It’s been a couple of weeks since my last update on this save. I took a wee break away from playing FM, but I’ve found some time again so thought I’d get on with this season. As you can see, I’m still with Schalke as I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for them now. Last season we won the Bundesliga and Pokal. As is so often the case, when you do well, the expectations rise and it’s no different here. I was handed my targets alongside my considerably large transfer kitty.
They wan’t everything this year. Champions League is the one I really wanted this season.
We spent pre-season on tour in Japan and South Korea this year. We’ve not really sold a whole lot of shirts, so I thought visiting two Asian zones in one pre-season would help boost the income a little bit. I don’t really need the money, but I was quite satisfied with the results considering Schalke aren’t a world renowned team. Players had the summer off this year so we got a full pre-season in.
Summer transfers were required as I thought it was time for a change between the sticks. Horn was good, but he was wanted by a few teams and I knew I could get good money for him. I had a new goalkeeper signing lined up in the form of Lukas Bohl as my backup was leaving on a free, he cost me £8.75m, but it was a future proof transfer. I needed someone else though and stumbled across Barcelona’s Polish Jakub Cichocki, a bargain at £1.5m. I put Horn up for sale at £18m (three times what I paid for him) and off he went to Man City. Thank you and goodnight! I stumbled upon Czech youngster Michal Gottwald and signed him up for my U19’s team, at 16 he looks like he really develop into a good striker. Howedes also left this summer, which meant finding a new centre back. I prefer to buy young. After looking at some of the (underwhelming) options, I found Inigo Casado at Athletic Bilbao. He was 19 and had great ability already for his age. He hadn’t played a lot of games, but my scouts were adamant he was good and his attributes backed that up. He was super expensive, but I don’t mind spending that on defenders. Keita joined in January, but is one for the future. Mustafi wanted to leave as he wasn’t even making the bench and I didn’t want to keep him back. Got £4m for him which was probably about right.
The season kicked off with a Revierderby in the Supercup. Dortmund finished second last season and looked pretty good under Shovkovskyi, a win in this game would be a nice way to start the season and claim our first silverware. Beating your rivals is also good for morale. And beat them we did, convincingly. 6-1. They were terrible.
The DFB-Pokal was again a place for my rotation and young players to get some playing time. I wasn’t trying hard in this competition as my aim was to get the Champions League trophy. This was third in my priorities list. We reached the quarter-final and were knocked out by Koln after extra-time. I hate losing in ET, I’d rather we lose in the 90th minute. Koln were pretty good this year, so it was good to see my youngsters play well during the 90minutes.
Results in the Bundesliga went well again this season. It was a slow start though, despite the victories. We were just holding onto games, or getting late scares, or just grabbing that last minute winning goal. Our first four games weren’t exactly convincing. By the time we played Augsburg we kicked into gear a bit and scored 24 goals in five games, only conceding 3. In amongst those results was a 9-1 drubbing of Dortmund. It was a great performance from us over our rivals. Leverkusen spoiled the show when they came from behind to beat us 3-2 with two late goals. So, no invincible season on the cards this year. We picked up a good result against Wolfsburg and a 2-0 victory over Bayern Munich was the catalyst for us to go 10 league games without conceding a goal. Hoffenheim, Suttgart and Wolfsburg were both on the end of 6-0 defeats, Leverkusen were swept aside 6-1 and RB Leipzig 7-0. We suffered one defeat all season. We broke the league scoring record and equalled the point record. Pretty happy with how the league campaign went.
Interestingly, or maybe not, we never got a single red card and only picked up 20 yellow cards in the league. Usually my teams are terrible for yellows.
The Champions League has eluded me since I joined Schalke. It was the last thing I did as Arsenal manager in the 2019/20 season. The board wanted it.. no, expected it this year! We’d made the semi-final two years in a row going out to Arsenal and Man Utd in consecutive years. This season we needed to push on and get in the final.
Our group seemed straightforward this year. Athletic Bilbao, AS Monaco and Tom Tomsk of Russia, who shorten their name to Tom. We cruised through the group stage with convincing victories against all three teams. We lost one game to Athletic 3-1 at San Mames, but topped the group and sealed our place in the knockout round.
Benfica were drawn out of the hat as our opponents for the second year in a row. I was confident we’d overcome them. It took and own goal and a 94th minute penalty to win the first game. A poor 2-1 victory in the second leg put us into the quarter-final draw.
Leverkusen had done really well under Leonardo Jardim and they were up next. Donis Avdijaj showed them how it’s done by hitting four of the five goals in a 5-1 victory at home before two late goals in the second leg made it 7-1 on aggregate to make the semi-final for the third season in a row.
By this point I was getting a little freaked out as we drew an English club in the semi-final for the third season in a row. Not only that, it was Man Utd again. Come on randomiser! Anyway, Man Utd overcame a 5-3 deficit last season to win 7-3, so I knew it would be a tough match. The first leg was at Old Trafford. My aim was a score draw but I’d be happy with a defeat margin of one goal. I knew we could take them at Veltins Arena, so as long as the deficit was low, we were in with a chance. After 15minutes we were 1-0 up they pegged us back immediately. In the 24th minute, Goretzka put us back in front, 2-1. Van Ginkel equalised in the 41st minute to make it 2-2 at half-time. We were still in it, a third goal and a shut out in the second half would be great, but I’d be happy with it finishing 2-2. We went out after half-time and Halilovic smashed one in, almost instantly. 3-2. Uh oh, we’ve made them mad! I had just done the football equivalent of blowing in a dogs face. Man Utd came at us with wave after wave of attacks, good defending and great goalkeeping kept them at bay. As full time approached, I was happy with the result. Into injury time and then BANG!
Carrying a two goal advantage into the second leg really didn’t mean much, they overcame that deficit last year, albeit, at Old Trafford, but I was cautious not to get too excited. We started the second leg without Donis Avdijaj as I thought Kocabiyik would give us better options up top due to his electric pace. After 2 minutes, he proved I was correct. After 11 minutes, Alen Halilovic made it 2-0. Kocabiyik made it 3-0 before half-time. We basically had our place in the final at this point. It seemed like they wanted revenge for last season’s humiliation at Old Trafford, we thought we’d show them how it’s done in Germany. Fraser Thompson smashed one in after and hour before our Captain, Julian Draxler finished things off in the 81st minute to make it 5-0 on the night and 9-2 on aggregate. Schalke’s first Champions League Final was a reality!
The scene was set for the final. Schalke had never been this far in the Champions League, ever. It was unknown territory for us. The new boys versus six times winners, Bayern Munich. The venue, Stade Velodrome, Marseille.
We haven’t lost against Bayern in two years, but that means nothing. The last match, a 2-2, was a hard fought battle. We had to come back twice to get a point from that game, an 89th minute equaliser getting the point in that game!
Oleg Luzhnyi lined his side up with a flat 451. Gotze was up top as a false 9 (going by how he played), Muller, Alaba and Bernat were all part of the line-up. We were forced into a late change due to an injury to Martin Schroder. I moved Goretzka over to play as the ball winner and took Pokorny in as the deep playmaker.
It was an exciting start, both teams getting at each other but Bayern were really struggling to get anybody beyond their very deep sitting striker. We had our chances early in the game but nothing clear. The first goal came in the 29th minute, a corner swung out and then pinged back into the box, there was a scramble before Bitzios put us 1-0 up. I was getting a bit of regret at not starting Meyer in the deep playmaker role and for not starting Avdijaj. We went in at half-time 1-0. Kocabiyik had a terrible time and I subbed him off. Again, both teams trying to get hold of the game with nobody really on top.
In the 50th minute, the second goal of the game went in. Halilovic picked it up on the edge of the box, he slotted it through to Thomson who dribbled away from two defenders before totally wrong footing Manuel Neuer. 2-0
It wasn’t long before it was 3-0. A cross in from Linkert picked out Pokorny who smashed home a quality strike from 18 yards out. Made me realise my earlier choice was the right one.
Goretzka was knackered, with us three goals to the good and only 20minutes left, I felt I could take him off. Meyer came on to see the game out as the ball winner. A terrible piece of defending from Meyer saw Gotze clean through on goal and the ball in the back of the net. Uh-oh! 3-1
10minutes later and Meyer was involved in a goal again, this time at the right end of the field though. Draxler smashed a shot in from 25yards out and it hit Meyer, while the goalkeeper was having a nap on the ground, Meyer turned and slotted it int. 4-1!
We were really on top and saw the rest of the game out comfortably.
Full Time! FC Schalke 04, Champions of Europe!
I’ve genuinely got the Champions League music on right now with my Schalke polo top on! I never suited up!
Player performances were again, brilliant. Individually, there was recognition at the highest level.
The Champions League saw us pick up a couple of individual accolades as well.
Rather interestingly, the Champions League Best Player didn’t make it into this…
You can get an idea of how well we played this season. I’ve sorted it by average rating. The goals, assists and key passes are all excellent this year as well.
Alen Halilovic has been excellent. I had originally signed him as a rotational player, but it was getting more and more difficult to leave him out of the team. Man City offered me £50m at the start of the season and I turned it down. I couldn’t find anyone else of that quality that brought what he had, or better. So I stuck. He’s turned out to be a real bargain. If you follow me on Twitter, I always mention his goalscoring exploits, but he’s unreal. He’s scored some real thronkers,
Fellow Scotsman, Fraser Thomson has also been on fire. I play him as the left inside forward and he’s been one of these players who plays brilliantly without you really seeing that he’s doing much. Still, 13 goals and 19 assists is a great return. This man only cost me £2.2m last year, now he’s worth £40m.
Rainer Linkert played great, sometimes the widest man forward on the left when Thomson cuts inside. He gets up and down the pitch and averaged 13km per game this year. His passing rate was very good and although he only got 5 assists, he was involved in a lot more goals.
Draxler was back on top form this season and Donis Avdijaj kept up his high level from last season.
Gokmen Kocabiyik is turning into a great player. 35 goals in 28 starts and 8 sub appearances as well as 14 assists, is a brilliant return and he’s only 20! His development has accelerated ever since I changed my training method in the middle of 2022. He has devastating pace and his off the ball movement is brilliant. His mentals will improve with age and experience, but I’ll get him working on his passing next season.
I’ve got some decisions to make this summer. Goretzka had a great season but his attributes are starting to wane. He’s 30 and it’s probably a good time to cash in. Pokorny has already shown that he’s up to the job and I have a great youth prospect that could slot in there. He’s still worth a lot of money, so I could move him on and cash in. I don’t need the money, we’re super rich. I’m unsure just now though, I could rotate him with Pokorny until I think my youngster is ready.
Meyer is another player who I’ve yet to make a decision on. He’s now rotational due to Halilovic being a monster, he’s 29 and had a pretty average season last year.
Draxler is staying but I suspect he’ll rotate a bit more this year.
Appreciate you taking your time to read this.
All the best