Season 10 – Sparta Prague, Czech First Division

Rangers did come calling, and I really did want the job, and I really did wrestle with myself over what to do, but after delaying the decision as long as possible, I made my mind up that now wasn’t the right time. They romped to the title so probably weren’t too sad about that though.

Preseason got off to a brilliant start. A public bust up with the Belarusian winger I’d brought from Minsk with me led to his exit, and late on in the window a couple of key players had release clauses activated by some of Europe – and China’s – big boys. I hate release clauses so much but that’s the cost of attracting good young players. Some of the kids in the system were promoted, and our facilities were upgraded along with a 7k expansion in the stadium capacity.

This shite cup thing we do with Slovakia was a breeze this year, as we won 5-1 against Senica.

In the league, we had a 100% record in the first 10 games. We then failed to win the next three including a 0-0 draw with Vikroria Plzen (this will be important later) before a long unbeaten streak kept us in the running with Viktoria Plzen. We’d pulled ahead of the pack, Slavia over 8 points behind. We couldn’t shake Plzen but had a great position going into the break, and losing a few more to bastard release clauses, I feared for what was to come. I also lost my #1 keeper, so I had to rely on a promising Ukranian keeper to step up. Largely, he did.

 

After the break up to the point where the league splits, we only dropped points on four occasions – one of which a 1-0 loss to Plzen (again, remember this). By now, they’d opened up a 7 point gap over us, but this obviously sparked the boys into life as they played like a team possessed to narrow the gap to 4 points going into the Championship Group when a lesser group could have crumbled.

The first round of matches, Plzen lost and we managed a draw closing the gap to a single win – the next match was against them. Now, the Czech league sorts firstly by head to head records. We’d drawn 0-0 and lost 1-0, meaning to come out on top in a tie breaker we’d need to win by 2 clear goals.

The game started poorly for us as they took an early lead. Three quickfire goals saw us head into the break 3-1 up. Two more before the hour mark including a controversial penalty levelled things up, so I went for it and put on another striker. We ended up running out 6-3 winners.

The next round both won, meaning three games to play we were level on points. Slavia Prague of all teams would potentially be kingmakers. We were up first, and gave them a 5-2 fucking in front of our own fans. Plzen drew so on it went. The following week, they blew a 2-0 lead against Mlada Boleslav – I thought we’d wrapped it up the very same day, until the cunt from Minsk set up a late, late equaliser taking it to the final day.

Because of our records, we only needed a point, but took all 3 as Plzen could only draw and we’d retained the title despite everything, even losing a key defender to an Arab club in April when we couldn’t sign a replacement.

Sailed through to the Cup final, including doling out an arseholing to rivals Slavia Prague in the semi, and we ran out 4-0 winners over Mlada Boleslav.

The Champions League qualifiers were a breeze, but the group was a fucking nightmare – we drew City, Leverkusen and Fenerbahce. A 2-2 draw after leading 2-1 until late against the Turks in the first game left me concerned, and we lost twice against City and drew in Istanbul meaning we had to better their result in the last game.

We somehow magicked a 1-0 win over the Germans in Prague putting us 3rd and into the Europa League. 4-2 and 3-2 wins over PAOK and Sevilla respectively took us through to a quarter final against the Gunners. Bollocks. We unexpectedly stuck 5 past them in Prague, and scraped to a 3-3 draw at the Emirates. Napoli lie in wait, who we almost as easily swept aside winning 4-0 on aggregate.

We’d meet Atletico Madrid in the final. It was a hard-fought match, but in the end, after a long season with a now depleted squad thanks to the physical toll, they had just too much for us and a 78th minute goal was enough to snatch away an unexpected trophy. I never expected to beat Arsenal though, never mind make the final, so I can’t be too sad.

Getting fucked off with my best players leaving either via release clause or kicking off because we’re in an unfashionable league. But enjoying developing young talent, even if they don’t stick around long. In some ways, regular injuries and knackered players is my own fault because of 1) the way I play, and 2) the fact that I always go for as small a squad as possible packed with kids who can play multiple positions rather than just bring in depth. But it does force me to use the youth system when injuries crop up, which is good because our youth system is excellent.

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