Ethiopia progress to face Elephants - but not the 'big beasts'
Well blow me, if we haven't surprised everybody and found ourselves in the semi-finals of the CECAFA tournament out here in sweltering hot, thermometer nudging 32 degrees, mercury rising...well you get the picture - Tanzania!
Yes, we emerged from the Group of Death, alive and certainly kicking, as a best qualifier. And ahead of our quarter final clash ahead of Zambia, that should really have been where the fairytale ended - but no. We probably played our best game so far against the Zambians, racing into a two goal lead after half an hour, and when they had a player sent off five minutes before the break, it seemed the game was ours to lose.
At half-time I told the players that they could make the second half as simple or as difficult as they wanted, depending on their attitude and approach. Naturally they chose the latter. Spurning a host of further chances that I believe would have had Harry Redknapp citing his other half as being capable of scoring, our profligacy knew no limits.
Thus there was a certain inevitability about our goalkeeper deciding to make the last 15 minutes a tad more interesting by ducking under a harmless looking cross from a rare Zambian sortie into our half, letting the ball sail majestically over his head as he waved a paw into thin air.
Cue apoplectic rage from your correspondent, as water bottles, stopwatches and assistant coaches were despatched skywards with all the force he could muster ("not that far then", I hear you sniggering at the back!)
Thankfully we managed to hang on and progress to a mouth watering clash against the Ivory Coast. Early reports that they would be unleashing their "big beasts" from Europe - Messrs Drogba, Kalou, Toure andÃ¢ÂÂ¦errrrmÃ¢ÂÂ¦Toure - have thankfully not proven false, although on the evidence of their own quarter final win over a strong Malawi side, against whom we could only draw in the group stages, we'll have our work cut out. Literally, if the robustness of some of their challenges is anything to go by!
But looking at the bigger picture, beyond this tournament, the match is near perfect preparation ahead of our Cup of Nations qualifier away to Nigeria in March. Physically powerful like the Nigerians, facing the Ivory Coast will be a good opportunity to see how our more studious, "Arsenal-like" (as we've quite favourably been described!) approach stands up to such opposition.
We have won many friends and admirers through our style of play, and the progress we've made this year represents the Ethiopian "coming out" party after many years in the footballing wilderness.
Drogba & co. will be happy to miss facing the Arsenal of East Africa
I'd love to be able to take total credit for the turnaround, but I can honestly say I was fortunate to inherit a great set of talented guys, crying out for a bit of direction, leadership and professionalism.
Any coach will tell you that these are the minimum requirements you can bring to your work, if you have the raw materials in the shape of good players and, more importantly still, good characters to work with, then youÃ¢ÂÂve got a real chance of success, however you measure it.
I was lucky in all those respects, I'd like to think that I brought and continue to bring those "minimums", and the rest has been all down to the players and it has been a privilege to coach them at this tournament whatever the outcome of the semi final.
Meanwhile back on planet INSANE, the first truly stupid, short-sighted, beggaring belief, sacking of the season has occurred, by an owner whose track record was anything but convincing before. Yes, step forward Mike Ashley of Newcastle United, and congratulations, youÃ¢ÂÂve set a benchmark for boardroom decisions, that's unlikely to be matched anywhere.
I'm sure enough column inches have been dedicated to the whole subject in better prose than I could possibly come up with, so I'll confine myself to the modern vernacular of Ã¢ÂÂWTF?Ã¢ÂÂ and leave it to this publicationÃ¢ÂÂs nervous lawyers for approval or rejection.
Even if I hadnÃ¢ÂÂt met Chris Hughton personally or done the LMA management course with him a few years back, which I did, I'd be impressed with his stewardship of a club many have tried and failed with before him. I can also confirm he's a warm, dignified man who has time for anybody, just as he comes across on television. Throw in last yearÃ¢ÂÂs promotion and the MagpiesÃ¢ÂÂ current position of 12th in the Premier League, and you'll forgive me for repeating - WTF?
Football always needs as many decent and genuine people as possible, so hopefully another club more respectful and grateful of its manager will give Chris a chance soon, and he's not out of the game for too long.
Whatever the eventual ramifications of the fall-out at Newcastle, it certainly makes the sweltering heat of Africa more and more palatable by the day. Our fellow semi finalists and sharers of the Ã¢ÂÂHotel of No ResourcesÃ¢ÂÂ, are Uganda, and its been educational getting to know their coach Bobby Williamson this last week or so.
Bobby pits his wits against the host nation in the other semi final, as Uganda look to defend the trophy they've won for the last two years. He's been in charge since 2008 and has achieved great success in his time with them. He has also worked north and south of the border in the UK, so is a good sounding board for advice and knowledge on football in Africa and back home.
Speaking to him, itÃ¢ÂÂs clear that he enjoys the life out in Kampala, and is keen to extend his stay even further, citing the attitude of the players and support from his Federation as key factors.
As far as my situation is concerned, I'm not sure about beyond the next two years yet. There's much work still to be done in the administration of football in Ethiopia for it to progress further, but events this week both here in Tanzania and up in Newcastle have served to remind me further about the short distance involved between success and perceived failure for the humble football manager Ã¢ÂÂ however the rest of the week pans out.