(This is a fictional story based on a Championship Manager 01/02 save. A mixture of real and fake names are used.)
Song: Zero 7 – Somersault
A change of name and a change of scenery; the former was more drastic than the latter but it needed to be done. I wanted a new life away from England and all its baggage. Donato Castro was the name on my birth certificate but I was always Don Caster in Britain. It was easier that way. It was the butt of many jokes when I took over at Doncaster Rovers but the fans were laughing with me when we reached the Premier League after successive promotions. We were flying high but something was still missing.
Football got in the way of us, of me, and ruined something truly special. My attempts to win her back failed miserably and I had no choice but to leave Yorkshire and find pastures new. She was with someone else, someone who put her first. Someone who wasn’t me. I was happy about that. But I couldn’t stay any longer. And that’s why I came to Barcelona and applied for the Espanyol job. I reverted back to my Spanish name and readied myself for more jokes on both sides of the Channel. I was used to it by now but a new job in an unfamiliar city was going to take some getting used to.
Quique Flores had been sacked after a poor season and a host of managers were named as his potential successor. But it was my rags to riches story with Doncaster that got me the job. That and my Spanish credentials. I was announced as manager on 4th August 2017. I muddled my way through the press conference in English and remnants of GCSE Spanish much to the delight of the journalists. I was likened to Pep in appearance due to my bald head and beard combo but that’s where the similarities ended. The press and the fans were sceptical. I didn’t blame them. I had no strong desire to take this job in particular. I just needed to get out of England. But it ticked a lot of boxes. I loved Barcelona and I knew it was far enough away from Elizabeth that I could get over her and back into my only other love: football.
Dunav Ruse vs. Espanyol – Europa League Qualifying Playoff Leg 1
My campaign started on 8th August with an away trip to Ruse, Bulgaria. We were up against FK Dunav Ruse in the Europa League Playoff Round. Quique Flores had got them this far after wins against Nacional, Wrexham, and Ordabasy. I had never even heard of Dunav Ruse so I just put out a team and hoped for the best. We opened the scoring through Sergi Darder on 13 minutes and doubled the lead 14 minutes later with a chip over the keeper from Oscar Melendo. By half-time, it was 3-0 (Morillas, 38′) and I was jubilant. Unfortunately, that’s where the complacency kicked in. Nikolay Mitov grabbed one back on 52 minutes and striker Ivan Iliev cut the deficit to a single goal on 72 minutes. I kept faith with the team and got them to tighten up and Leo Baptistão’s 76th-minute header eased my worries.
Final result: Dunav Ruse 2-4 Espanyol (MOTM: Sergi Darder)
I’d got my first taste of European football and it was sweet, even if it had a bit of a kick towards the end. On the flight back to Barcelona, I sat in silence for most of it, gazing out of the window. My last flight to Barcelona was with Elizabeth. I’d treated her to a romantic trip for her birthday; first class and everything. She was so excited. I remembered her golden blonde hair shimmering in the light from the plane window. Her eyes had a knack for changing colour between green and brown but they were a deep emerald when I realised this was it. I was going to ask her to marry me. I was going to do it later that evening on the balcony of our hotel room. It was going to be the greatest moment of my life. At least, that’s what I had planned.
I broke out of my trance and looked across. Oscar Melendo was sat next to me now.
“I wanted to say thank you for starting me last night.”
“No problem. You played well. Keep it up.”
My maudlin mood could wait. My plane journey wasn’t a trip down memory lane. I was going back to my new home, where I had a job to do and players to manage. I covered myself with a blanket and closed my eyes, this time with football on my mind and not the beautiful woman with hair of gold.
“How was your flight?”
“That’s the problem with these low budget airlines. Rickety planes. One gust of wind and you feel like you’re on a rollercoaster.”
“Whereabouts are you from, love?”
“Doncaster in England.”
“Oh yeah. Isn’t that where Robin Hood was born?”
“Yeah. I’m from London, myself.”
“Mind if I put the radio on?”
“En la Europa League, el Espanyol ganó contra el equipo búlgaro Dunav Ruse 4-2. El nuevo gerente Donato Castro dijo que estaba muy contento con el resultado.”
“Fan of football?”
“Ah I love it, me. That Donato Castro guy is a funny one. Came from your neck of the woods actually.”
“He certainly did.” The woman with the hair of gold gave a gentle smile as the taxi drove on.