Tall Order (Everton 1999/2000 – Season 4)

2nd July 2002

I didn’t even need to look up what was top of the charts in the Summer of 2002 (I did anyway as I’m a professional). As England take their exciting squad of young talent to Japan and South Korea, Elvis is very much back in fashion with the remix of A Little Less Conversation. Fucking tune.

I’ve felt this way every single season since our FA Cup win, but I am genuinely pretty concerned about the level of expectation now on Everton’s shoulders. Play entertaining, attacking, high tempo football – Fuck yeah! Bring through youth players – Nailing it! Work within wage budget – Of course. Challenge for the Premiership title – Makes sense. Reach the FA Cup Final – Ok, well wait a… Reach the Champions League Final – As well as all this other shit?? Come on, Philip! How am I going to compete on all these fronts? That fixture list is going to be all kinds of congested and we’re notoriously precarious with injury problems in the second half of the season, although hopefully that will be lessened after a full season of our slightly more laid back playing style. Still though, 2 finals and a title challenge is a pretty tall order. It’s certainly possible but I wouldn’t want to stake my fucking job on it.

Maybe I’m just getting overly anxious. It’s a lovable quirk of mine. The running theme of reminding myself not to over-analyse or overthink things in FAJS comes from an extremely real place. I know what might make me a bit more confident – Defensive reinforcements. I’ve made a couple of early signings.

Right back was an area we definitely needed to strengthen this window. Not only do I expect Abel Xavier to be out until at least October with his wonky cruciate, but he’s also turning 30 this season and I doubt he’s going to be able to be the physical specimen he was on his return. I’ve brought in Maicon for under £7M from Cruzeiro and he looks a prospect. Solid enough across the board and loads of potential still to tap into.

We did a double deal with Cruzeiro – Maxwell is a Brazilian international, already better than either of my left backs and can also still grow considerably at 20 years old. For a combined £13.25M, I’m more than happy with this pair.

We’ve also had our first “youth intake” signings since Wayne Rooney. First up is the player who was touted as the second coming after Wazza’s departure to United, James Vaughan.

Admittedly he doesn’t look great, but after Wayne I’m positive I can drag that potential up to at least 4 stars. IRL James suffered from chronic injury problems and we’ll need to make sure the same fate doesn’t befall him this time. We’ve also brought in David Moyes’ best friend Victor Anichebe.

Why do none of these kids have the strength that they actually had? Victor should already be able to bench press me. Weird quirk of the database probably, but like with James, I’m sure he can be a player for us. I’m going to train him on the right wing so that he can be a versatile wide player for us in future. He also had a rough time with injuries IRL, so I’ll be keeping a close eye on the fitness of both of these players.

So, who’s our first team now? Let’s discuss. In fact fuck it, I’m going to just show you the whole squad I intend to work with.

Petr Cech’s in goal and he’s staying there. Obvious, that one. I’ll be keeping both Steve Simonsen and Paul Gerrard around as backup this year in an attempt to avoid having to use 16 year olds again.

Juliano Beletti is still my main man at right back, but as always I’ll be heavily rotating my full backs so he’ll share the load with his compatriot Maicon. I think I’ll probably try to sell Abel Xavier in January or next Summer if someone will buy him. He’s on a contract for another 3 years but I think this injury’s ended his spell at Everton. I know I took the piss in FAJS, but for what it’s worth, he’s been great for me in this save.

My centre back pairing is another obvious one. Rio’s a defensive marvel and Davie boy will stay in my team for as long as possible. Not only because I like him, but because he’s a fine defender, a great leader and an even better penalty taker. He’s scored 22/24 from the spot over these 3 years. With a heavy heart though, I am taking the captaincy from him. My coach Dave Watson reckons that we’ve got better options and frankly I agree. Rio will still be vice captain and Richard Dunne and David Weir will still be excellent backups.

Maxwell’s now my first choice, which leaves me with a dilemma in who I want to rotate him with. Ball and Arruabarrena have both been great for us but I don’t need 3 left backs and they’re both being monitored by other clubs. Ball’s drawing interest from Newcastle and Arruabarrena’s wanted by both Madrid teams. I’m leaning towards keeping Ball purely because he’s younger, can still get a bit better and because he’s a local lad. I’m not 100% though.

Midfield’s pretty cut and dry. Gattuso and Nakata start, Gemmill and Pembridge are their backups. To be honest I wouldn’t mind adding a third quality midfielder to the mix if we can make money to cover it through player sales. My scouts have thrown me a couple of interesting options to take a look at and it’d be handy for rotation to have another great player who can cover either role. I’d be sad to see one of our old boys be ousted though as they’ve really been great for us.

You already know Aimar’s my first choice right winger. I was really impressed with Fabián Zapata last season too, so I’m going to keep him around this year. I was planning on sending him on loan, but he’ll get plenty of game time here if we’re challenging for 3 competitions.

Juan Roman Riquelme’s still the main man on the left wing and Nicky Barmby is his able understudy. I think we’re at the point in the save now where you can stop amending that statement when I talk about Nick. He’s solid as anything and always up there in terms of both goals and assists, even as a second string winger. In real life though he can still definitely fuck right off.

Up front we’re all set. We have 3 really excellent and (for the most part) consistent strikers in Tomasz Radzinski, new club captain Christian Vieri and Franny Jeffers, while Super Kev is a more than able 4th choice. Wayne Rooney will be in the mix too as we continue his impressive development. He’ll play anywhere I can fit him in when I’m short on numbers, then I’ll probably be looking to loan him out next season.

That’s all for now, then. Bournemouth and Stoke, we barely knew ye. Charlton, I’m sorry that on the final day we relegated ye. Welcome back, Manchester City, Sheffield Wednesday and Watford.

2nd September 2002

All good so far, boys.

I’m going to dive into transfers straight away because… Well… Shit got cray. We’ll start with the low key one – We brought in Sadettin Sanli from Galatasaray on a free transfer after his contract expired. He looks a good little prospect in central midfield and I’ve loaned him back out to Turkey to get some games under his belt.

Next up was our left back problem – I decided to cash in on Arruabarrena, who left for Real Madrid for almost £15M. He was actually worth closer to £17M but clubs in this database seem to be extremely stingy with their transfer bids and I decided that this was the most we’ll get. We still made £13M profit on the lad, so I’ll call that good business.

Then I went out to sign a versatile central midfielder of the highest quality – Frank Lampard Jr fitted the bill perfectly. £20M seemed fair enough to me and West Ham seemed perfectly happy with it too for some reason.

So I was happy to call it a day there, but then we got a couple of bids in for Nakata and Belletti and the 2 players got itchy feet. I was more ready to let Nakata go than Belletti, but I’d spotted a replacement central midfielder that I’d set my heart on and to afford their fee, I’d need to sell both. So that’s what I did. Nakata to Barcelona…

Belletti to Arsenal…

And Beckham to Everton.

The pair of them brought in in excess of £41M and I really went all out reinforcing our midfield. We’ve smashed the record transfer fees for an English player and for an English club and Beckham is going to add mouth watering quality to our team. Vieri already has his favoured no.7 shirt, but lucky for Becks, Lee Carsley’s coveted no.26 shirt is available.

This does mean that we might face problems at right back as I haven’t replaced Belletti, but I’ve made a calculated risk with that. Until Xavier’s fit, we’ll be rotating Maicon with Richard Dunne, David Weir and James Biggins, a signing from my first season who’s already made 11 appearances for the club aged 17. In real life it looks like he made 1 league cup appearance for Forest, had a nightmare with injuries and then retired aged 19, so maybe that’s not a great sign, but for now he’ll be alright.

We may have another worrying transfer saga to come – Having secured my central midfielder, Bryan Robson now seems set on unsettling my right winger. If he comes near Pablo Aimar though, I’m going to have some choice words for him. I’ve offered him a lucrative new deal that would make him our highest paid player on £75k per week, so hopefully that puts an end to this rumour.

Anyway, I almost forgot to mention that we’ve won our first bit of silverware of the season! I thought the Charity Shield would be fairly close between us and Leeds, but they certainly did us a favour by going down to 9 men and completely capitulating. In the end we took a comfortable 3-0 win. We’ve yet to be challenged in the Premiership in any way and we might be in a position to build up some serious form from the look of our fixture list, so fingers crossed.

1st January 2003

The league title’s going to be a toughie this year, eh?

After we won by such a massive margin last year I was expecting defending the league title to be a bit of a cakewalk this season, but as it turns out… Nah. Manchester United and Leeds are both really gunning for it. We did beat United back in October in a hard fought match and then suffered an incredibly unfortunate loss to Leeds, which included 2 disallowed goals and 3 hits of their woodwork. We’re still within touching distance of the top spot though and should we catch up, our incredible goal difference will come in really handy. We’ve scored a lot of goals this season but a personal highlight was our home match against almost certainly relegated Tottenham, who we thumped 13-1, with Vieri bagging a double hat trick.

So the league’s a work in progress but the other competitions are going really really well. We’ve got a chance, however slim, at the quintuple!

Roma kept us at bay in the Champions League group stage by taking 5 points off us, but in the domestic cups it’s been pretty smooth sailing so far. We battered Leeds out of the Worthington Cup and you’d assume that if we make it past First Division Norwich in the Semi, we’ll play Liverpool, who play Watford in the other Semi, in the Final. That could go either way but I’m pretty hopeful of maybe doing a treble? I have faith that we’ll wind up on top of the league, the charity shield’s in the bag and if we can snag a domestic cup, that’d be a successful season in my book.

We’ve had a significant number of injuries in the first half of the season. Maicon has been particularly annoying as I thought he was going to be my only senior right back while Xavier was injured, but we’re still yet to get Maicon fully fit since his transfer. He’s missed 3 months since late August and when he hasn’t been injured we’ve been trying to get him up to speed with cameo appearances here and there. Luckily both he and Xavier are pretty much back to fitness now, so we have decent options. Typically though, Michael Ball’s just been ruled out for 3 months so we now have a left back problem.

I think it’s going to be a pretty quiet January on the transfer front so nothing to report there, although I have decided to let Scot Gemmill, Kevin Campbell, Peter Clarke and possibly Mark Pembridge leave in the Summer. Gemmill’s surplus to requirements, Campbell’s way down the pecking order and with Vieri and Radzinski hovering around 30 I think it best that we either buy a younger striker or introduce somebody like Rooney into our second string. Pembridge is useful but if I can bring in another younger midfielder I will and Clarke is nowhere near the standard we need.

One inbound transfer I am trying to sort is Fiorentina’s versatile defensive veteran Moreno Torricelli, who could provide us with cover at either full back spot, central defence and central midfield. His contract’s expiring and I’m going up against Leeds for his signature. Although he’s 32, his pace is still really good so I’ve offered him a 1 year deal to join the Toffees.

Tomasz Radzinski’s shockingly not our top scorer at the minute, which is something that hasn’t happened in about 3 years. Thanks to that Spurs match, Vieri’s way out ahead of him on 24 goals from 25 games. Aimar’s still putting in all his good work despite near-constant niggling injuries, so our stats are looking very good on the whole.

Fast forward to…

1st February 2003

We’ve hit our first patch of bumpy form in quite a while.

To be fair I have to take the blame, but I have no regrets. We’ve got a large squad now and throughout January we’ve been rotating heavily to keep everybody match fit. As a result, we’ve won our cup ties against weaker opposition but we’ve drawn 2 and lost 1 in the league. We should’ve picked up at least 7 points, really.

And as you can see, Maxwell wasn’t too far behind Ball in the injury queue. He’s fit again now luckily, but once we saw off an absolute tonne of competition for Torricelli from the likes of Liverpool, Leeds and both Milans, I decided to shell out the £4M to bring him in immediately. It may seem a lot for a now 33 year old with 6 months on his contract, but I don’t want another season to end with crocked first teamers and beleaguered squad players. I figure with so many players lacking fitness since the short break in December, I can either keep playing my first choice XI to get some results on the ball and crock them in the process, or I can share the workload between the squad and hope that we’ll win the marathon as oppose to the sprint by keeping everyone fit.

As Moreno comes in, we say a fond farewell to Super Kev, who’s gone to Torino on a free. 53 goals and 30 assists in 111 appearances since he joined us permanently in 1999 is not bad at all. Kev will be replaced by Wayne Rooney in my second string.

Peter Clarke’s gone too. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Mustapha Riga’s back at Finch Farm after a thoroughly frustratingly loan spell with Standard Liege. He played twice from Summer to January, which is fewer appearances than phone calls made by me to their manager demanding he play more. Mustapha’s stagnated a bit lately and is definitely now a 3rd choice winger on both sides behind Aimar, Riquelme, Zapata and Barmby, but his versatility will help with the aforementioned plan to keep everyone fit as he can rotate in on either flank.

And finally, Mark Pembridge has agreed to join Krasnodar in the Summer. 19 goals and 31 assists in 119 appearances for the Blues. Not too shabby, mate. He’s been good for us – Capable in either central midfield role or on the left and at 32 he’s only just starting to let his decent physical attributes slide, so it’s probably the right time to say goodbye.

It’s also worth noting that our run-in is looking far more challenging than it did a month ago. United and Leeds are flying in the league, we’ve drawn a tough group in the Champions League in which we’ll be playing fucking Inter again, we have United in the FA Cup and as predicted, Liverpool in the Worthington Cup Final. Wish us luck, I’m gunna go do all this real quick.

13th May 2003

We didn’t win the marathon.

I’m disappointed to be honest. We narrowed the gap slightly, but we’ve dropped so many unnecessary points in the league this season and it’s really cost us. I’d say my main point of failure has been against the 2 sides that finished above us.

We only dropped points twice in the League since February and both matches were in March – We lost 4-2 at Villa Park and 5-3 at Old Trafford. Against Villa I played a reserve team as fitness was becoming a worry for my first team, so fair enough. United really hurt though.

We lead, they equalised, we lead, they equalised, we lead, they equalised, they lead, we went all out for an equaliser and they scored again. In an even match, we deserved more, but it wasn’t to be. I’d say this match probably sealed our fate. We won every single match after it but United stayed just out of reach, as did Leeds.

We also crashed out of the FA Cup in the 5th round in another equal game against United which they won 3-1.

Then to rub salt in the wound, Leeds sent us packing in the Champions League quarters. Again, no excuses, no complaints, just more good performances that didn’t yield matching results.

On the positive side, we did manage to win our first ever League Cup to complete a prestigious and completely legitimate double. Better yet, we beat Liverpool in another final.

But it feels pretty hollow. United and Leeds have beaten us in every competition we cared about. Something that really leaps out at me about the matches against them in particular is that we aren’t finishing our chances. I’m not sure why as I’ve gone out of my way to sign big game players, but maybe bringing another striker into the rotation would be a good idea for the Summer. Radzinski and Jeffers have both had droughts this season, although Radzinski in particular still finished with a very strong goals tally. Speaking of which…

Christian Vieri’s Everton’s new record Premier League era goalscorer, racking up 38 goals in all competitions and eclipsing previous record holder Tomasz Radzinski. Unsworth scored more than he has any right to once again, Jeffers was bang average but it is pleasing to see Pablo Aimar’s goal tally creeping up season by season.

But speaking of the lad, he’s actually had his weakest season yet from a creativity point of view. He matched last year’s assist total of 22, but did it in 40 appearances instead of 27. He’s still been a big player but I’d like to see this number back in the mid-late twenties next season. Lampard got a good number of assists in his debut season, while record signing David Beckham has been disappointing in terms of both goals and assists, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say he’s still adjusting to life in Merseyside.

And that’s that, I believe. Another season down and honestly it’s probably been the most underwhelming one yet. I’d like another striker and possibly a midfielder in for next year as we’re going to go all out to win at least the Premier League/Champions League double. See you then.

Author: DOgames

Amateur Game Designer, Writer, Artist, Musician

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