Minnow to Matador: From Islington to Kuopio

“I wouldn’t say I was the best manager in the business. But I was the top one.”

– Brian Clough (1935 – 2004)

Many lads dream of donning their boyhood club’s jerseys; walking side-by-side with their heroes onto the pitch and giving it their all for the fans. For those wishing to get into the coaching roles, the path can be just as daunting. Reputations must be establish; tricks of the trade must be learned and practiced… so welcome to Minnow to Matador, a Football Manager journey from the unemployment pile of football management.

The aim of this journey is simple: start out as a young, ambitious football coach and go from the bottom and all the way to the top. Establishing a club legacy is not at the heart of this story, it is simply to become the best of the best!

I shall be starting out with Sunday League experience and the lowest coaching qualifications available. So I will have to work my way up the ladder to become the very, very best in the game.

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So… following a spate of applications, which club has taken the gamble to kick start my managerial career?

Chapter One: From Islington to Kuopio

When your footballing CV is about as barren as the Sahara the pickings will be slim at best. In fact, it wasn’t until mid-August that an application has been accepted – the inbox lit up with a date for a press conference and… a receipt for plane tickets. It was time to pack my bags and make the journey to Kuopio, Finland.

kuopion_palloseura

Kuopion Palloseura, or KuPS, took a gamble and handed me a contract until November 2017 – and it was an opportunity I took with both hands firmly grasped. The Yellow-Blacks currently play in the Veikkausliiga, the premier division of Finnish football, and have enjoyed 57 seasons in the top flight – during which time the club have won the title five times – the last being in 1976.

The situation at the club was dire, as my appointment had only been drafted in during the final hour. As soon as I touched down in Kuopio I learned that I’d be leading my first match against Ilves the following evening. With the pressures of club management already weighing down my shoulders I set about preparing for my debut match with reports compiled by my assistant, Markus Sinisalo – which ended up giving me the start I needed for life in Finland.

20th August, 2015

Veikkausliiga

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My first game at the helm (and a day after landing in Finland) and KuPS hammer Ilves with a convincing 3-0 win. Two goals from Nigerian forward Gbolohan Salami sends the home side away with their tails between their legs; and hopefully this performance gives the fans hope for a better outcome towards the end of the season.

Following my first game – and win – the three points certainly helped to establish clarity on the club’s position in the league. With six games left in the domestic calendar, here is how the situation looks for KuPS:

six-games-to-go

With a relegation battle already in motion, my first few months in the role could decide my future in Finland.

23rd August, 2015

Veikkausliiga

23-august-2015

So our encounter with Jaro gave me a reality check – that it isn’t sunshine & rainbows up in Finland. Losing 1-0 in the 86th minute to a team rooted at the bottom of the table gave me food for thought, and highlighted that the club still has a tough fight ahead for survival.

14th September, 2015

Veikkausliiga

14-september-2015

A second consecutive loss, this time to HJK who are arguably the best team in the division. We were unlucky to have two goals ruled offside but the KuPS attack lacked accuracy and this ultimately cost us three points.

17th September, 2015

Veikkausliiga

17-september-2015

Just the wake up call we needed – and what a way to respond to our critics, given KuPS’ recent performance. Three first half goals were enough to lift the spirits of the players and fans, and it gave the coaching staff confidence that there’s still some fighting spirit left at the club.

20th September, 2015

Veikkausliiga

20-september-2015

Our most crucial fixture to date – a win over fellow relegation candidates VPS could decide the fate of KuPS’ position at the end of the season. Thanks to a Tristan Bowen goal in the 78th minute, KuPS took a massive step forward in its bid for survival.

18th October, 2015

Veikkausliiga

18th-october-2015

Bowen once again stepped up to the mark to bag three points for KuPS following a convincing first half performance. Despite adding a second to the scoreline, thanks to a sensational strike from Salami, complacency set in and FC Lahti pulled one back to give KuPS a 40 minute scare.

25th October, 2015

Veikkausliiga

25th-october-2015

The final game of the domestic season went down to the wire. Prior to kick a mere point separated KuPS and VPS, so the final game would decide who would fall into the relegation play-off spot. Thankfully Juha Hakola had other ideas and sent fans into uproar with his lone goal in the 64th minute. Nevertheless the team’s efforts have now ensured that KuPS are guaranteed top flight football next season.

2015 Veikkausliiga Final Standings

finnish-2015-season

The board had initially handed me a two-year contract but, deep down in my gut, I knew I only had seven games to demonstrate that I had a future at the club. The chairman had tasked me with avoiding relegation and I duly delivered on that promise. Five wins and two losses gave KuPS enough leeway to mount a strong survival push.

But despite our efforts, much needed improvements must be made if KuPS are looking to mount a mid-table finish next season. There’s an urgent need to resolve the attacking issues within the squad: 31 goals scored throughout the entire campaign is quite a shameful return. Hopefully the pre-season will bring about promising results for the squad in this department.

Until then I shall be enjoying the holidays before returning to the office. I’ve tasted what management has to offer, and I want more of it and the sweet delights it can bring.

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