A Joke (Moneyball-ton Wanderers – Season 6)

I’ve got a joke for you:

Eight Englishmen, a Northern Irishman, a Scotsman and a Japanese man walk out of a football club.

I can’t think of a punchline at the minute, I just thought it would be a more interesting way of introducing what’s going to be a very sell-heavy Summer.

Before we name those players though, I thought it’d be a good idea after 5 seasons of this save to take a second to think about what we’re actually doing… With our lives… Just kidding, I meant what we’re doing in this save. As you should be painfully aware by now, this is a moneyball save. The broad strokes of moneyball are how I usually play the game anyway: Buy young players for cheap, train them up, sell them on for profit, rinse, repeat. It’s struck me lately though just how different my philosophy in this save has turned out being.

I probably should have mentioned last episode that our youth intake, which up until now has ranged from awful to OK, gave us a golden generation. A genuine one. Not one of these where they say it’s going to be a golden generation but then there’s maybe 2 players who’ll fill your squad one day, it was a genuine golden generation. I was surprised, as because our financial state has been such a constant battle, I’ve barely managed to upgrade our youth network or facilities at all, although they are still quite good.

Ordinarily in this situation (Which I can remember happening like twice to me before), I’d batten down the hatches, sit them all down and nail their feet to the floor so they couldn’t go anywhere. In fact in that scenario, they probably wouldn’t become that great at football, but you get my point. But as this is moneyball, I’ve already cashed in on most of them.

The first to leave was Salford-born Conor Uberschar, who was snapped up by Fulham for £1M (+50%). At the end of the day, he might not become anything, so £1M could be an extremely good price. If he does become something, he’s going to move to a bigger club and we’ll get a hefty payday.

Next to go was local lad Adam Lugsden, or as he’s affectionately known around the club, “The little fat man with the pug-nosed face”. All of you who get the reference are welcome for getting that song stuck in your head. He’s gone to Leeds for the same deal. Again, a 16 year old has no value to us right now and has not proven anything, so this is great business in moneyball terms.

Stuart Wallace went to Brighton and Hove Albion for £2.5M (+50%). He’s a little better than the others right now, but again he’s not proven, so we ship him out.

This was all against my FM instincts but as I’ve justified 3 times now, this is moneyball. It’s what I have to do to pull the club’s coffers back above water. However, there’s 1 lad from this crop of players for whom initially I just said “No. He’s not leaving. No. Fuck off, Spurs. NO.” That lad is Hitoshi Fujii.

He’s still with us at the minute, but he won’t be for long and I’ll tell you why it breaks my little heart. For me, Hitoshi will be a Premier League player if Spurs raise him right. He’s going to be huge and the thing about amazing Asian footballers is that they are an absolute Godsend in terms of finances. I don’t know if any of you read the half-series Slumberland a few months ago, but there was a South Korean defensive midfielder in my Bordeaux team named Son. He wasn’t our best player and he wasn’t even a nailed-on starter, but he sold the most bloody replica shirts out of our star-studded team every year. If I wasn’t committed to a moneyball save, I’d keep Hitoshi, I’d grow him into a star and I guarantee you he’d do exactly the same thing. As it is, he’s off to Tottenham for an admittedly fat wad of cash: £5M (+50%).

So there we go, 4/7 of my golden generation have been scattered to the wind for £9.5M plus the potential of a few hefty windfalls in the future. I may as well show you the other 3 members of our class of 24 now, actually. Goalkeeper Aaron Fell has gone on loan to South Shields for the season.

Centre back Ben Kerr will be sticking with me this year. I want to make sure he’s on the right track before I send him off anywhere as he’s extremely promising and still very very young.

And the same goes for midfielder Kyle Manning. This lad definitely needs a few months in a mentoring group as he’s got some defensive and mental attributes to work on.

The other 6 Englishmen we’ve let go by the way are all players whose contracts have expired this Summer, including former first team players Brandon Comley, Bryn Morris and De’Marlio Brown-Sterling. We’ve not needed any of them in a while so it’s good to get them off the wage bill.

And finally, the Scotsman. George Johnston has left for newly promoted Bristol City for £10M. A lot of our players’ values dropped over the last year but I’m glad that George was such a consistent performer because it meant that his value stayed intact. Cheers and good luck, you brilliant bastard.

So with that soon-to-be £19M in the bank, we’re back in the black once again. Just. We did actually get a £7M-£10M bid from Stoke for George Dobson, but I want his full value of £9.5M now or I’m not selling and the Potters aren’t willing to negotiate.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s more to come on the outgoings front this Summer. As I said at the end of last season, everyone’s on the market. Let’s remind ourselves of the squad.

What a difference a year makes. Ibrahimi N’Dri is now not only Italian, not only an Italian with a sensible beard colour, but an Italian with a sensible beard colour that’s by far our best goalkeeper. He kept 22 clean sheets in his 50 games last season, conceding 45 goals. Gunnarsson and Vickers are both able deputies but I’d be willing to sell either of them if the price was right.

I’ve decided not to replace Johnston. By having 6 first team centre backs last season, I left out Richard Nartey and Nathan Smith almost completely. We just don’t need that many defenders so we’re just going to stick with 5, but with Ben Kerr ready to get minutes if we have some sort of crisis.

Diego Mezzano, now fully comfortable at wing back, will be our first choice on the right I think. James Bree was a bit unreliable last season, with niggling injuries and hot and cold form. Now that Mezzano’s natural in his position and a fluent English speaker, he should start to flourish.

If I had a young, promising left wing back I’d be saying the same about Boon too. 15 yellow cards coupled with indifferent form made for a disappointing 23/24 season, but I’m expecting more this campaign. Omar Richards has now had 2 injury hit seasons since joining us and with only a year left on his contract, he needs to stay fit or he’ll be out.

I’m still pretty happy with our central midfield options. Again, we had too many last year and in trying to keep White, Manneh and Morris all happy I spread their game time very thin. Manning will be on the lookout for opportunities but I’m mainly going to be using 4 first teamers, led by new club captain George Dobson.

I’m actually willing to let Dennis Politic go this summer if the right bid comes in. I found myself preferring to use Lara or Bassi ahead of him last season when Darcy was injured or out of form, so he’s not really needed. I’m fairly happy to keep him around if not, though.

Who on Earth knows what my best strike partnership is any more. My best goalscorer Kun’s really been knocked back by last year’s long injuries, Brown and Lara go on regular goal droughts and Bassi’s still not a natural striker. I may have missed out on Moise Kean in January and I’m not planning on bringing in many players this Summer, but if I can find a top quality striker, he’s coming in by hook or by crook.

Also, after missing out on promotion narrowly 3 years in a row, we’re now up to the giddy heights of 17th in the bookies’ eyes. Lol.

3rd August 2024

Well, we’re off to a solid start.

Transfers first, but in the end, not much else ended up happening. Fujii’s price ended up at £6M (+50%) thanks to a late bidding war between Watford, Spurs and Bournemouth and I also cashed in on Jay Fitzmartin and Jim Miley for an extra £500k, but apart from that we just saw outgoing loans.

I did try hard to bring in a striker and it was one that I’ve been tracking for over a year – Everton’s Ellis Simms was in a similar boat to Moise Kean was last Summer: Transfer listed with a year to go on his contract and available for £1.8M, which was well within budget. He first caught my eye in the 22/23 season when he scored 19 goals on loan at Salford in League One, but then when he repeated the feat on loan at Preston last year, scoring 24 times as they finished as League One Champions, I had to have him. Initially I sneakily tried to get him on loan for a year, knowing that I’d be able to sign him for free next Summer, but Everton were having none of it so I paid their asking price. This started a miniature frenzy though, with Middlesbrough coming out with the lad’s signature. Oh well. It would’ve been nice, but I’m not as down as I was over Moise Kean. It still remains to be seen if Ellis will cut it in the Championship and we now have funds for January if we need them.

Overall I’m much happier with my squad than I was a few months ago. It’s sleak, it’s talented and it’s ready to have another go at promotion. The finances are looking very nice too.

We’ve only had 1 match so far, away at newly promoted Preston (Again). Eddie Brown got us off to a flyer but I do wish Omar Richards would stop fucking injuring himself. He’s out for a month.

2nd February 2025

Alright, I don’t want to jinx it, but we’re looking decent.

As is tradition at this point, we were dumped out of both cups at the first chance we got, losing on penalties against Wigan and getting hammered against Crystal Palace in the EFL Cup 1st round and FA Cup 3rd round respectively. In the league though we’ve been strong. Of course there’s been the odd fumble and the odd frustrating match where we’ve dropped 1 or 2 points, but overall I can’t complain. For the most part we’ve beaten the teams we should be beating and managed not to lose against the cluster of big sides. We’ve not even had that many injuries.

I think a major factor in our good form has been our defence. We’re still not a side that scores a lot of goals, as has been the story of our time in the 2nd tier, but with the combination of Justiniano, Brockbank and Greaves becoming a fully cohesive defensive unit alongside N’Dri’s absolutely ridiculous progression as a keeper, we’ve conceded just 15 goals in 34 games – The best in the league by a country mile. N’Dri’s now refusing to discuss a new contract as he’s already outgrown us and I can’t really blame him. He’s already levelled last season’s tally of 22 clean sheets and we’re only in February.

Transfer-wise, nothing much has happened. I turned down a few more poor bids for our skipper George Dobson, but nobody left or joined on a permanent basis in January. I did decide to send class of 24 members Kerr and Manning on loan to Bromley though, to see if they could save them from dropping out of the football league.

Sadly, our finances are still as annoying as ever though. Despite making £20M through player sales and not spending a penny this season, we’re nearly £5M in the red. The good news is that we’ve now paid off £32.75M of our debt, which means we’ve only got £8.25M still to pay off, so by the Summer of 2026 we’ll be fully debt free. If we can combine that with a promotion to the top tier, we should really start to take flight.

So yeah, let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet and let’s not panic, but with 12 matches left to play, we’re level on points with 2nd place and 2 points off 1st. Let’s go see if we can overtake these fools.

28th May 2025

We couldn’t, but I’m not that broken up about it.

Finally the bridesmaid has become the bride. Bolton Wanderers are fucking BACK. We scored just 52 goals in 46 but we conceded just 23, 50% fewer than the 2nd best defence, Watford.

Over March I began to fear the worst. A run of 6 straight draws from February to April had us fall completely away from the race for the automatic promotion spots and we were in real danger of falling out of the play offs too. If Derby County hadn’t had a freak loss against Preston and we hadn’t managed to snatch a draw against Stoke, it would’ve been us dropping out of the top 6 to make way for Blackburn. As it was though, we just managed to cling on and went into the play offs in quite miserable form, having won 2 of our last 11 matches.

I suppose when you think about it though, our 1 major advantage this season was what carried us through. I often forget that as well as scoring shit loads of goals to win a game, you can win a game by just not conceding as much as you should. The play off semis got off to a rough start when Leeds’ young Spanish midfielder Chechu lashed a shot in off N’Dri’s bar from the edge of the box after 8 minutes. We refused to capitulate though and equalised 10 minutes from time when Lara’s corner somehow went all the way through a packed penalty box and fell to a resurgent Eddie Brown, who smashed it in. We took the lead on the hour mark in the 2nd leg when Bassi was dragged down in Leeds’ box by Julián and Brown smashed the penalty away, but straight from kick off Captain Dobson was so excited that he tripped Julián and earned his 3rd red card of the season. It looked as though we might hang onto the win, but a late mazy dribble and clinical finish from Whyte sent us to penalties and after a tense turnaround, Harry Brockbank scored the sudden death spot kick that sent us through.

The final was a horrible match. Both sides spent 100 minutes kicking the shit out of each other while making very little in the way of chances, picking up a combined 8 bookings between them and injuring both Jordan Boon and Tom White, before Jonathan Panzo shoved Jacob Greaves as they challenged for a a header and Eddie Brown once again scored the vital penalty to clinch victory for the Trotters.

So we rode our luck, we got some help from the officials and we have a lot to thank Eddie Brown for, but the only thing that matters is that after 6 long seasons, we’ve finally reached the promised land.

And it’s a good job too. We’re £14M in the red at this point and I haven’t got another golden generation to sell. The board have planned a ludicrous transfer budget of £38.46M and I can’t wait to start preparing.

Before we do that though, let’s tie up this season with a neat little bow. I don’t know what’s gotten into Eddie Brown this year, but he’s finally the Championship striker I knew he could be. Right as we leave the Championship. Bit of a pisser, really, isn’t it? Kun got a good number of goals under his belt too, while Boon was back onto an admittedly bare top 5 scorers list. Ronan Darcy deserves a special mention, because every single one of his goals was an absolute screamer, but sadly I’m pretty sure they all came in the first month of the season.

I’ve persisted with Mezzano through gritted teeth at times this season, as his ratings have been really quite poor, but in all fairness his attributes are rapidly on the rise and he has weighed in with more assists than any other player in the last 2 seasons. Bassi and Lara both did alright here too, although I’m still not convinced by either of them.

Once again, Pedro and Riley both had solid seasons, along with (unsurprisingly) fellow defensive players Dobson and Greaves. I expect to be fending off bids for most of them this Summer.

In terms of strengthening… Well, we’ve got a bit of a job on our hands, haven’t we, but it’s going to be nice having the window open until September again. I’m going to try to do the smart thing of planning for life back in the Championship again. I want to sign players who are top Championship players with potential to be Premier League players so that in the highly likely event that we’re relegated next Summer, we’ll have the quality to take us back up without having to go through yet another pissing play off. We definitely need at least a striker, left wing back and midfielder, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see quite a bit of turnover before September.

So that’s it. It’s going to be an extremely busy Summer, but it’s such a relief to have finally made it and to have an end in sight to our financial plight. Bolton Wanderers will play Premier League football in 2025/26. How’s that for a punchline?

Author: DOgames

Amateur Game Designer, Writer, Artist, Musician

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