South American Journeyman Recap #29 & Epilogue

Hello guys, how’s it going? It’s been a long while now, hasn’t it? I’m very sorry it took so long, I’ve been massively busy with a lot of projects but the moment has come, it’s time for the final Monday Recap on the South American Journeyman. When we last left the action, Cienciano had just walked to an Apertura title, so how did we fare from there?

Don’t panic? Panic is what we do

The second half of our season started, as always, with the mandatory Copa Centenario group stage. I wasn’t particularly hell bent on winning the thing as this season was about getting that precious first league title for the club, but I figured, what the hell, if it comes our way we’ll take it. 

We were dealt an easy hand with three easy rivals in relegation candidates Sport Boys and Manucci and 2nd Division Alianza Atlético. We promptly won all three matches to secure a spot in the knock-out stages, but did concerningly concede four goals, which looked a bit shaky after letting just five past us in the Apertura. Still, it would have been unreasonable of me to expect to carry on such amazing pace, so I settled for a slightly shaky if still mostly solid performance.

With the first matches of the Clausura coming in mid July, the real shock came as we lost 0-2 at home vs mid table strugglers Unión Huaral. A sketchy 2-1 win vs. Universitario brough some relief but soon the fire was thrown a barrel of gas as consecutive draws with Sport Boys (whom we had knackered 4-2 just the previous month) and César Vallejo meant 5 points taken from the first 12 available. 

Our struggles weren’t helped by a fantastic undefeated start by Sporting Cristal that put them leaders on 12 points. Less than a week later, 2nd Division Universidad San Martín kicked us out of the Copa Bicentenario on penalties.

Panic seemed justified and adequate

Even when the team picked up some steam and went with 4 straight wins, it was of no use as it was now Deportivo Municipal leading the table on 20 points, still undefeated with 6 wins and 2 draws after breaking Sporting Cristal’s mojo with a 3 – 0 win. Another surprise loss vs. Comerciantes stranded us even further apart from the top.

All or Nothing: Perú

Now, this was worrisome as even though our win in the Apertura granted us a spot in the final playoffs, my intention was, much as with our conquest of the Campeonato Uruguayo, to win it by a Knock-Out.

Good question, mustache Jack Black, lemme explain…

Well, it had been pointed out to me that there were some “problems” regarding the finals for the Primera División del Perú. As with the Campeonato Uruguayo, in the case that different teams won the Apertura and Clausura, a play-off is played to determine who’s the top dog, though in a much more convoluted way. Instead of a face-off between the winners, with a double chance for the overall league winner (or a final if it happens to be neither of those teams), in Perú the system is a bit fairer, and a bit more tricky…

When all has been settled and the dust has cleared, the winner of each half of the tournament and the top 2 in the Overall Table play a 2-legs semifinal, with the winners going on to a home and away final, the winner of which can be crown as the one, the only, the fairest of them all, the Peruvian Champion. Except, the mathematical chances of that are very slim, so should the winner of any tournament also be one of the two best teams in the Overall Table, it would go straight to the final, whilst the remaining two play the semis, and if the top two are also the winners of each tournament, only a final is played. If a single team wins both tournaments, it’s automatically crowned the winner.

This is how I imagined the crowning moment… I too want world peace

So why was I hell bent on taking arguably the hardest path to the title? As with Nacional, it was all about safety. I had been warned and then been able to check within my game that there were some bugs regarding the play-offs, namely that sometimes teams that should not qualify were in it, displacing the rightful contenders. Winning it by taking both tournaments was the only way to make sure we took what we had earned.

Even as things weren’t going our way, by the time September and October rolled around though, we were in much better shape. A set of 5 straight wins, including a 4 – 0 battering of then 3rd placed Sporting Cristal put is back on track. Coming to the last 3 matches, a direct duel with Municipal gave us a shot at the top, with them just 2 points ahead.

It was a tight match, but we started the 2nd Half with a goal from a corner from centreback Claudio Guzmán. It was short lived; not 1 minute later they equalized and went on to take complete control of the match. However, it wasn’t that bad. Just 2 points apart with 6 to be played, maybe luck could smile to us…what’s that? Oh, an 84th minute highlight…. Municipal 2 – 1 Cienciano. Game over. A 1 – 0 loss to Alianza Lima would rub salt into the wounds to make sure a win in the final matchday would be pointless.

That put us once again in risk of something funky going on with the play-offs. When the day of the draw came, my fears were proven right. We, as winners of the Apertura and the Overal Table, were straight into the final, but in the semifinal 2nd placed overall Sporting Cristal wasn’t faced by Clausura winner Municipal, but by 3rd placed Alianza Lima who had no right to be there. 

It’s funny because Alianza is jokingly referred to in Perú as “Alianza Mesa”, something that you could translate as “Alianza Desk”, because of their habit of complaining with the Peruvian FA about any problem and getting on the negotiations desk the points they lost on the pitch as a result. In any case, the bug was running wild.

A Peruvian football meme of Alianza players trohpy-lifting a table. The chant goes “Give me joy, joy to my heart, to win it on the desk is obsession”. In Spanish it rhymes…

They went on to beat Sporting Cristal to meet us in the final, where we were absolutely battered 4-0. In fact the bugs were running so rampant that even when we lost by four goals, after a 1-0 win for us in the home leg the final aggregate result read 3-1. In all fairness, I can’t complain, they were simply superior. But the fact that they shouldn’t have been there makes it so hard to take. I closed FM on a rage…

Epilogue: Dealing with FM frustration

In many ways, the fact that this series ends with a tournament loss at the hands of a rival that shouldn’t have been there is the perfect way to close it. If you had to take one running theme from it is that no matter how close you come, it can always be taken away from you. From our first try at promotion with Confiança to that painstakingly close run in the first season with Nacional both at the Sudamericana and the Campeonato Uruguayo, to this awful loss after terrific first half domination, almost-successes have been constant.

It’s not surprising then that doing a “Dealing with FM frustration” article has been in my mind for a long time. In the end, I decided that it wasn’t such a specific topic that it needed to be its own thing, but rather something to approach with some context.

So how do we deal with it? How do we deal with coming so close as to touch glory and falling away? My advice is simple: drop it there and then, go do something else, return with a fresh mind. You have as long as the save bar takes to get to the 100% mark to stop thinking about FM. Don’t make any rash decisions, don’t act on your anger. Drop it and go do something else.

For all it’s perceived unfairness, FM rewards perseverance more than anything, and regret is a partner for the long road. Stay put, give it some time and you’ll bounce back. Right after we lost the Campeonato Uruguayo in our first season with Nacional I was ready to resign; just a season later we had the best team in the league.

 So what did I do with this?

Well, of course after such a heartbreaking loss, I gave myself some time. I tried looking for a new save, even tried to get hooked to another game, but I was so invested in this one save that I just couldn’t leave it there. So I loaded it up…

A while ago I was offered the role of Perú National Team Manager and as it had been a while since I had tried the much maligned NT game, I went for it, all in. Took charge of the entire Peruvian structure, clearing the National Pool and looking for the players to bring the Castoloball style to the sides. I quickly realized Perú could be on the verge of having their own Golden Generation, with a number of highly skilled players coming through on the u20 level. 

Immediately after the end of the Peruvian season, and with my resignation long submitted, I was able to focus on the U20 South American Championship. Could I take this group of talented kids to the title against all odds? 

We started in a tricky group, with the shadow of Brazil long and dangerous, but also a much more accessible group than the other side, with Paraguay and Ecuador hardly comparable to giants like Argentina, Uruguay and the always dangerous Chile. We ended up winning all but one of our First Stage commitments, and qualifying for the Final Stage. A top 4 spot would take us into the U20 World Cup, but I wanted to win the whole thing.

International management is far from perfect in FM, but I also think it can provide a completely different challenge; one that’s quite enjoyable if you look past the cracks. Far removed from the long term challenges of what you can call “the main game”, the clubs game, it’s all about short bursts of action that go against everything the rest of the game has taught you. You have to plan your next game in a way you hardly ever have to with a club, you have to rotate heavily and maneuver around the players that are available to you at any point. No full-pitch, max-intensity, gegenpressing game here, you’re gonna exhaust everyone by your 3rd match and then drop like a stone in the sea. It’s all about gaining and managing the smallest of margins.

In the Final Stage of the tournament we were simply faultless. I was in the know that a good result vs Brazil might just prove enough to win the thing and a surprise 3-1 win did us wonders. Later wins vs Argentina and Uruguay sealed the deal. Just like that, I was smiling again.

This save has really been important for me in a lot of ways. In many ways it saved my early blogging career, but also really taught me a lot of things in terms of FM. I enjoyed thouroly and I hope you have enjoyed this series as well. Like I said last time, it’s probably not the end for Castolo, though it is certainly the end for his FM20 cycle, and mine with it. I have one last surprise for you guys, brewing as I write, but after that I’ll take some time off until the FM21 Beta comes around. 

Thanks as always for your support!

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