Pretty much through all my Football Manager career, despite some of the best and brightest brains suggesting you should play differently when you are playing away, or against big teams etc etc, I have always stuck to my guns.
Find a formation that works, refine the system and then just let it run, good or bad, build it up with better players until you are the team people are afraid of.
Going into the new season with Jonkopings Sodra, I wanted to change the mistakes I had made with Vestri and help this club survive in the Swedish top-flight.
Through pre-season I set up a 4-4-1-1 to compliment the 4-2-3-1 which had been mostly successful in promotion. Drop the wingers deeper and try and play more on the break.
The early test went well, including a 3-1 win over Norrkoping, who were predicted to become champions. J-Sod were buzzing, and then the season started.
We signed a DM called Petter Lindross, two wingers – Ibrahim Said and Ibrahim Sadiq – a Brazilian full-back in Warley, and then we took a punt in Daniel Opazo (without seeing his attributes) from Deportes Melipilla in Colombia. It felt like we had upgraded in the right areas, plus trusting the squad who took us up.
The fixture list had been kind, four winnable games, followed by tests against the big boys. The predictions had us coming 11th, beside fellow new boys Kalmar, we’d snap your hands off for anything around that mark.
Drawing 1-1 away at Orebro to start the season was great, good point, off the board. Let’s go! Losing 2-1 to Kalmar at home, not so good. Especially against a team we dominated last season.
A penalty from Daniel Ljung gave us a 1-0 victory over Helsingborgs felt good at the time, but it would be the last for four games, including a 6-1 drubbing by Norrkoping – we had obviously made them mad in preseason.
Six points in seven games was not dreadful, and winning 30 points would be enough to secure survival and seal that 11th place finish, but I’d always expected we’d achieve more.
In the meantime, the 2024 Swedish champions, Djurgården, were having a bad time. Kicking off their defence with six straight defeats, and just one point after eight games.
Perhaps it was a stipulation I shouldn’t have stuck to, but at the beginning of this journey I said I couldn’t leave a country until we picked up the league title. Looking at it truthfully and with Jonkopings in debt, we were not going to win the league with Sodra. Harsh but true. Well, maybe down the line, give us another 6/7 seasons, but that’s not exactly in the spirit of the Journeyman.
Hands up, truth time, I was eyeing up the Djurgården job. No way they keep with a manager who wins the league and then finds himself rooted at the bottom.
11 games in to a 30-game season, the champs were still bottom on five points, but only two from safety.
My thinking is, they have better resources, a squad that won the title and they are definitely not going down.
Took over on the 3rd of July, and were handed a derby match with Hammarby just two days later.
Huge win for the boys, using the same 4-2-3-1 we’d been having success with, it was time to look at the team properly and see what we had to work with.
Couple of potential stars, a good playmaker, strong defence. It was hard to work out why they had done so badly.
Yet, there wasn’t time to dwell, next up we have the Champions League qualifiers, starting in the First Round of the Champions Path.
Steaua Bucharest – 5-2 on agg – ✅
FH Hafnarfjodur – 8-1 on agg – ✅
FC Copenhagen – 5-4 on agg – ✅
Three big, but straight forward wins, left us with two legs against Ludogorets for a place in the Champions League Group Stage.
Despite out performing them with 14 shots to six, we only managed a 1-0 win at home. No one really played well, but just good enough.
Second leg went OK…
*PLAY THE DAMN THEME MUSIC*
Nice and easy introduction, with Juventus, Lyon and Liverpool in our group. Cool. Cool, cool, cool, cool, cool.
Five wins in the league followed during the qualification run, taking us into the winter break on a good run.
When I took over, we started 10 points behind J-Sod, with my only goal of the campaign to try and overtake my old club, finishing mid-table would be a huge victory from where we started.
During the off-season break, I toyed with the idea of playing a 4-3-3. All the way through this save, I’ve struggled to get success from the No.10, especially in the capacity of a playmaker.
Dropping the AM down to a DM would allow more stability in the midfield, without actually losing anything from an attacking POV.
Rather than play with wingers, we’d go with one Inverted Winger and an Inside Forward, looking to provide ammo to the Poacher. An anchor man would sit behind the midfield duo of a Mezzala and Deep Lying Playmaker.
Drawing 1-1 at home to Juventus in the opening Champions League group game gave us an indication we were on the right track.
You’ll be shocked to hear, despite dominating the game, we lost 1-0 at home to Jonkopings Sodra, but then won five of our last seven league games, drew 1-1 with IK Sirius and then lost 1-2 on the final day to Hammarby.
Seventh place, 44 points, and most importantly, one goal ahead of my old club.
Qualifying for the group stage handed the club €14 million, all of which was dropped into our transfer kitty our first proper season with DIF.
This is going to be fun.