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

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#21 tenthreeleader


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Posted 16 February 2015 - 02:19 PM

Tuesday, September 4

I heard back from the American Embassy regarding my complaint on McGuire. 


It does appear as though I was on their radar screen before today, which was surprising.  My position as the only American managing an Italian football club made the higher-ups in Rome take notice. 


You never know what sort of person is going to make a stupid statement or worse yet, try something equally stupid.


So they know where I am and really, I hope they aren’t too aware of what I’m doing.  That sort of knowledge is a bit nerve-wracking for me.  But you never know – I may need their help sooner rather than later.


They did ask for copies of the correspondence I considered threatening, and I sent it along.  I’m not thrilled about the idea of strangers getting the lowdown on my relationship with Kate, but I freely showed her letter to Patty at dinner last week so depending on who sees the information, I guess I can live with it.


# # #


But tonight was all business.  I watched Rovigo video and put together the team sheet I want to see.


Muzzi needs to be on it.  His absence was keenly felt at Sassuolo and when he is in the match he often draws man-marking due to his wonderful ability to strike a ball. 


That opens up the pitch for his partner, and if I use Roberto as a target striker, Varricchio seems to be able to play off him well.  This is part of learning my team, and I have to pick that up sooner rather than later.


His dead leg appears to be back to normal and he will go back into the side.  As punchless as we were against Sassuolo, it seems obvious to me that he needs to regain his place.


Music played well again on the left side of midfield so he will remain in the side.  He was about the only consistent threat we had, in fact, with the exception of Baú’s moment where he drew the penalty.  So I told Vedin he should plan on playing again, and he was pleased to hear it.


He is determined, more so in fact than even Baú or Crovari, players I consider to be professionals.  Paz is that way too, which is what I had hoped he would be when I signed him.  Among the other new players, Sacchetti is fitting in well and his quiet leadership is just what I hoped he’d provide in addition to excellent man-marking skills.


There are advantages to having a veteran squad, such as short-term toughness.  But to grow we need to get younger and I am starting already to turn my thoughts toward the January window, when we will look to bring in players for the longer-term on expiring contracts.


So today was one hundred percent football.  And that was just fine with me.


# # #


Wednesday, September 5
Rovigo v Padova – Serie C1A

I am very pleased with the squad tonight.  We rebounded as well as I could have hoped, and even though we had another missed penalty tonight, it didn’t hurt us as we coasted to a very nice away win that has moved us to fifth in the table.


Just about all the changes to the side I made worked out, which has taught me a valuable lesson about application.  I was “locked in” to this match and I think the results were plainly visible in the side.


Of course, the players are the ones who have to play and they did that to a much higher level than on Sunday.  Positionally we were much better and it showed all the way through the ninety minutes.  When we are structurally sound, the 4-1-3-2 is a fluid formation, very good in transition and able to exploit a defensive weakness with pace and passing skill.


It was a much, much better effort, but I again repeat myself.  This is the kind of message I would rather repeat.


We got on the coach at Euganeo at 3:00 for the 7:30 kickoff and had a relaxed trip south to Rovigo.  When the coach stopped outside the Stadio Francesco Gabrielli, I stepped to the front of the aisle and spoke quickly.


“Remember your assignments and remember how Sunday felt,” I said.  “Let it show through in your play.  This is a match you can win and I’ll be looking for better than I saw on Sunday.  Let’s go have a good warmup and get on the match early.”


With that I turned around and led my team off the bus.  From that moment, my players were as locked in as I was and that was a great thing to see.


# # #


Again, we played before a Serie C crowd, which is to say it was small.  Just 2,971 showed up and of those, about 300 were traveling fans.  And the cities are only thirty miles apart.


Matches like tonight might help us draw a few more supporters, though.  Muzzi came through in the first half hour, netting on 28 minutes nearly by accident to get us on top.


Music started the play with a sharp move down the left touchline.  When he got to the top of the 18-yard box, still along the touchline, he lofted a ball toward the middle that was actually intended for Varricchio.


Massimiliano was covered by a defender, so he played a terrific dummy right into the path of the onrushing Muzzi, who had slipped past the other central defender on his right.  Too late, keeper Igor Massigia saw the danger and raced to cut down the angle, but by then it was too late.  Muzzi brought the ball to control with an excellent right-footed first touch, and his second touch slotted the ball past Massigia on his left to get us 1-nil to the good.


It was a heady play by three veterans and I knew it.  I reacted with some emotion, thrusting my fists into the air and letting the bench see that the boss was quite pleased indeed.  The reaction was good, and the energy we saw from that point on was markedly better than it had been Sunday.


That score held to halftime and we had given Rovigo only one good chance in the entire half.  In all, it was a four-star road performance and I communicated my pleasure to the players as they sat for the halftime team talk.


“Take the three points.  They’re out there for you,” I urged them.  “This is so much better than Sunday I can’t even describe it.  Work your lanes, stay positionally strong and see what strong play will get you.  This is there for you tonight.  Make it happen.”


I was pleasantly surprised to see the team then buck up their ideas in the second half.  We retained our shape in a much better way than on Sunday and it was actually quite pleasing to watch.


De Cristofaris, who has been struggling with fitness in training since his loan from Lazio, did get a chance to play today and started the work on our second goal from a corner.  He put a useful ball into the box and found Muzzi at Massiggia’s right post.  Roberto shot the ball and cranked it right off defender Matteo Rossi’s leg.  It changed direction (the ball, not Rossi’s leg) and flew past Massiggia for an own goal on 57 minutes to make it 2-0.


The two-goal breathing space was quite welcome, especially since its scoring made Rovigo come to us instead of the other way around.  The next fifteen minutes were plenty spicy and finally we snapped, as Fabio Ceccarelli’s sharply angled shot flew past Orlandoni on 72 minutes to get the home side onto the scoreboard.


Their crowd then got into the match and I pulled back into the flat 4-4-2 to give us a wider presence across the midfield.  I wasn’t yet ready to drop a striker, though, and my patience was rewarded thanks to an incisive counterattack four minutes from time.


Muzzi and Baú worked a wall pass to perfection on the right side of the penalty area and Rossi, who had a torrid game, had no choice but to haul down Eder to prevent a goal.  The penalty was correctly given and Baú stepped up looking for redemption.


This time, he didn’t hit the bar.  This time, he slammed his shot straight into Massiggia’s chest.


His momentary look of shock was abated when the ball came directly back to him, and he slotted the rebound home past the stunned keeper for our third and final goal.


Baú had scored, but missing two consecutive penalties can tell on the confidence.  I was very glad to see Eder pick up the goal, even if it did come on the second bite of the cherry.  Goals are goals.


The third goal allowed me to change to 4-5-1 for the remaining few minutes and to get Muzzi a well-deserved rest for a match very well played.  I pulled him and extended my hand as he neared the bench.


“Well done, big man,” I said, using the American euphemism, and he gave me a puzzled look.  I re-translated.  “Well done, Don Muzzi,” I smiled, and he laughed at my hackneyed use of the phrase as he walked to the bench.


# # #


“Better in every respect,” I told the media afterward.  I then focused on Stefano Emiliani, the reporter who had asked me about changing formation on Sunday.


“Stefano, I know you’re a 4-4-2 man,” I tweaked.  “Was that good enough for you?  Eighteen scoring attempts tonight away from home, was that enough?”


He took my gentle barb with good grace.  “They had never seen a junk formation before, I suppose,” he said with a smile and we both knew our true feelings were in the middle.  4-1-3-2 is not a junk formation and I know Stefano understands his football.  But I had made my point – when these players play their formation, they are pretty good.


“I’m pleased with our ninety-minute effort,” I stated.  “They made a very good play to earn a very good goal late in the match but on the whole I can’t find a lot of fault with how we played.  I am delighted with how we rebounded from Sunday’s disappointment and I’m hopeful we can keep up our positive momentum heading into Saturday’s match with Manfredonia at Euganeo.”


And with that, I got on a motor coach containing much happier players for the trip home.

Rovigo 1-3 Padova


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#22 tenthreeleader


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Posted 17 February 2015 - 02:09 PM

Thursday, September 6

The headlines were better today but now we have a new controversy.


Emiliani’s match report and accompanying column in the morning paper contained a heavy suggestion that I should remove Baú as taker of our spot kicks. 


I’ve had the same thought myself, and toyed with the idea on the way home yesterday, but our early team success makes me reluctant to change.


Yet, the facts are plain.  Eder has missed two in a row and I need to make a decision on whether he’s the right man to score for us when it matters the most. 


Eder is the best ball-striker on the club from the penalty spot and it’s not even terribly close.  However, in looking at videos of our last two matches, his problems appear to be ones of composure.


You can strike the ball as hard as you want, but if you’re nervous it feels like you’re trying to thread a needle with the ball.  I was a decent penalty taker when I played but hardly automatic from the spot so I know how it feels to be under pressure. 


The twelve yards from the penalty spot to goal are the longest twelve yards in world sport and I don’t care what anyone else says.


Italians know this as well as anyone, with Roberto Baggio still trying to live down his miss in the 1994 World Cup in Los Angeles that cost the Azzurri the Jules Rimet Trophy.


What people don’t remember here about that World Cup was that Italy was the sixteenth qualifier for that 1994 knockout round, finishing one place behind the United States in the table on total goals.  We scored three in preliminaries, and Italy scored two.   Italy nearly failed to make the second round, but both nations eventually lost to champion Brazil. 


Still, America’s loss was expected.  Italy’s loss stunned the nation.


Baggio bears the brunt of the fault for that loss, but Franco Baresi and Daniele Massaro also missed from the spot that day, as Italy converted only two of five penalties against Brazilian keeper Taffarel. 


It’s particularly galling here given that with Italy’s 2006 World Cup triumph over France, on penalties, this nation trails Brazil in World Cup championships by 5-4.


Nothing would mean more to most Italian fans than to have won the most World Cups.  Brazil is an immensely proud footballing nation and the manager of A Seleçao, whoever he is from one year to the next, has the highest-pressure job in world sport.  But had Italy been better on penalties that day, they’d be the champion of champions.


Which brings me back to Baú, who will probably never get the chance to score from the spot in a World Cup final. 


Whether you are a Sunday League amateur player or a world star like Roberto Baggio, you need to keep your nerve from the spot.  If Baú can’t, I’ll need to find someone else.


Emiliani wants to make that decision for me, and was pretty strident about it.


“You get two chances,” he wrote.  “If you miss them the manager has to look for someone else.  Biancoscudati are fortunate to have been awarded two penalties in successive matches and given that officials keep track of such things as how many penalties they give, the team can’t afford to miss any more when penalties are given.  The 4-1-3-2 formation of manager Ridgway is unorthodox enough to confuse many opponents into mistakes, which must be converted when Padova is on the penalty spot.  As nice a man as he is, Eder Baú is not that person.”


That will certainly draw an angry reaction from my right-sided midfielder, and understandably so.  Nobody likes to be told he’s pants in print, and Baú is certainly no exception.


He wanted to work on penalties in training today and even though it wasn’t a scheduled day, I put him through his paces with Andrea Cano after the workout was over.  I took my veteran backup keeper aside and told him what I needed.


“This is for his confidence, Andrea,” I said.  “Play hard and don’t worry about what happens.  Stop him if you can but it’s nothing to do with you.”


He nodded and assumed his place between the goal sticks.  Eder worked him for fifteen minutes and at the beginning missed more than he made.  But finally he got into a good rhythm and was pumping home shots from the spot with regularity when I blew the whistle softly.


“That’s enough for today, fellows,” I said.  “I think we’ll be all right here.”


Eder simply needed to know that I still trusted him, and my words were enough.  He thanked me for the extra time and then he and Cano headed for the dressing room, finished with a job well done.


# # #


I also had a long phone conversation with Patty this evening and it was a lot of fun for me. 


She felt the need to explain herself regarding last night’s e-mail exchange and I thought it was sweet of her to do so.


“Paul is a good friend and he’s a sounding board,” she said of the ‘friend’ she had written of.  “We went out for drinks last night and it got later than I thought it would.  I don’t want you to think I was avoiding you.”


“No, I didn’t think that but I was a little worried,” I said.  “I don’t seem to have done much right regarding you.”


“Stop beating yourself up,” she said.  “You’ve been fine.”


The thought of her out drinking with a male friend helped shape an opinion in my mind, and actually it didn’t hurt like I thought it might.  She is probably taken after all, and that reduces the pressure on me. 


The last thing I want is to try to manage a relationship in the midst of all this and knowing she is out with male friends is going to make me less likely to want to start one.


I’m 36 years old and I will eventually want a relationship of some kind.  Yet considering what happened to me last week I have good reason to be gun shy.  I’m not good enough at my job yet to handle what effect a relationship might have on it, and perhaps less able yet to give either one the attention they would both deserve.


That is really no fun to think about.  I want to succeed on and off the pitch.  But I have to be smart about it.  I could go back to the States and maybe have an easier time, but I don’t want an easy time.  I want to earn it.


But then she got an idea of what I meant with my comment. 


“You need to know a few things about Paul,” she said.  “First, he’s not my boyfriend.  He’s a buddy and he’s been very understanding about what has happened to me.”


“You don’t have to explain anything,” I said.  “If he’s special to you, that’s fine.  We’ve only known each other a little less than two weeks, and I certainly have no right to be poking around like that.”


“I volunteered it,” she said.  “Just like you volunteered Kate’s letter.”


I couldn’t argue with that so I didn’t try.


“I wanted you to read it so you’d know what was said about you,” I replied.


“And I wanted you to know about Paul so you’d know what was said about you,” she answered, and I tried and failed to hide my surprise.


She laughed.  “I wanted his advice,” she said.  “I asked him if he thought I was wasting my time by going to Padova to see you.”


I recovered my composure, and was equal to her words. 


“And what did Paul tell you?” I asked.


“He said I should do what made me happy,” she said.  “He said I deserved it.”


That sounded an awful lot like Kate talking, actually, and it wasn’t lost on me.  “I heard the same thing just recently,” I said.


“I know you did,” she answered, now speaking more softly.  “So I’m coming to see you on Saturday, okay?”


“That’s fine,” I agreed.  “I hope I don’t disappoint you.”


“Don’t rush,” she said.  “You have a job to do and so do I, but I want to learn some more about you.  There’s no pressure.”


I’ve said that last sentence to my players already this season and I had a hard time hearing it used to me.  It felt strange.


“I’m used to placing pressure, not having it removed,” I admitted.  “I really hope I don’t press.”


“I’ll worry about that if it ever happens,” she said.  “Somehow I do think I can trust you.”


“An abandoner of women like me?” I asked, with a trace of bitterness toward McGuire.


“No, the man Kate loves,” she said.  “And the one she can’t have.  You’re a good man, Rob.  Let’s have fun and see where it leads – if it leads anywhere.”


“Fair enough,” I replied.  “I’ll look forward to seeing you.”


# # #









#23 tenthreeleader


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Posted 19 February 2015 - 04:59 AM

Friday, September 7

We ought to win tomorrow.  So I am faced with the dilemma of how to get that across to my team without blowing them up.


Our opponents, Manfredonia, are an interesting club.  Only eight of their twenty-two senior squad players are actually contracted to the club, with thirteen players on loan contracts and midfielder Alessio Cossu co-owned with Serie B Ravenna. 


It’s no wonder that manager Raffaele Novelli has had disagreements with his board regarding the club’s ambition.


It’s hard to cobble together a team with that many loan players.  In England and Scotland, for example, there are limits on the number of loan players clubs can carry and play.  But here there is no such restriction and Manfredonia elected to build a team using other clubs’ players for the most part.


I have had problems enough getting my existing players to jell – but I can at least buy and sign new players if I need them.  Novelli evidently doesn’t have that luxury.  He has to loan and for a manager trying to build a club with any sort of understanding between players, that has to be immensely difficult. 


His reputation allows him to bring in decent players but they need time to come together as a unit and that is a tall order in a league where winning now means everything.


My task is to make Novelli’s task more difficult.  Padova doesn’t have a ton of cash on hand but it has more than Manfredonia and I’ve got players under my club’s contracts I can use to do what I need done.


Moral of the story: in this game, everything is relative.


# # #


We are in a stretch of schedule where we play a number of midweek games.  Today we also started preparations for Wednesday’s scheduled home match against Chioggia.


For the most part that involved video and a fairly relaxing afternoon, as we were tapering for tomorrow’s match. 


So far, touch wood, we’ve been lucky enough to avoid injuries in training, and my goal is obviously to keep it that way.  Hard training before a match is silly anyway, because players’ legs won’t recover in time for a full effort the next day.


When we play a Wednesday/Saturday/Wednesday/Sunday schedule as we are presently doing with the second match in that schedule to be played tomorrow, pacing ourselves is vital, as is rotating certain squad members. 


Everyone wants to play every game, but when we have a stretch like this, it’s just not possible.


This is one of the things we managers are taught at UEFA’s licensing sessions.  I hold the Pro License and got it after a lot of hard work.  But I know the theory behind managing a busy schedule now and am getting my first chance to put it in place.


Clubs have so much invested in players nowadays, with so many competitions on offer, that player health and safety is more important than ever.  So UEFA is quite insistent that its top-flight managers be educated in this art. 


I’m obviously not a top-flight manager at the moment but someday I hope to be, and I plan to be ready if that day ever arrives.


But today was a Manfredonia day after the video session was over.  I was honest with the squad about my views on the match and let those views be known before dismissing the team for the day.


“I think we can put up a big number on them,” I said, and then had to explain my euphemism. 


“I think we have the ability to hurt them badly.  There’s no reason we can’t hit three or four tomorrow because we are better organized, we are in better form and we simply have a better squad.  I will settle for 1-0, though, but I do expect you to perform tomorrow.”


It’s rare that I put pressure on players.  I didn’t mind having pressure placed on me when I played since I figured that performance expectations were a part of being a player.  But the modern footballer doesn’t always like to be told that someone expects something from him.


I guess what I’m trying to do is make performance a matter of rote at this club.  The players have done enough to get along in years past and that is why they are still in Serie C. 


I want to challenge them.  If they don’t make it, and I still have a job, I’ll find new players.  If they make it, they’ll be better players and people for having succeeded.  Anyhow, they’ll automatically be better simply for having made the attempt.


# # #


I also had a rather remarkable dream this morning, which is causing me some distraction as we prepare for tomorrow’s match.


I dreamed Kate and I were on holiday on an island beach, which was quite a dream in itself.  At the end of our seasons in Reading, we would take a holiday together, go to the Caribbean someplace and hide from the world.


I dreamed she told me her marriage was over and she needed me back in her life.  I’ve had this dream, or a variation of it, many times over the last few years and I have always put it down to wishful thinking in my sleep.


Usually, the dream ends with Kate in my arms and I wake up alone in my bed.  That’s a bit of a comedown.  But this dream was a lot different.


I was about to answer Kate but when I turned back to her, she was gone, replaced by Patty.


“Not so fast,” she said.  And then I woke up.


So I have been more than a little distracted this evening, as I watch the football preview shows for something to do on my Friday night.  Just for the fun of it, I decided to place a call to Venice.


I heard her voice on the other end of the line in a noisy place.  “Just thought I’d say hi,” I said, and Patty nearly had to yell in reply.


“Sorry, I’m having a hard time hearing you!” she said.  “We’re out after tonight’s biennale event and the nightclub is pretty loud!”


I smiled.  “You’re quite the party girl,” I said, and she laughed heartily in reply.


“Hardly,” she answered.  “But I’ve been able to go have fun the last couple of nights.”


Just then, it seemed a drink order arrived and she spoke again.  “Paul, you didn’t have to do that,” she said.


I heard his voice in the background.  “Here you go, honey,” I heard him say, plainly into the phone.  She made no attempt to correct him.


Well, so much for that dream.


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#24 tenthreeleader


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Posted 20 February 2015 - 09:58 PM

Saturday, September 8
Padova v Manfredonia
- Serie C1A

We did everything I wanted tonight and then some. It was just a wonderfully satisfying win.

Baú was the man of the moment, scoring a hat trick and decimating our visitors with a superb all-around game. The best part of it was that Eder connected twice from the spot, as we’ve now been awarded a remarkable four penalties in our last three matches.

Both our penalties came within the first 25 minutes. We gave the visitors a torrid reception from the 4-1-3-2, which carved them open with some ease.

We created a good chance in the first minute, with Muzzi shooting over the bar from about fifteen yards, but within the first five minutes we were already on the penalty spot. Baú was the creator again, with his corner into the box rather blatantly handled by midfielder Salvatore Burrai.

Our supporters went nuts. I raised both my arms up to ask where the call was. And it wasn’t long in coming, as referee Daniele Doveri gave us instant gratification by pointing to the spot.

Baú wasted no time in grabbing the ball and daring anyone to take it from him. Nobody tried, and Eder’s forceful spot kick cleanly beat keeper Manolo Leacche, who even managed to guess right on the direction of the kick.

So we were a goal to the good five minutes into the match and I was very pleased to see that we kept the hammer down with the lead. We were unlucky not to get a second goal through Rabito before Baú wound up on the penalty spot again on 23 minutes. This time his entry ball for Varricchio was handled by midfielder Salvatore Del Sole, and Doveri again had no choice but to point to the spot.

At least from our point of view. The visitors’ bench went berserk, claiming Del Sole had controlled the ball with his chest. Defender Milan Bortel charged the referee to protest, which earned him an immediate yellow card for dissent, and again Baú took the ball.

Again, Eder made no mistake, driving home his shot with aplomb to give us the two-nil lead. Then he looked at the Euganeo press box, where he knew Emiliani sat, and saluted. He was making his point and I let him do it.

Manfredonia hardly bothered us for the rest of the half and I knew manager Novelli would have a lot to say to his players at the break. So for my halftime team talk, I simply put my fingers to my lips.

We could hear faint sounds of yelling from down the hall. “That’s what your first half is doing in their room,” I said. “Now go out in the second half and make it hurt. Beat them and make that long ride home misery for them. You can do it.”

The looks I got from some of my players were interesting to see. The aggressively minded players got a fair amount of joy from that, while the “coasters” in the group gave looks of comparative bewilderment. That, in itself, was instructive to me. I have to know who has the “hard edge”, and when I need our boots on some team’s collective necks I want players out there who have no qualms about getting their boots dirty.

Baú was first on the list, and it took him just three minutes of the second half to complete his hat trick before an appreciative gathering of 3,739. His finish from the right side of the penalty area was as sublime as it was effective and everyone in the park knew there was no way back for Manfredonia.

Yet we kept up the pressure. Pablo Paz scored his first goal for the club seven minutes later on a free header from the six-yard box to make it 4-0, and late on even my second-choice holding midfielder got into the act.

Giuseppe Anaclerio, a late substitution for the carded Crovari, finished from a full 25 yards past the beleaguered Leacche after a rebounded clearance wound up on his right boot. It was just one more thing to celebrate on a day filled with reasons to smile.

Finally, Doveri blew for full time and didn’t even use the full three minutes of second half injury time. The match had been over for half an hour but the laws of the game still say you have to play ninety minutes.

I shook hands with a disgusted Novelli, and left him to stew with his players. I know someday I may well be on the other end of that handshake – even though the score was only 2-nil at Sassuolo I sure knew how a hard loss already felt – and I headed to the changing room with my happy players.

There was a lot of cheering and backslapping as I stepped into the room and the players gave me a loud cheer as I entered. “That’s what I want to see!” I exclaimed, and got another rousing cheer in reply.

“Eder Baú, take a bow!” I said, handing him the match ball for his hat trick. “Man of the match!” His teammates gave him a rousing cheer and I asked for a bit of calm.

“This was an excellent effort in every respect, but don’t forget that we’re right back here on Wednesday against Chioggia and they will notice what you did here today. We’ll need to be ready and I’ll expect you to be ready. Now enjoy your night. You’ve earned the applause today!”

So then I went to face the media, where I heard a rather disgusted Novelli complaining about the second penalty and then using the words ‘footballing lesson’ in the same phrase. So I suppose he couldn’t have been completely furious, but any team that concedes two penalties in the first 25 minutes of a match is going to have a heart-to-heart meeting when the match is done.

I took my place at the opposite end of the interview area and waited for my turn. Novelli left, and I had my chance.

“Can’t complain about a thing,” I said in English before switching to Italian. “Eder Baú stepped up today and showed his character. Missing two penalties in a row told on him and he worked very hard in training over the last few days to perfect his stroke. He took two very good penalties and I’m delighted for his hat trick.”

“I think we played about as well as we can play at this point in the season,” I added. “Structurally we are starting to get it right and our formation work has been very good the last two matches. We generate good scoring opportunities when this is the case and that is no secret to anyone who has seen us play. So I am hopeful we can keep up our present run of form and play well against Chioggia on Wednesday night.”

Padova 5-0 Manfredonia

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#25 tenthreeleader


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Posted 22 February 2015 - 08:13 PM

I told the squad they had Sunday off – we’re a tired bunch already – and they seemed to appreciate the gesture.  They like football but not every day, and as a result some of them were talking out loud about going out on the town.


It was then that I remembered I was supposed to go out on the town as well, with Patty driving from Venice to meet me. 


After last night’s phone conversation, I had to remind myself of what my goals truly were regarding her and what reality in the form of what I heard had dictated my goals could be.


Those goals are modest.  I want a friend and if someone comes along whom I might love, then fine.  But I won’t go out of my way for it, or for any woman. 


I had finally managed to calm down from McGuire’s cheap shot and Patty’s news, and as I left Euganeo I realized I hadn’t thought about any of them all day.


Frankly, I didn’t mind that knowledge.


# # #


I chose the “Q” restaurant and bar in the downtown area for our meeting.


It’s upscale, trendy, fairly easy to find, and about five minutes from my apartment, which are all good points.  The fact I was showing up there after a 5-0 win didn’t hurt either.


I had a message waiting for me from Patty when I left the stadium, asking for a callback to get directions.  I returned the call and actually drove home, walking to the Q from there. 


I arrived before her, so I was shown to a nice table where I ordered a drink to wait for her.  Italians don’t do beer very well in my opinion, so I settled back with a Grolsch and wondered what I was getting myself into.


I actually pinched myself, wincing from the pain, and reminded myself that to do what I have to do, I have to be different.  I don’t want those feelings again.


After about ten minutes, she entered, looking around for me at the door.  The greeter got to her first, and pointed to where I sat.


I raised my bottle to her in greeting and she smiled, walking quickly to the table.  “Hi,” she smiled, and I rose to greet her in return.


She gave me a quick but tasteful hug, which surprised me, and we sat. 


“Have a nice trip?” I asked, and she nodded.


“Yes, I did,” she said.  “Department business today – otherwise I would have come to the match too.  I heard the end on the radio.  You played well!”


“Can’t complain,” I said, as the waiter put another beer on the table and removed my empty first beverage.


“So how are you?”


I shrugged.  “Not bad,” I said.  “I’d be a lot different if we had lost, that’s for sure.”


“I overheard some people in Venice talking about you and your team today at lunch,” she said.  I smiled.


“Any words you can repeat?” I asked.


“I wasn’t impressed.  Let’s just say I know better than they do.”


“Kind of you,” I offered.  “How about I buy you a drink for driving all this way?”


“I had hoped to do the same for you,” she said.  “It’s nice to see you again.”


I felt odd.  Especially after the dream I had, I was feeling strangely about being with her and feeling a bit of a fool after last night’s call.  She noticed.


“Suppose you tell me what’s eating you,” she said, with a patient expression.  “I think something’s wrong.  Do you not want to be here?”


I took a deep breath and downed about a third of my German strong beer before answering.  “I do want to be here,” I said.  “I’m just not sure how I should act.”


“That’s odd, if you don’t mind my saying so,” she said, but my expression indicated that I felt otherwise.  “Do I make you uncomfortable?”


“I’m fine with you,” I said.  “What’s bothering me…”

“…is Paul,” she said, finishing my sentence.


“…is Paul,” I finished, taking another drink.  “Look, it isn’t any of my business who you see.  I just won’t be in anyone’s way again.  That hurt way the hell too much last time and I won’t put myself through that again.  If you want me to be your friend, that’s just fine with me.  I like you, Patty, and you should know that.  But I’m not going to get placed in another situation where I don’t want to go.  So I guess I don’t know how I should act.”


“Like a gentleman, which you are doing,” she said, and I showed my surprise.


“I’m getting drunk,” I said.  “Gentlemen don’t do that.”


“Which tells me how you really feel, despite what you’re saying to be kind,” she said.  “Yes, Rob, I think I’ll have that drink.  We need to have a real conversation and quit dancing around this.”


# # #


So, we did.  The fact that I was talking from behind the mask of two Grolsches loosened things up nicely and it didn’t take long.


“So, you’re jealous,” she said, locking eyes with me. 


I hadn’t planned on her being so direct.


“Well, before I answer that, suppose you tell me what’s really up with Paul.”


“You first,” she said, just a little sparkle in her eye as she spoke.


I took a deep breath.  “I have no right to be, but yes, a little,” I said.  “You are a lovely woman and I have to admit I haven’t thought about lovely women much over the last several years.  You kicked me right in my libido.”


She smiled at my phraseology, and I was glad for that. 


“As long as you don’t think about lovely men, we’re fine,” she laughed.  “Let me worry about that.”


“No chance,” I promised, as the waiter arrived with my third beer.  I grew bolder as the alcohol took hold.


“Speaking of lovely men you worry about, out with it regarding Paul, please,” I said, and she smiled.


“I wasn’t lying,” she said.  “He’s a friend.”


“Who calls you ‘honey’.”


“You can call me ‘honey’ too, if you want,” she said.  “Doesn’t mean I believe everything I hear.”


“So why do you let him?” I asked, and she nodded.


“He really wants me to be his honey,” she admitted.  “When I go out with him he keeps talking about ‘us’ and ‘our future’, but what I want from him is friendship.  He’s really not my type.”


“Then I’m sorry,” I said.  “I drew the wrong conclusion.  But can you see where I’d wonder?”


“I can,” she said.  “Even though it’s none of your business, right?”


She had me cold.  I looked at her. 


“Right,” I answered, taking another drink.  “Even though it’s none of my damn business.”


The raw emotion was starting to show through and she saw it. 


“Look, Rob, we’ve both been hurt badly by that jerk,” she said, impressing me with her candor.  “He wrote you to stop you from talking to me.  I know the truth about him, and about Kate as well.”


“There’s truth about Kate I don’t know?” I asked.  Now it was getting deep and I was almost happy I was buzzed when I asked the question.


“There may be,” she answered.  “But really now, Rob, you need to ask yourself if that honestly matters to you any more.”


I thought about that for a long minute.  Then I realized Patty was right. 


“I’ve let her dominate me for five years,” I said.  “And that’s time I can never get back.”


“Well, perhaps the time wasn’t right for you,” she said.  “You do need to cut yourself a little slack.”


As we talked, well wishers would occasionally gawk at us, which told me two things.  First, it told me the manager needed to stop drinking before he got pickled, and second, the “Q” bar was getting a little too busy for the rest of the conversation we needed to have.


“I think people are staring at you,” she teased, flashing me a wonderful smile.


“I hate being a zoo exhibit,” I replied.  “Patty, would you let me take you for a walk?”


She smiled and put down €20 on the table to pay for the drinks.  “I thought you’d never ask,” she said.  “The drinks are on me.”


# # #









#26 tenthreeleader


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Posted 26 February 2015 - 01:11 AM

We walked through the streets of downtown Padua, trying to get a little separation from the crowd.  


We talked some more but couldn’t get really started in a meaningful conversation due to people still gawking at us.  I knew the meeting would be all over town in the morning.


“This isn’t working,” I said, now getting a little frustrated.


“I wish it were,” she said.  “You were starting to open up nicely.”


“Is that a concern for you?” I asked, now the playful one.


“Rob, I drove all the way from Venice to be with you this evening and it’s getting late,” she said.  “Yes, it’s a concern for me.”  This time the look she gave me was different.  I knew what I needed to do.


“Patty, how about we go to my apartment for a nightcap?” I asked.  “Would that be okay to ask?”


She looked up at me and gave me an expression I hadn’t yet seen from her.  Her eyes got a little wider and a very nice smile passed her lips.


“I’d like that a lot,” she said.  So, I led the way.


In a few minutes, we were at the door of my building and through the security entrance. 


I looked at my watch.  I smiled down at her and the expression she gave me set off a little inner chime. 


I looked at her with a look of discovery, quite different from the admiration I had already shown.  Hurriedly, I looked away and opened the door to my apartment.  When I closed it behind us, we were finally alone and away from prying eyes.


“Make yourself comfortable,” I said, and she looked around my living room. 


It is very definitely a “bachelor pad”.  In one corner, my 53-inch large screen television is hung from a wall, surrounded by my growing library of club DVDs in a surprisingly organized set of shelves.


My laptop sat on a table next to the TV with my office chair set up so I can watch and type quite comfortably.  And in true bachelor fashion, I have a small fridge set up within arm’s length of my chair for when I really need it.


 “This is a cute little place!” she said, tossing her purse onto the couch and sitting down.  I turned on a stereo in the corner and the sounds of smooth jazz filled the room.


“Now, how about a dip into the private stock?” I asked.  “What would you like to drink?”


“I don’t need a drink,” she said.  “What I need is to make sure we understand each other.”


With that, I turned from behind my kitchen counter and walked over to my easy chair.  She sat at the corner of the couch closest to me and we talked.


“Rob, I know you said you wanted a friend and I’m happy to be that,” she said.  “I just need you to know that I’m unattached … I’m certainly not attached to Paul, and … well, you just need to know that.” 


She looked down into her lap and I knew what she was trying to say.


She melted my heart.  My new friend was being plain with me and it had to be incredibly painful to do.  After all she had been through, it had to be excruciating.  And, I was being a hard man.  I hated myself for it.


She stood up.  “Well, at least I told you,” she said, thinking I was turning her down.


I saw her now as she really was, not as I wanted her to be.  I had made a horrible mistake and now that I had a chance to fix it, I knew what a fool I had been.


What she really was, was vulnerable, sweet, kind, and frankly as beautiful as anyone I had ever seen – Kate included. 


I held out my arms and Patty walked in, softly embracing me and leaning her head against my chest.


I held her for a long minute, as we gently swayed back and forth in the middle of my living room.  She looked up at me.


“That didn’t hurt a bit,” she said, smiling bravely through her tears.


“For either of us,” I smiled, and she buried her pretty head in my shoulder in reply.


# # #









#27 tenthreeleader


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Posted 27 February 2015 - 02:34 AM

Monday, September 10


He’s got a great future ahead.  He’s missed so much of it.” – Terry Venables


I welcomed the squad back to training this morning before Wednesday’s match against Chioggia and we were all in a collectively good mood.


The glow of Saturday’s win and the relaxation of Sunday’s day off was still there. 


Players are itching to get into the starting squad and I’m quite pleased with the team’s attitude at this point in time.  I plan no changes to the tactics and only changing out those players who still aren’t physically up to the challenge of a Saturday/Wednesday stretch of schedule.


The players were in the mood to kid the boss, since more than a few people had seen me out with Patty on Saturday night.


“Are you sure you can concentrate today?” Crovari teased as we went through a set piece drill.  “You’re the last holdout among the single coaches.”


He was right.  Everyone else on my staff – without exception – is married except for me.


“Feeling the pressure?” my captain added, and I let the teasing go.  I was in too good a mood to be seriously angry.


Some managers aren’t like that.  I’m not a dictator by any stretch but when my authority is compromised I will come down hard.  The players need to know that, but the way they will have to learn it is to screw up.  That won’t be fun for any of us, least of all for them.


Yet in a way, Federico was right.  My concentration was a little off at times today but not in the way it was two weeks ago.  Even though I couldn’t believe the words coming out of my mouth when Patty was in my apartment, I am happy with how they turned out.


She called yesterday afternoon and we talked for two hours, with me doing my work and odd jobs around my apartment as we talked.  She teased me about that.


“You know, if I were over there I could be helping you and I wouldn’t have to be on a speaker phone,” she chided, and I was glad she couldn’t see me blushing.


“I’m glad you aren’t into guilt,” I replied, and her giggle in response was just what I needed to hear.


# # #


I suppose I should make a couple of points about the last five years.  It’s not as though I’ve been a recluse.  I have not.


In any decent-sized European city, you can’t be a footballer making hundreds of thousands of Euros a season without attracting attention.  Of course, when I played in England I made pounds sterling instead of Euros, but you get the idea.


I made good money, especially while playing at Rangers and Reading.  My salad days were obviously with Reading, where my last contract paid me £800,000 per season.  My first contract paid me £700,000 per season and I made £500,000 per year at Rangers.


My three-year contract with Chicago wasn’t much by comparison and in the salary-capped MLS, money was secondary to my need and desire to play and stay sharp.  My Frosinone deal was quite small, but money was no object at all in comparison to my desire to get my coaching badges.


I don’t need money, but money makes you noticeable, which was the whole point of this dissertation. 


At Rangers, I liked to go out when it was feasible to do so, though I never hurt the club by doing so.  And I did get noticed. 


In Chicago, where the game obviously isn’t nearly as big as it is in Glasgow, some people knew who I was. 


And even at Frosinone, the eligible ladies in town knew who I was.  I wanted a woman who was ready to settle down, but that never happened.


I remember sitting in a watering hole on State Street in Chicago during my last season with the Fire.  I was 33 years old and was the club vice-captain.  I was enjoying football and frankly enjoying being home even as I thought about going back to Europe.


As I sat with my teammates, a beautiful woman approached, stopping right in front of me.


“Can we help you?” a teammate of mine snickered, and even this didn’t put off the woman.  She laid her hand on my shoulder.


“You can’t, but Rob can,” she said, and the exquisite nature of her reply made us all laugh. 


Knowing my history, my teammates gave me a respectful amount of space.  We started to talk for a bit while my teammates talked among themselves.  Finally, I got around to asking what she did for a living.


She smiled at me with an almost wicked expression.  “I’m a magician,” she said, and I gave her a quizzical expression.


“To prove it, I’d like to make you disappear for awhile,” she smiled, and it was pretty obvious what she wanted. 


But I didn’t feel good about it.  The next day I felt empty.


I thought of that night more than once on Saturday when I was with Patty.  I didn’t want a repeat – and most importantly, I didn’t want to subject her to the same feelings I had had afterwards.


With the emotional state we were both in, if I had asked her to stay awhile something may well have happened.  But the lesson of that night in Chicago is that there are things, which, once done, cannot be undone.  She’s not ready for that and neither am I.


# # #









#28 tenthreeleader


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Posted 01 March 2015 - 04:36 AM

Tuesday, September 11

We are ready for Chioggia’s visit and I will have nearly a full-strength side.


DiNardo will get another shot with the starting eleven tomorrow and I had a lengthy talk with my former teammate after training today.  I made sure he understood his squad role, which is important for a couple of reasons.


First, I’m a big believer in communication with my players.  I need to be the one who initiates some of it since I’m the one who gets paid to make the decisions.  This includes communication with players about their roles and where I see them.


Tonight I watched a wonderful show on GolTV called “Soccer Academy”, which highlights several players who went through the Nantes Academy a couple years back trying to earn professional contracts. 


One of the highlights of the show was when youth coach Stéphane Moreau had a blunt meeting with each of his players, telling them exactly what he thought of them and what they needed to do to improve.


That is the kind of meeting I am trying to have with my players though on a more informal basis.  Also, I’m trying to do it without the blistering criticism you can sometimes get away with giving a youth player (though I’m not saying you should).  The senior squad player often thinks he’s “made it” and is thus usually less receptive to blunt honesty.


The exception to this is a player like Music, who is down on himself after being left out of his national side.  He’s looking for advice and today I gave it to him, right as I was done speaking with DiNardo.


“I am missing something from my game,” Vedin began, speaking in Italian.


“I don’t believe you are as far away as you think, Vedin,” I replied, and he looked at me with a puzzled expression.


“The national coaches do not agree and they have the decision,” he said.


“I’m your club coach and if you are willing to listen to a few things maybe the national coach will change his mind,” I said, and the 33-year old professional changed his tune.


“All right, what do you think?” he asked.


“I’ve been extremely impressed with your work rate in the last few matches and that’s going to work for you,” I said.  “Where I thought your game lacked last season, from the video I’ve seen, was in the quality of your supply.  The last couple of matches I have seen real improvement in how you are moving the ball in from the wing.  You know my tactic prefers delivery from the byline but you have shown me that you are also able to get the ball into useful positions in the box from farther up the field.  That’s what’s really going to help you.  Be looking for good early delivery – in my tactic as well, now that you’ve shown me you can do it – and you’re going to be better off.”


He nodded.  “I have been trying to score to impress the managers,” he said.


“Your national tactic is a simple 4-4-2 and doesn’t often need wing players in the box,” I said.  “My 4-1-3-2 tactic doesn’t need wingers in the box either, so use the open field you get in my tactic to your advantage.  I think you can do this, Vedin.”


He thought it through and it’s plain from the expression on his face that he is not ready to give up international football.  “All right,” he said.  “We’ll see what happens.”


# # #









#29 tenthreeleader


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Posted 04 March 2015 - 01:45 AM

Wednesday, September 12
Padova v Chioggia – Serie C1A

Over the last eight days, we’ve played three matches and won them all by a combined score of 11-1.  Tonight we performed to expectation again, thumping Chioggia with a full ninety minutes of football.


In a way I liked this performance more than the match against Manfredonia, even though we scored fewer goals.  We generated some truly wonderful chances tonight and the fact that we took three of them didn’t hurt a generally excellent mood on the part of the squad.


Di Nardo has strongly signaled his intention to stay with the senior squad, scoring our final goal tonight with a sweeping bow toward his bench after the ball flashed home.  My former teammate isn’t making it easy on me, that’s for sure – but showing up the manager isn’t going to help him.


As well as we have played this week, the crowd was 1,000 smaller than it was on Saturday.  Just 2,781 came to Euganeo for the match tonight and that was very disappointing to me.  Obviously, the club is looking for bigger gates to make more money and I would like to be able to provide them through the quality of our play.


Tonight’s match showed that it will still take time.  Unfortunately, with the exception of Venezia, most of Padova’s main rivalries are with clubs in Serie B.  So we need to get promoted to start to draw like we want to.


Tonight’s match also showed that when we are on our stroke, we’re good enough to play with good teams.  The red-hot Varricchio netted again for us just before the half-hour, the even-hotter Baú scored his fifth goal in three matches just before the full hour and Di Nardo scored his “statement” goal eleven minutes from time.  To have that many players all striking the ball so well is truly a wonderful thing for the manager and we dispatched our visitors with ease this evening.


Massimiliano took his chance with some authority, firing home from ten yards off a scramble in front of Antonio Tedeschi’s goal to dispel any lingering nerves about getting back on the scoring track.


He has been a real unsung hero – a player I hadn’t even counted upon to make a regular impact in the starting squad just three weeks ago – and he knows the importance of the role he’s playing.


His goal got us to the break ahead 1-nil and I gave the team talk that is starting to become a bit routine.  So today, I changed it in mid-stroke.


“You’re playing well enough so I can tell you this,” I told them.  “Don’t get cocky or these guys can peg you back.  Just do what you’re briefed to do and let’s go have fun in the second half.”


And to my slight surprise, they did, for the second straight match.  Baú’s finish was confident, a thing of beauty from the right-hand channel about twenty yards from goal, and Di Nardo’s goal was a powerful header from Music’s corner.


Our supporters were in fine voice from the moment of Baú’s goal and this was a relief to me.  Singing supporters are always good to hear, even if they can’t sing.  Generally, if they aren’t singing they’re screaming, and that is rarely good for the boss.


However, and I keep coming back to this, the sight of Euganeo ten percent full is starting to grate on me.  But with results like these, perhaps the fans will come back sooner rather than later.


# # #


I was feeling pretty good about the squad when I talked with media after the match.  Winning three on the spin like we have of late allows me to do that.


“I don’t think we let Chioggia have much tonight,” I said.  “I’m very pleased with how we closed them down.  I think they only had three shots on target and with Orlandoni playing like he has been playing we should keep more than a few clean sheets when we do that.  We deserved the points tonight and we are playing quite well as an eleven-man unit.  When we get the full 4-1-3-2 tactic installed I think it’s going to be fun to watch this team play.  They’re picking it up and when they do that we are pretty potent.”


The queries from reporters questioning my tactics and my sanity are starting to decrease, which is good.  I’m now being asked more about my striker situation where I have several hot players and Muzzi waiting to get into the flow of the offense.


“Di Nardo has scored at this level and he wants to play, as I’d expect anyone outside my senior squad to want to play,” I said.  “He’s trying to earn it and his scoring today was noted by the manager.  It’s a great problem to have, I must admit.  Baú is on fire, Varricchio and Di Nardo are scoring well and Muzzi is stepping into his form so I hope we can have three strikers all on the same sheet of music in addition to Eder.  If that happens, we will be fun.  Period.”


Padova 3-0 Chioggia


# # #


I then got quite a surprise when I left the stadium. 


I exited through the players’ entrance and smiled as I saw the players getting the plaudits from fans they deserved.  I turned the corner and saw Patty leaning against the wall of the stadium waiting for me.


“Hey,” she said.  “Going my way?”


“Hi!” I exclaimed, and her petite frame soon filled my arms for a happy hug.  “What a nice surprise!”


“I thought I’d see if you were interested in a little time,” she said.


“Since you drove all the way from Venice, the answer’s yes,” I smiled, as we turned to walk to her car.


“Did you walk to the stadium?” she asked.


“I did.”


“Well, then how about a lift home?”


“I think that would be perfect,” I said.  “Unfortunately, my apartment isn’t as tidy as it was on Saturday.”


“That’s all right,” she answered.  “Who knows, maybe sometime we’ll spend a little time with the lights off and if it’s messy neither of us will notice.”


# # #









#30 tenthreeleader


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Posted 06 March 2015 - 05:01 PM

Thursday, September 13

Talk about a distraction! 


As much as I wished Patty could have stayed, she had an early morning meeting in Venice so she left at 11:30.


So she left for home, I got into bed and thought back on an evening very well spent.


It would have been the easiest thing in the world to get out of control but without speaking to each other I think we both realized we aren’t ready.


I’ve decided a few things today.  The way we’ve taken off indicates that she wants a relationship and now I’ve decided to accommodate her however she wishes. 


She has shown me strength of character and quality of person that is refreshing and genuine.  She won me over, frankly, and in a time when I was not looking for a relationship she made me want one.  That’s a rather remarkable thing to say.


So I was practically singing as I took the training pitch today for drills that will work us up to our very long trip to Salerno on Saturday. 


We play at Cavese on Sunday and it’s fully 450 miles away.  So we are making our first overnight trip of the season and frankly, it will be interesting to see how we perform.


About half our road trips this season will involve overnights.  We go to Salerno twice, to play Cavese and Paganese.  Those are our longest trips, but the trips to Foggia and the return trip to Manfredonia are also over 400 miles each, straight across the country to the northeast from Salerno.


Further north, our trips to Ternana and Foligno will also involve an overnight even though they’re about half as long.  I’m not keen on the idea of spending three hours on a coach and then playing a match right off the bus and thankfully higher management agrees.


Legnano, Pro Patria and Novara are the other trips we may make overnight depending on when they fall on the schedule.  And since our trip to Legnano is the next one on the schedule after Cavese, we will be spending quite a fair amount of time on the bus over the next ten days.  I’m planning on an overnight stay there as well.


So today’s training was primarily about staying alert, staying sharp and milking this run of good form for as long as we can. 


We did video work on Cavese in the afternoon and even though we are out of the heat of the summer, temperatures can still get into the high 80s which is awfully warm for full training.  We have to be smart about it.


The press talked with me today about the striker situation and how it’s going to be if and when Muzzi starts scoring on a regular basis.  Everyone covering us can see the good form we’re in and how the enthusiasm from winning is rubbing off in more ways than just on the table.


I can also sense they’re trying to create a controversy, so I am quite careful about how I answer these questions.  I have strikers playing very well and Baú has also already pumped home five goals, though three of those have come as a result of penalties.


But in short, you have to put the round thing in the goal to win and we’re doing a wonderful job of that.  The adage in the game is that you don’t change a winning eleven and I’m still trying to figure out how much I should buck that adage.


Players like DeCristofaris, for example, are only fit enough to play once a week.  I can’t keep him in the regular XI on our present schedule because I’d wear him to a frazzle in two weeks’ time.


So you have to be smart about it.  I keep coming back to that phrase and the biggest early challenge I face so far is figuring out where the middle ground lies.


Right now we’re sixth in the table, just off the playoff places, and a win at Cavese would put us comfortably in the hunt while I finish sorting out the squad.  It’s an important match for us and my emphasis to the squad was to stay on the right track today.


# # #









#31 tenthreeleader


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Posted 09 March 2015 - 01:22 PM

Friday, September 14

I woke up in the middle of the night this evening and couldn’t get back to sleep.  My mind is racing on more than one front.


I lay on my back, eyes wide open, and looked at the clock.  It said 3:11 and I knew I wasn’t going to sleep any more tonight.


I tried, but I know my body well enough by this time to have an idea of what it can and can’t do.  So I got up, made myself some coffee, worked on my training plan for the day, and finally as 8:00 rolled around I placed a call to the State Department office in Venice.


“Rob!  Good morning!  I’m the first item on your agenda today, I see,” she teased.


“Well, you were on my agenda for most of the night, too,” I said.  “I just needed to hear your voice this morning.”


“Did you have a nightmare?” she asked.


“No, quite the opposite.  But this is a Federal phone so I shouldn’t elaborate!”


She laughed.  “Please don’t,” she said.  “But can we get together this weekend?”


“We’re heading out for Salerno in the morning and we’re coming straight back after the match on Sunday,” I said.  “We’re taking Monday off from the travel so if you want to get together, that’s the day.”


“It sounds like something that needs to happen,” she replied.  “I’ll do my very best to make Monday happen for us, and I’ll let you know.  Gotta go now, though.  Talk later, okay?”


“Perfect,” I said.  “Have a great day.”


# # #


Since it’s a short week, this is the only full day’s training we can take for the match on Sunday.  We’ll have a short workout at Simonetta Lamberti in Salerno tomorrow, where we will do our shadow play and rest up for the match.


This early season schedule is difficult for the clubs.  We make up for it at Christmas, though, with a three-week break over the winter holidays. 


For now, though, the matches are coming fast and furious and they mean quite a bit as clubs are scrambling to get off to good starts. 


We’re in that mix and as a result I’ve placed a premium on getting some sort of result out of Cavese’s pitch on Sunday.  They are off to a very slow start, sixteenth in the 18-team Serie C1 and it’s my job to keep them there.


The way we’re playing, I’m optimistic we can keep our focus.  If we go there thinking we’ll carry all before us we’re in for a tough time but this is a match I believe we can win.  I’ll be looking for a strong performance.


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#32 tenthreeleader


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Posted 13 March 2015 - 04:02 PM

Saturday, September 15
The trip to Salerno is about seven hours long by coach driving straight through, so when we left Padova at nine o’clock sharp this morning I knew we’d be in for a long day.

We gathered for a team breakfast at eight o’clock and soon the traveling squad was ready to pack overnight kit on the coach and head off for the south.

It was a very nice day to travel, though tomorrow’s forecast isn’t as positive. Salerno is of course on the Tyrrhenian Sea on the western side of the country and as we drove further south the weather got nicer.

Not that it’s bad in the north, mind you. But it was a nice drive and we had a chance to relax for most of the day. Players spent time, as many modern players do, on their cell phones and wireless connections but the coaches got together a card game at the front of the coach.

Italians, as a rule, are very good at games of emotion. So when I taught the staff how to play Texas Hold-Em, we soon had quite a crowd gathered at the front of the coach.

Before long, the poker players in the group had separated themselves from the kibitzers and we had quite a little party going on. I dealt while the coaches and a few of the players joined in for a €2 big blind.

They picked it up quite quickly. That helped about three hours of the trip go by more quickly by the time we stopped in Rome for a late lunch. That sounds odd, certainly, but we were traveling and we had to stop someplace.

Several euros had changed hands by that time and when the game finally broke up for the lunch break, I was quietly playing cribbage in my seat with Masolini. I thought that was a nice touch, myself.

As the coach rolled onward down Italy’s western coast, I got a message on my Blackberry from Patty’s private e-mail, and I really appreciated it.


Thinking about you on your long trip today. Hoping things go well tomorrow. Can’t wait to see you again! See you Monday!

So I wrote her back.

What a lovely note for me to read a dozen times on my way to Salerno!

With that, we had a very nice lunch in Rome and continued on our way to Salerno. And I have to decide how hard I am indeed falling for Patty Myers.

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#33 tenthreeleader


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Posted 16 March 2015 - 02:39 AM

Sunday, September 16
Cavese v Padova, Serie C1A


We’re heading back home on that long bus ride pretty unhappy this evening and I’m in a dispute with my captain.


Crovari did a silly thing today.  He got himself sent off and it may well have cost us the points today since I thought we played well enough to win.


Sometimes players get sent off by poor officiating.   Sometimes players get sent off through their own lack of discipline, and that’s what happened today.  That’s also what led to the argument, which was held behind closed doors in the visiting manager’s office at Simonette Lamberti.


And along the way I laid down a hard marker as to what I consider acceptable conduct on the pitch.  I mentioned a few days ago that someone was going to have to screw up to allow the entire squad to see what would happen if they crossed me.  Well, now they have seen it and even players who played with and against me have no doubt as to where I stand.


In so doing, I have opened myself to criticism and possible negative reaction if the squad doesn’t bounce back in the way I intend.  That is a calculated risk, especially one for a first-year manager to take.  But if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it my way.


# # #


Today was not a day terribly well suited to the nuances of our particular style.


I like to employ a mixed style of passing.  I prefer the players to get the ball down on the ground and play it, but I don’t have a player I consider a true playmaker to ignite the offense.  I inherited a squad of players that is sufficient to contend in Serie C but there’s a reason most of these guys are in this league and not in Serie B.


So from time to time we have to play a direct style, especially when we are getting pressured in the midfield, as often happens to us.  Being able to switch play and counterattack quickly – as well as take advantage of Muzzi’s pace, which is among the best in this league – is important.


But today we had winds of 30 MPH for most of the match, meaning if we were going to pass accurately and put the ball where we wanted it to go, it largely had to happen on the ground. 


So we were at a disadvantage from the beginning.  Being on the road was another disadvantage.  Naturally, playing the last half-hour with ten men, after we were starting to take over the match, was the third strike against us.


In the final analysis, I am happy to get out of Salerno with a point.  We could easily have gone down to defeat today after Cavese turned up the heat on us in the late going to try to smash and grab the three points.  Still, we won the match statistically, which makes me wonder what might have been if we had only been able to keep eleven players on the pitch.


Today was also Cavese’s “fan day”, as designated by its board.  So a good crowd of 3,520 saw the match at Simonetta Lamberti, and they went home disappointed.  We battled them in the last half-hour and Orlandoni made sure nothing wound up in the net so our ride home wasn’t totally without cheer.


However, the story of the day was Crovari.  Referee Fabio Manera, who had a pretty decent game by my thinking even if we got three of the four yellow cards shown in the match, didn’t have much choice when Crovari held back Vincenzo Riccio 58 minutes into the match when things were starting to go our way.


I got my captain’s attention and motioned to him, palms down – take it easy.  He of all people was one I didn’t want to lose so I made it quite clear to him that he needed to be circumspect.  He nodded and went back to his play.


So I was quite displeased when, just four minutes later, he hacked down Giuseppi Aquino with an embarrassingly late challenge, leaving Manera no option but to give him the second yellow.


I said an unusually rude word in reaction and immediately signaled for a double substitution.  On the road, I knew I couldn’t consider continuing to play with two strikers so that meant I had to choose between Muzzi and Varricchio, a choice I didn’t relish.


I chose to take Massimiliano off and though he wasn’t pleased, at least he knew it was a tactical substitution.  I put on Anaclerio in Crovari’s holding role and moved Paz from right back to central midfield, a position I know he can play well but which he had not yet played for me.  Paolo Cotroneo took Paz’s place at right back and we played on with ten.


Crovari didn’t even look at me as he headed up the tunnel to the changing room.  Neither of us was happy – the player was unhappy for being sent off and I was decidedly unhappy for having direct instructions so blatantly disregarded.


Still, even in the last half hour we carved out some decent chances, with Cavese keeper Domenico Cecere called upon to save in close from Sacchetti’s header just six minutes after Crovari’s dismissal.  In fact, Cecere had a solid enough game to be named man of the match.


But we didn’t threaten after that, even as we kept Cavese away from our goal to earn a split in the points.  Defensively our ten were more than good enough.  So we left with a point and even though we gained no ground on the leaders at least we didn’t lose any either.


It was at a time like that that I was happy to not have to deal with home media.  The trip was too far for them to make so I didn’t have to worry about ripping my captain in the press.  However, the Salerno media asked if I agreed with the decision to send Crovari off, and I was honest in my reply.


“The referee had no choice, did he?” I asked.  “The first card, he held back the player and I could see doing that considering where the player was placed.  I had no argument with the decision but I told the player he had to be careful – hell, he should have figured it out himself – and then not five minutes later he’s heading up the tunnel for a late challenge.  Now he’s got a match off for suspension to think about it and to say I’m displeased would be kind.”


With that, I headed back to the changing room to try to leave a positive message with my players. 


“We played well with eleven men and we played well with ten,” I told them.  “We leave here with a point and that’s better than none.  Hit the showers and we’ll have plenty of time to talk about the match on the way back.”


Then I called Crovari into the office and closed the door. 


“I’m disappointed that you didn’t listen to me,” I said, and his face got red.


“What does that mean?” he challenged, using a rather strong word elsewhere in his reply.


That was certainly the wrong way to react to his manager and I let him know it. 


“It means I expect you to stay in the match,” I said, remaining as calm as I could under a direct challenge.  But, being captain, Federico gets to talk with me directly and I as the manager have to understand that.  That’s fair, and it’s right.


But he chose to confront me. 


“Maybe you play football half-way in the United States,” he said.  “That’s not how we play here.”


That crossed the line and I had to let him know. 


“You play football here the way I tell you to play it, or you don’t play, and I don’t care if you’re captain,” I said.  “Let’s get that out of the way right now.  You are captain of this club because I made you captain and that means when I have an expectation, I expect you as club captain to lead by example.  Do I make myself clear?”


“Are you threatening me as captain because I got sent off?” he asked.


“I threaten nothing,” I said.  “But I expect that you, as my captain, will take a lead role in doing what must be done to get results.  That means not getting yourself sent off!  You can’t captain anything next weekend, because you lost your head and you didn’t listen.  Now you’ve done a fine job leading us on the pitch and all I am telling you is that you need to stay on the pitch because we need you.”


“Are you going to fine me?” he asked.


“No,” I answered, and he showed considerable surprise.  “But I am going to set the bar.  I need you on the pitch for this team to be successful.  Understand the circumstances of your sending off and see that they are not repeated.  And I’ll be watching how you train this week before deciding on when you are restored.  That will go for any player who is sent off under my management.”


He nodded, and the discussion ended. 


As captain, he has to understand that getting sent off hurts the team and on a day when we left two points on the pitch, that ought to upset him more than it evidently did.


He can tell the whole squad for all I care.  If he tells the media, though, he’s got a problem and he knows it. 


I reminded the squad of my expectations when we arrived home at 2:00 a.m Monday morning, though, and I intend for them never to forget it.


The only good thing about today: Patty’s e-mail.  She will be with me tomorrow.


Cavese 0-0 Padova


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#34 tenthreeleader


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Posted 17 March 2015 - 01:02 PM

Monday, September 17

I’ve gone from the ridiculous to the sublime today and I couldn’t be happier.


The squad got the day off and I know now my meeting with Crovari is going to be a topic of conversation tomorrow.  Federico called me this morning to say he didn’t tell the media but someone did, so I’ll have a controversy.


The question is whether or not I believe what I’m hearing.  He was certainly mad enough at me yesterday to go to the media but he swore up and down, using different words than he used yesterday, that he didn’t do it. 


Naturally, that means someone else did, so I have to find out who that person was.


That is for tomorrow, though, and I am told I’ll have every opportunity to respond in the media.  Of course I will -–the media will get its controversy that way and I intend to keep this firmly under wraps.


That was the ridiculous.  Now for the sublime.


I got home at 2:15 this morning, crawled into bed and was awakened at 9:00 by Patty’s phone call, on her way from Venice.  That gave me half an hour to freshen up before she arrived. 


I jumped in the shower, managed to shave without slicing myself open, and straightened up the apartment before enjoying a true day off for the first time in weeks. 


Usually, weekends are the only days I have to relax when we aren’t playing, but today was a weekday off, wonderfully rare and very relaxing.


I was in a bit of a hurry, as you might imagine.  I didn’t even get to eat breakfast before she was knocking on my door.  I won’t say I minded that.


I opened the door and saw a very happy and very pretty woman on the other side. 


“Now that’s the way every lucky guy should start his day,” I teased, and she blushed in reply.


“I’m glad you think so, especially since you’re starting your day with me,” she said, as I closed the door.  “So tell me, what do you want to do today?”


“I wouldn’t mind spending some quiet time,” I said.  “Yesterday’s match didn’t go like it should have, as you might know.  And the papers are on me already.”


“One match you don’t win and they rip you?” she asked, with a disgusted expression.


“This is Italy,” I said.  “They expect you to win all the time here and if you don’t, God help you.”


“Well, sounds to me like you need a friend,” she said, as I offered her some coffee to start our conversation.


“Sounds to me like I have one,” I replied, as she accepted my offer. 


I crossed behind her to the kitchen and poured a cup for her, as we sat on the couch.


“You do,” she answered.  “I’m just happy to get to see you today.  I have some time off coming and the exhibition is going really well, so they didn’t have any problem letting me go as long as I have my Blackberry with me.”


“I know how that goes,” I smiled, patting my shirt pocket in response.  “And I’m not sure I like it either.”


“So what does a football manager do on a day off, anyway?” she asked.


“As little as possible,” I said.  “Unless his girlfriend is coming over, in which case he’s looking to revisit his plans.”


“Oh, so I’m your girlfriend, am I?” Patty teased, batting her pretty eyelashes at me.


 “I think we’re both old enough now that if we meant to play games we probably would,” I answered.  “Otherwise I think we’re both too busy.”


 “That’s why I’m here today,” she said, summoning up her courage.  “I want to talk about us today, Rob.  It’s really important we do that and I think it needs to be today.  What happened between us last time I was here was beautiful and I need to know that you are interested in a real, lasting relationship.  It’s time to close the deal on us.”


# # #


She was more relaxed today than I have ever seen her, a sign of her growing confidence. 


I’m seeing Patty start to blossom and it’s really a beautiful thing to see.  The flower analogy is perfect for her – after her long and cold winter I’m starting to see shoots of green and soon, she’ll be in full bloom.  I feel privileged to be allowed to watch it from close up.


We spent the rest of the morning talking and putting into words what both of us have felt but left unsaid.


“At first I really didn’t want a relationship,” I admitted, as we started our second cup of coffee.  “I’ve been pretty absorbed in my job and unfortunately, in Kate, so I thought it would be best to steer clear.  But you’ve opened my eyes and your honesty has really taken me by surprise.”


“You didn’t think I’d be honest?”


“It wasn’t that,” I said hastily.  “I was just so used to duplicity and hurt that I didn’t think anyone would start a relationship with me from a position of honesty.  It had nothing to do with you and you were the one who started it the whole idea of something lasting.”


“That was hard for me,” she admitted.  “Especially since he was just one lie after another.”


“And you’re way too good to deserve that,” I said, slipping a gentle puff to her self-esteem as I spoke.  “Way too good.  And here you are with me, so I am feeling like quite a lucky man!”


“So what’s your answer?  Would you turn me down?”  Now her look was much different.


“Oh, no,” I said, returning her look in equal measure.  “I just want to make sure that if we take the next step, we’re staying together.  I’m not going back to where I was and I know you aren’t going back to where you were.  Neither of us needs that kind of pain or wants that kind of complication.”


“Neither of us are in a position to make guarantees,” she correctly noted.


“That’s true, but it’s also not completely what I mean.  No one is talking about getting married.  It’s just this, Patty: I refuse to hurt you.  I will not do it.  Given the history we both have with the same people, I simply won’t put you through that again.  I already care about you far too much to do that.  And heaven knows how much those two hurt me.  You know what I mean?”


She nodded slowly.  “I sure do, and one thing I know for sure because of it,” she said.


“Which is?”


“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your being a gentleman,” she said.


# # #


After about an hour together, we made ourselves get up and go for a walk on the piazza, stopping after a lovely stroll along the Bacchiglione River for lunch at the Aggujaro.


I like the speed of the city.  Padua is a city of about 200,000 but with a nice local touch.  It’s big, but it’s not huge and as a result I could take my girlfriend out for a nice lunch with only a few people gawking at us.


It’s quite different here than it is in the States when it comes to getting recognized. 


Back home, the biggest stars can’t go anywhere without a bodyguard.  Here, the footballers are the stars and in a city the size of Padua, you can do what you need to do without too much trouble.


And since we’re off to a good start, I can do so quietly.  Aggujaro is a family restaurant that was perfect for a couple of young lovers, so to speak.  We enjoyed a very nice traditional lunch with a wonderful bottle of wine and spent a lovely long lunch hour just enjoying each other’s company.


As well as things were going, we were still dancing around the main issue.  As we ate dessert, I swallowed hard and she could tell there was something else I wanted to say.  She looked at me with concern and, dare I say it, with love.


“Tell me what you’re thinking, Rob,” she said.


“I’m thinking there’s a chance here for me, to be with a lovely woman and to start my life again,” I said.  “I need to have a positive start with you.  I’m desperate for it.”


“Then let me tell you,” she said, reaching for my hand.  “You’re doing just fine.”


After lunch we headed back, very slowly, to my apartment, walking arm-in-arm.


As we walked, we talked some more. 


“What made you decide to seek me out?” I asked.


“The last time I saw him, in Reading, he was with Kate and he went on and on about you in a professional setting, and accused Kate of still being in love with you,” she said.  “He had already told me that if I breathed a word to Kate about what had happened between us he’d destroy me, but by that time I had had enough.  Frankly, I was pretty offended.  So when I was posted to Venice I knew I had to find you.”


“How long have you been in Italy, then?” I asked.


“Six months.  I needed to build up some time so I could get away to see you.  The biennale took up a lot of my time and when I met you I wanted to do it right.  So here I am, with time to spend.”


It seemed very strange, but here I was with Patty and I hadn’t had a single thought about Kate until that very moment.  I decided I was simply going to enjoy the moment. 


When we reached my apartment, she came to my arms and made sure that thoughts of Kate stayed far, far away.


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#35 tenthreeleader


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Posted 20 March 2015 - 04:39 PM

Tuesday, September 18
Today was quite a day for more reasons than one.

First, we returned to training today to prepare for our trip to Giovanni Mari on Sunday, and that meant a meeting with our media over Crovari’s sending off. They had been informed of our bust-up and one of my priorities was finding out who had squealed.

Second, and certainly no less importantly to me, Patty went back to Venice today. I don’t think I’m going to get to see her this week, which will hurt a lot given where our relationship seems to be going.

Third, today is Kate’s birthday. So I sat there missing Patty on perhaps the ultimate day for my prior relationship.

I started the day on my couch, with Patty nestled one room away in my bed. She left early, and I got on with my job.

At training this morning, there wasn’t a word from Crovari. He trained as normal, though knowing he wasn’t going to play on Sunday. That knowledge is always difficult for a player.

I missed games through yellow card suspensions when I played. As a central defender, I picked up my share of them. However, I was never once sent off in a sixteen-year career, which is a rather remarkable record for a central defender.

I had a good disciplinary record, yet people like the late Sir Stanley Matthews of Blackpool and Stoke City fame put mine to shame.

Sir Stanley played in the English game from 1932-65, in an amazing career that spanned 34 years minus time lost for World War II. He played his last competitive match in Malta in 1970, at the age of 55.

The man affectionately known as “The Wizard of The Dribble” for his prowess with the ball at his feet was never booked in his entire career. I can’t even imagine that. Not one single yellow card, and at the end of his career an official would have had to be a brave man indeed to put Stanley into the book.

Due in part to his reputation, Stanley Matthews was the only player in the history of the English game to be knighted while still an active player. He meant that much to the game and most importantly, to fair play.

So yours truly, as a young man, is out of the playing side of the game fully twenty years in age before this legendary figure hung up his boots. But then, there’s no way I’ll be remembered in anywhere near the same context.

Now Crovari, who had done twice in four minutes what Matthews never did in 34 seasons of competitive play, kept largely to himself.

I called him over to me near the end of the workout and I didn’t even have to open my mouth before he protested his innocence.

“It wasn’t me,” he said. “But I know who it was.”

He was talking about a teammate, currently in the reserves, and one of the players I often bring on road matches without suiting up. It was bad for two reasons; first in the way Crovari had told me; and second, if true, that the player had evidently broken my strict rules about changing room sanctity. I will investigate.

It wouldn’t surprise me to learn it’s true – disgruntled players who aren’t in the first team often have issues with the manager’s rules – and if it is, it’ll be awhile before he sees the first XI. I can promise that.

But today’s training was, on the whole, good. The players are ready to get back to work and we finished the day with video to get them out of the sun after their cool-down workouts. I like to get video in while the players are relaxing but not before they switch off completely.

When I was done training as a player I liked to go home and shut down for a little while. The physical and mental aspect of training can tire a player out completely, so the break after training is important from my point of view.

For me, the video work is a way to keep players mentally sharp at a time when they want to shut down. I have been known to walk up to drifting players and give them a little poke to keep their attention, along with a message about staying mentally alert at all times. I understand when players are ready to shut down, but it has to be when I say it’s okay.

After I let the players go home it was time to face the media, and this time there were bigger fish swimming in my little Padova pool.

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#36 tenthreeleader


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Posted 23 March 2015 - 03:18 PM

When managers and captains clash, it’s often news outside of town, and with the fiercely provincial Italian rivalries, there were journos from all over the area waiting to quiz me on my bust-up with my captain.

“Federico knows it hurt the team to get sent off,” I said. “That was what our conversation was about. He didn’t like the way I explained it to him and that’s his right as a player. But it is his responsibility as a player, and especially as my captain, to get the message the manager sends. He has done that.”

“Did he take it well coming from you?” I was asked, in Italian-accented English. The question surprised me.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I replied, surprising him right back.

“I mean, with you not being in calcio for more than two years.”

“I’m his manager,” I said. “I am his manager until the board of this club tells me I’m not. So that means he listens to what I have to say and if he doesn’t, I take steps.”

“Which would be?” A miscalculation on my previous answer led to that question and I knew I had to be careful.

“Steps that lead to behavior I endorse,” I said, giving away nothing.

“Which would be?”

“Left to my discretion,” I said. “Look, Federico is important to this club and that’s reflected by the fact he didn’t even get an official warning. He did something silly and got himself sent off. Neither one of us needs the aggravation of fighting about it. I need my captain on the pitch and he needs to play. It does not set a good example for the captain to be walking to the showers early and he understands this fully.”

# # #

Tonight, at home, I got an e-mail that was frankly stunning. I don’t know how the hell she did it, but somehow Kate got my e-mail address.

I had just finished a very nice conversation with Patty and was ready to head to bed. Her day was good but we already miss each other. As it should be, frankly.

But when I opened my e-mail browser, I saw an address that was unmistakable. The only question was who it was from, and I knew if it was from him I’d immediately delete it. It wasn’t.

My dear Rob:

Just sending you a word of greeting on my birthday, which I trust has crossed your mind today. I hope it has, anyway.

I’m writing because I’m hearing rumblings and wanted you to be the first to know. I heard you are in a romantic relationship with Patty Myers and if that’s true, good for you. I heard she was once in a relationship with Peter and I hope that doesn’t make things uncomfortable for you.

Even though I’m married now, I’m having a pleasant thought tonight about being in the West End shops and theaters with you on past birthdays. I hope those memories are pleasant for you too.

As before, and I know this must seem odd to you, please don’t write back. I’d love to hear from you and hear how you’re doing, but it wouldn’t be a good thing from Peter’s point of view and I must respect his wishes.

Be well and be happy.

With love,

I sighed heavily and deleted the e-mail. “I’m supposed to just sit here and take it,” I said. “And I can’t change this e-mail address. It’s such a waste.”

I shut down my computer and headed to bed, missing Patty more than before.

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#37 tenthreeleader


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Posted 25 March 2015 - 01:33 PM

Wednesday, September 19

The media is out snooping regarding Crovari. 


By and large, they are huffing and puffing but the storm appears to have blown over.  They are trying to blow the storm clouds back over us and I’m determined not to let that happen.


I am more determined, however, to stamp out trouble in my squad and I called the reserve player into my office after training.


I explained the situation to him and gave him the chance to deny it.  He didn’t, to his credit, presumably figuring I would find out anyway.  That was a wise decision.


He used the opportunity to tell me he wanted to play.


“That’s a poor way to go about telling me,” I said.  “Everyone at this club had better want to play or I’ll get rid of him.  I do expect professional behavior as a condition of playing, though, and that means if you aren’t playing, you get your head down in training and change my mind for me.  It doesn’t mean going to the media with information that’s supposed to stay in the changing room.  Do I make myself clear?”


He nodded.  There was really nothing else he could do.


“Get back to training,” I said.  “You’re with the reserves this week for breaking team rules.  I’ll revisit this next week and if I see what I need to see out of you I’ll restore your training privileges.  That’s all.”


And he left.  The reputation I am starting to get is one of a taskmaster, but who isn’t afraid to praise players when it’s warranted.  That is what I want.


# # #


Tonight I talked with Patty at length about Kate’s e-mail of yesterday and what it might mean.


“I think she wants you back,” she teased, and I sighed heavily.


“No,” I said.  “I’m happy now, I’m delighted to be with you, and frankly that is an aggravation I do not need.  Now or ever.”


“Did she call you ‘honey’?” Patty teased again, and I laughed out loud.


“Touché,” I said, and my sweetheart giggled.  “I deserved that.”


“Can you come to Venice on Monday?”


“Maybe Sunday, if we win,” I said.  “I give the club the day after a match off if we’ve won.”


“Then I’m rooting for you for more than one reason,” she said.


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#38 tenthreeleader


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Posted 27 March 2015 - 01:09 PM

Thursday, September 20

We will travel overnight to the Legnano match and hopefully this trip will go better for us than our trip to Salerno last week.


I’m not thrilled about the idea of dropping points, obviously.  The top clubs in C1 are going to be difficult to catch but I already think the key to this league will be how the top six or seven clubs fare against each other.


There is a gulf of class in the league this year, with seven teams positioned in my eyes to chase for promotion. 


Then there’s a significant drop off to the second tier, and the third tier of clubs is frankly pretty poor.  I don’t see the first tier dropping many points to them, so it’s all about getting points against the top seven, especially on the road.


That’s why the Cavese match was annoying for me.  They held us, but really they’re in the second tier of teams and we ought to have done better but for finishing with ten.  That’s not an indictment of Federico.  We should have had the match in our hip pockets by that time and we didn’t.  That isn’t solely his fault.


With the offensive fluency we showed in the friendly schedule at times, I’m surprised we aren’t scoring more goals at the start of this season.  With the exception of the Manfredonia rout, we haven’t done a lot offensively and we haven’t shown an ability to put a team away.  Those are concerns for me and we need to get them addressed.  We don’t have that killer touch in front of goal and really, we’ve been fortunate to receive as many penalties as we have to help our scoring totals along.


Some of that, fluency, I hope, will come through greater understanding of the 4-1-3-2.  Against lower opposition in the friendlies, we looked good.  Against opposition at or above our own level in C1, though, we have struggled at times.  We have to get it right and start doing it quickly.


Today’s training drills were all about quickness and agility.  Muzzi, for example, is a prodigious talent but if he took even a third of the chances he gets in front of goal he’d have five by now.  He has two, which is two more than zero but not where everyone thinks he should be.


So right now it’s a case of waiting for the shots to start going in while making ourselves extremely hard to score on.  That’s the key to the whole thing.  If we win 1-0, we win 1-0.  I’ll take the points.  But they have to come somehow.


If that means winning ugly, it means winning ugly.  That’s not how I want to play but it may well be what I have to accept in the short term.


I’m not helped by the truth of this axiom: what some supporters don’t understand is that it’s quite possible to be the better side in a match where you don’t win the statistics.  Depending on my formation, I am looking for certain things out of a match.  Obviously, the first item is the scoreline, but sometimes I’m looking for possession and sometimes I’m looking for an effective counter while holding an opponent trying to chase the game.


I usually don’t care much if a team gets a dozen thirty-yard shots, provided I don’t see a wonder strike or two mixed in there to wreck my day.  Most of the time, restricting an opponent in such a fashion will mean they don’t score.  If I get three on target and two go in, I win and the statistics look like I got walked on.


But to take those chances requires work and training and right now that is my emphasis.  We have to get better at striking the ball both for power and placement, to get us to where we want to go.  It will be hard work but we must meet the challenge if we want to succeed – and if I want to keep my job.


So today, I kept the training upbeat and ran drills that didn’t end until the ball was in the back of the net.  The defense took a fierce pride in keeping the offense and midfielders out, and when the midfielders switched positions from offense to defense they felt the same way.


In short, it was an excellent team training session and one I think we can build upon to make ourselves better.  I’m not saying we are fixed by a long shot but I am saying I think we can eventually get there.  The end of the season is going to be the acid test for us.  So we’ll be ready.


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#39 tenthreeleader


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Posted 29 March 2015 - 07:17 PM

Friday, September 21

We leave in the morning for Legnano after a lighter day of training. With all the matches we’re played of late, the club’s physical conditioning is somewhat better and that means I can give a little bit lighter load as we approach match day.


In some sports it’s called ‘tapering’.  In my lexicon it’s ‘taking it easy on the players so we don’t do something stupid training right before a match so someone gets hurt’.  Perhaps I should use the other lexicon.


The pre-match reports are out and the speculation is already beginning as to how Padova will continue its strong start without its suspended captain.  So as a result, I met with Giuseppi Anaclerio, who is going to take over the midfield role in Crovari’s absence.


I’ve decided, for the time being, to leave Paz at right back, leaving Cotroneo on the bench.  Pablo has settled in quite well back there and I don’t want to disrupt his process of adaptation if I can possibly help it.


So I am standing pat and giving the very important role in my midfield to Anaclerio, who is understandably a bit nervous about it.


Unlike Federico, Anaclerio is a natural holding midfielder.  His preference is to lay back, but Federico performs many of the tasks I consider essential to the position better than Anaclerio does.  So he plays the position as first choice.


One thing Crovari does not do well, in my opinion, is play in transition.  That’s a key element to this formation – as the link between the defenders and attackers, he often has to move the ball quickly when I want a counterattacking style as I often do.


Federico is a more deliberate player.  What I want to see in transition is direct play to the strikers, especially when I have someone with Muzzi’s pace up front.  I want the ball into space, over his head if necessary, so he can run onto it and create chances.  But Crovari will sometimes put his foot on the ball in transition.


He wants to see the field in front of him, I guess, and read the play.  But the whole secret of transition football is not letting the defense get back in an organized fashion.   I want quick play in transition and Federico butts heads with me in that style.  That is unfortunate.


However, he is a fine man-marker, a very good distributor of the ball and has very good positional sense, which outweigh the benefits of a quick breakout in general.  He’s good on the ball.  I just wish he were faster.


But Gustavo needs my support, especially when we are on the road, and he has it.  Despite not featuring in the regular first XI, he regularly makes the first team squad as a midfield substitute.  And he does get into the lion’s share of matches, even if he is not the first choice.  He has a role to play with us and he plays it very well.


“You’re going to be fine, provided you stick with the plan and lead the back line,” I said to him after we trained.  I had his undivided attention.  “This is not an easy formation for the holding midfielder to play and I understand that.  I am asking a lot from you and I think you can deliver.  If you play how you can play, you’ll have nothing to worry about.”


I also spoke with Paz, in Spanish, about why he wasn’t moving in front of the back four.  He may be our best holding midfielder of all, but he’s also the best right full back I have and so I have to make a judgment based on what is best for the club.


He’s also vice-captain, an honor he has earned based on where he has been and his attitude toward his new teammates and club when he came here.  He will go where he is sent, but part of my management philosophy is to do my best to make sure each player knows why he’s being sent.


“I just need you at right back, Pablo,” I said.  “You’ve done great work there and you’re playing a strong position for us.   I may need to move you to the holding position if Gustavo has difficulty, but if he doesn’t, you need to stay where you are.”


This also involved having a talk with Cotroneo, who needs to be told I haven’t forgotten about him. Frankly, I’d like to see him able to learn a midfield role so I can bring him in to lock down a left-sided hotshot when that needs to be done.  I like versatile players and I like the idea of being able to plug them in to more than one place on the pitch.


Other than those instances, I plan to put out most of the same eleven that faced Cavese.  When we get back into Serie C Cup play, we’ll see some newer faces in the XI but for now, I’m sticking with what I know, especially on the road.  Whether that kind of pragmatism pays off, only time will tell.


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Patty called this evening too, and she also had a warning for me.  If I weren’t falling for her, I’d consider it downright strange.


The relationships between McGuire, Patty and Kate (and frankly, goodness knows who else) are ones I don’t want to know about but which may eventually concern me.  Patty’s concern tonight was that I might dump her over the contact she didn’t want with McGuire.


“The receptionist took a call from Reading today,” she said.  “I’m worried.  It was from Peter and I haven’t returned the call.”


“So don’t,” I said. “I won’t mind.  And I don’t care what he thinks.”


“Well, that wasn’t the reason he called,” Patty said.  “One of their clients is displaying at Biennale and that means they are both coming to Venice next month.”


I used a rude word in reply, in an unguarded moment.  “Well, just know this,” I promised.  “No matter what happens, I have no interest in Kate and I sure as hell don’t want to spend one moment around Peter McGuire.  All I want is to be around you.  Period.”


“I appreciate that.”


“I should hope so,” I teased.  “When does biennale end?”


“Mid-November,” she answered.


“And what happens to you?  Will you get a new posting and get to go home?”  I was starting to think out loud, and I didn’t like my own thoughts, which didn’t help.


“Unfortunately, that is a possibility,” she said.  “And if that day ever comes I promise you this much; we’ll talk about it as a couple.  There will be none of this running off stuff that happened to you last time, I promise.  Okay?”


That assuaged me a little bit and I let her know I appreciated her honesty. 


“You know perfectly well where I’ve been and if I ever had to go back there I don’t know what I’d do,” I said.  “And that is the simple, honest truth.”


“That’s all you’ve ever given me, Rob,” she said.   “Unlike what I was told by certain people.  So you have nothing to fear.”


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#40 tenthreeleader


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Posted 01 April 2015 - 01:24 PM

Saturday, September 22

Legnano is only about a hundred miles from Padova but I want the players comfortable overnight before playing the match tomorrow and the board agreed to fund the trip.  It’s an important match for us and I don’t want to take the chance of tight legs after a two-hour coach ride.


Legnano is barely three miles from Busto Arsizio and Legnano’s archrivals Pro Patria, so the trip will be nearly identical when we come back here later in the year to play.  There are several such rivalries in Serie C1 this season, that will make things extra interesting.


Monza, for example, is less than ten miles from Milan and that city’s smallest club, Pro Sesto.  Foligno and Ternana are only about twenty miles apart, Manfredonia and Foggia are closer than that, and I’ve already mentioned Salerno’s derby between Cavese and Paganese.  And then there is, of course, our own set-to with Venezia.


I suppose it’s unusual to find that many derby–type matches in a league with such small-sized clubs.  It’s doubly unusual due to Italy’s size.  It’s obviously not a small country. 


Derby matches are much more common in smaller leagues in England and especially in Scotland, which is much smaller and where the population is much more concentrated.  About 75 percent of the SPL in any given year is either in or around Glasgow or in Edinburgh. 


MLS was different for me, since Chicago, where I played, has no natural rivals in soccer but is acquiring one through play in the New England Revolution.  The city’s natural rivals in other sports, which are St. Louis, Milwaukee, Green Bay and to a lesser extent Minneapolis-St. Paul, do not have large soccer clubs.  The closest geographical rival for the Fire is Kansas City or Columbus, so those are the clubs we would claim as regional rivals back in the day.


So to travel to Legnano is a fairly big thing.  The rivalries in Italy are provincial as much as anything else – local derbies aside, northerners hate southerners and just about everyone seems to hate Naples.


Football, like so many other sports, has rivalries based on geography but here in Europe they are also based on many years of history.  That makes both for fascinating studies in sociology as well as occasionally dangerous public events.


I’ll be spending some future entries talking about these things.  It’s safe to say, though, that the presence of an American manager complicates some of these rivalries in a profound way.


Legnano, though, is not one of our traditional rivals here so I had no worries along those lines as the coach chugged off across central Italy.  The card game we started on the way to Salerno was soon in full swing once again and I think it may wind up being a permanent part of our travel.


It’s a good way to loosen up the players, the stakes aren’t so high that anyone’s going to get into a rage over losing money, and I even get a hidden benefit out of it.


I learn about composure and flair.  There is no card game better than poker to see if people can hold their nerve, and as a study of people poker can reveal quite a bit about competitiveness, ambition, and personal style.


Of course, I haven’t told anyone this, but I have a definite reason for starting this game.  I want to see how people handle it.  That isn’t to say I’d make a decision on my XI due to winning or losing at Texas Hold-Em, but I would say that when I have a difficult tie on the road in a Cup match, I want to know who has the steady hand.  That might affect a decision I make, somewhere down the road.


My job is to get to know my players.  The book doesn’t say how I have to do it.  So I think this is a good, fun way to get the players to bond with each other and for me to watch them socially.  We’ll see if theory translated into application proves me right.


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