How to Score (On and Off the Pitch)

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Chapter 49

SEPTEMBER 2018

Any hopes that the new season would give Bradley a chance to get back to normal were dashed when, as expected, Luigi Cantonelli left Arsenal to become the new head coach of his native Italy. It was a job he couldn’t turn down as it was, in his eyes, the pinnacle of his career so far. The hardest part for him was saying goodbye to the players that had brought the club, and him, such success over the last couple of years.

Bradley was especially unhappy to see him leave as he had improved his game immensely under Sr Cantonelli’s guidance. They promised to keep in touch and Sr Cantonelli promised him that he would see him playing in Serie A sometime in the future as they shook hands and hugged for the last time.

The sports pages were all over the story with heightened speculation as to who would replace him at the Emirates. Odds-on favourite for the job was Silvio who had enjoyed success with Brazil in the recent World Cup, just as Bradley had guessed when he met him in Los Angeles. It was going to be difficult to start again under a new coach but he received numerous messages from the Brazil team he had made friends with saying how lucky he was to have Silvio as his manager.

That was re-assuring for him to know that and when he got a phone call from the Brazilian striker Agosto, he felt even better. Of course, this meant that pre-season training hadn’t gone as smoothly as they would have liked, but a couple of hastily arranged friendlies against Bayern Munich and Ajax had gone better than hoped and added to a couple of low-key games against lower league opposition to give the fringe players a run-out, it turned out not to be a complete disaster in the end.

As they were a bit behind schedule, the new season didn’t get off to a great start, losing 1-0 away to Everton in what could only be described as a ‘rusty’ performance. Silvio identified a couple of positions where he would look to bring in covering players before the transfer window closed and was largely successful bringing in a promising left back from Brazil and the surprise package was the signing of Bradley’s friend and ex-team mate Jose Sanchez from Valencia.

Apparently, Jose had returned to Valencia after his loan spell at Hearts and failed to make the first team despite putting in some decent performances, so was put up for sale for a nominal fee. Silvio was aware of the player’s potential and decided it wouldn’t be much of a gamble, especially at that price, and the bonus was he could ask Bradley his opinion as well. It was a cheap no-brainer for the club.

Of course, Bradley was delighted to have his old friend back and until he found his own place he would be staying with Bradley in his Highbury apartment. As Jessie was reluctant to move in with him so soon, it would at least mean Bradley had some company of an evening. Jose could not only provide cover for Bradley if he got injured, but could also play out wide which meant he was useful as a utility player. There were no other signings before the window closed so Arsenal were going to have to defend their title with pretty much the same squad of players as the previous season.

After their opening game loss, things improved dramatically with a 5-0 win over Southampton and 3-0 win against Liverpool moving them back near the top of the table. Normal service had been resumed with Bradley scoring four of their goals and winning Man of the Match on both occasions. One good thing about not having too many new players coming into a successful side is that everybody knows how they play together which was evident after one game.

Silvio had changed the tactics slightly but as he himself said, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. Arsenal had paid a lot of money to lure Silvio away from the World Champions and there was high expectation on him to not only retain the Premier League title, but also to win the Champions League and FA Cup which would be no mean feat. He thought he had the players to achieve this ambition, although it would mean playing a reserve team in the FA and League cups if he didn’t want his players taking part in almost seventy games before the season ended.

By the time the international break came around, Arsenal were sitting top of the league having dropped no points since the first game of the season against Everton. Things were looking good for them as Bradley prepared to head for Glasgow for the first round of qualifying games for the Euro 2020 which was to be held in Germany; home against Austria followed by an away trip to Hungary which should be formalities. However well they had done in the US, this was a new challenge and much was expected of Scotland now. The press weren’t impressed with the 2-0 win against Austria and they were even more scathing after coming away from Budapest with a 1-1 draw, only equalising Hungary’s goal in the dying seconds from Bradley’s free kick.

The other teams in their group were Luxembourg, Wales and the one Bradley was looking forward to playing most, Italy, where he would be pitched against his former manager at Arsenal. All was not lost after the opening games, but they would need to be sharper for the remaining games, especially against Italy who were one of the favourites to win it with Sr Cantonelli in charge. They had opened their campaign with two excellent victories against Luxembourg 7-0 and Austria 3-1 to top the group ahead of Scotland.

Bradley decided not to visit his mum on this occasion, flying back to London at the first opportunity, although he promised himself that he would phone her the minute he got back. He was still worried about her and she never seemed to call him. Sam wasn’t much help either, he was always too busy to go and see her even though he only lived fifteen miles away.

When he got home, Jose was on the phone to his parents back in Spain. He would only be staying with Bradley for a couple of weeks as he was in the process of buying his own apartment not far from Bradley’s. Seeing him talking happily to his mum and dad just made him feel worse so as soon as he unpacked he went to his room and phoned his mum.

‘Hi mum, how are you? Did you see my goal against Hungary?’ Bradley tried to keep the conversation light-hearted.

‘Oh, hello Bradley. I’m fine, sorry I didn’t see your goal. Was it good?’ Martine slurred down the phone.

‘Yeah, it was a cracking free kick. Are you sure you’re okay? You sound a bit drunk.’ Bradley challenged.

‘Drunk? No darling, I’ve only had a glass of wine. How dare you accuse me of being drunk!’ She screamed.

‘Sorry mum, you just sound a bit, you know, slurry. I’m worried that you’re drinking too much.’ Bradley pleaded.

‘Well I’m not drunk, thank you. And if you’re only going to phone me to have a go at me then I think we’d better hang up.’ Martine retorted.

‘No mum, I’m sorry, don’t get upset.’ Bradley said as he heard the phone go down at her end only to be replaced by the dialling tone.

He wasted no time in calling Sam to tell him what happened and to see if he could find the time to at least call her urgently. There was no reply on Sam’s phone and his message went straight to voicemail. If it’s not one, it’s the other, he thought as he lay on his bed. At least his dad was getting his life back on track and he wasn’t anywhere within range to cause him any more problems.

When he heard that Jose had finished on the phone, he left his room to make some tea. He and Jose had a long chat about their respective parents leaving Bradley wishing his parents were more like Jose’s. They had been childhood sweethearts and after 28 years of marriage they were still very much in love and held hands everywhere they went. Bradley’s parents had never been anything like that. It was a wonder they had managed to have two kids, such was their relationship apparently. It had crossed his mind that with their mother’s predilection for other men, Sam and he might not have the same father. In fact, their ‘father’ might not be their father at all.

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