1st July 2023
You know what I can’t wait for? Promotion. When we get promoted next Summer, all our problems will be distant memories. Bolton Wanderers, despite all that life’s thrown at us, will be back in the big time. You might have noticed my change of tact – Instead of talking about this season’s promotion as a conditional, I’ve decided to start talking about it as a fact of life in the hopes of forcing it to become true.
As such, we need to start thinking ahead just a little bit. What actually happens next season once we’re up in the top tier? Will we be stomped into mulch and sent back down to the Championship in disgrace? Will we be able to add a couple of choice players and challenge for Europe? Maybe even a title challenge is in the offing? To the answer those questions in no particular order: No, Probably not, No and Consolidation. I reckon if we’d been promoted back-to-back-to-back in the 21/22 season we would’ve been stomped into mulch by the elite, but our squad’s already so much stronger than it was then and we’ve now got another 2 transfer windows in which to bolster ourselves even more. I genuinely think we’ll be looking at a safe lower-midtable position.
So let’s start bolstering. I’ve already brought in my first signing for the new season – Ivorian club ASEC Mimosas have had a surprisingly large number of players I’ve wanted over the last 4 years, but most would’ve failed to get work permits. When I saw that their first choice goalkeeper Ibrahima N’Dri had Italian parents though, I wasted no time in flying him and his Abel-Xavier-esque blonde goatee over to Manchester Airport. At 19 he doesn’t quite fit into my usual “Early 20’s” criteria, but I’m willing to make an exception as he’s got crrrrrrazy potential and is costing us just £155k.
On the outgoing side, we say goodbye to a couple of old faces – Sonny Graham and Ryan Delaney just don’t have the quality to keep up with us nowadays and have been let go, along with a couple of youngsters lacking potential.
So although we haven’t had the same early excitement as last year, we may still make major moves this window. Despite only having £1.5M in the bank, I’ve been given a transfer budget of £5M, which I interpret as Chairman Ben White feeling as gung ho about going for promotion as I do.
We now have a real competition for the number 1 spot – There’s not much between Ibrahima N’Dri and Slapstick Gunnarsson, but as the higher potential option that didn’t cost us promotion, N’Dri probably starts the season as my favourite. Josh Vickers is a more than capable 3rd choice.
As our younger options will all be out on loan this season, we’re actually a little short at centre back. We do have 5 extremely good options though and I’ll have my eye out for a 6th.
James Bree is the standout choice here after an excellent 1st season and Jay Fitzmartin will be knocking around as backup, but Jay’s defensive attributes have me on edge a bit, so I may well look into signing someone to compete with James.
On the left we’re absolutely sorted – Jordan Boon is getting better year on year, while I’m hoping that Omar Richards will be able to contribute more this season after an injury-hit first campaign.
Our central midfield will more often that not be comprised of some combination of Tom White, Alasana Manneh and Regan Riley. Bryn Morris is a decent option and thanks to us avoiding relegation last year, Brandon Comley’s contract has been renewed for another year. I want the latter gone ASAP and I may bring in an upgrade on Morris.
Attacking midfield is the one position that hasn’t changed at all over the last 4 seasons and I’m perfectly happy still with the old combination of Ronan Darcy and Dennis Politic.
Up front I’m happy with Kun and Lara, but Brown and Brown-Sterling have me worried. Brown’s a backup player at best these days, while Brown-Sterling’s never been comfortable in this team. Maybe this year’s the year when I finally let him go on loan and bring in an upgrade.
And finally, after 2 straight seasons in the play offs, the bookies have finally admitted that we may actually reach the dizzying heights of… 17th. We’re really taking baby steps up the table in their eyes, aren’t we.
Are we just throwing a dart nowadays to decide when the transfer window shuts and when the season starts?
Yep, we’re a week later than usual but we haven’t played a game yet and the window’s just shut. I have no idea, but never mind that. Let me start this Summer with a transfer that I couldn’t get done, but rumbled on all window anyway.
After a less than stellar spell at Everton, Moise Kean has been placed on the transfer list for £4M, way less than his market value. He looked like the exact type of quality boost we’ve needed up front that’d make promotion a formality and proved his Championship credentials last season scoring 14 goals for lowly Hull on loan, but unfortunately he wanted about £40k per week and that’s way more than I’m willing to pay, especially when I’m already shelling out so much for a transfer fee. Keep an eye on this one though, as I’ll certainly be ready to pounce when Moise and Everton get more desperate to make a move happen. He’s only got a year to go on his contract too…
Onto some actual signings though – In the absence of Kean, I brought in another attacking midfielder to be moulded into a striker to follow in José Lara’s footsteps – Amine Bassi.
The Moroccan Magician’s scored 34 goals and registered 31 assists in the last 4 seasons in France’s 2nd tier with AS Nancy Lorraine. His average ratings are consistently around 7.00, his dribbles per game is consistently over 3.00 and his passing completion rate is consistently between 70% and 75%. I’ve been watching him for about a year and when his contract ran out I snapped him up. His value’s immediately shot to almost £7M too. Next up is Pedro Justiniano.
Good lord, this boy’s got some pedigree. An Angolan-Portuguese-Italian who came through Juventus’ ranks and has spent the last 6 years with Porto? Yes please. Granted he hasn’t played that much for Porto’s senior side, but he’s been a regular for their B side in the Portuguese 2nd tier and has put in some good performances over 4 years, averaging ratings between 6.87-7.14, completing 3.65-4.14 tackles per game and completing 78%-80% of his passes. I think he could be great at senior level if somebody shows a bit of faith in him. I’ve shown £625k’s worth. Then we have Diego Mezzano.
Italy U21 right back Mezzano has joined from Inter for £1.4M, my joint biggest signing with Omar Richards. I’m taking a little bit of a punt on him as not only are we judging him off a single season on loan with Chievo Verona in Serie B, where he averaged a 6.89 rating, completed 3.36 tackles per game and 76% of his passes, but he’s also a bit of a mercenary. My thinking is though that someone with his potential’s worth the punt and at 20 years old we’ve got plenty of time to make him see that there’s more important things than money, like sunshine and flowers and fluffy little bunny rabbits. My final signing of the window was George Dobson.
How could I not sign this lad? A brave, hard-working, team-playing leader that runs all day? Has he been created just for me? George’s contract at Sunderland ran down so he’s cost us nowt, which is music to my ears. Over 4 years on Wearside George has averaged ratings from 6.84-6.99, completed between 1.89-3.7 tackles per game, 74%-89% of his passes and chipped in with roughly 3 goals and 4 assists per year.
The only notable departures are Brandon Comley and De’Marlio Brown-Sterling going off on loan to Grimsby Town and Newport County respectively – Comley’s gone so somebody else can pay his £3.8kpw wage until his contract expires and Brown-Sterling’s left in a last ditch attempt to show me that he’s got something worth holding onto.
We could have done with another big money sale this Summer, but no offers came in, so we’re back in the red for now. When we get to the Premier League in 9 months though, that shouldn’t be a problem.
1st February 2024
Uh oh, ya boy’s getting pissed off at the game again.
It’s been one of those seasons – Injuries everywhere, goals ruled out everywhere, the opposition’s 1 shot on target flies in from 50 yards everywhere. We’re not going up this season, boys. To be honest, I really need a lifeline at the minute to keep me invested in this save.
Transfer-wise, nothing has happened at all in January. We had bids from Crystal Palace and Brighton late in the Premier League Summer transfer window for Brockbank and Johnston respectively, but they refused to meet the players’ values and got refused. Palace switched targets and came in for Johnston at the start of January, but again it was a non-negotiable shit offer. This has meant we’ve got no money and no transfer or wage budget and this has meant that we’ve missed out on Moise Kean, who my slim hopes of a successful season was resting on. Watford have snapped him up for £1.3M.
We went out of both cups at pretty much the first time of asking – Notts County beat my reserves early in the season in the EFL Cup, while we drew Everton in the FA Cup 3rd round and played out a goalless 180 minutes before they thrashed us in extra time in the replay.
After starting off the season in truly scintillating form, we’ve been getting steadily worse and worse since the end of September. Imagine the levels of luck in that Brentford match at the end of last season, only now we’re experiencing that on a bi-weekly loop, usually coupled with an injury or 2.
You might be able to sense my pure apathy towards this season and honestly I just want it to be over at this point. Our finances are toilet, our form’s toilet and I really, really need us to pull something out the… Toilet, as my enthusiasm is seriously on the wane.
2nd March 2024
Alright, I’ve slept since my last update and played on for a month, in which we’ve come through a really, really tough run of games against Stoke, Leeds, Derby, Newcastle and Ipswich with 11 points. All of this is to say that I’m not quite as cranky as I was then.
I do just want to offer a bit of context for yesterday’s FM nihilism by showing you our injuries so far this season though. As I said previously, we started off incredibly strongly, shooting up to the top of the league with Eddie Brown and Kun Temenuzhkov both firing on all cylinders. Then they both got injured, along with José Lara and our goals dried up, which started a poor run of form, which meant that even when they came back we couldn’t recapture the magic. And then Kun got another serious injury from which he still hasn’t recovered 2 months later.
The thing is that annoys me about key players missing this much football is the fact that they’ve picked up impact injuries, so I can’t even justify it by saying it’s because of our intense tactics. Omar Richards missed 3 months with a broken foot and Kun’s been missing mainly with broken ribs.
Well as I say, we’re now looking pretty good for a play off place again. I’ll go finish this off and let you know.
25th May 2024
Welp, we weren’t promoted.
That’s 3 seasons in a row of being in the Championship play offs and 2 seasons in a row of being beaten in the final. We stumbled across the finish line to be honest, losing the last 2 games of the regular season, before edging Derby out of a close Semi-Final. Bristol City claimed a dramatic win at Leeds in the 94th minute of their semi 2nd leg to meet us at Wembley.
I decided not to come back and make a day of it like I did last year as it just makes the defeat that bit more gruelling and Bristol had already beaten us 0-3 and 1-2 in the regular season, so coupled with our worst Championship performance so far in terms of points, I wasn’t confident. I was later vindicated in my pessimism, which in all honesty was not much of a consolation.
In my defence, 4-1 flatters Bristol. The game was close, with their opening goal being immediately cancelled out by George Dobson’s 1st for the club. In the 2nd half, their goal again was cancelled out by a header from Justiniano, but this was ruled out because Harry Brockbank was stood in the vicinity of the keeper. If he was in his eyeline though, I’m Alex Ferguson. And that did it for us – Our heads went down and like they were playing a training game, Bristol passed it through us and scored twice more.
This has felt like by far the worst season we’ve had to date. It’s the only season that we’ve actually regressed in terms of both league position and points tally, the runs of results have been absolutely gruelling at times and the performances just haven’t been there. I’ve been especially disappointed with the performances of the 3 players I singled out for praise last Summer – Boon, Bree and Temenuzhkov have been so-so. I’m just about ready to put some heads on the block and cull some people in the upcoming transfer window, so let’s take stock.
Kun still finished as our top goalscorer, with Brown just behind him, despite the pair of them scoring the majority of their goals in the first couple of months of the season. I was hoping that José Lara would build on his 6 goals from last season now that he was a fully formed striker, but he’s actually regressed. I have been impressed with Regan Riley though, who’s had a bit of a landmark season. Justiniano has been impressive too in his debut season.
Again, José’s 8 assists was less than last year’s tally of 10, but it’s the best anyone managed. Bree regressed, Boon regressed, Brown regressed, but I was happy to see Mezzano chipping in a fair bit, even if he had a very up and down season overall.
The average ratings on the whole this season were laughable. Nartey tops the charts but only played 90 minutes once – In our EFL Cup loss against Notts County. Omar Richards was fine but missed half the season through injuries and fitness. Justiniano and Riley as I’ve said have been the only surprise bright spots in a dark season, while George Johnston is absolutely still a solid defender and I fully expect him to be gone next season.
Our finances are looking bleak. We’re now £11M in the hole and we still don’t have Premier League money to bail us out, so we’re going to have to sell big. Everyone’s on the market this Summer as I quite fancy a rebuild anyway.
Now considering my despondence a few in-game months ago, you might think I’d call this series there. On the contrary though, I go through several stages of grief specifically with football manager. First I get annoyed, then I resign myself to the fact that our luck will never change, but then I push through and get filled with a white-hot, scowling determination to succeed in spite of the game and then to rub it’s stupid, fat face in my achievement. I’m Goku, FM is Frieza and 3 play off defeats in a row is Krillin’s death… If you follow me.
So too bloody right I’m coming back for season 6 and FM can suck a fat one if it thinks we aren’t going up. See you then.