Belmondo Diary

Belmondo Diary #15

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WEDNESDAY August 3rd, 2016

So, we just need a 3-0 victory to keep our European dream alive. Dream indeed. I decided to go with the new tactics right from the start. Obviously.

We started confidently with the width providing some problems for the Turks. Three goals were needed and Marko Suler provided one at the 24th minute! But not for us. Again. Suler has now scored for Galatasaray twice. Maybe they should sign him.

It was Suler again in the 33rd minute, but this time he scored for us! Small miracles. Joey Sleegers enjoyed that playmaker role and won the player of the match, but unfortunately there were no more goals. Suler did pick up a yellow card, so he’s certainly had an exciting tie.

Well, we’re out of Europe. I bought all these players for nothing. The pressure is now on to match our performance from last year in the league. It would also be nice to play more than one Cup game. No Europe. No handshakes with Pep and Jose and Carlo. And Rafa.

FRIDAY August 5th, 2016

We’re in Europe! Apparently the losers from the Champions League get a playoff to try to go into the Europa League. We’re nearly in Europe!

TUESDAY August 9th, 2016

We start the season tomorrow. Time for a little pause to go over the team as it stands. We’ve had a net spend of a bit over $2 million. That includes seven of the current starting eleven. That’s a little bit scary, now that I’ve written it down. Hopefully they continue to click.

Goalkeeping is going to be interesting. Hannes þór Halldórsson is injured, so Joshua Smits has the chance he’s been waiting for. He was our keeper before Thor and I arrived. If he performs, do I bring Thor back in right away? I suppose that will be a good problem to have.

Central defence reads like the villain list from a fantasy novel. Kader Mangane and Marko Suler will strike fear in the hearts of noble heroes everywhere. Wojciech Golla will probably get the nod ahead of Suler, but I also expect him to play in the point of the defensive triangle.

The jewel in the crown this season is Jan-Arie van der Heijden. He can play in central defence at any point in the triangle as well as in midfield in either role. He cost $1.7 million, but I’m happy to have paid it. Obviously, the one drawback is that he played four seasons for Vitesse.

I brought in three fullbacks to add to Bart Buysse, my love-him hate-him guy. Zimmerman is the best, but he’s out for a month. Joshua Brenet is the other right back and he comes for free after failing to make it in the PSV team. He’s got some pace and has performed well in the preseason, so I have high hopes for this month. José Antonio Ríos is the left back. I plan to start with him, but Bart is making noises about that.

Joey Sleegers improved last season, so he’s starting in the playmaker role. And he’s Dutch, so he gets at least three extra points for that. Alongside him will be Krisztián Vadócz, the returning Hungarian maestro. This is his third time at NEC and hopefully his best.

The inside forwards are punteros. Or so they tell me. There’s no way I am going to learn Spanish while also trying to understand the Dutch guttural utterances. Carlos Calvo is my free kick specialist, while Christian Santos is my poster boy. And I mean that literally. He’s on all the posters around town. A gorgeous man. For the women. Not for me, I barely notice.

That leaves the forwards. Nikola Djurdjic has the edge for me at the moment, with Mamadou Sylla the backup. Sylla came for free after mostly failing in Spain and is only 22. Mihai Roman will be hoping to get a chance this season because he was about all we had last season.

Our wild card is Jay-Roy Grot who can play up front or in the right-side forward role. I’m pretty sure only an injury or three will see him get game time. Maybe he should play in the cup matches (assuming we get more than one).

Tomorrow, Utrecht.

WEDNESDAY August 10th, 2016

Game day. I bought a second pair of green pants as we’re obviously going to be playing more games this season. They looked good. I looked good. Wojciech Golla looked good. He was the first goalscorer of Nijmegen’s season. I’m sure someone made a lot of money betting on that one. It came from a deflection off the crossbar from a Calvo free kick. I’ll take that. And that was the end of the first half – 1-0 for us.

Djurdjic scored early in the second half from a cross from that man, Calvo. Three minutes later, Nikola was injured and had to be subbed. I brought on Grot because at 2-0 up, we could afford a bit of experimentation. Less than ten minutes later, Brenet got us another goal, supplying Jay-Roy who kept his cool in the box. Then again – a fourth goal! The Spanish Fly, Sylla, slotted home his season opener.

All that scoring and Marko Suler was named man of the match. This man has a talent for getting noticed. At least he didn’t score any own goals this time.

The physio suggests that Djurdjic will be out for six weeks. Mihai and Grot are celebrating on the inside. And a little bit on the outside. I had to meet with them after the game to remind them that people can see them smiling.

SATURDAY August 13th, 2016

Game day. We headed to AZ, where our ex-captain, Rens van Eijden, is now plying his treacherous trade. The match was one of those exciting 0-0 draws. There were plenty of shots and a few dazzling saves, but ultimately we came away with only one point. We were slightly better, but only slightly. The worst part of the day was seeing that smug bastard, van Eijden, when he blocked a shot.

On Thursday, the Italians arrive.

THURSDAY August 18th, 2016

Galatasaray played Arsenal in the Champions League yesterday. Oh, what could have been!

Game day. We lost 0-1. We probably could have lost by more. Now we have to go to Italy and score. That’s all I want to say today.

SUNDAY August 21st, 2016

Game day. Bai Kamara started at right back in order to give Brenet a rest for the Udinese game. And boy, did he capitalise. A rampaging run at the start of the game ended with a cross to the far post where Calvo headed it in. That was in the seventh minute. Willem II were not looking happy and they started tackling like it. Lots of yellow cards flying around, for sure. One thing I’ve noticed with the new tactics (apart from the attacking right back loving it) is that we’re giving away fewer fouls.

Bai Kamara and Sleegers both did well throughout the game and we ended with a hard-fought 1-0 win. That should help with confidence as we head to Italy. Can’t wait to try some authentic pizza.

I brought in a striker from Bordeaux on loan. He’s as good as any of our others, so I figured some coverage was worth it at this point. And, as they’re our parent club, it doesn’t cost us a dime. Maybe this feeder club thing is okay. Enzo Crivelli is not as fast as some of our guys, but he’s got a good head on his shoulders. I think I’m going to start him against Udinese. Nothing like throwing him in at the deep end and demanding instant results.

WEDNESDAY August 24th, 2016

We arrived in Udine today and I immediately went out to get some pizza. It was terrible. Too thin, some sort of weird pepperoni instead of proper pepperoni, and the cheese was weird. Luckily, my assistant found a Dominos open and I got my fill.

We need to score tomorrow, so I’m going to use the new tactics and tell the boys to just throw everything at the goal. Hopefully that will take them by surprise and we can sneak in a goal early.

THURSDAY August 25th, 2016

Game day. Everything comes down to this. I haven’t even bothered caring about the Eredivisie yet. Tactics are set. Plan has been created and communicated. Now I head out to the dugout and will come back to you, dear diary, elated or devastated.

Well, the early goal came. As the clock ticked towards eleven minutes, Mangane switched the ball to the right side, but missed his target and a Udinese player grabbed it, passed it to their midfield, which then sent a through ball to Lopez who ran at Smits and slotted it past him. We now needed two goals, but I already had them playing all out attack. What else could I do? Nothing. So, that’s what I did. Nothing.

In the 20th minute, things got interesting. Sylla (I started him instead of the Italian) latched onto a sly ball and got it on to Sleegers who made an exquisite pass into the box and onto the foot of Vadócz who slammed it toward the net. Their keeper made an impossible save, but it bounced into the path of Calvo who did what he does. 1-1. We’d been outplayed, but we were tied. Actually, it was more that we’d been outmuscled. It was a bit of a boys and men thing. The score stayed that way and we came into the rooms feeling nervous. At this point, we just needed to win by a goal to go through.

The boys went back out onto the pitch and my fingernails became an endangered species. In less than five minutes, the Pole trapped a cleared ball and sent it straight to Joey Sleegers. Sleegers saw a tiny opening and threaded the ball into the box. There were three Nijmegen players after it as well as a few Udinese guys, but it was Brenet who fired it across the face of goal and onto the foot of Sylla. And into the goal! We were ahead! We were in Europe! But there were forty minutes left!

I have no idea how to defend a lead against an obviously superior side. I suppose I could have sent on some extra defenders and packed the backline. But I didn’t really know how to explain what I wanted. So, we went old school. I brought the five midfielders into a single line and asked them to play for the counter attack. I knew that if we just sat back, we’d be asking for then to just pepper shots at the goal and, frankly, I didn’t have faith in Smits to deal with that.

As it happened, Smits only had to deal with one shot in the next forty minutes and he tipped it over. I owe him an apology. Maybe. One day.

EUROPE! We’re in it. Bam!

FRIDAY August 26th, 2016

We’ve been given $2.57 million just for being part of the Europa League! Double bonus.

The groups have been drawn. We’re in with Tottenham, Villareal, and Spartak Moscow. Tottenham are every person from Ohio’s favorite team because they’re not very good and never win anything. So, that’s a good step. I don’t know anything about the other two teams apart from their country of origin. It’s going to be a bit weird traveling to Moscow.

SUNDAY August 28th, 2016

Game day. We welcomed our Gelderland rivals to Nijmegen today. Early press featured a quote from van Eijden saying how much these games against Vitesse mean to the players. Seriously? That traitor is claiming to speak for us? I’m going to speak to the mayor tomorrow to see if we can have him banned from the city limits.

We were given a penalty in the tenth minute, so it was a great start. Not so great was seeing Marko Suler walk up to take it. It was only then that I realised I didn’t have anyone worth a damn at penalties on the pitch. And Suler, who loves being the centre of attention, figured he might as well have a shot. He missed it, naturally.

Luckily our other central defender, Mangane, scored a beauty two minutes later. We kept our possession right around 55% for the rest of the game and were able to walk off the pitch with another win. Player of the match? That marauding right back, Joshua Brenet, who was signed on a free at the start of the season.

Peter Bosz admitted to the press that the mind games had affected him, which gave me immense pleasure. That guy is a dweeb.

TUESDAY August 30th, 2016

I brought a midfielder in on loan from Everton. He’s not much of a physical specimen, but he gives me some finesse in that playmaker role that Sleegers has been playing. And we need depth now that we’re in EUROPE. Ryan Ledson is probably the most expensive player in the squad, but he’s going to need to dislodge Sleegers to get game time.

Now I wish I’d brought in a right back as Brenet was injured in training today. He’s out for a few weeks. Luckily Zimmerman will be back soonish.

WEDNESDAY August 31st, 2016

It’s the last day of the transfer window, so naturally some big team came in with a big offer for one of my young guys. Jay-Roy Grot for $2.9 million. I said no. Then, predictably, I got a knock on the door from young Grot. He was not happy about not being allowed to go to Roma. I told him I was pretty sure he’d just be sitting on the bench and he could stay here and win the Europa League. He was having none of it. I agreed to accept any future offers from Roma. He went away and presumably told his agent because within an hour I had three offers from clubs around the world.

What could I do? Turning these bids down in the past has not gone well for me. So, Grot is gone. I negotiated $5.25 million. And, of course, I can’t spend it during this window.

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