“Think, Tim; think. Let’s see…what do managers do in this situation?” Tim snapped his fingers as his eyes lit up and he leapt from his chair. “Boys! Boys? Hey, um, guys? Could you listen?”
Around him, players milled about; others, posting selfies to myspace. Tim resisted the urge to “picture-bomb” (something he had read about recently but wasn’t quite clear on how to do. He vowed to ask one of the younger players when the time seemed right.). Somehow, though, he needed their attention.
“What’s up, Tim?”
“Could you get the boys’ attention? I want to give a, uh, pep-talk.”
“Sure thing.” Friedel turned to the locker room, spread his hands wide, and his voice boomed out: “Hey! Spuds! Coach has a few words for you.”
A few surprises faces looked towards the young coach. Tim decided this would be as good as it might get.
“Now, listen, you guys. I know you’re nervous. Heck, I’m nervous. You think I know what I’m doing? Haha, um, I mean, I do. It’s just that, sometimes, well—what I mean is, I know we have a huge match ahead of us. Massive. It could make or break our sea—”
“What, Jan? I’m in the middle of a speech here.”
“It’s ‘yon’, first of all. Second, we’re all already a bit tense.”
“‘Yon’? What are you—never mind. I’ll try again. This is a big game, no doubt, but I have a plan.”
A few nonplussed looks greeted this strange turn of events.
“A strategy. Or is it tactics? I forget which. Anyway, hear me out. You know how we’re, like, really good on the road?”
“Um, yeah…” Kyle rubbed his forehead, struggling mightily to follow.
“Well, it’s like this…we’re on the road today, aren’t we?”
Kyle brightened. “Hey, we are! Well, not literally, I mean. This is carpet, isn’t it?”
“Huh? Oh, sorry, Mr. Defoe.”
“Thank you, Jermaine. As I was saying, we’re on the road where everyone expects us to win. That’s pressure, isn’t it?”
A few confused looks arose. A hand went up, slowly, tentatively.
“You mean to say we are to win some of the matches we play?”
“Yes, Hugo, as I understand it. I’m as new to this as you are. Just—just listen. If we go out there and try our bestest, we might still lose. How’s that going to feel?”
“Exactly, Kyle. Well-done. What if, instead, we lose on purpose? Like, badly? Won’t people start to underestimate us? Especially a certain London-based team we’ll be facing very soon?”
“Wait, coach, I’m confused now.” Aaron scrunched up his face. “How can we lose on purpose and get Chelsea to underestimate us at the same time? Don’t they, like, conflict or something?”
“Aaron, you—. I’m talking about Arsenal. Arsenal will underestimate us if we lose to Chelsea.”
“Oh, now I get it, coach. Got it.” Aaron’s face gave the lie to his words.
“In fact, now that I think about it, we should also try to lose to Benfica on Spurs—er, Thursday.”
“No offense, coach, but I don’t exactly think we have to try to lose. We’re pretty good at that already!”
“Best in the top six!”
“Manny! Gylfi! Stop that.”
“Sorry, coach!” A sly fist-bump went unnoticed, or at least unremarked. Tim paced the length of the locker-room, stroking his chin, and spun crisply on his heel to walk the full length back. “They said I couldn’t manage. No sense of tactics, they said. Well, we’ll see about that. We’ll lay a trap for those Gunners, won’t we? They’ll think we’re dead in the water after we lose to Chelsea and again to Benfica.” Tim snapped his fingers. “Eureka!!”
“Sir? Oh, no, it’s keer-eetch-es. It’s Romanian, sir, so the Ch- is more of a k sound to it, and—”
“Shut up, Vlad. I just had a stroke of genius!”
“Uh, oh, sir. A stroke? You want I should do CPR?”
Tim slapped his head. “First of all, Roberto, you don’t do CPR for a stroke. It won’t help the situation in the least. Second, I said ‘stroke of genius.’ An idea.”
“So, no CPR? I can do this for you just in case.”
“No. Just—no. Now, listen. After we go out and lose to Chelsea, we host Benfica. Anyone remember what happened to Arsenal last season?”
“Arsenal? Did they play Benfica last season?”
“No, Etienne, you dummy. I mean, Arsenal lost to Bayern last season, right? Well, what did they do after that? Anyone remember?”
A hand went up, slower than before.
“Well, it went like this, see? They go to Bayern, they win the second leg, they go on a massive run and finish above us.”
“Precisely. And that brings me to my plan. We lose to Chelsea, see, and Arsenal start getting smug.”
A new but familiar voice broke in. “They’re already pretty smug. No offense, but I don’t remember the last time Spurs finished above then. They’ve earned the smugness well and proper, if you ask me, and—”
“Knock it off, dad. Who let you in here, anyway?”
“Sorry, boyo. ‘Fore I go, I just have one question: what do you think of Tottenham?”
“STOP!!!” shrieked Tim, shoving his father out the door. “Where was I? Oh, right. So we lose the Chelsea, and Arsenal get all smug, and—”
“Said that part already, coach.”
“Confound it all. As I was saying, Arsenal’s getting smug, and then we lose to Benfica—1-3, right? Just like Arsenal lost to Bayern. It sets us up to go on a nifty little run to finish the season just how Arsenal did to us last year. It’s perfect!”
“What is it, Roberto?”
“If we are to be doing this opposite plan, does this mean we are to lose to Arsenal as well? Did we not beat them last year at this time?”
“I—um, I…I suppose so. I—” Tim looked around blankly.
“Mr. Sherwood, sir? It’s time for your squad to come up to the pitch.”
[I apologize to for the second posting, but for technical reasons, various aggregators didn’t run this the first time, and so I have been asked to repost with a new URL].