Los Coladeros Episode 79: The Man With The Golden Fax
With a hangover the size of the Alcázar following the commiserations from our defeat to Racing, I hold a cold towel to my head as Chugger splutters through the miles north through Spain, into France, and up to Calais, where we’ll get a €16.99 ferry over the Channel and bungle ourselves into London. It’s not an ideal way to arrive at Highbury, I’ll be the first to admit — especially since we’ve had to leave Skalidis at home on the physio bench — but it’s the only one we’ve got.
That win against Milan feels like an awfully long time ago as we slink into the away dressing room, decorated with larger-than-life pictures of Thierry Henry, Ashley Cole and Freddie Ljungberg to try to intimidate us. It’s a successful ploy for a moment, but then Trevor Steven, who was already here — I guess he must have been handcuffed to a Eurostar after that night out we had — hands me a list of their most regular starters from this season, and I hand it straight back because he must have given me the wrong one. Trev, this list has Steve Howey, David Sommeil and Jason Koumas on it. This isn’t the Arsenal one. Check again, please.
Well I’ll be god damned.
Armed with this newfound knowledge, I gather my troops and prepare them for war. Now sure, Arsenal are not just a team of Steve Howeys, and if they were, I’d still be worried. Steve Howey is a boss — but he’s no Patrick Vieira, or Emmanuel Petit, or Martin Keown — and it’s true that those sorts of names are currently missing from Arsenal’s lineup. The aforementioned Henry, Cole and Ljungberg will surely make our lives difficult, but recently, they’ve been playing Ray Parlour at right back and Graham Stack in goal. It’s not exactly The Invincibles, is it — and for the first time, I start to believe we can take them.
Real Madrid do their best to scupper my preparations by offering a contract to Mike Duff the same day as his existing deal becomes unprotected, the opportunistic bastards. I obviously put an arm around his shoulder and tell him he can have whatever he wants in order to stay; he lays out extremely reasonable demands, as you’d expect from such a humble lad, so I almost double it just so he understands how important he is to me. Naturally he starts at right back, with Kalogeras on the left — Lizarazu has actually been wonderful in the games he’s played, but he’s now out for three weeks with a sprained ankle from training. The rest of the team pretty much picks itself, based on recent form (not you, Racing), so we head out, I shake Arsène’s hand, and settle into my seat in the dugout of this great old stadium to see what sort of concoction Le Professeur has conjured up for us today.
It’s a lot more orthodox a side than he’s been playing in the Premier League recently, that’s for certain. How Rami Shaaban is still their first choice keeper I’ll never know, but I’d missed the names of Bernd Schneider and Jens Jeremies in their squad list when I was scanning down it. Still, though — despite both being more than capable, they aren’t at the peaks of their powers. We can do something today, I’m sure of it.
The start of the game is frantic with chances at both ends. Arsenal manage two on target, and wouldn’t you just know it, they both fall to Steve Howey of all people — but his pair of point-blank headers are pushed away superbly by Voulgaris. No wonder he’s an automatic starter.
Henry and Ljungberg both rattle the posts, but Arsenal don’t have the entire first half their own way. We are dangerous and swashbuckling on the counter-attack, and only the much-maligned (by me) Shaaban also proves his value to the side by making physics-defying saves from Davies, Kerr, and a volley from Bonomi that would have killed any normal man. At the break, both sides come in at zeroes, but it’s been anything but dull.
At the end of the first half, Stan Petrov was forced off injured, and his replacement — Ronaldo — plays the whole of the second half, but is a pale imitation of our skipper. Chances continue to come and go, and it’s just a matter of time before one of them goes in. That time clocks in at almost exactly one hour: Pennant rifles in a volley, the War God throws his body in the way, but Ljungberg nips onto the loose ball and bends it around Voulgaris and into the far corner to give Arsenal the lead. 1–0 to the home side, and we’ve got some serious chasing to do now.
Sadly, the next thing that happens is disastrous for us. Five minutes after the opener, Albert Luque is also forced off the pitch with some sort of knock, and his replacement, João Paiva, simply isn’t up to task. We are relatively toothless without both our star strikers, our attacking threat has been neutered — and in the last minute, Lauren gallops forward to crash home a late second that swords our hopes of salvaging a draw at Highbury. We go down 2–0 in the end, but while we can eat a defeat away at such a strong opponent, the injuries we’ve just picked up might be much harder to endure.
Three weeks for Petrov and two for Luque are better results than they might have been — plus, this is the end of the Champions League for exactly two months as it disappears to Ibiza for its winter break. Our La Liga chase will continue for at least a fortnight without our captain and our two star strikers, though — and while retaining our title was already looking like a tall order, it’s just become a 12-pint pitcher.
In the meantime, though, it’s December — and you know what that means. Contracts are expiring, and your boy is doing some sniping. Our central midfield beyond the starting three is beginning to take shape with Arteta and Iniesta putting in decent claims — and now, they’ve got a new friend.
Yep, former Diamond Geezer and prime England international Frank Lampard will be here when his Chelsea contract expires in the summer, and make no mistake — he’s a fantastic addition. He’s averaged well over 7.2 every season since 2001, with 7.55 this season so far — call him Mr Frank Consistent Reliable Lampard, if you want.
An extraordinary name and a fantastic young player, say hello to Catalina Aubameyang, our new reserve right-back who will see the cancellation of SWP’s deal as long as Mike Duff doesn’t desert us for Real Madrid. He’s coming on a free, a little steep at £33k per week, but there’s no doubt he’s a star in the making.
Good boy. Sorry, Shaun.
Then, Sunday comes, fun stuff is over, and it’s back to the crushing reality of chasing down Barcelona. First up? Valencia away. A few Ultras have messaged me recently saying that I should drop a midfielder and go to three up front in the absence of Skalidis; now, with Petrov gone from midfield anyway and Luque’s absence meaning we’re really short of firepower up top, I decide to go for it. Why not?
Turns out two strikers who can shoot is better than three who can’t. We scuff two-thirds of our shots off target through the usual suspects, namely Tsigalko and Paiva, and Valencia score the only goal of the day through Carew. The league is surely gone at this point, but that’s okay. We can play for fun over the rest of the season.
Barcelona do actually slip up the same day as we do, losing 2–1 away at Zaragoza, but of course they do. They’d have won if we’d beaten Valencia, I’m certain of it.
In the aftermath there is some news that returns a smile to my face.
Yup, with younger brother Yaya arriving later this week, Kolo Touré decides his future lies with him in Seville. A fine choice young man, if I do say so myself.
We’ve got a few more irons in the fire that would make me extremely happy if they came in, so I hastily go to bed and await tomorrow’s newspapers. Plus, that £2.2m will be arriving in the morning in exchange for sending Mikel Alonso to Argentina, so when I wake up, I’m going to make myself a hot toddy to celebrate.
God I f — king hate other clubs sometimes. Other times though, they forget to tie down the contracts of their ageing megastars, and in those moments, I adore them.
Yes, yes, yes. The very definition of Still Got It is coming to Spain — I would say back to Spain, but in this universe, he never made it to Barcelona. No matter though, I’m sure he’ll adjust in no time. What a signing. I’m so excited to get him integrated, and more importantly, ship out pretty much all my other misfiring forwards.
And finally, for now, we agree terms with 25-year-old Enzo Maresca to come in and fight with Ben Kibebe for the role of understudy to Raúl García. I like Maresca a lot. He’s influential, aggressive, works hard and often, and can pass a ball too. He could be revolutionary in DMC.
Not a bad selection of new recruits, I’d wager. Now, if I could just ship the same number of also-rans out of here.
Before I’m able to get to the dates that would allow my top three Future Transfers to arrive, we’re forced to go to now-Segunda Division Valladolid, our old rivals, in the first round of the Copa del Rey. I have little interest in this trinket, for it has already been won, so some of our fringers will be given a chance to step up before I ship them all out to make way for my shiny new toys.
Thaaaaaaaat’s a bit more like it lads. We’re 3–0 up inside half an hour, and although we do concede our customary goal, Ronaldo finishes the game off with a close-range goal on the hour mark. My reserves rumble on into the second round — and would you just look at Iniesta. He’s seriously entering my thoughts for La Liga starts.
And before we know it, 15th December comes, then 17th, and three of my new favourite arrive. I’m very happy indeed.
I’m honestly looking forward to playing Yaya and Iniesta as my midfield two. It’s going to be glorious.
My new prince, Diego, will go straight into the team for our next game — and since Cherno Samba is the only one of my strikers who feels like even trying to score, I’ve got a new plan. But first…
I’m really annoyed this didn’t work out, but with half the season gone and having tried him at both DLC and DRC, Nicolás Burdisso was sitting on a 6.1 average rating in the league, and I’m sorry, but that’s disgraceful for a team who are trying to challenge for the title and the Champions League. The opportunity to more or less recoup my money from Austria Vienna was too tempting to turn down. And besides, Mauro Bonomi, the man I only brought in as a backup to Burdisso, has been a total revelation at centre-half alongside Tobros. With Hill, Blatsis and Andrielos in the mix too, we can definitely afford to shed ourselves of an underperforming player. I make no apologies for this. I’m still upset with him.
Anyway- less of that, and more of THIS.
Yeah. You know you love it.
We win by a smaller margin than is reasonable, but hey, what do you expect? The new Prince of Seville scores the only goal of the game after 15 minutes and only a truly world-class performance from the visiting goalkeeper prevents him from getting a second, while Touré and Ronaldo are also both denied twice by Aceval in the Córdoba nets. It’s a good result but more importantly a fantastic performance by my young team. Personally I don’t know what Iniesta and Touré have done to warrant 6s there, but remember, the match ratings aren’t important to me most of the time. It’s how I feel about how you’ve played that counts, and on another day, Yaya gets two goals and man of the match. Them’s the breaks.
And right at the end of the day, as I’m about to close the lid on the drinks globe and call it a night, a fax screams and rattles into my in-tray. It’s another offer that’s far too good to turn down, especially considering we’ve just signed Eldar and Diego — so I quickly move to accept. Bruno’s heavyweight career in Spain is over, for the time being at least — and we’ve got a tidy little return for him, too.
Not a bad week’s work. Perhaps I’ll keep the globe open just a little while longer.
Wait… the fax machine is going again? Oh god. Don’t tell me that Académica didn’t really have the money and it was all a ruse. My heart can’t take it.
Well, this is right out of left field. Arteta isn’t transfer listed, but Newcastle have swooped, and to be honest, I can’t take their money quickly enough. We have Yaya, we have Iniesta, and with Lampard coming in the summer — plus, you know, Petrov Kerr and Davies already lurking in my first team — £3.9m for Mikel Arteta is a fantastic offer. The managerless Magpies are obviously trying to make a statement in time for the appointment of whoever their new gaffer is going to be, and if taking my second team players is part of Freddie Shepherd’s vision, who am I to argue?
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