

“Sorry things didn’t go well on Sunday.  Looking forward to some time with you after the match on Saturday if you can spare it. – Patty”

 

# # #

 

I wrote her back:

 

“It’s kind of you to write.  I could use a smile this week.  I think last week really messed me up.  I don’t feel good about my work so something positive will help! – Rob”

 

While she appreciated hearing from me, my note didn’t have the effect I wanted:

 

“If you think I’m responsible for that I will stay away. – Patty”

 

That wasn’t what I had in mind and I took great pains to make sure she knew it:

 

“I’m sorry – that was not what I meant.  Having Kate dredged back up was what did it to me, not the fact that it was you who came to me.  You have been sweet, kind and helpful and you are not the problem.  If you’d like to be part of the solution, I’d be happy to make my insensitivity up to you. – Rob”

 

I had to wait until the evening for a reply, and I was starting to get pretty nervous about that.  I have never had what I would consider to be a deft touch around the opposite sex until I met Kate and we all know how that turned out.  So maybe I’ve never had a deft touch in the first place.

 

But finally, at about ten o’clock, she answered.

 

“I’m sorry it took me so long to answer you.  Work happened and I spent the evening out with a friend.  Yes, I’d love to be part of the solution and I think you could be part of my solution too.  We can talk about that Saturday, I hope.  Have a good week! – P”

 

I need to have a good week.  Another night Wednesday like I had on Sunday won’t be acceptable at all.  The trip is short – just 29 miles separate the cities – so we can make the match day an evening trip.  We don’t consider this a derby match, but the rivalry between the clubs is regional so there will be a fair amount of passion involved.  We will need to be better than we were yesterday, that much is certain.

 

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