We are the Champions, my friends…

I’ve been playing FM, in all it’s guises, since it was first released in 1992 and I can never remember having such a tight, nerve-wracking league campaign. With 8 games to go there were 4 teams separated by only 2 points. We were in pole position but had 5 away games in the remaining 8, including visits to Bari, pre-season favourites for the title, Novara and, at this point, 5th placed Entella. It was imperative I win my home games and those against lower opposition.

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And that went out the window straight away. Consecutive 1-0 defeats away to Verona and home to Foggia dealt us a major blow and the Bari game was now must win. We smashed them. Inspired January signing Samou Sissoko, Michael Fabbro and a Marc Brasnic double gave us a much needed, confidence boosting 4-0 victory and put us back on track. we followed this up with a nervy 1-0 home win over Ternana with Brasnic again on the scoresheet. At this point all 4 of the promotion pushing teams were dropping points so with 4 games to go it was still just as tight.

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After beating Spal 2-0 away we were travelling to Novara for a massive game at the top. Novara (this game aside), Carpi and Cesena had no games left against top 10 opposition while all 3 of my matches were against top 10 teams. This was must win. We lost. They scored after 22 minutes and I don’t think we had one highlight in the game. We were in 3rd and even 2 victories in the last 2 games might not be enough for automatic promotion.

Our final home game of the season was against Avellino and started badly as Dario Del Fabro was sent off for a viscious foul after 27 minutes. I was fuming. He was fined 2 weeks wages and accepted the fine which tells you how bad the challenge was. But the team rallied round. Brasnic and youngster Mirko Antonucci both scored twice as we swept Avellino aside in a 4-0 victory. Unbelievably the other 3 teams were also dropping points in this spell so going into the final match we were down to 3, gunning for the 2 automatic promotion places, with Cesena now out of it.

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Entella had jumped Cesena in the table and that was where we had to go on the final day. A win guarantees us the title. Anything else could mean the playoffs. We started brilliantly with Fabby scoring after only 2 minutes. Brasnic doubled the lead and continued his excellent end-of-season form and we were looking comfortable at half-time. However, Entella clawed one back after 64 minutes and then had another ruled out for offside. My wee arse was in tatters. As Entella pushed for an equaliser we broke away. We broke away with pace and beauty. Every pass was inch perfect. Every run was timed to perfection. And as Janis Cavagna finished off the move of the season, no, the move of the decade, I cheered as if I had just scored the winning goal in the World Cup final. I went all Marco Tardelli. although Entella pulled back another one we knew that was it. We had won Serie B.

Table

It was a remarkable achievement that was built on an outstanding defence. We conceded only 22 goals in 42 games and if I had to nit pick we never really scored enough. If we were able to turn just 2 or 3 of our 8 0-0 draws into victories then things would’ve been much more comfortable. We also had a shocking discipline record receiving 9 red cards and 135 yellow (33 more than any other team), something we will need to work on during the summer. No idea how to do that as our tackling is set to ‘normal’. Our 8 defeats were all 0-1 so it shows that no team pumped us, indeed only Entella (3-2) and Vicenza (2-2) managed to score more than 1 against us in the league (Juventus were the only team to score more than 2 against us all season). Marc Brasnic won Striker of the Year, Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year. Joel Pereira won Goalkeeper of the Year. I won Manager of the Year and Managers’ Manager of the Year. Pereira, Alessandro Bastoni and Brasnic were all included in the team of the season.

I’ve renewed the loan deals for Bastoni, Adarabioyo, Sissoko, Franchini and Bezzicheri as their coach reports all say they are Serie A (or potential Serie A) quality. I’m sorry to see Maggiore and Gerli leave in particular as they were immense throughout the season but we need Serie A quality players so I’ll have a busy summer ahead. Before the Serie B campaign we brought in lots of quality players at the start of the season, players that were, frankly, too good for us, but they all came with minimum fee release clauses so I’ll have to renew those contracts and try and get rid of those clasues. The wage budget has been increased to £107k pw but everyone wants a new contract so that’ll disappear quickly. Lots of work to do.

PS I got my National C Licence and the board have now sent me on a course to get my National B Licence.

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The season’s end

April and May conclude the season for the Herbs and we’re gunning for a promotion place into Ligue 1.

Right off the bat, we’re looking good. Unbeaten in April, with 3 wins and a draw, I’m confident that we can creep up the table and potentially look for back-to-back promotions. Soni and Derouard are on form, but the goals are coming from a few different sources now; those two, plus Chergui, Perradin, Tig, and Gbelle all combine to score 12 goals in 4 games.

But then we play the teams in 2nd and 3rd, and the wheels come off. 3 defeats in our final four games seal our fate. As part of an ironic consolation, the victory on the last day is against Créteil-Lusitanos, who beat us on day one.

In the end, we finish well off the pace. The top 3 were too good, especially eventual winners La Berrichonne de Châteauroux, who only lost once in their last 14 matches. We end up in 7th, 11 points from any hope of promotion.

Award season comes and goes, with Anthony Derouard making into the league’s season XI, as well as winning player of the year – or Star of the Season, as it seems to be called. He dedicates it to me, which is nice.

And then comes an email from the board.

You might remember from the season 2 round-up, that the Herbs’ stadium wasn’t up to scratch for our Ligue 2 status. Well, it’s still not, since the board are refusing to do anything with it.

Season 1 attendances were ~300 for each game. Season 2 attendances were always 3000. We were packing out the place, but they won’t budge. To be fair, that might be something to do with me blowing the wage budget, but that’s for them to worry about.

I start to contemplate another season with the glorious Herbs, and I wonder how far I can take this wee team – some of whose players are still on part-time contracts.

Around this time, Nîmes Olympique get in touch. They’ve got a stadium which holds over 18000 people, and I’m tempted. I’m really tempted. They’re a Ligue 1 team, too. 3-star reputation, Secure finances. And I bet they’ll let me go on a coaching course.

It doesn’t take long… Where do I sign?

And just like that, I wave goodbye to my legion of heroes – some of whom I might try and poach – and to those 3000 hardy souls who came to the Stade Massabielle every 2nd week to cheer on the mighty Herbs.

Oh, one last thing. Remember when I said Nimes were a Ligue 1 side? Well they’ve just been relegated to Ligue 2. Sad trombone, indeed.

 

Not so much a march, as a stumble towards the safety of home

A fantastic start to season 3 lurched into a disappointing middle. Rejuvenated after the winter break, The Herbs press on.

The last update mentioned something along the lines of no transfer activity taking place during the winter break. Immediately after that, I was able to pick up Kevin Soni, a young attacking midfielder, on loan from Bordeaux. We’ve had quite the run of injuries in that position, so it made sense to strengthen while we could.

I don’t want to pat myself too much on the back (who am I kidding AMIRITE?, but it turns out to be an inspired signing. 7 goals in 9 games from January to March, including a brace on his debut, in a 3-2 win away against Tours FC.

The same period sees an uplift in form, but it’s patchy and we don’t win 2 games in a row over a period of 3 months. Still, it’s enough to get us to 45 points, and definite safety, even if there is some kind of disaster in the closing games.

DWLDWDWLWLW

The best of these results is a 6-2 win against midtable Sochaux-Montbé, a game that sees Soni grab another brace, and Anthony Derouard net 4 goals, all of which come in the opening 45 minutes.

Derouard is one of our best performers this season and as April starts, he’s 3rd in the Goal charts, top of the Average Ratings, 3rd in Assists, and top of the PotM table. A superstar.

Such is the level of performance from him, and a few others, that I feel the need to tie down some players to longer contracts. Doing so sees the already inflated wage budget dive further into the red. So much so that I now get regular reminders from the board that “the club’s wage expenditure is a worry and you will need to address this as soon as possible“. I’m a little worried, but I really don’t intend to hang around long enough for that to be concern.

I should point out that both cup targets (9th round in the Coupe de France; 3rd round in the Coupe de la Ligue) disappeared under a cloud of acrid smoke by mid-December, so the league is the basket into which I have placed all my French eggs.

We’re now into April, 8 games to go, and 11 points from the top of the table. Winning Ligue 2 would be a stretch, but we’re only 4 points from automatic promotion, and that’s now the aim.

Edit: I forgot to mention that we lost Teddy Bouriaud to a long-term injury. As a result, FC Nantes called him back from him loan. I don’t know if I’m more disappointed for him, or for us. (It’s us. It’s definitely us).

 

The Millers Go Marching On

As the winter transfer window slams shut it has been an excellent first half of the season for The Millers. In the 13 league games since the last update we won 7, drew 5 and lost only 1 to leave us joint top of the league with 44 points. Marc Brasnic is top goalscorer in the division and we have conceded the least and scored the 3rd most in Serie B.

We are also, first the first time since I took over, in the black. Ettore Mendicino got his wish and was transferred to Verona for £1.2m and backup full back Roberto Masullo moved to Pescara for £230k. This income also allowed me to finally go on a coaching course so hopefully will see an improvement in my stats soon.

Unfortunately injuries have robbed us of two key players. Tosin Adarabioyo tore his knee ligaments and will be out for 4 months. Given the number of centre halves we have we should be able to cope with this one. More serious was Daniel Bezziccheri damaging his achilles tendon and his season is now over. This meant I had to delve into the transfer market, which I would prefer not to do in January. Samou Sissoko has came in on loan from Roma to replace Bezzy and we also brought in Kevin Collins, a young central midfielder, from Liverpool as I felt we struggled in there when Giulio Maggiore was injured earlier in the season.

The Italian Cup gave us two cracking games against top flight opposition. In the 4th Qualifying Round we faced Trapani and despite having a Dario Saric sent off after 59 minutes we managed to hold them to a 2-2 draw before winning 4-1 on penalties. The reward for this was an away trip to Turin to play the mighty Juventus. We were mighty in the game. 52% possession and 21 shots to their 16 in a frantic tie. Paulo Dybala had given Juve a first half lead before a quick fire double from Bezzy and Fabby put is in front. Juve equalised through Lemina before Bezzy picked up his season ending injury. We continued to threaten in extra time but Juve got a 113th minute winner to break our hearts. That’s a bit melodramatic as I don’t really care about the Italian Cup, a bit like everyone else in Italy, but it was still an impressive performance.

It’s back to the league and the push for promotion.

Table

Fixtures

Squad

Finances

In the Summertime…

It was always going to be a busy summer. The squad would need to be rebuilt with no money and every member of the backroom staff was out of contract and I was also keeping an eye on the job market. First decision was on my own future. I felt if I was looking to move I wouldn’t be overly committed to rebuilding the team and staff. Given that Siena gave me a job I decided to repay their faith and commit myself for the season and, so, I signed the new contract I was offered.

Next step was backroom staff. Long story short I replaced everyone. New assistant manager, coaches, director of football, scouts, physios, data analysts, head of youth development. Everyone. A change is as a good as a rest.

Changing your staff, however, is pointless if you don’t get good players in. We needed players who were good enough for Serie B. We managed to extend the loan deals for Alessandro Bastoni (touted as the next Franco Baresi), Giulio Maggione, Fabio Gerli, Michael Fabbro and fan favourite Daniel Bezziccheri. All of their coach reports said they were Serie B standard so they were a no-brainer.

However, the step up a division meant that some players were no longer of the required standard so new players would be needed and selling a few would be good to try and balance the books. In came Mattia Franchini, an advanced playmaker, on loan from Porto and Tosin Adarabioyo, a central defender, on loan from Man City. We also signed Joel Pareira a goalkeeper who had been released from Man Utd. These last two are outstanding signings as I had them both in a previous save and they went on to become world class players. Them alone made me confident for the upcoming season.

We also managed to get in Stefan Simic and Dario Del Fabro, both centre halves, on free transfers. I signed them both as I fully expected someone to meet Mattias Andersson’s release clause and I’ve been bitten by that happening on the last day of the transfer window in the past. And then no-one came in for him. This has left me with 5 first choice centre halves so squad management is going to need to be vital to keep them all happy. The final main signing was Marc Brasnic, a 21 year old Croatia U21 striker. I’m not sure if Mendicino is going to be able to make the step up to Serie B.

There wasn’t a raft of players leaving but we did make a little bit of money. I transfer listed Andrea Doninelli and Bari paid £675k for him. Along with a board injection of funds this has eased the financial worries.

Transfers

As I dealt with all this my new assistant manager, Daniel Bartsch, was taking control of an encouraging pre-season. We went unbeaten, including a 1-1 draw with Napoli, scoring 28 goals in 8 games, conceding only 5. The competitive fixtures started with the Italian Cup, where our target was the 3rd Qualifying Round, which meant we only had to beat Serie C side Parma. Which we duly did, 2-0. We were then drawn against Serie A side Atalanta (surely it isn’t a qualifying round if they Serie A sides are in it?) and produced an outstanding performance to spank them 4-1, away from home.

There was no way I was going to have as good a start to the league season as Ronnie but it was hugely promising nevertheless. We won 4 of our opening 6 games, drawing the other 2, to sit on top of the pile before we travelled to Pescara. Here we would suffer our first defeat of the season, 0-1, despite ridiculous match stats:

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Our 2nd defeat of the season would come in game 9 after Vassallo was sent off after 30 minutes for a straight red card but it too was only 1-0 so I’m pleased with how our defence is shaping up. In the final game of this update we had to play a league game despite having 6 players on international duty. Pretty annoyed about that and we drew 0-0. So after 10 league games we have won 5, drawn 3 and lost 2 and sit in 5th place. We have the best defensive record in the league but i would like to see us take more of our chances as we are generally dominating teams. Overall though an excellent start.

Downsides are that we lost Maggiore for 4 months through injury and Mendicino has been transfer listed. He wanted a new contract, which I offered, but his demands were ridiculous and we couldn’t match them so he has spat the dummy and demanded to be transfer listed. It’s a shame but fuck him.Squad Table

Fixtures

Injured players and injured pride

After a hugely successful opening 3 months of the season, the run up to Christmas is a tale of misery and woe. Well, maybe it’s not that bad.

November and December see a slight down turn in form, and I’m attributing it mostly to the injuries we’ve had. We’d already lost Belloc and Ramalama, but the latter part of the year sees us lose both central defenders, Derrien and Perradin, as well as loanee stalwart Teddy Bouriaud.

As a result of the amount of players stuck in the treatment room, our league form suffers massively, and we lose a bunch of matches after our impressive initial results.

LLLLWL

There are a couple of cup wins, as well as a successful run of friendly matches over the Christmas period – mainly to try and get back winning again – but it’s not been a great couple of months.

The league table’s fine, though. We’ve dropped down a few places but we’re still in 4th place, and only 10 points from the safety (yes, that’s still the target) of the 40-point mark.

I’d planned to give an update on the winter transfer window, but there’s bugger-all happening there, although I have adjusted the budget slightly, based on some new objectives.

Oh, and you might’ve guessed, I’m still at VFH. As it turns out, FC Nantes weren’t even interested in interviewing me. They’re the only club I’ve ever wanted to manage etc.