Tuesday, 25 August 2015 06:00

Over the Moon 'Arry by Chris Calder

On an upper floor they were let into the thickly carpeted lobby of the suite occupied by the Songolese party. The door was opened to them by a short, middle-aged, barrel-chested man wearing smart casual trousers and a leather jacket. The man smiled and inclined his head. “Come in, come in,” he said, stepping to one side. Eddie entered, followed by Harry. The man said, “I’m Henry Kotoru, the minister’s deputy. Call me Henry.”

“Eddie Talbot,” Eddie replied, taking the deputy minister’s extended hand.

Kotoru looked up at Harry. “You must be the famous Mr Stoller.”

Harry shook his hand. “It’s Harry. Nice to meet you, but I’m not so sure I’m all that famous.”

“Nonsense, everybody in Songola knows about you, Harry. Come, they’re waiting for us.”


He turned and went across the room towards a wide arched doorway, beyond which was an opulently furnished living room. The two men seated in leather armchairs in the centre rose to meet them. Harry and Eddie were a few steps behind Kotoru and it was several moments before Harry recognized the tall younger man of the pair waiting for them.

“Bloody hell,” he whispered under his breath, “Big Dick.”

“What?” Eddie hissed, “Watch it. Remember what I said: no smart-arse jokes.”

The young man strode forward with a huge grin on his handsome face.

“Harry! Good to see you, pal.”

Harry had recovered his composure. “Richard. Blimey, didn’t expect to see you. What you doing here?”

Borami said, “I’m the new chairman of the FA in Songola. I’ve only been in the job a few weeks.”

“Really?” Harry was impressed. “How are you getting on?”

“OK, but it’s a real bed of nails. Come and meet Mr Daniel Wasabi, our Minister for Sport.”

The minister was a slim, dapper figure wearing an expensive grey suit and a cream silk shirt open at the neck. He looked to be in his late forties and seemed very fit. His handshake was firm enough to make Harry wince. “Welcome; thank you for coming,” he said in a quiet, cultured tone.

Eddie was smiling. “He’s in shock, Minister. I didn’t tell him that he would be meeting Richard again.”

Harry said, “Give me a break. It’s gotta be—what, ten years at least since we last met?”

“Thirteen,” Borami replied. “March, two thousand and three, to be precise. Chelsea versus the Sparrows at Stamford Bridge.”

Harry smiled crookedly. “Yeah, that’s it, you were the striker at Chelsea. A real handful, you were. I remember my team boss telling me that I’d need a baseball bat to stop you.”

Borami grinned and turned to Wasabi. “He did it without the bat. I was stretchered off and he got a red card and an early bath.”

Wasabi smiled. “Just what we need, a man who gets results.” He gestured towards the suite of chairs behind him. “Please, sit down. We have much to talk about.”

Fifteen minutes later the discussions were going well and Harry had learned a great deal more about football in Songola. He was encouraged by the fact that Richard Borami in particular, had been positive throughout. He listened as the young man, bursting with ideas, was holding forth about the challenge involved in turning around the fortunes of the national football team.

Borami was sitting on the edge of his chair, leaning forward. “It’s going to work,” he enthused, looking around. “All we ever needed was real commitment from the squad and a manager who knows what he’s doing.”

Harry cut in. “Are you saying that the players aren’t motivated?”

“Unfortunately, I think that’s the case at present with the national team. But it isn’t necessarily their fault. I’ve played all over the world and as a player I’ve had a few managers. They were all different. I know what it takes to be a good player, but good management is something else. “

The minister had been relatively quiet, but he chose this moment to intervene with a question. “What makes a good manager?”

Borami considered his reply. “Someone who truly expects to win, always. And gets the best out of his players, no matter what.” He spread his hands. “Let me put it this way: during an important match, a star player is substituted. Does he go to the bench to stay for the rest of the match? Or does he head straight for the dressing room?” He swivelled to look around. “If the man goes back to the bench it’s a sure sign that he has a good manager.”

Harry smiled and nodded. “Well said. I can’t remember you being subbed too often, though.”

Borami grinned. “I was when you took me out with that kamikaze tackle.”

They laughed and the minister asked, “Harry, you seem to agree with Richard. Can you tell us what you think?”

Harry shrugged. “He’s spot on. Success is mostly about confidence. The manager should tell every man in the squad, privately one to one, that he’s a great player. And he has to get the guy to actually believe it. Taking him off in the middle of a game doesn’t help with that, but it’s not a problem if the relationship is right.” He looked at Borami. “You said that all managers are different, Richard. Same with players, you have to really get to know them, each and every one.” He addressed his next remark to Wasabi. “And that’s my problem here, Minister. I don’t know anything at all about any of them. Never seen them play, never seen how they interact with each other, on or off the pitch and I know nothing about their backgrounds. It’s different here in England. Everybody knows lots about everyone else. Players move around between clubs, managers come and go. People in the game are on TV and in the papers all the time. It’s one big pot, and everyone in football knows what and who’s in it.”

Henry Kotoru said, “Nobody expects instant results, Harry. Not even from you. We know it’s going to take a while, that’s why the contract is for three years, minimum.”

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