Whitecaps arriving into 2018 with a whimper?

It’s all a bit underwhelming really isn’t it?

I’m talking about life in general of course but it also applies to what we’ve seen from the Vancouver Whitecaps during the off-season so far.

An experienced MLS striker slightly beyond his best, a former Mexican international who can play midfield and can be cover at right back and a Venezuelan forward slash wide player who is one of those “hope he settles in to the vagaries of MLS okay” signings.

In the outgoing ledger we have Fredy Montero and Christian Bolaños heading back to pastures old and Nosa Igiebor departing after never really being here apart from the three most important games of the Whitecaps 2017 campaign.

Some decisions and revisions can be reversed I suppose but Carl Robinson obviously chose to play Igiebor in those games because he thought he was a better option than Tony Tchani and now the coach will have to convince Tchani that he didn’t really mean it and he definitely trusts him to do the job in midfield in 2018.

And Matias Laba is left twisting in the purgatory of everybody knowing he was going to leave the club were it not for an unfortunately timed injury while also seeing the Whitecaps stockpile defensive midfielders like they were going out of fashion (which maybe they are).

It’s all a bit of a mess really.

But not the kind of mess that makes you think “this definitely needs cleaning up immediately or somebody will catch something” but more the kind of mess that makes you think “I can probably leave that until tomorrow, it doesn’t look too bad actually”.

Like I said, it’s all a bit underwhelming.

Underwhelming doesn’t necessarily mean under performing though and indeed there will be time for players to come and go and for the picture to change.

But the over/under on “whelm’ right now is definitely leaning toward “under”.

CPL, MLS, VAR, CMNT

We really are in the lull before the storm when it comes to the Vancouver Whitecaps and Major League Soccer right now.

Oh sure there’s the Combine where teams try to harvest young talent but that’s hardly an event to get the pulses racing (Memo to self: could lentil racing be the next big thing? Maybe roll them down a sloping track?)

So let’s kill the ennui with some random thoughts about some random football stuff.

A new coach for the Canadian men’s team- John Herdman has left the women to join the men leading to some interesting debate and some less than edifying discussion.

The biggest difference he will face is that he no longer has one of the best players in the world at his disposal and almost every team he comes up against will more than fancy their chances of beating his team.

That requires a tactical change that has nothing to do with gender and how he adapts to that specific change will determine his success or failure.

Cyle Larin on the move? These reports should carry a trigger warning for Whitecaps fans who lived through the Camilo saga.

But once again MLS is faced with the reality that maybe, just maybe, the strengths of its structure at home is a fundamental weakness when exposed to the wide world.

Like a player who happily stays at one club and never really tests themselves elsewhere MLS just looks unprepared and unawares when a determined foreign club wants one of their own.

And the long learned truth is that the player always wins in these types of disputes once the choking chains of the CBA are no longer in play.

New chief at the Canadian Premier League- David Clanachan has been named as the first Commissioner of the upcoming CPL and it must be reassuring for fans to know that the future of the league is now in the hands of a man who earned his success in a role which encouraged franchises to prosper based on the assumption that each would be indistinguishable from the next.

The appointment does show that the league is a serious prospect however and soccer in Canada can only benefit from the addition of more professional teams.

The overly used “We are Canadian” schtick could get wearisome though. I get that is aimed at distinguishing the league from MLS specifically and that an identity needs to be established in the early days but hopefully there will be more to inspire potential CPL supporters than the simplistic embrace of of nationality.

Video Assistant Referees- I’m not going to get into the whole VAR debate again except to say that it’s crazy that people are calling it “V” “A” “R” and not Var (to rhyme with car).

Presumably these people enter their “P” “I” “N” at the bank and discuss how much “R” “A” “M” their computers have.

If an acronym can be pronounced as a word then do so!

Vancouver Whitecaps say “Adiós” to Bolaños

So farewell then Christian Bolaños.

It’sen announced that the Costa Rican international has moved back to his home country to play for his former club Saprissa.

So how do we assess his time for the Vancouver Whitecaps?

Well, his first season was an undoubted success with five goals and eight assists leading him to be voted Player of the Year and it was a joy to watch his ability to play the game at his own speed no matter what the circumstance.

The second season was less impressive and we can probably put that down to a combination of injuries, lack of focus due to the distractions of international duty and the team not playing in a style suited to his game.

 

In an ideal world the Whitecaps would have got more from his undoubted quality on the ball but by the end he had simply turned into a “useful at set pieces” kind of player and there are others that can fill that role for far less of a salary hit.

Maybe there will be a direct replacement signed but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to move Yordy Reyna to his more natural left wing spot and stop thinking of him as the number ten that he actually isn’t.

In other news the Whitecaps have signed Efrain Juarez from Mexican team Monterrey and he can play in a number of positions but is most suited to either right back or defensive midfield.

In that ideal world we were dreaming of earlier he’d slot in at right back to give Jake Nerwinski another season of learning the ropes of defending but given Carl Robinson’s tendency to view playing defensive midfielders with the same restraint Winnie the Pooh views a jar of honey that central spot may prove to be his main role.

That would mean the ongoing “talks” with Nosa Igiebor are less likely to prove fruitful and would surely make him one of the strangest signings the team has made.

Igiebor didn’t play for the first few moths of his time in Vancouver but was then thrown into the playoffs in a manner which suggested Robinson felt he was the answer to whatever ailed his team at the end of the campaign.

He wasn’t the answer, but it seems odd that the current prevarication seems to be leaning more toward departure than extension.

To be fair it’s still too early to make any kind of definitive judgments about the comings and goings around the squad until we see the final picture but the hope has to be that any moves are designed to support the style of play Carl Robinson favours (while simultaneously wishing he didn’t favour that style of play).

I also really wanted to get some kind of Dylan themed”Lost in the Reyna in Juarez” kind of pun into this post but to no avail!

Vancouver Whitecaps: A fair and balanced schedule

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in recent years about making predictions around how the MLS schedule will impact the Vancouver Whitecaps it’s that we just can’t do it.

That tough stretch of four road games that we suspect will derail the season yields ten points, those three easy home games in July yield two.

This time around though even those scenarios are taken away from us as the team are faced with their most balanced fixture list (in terms of home and road games in a row) in the MLS era.

At first glance it even looks like a “traditional” season with as close to a home game followed by a road game as makes no difference.

This is MLS of course so there’s always the hidden easter egg of one extra game against San Jose to slightly destroy the illusion.

And the fact that Seattle and Portland get to play each other three times while facing the Whitecaps twice not only messes with the Cascadia Cup it also takes away one of the moderately accessible trips for any travelling supporter.

Given how poor Vancouver were against their Cascadian rivals in 2017 that may be no bad thing in the long-term and the Sounders and the Timbers beating each other up (metaphorically and literally) might be a blessing in disguise come season end.

If I were Carl Robinson though (I’m not) my biggest concern would be the opening of the season with five of the eight games on the road and the three home games consisting of Canadian rivals Montreal and the two LA teams.

Nobody really knows what to expect from either of those entities but it’s just possible that Vancouver could have a really bad start to the season which would only exacerbate the negative feelings some of us felt towards Robinson given how the 2017 campaign ended.

Looking back through my posts from last season it seems I wrote this in May

Anyway, this is a very all around the houses way of saying that whatever anybody may have thought of him before…..Carl Robinson has displayed a somewhat remarkable degree of tactical flexibility this season.

Gone is the rigid belief (and fear) of the power of the first goal and gone too is the stubborn adherence to 4-2-3-1.

It’s only May in 2017 and Robinson has already trotted out a greater varieties of tactics than he did in all the previous years of his tenure.

It’s true that this doesn’t always feel like the perfect fit for his (football) personality and there’s still the sense of a man desperately trying to come to terms with a belief system that he doesn’t quite buy into.

No coach who genuinely believed in pure attacking football would leave Fredy Montero quite so isolated for example, but it’s also true that often the most zealous adherents to any faith are those who have converted late in life.”

It turned out that Robinson wasn’t going to be a radical zealot proselytizing the beauty of attacking football and I was as slow as anybody to fail to hear the thrumming of the rumble strip as the coached veered back to the security of what he knew.

Will Robinson be as tactically adventurous at the start of 2018?

Well, given he’s already said his main regret of 2017 was not taking the opening games of the season seriously enough (and concentrating on the Champion’s League instead) he clearly wants his team to hit the ground running this year.

That doesn’t seem to be a good fit for variety and change.

So what we see at the start of the year will likely be what we can expect to get for the rest of the season.

Let’s hope it turns out to be a road worth travelling.

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: The resolutions will not be televised

What is a New Year resolution?

It’s the act of resolving to follow a particular path over the next twelve months. And “resolve” is as close to “re solve” as makes no difference and so leads to the conclusion that what we’re really attempting each new year is to solve the same puzzle over and over again.

We figure it out for a while, then forget, only to be faced with the exact same conundrum come year’s end.

I’ll leave you to decide what your own particular puzzle is because once you have figured that out it will never need solving again.

(Incidentally, my resolution is to see how many trite platitudes I can pass off as wisdom in 2018).

But what resolutions should the Vancouver Whitecaps be making for the coming year?

Well, there will be time enough to deal with on field issues as the season progresses so let’s take a look at how they might be able to improve away from the playing surface.

More focused transfer policy- The Whitecaps trading record isn’t terrible but it isn’t great either. Too often they seem to have acquired a player because he was available than because he fitted a particular need.

Think Fredy Montero (a great season in the end but not the player to play that role) or Brek Shea or Giles Barnes. All players with name recognition in MLS but who all struggled to find the right role within the side.

Early indications are good in this respect.

Both Anthony Blondell and Kei Kamara have potential issues but both are at least equipped to play that lone striker role.

And while the temptation to yearn for a quality number ten or a box to box midfielder may be overwhelming, if Carl Robinson doesn’t want to send out a team in that way (and probably can’t send out a team in that way) then it’s a waste of everybody’s time and TAM.

Just bring in better defensive midfielders and wide players.

Trust the sport- One of the main appeals of football/soccer is, for the want of a better word, “edginess”.

From the supporter culture the team celebrates in marketing but seems to mistrust in reality, to the blatant cheating on the field that alienates so many North American sports lovers to the sheer pureness of the sporting spectacle so free of unnatural interruptions (let’s not get into a debate about VAR here).

Soccer goes hand in hand with youth culture, politics, music and just about everything else commercial entities want to align themselves with and profit from.

Edginess sells.

The Portland Timbers (for one) have certainly figured this out and MLS itself flirts with the idea without ever fully committing.

But the Whitecaps seem more intent on trying to be a less interesting version of the Canucks, stepping down on anything within BC Place or beyond that would offend the type of ticket holder who regards going to the game as a chance to talk about which corporate targets they have met this week.

Let the odd none football related banner go unremarked, be relaxed if a player speaks out about a current issue and don’t respond to every surge of internet outrage by trying to calm waters which probably needed disturbing anyway.

Easier said than done I know but controversy is the lifeblood of soccer more than any other sport, so enjoy the free advertising and don’t sweat the small stuff.

Be better on social media- there’s a part of me that doesn’t give a flying flapjack about what the Whitecaps Twitter account does and doesn’t say, but this is the modern world and it matters to an awful lot of people.

And, like it or not, social media presence becomes the personality of the club on the days when the team isn’t playing.

If you want an example of how effective a marketing tool it can be then take a look at the TSS FC Twitter account which strikes the exact right tone for the people who go to their games.

Now I get that pleasing a narrow range of fans who go to Swangard is a much broader rope to walk along than the diversity of those who attend BC Place, but if you’re going to have a social media presence (and they are) then make it one that consistently has a personality beyond bland promotional tweets.

Do something nice for the supporters- And I’m not talking about early bird specials on overpriced alcohol here.

Last year New York City FC offered free tickets to their game in New England to any fan who attended all their home games thus far and many a season ticket package across the league comes with so much more than those distributed by the Whitecaps.

Do these things matter in the grand scheme of things?

Probably not, but they are a remarkably cheap way (in terms of overall marketing budget) of letting loyal followers know their loyalty actually means something.

Too often the Whitecaps feel like they have adopted the cable company policy of not giving two squawks for those who have already signed on the dotted line and are only interested in those they have yet to ensnare.

But soccer doesn’t work like that (and I’m not even sure that cable companies will work like that in the long run) because the loyal follower now will be a loyal follower for life and so will their children and their grandchildren if they are treated with even a degree of regard.

Spend a little and get a a boat load of good will in return.

Overall things aren’t terrible in the off field world of the Vancouver Whitecaps but it’s frustrating to see how much better it could be with just a little imagination and a little more courage (that goes for the on the field performance too but I promised I wouldn’t get into that this time around).

Is the schedule out yet?

A Christmas Carl: Part Five- The End of It

Yes! and the corner flag was the one he knew. The pitch was the one he knew, as was the dugout and the training centre. Best and happiest of all, the time before him was his own, to make amends in!

“I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!” Robbo repeated, as he scrambled toward his office. “The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. Oh Martyn Pert! Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this! I say it on my knees, Martyn; on my knees!”

He was so fluttered and so glowing with his good intentions, that his broken voice would scarcely answer to his call. He had been sobbing violently in his conflict with the Spirit, and his face was wet with tears.

“They are not torn down,” cried Robbo, when he saw his tactics board, “they are not torn down, Xs and Os and all. They are here: I am here: the shadows of the things that would have been, may be dispelled. They will be. I know they will!”

His hands were busy with his Sharpie all this time: moving players out of position, pushing them forward, with barely a backward facing arrow to be seen and concocting formations that were parties to every kind of extravagance.

I don’t know what to do!” cried Robbo, laughing and crying in the same breath. “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as a goal scorer, I am as merry as a ball-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to every-body! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!”

He had frisked into the tactics room, and was now standing there: perfectly winded.

“There’s the ball that scared me so!” cried Robbo, starting off again, and going round his desk. “There’s the door, by which the Figure of Martyn Pert entered! There’s the corner where the Ghost of Seasons Present, sat! There’s the window where I saw the wandering Spirits! It’s all right, it’s all true, it all happened. Ha ha ha!”

“I don’t know what day of the month it is!” said Robbo. “I don’t know how long I’ve been among the Spirits. I don’t know anything. I’m quite a baby. Never mind. I don’t care. I’d rather be a baby. Hallo! Whoop! Hallo here!”

He was checked in his transports by the churches ringing out the lustiest peals he had ever heard. Clash, clang, hammer, ding, dong, bell. Bell, dong, ding, hammer, clang, clash! Oh, glorious, glorious!

Running to the window, he opened it, and put out his stirring, cold cold, piping for the blood to dance to; Golden sunlight; Heavenly sky; sweet fresh air; merry bells. Oh, glorious. Glorious!

“What’s to-day?” cried Robbo, calling downward to a boy who had arrived hoping to steal some boots from the training centre.

“Eh? ” returned the boy, with all his might of wonder.

“What’s to-day, my fine fellow?” said Robbo.

“To-day?” replied the boy. “Why, Christmas Day.”

“It’s Christmas Day!” said Robbo to himself. “I haven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can. Hallo, my fine fellow!”

“Hallo!” returned the boy

“Do you know Pitch Number 3 of this training centre , passed the next pitch but one, at the corner?” Robbo inquired.

“I should hope I did,” replied the lad.

“An intelligent boy!” said Robbo. “A remarkable boy! Do you know whether the Whitecaps players are still hanging around there? Not the little Academy kids; the proper players?”

“What, the ones as big as me?” returned the boy.

“What a delightful boy!” said Robbo. “It’s a pleasure to talk to him. Yes, my buck!”

“They’re hanging around there now,” replied the boy.

They are?” said Robbo. “Go tell them I’ll be with them presently.”

“Wank-er!” exclaimed the boy.

“No, no,” said Robbo, “I am in earnest. Go and tell them it, and I’ll give you a twenty-dollar note. Tell them in less than five minutes, and I’ll give you forty!”

“Nicolas Mezquida will be astonished to see me!” whispered Robbo, rubbing his hands, and splitting with a laugh. “He sha’n’t know who I am.”

As he was preparing to leave the football on the ground caught his eye.

“I shall love it, as long as I live!” cried Robbo, patting it with his hand. “I scarcely ever looked at it before. What an honest expression it has! It’s a wonderful football!”

Getting ready to meet the players was not an easy task, for his hand continued to shake very much; and dressing requires attention, even when you don’t dance while you are at it.

He finally dressed himself all in his best training gear, and at last got out into the cold winter air.

He had not gone far, when coming on towards him he beheld one of the portly bloggers, who had spoken of him the day before, “My dear sir,” said Robbo, quickening his pace, and taking the startled fellow by both his hands. “How do you do? I hope you succeeded in writing your blog yesterday. It really is a thoroughly enjoyable read. A merry Christmas to you, sir!”

“Robbo?”

“Yes,” said Robbo. “that is my name, and I fear it may not be pleasant to you. Allow me to ask your pardon for the football I have played. And will you have the goodness –” here Robbo whispered in his ear.

“Lord bless me!” cried the blogger, as if his breath were gone. “My dear Robbo, are you serious?”

“If you please,” said Robbo. “Three up front and not a player less. And box to box midfielders are included in it, I assure you.”

“My dear sir,” said the other, shaking hands with him. “I don’t know what to say to such attacki-”

“Don’t say anything, please,” retorted Robbo. “Come and watch the team. Will you come and watch the team?”

“I will!” cried the blogger. And it was clear he meant to do it.

“Thank you,” said Robbo. “I am much obliged to you. I thank you fifty times. Bless you!”

He went to pitch where he knew the players would be. He had never dreamed that any walk — that anything — could give him so much happiness.

He passed the sideline a dozen times, before he had the courage to go up to them. But he made a dash, and did it:

“Why bless my soul!” cried Tim Parker, “who’s that?”

“It’s I. Your coach Robbo. I have come to play football with you. Will you let me play, Tim?”

Let him play! It is a mercy he didn’t shake his arm off.

But he was ready for one more jape. If he could only catch Nicolas Mezquida not tracking back! That was the thing he had set his heart upon.

And he did it; yes he did! The ball was lumped forward from a reckless attack and Mezquida tarried in a while.

“Hallo!” growled Robbo, in his accustomed voice, as near as he could feign it. “What do you mean by loitering up front”

“I am very sorry, sir,” said Mezquida. “I am a little forward for the state of play.”

“You are?” repeated Robbo. “Yes. I think you are. Step this way, if you please.”

“It’s only a practice game,” pleaded Mezquida, with his head hung low. “It shall not be repeated. I was just enjoying my football, sir.”

“Now, I’ll tell you what, my friend,” said Robbo, “I am not going to stand this sort of thing any longer. And therefore,” he continued, jumping up and down in excitement, and giving Mezquida such a dig in the chest that he staggered back into the penalty area: “and therefore I am about to change your role entirely!”

Mezquida trembled. He had a momentary idea of knocking Robbo down; holding him, and calling to the other players for help.

“A merry Christmas, Nicolas!” said Robbo, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. “A merrier Christmas, Nic, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I’ll change your role to a more attacking one and endeavour to assist you with as much support as possible no matter what the score.”

Robbo turned to the rest of the astonished squad “From this day forth my good fellows we will play with open hearts and open football in all games and at all times!”

Robbo was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Techera, who did not get drafted, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a coach, and as good a man, as the good old city of Vancouver knew, or any other good old city, town, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened in sport, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed with the joy of attacking football: and that was quite enough for him.

He had no further meetings with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Football Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to enjoy a good game of football, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Techera observed, God Bless Us, Every One!

A Christmas Carl: Part Four- The Final Spirit

The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. When it came, Robbo bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery.

It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. But for this it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night, and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded.

He felt that it was tall and stately when it came beside him, and that its mysterious presence filled him with a solemn dread, like a referee reviewing a Kendall Waston tackle in the penalty area after being alerted by VAR.

“I am in the presence of the Ghost of Seasons Yet To Come?” said Robbo.

The Spirit answered not, but pointed onward with its hand.

“You are about to show me shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us,” Robbo pursued. “Is that so, Spirit?”

The upper portion of the garment was contracted for an instant in its folds, as if the Spirit had inclined its head. That was the only answer he received.

Although well used to ghostly company by this time, Robbo feared the silent shape so much that his legs trembled beneath him, and he found that he could hardly stand when he prepared to follow it. The Spirit paused a moment, as observing his condition, and giving him time to recover.

“Ghost of the Future!” Robbo exclaimed, “I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?”

It gave him no reply. The hand was pointed straight before them.

“Lead on!” said Robbo. “Lead on! The night is waning fast, and it is precious time to me, I know. Lead on, Spirit!”

They scarcely seemed to enter the city; for the city rather seemed to spring up about them, and the Spirit stopped beside one little knot of Whitecaps supporters. Observing that the hand was pointed to them, Robbo advanced to listen to their talk.

“No,” said a man with a monstrous beard, “I don’t know much about it, either way. I only know he’s gone.”

“When did he go?” inquired another.

“Last night, I believe.”

“Why?” asked a third “I thought he’d never go.”

“God knows,” said the first, with a yawn.

“What will happen now?” asked a woman wearing a “Kings of Cascadia” scarf.

“We wait for the next turkey for the chopping block I guess.”

This pleasantry was received with a general laugh.

The Phantom glided on into a street. Its finger pointed to two persons meeting. Robbo listened again, thinking that the explanation might lie here. He knew these men, also, perfectly. They were bloggers: very disheveled, and of no importance.

“How are you?” said one.

“How are you?” returned the other displaying tremendous wit.

“Well!” said the first. “He’s gone at last, hey?”

“So I read on Twitter,” returned the second. “Cold, isn’t it?”

“Seasonable for Christmas time. You’re not a skater, I suppose?”

“Do I look like a skater? Good morning!”

Robbo was at first inclined to be surprised that the Spirit should attach importance to conversations apparently so trivial; but feeling assured that they must have some hidden purpose, he set himself to consider what it was likely to be. They could scarcely be supposed to have any bearing on the loss of Fredy Montero, his old striker, for that was Past, and this Ghost’s province was the Future. Nor could he think of any one immediately connected with himself, to whom he could apply them. But nothing doubting that to whomsoever they applied they had some latent moral for his own improvement, he resolved to treasure up every word he heard, and everything he saw; and especially to observe the shadow of himself when it appeared. For he had an expectation that the conduct of his future self would give him the clue he missed, and would render the solution of these riddles easy.

Before he could think another thought he was standing in the locker room at BC Place on what was clearly a match day afternoon, the Spirit still silent beside him. He looked about in that very place for his own image; but another man stood in his accustomed corner, and though the clock pointed to his usual time of day for being there, he saw no likeness of himself among the people arriving through the door. It gave him little surprise, however; for he had been revolving in his mind a change of life, and thought and hoped he saw his new-born resolutions carried out in this. Perhaps the Spirit would soon lead him to Wales?

Quiet and dark, beside him stood the Phantom, with its outstretched hand. When he roused himself from his thoughtful quest, he fancied from the turn of the hand, and its situation in reference to himself, that the Unseen Eyes were looking at him keenly. It made him shudder, and feel very cold.

They left the busy locker room, and went back to a deserted training centre at UBC where Robbo and the Phantom came into the presence of a man carrying a ragged bag of work tools and a severely dressed woman holding a clipboard.

“Start with the nameplate first, Joe!” cried she who had entered first. “Then let the laundress know his personalized kits can be thrown away; and let the parking attendant paint out his name and revoke his pass.”

“You couldn’t have met me in a better place Mrs Dilber,” said old Joe, removing his pen from his mouth. “Come into his office and we’ll see what can be kept and what can be recycled.”

While they did this, Mrs Dilber who had already checked her clipboard three times, muttered darkly about needing to contact IT.

“Old Joe was wiping the Xs and Os from the tactics whiteboard. “If he wanted to play attacking football” he observed, “he would’ve passed it on to his players”.

“It’s the truest word that ever was spoke,” said Mrs Dilber. “It’s a judgment on him.”

“I wish it was a little heavier judgment,” replied Joe; “and it should have been, for all he’s put us through. All those terrible afternoons and evenings watching that team play with barely an interest in creating a chance, never mind scoring an actual goal”.

“Aye. Good riddance!” laughed Mrs Dilber.

“May the Lord help his next unfortunates!” cried Joe and the pair laughed together as they turned off the office light and slammed the door shut with delight.

Robbo listened to this dialogue in horror.

“Spirit!” said Robbo, shuddering from head to foot. “I see, I see. The case of this unhappy man might be my own. My coaching tends that way, now. Merciful Heaven, what is this!”

He recoiled in terror, for the scene had changed, and now he almost touched a beer stained counter in a bar that was very dark, too dark to be observed with any accuracy, though Robbo glanced round it in obedience to a secret impulse, anxious to know what kind of bar it was. A pale light, rising in the corner, a television; and on it, the headlines blared “COACH FIRED FOR PLAYING “BORING” FOOTBALL”.

Robbo glanced towards the Phantom. Its steady hand was pointed to the screen.

No voice pronounced the words of the firing in Robbo’s ears, and yet he heard them when he looked upon the television. He thought, if this man could be hired anew, what would be his foremost thoughts? Defence, clean sheets, relying on set pieces to score a goal? They have brought him to a fine end, truly!

“Spirit!” he said, “this is a fearful place. In leaving it, I shall not leave its lesson, trust me. Let us go! And if there is any person in the town, who feels emotion caused by this man’s firing,” said Robbo quite agonised, “show that person to me, Spirit, I beseech you! Let me see some tenderness connected with the firing,” said Robbo; “or that dark chamber, Spirit, which we left just now, will be for ever present to me.”

The Ghost conducted him through several streets familiar to his feet; and soon they entered Kendall Waston’s house; the dwelling he had visited before; and found a few of his players seated around the dinner table.

Quiet. Very quiet. The noisy little fullbacks were as still as statues in one corner, and  Brek Shea and Mezquida and Hurtado were looking at designs for the new road jersey. But surely they were very quiet!

Mezquida laid a design upon the table, and put his hand up to his face.

“The colour hurts my eyes,” he said.

“They’re better now again,” said Brek Shea. “It makes them weak when you go on the Playstation and I wouldn’t show weak eyes to Kendall when he comes home, for the world. It must be near his time.”

“Past it rather,” Brett Levis answered,  “But I think he has walked a little slower than he used, these few last evenings, Brek.”

They were very quiet again. At last he said, and in a steady, cheerful voice, that only faultered once:

“I have known him walk with — I have known him walk with Tiny Techera upon his shoulder, very fast indeed.”

“And so have I,” cried Levis. “Often.”

“And so have I!” exclaimed Nerwisnki. So had all.

“But he was very light to carry,” he resumed, “and Kendall loved him so, that it was no trouble: no trouble. And there is your captain at the door!”

Kendall was very cheerful with them, and spoke pleasantly to all the team. He looked at the new jersey designs upon the table, and praised them.

“Sunday! You went to-day, then, Kendall?” said Brek Shea.

“Yes, I did,” returned Waston. “I wish you could have gone. It would have done you good to see how green a place it is. But you’ll see it often. We play Portland at least three times next season.”

Of a sudden Kendall Waston broke down “My little, little inverted winger!” he cried “My little inverted winger!”

“Spectre,” said Robbo, “something informs me that our parting moment is at hand. I know it, but I know not how.”

The Ghost of Seasons Yet To Come conveyed him, as before — though at a different time, he thought: indeed, there seemed no order in these latter visions, save that they were in the Future.

“This training centre,” said Robbo, “through which we hurry now, is where my place of occupation is, and has been for a length of time. I see the office. Let me behold what it shall be, in days to come.”

Robbo hastened to the window of his office, and looked in. It was an office still, but not his. The furniture was not the same, and the figure in the chair was not himself. The Phantom pointed as before.

He joined it once again, and wondering why and whither he had gone, accompanied it until they reached an iron gate. He paused to look round before entering.

A run down football pitch. Fifth tier at best with barely a man and a dog to observe the disconsolate fare on offer. Here, then, the wretched coach whose name he had now to learn would be revealed.

The Spirit stood among the  broken seats in the dugout, and pointed down to One. Robbo advanced towards it trembling. The Phantom was exactly as it had been, but he dreaded that he saw new meaning in its solemn shape.

“Before I draw nearer to that seat to which you point,” said Robbo, “answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?”

Still the Ghost pointed downward to the seat by which it stood.

“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Robbo. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!”

The Spirit was immovable as ever.

Robbo crept towards it, trembling as he went; and following the finger, read upon the seat the hastily written letters of his own name.

“Am I that man who was spoken of today?” he cried, upon his knees.

The finger pointed from the seat to him, and back again.

“No, Spirit! Oh no, no!”

The finger still was there.

“Spirit!” he cried, tight clutching at its robe, “hear me! I am not the coach I was. I will not be the coach I must have been but for this exchange. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?”

For the first time the hand appeared to shake.

“Good Spirit,” he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: “Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!”

The kind hand trembled.

“I will honour attacking football in my heart, and try to keep it all the season. Even the playoffs when away goals really are crucial. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach nor only try to shut out the opposition. Oh, tell me I may use the magic sponge to clean away the writing on this seat!”

In his agony, he caught the spectral hand. It sought to free itself, but he was strong in his entreaty, and detained it. The Spirit, stronger yet, repulsed him.

Holding up his hands in a last attempt to have his fate reversed, he saw an alteration in the Phantom’s hood and dress. It shrunk, collapsed, and dwindled down into a corner flag.