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Un Paso Adiante

December is always a time of great festivities and reminiscence, the winter break allowed people in football to have some semblance of normality. James rewarded his side for their hard work over the past season and a half and added an extra day off either side of Christmas. He used this time himself to return to his family home in Scotland before travelling back to A Coruna via Stockholm to wrap up some loose ends. 

He was sitting in the airport lounge waiting on his flight and as usual, the laptop was open and he was working. James spent this quiet time for his own analysis and the football Depor had played over the first half of the season. This season could be summed up briefly as good, but could be better. 

Depor sat in 5th place on 34 points, 7 points off of the automatic top two promotion places but 6 points ahead of mid-table and a full 21 points above the relegation zone. Depor fans had every right to promote a season of cheer and glad tidings over the festive period. This was good, Sedor and his side were being praised by most observers. Especially, some of those who had identified possible issues with their squad turnover in the summer. 

Antonio Sanz (Deportivo podcaster and prominent fan group member): “I and many others were worried before the season. We had lost so many players, and a lot of them were our experienced players. The team leaders. We had expected to fight at the top of RFEF last season and probably had the strongest squad on paper, so to lose a lot of that with promises of potential, it was a risk”. 

The 5th league position was just part of why Depor were gaining some praise from local and national media. The xG table shows in greater depth why the Galician side, and Sedor, were garnering praise. The team should have been sitting top on xG metrics anyway, the overall points wouldn’t alter but the large deficit in xG scored highlighted what could be improved. Whereas other sides were outperforming xG and achieving more points than anticipated, Depor had struggled in matches to take some of the good chances created. 

Depor were creating a good amount of chances, 2nd in the league and they were dominating the ball and control of matches as their field tilt indicated. They were happy to have possession within their oppositions half, creating almost 700 more final 1/3rd passes than the team in second for this metric in 19 matches. They were also having plenty of shots, leading the league within this metric as well, but falling drastically short in converting shots into goals with only 7% recorded at this time. 

Antonio Sanz: “We would have so much of the ball, when it worked we wouldn’t just have the ball in our half either. The team was always probing for a chance, possibly we were too patient for some of us but it was working overall. We might not see a high number of great chances but there was always one or two, we struggled to take them though. Some of that was down to inexperience I think. Our younger attacking midfielders in Peke, Mella and Fermin all had missed chances that you could think back on. It wasn’t just them but they were the ones to remember”. 

It was a metric that Sedor had identified, only 4 of the side were overperforming their xG at the winter break. Kevin, had broken into the side and scored a pair of doubles was overperforming by >3, Caro, Ramon and Villares made up the rest of the short list, whereas 19 players were underperforming by some number (with only 5 close or over 1xG underperformed). 

Antonio Sanz: “ We continued with the 5 at the back, that we had progressed to during last season. The difference was, we opted to have players wide to make a 5-2-3 rather than a 5-2-1-2. I think this did blunt us a bit as we didn’t always have the numbers moving forward. It did maybe put a lot of pressure on the forwards to create and take every chance but we could still have done better. Although we were doing really well, challenging most sides and beating most. We wanted to be mid-table and we were sitting in the playoff picture at Christmas, it was going great”.

The festive celebrations went by too quickly for James, he spent a few days back with his parents in his hometown and for much of the time, it felt like he was still much younger. He spent an evening back in his local with more than a few drinks flowing catching up with faces and people he hadn’t seen in a number of years. It had been a while since he had felt comfortable actually spending some time off, his first season had gone by in a blink of an eye but he had spent almost every moment working or thinking about working. On reflection, it was a clear sign of his priorities as he still had a large number of moving boxes littered around his living spaces. 

“Are you heading straight to work when you’re back in A Coruna?” enquired Valarie. 

“I will be Mum, aye. I’m going back to Sweden first though. I’ve got to sort out the last of my stuff in storage and I think I’ll see Charlotte”.  He paused. 

“Oh. Have you visited a lot, you haven’t mentioned recently”.

“No this’ll be the first time, first time in a while” he trailed off. 

With only a couple of days to spend in Sweden before his return to Spain, James had little chance to feel that his break was slowing down. His first day after landing had been spent in his storage lock up with a variety of boxes and things that he hadn’t had time to consider before his move to Galicia. At various points he was hit with some smaller waves of nostalgia, as tends to be the way when you look around objects and items you haven’t seen in a while. From smaller memories like purchasing furniture, the frustration and arguments that come with self-assembly or just the image of Charlotte sitting at her desk with the artificial plants beside her during the lockdown. After a few hours he looked around and felt that he was making progress, he had decided that not everything would remain here, most would be given away or taken to Spain. There was however those boxes he couldn’t bring or throw away, those would remain untouched and in storage. 

A long but productive day meant whilst he left with more work to do, he had removed enough things to downgrade his storage container size and would have some more boxes to join his livingrooms collection in Spain. He had enjoyed the distraction that some time alone with some busy tasks had afforded him, it distracted him from the real reason he had returned here. He knew what was ahead of him, and knew that he had to, as much as he didn’t want to. Just as he was tidying up an item fell out from one of the boxes he was lifting to seal up with tape. He just caught the glint of metal and the clink as it landed on the ground. He reached down and picked up, what turned out to be a bracelet and his heart sank as he couldn’t prevent his memory of the first time he’d seen this. 

Charlotte and James had been going through a difficult spell, not with each other but as a couple against life and the challenges life had thrown their way. Charlotte had been asking to travel somewhere in order to get away, but James had been burying himself in work. However, with surprise to himself and one evening, he found himself booking a trip, only to Scotland, he would remark, but for Charlotte, this was her first trip to one of James’ home countries. A three-night stay in Edinburgh was just the tonic for the mixers of stress and strain that they had been under. 

It was on this trip that she spotted this bracelet, in one of those independent type shops that do very well in tourist cities. She’d found it on the first day and wore it the rest of the trip, the strongest memory for James was after a nice meal out on their final night they had stepped into a pub on the way back to the hotel. A pub that had been a regular haunt of James and his friends when they had been into Edinburgh for a drink or two, one of the many in the hive of activity that is the Grassmarket.

It had changed the name, probably owners and had a lick of paint or two, it was oddly trying to recapture the same environment it had previously with the panelled walls, and dim, warm lighting but with all-around better quality and less beaten-up fixtures. But his memories kept lingering on that bracelet, the image that stared back clearly within the cloud of setting was the bracelet on her arm as they twirled on the dancefloor, most unlike him James had asked her to dance. To a song that he didn’t recognise but was starting slow, he reckoned he could manage a slow dance with the other couples in the small space reserved for dancing. She agreed. but as the song continued and sped up, with the hint of Celtic charm. He was forced to remember some hidden moves from his Scottish Country dancing at school, but it was that bracelet he saw as they linked the allemande hold into some twirls. He loved that memory, the smile on her face, the enjoyment and the spark in her eyes just enhanced her beauty to him. It was wonderful.

He snapped back into reality, standing alone in a cold storage unit and not in the warm and bustling throws of dance. He knew he was weeping before he felt the tears leave his eyes. He quickly stored the bracelet safely in the boxes to remain and did what he did well and closed off those parts of his mind that wanted to reach out with memories. He focused on the simple tasks ahead of him, busied himself with packing up the unit and thought about an evening spent with the hotel barman and a glass or two of whisky. 

The next day he packed up his things and checked out of his hotel, he would come back for his case after his trip today. He found himself walking slowly, he’d decided not to take a taxi despite the weather, mainly because that would take him to his destination faster. He trudged on through the elements, which weren’t too bad but it was bitter this morning. He passed by quite a few familiar streets and sights on his walk, he didn’t dare think about the last time he had been in this area. He was deep in thought, thinking about how this would go. Should he have visited sooner? What could he even say? He stopped in at a florist and purchased a bouquet of lilies, out of season but her favourite. Would they help at all, he was doubtful but it seemed the right thing to do. He felt the usual nerves and emotions grow as his destination got closer, he was pretty sure he could have found his way here based solely on emotion but he had checked his route prior to leaving the hotel. He saw his destination ahead of him, he knew that he could still turn back, he could leave. No one would know. He would know, that was his problem. This was the furthest, the closest he’d made it. He was going to see this through today.

The snow fell lightly onto the ground, and the gentle but bitter wind whirled around. James drew his coat closed further. “I’m sorry I’ve not visited” he mumbled, “I didn’t know what I’d be able to say”.

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