Last time out I revealed that Bayer 04 Leverkusen would be my first club in the glory hunter challenge. As you’d expect their facilities are excellent, they are financially sound and have a fantastic stadium. They are one of the top clubs in German football however have never won the Bundesliga and only have one DFB-Pokal to their name. Last season they finished in 6th place meaning that for the upcoming season we are in the Europa League, they finished 9 points off the Champions League spots and a massive 26 points behind champions Bayern München emphasising the amount of work that I have to do. Having said that the media predict that we’ll finish 4th this season and whilst doing that the board want me to sign players under the age of 23 for the first team, play entertaining football and not sign players over the age of 30. These all fit in with my own football philosophies, I can’t wait to get started!
I have inherited a well balanced squad, 12 players are 23 years old or younger giving me a lot of potential to work with whilst we also have 4 players over the age of 30 giving us a good blend of youth and experience. Here is an overview of the squad as a whole, I like to work with 25 players which is what I’ve got although the eagle eyed amongst you will notice there are only 24 listed as I’ve taken the 3rd choice goalkeeper out so that they all fit on one page.
Florian Wirtz is the stand out, a quality attacking midfielder at the tender age of 18, he’s going to be one of the worlds best in years to come. I want to build my team around him but the main challenge will be actually holding onto him. Charles Aránguiz is a top central midfielder but at the age of 32 it remains to be seen how much time he has left at this level. Central midfield is the strongest area of the side with Kerem Demirbay and Exequiel Palacios also competing for a starting berth in this position. Out wide Moussa Diaby is a player to get excited about and I expect Euro 2020 star Patrik Schick will be my main man up top. Finally a shout out to my centre backs Edmond Tapsoba and Jonathan Tah who could form a formidable partnership.
With the time constraints in place for the Glory Hunter Challenge, developing youth team players isn’t a priority however I haven’t picked a side that are going to achieve success over night. Two players in the youth team have real potential but hopefully I’ll be gone before they start to show it! They are Iker Bravo and Zidan Sertdemir. In case things don’t go to plan I will keep an eye on them and ensure they get the development they need.
The team suit a 4-2-3-1 formation which is what we’ll be playing, it’ll be worked on during pre season and I’ll post the end product later in this post. The only real gap I can see in the squad in terms of numbers is that I’d like another wide man which will be my main priority in the market. We have a few lengthy injuries, in defence, centre back Edmond Tapsoba is out for 3-4 months whilst right back Timothy Fosu-Mensah is out for a further month on top of that. We have an extra defender who ideally I’d have sold to generate some funds and create a space in the squad to replace with a winger in Panagiotis Retsos but he will have to stay as cover for now. Ball winning midfielder and vice captain Julian Baumgartlinger is out for 6-7 months and will be 34 by the time he returns, his contract expires at the end of the season, I can confirm now he won’t be getting a new deal but his injury will make it difficult to move him on even in January. Annoyingly these injuries prevent us from making any money, with only £6.8 million to spend and 24k available in the wage budget I’m going to have to go bargain hunting. There is no one I’m actively looking to sell yet but we’ll have to see if any transfer bids come in that catch my eye or if I find cheaper upgrades elsewhere.
This challenge is all about winning trophies and to build that winning culture I need to have staff with that winning mentality so that they can pass it on to the players. Numerous staff changes were made upon my arrival at the football club but there is just one that I’m going to focus on. A leader, a warrior, a man you’d want alongside you in the trenches, welcome to my new first team coach John Terry. A key appointment, I believe he can pass on that determination illustrated by how he put his body on the line time and time again for Chelsea along with that drive to win, shown by how he’d even pick a trophy up in a full kit when he hasn’t played! What I hope he doesn’t pass onto the players is how to shag your teammates Mrs but I don’t think that’s a feature in FM yet thankfully!
Back onto the playing staff and I got underway trying to wheel and deal in order to improve the quality of the squad.
My first move was to sell Daley Sinkgraven to Bundesliga rivals Wolfsburg for £4.5m and replace him with Luca Pellegrini from Juventus for £2.2m. Sinkgraven offers good versatility, he can play in midfield and at left back, I actually think he’d be best as a deep lying playmaker but as I am spoilt for choice in that area my intention was to use him as a back up left back and Pellegrini is certainly an upgrade in that position.
Next I sold my club captain and first choice goalkeeper Lukás Hradecký to Zenit for £8m. Coming in to take over in between the sticks was Dominik Livaković for £7m up front, potentially rising to £11m. In my opinion Livaković is a better keeper and comes in on £28k per week where as Hradecký had been earning £70k a week. An absolute no brainer. Like on last years FM if you’re a decent side and need a new keeper but don’t have a lot to spend Livaković is a great option to go for.
This left me with £8.9m to spend on a new winger with £70k available to offer them wage wise. For that money I couldn’t find anyone top class so I was basically signing someone who would probably start for now but in the long run would become a back up player. I narrowed it down to 2 different players, Andreas Skov Olsen from Bologna and Andrija Živković of PAOK. I opted for the latter, he joined for an initial £6.5m that could rise to £7m depending on appearances. Živković was an FM wonderkid a few years ago but has lost his way a bit, hopefully I can get him back on track.
This left me with a squad of 26, slightly bigger than I usually like to work with but it wasn’t an issue due to the injuries and also gave me the potential to secure more transfer funds in January.
Our preseason performances were underwhelming to say the least. I’d identified Diaby as our key wide man and he’d been poor despite a goal away at LASK, I’d been playing him on the left as a winger attack. At half time of our last friendly it was 0-0 against Standard Liège, I switched him to the right to play as an inverted winger attack and within 11 minutes it was 2-0 and he had 2 assists. Following that improvement that was how I decided we would start the season. This change saw new boy Živković already demoted to the bench, he’d actually played well but Diaby was definitely better. This meant Paulinho could play on the left, my other winger Karim Bellarabi has missed pre season with injury so I’d not had a chance to take a look at him yet. All of my wide men could play on either side, I’d established Diaby was better on the right, I now needed to know where the other 3 performed best.
With the season about to start it was time to set my expectations. In the Bundesliga I wanted us to finish in the top 4 and quality for the Champions League, the gap of 26 points to Bayern needed to come down, I felt that reducing this to 15 or less would be a good effort. In the DFB-Pokal I wanted to try and win it, we’d need luck in avoiding Bayern or Dortmund but I see no reason why we couldn’t beat them in a one off game which is what cup competitions give you the opportunity to do. Finally in the Europa League we’d again be trying to win it. For both cup competitions I don’t for one minute expect to win them but I want us to get as far as we can in both.
Our first competitive game was a DFB-Pokal First Round match away at 3. Liga side Türkgücü München, a nice easy start right? We were 1-0 down inside 10 minutes but thankfully recovered to be 2-1 up at the break. We cruised through the second half in complete control but couldn’t add a third and were then sucker punched in the 91st minute when they hit us on the break. Into extra time the tie went and we scraped through 3-2 thanks to a Charles Aránguiz penalty that just squeezed underneath the goalkeeper. Not the start I had in mind but at least we were in the hat for the second round.
In the league it was important we made a good start but we did anything but that losing our first 2 games. First away at Union Berlin and secondly at home to Gladbach, I spoke earlier about how the pre season performances had been far from convincing and despite the second half up turn against Standard Liège the tactic still clearly needed working on. Our final game in August was a 1-0 away win at Augsburg, an improved performance and result but its too early to say if the changes I made for this game will be the ones we go with going forward.
You can’t take to much notice of the league table at this stage of the season but its never a good thing to be in 14th place although I do expect us to move up quickly once we find a way of playing that clicks. The main positive so far has been that Patrik Schick has scored 3 in 3, the main negative is that Florian Wirtz has been awful! I need to work out which role suits him best.
The Europa League group stage draw was made and we fell lucky. Rangers were our toughest opponent on paper but I still felt we should be too strong for them although it would be a difficult game at Ibrox, Ludogorets and Ferencvárosi were both sides I expected to comfortably beat.
As deadline day approached I was worried, we’d made a bad start to the season and waiting until January to make any further deals might be too late to save it. The issue I had was for players to come in, some needed to leave. No bids had come in for anyone prior to deadline day so I decided to offer some players out on deadline day and see what happened, what happened next was absolute chaos.
Karim Bellarabi returned from injury but hadn’t had a chance to make an appearance yet and I decided he wasn’t going to get one either. Off to Hertha Berlin he went for £7.25m, he had been on a huge wage of £81k per week and as he wasn’t going to be first choice it was a relief to get him off the books. I moved quickly to replace him and identified Jeremie Boga as the man to do it. Sassuolo accepted an offer of £7.5m but we couldn’t agree personal terms, I played hard ball when in hindsight I should’ve just given him what he wanted. Talks broke down and he refused to reopen them, he would sign for Napoli instead a few hours later. With no time to waste I launched 2 more bids, this time for Adnan Januzaj of Real Sociedad and Peter Olayinka from Slavia Prague. Olayinka accepted almost straight away but I preferred Januzaj, there was no option to delay, what did I do? I cancelled it and prayed Januzaj signed. He did and for a cut price of £6.5m, his contract was due to expire at the end of the season so they were willing to let him go on the cheap. I’d reduced the wage bill, made a profit and got a better player, a great start to the day. Olayinka got a move minutes before the deadline shut to Italian giants Juventus as a back up player.
By lunchtime there had been no further activity, I was starting to think that would be it for the day before Dynamo Moscow came in for Nadiem Amiri, the bid was lower than I was willing to accept so we wasted a couple of hours going back and forth but by tea time a deal was done and we had a replacement signed up to. With the £11m we received for Amiri I replaced him with Georgian youngster Khvicha Kvaratskhelia from Rubin Kazan for £9.25m eventually rising to £10.25m. He’s a young, exciting player with a lot of flair and I can’t wait to develop him further. Not your typical Glory Hunter signing but as I think I’ll most likely be here a while it made sense to do it.
Time was really up against us now but I still wanted to get one more deal done. A striker had caught my eye who like Januzaj was available on the cheap as his contract was due to expire in the summer. To get him in it meant my second choice striker Lucas Alario would have to leave but the only initial offer I received was £5m from Ajax which was nowhere near enough and bit of an insult to be honest. I was holding out for £13m and it didn’t look like anyone would pay it then out of nowhere 2 hours before the deadline Wolves came up with the money but was it too late to get it over the line and get my new man in? With an hour to go contracts had been offered but no decisions made. It looked like time was up then 15 minutes before the deadline struck Alario signed on the dotted like at Molineux and my new man Andrea Belotti was confirmed as a Leverkusen player, an absolute steal at just £9m.
It had been a frantic end to the window which left the squad looking like this (I’ve put them in the position that I think they are best suited to but some can play elsewhere).
I now had 2 top strikers and 5 wingers for just 2 positions. Did I change to a 2 up formation or stick with 1 up top and let Schick and Belotti fight it out? Find out next time.
Thanks for reading,
The last Throw.