Roda JC – Eredivisie
I have to say that I’m fairly impressed with what we managed to accomplish this season. For a newly promoted team, even one that bounced straight back up, to finish in fourth above the likes of PSV, AZ, and Twente is no small feat. Our results heading toward the end of the season were a mixed bag, but the streak that started with the win over Go Ahead and ended with the loss to Utrecht in the penultimate match really cemented our place towards the top of the table. Losing to Utrecht was both infuriating and embarrassing, because if we had won what should have been an easy game we’d have come third and not had to do the playoff.
I felt confident drawing AZ in the first round of the European places playoff, as I’d taken 7 out of 9 points from the three times I faced them as a manager. Our solid home display in the first leg added to that confidence, and the away leg turned into a complete circus. We were 0-3 down by the half and I tore into the players in the locker room for throwing away such a strong 1st leg position. I spent the first fifteen minutes after halftime screaming “GET AN AWAY GOAL” until finally Paulissen found the back of the net. AZ pegged us back almost immediately, and then Paulissen scored right back. I was about pulling my hair out at this point, and then AZ scored yet again. That had us level on aggregate with the advantage to us on away goals, but they kept coming and kept coming. Striker Opoku finally settled it playing as a left winger with less than ten minutes left.
Drawing Twente in the second round wasn’t nearly as comfortable as the first round. They had given us problems in the past and I knew we had a fight on our hands. Young star Tahiri started us off strong (albeit half an hour in) at home in the first leg, but they got one back in the second half and sent us into the away leg needing at least one goal. We didn’t get it, gave a horrible account of ourselves, and let them get two more to crush our hopes of a second consecutive season in Europe.
UEFA Europa League
Our unlikely European continued as we entered the first knockout round against Haifa. Ayite grabbed a quick brace to give us two away goals and a solid position away in the first leg, and an even better display at home sent us into the second round as well deserved winners. I got my wish of a draw against my most disliked team in Arsenal, although I never really had much hope our giant-killing streak could extend that far. It didn’t, and after giving up four goals at home we never stood a chance, but a 6-2 aggregate loss isn’t that bad for such a mismatch of clubs. We gave a good account of ourselves against a vastly superior team, and Arsenal went on all the way to win the trophy. My feelings about our run were confirmed when I got this e-mail shortly after they won the trophy.
Quite an honor, and one I feel we truly deserved. A squad that was given no hope by board or media to get out of the group stage not only won their group but got to the second knockout only to go out to the eventual winners.
Not much of a surprise that Tahiri ended up back here at the end of the season. An incredible season for a player that didn’t turn 19 until halfway through the season. 18 goals and five assists in 28 appearances is just incredible for a kid playing at this level and he probably deserved even more than his five player of the match awards. Easily the standout player of the year, he singlehandedly won this club points and I have no doubt a lot of credit for our impressive season goes to this young star.
Sneijder was a player that I signed heading into this first season back in the top flight mainly to provide quality depth in the midfield. He didn’t see much of the pitch in the beginning of the season and eventually got fed up and complained about game time. He ended up making a solid number of starts throughout the season, and although I wouldn’t really say he’s a player of the season, he put in a string of very solid matches towards the end of the year and earns at least a mention for this last segment of the season. Six goals and eight assists from a player who spent most of his time in a deep lying playmaker role in midfield is a solid return.
As soon as May started, my inbox became flooded with offers for job interviews. It would not be an exaggeration to say that a full half of the Bundesliga table got in touch with me, as well as several clubs from the 2.Bundesliga, as well as a few from France, England, and even Espanyol in La Liga. I was pretty set on staying put, looking to build on a successful season here rather than head for mid to low table mediocrity in Germany or France. One interesting offer I got was from Cardiff, and it gave me pause until I did some research and saw that they had just been relegated from the Premier League and wanted me to pick up the pieces heading back down into the Championship. Certainly better than most of the other offers, but it just wasn’t for me.
I was fairly well convinced that I’d be staying at Roda, as every offer that came in was from roughly the same level of club and they just didn’t appeal to me. Then, I got an offer that caught my interest and stroked my ego.
It turns out that Nottingham Forest had finished second in the Championship this past season. They’d finally gotten their longed for return to the Premiership, and I was their first choice candidate. I attended the interview, drawn by the allure of the English top flight, inflated that they would want me, a relatively unknown American manager with just two seasons of experience with an obscure Dutch club, above all other candidates to be at the helm for their return to glory. The interview went pretty much as expected, with a lot of time spent on my lack of experience. I left feeling hopeful but preparing myself for another season in the Eredivisie.
I was so thrown off by the offer I wasn’t sure exactly what to do. Ever since they asked for the interview, I had been torn. I’m a follower of the Premiership first and foremost, and a storied club like Forest wanting me in the boss’ chair for their return was a very tempting prospect. On the other hand, I’ve grown quite attached to Roda, with the amazing cup win in our first season and our unbelievable run in both the Eredivisie and the Europa League this year. I asked for a week’s delay and did some scouting and planning for my possible third year at Roda. Although I do love the club, the aggravation and deflation right at the end of the season of losing all our drive and missing out on Europe was still fresh in my mind.
A meeting with the players, most of whom were still very unhappy with me about the whole goalkeeper with a father younger than him scandal, went very poorly. The whole squad seemed to think that anything less than winning the title was a total lack of ambition on my part. I certainly have spent the past two years here punching well above our weight, but we were still some way off Ajax and the other top clubs. The board were not willing to give me anywhere near the cash I’d want to try to please the players and win the title, and that put the last nail in the coffin. Forest came back a few days later expecting an answer after my delay.