The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.
We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.
Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.
I decided to keep Ibrahimovic. When it came down to it, his character was just too fascinating to lose. I’ve never seen a player who was so expansively self-defeating or one so capable of turning every moment of triumph into a bellow of despair. It’s as if the better he gets, the more he has to betray himself: he’s playing for his favorite club, yet desperately wants a transfer; he’s playing for his favorite manager, yet spends all his time complaining; he’s a born leader, but never had a worse season than when he was asked to be captain. I’ve come to think of the darkness in him as the mysterious key to his power, and I can’t transfer a player who I kind of want to see written up as a Tuesday Portrait. I gave him a contract extension.
Of course, he then immediately started complaining and talking to the press about Liverpool. I thought about the future, and I confess, I wavered. But no sooner had I started talking to Liverpool about a possible transfer fee than Ibrahimovic came out with this—completely unprecedented—statement.
He can’t even get the transfer he wants without undermining it the moment it looks like it might go through. And yet he’s one of the best players I’ve ever coached. Anyway, that settled it. He’s staying.
There’s no reason to stage a revolution the minute after you win a championship. We had a relatively quiet summer on the transfer front, improving the team in a couple of key areas but essentially keeping the existing group intact.
We sold Marcelo, our willowy Brazilian defender who seemed to make a bad mistake every time he played last season, to Lecce for €8 million, and Arjen Servais, our Belgian defender who’d been a stalwart of our Serie B campaign, to Torino for €625k. We also sold Andrea Battaglia, a backup left winger who only spent one season with the club (and who I don’t think I ever told you about), to Triestina for €5 million.
We brought in Giovanni Magnoni, a young defender from Sampdoria who’ll back up Ibrahimovic and the Ferj, for €6.5 million (Sampdoria are a giant fire sale since they were relegated):
And we bought Mark Linnane, Tottenham’s versatile attacker, for €15 million—painful, but he can play on either side of the pitch, covering both Contini and David, and can also fill in at striker if both Teixeira and Galli are out with injuries:
(The funny backstory here is that there’s a real-life Mark Linnane who works for SI, and, like a few other SI developers and testers, he’s been imported into the game with a random ability set and a bizarre personality description. Click to see the image in a larger size:
If you’re playing FM yourself, you can see more of these transcendent figures by doing a search for “faceinthegame.” Personally, I just hope the dude can fill in for David.)
Sad news: We also said goodbye to a couple of Pro Vercelli stalwarts this year. Landry Akassou and Miguel José were both at the end of their contracts, and since they’ve been surpassed by youth players and would never get any playing time, I let them both leave on a free. Akassou (who played 237 times for the club over eight seasons and was our captain for four) immediately signed with Brescia in Serie B, and José (who played 177 times and went with us all the way from Serie C to Serie A) is now playing for Naval in the Portuguese Liga. Godspeed, gentlemen, and thanks.
III. Geography. Festivals & Customs.
The new stadium was finished in mid-June, and on the 30th, we made our final move from the Via Massaua to the Via Dante Alighieri.
We’re still looking for a “Highbury name” to use colloquially in place of the soporific “Pro Vercelli Stadium” (more on this soon—be thinking of ideas). In the meantime, we decided to introduce the new ground and pay homage to the namesake of the old one by launching the Silvio Piola Cup, a four-team friendly tournament that we’re hoping to make an annual tradition. Among other things, it was a mark of the club’s rise in stature that Arsenal, Real Madrid, and Lyon agreed to come to Vercelli to participate.
We beat Lyon 4-1 in the first game, then beat Arsenal in the “final” 2-0. It was a fun event for the fans, we got four sellout crowds at the stadium (where the grass has a cool stripey pattern—no more playing in an Irish sphagnum bog!), and to top it all off, the cup-winning goal was scored by our 18-year-old centerback Riccardo Caprioli.
Our other friendlies came against Legnano (whom we beat 2-0) and at the Camp Nou (where we lost to Barcelona 2-1).
With an eye on completing the rare reversal-of-patronage maneuver, I asked the board to make Sampdoria, our ex-parent club, our feeder. Sampdoria must really be in a panic about their relegation, because to my surprise, they agreed:
V. Gross Domestic Product
At the start of the summer, I was named Serie A Manager of Year, Michael Dogan was named Foreign Player of the Year (Ibrahimovic finished third), and Gabriele Contini was named Italian Player of the Year. Teixeira finished second in the Top Goalscorer race (he scored the same number of goals as Francismar, but Francismar did it in two fewer starts). Dogan, Ibra, Contini, and Teixeira were all named to the Team of the Season. Jacob Larsen finished second in the Goalkeeper of the Year poll.
At the end of the summer, we won both the Supercoppa Italiana (played between the winners of Serie A and the winners of the Coppa Italia—in this case Juventus, whom we beat 2-0) and the UEFA Super Cup (played between the winners of the Europa League and the winners of the Champions League—in this case Milan, whom we beat 2-1 at the Stade Louis II in Monaco).
Neither competition was a burning priority for us, but it’s nice to beat Milan in anything, and nice to pick up a couple of shiny objects for the trophy room at the new stadium.
So all in all, it was a really enjoyable summer. As a last bonus, the revamped training program we adopted a year ago seems to be getting results. We now have a few youth players who are providing some legitimate squad depth, as well as a couple who are knocking on the door of the first team. Probably the most notable is Paolo Martini, an extremely promising defensive midfielder who came to the club from Milan last season. He gained 53 total ability points last year and is now featuring semi-regularly in the first team.
Start of last season:
Start of this season:
So at the moment, everything looks good. It’s impossible to predict the future, and this could easily be the scene in the movie in which the fatcat leans back with a cigar in his mouth and says, “What could possibly go wrong, on this day of all days, October 24, 1929?” But I like the cut of this team’s jacket, and I like where it’s going. We’re not tousle-headed innocents anymore; we are players on this stage, and we are ready to defend our championship.
by Brian Phillips · June 3, 2009