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?

Is Gareth Southgate England’s Best Choice for Euro 2020? (Part 2)

Ello. I hope you’re ready to test out some more prime candidates for the England job. Let’s get down to business.

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I’ve always felt like Steve Bruce would be a safe pair of hands for the national job. He probably wouldn’t bring a massive amount of excitement or success to the table but he’d be fine. He’s experienced as hell in the English footballing pyramid and is highly respected.

Looking at how he did in this simulation actually does my head in a little bit. He absolutely stormed a potentially tough group D containing 2 home nations, scoring 9 goals and conceding just twice. Then he took out Ukraine in extra time. All this while playing an intriguing 3-4-3 system reminiscent of how Southgate’s got the national side playing at the minute. When the quarters rolled around though, England drew Spain and Bruce abandoned his attacking, free flowing 3-4-3 for a flat 5-4-1, setting up to frustrate the Spanish. It’s actually a fair plan and shows some pragmatism by the boss, but it didn’t work. Spain dominated and scored the only goal, sending the lions home with a whimper. I will give him a couple of bonus points for the big rival win and for 4 games of great football, but I’m subtracting a bonus point because of how he bottled the Spain game.

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Sam Allardyce is a really weird mesh of opinions, isn’t he. He was really respected for his progressive ideas at Bolton with regards to nutrition and sports science and everything, then he became the poster boy for route one football, then the man you turn to to save you from relegation, but through it all he’s always just been seen as a bit of a wanker. Since he was originally removed from the England role for admitting to some nefarious practices, he’s become a cheat too.

But how does he do if he makes a spectacular return to the biggest job in English football? Actually really well! He grinds out results really efficiently, only winning by more than 1 goal once in the semi final, but on the road to the final England defeat some really huge teams using a 4-2-3-1 with deep midfielders – Belgium and Germany are big scalps, while he also switched to a flat 5-4-1 to beat Spain and it actually paid off, unlike when Bruce tried it. Losing 5-1 to France in the final was pretty embarrassing, but overall you have to say that’s a really solid if unspectacular tournament, even if it does leave a ridiculously sour taste.

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Pep Guardiola’s stock is dropping a little bit lately, but I can’t see him leaving City until either they win the Champions League or he obscenely underachieves and forces the board’s hands. Still, it’d be interesting to see what he’d do with our boys.

The results are not good. Somehow Pep’s England side levelled Jamie Carragher’s record of getting eliminated as early as possible, losing their first 2 games against Bosnia & Herzegovina and Iceland, before handily beating France. I was intrigued by his decision to buck the trend and start Nick Pope ahead of Jordan Pickford, but then I realised the Everton keeper was injured and missed the tournament, so there were no left-field player picks and no left-field tactics. It was a standard, fairly dominant 4-3-3 all the way through. Not a good performance from Pep.

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Is it just my imagination or is David Moyes having a little renaissance at the moment? He went right off the rails after the Manchester United disaster, Sociedad wasn’t much better and Sunderland was probably the low point… But since he returned to West Ham he seems to be back in his element – Direct football, hard graft, grinding out results… Can he transfer those skills to the England job?

I’m going to immediately jump to Moyes’ defence, as on the face of it, his 2 draws, win and a penalty loss look like a pretty awful campaign, but to his credit, his England team played a free flowing attacking brand of football in a 3-4-3 and made 18 clear cut chances over those 4 games. How they only scored 6 goals is beyond me – The Scotland and Northern Ireland games in particular should’ve been cricket scores. I’ll chuck him a bonus point for playing nice football, but he’s going to be near the bottom of the league.

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Find me somebody who doesn’t love Chris Hughton, I dare you. He’s just a friendly, hard working, normal bloke isn’t he. Not only that, but he’s got a lot of experience under his belt nowadays. In a situation where Southgate wasn’t going to take control of Euro 2020 in real life, I’d hope to see Chris in the running. But will his methods translate to international football?

People, we need to start getting past the 2nd round. To be fair, like a lot of managers we’ve covered so far, Chris was unlucky to get booted out by Poland after 4 games that England absolutely dominated. It should’ve been a 4th win, but sometimes international football just shits on you. Nothing unorthodox by Hughton either, just used a solid 4-4-1-1 all the way through to his exit, but I will give him a bonus point for his superb group stage.

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Did you miss him?!?!

Roy seems like a lovely bloke and is obviously a hugely experienced and knowledgeable manager, but that Iceland match is going to haunt him forever, isn’t it. To be fair, it wasn’t just the Iceland match. We never convinced during his first stint in charge of England. A group stage exit in World Cup 14, then a 2nd round exit in Euro 16 doesn’t inspire confidence. 2nd time lucky?

A couple of old scores got settled here, didn’t they? Wales got their revenge for the Euro 16 group stage by taking all 3 points from their neighbours, before Roy’s footballing powerhouse rejoiced in obliterating a tiny Scandinavian nation. Honestly though, the group stage wasn’t all that impressive. 4 points isn’t a great tally at all. The 2nd round was much better, seeing off the Netherlands, who are always a threat, but then Italy in the Quarter Finals proved too much.

To be fair, it’s an improvement.

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And to finish off our 2nd episode, the reigning Premier League champion, Jurgen Klopp. The prospect of having his high pressing, high tempo tactics on the pitch, his charisma in the dressing room and his charm in front of the press is a tantalising prospect for those of us who’ve grown up with the likes of Fabio Capello and Steve McClaren.

Oh come on. Klopp can’t get past the 2nd round?? Why’s this the hurdle that’s tripping up even the best coaches in the world? The German’s Englishmen got progressively worse as the tournament went on – After opening on a 3-0 hammering of Bosnia & Herzegovina, they scraped past Sweden, failed to scrape past Poland and then got scraped past by Belgium. Klopp’s 4-3-3 did manage to give England the better of most of their matches, but they didn’t pull up any trees. Disappointing again from a very capable boss.

We’ve got 3 clear choices at the top so far and somehow from this distinguished list, it’s Alan Shearer at the top, followed by Alan Pardew and Sam Allardyce. I’m going to need somebody credible to step up and end this madness next time. Also it’s worth mentioning, I’ve added an extra rule to distinguish Roy Hodgson and Rio Ferdinand, who were in joint 8th – After points, goal difference and goals scored, matches played is the decider. As Roy got further into the tournament, he ranks better.

14 down, another 20 to go. See you next time.

A Fat One (Moneyball-ton Wanderers – Season 5)

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.

Squad time.

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.

4th August

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.

Is Gareth Southgate England’s Best Choice for Euro 2020? (Part 1)

For the record, the answer is yes… If that’s all you were looking for, please feel free to go about your business full of optimism for our chances in next year’s tournament!

But if not, hi! Now that I’ve finished writing my 11 part Bolton Wanderers Save, I thought it’d be a fun change of pace to use football manager to find out whether or not Gareth Southgate is actually the best choice to lead the 3 lions through Euro 2020 (And yes, I’m going to be ignoring reality and continuing to call it that).

At the time of writing (~4PM on 12th October 2020), thesackrace.com (Using odds from Paddy Power and/or William Hill) has Burnley’s Sean Dyche as the favourite for the next England manager, followed by 32 other potential managers. Over this 5 part series, I’m going to test all of them, followed by Gareth himself, to see if we’ve got the right man for Euro 2020.

I’ll be changing the England manager in the FM20 Editor, then holidaying for a year until Euro 2020. Obviously it’s not a perfect comparison as each England team is going to have a different group in the tournament and different form and injury problems to contend with, but we’ll just have to make do.

I’ll then be ranking the potential managers in a league table at the end so that we can see a clear winner. Each win in Euro 2020 will be worth 3 points (Including extra time or penalty shootout wins), each draw will be worth 1 point and losses will be worth nowt. Winning the Euros will be worth an extra 5 points and I may hand out up to 3 bonus points if any of the managers show real style, initiative or out-of-the-box thinking, like playing a 2-2-6 or showing faith in a League One striker and having it pay off. If points can’t decide it, goal difference will. If goal difference doesn’t, goals scored will. If goals scored doesn’t, then God help us all.

We’ve got a lot to get through, so I’m going to leap right into the first simulation. Starting with the joint longest odds on the list is current Salford City manager Paul Scholes.

You can understand why Paul Scholes is the last on the list – Inexperienced as a manager and rarely seen in the public eye since his retirement, he only really pops up in the news if he’s taking temporary charge of a lower league North-West club or breaching lockdown rules.

His England side was surprisingly good. After a worrying start against an admittedly good side, losing 0-1 to Belgium, they overcame Bosnia & Herzegovina and demolished the Auld enemy to top Group D. This earned them a 2nd round match against another old enemy in Portugal and it wasn’t pretty. An early Harry Kane goal was cancelled out by goals from Bernardo Silva and Cristiano Ronaldo either side of the break, but then when Kane was given the chance to level the scores from the penalty spot in the 95th minute, he was unable to beat the keeper.

It’s a pretty unlucky exit, given the strength of the teams they faced and the circumstances that sent them home, but it’s still an exit. I’ll give Scholes 1 bonus point for thumping a rival team, but other than that I thought he was very underwhelming. He picked Phil Foden every game, but I don’t think that counts as a left-field choice anymore.

I’ve had to recreate Harry Redknapp from FM18 as he isn’t in the current database. He was actually my pick to get the job after Fabio Capello finally left in 2012. Let’s face it, we could’ve used a laugh at that point and Redknapp would’ve provided.

‘Arry ‘ad a really good group stage. He didn’t manage to beat Scotland like Paul Scholes did, but his England side did hammer Bosnia & Herzegovina and Slovakia, finishing top of the group without conceding a single goal using his solid 4-4-2. But then came the 2nd round and Germany. In a fairly even game, 1-0 Germany was probably just about the right scoreline. England didn’t disgrace themselves, but it wasn’t a tournament to remember either.

Another recreation, this time from FM19, Jamie Carragher is a bit of a weird shout given his lack of any kind of experience whatsoever as a coach.

I’d love to say he proved everyone wrong, but he was abysmal. In terms of results, anyway. His team’s performances were good and I’d go as far as to say that he deserved to win all 3 matches, but they only picked up a single point in the group stage. Guessing he’ll stick to punditry for now.

I had to go all the way back to FM13 to recreate this one – The FM scouts gave up on him long ago. Despite only having had 3 months experience (Which involved a relegation) since his retirement 15 years ago, Alan Shearer’s actually more likely than old ‘Arry for some reason.

In a stunning turn of events though, he’s actually the first manager we’ve covered that’s gone and won the Euros! Shearer’s men put on an absolute clinic, sweeping Group D aside with 7 points before seeing off Germany, North Macedonia and Turkey en route to a final against Italy.

There was nothing flashy from what I can tell – He stuck rigidly to a simple 4-4-2 system and the 1 left-field squad member he brought (Striker Kemar Roofe) was unused throughout, so he gets no style or ingenuity points from me, but still… Take a bow, Alan.

Up next is old Pards. I know he’s a bit of a figure of ridicule nowadays but I am a bit surprised that a manager with his experience finds himself at such long odds.

Oof and he very nearly made himself the man to beat. Up until the final, Pardew’s men had won every single game, most of them convincingly! But then they reached the final against Portugal and it went south pretty fast as they crashed out 0-3. The manager stuck with a very standard 4-2-3-1, but he did play open, attacking, attractive football and he also got the big win over the Scots, so I’ll give him 2 bonus points.

I’m personally really happy to see Sol Campbell getting back into football in the last few years. He’s said some weird shit since retiring in 2011, but he’s an English footballing icon. I always enjoy seeing ex-England players getting managerial jobs, so it’s great that he’s working his way up the leagues.

Probably a bit too soon for the England job though, isn’t it? The group stage went well – 7 points, although they weren’t as comfortable scorelines as the likes of Pardew, Shearer, Redknapp and Scholes were getting. Then Austria were seen off in the 2nd round, but then France kicked the nation right in our collective face. 4-0 is an absolute embarrassment.

What I will say in Sol’s defence though is this: He leaned hard into an intriguing new system, with 3 centre backs, 2 wing backs and a holding midfielder, 2 central midfielders and 2 strikers. He played Reece James and Ross Barkley as a midfield partnership twice and that’s kooky enough to get a bonus point out of me. Also, over the course of the Norway and Austria matches, Sol lost captain Kane, vice captain Henderson, Barkley and Lallana to injury. That’s pretty brutal in terms of midfielders and experienced heads.

Rio Ferdinand’s a bit of a weird name to be on this list at all, never mind at shorter odds than the rest we’ve covered so far. He’s done a fair bit of punditry work and… I think some boxing… Since retirement, but he’s had no coaching experience that I’m aware of.

His England squad included no shock picks and he had an extremely average tournament, starting with wins against Sweden and Switzerland, then drawing with Scotland and losing on penalties to Ireland in the 2nd round. They were dominant enough in each match apart from the one against the Swiss, but even so, I suspect that even Jamie Carragher’s campaign would be remembered more fondly than this.

So that’s 7 managers down, 27 more to go. We’re starting to see a pattern aren’t we – I think 7 is going to be the score that the vast majority of managers pick up. It means they had an unbeaten group stage and went out in the first knockout round, which seems to be as good a job as most of these can do. Alan Shearer’s set a hell of a high bar to top for these other candidates though, and who thought we’d ever be saying that about a managerial position? Jamie Carragher, conversely, has all but guaranteed himself the dead last position.

See you next time.

A Nickelback Song (Moneyball-ton Wanderers – Season 4)

I am so high, I can hear Heaven…

My fingernails dig into the edge of the cliff, carving deep furrows in the earth as I slide towards the abyss.

I am so high, I can hear Heaven…

Holding onto my legs are the Bolton Wanderers players, coaching staff, physios, scouts, tea ladies, groundsmen and fans… But I can’t hold on. The weight dragging us down is too great. We’ve failed. I’ve failed.

But Heaven… No, Heaven… Don’t hear me…

As I’m about to fall, a warm hand grabs my wrist. It begins to pull me back towards safety with enormous strength. The music swells.

And they say that a hero could save us… I’m not gonna stand here and wait…

I fall exhausted onto the solid ground of the edge of the cliff. Behind me, my peers start to emerge too, unscathed and finally safe. I look up to gaze upon the face of our saviour. It’s local businessman Ben White. He’s completed his takeover of Bolton Wanderers. “I hate this song”, he whispers.

I’ll hold on to the wings of the eagles… Watch as we all fly away

A single tear runs down my cheek and becomes lost in my beard. “We all do.” I breathe.

“I enjoyed it in Spider-Man” A tea lady pipes up. There’s a murmur of agreement from the ensemble.

And they’re watching us… And they’re watching us… As we all fly away…

2nd July 2022

Yep. Ya boy didn’t think to get a screenshot at the time, but Sharon Brittan has sold Bolton Wanderers to Ben White, who immediately brought us back into the black and injected about £5M into the coffers to get us back on track. Please say hello to this save’s MVP.

Ben took me to one side after joining and said “I can give you about £500k to spend, is that going to be enough?” after which I immediately collapsed into his arms and began ugly-crying with joy. I now have huge plans for this Summer. Let me introduce you to our first FOUR signings of the season, starting with Jacob Greaves.

Jacob is one of 3 free signings we’ve made and joins us after leaving boyhood club Hull City. He was a solid first team player for the Tigers for 2 seasons in League 1 and helped them get promoted to the Championship last Summer, but only managed 12 appearances in their first year back in the 2nd tier. His average ratings have been consistently good, as has his pass completion percentage and his highest tackles per game was in 19/20 when he averaged 3.34. At 21, he’s nowhere near as good as he can be yet. Next up, James Bree.

Former FM wonderkid James has been brought in for a conservative £300k from Ipswich Town, the club he joined last Summer for free. Thanks to his move to the Tractor Boys he’s finally played some regular football and impressed me with a 6.88 average rating in League 1, making 3.43 tackles per game and completing 69% of his passes. After 3 seasons of searching, we finally have depth at right wing back. Next, José Lara.

I’m taking a bit of a punt on José, an attacking midfielder, as I actually want to train him up to use him as a deep lying striker. I’ve been tracking him for a while as his performances in LaLiga Smartbank last season were excellent. He averaged a 7.01 rating, scored 10 goals and set up 8 more in 42 appearances for boyhood club Sevilla’s B side, Sevilla Atlético, completing 70% of his passes and making 3.06 dribbles per game. I reckon he can become a hell of a player for us and he’s already worth £2M after his free transfer. Finally (For now), Kun Temenuzhkov.

I do seem to love a player whose name I need to check about 3 times while typing it. Kun came up through Barcelona’s academy and moved to Leeds, for whom he made a whopping 7 substitute appearances. His loan moves, specifically last season’s loan to Exeter City in League 2, caught my eye though as he scored 14, assisted 5, averaged a 7.19 rating and completed 2.61 dribbles per game. He probably won’t be the first name on the teamsheet for a while, but he’s got a lot of potential and his price (£0), was right.

And let me just whine for a moment about the one that got away. Ivan Vukcevic was a player that really excited me as he’s been released by Buducnost Podgorica in Montenegro after scoring 62 goals and assisting 36 in 3 years. At 20 years old that’s impressive enough, but then if you factor in the fact that he helped fire Podgorica all the way to the knockout stages of the Europa Conference League where they were knocked out by Marseille and that he helped them qualify for the Champions League, my mouth was watering. Sadly we couldn’t get him a work permit, so we’ll have to go our separate ways. Shame though.

The only outgoings so far have been the players I released at the end of their contracts – Most notably, Nathan Delfouneso, Antoni Sarcevic and Steven Prieto, along with some youths that weren’t going to cut it.

But I feel so fucking alive! It’s been so long since I’ve been able to just go and make some good signings at the start of Summer to get us off to a good start. Let’s have a look at how the squad currently stands.

The competition’s really heating up between the sticks. At the minute, Bulka’s my main squeeze, but Vickers is close behind him. Wilson’s progressing quite nicely too. Ideally I’d send him on loan to get minutes and bring in an experienced 3rd choice keeper, but that’s a low priority.

We currently have 7 centre backs, but that should soon be down to 5. Greenidge is close to a move to Doncaster Rovers and I’m looking into potential destinations for Edwards, after which I might even try to find another top class centre back to stir things up. Captain Brockbank is still our star man here.

At right wing back, we finally have healthy competition in Jones and Bree, but that’s not a dig at Jay Fitzmartin, who’s been good for the last season or 2. I want Jay out on loan this season getting regular minutes so he can come back and really stake a claim to be my first choice.

Left wing back could yet be a problem. Sam Hart and I have been having a dispute for months about what kind of new contract he should be offered and he’s just thrown his toys out of the pram and demanded a move. He’s current (over)valued at £7.5M though and I’m not holding my breath for someone to match that. We’ve had a couple of offers so far but both were just shy of £1M. I’ll keep my eye out for a replacement just in case, but I dare say he’ll still be here after the deadline closes later this month. Boon is as solid as ever and Walker is very promising.

Midfield might need freshening up a bit. White, Riley and Morris are all solid enough but if we could bring in a 4th to dislodge Comley I’d be very happy. Skelton’s still promising and versatile.

Attacking midfield isn’t an immediate concern. Darcy’s good and we’ve got Lara now who can cover if needed, but I’m a bit worried about Dennis Politic, whose progression has stalled over the last year. His value keeps climbing though, oddly.

I’m excited about this frontline’s potential. We already know how good Eddie Brown can be, but Kun and José Lara are real potential talents. I am just about ready to give up on Brown-Sterling though as he just isn’t progressing. I’d like to bring in yet another striker so that I can send Brown Sterling down to League 1 for a year, but I’m not sure if our budget’s going to cover it. Miley and Guel both have great potential and at least 1 of them will probably be off on loan.

So what do the bookies make of us after our promotion near-miss last season? Oh, we’re predicted 19th. Well at least we’re not in the relegation spots any more.

One thing our new Chairman hasn’t done by the way is clear any of our debts, so we do still have those pesky £500k per month payments to think about, but financially we’re looking better than we ever have.

30th July 2022

Woof, do I have a lot to tell you about.

The transfer window has now closed and it has been a busy one, but since we last spoke we’ve mainly focused on getting rid of some players. I’ve stripped away a lot of the defensive deadwood, with Reiss Greenidge, Nathan Whalley and Liam Edwards all leaving for Donny, Portsmouth and Ipswich respectively. That netted us a combined £535k and with Ryan Delaney’s loan move to Luton costing them £43k per month, we’ve got a nice bit of scratch from 4 players that I wasn’t going to use all that much. The real laugh out loud moment though came on deadline day, when Real Valladolid nearly matched Sam Hart’s value. They bid £6M rising to £7.25M with a 20% sell on clause and that was more than enough for me. Hart is out and finally, we’ve made some really, really nice profit on a player.

With all of those defenders leaving, I actually ended up making 2 more (free) quality signings at centre back. Firstly came Richard Nartey.

Richard comes in on the back of 3 really consistently solid seasons on loan at League 2 clubs, which begs the question: Why didn’t Watford think to loan him to a League 1 club? He’s easily good enough to be a squad player for us and I’m happy to have him. Then there was George Johnston.

George coming in means that we’ve got 5 really high quality centre backs and 1 with potential, which I really like. He’s about on a par with Harry Brockbank and I don’t use those words lightly. He joins us after his Feyenoord contract ran down, despite a really impressive season with them. He made 17 appearances, averaged a 7.02 rating, made 4.35 tackles per game and completed 78% of his passes. I reckon he’s our signing of the summer.

Our final signing came on deadline day, immediately after the departure of Sam Hart. Leeds signed Omar Richards a couple of seasons ago for £7.5M, but couldn’t fit him into their quality-laden side. So luckily for me, he was on the transfer list and I snapped him up for £1.4M.

This is a bit of a punt, as he played 14 Premier League games for Leeds, averaging a 6.49 rating, and 4 Championship games, averaging 6.87. I’m mainly bringing him in on the basis of his performances at Reading in the Championship though, where he consistently averaged around a 6.9 rating, over 3.25 tackles per game, over 70% pass completion and around 1.5 dribbles per game.

Again though, there was 1 transfer that I just barely didn’t manage to get over the line. I wanted a central midfielder to complete my team and identified (Blast from the past) Lamine Fomba at Nimes Olympique. With £350k left in the budget I thought I could sneak him in, but the transfer and contract combined meant that he would’ve cost closer to £425k, so it didn’t happen. Maybe next window.

So with that massive amount of transfer news caught up on, how has the season actually started? Well we had an incredible opener against newly promoted Coventry in which Kun Temenuzhkov scored twice and assisted twice on his debut, Jacob Greaves also got on the scoresheet on his debut and young Mo Guel came off the bench to score a brace of his own. Since then though, we’ve been brought back to Earth. We drew Barnsley in the EFL Cup 1st round again. I played my reserves again. They beat us again, this time after a shootout that went to 10 each and in which Josh Vickers missed the crucial spot kick. Sam Hart missed the other in what would be his final act in a Bolton Wanderers shirt. A sad end to a good 3 years. Then Reading battered us in the league.

We’ve not been able to use Jordan Boon or James Bree yet as they’ve both been injured since pre-season, but otherwise our fitness is good and we’re getting to some sort of team cohesion already, so things are looking alright. See you in half a season.

2nd November 2022

What? November? But what of the rigid formulaic structure these episodes usually cling to for dear life? Well, I want to break formula a bit to talk about our first half of the season. We’ve played 23 league games and compared to how this save’s generally gone so far, we’re doing pretty poorly.

I was afraid that this might happen. When taking a team up through the divisions in Football Manager, momentum is your greatest ally. After failing to qualify for promotion last season and with a key piece of the puzzle having left in the summer, that momentum’s deserted us. I will qualify this statement however by saying that we’re still punching well above where we’re meant to be aiming at, but I still think this is worth dwelling on for a moment.

For the most part, our form has carried on from where we left off last season – Low scoring games decided (Or not) by the odd winning goal. The thing is though, we’ve been scoring less and less, especially since our trip to Blackburn in mid-September. Since that day, we’ve won 3, drawn 1 and lost 7 and I do put it down to a lack of goals.

We’ve just not managed to replace Nathan Delfouneso’s goal scoring record. By this time last year I’m pretty sure he was in double figures. He’s still a free agent, but I feel like re-signing a 31 year old would not only be admitting defeat, but it would be completely against the spirit of this save.

One positive we can take is that even as he’s adjusting to life in English football, José Lara is doing alright. He’s our top scorer with 6 goals and is also our 2nd best creator with 4 assists, 1 behind Ronan Darcy. Behind Lara though, Jacob Greaves has scored 4, Temenuzhkov has scored just once since that opening day brace and Eddie Brown has today ended a goal drought stretching back to late August. Other than them, nobody’s scored more than once. We desperately need improvement in front of goal.

What’s just as concerning is that we also seem to be conceding more and more goals lately. To be fair, we’ve struggled with injuries and suspensions in defence a fair bit over the last few weeks, with Omar Richards yet to really get back to fitness since joining us, Jacob Greaves suffering a concussion and George Johnston and Harry Brockbank both reaching yellow card milestones.

I may be making a mountain out of a molehill. Maybe by time we get to February Eddie Brown will be slamming the goals in and we’ll be back to our defensive best, but I thought it worth mentioning this while we’re in the thick of it. We’re about to kick off the 2nd half of the season with the reverse ficture against Blackburn, so maybe they can start us off on a win streak this time. Wish us luck.

6th November 2022

I’ve just realised that the Blackburn game was the last one before the winter World Cup in Qatar, so no win streak for us. We did get a hell of a win though, with Kun breaking his drought.

2nd February 2023

Alright, I’m feeling a lot better now we’ve wandered back up into the playoff spots.

Weirdly enough, the Blackburn game actually did start off a really good run of form for us, although admittedly squeezing in a few friendly hammerings over the winter break probably played a part too. Since the half way point we’ve won 7, drawn 2 and lost 1 in the league and we’ve won both of our FA Cup ties against League 1 Fleetwood and Premier League Bournemouth. Man United are visiting in March so that should be interesting.

We’ve had 2 players leave and 2 players join over the January window but I’ll start with our biggest transfer to date – Marcin Bulka, brought in for £110k 3 seasons ago, has joined Bristol City for a £10M fee. My God, that’s satisfying. As much as I like him, I reckon we’ve absolutely robbed City there. We also say a teary goodbye to Gethin Jones, who’s been a good servant from the start of the save and has now moved to Sydney. I wasn’t going to pass up £500k for a 27 year old who’s below Championship level.

Those transfers landed us a mouth-watering £5M in our transfer kitty, but I only ended up spending £1.5M. First of all, to replace Bulka I brought in Iceland international Patrik Gunnarsson from Brentford for a conservative £450k.

So far in his career he’s only been tested at League 1 level over 2 seasons on loan, but he looks solid enough and will challenge Josh Vickers for a starting berth. He’s not got bucket-loads of potential, but my scouts reckon he can at least become one of the best in the Championship. My other signing was Gambian midfielder Alasana Manneh.

Brought in for £1M from Górnik Zabrze in a league I don’t really want to talk about, Manneh has the potential to be a starting midfielder here if he keeps his performances up. He’s been superbly consistent in the Polish top flight, averaging over a 7 rating for each of the last 3 seasons, and he’s off to a great start for us – In his first start against Wigan yesterday he drilled in the opening goal from 25 yards before swinging in a corner that Greaves headed home for our 2nd. A man of the match performance. Lovely. My thinking with this signing is that Brandon Comley can cover Bree at wing back for the rest of the season, so Manneh can replace Brandon as our new 4th midfielder. I couldn’t find any wing backs that appealed to me but I’ll be looking again in the Summer.

And before I go finish the season, how beautiful a sight is this? Almost £10M in the coffers and almost £3M in the transfer budget. I could get used to this… But I probably shouldn’t.

29th April 2023

The season is not quite over.

My God, this is tense. After such a wishy-washy first half of the season, we’ve done remarkably well to drag ourselves up to be level on points with the automatic promotion spots. With 1 game left at home against Brentford, I couldn’t resist coming back early to take you through the game as it happens.

But first, let’s have a look at just how good this side have been for the last 4 months. In 2023 we’ve won 14, drawn 4 and lost 2 in the Championship, which is absolutely ridiculous. I thought our automatic promotion hopes were about to take a premature dive in the last match when Sheffield Wednesday scored twice early in the 2nd half, but fucking hell these lads just won’t be beaten at the minute.

For me, the catalysts for our form this calendar year have been 3 players – Kun Temenuzhkov, James Bree and Jordan Boon. Kun finally found his scoring boots at the end of last year and is now on 19 goals this season, while also registering a very respectable 6 assists. Boon and Bree have been my go-to wing backs and have developed a superb partnership. Boon’s scored 4 times, Bree’s scored 5 and they’ve both set up 12 goals (Usually each other’s), which is a new team record assists tally.

Alright, let’s get back to the matter at hand – Our home match against Brentford. The permutations are as follows:

  • If we win… And either of Crystal Palace or Aston Villa doesn’t win their games against Rotherham and Blackburn respectively, we will be promoted, perhaps as Champions. If both of those teams win though, we’ll go into the play offs.
  • If we draw… We’re in the play offs. Simple as that. You’d think at first glance that if we pick up a point and Villa don’t, we’d slip up to 2nd place, but that would also mean that Blackburn pick up 3 points and leapfrog both of us into the automatic spots.
  • If we lose… Play offs. And I’ll be cranky for the rest of the evening.

I’m going with what I believe to be my strongest line up. Gunnarsson has been excellent since his move from our opponents and will hopefully feel like he has something to prove. Our back 3 of Greaves, Brockbank and Johnston picks itself and it goes to show how strong we are here that Brockbank’s the weakest link of the trio. Bree and Boon I’ve covered and we’re without Omar Richards who’s picked up yet another injury. White and Riley have a good partnership but I can always throw on Manneh if it isn’t working. Darcy and Lara have been in poor form but so has Eddie Brown, while Kun is a nailed on starter.

I’m also giving a first bench appearance today to 17 year old Paul Doherty, who’s just emerged from our academy. He looks like an incredibly promising left wing back.

Alright, let’s finish off season 4 then. Or I suppose if we don’t win, let’s play the match before we play the actual last 2 or 3 games of the season. Wish us luck.

A quarter of an hour in, we’ve seen no action, but Ian Wright (No relation) has put Blackburn Rovers ahead. Villa are losing, but now Blackburn are keeping us out of the top 2.

On the half hour it’s still all quiet, but Federico Mattiello goes off injured and is replaced by Sam Byram. They’re both in really good form so I don’t think this really matters.

At half time this has been one of the most uneventful halves of the season. Meanwhile, Blackburn are holding on and Palace have yet to open the scoring against Rotherham. If we can find a winning goal, we’re surely going up.

On the hour I make a double change. The out-of-form pair Darcy and Lara are both yanked to be replaced by Politic and Brown. Make the difference, boys.

5 minutes later, the first highlight of the match. Brentford are knocking the ball casually around midfield and BANG, Politic presses Palaversa into turning over the ball. The Romanian sprints down the left wing, chips a cross to the edge of the 6 yard box and Eddie Brown’s there… But he heads it straight into Raya’s arms.

21 minutes from time, Cody Gakpo gives Palace the lead over Rotherham. That probably means that the top spot’s unreachable, but Villa are still trailing Blackburn.

With quarter of an hour to go, I make a couple of changes. We go very attacking, Manneh replaces Riley and I shout at my team to show some passion, which gets them nicely fired up.

A few minutes later we see the 2nd highlight of the match. Jordan Boon’s preparing to take a throw in from the left touchline, level with Brentford’s penalty area. The throw comes deep into the box, Dan Burn heads it away… And Dennis Politic smacks it into the net from 20 yards. It’s a beautiful volley by the impact sub and after a long climb up from mid-table mediocrity, we’re in the automatic spots for the first time all season. Come on, boys.

As we enter injury time, I blink. I can’t see Brentford off in this staring contest. I turn to Bolton Lockdown, an all out defence tactic I’ve been using in situations just like this.

The 94th minute… 30 seconds of added time to go… And we have another highlight. Matt Clarke throws the ball from the left to Jan Zamburek, who turns and lays it off for Ante Palaversa. He takes a touch on the edge of our box, White comes across to try and make the challenge, but it’s too late. Palaversa smacks it… Straight at Gunnarsson. But the ball spills through his hands and bobbles into the far bottom corner. 23 seconds of injury time to go and it’s 1-1.

Well I’m going to go and have a little cry, but that was very nearly a historic moment, wasn’t it. I can already feel “Slapstick Gunnarsson” trending on twitter. I hate everything.

24th May 2023

Alright, let’s try this again.

That draw against Brentford on the final day of the regular season meant that we’d play them again in the play offs, which we did. Both games were extremely close, but after squandering a 2-0 lead from a Kun brace in the away leg, George Johnston scored what turned out to be the decisive goal, giving us a 3-2 aggregate win. We’re now through to the play off final against Aston Villa, who edged past West Brom 1-0 in the other semi. We beat them 2-1 at Villa Park and drew 0-0 at the University of Bolton Stadium during the regular season, so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t fancy our chances.

We’ve picked up a couple of injuries in the last few weeks. James Bree is playing despite pulling his calf during the build up to the big game because I’ve pumped him so full of painkillers he’ll probably have a job walking onto the pitch. If he has to go off, I’ve got Brandon Comley and academy graduate Saul Stern ready to replace him. We’ve also lost Eddie Brown to a twisted ankle and De’Marlio Brown-Sterling to sprained knee ligaments, so our options up front are very thin. We’ve really only got Dennis Politic who can come on there. Here we go.

Villa absolutely batter us throughout the first half and should take the lead in the 40th minute when Rubén Garcia’s free kick is headed against the bar by Curtis Jones. At half time though the scores, unlike the stats, are level.

I criticise the team at the break to try and spark a reaction, but at the hour mark very little has changed. I bring Omar Richards on for the disappointing Jordan Boon and then Matty Cash fizzes a low shot wide of our post as Villa continue to dominate. We do manage to double our shot tally a couple of minutes later though, when Jacob Greaves heads over the bar from a corner.

With 25 minutes to go, we finally break. Cash crosses in from the right wing and Garcia crashes a header in off the bar. Bollocks. 0-1. I respond by using my remaining subs to bring on Bryn Morris and Dennis Politic for Riley and Darcy.

Garcia has a good effort from a free kick tipped over the bar 10 minutes later and again we go all out attack, but it doesn’t give us much more impetus. Kun gets clear in the 85th minute, but slashes a shot wide of the near post.

As we go into injury time, I throw Jacob Greaves up top as a target man and we change to more of a hoofball system with as many players getting forward as possible. Unfortunately we still don’t manage to create anything. We never get going and it ends 0-1.

Ok, that was one of those matches where you exit the game and you just do something else for a bit. I went to the shops and then baked a pie. Mushroom and Guinness. It smells fucking nice and I’m going to have some in a minute. I was very disappointed in the immediate wake of the match. We retreated back into our shell on the big stage and that Premier League money has been tantalisingly out of reach for over a year now, but when you think about it, we’re not even meant to have done this well. As annoying as it is to get so close to promotion with nothing to show for it, we’re still punching above our weight and we’re still getting better year or year. We cannot do better than we just did without getting promoted, so hopefully year 5’s the year.

After a quiet first few months, Kun absolutely exploded in the 2nd half of the season and I’m actually salivating thinking of how well he’ll do now that he’s settled. Eddie Brown is becoming a real problem, though. Last season he had long droughts but still ended in double digits for goals and assists. This season he’s not come up with the goods and I’m really wondering now if he’s cut out for this level. Lara had a decent enough season and is now a natural striker, but his goals really fell off after Christmas even though his assists continued to stack up. Bree and Greaves have both been magnificent in their debut seasons.

Again, Boon and Bree were superb creatively, with Boon taking the most-assists-in-a-season record in the end. Darcy really dropped off creatively after Christmas and that was a big disappointment, but he’s still not a bad player.

But again, take a bow, Jacob Greaves, who was comfortably our best player in terms of average ratings. In fact, take a bow, summer signings in general. Greaves, Kun, Nartey and Johnston are all newbies and are all in our top 5 performers. Number 6 was Alasana Manneh by the way, but he only played 10 times so we’ll need a larger sample size to really judge him.

So where are we strengthening this Summer then? Well, we don’t have Premier League money burning a hole in our pockets so we’ll still have to be restrained. I’d like a really, really good centre forward if I can find one, but honestly apart from that I think we’re good. If players were to leave though, we’d need to revisit that position.

So there we go. 2 seasons of pure success have been balanced out by 2 seasons of the bitter disappointment of falling just short. I’m fed up of the play offs now, though. I know I said this this time last season, but this time next year, we’ll be a top 2 club, with our Premier League place secured. I cannae wait.

A Pseudo-Premiership Orgy (Moneyball-ton Wanderers – Season 3)

3rd July 2021

I won’t lie – This is always the point in a save where I start biting my fingernails. The Championship can be fucking tough, especially when your team (And I say this with the greatest love and affection for this group of players) is dog shit on a Catherine wheel.

Maybe that’s a bit harsh, but the thing that’s really started to worry me is that my coaches all reckon that most of my players aren’t ready for this league. Most of our squad isn’t even league 1 standard, they’re bloody league 2 players. It’s also really starting to grate on me how difficult it is to upgrade any of them because nobody’s offering to buy them and I have basically no money to spend.

You can never discount momentum in this game though, so there’s every chance we’ll have an absolutely fine season. The thing is, we might get absolutely battered back down to League 1. Alright, well let’s reacquaint ourselves, anyway. Here comes the rundown.

Again, in net we’re sorted. Josh Vickers has been consistently solid over the last 2 seasons and is now at the height of his powers and valued at £1.6M. Marcin Bulka is an exciting young understudy for now but with the potential to oust the former Exeter man. Keyshawn Wilson isn’t amazing, but he’s got a bit of potential and I doubt I’ll have to use him.

At centre back, we’re probably fine. Captain Harry Brockbank is one of the few players who’s not only capable in the Championship but who has the potential to take on the Premier League. Now worth a cool £3M, he’s our prize asset. Nathan Smith should be comfortable enough at this level and Ryan Delaney’s borderline, but I have serious doubts over the futures of Reiss Greenidge and Rob Edwards. I think they’ll have to do for now though as we have bigger concerns. Jordan Slater-Bateman has potential and will also be in the mix.

At right wing back, I’m pretty confident that Gethin Jones will be solid in this league as he hasn’t let us down yet. Backing him up will be the now competent pair of Jay Fitzmartin and Brandon Comley.

Over on the left flank, the OG pair of Sam Hart and Jordan Boon will continue to fight it out with young Scotsman James Walker behind them. Boon can cover in the centre of defence too and is actually becoming one of our best there.

But now we get to the position where we’re really struggling – Central midfield. Antoni Sarcevic is… Fine, maybe. Regan Riley’s decent and has a lot of potential to grow into. Behind them we have nothing. Brandon Comley is not the kind of quality we need and neither is Sonny Graham, who I almost let leave on a free but decided to keep and loan out instead. Ian Jones and Mick Skelton will be in an around gaining experience, but we need reinforcements here 100%.

In attacking midfield, Dennis Politic and Ronan Darcy are as dependable and exciting as ever. Aled Daykin’s a decent young backup. No changes needed here.

Up front I’d say we’re probably OK. Eddie Brown and Nathan Delfouneso are a really good partnership when they’re both firing and I see no reason why that wouldn’t carry into the Championship. I am a bit worried about what happens if it doesn’t, though. De’marlio Brown-Sterling has scored 10 goals in our League 2 and League 1 seasons combined, while Steven Prieto’s attributes give him the look of a footballer severely out of his depth. Jim Miley’s got potential but is only 16. Delfouneso and Prieto (Barring an incredible rise in quality) are both leaving when their contracts expire next Summer as they’re old and shit respectively, so I’ll probably be looking to strengthen in January or June. For now, we should be alright.

The bookies are predicting we’ll go straight back down and while I can’t blame them, I do hope we’ll be able to stabilise and have a decent season. I think it could go either way though – There are some massive, pseudo-Premiership teams in this league.

31st July 2021

Back to back to back is on!

Just kidding. Yes, the transfer window has already closed and we’re sitting at the top of the pile after a single game of the season, having very pleasingly seen off Reading on their own turf. To be honest, 3-0’s extremely flattering for us as they battered us throughout the game after Nathan Smith’s early opening goal, but 2 quick late goals from Boon and Darcy put the result beyond doubt.

Shockingly, it hasn’t been that hectic a Summer but I think I’m happy with the business we’ve done. First of all we brought back an old friend from our League 2 squad on a free transfer. #WelcomeBackTom

I’m not 100% sold that this was a good signing as he’s not a fan of big games and is currently probably not at a Championship level. He also didn’t play at all last season after returning to Blackburn following his loan spell with us, but he was absolutely solid in League 2, the attributes are all there and I have a generally good gut feeling about him, so Tom White is in on a permanent deal. As is Bryn Morris.

Bryn I feel much more confident about as he’s had 2 really solid seasons in League 1 with Portsmouth before being released this Summer. Again, he’s probably still a league 1 player, but these 2 are now arguably my best central midfielders and still have a bit of potential to fulfil, so I’m happy with them.

That’s it in terms of transfers. No more ins or outs. No more matches. No more drama. I’ll see you in like 7 months. Why has the window shut this early, it’s mental.

5th February 2022

Alright, this is mental.

We’re 4th! 4th! And this is after a 5 game winless streak since December that’s seen us drop down from 2nd! We started the season with some ups and downs – 3-0 and 4-1 wins over Reading and Millwall balanced out 2-4 and 0-2 losses against Sheffield United and Leeds etc. In general though we’ve kept it tight and managed to scrape draws and wins against the odds – 27 of our matches in all competitions have seen 2 goals or fewer scored and of those matches we’ve won 8, drawn 12 and lost 7. Then of course, you have the odd match like our insane 5-4 win over Stoke, which was 3-3 going into injury time and then went absolutely snooker loopy from that moment on, but climaxed with a 94th Reiss Greenidge winner. It’s been a fun season. Saying that, we’re already out of both domestic cups at the first hurdle. Barnsley and Birmingham both edged past the reserve lineups I threw out.

We’ve done no transfer business whatsoever over January as we’re really, really deep in the red at this point. I’ve tried to stick to the wage budget but I also don’t want my best and brightest leaving on a free, so new contracts have been handed out and now we’re way over. This, along with our monthly £500k debt repayments, has left us in serious trouble. £7kpw over budget and over £5M in the hole. I know I’ve said this every season, but we really need some cash rich club to come and poach all our talented kids.

Let’s just take a minute to talk about one of those kids though – Marcin Bulka’s having a real breakthrough season. After a few too many howlers that cost us points, I dropped Vickers from the first team in early December. He re-tore his thigh muscle shortly afterwards anyway, but since then, Bulka’s really coming along. He’s conceded 10 in 11 games, kept 3 clean sheets, his passing accuracy’s on point… I think Vickers might struggle to get back in when he’s fit again.

And another thing to note is how the value of our young ‘uns has absolutely skyrocketed since our promotion into the 2nd tier. Newly appointed vice-captain Eddie Brown is worth a whopping £8M after a pretty decent first 6 months in which he’s scored and assisted 8 goals. Brockbank, Darcy and Hart are up there too. Even Delaney, who I’m rating less and less as a Championship defender as the days go on, is worth £3.7M.

But yet again, we’ve had no offers throughout the entire window. Here’s hoping they keep progressing and the Premier League teams are paying attention.

11th May 2022

Alright, this one hurt.

Again, we were looking really strong in 2nd place, again we went on a poor run and again we slipped down to 4th place. Our dream of back to back to back promotions is over. Let me show you.

See that 1-1 against Birmingham in March? That’s where we stopped being able to close games out. We huffed and puffed and eventually found a breakthrough with Brown-Sterling, but Odin Bailley equalised in the 95th minute. We couldn’t find a way through Brentford. Blackpool equalised in the 92nd minute. Huddersfield equalised in the 86th minute. With no disrespect intended, we couldn’t even find a way past Rotherham despite battering them up and down the garden path. Bit by bit, Watford and the automatic promotion places slipped out of our reach. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m still chuffed to have reached the play offs, but as I said before, the top quarter of this league is a pseudo-Premiership orgy and Sheffield United absolutely tonked us on their way to the playoff final and ultimately promotion. We did show some spirit at the end of an even 2nd leg though. With 76 minutes on the clock we were 5-1 down on aggregate, but academy graduates Brockbank, Riley and Darcy brute-forced us back to 5-4 in front of our own fans. It wasn’t enough, but it at least allowed us to bow out of the race with dignity.

Nathan Delfouneso gave me a real headache this season by scoring 16 goals – The highest in the team, but ultimately I decided to stick to my guns and let his contract expire. He’s been an excellent servant in taking us this far, but at 31 it’s time to let him go and bring in somebody younger, fresher and with more value in the market. Don’t forget I’m doing a moneyball save here, or I would be if I could sell or buy anyone. Eddie Brown had a really quiet first few months but eventually ended up with a respectable 10 goals.

Eddie was also our top creator with 9 assists, closely followed by Sam Hart. Despite not getting on the scoresheet at all, Bryn Morris impressed me with a solid debut season in which he registered 5 assists.

And our best player this season was… Liam Edwards. Bit awkward, isn’t it? I’m still going to do my damndest to sell him over the Summer, but fair play to him, he’s been solid when called upon, which was rarely. Nathan Smith had another excellent season despite the fact that his iffy on-the-ball ability made for a few cringeworthy moments against some of the more high quality attackers in the league. In fact, the average ratings seem to be skewed towards defence, which isn’t surprising considering the league we’re in and the fact that we conceded just 37 goals, a tally that was bettered only by Watford’s 34.

So where are we strengthening this season? Well, how long have you got? We need and I mean need to sell a couple of players this Summer if we’re going to have any hope of bolstering the side, so I’ll be going all out to achieve that. We definitely need 1 or 2 strikers, then maybe a right wing back and a central midfielder would be nice as it’d mean that I could get rid of Brandon Comley, whose performances are getting worse every season. We’ll obviously be heavily restricted though, so I guess we’ll see what we can afford.

Once the players I’m releasing are gone we’ll only be £2k over our wage budget, so we should be able to work with that. We are £7M below 0 though, so I cannot stress enough how badly we need to sell this Summer.

Bewilderingly, I’ve gathered from our end of season meeting that the squad expect to get relegated next season, but I’ve got a taste for being at the top end of the table now. A couple of months ago I could almost taste that Premier League money and I want us to be promoted 12 months from now, so we’re going to be looking for a play off spot at the very least. Keep your fingers crossed. See you in 22/23.

A Good Old Fashioned Cull (Moneyball-ton Wanderers – Season 2)

Alright alright alright alright now fellas…


What’s cooler than being cool?

The ice cold grip of capitalism around our throat that’s squeezing the life right out of our club!

Oh that’s right, we’re back in Bolton aren’t we. Well hey fucking ya, let’s get down to it then.

1st July 2020

Well we’re already 2 players lighter and somehow even further in debt. 18 year old decent-ish left back prospect Joe White has moved to Wycombe for £115k and half of his next transfer fee. I’m going to be trying this every single time I sell a player by the way, so unless stated otherwise, just assume that we’re getting half of a player’s next transfer fee. Also, Charlie Seaman’s been released.

Despite this, we have officially surpassed the -£4M mark in our coffers. Blimey.

Let’s have a run down of our squad again to see where we’ll be strengthening this Summer:

I’m tremendously happy with our options in goal – Josh Vickers had an excellent debut season and after joining us on a free transfer from Exeter, he’s now worth a cool £1.1M. Matthew Alexander and Luke Hutchinson are still top prospects, while our youth intake in March gave us Keyshawn Wilson, who while not as talented as the other lads, could still be a decent prospect.

We’ve still got the same old problem at centre back – New club captain Brockbank, now valued at £475k, is great, Delaney’s good and then we have 5 middling centre backs, 3 of which I want rid of. At the same time though, I’d also like to sign a really good centre back to partner Brockbank and Delaney. Taft, Santos and Baptiste will all be leaving this Summer if I can find some suckers to take them, while academy graduate Jordan Slater-Bateman will provide some cover.

We could also do with some depth at right wing back. Gethin Jones is fine, but behind him in the pecking order are centre back/right back Jordan Whalley and striker/right winger Jay Fitzmartin, neither of which can play comfortably at wing back yet.

We’re much better stocked at left wing back – Sam Hart had an impressive debut season, while Jordan Boon is now a natural left wing back and also had a really good season. Behind them is academy graduate Colin O’Neill, who really has potential.

I was thinking of buying a central midfielder, but I think we’re actually set. Sarcevic and Graham both had solid seasons, Comley was decent and Regan Riley’s been progressing beautifully, to the extent that I think he’s ready to be in the rotation.

In attacking midfield, I still really want rid of Ali Crawford. At nearly 29 he’s still completely sellable and last season vindicated my decision to place faith in Politic and Darcy, so I want them to carry on their good work. Young ‘un Aled Daykin will back them up.

Up front I’m very excited to see how Nathan Delfouneso and Eddie Brown take to League 1 football, but I’m also very excited to get rid of Eoin Doyle for the reasons mentioned last episode. It’s been slow progress for De’Marlio Brown-Sterling so far but I’m still hopeful that he can turn on the thrusters like Brown has, while potential star Mohamed Guel has just joined us from the academy.

And while we’re talking about attackers, I think I’ve identified the player I want to replace Doyle. 23 year old Frenchman Ilyes Chaïbi is on trial with us at the minute after his contract with French minnows Thoron Evian expired. He seems to have the whole package – Good attributes, the right level of ability with potential to grow into, no known problematic traits like inconsistency or a phobia of big matches. He scored 24 goals in 43 games last season too. The only thing that’s making me second-guess myself is the fact that he isn’t proven at any kind of decent level. He’s been banging in goals in the French non-leagues. I may yet withdraw my offer. Genuinely think I may have just talked myself out of it.

We’re predicted to have a middle-of-the-pack season in League 1 but personally I want to be aiming higher. For me, there’s no reason why this group of players can’t reach the play-offs. Come on boys, lets at least try for back to back promotions!

2nd September 2020

Alright, let’s talk done deals.

I did end up cancelling the contract offer for Chaïbi and he’s since joined Valenciennes in Ligue 2. I might end up regretting that one. Never mind though, instead of him I’ve gone for Real Oviedo’s Steven Prieto on a free transfer.

I’m not entirely confident about this one, but in theory Steven should be alright for us. He scored 16 goals in 36 appearances for Real Oviedo B in the Spanish 3rd tier last season, he’s got a bit of potential, he’s physical and a good decision maker. I’ve tied him to a 2 year contract and so far in his 9 appearances he’s not scored a goal. He has however got 86% of his shots on target, won 89% of his tackles and completed 89% of his passes, as well as completing 1.42 dribbles per game, so that’s fairly promising.

I am already thoroughly convinced by our other signing though – I’ve spent actual money for the first time and it’s a significant amount by our standards – £185k for Port Vale centre back Nathan Smith.

Nathan had an average rating of 7.00 from his 43 League 2 outings for the Vale last season and 7.33 from his 3 appearances for them this season before the move. He’s since made 5 appearances for us, averaging 7.36 and winning 90% of his tackles. Good lad. Nathan’s exactly the type of signing I want to make more of – He’s a good age, well suited to our current league and he has the potential to reach Championship standard, which has to be our aim now. He’s not particularly technical, but he’s a John Terry-esque “throw your body on the line” kind of defender, which I love.

I’ve had a good old fashioned cull too, chopping off all of the dead limbs that I wanted to – Eoin Doyle’s gone to Shamrock Rovers for £52k, although I will have to pay £700 of his weekly wage for the next 3 years… Oh well, it’s better than paying his full wage. St Mirren have come back to sign Ali Crawford on a permanent basis for £625k, which is well below his market value, but I’m just glad to have him off the books and to have some money in the bank. George Taft has gone to Luton for £61k and Ricardo Santos, Muhammadu Faal and Jak Hickman have joined Yeovil, Sutton and Kettering respectively on free transfers. On top of all that, Nottingham Forest have signed our 17 year old goalie Luke Hutchinson for £500k (+50%), which is a lovely little earner for us.

I also found another way of injecting some cash into the club – Rob Holding’s switch to Arsenal in 2016 included a 20% sell on clause, which the Gunners have agreed to buy out for almost £5M! So with that cash in my pocket I’ve even paid off Alex Baptiste to cancel his contract. Happy days.

Needless to say, the club’s coffers are looking better than ever before and although it absolutely won’t last, it’s nice to have a bit of breathing room for once.

So how’ve we actually started? Well as you’ve already seen, we’re 6th in League 1, which I’m very happy with even at this early stage. We’ve beaten Sunderland, Gillingham, Lincoln, Ipswich and Accrington but none were particularly convincing wins. We’ve also already surpassed the pre-season expectations in the EFL Cup, with a shootout win over Rotherham and a putting-to-the-sword of Burton taking us to the 3rd round, where we’ll play Cardiff. We’ve just begun the EFL Trophy campaign with a 4-0 win over Norwich U23’s too, so we’re looking pretty strong across the board.

6th February 2020

Back to back is on!

Bloody hell, where to start? I guess with the cups as we’ve had a great time there. After another bum-clenchingly tight penalty shootout win over Cardiff in the EFL Cup 3rd round, we travelled to the Midlands and faced up against Premier League strugglers West Brom in the 4th round, holding our heads high as we went out 1-3. We’re still in the FA Cup though, having beaten Torquay, Maidenhead, Premier League side Norwich City and Premier League hopefuls Fulham to reach the 5th round! We’ll be playing Sheffield Wednesday at our place and I’m very excited to see if we can reach the quarters. We did alright in EFL Trophy too – Having come through our group and knocked out Port Vale on penalties, then Liverpool U23’s in normal time, we eventually ended up on the wrong end of a penalty shootout against Morecambe. Oh well.

In the league, we’ve literally just had an 18 game unbeaten streak ended by relegation candidates Southend, which is annoying as it’s knocked us off the top spot, but to be honest I’m over the moon just being up in the automatic places. All in all, we’ve been really bloody good so far this season.

And who’s to say how much better we could have been if star goalkeeper Josh Vickers hadn’t torn a thigh muscle in October? The injury kept him out for 3 months and to be fair, 18 year old Matt Alexander stepped up and was fairly solid in his absence. So much so that Stoke City have just snapped him up for a fee that could rise to £425k (+50%).

So with that, our 2 most promising goalkeepers are gone. As we’re feeling relatively flush at the minute, I went and splashed out on a replacement.

Former Chelsea academy graduate Marcin Bulka is in for £110k. He’s a few years older than Alexander, but he’s also a lot better and still has room to improve. This season he’s kept 9 clean sheets in 13 matches for Paris Saint-Germain 2, which I’ll grant you isn’t an overly impressive level of football, but options were thin on the ground and I’ll willing to take a bit of a punt on him as he ticks basically all the boxes. He’ll be our cup goalkeeper for the foreseeable future

Oh and before I go, I hope you enjoyed that little holiday in the black, as it’s over again already. Christ we need this promotion.

1st May 2020

Hey ya.

Alright, this save has officially gripped me. I am fully invested. We’ve not only done back to back promotions, but back to back 1st placed finishes!

Let’s get cup talk out of the way first, because as much as we exceeded expectations, we ended up winning none of them. Sheffield Wednesday knocked us out of the EFL Cup in the 5th round in the cruellest fashion – We were struggling along with 10 men after Nathan Delfouneso’s red card, then Nathan Smith nodded in what looked like a late winner, but Barry Bannan immediately cancelled it out and took us to extra time, where Jón Daði Böðvarsson sent us packing. Remind me never to sign Icelandic players by the way, I had to copy and paste that from Wikipedia.

In the league we lost twice more after that Southend game, going down to Wigan and Salford City, but for the most part we were alright during the run in. We did have 4 0-0 draws in our last 7 games, but it was enough to see us over the line and then some. Beating Plymouth 6-1 in front of our home fans on the final day was the cherry on top.

Delfouneso had a worrying goal drought towards the end of the season, but luckily Eddie Brown has absolutely destroyed League 1, scoring 24 in all comps and ranking as the joint 2nd top scorer in the league with 18 league goals. Steven Prieto had an underwhelming first season with us and I’m really doubting his ability to cut it in the Championship if I’m honest, but to say he was free, he hasn’t been awful.

Delfouneso did weigh in with his fair share of assists, despite his goalscoring record falling away, but he was 1 behind our top creator Gethin Jones, who’s had a good solid season at right wing back. It’s worth noting too that young Jordan Boon actually ended up appearing more than Sam Hart did this season, but in fairness I’ve had to use Jordan as a centre back on a number of occasions.

But how about this – The top player, eclipsing even the great Eddie Brown, has been Nathan Smith. Wow, it’s almost like spending money on players is a good way of doing business. Nathan ended up with an average rating of 7.12, won 94% of his tackles and to say he’s not that technical, completed 84% of his passes. Great effort from the lad, can’t wait to see him cut his teeth in the Championship.

So where do we need to strengthen? Hmm. I definitely want to sign at least 1 central midfielder as I suspect Brandon Comley won’t cut it in the 2nd tier. A right wing back, a striker and a centre back would all be nice if I can find them, too, but to be honest we’re not desperate. I’d feel comfortable just bringing in 1 midfielder and keeping faith in the rest of the squad. I am hoping now that we’ve reached the Championship that some of our top talents like Brown and Brockbank will attract more attention and we might get a big money deal for one of them, which would be excellent as it would allow us to rebuild much more. We’ll see though.

And of course, it would ease our financial difficulties, which are just absolutely absurd. We’ve brought in over £6M this year and we’re still deep in the pain. Hopefully if we do business the right way, we might be able to sneak up to the Premier League in a few seasons and get that crazy money, which would make all of our troubles melt away. But until then, we can only dream.

There’s a lot of potential in this team and I think the success of this save might hinge on what happens in the league next season. Join me for that. I’ll catch you on the flippety flop.

A Poorly Managed Tumor (Moneyball-ton Wanderers – Season 1)

What do you think of when you hear the name “Bolton Wanderers”? The flair of Jay Jay Okocha? The wandering elbows of Kevin Davies? The apparent genius of Sam Allardyce? The crippling debt? The mismanagement? Yet more debt? Oh christ, not being able to put food on the table because of the constant cycle of debt and failure and falling? Falling ever deeper, deeper into the abyss while loose change falls from your hands and scatters to the winds? The constant, ever-present financial sword of Damocles hanging over a once-proud club, threatening to slice it from the Football League at any moment like a poorly managed tumor? Yeah, me too.

I’ve been craving some moneyball recently but I’ve not quite been able to scratch the itch, so I thought I’d start a new series in which we go pure moneyball and attempt to provide a financial advantage to a club that sorely needs it. I got here too late to save Bury, but Bolton will do. For those unfamiliar with the concept, I’m going to be playing by the same rules as Alex Stewart did in his Football Manager Meets Moneyball series. You can have a look at his experience using moneyball with Bristol City here, but I’m going to shamelessly copy and paste his rules here anyway. This is his condensed and FM-appropriate version of the list of principles published in Soccernomics.

1. Net wage spend is more important than net transfer spend (pp. 14-21)

2. Don’t needlessly splash out on new players or sell old ones when you take over a club – the New Manager Syndrome (pp. 21-22)

3. Don’t buy players who impressed at international tournaments: they’re likely to be overvalued and past performance is no indication of future performance, especially when they’re playing with a different team (pp. 22-24) – there are different incentives and a different tactical set-up at tournaments, and it’s a super small sample size.

4. Some nationalities are overrated, like Holland, Brazil, and England (pp. 24-25)

5. Sell your players at the right time: when they’re around 30 years old, goalkeepers aside (p. 29)

6. Use the wisdom of crowds: ask all your scouts and a Director of Football if you have one (pp. 43-44)

7. Buy players in their early twenties, which avoids the problems with not developing properly, and means previous statistics have greater value (pp. 45-47)

8. Centre-forwards cost more than they should (p. 47)

9. Sell any player if a club offers more than they are worth and try to replace them before they are sold (pp. 48-49)

10. Don’t buy players if you don’t need to: develop a youth network and try to develop your own players (pp. 49-51)

All clear? We’re basically going to try and create a conveyor belt of talent at Bolton, minimising risk by bringing in relatively proven players with potential in their early 20’s, selling them on when they’re fulfilling that potential and having someone else ready to step in to replace them. Basically it’s just a really smart way of doing transfer business and from my dalliances in the past, I can tell you that it’s very satisfying to pull off when you get it right.

I’m going to be using FMI’s transfer update which is correct as of the 24th August 2020 (I’m writing this on the 28th. It might be a bit out of date by time you read this, but oh well) and I’ve set up a database where every league in the game is viewable and every player with national or higher reputation is included, to give us a fairly large pool of potential players to work with without making my computer want to commit seppuku.

24th June 2019

I’ve picked Bolton, as I said before, because of their financial woes. We’re £41M in debt and we will be paying that off until the end of the 25/26 season via monthly payments of £500k, which is not going to be fun to manage seeing as our starting bank balance is under £1M. However, the good news is that for this first season at least, we’re a big fish in a small pond called League 2 and really should be strolling to promotion. Our first hurdle however will be sorting out the team’s cohesion and the atmosphere in the dressing room, both of which are on the floor.

My initial assessment of the balance of the squad is this:
A) We have 7 first team quality centre backs, which is far too many. One of them’s out until January with sprained ankle ligaments, but still. Over the course of the season I need to try and shift at least 2 of these to bring the wage bill down, whether that be on paying loans or permanent transfers.

B) Coupled with our abundance of centre backs, we’re also well stocked for strikers, attacking midfielders and central midfielders, yet we have no wingers, which leads me to think that we need a 3-5-2 with wing backs. I swear I’m not actively trying to copy Alex Stewart to this extent.

C) Although it’s technically against the rules, if we line up with a 3-5-2 with wing backs, our weakest areas seem to be left wing back and goalkeeper, so I may try to get a couple of signings in before the season begins. I feel like the extra quality will be worth the risk of making a couple of non-moneyball signings.

D) Probably our main strength is that we’re starting the game with a really, really good crop of young players aged 17-21, who I’m hoping to develop and sell for big bucks, one by one. After they leave though, our youth facilities aren’t great, so I’ll need to work on making us financially stable enough to upgrade them before we can become truly self-sufficient.

So here’s the 3-5-2 I promised – We’re going to try to play our way out of League 2 with high tempo, high pressing but thoughtful passing football. I’m not going to lie, it’s incredibly similar to my Everton system, except with a different shape and a couple of other tweaks.

So lets have a rundown of the squad, which, I was pleasantly surprised to find, is pretty good. In net, Matt Gilks is currently our number 1/Goalkeeping coach, but he’s pretty poor at both so I’m probably going to cancel his contract. Billy Crellin, on loan from Fleetwood, is the next best, but I don’t want to rely on loan players so I’m probably going to cancel his loan. After those 2 we have a pair of very promising young lads called Matthew Alexander and Luke Hutchison. They’ll be providing backup to whoever I bring in as our first choice.

As I said before, we’re overly well stocked at centre back for a club in our financial situation. I’m not happy that 33 year old Alex Baptiste has just joined as one of our highest earners on a 2 year contract as that just screams bad business, even though he is currently our captain and our best option here. Harry Brockbank is one of our most promising players and has got future captain/future goldmine written all over him. The rest are fairly average with varying amounts of potential. I’ll probably try to shift Taft and Santos, who are about as good as they’re going to get.

Welsh-Australian Gethin Jones is by far our best option at right wing back and will be backed up by 20 year old Jak Hickman until I can bring in someone better.

18 year old Jordan Boon is a great left back prospect but will need time to adjust to being a wing back. 17 year old Joe White is another good young prospect and will be in the mix. I need to bring in a senior player here.

In central midfield, Sarcevic and Comley will be my preferred combination. I don’t want to lean on Tom White too heavily if I can help it as he’s on loan, while Sonny Graham and Regan Riley both have excellent potential.

Attacking midfield’s a tricky one. I have 3 excellent options and like at centre back, that’s really too many for a club like us. As the oldest and most immediately valuable, I’ll be trying to flog arguably our best player, Ali Crawford. Bit of a weird strategy, I’ll grant you, but I’m certain that Darcy and Politic can thrive in his absence.

We’re extremely lucky to have Nathan Delfouneso in his prime up front, as he’s exactly the kind of player I want leading the line at this level. He’s quick, technical and good off the ball, all of which should hopefully add up to a perfect League 2 striker. However, we also have 31 year old Eoin Doyle, who’s perfectly good now, but who’s also tied to a 4 year contract. I need to sell him sooner rather than later as his £375k value is going to plummet soon, as is the number of clubs willing to take him. I also have 3 young strikers, 2 of whom (Brown-Sterling and Brown) have massive potential. Faal doesn’t though and will probably find himself leaving before too long as well.

The bookies are pretty positive that newly promoted Salford can shoot straight up to League 1 as Champions, but we’re touted for 2nd place, which seems doable. The board want us to finish 1st, however.

Before we get into the season, I just want to lay out a few player traits that are always sticking points for me in terms of moneyball transfers and that I imagine in the lower leagues are going to make finding players to sign incredibly difficult.

Potential’s an obvious one, but an important one. I want every player I bring in to have the potential to improve in some way or another, as this will raise their market value and we want to sell players on for more than we sign them for. Fairly straightforward stuff.

This is slightly misleading, as recent form isn’t a big deal at all. How well a player’s played over a season or 2 though is huge and will be a major factor in whether or not I decide to sign a player.

Squad fit is a nice one to have, but if I’m honest it’s not a deal breaker for me as I’m not too sure how it affects things in FM. Seeing that a player won’t fit in at all can put me off, but if they’re going to be on the periphery of the squad I’m generally fine with that.

Consistency is a huge one for me. Seeing that a player is inconsistent usually kills off any interest of doing a deal. I can’t stand not knowing if a player’s going to turn up for a game or not.

I don’t expect personality to come into the equation much at first to be honest, as at this level I find that most players have balanced personalities. As the regens start coming through though it’s going to start being a bigger issue, as they’re more prone to being unambitious or difficult in some other way, which is a big no-no.

Like Consistency, this is more of a personal preference, but I just can’t bring myself to sign anyone who goes missing in the big games.

So these are the things I’ll be looking for, as well as the right attributes, being available for the right price and demanding the right wages. Erm… Wish me luck.

3rd September 2019

Well that was less gruelling than I expected, but I suspect that’s just because we’re in the first Summer and in this database there are a lot of free agents right off the bat. After a large number of players joined us on trial for the pre-season, former Liverpool and Man U youth player Sam Hart is the man I chose to be our left wing back, former Arsenal trainee Josh Vickers was brought in as our first choice goalie and former West Ham lad Charlie Seaman… Well to be honest, my Director of Football signed Charlie while I wasn’t paying attention. His signing privileges have since been revoked, but to be fair, Charlie will be decent backup at right wing back so I’m happy to have him.

There isn’t much to report in terms of outgoings. I did indeed cancel Gilks’ contract and Crellin’s loan and I tried to get rid of Taft and Santos, but only had offers from clubs who wanted to loan them for free. One thing I did manage to do though was to get Ali Crawford off the wage bill. St Mirren have loaned him for the season, paying 100% of his £2,000 per week wages and an extra £23k per month, which all in all will net us about £300k this season. Better than nothing. Newcastle teased me all Summer as they toyed with the idea of signing Harry Brockbank, but as much as I told the press I’d be willing to talk, no offers ever came.

In terms of the league, we’ve not had a thoroughly convincing start. After 8 matches, we sit 9th in League 2, having won 4, drawn 2 and lost 2. The performances however have been extremely promising, even at this early stage. We were extremely unlucky to lose both matches against Forest Green Rovers and Salford City, in which we spurned 5 clear cut chances and let in 2 screamers by the same wing back respectively, so I’m not too worried really. When I took over, the team cohesion and dressing room atmosphere were both rock bottom, so as we build both of those up and start to gel, we’ll get the results we deserve. Probably.

Oh, and we’re already in the red. Aces.

1st February 2020

Alright, no more transfer activity over January despite my efforts to thin our numbers, but we’ve come roaring back from that inauspicious start to sit comfortably on top of the league table.

We’re absolutely dominating, with the highest average possession, most goals scored and best passing accuracy in the league, as well as the fact that we’ve not lost a league match since Salford, 28 games ago. For balance though, we’ve done absolutely nothing in the cups, leaving the Leasing.com trophy in the group stage and the FA Cup in the 2nd round against Wigan Athletic. For some reason there was no League Cup this season, which I put down to a glitch in the FMI transfer update.

The most pressing issue at the minute though is our finances. We’re currently £3 million in the red and it’s looking so bleak that the board have slashed our wage budget, which I was sticking to religiously but which I am now massively over. We really, really need people to start making bids for our players.

25th April 2020

Bish, bash and furthermore, bosh.

Not an incredible achievement so I’ll try not to milk it too much, but we cantered to the League 2 title.

Our unbeaten run ended up stretching to 33 games, but Bradford made sure it didn’t reach 34. Bastards. Overall though, we ended the season in pretty good form.

As anticipated, Delfouneso absolutely tore the League 2 defences to shreds as the league’s top scorer, but what I didn’t anticipate was that Eddie Brown would have such a great breakthrough season, scoring 11 goals, registering 10 assists and eventually ousting Eoin Doyle from the starting lineup at just 19 years old. Very promising.

As well as Eddie, Sam Hart racked up a really good number of assists in his debut season, while Gethin Jones and Jordan Boon weren’t too far behind.

In terms of our most consistently good performer though, it was Alex Baptiste. A good show from the old man, but his attributes are dropping like a stone and I want him gone this Summer. He’s got a 25% promotion wage rise in his contract which means that at 34, he’s going to be a squad player for us in League 1 earning almost 5 grand a week. Anyway… Great job, Alex.

Incidentally, I have been very stubbornly forbidding any kind of agreed wage rises in player and staff contracts throughout the season. I think it’s worth doing as in this save more than any, I want to keep a really tight handle on our wage expenditure. These pre-existing contracts can’t be helped though.

My main focus this summer is going to be on shifting some high earners and especially those of a certain age. Obviously Baptiste, but Eoin Doyle and Ali Crawford also spring to mind. I also really, really need to cut down our centre back supply. I need to figure out if any of our youths are ready to step up, but if they aren’t, I might look to sign a striker to replace Doyle, a box-to-box midfielder to replace Tom White, whose loan we will not be renewing despite his good performances this season, a right wing back to replace Seaman, whose contract I won’t be renewing either, and perhaps a centre back with potential, but that’s only if I can shift enough of the duds I already have.

Most importantly of all though, I’ll be trying to raise north of £3.8M in any way I can to drag us back into the black. Everybody at this club is for sale. Please somebody make me some offers.

That’s that then. Season 1 in the bag. I’ve tried to make this episode a bit more brief than the Everton episodes, which I worried could drag on at times. Let me know what you reckon. See you in 20/21…

The Next 16 Years (Everton 1999/2000 – What Happened Next?)

Alright, I couldn’t resist. I know every youtuber and their dog have simmed this database to current day at this point, but I wanted to find out specifically what happened to my team. So I’ve simmed all the way up to today…

4th September 2020

After a very successful stint with the Blues between the ages of 7 to 12, I’m casting a look back over the intervening years having turned 29 just last week. I was hopeful of one of two things happening over this 16-and-a-bit year simulation – Either Everton would continue to be a dominant force in English and World football and rack up all the trophies they could carry, or they’d completely crumble, drop down to the First Division and I could take over again, assembling a star-studded squad of former players as my coaching staff, and take them back to glory. Neither happened.

Dave O’Leary (24/06/99 – 29/05/04)

So that we’re all on the same page, I left Everton after 5 years having won 2 domestic titles, 3 domestic trophies and a Champions League trophy.

Eric Gerets (07/07/04 – 29/05/10)

Immediately after my departure, Everton turned to Eric Gerets, formerly of PSV, Spurs, Juve and Bayern. To be fair, he did continue our success (You could argue he bettered it) – Winning a host of domestic cups, 2 Premier League titles and the European Super Cup in his first season. He’s also had the club’s highest win percentage during this save. He was sacked in 2010 though, having guided Everton to a 3rd place finish in the Premier League. How expectations have risen.

Marcello Lippi (23/06/10 – 16/05/12)

After Gerets, decorated Italian Marcello Lippi stepped up to sit on the throne, only to win nothing, finish 3rd and 4th and get himself sacked in 2012.

Claudio Ranieri (21/06/12 – 28/06/17)

Claudio Ranieri was next and unlike his compatriot, he did enjoy some success with the toffees over his 5 year stint at the helm. No league titles, but a handful of domestic trophies and a Champions League/Super Cup combo kept the fans happy before he left for the Valencia job.

Victor Fernández (06/07/17 – 16/12/17)

This is where the hiring strategy starts to smack of the “modern day” a little bit. Fernández was in charge for all of 5 months, but with the Blues struggling to even break into the European spots, he was sacked before Christmas.

Francesco Barletta (Interim 30/12/17 – 27/05/18)

With no solid options available, Everton U23 manager Francesco Barletta took over until the end of the season. Fernández hadn’t left him with an easy job, but unfortunately Francesco’s still a stain on the post-Millennium history of Everton, guiding the team to the unprecedented depths of 9th place in the Premier League.

Fabio Capello (27/05/18 – 11/06/19)

With all bets now seemingly off, Everton went all out in the Summer of 2018 to bring in former Liverpool manager Fabio Capello, yet another Italian. I genuinely wrote a song about this bloke cerca 2010 that included such transcendent lyrics as:

You made some good moves like dropping Walcott, but playing Gerrard on the left, you know you should be fucking shot.


The cash you’re getting’s dirty with a nation at your mercy, so arrivederci, Fabio. Please go.

A bit much perhaps, but this was when he was England manager and was in the wake of that putrid World Cup in South Africa. Emotions were running high. Anyway, he took Everton to 3rd, won nothing and retired. Pretty standard stuff.

Arsène Wenger (19/06/19 – 21/01/20)

You get the idea that the board was running out of ideas at this point. Arsène followed after Fernández’s lead and struggled to crack Europe while bombing out of the Cups. He didn’t last long.

Roberto Yubero (Interim 30/01/20 – 26/05/20)

Again, the job was given to the U23’s Manager for half a season – Roberto Yubero did significantly better than Barletta though, dragging the Blues up to yet another 3rd place finish.

Scot Gemmill (26/05/20 – Present)

Ooooooh yes. Finally, just 3 months ago, a familiar face took the big job. The reign of my former midfield scuttler Scot Gemmill has begun and I’m absolutely delighted. It isn’t just a token appointment either, he’s bloody good! He’s been a manager for 14 years at this point, building his way up through the hierarchy from Wigan, Sheffield United and Brighton to Rangers, Arsenal and Everton. He won a bloody quadruple in Arsenal’s 18/19 season too – Charity Shield, Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League. I’m happy that the Blues’ future is in good hands after a less than convincing last few years. After admittedly only 5 games, we’re currently back at the top of the pile where we belong. I hope that he’ll do what no man has done since Gerets and actually keep us there come the end of the season.

Team of the Save

Alright, strap in. I told you last episode that this episode was going to be a long one and we have got a lot of players to catch up with. Let’s start as we nearly always have with Petr Cech.

Petr Cech (09/06/00 – 01/08/17)

What a man. What a myth. What a… Favoured personnel… Really? 17 years and 915 appearances later, he’s a “Favoured personnel” of the club? Christ, what do these people want? I did notice that I’m no longer on any of the favoured personnel lists by the way. We’ll probably get to that later. What a servant Cech was for Everton though. His rate of conceding goals dropped considerably after me and my über aggressive tactics left – In all, Petr let in 838 goals, kept 366 clean sheets and won 148 caps for Czechia. He eventually left for a last big payday with Monaco aged 35 before retiring and becoming an as-yet unemployed technical director. Hero.

Juliano Belletti (04/08/00 – 01/09/02)

Belletti went on to have a really good career, scoring twice in 67 caps for Brazil. He missed out on lifting the Champions League with us of course, but won it twice with the Gunners over a 9 year stay in North London, as well as 2 Worthington Cups. He then finished his career with brief spells with West Ham and back home in Brazil with Palmeiras.

Rio Ferdinand (17/07/01 – 06/06/15)

Rio never looked back from the Blues and is the first on our list of new Everton legends. He scored 55 goals in 731 appearances before retiring in 2015, which means he didn’t keep up his great goalscoring record and actually only scored 30 goals in his last 11 seasons, which is a shame. He ended his career in style though, winning a 2nd Champions League under Ranieri as his send-off. 115 caps for England.

David Unsworth (1990 – 18/08/97, 22/08/98 – 21/06/06)

The former captain lasted a couple more seasons after I left and overall scored 88 goals in 409 games for the club. He went on to have a quick spell at Blackburn, saw his career out with a few years at Chelsea and then bizarrely, stayed in football just long enough to take the Great Britain U23’s team to the Final of the Olympic Games, where they lost to the Netherlands and David decided that coaching wasn’t for him. Good effort though. 7 England caps. Everton legend.

Maxwell (09/06/02 – 09/07/12)

Maxwell had a fantastic career, winning trophies everywhere he went. After an 11 year stint in which he scored 75 goals and assisted another 100 in 485 games for Everton, he moved to Barcelona, after which he went back to Brazil to finish an obscenely decorated career with Corinthians. After winning so much with the Blues especially, I’m kind of disappointed that he’s not even a favoured personnel of the club. What a servant. 110 caps and 5 goals for Brazil.

Frank Lampard (17/07/02 – 12/06/15)

Like Ferdinand, Lampard stayed at Goodison for the rest of his career, making 629 appearances, scoring 80 goals and setting up 196 more. He was so consistent all the way through his career, only dropping below a 7.00 average rating in the 13/14 season (6.99) and the 14/15 season (6.76), when he was in his mid 30’s and mainly used as a substitute. He’s looking very good as a managerial prospect and has spent 5 years so far in charge of Dundee U18’s. 21 goals in 126 England caps. Everton icon.

David Beckham (01/09/02 – 05/07/10)

Becks gave us the best years of his career, scoring 41 and assisting 153 in 419 appearances, before moving to Newcastle in 2010. In 06/07 he actually managed 31 assists in a single season, bettering any return even Aimar ever gave us. Not a bad signing in the end. 11 goals in 99 England caps.

Pablo Aimar (09/06/00 – 10/06/15)

Even amidst all of the constant transfer speculation, Aimar saw out his career with the blues. Interestingly it seems like after I left, he became more of a goalscorer and less of a creator – 649 games, 296 goals, 244 assists overall. 36 goals in 108 Argentina caps. Everton icon.

Juan Roman Riquelme (01/01/01 – 25/07/05)

Riquelme didn’t stick around long after I left sadly, but actually made his home in Milan, spending the final 10 years of his career there. For Everton, he made 181 appearances, scored 42 goals and set up 54 more. For Argentina he scored 46 in 145.

Tomasz Radzinski (31/01/00 – 01/01/06)

Even when he hung up his boots at 35, Radzinski was fairly quick and still weirdly good at marking for a striker. After finally leaving us in 2006, he had a spell in Portugal with Sporting and then retired to become a scout. He’s currently with Manchester City but he has also worked with Coventry, Rangers and Everton! Good lad. 137 goals and 60 assists in 197 appearances for the toffees, which means on average he was involved in exactly 1 goal per game. What a machine. 30 goals in 79 Poland caps. Everton legend.

Christian Vieri (22/07/01 – 01/06/09)

I did not think when I signed Vieri that the club would get 8 years out of him, but he spent the best and last years of his career with us before retiring in 2009. 344 appearances, 240 goals, 56 assists. He really did end up overtaking Radzinski and then some, didn’t he. Still somehow only became an Everton icon though. 68 goals in 96 Italy caps.

Second String

Thomas Myhre (24/06/99 – 12/07/01)

Myhre had a decent career after leaving us in 2001, having spells with Schalke, Hannover and Galatasaray before retiring at 36. He never did win anything other than the FA Cup in our first season though. 71 caps for Norway.

Maicon (09/06/02 – 12/07/06)

Maicon barely played again for Everton after I left, which is a shame as he’s a player I never really managed to get going for us, mainly due to injuries. He had spells in Germany, Brazil and Belgium with a couple of Spanish loans thrown in for colour, before seeing out his playing career in Ukraine with Dinamo Kyiv. His managerial career’s off to a rocky start, having taken over at Operário Atlético Clube in the Brazilian lower leagues and winning 33% of his 24 matches before leaving. 85 appearances for Everton, 4 goals, 7 assists. Never capped for Brazil.

Richard Dunne (01/07/97 – 31/01/05, 21/06/08 – 11/07/09)

Dunne was another that turned into a bit of a journeyman, leaving for Napoli as soon as I was out the door. From there he went to Real Betis, back to Everton, then to Real Madrid, Juventus, back to Napoli and then finally Al-Ahli, retiring at 34. 196 Everton appearances, 18 goals. 4 goals in 80 Ireland caps.

Richard Gough (24/06/99 – 22/06/01)

Gough retired after my 2nd season at the club but he’s gone on to have a pretty impressive coaching career as the assistant manager of Bolton, Barnsley and Kilmarnock and the caretaker manager of the latter 2. 6 goals in 63 caps. Probably a future manager.

Michael Ball (01/07/96 – 27/07/06)

Ball had a great career. After I resigned he had loan spells with Valencia and Newcastle, then he joined Valencia permanently. After 6 years in Spain, he had a succession of 2 year stints with Sporting Lisbon, Man City, Chelsea and Bournemouth, before eventually retiring last Summer aged 39. Good effort. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that his managerial career is going nowhere though. 232 appearances for us, 12 goals, 34 assists. 42 caps for England.

Hidetoshi Nakata (01/07/01 – 27/08/02)

Nakata went on to be a staple of that Barcelona team for 8 years, before having quick spells with Leeds, Roma and Fenerbahce to finish his career. Good player, shouldn’t have sold him. Shockingly, 6 goals in 15 caps for Japan. That’s got to be some weird glitch with the database, he should have played 100+ times for them.

John Collins (07/08/98 – 30/06/01)

John had a lovely old time after leaving Everton, seeing out his career with spells in Mallorca and Nice. He’s probably still sunning it up there now and good on him. 78 caps for Scotland, 15 goals.

Fabián Zapata (09/06/01 – 07/07/10)

And finally we come to someone whose playing career is still going strong. My first team was really quite old when you think about it, wasn’t it? Zapata became an important member of the Everton squad for years before finally moving to Real Madrid in 2010 for £30.5M. He stayed in the Spanish capital for 7 years before getting a free transfer to Arsenal, after which he’s spent the last 3 years with Reims in France. At 37, he’s currently got no plans to retire. 377 appearances for the Blues, 58 goals, 74 assists. 15 goals in 75 Colombia caps.

Nick Barmby (02/11/96 – 01/02/07)

Nick had a fine career, having a couple of spells at Chelsea and one at Southampton. He made a lot of appearances, won a lot of trophies and probably never made a young boy cry betrayed tears over his Nick-Barmby-themed birthday cake. See, that wasn’t hard, was it? You fucking dick. 262 appearances, 62 goals, 37 assists. 14 goals in 63 England caps.

Kevin Campbell (24/06/99 – 12/01/03)

Super Kev only lasted a couple of seasons with Torino before disappearing off the footballing stage for good. What a man, though. Should’ve won at least 1 England cap.

Francis Jeffers (01/07/97 – 17/06/09)

Franny stayed and banged the goals in for Everton until 2009, when he finally fulfilled his destiny and joined Arsenal, throwing away the remainder of his career. He had a halfdecent couple of years in London, then a poor year with Celta Vigo, before retiring aged just 32. Oh, Franny. Nevertheless, he made 387 appearances for Everton in all, scoring 181 goals and assisting 49 more. 7 caps for England, still just 1 goal. Everton icon.

Young ‘Uns

Joel Edmondson (15/01/99 – 01/09/07)

Joel’s had a pretty disappointing career, having had so much potential when we last saw him. He’s been one of those keepers that’s a number 2 nearly everywhere he goes. He’s had a couple of seasons as a Premier League first choice here and there for the likes of Middlesbrough, Derby and Man City, but he could have been so much more. Never capped at senior level by England.

Julián Rivera (01/01/02 – 12/07/04)

But holy shit, come join me on the opposite end of the scale for a second. I did say in episode 5 that this lad had the potential to oust Petr Cech but I didn’t quite see him becoming Barcelona’s starting goalie for 16 seasons and counting! He moved to La Liga for £27.5M right after I left and I’d say Barca have definitely got value for money there. 193 caps for Colombia. What a career.

James Biggins (08/01/00 – 31/07/05)

James hasn’t had quite as impressive a career, but at least he didn’t have to retire young in this universe. He’s consistently hovered in the First and Second Divisions with the likes of Barnsley, Birmingham, Palace, Swansea and Preston and is still going strong at 35. No senior England caps.

Leighton Baines (24/06/99 – 01/07/09)

Leighton never broke into Everton’s first team, but he’s still had a hell of a career, spending time with Rangers, a long spell at Schalke, then Newcastle, Middlesbrough and now Real Valladolid. The years and injuries haven’t been kind to him and physically he’s fallen off a cliff, but even with damaged achilles tendons, he’s got no plans to stop yet. 32 England caps.

Richard Brown (07/08/97 – 23/07/05)

Richard didn’t really manage to break into Everton’s first team either, but had a great Premier League career with Middlesbrough, Arsenal and Brentford, before finishing his career with Charlton in the First Division. He’s currently looking for work as an assistant manager but he’s not going to find any. Never capped by England.

Sadettin Sanli (06/07/02 – 27/07/08)

Another who didn’t fulfil his potential on this list. Sanli had 1 extremely poor season as a consistent sub for Everton in 07/08 but otherwise has bounced around everywhere before retiring this summer. After loan spells in Turkey, USA, Germany and Spain, he had short stints with Blackburn and Leicester before having a pretty good 5 year spell with Lokomotiv Moscow, a year with Lazio, 2 seasons with Stade de Reims and a final 3 seasons with Shabab Al-Ahli. To be fair, he did make 120 appearances for Turkey, scoring 6 goals.

James Vaughan (01/07/02 – 30/06/08)

Vaughan’s had a bit of a weird one. He didn’t manage to find much playing time with the Blues, so went to Derby and helped promote and cement them as a Premier League team instead. After that he played most of his career in France with Lille, Paris Saint-Germain and Nice. He’s just moved to Austria to join LASK. Nil caps.

Wayne Rooney (01/07/00 – Present)

Imagine a World where Nick Barmby can walk freely through the streets of Liverpool, Franny Jeffers waited until the tail end of his career before fucking it up and Wayne Rooney is still at Everton aged 34. We really ended up in the darkest timeline from an Everton fan’s point of view, didn’t we. Overall, the prodigal son’s made 886 appearances for his boyhood club, scoring 453 goals and assisting 112 more. He even shattered Christian Vieri’s record by scoring an insane 49 goals in his fabled 07/08 season. A mere Everton icon, which makes no fucking sense. 47 goals in 142 England caps.

Victor Anichebe (01/07/02 – 01/09/05)

Anichebe’s had a good solid career, but not with us. He spent 7 years in Middlesbrough after an £11M move, then 8 years at Fenerbahce after a £6.5M move. He’s just made a free transfer to Salernitana in Serie A. 20 goals in 70 Nigeria caps. Good lad, Victor.

Luke Marriott (27/10/97 – 01/07/07)

To say that Luke’s playing career was god awful, his coaching career’s actually started off very promisingly. He had a good solid 4 year playing spell with Bristol City in the First Division, then went and made 0 appearances for Toronto FC over his 5 years there, then had a decent 3 year spell with Braunschweig in the Bundesliga 2. He’s fallen on his feet after retirement though and has instantly got a job as Dundee Utd’s U18 manager, where he’ll rival Frank Lampard. Why not.

Stein Huysegems (01/01/00 – 07/08/04)

Huysegems had a bit of an erratic career. After many loan spells while with Everton, he eventually left for Inter Milan, Hertha Berlin, Man City and eventually Chinese club Henan Jianye, where he became a club icon. 7 goals in 15 Belgium caps.

And that’s it. I’m fully satiated with this save and I can’t think of a single other thing to do with it. Great job reading all the way to the end if you have done, to be honest this episode was mainly for me. I love shit like this. Again, thank you for reading. Hope you’ve enjoyed the deep dive into these players’ alternative lives and I’ll see you soon.



Spreadsheet Time (Everton 1999/2000 – Review)

Get fucking excited, it’s spreadsheet time!

I’m going to be giving out some awards, as I sometimes do, only these ones can be backed up (Or furiously disputed) using cold hard numbers and statistics thanks to this little beauty I knocked up:

Find the spreadsheet here

The “Unshiftable Presence” Award

For the player who played the most games for me

Starting nice and easy then. Unsurprisingly, this goes to Petr Cech for his 232 appearances in 4 years. That’s a lot of football and I’m grateful for him only missing about 3 matches through injury. Obviously we conceded a lot of goals, but I feel like that was going to happen with any keeper because of my tactics. Cech was good for us. He conceded 263 goals during his time with the Blues and kept 79 clean sheets. Not mind blowing stats, but to say we got him for free, I think he turned into a great bit of business.

To be honest I was surprised to see Jeffers and Barmby as high up as they were and also to see that Aimar only just snuck into the top 10, but I suppose the former 2 were first team players for a long time and Aimar had an infuriating amount of injuries.

The “Terminator” Award

For the player who scored the most outrageous amount of goals

Honestly, this one was closer than I thought it’d be. But not that close that the result wasn’t obvious. Now I get to remember Tomasz Radzinski not as a pretty decent striker who scored two lates goals against Southampton that one time to set Goodison ablaze around me, but as a monster of a man who rivalled any other Premier League striker. He scored 123 goals over his 4.5 years with us in total, but it’s a shame that his time with me ended with such a whimper. He struggled for goals and therefore playing time in our final season, before damaging his spine and sitting out all of the crunch matches that won us our Premier League/ Champions League double. Nevertheless, for the middle 3 seasons he was absolutely on fire and the major reason we had such a successful save. £4.8M seemed like a significant amount to spend in that first season, but bloody hell what a bargain.

I thought that Vieri would be closer to the winner, even having only been with us for 3 seasons. Flash forward a year and I’m absolutely certain he would’ve surpassed Tomasz. I was also pleasantly surprised to see Franny Jeffers in 3rd place, just pipping the obscenely high scoring defender David Unsworth.

The “Selfless As Fuck” Award

For the player who laid on goal after goal

I mean, it’s Pablo Aimar. Obviously. None of these have been surprising so far. I genuinely think that this £1.6M signing catapulted us into Elite status as a club. I mean, look at him. He’s so good. I don’t have any way of seeing what his current ability is but it’s got to be close to 200. Aimar set up 92 goals in his 4 year stint with us, but like Radzinski, it’s a shame that he wasn’t more pivotal in our greatest achievement. He missed pretty much the entire 2nd half of the season, got fit for the Champions League Final and did his cruciates before the half hour mark. Still, what a class player.

Radzinski deserves credit for being almost as good at setting up goals as scoring them. Otherwise, no real surprises here. Lampard, Beckham and Arruabarrena were all close to the top 10, but didn’t quite make it due to not having spent as much time with the club as the other players.

The “Dirty Bastard” Award

For the player who definitely went for the ball, but was a bit late. Often.

Step forward and let me ruffle your hair, David Unsworth. You little rascal. To be fair, 49 yellow cards in 207 games isn’t that bad. It’s the 1 red card that still gives me flashbacks. The red card that in my opinion sent us out of the Champions League at the Quarter Final stage against Inter. Nevertheless, he was my captain for the majority of this save and was the only original player not to be ousted from the starting lineup at any point and that’s worth a golf clap.

Unsurprisingly, the defenders dominate this top 10, with the ones with us from the start seeming to be closer to the top. Makes sense. Shout out to Gattuso though, who was with us for 4 seasons and was only a first teamer for 2 of those, but still managed to rack up 40 yellows and a red. Dirty bastard.