Archive for the ‘Football Manager’ Category
I know some of you hate people like me who go on about Football Manager a lot, but this is actually quite fun. I’ve set up a non-interventionist game on Football Manager 2014 – I’m just letting it run of its own accord and waiting to see what happens. It’s been quite entertaining so far – entertaining in a “this is so crazy it can’t possibly happen” way, and also in a “this is so crazy it probably will happen” way.
– While Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea helped themselves to the League Cup and then the Champions League, with wins over Stoke and PSG in the respective finals, and Manchester United took their first trophy under David Moyes in the FA Cup, Manchester City and Arsenal battled over the Premier League. City held a six-point lead with three games to go, but first lost to Tottenham, and then dramatically on the final day to Chelsea in a 3-2 thriller, handing the championship to the Gunners on goal difference.
– Chelsea finished 3rd, ahead of Manchester United and Tottenham. Liverpool finished 5th after sacking Brendan Rodgers in November; he was replaced by Swansea’s Michael Laudrup, who in turn was replaced by Martin O’Neill, the Northern Irishman guiding the club to its first FA Cup Final.
– At the bottom end of the Premier League, Crystal Palace were long gone by the end, and Hull and West Ham eventually joined them. Sunderland narrowly escaped.
– Player of the Year went to Chelsea’s Juan Mata, though team mate Eden Hazard was the Players’ Player of the Year. The top scorer was Olivier Giroud, and Arsene Wenger won Manager of the Year. The biggest transfer of the season was Manchester City’s summer purchase of Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane.
– The Championship was won by Reading, who edged Wigan into 2nd. Leicester were promoted via the play-offs, beating Barnsley 3-0 in the final. Yeovil, Ipswich and Doncaster went down. Wolves won League One, and were promoted along with Bristol City and Tranmere, while Oldham Athletic were the most notable casualty at the bottom. Hartlepool won League Two, and went up with former non-league clubs Burton and Fleetwood, as well as play-off winners Oxford. Bristol Rovers dropped into the Conference with Newport, being replaced by Football League returnees Kidderminster and Wrexham.
– Abroad, things were rather predictable. PSG, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, AC Milan and Celtic were the champions of the other active countries. Fiorentina beat Borussia Dortmund in the final of the Europa League.
– The World Cup ended the season. There had already been drama in qualifying, with Spain being trounced in the play-offs by Russia, including a 5-0 second leg defeat courtesy of a Sergio Ramos red card. Then, in the tournament itself, the hosts Brazil failed to progress, while one by one the best teams in the competition took themselves out. A stoppage time Frank Lampard winner helped England to their second final, while Russia again surprised the footballing world by beating Germany in the other semi-final. In the final, goals from Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney helped England to a 2-1 win, and Henry Winter lost his shit.
– This would go down as the year where David Moyes saw off the challenge of Jose Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini. United took their 21st English title on goal difference from Chelsea, with Manchester City a point behind in 3rd and Liverpool 4th a further two points back. This left reigning champions Arsenal out of the Champions League spots in 5th, again ahead of Tottenham.
– West Brom and newly-promoted Wigan were the surprise packages, finishing 7th and 8th respectively. Aston Villa were the most notable casualty at the bottom, winning only 4 games all season. Stoke and Reading joined them in the relegation zone, while Fulham survived after sacking Martin Jol and replacing him with Gary Bowyer.
– Robin van Persie again won Player of the Year, with the players’ choice again being Eden Hazard. The Dutch star was also top scorer, with Wigan’s Billy McKay the top-scoring British player in third. David Moyes won Manager of the Year, ahead of Steve Clarke and Owen Coyle. The most notable retirement was Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, who ended his player career at the age of 35, while Championship players breathed a sigh of relief as QPR’s Joey Barton retired at the age of 33.
– In the cups, Chelsea beat Manchester City on penalties in the FA Cup Final, while Manchester United beat Wigan in the League Cup Final in a repeat of the 2005 final.
– Nottingham Forest won the Championship under Billy Davies, with Burnley and Watford going up and Brighton, Charlton and Birmingham going down. Doncaster and Ipswich made immediate returns, with Coventry joining them. John Gregory’s Chesterfield won League Two, while Southend dropped out of the Football League, along with Morecambe. The biggest non-league story of the year was Dartford winning the Conference play-offs and gaining their first promotion into the Football League, while Leamington dropped out of Conference North after two seasons.
– Bayern, Celtic Real Madrid and PSG continued to dominate their respective leagues, and Juventus returned to the top of Serie A, as Andrea Pirlo ended his career with another winners’ medal. There was an all-Spanish Champions League Final as Atletico Madrid beat Barcelona, while Lazio beat Schalke in the Europa League Final. The biggest transfer of the season was Real Madrid buying Marek Hamsik from Napoli for £35.5m.
– Internationally, Cameroon beat Ghana in the Africa Cup of Nations Final, while Brazil beat Colombia in the Copa America Final.
– Arsenal took a more comfortable title this time, beating FA and League Cup winners Spurs (in their last season at the old White Hart Lane) by 6 points. But the bigger stories were behind, as Manchester United and Chelsea finished 7th and 8th on 61 points, behind Swansea in 4th and Wigan in 6th. But Swansea, now managed by Paul Lambert, would not get a Champions League spot, as Mourinho masterminded another European success, beating his former club Real Madrid in the final. While Jose earned a reprieve, Moyes did not, and was sacked. His replacement would be former Barcelona manager Gerardo Martino
– For the first time in a long time, the three promoted sides, Nottingham Forest, Burnley and Watford, were all immediately relegated. Sunderland again had a narrow escape after sacking Poyet and replacing him with Jol.
– Arsene Wenger was again Manager of the Year, with Lambert and Coyle behind. Player of the Year went to Jack Wilshere, though Hazard won Players’ Player for the third year in a row. Jordan Rhodes of Southampton was the top scorer, beating Wigan’s Charlie Austin and Cardiff’s Andreas Cornelius. It was a notable year for retirements as Ryan Giggs, Frank Lampard and John Terry all ended their playing careers, and Nemanja Vidic played in his final Premier League game before retiring after a solitary cup appearance in the following season.
– Wolves, under Kenny Jackett, won the Championship, their second promotion in three seasons under the Welshman. Stoke and Aston Villa were promoted with them, while Bristol City, Coventry and Bolton went down. Birmingham won League One ahead of Brentford, with Sheffield United at last returning to the Championship with them. MK Dons were amongst the relegated teams, while Portsmouth finally left League Two by finishing third. Dartford’s brief foray into the Football League ended when they went down with Exeter, with Southend and Bristol Rovers taking their places. This season also saw FC United of Manchester earn promotion from the Northern Premier League.
– Bayern won their fourth straight Bundesliga title, while Real Madrid won the third La Liga title in a row, beating surprise contenders Valencia, managed first by Rafa Benitez and then by Roberto Mancini. Monaco broke PSG’s stranglehold in France, while Juventus won again in Italy and Celtic took yet another Scottish title, with Rangers finishing 5th in their first season back in the top flight. Barcelona won the Europa League after crashing out of the Champions League early on, but could only finish fourth in La Liga. The biggest transfers were both thanks to Bayern Munich: in the summer, they signed Romelu Lukaku from Chelsea for £38.5m, and then spent the same fee again on Schalke’s Julian Draxler.
– There would be more drama for English fans in Euro 2016. Facing Turkey in the semi-finals, Steven Caulker’s dramatic stoppage time winner helped them into the final against hosts France. Wilshere gave England the lead, but Arsenal team mate Giroud equalised in stoppage time to take the game to extra time, where Ashley Young scored to break French hearts and give captain Phil Jagielka the chance to lift the Henri Delaunay Cup. Roy Hodgson retired after the tournament, and was replaced by Tottenham’s Andre Villas-Boas. In South America, Uruguay beat Argentina to win Copa America.
– At last, Manchester City finally clinched the Premier League title again, beating Liverpool by 3 points. Manchester United and League Cup winners Arsenal completed the top 4, leaving Chelsea outside again, this time down in 6th; Jose Mourinho somehow retained his job again. Martino had not, though; he was sacked by United and replaced by former rival Roberto Mancini. Arsene Wenger chose this moment to retire, with his position taken by Wolves manager Kenny Jackett.
– At the bottom, Sunderland finally ran out of chances, and were joined by Aston Villa and Stoke. Fulham, now managed by Brendan Rodgers, finished 17th but did qualify for Europe after winning the FA Cup for the first time, beating Wigan in the final courtesy of a goal from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
– Cardiff’s Youssef El-Arabi was the top scorer with 26 goals, the highest total since Van Persie in 2012-13. Player of the Year went to Eden Hazard, though he failed to win a fourth-straight Players’ Player Award, which instead went to Bernard of Manchester City. Manuel Pellegrini was named Manager of the Year ahead of Laudrup and, bizarrely, Rodgers, despite losing 5 of the last 6 league matches of the season. Former England captain Rio Ferdinand was the most notable retirement, while the biggest transfer was his effective replacement, Samuel Umtiti, who was brought in from Lyon for £31.5m.
– Reading (who picked up a massive 98 poins), Forest and Watford returned to the Premier League, while QPR were relegated under Dougie Freedman, along with Tranmere and Millwall. Yeovil were champions of League One, and were joined by Preston and Crewe, who made it back-to-back promotions under Henning Berg. However, Coventry slumped to back-to-back relegations, the latest being at the hands of Graham Westley. MK Dons won League Two, with Wycombe returning to the third tier via the play-offs, while Bristol Rovers were again relegated into the Conference, this time along with Bury, who in March had appointed Joey Barton as manager in a bid to escape the drop. Luton at last won the Conference, and they were joined by Football League newcomers Ebbsfleet, while Hereford and Stockport also left the Conference in the opposite direction.
– Chelsea’s last chance of Champions League qualification had been via winning it, but they lost the final to PSG; sadly Zlatan Ibramovich played no part in what would be his final season as a player. Meanwhile, Lazio won another Europa League, this time beating Lyon in the final. In the leagues, there was a big shock in the Bundesliga as Borussia Dortmund returned to the top and Bayern slumped to 6th under Josep Guardiola as Robben and Ribery both slipped into retirement. Monaco, Real Madrid, Juventus and Celtic continued their dominance of their respective leagues.
– The only major international tournament of note was the Africa Cup of Nations, which saw Egypt return to the top with a win in the final over rivals Algeria.
– Manchester City won the Premier League once again, still relying on their old spine of Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero, supplemented with more purchased stars: Varane, Bernard, Thiago, Chalobah, Sterling, Wanyama, Gaston Ramirez, Luke Shaw, Strootman and Peruzzi. Arsenal were 6 points distant, with United 3rd and Tony Pulis’ Newcastle again denying Chelsea a top four spot on goal difference; Jose again kept his job, though. Tottenham finished down in 9th, replacing manager Marco van Basten with David Moyes in November; the Scot then guided them to a League Cup triumph over Liverpool. Southampton finished 8th and won the FA Cup. Wigan again finished 6th, but were now under Roberto Martinez again.
– This was because Owen Coyle, mastermind of their great recent run, had been recruited by Everton in a vain attempt to stave off relegation, though Malky Mackay had begun the process. They would be joined by Watford and Wolves, who had curiously appointed Dougie Freedman as Jackett’s successor despite overseeing QPR’s relegation from the Championship the year before. Liverpool could laugh at Everton’s demise but they had been down there themselves at one point; Laudrup was dismissed and replaced by the prodigal son Rafa Benitez, who then guided them to an FA Cup Final.
– Manager of the Year again went to Pellegrini, beating Pulis and Cardiff’s Gary Bowyer. Eden Hazard won yet another award in the shape of Player of the Year, with the players’ choice being Man City’s Thiago. Jordan Rhodes was top scorer for the second time with 26 goals, comfortably beating Norwich’s Lionard Ekangamene and Manchester United’s new star striker Salomon Rondon.
– Stoke won the Championship by 10 points, with West Ham, armed with the Italian pair of Giampaolo Pazzini and soon-to-retire Antonio Cassano, edging Aston Villa by a point for 2nd. Crystal Palace went up via the play-offs, while Preston, Doncaster and Crewe went down. QPR, now under Mark Hughes again, won League One, with Chesterfield (under Phil Brown) and Gillingham (under Jens Lehmann) the surprise promoted pair behind them. Millwall suffered back-to-back relegations, slumping into League Two, while Coventry, who suffered a similar fate a year before, were beaten in the League Two play-off final by Port Vale, as AFC Wimbledon reached the third tier for the first time. Dagenham and Crawley dropped out of the Football League as Luton narrowly avoided an immediate return to the Conference, while Dartford won the Conference play-offs again, joining champions Newport back in League Two.
– Juventus completed the second ever Italian Treble with victory over Lyon in the Champions League Final, courtesy of a late winner from Fabio Borini. Real Madrid’s run in Spain ended as Barcelona returned to the top under Vincenzo Montella in Carles Puyol’s final season as a player, while PSG returned to the top in France and Dortmund won the Bundesliga as Bayern again floundered in 5th. Celtic won yet again in Scotland, benefiting from a new partnership with Chelsea which saw Gerard Deulofeu and Branislav Ivanovic arrive on loan along with Southampton’s Aaron Lennon and Arsenal’s Miralem Pjanic, but Rangers required a relegation play-off victory over Ross County to avoid slipping back into the Scottish Championship, leading to Ally McCoist’s ousting in favour of Nick Barmby.
– What followed would be high drama: the World Cup in Russia would go down as one of the greatest in history. Brazil once again failed to progress out of the groups, and they would be joined on the sidelines by Italy and world number 1s England, who had embarrassingly lost in their opening group game against Costa Rica courtesy of former Arsenal striker Joel Campbell’s winner, and again in their second game to a Ronaldo-inspired Portugal. Scotland, however, did progress, only to be eliminated by Germany on penalties.
In the early knockout rounds, it looked like it would be France’s tournament to lose, as Mexico took out the Germans in the quarters. In the semis, France would face the USA, who had scraped through the group stage in 2nd behind Uruguay before beating Holland and Australia. Uruguay would face Mexico in the other semi. But in a massive surprise, Aron Johannsson scored a 90th minute winner for the Americans to send them through to their first final, while Adrian Aldrete scored a 120th winner for Mexico in a 3-2 thriller, denying Uruguay captain Luis Suarez a shot at the big prize.
And so it would be a clash of two of the great rivals in world football. A tedious match was set alight when Brek Shea scored in the 59th minute for the US, but Carlos Fierro snatched an equaliser from a wayward backpass. But then substitute Jozy Altidore entered the fray and capitalised on two defensive errors to sink two late goals and clinch the greatest prize in football for the country that calls it soccer. Brad Guzan was thus a World Cup-winning captain, Tim Ream ended up with a World Cup winners’ medal, and Jurgen Klinsmann became only the second person to win the World Cup as a player and a manager.
– Torquay are still in League Two, having just had their best finish (6th). However, vice-captain Mike Williamson, who had returned to the club where he began his career, has just been released. The only surviving current players are Michael Poke and Jordan Chapell. Colin Cooper is the manager, having taken over from the sacked Mark Yates, while Danny Graham is the most notable player in the squad.
– Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have continued their monopoly on the Best Player awards, with Ronaldo seemingly ageing better despite being older. Ronaldo, now Real’s record goalscorer, is currently being paid £575,000 a week.
– Wayne Rooney is England’s most capped player, with 140 appearance, and also unsurprisingly the record goalscorer with 57.
– Nigel Pearson is the longest-serving Premier League manager, having been in charge for nearly 7 years. Second is Steve Clarke, and third is Jose Mourinho.
– Peter Schmeichel is now the manager of Conference club FC Halifax Town, having been appointed in June 2016.
– Steven Gerrard is a coach at Ipswich.
– Michael Carrick is still playing for some reason. He’s at Swansea.
– Leon Osman is manager of Exeter.
– Harry Redknapp retired in 2016, a year after leaving Newcastle. He had also previously had a stint at Hull. For some reason, obviously FM doesn’t take into account that he doesn’t manage north of London.
– Ryan Giggs has just been appointed by Sheffield Wednesday after being sacked by Aston Villa for failing to get promoted back to the Premier League.
– Scott Parker is captain of Leyton Orient.
– Conor Sammon is at Leeds.
– Interestingly, Lucas Leiva is now rated as a Liverpool legend, on a par with the likes of Rush, Shankly, Dalglish and Paisley, and ahead of the merely iconic Steven Gerrard. Jonny Evans has been added to the Man Utd legends, Tim Krul to Newcastle’s, Wilshere and Ramsey to Arsenal’s, Jack Cork to Southampton’s, and Jonas Olsson to West Brom’s. Ashley Williams is the only Swansea legend.
– Some of the more bizarre signings I’ve noticed include Cardiff’s brief period of having Champions League winners Eric Abidal and Diego Milito on their books at the same time, Tottenham signing former Arsenal player Alex Song, PSG signing virtually everyone (particularly in 2014-15 when they spent £140m on players, and again in 2016-17 when they spent £150m), and Real Madrid paying £15m for Victor Moses before selling him soon after for £5.75m (he has just returned to Spain with Sevilla). There are also several instances of players being signed, barely played, and then leaving again, or players being contracted but not registered and thus not playing. Adam Lallana has just been released by Southampton after playing only 6 league games since the end of the first season in the game, with none coming after 2015-16.
– The most expensive signing so far is Timo Werner, who moved from Stuttgart to Wolfsburg for £41.5m in the summer of 2017. The most expensive regen so far as Polish striker Damian Imianowski, who was bought from PSG by Bayern for £34.5m in January 2018.
– Only Tottenham, West Ham, AFC Wimbledon, York and Ebbsfleet (whose new ground is named after former manager Liam Daish) have moved into new stadia, with Coventry returning to the Ricoh Arena in 2016. There have been no tycoon takeovers in England, with Greenock Morton being bought by one in Scotland, though he has since withdrawn his funding.
– Disappointingly, there appear to be no power shifts in world football yet. The same teams winning everything so far, but I’ve run a similar game on FM13 and it does take a while to kick in – it was a game in which Real Zaragoza became a global force by 2022. I intend to eventually continue this to see which team will rise up and surprise everyone in the next few years…
Manchester United lifted the European Cup for the fourth time by defeating arch-rivals Manchester City in a thrilling Champions League Final at the Millennium Stadium. In a match that will surely go down as one of the greatest major cup finals in football history, two last minute equalisers sent the match first to extra time and then to a penalty shootout, while three players were sent off for picking up two yellow cards, including England’s Wayne Rooney and Jack Wilshere.
The match began badly for United as they lost key striker Robin van Persie to injury after just 15 minutes. However, his home-grown replacement would make an almost-instant impact – on a night where some of the biggest names in world football were going head to head, it was Manchester-born striker Danny Welbeck who opened the scoring, tapping in a Xherdan Shaqiri cross from the right after 33 minutes. It is another big goal for Welbeck, who scored 2 of United’s 5 in their second leg turn-around against Olympique Marseille in the semi-final
But this lead was cast into doubt just before half time. In the 39th minute, Welbeck won the ball with a clean tackle from Vincent Kompany, sending Marek Hamsik away down the left. The Slovakian’s cross was met at the far post by Shaqiri, but the Switzerland international’s diving header was deflected by Kompany, before Darren Fletcher scrambled the ball into the net. It was seemingly 2-0, but referee Circhetta ruled the goal out for a foul on City goalkeeper Joe Hart. Rooney’s characteristic protests earned him a booking, and seconds later, he lashed out on City’s Brazilian midfielder Sandro, sending him to the floor with a crunching tackle. Two yellow cards in less than a minute for Rooney, who headed for an early bath in the biggest game in club football before the half was even over.
City controlled the second half, and eventually switched formation to try and exploit their advantage, bringing on Spanish playmaker David Silva to add a man to the attack. But it took until the very end for them to find the crucial equaliser. In the end, it inevitably came from the one man United fans did not want to see on the scoresheet – the former United striker Carlos Tevez. Wilshere acted as the creator, charging down the right flank before cutting it back inside for Tevez, who won the Champions League with United in the other all-English final against Chelsea in 2008, to tap it into the net and send the blue half of the crowd wild.
The first period of extra time exploded into life in the 103rd minute when Sandro hacked down Hamsik from behind to earn his second yellow card and level the teams at 10 men each. But this didn’t hinder City immediately, as moments later City moved forward quickly. Silva played a beautiful through-ball to split the United defenders, and he found Tevez, who buried his shot past David de Gea into the corner of the net. After scoring 2 against Tottenham in the semi-final, it looked as if the pantomime villain had had the last laugh with a further 2 on the biggest stage of all.
But there was yet more drama to come. Wilshere was the third and final player to receive his marching orders 3 minutes into the second half of extra time, unnecessarily clattering Fletcher from behind. United were a man up for the first time in the game, but couldn’t take advantage of it until the dying moments of the game. Throwing everything at a City backline that was holding firm in stoppage time after 120 minutes were up, defender Phil Jones, now operating as a midfielder, lunged in to win the ball from Pablo Zabaleta on the edge of the box, knocking it into the path of Welbeck. He slipped it to Hamsik, who was waiting on the left flank and knocked it back in to Brazilian substitute Bernard, who wrote his name into United folklore by volleying in the most dramatic of equalisers.
After that, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you had seen enough heart-stopping moments for one evening, but there was still time for more drama in the penalty shootout. City won the right to take the first penalty, which Tevez buried. Further penalties from Fletcher, Silva and David Alaba were similarly dispatched, but Miralem Pjanic sent his high and wide. Hamsik converted his penalty to give United a 3-2 lead, but Thomas Muller, who had already experienced shootout heartache in the 2012 final against Chelsea while playing for Bayern Munich, equalised. Jones stepped up and hit the post, but it bounced away from Hart and into the net to make it 4-3, meaning that City captain Kompany had to score to keep them in contention. But, as in 2008, it was the captain of United’s opponents who made the crucial error, as De Gea dived to his right to comfortably save the tame effort.
And so, another triumph for United, with the famous trophy lifted by Nemanja Vidic, who has already lifted the Premier League trophy for them this season. It is also a historic triumph for United manager Jose Mourinho, who has equalled Bob Paisley’s three European Cup victories as manager, but, unlike Paisley, has now won with three different clubs. He can now surely lay claim to being perhaps the greatest football manager of all time – retaining the Champions League next year would surely seal that mantle.
Man Utd: De Gea; Rafael, Vidic (c), Jones, Alaba; Nainggolan (Evans 88), Fletcher; Shaqiri (Bernard 101), Rooney, Hamsik; Van Persie (Welbeck 15)
Goals: Welbeck (33); Bernard (120+1)
Yellow cards: Nainggolan (31); Rooney (40); Jones (76); Fletcher (112); Rafael (114)
Sent off: Rooney (41)
Man City: Hart; Richards (Silva 74), Kompany (c), Nastasic, Baines (Lescott 74); Sandro, Wilshere; Muller, Tevez, Pjanic; Aguero (Zabaleta 88)
Goals: Tevez (88, 103)
Yellow cards: Sandro (2); Wilshere (3); Muller (12); Aguero (36); Kompany (94)
Sent off: Sandro (103); Wilshere (108)
I’ve resigned as manager of Dundee with one match to go. 22 matches in charge is enough for me to realise this was going absolutely nowhere fast.
The trick with picking the right job on Football Manager is to pick a club that’s underachieving, or at least not pick a club that’s already overachieving. That’s the mistake I mad. The Dundee squad was probably the weakest in the SPL, or at least in the top bottom 3. Barry Smith had done a great job to keep them mid-table for two seasons in a row before he left for Cardiff. After my arrival, the team first stuttered, and then fell away dramatically. We managed to remain in touch with the midfield teams somehow, but we couldn’t match them on the pitch at the time. We also got battered by Celtic in the Scottish Cup quarter-final.
Even so, with two games to go before the league is split into two sections, we were just 4 points away from sneaking into the top half, with the next game against the team just above us, St Johnstone. We led 2-0 at half time, conceded early in the second half, and then conceded a penalty that even the Scottish FA seemed to admit shouldn’t have been given. So we drew 2-2, pretty much ending our season there and then. We ended the season well, consolidating 7th and allowing me to pick up my first Manager of the Month Award. But even so, I still felt flat.
The problem is the board gave me very little breathing room financially. The wage budget is next-to-nothing – I had to go way over to bring in Jose Bosingwa, and he’s getting a surprisingly little £1,300 a week (combined with a director of football role too). With most of the players signed up for next season, it’s going to be very difficult to sign up some decent players. There’s very little I can do here in the short term – mid-table’s the maximum, and the only way I’m getting into Europe is via a cup, which means beating a Celtic side that has crushed everyone this year. Added to that, Rangers have been promoted back into the SPL after 3 promotions in 3 seasons, so that’s another team that will finish ahead of Dundee next season.
It’s a dead end job, so I chanced my arm on applying for the newly-vacant West Brom job, who had just sacked Tony Mowbray for failing to get promoted to the Premier League. The board didn’t like it and gave me an ultimatum. Ordinarily I’d have apologised as I did at Mladost, but actually there was no point in me doing this this time given that I was going to resign after the last game anyway. So I resigned.
Onwards towards team three then. I probably won’t get the West Brom job. I have no idea where I’m going to end up – if my post-Mladost applications are anything to go by, Championship teams probably won’t be interested, so I may apply for a job abroad again. I want to win things now, and I want a shot at Europe. Hopefully I won’t have to wait too long for that.
After applying (rather optimistically, perhaps) for some Championship jobs and failing to get them, I finally got a job offer from north of the border. Dundee lost long-serving manager Barry Smith to Cardiff, and I fancied another go at the SPL – a previous attempt with Hibernian was quite successful but I never finished the first season. I spent a holiday just north of Dundee in Coupar Angus when I was 10 so I know the city quite well – it’s well-known for the Tay Railway Bridge, the longest in Britain (which incidentally is not the one in the picture – that’s the road bridge), and for being the current home of the RRS Discovery, the ship that carried Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton to the Antarctic in 1901.
Dundee are best-known as part of that great Scottish double-act with literal next-door neighbours Dundee United. It is the Terrors, who play in orange, who have had the more recent success, winning the Premier Division (as it was known then) in 1982-83, and the Scottish Cup in 2009-10, as well as reaching the latter stages of the European Cup and UEFA Cup in the 1980s. In the game, they also won the Scottish League Cup for the third time in 2013-14. By contrast, Dundee’s success is more distant, but their list of honours is much the same – 1 league title (1961-62), 1 Scottish Cup (1909-10), 3 Scottish League Cups (1951-52, 1952-53 and 1973-74), and a European Cup semi-final (1962-63). In recent years, they have fallen on harder times – they have lurched from financial crisis to financial crisis, and were relegated from the SPL in 2004-05. They spent 7 seasons in the First Division before being promoted to the SPL in 2012 at the expense of the liquidated Rangers.
In the real world, they were also relegated at the end of 2012-13. But in the game, they have remained in the top division, finishing 11th in 2012-13 above Hibernian, and then 8th last year, when Aberdeen were the surprising victims. They have had a good start to this season as well, as shown here before my first league match – Hibs are once again the strugglers.
Since then, I’ve beaten Albion Rovers in the Scottish Cup (4-1 away, after an initial 2-2 draw at home), and thumped Falkirk 4-1 at home – 10 goals scored in 3 games is a pretty good start. The latter also briefly vaulted us to 4th in the standings, on the same points as 3rd-placed St Mirren, albeit until the teams below us made up their games in hand.
It’s looking good so far. Next game? Dundee United away. No pressure then…
Yep, that’s it. A disastrous start to the season with no sign of halting and I’m out of there. I could have carried on but things don’t get much better after getting hammered by one of only two teams that were below us. We’re deep in the shit and there’s nothing I can do.
I had felt confident about pushing on this year. I felt that we had upgraded in every area – certainly that’s what my coaches and scouts were telling me. I’d upgraded the coaching staff too. I even added ex-Birmingham striker Nikola Zigic, who didn’t want a huge salary for some reason.
It all started to unravel just before the start of the season. News reports leaked suggesting Danish club AaB were interested in signing my keeper Sasa Stamenkovic, who was one of the best keepers in the SuperLeague. In the end he forced the departure. We got £575,000 for him but that’s not the point – we were fine financially. The problem was it was too late to do anything about – all the good freebie keepers went long ago, so I had to pay out £500,000 for another inferior player to replace him.
Then in the first game we were pretty poor and scabbed a lucky draw. But as usual FM hates you getting through a first game without injuries and this was no exception – my new right-back Djalic was ruled out for 3-4 months with a hamstring tear. I then had to spend another load of cash to bring someone in, and let midfielder Jovan Golic go out on loan to make room. I bought Mladenovic, who has been pretty awful, along with my new left back Ignatijevic. We started shipping goals and not scoring them. And that’s always bad news.
I annoyed the board by applying for the Brighton job, but despite apologising and not getting the job, things were already looking bleak. We drew Red Star in the cup, which is pretty much guaranteed elimination – we had nearly held on for a point against them in the league fixture, but conceded a last minute winner. Everything was going against us. When FM13 decides it hates, you it decides it really hates you.
I don’t believe I was doing a bad job. I don’t believe my signings were bad. But the results were awful, I’d lost the dressing room, the fans didn’t appreciate me and I wasn’t getting any job offers despite doing a bloody good job in the first two season. So it’s time to go.
And so my second season in Serbia has come to an end. I feel I’m starting to get to grips with this – not just with the team but aspects of the game, particularly team talks which I may have been making a hash of for ages without noticing. By the end of the season I had managed to avoid getting into a major slump – we were losing games, sometimes even convincingly, but we weren’t into the dramatic tailspin of the second quarter of the season.
Eventually we came up just short of European qualification, although I had resigned myself to defeat a few matches before the end when we were finding it particularly difficult to hold on to wins. It was a very competitive battle, with a number of teams surging up the table in the second half, and I assumed that with our inconsistent form, we’d inevitably slip down to an ultimately meaningless mid-table position – fine when you consider we were “expected” to be relegated and my official aim was to avoid relegation, but enormously disappointing considering we had been battling for a top 4 finish all season.
In the end, a couple of wins in the last few matches saw us leapfrog back up the table to take 5th, only a point behind Jagodina – with ties decided by head-to-head record, we were a point away from a Europa League spot, as we had won 1 and drawn 1 against them this season. What ultimately let us down, though, was not Jagodina’s surprise draw on the final day against Red Star, but a run of 4 defeats in 6 matches in April and May. Granted, this included defeats to Rad and Partizan, who finished 1st and 3rd respectively, but it also included a sloppy defeat to Sloboda Uzice – yet again we lost to the side who were bottom at the time, and conceded 3 goals in the process. I’ve no idea why this keeps happening but it’s daft. We also led a few games but came away only with draws or defeats, including the visit of Red Star. I’m particularly disappointed that we failed to beat the top 3 in a match this season – 1 win would have been nice as I don’t want to end up as a pathetic David Moyes-esque figure unable to get results against the top teams.
We had much less of a balance between home form and away form this year, which is a bit odd. Whereas last year we lost twice at home and 5 times away, this year we again only lost twice at home but this time had 7 defeats on the road. We actually had more wins away from home last year (9 vs 8 at home), but this time we won just 5 times away, versus the 8 at home. It’s odd how a change of league can create a shift like that.
I did the bulk of the contractual work during the winter break in order to snap up the best available players early, something I didn’t do last year because I didn’t know what league I would be in or what money I would have to spend. This should allow us to take a step forward. Out will go some of our older players – left-winger Nermin Useni has announced his retirement at the age of 34, although I wasn’t going to offer him a new deal anyway, and Tiago Silva, who is the same age but is on a much more significant £2,100 a week, is also going to be released. Betolngar, Ristanovic and Zdravkovic are the other first team players on their way, with plenty of reserves joining them. We don’t have financial issues but the 25 man squads put a limit on the players we can keep, so if they’re not capable of playing at this level, they’re going.
But while my initial signings focused on strengthening the midfield and both full-back positions, I’ve come to realise that actually there may be a hidden danger at centre-back. I noticed playing against the more talented sides in the league that we were susceptible on the counter, because those better players would just storm straight through the defence without my defenders making an effort to stop them. I think this is meant to represent my centre-backs not being quick enough. Coaches in the game never seem to pick up on what a problem pace can be – this is something I’ve noticed with a few teams – so Filipovic and Milunovic are still rated very highly, even though they aren’t the quickest. They will no doubt work great with a quicker centre-back alongside them, so I’m looking to bring another with more pace to do just that.
The good thing is the average age of the squad is coming down. Only 2 of my 6 signings so far is over 30, while some of the older guys I signed to add experience last summer are on their way out as they have either declined rapidly or had already dropped off before even arriving. The core of youngsters, most of whom were already here before I arrived such as Avramovic, Filipovic and Milunovic, are what the side should and will be built around. Pantelic will continue to get the starting berth as long as he keeps scoring, but Grujicic is an able replacement and still developing well despite a disappointing season this time around.
The future for the team looks very bright. If the players I have signed are as good as my scouts have told me (and that’s no sure thing), I think we can take another step forward next season – I could probably resign now and they would still do pretty well without me. It’ll be difficult to challenge the Big Two, but Rad have proven it’s possible to beat them. A top 4 finish is a realistic possibility. While this team have caused me a lot of stress and frustration of late, I think this is starting to come good and I don’t intend on leaving just yet.
Look only at the table and you would assume that I’d be happy with how the first half of my first season in the SuperLeague was going – 4th place, when I was only expected to avoid relegation, is pretty positive. But a look at the fixture list tells a different story.
Until our defeat to struggle BSK Borca in late October, we had been looking very good for a top 3 finish. We were virtually unbeatable – even our match at Red Star Stadium was a positive, as we only narrowly lost and played well. But the BSK Borca defeat, coming off the back of a couple of games where I seemed to be unable to motivate my players in the team talks (always a sign of trouble ahead) began the sort of chain reaction I always fear with FM – one defeat leads to another as you “drop off the cliff”, unable to do anything about it because the players first refuse to respond and then lose all their confidence.
The Vozdovac game was perhaps the key one as it cemented it as a longer run of form, followed by a thrashing at the hands of Vojvodina, which included Carboni getting sent off for a second yellow card for diving. That meant he missed the game at Partizan, where we again played well and initially took the lead thanks to Pantelic, but, as has so often been the case with this team, we weren’t able to hold on. It’s frustrating to get high ratings at that point, because the game bases all its reactions off what is a highly objective rating and yet you know your players haven’t done a good job as they’ve thrown away a win at a struggling side. I criticised them for it, which led to positive reactions at the time, but these reactions are often misleading as the players’ confidence remains damaged.
The draw against unbeaten Rad, with whom it has been difficult even for Red Star to live with this season, was a nice boost but we weren’t able to sustain it. We again drew over 90 minutes in our Serbian Cup quarter-final with OFK Belgrade, but lost on penalties. A humiliating defeat against Smederova left us 7 games without a win, our worst run yet, though it still felt like a carbon copy of our great start-turned-struggle of the first half of last season. But we managed to end this half of the season with a win, which gives us a bit more confidence and hope heading into the winter break.
In terms of the players, Pantelic has been every bit as good as I hoped, banging in 10 goals in 17 appearances. He may not have the highest average rating in the team but he has been the outstanding performer in the league. Those with a higher average are often those who played in my “cup team”, like Nermin Useni and Washington, who found the minnows in the early rounds easy pickings. The 6 ft 8 Brazilian striker hasn’t played in the league, though, due to the restrictions on foreign players, which make it difficult for him to break in ahead of the Silvas, Carboni and Barbosa.
My mind is already starting to turn to next season. Despite our terrible run at the end, we should now survive at the very least. Out of my 26 man squad, 20 players’ contracts are set to expire. Several of these are the wrong side of 30, including Tiago Silva, Useni and Darko Savic, and they will probably move on. I am also struggling to make a case for keeping Betolngar, who is a bit redundant now that we are only playing 1 up front, especially as he is so injury-prone.
On the plus side, I have already secured a further year’s extension for Pantelic, as even though he will be 35 by the end of the season, he probably has another year left in him at this level. Though so many of the players now have extremely low wages compared to the top earners (as low as £85 a week compared to Carboni’s £2,700), we have plenty of budget space for any further renewals if as expected some start asking for “big” money. I’ve also got goalkeepers Andrey Zaitsev and Sasa Stamenkovic, who joined on a free after I wrote my season preview, on longer contracts, which means I’m pretty set for keepers for a while.
Alongside this, I also have 14 players out on loan at the moment. Most of these probably won’t come to anything but at least they are out there gaining experience – maybe one or two will develop into ready-made replacements for the older guys. It’s a nice little setup here – much of the first team squad is under the age of 25 and is projected to develop further. We have a really good core of talented players and it should serve us well into the future.
Now that I’ve calmed down after our terrible run (I was furious when it was happening last night), I’m much happier about the state of the club – now that I know our financial position is secure and I have players capable of pushing on, I’m happy to stay for a while yet, and the board are happy with my performance. We definitely have the basics in place to challenge Partizan and Red Star into the future.
The problem is Rad seem to have got there before us – after finishing 2nd last year, they look like they’re on their way to the title this year, and so will be the first team since Obilic to beat both of the giants to the Serbian championship. With Nenad Milijas and Red Star breathing down their necks, though, it’s not over yet.