I allow my suitcase to topple onto the floor as I slam the door of my flat, march over to the bed and flop down face-first onto the sheets. Turning onto my back, I let a wide smile cross my face. That was alright. That actually went well! I could be the manager of bloody… No. Now is not the time for complacency. Until I’ve signed on the dotted line, I’m still on the job hunt.
I drag myself over to where my laptop lies closed on the bedside table, lift it onto my lap and open it. I really should upgrade this thing at some point. As I load chrome and begin to skim the football headlines, searching for signs that any clubs might be looking for a new head honcho, a thought occurs to me. It’s about that time, isn’t it? We may as well have a look at what’s been going on around the top leagues in 2023/24.
After Arsenal won 3 consecutive Premier League titles from 2017-2019 and Manchester United did the same from 2020-2022, all eyes were on Unai Emery’s Chelsea this season, who clinched the top spot in 2023. Could they repeat the feat of their 2 rivals by retaining the title? Short answer – No. Long answer – There was absolutely no chance that former Blues boss José Mourinho was ever going to let that happen, was there? Moo’s Red Devils reclaimed the throne and in the end it wasn’t even close, with the nearest challengers, Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham, stranded 6 points behind the rampant reds as Mourinho secured the Manager of the Year award for the 4th time in his Premier League career. His long time rival Arsene Wenger had a pretty good season too, restoring Manchester City to the Champions League places in 3rd place behind Spurs. Emery’s Chelsea could only manage a 4th place finish as they failed spectacularly to hold onto their title, eventually finishing 12 points short. Chelsea old boy Didier Deschamps has now been installed as Emery’s inevitable successor. In the isolation chamber that is 5th place, Carlo Ancelotti’s Gunners finished 13 points shy of Chelsea and 7 points clear of Antonio Conte’s Liverpool, who failed to make Europe for the 2nd successive season.
Down at the bottom end of the table, Alex Neil’s 5 year spell in charge of Brighton and Hove Albion came to an abrupt end in December with the Seagulls propping up the division and their decision to appoint Rob Page, who had himself just been sacked by a relegation-threatened Sunderland, did them no favours as Brighton finished last by a distance. The real shock relegation was Jason Tindall’s Bournemouth, who hadn’t finished anywhere close to the bottom 3 since 2018 when they finished 15th. They’d actually finished in the top 9 4 times since then, but nothing went right for the Cherries this campaign and they eventually finished 19th, 6 points short of safety. Hopefully they hang on to some of their top assets so that new manager Ernesto Valverde can have them bounce straight back up to the top tier next season. The last relegated team was John Kennedy’s Hull City, which I think we can all agree is a downright shame… I choose to believe I had a direct impact by refusing to let him sign all of my pissing players.
The last day of the season was extraordinarily tight down at the bottom end of the Premier League, with Roberto Di Matteo’s Crystal Palace on 38 points, Kennedy’s Hull on 39, Gareth Ainsworth’s Fulham, António Carvalho’s Leicester and… Sigh… Last year’s FA Cup winners Everton, now managed by Magnus Pehrsson on 40 and Jason Tindall’s West Brom on 41. Any of the 6 could technically have gone down, but Everton and Leicester finished the campaign with wins over Southampton and Burnley to save themselves and crucially, Crystal Palace absolutely thumped Fulham at Craven Cottage, resigning not the Cottagers themselves but Hull, who lost to West Ham, to relegation. I’m sure the Tigers will be fine though, they’ve appointed… Oh. They’ve appointed one Peter Crouch as their new manager.
United’s Golden Glove winner David De Gea took the goalie’s spot in the Team of the Year. He’s 33 now though so give it 10 years and maybe we’ll have a bit of fucking variation in this segment. I’m only kidding, we do actually have a fair bit of variation in defence this year: Chelsea’s Aymeric Laporte is in after yet another stellar campaign, but he’s joined by Spurs’ Eric Dier and Arsenal’s Hector Bellerín, who make their first appearances in the Premier League TOTY since I’ve been keeping track. The final defender is Álex Grimaldo, the 28 year old who United paid Real Madrid £31.5M for last Summer and who had an excellent debut campaign in England. The midfield is pretty much exactly the same as it was last season, with Spurs’ Dele Alli and United’s Paul Pogba joined by City’s Kevin De Bruyne, but this year Thomas Lemar also makes his TOTY bow in his first full Premier League season. The outstanding French winger also won the Footballer of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year awards for his efforts. Up front… Do you know what, I had to double check my research when I realised this, but Tottenham’s Harry Kane has made the Team of the Year for the first time since I’ve started looking! Harry Kane! Madness. The 30 year old was the second highest scorer in the Premier League behind his compatriot; Stoke’s Joe Bell, who was rewarded by not being named in Eddie Howe’s squad for the Euros. At least he’s named in this squad, eh?
Down to the Championship then and there were 2 runaway promotion candidates this year: Shane Long’s Watford finished 2nd on a nice round 100 points, which wasn’t entirely surprising as they’d only just been relegated last year, but narrowly missing out on breaking the record for most points in a Championship Season was Gary Bowyer’s Wolves! They fell just 1 point shy of breaking Reading’s 18 year old record but that won’t dampen their spirits much, because they’re coming back to the top division for the first time since 2012. Stevie Crawford’s Derby County weren’t a million miles away from the top 2, but they were knocked out 5-1 on aggregate in the Playoff Semi-Finals by Robbie Neilson’s Nottingham Forest, who finished a full 26 points below them. Michael Laudrup’s Middlesbrough went down with a bit more fight in their Semi-Final against John Ebbrell’s Newcastle as that tie finished 4-3 on aggregate. It was Ebbrell’s men that finally won promotion too, seeing off plucky Forest 2-1 in the Final.
Down at the bottom, Jon Whitney couldn’t quite scrape Walsall over the line and they were relegated back to League 1 along with Emerson’s Preston North End. Both managers have since been replaced by Graham Coughlan and Adrián López. At the very bottom of the pile was Adrián’s former club Wigan Athletic, who are yet to appoint a new manager after sacking Kieren Westwood. Veering off on a tangent for a moment, I took a look at Kieren and up until this relegation he was putting together a nice little CV and looked/looks quite a promising manager. Decent spells at Tranmere, Burton and Bury, then he actually saved Wigan last year. I took a moment to wonder why a former goalkeeper had retired early enough to have had 4 managerial jobs before the age of 40. What had a once solid enough goalie done or seen at the tender age of 34 to make him retire so young? Then I realised that he’d hung up his gloves immediately after a failed trial for yours truly at GKS Katowice. That’s when he knew he was finished as a player and I must say I understand all to well what a gut punch that must have been. So 5 years down the line, Kieren, for what it’s worth… Erm… Sorry about that.
After watching Everton, Watford and Bournemouth all lift the Carabao Cup in the last 4 years, it’s becoming more and more clear that the mid-to-low-range of Premier League Clubs are taking the domestic Cups more and more seriously. This year though, the Final was between 2 good clubs that finished in the top half – Leonardo Jardim’s Stoke, who finished 8th in the Premier League to only fall slightly short of last year’s 5th place finish and Brian McClair’s Southampton, who have had a string of bottom half finishes since winning promotion in 2019 but who finished this season just behind Stoke in 9th. Stoke fought off Chelsea in the Fourth Round, a club who had been runners-up in the competition for 2 consecutive years, before also squeezing past West Brom and vanquishing Manchester United to get to the Final. Southampton had possibly an even trickier road to Wembley, seeing off Tottenham on penalties, Everton in extra time and Manchester City in a 7 goal thriller.
In the end the scoreline of the final flattered the Saints. Not in a bad way mind you, it’s just that it was a very even game and Stoke had as many chances as their opponents to snatch victory. Sofiane Boufal, Brahim Diaz and Nany Dimata bagged a goal apiece to send their team back to the South Coast with their first ever Carabao Cup in hand.
Stoke and Southampton actually earned themselves a rematch in the FA Cup Sixth Round, which took place just 2 weeks after the Saints’ Victory and this time it was Stoke who claimed the win on penalties, only to lose to Manchester United in the Semi-Final. United swept Fulham aside and eventually grabbed a comfortable extra time win over Crystal Palace before beating Stoke and booking themselves a place in the final. The other finalists Bournemouth beat West Brom, Peterborough and last year’s winners Everton to earn a showdown with the league leaders.
For Manchester United this looked like a routine victory: 90 minutes at Wembley in which to see off an already relegated side. Bournemouth had other plans though and channeling their inner Wigan Athletic, they took the lead despite United’s domination through Lewis Cook after 22 minutes. Tommy Morris equalised before half time for Mourinho’s men, but whatever Valverde said at half time worked a treat, because Emiljano Pllumbaj clinched the winning goal within seconds of the restart. Bournemouth may be preparing for a season in the Championship, but after winning their very first Carabao Cup last season and seeing their local rivals repeat the feat just months ago, they’ve at least ensured that the fans have a reason to smile over the Summer by bagging their very first FA Cup.
This one will really hurt for Atlético Madrid. With 5 matches of the La Liga campaign to play, the top spot was Deschamps’ to lose and the last real hurdle was their match against reigning champions, Jürgen Klopp’s Barcelona. In the 13th minute Atléti were in dreamland when Aaron Martín put them ahead, but seconds later Neymar equalised and then Rafinha turned the tables before half time. The match went to Barca and although Atléti won all 4 of their remaing matches, their rivals did the same. Klopp’s Catalonians retain the La Liga title in their first season following the retirement of Leo Messi, finishing 2 points clear at the top. Real Madrid finished a fairly distant 3rd place again under Rodolfo Borrell, while Marcelo Gallardo’s Sevilla improved to clinch the final Champions League place. Valencia continue to yoyo up and down the league table and after the sacking of Iban Andrés in January, David Navarro become the latest in a string of managers hopeful of restoring some stability to a historically very significant club. Their last 5 managers have lasted around 18 months on average though, so very best of luck to him. I also want to give a congratulatory shout out to CD Tenerife, who managed to keep themselves clear of relegation in La Liga for the first time since 1998. It probably sounds like I’m taking the piss, but that really is quite pleasing. Good job to their manager Juan Carlos Moreno and their star striker, who I’ll come to in a second.
The Team of the Year is made up almost entirely of players from the top 4, and we’ll start as per usual with Goalkeeper of the Year Marc-André ter Stegen, who keeps his place between the sticks for the 3rd successive year. Ahead of Marc, his Barcelona teammates Sergi Roberto and Samuel Umtiti are selected in defence along with Wilfred Ndidi and Raphaël Guerreiro of Real Madrid. In midfield, Real’s La Liga Player of the Year Eden Hazard retains his place, with Barca’s Neymar also in on the left. Between them are José Luis Hernández of Atlético Madrid and Sergi Samper of Sevilla. Up front we have a refreshing break from the formula of “Messi + A. Nother” thanks to the Argentinian’s retirement, so 2 new faces are inducted into the Team of the Year Hall of fame: Top Spanish goalscorer Guayre Camacho of Tenerife makes the cut for notching 17 goals in 33 appearances and arguably keeping his team afloat single-handedly, as does the league’s top scorer, Sevilla’s uncapped Argentinian Enzo Abba, who scored 20 goals in 35.
In case you were wondering, as many as 15 clubs are rumoured to be interested in Tenerife academy graduate Guayre Camacho, who has put in a transfer request. The likes of Feyenoord, Chievo, Crystal Palace, Bordeaux, Standard Liège, Wolfsburg, Spartak Moscow and Villareal have all been suggested as potential destinations, so sadly I’m going to go ahead and predict that Tenerife will be back in the bottom 3 at the end of 2024/25.
It’s time for my latest award, which I have just come up with and which I call Franjo’s “You Fucking Hero” Award. Or FYFHA for short. It sounds sort of like FIFA when you say it as a word, so there could be legal issues further down the line, but never mind. The Winner of the very first FYFHA is Bayer Leverkusen’s Roger Schmidt, for finally, finally knocking Bayern off their perch and giving me something to talk about in my Bundesliga segment of the World Roundup. Thanks to the remarkable 25 goals scored by Dutch Euro 24 highlight Thomas Buitink, the staggering 20 assists laid on by Captain Atakan Akkaynak, the considerable contributions by key players Kai Havertz, Richard Motupa (Who was signed on a free from South African side Sundowns last season. I really missed a trick there), Santi Mina, Emanuel Mammana and Timo Horn, Bayer are worthy Champions. Despite losing both of their matches against, scoring 5 fewer goals than and conceding 5 more than Diego Simeone’s side this campaign, Bayer finished 3 points clear at the top and gave German football some much needed variation. You Fucking Hero, Bundesliga Manager of the Year Roger Schmidt.
I do find it slightly funny by the way that after finishing as runners up to Bayern in 5 of the last 6 seasons, Thomas Tuchel’s Dortmund managed to stay slightly behind them even as they slipped to 2nd place for the first time since 2012. Anyway I should probably take my nose out of Bayer’s collective backside for a second and mention the rest of the league. Markus Babbel’s Red Bull Leipzig finished in their usual spot just outside the Champions League places and were joined by André Schubert’s Schalke 04 and Markus Weinzieri’s Wolfsburg, both of whom have been out of European football for a fair while. It’s pleasing to see Wolfsburg back in particular as they’ve really been yoyoing up and down the table since winning promotion back to the Bundesliga in 2018. It’d be good to see them actually keep a consistent position in the top half of the league now. At the other end, Freiburg will be gutted to have been relegated under former manager Sandro Schwarz. They dropped into the bottom 3 in their penultimate game, losing to Schalke as Hamburg overtook them with a win over Stuttgart under caretaker manager Peter Niemeyer. Hamburg even gave them a chance on the final day by only drawing with Borussia Mönchengladbach, but Freiburg themselves could only manage a 0-0 draw with Axel Bellinghausen’s Augsburg. Ingolstadt will feel even worse about the drop if anything though, as after a fairly decent first half of the season they picked up just 10 points in 2024, costing Stephan Schmidt his job. Ralph Hassenhüttl has now taken over at Hamburg, former Middlesbrough player Emanuel Pogatetz has got the job of bringing Ingolstadt back up and Freiburg are still looking.
As I mentioned, Timo Horn was one of the top performers for champions Bayer Leverkusen, picking up 8 clean sheets in the league. He gets a spot in the Team of the Year, as do RBL’s Levin Öztunali and Bayern trio Mats Hummels, Joshua Kimmich and David Alaba, who make up the defence. Aforementioned Leverkusen midfield duo Akkaynak and Havertz are also selected, just behind teammate Buitink, while Leipzig’s Jan Rische and Schalke’s Vitor Magalhães, on loan from Arsenal, are on the wings. Up front is the man who despite Bayern’s slip up this year just keeps growing in reputation: Euro 24 Young Player of the Tournament, Bundesliga Footballer of the Year, Top Goalscorer, Players’ Player of the Year and Players’ Newcomer of the Year Christopher Dieckmann. I’m not sure about the “Newcomer” award by the way, because Chris made his Bundesliga bow in the 2019/20 season with Dortmund before his £56M transfer to his current club. Seems like a bit of a bargain that, doesn’t it.
Roma are back on top! Bloody hell, it’s been a good year for surprise title wins hasn’t it? United aside, I suppose. I worried last season that after Luis Enrique’s AC Milan ended Juve’s stranglehold on Serie A, they might start to dominate the division themselves. This year belongs to Manager of the Year Luciano Spalletti’s Roma though as they ran out with a 5 point cushion over the Champions to bag their second Scudetto in 7 years. Juve looked pretty nailed on to finish as runners up, especially after beating the eventual title winners in their penultimate game, but Matteo Brighi’s side lost to René Weiler’s Fiorentina on the final day and allowed both Enrique’s Milan and Oleg Luzhnyi’s Inter to leapfrog them and send them down to 4th. Outside the top 4, the European places went to Andrea Stramaccioni’s Genoa, who’ve been knocking on the door for the last 2 years, Marco Giampaolo’s Lazio, who only came back up to the division 2 years ago and Alessandro Budel’s Napoli, who despite registering their lowest league position since 2009, got themselves into the Europa League by winning the Coppa Italia. Down at the other end of the table, Eusebio Di Francesco’s Sampdoria were relegated from Serie A for the first time since 2011, finishing a single point behind Michele Serena’s Frosinone. The pair met in their penultimate match but it ended as a 1-1 stalemate, effectively dashing any lingering Sampdoria hope of survival as their last match was a routine defeat by AC Milan.
There’s still a big Juve presence in the Team of the Year as always, starting with Goalkeeper of the Year Gerónimo Rulli, who kept 14 clean sheets over the course of the season, making him the league’s best goalkeeper for the 5th time in 6 years, the same amount of times he’s been picked in the TOTY. In front of him are his ever-reliable teammates Nacho and Defender of the Year Leonardo Bonucci, the latter of which has decided to finally hang up his boots after a remarkable 20 year career in Italian football. After being one of the very few ever-presents in a Team of the Year since I started doing these reviews, allow me to just say: Good riddance, let’s get some new faces in the team. Just kidding. Enjoy your retirement, Leonardo. On either side of the Juve pair are Roma’s Rick Karsdorp and Napoli’s Elseid Hysaj, with Juventus’ William Carvalho just in front as the defensive midfielder. In the centre of midfield, we have a couple of AC Milan players; You may remember Lincoln from last season, when he tried to win every single award going. Well this year, he’s won the Midfielder of the Year, Foreign Player of the Year and Player of the Year. He didn’t win the Fans’ Player of the Year though, as that honour went to his young Portuguese teammate John Iddi. Up front, Roma’s Mo Salah was selected as one of the trio for the 6th time in 7 years, alongside Juve’s Florin Andone and Inter’s Serie A Striker of the Year and Top Goalscorer Agustín Malbernat.
It’s fair to say that the Bundesliga clubs dominated the European cups this season. First to the Europa League, where Köln scraped through to the final, beating both Stoke and Sporting Lisbon on away goals en route, to meet Hertha Berlin, who themselves had had quite an impressive run; beating Chaves, Sevilla and Oympiakos in the knockout rounds.
Robert Bouer got Berlin off to a flying start at Stockholm’s Friends Arena, scoring within the first minute to get his side on their way. Köln equalised before the break through Rafail Inebolidis, after which neither side was able to find the breakthrough before the end of normal time. Before half time in extra time though the game was pretty much over, with Emmanuel Addo and Tim Leibold both scoring to put the result beyond doubt for Hertha. In the end it’s been a really successful season for the Berlin side: A midtable Bundesliga finish is perhaps a bit disappointing, but they’ve more than made up for that with their first ever Europa League trophy.
In the Champions League meanwhile, Bundesliga winners Leverkusen were knocked out right after the group stages. They were demolished by Atléti but can probably get away with the excuse that they were focussing on the league. Atléti were eventually knocked out by Bayern in the Semi-Final, completing the German side’s Spanish treble after they beat Real and Barcelona in the previous rounds. This set up an Estadio de Madrid Final against Borussia Dortmund, who were possibly even more impressive, beating Italian champions Roma, French champions Monaco and English champions Manchester United en route to the final match.
Dortmund got off to an extraordinarily bad start when Andrea Belotti scored a 9th minute opener to put Bayern ahead just minutes before defender Giovanni Rocca earned his marching orders. Nevertheless they responded well, with Michael Mohammed equalising just 10 minutes later. In a tense second half, Timothy Tillman was the man to score the 3rd and final goal just before the hour, sending Bayern home rueing their missed opportunity and allowing Dortmund to lift the Champions League trophy for the first time in 27 years.
So that’s it. Christ, this has been a long Summer hasn’t it. With the Euros and the reviews… And the bit in between where nothing really happened for a few months… I don’t know about you but I’m ready to get my teeth stuck into the new season. It’s nearly time.