Big match over... now for Messi
The big day of ManchesterÃ¢ÂÂs match against Strommen IF of the Norwegian third division finally arrived. Emotions were running high, not least in my own mind. I was dying to start the game, but as manager I knew there were better players than me in the squad.
We entered EspanyolÃ¢ÂÂs training ground determined not to be intimidated. UEFA Cup finalists last season, Espanyol are having an excellent season and are excited about their move to a new 40,000 seat Ã¢ÂÂEnglish-styleÃ¢ÂÂ stadium on the outskirts of Barcelona next year. Letting us use their facilities is a Ã¢ÂÂcommunity gestureÃ¢ÂÂ. There are more Catalans playing for Espanyol than Barca. Too often marginalised by a BarÃÂ§a-obsessed media, Espanyol have been compared to Manchester City as an example of a club living in the shadow of a giant.
Two days before we played them, Strommen had lost 2-1 to a late goal against El Prat, leaders of the Primera Catalan Ã¢ÂÂ SpainÃ¢ÂÂs fifth level. I shuddered when I saw that result but itÃ¢ÂÂs nothing to how I felt when I saw their 23-man squad warming up. It was so big they needed two dressing rooms Ã¢ÂÂ one of them ours.
I was introduced to their manager who told me they play in front of crowds of between 600-1,000 each week. They're semi-pro. We pay to play. I just nodded but that sealed my fate. I was starting on the bench.
Our lads played superbly Ã¢ÂÂ 0-0 at half-time, more than we could have dreamed of. I was so proud of the performance, but my feet were itching.
Strommen were obviously surprised. I knew that the walls between the dressing rooms (weÃ¢ÂÂd got one adjacent to their two) were very thin. Our players were elated, but I put my finger to my lips and told them to sit down and say nothing. Ã¢ÂÂWeÃ¢ÂÂre not playing well,Ã¢ÂÂ I shouted, aware that Strommen couldnÃ¢ÂÂt see the big grin on my face. Their changing room went quiet as they listened to my attempt at reverse psychology. Ã¢ÂÂWeÃ¢ÂÂre far better than this. We need a big improvement in the second half.Ã¢ÂÂ
Although Strommen went a goal up after 55 minutes, Hans equalised with a wondrous free-kick. Life was beautiful.
After using our other subs, with 10 minutes to go and I felt it necessary to introduce fresh blood Ã¢ÂÂ myself. I canÃ¢ÂÂt describe the feeling of powerlessness as the man I was marking hit a sensational last-minute winner, on the volley from a cross-field ball. The greatest compliment they gave us was the vigorous manner in which they celebrated. It meant something.
It was a great day for our team, but I must concentrate on the day job now and planned interviews this week with Lionel Messi, Josep Guardiola and Bert Trautmann.