SATURDAY September 1st, 2018
I was asked in the press conference today who I thought would win the league this year. I’ve refused to answer it in previous years, but this year I didn’t hesitate in answering with N.E.C. I can feel it in my bones. Ignoring the three draws we’ve started the season with, of course.
SUNDAY September 2nd, 2018
Game day. Heracles v N.E.C.
My bones lied to me. Losing 1-0 to a team like Heracles is not what league winners do. I lined up my best team to take home the points and all we got to take home was a gutful of bitterness. Maybe it’s time to give up. Go back to Ann Arbor and spend my days cheering the Wolverines. I’ll take the international break to think things through.
SATURDAY September 15th, 2018
Game day. N.E.C. v Fortuna Sittard.
Abdul Bai Kamara lined up against us after his loan move. We were hardly shaking in our boots. Also on the opposition team sheet was old time N.E.C. player, Ludcinio Marengo. Neither them lasted the whole game, which was quite rewarding.
In the first half we had 11 shots with 5 on target. Zero goals. Zero shots and zero on target for them. Zero goals. So, why do we play these games? Might as well just flip a coin when we can outperform by so much and not get a result.
Luckily, my half time “encouragement” got some people into gear. A goal came two minutes into the second half from perhaps my favourite couple of my career so far. Breno to Vela. It’s like Montana to Rice. I love it. After that we went back to dominating without scoring. Such fun.
With three minutes of regulation time left, Mark Uth won a penalty. For some reason, young Jeremias grabbed the ball and put it on the spot. Uth was left scratching his head, but the Brazilian sent the keeper the wrong way and scored with his attempt. In extra time, Nagasawa pounced on a ball that dropped from a Schlupp cross. That made it 3-0 which made sense when looking at the other statistics, but not when considering how crap we were at converting chances. We’ll need to do better against Wolfsburg this week in our first European Group K game.
WEDNESDAY September 19th, 2018
We arrived at Volkswagen Arena today. People had told us to beware of emissions with Volkswagen, but everything seemed okay. I mean, the air was breathable enough. The press certainly rates us as outsiders for the match. We’ll see about that.
Meanwhile, back in Holland, FC Twente smashed Heracles by 5 to 0. That’s the team we lost to, in case anyone had forgotten. And not in Holland, but related, a Mister Jeremain Lens is currently unhappy at Stoke and is interested in joining us. I’ve asked the Potters how much they’d sell him for and have sent a scout to England to watch him. At first glance he looks like he’d walk into our team. He can play either inside forward position or right up front.
THURSDAY September 20th, 2018
Game day. Wolfsburg v N.E.C. Europa League.
I told the guys they had nothing to lose. I wanted to see a good effort despite all the media garbage. Five minutes in and Breno skipped down the right flank, delivering a ball in to the marauding Francisco Jackson who slammed the ball between goalie and post. I had barely put my game face on. Amazing start.
Wolfsburg followed that up with a couple of dashing moves that miraculously resulted in zero goals. After twenty minutes I’d seen enough and yelled out for the boys to assume the defensive setup for the rest of the half. It worked. We went in up by a goal and they gathered a couple of yellow cards in frustration.
In the 53rd minute, after I’d sent the boys back out to play in a more attacking mood, Wolfsburg overwhelmed our defence and scored what was basically a tap-in. Van der Heijden appeared to have forgotten about the offside rule, standing by himself, well away from the other four defensive players who were lined up immaculately. Van der Heijden was to blame for the goal that came four minutes later too, allowing Kruse to run into the box by himself. Van der Heijden is on my list.
The game continued this way for some time. Smits had to keep repelling attacks that came from our midfield basically being skipped by the play. I took Ayoub off as he had a yellow card and was panting a bit. That allowed me to move Van der Heijden up from central defence where his idiocy wouldn’t hurt as much. In the 83rd minute, as I was prepared for yet another wave, we actually picked off a pass and the ball made it to the recently brought on Crivelli. He was one on one with the keeper. He faked right, shot left, and the ball went past the keeper’s outstretched leg and off the post, coming back into play only for a defender to clear it.
With a minute to go, they killed off the game with an open shot from André Schürrle. We were outclassed. No question. New plan – beat the other two teams in the group twice each.
TUESDAY September 25th, 2018
Game day. N.E.C. v OJC Rosmalen. Dutch Cup 2nd Round.
I figured this was an obvious match fitness exercise for a few of the outlying players. Captain Ayoub and Van Der Heijden were the only starters from the Europa League game. Nagasawa took advantage of his start with a terrific goal before two minutes had clocked by. He took the ball deep, passed it to himself between two defenders and then sent off a shot across the goalkeeper and into the net.
Christian Santos doubled the lead on fifteen and we were off to the races. That hunk of a man scored his second just before we got to thirty minutes and the fans went nuts. He hasn’t lost it. He’s like a fine bottle of wine, just getting better with age. And his football skills are still very good too. Crivelli made it four and we went in for some oranges.
At half time, I let my joy show, which meant they only bothered putting one shot on target in the second half. Naturally. Still, 4-0 is good for the players and good for the fans. Even if it was against some random team.
THURSDAY September 26th, 2018
Fortuna Sittard and Vitesse have been knocked out of the Dutch Cup. Utrecht scored ten in their match. There’s a new goal to put in my notebook – score ten in a game. We’re playing Achilles’29 in the third round. The media described us as “well-known rivals”. Not well known by me. I’ve never heard of them.
SATURDAY September 29th, 2018
The press have fabricated another story to sell papers and gather clicks. I was asked about my war of words with Ricardo Moniz in the press conference today. How could I answer that? “What war of words?” We haven’t lost to PEC Zwolle in six games in a row, so maybe that’s what counts as a public spat between managers these days.
SUNDAY September 30th, 2018
Game day. N.E.C. v PEC Zwolle.
I left Vela on the bench today to allow Fetfatzidis a start on the right while giving Nagasawa a start. I was a bit nervous about how Breno would react, but things started off well enough. In the 15th minute, he penetrated into the box, crossed a ball to Uth who instead of trying to slide it past the keeper, headed it back across the face of goal to Fetfatzidis who headed home, sneaking in front of his opposition.
At the start of the 22nd minute, Schlupp left his man in order to chase down a ball. He lost the chase and the PEC man who beat him to the ball slid it past him and straight to the guy Jeffrey had left. Simple goal.
The half ended with each team managing only one shot on target. One goal each too, but it was not exactly a great fan’s day out. I let rip in the change rooms. We need to win the league and that means not horsing around with our rivals at home.
Sixty minutes went past and still only one shot on target each. Sixty-five. Seventy. It was time for jolly Vela to come off the bench. Seventy-five. Eighty. We were picking up offsides like it was our job. In the 81st, Diarra intercepted a ball after some really good team-wide pressing and sent it out to Vela. Carlos ran straight to the box and my heart stopped beating. He was forced to the byline, but sent a ball in to Fetfatzidis who got our second shot on target. It was saved.
A draw. At home. The only thing that stopped me from killing myself was that Vitesse had five goals put past them by Feyenoord.
So, our campaign to win the league stands thusly. We are in 15th place, one spot above the relegation zone. Six games, one win, one loss, FOUR draws. We have one or two games in hand on most of the league, so it’s not as bad as that. But it’s still bad. Ajax sit at the top having lost one game. So their points per game stands at 2.75. Ours stands at 1.17. Only by winning three games out of our next two will be get to an average of 2 points per game. The outlook is bleak. This could be the end of a career. An amazing career.