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

Part Seven

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Welcome back to Foal From Grace! It's all about goalkeepers this week as the latter stages of both knockout competitions loom.

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

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Something doesn’t seem right. With each answer I give in my press conference, there’s more and more whispering and raised eyebrows - but why?

“Einen Moment, bitte,” I say nervously, taking off my headset and scurrying to the small office to the side of our press room where Alexis Geiler has been translating everything in German that I’ve been asked, closing the door behind me.

“Everything alright, Nicole?” she asks.

“What do you think?!” I hiss. “Everything I’ve said seems to cause more commotion. Are you sure you’re translating the questions correctly for me?”

“Would I be so unprofessional?” Alexis scowls.

“This is a press conference about our game against Eintracht Frankfurt, I wouldn’t put it past you,” I frown back.

“Frankly, Nicole, I am rather hurt that you think I’d do something so sinister like sabotaging a press conference, just to trick you into saying nice things about my first love,” Alexis grumbles. “Do you really think so little of me?”

“I’m sorry, Lexi. You know I get so worked up when I can’t work out why something isn’t going to plan,” I sigh. “Remember the spreadsheet last week?”

“I walked in and you were crying on the floor because you couldn’t get your complicated formula to work.”

“And what did the issue turn out to be?”

“You didn’t close two brackets.”

“Exactly - I very quickly go into meltdown over small things that’ve gone wrong,” I say. “Which is to say: sorry I jumped to conclusions, I was simply a little rattled.”

“It’s fine, Nicole, I’m used to you after half a year,” Alexis says, her face softening. “Now, you better get back out there and finish your interrogation, people are probably already suspicious of you running in here like this.”

“Shall do, though if it turns out you’re pranking me then I’m gonna be livid,” I snigger. “Do you know what they’re talking about, at least?”

“They’re all whispering, I can’t hear them - do I look like I work for Facebook’s advertising team to you?”

“Fair point.”

I grimace and leave my colleague again, returning to the table in our press room as a hush falls over the assembled crowd. “Tut mir leid, Leute. Nächste Frage, bitte,” I apologise. Amidst the clutch of hands that get raised, I gesture towards a reporter with dark hair that I don’t recognise.

“Dan Porter, Away Fohllowing, the fanzine for international fans of Die Fohlen,” he states as he stands.

“Nice to meet you, Dan. Are you new? I don’t recognise the name.”

“We’ve been going for about 8 years, but we’ve had a real boom this season after your arrival and the form that came with it,” Dan admits.

“How wonderful to hear,” I beam, relaxing now that I realise I’ll be receiving a question in English. “Right, Dan, fire away.”

“You’ve spoken in the past about your interpreter, Alexis Geiler, and the fact she’s a fan of Eintracht Frankfurt.”

“That’s right.”

“Given your incredibly positive answers when posed questions on Die Adler today, would it be fair to say that she’s had a rather strong influence on your feelings towards this weekend’s opposition?” Dan asks. “Or, is it simply that your German is not yet at the requisite standard to understand the majority of what you’re being asked, something that’s lead to an overreliance on Frau Geiler to guide you still when, truthfully, many had expected your comprehension of the language to have come along a lot more by now?”

Alexis’ cackles come streaming through my headset as I begin to seethe internally, straining every fibre of my being to avoid screaming when I lean towards the clutter of microphones and recording devices in front of me.

“No comment.”



Despite being on top for the whole of the opening period, we simply lack quality in the final third, however we soon get into a rhythm after the restart. We use the ball far better and start working openings until, just past the hour, a move that sees every single Mönchengladbach player complete a pass is finished off by Nicolò Tresoldi when he drills Dominik Szoboszlai’s through ball under Timo Horn to break the deadlock.

Something that, it transpires, was a terrible idea.

Die Adler only came for a point, but they darn sure aren’t going to settle for none, piling forward from the moment play resumes and causing absolute chaos for my previously-sedate defence, forcing Gregor Kobel into an incredible save from point-blank range when Daichi Kamada connects with Sergio Carreira’s low cross within minutes of us taking the lead. I bellow at my players to focus, but my shouts land on deaf ears as an intricate Frankfurt move lets Kamada slide through Marcus Thuram and the forward whistles a strike past Kobel’s ears to restore parity at his former home and cause a wave of nervousness to sweep around Borussia-Park.

With the scores level again, our visitors return to holding out for their point and we try to go back on the offensive, but my boys’ confidence looks to have been shot to pieces and our oomph evaporates as we stall, time ticking achingly away as two points slip from our grasp.

Alexis is going to be insufferable.


* * * * * * * *​
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With the end of January comes the closing of the transfer window and, therefore, the deadline to confirm which three of our five signings will be added to our Europa League squad. Rafael and Liam Heywood are the unlucky ones to not make the cut, however they’ll still be able to play a part in our league and cup campaigns, with the quarter-final draw for the DFB-Pokal presenting us with a favourable tie: at home to Fortuna Düsseldorf, who are currently mid-table in the 2. Bundesliga.


Before that, however, we must face a far more difficult fixture: a trip to the Westfalenstadion for our second Borussen Derby of the season.

Having not won either of our last two Bundesliga games, I feel some changes are in order, therefore Emil Holm and Heywood are both drafted into the lineup to replace Reiss Nelson and Devyne Rensch, both of whom I’ve finally lost patience with over their prolonged pining for Saudi Arabia’s exorbitant wealth, in the hope that all we need to get back on track is a little tweaking.



The tweaks do seem to have refreshed the side and we look much calmer defensively, however that solidity has come at the expense of any incisive attacking play as both teams struggle to build any meaningful momentum. As we enter the final quarter of an hour, I’ve largely given up on us ever making the breakthrough, so I don’t get excited when everyone trundles forward for a deep free kick that Heywood lifts into the box.

Until, that is, I notice that nobody has tracked Edwin Zamudio’s run.

As the ball floats through the sky, Zamudio peels away from Salih Özcan on the near side, leaving nobody in yellow within ten yards of him. He probably has time to take a touch and steady himself, but the Argentinian has other ideas, contorting his body so he can swing his foot at the ball as it drops, half-volleying the 35-yard pass across Noah Atubolu and into the bottom-left corner for an outrageous opener.

From there, the job is clear: don’t concede. In the immediate aftermath, Dortmund look to increase the tempo of their play, however we’ve learned from last weekend and have no interest in a repeat performance, stepping up our press and forcing mistakes until Der BVB lose hope and their legs go, allowing us to get stodgy as the clock ticks down and get back to winning ways in the league.


* * * * * * * *
In a positive development in the days following our win in Dortmund, Nelson finally decides to accept that his future, at least in the short term, lies at Borussia-Park as he puts his previous frustrations over his blocked move to join David de Gea at Al-Ittihad behind him. A not-so-positive development, however, is that he pulled his groin in training about an hour after informing me of his decision, joining Tresoldi in the treatment room as he recovers from twisting his knee.

As a result, the only change for the Friday-night visit of St. Pauli from the eleven that won last Saturday sees Emanuel Emegha step in up front for his first start since his January move from Sturm Graz.



After a few slow starts recently, it’s pleasing that we get off to flyer at last, Heywood nabbing his first professional goal when he cuts inside after Luca Netz’s throw and drills into the bottom corner with his weaker right foot to set the wheels in motion - we look back to our slick, confident selves at last.

Then, at the midway point of the half, the worst thing possible happens.

“How’s it looking, Hendrik?” I ask, pacing the edge of my technical area.

“Doesn’t look good, Trainerin,” Hendrik Schreiber, our head physio, replies, listening to the messages from the on-pitch physio over his radio. “Possibly a broken hand.”

“Is there any way he can carry on?”

“Not a chance,” Hendrik snorts. “He needs to go to the hospital straight away, probably going to miss about a month of football to boot.”

I sigh possibly the biggest sigh I have ever sighed as Hendrik walks back towards the bench, Kevin Nolan and Zlatan Bajramović passing him in the other direction.

“What’s the news, gaffer?” Kevin asks.

“Can’t carry on.”

Kevin mutters something to himself that’s so offensive, everyone in a ten-metre radius falls silent in shock.

“I knew never naming a goalkeeper on the bench was a bad idea,” he seethes.

“I managed 280 games without it being an issue before,” I note.

“In all likelihood, it’ll be a long time before it’s a problem again,” Zlatan notes. “Across various studies, it’s estimated a goalkeeper only gets injured every 300-400 matches, so who knows if it’s really worth using one of the substitute spots for something so unlikely.”

Kevin shakes his head. “What are we going to do?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “I guess, we’ll need someone who’s tall, someone who’s confident, somebody who’s been through it all and so will keep calm in the face of the unknown, somebody…” I trail off as I see Kristin Bielik jogging towards the sideline. Zlatan and Kevin share an understanding glance with one another and both allow themselves a little smile. “Krystian…”

“Don’t worry, boss, I’m on it,” he says, jogging past me without slowing down as he peels off his shirt and makes a beeline for our kitman who chucks him a yellow goalkeeper one in exchange for his white one, then passes him a pair of gloves. Krystian then walks back over to us whilst putting on his new kit. “I’ve been ready for this for years.”


“You’ve never named a goalkeeper on the bench when you’ve had fewer than eleven substitutes, so I’ve been waiting for this to happen,” he reasons. “Plus, you always go on about how much you trust me, so it’s about time you put that trust to the test,” he smirks, pulling on his gloves.

“But you don’t even know for sure I was going to ask -”

“It’s been a running joke within both our Blues and Fohlen squads that you’d turn to me when you need an emergency goalkeeper, it’s pretty obvious - I’ve been having Jamie and now Friedo print a kit for me for the last couple of seasons,” he chuckles. “Any pointers from your amateur career?”

“Keep checking your angles and commit to the decisions you make,” I say, blushing slightly that my admiration for Krystian was so obvious to both him and my players.

“Thanks, I’ll do you proud,” he beams, slapping me on the back and jogging back onto the pitch as Oscar Fraulo gets ready to fill the void in midfield that Krystian’s leaving, joining the fray once Gregor Kobel finally leaves the field.

“This is going to go horribly wrong,” Kevin grimaces.

“Maybe,” I smile. “But I trust Krystian.”

Once play resumes, I can’t stop staring at my new goalkeeper, but he seems to be fine, regularly stepping out and joining the back three in possession. You’d think St. Pauli were the team playing rush goalie with how fearful they look, and we soon look more dominant than before Kobel went off, possibly even being four goals to the good by the interval, had it not been for Emegha hitting the post, blazing wide, and straying offside to miss a hat-trick of chances.

Soon enough, our quality is reflected in the scoreline, and we’ve got our visitors to thank for the next when a well-worked move is finished clinically by Santo Ramos Mingo past Loris Karius for an impressive own goal, before Tanguy Nianzou ploughs a third in from a corner moments later, completing the scoring as Bielik doesn’t face a single shot en route to securing his first, and probably only, clean sheet as a goalkeeper.

Trust him indeed.


* * * * * * * *
If there’s any silver lining to Kobel breaking his hand and being out for the next month, it’s that we have a week and a half off after Bielik’s adventure against St. Pauli, during which time we find out our next Europa League opponents: KV Mechelen - the same KV Mechelen that put up so little fight when we met in the league phase that I substituted Kobel, irony of ironies.


And a second silver lining is that Gregor wasn’t due to feature in our next fixture anyway - Fortuna Düsseldorf’s visit for the DFB-Pokal quarter-finals.

With Die Flingeraner currently adjacent to the line that separates the top and bottom halves of the 2. Bundesliga, this Rhein Derby presents a perfect opportunity for a number of the fringe players to stake a claim for more action, meaning only Emegha retains his place from our last lineup as we aim to reach the final four.



Do you remember Patricio Merlo? The teenage Argentinian goalkeeper with a big future that I brought to Birmingham a year and a half ago and awarded a debut to when we played Doncaster in the Carabao Cup? Well, coincidentally, he’s wound up spending this season on loan at Düsseldorf and has decided to remind me of exactly why I was so excited to sign him in the summer of 2025.

But for my old player, we’d have had a very comfortable evening. A big save when one-on-one with Jesper Lindstrøm, a fingertip to divert a free kick from Nelson onto the bar, and an acrobatic dive to save a long-range effort from Rensch all come before Perr Schuurs finally beats the youngster at a corner, but that does little to discourage him. He pulls off more and more blinding saves, including two to deny Emegha and Robin Gosens from close range before the former finally breaks his duck with seconds to go and, with it, the will of the other ten visiting players on the pitch as we can finally relax, all of Merlo’s efforts being for naught as my Backup Brigade get the job done and secure our progress to the semi-finals.


* * * * * * * *​
Straight from one Rhein Derby on Tuesday, we make the short trip to visit Köln for another on Friday night and, given the quick turnaround, it’s little surprise that it’s nearly a complete set of changes to our outfield, the only retention seeing Nelson regain his place at right wing-back after an excellent display in midweek.

Can we make it back-to-back victories over rivals this week?



As I return to the dressing room after the final whistle goes, I hurry into the manager’s office in the away dressing room at the RheinEnergieStadion and turn the lock once the door shuts behind me before anyone can catch me, using the desk to balance myself as the emotions I’d been suppressing for the last hour hit me like a runaway mobility scooter.

A goal up from a sixth-minute penalty. Two to the good before ten minutes had passed. A Tresoldi hat-trick secured from the spot before the first quarter of the game had even elapsed and a commanding 3-0 lead over our neighbours.

How did we throw it all away from there?

Dreadful defending, bluntly. Nelson dawdling on the ball like his brain started operating on dial-up internet allowed Moise Kean to pick his pocket and pull one back, then Dan-Axel Zagadou did an awful job of dealing with a cross and the Italian picked up his second, before nobody reacted to a corner being cleared, allowing Enoch Mastoras to recycle possession and Adam Karabec to drill in from a tight angle.

It takes a moment, but I finally catch my breath and straighten up. Could’ve been worse, Nicole, could’ve lost, I think to myself. I let out a soft laugh and ponder over the last four and a half years, concluding that, whilst I may have seen two-goal leads blown on occasion, I don’t believe I’ve ever failed to win from being three goals up before.

Even as I approach my 300th game, there’s still plenty of time for firsts.


* * * * * * * *
After our capitulation in Cologne, we waited with baited breath to see what the rest of the weekend would bring, discovering that we’d actually set a trend of upsets and slip ups in the title chasers’ games as Wolfsburg lost at St. Pauli, before Bayern also threw away a 3-0 lead - and, worse, their lead was still fully intact by half-time - meaning we’re still nine points clear at the top of the table, with just ten games to go.

That’s enough Bundesliga talk, though - the Europa League knockouts are here.

Since our initial sojourn to Belgium to face KV Mechelen, things have gotten a little… weird. Yes, they’ve done terrifically to reach the last-16 stage, however they’ve plummeted to second-from-bottom in the Pro League, suggesting that their European bubble is likely to burst at any moment. As such, I feel safe to make a handful of changes from our last lineup, however I don’t go quite as crazy as I planned as Kobel hasn’t quite recovered to be able to play, whilst I foolishly decided that Rafael wasn’t a high priority for continental registration when compared to the other January signings, meaning Tiago Pereira Cardoso is called up from Borussia Mönchengladbach II to make his first-team debut and I don’t much trust changing the entire defence in front of him as a result.



A lot of my fears are put to rest when Szoboszlai whizzes in a 19th-minute, 25-yard free kick to give us the advantage, the rest leaving my mind when Alessio de Cruz tries to impale Nico Schlotterbeck’s calf on his studs eight minutes later and rightly receives his marching orders, before things go from bad to worse for our hosts when Toon Raemaekers turns Nelson’s low cross into his own net on the brink of the interval.

The Belgians look uninspired, unwilling, and underwhelming as the tie rolls on, clearly hampered by the red card, so we ease off the pressure and conserve our energy for the weekend, but even that isn’t enough to stop Szoboszlai slamming in a third to put a final flourish on the performance.

Our attack on three fronts marches on.

But will we hold our nerve to claim any silverware by the end of the season?





* * * * * * * *​

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Part Eight

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Welcome back to Foal From Grace! European adventures, Kevin's calendar, and Easter chocolate - it can only be the business end of the season beginning.

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

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“You see, there’s smaller ones with a crispy shell around solid chocolate, then there are bigger ones with a fondant centre,” I say.

“Interesting,” Zlatan Bajramović murmurs.

“A few years ago, though, all the other chocolate brands jumped on the Easter bandwagon and made their own eggs, but nothing could come close to the original Mini Eggs that Cadbury made,” Kevin Nolan says.

“And the other ones?”

“Creme Eggs? They started making variations on those a couple of years after the Mini Egg craze, but only Cadbury made those so the quality stayed pretty consistent,” I suggest.

“Caramel ones, Oreo ones, white chocolate ones, all of them have their own strengths,” Kevin adds. “Though we can’t go without mentioning Malteaster Bunnies.”

“Very true,” I agree. “Have you ever tried the mint or orange versions?”

“I haven’t, I’ll have to try them when I head home over the international break.”

“I probably have some in the care package of Easter chocolate my mum sent over, I’ll have a look when I get back to my house and bring them in tomorrow,” I say. “She doesn’t ever want me to miss out on anything, so I’ve ended up with about half of Waitrose in the post.”

“Waitrose?” Zlatan queries.

“Posh supermarket,” Kevin says.

“I wouldn’t say posh, I’d say… nice,” I suggest.

“Posh supermarket,” Kevin repeats.

“And this is where you buy your… eggs?” Zlatan asks.

“You can get them pretty much anywhere, to be honest,” I say. “Different shops will have different ranges, but everywhere will have a fairly wide selection.”

“Curious,” Zlatan mumbles.

“What do you do in Germany for Easter, then?”

“We have lots of traditions, like most countries, though one of the biggest things is Bunte Eier,” Zlatan says.

“What’s that?” I ask.

“Painted eggs,” Kevin says, for which I look at him in suspicion. “At least one of us has to pay attention in our German classes.”

“Do tell us more, Zlatan,” I say.

“We cook eggs and colour designs onto them, then hang them from trees,” he explains.

“That must be very pretty.”

“It is,” Zlatan smiles.


A shout from the pitch draws our collective gaze back to the training match we were supposed to be watching over.

“Are you paying attention?” Krystian Bielik calls to us.

“Of course we are,” I say, trying to sound authoritative but being betrayed by a wobble of uncertainty to my voice that I can’t disguise.

“Then why haven’t you told Nico off for clattering Daz four times in the last two minutes?” Krystian snaps.

“You’re right, I lied,” I admit. “Nico, why are you trying to injure your teammate?”

“If he can’t play, I take his place,” Nico Schlotterbeck shrugs. Dan-Axel Zagadou scowls at him from the floor, gently rubbing his calf.

“You won’t if you keep that up, not against Leipzig on Sunday at the very least,” I threaten. “Settle down and get back to playing properly, we’ll be watching now, I promise.”

“Just one more question,” Zlatan says to Kevin and me as the squad get back to their match.


“Is there any holiday in the UK that isn’t celebrated with copious amounts of chocolate?”

Kevin and I glance to each other.

“Don’t think so.”

“Me neither,” Kevin says. Zlatan snorts at our answers.

“No wonder you have such a problem with obesity.”



I’ve never believed in the lazy concept of a ‘European hangover’, however my boys decide to do their utmost to change that.

Sixth-placed Leipzig are there for the taking, showing far too much fear and rarely venturing out of their half, however we can’t string more than two passes together and struggle to comprehend the very idea of shooting in anger on a frustrating day that peaks with Tanguy Nianzou cracking a header off the crossbar in the fifth minute.

Not a game that’ll live long in the memory.


* * * * * * * *​
A new week brings with it the draw for the semi-finals of the DFB-Pokal and, after his star turn as our emergency goalkeeper a few weeks ago, Bielik will be delighted to get another chance to face off against St. Pauli, though I hope he won’t need to don the gloves again this time.


But from a domestic cup, to a continental one, focus shifts to KV Mechelen’s visit for the second leg of our Europa League last-16 tie.

With a commanding 3-0 lead from our match in Belgium, I feel confident that the Backup Brigade can get the job done and name a completely changed side from the one that drew with Leipzig, including bringing Gregor Kobel back in for his first appearance since breaking his hand.

Yes, there’s a goalkeeper on the bench this time.



Within seconds of kicking off, Emanuel Emegha has a chance to put the tie to bed when played through by Oscar Fraulo, but the Dutchman blazes wide with only the ‘keeper to beat.

Not to worry though, the exact same scenario presents itself five minutes later, surely Emegha has learned from his previous mistake?

Blazes wide, again.

I’m already beginning to lose patience with Emanuel and his wastefulness in front of goal, a sensation that’s compounded when we’re nearly punished within moments of the second miss, only to be bailed out by an excellent save from Kobel. The frustration has even spread to his teammates as, when presented with another easy chance to slip Emegha through, Fraulo instead decides to attempt a much more audacious pass through the lines for Jesper Lindstrøm, however Oscar’s ambitious choice pays off as he finds the Dane who takes the ball into his stride and sweeps home from 15 yards to open the scoring on the night.

Now that we have the advantage, our nerves are settled. There’s a new calmness to our play as the fringe players grow in confidence and that belief isn’t even rocked by watching Emegha miss another three glorious chances, nor from a moment of chaos that nearly allowed Gustav Engvall to pull one back for the visitors after a scramble in our box, and the tie is totally put to bed when Perr Schuurs nods in at a corner soon after the restart, allowing Kobel to be withdrawn as a precaution and the final 40 minutes to play out with little fuss.

Into the quarter-finals we go.


* * * * * * * *
With progress secured, a rest for all of our regular starters, and a clean sheet on Kobel’s return to action, Thursday couldn’t have gone much better for us, so let’s hope we can keep the good performances going as we head to Stuttgart three days later to take on the Bundesliga’s second-bottom side.

With Manfred Schmid having done little to arrest Die Schwaben’s slide since his mid-season appointment, I’d usually select a rotated eleven, however Mechelen’s refusal to provide any capable opposition has given me the ability to name a fresh, full-strength team, though Rafael does take Emegha’s place on the bench due to both Kobel having not completely recovered and Emanuel making Nelson Weiper look like prime Pelé.



“Have I gotten the Backup Brigade and our strongest eleven mixed up?” I ask my assistants as I sit back down in the dugout after passing over stodgy instructions to Bielik.

“It's two very different circumstances, Nicole,” Zlatan reasons. “After all the changes on Thursday, they knew they just had to avoid losing by more than two goals, but today the boys are battling against a team that are fighting for their Bundesliga status.”

“Maybe, doesn’t mean we haven’t been rubbish today,” Kevin says. “In fact, aside from Luca’s goal, I’d go as far as saying we’ve been shi-”

“You shouldn’t use double negatives, Kevin,” I interrupt.


“‘Doesn’t mean we haven’t’.”

“So? What’s wrong with that?” Kevin frowns.

“It’s not very good grammar,” I answer.

“Do I have an English literature exam to sit any time soon?”

“I won’t pretend to know your personal calendar.”

“You should, I put everything on the calendar linked to my work account,” Kevin says, pulling out his phone, tapping on the screen a few times, then holding it out for me to peruse.

“Blimey, you really meant EVERYTHING,” I say, scrolling through his packed schedule. “You’ve even got bathroom breaks on here…”

“I want to make sure people leave me alone.”

“Even at 3 a.m.?” I ask, pointing at the entry from the middle of last night.

“Football’s a global game,” Kevin shrugs.

“And this couples’ cookery class?” I continue. “I thought your family was still in Britain?”

“I go with Zlatan,” Kevin says, unabashedly. “I told him German cuisine was dreadful and convinced him to take lessons with an Italian teacher, so I come for moral support.”

“Despite the amazing food, it’s been a mixed bag overall,” Zlatan admits. “Mainly because they both keep mocking me over German food, when I’m actually Bosnian.”

“You were born in Hamburg.”

“Shut up.”


* * * * * * * *
After edging past Stuttgart, the rare joy of a midweek Bundesliga fixture presents itself on Wednesday night as Werder Bremen come to visit.

With the international break to come after the game, there’s little reason to rotate our lineup, though Gustavo Gallardo will have to step in for Manu Koné after the Frenchman picked up a ban for his fifth booking of the season last time out.



After a number of swashbuckling displays over the last few months, we’ve recently had to become far more patient with our play as mid-table teams have gradually adjusted from trying to beat us to trying not to lose to us - and tonight's no different.

Bremen sit deep and break up play by fouling whenever we look like building momentum, failing to create a chance of their own in the opening period as they try to keep us at bay, but they can’t quite hold out for the break when, with five minutes to go until the whistle, a well-worked counter sees Luca Netz drill a ball into the six-yard box that Nicolò Tresoldi flicks in for his first goal in four games.

From there, Die Grün-Weißen look short of ideas. Clearly, their whole gameplan revolved around keeping us from scoring, so once we have the lead they can’t adjust to playing on the front foot and we’re more than happy to continue to orchestrate play, always in control and never threatened by the time we eventually get stodgy and extinguish any lingering hopes our visitors may have had of rescuing a point.


* * * * * * * *​
As the international break passes, it’s an eventful time in Mönchengladbach as the draw for the Europa League quarter-finals sees us pitched against Villarreal, whilst Manchester UFC and Arsenal facing off means there’ll only be one English club in the final four, before we get the unfortunate news a couple of days later that Emegha has broken his ankle in training, meaning he’ll miss the rest of the campaign.

I know it’s only been three months and the injury is obviously devastating for him, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a transfer pan out as horrendously as Emanuel Emegha’s.



We have to keep going, though, and the next club to journey to Borussia-Park are former title-contenders Wolfsburg, who are now fighting just to stay in the top four after some turgid form since the turn of the year.

Despite their inconsistencies in 2027, we can’t take them for granted, so Koné is restored to a starting berth with his suspension served as we name the strongest team possible.



Confession time.

Over the summer, I strung Illan Meslier along for a couple of weeks while I was looking for a new goalkeeper - I always thought he was good, but I was never fully convinced. In the end, I decided that Kobel’s experience and quality, combined with a more reasonable price tag, meant he was the better choice, so I had to tell Meslier that he wasn’t joining us after all, news that he wasn’t overly pleased to receive and he eventually left Leeds for Wolfsburg instead.

I feel the need to admit all of this, because now is the exact moment that he decided to show me what I missed out on.

Tresoldi already has 38 goals this season, but Meslier stood tall to everything the Italian had to offer to prevent him from adding any more to that tally. Clean through? Meslier spreads himself well. Bullet header from a free kick? Saved on the line. Follow-up? An even more impressive save on the line. Clean through again? Actually, Nicolò hit the post that time, but Meslier made an outrageous recovery to get back to his feet and save the second effort.

In the end, responsibility had to be passed on to our next-highest scorer. As Netz shapes to deliver a cross from wide on the left, Tresoldi makes a dummy run to the front post, drawing the attention of Wolfsburg’s defence as our left wing-back sails the ball over all of them to find Dominik Szoboszlai at the back, completely unmarked, to head into the gaping net and finally give us the lead after 2.55 xG of chances had already been and gone.

At this stage, the die has been cast. Die Wölfe haven’t had a shot by the time we inch in front, and Tiago Gouveia’s red card for trying to send Reiss Nelson back to England via the Portuguese’s feet makes sure they won’t have any after either, but that doesn’t end Meslier’s rampage as he still has one final chance to thwart Tresoldi from close range, bringing to a close a goalkeeping performance almost as good as Justin Bijlow’s at the Santiago Bernabéu last season.

Shame for Illan he was let down by his teammates.


* * * * * * * *
“I’ve decided, Nicole, I think it’s worthwhile for me to join you on the bench tomorrow,” Alexis Geiler says, stowing her hand luggage in the overhead locker and taking her seat next to me on the plane, placing the book she’s currently reading on her lap.

“Really? And how did you come to this conclusion?” I ask, not looking away from my laptop screen.

“I just thought you might want some help translating your instructions for the players,” Alexis says, uncertainly.

“Zlatan’s done a good job of that for the last seven months.”

“Or, I can try and monitor what’s happening on the opposition bench, given there’s a lot of Germans on Villarreal’s payroll,” she suggests.

“That’s the same case for most Bundesliga clubs,” I reply. “What are you playing at, Lexi?”

“This,” Zlatan interrupts from the row behind us, passing his tablet over my head.

“Ah, I’d forgotten Oliver Glasner was Eintracht Frankfurt manager when you won the Europa League,” I smirk, handing Zlatan his tablet back through the gap between the seats. “I take it you want to meet him?”

“Perhaps,” Alexis mumbles, sheepishly, blushing a little.

“We’ll see what can be sorted out over the two legs,” I chuckle, making my colleague beam before I change the topic. “So, what’s your book?”

“Oh, it’s ‘Murder Your Employer: The McMaster’s Guide to Homicide’. I’ve read about half, it’s been very interesting,” Alexis says, totally nonchalantly.

I stare at her during an uncomfortably long silence as I process the implications of what she’s just said.

“Do I need to be worried?”

“Are you responsible for my wages?”


“You’re probably fine then.”



With the total domination of a Champions League-chasing side at the weekend, I was optimistic that a lineup which only saw Emil Holm drafted in for Nelson could carry the same sort of form with them to Spain when faced with a mid-table team.

I was not disappointed.

We look streets ahead of our hosts as we take charge, firmly in control of the opening exchanges and taking the lead on the 20-minute mark as Nianzou cushions Netz’s corner down to Szoboszlai for him to rifle in from the edge of the box while Villarreal look as sharp as a rubber band ball.

Though our intensity dips as the half wears on, we’re right back to our peak after the interval passes, Tresoldi finding the net within minutes to get him back on the scoresheet after his traumatic afternoon against Wolfsburg, allowing us to ease off and conserve some energy for the remainder of the game, though I eventually give in to my paranoid urges and get stodgy after centre-back Juan Foyth hits both posts with an effort from 25 yards, even with only two minutes of added time to go.

You can never be too cautious in knock-out football.


* * * * * * * *
As we settle down to fly back to Germany on Friday morning, I check the Bundesliga table to take stock.

Nine points clear of Bayern in second, with six games to go. At this stage, we need just ten points from a possible 18 to secure Die Fohlen’s first title in half a century, whilst still being in the running for both domestic- and European-cup success. The catch? A quick look at our schedule shows that, after a trip to rock-bottom Hannover on Sunday, our return leg against Villarreal is followed by a visit from our title rivals, then our DFB-Pokal semi-final against St. Pauli, all in the space of seven days.

Our form over the next couple of weeks could be the difference between unprecedented success for Borussia Mönchengladbach, or a collapse of cataclysmic proportions.




* * * * * * * *​

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 Nine

Series Links

Welcome back to Foal From Grace! Our showdown with Bayern is here. Who will leave Borussia-Park with an advantage in the title race?

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

Part 9.png


“Yes, Nicole?”

“Would you double check that I’ve understood this email from the board correctly, please?” I ask.

“Sure, share your screen with me,” Alexis Geiler says. I duly click the requisite symbols on my screen to show her what I’m reading, her eyebrows raising as she does the same. “What do you think it says?”

“I believe it’s telling me that Kô Itakura, on loan at Everton with an obligation for them to buy him come the summer in a deal completed before I arrived, has been paid a €200,000 bonus as a result of us qualifying for next season’s Champions League last weekend,” I say.

“Well, Nicole, I’ve got good news and bad news for you,” Alexis starts. “The bad news is that you are exactly right.”

“The good news?”

“Your German has come on leaps and bounds since you recently started trying harder.”

“Thanks,” I frown. “How the heck did this happen?”

“My guess is that the bonus was agreed in his last contract and, because he’s still technically contracted to the club, he’s entitled to it now you’re guaranteed a spot in the top four,” Alexis reasons. “Do any of the current squad have a similar clause?”

“No, so I’m keen for this news to not be shared with them,” I admit. “If word gets out about this, I’ll have a queue of people waiting outside my offi-”

I’m cut short as my office door swings open and Devyne Rensch storms in, flanked by Manu Koné and Reiss Nelson, all looking rather surly.

“Or, just barging straight in, apparently,” I mutter to myself.

“What’s this we hear about Kô getting a bonus for OUR performances? He’s not even here!” Devyne huffs.

“I thought you’d all gone home?” I say.

“Three-person-team EA Sports FC 27 tournament downstairs, we’re waiting for the knockouts to be drawn,” Reiss explains. “I hope we don’t get Daz, Edwin, and Tanguy, they’re even more telepathically linked on a PlayStation than they are in our back three…”

“The point is, will we be getting a bonus too?” Manu asks.

“There’ll be a bonus shared out amongst the squad based on league position at the end of the campaign, as there normally is,” I state.

“But, will it be as high as Kô’s?”

“Probably not,” I say, bluntly.

“Do you think that’s fair?” Devyne queries.

“I’ll be honest, whether it’s fair or not is irrelevant to me. A better question would be whether you should be talking to me, or your agents that didn’t think it was worth your while to negotiate the same clause as Kô’s last time you renewed your deals?” I fire back, stumping the trio for a moment.

“I see where you’re coming from, boss,” Reiss says. “In that case, next time we enter contract talks -”

“Who says any of you are getting a new contract any time soon?”

My words cause worried glances to be shared amongst my players as I fix a steely expression in place.

“Sorry to bother you about this, chief,” Devyne mumbles.

“That’s fine, please shut the door on your way out,” I say, leaving the boys to awkwardly shuffle out of my office again and head back to their teammates.

“That really struck a nerve with them,” Alexis chuckles, though her incredibly shaky tone indicates how uncomfortable she found the whole ordeal.

“Seeing as they all had their heads turned by Saudi Arabian clubs in January, I’m not surprised that they’re pretty passionate about money,” I grumble, turning back to my computer and beginning to type a message.

“Do you think they’ll get over it?”

“I’m sure they will,” I sigh. “Besides, if Krystian’s rigged the draw for their gaming tournament the way I’ve just asked him to, they’ll have something much more frustrating to worry about pretty soon.”



With Hannover cut adrift at the base of the Bundesliga, I felt that making six changes from the side that bested Villarreal on Thursday would still leave us strong enough to get past Die Roten at the Niedersachsenstadion, a theory that looks to have legs as our hosts pose little threat to our goal prior to Jesper Lindstrøm putting the finishing touch on an intricate move down our left to give us the advantage.

But, the game turns on its head in the three minutes that make up the bread in a half-time sandwich.

With Nadiem Amiri heading nowhere in a hurry on their right-hand side, Robin Gosen’s brain seems to miss the brake pedal and accidentally press the accelerator as the left wing-back clatters into the back of the German in our box and gifts Hannover a lifeline from the spot, one that Amiri takes. Then, after we’d thought they may lose some gusto over the interval, our opponents come out even more revved up for the restart, not giving the ball away before Florian Flick drills in their second from the edge of the box.

Now losing to the basement team, I tell the boys to throw caution to the wind and get forward more often, but there seems to be little we can do to breach Hannover’s defence again as they clam up faster than a speaker being asked any questions that haven’t been pre-approved at a Q&A, but we keep probing, keep trying to generate space, and, with seconds to go of injury time, we finally craft an opening as Luca Netz finds a breach in the hull on their right and fizzes a skidding cross through to the back post where Lindstrøm is waiting, unmarked, six yards out, to smash a shot… right into Bernd Leno’s face, and the rebound is cleared.

The whistle goes for full-time.

Hannover two, Borussia Mönchengladbach one.

A monumental slip-up in the title race that cuts our lead to six points.


* * * * * * * *​
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For those who have been following my journey since it began with Birmingham City, the sight of my all-conquering Blues being firmly ensconced in ninth in the Premier League in their first season after my departure is incredibly sad, however the magic is still alive in the Champions League.

Having been a goal down from their first leg at the Metropolitano, the return visit of Atlético Madrid looked to be headed to a lifeless 0-0 before Oscar Gloukh’s 96th-minute penalty forced extra time, and a second goal in the 111th minute was enough to confirm progress into the semi-finals. The scorer of the winner? Noah Okafor. The same Noah Okafor that swapped places with me over the summer when Blues activated his release clause to take him over to England from Mönchengladbach.

Funny how these things work, sometimes.

Blues UCL Review.png

But that’s enough about my previous club’s European adventures, as the time has come for Die Fohlen’s own quarter-final second leg - the visit of Villarreal.

Having brought a two-goal advantage back from Spain with us last week, I refuse to take anything for granted after the fiasco in Lower Saxony at the weekend, so I name the strongest eleven possible as we aim to prevent another upset.



The opening period is scrappy, which suits us well whilst we have the advantage, however the lingering doubt that a complacency over our aggregate-lead could result in a total capitulation won’t leave my mind, so I’m delighted that, when we need someone to take the pressure off and settle our nerves, Captain Krystian Bielik steps up on the brink of half-time to glance Rensch’s cross into the top-right corner from the penalty spot and really put the tie to bed.

Villarreal look deflated as they head back out of the dressing rooms for the second half, so it’s little surprise that they look to be going through the motions somewhat, officially giving up once Nicolò Tresoldi is slipped through to stroke in his 40th goal of the season and sink El Submarino Amarillo, allowing us to cruise to our tenth-consecutive clean sheet in the Europa League and into the semi-finals, where we’ll meet the surprise package of the competition so far: Stade de Reims.



* * * * * * * *
“Run it past me again, Zlatan.”

“Right, Nicole, here goes,” Zlatan Bajramović says, puffing out his cheeks as we sit in the office adjoining our dressing room at Borussia-Park. “So, if Bayern win, the lead is cut to three points and we’ll need ten points from a possible twelve, assuming they’ll win all of the rest of their games; if we draw, the gap will stay at six, so we’ll need seven more points; then, if we win -”

I snort at that suggestion, but Zlatan just glares at me. “Sorry, do continue.”

“If we win,” he repeats. “The gap will stretch to nine, so four points is all we’d need for the title.”

“That’s the dream,” I sigh. “Shame Dani Olmo’s going to give me nightmares again.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Yes, I do. He’s the most technically-gifted player in the Bundesliga and always seems to save at least one ridiculous performance for a match against me, to the point that I’m considering joining a women’s team for my next job just to get away from him,” I say.

Zlatan laughs at my semi-serious statement, at which point Kevin Nolan walks through the door, staring at the Bayern team sheet in his hand.

“How bad is it looking then, Kev?” I ask. “I take it they weren’t surprised that we named the best lineup we could?”

Kevin says nothing. He just keeps staring at the team sheet.

“Kevin?” Zlatan says, softly, trying to catch his fellow assistant’s eye.

Still nothing. Just staring.

“Kevin, this is the longest I’ve ever gone in this room without hearing you say something, what’s wrong?” I ask.

Kevin says something inaudible.


He clears his throat and tries again.

“Dani Olmo’s not in the squad,” he croaks, just loud enough for us to hear.


“That can’t be right,” Zlatan frowns.

“Take a look for yourself,” Kevin says, passing Zlatan the piece of paper. He scans it at least three times, each more slowly than the last, all the while his eyebrows adventure further and further up his head.

“Dani Olmo’s not in the squad,” he finally agrees.

“Alright, I see what’s going on here,” I smirk.

“What?” my colleagues say, in unison.

“You’re pranking me!” I laugh. “We all know Olmo’s fit, we all know he’s not suspended, so you can guarantee there’s no way Julian Nagelsmann drops him for the biggest game of the season. Well done though, you had me going for a second.”

“No, boss, we’re serious,” Kevin says.

“Look for yourself,” Zlatan adds, passing me the team sheet.

“Okay, sure you are,” I snigger, taking the paper. “And I’m sure Blues will have six different people take charge of matches over the course of one season too. What do you take me for? Some kind of idi-”

I stop myself as I finish reading Bayern’s 20-man contingent, double-, triple-, then quadruple-checking before looking up to animated nods from my coaches.

“Dani Olmo’s not in the squad.”



The play is about as tense and cagey as should have been expected when the two teams chasing the title come head-to-head towards the end of the season, however the electric atmosphere in the stands never dissipates, our home support drowning out the travelling Bavarians until the final few minutes of the half when teenager Lee Young-Hun’s cross from the right drifts over my centre-backs and onto Sadio Mané’s head. Fortunately, the Senegalese’s effort cracks off the underside of the cross bar and Gregor Kobel is on hand to gratefully collect the ball as it bounces free, but the first warning that Bayern may be growing into the game has been given.

I get my boys back in for half-time unscathed and do my utmost to give them even more belief that they can emerge victorious over our illustrious visitors, a task that’s made immeasurably more difficult by the sense of impending dread that pulsates through my body with every beat of my heart, like the big bosses have called for a meeting at short notice that you must attend, but refuse to give any details for.

Clearly, however, my words had enough faux-conviction behind them to inspire some of my players and, within a minute of the restart, Dan-Axel Zagadou uses that extra bit of motivation to make sure he’s the first to Netz’s in-swinging corner and redirects its flight past Marc-Andre ter Stegen, making Borussia-Park erupt in the process.

Now, Bayern look stumped. Having been dealt the first blow has clearly knocked their confidence, and that plays right into our hands as my defensive unit tightens up to leave spaces in the middle that even that omitted Spaniard would struggle to to break through, leaving our visitors to try and create openings out wide, but every speculative cross is headed away with authority to enthusiastic approval from our crowd. Try as they might, Bayern can’t find a way through, nor can they find a way over, and their spirit gradually fades away, the final nail in the coffin coming as we hit the stodge button to see out the last moments of the game.

The final whistle sounds and is greeted by a visceral roar from all of those associated with Die Fohlen.

It might not be official confirmation of the title, but they all know that this seismic result makes it as good as over.


* * * * * * * *​
Despite the euphoria of our victory over Bayern on Sunday, we can’t allow ourselves to get too carried away as we have to quickly refocus on our trip to Hamburg as we face St. Pauli in our DFB-Pokal semi-final on Wednesday.

With the Herculean efforts put in by some members of the side, it’s little shock that a bit of rotation is in order, so cup-goalkeeper Rafael will be joined by Giorgio Cittadini, Nico Schlotterbeck, Emil Holm, Gosens, and Lindstrøm as they deputise for Kobel, Tanguy Nianzou, Zagadou, Nelson, Netz, and Dominik Szoboszlai.



After an opening 80 minutes that put our Europa League snooze-fest with Arsenal to shame, the game comes to life when Holm wildly under-hits a backpass from the halfway line and the ball holds up in no man's land, leaving Rafael stuck on the edge of his box whilst caught in two minds as Marlon Mustapha hares past my defenders to collect the ball and roll past the stranded goalkeeper.

That is not how I want to remember my first DFB-Pokal campaign ending, however. We throw everybody forward and go for broke, suddenly looking like a table-topping team again, and are duly rewarded when Tresoldi converts a penalty he won himself after being dumped on the ground by Leart Paqarada, so we go in search of a winner as time ebbs away, only to be denied by a fantastic save from Loris Karius and a piece of wasteful finishing by Szoboszlai that leaves the pair us requiring extra time to be separated.

At this point, tired legs usually mean the next half an hour will be rather uneventful, yet we appear to get our second wind as St. Pauli legs tire, going up through the gears and carving through their defence over a rampant 15 minutes that sees Holm half-volley us in front to make amends for his previous error, before Liam Heywood pokes in our third within moments of regaining possession after the restart.

Now, we can relax a little. At least, that’s what I thought, but when Oliver Burke’s blocked shot bobbles into the middle for Marcel Hartel to stab in late on, I decide enough is enough - I’m not interested in any more excitement. We finally get stodgy, killing the game as a contest and preventing another St. Pauli chance from being generated as we just about make our way into the final, where, I’m sure absolutely nobody will be surprised to learn, it'll be Bayern Munich that we face in the showpiece.



* * * * * * * *
As Bild am Sonntag hits the shelves on Sunday morning, the English translation of the main story on the back page reads:

‘Bayern Munich 1 - 1 Wolfsburg: Gladbach on brink of title after holders slip up at home.’

In light of our rivals’ slip-up, plans to rotate ahead of Reims’ visit on Thursday go out the window. There’s no way I’m putting out anything but our strongest lineup against Freiburg as we seek the three points we need to claim the Bundesliga silverware for ourselves.



I was expecting a performance filled with nerves as my boys wobble under the pressure of what’s at stake, potentially slipping up and handing Bayern the chance to sneak their way back into the title race when the opportunity to knock them off their perch had been within our grasp.

Frankly, I should know by now to have more faith in the squad.

My players are fired up from the off, clearly determined to get the job done, and we make the breakthrough we’re after on the quarter-hour when Rensch meets Arijanet Muric’s weak punch on the half-volley, guiding it over the prone goalkeeper from the edge of the area.

Even with the lead, we don’t relent, keeping up the pressure and trying to work our way through the lines again, but Freiburg eventually decide to make it easy for us when Ibrahima Diallo, the last man back, turns towards his own goal and passes the ball straight to Tresoldi, who gleefully smashes past Muric to double our advantage before the break.

When we return from the dressing rooms to resume play, I expect our hosts to match our intensity, however they simply don’t look interested. Perhaps Christian Streich, who hasn’t seen a side other than Bayern win the title since his first season in charge of Die Breisgau-Brasilianer a decade and a half ago, decided he was happy to play his part in ending the stranglehold Julian Nagelsmann’s club have over German football as our hosts allow us to breeze through the second half, all the while the party atmosphere in the away end growing with every passing minute.

The final whistle blows.

Bayern Munich’s monopoly has finally ended.

For the first time in 50 years, Borussia Mönchengladbach are Bundesliga Champions.



* * * * * * * *
Well, how do you follow your first title for half a century? By welcoming a bottom-third Ligue 1 team to Borussia-Park in a European semi-final, I suppose, though not before Zagadou extends his contract with us after an impressive first season on the left of our defence, being rewarded with an €8,000-per-week pay… cut?

Yeah, I’m not really sure what his agent was doing in those negotiations either.


Despite Reims’ lowly league position, the fact that they’ve reached the final four of the Europa League shows that they shouldn’t be taken for granted, so I name the same eleven that sealed the deal in the league on Sunday again after reducing the physical intensity of training this week as we hope to take a commanding lead into the second leg.



“What does that take the total xG to now, Zlatan?”

“3.59, Nicole.”

“And how much of that is ours?”

“2.40,” Zlatan grimaces from his seat next to me in the dugout. “17 shots, ten on target.”

“It’s a good job Tanguy scored from that corner, then, I’d have been livid if we didn’t take a lead with us to France next week after all the chances we’ve wasted,” I say.

“Did you keep track of that in your head, or have the analysts sent you the numbers?” Kevin asks, leaning forward to look across me at Zlatan.

“What do you think?”

“At this point, Zlats, I genuinely don’t know,” Kevin admits.

“Analysts,” Zlatan laughs. “How do you expect me to work out xG from here?”

“You could always go up in the stands to get a better view and do your own calculations,” I suggest.

“That’s a ridiculous idea, gaffer,” Kevin says. “He’s an assistant manager, not an analyst. Yes, he likes statistics, and yes, he looks at football in a way I can’t understand, but I can’t believe Zlats would want to give up his spot down here on the bench, just so that he can work out expected goals all by himself.”

“All I hear is you telling me that you’d miss him,” I tease.

“No, I wouldn’t,” Kevin snaps. “I just know what he likes, don’t I, Zlats?”

Kevin leans forward again to see that the seat on the other side of me has already been vacated, then looks to me and our eyes meet.

“Sack him.”





* * * * * * * *​

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 Ten

Series Links

Welcome back to Foal From Grace! With the title secured, can we finish the season on a high and reach the Europa League final?

This part is spread across multiple posts, so make sure to catch all four games and the outro!

Part 10.png

“It’s official, Lexi,” I beam, striding into my office. “My teacher has deemed me fluent in German!”

“That’s great news,” Alexis Geiler says, half-smiling as she looks up from her laptop. “I guess that means I’ll be leaving soon…”

“No, I have a plan.”

“Oh no, not one of your plans.”

“This is a good one!” I insist. “I was going to offer you the job of ‘Head of International Managerial Affairs’.”

“That sounds like an elaborate name for ‘Personal Assistant’, if it means what I think it does,” Alexis says, rolling her eyes.

“Is that not similar to your job now, where you help me answer emails and communicate with non-English speaking people on my behalf?”

“Fair point,” Alexis nods. “What about Karl, though?”


“Your ACTUAL personal assistant? Sits outside your office all day, brings you coffee every morning?” Alexis tries to remind me, before she drops into a judgemental scowl. “Have you not noticed that Karl exists for the last ten months?”

“After what happened at Birmingham, I have something of a trauma-induced compulsion to ignore PAs,” I say. “But you wouldn’t be, you see, you’d be my Head of International Managerial Affairs.”

“I see,” Alexis hums, thoughtfully, leaning back in her chair and playing with a pen between her fingertips. “So, what would this new role entail?”

“Basically, the same as your job at the moment, only I’ll cover all things German, so you’d be freed up to explore taking on any new responsibilities you’d like and learning even more languages than the three you already speak - all funded by the club, of course,” I explain.

“Intriguing,” Alexis says. “And you think the President will agree to this?”


“Tobias? Tobias Deppe? Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten him too?”

“No, I just thought he was Chairman.”

“Nope, always been President.”

“Well, I’ve been embarrassingly wrong for a long time,” I mutter.


“Nothing. I’ve already spoken to Tobias, he thinks it’s a great idea,” I say.


“Sure, as soon as you suggest giving someone a fancy-sounding title, people in boardrooms lap it up. I didn’t even have to explain much about the job, just waffled for a bit until he said yes,” I laugh.

“Of course,” Alexis chuckles. “In that case, I’d be delighted to be your new Head of International Managerial Affairs, because I'm not ready to leave this place yet.”

“Welcome aboard,” I beam, reaching into a desk drawer to pass Alexis a draft of her new contract. “I hope you enjoy the significant increase in your pay that comes with it.”

“How much?!” Alexis shouts after glancing over the initial offer.

“Had to make sure your salary reflected your new title, didn’t I?” I grin.

“Nicole, that’s incredible, thank you. How can I repay you?” Alexis asks.

“You can start learning Dutch so I can understand what all the angry-looking words inside Perr Schuurs’ locker mean, because Devyne Rensch is too scared to tell me.”



I had felt pretty confident ahead of Hamburg’s visit that my team, although rotated with an eye on our Europa League semi-final second leg on Thursday, would have enough quality and self-motivation to ease past our visitors to claim a club-record-setting 24th league win of the campaign, but that idea began crumbling around me when Assan Ouédraogo nuts in from a corner to give the 14th-placed side a lead going into the break.

Not to worry, a few tweaks should get us firing again, I think, but when Abdulsamed Damlu makes an incredible save from Liam Heywood and Dominik Szoboszlai’s follow-up is cleared off the line, before Hamburg go straight down the other end and double their advantage, I begin to have second thoughts.

This is a salvage mission now.

Desperate to maintain our unbeaten status at home under my management, I set about pushing as many players forward as possible, rewarded soon after when Heywood manages to get himself on the scoresheet at last when he steams onto Emil Holm’s cross and heads it at such a speed that Damlu thought the ball had hit the crossbar when it bounced back into the box and didn’t realise he’d conceded until he saw the replay on the big screen.

We keep pushing, but Hamburg keep dropping deeper and closing up spaces before we have a chance to get through them so, as injury time draws near, I call Emil over to the touchline.

“Yes?” he pants, feeling the effects of our high-energy play.

“I need you to tell the strikers to miss on purpose, shoot from anywhere,” I say.

“Are you serious?” he snaps in incredulity.

“Completely,” I reply. “They’re taking goal kicks long, so I want you and Luca to tuck in and cover the strikers with your centre-backs behind, so we can try and break quickly.”

“Seems crazy, but what the heck? I’ll let them know,” Emil says, jogging off and relaying my instructions to the rest of the team to equally surprised looks.

“D’you think that’ll work?” Kevin Nolan asks as I return to the dugout.

“It’s the only hope I’ve got left,” I sigh, leaning forward as Nicolò Tresoldi shoots about 30 yards over the bar from the edge of the box. Damlu takes his time over collecting the ball, but that’s little surprise. Eventually, the goalkeeper does as we predicted and hoofs the ball downfield.

As the sphere sails through the air, I glance down and a surge of excitement suddenly pulses through me.

With Ouédraogo pinned between Holm and Tanguy Nianzou, there’s no way he’s winning the header, and Emil’s new position means he’s perfectly placed to cushion a header back in the direction it came from to Heywood who receives the ball and spins, sliding a pass through our visitors’ defence before they can retreat, freeing Jesper Lindstrøm to race towards goal, set himself, and guide past Damlu to restore parity when it looked like we were destined to lose.

We collect only a point, but it’s a point well-rescued when the outlook was bleak.


* * * * * * * *​
As we journey through Belgium and into north-eastern France, the job in Reims is clear: don’t lose.

With a slender one-goal lead to protect, I’d gladly take a dull, goalless draw to see us into the final, though I’d obviously much rather we went 19 goals ahead by half-time and be able to substitute a large number of my strongest eleven post-interval to protect them from injury.

Can we repeat the trick Birmingham managed in Barcelona last night, by seeing out a first-leg advantage, away from home, to qualify for a European final at the end of the month?



Mathieu Chabert had neither the luxury, nor the foresight, to rest any of his key players over the week that’s passed since their trip to Mönchengladbach and the contrasting levels of fitness are clear very early on.

We zip the ball around like the season’s just begun and we have all the energy in the world, whilst our hosts look more like they’ve been playing five matches a day for the last nine months, chasing shadows as they huff and puff around the pitch, unsurprisingly conceding their first of the night when Rensch’s close-range effort deflects off of Szoboszlai’s shin and into the opposite corner than intended, before Reiss Nelson caresses a much more gracefully taken strike into the same corner ten minutes later after the ball comes loose from a corner.

After play resumes for the second period, we soon ease our intensity once we realise that Reims have no appetite to try and change the course of their fate. They know that the writing’s on the wall, that their dream of a first European final since the 1950s died when our third goal of the tie had hit the back of the net, so there’s minimal fight-back from our hosts as we ease through to the final whistle and into the final, where we’ll face Wayne Rooney’s Manchester UFC.



* * * * * * * *
For our final away trip of the season, it’s a relatively short journey to the BayArena as we take on Brendan Rodgers’ Champions League-chasing Bayer Leverkusen.

With passage into the finals of both the Europa League and DFB-Pokal now secured in what’s looking to be a huge few days towards the end of the month, my desire to give some players a short rest over the last few league fixtures remains intact, irrespective of any records that can be broken, so Edwin Zamudio, Manu Koné, and Szoboszlai are the latest to drop to the bench, with Schuurs, Gustavo Gallardo, and Lindstrøm stepping in and trying to disrupt any plans I may have for my lineups in the showpieces.



“What a dreary way to end our Bundesliga travels,” I grumble to Kevin Nolan as we enter the final minute of the four added on to the end of the game. “We’ve had some real stinkers this season.”

“Look, it won’t ever be as bad as Arsenal,” Kevin suggests.

“I want that entire day of my life returned, with interest.”

“Unfortunately, that’s not possible yet, gaffer.”

“It’s 2027, scientists really need to hurry up and make flying cars and time travel possible, or cause the apocalypse already.”

“We came close with Covid in 2020.”

“True, though I was thinking something more exciting, like dinosaurs, or zombies, y’know?” I say. “Something a little less…”

“Arsenal in the Europa League league phase?” Kevin smirks.

“Exactly,” I laugh, Zlatan Bajramović arriving from the tunnel with a notepad as I do so. “Well then, Zlatan, what do you think?”

“I think the boys need to get back to finding Nicolò more often, they’re barely making any chances for him to get on the end of,” my assistant frowns. “Like now, for instance. Why isn’t the ball being sent left for Robin when he’s totally unmarked?”

As soon as Zlatan finishes his sentence, Heywood plays the exact pass being demanded of him to Robin Gosens. The wing-back takes a single touch to tee himself up and delivers a cross that whizzes in so close to the ground that I’m sure I see blades of grass flying in the air, neatly evading everybody until Tresoldi ghosts in at the back post to slam into Gavin Bazunu’s goal with three seconds left on the clock.

As the bench empties around us to join the exuberant celebrations in the corner, Kevin and I turn to Zlatan and say nothing as he looks down at the notepad in his hand, before throwing it over his shoulder and into the empty dugout.

“It’s far more exciting down here.”


* * * * * * * *
With our new record for league wins secured, it’s nice that we can relax a little for our final Bundesliga match of the campaign and continue to rest a few players ahead of the Europa League final in four days, with nothing riding on this match against Darmstadt.

Although, that’s not completely true.

Whilst there’s nothing at stake for us, our visitors are currently occupying 16th, three points ahead of Stuttgart, who they beat 4-0 last weekend, and three behind Hamburg, meaning a draw would give them another chance to retain their top-flight status in the relegation play-off and a win could be enough to evade the bottom three entirely, so this won’t be as easy a match as it appeared at first glance.



We’re all over Darmstadt in the first half as they struggle to get on the ball at all, but Emanullah Telibecirevic conspires to prove I was right not to trust him to step into Tresoldi’s boots sooner and, as surely as judgmental comments over the standard of women’s goalkeeping follow any wonder goal, our visitors take the lead with their first attack after the interval through Tyrese Campbell.

Going behind sparks a bit of life into my players, at last realising that they can’t keep going through the motions and expect to beat a team fighting for their lives, and it’s mere minutes before Holm rifles in a leveller from the edge of the box, however we can’t build on that as, with an eye on Wednesday night, I withdraw five of my regular starters shortly after.

With a second-string side now out, we soon revert to low-intensity football and Darmstadt, clearly delighted at the prospect of keeping their fate within their own hands, decide not to poke the bear again as the final half an hour disappointingly ticks by, resigning Die Roten to the 2. Bundesliga next season, despite a win that would’ve seen them survive, had we done our job properly.

Oh well, it’s not like I’ll need to go to Stuttgart any time soon and face their fans' wrath after failing to beat one of the worst teams in the league.


* * * * * * * *​
“Why did the Europa League final just HAVE TO BE IN STUTTGART?” I fume as our coach inches towards our hotel’s entrance, surrounded by a throng of angry fans of the local club that’s parted only by a security team that have cleared a path to the door. “Let’s stop here then, Lukas, we can’t get much closer without you running someone over.”

“Could be fun,” our burly, shaven-headed driver winks.

“Save it for just before your retirement, they’ll put it down to your age and you won’t get in as much trouble,” I whisper, making us both chuckle. I then turn to face the rest of those on board and raise my voice. “Right, everybody, this is as close to the hotel as we can get, so grab your stuff - we’re alighting here.”

“Seriously? We’re going out in THAT?” Dan-Axel Zagadou shouts, sticking his head into the aisle from his seat near the back.

“You can stay on the coach, if you’d like,” I shrug.

“Feels like a trap…” Luca Netz mumbles, sitting much closer to me.

“No trap,” I say, far too calmly for everyone’s liking. “Although, if anyone can’t cope with an angry crowd here, I suppose I wouldn’t be able to trust them to cope with the pressure of a European final and will have to reconsider their position in the squad.”

“There it is,” Luca says, quietly, nodding to himself.

“Come on then, boys,” Krystian Bielik says, picking up his bag and leading the march as, one by one, my players and staff file down the steps and into the horde.

“Coming?” I ask Alexis as I prepare to leave.

“I’ve just been promoted, I know my job is safe. I’m staying with the unregistered crew,” she says, gesturing to Liam and Rafael at the back who wave at me with relieved looks on their faces.

“Alright, I’ll see you on the other side then,” I reply and, with that, enter the fray myself, descending into a sea of noise that makes the 20-metre walk to the hotel feel like a cross-country run until I finally reach the relative calm of the hotel foyer. “See? That wasn’t so ba- OH MY GOODNESS, GIO, ARE YOU OKAY?!”

“Yeah, don’t worry, it’s not blood,” Giorgio Cittadini answers, dark-red liquid covering the right side of his head and dripping down onto his tracksuit. “Pretty sure it’s arrabiata,” he adds, leaning towards Nicolò for him to smell too.

“Definitely,” his fellow Italian agrees. “Is that a bit xenophobic?”

“Probably, could’ve been worse though, at least they didn’t throw coratella,” Giorgio half-laughs.

“Glad you’re alright, at least,” I say, trying to sound comforting. “Right, if you all go and see Zlatan, he’ll sort you out with your room keys so you can have a moment to freshen up before we meet back down here in an hour, just let Gio go first.”

As my squad go to collect their assigned cards, I take a moment to breathe and calm myself after the chaos. A quick glance out of the window shows the mob of Stuttgart fans already starting to disperse and a sense of serenity engulfs me at last. We’re here, we’re safe, we can relax now.

“Hello, Nicole.”

Serenity: gone. I’d recognise those Liverpudlian tones anywhere.

Spinning on the spot to face the opposite direction from my players, I’m greeted by the unwelcome sight of Wayne Rooney approaching me.

“Hello, Wayne,” I respond, not bothering to attempt to reciprocate his fake smile. “What’re you doing here?”

“Just looking for somewhere to have dinner tonight, the restaurant here has an excellent reputation,” Wayne says.

“And you just happened to be here at the exact moment we arrived, did you?” I snap.

“No, I’ve been waiting for a couple of hours.”

“Sounds like a terrific use of your time, preparing for a cup final by hanging out in the wrong hotel.”

“Oh, no, it’s been very helpful, actually,” Wayne sneers. “Good to see how each of your players react to hostility in person, some useful scouting for me.”

“Did you have something to do with that crowd?”

“How else did you think they’d find out when and where to meet you?” he smirks, stepping closer so that there’s no chance of us being overheard. “Don’t think I’ve forgotten all of the things you’ve said about me and my football, Nicole - this is personal.”

“Please, Wayne, get over yourself,” I hiss. “You keep trying to big up your ‘style’ in the press, but all you achieved is one top-four finish before turning UFC into a mid-table club at great expense - how you haven’t been sacked yet is beyond me.”

“See, Nicole, you constantly need to disparage me, yet I’m not the one who quit as soon as they reached the top because they didn’t want to have to try and stay there,” Wayne retorts.

“At least I reached the top, you’re so far off that you weren’t even considered for the Blues job.”

“I didn’t want it anyway.”

“Good, because you’d do a horrendous job there and I’m not sure your reputation could take a hit like that,” I growl. “Face it, you’re not as good as you think you are, and we’ll prove it again tomorrow night.”

“For your sake, you better,” Wayne laughs. “After all, everything seems to point towards you winning: your 100 per cent record against UFC, playing on home soil, cruising to a league title, never lost a cup final. In fact, I’d go as far as saying it’d be pretty embarrassing if you lost this, and your tenure might come under much closer scrutiny by Thursday morning once you do.”

“The fact your squad cost over triple mine and you’re trying to act like you’re the underdog is pathetic,” I mock. “You tell your players whatever you need to to motivate them, but you need to accept reality and realise that you’ve destroyed expectations and standards at UFC, without shouldering any of the blame yourself. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a meeting to prepare for.”

I shoot Wayne a final dirty look before turning on my heels and marching back towards my nervous-looking assistants, their concern making me realise how angry my face must look and I attempt to remedy this.

“Good luck tomorrow,” he calls after me. I don’t respond, but I can feel the expression I worked hard to remove reestablish itself like a vengeful colony of dandelions.

Suddenly, this Europa League final means so much more.




* * * * * * * *​

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Part Eleven

2027 Europa League Final

Series Links

Welcome back to Foal From Grace! It's the Europa League final, and I'm desperate to get one over Wayne Rooney and his UFC boys.

This part is spread across multiple posts, so make sure to catch the whole game and the outro!

Part 11.png

It’s an unusual feeling for me, waking up after a cup final without a hangover. I suppose, it’s all a bit different, really. Different hotel, different competition, different club.

Well, not everything, I think as I look to my left. Beth’s still here, fast asleep. Long gone are the days that she’d be awake ages before me and I’d sleep until the hours were into double-digits for the day, not with the stress that managing a football club brings. Now I’m often awake before dawn, staring at the ceiling, running through everything that was, everything that wasn’t, everything that could be.

Not today, I decide.

Slowly easing myself out of bed, so as not to disturb my wife, I change out of my pyjamas and into a comfortable, club-branded tracksuit that I’ll never admit to wearing around anyone else, before writing a note to explain to Beth where I’ve gone if she wakes up before I’m back. All I need now is my phone.

Where did I leave it?

< < < < < < < <​

“Where did I leave them?”

“Leave what, Kevin?” I ask.

“My lucky socks, obviously,” Kevin Nolan says, with the same kind of attitude I’d expect if I had just spat in his eye.

“Lucky socks?” Zlatan Bajramović queries.

“Not magic socks?” I add.

“Magic socks? What kind of ridiculous idea is that, magic socks?” Kevin snaps. “How can socks be magic? What sort of gullible mug would believe in magic socks?”

“No idea, don’t worry about it,” I mumble.

“I’ve changed into my lucky socks for every game this season,” Kevin continues. “I can’t lose them now, not today.”

“Did you wear them for the Hannover game?”

“Of course.”

“Can’t be that lucky, then.”

Zlatan snorts, failing to stifle his laugh.

“They don’t work all the time, just most of the time,” Kevin reasons.

“That’s awfully convenient.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You know exactly what I mean, Kevin,” I sigh. “It’s a superstition, it makes you feel less anxious, I get it, but there’s no special power to your socks that’s bringing us better performances than expected.”

“But -”

“But nothing,” I say, shutting down my assistant. “Keep looking for them if you want, I need to go and swap team sheets.” I feel a small rage start to build at the thought of meeting Wayne Rooney again, but do my utmost to quell the rising anger.

“Do you think they’d have expected us to bring in Emil Holm for Reiss Nelson at right wing-back?” Zlatan asks.

“Who knows?” I shrug. “Maybe they’ll realise we’d value Emil’s defensive solidity over Reiss’ explosivity, but I’m hoping we’ll catch them out.”

As I swipe the paper that confirms our lineup off of the bench next to me, a pair of claret-and-blue socks land on the floor with a soft ‘plap’. I frown and start to feel my irritation building again, but a quick flip with my foot reveals a West Ham badge on the ankle, rather than Aston Villa, and it quickly subsides, before I look up at Kevin.

He stares blankly at the socks.

“Well, I have no idea how they got there.”



* * * * * * * *​

I have no idea how my phone got here, I think, reaching under the luggage rack near the entrance. I know I flail a bit in my sleep, but this is ridiculous.

Phone retrieved, I tiptoe to the door, slinking out and easing it shut behind me so as not to wake Beth, and head down the hallway.

It’s so early that there’s almost no noise in the corridor, outside of the muffled sounds of my footsteps on the carpet and the faint tweets of the earliest-rising birds drifting through the window as the dark blue sky shimmers with it’s first flecks of purple, pink, and red in the distance. In fact, there’s no indication of any other human life until I reach the ground floor and its 24-hour coffee bar, the barista looking up from his book when he hears me approach and smiling as he gets off his stool, placing a makeshift-napkin bookmark in the novel and setting it on the side.

“Good morning,” he practically sings. “What can I get for you?”

“Morning, I’ll have a black coffee with an extra shot, please,” I request, trying to match his positive energy and failing miserably.

“Can’t tempt you with something a little more adventurous?” Here comes the singing again.

“Not at…” I glance down at my phone. “Ten to five.”


“Put it this way, if it would taste nasty should I still be drinking it when I brush my teeth, I’m not interested,” I explain.

“Wouldn’t that be all coffee?”

“Not when you’ve spent eight years trying to make your morning routine as efficient as possible.”

The barista chuckles, tapping my order through on his till and turning to start on my drink. I glance over the counter to see what he’s reading.

“A fan of Sarah J. Maas?” I ask.

“I am indeed, this is the last book of hers I haven’t read yet and it's keeping me going through the night,” the barista smiles. “How about yourself?”

“I haven’t read any of her work, I must admit - I hear it’s a bit too steamy for my, apparently, childish, light-hearted, and sarcastic taste. My wife’s a big fan though,” I say.

“She has excellent taste,” the barista grins, passing me over my americano.

“I’ll let her know,” I laugh. “I take it the graveyard shift is pretty rough?”

“Come in at ten, nothing but teas for a couple of hours, then almost no one from midnight until five,” he sighs. “At least my boss doesn’t mind me doing my own thing when it’s quiet, as long as my work’s done.”

“Well, I hope the last bit of your working day goes a lot faster, now you’ve had your first customer of the morning,” I say, gesturing a thank you with my cup and turning to leave.

“Oh, no, you haven’t been the first today - I’ve been pretty busy by my usual standards, actually!”

“Really?” I ask, pausing mid-turn to look back to the barista.

“Yeah, already had two gentlemen before you, they came down together about ten minutes ago,” he says. “I presume they’re friends of yours, they have the same uniform as you.” He waggles a finger in the direction of the Borussia Mönchengladbach crest on my top.

“Interesting…” I mumble. “By any chance, can you tell me where they’ve gone?”

< < < < < < < <​
“Where’ve they gone?” Kevin scowls, barely a minute after the first whistle.

“Who?” Zlatan asks.

“The midfield, nobody’s pressing the centre-backs.”

“That’s what we agreed on,” I frown, confused. “Guide them into the centre of midfield, then press like we’re swans and the ball’s a dog that’s come too near our pond. Do you not remember the tactical meetings?”

“I’ve not been paying attention, I’ve had a Subbuteo league playing out in my head.”

“This is the Europa League final, those meetings were important!”

“So’s the final week of the season, there’s a three-way race for the title,” Kevin says flippantly, as though this is the most reasonable argument for not doing a job properly we’d ever heard.

“Fine, just watch,” I huff, clocking what’s about to happen.

As Raphaël Varane passes towards Casemiro, the switch flips.


Manu Koné comes steaming in and barges the Brazilian off the ball, cleanly, and starts powering towards goal. Though our Frenchman doesn’t exactly possess electric pace, Casemiro isn’t as quick off the mark as he was when he was integral to winning five Champions Leagues at Real Madrid and can’t get back fast enough. By the time he does get up to speed, in fact, Koné’s just reached the penalty area…


… and it becomes apparent that slowing down isn’t much of a speciality of the UFC man’s either, lolloping into the back of a slightly lost looking Manu to gift us an early penalty that Nicolò Tresoldi steps up to take…




… lashing to the right of Anatoliy Trubin and in for an extraordinarily early lead.

“Alright, boss, I’ll admit it,” Kevin starts, fighting to be heard over the din from our half of the stadium. “That was an excellent plan.”

* * * * * * * *​

What an awful plan.

Half way between the third and fourth floors is the point that making the healthy choice of taking that stairs after waking up early begins to feel like a mistake, compiled by the equally poor decision to not take a lid for my cup, so hot coffee keeps slopping over the side and dribbling down my hand like a tiny volcano erupting with dark brown lava as my body undulates more and more with each flight.

As I reach floor four, I throw in the towel and decide to take the lift the rest of the way, but it’s at this point I remember that it can only be called by a key card on the ground floor, or on the floor of your room.

Which, in my case, is not this one.

Now I’m left with a conundrum: climb another five flights of stairs, or return to the second floor to take the lift? Come on, Nicole, I think. You’re the manager of a top-level professional sports team, you should be able to climb a few stairs. Then again, there’s a reason you’re a manager, rather than a head coach. That settles it: lift it is.

I trudge back down two levels, defeated by the ascent, and summon the elevator, stepping in and pushing the button with a big ‘9’ on it, stepping out again once I reach the roof and through the door to the outside world a few paces in front, greeted by the sight of two men in tracksuits that match mine, dangling their feet in the warm waters of the rooftop pool as they watch the sun breach the horizon and flood the sky with orange hues.

Of course, it couldn’t have been anyone else.

< < < < < < < <​
It just couldn’t have been anyone else, could it? The same team as I beat in my first final at Birmingham, currently the same scoreline - yet again from a set piece - and the same man in charge.

As I watch yet another UFC move get broken down by our combative midfield, I look over to the other technical area where Wayne Rooney is stood with a look of resignation not dissimilar to that of a man who can’t find his favourite mustard in Marks and Spencer. For all his bravado and the attempts to get under my skin, his side have been totally toothless, a scathing indictment of his managerial skills in what looks likely to be another trophyless season for UFC.

I pull my gaze away from Rooney and up to the clock. Ten seconds to go and UFC have possession on the half-way line. Perhaps there’s time for them to craft an opening, but we’ll never know as Aaron Wan-Bissaka chooses to launch the ball toward the penalty spot, and that’s the type of delivery that our stodgified-defence love to deal with. Dan-Axel Zagadou rises to power a header ten yards outside the box and Tresoldi, dropping deep to help out his team, picks up the loose ball, thumping it towards the corner flag at the other end of the pitch and into touch.

As the final whistle blows, I don’t spare my opposite number a single glance as I join my bench in streaming onto the field to celebrate with the team.

Borussia Mönchengladbach are the 2026/27 Europa League winners.



* * * * * * * *
“2026/27 Europa League winners. I doubt any of us thought that would be the case a year ago,” Krystian Bielik chuckles as I sit to his left, dipping my own feet in the pool.

“I’ve still not quite processed winning the Championship four years ago, let alone everything since,” Maik Taylor jokes on Krystian’s right.

“I didn’t even think I’d be leaving Blues at this point last year,” I admit. “Everything changed so quickly.”

“I take it you decided to move on because of Harry?” Maik asks.

“What do you mean?” I reply, nervously.

“He went everywhere with you, boss, then he suddenly stopped on the biggest day in club history? Clearly, something happened to him,” Krystian says.

“John Ruddy told me on our virtual movie night last week that nobody at the club has seen or heard from him since the day we travelled up to Manchester, it’s all very weird,” adds Maik, a mix of confusion and concern on his face. “Have you heard from Harry, gaffer?”

Oh boy.

“Yeah, not too long ago,” I decide to lie, thinking it's best to try and put minds at ease, rather than unpack that final day. “He’s doing alright, spending time with his family. He needed a break, you see. Maybe he’ll come and visit us, but who knows - I got the impression he wanted to get away from the footballing world, y’know?”

Both my colleagues nod their heads and murmur in understanding.

“Shame, really. I miss him,” Krystian says.

“Me too,” I whisper, blinking away a quiet tear that started forming.

“He loved my folder,” Maik says, snapping me back to the here and now.

“Folder?” I ask, leaning forwards to look at my coach.

“Mm,” he hums, leaning to the side and returning with a bulging lever arch file that I’d somehow missed when I arrived on the roof. “I’ve tracked my whole playing and coaching career in here.”

“You realise you have to show us now, right?” I beam.

With a soft smile, Maik opens the file and slowly goes through the entry for each season, consisting of a summary of the campaign in the left-hand wallet, whilst listing some notable colleagues and his competition progress on the opposite side of the central arch, some holding medals to mark his achievements throughout his career.

“I see you had to rethink your folder strategy a couple of years ago,” I say, noting all of the written content shifting to a single page so that a four-pocket wallet could be used to hold medals from multiple competitions.

“Indeed. Sometimes, I wish you hadn’t overseen so much success and ruined my lovely system,” Maik teases. “Goodness knows what I’d have done if we’d won the Community Shield as well last season…” As Maik turns to the final entry, he taps on last night’s addition. “There she is, Europa League winner - a new one for the collection.”

“All you need is the Conference League and we’ll have the set,” Krystian says, turning to me with a cheeky grin on his face. “Where are we off to then, boss?”

“Nowhere, the long-term job’s not done yet,” I chortle. “We’ve got a different set to complete in a few days, anyway.”

We fall silent and watch as the last wisps of pink fade from the sky, leaving the Stuttgart skyline silhouetted against the clear blue of a late-spring morning, all very much aware that we can’t savour this moment for too long with Bayern to come in the DFB-Pokal final on Sunday.

But, with the lingering euphoria from last night and the company that we were sharing, there’s an unspoken appreciation for the journey the three of us had been on together, and the bonds that we’d formed along the way.

At that moment, nothing else in the world mattered.




* * * * * * * *​

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 Twelve

2027 DFB-Pokal Final

Series Links

Welcome back to Foal From Grace! Can we wrap up the season in style by adding the DFB-Pokal to our trophy haul?

This part is spread across multiple posts, so make sure to catch the whole game, the squad report, and the outro!

Part 12.png
It’s incredible that after 12 months, 84 teams, and countless matches between them all that we’ve wound up with a perfect rerun of last year’s Champions League final, where Jude Bellingham will once again be aiming to get the better of the club that gave him his breakthrough and, this time, leave with a gold medal, denying Birmingham City back-to-back victories on the biggest stage Europe has to offer.

Well, almost a perfect rerun.

Jürgen Klopp’s still taking charge of Liverpool, but it’s Antonio Conte and his staff in the opposite dugout, rather than my coaches and me. Instead of being down in the dressing room, making my last-minute preparations in my go-to pink blouse and royal blue trousers, I’m up in the corporate boxes at the invitation of Blues’ owner, Bruno Lucas, feeling slightly out of my element in a sleeveless, floor-length, emerald-green dress, milling about with Krystian Bielik and Alexis Geiler as I make polite conversation with people I don’t know and try not to give away that I’d much rather be in the stands with the thousands of Bluenoses that’ve made the trip to the Stade de France instead.

“This is a pretty impressive way to spend your birthday, Nicole,” Krystian says.

“I know,” I smile. “No work to worry about, cocktails, Blues in the Champions League final - it’s just a shame about the uncomfortably-friendly old men.”

“They’re not that bad, are they?” Krystian asks.

“Roughly, how many men are in this room that’re over the age of 60?”

“Not entirely sure, but I’d guess around 50, or so?”

“How many have female companions?”

“Pretty much all of them,” Krystian notes.

“Now, d’you want to guess how many have implied that either Alexis or I should go back to their hotel rooms with them, or even been more direct in their advances?”

“I do not want to play this game, I finally managed to black out those memories…” Alexis mumbles.

“I forget how nasty it can be as a woman,” Krystian grimaces. “How do you cope?”

“I tell them I’m not interested, but my husband probably would be.”

“You don’t have a husband.”

“I know, but the conversation ends pretty quickly that way,” I argue, making Alexis giggle.

“And if they recognise you?” Krystian persists.

“Then it’s Lexi’s fictional husband instead,” I shrug.

“Whose husband is fictional?”

Recognising the familiar voice, I turn to face my old boss with a big grin on my face.

“Good evening, Bruno, how’re things?” I ask, shaking his hand.

“Depends. If we win, then fantastic. If not, dreadful,” he laughs, almost succeeding in disguising his pangs of stress just beneath the surface. “Hello again, Krystian, it’s great to see you.”

“Likewise,” Krystian says, stepping forward to greet Bruno too.

“And who is this?” Bruno asks.

“Bruno, meet Alexis Geiler, my Head of International Managerial Affairs. Alexis, this is Bruno Lucas, owner of Birmingham City Football Club,” I say.

“Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Lucas,” Alexis says, a little sheepishly.

“Bruno, please. We’re all friends here, no need to be so formal,” he smiles, shaking her hand also, before then returning to me. “I must admit, Nicole, when I invited you to bring two guests, I kind of presumed one would be your wife.”

“I felt that Beth wouldn’t enjoy the experience as much as these two would - she’s not a huge fan of football, after all,” I explain.

“Oh,” Bruno says, a look of annoyance briefly flashing over his face, but it’s quickly covered up again. “I simply thought, as we hosted her at Wembley a few times, she’d want to come along again today. She always seemed to enjoy herself and I found her craft business fascinating.”

“She feels obliged to come when I’m managing, it’s different when I’m not involved,” I admit. “So, I figured last year’s Champions League-winning captain and my right-hand woman would be the perfect choices.”

“Not your assistant managers?”

“I trust these two more than I do them,” I say, making Alexis blush almost as red as the cosmopolitan in her hand, though Krystian seems to have gotten used to my admissions of deep emotion by now. “Besides, when I told Kevin and Zlatan they weren’t coming, they seemed delighted that they didn’t have to rearrange their kayaking holiday in Thailand.”

“They’re weirdly close, right? It’s not just me?” Krystian asks.

“They are. It’s actually a little uncomfortable at times,” Alexis nods. “I walked into the dressing room once and they were waxing each other's backs. That’s something I’ll never unsee…”

Alexis, Krystian, and I all shudder.

“Well, however odd you may find them, they must be doing a good job, given how successful your move to Germany has been,” Bruno suggests. “First team to beat Bayern Munich to the Bundesliga title since 2012, besting Wayne Rooney’s Manchester UFC in the Europa League, plus getting to the final of the DFB-Pokal! When is that, by the way?”

“Last week, but I’m sure the news will eventually travel to Britain,” I say, sarcastically, making Krystian snort and Alexis chew her lips in order to fight off a laugh.

“I do apologise, I hadn’t realised,” Bruno says, sounding sincere. “I’d love to hear about it, if you’d be willing to share?”

“Of course,” I reply. “The whole day started with a, supposedly, rather interesting decision…”

< < < < < < < <​

“That’s a very interesting decision, boss,” Kevin Nolan says, lying on his back across the seats in one of the Olympiastadion dressing rooms.

“Really?” I ask, stepping back from the whiteboard where I’ve just drawn up our formation. “I thought naming the same team that beat UFC would be pretty understandable and predictable?”

“Well, yes, but that’s not what I was talking about,” Kevin says, propping himself up on his elbows. “I meant the decision to try and motivate a group of professional athletes with doughnuts.”

“Don’t worry, they’re vegan. They’ll love it, that means they’re practically a health food,” I reason.

“That’s not how it works,” Zlatan Bajramović chimes in.

“I always have to try and justify every unhealthy choice I make, Zlatan, I’ve never tried to hide this.”

Zlatan raises his hands in apology, but Kevin rolls his eyes.

“Vegan or not, doughnuts won’t coax a little something extra from men who treat their bodies like high-performance vehicles,” Kevin says. “Attitude towards nutrition has changed since my day.”

“In my experience, there’s always a desire for empty carbs,” I reply as the players come back from their warm up. “Also, you need to stop acting like you played in the 1980s, you retired less than ten years ago.”

“Exactly, coach - you’re not as old as you think you are,” Reiss Nelson smirks, tapping Kevin on the back to get him to move from the seats he’s obstructing. As he rights himself and stands, Kevin’s knees, ankles, and shoulders all make crunching and popping sounds, making everyone within five metres grimace.

“I’m fine,” he groans, shuffling towards the office. “Back in a minute, carry on.”

“Right…” I mumble as Kevin shuts the door behind him, turning back to face the squad and raising my voice. “Okay then, boys, I know you’re still getting ready, but just listen up for a moment.” The clamour in the room gives way to silence within seconds. “Bayern may have won the Supercup, but we won the Bundesliga, so it’s time to tip the balance in our favour and take the Pokal for ourselves.” Lots of noises of approval. “Win or lose, I’ve already arranged to take us all out for spicy Szechuan noodles tonight at a place my sister recommended, because you’ve all earned a treat for this season.”

“How spicy?” Nico Schlotterbeck asks. “Like, paprika spicy?”

“Paprika’s not spicy.”

“Okay, Bossin, whatever you say,” he smirks, pulling a face at Luca Netz, Robin Gosens. and the German staff members.

“Anyway, there’s also a special treat if we get the job done and complete our treble today,” I continue. “I’ve arranged for eight-dozen doughnuts to be delivered for our hotel for you all to enjoy. If you lose, though, they’re going to the hotel staff.”

“Doughnuts?” Dan-Axel Zagadou echoes.

“Yes, vegan ones from Doughnut Time in Alexanderplatz.”

“VEGAN doughnuts?” Tanguy Nianzou says, raising his eyebrows.

“Yes…” I answer, slowly.

“Are you messing with us?” Jesper Lindstrøm asks.

“No…” I say, feeling like I’ve made a grave mistake.

“Well, gaffer,” Krystian starts, rising from the bench. “I think I speak for everybody here when I say…

“Let’s darn well earn those blooming doughnuts.”


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It’s a first half full of fire, but when it mattered most, lacking in quality, both sides missing their one big chance of the period when Nicolò Tresoldi forces a fine reaction-save from Marc-Andre ter Stegen, before Dayot Upamecano’s effort from the edge of the area, when gifted a free run at goal, skims the post on its way wide.

I expect play to follow a similar pattern after the interval too, so when we win a free kick just after the restart, I’m hopeful that Dominik Szoboszlai can deliver an excellent ball into the middle that we can capitalise on.




Alternatively, he can simply smack it into the top-right corner from 25 yards to open the scoring, which pleases me even more.

Going ahead, however, seems to spark something in Bayern. Like a sleeping lion that’s been pushed off a small ledge by a zookeeper, they take a moment to comprehend what’s going on, before launching themselves at us and attempting to maul us to death, crafting a few openings and calling Gregor Kobel into action when Fabio Miretti lashes through a thicket of black and white when the ball comes loose at a corner, a shot that the Swiss does well to shovel around the post.

Then, moments later, the unthinkable happens.

The usually so reliable and indomitable Bielik shadows Miretti as the midfielder makes a run into our box on the near side, but our captain makes an uncharacteristically rash decision to lunge in, completely misjudging the speed at which Miretti is travelling and upending him without winning any of the ball.


So, Gabriel Vidović steps up to take the resultant penalty…



… and he smacks Kobel’s left post! All Gregor needs to do now is collect the loose ball, or leave a defender to sweep clear…



… great.

Having gone to scoop up the rebound, Kobel makes a mistake as out-of-character as Bielik did, fumbling straight back to Vidović’s feet, which makes him active again now that another player has touched the ball, and the German doesn’t waste his second chance, rolling past the our prone goalkeeper and into the opposite side from his penalty attempt to draw the final level.

It’s backs to the wall now as Bayern come flooding forward, gaining the confidence that was sorely lacking, and Dani Olmo starts picking us apart with passes that seem barely possible, but we’re fortunate that our opponents’ shooting is wayward at the vital moment.

As injury time approaches, holding out for extra time seems the best choice, so as long as we don’t do anything stupid…


For goodness’ sake. Of course, Zagadou felt he could win the ball from Timo Werner, who had his back to goal and little in the way of support, yet he clearly didn’t communicate that message very well with his legs as he swings straight his through the back of the German’s and gifts Bayern a chance to win the trophy from the spot.

With Vidović off the pitch, responsibility falls to Werner himself to take this penalty…



… but, this time, Kobel DOES hold, guessing the right way and saving Zagadou’s blushes, redeeming himself as he keeps the game alive.

With another half an hour once again looking likely, I now start worrying whether we’ll have the legs to go the distance after our draining midweek match and need to make any adjustments, especially when up against a side that had a whole week to prepare, however one man who seems to have plenty of energy left is late-substitute Gosens. Once the left wing-back wins possession with under two minutes remaining on the clock, he bolts, hurtling down the touchline like he’s realised he’s left the slow cooker on high instead of low and needs to get home before his chilli con carne burns, making it deep into Bayern's territory before being crowded out, but still managing to blindly launch a cross into the centre of the area.



Though, was it a blind cross, or had Gosens spotted our Italian sharpshooter ghosting past his man with the final dregs of fuel left in his tank?




Tresoldi’s header gives us a most outrageously undeserved lead, but I don’t care. As the final whistle sounds within seconds of the restart, that outrageously undeserved lead becomes an outrageously underserved winner.

That outrageously undeserved winner makes Die Fohlen the 2026/27 DFB-Pokal winners.

That outrageously undeserved winner makes Die Fohlen 2026/27 domestic-double winners.

That outrageously undeserved winner makes Die Fohlen 2026/27 treble winners.



* * * * * * * *​

“I can barely believe this,” I say as the whistle goes to bring the opening period of the Champions League final to a close.

“I know,” Alexis sighs. “It’s ridiculous that you can’t bring alcohol out here - English fans have a lot to answer for.”

“Not that, I meant Blues scoring twice in a minute to take charge of this match,” I say.

“Back-to-back is well and truly ON!” Krystian beams, rising to his feet. “I’m going back in for more of those falafel wraps, you coming, boss?”

“Sure, though not for falafel wraps,” I laugh. “What about you, Lexi?”

“I’d really rather not,” Alexis grimaces. “If one more old man touches the small of my back, I’m going to vomit on his face.”

“Tell you what,” I start, taking my phone from my handbag and tapping away at the screen. “Why don’t you check the German in my end of season report is up to scratch? I’ve just shared the Google doc with you.”

“Thanks, Nicole,” Alexis says with a relieved smile, before glancing down at the document. “Not a language issue, but I can see already that you’ve forgotten to include the passing accuracy numbers and the headers won per 90.”

“Ah, well, I need to send it to the board tonight and the first-team analysts have gone on holiday already, so it’s too late to fix that,” I admit.

“You pillock.”

* * * * * * * *​
9 (GKs).png

If it weren’t for another player that I’ll mention later, I’d argue that the eventual €17 million outlay to bring Gregor Kobel in from the other Borussia was the best value-for-money deal of last summer. Even with the month Gregor missed with a broken hand, he managed to prove himself one of the - if not simply THE - best goalkeepers in the league, and (famous last words) I don’t see myself replacing him throughout my time here, such is his quality.

Rafael, on the other hand, has had a bit of a rocky start since the, admittedly, enormous outlay to bring him in in January, however being thrown in at the deep end has at least shown that he could do with more playing time before becoming the recognised second-choice, so perhaps a loan would be best for him next season as he looks to fulfil his potential and we can look for a more experienced backup between the sticks.

10 (DCs).png

I feel a little guilty for dropping Giorgio Cittadini, as he had done little wrong over the first half of the season, but I felt bringing Tanguy Nianzou in was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up on. That said, there hasn’t been a marked improvement on the right side of our defence, so whilst I’ve been happy with both of them and think Tanguy’s aerial presence has been vital to our performances at times in 2027 (especially from set pieces), perhaps I shouldn’t have been so quick to kick Giorgio to the curb.

Edwin Zamudio’s development this season has been staggering. At the start of the season, I chose to play him in the centre of a back three to protect him, but he’s now more than capable of being a standout performer in the centre, on the left, or even in midfield, and he looks an absolute steal at €11.25 million. The sky’s the limit for Edwin, and he must be held on to at all costs.

If it weren’t for Ibrahima Konaté’s 26 goal involvements in my final year at Birmingham, I’d probably be a lot more impressed by the ten that Dan-Axel Zagadou has claimed for himself this term. An absolute colossus, the man’s ability to read the game is unparalleled amongst the three centre-backs who saw out the season as my regulars, per-90-minutes making more interceptions, more blocks, and winning possession more than either of the other two, and I don’t ever want to lose him.

What is it with me and French centre-backs?

Nico Schlotterbeck has done a fine job as my only left-footed deputy, and his defensive numbers would suggest he might deserve more minutes, but that would mean dropping Dan-Axel and Edwin, so… no. Sorry.

I felt that Perr Schuurs did exactly what was required of him as a backup, however he didn’t seem overly impressed at being a backup in the first place, so whilst I’d quite like to keep him here for next season (his versatility to be able to play anywhere on the right of the defence and in defensive midfield has been very useful), I don’t think he’d want to stay, and I don’t feel that Brighton would accept any less than the €32 million future fee that was agreed upon in his loan, which is FAR too much for a backup.

11 (WBs).png

Luca Netz has been sensational this season, the Fans’ Player of the Season notching two goals and 24 assists from his 51 appearances on the left-hand side. The fact that the long-serving wing-back rejected Bayern’s advances in January shows that he’s committed to our cause and he’ll be crucial to our Champions League adventure to come, whilst his backup, Robin Gosens, has been one of our most reliable performers from the bench, and has gained cult-status with that last-minute assist in the DFB-Pokal final, so I have little desire to mess with the left of our defence.

The right, however, is a slightly different matter.

Whilst Reiss Nelson has been excellent going forward and adapting to a new position, his defensive flaws began being targeted, to the point that I trusted Emil Holm ahead of him for both of our finals. Emil, however, is not good enough to start regularly in the Champions League (though is still a very capable backup), so I feel now’s probably the right time to cash in on Reiss and replace him with a world-class right wing-back - I’ve even identified my ideal replacement already…

12 (MCs).png

I love Krystian Bielik and the Goal of the Season winner has performed his role as protector in front of the back three expertly. Though he’s been slightly less important defensively with that extra centre-back and an extra ball-winner in midfield, it’s meant he’s been able to get further forward and contribute to more goals than in any season since our first together, back in the Championship.

Oscar Fraulo has shown himself to be very capable when he’s been rotated into the side for Krystian, however he’s already stated his desire for regular football to me and, given he’s not overly well-suited to any of the three roles ahead of Krystian, it might be worth seeing what sort of money we can get for the Dane and allow him to get the minutes he’s after away from Borussia-Park.

Manu Koné, despite his constant flirting with clubs that can offer him a monster pay-rise, has been excellent in his role as our destroyer, winning possession back more often than any other midfielder, and Gustavo Gallardo has settled well as his understudy. Though it may well be worth considering looking at bringing someone in with a little more quality, I feel that it’s probably the lowest priority of any summer business.

Liam Heywood has really hit the ground running since arriving from Tottenham in January, even being voted the Fans’ Signing of the Season, and I’ve really enjoyed the balance having a left-footer in our midfield brings. As such, I’m more than happy for Devyne Rensch (another angling for a Saudi Arabian adventure) to be moved on - for the right price - so he can be replaced with another left-footed player to share the minutes with Liam, especially given his overall lack of… well, anything standout, really.

Dominik Szoboszlai’s return to the Bundesliga has been exactly what I had hoped for. What Leipzig were doing when they sold him to Famalicão for peanuts is beyond me, but their loss is our gain as Dom’s established himself as one of the best attack-minded midfielders in the league, whilst Jesper Lindstrøm has shown time and again that he can pop up in the big moments with something a little special, so I’m happy that the attacking-midfield role doesn’t need any attention for the foreseeable future.

13 (STs).png

Wow, oh wow, Nicolò Tresoldi. 24 league goals, 45 in all competitions. I’ve never had another player even breach 30 before, and his goal tally already makes him the fourth-highest scoring player of my managerial career. I’ve never had a player like him, and I will treasure him for as long as we can keep our claws dug into him.

The less said about Emanuel Emegha, the better.

* * * * * * * *
I’m in shock.

I can barely believe what I’m watching.

A second-half hat-trick from Oscar Gloukh has made this the most one-sided Champions League final in history. As the last few seconds tick away, I revel in the fact that a team I built has gone on to continue to find success after I’ve left, the sense of pride dwarfing the twinge of sadness that I have at not managing those boys any longer.

As the whistle sounds, I jump from my seat and let out a roar, sheer joy filling my soul as Birmingham City are, once again, crowned Champions of Europe.



“What a moment,” I beam. “It’s even better being able to enjoy it as a fan.

“Nicole?” Alexis says.

“To think, the absolute state this club was in when I took over,” I continue, shaking my head in disbelief.

“Gaffer?” Krystian tries to get my attention this time.

“I shouldn’t take too much credit, the recruitment and coaching teams did a phenomenal job too,” I add, oblivious. “Maybe I should - ”

“NICOLE!” Alexis shouts, slapping my exposed arm with the back of her hand and finally pulling me from the moment.

“Ow! What did you do that for?!”

“Birmingham have just won the Champions League, right?” she asks.

“Well, yes, that’s why I’m so happy.”

“And we won the Europa League a week and a half ago,” Krystian says.

“I know, it’s a great European-double for teams I’ve managed.”

“Do you realise what that means?” Alexis says, pointedly making eye contact with me.

Suddenly, the penny drops.

“Oh dear.”





* * * * * * * *​

Thank you for reading! There won't be an instalment of Foal From Grace next weekend as, coincidentally, I've managed to time my holiday around a in-game break again, but 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 every time there's a new post!
Another brilliant season, surely you should apply for the job in real life! Setting up to play the Blues in the Super Cup is surely fate!