One of the biggest games in CD Almuñecar City’s short history is just around the corner and George Jermy admitted that the situation is like nothing he has ever faced before.
The 2019/20 season was brought to a grinding halt across the world when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, meaning by the time the game comes around next week, CDAC won’t have played a competitive game since the beginning of March.
Player-Coach George Jermy admitted that no amount of coaching experience could prepare anyone for this situation because of the magnitude of the game they are facing and inactivity of the playing squad for several months.
“It’s a strange feeling” Jermy said. “It’s something that you’ve just never experienced in any kind of football season and no one has ever lived through it before.
There’s no coaching license and no previous experience to pull on. To give an exact idea of how I’m feeling, it’s strange more than anything.
Out of the ordinary is a real feeling just because we’re now going into, arguably, the club’s biggest game in our short history and we haven’t played a game for over three months.
Due to the regulations that've come out from the Federación, it’s been the same strictness as La Liga and there’s been no friendly matches permitted, so you’re going into a 90-minute semi-final, which could be your final game, with zero minutes under your belt.
The training has been fantastic from the coaches and our planning, but you can’t ever replicate a game. I guess it’d be like Anthony Joshua going into a world title fight without having had a sparring partner.”
The CDAC squad returned to training on June 6 after all testing came back negative. This gave the green light for the team to start preparing for their Play-Off match with Churriana CF.
Nicky Guyo and Kundai Mukweva were all set to return to their native Zimbabwe back in March, but both were unable to travel back when lockdown was enforced.
Almuñecar will have both players available for the play-off game, which Jermy admitted was a big boost. The 32-year-old also mentioned that he was “pleasantly surprised” at how fit the team were upon their return to training.
“Any of the players that we have that are based in Africa had flights. For example, we took Nicky and Kundai to the airport and the morning of their flight, it was cancelled and the border closed in their country.
Same with Thabang (Matuka), from South Africa, so that was obviously terrible for them, but it’s been a silver lining because it means we’ve got such a competitive squad to go into the Play-Off with.
If they had the luck that they could’ve taken that flight, I doubt they’d have been able to get back in now for example, so we’d be extremely depleted for the run in.”
Jermy wanted to talk about how strict lockdown was in the country, but also about how the CDAC players have had added “energy and desire” in training.
"The main thing to mention is how strict the lockdown was here,” said Jermy. “We had the army on the streets - you weren’t allowed outside of your house.
If you had children you were allowed out for a short time. We were inside for the best part of nine weeks, which psychologically and mentally, especially when you have a daily routine that’s so active and now you’re living in your lounge and a bit of a terraced area, it was difficult not only for training and keeping physically fit, but also for your mental wellbeing.
I get the feeling now, especially back at training, that everyone has got extra energy and desire that we now value so much more being together and the daily grind. Whereas before sometimes training would sometimes feel long or tough.
All that is out the way now and you just take every day and enjoy it so much after what we lived through.”
The two sides faced each other twice during the regular season before the enforced break. South African defender Mike Howard was on target during Almuñécar’s 1-0 victory on the road, while Churriana CF picked up a 2-0 win at Rio Verde in February.
Given the two teams haven’t played a single game in almost four months, Jermy believes the deciding factor will be the fitness of the players and who has put in the “most work” since returning to training.
"It’s going to be who has prepared best over this month and put in the most work. We’re both in the same scenario, in theory, that we haven’t been able to play any practice games.
Fitness is going to win the game. If you asked me, on paper, which team was the better team, I’d feel comfortable that it's ourselves, but I don’t think talent necessarily comes into any kind of Play-Off, even more so one that’s being played over 90 minutes, so there’s no extra-time and no penalties.
It’s a straight hit out over 90 minutes. I think it’s going to be who has prepared for the battle and to grind it out mentally and sacrifice during the game and also the team that can physically keep going at the highest tempo.”
Talking about the lack of match preparation, Jermy continued: "It’s almost dangerous and a hazard to the players the fact that we’re coming back in to such a competitive game without the correct type of preparation.
You can play as many training games as you want, but you don’t have the same physical duals, you don’t have the same acceleration or desire to get into a tackle to get ahead of your rival.
You need to be careful with the 22 players for injuries. You could get quite a serious injury from the lack of competitive football going into, what is essentially, a do-or-die game.”
One of the top four will be playing in the División de Honor Andaluza next season, one league away from the Tercera División. To be in the mix for promotion this season, Jermy said everyone is just “grateful” to have football back.
Jermy also believes the exposure of having the game streamed online is “fantastic”, but despite this, the player-coach is still disappointed that there won’t be any supporters in the stadium watching such a big game.
“(If it was to happen) it’d be the biggest promotion so far,” said the midfielder. “We always knew that it was going to be the toughest one. It’s the end of regional football before you’re coming into the real semi-professional realms and you’re only one league away from the Spanish football league system.
For us it’s absolutely enormous, but at the same time, after COVID-19, we’re just grateful and really enthused that we have a football season next year, whether that’s in the first regional league or whether that’s in the División de Honor.
Right now, I think the main worry for everyone is that this virus seems to keep coming back in numerous parts of the UK, in America and elsewhere.
If there was a second wave that stopped us playing football next year, I think that would be catastrophic for the club as a whole and each individual player.”
Jermy wanted to pay tribute to the frontline workers and all of their hard work during this global pandemic. The CDAC player-coach also gave praise to the Federación for the protocols they put in place to get the season finished.
He said: “They’ve been incredible, especially the hospital workers here. They’ve not had any breaks at all, working around the clock.
In Spain, there’s been quite a high number of deaths. It’s one of the countries that are in the top 10 globally, which has been really sad and difficult. To go in and see that every day, I can’t imagine what that’s like for the frontline workers.
They’ve done a fantastic job because now we’ve been one of the countries in Europe to get back on our feet and get our new normal lives back a long way ahead of say England for example, where they’ve still not got hairdressers and restaurants open.
We’re eternally grateful that’s for sure and to the federation as well. The protocols that they put in place like the players getting tested so regularly for COVID-19, even at a more modest level of Spanish football.
I think it’s a great effort to get the season concluded, even though it’s not the way it was meant to be. At least we’re going to get some conclusion, not just null and void, which is what happened in a number of countries and was a real shame for the teams at the top of those leagues.”
Although supporters won’t be able to attend CD Almuñecar City’s Play-Off Semi-Final due to the game being played behind closed doors, the game is free to watch worldwide on RFAF-TV.