Foal From Grace - A Borussia Mönchengladbach Sequel to 'Singing the Blues'

Oct 6, 2022
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Welcome to Foal From Grace! After four years at Birmingham City, it's time for a change of scenery - but how will I adapt to my new club?

Singing the Blues can be found in the 'FM23 Stories' section of FM Base, or on my Linktree that you'll find at the end of this piece!


With the summer sun dipping just behind the Westtribüne and the photoshoot formalities completed, at last I have a chance to be alone and really process my new surroundings at Borussia-Park.

My new home.

St. Andrew’s will always be special, but the sheer scale of everything here is on a different level: nearly twice the size, visually stunning wherever you look, the steep stands wrapping all the way around as though you’re in a modern-day colosseum - I think I’m going to like it here.

I take a few steps forward and, once on the pitch, crouch down to touch the turf with my fingers. It feels the same, but the location is so different that I have to prevent my brain from trying to convince me that the grass is too. I suppose it is in a way, it’s German grass. Actually, I guess it might not be German in origin. Was the pitch back in Birmingham originally British? Probably be a weird question to email to someone still at the club at this point in time. Or at any point, for that matter. Also weird that I’m thinking about this so much.

“Good evening, Nicole!” comes a call from behind me. Glad to be hoicked from my obsessive thoughts, I straighten up and turn around to face the Borussia Mönchengladbach chairman, Tobias Deppe, as he emerges from the tunnel, flanked by a man I recognise and a woman I don’t.

“Good evening, Tobias,” I smile, meeting him at the touchline and shaking his hand. “It’s good to see you again.”

“Likewise,” he beams back. “So, what do you think? It might not be the one you grew up going to, but I hope you’ll come to love our stadium almost as much.”

“I love it already,” I admit. “Especially the green lighting around the roof that must make the ground look beautiful at night.”

“It does, I can’t wait for you to experience it when it’s full,” Tobias says. “Before that, however, there’s some work to do. I believe you’ve met Roland before?” he adds, gesturing to the man on his left.

“I have indeed,” I answer, shaking Director of Football Roland Virkus’ hand. “He gave me an overview of the squad last week.”

“Well, now that you’ve joined, I can give you a slightly more in-depth view, along with some details on our financial position,” Roland says, handing me a brown folder.

Initial Squad.png


“Interesting,” I say, scanning through the papers. “Definitely a decent budget for the changes I want to make then, though we’ll have a few players to move on too. I’ve been looking forward to working with Noah Okafor for a while, he’s someone I looked at bringing to Birmingham when I was there, as was Adam Hložek.”

“Turn over.”

I flick to the next page.

“They both have release clauses that can be activated by clubs in the Champions League and have solid interest in them, whilst they also don’t want to renew their deals. How delightful,” I grumble.

“It’s not ideal, I’ll admit,” Roland acknowledges.

“That’s one way of putting it,” I laugh. I close the dossier and pass it back. “However, the way I see it, that just means we’ll have the money to afford a lot more of an overhaul than I’d anticipated and really shape the squad the way I want.”

“Glad you’re already thinking positively,” Tobias grins. “Now, I understand that you’ve already signed up to start German classes, which is fantastic, but in the meantime I’d like to introduce you to your interpreter, Alexis Geiler.” Tobias gestures to the young-looking woman on his other side, her blonde hair in a neat plait over her right shoulder and her brown eyes struggling to keep still, evidencing the anxiety that she’s doing her best to hide under her poised exterior.

“Pleasure to meet you, Alexis,” I say with a warm smile, reaching out a hand to her too. Alexis’ eyes meet mine and settle at last, taking my hand in a firm grip and shaking it excitedly.

“You too, Ms. Andrews,” she replies. “I’ve heard so many good things about you.”

“You must fill me in on what I’ve missed sometime,” I joke, making Alexis laugh, her shoulders lowering and her face softening as she seems to relax a little. “And, please, call me Nicole. Every time I get called ‘Ms. Andrews’, I feel like I’m a doddery pensioner on a cruise around Scandinavia.”

“Noted, Nicole,” Alexis chuckles, clearly more at ease already.

“How long have you been working as a interpreter for?” I ask.

“About six years now,” Alexis answers. “I studied English and French at university because I knew this was what I wanted to do. I’ve bounced around a few businesses over my career, but the goal has always been to get into the football industry, so I’m delighted to have made it.”

“Glad you have a traceable background, then.”


“Nothing, don’t worry,” I say, trying to move on from thoughts of Harry promptly. “I’m always impressed by people who know what they want to do early on and manage to achieve it,” I admit.

“Thank you,” Alexis blushes. “Did you always want to be a football manager?”

“I did, but I started to give up hope and thought about following my creative writing interests instead. Coincidentally, that’s when Birmingham gave me the job.”

“Did you ever think about combining the two?”

“As if I’d have time to manage a football club and write a couple of thousand words a week?” I sigh. “Anyway, I presume you’re a Mönchengladbach fan, Alexis?”

“No, I’m from Frankfurt, so Die Adler are my team,” she explains.

“I trust you’ll be impartial when we face them in our fourth league game?” I tease.

“I won’t.”

“I appreciate your honesty.”

“No point starting off by lying to you,” she shrugs.

“I must say, this is the most relaxed I’ve seen you all day, Alexis,” Tobias says to her, interjecting himself. “You appear so much more comfortable all of a sudden!”

“Perhaps it could be because she’s no longer alone with a pair of men she doesn’t know very well that have an enormous say in the future of her career in her dream industry?” I suggest.

“I get that,” Roland nods, turning to Tobias. “I’ve heard some real horror stories from my friends and their daughters.”

“Are you accusing me of something?” Tobias frowns.

“Only of being blissfully unaware of how women experience the world. Don’t worry, though it’s a pretty widespread issue.” Alexis stifles a laugh. “Anyway, would you kindly show me to my office?” I continue, shutting down Tobias’ chance to reply.

“That sounds like a good idea,” Roland quickly responds. “Let me take you there.”

* * * * * * * *​

“I’m relieved there’s a whiteboard, I’d have been livid if there wasn’t one,” I say as I enter my new office at the training complex, just a short walk across the car park from the stadium. “AND A COFFEE MACHINE!” I rush over to the units under the window with the De’Longhi device sat on top, far more excited than should be expected at the sight of an espresso maker that’s seen its fair share of use. “This is already a step up. Will I find anything mysterious in these, I wonder?” I mumble to myself, tapping the cupboards.

“What was that, Nicole?”

“Just thinking about something, Roland, nothing important,” I say, turning to face my new colleagues in the doorway. “Thank you, this is terrific.”

“Glad you approve,” he smiles. “We’ll leave you here to settle in then, shall we?”

“A fine idea,” Tobias agrees. “We’ll catch up more tomorrow.” He, Roland, and Alexis make to leave.

“I’d appreciate it if you’d stay, Alexis,” I say. “Might need your help with a couple of things.” She stops and glances at Tobias who shrugs to suggest he has no objections. Alexis shuts the door behind her and grins as she steps in properly, the executives walking off down the hallway as she does so.

“Thank you, Nicole, there’s only so many more times I could listen to Tobias talk about his collection of watches.”

“No problem, thought you could do with getting away,” I snicker, opening the cupboards and being slightly disappointed by the lack of anything out of the ordinary. “Make yourself comfortable, I doubt there’s any work for you to do. In fact…” I start, discovering the last door hides a fridge, pulling out the bottle of white wine that was left inside. “Why don’t we relax for a bit?”

“Are you sure?” Alexis asks, sitting up in the spare chair, not sure if I’m joking or not.

“Absolutely! We’ve both just started new jobs and it’s getting late, if now’s not the right time, then when is? Besides, after today, there won’t be much more of a chance to chill out.

“We’ve got a busy summer ahead of us.”

* * * * * * * *​

Thank you for reading! A link to my socials and my previous story can be found on my Linktree, and please follow the thread to be updated every time there's a new post!
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Season One - 2026/27

Part One

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Welcome back to Foal From Grace! It's been a busy summer with a lot of movement. How does the squad look before my Borussia Mönchengladbach bow?

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“Danke, Roland. Tschüß.“ I press the ‘end call’ button on my desk phone.

“So, what did you pick up from that?” my interpreter, Alexis Geiler, asks.


“Anything else?”

“That I probably shouldn’t have asked everybody to talk to me in German when I’ve only managed a month of lessons.”

“Yet, you thanked him?”

“He didn’t sound angry, I took a punt on him being helpful,” I admit.

Alexis sighs.

“He told you that the cut-off for registering players for the Supercup has now passed, so any more new signings won’t be able to play tomorrow.”

“Ah, yes. Thought it was something like that.”

“No, you didn’t.”

“No, I didn’t. Anyway, given that news, shall we go over all of the comings and goings together, seeing as there won’t be anyone else joining us before tomorrow?” I ask.

“Is that something that most managers do?”

“Don’t know, but I enjoy doing it,” I admit. “It’s a nice, neat summary to our preseason.”

“Then sure, why not?” Alexis shrugs. “Shall we start with the outs?”

“Yes, let’s,” I say, opening up my transfer spreadsheet on my laptop. “We had quite a few leave, didn’t we? Diego Demme released, a number of younger players who were never going to make it, Will Smallbone to Sevilla, Kerem Aktürcoğlu to Hertha, Rani Khedira to Freiburg, amongst others.”

“Kô Itakura’s loan to Everton, with an obligation to buy, raised a few eyebrows,” Alexis notes.

“True, but that wasn’t a deal that I was involved with,” I reason. “Then we’ve got the two that got away, with their darned release clauses.”

“I imagine Adam Hložek’s departure was easier to take than Noah Okafor’s.”

Okafor to Blues.png

Transfers Out.png

“I am taking it pretty personally, to be honest. Especially given he had four options to choose from” I frown. “Oh well, it’s done now. Let’s move on to the new arrivals, they’re much less irritating.”

“Yes, good thinking,” Alexis nods, turning the laptop so she can also see the screen. “Well, on the topic of release clauses, Edwin Zamudio was a pretty decent deal at €11.25 million.”


“Very true,” I agree. “Not the biggest, but he’s 19, versatile, and has a very high ceiling; I’m delighted he was the first one through the door.”

“Are you planning on keeping him in the centre of a back three, like you did in preseason?” Alexis queries.

“I am, yes. It gives him a degree of protection while he settles in and starts developing, especially with Dan-Axel Zagadou coming in to be on his left.”


“I can’t get over how big he is,” Alexis says.

“He’s pretty imposing, that’s true, but he’s also a great reader of the game and good on the ball - there’s a reason he was second on my list of centre-back targets.”

“Who was first?”

“Ibrahima Konaté, of course.”

“And how much did Birmingham want?”

“€150 million. Hence we signed Dan-Axel for €25 million, potentially rising to €31 million, instead,” I grumble.

“Not surprising,” Alexis says, raising her eyebrows before pointing at another name on my screen. “One former Leipzig player who WAS surprisingly affordable, however, was Dominik Szoboszlai.”


“I still don’t know what they were thinking when the sold him to Famalicão for only €4 million, but their loss is our gain and an initial €27 million for a player of his quality is a steal,” I suggest. “And, while we’re on the topic of good-value-for-money deals, we need to talk about Robin Gosens on a free from Hertha and Gustavo Gallardo from River for, at most, €10 million.”



“Gallardo is very exciting and will learn a lot from Manu Koné about his role in the side, while Gosens brings a wealth of top-level experience, including in the Champions League and Bundesliga,” Alexis agrees. “And, when it comes to Champions League and Bundesliga experience, one of the teams that comes to mind is Borussia Dortmund, making the double signing of Gregor Kobel and Nico Schlotterbeck another good bit of business.”



“We’ve managed to get one of the best goalkeepers and one of the best names in German football for two very reasonable fees,” I nod.

“‘Best name’?”

“It’s very fun to say ‘Schlotterbeck’.”

“Is it?” Alexis asks, puzzled.

“For a Brit, yes. It’s got an enjoyable mouth feel,” I explain.

“That’s very weird, Nicole.”

“Yes, I suppose it is, now I’ve said it out loud,” I mumble.

“Probably not as weird as your choice of assistant, though.”
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“What’s wrong with Kevin Nolan?”

Nolan (Assistant).png

“It’s just a little… odd.”

“Look, he’s got all the qualities I’m after in an assistant, and he complements Zlatan Bajromović’s skill set well - one was a creative midfielder, the other a defensive midfielder,” I say. “Nice and balanced.”

“Kevin has no experience of German football,” Alexis frowns.

“But Zlatan does, while Kevin played more regularly at a higher level,” I rebut. “They each have their pros and cons, but I believe they’ll make a great pair.”

“It seemed to work well for you with your assistants from Birmingham, why didn’t you bring them over?” Alexis queries.

“Keith Downing doesn’t want to relocate as he’s working on getting his allotment up and running, while Matt Gardiner has volunteered his services as a coach for Redditch Under-12s, so he wouldn’t be available for at least this season.”

“He wouldn’t give up coaching a children’s team for a job here?”

“He’s a loyal man,” I sigh. “Bless those kids though, they’re in for a lot of therapy sessions in about ten years. I did bring Maik Taylor over as a goalkeeper coach, at least.”

“He’s not the only one you brought over, though,” Alexis says, a grin spreading across her face.

“Ooooohhh, yes,” I beam, opening a drawer in my desk and pulling out my first Borussia Mönchengladbach shirt, placing it in front of me.

Bielik Shirt.png


“The captain of a record-breakingly successful side, central to the way I had the team play, for just €17 million -”

“Could rise to €26 million,” Alexis interjects.

“Fine,” I sigh. “For just a potential €26 million is fantastic. Did you know that no one played more games for me at Blues?”

“Yes, I follow your Instagram.”

“My Instagram?”

“Your handle is ‘ChonkyPandaTactics’, isn’t it?”

“No, that's another lady who keeps posting about my career with oddly knowledgeable insights. I thought it would stop when I joined Die Fohlen, but apparently not.”

“Well, I thoroughly enjoy her content,” Alexis says.

“That’s nice…” I mutter. “Anyway, I believe that’s everybody, isn’t it?”

“Correct,” Alexis nods.

Transfers In.png

New Squad.png

“Planning on sticking with the tactics you used in preseason?” she continues.

“I am, why?”


“Thought you might go with what worked before,” she suggests.

“The two players who would’ve played off the left side were Okafor and Hložek, it would’ve been too expensive to replace them with players of a high enough quality,” I argue. “Then the two wingers who remain could probably adapt to playing at wing-back.”

“You’re the manager,” Alexis says with a roll of her eyes.

“You think it’s daft, don’t you?”


“That was very blunt of you.”

“Maybe if I were English,” she shrugs. “You talk vaguely about your opinions like you’re scared you’ll get thrown into the ocean for telling your barista they’ve made you the wrong coffee.”

“That’s pretty accurate, to be fair,” I admit.

“I know.”

“Well, at least I know more georgraphy than the average Brit and know where Hamburg is for when we head there in the Pokal.”


“Oh, sorry, I thought I had the pronunciation down.”

“You do,” Alexis says. “For Hamburg. We’re playing Homberg.”

Pokal R1.png

“Where is that?”

“It’s about a 60 kilometre drive north-east of here, near Duisburg.”

“Well, that’s a lot closer than Hamburg,” I say. “And it should be a much easier game, too.”

“I should hope so, given the work in the transfer market has made the club joint-second favourites for the title with the bookmakers.”

“Not that that means much with Bayern’s odds.”


“Your odds would be that short too, if you’d won the last 14 Bundesliga trophies,” Alexis points out.

“True,” I agree. “I suppose we’ll find out tomorrow how close we are in reality.” I close my laptop and recline back in my chair, gazing contemplatively out of my window at Borussia-Park. “I hope we can get off to a good start, Alexis. There’s a lot more expectation this time, compared to when I took over at Blues.”

“All I expect is for you to do the best you can,” Alexis says. “I think that’s all anyone expects. Give it your all and we’ll see what happens. If it goes wrong, it goes wrong, everyone will get over it eventually. Even the most revered managers have had rough spells over their careers. With what you’ve achieved already in yours, however, you clearly know how to transform underdogs into contenders on a budget, so having more financial freedom here can surely only help,” she says, rising from her seat. “Now, let’s get moving, or we’ll hold up the coach,”

“That’s all very kind of you to say,” I smile, standing too and rounding my desk. “But do you seriously think we have a chance tomorrow?”

“No,” Alexis starts, smiling back and passing me my coat.

“But, in football, anything’s possible.”

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* * * * * * * *​

Thank you for reading! A link to my socials and my previous story can be found on my Linktree, and please follow the thread to be updated every time there's a new post!
Part Two

Series Links

Welcome back to Foal From Grace! My first games as Borussia Mönchengladbach manager are here. Can we get off to a promising start?

This part is spread across multiple posts, so make sure to catch all six games!

Part 2.png

Even with more than 200 games in management, the pre-match jitters never fade. Whether it was taking on Europe’s biggest clubs in the Champions League, or facing Doncaster in the Carabao Cup, the adrenaline and nerves would come in spades as kick-off looms, no one knowing for sure what would happen over the course of the next 90 minutes.

Therefore, facing the most dominant team in German football, at their ground, with silverware on the line, whilst taking charge of Borussia Mönchengladbach for the first time, brings rather a lot more anxiety than normal.

Nonetheless, I’m standing in the away dressing room of the Allianz Arena and staring into the eyes of my reflection while the players are warming up, ready to go through my usual routine now I’m alone at last.

“I’m staying at the Breidenbacher Hof in Düsseldorf whilst I look for somewhere to live in Mönchengladbach. My name is Nicole Andrews. I'm 28 years old,” I whisper to myself. “I believe in taking care of myself, despite my questionable diet and virtually non-existent exercise routine. In the morning, even if I feel rested, I'll put on a cup of coffee while brushing my hair. I can drink at least two cups now. After I finish the coffee, I’ll sometimes eat the Biscoff biscuits that are left in my room as I give in to my urges, then I brush my teeth for several minutes while I try to scrub the taste of shame from my mouth. There is an idea of a Nicole Andrews. Some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me. Only an entity. Something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours, and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable, I simply am not -”

I jump like a 16-year-old that’s invited their partner round for the evening hearing their parents come home early from their dinner plans as Alexis Geiler walks into the changing room, unannounced.

We stare at each other in silence for an uncomfortably long time.

“What’s going on, Nicole?” Alexis asks, slowly.

“Nothing,” I mumble, trying to act composed. “Just… some last minute tactical thoughts.” I vaguely gesture in the direction of the whiteboard in the opposite corner.

“Really?” Alexis says, squinting at me in suspicion. “Because it sounded to me like you’d adapted the monologue at the start of American Psycho to fit your own life.”

“Yes, that’s exactly what you heard,” I admit. “It’s helped calm me down for four years, guess there’s no reason to stop now. How did you…?”

“I’m really into TV and movies, plus watching them in other languages helps me learn,” Alexis says. “You could’ve just told me that initially, rather than making something up instead, you know.”

“I blame it on the sleep-deprivation-induced paranoia.”

“I was under the impression you’re pretty paranoid anyway, regardless of how much you’ve slept.”

“Who told you that? Krystian?”

“No, I watched some of your old press conf-”

“Maik? Knew I shouldn’t have trusted him to come with me…” I interrupt.

“Again, no, it’s just that you always seemed suspicio-”

“For that matter, you easily could’ve contacted somebody at Birmingham that would make up some ridiculo-”

Alexis strides across the room and grabs me by the shoulders.

“NO ONE’S OUT TO GET YOU,” she shouts, straight into my face.

“Thank you,” I squeak back. Alexis lets go and takes a step away from me as I take a few deep breaths then, once I recover, I smile apologetically at her. “Sorry, Alexis, I may be a little worked up from the stress of the occasion.”

“You think?” she laughs, sitting down on the bench and patting the spot next to her. “Come, talk to me. Maybe it’ll help?”

“Might do,” I sigh, joining my interpreter. “This is the first time I’ve prepared for an important game without Harry and it’s really messing with my head - it’s really starting to set in that he’s gone.”

“Well, without knowing Harry personally, I’m sure he would want you to move on,” Alexis says. “People come and go in life and it does you no good to cling on to the past when you’re trying to start fresh. Miss Harry, cherish your memories with him, but you need to focus on the present and how you’re going to handle your nerves going forward, starting now. And, hey, I know I’m not your man from Birmingham and we haven’t spent as much time together as you did with him, but if you have my back then I’ll always have yours - that’s a promise.”

“Thanks, Alexis, that means a lot to me,” I murmur. “I'm yet again impressed by your motivational speaking skills.”

“Talking is literally my job.”

“Way to ruin the moment,” I chuckle. “Well, if it’s chatter you’re after, how d’you fancy bouncing some ideas around? Any thoughts on how to deal with Dani Olmo, for example?”

“Oh, Nicole,” Alexis sighs, patronisingly shaking her head. “You know I’m not even remotely qualified to help with that.”

“At this point, I don’t think anyone is,” I say, scowling at the sad face I drew next to Olmo’s dot on the tactic board.

“Did none of your staff give you any meaningful advice?” Alexis asks.

“The best I got was ‘cross your fingers and hope he gets struck by a rogue meteorite,’ which wasn’t particularly helpful,” I grumble.

“How many coaches are employed here?”

“Too many.”



The atmosphere is fierce as we step out onto the pitch and, briefly, I fear that my boys will crumble under the pressure, but it only takes a few minutes for those concerns to evaporate. We’re moving the ball well, every man knows their job, and we’re showing no fear in spite of Bayern’s reputation, exemplified by Devyne Rensch bursting out of midfield and into the box, only to be chopped down by Noussair Mazraoui to win us a penalty that Nicolò Tresoldi slams down the middle, scoring the first goal of my reign at Die Fohlen.

Bayern, surprisingly, struggle to respond. Stifled by our organised defence, the juggernauts look average and, when they do finally breach our defence after Dan-Axel Zagadou passes straight to Serge Gnabry 25 yards from goal and he releases Gabriel Vidović, their goal won’t stand as the forward had strayed marginally offside. That blip aside, we’re looking composed, we’re looking well-drilled, and we look on par with the Champions.

Then, just before the hour mark, the ‘sad face prophecy’ comes true.

Having won the corner himself, Olmo curls in a fiendish delivery from the set-piece and Caleb Okoli loses his former teammate Giorgio Cittadini at the front post, meeting the airborne ball like he was possessed by Ibrahima Konaté and thundering past Gregor Kobel to restore parity.

We wobble after conceding and the serial winners sense blood, going close a couple of times in quick succession but being denied by Kobel and, soon, we regain our footing and tighten up again, suppressing the talents of our opponents as the tie seems destined for penalties.

Then, with only seconds left of normal time, Rensch finds space for himself and loops to the back post where Robin Gosens is barrelling forward, thumping the hopeful cross on the half-volley. For a split second, the whole stadium thinks that it’s heading in and the Supercup is coming home with us, only for Marc-Andre ter Stegen to hurl himself across goal and make an unbelievable save, snuffing out the final chance of the game and keeping the scores equal ahead of the full-time whistle.

I’m optimistic in the huddle before the shoot-out. We’ve practised penalties regularly over preseason and, win or lose, we’ve done well to go toe-to-toe with Bayern. We should be proud, whatever happens.

That said, it’s difficult to remain too proud when, despite the combination of the woodwork and Kobel keeping three of Bayern’s spot-kicks out, we have all four of our penalties saved by Ter Stegen, losing 2-0 and suffering the ignominy of failing to convert a single strike as our opponents claim the first available trophy of the season.

Bloomin’ ‘eck.


* * * * * * * *​
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Away from the first team, the exodus of the overpaid and/or substandard continues as Enzo Boyomo and Jonas Hoffman are shipped off to Villarreal and Salernitana respectively, for a combined total of €13 million.



But, for those still at the club who didn’t start in the Supercup, the chance for some game time has reared its head in the form of our trip to Homberg - not Hamburg - in the first round of the DFB-Pokal, as I make eleven changes to the side that was edged out by Bayern last weekend, hoping that our Backup Brigade will face little resistance from the fifth-tier club.



“This is what cup football should be about,” I smile, leaning back in my seat in the dugout. “I love that the higher-ranked teams are drawn away from home at lower-level sides, gives the locals a chance to see big teams at their own ground and, possibly, witness an upset that’d be remembered for a lifetime.”

“Would you be this happy if we hadn’t been 5-0 up by half-time?” my assistant manager, Kevin Nolan, asks.

“Possibly not.”

“DEFINITELY not,” my other assistant, Zlatan Bajramović, chimes in. “You were struggling to mask your frustration when we weren’t flattening lesser opposition in our preseason friendlies.”

“Alright, fine. Whilst I love the idea, actually managing the bigger team means I don’t have a great deal of room for sentiment. If we’d lost, I may have had to quit and left the country.”

“Seriously?” Kevin queries.

“I once abandoned a Football Manager network save after one game when I got knocked out of the Pokal’s first round as Schalke,” I admit.

“That’s very childish,” Zlatan smirks.

“I’m a sore loser, what can I say?” I shrug, rising with my colleagues as the referee blows their whistle to bring the tie to an end. “This, however, has been a big step towards exorcising those demons.”


* * * * * * * *
Potential embarrassment avoided, we’ve sauntered into the second round of the DFB-Pokal without breaking a sweat, though it’s unlikely to be quite so straightforward next time as we’re drawn at home to another Bundesliga side - Hoffenheim.


Dragging our attention away from Hoffenheim at home in the cup, however, our next fixture sees us kick-off our Bundesliga campaign against… Hoffenheim. At home. There’s a coincidence.

Despite the commanding performance from the Backup Brigade, I’ll be taking no risks against last season’s eighth-placed team and pick the same eleven that played in the Supercup, even if it means leaving out Nelson Weiper after he scored four goals in the first-half last weekend.



Not to be outdone by their teammates, the A-Team set about proving they deserved to keep their first-choice status with Rensch being the one to break the deadlock just before the quarter-hour mark, capping an excellent team move by coolly finishing past Kevin Trapp when set through one-on-one for a lead that’s no less than our play warrants.

For the rest of the half, we continue to control the game and, but for some wayward shooting, could have several goals whilst limiting our visitors to a single effort that was worth 0.02 xG, so it’ll come as little surprise to anybody that Christopher Baumgartner flicks in a low cross to level the score with Hoffenheim’s first attack after the restart.

The equaliser serves as a wake-up call to my boys, rousing them from the stupor that had set in, and they set about putting right the wrongs of the opening period. Within five minutes, we regain the advantage when a well-worked free kick leaves Rensch with acres of space to double his tally and, this time, no one rests on their laurels, keeping up the pressure until Zagadou ploughs home a third from a near-post corner and Jesper Lindstrøm puts the final flourish on the performance in injury time, poking past Trapp after the Hoffenheim defence were caught out by a long ball from Oscar Fraulo and ensuring it’s a winning start to my Bundesliga career.


* * * * * * * *
I have a soft spot for Mainz, for little reason other than I think their stadium is very silly. The Mewa Arena sits in the middle of a group of fields just outside the town, looking like somebody accidentally placed it there in the Sims but couldn’t afford to move it again, so just built a long road from the town to the car park instead. It’s because of this that I’m thrilled to travel there for my first away trip in the Bundesliga.

After our previous result, I feel it’s only worth making a single change, Weiper stepping in for Tresoldi after Nicolò did his utmost to make Nelson’s four-goal haul against Homberg seem even more impressive than it already did by bringing a new definition to the term ‘false nine’.



Perhaps I should have made more changes.

Despite having a week to recover and prepare, we turn in a performance as flat as the surrounding area, never getting out of second gear as Weiper sums up our plight by failing to make any impact against a team that isn’t four divisions below ours, the only saving grace being that Mainz show little aptitude for taking advantage of our mediocre display, both teams going through the motions en route to a drab, goalless draw.

At least the setting was delightful.


* * * * * * * *
Whilst our match in Mainz didn’t garner much excitement, the following week does as we find out our league-phase opponents for my first foray into the Europa League, including a visit from one club I’d never heard of and another from one I’m very familiar with…


My chance to renew acquaintances with Arsenal will have to wait, however, as we return our focus to our domestic duties and welcome a side from a different capital city to Borussia-Park this weekend: Hertha.

Die Alte Dame have had an odd few years, fluctuating back and forth between spending big and developing their own talent whilst consistently remaining a slightly below-average Bundesliga team. With a draw and a loss from their opening two fixtures this season, the pattern seems like it may continue, so I’m hoping returning to the lineup that thumped Hoffenheim 4-1 will allow us to take advantage of the Berliners’ poor start.

Sorry, Nelson. You had your chance, but you didn’t take it.



For the first hour, I start questioning whether it’s actually my strikers that are underperforming, or whether it’s my tactics.

Chances are at a premium and Tresoldi isn’t getting any promising service, but his opportunity finally comes when Anton Stach dumps Dominik Szoboszlai on the floor at a corner and Nicolò makes no mistake from the spot, converting emphatically to open his account in the league.

High on confidence now that we have the lead, my boys flood forward again as Hertha look rattled and, within two minutes, Tresoldi is set clean through by Szoboszlai. He has time to compose himself and picks his spot, but the spot he picked turns out to be Marius Müller’s gloves so, despite a surprisingly comfortable final 25 minutes as we extend our good start, the wait for an open-play goal from a striker stretches into our fourth Bundesliga fixture.


* * * * * * * *​
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“What’s happened to the kits?”

“You mean how it looks like, after five matches, someone noticed that the kits didn’t change when they carried their Football Manager save forward and spent the next three hours fixing them all, so that they matched the skinned-on graphics?”

“That’s not even remotely close to what I meant, Alexis,” I say. “I was talking more about how I thought your home colours were white, but this season they’re black and red?”

“We alternate between some combination of the three, to honour the two clubs that merged to form us,” Alexis answers. “Never just red and white though, that’s Kickers Offenbach’s colours and we aren’t exactly the best of friends.”

“That was very enlightening, thank you,” I smile. I glance back at her laptop’s screen. “Alexis, I’m not saying that in my press conference.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’ve learnt enough German to know that ‘Die Adler sind eine der besten Fußballmannschaften in Deutschland’ is far too complementary for the only club to be pointless after three games,” I explain.

“Worth a try,” Alexis mutters. “We are though, we’re just going through a blip.”

“Regardless, I’m meant to be talking like the Borussia Mönchengladbach manager, not an Eintracht Frankfurt fan.”

“Fine, I’ll rewrite it and get your input this time,” Alexis groans, highlighting and deleting a large chunk of my prepared answers to likely questions. “Did you want to plan anything to say about the deadline day deals?”

“Not really, I think the deals that saw long-serving Nico Elvedi leave to Real Sociedad -”


“Sorry, Real San Sebastián for a potential €12 million and Perr Schuurs join on loan from Brighton to replace him have been covered in enough detail already.”




“There was an optional fee for Schuurs, wasn’t there?” Alexis asks.

“Yes, €32 million, though that’s only if he performs far better than I’ve anticipated - he’s mainly here to provide squad depth.”

“Will he be involved in some capacity?”

“Possibly, depends if Manu Koné recovers from a knock he picked up in training,” I suggest.

“I look forward to seeing you without your best midfielder and the choice of two misfiring strikers,” Alexis taunts.

“I’ll tell them both that you said that.”

“I hope it ruins their already abysmal confidence,” she says, without a hint of teasing in her voice. “Also, good luck translating that into German for them on your own.”

“You’re taking this very seriously.”

“This is very serious. I won’t enjoy dinner with my parents and my brother after the match if they’re judging me for working for a team that beat us,” Alexis scowls. “Would your family be understanding if you went back home and beat Birmingham?”

“I’d like to think so.”

“Don’t lie to yourself, Nicole.”



I’d been getting desperate as I waited for one of my forwards to step up and score a non-penalty goal against another Bundesliga side, my daydreams gradually reducing in ambition from a nice team goal to a follow-up from a parried shot, eventually considering that a sliced pass that gets deflected in via someone’s plums wouldn’t be that disappointing.

So, consider my surprise when Tresoldi controls Rensch’s flick over the Frankfurt defence and lashes a swirling shot from 25 yards over Timo Horn that dips under the bar for one of the best individual efforts scored by one of my players ever, giving us the lead within the opening five minutes, and the goal breathes confidence into the young Italian. He looks a different player, crafting more openings for himself and hitting the bar twice. We’re so dominant that we head into the break without allowing our hosts a single effort, either on- or off-target, barring Amad Diallo finding the back of the net when approximately seven miles offside.

Yet, it’s 1-1.

When Deyovaisio Zeefuik had rolled an unthreatening cross into our area, Zagadou, with no opposition players within ten yards of him, showed the limb control of a newborn giraffe, stumbling over his own feet and stabbing past his goalkeeper to gift Frankfurt an equaliser.

With the scores level, Die Adler set about frustrating us after the restart, sitting back and absorbing the pressure with ease as we probe for any gaps in their backline unsuccessfully, failing to take a single shot for half an hour after play resumed and looking short of ideas.

Then, helpfully, Frankfurt implode.

In the space of two minutes, Robert Andrich and Amat Dedić each give away a penalty and, both times, Tresoldi sends Horn the wrong way, sealing his hat-trick and ending any hopes of Florian Kohfeldt’s men breaking their duck.


Back in the changing room, Alexis is waiting for me.

“Hard luck, Lexi, you’ll get points soon enough, I’m sure.”

“Not if we keep making stupid mistakes,” she huffs. “As long as those points go to good use, I’ll forgive you.”

“Well, there’s a long way to go yet, but we’re not even close to hitting our full stride,” I start.

“At this rate, the sky’s the limit.”



* * * * * * * *​

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Part Three

Series Links

Welcome back to Foal From Grace! The Europa League, two derbies, and learning about Slovak football - this part has it all.

This part is spread across multiple posts, so make sure to catch all six games!

Part 3.png

“It’s strange how some things can be so familiar, yet so different at the same time,” I ponder, gazing out at the gently lapping waves in the bay, occasionally undulating more vigorously with each ship that enters or exits Marseille’s port before settling back to their usual, calm state.

“Right? We sat at this café almost exactly a year ago as manager and captain, only this time it’s for Borussia Mönchengladbach ahead of our Europa League campaign, rather than preparing for our second Champions League campaign at Blues,” Krystian Bielik agrees, sipping his coffee. “Also, you’ve actually picked me this time.”

“Hey, we’d just had a tough run of Spurs, Chelsea, a busy international break for you, then Manchester UFC and I thought you could do with a day off,” I reason. “We still won, didn’t we?”

“Only in the final minute.”

“Which is still winning.”

“Very true,” Krystian chuckles.

We both go quiet, allowing the sounds of the sea to mingle with those drifting out of the café’s open door and meet at our table, the combination unusually melodic, inducing a sense of calm. With anyone else from my football life, the silence might be uncomfortable, but not with Krystian. We’ve been through the whole journey together, every step of the way, and there’s no one I’d rather grab a coffee with, nor is there anyone I trust more.

For once, just for a moment, I feel relaxed.

“I’m glad you wanted to come with me, Krystian,” I smile.

“Well, I don’t want to create any issues when I’m perfectly happy with my position in the squ-”

“Not to Marseille, you pillock, to Borussia Mönchengladbach,” I snigger.

“That question makes a lot more sense all of a sudden,” Krystian admits. “To be honest, boss, there was never a doubt in my mind. As soon as I heard you were interested, it didn’t matter who the next manager was going to be - they were never going to be you. I wanted to repay your faith in me by putting my faith in you to be a success in Germany, like in England.”

“Thank you, Krystian, I’m touched,” I murmur. “I’m hoping we’re going to be a success here too. We’ve had a decent start domestically, THAT penalty shootout aside, so I’m keen to get things rolling positively in Europe and really build some momentum.”

“Hence going full strength tonight.”


“Bold, considering we’ve got Dortmund on Sunday.”

“I’m hoping their ropey start will mean we don’t have to be at 100% fitness-wise,” I say. “Besides, a loss isn’t the end of the world, it’s not like we’re aiming to win the Bundesliga this season.”

We both laugh and sip our drinks, returning to our quiet state until Krystian finally says what I thought no one would dare to until the turn of the year, at the earliest.

“We could, though. Win it all.”

“It’s far too soon to talk about that.”

“I don’t think it is,” Krystian disagrees. “If you look at the squad we’ve got, with you in charge, I think we could beat anybody that’s put in front of us - especially as we won’t have to face any PSGs, Real Madrids, or the like in the Europa League.”

“I’m glad you think so, but the season’s only really just begun. Injuries, disagreements, and the rampant spending of the Saudi Pro League could all derail our season yet,” I reason. “There’s a long way to go from now until the end of May, and we simply have to take things one game at a time - starting with Marseille.”



It’s a blistering opening quarter of an hour that sees Nicolò Tresoldi bag a brace by flicking in a low Luca Netz cross and smashing home a sumptuous Bielik through ball, before Luis ‘Not That One’ Suárez halves the deficit with Marseille’s first meaningful attack.

Soon, the game starts to settle and we take control, limiting our hosts to failed attempts on the counter as we keep hold of the ball, our two-goal lead being restored when Manu Koné is tripped by Mads Bech Sørensen in the area and Tresoldi completes his first-half hat-trick from the spot to restore a sense of poise that remains until just after the hour.

At which point, chaos ensues.

Having won our penalty, Koné horrendously misjudges how fast Sergio Reguilón is and upends the Spaniard in our box, but Suárez fails to convert from 12 yards after Gregor Kobel guesses the right way. Far from dispiriting the Ligue 1 leaders, however, they rebound like a particularly vengeful punching bag and nab a goal back minutes after Kobel’s denial when Randy Nteka spikes a header into the ground at the far post, the bounce making it near-impossible for our goalie to keep out. It’s backs to the wall now we’ve been reduced to a precarious advantage again and the French side keep coming, culminating in a Nteka open-goal miss from ten yards that tells me something’s got to change.

It’s time to get stodgy.

I pass over my instructions and the players promptly drop into a dense 4-1-4-1 with absolutely no intention of attacking and plenty of time wasting to do, ruining the game as a contest as Marseille bounce off our defence unsuccessfully repeatedly as time ebbs away, ensuring a winning start to our Europa League campaign with some terrifically dull late-game strategy.

The Andrews Stodge claims its first victim at Die Fohlen.


* * * * * * * *​
Back in Germany, the squad have been given the rest of the week off from physically-intense training in order to recover in time for Sunday’s Borussen Derby, allowing us to play the strongest team possible when our Ruhr-valley neighbours come to visit.

They may only be 12th at the moment, but Edin Terzić’s gang are a side more than capable of challenging Bayern’s monopoly on their best day, so we can’t afford to underestimate them.



In contrast to our Marseille trip, the opening period is a celebration of mediocrity as both teams try to blow away the continental cobwebs and fail to do so, but we’re the first to stir after the interval as we grow into the contest and Tresoldi gets the ball in the net within moments, only to be called offside by the VAR, before Bielik sees his outrageous scissor kick as the ball drops from a corner whistle just wide of the post.

Eventually, though, the dam bursts when Reiss Nelson carves a cross from the right through the Dortmund backline and Tresoldi, finally finding form, reacts quicker than Niklas Süle to thunder in a half-volley shortly after the hour mark, and we don’t let up as we totally dominate possession. Florian Neuhaus goes close from range. Robin Gosens goes closer from the edge of the box. Then, Giovanni Reyna goes closest by flicking Leonidas Stergiou’s low centre past his ex-teammate Kobel with mere minutes left for our sec- wait, they’ve equalised? Oh.

Sitting on the bench, I’m totally deflated, but accept that a point would’ve been a great result pre-match and resolve to think positively overall. In fact, I’ve come to terms with dropping two points at the death just as Nelson’s cleared corner is returned to him by Jesper Lindstrøm and he drives inside from the left. He’s got three men to beat, but he glides past them all, shifts the ball to his right foot, then bends an effort from the tightest of angles past Noah Atubolu.

Cue delirium in the Nordkurve behind the goal.

Cue a rapid dose of stodge.

Cue two points regained in the most dramatic of circumstances.


* * * * * * * *
With their famously left-wing-leaning fanbase, our visit to St. Pauli’s Millerntor-Stadion would probably be one of the least uncomfortable away-day experiences for me if I were a fan and, brown kits aside, they’re a side I have a lot of time for.

However I’m not expecting a comfortable game on the pitch.

After a 15-year exile, the Hamburg-based side are back in the Bundesliga and making a decent fist of things, stealing Dortmund’s 12th place after last weekend, so I’m taking a big risk by resting half of the outfielders who started against Dortmund as Jordan Beyer, Nico Schlotterbeck, Gosens, Gustavo Gallardo, and Lindstrøm step in for Giorgio Cittadini, Dan-Axel Zagadou, Netz, Koné, and Dominik Szoboszlai with another Europa League tie and another derby to come at the other end of this week.

Can we maintain the high standards we’ve set for ourselves, even with a weakened eleven?



We look like we haven’t missed a beat, despite the rotation, and it’s one of the Backup Brigade who opens the scoring when Bielik rolls the ball to his left for Gosens to run on to and belt into the top-right corner from the edge of the box to break the deadlock. We look confident, we look poised, and, just like last weekend, we get sucker punched.

Having grazed the crossbar from a corner, St. Pauli work the ball well from the resultant goal kick until Jardell Kanga is freed on the right wing. The Swede takes a touch and sends in an innocuous-looking cross that manages to bobble through the crowd of players in our area to Haissem Hassan who, unable to believe his luck, prods into the gaping net on the brink of half-time to really throw a spanner in the works.

The equaliser derails us and we come out for the restart looking like we’ve been called in for a morning shift on New Year’s Day, looking disinterested and unmotivated as we bumble our way towards the final whistle, the better chances falling to our hosts until we’re handed an unexpected lifeline. With his back to goal, Bielik is going nowhere fast, but Ali McCann can’t resist swinging a tired leg in the direction of our captain and we’re awarded a penalty. With Tresoldi substituted, the responsibility falls on the shoulders of Nelson Weiper, but the German doesn’t seem to feel any pressure as he steps up and teasingly chips the ball straight down the middle as Loris Karius dives to his left, bagging us the points that the rest of our play, arguably, didn’t warrant.


* * * * * * * *
How good is your Slovakian geography? Good enough to know where Dunajská Streda is? Because that’s where our next European opponents, DAC, are from, and that’s all I know about the matter, but I get the impression it’s the type of club that one of the 953,182 Watford managers from the last 12 years would end up at.

It’ll be a complete change to the outfield from Saturday’s close call with St. Pauli, with those that were rested returning whilst those who didn’t get a day off getting a break against the mysterious entity that is DAC.



“It’s official: our lowest post-pandemic crowd has watched us go behind to a team I’m not entirely convinced exists,” my assistant manager, Zlatan Bajramović, says as the attendance is announced over the PA system.

“34,326 is still more fans than St. Andrew’s can hold,” I note.

“That must be quite embarrassing for you, no?”

“Not really, Blues had always been in the shadow of Villa, West Brom, and Wolves in the area, so a capacity of nearly 30,000 is actually quite good going,” I reason.

“How often did you sell out before you took over?”

“I don’t want to talk about that,” I say, waving away Zlatan’s question. “What I do want to talk about is you being miserable about conceding when we’re cruising to a 3-1 win with only a couple of minutes to go.”

“I think it’s a little disappointing is all,” he shrugs.

“Do you agree with this?” I ask my other assistant, Kevin Nolan.

“If I’m honest, I do,” he admits. “It’s not going to be a game we reminisce about in the years to come, is it?”

“I suppose,” I sigh. “At least we haven’t had to get stodgy, that would be REALLY disappointing.”

Just as I finish talking, Mateus Brunetti steps up from his position at the base of DAC’s midfield and receives a pass, taking one touch before rifling in from the D for his second of the game.

My eyebrows drop into a scowl as I flip over the page on my notepad and start laying out the change of formation.

“For goodness’ sake…”


* * * * * * * *​
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Even with the nature of our win on Thursday being a little dispiriting, we can’t afford to dwell on it - Sunday is Rhein Derby day.

Köln will be making the short journey north-west to Borussia-Park desperate to end our unbeaten start in the Bundesliga and, despite being mid-table after six games, anything can happen in a local derby, so here’s hoping the strategic rotation of my squad over the last couple of games will pay off for us as I send out the strongest team available to take on our bitter rivals for the first time under my watch.



The wall of sound that hits me when I walk out of the tunnel is unlike anything I’ve experienced before, almost overwhelming in fact, so I’m not surprised that the opening stages play out with a slew of firm tackles and not a lot of control from either team. Soon, however, we start gaining a foothold in the game and play some nice passes as we patiently probe the Köln backline for any openings, before Devyne Rensch finally splits them open with six minutes to go until half-time, releasing Tresoldi to claim his eighth goal in his last five games, and it’s not long after the interval that Rensch is involved again when he tees up Netz to go wing-back-to-wing-back, the German fizzing a dangerous cross straight through the Köln six-yard box for Nelson to tap in at the back post.

That’s when the match starts to shift.

Steffen Baumgart makes a couple of substitutions and tactical tweaks and, almost instantly, the balance of play tilts in Die Geißböcke’s favour as our previously confident play gives way to nerves and a sense of dread, like the seconds before Donald Trump starts speaking when handed a microphone. We drop slightly deeper to try and cope, but our visitors simply follow us, our defence creaking as the pressure builds until it eventually becomes too much to handle as definitely-not-a-defender Largie Ramazani is skipped past by Abdülkadir Ömür and the Turk skids in a ball that’s turned in from close range by Moise Kean as injury time approaches.

We have to stem the tide and see out the final minutes, but going stodgy does very little to quash Köln’s momentum as they keep hurling men forward. They force a good save from Kobel, they hit the post, they hit the other post, it feels inevitable that they’ll level every time they come forward. As each impossibly-long second passes, I grow progressively more anxious. When a Köln corner is awarded seconds after the indicated time had elapsed, I was convinced that would be it. When the kick is cleared away emphatically and the referee blows their final whistle, I wait for a penalty to be awarded for whatever made up reason the officials feel like. I wait for the VAR to intervene.

But none of it happens. My players celebrate as our rivals collapse on the pitch. We’ve managed to cling on to the frantic victory by our fingertips through sheer force of will.

And breathe.


* * * * * * * *
“I don’t think I’m a fan of Leipzig,” I say, tapping my desk with a pen as I finally decide against making any changes from the team that played in the Rhein Derby before the international break.

“No one does,” Alexis Geiler mumbles, not looking up from her book.

“Is that just because they’re from the east?”

“It’s more to do with how they, and to a lesser extent Hoffenheim, managed to totally disrupt German football by going against the ethos of the sport in our nation and being just another cog in a corporate machine, rather than putting fans at the heart of everything they do,” she argues, still not looking up, although her eyes have stopped moving now. “Also, yes - they’re East German. I don’t feel I need to elaborate any further.”

“That seems like a slightly outdated way of thinking.”

Alexis puts her bookmark on the page she reached and closes her book, setting it down on the table next to her as she scowls at me.

“You’re from a country where a large number of people dislike the other three countries in your country for having the audacity to fight back when they were invaded hundreds of years ago. Whether you feel that way or not, I don’t think anyone from England is entitled to criticise outdated thinking in other countries.”

“Point taken, but-”

“There is no but,” Alexis interrupts. “What you mean is: ‘Point taken, thanks Lexi, I’ll let you get back to work.’ Thanks, Nicole, I appreciate it.”

“I struggle to see how reading ‘The Thursday Murder Club’ counts as working.”

“It’s in English, it’s educational.”



The wobbles that were present in the second half against Köln have seeped into our first-half performance here too, and Leipzig take advantage at the midway point, Aséko Nkili poking in Jonathan Tah’s knockdown from a free kick, before things go from bad to worse for us minutes later when Cittadini is forced off with a pulled calf that’ll keep him out for at least the next two weeks.

Something seems to click in my boys as the opening 45 winds down, however. As Vincent Kompany’s side ease off, we turn up the tempo, working the ball around quickly and incisively in attempt to create some space, and are rewarded on the brink of the whistle when Nelson fires in a cross from the right and Tresoldi gets the light touch that’s all it takes to divert the ball past Marvin Schwäbe at the front post.

Once play resumes after the interval, it’s all Mönchengladbach. Leipzig can’t contend with my reinvigorated side as Tresoldi nods in his second to hand us the lead, before Szoboszlai comes back to haunt his former club when he bags a three-minute double just after the hour, ending any chance of a meaningful response from Die Roten Bullen as we secure an emphatic comeback victory.


An emphatic comeback victory that, combined with Wolfsburg failing to win for the first time this season, sees us climb to the top of the table on goal difference.

Unbeaten in our first eight, scoring goals for fun, and Bayern already struggling to keep with the pace being set - could this be the start of something special?



* * * * * * * *​

Thank you for reading! A link to my socials and my previous story can be found on my Linktree, and please follow the thread to be updated every time there's a new post!
Part Four

Series Links

Welcome back to Foal From Grace! Arsenal, Wolfsburg, and Spargelzeit - all the big hitters today.

This part is spread across multiple posts, so make sure to catch all six games!

Part 4.png


“Yes, Nicole?”

“Do you know why the chefs are staring at me?”

I gesture my head in the direction of the hot counter where the man and woman responsible for our food are muttering to each other whilst casting dirty looks in my direction.

“What did you do to upset them?” Alexis Geiler asks, her voice full of suspicion.

“All I asked was if they’d cook the asparagus I brought in. They looked at me like I’d asked them to cook their pet hamster and grumbled about ‘Spargelzeit,’ so I have no idea what I did, ” I explain. “They looked furious when they gave it back to me. I did try and explain that I had a particular craving that needed satisfying, but that didn’t seem to work.”

“Oh, well, you know what chefs can be like, don’t worry about it,” Alexis says, nervously.

“Alexis, what am I missing?”

“We’re German, we stare, we’re known for it.”

“Alexis, tell me -”

I stop talking as I notice Nico Schlotterbeck has stopped on his way past us and is glowering at my food.

“You alright, Nico?”

He turns to Alexis.

“Was ist das?”

“Ich weiß, ich weiß,” she sighs.

“Es ist keine Spargelzeit,” he grumbles, matching off and slamming his tray down next to Jordan Beyer’s on another table.

“That’s one way to react to finding out you aren’t one of the six players drafted into the starting eleven for our match against AEK Athens on Thursday,” I say.

“It’s not that, Nicole, it’s -”

Before Alexis can finish her sentence, Florian Neuhaus becomes the latest German to throw a judgemental look my way, then pulls a quizzical face at Alexis.

“Englischer,” she says with a wobbly laugh. Florian snorts and turns to his right.

“Nico! Jordan!”

“Wir wissen - Spargel!” Nico shouts back.

“Es ist keine Spargelzeit, Bossin,” he says, shaking his head at me before joining his teammates.

“That’s odd, he IS in the team. I wonder if -”

“FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE, NICOLE, ‘SPARGEL’ MEANS ‘ASPARAGUS’!” Alexis shouts, finally losing her patience.

“Ah, that makes sense now,” I mumble. “So ‘es ist keine Spargelzeit’ means…”

“‘It is not asparagus season,’” Alexis confirms. “Which it isn’t, to be fair.”



“Okay, I get it!” I interrupt. “Germans are very passionate about asparagus. I’m sorry for upsetting you all so much. Can we move on?”

“Not until you throw that pathetic excuse for food away.”



I thought that ‘Spargelzeit-Gate’ would be the most excitement I’d have all week, but Nicolò Tresoldi does his utmost to change that by netting four times in the opening quarter of our game against AEK. A header, a penalty, another header, and a sweetly struck half-volley from the Italian have things pretty much wrapped up inside 22 minutes, whilst the Greek side are so shell shocked that they fail to take a single shot by the break.

We ease off in the second half, keen to conserve some energy, whilst our visitors go into damage-limitation mode, however there’s a reason they’re bottom of the Europa League mega-group: 45 minutes, another penalty, and shambolic marking to let Nelson Weiper nod in a sixth means we stroll to both victory and the top of the Europa League after three fixtures.


* * * * * * * *
Hosting Stuttgart on Sunday meant that I had plenty of time to watch the Second City Derby on Saturday. The downside of this being that I had plenty of time to watch Aston Villa notch their first win in over seven years against my beloved Birmingham City, a result that leaves Blues in a disappointing 14th and was the final nail in the coffin for my successor, Stefano Pioli, as he was shown the door after just eleven Premier League games.

Guess that’s what happens when you lose Krystian Bielik and play neither Bob van Leeuwen nor Tahith Chong.

Returning focus to my current employers, we’ll be going full-strength after several of the regular starters were rested in mid-week, meaning the only change from the side that trounced Leipzig last week sees Perr Schuurs continue to stand in for the crocked Giorgio Cittadini.



In contrast to Thursday’s goalfest, there’s only three shots in the first half, the first which didn’t materialise until the 26th minute, however we do at least make the breakthrough with the final effort pre-interval when Dominik Szoboszlai turns in Luca Netz’s deep cross.

The game continues to be a scrappy malaise after the restart with neither team capable of claiming any form of control on proceedings, but that works in our favour now that we have the advantage, limiting Stuttgart to a single, off-target strike from range as we squeeze our way to our tenth-successive win and back-to-back clean sheets after previously going seven games without a shutout.


* * * * * * * *​
It feels like a long time since our easy 5-0 win at Homberg in the first round of the DFB-Pokal back in August, but the time has finally come for our second-round tie at home to Hoffenheim.

With our season in the midst of its first busy period, the gentle shuffling of personnel continues as Nico Mantl, Beyer, and Weiper step in for the rested Gregor Kobel, Schuurs, and Tresoldi, while Oscar Fraulo replaces Bielik as he recovers from a tight calf sustained in training this week.



“We seriously need to start making the most of the chances we create,” I say, puffing out my cheeks as I shut the door to my office behind me, keeping out of earshot of the players in the dressing room. “What’s that, our 12th penalty of the season, out of 38 goals?”

“31.6 per cent.”

“Thanks, Zlatan.”

“Roughly, anyway,” Zlatan Bajramović adds.

“We’re lucky that Christoph Baumgartner missed that huge chance from kick-off, or we’d have been in big trouble,” I continue. “It’s a good job that was their only real opening.”

“The positive way of looking at it is that we’re through to the next round, something Wolfsburg, Leipzig and Dortmund have failed to achieve, whilst keeping our third clean sheet in a row,” Kevin Nolan reasons. “The negative way of looking at it is that we could have easily scored at least four goals, had Nelson Weiper not proven himself as useful as a glass hammer.”

“He came to me this week asking for more minutes, or a loan away. I think he’s made my decision for me…” I mutter.

“We think he might thrive with a partner, perhaps in a -”

“For the last time, you two, I’m not switching to a 4-4-2,” I groan.

“You’re the first English person I’ve met that’s totally disinterested in the possibility of a 4-4-2,” Zlatan says.

“Yes, well, I’m not exactly a typical English manager, am I?” I frown, gesturing to my body.

“She’ll come around, don’t worry,” Kevin whispers to Zlatan before returning to his usual volume. “Have they done the draw for the last 16 yet?”

“Should have, let me have a look,” Zlatan says, pulling his phone from his pocket and tapping on the screen a few times. “Wow, only half of the teams left are from the top flight,” he notes. “Here we are: at home to Hamburg.”

“I thought we already played Homberg?”

“No, Hamburg, Nicole.”

“I explicitly remember being told that it’s ’Homberg’.”

“It is, but we’ve been drawn against Hamburg.”

“No, we beat Homberg, we didn’t draw against them.”

“For crying out loud, gaffer, you’re right about the pronunciation of Homberg, but we’ve now been drawn against Hamburg, not Homberg again,” Kevin explains.

“Oh,” I mumble, looking down and awkwardly shuffling my feet. “I get it now.”



* * * * * * * *
With progression in the Pokal secured, our attentions return to the Bundesliga at the weekend and the challenge of a trip to fifth-placed Werder Bremen.

Having rested a few men on Wednesday, it’ll be back to as strong a lineup as possible for every game this week, meaning Kobel resumes his league duties in goal and Tresoldi is restored in favour of self-confident-yet-ineffective-turnip Weiper, though Neuhaus will have to deputise for Devyne Rensch with the Dutchman not fully fit.



At last, a half of football to be proud of.

It’s not even beyond the ten-minute mark that Tresoldi shows his fellow striker how it’s done by flicking Netz’s low cross past Diogo Sousa, setting into motion our total dominance of the opening 45.

Despite occupying a European spot at kick-off, our hosts look desperately poor and barely exit their half, their shoddy defending coming to the fore as we approach the break when, first, Dan-Axel Zagadou not only has a free header from a corner that smacks the post, but is given the time and space to control the rebound and stick it into the gaping net, before Sousa drops a routine cross at the feet of Szoboszlai for the Hungarian to gobble up gleefully. Werder have been the architects of their own destruction as we head into the dressing rooms with a commanding 3-0 lead and no way back for Die Werderaner.

Or so it seemed, until we all hear the walls rattle from Gerardo Seoane’s screams next door.

We re-emerge from the tunnel a little apprehensive, and it turns out we were right to be as it’s evident from the whistle that the Swiss has roused something primal in his men with his team talk, like a scurry of squirrels determined to get past the latest futile attempts of humans to defend their bird tables as we try to keep the attacks from all angles at bay, but Phillip Tietz is the one to leap from the fence to the feeder just before the hour when he piles in a header from a corner, then reduces the deficit to one in almost identical fashion 16 minutes later.

At this stage we need to calm down, we need to take the sting out of a crowd now surging with optimism, and we need to regain a semblance of authority over proceedings. What we don’t need to do is give the ball away within seconds of kicking off again, so that Jens Stage can split our defence with a through ball for Tietz to run onto and bear down on goal, steadying himself as he sets his sights and… clips the outside of the opposite post. Phew.

It’s a massive let off and the whole stadium knows it. Whispers of nervousness start emanating from the stands as the belief grows that their one big chance has now been and gone, and the Werder Bremen players sense it too. They slowly begin to lose their way, having been thrown from the rhythm they had gotten themselves into as they run out of steam at last, so all that remains is for us to seal the deal with my signature blend of late-game stodge to, just about, hold on to a chaotic victory.


* * * * * * * *
When I took over at Borussia Mönchengladbach, I had thought, perhaps foolishly, that it’d be a while before any of the clubs from my Premier League past would factor into my life again, yet here we are, barely into November and preparing to host Roberto Mancini’s Arsenal in our latest Europa League fixture, a match I’m pleased to have Cittadini, Bielik, and Rensch back for as we’ll need to be at our best against one of the teams currently in England’s top four.

I’ve already had so many classic encounters with The Gunners, from our exit in the Carabao Cup semi-finals in my debut campaign, to our eventual redemption in the same competition back in the first half of this year, with a defeat on the final day of our first title-winning season sandwiched in the middle - notable mainly for Mycael’s first appearance, so far the only goalkeeper to have played for me that’s failed to keep a clean sheet. Will this be the latest to add to the list?



Without sugar coating it: no.

With only four shots all game, the first coming in the 33rd minute and the only one on target being worth less than 0.05 xG, I can categorically rule this the dullest 90 minutes I’ve ever taken charge of as two good teams cancel one another out in the most underwhelming way possible.

Oh well, at least we got a point and a clean sheet.


* * * * * * * *​
“Kev, have you seen Alexis?”

“Not for a while. Is she not in her room?” Kevin says.

“No, she always leaves the ‘do not disturb’ sign on her door when she’s in,” I explain.

“Looking at her calendar, she’s got a meeting booked for the next hour in one of the other rooms,” Zlatan says, looking at his laptop. “Maybe she’s consoling Krystian, Devyne, and Dominik?”

“They all knew they were fitness doubts, so I hope there’s no hard feelings,” I reason. “Regardless, I suppose it must be difficult to know you won’t get to start a top-of-the-table clash.”

“They’ll get over it,” Kevin shrugs. “We'll play Wolfsburg again at some point.”

“Your compassion knows no bounds,” I sigh, rolling my eyes as I leave the room and make my way along the hotel corridor, glancing at the names on the doors as I go, eventually reaching one labelled ‘Frau A. Geiler’ six doors down, so I knock and wait for a response.


I knock a little harder.

Still nothing.

I knock loud enough that I’m satisfied I could reasonably expect to be heard and try the handle, finding that it’s unlocked, so I gently ease open the entrance and am greeted by the sight of Alexis sitting on the walnut-effect table, cross-legged, eyes closed, wireless headphones on, with a sandalwood-scented candle her only source of light; presumably, she’s meditating. I consider for a moment that Alexis looks totally at peace and so I shouldn’t disturb her, but my unrelenting curiosity soon gets the better of me so I step forward and tap on her phone’s screen to see what calming music she’s listening to.

Electric Callboy? The electronicore band?

Slightly disconcerted by trying to pair the visual to the techno-metal that’s being pumped into my interpreter’s ears, I now regret letting my nosiness get the better of me. Should I just leave? No, I have too many questions now. I’m committed. I take out my own device and type a message to Alexis, my thumb pausing as it hovers over the send button. Is there any way this can backfire dramatically? Probably not. Send.

Everything happens so quickly. Alexis’ screen lights up from my message, her eyes open as the notification sound comes through to her headphones, she screams, there’s a blur of black, then searing pain in my temple as a loud ‘thud’ marks my colleague landing after she lost her balance and fell backwards to the floor, before a cacophony of expletives in both English and German fill the room.

“Nicole?” Alexis murmurs, once the swearing settles down.

“Yep, it’s me, glad I found you,” I wince.

“Oh my days, I’m so sorry!” Alexis scrambles to her feet and rounds the table, bumping it a little in the dim light. “Are you okay?”

“I think so,” I say. “Don’t apologise, Lexi, I appeared in a dark room when you thought you were alone and sent you a message to tell you I was here, that’s the type of thing serial killers do in horror movies.”

“I know, it’s still not nice to have a stapler thrown at you though.”

“Why the heck were you carrying a stapler?”

“Exactly this sort of scenario, a woman’s always got to be ready to defend herself.”

“What a depressingly accurate statement on the society we live in,” I note. “Must say, good choice of weapon. Very dense.”

“Thanks,” Alexis giggles, squinting at my forehead. “Doesn’t look like I’ve done too much damage - hang on.” She leans over and switches on the overhead light. “Never mind, I thought that was your hair. Let’s go and find the medical team.”



The early goings are cagey as we feel each other out and try to run a tight ship, but cracks soon start appearing in both defences as Manu Koné steams through Wolfsburg’s backline after picking up the ball in the centre circle, only to be denied by Illan Meslier, before Luca Waldschmidt is gifted the freedom of our penalty area by Kilian Fischer’s excellent pass, yet nearly manages to launch his strike onto the Bundesstraße outside the stadium.

As time wears on, it starts looking like the first team to blink will be leaving empty handed, so it’s devastating to watch Edwin Zamudio block Jonas Wind as a cross is floated into our box, and Waldschmidt doesn’t waste another glorious opportunity as he converts his spot kick.

Going behind stirs my men, however. Being dealt the blow allows them to rebound off the ropes, and it takes mere minutes before we’re level as Zagadou crashes through a crowd at a corner like they’re densely packed eucalyptus and he’s a koala on crystal meth.

We don’t throttle back now we’ve restored parity, piling forward as we seek to expose more frailties in our hosts and, at the death, Beyer lashes the ball in from the right as Tresoldi loses his marker in the six-yard box. He flicks out his left foot to direct the cross goalward and it looks destined for the far corner, but Meslier stretches every fibre of his being to get fingertips to the shot and touch it onto the post, the final whistle going as soon as the rebound is hoofed away.

We’ll have to settle for sharing the spoils this time.


* * * * * * * *
What sharing the spoils at the Volkswagen Arena means for us, though, is that we maintain our two-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga over Wolfsburg as we head into the final set of international fixtures of the year, the possibility of going unbeaten over 90 minutes for the whole of 2026 becoming a very real possibility for me with only eight games to go before the winter break.

I’ll finally concede: this form can no longer be written off as a fluke - we’re title contenders.




* * * * * * * *​

Thank you for reading! A link to my socials and my previous story can be found on my Linktree, and please follow the thread to be updated every time there's a new post!
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Part Five

Series Links

Welcome back to Foal From Grace! As the winter break looms, can we end 2026 on a high?

This part is spread across multiple posts, so make sure to catch all eight games!

Part 5.png
“Right, we’re there,” I say, peeling the packing tape off of the bottom of the box I’ve emptied and folding it down. “We are officially unpacked.”

“See, I knew we could get ourselves settled over the international break,” my wife, Beth, beams.

“I wasn’t sure if that was a pep talk, or an order.”

“An order.”

We stare at each other in silence for an uncomfortable few seconds.

“I’m joking, obviously,” Beth laughs.

“I know, I know…” I mumble. “Have you enjoyed your first couple of weeks in Germany?”

“Outside of being unable to understand much of what’s going on in public, it’s been lovely,” Beth smiles.

“Has not speaking the language gotten you into any trouble yet?”

“I’ve mostly been fine, though I struggle to know if people are asking me if I have something, or hate something,” she ponders.

“Ah, ‘hast’ and ‘hasst’, respectively.”

“Exactly, they’re the same word.”

“Spelled differently.”

“I can’t remember how, to be honest.”

“I just showed you.”

“No you didn’t, you said them both.”

“Did I?”


Another uncomfortable silence is broken by the doorbell ringing so, relieved, we both make our way downstairs and open the front door to a beaming Alexis Geiler, her blonde hair down in a more relaxed style than her usual braid, an oversized Pulp Fiction hoodie on, clutching a small cactus with a green ribbon tied in a bow around its pot.

“Hey, Lexi, excellent timing - we’ve just finished unpacking. Come in,” I grin, beckoning her into the house.

“Thank you, Nicole,” Alexis says, passing the threshold and giving me a quick, one-armed hug. “It’s lovely to see you again too, Beth,” she adds, stepping past me and squeezing Beth too.

“And you, Alexis,” Beth replies. “It’ll be nice to get to spend some time with you where you’re not having to translate a load of documents for us.”

“I was happy to help,” Alexis smiles. “Oh, I have a housewarming present for you.” She holds out the cactus for Beth to take. “Nicole told me you love cacti too, so I got you my favourite - I believe it’s referred to as a ‘blue candle’ in English?”

“Oh, wow! This is the same species as my first cactus back at our old house!” Beth says, excitedly. “Thank you so much, Alexis. I’ll go and find a home for her, then can I get you something to drink?”

“Peppermint tea, please.”

“Nicole? I presume you want one of your overly elaborate coffees, so I’ll let you handle that yourself.”

“Sounds good,” I nod.

“May I use your toilet?” Alexis asks.

“Only if you can tell me what changes are planned for the weekend.”

“Gustavo Gallardo and Devyne Rensch for Manu Koné and Florian Neuhaus,” Alexis replies, almost instantly.

“Congratulations! Head down the hall, it’s the second door on the right,” I explain. Alexis flashes a proud expression and practically skips off to the loo as Beth and I swerve left, into the kitchen.

“That was a very weird request,” Beth notes, filling the kettle with water and turning it on.

“I know, but I had to work it in somehow,” I sigh, grinding coffee beans for my bean-to-cup.

“What’s up with both of you today?” Beth says, shaking her head as she grabs two mugs and puts a teabag in each.

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t think I need to explain how you’re being weird,” she frowns. “But Alexis is just giving off the vibe of being… I dunno… relaxed? I thought she was pretty stern and, no offence, a little uptight when I met her previously.”

“She is when she’s working,” I shrug, steaming milk as a shot of espresso forms in my cup. “Perhaps she just takes her job super seriously.”

“Or, she doesn’t want any excuse for someone to accuse her of not working hard enough in a very male-dominated workplace,” Beth suggests, pouring the boiled water into both mugs.

“As much as I hope that’s not the case, I wouldn’t be surprised,” I admit, adding my milk to my coffee.

Over the gentle clinking of a Beth bodging her teabag, I hear the toilet flush and, a few seconds later, Alexis joins us in the kitchen.

“So, Lexi,” I start as Beth passes her her tea. “I know we’re going to watch the original Star Wars trilogy later, but is there anything else you want to do in the meantime, like playing a board game, perhaps?”

“I do like board games,” Alexis nods. “Have you got Monopoly?”

“I think it’d be best if you leave.”



With Hannover bottom of the league and winless in the Bundesliga this season, this is exactly the type of fixture that my paranoid mind would be convinced we’d lose, but a Nicolò Tresoldi penalty around the midway point of the opening period settles all my nerves.

Having only registered one wildly off-target and optimistic shot before the break, our visitors figure declaring at 1-0 is their best hope for the game in a desperate attempt to minimise the effect on their goal difference, but a late double-whammy from Tresoldi and Dan-Axel Zagadou, having had two previous attempts ruled out for Edwin Zamudio being offside, makes the scoreline far more reflective of our total dominance from start to finish.


* * * * * * * *​
Whilst the start of the week sees the news from Britain of Antonio Conte being appointed as Birmingham City manager dominate the headlines, it’s another ‘B’ in the form of Belgium that’ll require our attention by Thursday as we head to Genk for our latest Europa League tie.

With a trip to the Allianz looming on Sunday, a bit of rotation is in order to refresh some squad members while bringing others back up to speed, seeing Nico Schlotterbeck, Krystian Bielik, Koné, Neuhaus, and Dominik Szoboszlai step in for Zamudio, Oscar Fraulo, Gallardo, Rensch, and Jesper Lindstrøm.



Even having made five changes, we look so below our usual standards as we struggle through the opening 45, not even mustering a shot on target, with our saving grace being Genk showing near-equal levels of impotence.

After the restart, however, we start clicking. Our passes get crisper, our tackles snappier, and we make the breakthrough soon after the hour when Tresoldi sweeps in Luca Netz’s pull-back to tilt the match in our favour. We go on to create numerous more chances as we really begin to take control and, though we fail to make the most of any of them, we’re still able to secure the three points with some classic stodginess as the clock winds down.


* * * * * * * *
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m terrified of Bayern Munich.

With a plethora of stars at Julian Nagelsmann’s disposal whose contracts have contributed to a bill responsible for 20 per cent of the Bundesliga’s total spend on player wages, it’s little surprise that the Bavarians have established a dynasty that’s spanned the majority of the 21st century with almost as many crowns as the Targaryens.

In light of this, and despite their disconcertingly-low positioning of fourth, we’ll be naming the strongest eleven possible, restoring Zamudio and Rensch to our spine as we aim to beat the only team to get the better of us since my appointment.



It’s tetchy, it’s scrappy, then Gregor Kobel has to make an incredible block to prevent Gabriel Vidović from converting from four yards and I start feeling like a slug slowly dissolving when sprinkled with salt.

Bayern don’t look at all like a team on the slide as they rampage forward time and again, slowly beating our defence further and further back. Though my boys bend and creak, they stand firm, not allowing our hosts any more openings as they wait patiently, like an eBay shopper waiting to swoop in at the last second with a bid, but time starts running out. The chance to swoop seems to be vanishing.

Vanishing, that is, until Zagadou gets the urge to trip Dani Olmo as he chases a lost cause that’s running straight through to Kobel with only four minutes to go.

I fall to my haunches in my technical area, holding my head in my hands. We’d held on for so long, we’d kept the big, red beast at bay with sturdy defending, but now a single mistake could unravel all of the hard work that’s been put in.

I can barely watch as Vidović runs up.

But Kobel guesses the right way and he swallows the ball in his form, enveloping it like a startled armadillo.

A dramatic and valuable point secured at the home of der Fußballmeister.


* * * * * * * *
With two fewer Bundesliga teams and only one cup to worry about, midweek domestic fixtures in Germany are somewhat of a novelty in comparison to English football, so I’m genuinely excited for Freiburg to head to Borussia-Park this Wednesday.

After their monumental efforts on Sunday, it’s little surprise that some of my defenders are feeling worse for wear, so Perr Schuurs, Jordan Beyer, and Robin Gosens will be brought in for Giorgio Cittadini, Reiss Nelson, and Netz to refresh the side.



“One day, we’ll convert all of our chances and I won’t be stressed as added time draws near,” I say to my assistants, returning to my seat in the dugout after handing my stodgy instructions over to Zagadou.

“Or at least finish off more games in the first half,” Kevin Nolan adds.

“We’ve actually scored 25 of our 47 goals in all competitions before half-time,” Zlatan Bajramović chimes in. “We’re also the top scorers in the league”

“I stand corrected. Nice one, Zlats,” Kevin nods, an impressed look on his face. “I should probably get more invested in our statistics.”

“I think Zlatan’s a little TOO invested in our statistics,” I chuckle.

“In sport, a world defined by its random nature and the effects of human errors, to have something tangible to hold on to us more than just reassuring - it’s necessary,” Zlatan scowls.

“I never said I didn’t like statistics.”

“Having these numbers available for us to search for patterns, to be able to make predictions, to narrow down the probabilities of something going wrong is an asset that can’t be ignored,” he continues.


“To disregard, or even ignore, these crucial insights wouldn’t just be naïve, it’s downright stupid. We have the power to analyse what works and what doesn’t, bending fate to our will as we seek to chart a course through the chaos of the footballing world, emerging as -”

“Zlatan, are you done?”

“No, I’m clearly not!” he snaps. “You may not feel that these numbers are as important as I do, but your eyes and emotions cloud your judgement and, without statistics, would make the decision making process nothing short of a shamb-”

“She’s asking, Zlats, because the whistle’s gone. We’ve won, 1-0,” Kevin interjects.

“Oh,” Zlatan mumbles. “Sorry, I got a little defensive there.”

“You think?”


* * * * * * * *
With all the furore around numbers, some of the most important from Wednesday were these: two, and nil.

Having failed to beat rock-bottom Hannover on Sunday, Wolfsburg followed that up by losing to Bayern, their first defeat of the season, meaning we’re now five points clear at the summit ahead of our trip to Hamburg the following Saturday.

With a fairly winnable-looking match against K.V. Mechelen in the week, I choose to restore my first-choice lineup against Die Rothosen as we get closer and closer to stretching our unbeaten run all the way to the winter break.



Breaking from recent tradition, we get off to a bright start, playing some beautiful football in the build up to Tresoldi slotting in from nine yards within the first five minutes, but that proves somewhat of a false dawn as our concentration levels dip towards the middle of the period, allowing Jay Matete to squeeze a strike from around the penalty spot through at least three pairs of legs and past Kobel to restore parity.

We stabilise after conceding, the shock refocusing my boys as we grow into the game, our confidence beginning to shine through after the restart and a quick-fire double from Tresoldi to complete his hat-trick soon after the hour seems to put the game beyond doubt as our hosts wilt, before Gosens runs salt into the wound by adding a fourth as injury time seemed set to draw to a close, the cue for the few remaining home fans in the Volksparkstadion to head for the exits.


* * * * * * * *​
K.V. Mechelen are an odd team.

Despite performing well enough to climb to 13th in the Europa League galactic-group, they’re somehow only 12th in the Belgian Pro League, so who knows what to expect at this stage. Irrespective of which Mechelen turn up, I’m optimistic that a heavily rotated team will still be good enough to get the job done, with only Kobel, Zamudio, Bielik, and Koné retaining their place from the eleven that trounced Hamburg.



It’s yet another 45 minutes of nothingness, everybody going through the motions as my players try to adapt to all the changes in personnel, but all it seems to take is a rollicking at the interval to make everything slot into place.

Our passes are now much sharper and we’re suddenly making more in-roads as we start playing much higher up the pitch, making the breakthrough at last when Zamudio powers home at a corner, before Lindstrøm quickly drills in from the D after another set-piece is cleared out to him.

Mechelen look lost by this point and the writing’s on the wall, the dagger coming as Lindstrøm turns provider when he slides a defence-splitting pass through for Nelson Weiper, the forward coolly lifting the ball over the on-rushing goalkeeper, signalling that there’s no way back for the Belgians. As such, I decide it’s sensible to substitute off all of the remaining regulars to protect them from harm before this weekend’s fixture.

Including Kobel.

I hope our hosts didn’t take that personally…


* * * * * * * *
“Back to full strength for Bayer Leverkusen tomorrow, right?” Alexis asks, nodding in the direction of the whiteboard in my office.

“Right you are,” I reply. “No messing around when taking on a team in the top four and in form.”

“Brendan Rodgers has done a great job there,” Alexis says. “Did you ever face him in England?”

“No, he’d gone by the time I got promoted with Blues,” I answer. “Still can’t believe he won them the Conference League in 2024, he seems like such a weird appointment - especially compared to Xabi Alonso.”

“I don’t know why you would think that, other than because of some pre-existing bias,” Alexis frowns. “Face it, Nicole, Alonso was an awful fit that was always destined to fail there.”



Turns out Brendan Rodgers was the exact remedy we needed for our sleepy first halves.

Right from the whistle, the initial intensity that’s been missing for weeks is back as we go at Bayer like angry mongooses, working in groups to press our opponents and hunt for the ball, blowing them away as a Zagadou header is sandwiched between two well-taken Tresoldi finishes before the break.

We throttle back after the restart, happy to sit on our three-goal advantage, but Moussa Diaby has the temerity to rifle in from 25 yards and it gets taken personally. Within minutes, Netz has barrelled down the left, cut inside, and whizzed a low cross to the back post for Szoboszlai to finish the job, content to calm things down again now that our lead has been restored. This time, our hosts don’t make the same mistake, allowing us to gently cruise through to the final whistle with all the points secured in astonishingly comfortable fashion.


* * * * * * * *
If I’m truthful, there’s not a lot that I know about Darmstadt 98. They did have what must have been an incredible five years in the 2010s when they went from the fourth tier to the top, but they've struggled to ever establish themselves in the Bundesliga properly, though they find themselves 13th ahead of our meeting - perhaps this will finally be their time to have a decent run in Germany’s premier competition?

Having had the luxury of a midweek off and this being the final game before our winter break, it’s an unchanged lineup from our previous outing as we look to end 2026 on a high.



Now we’re cooking. Unburdened from our succession of poor starts at last, it’s another blistering opening for us as Tresoldi flicks Rensch’s daisy-cutting ball past Florian Kastenmeier in the sixth minute for his 26th goal of the season in all competitions already before, seemingly out of nothing, the most glorious thing happens.

After a spell of possession that lasted well over a minute, Koné hands the ball off to Bielik. 25 yards from goal and with a low block in front of him, the captain doesn’t seem to have many options for a pass, but he doesn’t need any. He takes a touch to open up his body, then curls a wicked strike goalwards. It looks for all the world like it’s headed over, only to dip at the vital second and crack off the underside of the bar and in for his first goal in white.

For all of our excellent play, however, it’s a moment of pure comedy that suddenly opens the game back up again.

Mere moments after play resumes, Die Lilien try to work an opening as Mathias Honsak sends a fairly harmless-looking cross into the box. Zagadou, presumably keen to start a move on the counter, tries to play the ball away first time, only to lump his ‘pass’ straight into the face of two-yards-away Lucas Copado, ricocheting back past our centre-back and the wrong-footed Kobel to half the deficit.

Out of nothing, things feel tense. We slow down our play to try and take the sting out of proceedings, but all that does is encourage our hosts to keep coming at us. Even returning to the dressing rooms for half-time doesn’t return any balance to the match, so it feels almost inevitable when one-time-Birmingham-target-of-mine Tyrese Campbell finds Matthias Bader on the edge of our box and the right-back ploughs into the top-left corner to level the scores. How has this happened? How are we fading away under pressure from a mid-table team.

Darmstadt are left with a decision to make as we enter the final ten minutes: try to settle for a point, or keep going with what was working and risk running out of steam. Foolishly, they choose the former, allowing us to finally arrest our slide and find room to breathe again. We’re back on the front foot now and, even without time on our side, it feels like a case of when we’ll reclaim the lead, not if - they’re solid, but how solid?

As the minutes dwindle, Nelson makes another tired run down the right-hand side and skids a hopeful cross into the box. It looks like Raphael Framberger will deal with it comfortably, but the defender miscontrols and the ball breaks free. He can’t react quickly enough as the fresher Lindstrøm steals in, stabbing out his right foot and jabbing past Kastenmeier in a moment of pure elation for the away contingent.

And everyone knows what’s coming next: instruction, reshaping, stodging, full-time, relief.


“Well done, boys, what a way to sign off for the year! I’d appreciate a little less drama next time, though,” I say as I take my team-talk, Alexis translating my words for those who speak German, but not English, a number of laughs coming from around the room. “To add to our win, Wolfsburg have just lost their third game out of the last four, so we’re now ELEVEN POINTS CLEAR!” A roar that wobbles the walls greets this news. “Now, I’ll see you all for recovery sessions tomorrow where we’ll go over some details from today, but then you’re all free to rest for a couple of weeks over Christmas. Remember though, this is only the half-way point. In the new year, the real hard work begins, and I expect you to come back ready to fight.

“Borussia Mönchengladbach’s first Bundesliga title for 50 years is ours to lose.”




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Thank you for reading! There won't be an instalment next week whilst I have my own winter break, so in the meantime a link to my socials and my previous story can be found on my Linktree, and please follow the thread to be updated as soon as Foal From Grace returns!
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Part Six

Series Links

Welcome back to Foal From Grace! As we return from the winter break, will our excellent form return with it?

This part is spread across multiple posts, so make sure to catch all six games!

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“Did everyone have a nice break?” Club Chairman Tobias Deppe asks as I sit down with him, Alexis Geiler, Kevin Nolan, and Zlatan Bajramović for breakfast on our first day back. “Alexis?”

“Yeah, good. Saw my family, didn’t do much, usual sort of thing…” she mumbles, trailing off.


“Went on a cruise to see the aurora borealis in Norway, it was fantastic. Did you know that the Inuit called them ‘football players’ in their language? They believed the lights were spirits of the dead playing football with a walrus skull,” Zlatan explains.

“I did not, how fascinating,” Tobias smiles. “Glad you had a nice time. How about you, Kevin?”

“Same as Zlatan,” Kevin says, bluntly.

“What a happy coincidence!”

“Not really, we planned the trip as a pair,” Kevin shrugs.

“When did you start going on holidays together?” I ask.

“When did it become any of your business?”


“I’m glad you’re both getting along so well so soon after joining us,” Tobias chuckles. “Last but not least, what did you get up to then, Nicki?”

I pause, my coffee cup hovering just below my lips as I stare daggers at Tobias while my colleagues’ eyes flit nervously between the two of us.

“I do beg your pardon?”

“I asked what you did during your holidays,” Tobias says, slowly.

“Then, you called me Nicki,” I scowl.

“Is that a problem?”

“Yes. No one calls me Nicki. That’s how you can tell that lady on Twitter with the oddly accurate blog of my career is a fraud.”

“It’s been called ‘X’ for three and a half years now, Nicole, you should probably move on from ‘Twitter’,” Alexis interjects.

“I’ll stop deadnaming Elon Musk’s website when he stops deadnaming his daughter,” I reply. Alexis nods in acknowledgement of my point and indicates she has nothing to add, so I turn back to the chairman. “Now, if you want to call somebody by a nickname, you should make sure you’re both close to them and that they’re happy for you to call them it - are we clear?”

“Sure, whatever,” Tobias mutters. “Did you have a good break, or not?”

“Yes, thank you,” I smile, calm again. “Had a trip to Amsterdam and visited lots of museums, went to see the new main stand at St. Andrew’s now it’s fully operational -”

“How did Blues get on?” Kevin asks.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” I sigh. “Anyway, I also enjoyed Christmas with my family, though I’ve now remembered how much I miss hash browns and I feel like I’m having withdrawals.”

“Why would you MENTION THOSE GLORIOUS, CRISPY DELIGHTS?” Kevin shouts. “Now I’m sad too, thanks.”

“Sorry,” I laugh. “How about you, Tobias?”

“Yes, good, thank you. Took a brief trip to Dubai and thoroughly enjoyed myself - I can highly recommend a visit.”

“Think I might pass.”

“Because of the rampant homophobia?” Zlatan asks.

“That’s the one.”

“Oh, of course,” Tobias says, like he’s just remembered he needs to put washing on when he gets home. “Then, after I got back, we were a pretty busy board!”

“Indeed you were,” I agree. “You, Roland, and the recruitment team have done a great job of shifting some squad players out and bringing in some replacements. Florian Neuhaus, Largie Ramazani, Nico Mantl, and Jordan Beyer weren’t at the level we need if we want to keep progressing, so it made sense to cash in.”

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“Tanguy Nianzou from Sevilla, Emil Holm from Milan, and the promising young pair of Liam Heywood from Tottenham and Rafael from Grêmio look like excellent replacements at less than double the fees we got for the old players, initially at least,” Kevin chimes in. “Emanuel Emegha from Sturm Graz is a steal for his €12 million release fee too, and his arrival should let Nelson Weiper head out on loan so he can keep developing.”

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“The only one going into the starting eleven for the Hoffenheim trip is Tanguy, is that correct?” Tobias asks.

“Indeed. He’s definitely an upgrade on Giorgio Cittadini on the right of our back three, but I wouldn’t expect any of the other four to be involved from the off,” I say.

“Unless there are any training injuries,” Kevin says.

“Or Reiss Nelson gets his wish and leaves for stupid money in Saudi Arabia,” Zlatan adds.

“Let him go. If money’s more important to him than dethroning Bayern, we don’t want him. Emil would be fine to replace him,” Kevin snarls.

“I’d rather he didn’t leave, he’s third in the squad for goal involvements and I don’t particularly want to have to go hunting for another right wing-back,” I disagree.

“Your funeral.”

“Well, I’m glad you seem to have everything in hand,” Tobias smiles, rising from his chair. “Now, if you’d excuse me, I have a meeting to get to. Ladies. Gents.”

With that, the chairman strides purposefully from the canteen, leaving his tray and dirty crockery on the table.

“Are we going to have to deal with that, or…?” Alexis asks.

“I guess so,” I sigh. “I don’t want to get on the wrong side of the caterers again.”


“Yes, Kevin?”

“I know the chief can’t call you Nicki, but can we?”

“If you want.”


“Sure,” I start. “As long as you don’t mind me dipping your manhood in a deep fat fryer every time you do.”



It looks like we’ve never been away, dominating from the off with some slick passing and incisive moves that keep our hosts at bay until, shortly before the 25th minute, we make the breakthrough when Dan-Axel Zagadou powers home a near-post corner.

Despite a brief resurgence from Hoffenheim after we take the lead that sees Grischa Prömel somehow head off the post from five yards when unmarked at a corner, we soon settle back into our pattern of control, Dominik Szoboszlai stabbing in a low cross soon after the restart before adding a much more spectacular third from 20 yards to seal the points, though a late consolation from Emanuel Aiwu does take a little of the sheen off of proceedings.


* * * * * * * *​
After another break of two and a half months, the DFB-Pokal has returned as we host Hamburg - not Homburg - with a quarter-final place at stake.

With January looking to be quite busy, I decide that this is the right time to have a look at what some of the new arrivals have to offer as Rafael, Holm, and Heywood all come into the side for their first Borussia Mönchengladbach starts, while Nico Schlotterbeck will deputise on the left of our defence after whinging about his game time recently.



Some sides, like Bradford City in 2013, get really motivated by cup fixtures and love the idea of causing an upset. Others, like this Hamburg team, decide it’s not worth their time or energy and surrender as soon as they aren’t the favourites.

Our visitors fail to muster a shot of any kind in the opening period and are fortunate to only be a goal behind by the interval, courtesy of Nicolò Tresoldi, before barely improving after the restart as our game of first starts becomes one of first goals too when Nianzou and Gustavo Gallardo convert for the first time in white, my whole team barely breaking a sweat as we breeze into the next round.


* * * * * * * *
With cup progress secured, the good news keeps on coming as Luca Netz agrees a new €110,000-per-week contract, thankfully committing himself to the club for the next four and a half years after Bayern Munich had activated the €49.5 million release fee in his previous deal and caused me no end of anxiety dreams, whilst Weiper completes his loan switch to Valencia that’ll allow him to get the football he needs to keep progressing.



And I’ll be hoping Netz rewards the faith shown in him by carrying his scintillating form into the rest of this season - starting with Mainz on Friday night.

With Bruno Labbadia’s boys having held us to a stalemate at the Mewa Arena earlier in the campaign and pushing for a European spot in the Bundesliga, we return to the lineup that saw off Hoffenheim last weekend as we look to get the better of Die Nullfünfer.



I march onto the pitch after the final whistle goes and our 2-0 victory is confirmed to celebrate with my players, making a beeline for Szoboszlai and Krystian Bielik.

“Well done you two!” I shout to them over the noise of our fans, beaming as I give them each a high five and a quick hug. “My beautiful, Eastern-European, goalscoring boys.”

“‘Eastern European’?” Krystian asks, raising an eyebrow.

“Sure about that?” Dominik adds, mimicking his captain’s tone and expression.

“Not anymore,” I blush, suddenly very uncomfortable and unsure of myself.

“By pretty much every geographical metric, Poland is in the centre of Europe,” Krystian explains.

“And Hungary is directly south,” Dominik says. “Therefore, ‘Central-European’ would’ve been a better term for us.”

“I didn’t realise, I do apologise,” I sigh, looking down to my feet. “I felt weirdly confident that I had it right, for some reason.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Dominik shrugs. “You are English, after all, it’s not that surprising.”

“Shouldn’t stereotype like that, Dom,” Krystian says, shaking his head.

“It’s fine, Krystian. As a nation, our geography isn’t a strong point,” I say.

“Which is odd, given you’ve invaded all but 22 countries.”

“Alright, Dom, you’ve made your point…”


* * * * * * * *

“Yes, Nicole?”

“Is there something wrong with my whiteboard?”

“No, why do you ask?”

“Because you’ve been staring at it for at least the last…” I glance down at the clock on my laptop. “Eight minutes.”

“You’ve been watching me for eight minutes?” Alexis asks. “That’s a bit creepy, Nicole.”

“I haven’t, you’ve been sitting with nothing in front of you for all that time and have barely moved each time I’ve glanced up. You’re either staring at the whiteboard, or you’re doing a very good job of hiding a stroke,” I reason.

“I’m not sure I believe you, but fine, I’ll explain. I was wondering how much thought was put into letting five members of the first-team squad leave as soon as the transfer window opened,” Alexis explains.

“Quite a lot, why?”

“Because you can’t register their replacements until after the league phase of the Europa League, so you’ve got two members of the reserves and four of the under-19 side in the squad for Dinamo Zagreb’s visit on Thursday,” she says

“Yes, well, I do have a plan in mind.”

“And what is that?”

“Hope the strongest-available eleven can put us into a commanding position before bringing on my five senior players to see out the game, perhaps with Tresoldi marking his new contract with some goals.”


“It’s not a very good plan.”

“It’s the best I’ve got,” I admit.

“And if it goes wrong?” Alexis queries.

“Then I’m going to look like a moron, aren’t I?”



When you need to settle nerves, nothing works better than an early goal, so Tresoldi winning then scoring a penalty before our visitors even touch the ball is the perfect tonic.

For the second time in three matches, we don’t face a single shot before half-time, but we’re somehow unable to turn our dominance into a meaningful lead. A flurry of activity in the twenty minutes after the restart, however, sees Szoboszlai continue his excellent form in front of goal with a pinpoint header, before Tresoldi celebrates his new contract by adding two near-identical goals from the edge of the six-yard box to wrap up his hat-trick and put the result beyond doubt.

The Croats, for what it’s worth, don’t register their first effort until the 86th minute, putting up little fight as our 4-0 victory sends us straight through to the last-16 stage of the Europa League with a game to spare.


* * * * * * * *​
Having visited my sister in Berlin a number of times, it’s quite striking how unlike the rest of Germany the city is. A very trendy and multicultural city where the majority of the population speak English, you could easily forget what country you’re in, were it not for the angry glares you’d get for crossing the road when the green man isn’t showing.

Travelling to the Capital for footballing reasons for the first time, it’s three changes from the starting lineup that triumphed on Thursday as Nianzou, Holm, and Heywood deputise for Cittadini, Nelson, and Devyne Rensch as we take on relegation-threatened Hertha and aim to stretch our unbeaten start to twenty games.



It’s a bright start for us as a trademark run from Netz carves open our hosts and he whips a cross to the back post for Szoboszlai to meet on the volley, but Luca Podlech pulls off a fantastic save and that seems to rock our confidence. With Hertha sensing that fragility, it’s mere minutes before Sébastien Haller barges his way past our centre-backs to meet Omar Alderete’s cross and nut Die Alte Dame ahead, sending us into a frazzled state for the rest of the half.

After some strong words in the dressing room, we seem back to our energetic best and Nianzou restores parity from a corner within just five minutes, but the uncharacteristic sloppiness soon seeps back into our play. Passes are misplaced, attacks break down, and our defenders aren’t as focussed as they should be, being beaten in the air by Haller far too often and, eventually, one time too many as the Ivorian flicks on a free kick and Florentino Luís reacts faster than anyone else to volley in from four yards to put us behind again.

We throw players forwards now, pushing the wing-backs on and ditching our defensive midfielder in favour of an extra attacker, but every time we think we’ve found an opening, we just can’t find the finishing touch we need as time achingly ebbs away and, in a city famous for the fall of its wall, the wall of blue and white between us and their goal stands strong.

For the first time in two years, three months, and five days, I watch on as one of my sides is defeated in a league match.


* * * * * * * *
Ordinarily, I’d look for an immediate reaction to a loss by naming a strong side for the following fixture, however the fact that we’re already guaranteed a place in the top eight of the Europa League and we’ve got potentially-smug Alexis’ Eintracht Frankfurt to come three days later, we’ve got to prioritise. Therefore, it’ll be nine outfield changes against Fiorentina as we travel to Florence with nothing but pride at stake for us.



The lack of cohesion is immediately obvious as our hosts walk all over us from the first whistle, going close on a couple of occasions as we take our turn at having a zero-shot half and I start wishing I’d not bothered leaving Mönchengladbach.

However, things soon take an unexpected turn.

Having kept the Italians at bay for over an hour, they start running out of steam and my boys sense an opportunity. After working the ball around well, Gallardo sets Nelson away on the right and my compatriot hits the byline, skidding a delicious ball to the front post for Tresoldi to add the finishing touch, before replicating the move almost identically four minutes later to give us a ludicrous two-goal lead.

I Viola attempt to rally, but they find a stubborn resistance and, when they eventually manage to break through, youngster Andy Kraus makes a lung-busting run to get back and block Luka Jović’s shot when it seemed inevitable he’d score, before Cittadini rubs salt into the wound by adding a third from a corner with one of the final touches of the game.


So, an unexpectedly positive performance to rebound from our first non-penalty-shoot-out defeat, but the real test will be if we can back it up with another strong showing when we return to Bundesliga action in a few days as we need to make sure a blip doesn’t become a slump.

In a league with Wolfsburg and Bayern waiting for us to hit the buffers, we can’t afford to let them think they have a chance to catch up.





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