How to Score (On and Off the Pitch)

By Andrew Playle All Rights Reserved ©

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Chapter 2

BARCELONA – NOVEMBER 2019

Bradley Gardner was enjoying his debut season with Barcelona. He was playing regularly and scoring plenty of goals along the way. He found La Liga more physical than the English Premier League, but that didn’t bother him once he had got used to the extra attention. He had bonded well with his new team mates and Jessie had made friends with some of the players’ wives and girlfriends who all lived in the same gated complex.

Jessie was having Spanish lessons twice a week so she could converse with her new friends who were mostly Spanish or Portuguese speakers, although quite a few of them could speak English as some of the players had played in England previously. Her parents had been regular visitors as well, which helped Jessie settle in easier. They loved it; it was worlds apart from their little house in Loughton, the weather was perfect and they enjoyed spending time in Barcelona exploring all that the city had to offer.

Bradley’s friends and former colleagues Alvarez and Jose Sanchez back at Arsenal had given him a lot of tips on how to settle, what to expect and the Catalan way of life before he moved there and promised to come and visit him soon. Arsenal’s season without Bradley hadn’t imploded as many journalists and fans had expected. Sure, they weren’t winning every game with flair and skill, but Silvio had replaced him with two excellent players who had slotted in nicely. Their once irate supporters were now calmed by their continuing success and although they still thought highly of Bradley, it seemed that they didn’t have to rely on him after all.

Their former Chairman had indeed resigned after it was made public that he was the one who instigated Bradley’s big money transfer to Barcelona which prompted demonstrations outside the Emirates Stadium protesting against the move. He had walked away from the club over £20 million richer and promptly upped sticks and fled to the Caribbean, as planned, for a nice retirement.

Bradley’s first club, Hearts, had got their windfall from the sell-on clause and used the money to buy a new 30,000 seater stadium close to their old home and had now become a serious challenger for the league title each season. Another bit of good news from Hearts was that they had signed Bradley’s childhood best friend Gary Ogilvie after he enjoyed an impressive couple of seasons with his local club Dunfermline.

So, everyone was a winner as far as Bradley was concerned. Even his alcoholic mother was doing well. She had stayed sober for three months now and had been released from the drying out clinic a while back and was now pursuing a much healthier lifestyle with his brother Sam’s help. She had even spent a week at Bradley’s villa in Mijas with Sam and his girlfriend which she enjoyed.

As for his dad, he was still loving the Californian life with his girlfriend Lucy and whilst he wasn’t in regular contact, he still tried to keep tabs on Bradley’s progress, much like he had always done since he was a boy.

Everything was sweet for Bradley right now.

Even in November, the weather in Barcelona was much nicer and warmer than back in Britain. He was enjoying travelling to other La Liga grounds in Spain like Malaga (where he tagged on a couple of days with Jessie at his villa), Sevilla and Madrid where he had special memories of Champions League games he had played in. There was no comparison between playing away in Sevilla on a Saturday evening and trudging up to Newcastle on a cold, wet Sunday afternoon.

His old agent Archie had been set up for life with his share of the transfer deal that took Bradley to Barcelona. He was still his agent, but he didn’t exactly bust any buns fulfilling his duties. Bradley had received plenty of offers from the top agents offering their services, but he never saw the need for it and Archie was a good friend now. He trusted him implicitly and even allowed Archie to manage his money and investments along with a friend of his who had spent his entire career as a fund manager in Edinburgh and knew how to invest wisely for his future once he had finished playing.

Even the Euro qualifying games had gone better than expected, winning all their remaining games including a spectacular 2-0 win in Italy that confirmed Scotland had won their group and consigned Italy to a play-off against Serbia to see who joined them in Germany for next year’s competition.

Could life get any better than this? He didn’t think so, unless he was to hoist the World Cup above his head one day. There was plenty of time to do that as he was still only twenty-one.

He was pleased that Jessie had settled in to her new surroundings easily. She had made some nice friends in the adjoining villas and they had shown her around the city when Bradley was at training or playing. She loved it there and was picking up the language quite easily.

There are two main languages spoken in Barcelona; Castilian Spanish and Catalan which is the local language and is native to Cataluña and the Balearic Islands of Mallorca, Minorca, Ibiza and Formentera, although Castilian Spanish was used everywhere so that is what Jessie and Bradley were learning. They were also finding out that the political landscape of Spain and Cataluña was similar to England and Scotland in as much as there was a popular opinion that Cataluña should be independent of Spain, like the Scottish Nationalist Party’s belief that Scotland should be separated from the United Kingdom. As Bradley’s parents were both English and had ‘emigrated’ to Scotland many years ago, he could see similarities between the two countries and both arguments, although he would try to avoid political discussions at the club so as to not align himself with one or the other camp. He was there to play football, not get involved in anything controversial.

There was also the relaxed pace of life in Barcelona, and Spain in general, which appealed greatly to Bradley. It was so far removed from the hustle and bustle of life living in London and was much more like Edinburgh, just sunnier. He wondered why he even had second thoughts about moving there in the summer when Barcelona came knocking at his door in Mijas when he was on holiday.

Even training was more relaxed than he was used to at Arsenal. It was somehow happier and each player just practised and concentrated on their own skills which made the club what it was; a collection of individuals with unique talents coming together as a complete team, rather like putting the pieces of a jigsaw together and enjoying the end result.

By the end of November, Barcelona were top of La Liga having won eleven of their opening games, only dropping points against Real Madrid away when they controversially only managed a draw having been denied a certain penalty when Bradley was upended in the box late in the game. The ensuing protests from his team mates had been an excellent lesson in Spanish as they harangued the referee. It was the same at Old Trafford; no referee was going to award a penalty to the away team, especially if it meant that the home team would lose the game as a result. It was just one of those things.

They had to be pleased with their other results though; their eleven victories had resulted in thirty-two goals being scored against only three conceded. Bradley had contributed significantly with twelve of those goals playing in the role he knew best, just behind the main striker Denilson who was in deadly form and had racked up eighteen goals so far.

Their manager, Oscar Fuentes, was extremely pleased with how the season was progressing and grew closer to Bradley who he considered to be as important as every other player, unlike at Arsenal where reluctantly he was the main man. Bradley was learning a lot from him; especially how to track back and defend when it was required which Bradley had never had to do in the past.

In the Champions League, they had won their first three group games against Porto, CSKA Moscow and Borussia Dortmund comfortably by the scores of 3-0, 4-0 and 2-1 respectively and looked favourites to progress to the knockout stages. The bookies were offering miserable odds of 4/7 on Barcelona to lift the trophy next summer, such was their dominance of the competition.

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