Jamie: Hello and welcome to each and every one of you to Sports look! It’s been almost a month since we last spoke of young manager, Toby Lacey. As the season approaches quickly, what do you guys think of him?
Roy: I think he’s doing a decent job, y’know. At the end of the day he knows football, whether he’s experienced or not.
José: Not everyone who knows football can take on such a club, though. I’ve seen it happen with many a manager, they bite off more than they can chew and end up failing a lot!
Roy: I don’t think that’s gonna happen to Lacey. He’s settled in well in Lyon, he’s got his own place now, and played his first game with the team, although only a friendly! What more could you want? The team seem to love him.
Jamie: He’s made up his tactic for the season, tweaking it along the way. He’s signed players that can and probably will influence the team immensely. There’s not much else he can do, why do you hate him so?
José: I hate everyone. Sue me.
Jamie: Right, well that’s all we have time for today, folks! Tune in next time for a, hopefully, civil discussion instead of a heated argument.
Months of hard and rigorous work ensued, bringing the month of June into the month of July. With sweat, tears and pain, I managed a transition from an unknown guy living in Lowestoft to a top flight manager of Olympique Lyonnais. How did I get this far in a month?
The month leading up to the Valenciennes game, my first game in management, was long, but quick at the same time. I started putting in many hours at the club, working on my tactics, working closely to my advisors and assistant manager. After spending two days looking at my teamsheet, I made an important decision. I needed to strengthen the squad in two places; Left Back and Striker, the latter of which not particularly as important as Left Back. In the position, we had only ex Olympique Marseille player Jérémy Morel and the then injured Maciej Rybus.
Working with Florian Maurice, my Chief scout, we decided to find a potential player to join the team. Within a DAY, Florian came into my office with a folder.
“What’s this?” I asked, with confusion in my voice.
“My resignation.” he said, with the straightest face I’ve seen. My face went white. “Haha. Just joking. I found a player who seems interesting. I included vital information. He seems rather cheap and the scouts have been working on him all morning, I think you’ll like him!”
I sighed a sigh of relief as I felt sweat and heat rising to my forehead, only for it to retreat back. I took the folder as he offered his condolences and saluted his departure. He’d make an excellent Poker player.
“Who is this then…” I thought. I opened up the folder to see the face of a 29 year old left back from Uzbekistan. vitaly Denisov was his name. It sounded familiar… Fairly cheap at £1.8M – £2.5M, extremely interested in joining. Seemed like he’d fit like a glove! Only downsides were his age, language and strength. Despite this, his abilities seemed to outweigh those of Maciej or Jérémy. Shortly after reading his file, I dialled Gérald’s number and told him to get in to my office as soon as possible.
“What’s up?” he said, walking in.
“Florian came to me with a suggestion to solve our left back problem.” I responded, gleefully.
“Let me see.” he said before spending a few minutes reading the file quizzically. “He seems like a decent lad. A bit old for my taste, personally, but the decision remains yours. Do you want to place an offer?”
“Yes, let’s do that!” I responded. My first transfer. How exciting.
I picked up the file again and with a quick internet search, found a number to Lokomotiv Moscow; the club currently in hold of Denisov’s contract.
“Hello? This is Toby Lacey, manager at Olympique Lyonnais. I was wondering if I could enquire about a player of yours.” I enquired.
“This is the Lokomotiv Moscow gift shop.” a girl responded on the other side with a very thick Russian accent. She sounded about 30 and had no emotion in her voice.
“O-Oh… Could you refer me to a number for my question?” I asked
“I will put you through to Yury Semin.” she said.
“Okay, thank y-” I started, but before I could finish my sentence I was cut off and the phone was ringing again. It felt like an eternity before someone picked it up.
“Yury speaking here, what is it?” the voice said on the other side. The voice sounded cold and sour.
“Hello! My name is Toby Lacey and I wanted to enquire about one of your players.” I said confidently this time.
“Vitaly Denisov.” I said, wondering if he wanted to know who I was or who the player was.
“Three Million.” he said swiftly.
“Excuse me?” I pondered
“Three Million pounds.”
“He’s worth 1.9. Value goes down, not up. 1.5?” I responded
“2 million. Deal or no?” he said. I sensed this was his final offer and his patience was running low.
“Deal.” I said.
“You’ll be in contact with his agent soon.” he hung up the phone without even saying goodbye. I put down my phone, almost forgetting Gérald was standing in front of me for the entire awkward discussion.
“He accepted 2 million for him.” I told Gérald.
“That’s decent! Did he say when his agent will be in contact?”
“He just said ‘soon'”. Gérald shrugged, then left the room claiming he had training to run. The whole business was on my mind for the rest of the day, even whilst I was eating that evening. It was the next day that I received a phone call.
“Hello. My name is Alisher Abdulloev. I am Denisov’s agent…” we then spent an hour concluding a deal for the Uzbek international. We agreed on a £37k/w contract with a few bonuses and clauses such as Loyalty bonus, Appearance fee and Clean Sheet bonus. The whle business seemed to be over pretty soon. I didn’t really know what to do. Who do I contact? Who deals with the money? I didn’t know. I called Gérald to come answer my question to which he responded with “Let me handle it all.” I decided to trust him. Anyway, I needed to prepare the squad for the next 20 days until the Valenciennes game.
The next couple of days pass by in a blur. News of transfers in distant places popped up sporadically, but nothing of particular interest. Some U19’s got injured on the same day and more scout reports came in from Florian Maurice. Surprisingly, it was Memphis Depay who came up to me in my office after training on the 28th of June. He seemed nervous, which I thought was strange.
“Sir? Can I have a word?” he said.
“Of course, Memphis. What’s up?” I asked.
“Well, um… I mean no disrespect, but I heard that you’re still staying in a hotel?”
“Yeah, I am. I haven’t really thought about getting a place yet.”
“Well, when I first came here I thought it hard to find a place, even though I started on £75k a week. I just thought, well if you wanted, you could maybe stay at my place for a while. I live alone, just 10 minutes away from the pitch here. I mean, it’s up to you, sir, but you could stay until you figure out something else. I have 4 bedrooms.” he said, with sweat seeming to come out of his forehead.
“That’s… Really cool of you, Memphis. Thank you.” I replied. I genuinely found it amazing that he’d offer. No one else did in half a month and I appreciated it.
That night I made my way over to his house, which was a small place, considering the amount of money he makes. However, it was nice and for him it was ‘home’. I set myself up in one of the guest bedrooms before visiting the house with my Dutch tourguide. He finished with the kitchen, wondering if I was hungry. He had been preparing some Chili Con Carne. My favourite.
We ate in silence, with nothing but the TV blaring out some inconsequential news. Memphis was a great cook, surprisingly. At 22 the young lad had managed to well for himself. Hell, he was older than me. I spent the rest of the night speaking with Memphis about what Manchester United was like, and how he got along with the staff there. He claimed that he didn’t really like it much. His decision to join Lyon was a fast one. He said that he really enjoyde the atmosphere here, even though he hasn’t been here for long, and that he’s made a few friends already, which he’s glad about.
The next few days took on a similar outlook. I stayed at Memphis’ place, which he said he was glad about. He enjoyed the company and even offered me to stay for the remainder of my contract, and even further if my contract gets renewed. I told him I was happy to stay as long as I’m not a bother on him. I insisted on paying half his rent. On the 30th of June, I had a knock on my door and Gérald came in followed by a tall, blonde man.
“Good morning, Gérald. Who’s this?” I asked.
“Christ, Toby. Have you forgotten already?” he replied.
“Vitaly?? You look nothing like your ad.”
“It’s a good thing he doesn’t speak French. That was a terrible joke by the way. Want me to add him to the Training Camp Squad?”
“Yeah, and while you’re at it send him on an Intensive Language Course too. I’ll get Gonalons to show him around and present him to the team later on.” I watched them walk out the door, and glanced a quick smile from Vitaly, to which I smiled back. He seemed a decent lad. I guess we’ll see how he does in training. I may have made a huge mistake, I may have made a wonderous deal. Only time will tell. I get a call through from Ines Errecart next, a name I’ve never heard of.
“Wait, who are you?” I said
“Ines Errecart. Your Press Officer.” she said, her patience being tested.
“Oh, right! And what is this for?”
“I set up a press conference for you to unveil Denisov to the world. It’s at 10am, at the club.”
“That’s in 1 hour.”
“It is, sir.” as she said that, everything rushed up to my head. I realized I needed to get Denisov, and get him to club in one hour. I put the phone down – well, no. I slammed the phone down – and rushed out of my office. ‘Where the hell would he be now??’ I thought. I made my way to the changing rooms where I ran into Gérald.
“Where’s Vitaly??” I shouted.
“Maxime just took him over there to sho-” he started, pointing in the direction of the main hall, but was cut off as I started sprinting towards it. I made it over there and caught sight of the pair walking around. I made my way up to them.
“Maxime, I’m very sorry but I need to steal him from you for a bit. Press Conference.”
“Oh.. Um. Okay?” Maxime said, with extreme confusion. I told Vitaly what I could in English, not even knowing if he understood what I was saying, and we got to the press conference in the nick of time. The conference seemed to go well. Questions were asked and answered calmly and within an hour, we were out. My heart was still racing. I guess I needed to learn a few more things…
The next big event came a few days later, when Paul Dyer contacted me about having a player on a Free he wanted to play for us. A certain Robbie Keane. He sent me his file over and Florian Maurice had it printed for me and looked it over himself.
“Could be decent backup for the season. He’s free aswell.” he advised.
I agreed with what he was saying. After a few days of talking, I finally agreed to call up Paul Dyer and take up his offer on the free transfer of Robbie Keane. His initial offer was astounding. 40k/w as a Backup player, plus bonuses. After looking over his file I was determined to get him as my final transfer, so I gave Jean Michel a call and decided to put all remaining Transfer budget into the Wage budget. After a day of negotiations, we finally decided on 40k/w for the 35 year old. He signed his contract a few days after and was welcomed to Lyon just like Denisov.
As the final 20 days counted down for the Valenciennes game, and my first game as manager, pressure was seeping into my brain. Rachid Ghezzal rejected a new contract which was handled by Gérard Houllier, Director of Football. Maybe I should’ve handled that one myself. Time will tell whether he wants to stay or go and I’m not going to stress over it. I’ve already got enough to stress about.
On the 2nd of July, I received a call from Gérald. He had apparently set up a friendly match against Israeli team, Hapoel Be’er-Sheva. Everything had been handled already, including plane tickets and all. An effective man, that Gérald. All I had to do was agree. Afterall, can I say no to an extra match for fitness and a trip to Israel?
Tactic training improved and on the plane going to Israel is when I realise that I had been at the club for a month. I set up the pre match training and set up my team sheet for the day. Match Sharpness was down, so obviously this match would’ve been to improve that for some of the players and to see how well our tactic fared. As we got to the wonderful city of Be’er Sheva, I rounded the guys up in the changing rooms to announce the team sheet.
“Okay, lads. The first match of the pre season. It’s all about fitness today, so the team sheet is one that might surprise you. In goal, Mathieu Gorgelin will take the spot. Followed up by Nicolas Nkoulou and Emmanuel Mammana, flanked by Rafael and Maciej Rybus. I hope your injury doesn’t come back to haunt you, mate.” I claim, a flicker of laughter came onto his face. “Maxime D’Arpino will take the Defensive Midfield spot, followed by Lucas Tousart and Sergi Darder. Tousart, you’re perhaps less familiar with the Advance position you’re in. I’m sure you’ll do fine, this is just to test it. As a False 9, we have Jean-Philippe Mateta, flanked by Nabil Fekir and Rachid Ghezzal. This is just a pre season match out there, lads. Don’t do anything stupid to get yourself injured or sent off. If you manage to play well, then brilliant. That’s what I’m looking you to do. But don’t expect any wonders. This is the first pre season match. also, don’t forget to have fun. It’s a game afterall.” Faces beamed up to me and I felt proud of myself. All my accomplishments in the past month brought me to this moment. This first game. I was proud of the progress we had made.
As I make my final preparations and await the game to commence, I check the odds on the game. “A draw is on the cards”. Liad Perets obviously doesn’t follow French Football! I set up my opposition instructions and make my way to the changing rooms for a final team talk before the lads walk onto the pitch. I tell them to show me why they should be in the team. Only Mateta smiled. Oh well. Let’s get on with the match!
The lads set up, and the whistle blew for the first game!
The first chance came from a Free kic, surprisingly. After only a minute of play a free kick was won, which was swung in from Nabil Fekir. Nicolas Nkoulou got a free header as he jumped up, the goalkeeper trying to come out to collect. Unfortunately, the 26 year old couldn’t convert despite the goalkeeping error. The ball ended up wide. After a goal kick from the Israeli team, the ball was lost after poor passing and picked up again by Tousart. Mateta, using his role as False Nine, came back well for a passing opportunity, which allowed other players to go forwards. He passed it back to Tousart, who picked out his pass well to Rafael on the wing, the complete wing back being totally unmarked. The Brazilian then picked out his cross well on the front post, where Mateta had wandered back into the box, and a goal was scored!! 1-0 to Lyon. I was ecstatic! 3 minutes in a goal was scored already. Great stuff and excellent play! In the 6th minute, after a poor corner, we lost the ball and allowed Hapoel to ocunter attack us. A great ball was passed to Melikson on the wing, but Mammana came out and tackled him for a throw. Great tackle! D’Arpino, after a good interception, can’t keep his composure and loses out to Meliksson. After some good passing and good pressure from the Lyon defence, Sahar is forced to shoot from afar. The ball goes well wide and a Goal kick is given. Hapoel manage their first shot on target in the 12th minute, however. Melikson crosses it in from a dangerous free kick position and Tzedek rises for the header, which is saved with ease by Gorgelin. In the 17th minute, after some great play, the ball is put wide to Rafael again by Sergi Darder. Rafael dribbles his marker and gets a lobbed cross into the box and the Hapoel defence just seems to switch off as Ghezzal rises for a free header and scores! 2-0! Two assists for Rafael. I’m pleased already. Melikson, on the 25th minute, dribbles past Rybus and gets a good cross into the box, only for it to be cleared by Mammana. It falls, however, to Hoban who takes a powerful shot. Gorgelin saves. I order tighter marking on Melikson, he seems a slippery bugger. Without a doubt he’s their best player. From a counter attack, Ghezzal does well to take the ball past two players then pass to Fekir on the 35th minute, however Fekir puts it wide. On the 36th minute, Melikson skips past Rybus for the 4th time of the match. He manages a tough cross to defend and Gorgelin can only parry it away. Unfortunately, the ball falls to winger, Tony Nwakaeme. An open goal. 2-1. Rybus just cannot keep up with Melikson. The rest of the first half goes on without incident and as the whistle goes, I’m both happy and sad. Rybus was terrible. Rafael was brilliant. How can that be? I remove Maciej Rybus at half time in favor of Jérémy Morel. I also remove Maxime D’Arpino, who hasn’t been at his best, for Maxime Gonalons. We start the second half off. I’m not the only one to make changes. Hapoel make four. We get the first chance of the half, as Tousart makes his way to the edge of the box he plays in Darder very well, who’s shot is just saved by Haimov. Fekir gets a corner in, it’s cleared well but only to Ghezzal, who plays in Mateta, who gets fouled on the edge of the box. A very dangerous position.hezzal looms over the ball… He takes a shot… DEFLECTION OFF THE WALL AND INTO THE GOAL! 3-1! Ghezzal scores his second of the game!! In the 58th minute, Fekir tries to reconstruct Ghezzal’s free kick but alas to no avail… In the 61st minute, Rafael throws a throw in to Rachid Ghezzal, who’s tripped inside the box!! Penalty is blown!! Ghezzal will take for his third goal and hat trick… GOAL! Hat trick by Ghezzal! What a game he’s had today! We need him to sign a contract now! I bring on the rest of the subs for the finalf 20 minutes of the game. Let’s see what they can do. Jordan Ferri picks himself up an injury. A bruised rib. He remains on the pitch as Valbuena gives away a dangerous free kick. Ferri manages to clear and counter as Lacazette brings it forward… Tugerman brings him down. Now a dangerous free kick for Lyon and a yellow card for the Hapoel player. The free kick is put into the box and cleared but only as far as Depay, who plays it back to Valbuena on the wing… He crosses it in and Ferri is there to score it!! 5-1! Soon after, Melikson takes a thumping shot from far which rattles the crossbar! What a shot. What a player. He then has a shot blocked on the 82nd minute by Mbiwa. We’re lucky not to concede again. I shout at the players to contain the ball for the final minute of the game. Although we lead by 4 goals, I don’t particularly want to concede. The final whistle goes and after a 6 goal game, Lyon come out as victors. 5-1! An amazing game by all but a few. I tell the lads how well they did and they all look happy, but exhausted. Rachid Ghezzal picking up the man of the match award. After hearing from Abdel Redissi, our head physio, Jordan Ferri is victim of a bruised rib for the next 2-3 days. Not a massive loss.
That night, I treat the lads out to a wonderful meal at Yakuta restaurant in the center of town. We’d be going home the next day, which left us with a week or so before our next game: Valenciennes.
Authors note: I’m terribly sorry for the delay in this update. I had many issues this week including work, busy days and my hard drive breaking down. I’m equally sorry for the length of this update. Some of you might enjoy it, others might not. I enjoy writing of this length, so I shall keep doing it if I want to.
Thank you all for reading!