Late Sunday morning, my wife, Karen, and I met Eugeniu Merciu, Chairman of FC Saxan, on the steps of the picturesque church of Theotokos of Kazan.
We have had a little time to explore the city (as the town refers to itself) before our meeting. We’d hoped that a town with a population of under 20,000 in an agricultural region might have a certain quaintness. We were wrong. Khrushchev-era apartments were never intended to evince charm.
It was a fine day and we sat on some seats in the churchyard. After some pleasantries (“The town is attractive in its own way”), Merciu initiated the serious discussion: ‘So we are in agreement: in principle it should be possible to approach the problem of football management as if it were an engineering problem; but there is a paucity of football managers who are also engineers; so if we are to conduct such an experiment, we will need to appoint an engineer instead of a football manager. I trust that is an accurate summary of our ratiocination.’
‘So the question that leads me to is this: if I offer you the job of manager of FC Saxan, will you accept?’
The voice of integrity in my head said: You can’t accept this offer – you’re not qualified to manage a football team and you’re not even an engineer, merely a consultant for engineers. To which another voice in my head responded: You will never another opportunity to achieve sporting glory, or even to be in the limelight, and, if it all ends in disaster, you’ll be prospects of managing another club will be no worse – could not be worse – than now.
‘Yes, of course.’
‘Then there is one thing I must make clear. Until now, we have co-created this idea. But now I must ask that you take sole responsibility for it. I expect it to prove successful, but if it does not turn out that way, it is you who will pay the price. I shall remain Chairman of FC Saxan and you would be relieved of your duties.’
‘In that case, I am pleased to offer you a one-year contract. The paperwork will follow. You will need to return to Moldova in June in time for the pre-season. I look forward to working with you. In the meantime, would you like me to send you a history of the club – a history of which we are proud?’
History! What’s that about? Engineers don’t do history; engineering is all about the future. But then Merciu is not only an engineer, he is also a local, Ceadir Lungan, boy and proud of it.
‘Of course! I look forward to reading it.’
I hoped I managed to sound enthusiastic.