A Debt-Free Life (Moneyball-ton Wanderers – Season 7)

2nd July 2025

Well we finally made it. Bolton Wanderers have arrived for our first Premier League season since 2011/12 and now I have the rather daunting task of not fucking it up. As I’m sure you can appreciate, this Summer’s already been pretty mental and I’m certain it’s only going to get even more so, so I’m going to just skip this first section and we’ll catch up properly in September when everything’s sorted.

5th September 2025

Right… Well… Right. This is going to be tough. First of all, let me just relieve all of your fears – Financially, we are on top of the world. This is great as it means we should be in a brilliant position to strengthen the squad for the next few windows. I should say that the reason this is important is that I expect we’ll get relegated at the end of this season. Our attackers could barely score in the Championship and although we’ve strengthened up front, you never know how players are going to take to the Premier League. And yes we were defensively excellent in the Championship but A) The attackers in this league are far better and B) We no longer have N’Dri in net. So our only strength from last year is probably not as strong any more. In fact yes, let’s start with N’Dri.

Ibrahima N’Dri came to me at the end of last season and told me he wanted to move – Not surprised in the slightest, I agreed and found him a £30M move to Hertha Berlin, where I’m sure he’ll be a star. I’ve also sold unproven youngsters Oliver Lee and Gerry Shaw to Huddersfield and Fulham, as well as sub-standard players Amine Bassi, Alasanah Manneh, Dennis Politic and James Bree to Lens, Czestochowa, Colorado Rapids and Birmingham respectively. Jordan Boon has gone on loan to Cardiff as he really hasn’t even been good enough for a Championship side lately. All in all we’ve brought in almost £50M, which is not bad at all.

I’ve replaced these players with a mixture of academy graduates and what I hope to be astute signings, so let’s just have a run through the squad and I’ll introduce you as we go.

No, it’s not an old screenshot. The first signing to tell you about is N’Dri’s replacement – Polish shot stopper Marcin Bulka has returned to the University of Bolton stadium after 2 good seasons in the Championship and 1 on the bench after Bristol’s promotion. He’s straight back to being my first choice keeper, but Gunnarsson will be pushing him for his place, while Vickers puts his feet up in the background. Fun fact, we’ve now signed Marcin twice and spent about a fifteenth of what we received from Bristol City for him.

We’re as we were at centre back. Pedro Justiniano and Harry Brockbank are both solid options, Jacob Greaves always performs, but Richard Nartey and Nathan Smith are poor squad players. I did consider bringing in reinforcements but I couldn’t shift Nartey or Smith and I didn’t want to have so many options that I’d never use young Ben Kerr. Maybe I’ll revisit this area in January.

At right wing back, Diego Mezzano’s now our undisputed first choice, but 20 year old academy graduate Saul Stern is just about ready to push him for his place on the teamsheet. He’s got a lot of potential and I think he can do it.

We’re all changed at left wing back. After letting Omar Richards leave at the end of his contract, I was also unhappy with Jordan Boon’s performances, so he’s left on loan. For my first choice I’ve signed Álex Centelles from Swansea City, a wing back who’s spent the majority of his career with Valencia Mestalla in the Spanish 2nd tier. He’s been in South Wales for 2 seasons though and has proven himself as capable, making 5.93-8.46 tackles per game, completing 81-82% of passes and making 2.68-3.32 dribbles per game. Behind him we have James Walker (One of 2 left footed versatile defenders named James Walker to come through my academy, which is extremely confusing). James might not be a long term solution, but he’s got potential and I want to see what he can do after an impressive season on loan with Salford. Paul Doherty’s also in the mix as he tries to come back from a couple of really horrific injuries.

We’ve got a new friend in central midfield too and I should probably mention at this point that I’ve tweaked our formation slightly for Premier League opposition. I want us to be a bit more cautious when choosing when to get forward and make us a bit more solid. With this in mind, I’m sticking 6’7″ Pole Tomasz Lisowski in my midfield. He’s massive, strong, brave and a hard worker. He’s got potential too, so I’m hoping he’ll become the type of midfielder that gives playmakers nightmares. Tomasz really lit up the Polish top flight for Legia Warszawa last season, with a 7.12 average rating, 3 tackles per game and 11 assists, plus he’s comfortable in the centre of defence. Dobson’s still also a great option, but it might be time to think about moving Tom White and Regan Riley on. I couldn’t find a taker for Tom this Summer, but again I’ll revisit this in January as we continue our rebuild. After helping Bromley beat the drop with Ben Kerr last season, Kyle Manning’s still looking like a future star.

And we have a new signing behind the strikers – Felix Nmecha is now my biggest signing (£8M) from Shabab Al-Ahli, where he’s been on fire this last year, scoring 24 goals and assisting 10 more. He’s also proven in England, having spent time tearing up the Championship with Hull, Bristol City and Brentford. His good performances over those loan spells make me hopeful that he’ll be able to make the step up to the Premier League relatively painlessly. Darcy’s still here too of course, but his performances range between being our best player by a country mile and being so useless that I genuinely forget he’s playing.

Striker’s been such an awkward position for us since Nathan Delfouneso left. God, I miss Nathan Delfouneso. Life was so much simpler with him in the team. He’s now an Under 23 coach with us by the way, while David Unsworth’s a first team coach and Tomasz Radzinski’s our Eastern Europe scout. What was I saying… Oh yeah, we’ve not had a consistent goalscorer since Nathan left. Eddie Brown and Kun Temenuzhkov are both capable of having high scoring seasons but I certainly wouldn’t put money on them doing so. Especially not in the Premier League. So I’ve signed 2 new strikers in the hopes of having at least a really good Championship strikeforce.

First up is Rafael Perez, a Costa Rican/Spanish creative type that we’ve snapped up from his hometown club of Alajuelense for £1.1M. He’s absolutely torn up the Liga Promérica, scoring 70 goals and setting up 20 more since coming through the ranks 4 years ago. He has several massive plus points, like his amazing touch, technique and passing, superb decision making and flair, solid pace and aerial ability… The only thing is that he can’t shoot. I’m hoping to harness his good qualities and turn him into a provider for our other new striker…

… Nicklas Jensen. Nicklas isn’t exactly Sergio Aguero, but his finishing is considerably better than Rafa’s. Like Rafa, we’ve signed the Dane from his hometown club of Nordsjaelland, where he scored 74 goals and assisted 11 more in 5 seasons, for a measly sum of £1.6M. He’s one of those really tricky, rapid 6’6″ strikers who can tonk a free kick that you hear about and I’m really keen to see how the Premier League defences plan to deal with such an oddball.

All in all, I think that if these 2 can’t score us the goals to keep us afloat this season, they’re going to absolutely obliterate the Championship to take us back up and that’s got to be the priority. We’ve also got young Bjarki Már Magnússon here making up the numbers.

So we’ve come out of the Summer transfer window having made a net profit of £26M, which is pretty decent, but… Should we have spent more? Well it’s tricky isn’t it. If I could’ve sold Smith, Nartey, White, Riley, Darcy, Lara, Brown and Temenuzhkov, then yeah, I probably would’ve spent a lot more to replace them. But I couldn’t shift them. And I don’t want to buy players just because we’ve got the money and I don’t want a massively bloated squad that’s so choc-full of players that our very promising young academy graduates can’t break through. I don’t think spending another £20M would’ve saved us from our almost inevitable relegation this season, so I’ve gone conservative and played the long game. If we go down on goal difference I’ll eat my words, but until then I’m happy with my decision.

If anyone’s in any doubt about our probable relegation by the way, the bookies have got us finishing dead last. Granted, their predictions about us have been absolutely laughable nearly all throughout this save, but still. And it is quite comforting to know that there’s 4 other clubs who they believe to be just as fucked as us, so maybe not all hope’s lost after all.

So how have we actually started? Not as badly as you might think, considering our absolutely awful draw for the opening couple of games! I saw Liverpool at home followed by Man City away and put my head in my hands, but we didn’t disgrace ourselves. Nick Jensen got off to an incredible start to life in Bolton, latching onto a pass from Centelles, skipping past a challenge and sliding the ball under Alisson to give us the lead against Liverpool after just 25 seconds of his debut. Felix Nmecha had a different sort of debut and was sent off for a 2 footed lunge after half an hour, after which we got a bit battered. We held on for the draw though, which I was very happy with. City was again pretty promising – They absolutely demolished us but we held firm until just before half time when Mbappé opened the scoring. We were robbed the chance to keep the score down just after the break though when George Dobson also got sent off, after which we were overrun 0-3. Against Norwich, our 2 new giants got us our 1st 3 points of the season, then we snuck past Mansfield in the EFL Cup and lost against Southampton. If you ask me, 4 points from 4 games (Including 2 of the toughest of the season) is not bad at all.

Well, I’m off to go play against some very good sides. With any luck we’ll still be in with a shout of survival the next time I speak to you.

4th February 2026

Well we definitely are still in with a shout, but I’m not feeling confident.

After 26 matches, we sit 19th in the league, 5 points from safety, but on the plus side we’ve already played sides like Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool twice. One thing that’s really stuck out to me this season is the fact that we’re a million times better at home than we are on the road, which is probably at least partially due to the fact that I’ve almost completely reverted to our more attacking system from the lower leagues. The only home matches we’ve lost have been against Everton (1-2), Man City (1-2), Chelsea (1-3) and Arsenal (0-1), whereas the only away matches we haven’t lost have been against Aston Villa (3-2) and Burnley (0-0). Overall though we’ve given a decent account of ourselves in the league – we’re certainly no Derby County, which is promising. We were given a rough time in both Cups though – After edging out Mansfield Town we lost to Man City on penalties in the EFL Cup 3rd Round, then after annihilating Southampton we lost to Arsenal in the FA Cup 4th Round. Battering some lower league sides would’ve been a lovely and welcome confidence boost for the squad, but it wasn’t to be.

But sadly, yes, it does seem like we’re going down. After losing N’Dri in the Summer our defence is nowhere near as mean as it was in the Championship against these mean Premier League defences and we’ve got the worst defensive record in the league, as well as the 2nd worst attacking record.

But I don’t see this as necessarily a bad thing. I think this Summer we’re going to be able to have a huge reset in terms of personnel. We’ll finally be debt free, we have some great young players coming through and we’re working on clearing ourselves of dead wood. Last month, Richard Nartey, Tom White and Nathan Smith all left permanently, while Kun Temenuzhkov’s £2.5M move to FA Cincinnati fell through so he went to Wednesday on loan instead. I’m hoping to get rid of the last of the duffers in the Summer (Greaves, Riley, Brown, Darcy) and completely rebuild the squad into a young, hungry group of potential Premier League stars. Having a single (hopefully) season in the Championship before heading back to the Premier League will be a good opportunity for everyone to get on the same page.

We haven’t bought anyone in this window, but I did recall Gareth Burrows from his loan at Crawley. Gareth’s a really good young centre back/ centre midfielder from our academy and with Nartey, Smith and White all leaving, he’ll give us some extra cover.

And speaking of good young defenders, I will just give a shout out to the James Walker that’s in our squad, not the James Walker that’s on loan at Port Vale. After getting an unexpected go in the team at centre back early in the season, I’ve not really been able to drop him. James has been our 6th best performer so far and has kept Jacob Greaves out of the side for months.

So yep, that’s all for now. I know I’ve been very conservative about this season but you never know, we could still scrape enough wins together to stay up. For me though, this season was always about getting funds in, getting bad players out, clearing debts and resetting. Let’s see how it ends.

I should also probably mention that even if we go down, I imagine I’ve got enough credit in the bank to keep my job. Hopefully anyway, otherwise this has all been a huge miscalculation and this series is about to come to a screeching halt.

9th May 2026

Well we left it late, but we’re actually in with a real chance of survival.

Seriously, I’m not quite sure how this has happened. 2 games ago we were as good as dead, sitting at the foot of the table and 8 points from safety. 2 first half goals gave us the win against fellow strugglers Southampton and I was still sceptical about our chances, but then the same thing happened against Spurs! Spurs!! We’ve not won a single game since the 10th of January and now we’ve won 2 back to back. The best part is that our last 2 matches are away at relegated Norwich, who might have given up and Bournemouth, who’ve just clinched their own survival and might have their feet up.

We’re setting up to attack Norwich here. A win could take us out of the relegation zone for the first time since the 1st of November and I don’t want to waste this opportunity by standing off and letting the match dribble out as a lacklustre 0-0. We’ve got everyone available for once and with back to back wins and an unbeaten streak of 3 games, we’re in our best form of the season. Lol.

Captain George Dobson’s making his centenary for us here. If he can cap it with a goal that’d be smashing.

WE’RE AHEAD! Just after the 11 minute mark Nmecha rolls through Jensen and the big Dane places the ball into the far bottom corner out of the keeper’s reach. Wouldn’t you know it, Southampton are beating Everton and Villa are beating Man United, so we’re still 19th. Still though, I fancy our chances of coming away with the 3 points more than I fancy either of theirs.

2-0!!! In the 44th minute we catch the Canaries on the break, working the ball down the right hand side. In comes a looping cross from Mezzano, Centelles lays it off and our hulking Polish midfielder Lisowski strokes it home. At half time, Everton and Manchester United have both equalised, so our goal difference is just barely carrying us out of the relegation zone as it stands.

Bloody hell, Norwich. I know they’re already down but this is in danger of becoming a thumping. Straight after half time, Jensen lashes a shot towards top bins after some sub-par defending, but Scuffet pulls off a brilliant save, punching the ball over the bar to keep the scoreline respectable. Centelles also has a pop after the corner’s worked around the edge of the box, but that one’s easy for Scuffet to catch.

My heart jumps up into my mouth as a rare foray into our half from Norwich ends up with a dangerous cross, but it’s cleared and their winger Otávio then clips Mezzano’s heels to earn a 2nd yellow. No change to the scorelines at either of the other games.

In the dying minutes, Jensen forces another good save from Scuffet, but that’s all. We come away with exactly what we needed. Unfathomably, safety’s just 1 game away.

16th May 2026

Judgement day, then!

To be fair, before this superb run of 3 wins on the bounce, I thought the last few matches were a formality before our relegation, so actually even being here is a bonus. If we could sneak a result against Bournemouth though and stay in the division, it could rapidly accelerate us, giving us even more funds to spend, helping us keep our best players around, helping everyone develop with another year of top flight football… We’re facing 16th placed Bournemouth at their place for our final hurdle, while Southampton and Villa host midtable sides QPR and Palace respectively. I’m a bit uneasy with that as I feel like both QPR and Palace are punching above their weight and could easily be rolled over. All we have to do is do better than or equal to our 2 rivals though, so it’s all on us.

I name an unchanged team. We’re on a high and I’d be silly to change anything. Nmecha’s just signed a new 4 year contract in which I’ve been able to get rid of the £16M release clause I had to give him to sign for us in the first place, so hopefully he’ll be coming in full of confidence.

Oooooh the referee’s got to be embarrassed with that one. At the end of a quiet first half, he signals for 1 minute of injury time and after 1 minute and 15 seconds of injury time, Bournemouth have the ball in our net thanks to an Aaron Ramsey half-volley. A lesser manager would be demanding to know WHY THE C**T DIDN’T BLOW HIS WHISTLE but I’m really zen about the whole thing. At half time, Southampton are drawing but we and Villa are getting relegated as we’re both behind.

Not long after the break, what looks like a promising chance for us turns into a counter attack for the hosts, with Emile Smith-Rowe forcing a save from Bulka. Chris Mepham heads just over from the ensuing corner as we cling on.

A few minutes later, Perez presses Ramsey into turning over the ball, then breaks forwards and feeds Jensen, who fires it straight at Odysseas. That’s a golden chance gone to waste from our top scorer.

With 25 minutes to go, Southampton take the lead in their match. We’re now 3 points adrift, so we need 2 goals to get back on top. In desperation, we swap to an ultra attacking 2-2-2-1-3, with Brown replacing Walker.

With 15 minutes to go, I throw Saul Stern and Ronan Darcy on as they’re 2 players who can sometimes grab us a goal in desperate times. All I can do now is cross my fingers.

But no, Bournemouth didn’t allow us another highlight. We’re down, along with Aston Villa, despite a crazy 2nd half at Villa Park. I’m actually glad you’ve seen this, because this is how a lot of our matches against bottom-half teams have played out. We have the possession, we have the chances, but we don’t have the quality to finish them or to keep out goals at the other end. I’m hoping some Summer reinforcements will solve that, so that we can bounce straight back. Good effort, boys. We got far closer than I thought we would.

What was really pleasing about this season is that both Jensen and Perez ended up with a solid number of goals, especially for their first season in England. I’ve no doubt that they’ll get a load in the Championship next season, but what is worrying is that we don’t really have many more goals in the squad. Pedro’s always good for a few and a few of the new signings got 3 each, but we could really do with adding more goal scorers.

Again, and maybe this is just because we’ve been such a tiny fish in a massive pond, but the assist numbers aren’t great. Centelles has had a brilliant season, notching 9 assists up, but apart from him, nobody’s managed more than 4.

The top performers were Riley and Centelles. I’m a bit stuck when it comes to Regan Riley – he always seems to perform, but he’s now hit sort of a low ceiling, so I kind of want him gone. One to think about over the Summer, I suppose. Elsewhere, really promising performances throughout the season from Jensen and Walker, while Pedro’s solid as ever.

In terms of what I want to do this Summer, it’s quite simple. I want to keep our best and brightest, especially the young lads we’ve got coming through, and then just add quality throughout the team. I desperately want a new right wing back, as Mezzano’s not a consistent enough performer and I’m getting sick of it. More goals in midfield would be nice and maybe a good backup striker. I do think we’re really well set to bounce straight back up, though. As long as we don’t have some sort of mass mutiny.

And as for our finances, we’ve finally got a debt-free life, we’ve made £100M profit over the last year and the board’s given me a transfer budget of up to £57M to play with, so I’m basically weeping with joy every second of every day.

So that’s that, then. An unexpectedly close Premier League survival race in my 8th season with the club ends with us going back down for our 5th (And hopefully last) season in the Championship. I’ll see you in 2026/27 for that.

Author: DOgames

Amateur Game Designer, Writer, Artist, Musician

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