I thought long and hard about whether or not I should take the Westerlo job. I said to the chairman that I’d think about it. I mean the Belgian second division, what have the Belgians ever done?
I thought about calling Enzo Scifo, but thought better of it, we fell out when he played for Torino and I was in the youth team, his legs had gone and he didn’t like that I kept reminding him, apparently nutmegs aren’t affectionate.
I went back to the commentating jobs, did a bit of ESPN with Ray Stubbs. I know a lot of people don’t like Ray, but I like him. Once you get past the knob jokes, he’s a good lad. Plus at least he knows his role, not like Ian Dowie. Who by the way, got the Groningen job. It doesn’t rain, it pours in my life as my ex wife used to say.
I went back to the drawing board and thought about where I went wrong, I worked on new training schedules for the players, splitting them by position. I looked at the 4-1-3-2 and how that could work with a flatter midfield.
I then bumped into Jamie Redknapp at the Sky offices. Jamie and I had been friends for years:
“Hi Jamie, how’s it going?”
“Literally couldn’t be better mate, though since Louise has lost her Something for the weekend job I’ve had to talk to her all the bloody time, how about you?”
“I’m good, I’ve been offered a job at Westerlo”.
“In the station? You’re better than that Bobby’.
“No, no, they’re a club in Belgium.”
“Oh right, sounds good, you need a coach?”
“Well I haven’t decided if I am taking it yet, but you fancy coming?”
“For sure. I can get some chocolates for Lou, she needs cheering up”.
“Ok, well if I take it I’ll let you know”.
“Good boy, we’d literally tear that league apart!”
“Figuratively Jamie, Figuratively”.
I thought long and hard, but I had no choice really, I needed to do something and if I had to do another Revista La Liga with Minto I think I’d throw up.
I called the Westerlo chairman; “I accept”
“Great, you’re the English plumber, our pipes are clogged with shit, and they need clearing as soon as you can come over.”
“Oh, sorry no, its Roberto – you called me about the manager job? I don’t think i’ll have to be dealing with any shit”
He laughed, which in hindsight wasn’t the best sign; “Er, yeah that’s right, you won’t have to deal with any clogged up shit here…”
“Hmm, I’ll be over tomorrow.”
I drove up to the ‘t Kuipje stadium and the training ground, I was pleasantly surprised, nice and clean, nice pitches, very flat.
I got out the car and bumped into a teenager coming out of the ground, he was looking at me so I said hello.
“You’re the new manager; Roberto, right?”
“That’s right kid, do you play here?”
“I’m in the youth team; welcome to mediocrity”
I laughed; “Why’s that young fella? What do I need to add to the team?”
“Well, you need a keeper, a centre back, 2 wingers at least, 2 forwards and maybe a centre midfielder. Actually, definitely a centre midfielder.”
“Ah and I Should pick you hey?” Thinking that he was joking.
“No, I’m never going to make it, and neither is anyone else here…” He walked away.
Looking at the team in front of me at training he wasn’t wrong, we had 24 players, 5 of which wanted to leave after we’d been relegated, including Junade our best centre midfielder. I had no forwards and a 38 year old Captain Jeff Delen, who couldn’t run, pass or cross; he was a winger.
I got rid of 21 players, including Juande for £240,000 to Le Harve. I bought in 13 players, all on free transfers, all under 24. If I was going to build it, I was going to build it for the future. I needed something special though, I went traveling around the world – I gave myself a week to find what I needed, a goalscorer or two.
I ended up in Colombia with Jamie, we went to watch someone Jamie’s dad suggested would be good for a sell on fee. He was rubbish, but in the same game – a local league match, we saw a gem, a gem in the rough. His name, Carlos Bacca, his skill – goals, and lots of them. He was stocky and ran a bit like Rocky Balboa, all shoulders, but what a shot he had. I said to Jamie; “There’s our man, that kid there.”
“Who? Rocky over there? He looks like he’ll get sent off every game! Plus, dad said the boy we were looking at would get a good sell on fee”.
“Yeah, I know but we need a goalscorer now”
I went to sign him but his club were adamant he wasn’t for sale. I knew I needed him, this kid was going to go places, he could be a contender.
I offered £40,000 cash, almost our whole budget and they said no.
I left Colombia disheartened.
Back at the club I decided we would play a variation of a 4-1-3-2 with a flat midfield 3 and a defensive midfielder. I bought in 2 wide men, who were workmen like and a destroyer of a centre midfielder. I kept Jeff Delen as captain, only because he was 10 years older than me and he seemed to know where all the equipment and spare keys were and that’s important when you’re new.
Pre-season went well, we played 5 matches and didn’t lose one. We only scored 2 goals and drew all 5, but hey, we didn’t lose and after Groningen, that was positive.
The transfer deadline was seven days away and I needed two forwards. I found Tshibumbu at Charleroi reserves, quick and strong he was an upgrade on the nothingness I had.
But I dreamt of Bacca.
I decided to put our wage budget down and increase the transfer budget, I bid £60,000 for Bacca, take it or leave it.
They said no.
I needed to play dirty so I went to the gutter – the press.
Bacca was playing in the back of beyond, he could come and play in one of Europe’s top leagues (if 15 other leagues didn’t exist) surely that would sway his club more importantly plant the seed in his head – player power and all that.
“Bacca is a top player, I’m a big admirer, I’d love to make him part of my team”.
I then bid £100,000 with 10% sale of profit and a bag of balls.
It was accepted, I still think it was the bag of balls swung it. Thank God.
“He better be good Roberto, that’s a lot of cash.”
“Oh, he’ll be great chairman, I tell you what, in 3 years when we sell him you can give me 10% of anything above double what we paid into a Swiss account, you’ll owe me millions!”
“We will see, Roy spoke highly of you Roberto, don’t let Roy down.”
Bloody hell, I thought this would be easy, I’ve played in two World Cups! The Belgian Second Division was proving a tougher chocolate nut to crack.
We started okay, lot of clean sheets – Pedro, a limited but young centre back was very strong and we were playing some decent stuff. More long ball than I’d like, but hey, passing wasn’t a strong point for a lot of our players.
Then we hit our stride, Tshibumbu hadn’t been able to hit a barn door, he was so quick but had no composure, like a better Darren Bent. But from somewhere in the 93rd minute he scored his first goal and our winner against Sint-Niklaas (yes they’re a football club). We went top, 6 games in and we never looked back.
The best bit of all was Carlos Bacca, ah Carlos, with his rolling shoulders, I knew he’d come good. In 25 games that season he scored 24 goals. That says it all.
We did have one rough patch, we lost 3 games in a row but it also coincided with Bacca being injured.
We won the league with weeks to spare. I was back! We were back!. Westerlo, we had won the war of the Second Division. We were back in Europe’s 14th? best division, the Belgian first.
I loved the club, our yellow shirts, the way Bacca bullied and forced his way into goal scoring opportunities. This was it, I could build my legacy here.
Then it fell apart.
Jeff Delen was always bloody unhappy, he wanted my job and he didn’t mind me knowing about it, he’d never even played in the Fairs cup, let alone a World Cup and he thought he could teach me something. I tried to get rid of him throughout the season, on a free transfer and even tried to get rid of him on a mutual termination, but no dice.
Little did I know he’d been in the chairman’s ear.
Things started to go awry when I was given less money for transfers than the year before. How could I keep a club in the top division if I had less money and bloody Delen in my ear about how we should be coaching?
Then came a bullet in the heart.
I picked up the local newspaper and flicked to the back page as usual: “Bacca signs for Groningen”.
I spat out my coffee and drove to the ground, bursting into the Chairman’s office, he was eating some lovely chocolate that Jamie had got him.
“What’s going on here chairman?!”
“Bacca’s been sold? Without me knowing? What the F…”
“We had to Roberto, Groningen put in a bid for £925,000 including 10% sell on fee and some cones, they’ve just won the league under Ian Dowie – you know him yes? Carlos has scored a lot of goals, he’s in the Colombia squad you know.”
“Course I know! I bought him here! How can you do this to me?
“Business is business, plus we hear that the players are unhappy with your methods, now Bacca is gone, you’ve lost your real voice in the dressing room and your goals.”
Typical Chairmen, give them the world and they want fucking Mars.
“Jeff Delen is not the squad Mr Chairman.”
“He’s very popular though’
“He really, really isn’t, he’s a geriatric!”
“He’s a club legend, and he’s on less wages than you so be careful.”
“You’re a joke, you bought me here, I got you what you wanted, and you betray me like this. And by the way where’s my 10%? By my reckoning you didn’t think he’d be worth the cash, we’ve sold him for nearly a million! He only came here to play for me, he even said so!”
“No cash for you Roberto, and be careful, you have a job here for now.”
I stormed out, I had a press conference the next day for the opening day of the season and the question came up about Bacca being sold, the Press Officer was shaking his head and was about to call the conference to an end, I jumped in:
“You’re right, it totally undermines me, the fans and the club. I’m trying to build a team here and the chairman has sold my player under my nose, without telling me, I’m not angry I’m apoplectic.”
The Press Officer was on the phone immediately, I knew it was to the Chairman, the jobs-worth, probably mates with Delen and Ian Dowie, knowing my luck.
We drew our first game in the top league 0-0. I was exhausted mentally and physically. I thought I’d found a space here to build something special.
Then I got a call.
It was Roy.
“Roberto, it’s Roy, I’ve seen how well you’ve done in Westerlo, good guys there. Really professional, well read, some lovely chocolate too.”
“Er, yeah – nice stuff and thanks. Was a great season.”
“Well, I’ve just seen that Brondby have a job opening, I think you should go for it, better to leave at the top than on the way down, like I did when I was at Liverpool, left when we were at the top”.
“Er, that’s one way of looking at it Roy. Brondby hey? Why not, I’ve had enough of it here I think, do you think they will give me the job?”
“Maybe, maybe not, we’ll see, I’ll put a word in”.
I sent an email to the Brondby guys. I felt that Denmark would be a great chance for me, they had a great kit too and were in the Champions League, I’d be back where I belong, plus their TV shows were doing really well at the moment so at least I’d be able to watch that if it went tits up.
Before I even heard back from Brondby though I got called to the chairman’s office.
“Roberto, sit down”.
“What’s up? Good result on the weekend, with no money may I add…”
“We see that you’ve applied for a job at some club in Denmark, we can’t have that here. I’m afraid you will have to say no to it, publicly apologise for applying for the job as well as your outburst in the press, we can’t be embarrassed at a club like ours, we’re a First Division team”.
“Excuse me? I got you here!”
“It’s an ultimatum Roberto, apologise or leave.”
I got up, without saying a word and walked out. I’d given that club the best year of their history, promotion, goals and a mean defence to build on and what did I get? Bent over.
I quit Westerlo without saying a word, alone. Jamie wasn’t even around.
Now I had to wait and see if Brondby would interview me.
To be continued…