Basque Boys for Life – Part 4 | @NickRowe85

Hola! And welcome back for part 4. Things were on the up towards the end of part 3, we were up to 3rd in the league and going well in Europe, so let’s continue…

After a 2-1 1st leg win at the Riazor, it’s the 2nd leg of our UEFA Cup tie with Deportivo. Alkiza is suspended, so in comes Oscar Alkorta, brother of Rafael, and Ziganda replaces Loinaz.

We go ahead on 3 minutes as Ziganda shows he’s an able deputy for Loinaz, but Deportivo’s response baffles me. They substitute their goalkeeper and right-back, who are both “grey” players, and replace them with real players, and the sub keeper is none other than future Wolves manager, Nuno. Ziganda gets another to seal a 4-1 aggregate win and we get another £250k to not spend on players.

We’ve been to France and stayed in Spain for our last 2 UEFA Cup matches, and next we’re off to Germany to face Borussia Mönchengladbach, with the away leg first again.

We win the second leg of our Copa del Rey clash with Sociedad 1-0 with a Guerrero goal but can’t find a 2nd goal in the remaining 82 minutes and are knocked out on away goals. Sociedad had a goal disallowed, so you could say we were fortunate, but the board are very disappointed at the exit.

Bobby Robson’s Valencia are our next opponents as we return to league action, and they take us by surprise, going 2-0 up in 20 minutes with an Ortega brace. This angers me, and just as I’m about to tactically intervene, Valencia’s veteran keeper, Andoni Zubizarreta gets sent off. This proves to be the turning point and after Guerrero tucks away the penalty, we run riot and win 5-2. Sorry to pile more misery on you, Bobby.

Another international break to finish off the World Cup qualifying matches is followed by the draw for the finals. Spain have been drawn in group C with South Korea, Tunisia and Yugoslavia, and being English, I keep an eye on England’s fate, and they are with The Republic of Ireland, Greece and Nigeria in group E, which must please Mr. Hoddle.

Off to the North-West now, Vigo to be exact, as we take on Celta. We’re without Guerrero and Ziganda, who are both injured, so in come Urrutia and Loinaz. Thanks to the patch, Celta have Jorge Cadete (who was at Celtic in the original version), and they have signed the legend that is Ibrahima Bakayoko. Richard Dutruel, the Celta keeper, has a mare and fumbles a shot for Loinaz to pounce and put us in front, and Etxebe doubles our advantage 5 minutes later. Dutruel would go on to join Barcelona in real-life and his poor performances led to the emergence of a young Pepe Reina. Anyway, a 2-0 win is a good result, say the board.

Barcelona are dealt a crushing blow as Sonny Anderson is ruled out for 3 months with a hip injury, which should hinder their title charge slightly, although they’re not exactly short of attacking options.

So off to Deutschland we go, and it’s a cracker of a first leg with Huegun getting his first goal of the season to put us 1 up. The home side reply to go 2-1 up, before Etxebe fires in his third hat trick of the season to make it 4-2. I’m annoyed at conceding late on again, but 4 away goals should be very handy to take into the 2nd leg. Another good result, according to the board.

Back to domestic matters and it’s Espanyol, who are managed by future Spain manager, Jose Antonio Camacho. They’ve signed Portuguese international midfielder Jorge Couto and have also brought in Franck Verlaat to partner future Southampton and Tottenham manager, Mauricio Pochettino at the heart of their defence. Star striker Esnaider is injured, but Nicolas Oudec and Quique Martín have scored 11 goals between them. We welcome Ziganda and Billabona back from injury for this match.

Larrazabal gets injured early on, and is replaced by Larrainzar. We lead at the break courtesy of Urzaiz. We’ve had 4 shots on target out of 6, and their keeper, Toni has been on good form but as my frustration with him is growing, he scores an own goal to seal the win for us. Larrainzar had man of the match after coming off the bench and with the news that Larrazabal is out for a couple of weeks, it looks like he’s got his place in the side back.

The board tell me they’re very pleased with our league position, which is a nice boost as we prepare to visit Real Oviedo. Urzaiz is suspended, so in comes Perez, and there’s a defensive shuffle after Larrazabal’s injury, with Larrainzar coming into the centre, Tabuenka moving to right-back and Billabona switching to the left.

Oviedo are 12th in the table and have Russian rock, Viktor Onopko in central defence, and future Merseyside (red and blue) legend Abel Xavier at full-back, which should make their defence a hard nut to crack. This proves to be the case as we fail to find a way through despite 6 efforts on target and yet another disallowed goal to add to the collection. It’s a frustrating defeat, but our first in 9 matches so I can’t complain. To back up what I said earlier, big Vik was man of the match and Xavier had 8/10.

Some sad news as Youri Djorkaeff is out for 8 months with a broken leg and may miss the World Cup. I managed him in my time at Inter Milan and I lost count of how many times he came off the bench to score and rescue a match. I’m absolutely gutted for him and give him a quick call to wish him a speedy recovery.

Now for the 2nd leg of our UEFA Cup match with Borussia Monchengladbach, and we welcome them to the San Mames with 4 away goals in the bank from the first leg. Urzaiz is back from suspension, so him and Ziganda come in for Loinaz and Perez. The result turns out to be a carbon copy of the 1st leg. Etxebe’s morale had been low, so hopefully his goal will help, and Ziganda once again delivers when called upon. The board say it’s a very good result.

Our reward is another £250k in the bank and another trip to Germany as we draw defending champions Schalke 04. The humbug derby between Udinese and Newcastle should be an interesting one, but I’m relieved to avoid Arsenal and Atletico Madrid, which conveniently brings us to our next match.

Managed by Croatian Raddy Antic, Atletico are 8th in the league and doing surprisingly poorly for a team with the quality of Vieri, Kiko and Juninho, but star midfielder Caminero has missed much of the season with a broken ankle. Ziganda keeps his place after his brace in Europe, plus some time on the bench will give Loinaz something to think about as he hasn’t scored in 4 matches. We start terribly and find ourselves a goal down after just 4 minutes, and 2 down at half time. Ziganda is off for Loinaz for the 2nd half. Alkiza gets us back in the match on 55 minutes, and at this point I’m beginning to think we might snatch a point, but just 9 minutes later, Etxebe equalises before Guerrero completes the turnaround on 68. It’s a cliche but this really was a game of two halves.

The board are still very pleased with our league position and my performance as manager, and to further the good news, the transfer window has reopened. After some further research, I unearthed around 40 more players who I can sign, one of which is future Sunderland star, Lilian Laslandes. I must thank twitter users @nevernot2gether and @esurientfox for informing me that he is Basque-born.

Next up it’s Real Sociedad, in something of a revenge mission after they knocked us out of the cup. They’re 10th in the league and Ezquerro and Bisgaard are still yet to force their way into the team, which baffles me. Urzaiz is suspended again, so Luis Perez starts against his old club, and Tabuenka makes way for the fit again Larrazabal. Ziganda was poor against Atletico, so Loinaz comes back in for him.

Etxebe gets us off and running, and Perez is clearly out to show his former employers what they’re missing as he starts brightly and then gets his first goal for Bilbao after half an hour. The home side pull one back 7 minutes before half time and then level the match just after the restart. We have another goal disallowed (I’ve lost count of how many there’s been now) but it’s to be Perez’s day as he gets the winner just before the hour mark and with it a man of the match performance. I’m delighted for him as he’s had a bit of a stop-start season so far.

Although we’re winning, I’m concerned about the amount of goals we’re conceding, that’s 7 in the last 3 games now, so I’ve identified a couple of defensive targets to bring in before the transfer window closes, I just hope their clubs are willing to sell.

Join me next week to see if I manage to bring in anyone to try and solidify the back line. Adios for now!

You can follow Nick on Twitter @nickrowe85

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