The Qatari Job, Part VI: The Best Laid Plans Of Mice & Man City
January 31, 2012
— brad pitt, carlos tevez, craig bellamy, george clooney, Jo, kia joorabchian, mark hughes, ocean's eleven, robinho, shaun wright-phillips, the italian job, wayne bridge
Bridgey’s heart was pumping to beat the band. It wasn’t that his conditioning was poor despite nearly two years of sitting on the City bench. Admittedly he wasn’t match fit; he had some work to do to shake off the rust and get his timing back, but he was in excellent shape. Nor was it the desert heat. The inflatable dome was fully air-conditioned, with the temperature inside probably thirty degrees cooler than outside. Still, the adrenaline coursing through his veins made it seem that his chest was on the verge of exploding. He was practicing for his first meaningful match in over a year, and his body, equally as well as his heart and mind, knew it. There was no doubt that he’d be in the starting eleven when the Exiles, as they’d now officially branded themselves, faced off against City tomorrow, and although this was meant to be a light practice, Bridgey simply couldn’t contain his enthusiasm.
He lunged into a tackle with both feet, knocking the ball out of touch even as Wright-Phillips yelped in fear and leaped over the challenge. A shrill whistle sounded and the gaffer barked out, “Easy, Wayne, easy. We can’t afford to lose anyone. Save all that energy for tomorrow, boyo!
Bridgey scrambled to his feet, laughing. Whatever happened tomorrow, whether or not they had their revenge, almost didn’t matter. He had rediscovered the joy of the game.
“Sure, Sparky, you’re the boss,” he shouted back playfully. Still laughing, he pulled Wright-Phillips into a headlock and gave him an affectionate noogie. Then he let the squirming winger loose, and ran back to the box as Robinho and Bellamy came jogging over to collect their scrimmage mate.
SWP was rubbing his scalp furiously as they trotted up, a very displeased look on his face. “What’s bloody well gotten into him?” he scowled.
Robbie laughed and slapped the little winger on the back. Bellamy smiled, too, and looking towards the retreating left back, replied, “Dunno, mate, but I like it!”
Play resumed for another five minutes, until three familiar figures strode into the practice facility. Two were tall, blonde, deeply tanned and sporting such perfect teeth that their smiles were visible from one end of the pitch to the other. The third man was much shorter, and obviously of South American descent, with his dark features and thick mane of raven hair. While he may not have challenged his companions in stature, his clothing and jewelry was every bit as exclusive as their own, and he exuded the same air of confidence.
The game broke down with their appearance, although none of them acknowledged the expectant gaze of the players. They continued talking amongst themselves until they had reached Sparky, whereupon they all greeted him with a handshake and spoke a few words. The manager nodded, then turning, put a whistle to his lips. Upon seeing everyone standing still, however, he let go of the air in his lungs and frowned.
“Crikey!” his voice barked out again. “If that’s all it takes for you lot to stop concentrating on what you should be about, we might as well pack it in now.”
There were a few sheepish grins, and one or two players tried to pick up the play once more. As they did, the gaffer gave two short blasts on his whistle.
“Too late for that, now,” he shouted. “But keep it in mind tomorrow when everything will be on the line. For now, just get your arses into the clubhouse.”
With that, he and the three new arrivals walked towards a small pre-fab structure situated at the far end of the inflatable tent which housed the entire practice facility.
The players followed them and filed into a big room with rows of lockers aligned against three walls, each with a comfortable folding chair set in front of it. The fourth wall held three doorways, one to the showers, a second to the physio room, and the last to Sparky’s office.
Tacked to the top shelf of each open locker was a paper listing the next day’s starting line-up:
G — Shay
D — Petrov Boyata Onuoha Bridgey — D
M — Wright-Phillips Ireland Tevez Bellamy — M
F — Ade Robby — F
The sheet quickly caught everyone but Bridgey and Carlos’ attention, and the murmurs rose into a full debate, as it was examined.
Just as the hullaballoo threatened to spill over, Sparky emerged from his office, followed by the well-tanned Americans, George and Brad, and Kia Joorabchian. As the manager stood in the centre of the room, the actors flanked him.
George, as always, was resplendent in a linen suit of khaki and white cotton. Brad wore a silk jacket in silver over a collared v-neck shirt with an asymmetrical blocked pattern in black and white, and slacks of grey stone-washed denim tucked into calf-length Doc Martens. The look was punctuated by a rounded cap and a black walking stick with a diamond ringed grip. Kia, in a navy Armani suit with a white shirt open at the neck, strolled over to Carlos and casually slipped him five, then sat and looked expectantly at Sparky. As it had been out on the pitch, the three men immediately commanded the attention of the players, who followed Kia’s example, settling down to listen to their boss.
“That’s more like it,” the Welshman barked approvingly. “Now, I know some of you must be thinking I’ve forgotten everything I ever knew with that lineup, but here’s the simple truth.”
He began counting off points on his fingers.
“One, I know you’re worried that one or two players, like Ade, aren’t here yet. They’ve had other obligations, but they’ll be here tonight and ready to play tomorrow.
“Two, we’ve got too many strikers. You can’t all start, and you can’t all play up front.” He looked up sharply and snapped out another order. “Stop yer grumbling.” The dissenters went silent immediately, drawing a satisfied nod from their commander.
“Three, we’ve barely any defenders. They’re like camels: nasty, ugly and the last thing anyone wants to spend good money on.” This time, he was interrupted by a chuckle or two, which also cut off dead when his reproachful glance again fell on the group.
“Four, that means a midfielder or two…” Sparky looked pointedly at his unhappy Bulgarian, “… may have to play at the back. And a forward or two will have to play in the middle of the pitch.” There, he gave Carlos an appreciative nod, which was solemnly returned.
“Five, even with those caveats…” Now, his eye caught the befuddled looks of Dedryck Boyata and Stephen Ireland, causing him to pause and rephrase. “That means special circumstances, in case anyone was wondering. Even with those, some of you will have to come off the bench. Don’t worry, though. If our plan goes as expected, you’ll all have a role to play.”
There were some murmurs and exclamations of protest, but Sparky’s bushy-browed glare quickly subdued them. When the room had quieted, he resumed his lecture.
“Don’t forget, we’re here for revenge. Sure, we want to show City what’s what on the pitch, but the real intent is to hit Mansour where it hurts. So, George and Brad are going to lay it out for you one last time, to make sure you’ve got it right. Right?” There were nods all around. “Right, then. Pay attention.”
He turned, shook the Americans’ hands, and ceded the floor. George stepped up, with an easy smile on his face.
“Alright, fellas,” he began. “You all know the drill, I’m sure. Still, we’ll go over it one more time, because it’s just like a set-piece: timing makes all the difference…”
George went through the real game-plan, noting every man’s importance. Here and there, a question was posed, as someone wondered what to do in the event something unexpected occurred. Each time, he or Brad reassured the player, and gave specific instructions on how to handle the hypothetical crisis.
“The most important thing is never to lose your cool,” Brad reminded, not for the first time, “especially in the palace or in the tunnel…”
As if on cue, there was suddenly a tapping from under the floor between him and the players. Everyone went silent. Then, the tapping came one more time. Brad smiled, then rapped out three distinct taps with his stick.
There was a ripping sound, as carpet tape gave way, and a square section lifted up when a hinged door hidden beneath was raised. A strange misshapen head emerged. The intruder wore an extravagantly uneven Afro, and his crooked, hooked nose made his face look as asymmetrical as Brad’s shirt. There was another moment of stunned silence, then a chorus of hearty welcomes as the players recognised the newcomer as a long-lost comrade.
“Jô!” came the cries. “Bloody hell, mate! Haven’t seen you in ages! Where’ve you been keeping yourself?”
The Brazilian, climbed out of the hole, extricated himself from the smothering welcome of nearly a dozen embraces, and smoothed out his rumpled robes and sash, which some belatedly noticed were in the colours of Mansour’s House.
“I retired,” he explained. “Like all of you, I couldn’t take it anymore, always on the end of the bench. For me, it lasted years, though. Whether it was Shinawatra, or Mansour after him, someone would be sold and I would think, ‘Finally, my chance has come.’ But no, every time I would be ignored, and one of you would be bought.” His expression darkened at the memory and his audience felt shame at their own indignation over treatment far less egregious than that put upon their forgotten friend.
“That was not the worst of it, however,” he continued. “When my so-called playing days came to an end, Mansour’s lackey, Khaldoon Mubarak, came to me with a job offer. I was excited, thinking I would have a cosy front-office post with the club, like the one given to Vieira. Instead, I was informed that the Sheikh had noticed my loyalty, despite my circumstances, and believed that I would be the perfect man to oversee his harem.”
Voices cried out in joyous congratulations, but the bitter man waved them off with a scowl. “Do none of you learn? Never are Mansour’s promises are as magnanimous as they seem,” he growled, “and it is always you, not he, who pays in the end. Yes, I protect his wives and concubines, gorgeous beauties each and every one, but if I thought my balls had been cut off on the substitute’s bench at City, I learned how that truly feels when I took this job.”
To a man, his audience blanched and swallowed, their throats suddenly drier than the desert outside. Remembering the ancient customs of the region, clasped hands surreptitiously crept down and covered nether regions, with each one again thinking the same thought they had silently uttered when being chosen to play ahead of the Brazilian in days past: “Better him than me.”
“I know that expression, and the thought behind it,” Jô said quietly. “You can’t hide it from me. I’ve seen it all my life.
The pain of his endless suffering was evident on his face, but then he smiled and it vanished, like a thundercloud chased away by the sun.
“I don’t hold you in contempt, however. I would feel the same, were I you. No, Mansour is the true evil, and I have come to help you gain your vengeance and with it, my own. And the best part for me, is that I know this time none of you can succeed without me there at your side.”
He looked down at a small sea of nervous, uncertain faces, then he raised his fists and shouted, “Down with Mansour!”
A rousing roar of agreement met his battle cry, and he was again smothered in a massive, boisterous embrace. When the noise subsided, George spoke again.
“Jô’s tunnel leads into the heart of the palace,” he said. “Tomorrow, while the dying moments of the match are played out, Brad, Bridgey, Carlos and myself will go through the tunnel. Shaun and Craig will be waiting for us. Together, we will lighten the Sheikh of a hefty portion of his vast wealth.”
Carlos spoke for the first time. “There is a slight change in plans,” he said. The rest looked his way. “Money is all well and good, but my vengeance requires that the Sheikh pay a higher, more personal price. I intend to relieve our host of the FA Cup.”
Jô shook his head. “That will be impossible. Even though it is out in the open, the trophy is more tightly guarded than his vault.”
“I do not care,” Carlos’ eyes blazed. “I will have it!”
The other players began squabbling with one another, some siding with Carlos, others more concerned about their share of the cash. Even Sparky couldn’t hush the sudden din. Brad and George looked at each other and smiled, and the former banged his stick on the floor three more times. Everyone froze.
“We had intended to bring up this possibility,” George informed the group. “It’s the main reason we took the job, in fact.”
“Yes,” Brad agreed. “Stealing money has been done ad nauseum. We needed a plot twist, and the FA Cup is perfect. We just wanted to be sure you guys were up to the challenge before mentioning it.”
Jô looked at the Americans. “You don’t understand. Mansour never goes anywhere without that trophy,” he explained. “There is a transmitter embedded in it. If the trophy is removed more than a kilometre’s distance from the Sheikh, an alarm sounds from an electronic bracelet that never leaves His Highness’ wrist. What you intend cannot be done.”
George’s easy grinned widened. “There’s always a way, Jô. In this case, we just require a bit of misdirection and a light touch.”
“Yes,” Brad agreed again. “And we have just the lady for the job.”
Something in the actor’s tone caused Bridgey’s head to snap up. He had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that he knew just who this woman was.
Don’t miss the exciting finale of The Qatari Job, coming Tuesday, 7 February!
The Qatari Job, Part VI: The Best Laid Plans Of Mice & Man City by Martin Palazzotto is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.