Provided that I avoid writer’s block between now and the conclusion of this article – you will be reading the ninth instalment of this series before we all frantically run into our hallways and replace our calendars. Hence why I felt that it was an appropriate time to look back upon 2016 – the year that gave us Brexit, Trump and the rise of La Pen. When reviewing 2016 from a rather political standpoint you can’t really help but shudder (regardless of your political hue), although what about if we look back at the football of 2016? What have the Gods of the Beautiful Game given us this year?
- The triumphant rise and fall of Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City – Against the odds and against the tides.
- From Real Madrid to Newcastle United: Rafa Benitez – The story of a roller-coaster loving football manager.
- RasenBallsport Leipzig: A club hated by all?
- David and Goliath – The day that saw the zealous people of Iceland humiliate the lacklustre English.
- Farewell Boleyn: The end of a beautiful era in East London – Arise, Sir Payet.
2016 has been a year of footballing plots in patchwork form. Cristiano Ronaldo, N’Golo Kante, Jesse Lingard, Sam Allardyce, Roy Hodgson, Zinedine Zidane: we have been blessed with a plethora of cover-stars this year – and the same could be said for Saint Pauli in 2018. It’s about time that I start to consider our European policy…
20 down, 14 to go…
As I hope that you are now aware, I post frequent updates from this save on my Facebook Page and I like to ask as many questions to the people who follow my page – it drives engagement and, ultimately, helps me to determine whether or not people are still interested in what I have to say. At the start of the 2018/19 season – before my last post was published – I asked the people of Facebook where they thought that we would finish this season: a large portion of people said 5th/6th/7th territory. I, on the other hand, simply wanted to improve upon 2018’s 10th placed finish. Meanwhile, the bookies were still tipping us for the drop.
However, it would appear that midway through the season none of us were correct.
After twenty matches we sit twenty points clear of the relegation zone and only ten points away from top-of-the-tree Dortmund. We sit in 5th – with it becoming increasingly evident that the remainder of the season will be spent battling with Hoffenheim and Schalke for a place in the UEFA Europa League. No, I can’t really believe it either.
My current goalkeeper coach – a 57 year-old able to cartwheel and headstand… – has told me time and time again to “aim for perfection but to never expect it”, and that is certainly a mantra that has held firm this season. Signing Kouyate, Andre Gray, Sam Byram and Ji Dong-Won has appeared to be a masterstroke; alongside Nana, Yurchenko and Gamarra they have been able to work in perfect unison, hence our dramatic leap up the table. This season has been one of tactical mischievousness on my part – gone are the days of marudering wingers, we are currently in a phase of the narrow midfield and fast striker: and it is working a treat for us.
Despite beginning the season with back-to-back defeats at the hands of Werder Bremen – a team that I had previously never been beaten by – and Leverkusen saw us slide down the table to a season low of 15th. It was another ten weeks until we finally lost a game of football – in which time we had delivered ourselves into the Third Round of the German Cup for the first time under my stewardship and soared into 5th place in the Bundesliga.
Consecutive defeats at the hands of Koln – a fellow “over-performing side” – and Dortmund – the reigning champions – left us licking our wounds, although clean-sheeted wins against “A German Team”, Kaiserslautern and Bremen soon made the pain of yesteryear quickly fade into the background. Our most impressive result came not against Hoffenheim (who we beat with a spring in our step and an air of confidence in our form), nor against Ingolstadt (who are pretty shi*).
Our greatest moment of the season thus far came – undoubtedly – against Bayern Munich in a game that we were actually unlucky not to have won! Playing in-front of the cameras (a rarity for us) and a capacity crowd we took the game to Bayern, passing slickly, using our full-backs to retain possession and stretching the game with Andre Gray’s pace from time-to-time. Despite the fact that it was Matts Hummels who struck first blood for the visitors our ability to at least take a point away from the visit of Bayern was never once questioned in my mind.
We created more chances than Bayern, we created better chances than Bayern, we had more of the ball than Bayern! Despite the fact that their centre-forward earns more in a month then my entire squad does put together was palled into insignificance by the fact that we were willing to get our kit dirty and they weren’t. We covered more distance than Bayern despite having more of the ball, using a moderate press and operating with a narrow system.
It was beautiful. It was great. And ultimately it proved that we are now able to challenge the elite of German football.
During the winter break the board approached me, asking if I would be willing to enter contract extension talks. My answer was yes and I was excited to be on the cusp of signing my third contract with the club, assuming that a one-year extension would be all that was on the table. Again, I was wrong. The board offered me a bumper four-year contract extension. And I took it. I took the contract because I foster no ambition to leave the club, not until we play our football in the James Arena and Bayern Munich are loaning our youth players.
The above paragraph should have made my long-term ambitions for the club obvious: I long for dominance. My shorter-term targets are probably less obvious, so I will explain them now. This season is now – in my eyes – a race for European football, the highest we could realistically look to finish is fourth: I cannot see anyone breaking the Leverkusen/Dortmund/Munich mould at the top, let alone little old Saint Pauli! However, as long as we stay in the top five – I’m not particularly concerned with where we finish: I care about the destination, not the journey.
My second aim for this season is to finally nail down two systems that we can move forwards with. We currently have one… Our current formation is a narrow 4-1-3-1-1, it focuses on keeping the ball and staying compact when we don’t have it – it is my aim to publish a full review of the tactic before the next Saint Pauli Plan update is ready.
Thirdly, I hope to extend our run in the German Cup as far as we possibly can. We face Hannover in the Third Round – a lower division side – so I would be exceptionally disappointed if we don’t make it into Round Four! Prize money in the German Cup is something that I hope to collect, mainly as it is a surefire way of building upon our already strong fiscal situation.
I hope that you have enjoyed the ninth instalment of ‘The Saint Pauli Plan’, I will be back on Sunday with part ten – an article where I will discuss the second half of our season! I sincerely hope that I will be able to tell you that we will playing in European competition next year! I am always exceptionally interested in hearing your thoughts regarding the save in general and feedback with regards to your thoughts on my articles – so please do get in touch either through the streams linked below or by commenting! Moreover, if you would like to get in touch with myself, or my fellow admins, you can find us through the links below…