Basque Boys II – Part 2 | @NickRowe85

Hello CM fans, and welcome back to Bilbao for part 2 of a new season for the Basque Boys. Last week we had a successful pre-season and were drawn against Ferencvaros in Champions League qualifying, so let’s go straight to that match…

As with most early-round european games, I’m expecting to face a team full of ‘grey’ players, but they do have eight Hungarian internationals in their team, so this might not be as straightforward as first thought.

We’re without Rios and Etxebe, who are suspended, so Garitano and Urrutia come into an otherwise unchanged side from the one that drew with Metrostars.

It’s an explosive start from the visitors, and although lucky not to go behind early on, we’re 2-0 up at half time through Loinaz and Alkiza. Ferencvaros are down to ten men on 76 minutes, which stops them in their tracks, and Mendieta gets his second Basque Boys goal 5 minutes later. It finishes 3-0, and I’m relieved not to concede an away goal.

So a good start in Europe and just as I’m looking forward to starting the league season with a near full-strength side, Loinaz is out for a couple of weeks with a gashed leg and Rios for a few weeks with a fractured wrist. On the plus side, Tabuenka, Etxebe and Garitano all accept their new contracts and Bastida returns from injury.

Time to begin the league season now, and it’s a tricky trip to Celta Vigo first. They still have Bakayoko, but somehow Djorovic, Mazinho, Karpin and Ratkovic are more worthy of the four foreigner spots, but I’m not complaining. For us the only change is Etxebe back in for Loinaz.

Celta shade the first half despite no goals or shots on target from either side. With the score still goalless, I intervene with 15 minutes remaining and bring on Huegun and Perez for Laslandes and Urrutia, and within 5 minutes Huegun gives us the lead. We batter them for the final 10 minutes and it could have been three or four but I’ll take the win.

I’m once again reminded of how big a gulf there is between us and Barcelona as Alfonso is ruled out for three months with torn knee ligaments, so they splash £15.5m on Valencia’s Ariel Ortega as a replacement. Why can’t there be a £15.5m Basque player out there?!

Alkiza accepts his new contact and Loinaz returns from injury, but he’s not fit enough to face Rafa Benitez’s newly-promoted Extremadura. They’ve had a busy summer with six players coming in, and they got off to a winning start last weekend, beating Rayo Vallecano 2-1. After his goal against Celta, Huegun is in for Laslandes.

We pile on the early pressure, but as so often happens, the opposition take the lead with their first chance and we trail at the break. I make all three substitutions in the second half, but despite 19 shots of huffing and puffing, we just can’t blow Rafa’s house down and it’s a disappointing defeat.

Some news before the return leg with Ferencvaros, as Huegun joins Sevilla on loan, but I’ll be keeping tabs on him because I don’t want him to just warm their bench.

Now to Hungary for the second leg, where we have a 3-0 aggregate lead. Our only change is Laslandes in for the departed Huegun. We start well and it takes Etxebe just 7 minutes to get his first goal of the season. The hosts equalise on quarter of an hour and take the lead on the stroke of half time.

Urzaiz is off for Perez, which proves to be another inspired substitution as Perez levels 3 minutes after the restart. Tabuenka and Arregui get the last 15 minutes to shine, replacing Mendieta and Alkiza, but it ends all-square, and we’re into the group stage.

You have to be kidding me…

Moving swiftly onwards, we receive £1m for reaching the group stage, which I quickly put to good use by signing this guy, who’s stats look good, apart from the 20 for injury proneness. He rejects our first approach but you don’t turn the basque boys down twice.

Back to domestic action now, and Deportivo come to visit. Over the summer they signed a couple of brits in Scotland U21 keeper Russell Huggon and former Man Utd youngster Paul Teather, and also a Spanish schoolboy named Nayim, but not the one who still gives David Seaman nightmares.

Perez starts on the right in place of Urzaiz, and new boy Histilloles joins fit-again Loinaz on the bench. Deportivo start well, but we lead 2-0 at half time through a Perez brace. The second half belongs to the new boys with Laslandes getting his first league goal, and Histilloles coming on to score on his debut. Deportivo deservedly score late on, but our keeper and man of the match, Etxeberria deserves a mention for keeping the score down.

Some fantastic news follows a fantastic result as six basque boys are called up by Spain for the upcoming Euro 2000 qualifier against Yugoslavia. Etxebe finally gets his first call up as does our keeper Etxeberria and Larrazabal. It’s about time the basque boys got some recognition!

The board are pleased with my performance, and I’m named manager of the month for August, which surprises me as we have two wins and a loss, and there are teams in the league on maximum points, go figure.

Real Madrid are our next opponents as we travel to the Bernabeu. Their only summer signing was Miguel Nadal from Barcelona. They have maximum points and have not yet conceded a goal, so this will be tough. We have some good early chances but the hosts climb up through the gears and lead at half time through Mijatovic.

The Yugoslav adds his second not long after half time and Laslandes gives us a glimmer of hope just past the hour. However, it’s one-way traffic at this point and Raúl seals our fate on 73. I bring on Urzaiz and Loinaz for Perez and Etxbe but there’s no way back and it’s a second loss.

Perez tears a hamstring in training which sees him out for a month, and we’ve now got ten days off for an international break before we travel to the Nou Camp to face Barcelona.

Alkiza is added to the Spain squad, so there are now seven basque boys in there, but when I view the match report from the win over Yugoslavia, I’m disappointed to see that only Alkorta and Larrainzar started, with Rios and Etxebe unused subs. A swift rejection of a £4m bid for Tabuenka from Atletico Madrid follows and we’re off to Barcelona, who are top of the league on maximum points.

Mr. Van Gaal has certainly been splashing the cash, bringing in Ortega, Zidane and Kiko for a combined £34.5m, which makes the news that Alfonso and Sonny Anderson are injured seem somewhat insignificant. We welcome back Rios for Garitano, and Histilloles starts on the right wing in place of Perez.

We keep the Catalan giants at bay for the first 20 minutes and Laslandes puts us in front with his third goal in as many games, but De La Peña fires in to make honours even at half time. Alkiza is off and Etxebe drops back to the left wing with Loinaz coming on up front, but it’s a disappointing second half as Barca assert their authority with a Zizou brace. Urzaiz is on for Histilloles on 80 but doesn’t have time to make an impact and it’s yet another defeat.

The loss puts us 10th in the league after 5 games. We had a slow start last season, and with both away trips to Barca and Real out of the way, hopefully things will pick up from here.

Attention switches back to Europe now as we welcome defending champions Borussia Dortmund. They haven’t signed anyone of note but still possess the likes of Möller and Ricken. Kohler and Chapuisat are both out, which may help. Larrazabal is suspended, so Billabona gets his first start of the season at left back, and Urzaiz is in on the right wing for cup-tied Histilloles.

Laslandes gets us up and running on 6 minutes and Dortmund equalise through future spurs man Steffen Freund 20 minutes later and it’s level at the break. Alkiza and Ibrahim “listed for loan” Tanko exchange goals before the hour and Laslandes strikes again on 70 minutes. We have a fourth goal disallowed soon after, which is infuriating enough, but I’m ready to blow my top when Möller equalises, and Alkiza is injured to cap a frustrating night. We could have done with a win and were the better side, so it’s definitely two points dropped. Barca beat Bayern 4-1 in the other match in our group.

So £250k in the bank, but it does little to soften the blow of Alkiza being ruled out for 15 months with a broken leg. That’s a broken pelvis and a broken leg we’ve had in the space of four months, fantastic.

So for the second season running, we’ve not had the greatest of starts, but hopefully better things await in part 3. See you all next week!

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