26th June 1999
The date is 26/06/1999. My older brother will turn 10 in just over a month. I won’t be 8 until August. Nevertheless, Walter Smith has kindly stepped aside from his duties as Everton manager so that I can take the reigns. If you’re good enough, you’re old enough, as they say. I’m neither, but let’s not dwell.
After a wishy-washy 98/99 season in which the Toffees finished 14th in the FA Carling Premiership, the club have been struggling to stay on top of their mounting debts. The likes of Marco Materazzi, Olivier Dacourt, Ibrahima Bakayoko and (crushingly) Duncan Ferguson have been flogged to move the club into the black and erm… It seems to have worked! As detailed as this database is, the debts of every single club seem to have been wiped, which I’m not complaining about. For possibly the first time in my 20 year FM career, I’m starting with a debt-free Everton. We can’t make signings until January as I wanted to work with what I’ve got for the first few months and have disabled the first window, but after that we could be in a good position to strengthen.
There’s certainly talent in this squad, but more than that, there’s character. We ooze character. We’re choc full of hard workers, leaders and big game players and I like it. An example of all 3 is our captain, 37 year old centre back/coach Dave Watson. I don’t think we’ll play him all that often because even at 7 years old I could probably beat him in a 100m sprint, but he’s a hell of a man to have in the dressing room.
Tactically, I’m immediately thinking that we’re going to play some form of 4-4-2. This squad was built for 4-4-2 and it would be silly, at least to begin with, not to capitalise on that. I decide to plug in a 4-2-4 system that worked wonders for me on a previous save. It worked well with Barcelona and I worry that my much, much lower quality squad will struggle with it, but we may as well give it a go.
As far as my starting XI goes, this is what I’ve come up with:
In goal we have the one and only top class Scandinavian goalkeeper plying his trade in the late 90’s Premier League, Thomas Myhre.
At right back, a man who in another life appeared to me as a vision on top of a hill in the Azores Islands, Abel Xavier.
In the centre of our defence, the surprisingly pacy 37 year old nomadic Scotsman, Richard Gough, is partnered with the World’s greatest ever penalty taker, David Unsworth. Shame he only got that 1 England cap, really, isn’t it.
And on the left we have local lad and eventual raging homophobe, Michael Ball.
Our central midfield binds Scottish steel with Scottish silk. Scot Gemmill is one of those bustling midfielders I love so much and I look forward to watching him cover every blade of grass. John Collins is an expert set piece taker and is just generally a great footballer, although as a natural left midfielder, he’ll need coaxing into the centre.
Now we get onto the front 4, who are on the whole absolutely rapid. Danny Cadamarteri is my right winger, unfortunately not sporting the fantastic dreadlocks he had at the time.
On the left wing is the man who taught me to hate someone with all my heart, Nick Barmby. So that I don’t have to write it every time, every time I mention him I want you to append the phrase “But he can fuck right off” in your head. Let’s practice: Nick Barmby is a good and skilful winger………… Good job.
And finally up front we have my vice captain, Kevin “Super Kev” Campbell and Franny “Lol” Jeffers, 2 strikers that IRL will be remembered by Evertonians in extremely different ways.
I should probably mention, seeing as I’ve made my feelings about a few of these players pretty clear over the years, that everyone’s getting a clean slate for this save. Let bygones be bygones and let Nicky Barmby fuck right off. Had to get that in, but the clean slate starts now.
I think that’s everything covered. I also brought in a whole shit load of staff, including Glenn Hoddle as my assistant, but I won’t bore you with the details. Let’s jump ahead to the New Year and see how we got on.
1st Jan 2000
Fuck me, we’re incredible.
We’re 5th in the Premier League, some way short of the top 4 and tied on points with Villa and West Ham, but still, we’ve far exceeded my expectations. The 4-2-4’s still going strong too. In our first match of the season we went 2-0 up at Elland Road thanks to Campbell and Jeffers, but a late brace from David Hopkin and a winner at the death from Darren Huckerby resigned us to an opening day defeat. Nevertheless, this would be our last defeat for quite some time.
We went almost half the season undefeated after the loss to Leeds, dramatically beating Arsenal 4-3, fighting to a 4-4 draw at Anfield and sweeping aside some of the lesser teams in the division with ease. But then came the dreaded trip to Old Trafford, home of Fergie’s unstoppable United, who just last year won the treble. They absolutely demolished us. This kicked off a worrying little spell of form: No wins from 4 games, including 2 more drubbings away at Coventry City and Southampton. We got back on the horse for the last game of the millennium though, beating Middlesbrough 2-1 thanks to a John Collins double, but we’ve just opened the noughties with a drab 0-0 draw against Villa. So since December things have been looking bleak, but we had such a good time up until then that I’m still relatively happy.
The squad felt a little bit bloated when I took over. There were a lot of “decent” players in their mid-twenties to early-thirties that we didn’t need, so I got shot of the lot of them. Fare-thee-well Danny Williamson, Tony Grant, Gareth Farrelly and Terry Phelan. But I have also made a few signings.
I didn’t exactly come into this save with the mindset of “I’m going to go out and sign all my favourite players”. Quite the opposite actually, I wanted to do things properly, using my scouting network to find players rather than relying on my knowledge of the future. It seemed like the most interesting way to play this kind of database after all. But lo and behold, one of my scouts popped up with a report on Blackburn Rovers’ Lee Carsley, someone I’ve described to death in the past, so let’s just leave it at “He’s my kind of player”. He’s not exactly the Lee Carsley I remember, but he’ll be an excellent squad player for us and is a snip at £90k.
My 2nd signing of the January transfer window is Vitesse’s Mustapha Riga, a winger who’s comfortable on both the left and right, but who will I think be my right winger going forward. I really like Cadamarteri, but he’s got a pretty low ceiling and as I can’t really afford a top class right winger, I’d rather bring one in with top class potential.
Stein Huysegems was a player that I just couldn’t pass on, as he’s another with fantastic potential. We have a lot of extremely talented young strikers at the club already, but for £240k, why not have 1 more?
And the final item in my pound shop trolley is Rodolfo Arruabarrena, an enormous Argentine left back who can offer us an immediate upgrade on Michael Ball, although Ball could become better than him in the long run. They’re also quite different players, which I like, with Ball more defensively solid and Arruabarrena more attack-minded. For £1.4M and with Terry Phelan departing, this was a no brainer.
I’m happy with my bargain hunting so far and we’ve still got £6M in the coffers, which I’ll stash away until I see another good deal. I’d quite like a first choice right back still, but other than that we’re in pretty good shape.
1st February 2000
January was still a mixed bag, as it turned out. We beat Bradford and Portsmouth in the FA Cup and Southampton in the Premier League, but drew with West Ham and lost to Derby to balance things out. We have just started February with a 6-1 victory over Wednesday at Hillsborough though, which is promising. Incredibly, centre back David Unsworth has scored 6 goals over this run of games (3 from the spot) and he’s now on 13 for the season. He’s our top scorer, 1 goal ahead of Super Kev. What a man.
We’ve shifted a lot more dead weight over the transfer window too. Promising youngsters Huysegems, Leon Osman, Richard Dunne and Danny Cadamarteri have all left on loan, while a load more “decent” players have been flogged. With Riga effectively coming in to replace Cadamarteri, I thought it best that Danny go out to our new affiliate club Hibs to get some game time.
We’ve also continued to splash the cash. James Biggins is yet another talented youngster to join our ranks for a measly £250k from Forest.
And I once again purchased a real life former Evertonian in Tomasz Radzinski. I think that this one at least is justified though, even for almost £5M. Just look at this monster.
Tomasz scored off the bench against Wednesday on his debut and I’m planning to start deploying him alongside Jeffers so that we can absolutely tear defences apart with their combined pace. This could be the start of a beautiful partnership.
23rd May 2000
We only bloody won the FA Cup, didn’t we! Against Liverpool no less!
So instantly, that’s a successful season for the Toffees in my book. I’m chuffed to bits. We did pretty well in the Premier League too but that comes with a bit of an asterisk. See, it became clear pretty early on that Manchester United would win and then there would be Arsenal, Liverpool, Villa, Leeds, West Ham and Everton in some order behind them. 8th and below were cut adrift of the top 7. We were doing very well and were even 3rd at one point, but eventually we stumbled down to 7th. Comfortably bottom of the chasing pack. It’s still great and we’ll still be in Europe next season, but with a better end to the season we could have finished much, much higher, which leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
We settled some old scores from the first half of the season, though. After our disappointing defeats against Leeds and Coventry earlier, it was thoroughly satisfying to smash both teams to pulp at Goodison Park. We even scraped a home win against United thanks to our new look front 2 of Jeffers and Radzinski. Come to think of it, our home form’s been really good this season.
But yeah, I got sidetracked. The FA Cup. I’d argue we had a tougher run than most, seeing off Arsenal away, then Chelsea and Spurs at home. Luckily United had been knocked out by Chelsea in the 4th round, so they weren’t a threat, but Liverpool had taken 5 points off us in the Premier League and had the Premier League’s top scorer, Michael Owen, up front.
We absolutely thumped them. Somehow. And it ended 0-0. Somehow. Extra time failed to yield a goal, but I’d been preparing for penalties the whole time. I used my subs strategically to give us the highest amount of good penalty takers on the pitch by the 120th minute and we scored our first 3, while Liverpool only scored 2 out of 4. John Collins could win it by scoring our 4th… But he missed. Jamie Redknapp made it 3-3 and I had a horrible feeling that Michael Ball was going to miss and squander our advantage, but to my delight he thumped it home, handing the Blues a 2nd FA Cup win in 6 years. We celebrated into the night, but didn’t set any of Liverpool FC’s office buildings on fire, because we aren’t c**ts.
Our top scorer across all competitions actually did end up being David Unsworth, who scored a frankly disgusting 19 goals from centre back, including 7 from the 7 penalties he took. Radzinski put in a very good showing though, scoring 11 after only making his debut at the start of February. He’ll definitely be one to watch next season.
Unsurprisingly, set piece magician John Collins was the top creator for us and David Unsworth has a lot to thank him for, but I have to say, Kevin Campbell’s 17 goals and 9 assists is a hell of a return, especially as he was more often than not left out in favour of our 2 pacier strikers towards the end of the season.
I’ve already got a couple of players coming in for next season. I’ve raided amateur Czech First Division side Chmel Blsany and snapped up their young goalkeeper Petr Cech on a free. He looks alright.
And also, for those that haven’t used this database before, it’s not just full of players that were playing at the time. It’s also full of players who’ve played since. A lot of future notable players who were under 14 years old in 1999 are free agents waiting to be transferred to their clubs when they turn 14. I love this feature of the database as in theory it means that you’ll still end up with modern players mixed in with the ones from the late 90s. Over the next 11 seasons (I doubt I’ll play that long, but you never know), our academy will be receiving Shane Duffy, Shkodran Mustafi, Jonjoe Kenny, Jack Rodwell, Luke Garbutt, Tom Davies, John Lundstram, Ross Barkley, Victor Anichebe and James Vaughan. The only one joining me this Summer though is this young lad from Croxteth.
In all honesty, I don’t know what to expect. His attributes don’t look great and neither does his potential, but I’m hoping that I’ll be able to drag all of that up. If he’s going to play for the first team I’ll want him to be a decent squad player by age 18, so I suppose we’ve got 4 years to figure out how to raise him to the standard we know he can be.
See you in 00/01.
Sidenote: Go play with this database, it’s fantastic. https://footballmanagerstory.com/fm-2020-retro-database-the-1999-2000-beta-retro-database-for-fm20/