Los Coladeros, Episode 35: DAMN
It’s my honour and privilege to announce that Maxim Tsigalko has wrestled the Player of the Year award from Sergio Sestelo for 2002/03, with a whopping 41% of the overall vote. Sergio, however, did get the nod from me as my Manager’s Player of the Season for reasons outlined in the previous episode: his solo performances, despite having “better” players all around him last season, were nothing short of remarkable after the step up in quality from the D2B. Thanks to everyone who participated in the poll, and a special thank you to whoever voted for Mikel Alonso. He was delighted to get a mention.
With the Ultras providing another £3m in season ticket money — again, everyone, I genuinely can’t thank you enough — I head back to the transfer market to see what kind of value I can get. We finished last season quite seriously in the red, and at some point the board are going to plunge us back into it with a stadium expansion, so I don’t want to go too mad. We can’t afford to risk going bankrupt so soon into our existence.
I first push my entire £4.5m budget towards Ajax for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, which is well under his value, but sod it, it might unsettle him. I then launch an outrageous bid to sign Álvaro Recoba on a free transfer; he says he’s not interested and there’s no amount of money that can convince him otherwise, but I have a feeling a £1m signing on fee might just about do it.
I also fly into several bids for backup RBs to deputise for Mike Duff, since I’ve just realised that if he ever got a long-term injury, we’d be stuffed. My shortlist is bulging with names that I’ll never manage to sign, like David Prutton, John Welsh, Jon Inge Høiland, Steven Reid and Christer Persson, but it doesn’t stop me from making derisory offers for all of them anyway. Alternatively, if this guy was ten years younger, I’d snap him up in a heartbeat — not because he’s particularly good, but because his name would make for some fine laughs as I scream it at the top of my voice while he hacks down strikers inside the box. SWEET JESUS SWEET JESUS.
Barcelona B’s Nigerian international right-back Samuel Okunowo is then transfer listed for £1.5m; they accept an £800k bid from me, and we agree terms. However, he’s by no means my first choice target — I have better options in the pipeline — so I delay confirmation of the transfer by a week to see if I can arrange a date with a prettier girl. I have my wandering eyes on Alf Inge Haaland (£400k) and Oviedo’s promising young RB Alberto Saavedra (170k), who’s my first choice based on price and age alone. Plus, Spencer Field said he was an excellent prospect, and quite frankly, who am I to argue.
Suddenly, alarms start ringing all around me as Roma release Gabriel Batistuta on a free transfer. I approach him instantly with a gift basket of the silkiest oils and creams, but he wants a whopping £55,000 per week. My max offer is £26k, so I shove that in next to the soaps, along with a cheque for £2m as a signing on fee. I would exchange one of my lesser-used limbs for Batigol at La Cartuja, so it seems like a sound investment. I also offer a contract to Guiseppe Signori with far less excitement or enthusiasm, but on the plus side, he is not only a legend — he’s cheap. My kind of guy.
We’re just a few days out from our glamour friendly against TNS, and I’m salivating for news. A click of Continue later, and some arrives: I’m cancelling those bids for Haaland and Okunowo as Saavedra agrees to join for just £825 per week and Decent Young Player terms — a fantastic result. I’m also delighted to see that a £100k punt I threw towards Greece for a young centre-half by the name of Nikos Andrielos has been accepted, he also wants basically no wages, and he’s here to gradually develop into one of the best defenders in world football. Next to Tobros, literally and figuratively, of course. Welcome, both of you! I hope you like tiny beers and playing reserve football.
With my shiny new signings and giant chequebook safely landed in Wales, it’s time to decide on our first ever starting XI in the Los Coladeros La Liga era. Considering we’re playing one of the best teams on the continent, I’m going with what I think is my strongest side, based purely on attributes (and my excitement levels). That means mis-sized shirts are thrown to Costanzo, Amaya, Arteta, Ronaldo and Shearer, plus Batty and Molhoek, who make up the middle of my bench.
I’ve decided to test a Shearer-Tsigalko-Ronaldo attacking trident from the start today and while I’m not 100% delighted to have withdrawn the Hitman from the position where he scored 34 times last season, the fact is that if this works, we could be in for a serious goal difference by the time 2004 is over.
Not a bad outing at all. We’re 4–0 up and absolutely cruising at half time, which is where I make my nine substitutions — and all hell breaks loose. Moukoko and Sestelo both hack down TNS forwards in the box, Nicky Ward dispatches both penalties, and for a brief moment, it looks like we’re on the familiar road to a champing — but Sestelo and then Ronaldo finish the game off in style. Tsigalko doesn’t suffer at all from being pulled in behind Shearer, and in fact he flourishes there — it’s only Super Al’s brace that wins him man of the match ahead of the Hitman. Lovely stuff all round.
My reputation leaps at the news that I’ve led my side to a four-goal win over Total Network Solutions: I’m now the 6th best manager in Spain, and sitting pretty at exactly 400th in the world overall. Watch your butt, Megson. I’m also delighted to see that I’ve got the second best win/loss record in world football since I joined Los Coladeros. The only man ahead of me… is the one man I need to beat more than anybody. No pressure.
My new-found standing as one of the best managers in my local area doesn’t impress Álvaro Recoba, who rejects my overly-generous contract offer. I go back with what will be my final bid; he is a serious player, and at just 27 years old, will be well worth the outlay if I can get him to agree a deal. Meanwhile, Badajoz make a loan offer for William Leandersson, which I hesitate over: first, he’s actually developing pretty well and part of me would rather keep him around, and second, they’re not offering to pay any of his wages, so they can stick their offer somewhere dark and uninviting. I ask them to contribute at least 50% of his pay, they offer 60%, I take another glance at my squad and decide we can survive without him. Good luck, Willy. Do us proud.
As Leandersson disappears into the sky, the rest of my players enter the dressing room at Cae-y-Castell for our next pre-season friendly against Fflint Town United, a team whose name was definitely the result of an argument. They’re here straight off the back of a landmark 2–1 friendly win against Germany’s Borussia Neunkirchen and a creditable 0–0 draw with Lorient, so they’re not going to be the pushovers that my team selection assumes they will be. Contreras gets a go up top, new boys Saavedra, Batty, Baião and Andrielos get a start, and we have some serious cannons on the bench just in case we need a few goals. Van der Linden will get a half as well. And awaaaaay we go!
We do well in the first half considering we’re a bunch of children who have never played together before. Contreras is a menace up front, and eventually gets an assist for the only goal of the opening 45 — but really, it’s just a simple pass to Baião, who then goes on a mazy run that sees him ghost past three home defenders before lashing a shot into the top corner. Kalogeras, Batty and Tonton are all disappointing, but no matter — everyone’s coming off for the second half anyway.
The rest of the game is basically a proving ground for Fflint keeper Kyle Hassan, who denies Kalogeras, Lundén and Contreras before they come off, and then Arteta, Dunwell and Shearer when they replace them. I go two up for the second half with Dunwell partnering Super Al with Ronaldo in behind — and it’s CR7 who makes the game safe on 64 minutes, getting on the end of an Arteta cross to thump a header past Hassan. It’s a good test here, and I’ve learned a lot: Baião is more than capable, Ronaldo looks tremendous behind the strikers, and Arteta has two assists from just two halves of football. We’re in good shape.
My backup scout Dave Colley then recommends Gifton Noel-Williams as an excellent signing, to which I respond by searching for a blank P45 for him. A very hopeful bid for Andrés D’Alessandro is rejected by River, Guiseppe Signori plumps for a return to the motherland with Siena over a swansong in Sevilla with Los Coladeros, and you know what? It’s okay. After these two friendlies, I feel rather at peace with my squad.
SHUT THE FRONT DOOR.
SUSAN! ORGANISE A PARADE! HIRE A MARCHING BAND! MAKE A FLOAT OUT OF FLOWERS! LIGHT THE CANDLES! RING THE CHURCH BELLS!
ÁLVARO RECOBA AND GABRIEL BATISTUTA ARE HERE!!
Dios, dios mio. What a squad. I’ve got no idea who’s going to play where and when and how, but I’m very, very happy to have this problem. As a result, Michael Dunwell, sadly, joins Aiden McVeigh, Jonas “Moanas” Lundén and Amdy Faye on the transfer list. If I manage to get their values for them — around £1m each — we’ll be in seriously good shape.
We’ve got a friendly now. Against Llwydcoed. They aren’t going to know what’s hit them.
Hah. Hahaha. Hahahahahahahaha. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! AAAAHAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!
Probably should put someone else on pens. But still.
You don’t often see the board delighted with friendly wins, despite them coming against admittedly world-class opposition. I guess they’re as happy as I am about seeing bloody GABRIEL BATISTUTA and ÁLVARO RECOBA in the famous silver and blue.
My word. I need a siesta. The only downside to all this is that I’ve spent a combined £3m on signing-on fees for my two new superstars, and along with their wages, I’ve got no more money to spend on transfers — but that’s okay. The transfer window shuts in a week anyway, and besides I already didn’t need anyone else. Now I won’t need anyone else for some time.
For our final pre-season friendly against Halkyn United, I decide to employ a slightly new formation because, let’s be honest: who doesn’t want to see this?
How Shearer and Batistuta don’t score I’ll never know, but regardless, there’s only one conclusion that can be drawn from all this. We’re gonna win the league!!
Of course, now I need to consider what team I’m going to play on a regular basis, considering that both Batistuta and Recoba are “Fgn” players, and when added to Tsigalko, Campos and Costanzo, that makes five — and we’re only allowed three every week. That’s okay with me. Batistuta and Campos are in the twilights of their respective careers, and I never planned for either of them to last this long — so the fact that they’re here is a bonus. Costanzo will start the season as my first-choice keeper, with Pinheiro or Voulgaris on the bench depending on how I’m feeling that day. Campos is a legend, no doubt, but I want to bring through younger players as my first choice. I’ve spoken to him about it, and he understands, I think.
There’s no dropping Tsigalko and I have no intention to, plus with the firepower of Shearer to contend with as well, I think Batistuta and his one-year contract will be the one to sit on the side for most of the season. Recoba, who I’m also realising I’ve only got on a one-year deal, which could have been a mistake — but then again he wouldn’t sign a longer one, so what was I to do — is so good that he at least has to be in the matchday squad most of the time, if not a regular starter.
As for the rest of my side, new centre-back Nikos Andrielos has been a beast in pre-season, with two goals in three games and an average of 5.3 tackles per appearance — he actually seems to be the new Tobros. He’s also two-footed, which is perfect, as he can take his place alongside the War God to start our maiden top flight campaign. There’s no arguing with Duff or Victory at full-back, while Mikel Arteta has really shown what he can do in these summer games — you can’t argue with two goals, two assists, and a 7.75 average rating. Despite the presence of David Batty, Stefan Bergtoft is my first-choice DMC — at ten years the Englishman’s junior and as one of our best performers last season overall, I don’t see why he should lose his spot. Having Mr Sideways on the bench is a pretty good insurance policy.
The rest of the team is tricky, but I think I have a solution. While Ronaldo’s physical attributes would lead you to believe that he’d be better in central midfield (and he might — let’s not rule out the possibility that I’m totally wrong), the sheer all-rounderiness of Recoba has convinced me to pull him in alongside Arteta to start the season, with Ronaldo and Tsigalko together in AMC behind Wor Al. The great thing about all this is that I’ve got loads of options if things aren’t working — my starting team here means that the likes of Sestelo, Moukoko, Adolfo, Alonso, Baião, Samba and Moanas Lundén are waiting in the wings to replace anyone who’s underperforming. Oh, and f — king Gabriel Batistuta, of course. Gabriel Batistuta. I’ll never get tired of typing that.
Gabriel Batistuta plays for Los Coladeros.
Jesús Dulce. I’m going for a cold shower.
Right then, before I douse myself in freezing water, let’s Continue ourselves right up to 24th August, 2003. It’s a massive day. The first ever La Liga fixture for the Wet Bandits is at La Romareda, north-eastern Spain. Our opponents are Real Zaragoza. We’re ready.
If you’re enjoying Los Coladeros, please consider clicking and holding the Clap button to recommend the series. It really helps! Thank you ❤