I should apologise in advance as this update is quite long, lots of goings on this year with us being in the Champions League etc. Hopefully you still enjoy it.
Qualifying for the Champions League in only my second season in Ligue 1 was a big achievement. The youngsters are starting to develop and I’ve got a few more experienced players in the squad to help them. The lack of transfer funds is a bit of an issue, so to boost them up, I’ve done a buyout on a couple of the transfer clauses that we had from the sale of Kiliç and Boucher. This earned me a few extra million and gave me a bit more muscle and room to move.
As with previous transfer windows, I had a list of positions that needed filling/improving. I’ve been looking at Bosman frees for the past couple of seasons, so that’s where I begun.
A left back was first order of business. I narrowed it down to two players. Park Joo-Ho from Dortmund or Gaël Clichy from Man City. The decision came down to their mental ability and Joo-Ho won. They were both fit and pretty similar in terms of attributes for the role they’d be filling. Nice little free signing to get the ball rolling.
Although I had Azevedo coming through and developing nicely, I knew I’d miss Patrick Bamford’s goals this year. Hold on.. what’s that? His contract is expiring at Chelsea? He likes it here? You’re most welcome to stay. And stay he did. I figured with his ability and flexibility in the attacking line, I can play him in rotation with Courtet and Azevedo. Courtet is 29, plenty of life in him, but he can at least get breaks now and I know I have a capable deputy.
It was time to spend some money. I needed to acquire someone who could control the middle of the pitch. Romero was a great signing last season. Konaté has been improving greatly, but Klich wasn’t quite on that level. Ideally, I’d sign someone French, so I started there. One name stood out, but he was well above my price point at £14m. So my search continued. Nobody was jumping out at me, even when I widened the search beyond French players. I looked at the £14m man again and noticed that his price had dropped. Leicester had bid £5.25m. I matched that, splitting the deal over 24months. He chose Auxerre over Leicester. Score! Enter, Mr Rabiot.
There was one other position I really wanted to fill. Again I struggled. I considered an older player, but none were suitable. I found that Emanuel Mammana was unhappy at River Plate. He fitted the bill and I snapped him up for £4m over 24months again. A bit of a risk with these last two purchases, but I really need these guys to improve us as we develop our younger players. Mammana can’t tutor the younger players yet, but his personality is perfect for it when he can.
I was trying to stay away from players that I’d signed on previous saves, but in this case, his price and quality made it a no brainer.
A bit of a spoiler for what’s ahead, but we made it through to the group stages of the Champions League and that significantly boosted the club’s financial position. So in January, I made a couple of new additions.
I needed to sign a better quality tall centre back, Björn Engels was available from Tottenham for £2m. He’d only joined them last season for £10.5m, so I think I got a good deal.
I decided in mid November that I was going to change my attacking midfielder. Josué(AMC) wasn’t quite up to task anymore. He’d had a decent season to this point, but he wasn’t a long term option anymore. I found that the Scottish Messi, Ryan Gauld, was a bit unhappy and snapped him up for £6m. I’ve always wanted to sign him for a team, so this satisfied that urge. He’s not had a lot of football lately, but he’s 23, so I think he’s got time to grow into the team.
I still had a bit of money in the bank, but I didn’t really need to sign anyone else. Well until Man City decided to bid £25m for Lucas Romero. Off he went. Big profit and I was never going to manage to keep a hold of him forever. Thomas Heurtaux also left in January after dropping down the pecking order. Engels, Josué(DC) and Mammana were all ahead of him. Sold him for £900k. Josué(AMC) also left for £250k after the arrival of Gauld.
So now I was on the lookout for a central midfielder. I got incredibly fussy. I have some good young central midfielders, so I had to either buy someone older with a good personality that could tutor them, or buy someone who could do a good job and I could hopefully sell on for a profit in a year or two. I opted for the latter.
I scoured the market and I narrowed down my shortlist. I was really close to signing Marko Grujic from Liverpool, but his preferred moves scared me somewhat, so I cancelled that deal. I wanted Gonalons from Lyon, but his wages scared me a hell of a lot. There were others, but I settled on this guy. Walace from Gremio for £10.5m. He’ll be playing as a central midfielder, defend in the middle of my midfield trio.
In January, something that I didn’t want to happen, happened. PSG put in a bid for Agobian. He’d been unhappy since the end of last season since we aren’t in a position to win league titles. He’s been refusing to talk to me about signing a newer larger contract. There was 18months left on his deal and I couldn’t risk losing him for nothing. I negotiated as high as I could, I inserted clauses where I could and I added that he had to stay with us until the end of the season. They agreed and a deal was struck. A product of our youth system has gone already. The deal is potentially worth more than £31m, but I can’t help but feel a tinge of sadness. I’ll get £17.5m up front, £8m over 12months with the remainder in appearance bonus’. I also get 20% of any future fee.
I chose to move Mateusz Klich on as well and he left for £1m, heading back to Poland with Legia.
I promoted seven youth players to the first team during the course of this season to get some game time and experience before being fully integrated next year. I’ll give more information about them as they progress.
Last season we upgraded our Youth Recruitment and Junior Coaching. Our Youth Facilities upgrade was completed in October. Things look like this now.
Due to the Champions League cash, I had a word with the board and requested that they upgraded our training facilities.
With us being a bit more successful last season and with us qualifying for the Champions League, the fans were starting to take a bit more notice. Season ticket sales were up to just over 9,800 which was a jump of almost 2,000. We averaged just over 19,000 attendance per match in the league with 18,290 over all competitions. We also managed to sellout 7 games. I still don’t think we’re quite at the stage for a new stadium, nor do we have the money, but again, we’re making the right steps towards that. With the stadium being over 100 years old, it might be something we’ll progress over the next couple of years. There’s no expansion option with the board, just a new build.
I thought I’d start with the Champions League this time as it’s the big competition. I genuinely thought we’d not make the group stage as we were given a really tough draw with Tottenham. However, we defied the odds and ran out 4-0 winners over the two legs, sneaking a goal in London before putting three past them at home.
We were seeded 4th for the group stage. We drew Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Dnipro. Yikes! I was hopeful of third place, but we did better than that.
Three wins, three defeats and we just snuck through. Dortmund had a shocker, crashing out as Dnipro headed into the Europa League.
In the knockout round we drew Barcelona and that’s where the journey ended. Suarez battered us at the Camp Nou, scoring four of the five goals over both legs. Great stuff to make the knockout round though.
Coupe de France
In previous years, I’ve not been concentrating on the cups. I guess the same was true this year, but when we made it to the semi-final, I had to take it a bit seriously. I had been playing a lot of youngsters in the cups. Three of our five games on the way to the final went to extra time, with only one having to go the lottery of penalties.
The victory over PSG in the semi-final was one to savour. 90 minutes ended 2-2 and in extra time, there was very little going on.. until the 119th minute, when we were awarded a penalty. Courtet cooly stepped up and fired us into the final.
Dijon were to be my opposition in the final. It was a rather interesting game, not good for the heart, that’s for sure. We were in pretty good form going into the final and I was confident of a win.
After 21minute, Björn Engels headed one in from a corner. 1-0. We controlled most of the rest of the game, but we were missing chances. As the game wore on, you could sense something was going to happen. 90mins +2, a corner doesn’t get cleared properly, it’s whipped back in and John Gastien scores a beautiful headed goal off the crossbar.
I’d do them in extra time, it’s been the theme of the cup.
105mins +1 – a shock was on the cards, a 2-1 turnaround!
111mins – Gaëtan Courtet slots home from the spot after Ryan Gauld was pulled down in the box. 2-2, it’s going to penalties.
117mins – Alexandre Vincent is played in from a lovely ball by Azevedo and slots it under the keeper. 3-2.. surely it’s over!
As the clock ticked down, Dijon were pushing men up in search of an equaliser and we had more chances on the break, but it ended 3-2. Auxerre, Coupe de France winners for the first time in 14 years.
PSG are obviously the main men in France due to all of their oil money, but I’m aiming to topple them. A big ask, but in time, I think it’s possible, until then, I’ll just try my hardest to harass them.
This season we were undone by draws. Late equalisers seemed to be a recurring theme as we struggled to see out games. We did have a nice little unbeaten run between the start of December and end of February where we won 10 and drew 3, brushing aside Monaco, PSG, Bordeaux and Nice.
As we went into the final six games of the season, we were still in with a chance of winning the title. A defeat to Stade Reims was a bump in the road. By the time we played PSG, they were 3 points ahead of us. If I beat them and bettered their result in the final game, I had a chance.
PSG had other ideas though. They scored after 4minutes. 16 year old Fabien Raynaud scored two goals in two minutes to give me hope. Five minutes later it was all even again. They were all over us though and the inevitable winner came on the 72nd minute, killing off our very slim title hopes.
Not to worry though, second place cannot be frowned upon. Champions League football secured once again and a good point total.
Despite our on the pitch success, I was thoroughly bored of our football. It wasn’t exciting at all. In fact, I really found as the season progressed that I wasn’t enjoying the narrow formation at all. We don’t seem to have a style and it’s grinding my gears somewhat. I think next season I’ll be introducing a new tactic, which I may or may not go into at some point. I just feel a new direction will keep the save exciting. Managers like to evolve and that’s something that I would like to do.
There were some really disappointing players this season. After signing Patrick Bamford, it just didn’t work out. He was our worst player, managing 4 goals and 8 assists in 32(9) appearances and the lowest rating overall.
Park Joo-Ho on the other hand was our second highest rated player of the season, excelling in interceptions and being our most proficient tackler. He chipped in with four assists and was very dependable all season.
Young Rui Azevedo finished as top goalscorer (21) and assist maker (11). He struggled for consistency a bit, but I put this down to his age. He’s still making progress and developing, but he’s already a bit of a star for our team.
The other signings I made this season did well. Mammana was dependable, Gauld took a while to settle, but he got better as the season came to a close, Engels was understated and Walace went about his job as hoped. Rabiot was a bit inconsistent at times, hopefully next season we’ll find a formation better suited to him.
No real stars in the youth intake this year, still hopeful a lot of the youngsters will progress and you can see from the squad picture that I’ve got a lot of them around the first team.
A good season overall, but the football was pretty bland and nailbiting at times. We sort of strolled through games at an uneasy pace and teams sliced us open easily. Some big decisions to be made in the summer with regards to formation and signings.
Progress is being made off the pitch thanks to the Champions League money etc. The balance sheet is looking good, although we’re not making huge money from TV deals or sponsors. I’ve been keeping a note of the commercial summary to see how we’re improving year on year with our merchandise sales and the like.
Will have another big transfer window ahead I suspect, so we’ll need to be shrewd with any signings we make.