As the winter transfer window closed we sat within touching distance of the top with a game in hand in our favour. All sounds good? Well, no. I am actually thinking that from this point we are in a no-win position: win the league and we ramp up expectations to an unsustainable level, lose and miss out on Europe and we risk having morale plummet. As the title of this post suggests, things did not follow the perfect path.
Wins against Willem II and NAC Breda in February came either side of 3 draws – our longest run without a win in the league so far this season. Loanee Brahim Diaz opened his account for the club in the home draw with Vitesse.
After putting VVV-Venlo to the sword we then lost 1-0 in three consecutive games. The FC Utrecht defeat was our first loss in 20 league matches, a record that stretched back to our defeat to Ajax in mid-September! The warning signs were there and the season threatened to unravel.
An emphatic victory over De Graafschap was merely a false dawn as we claimed only 3 points in the next 5 fixtures despite a battling performance against league leaders Ajax. We had dropped down to 5th place and would require results elsewhere to go our way in the final league round if we were to have any hope of automatic european qualification.
A 2-0 win against Fortuna Sittard was enough to lift us back to fourth place but AZ’s 1-1 draw with PSV confirmed they would take third place in the league. Shambolic form resumed in our two-legged Euro play-off tie with Willem II to bring the season to a disastrous end.
Maintaining form after a winter break has been a continual problem for me over the last few editions of FM so this season would be no difference. Fourth place is still quite an achievement given our pre-season expectation of 12th but after our blistering start to the season I can’t help but feel thoroughly disappointed.
As the season came to a close we had big decisions to make on playing staff. The decisions we have made feed into the next part of my plan for the club that I will outline in the coming season.
From the first team we said goodbye to Halil Altintop after 2 goals in 16 appearances and back-up goalkeeper Kevin Begois who both chose to retire. Alongside those two departures we decided against renewing the contracts of 10 players across our B and U19 squads.
Contract extensions were handed to Django Warmerdam (June 2023), Tim Riksman (June 2021), Hamit Altintop (June 2022) and Amir Absalem (June 2021). We also agreed extensions with Sam Crowther (June 2021), Gerald Postma (June 2020) and Jhurrey Margaritha (June 2021) who we expect to integreate into the first team next year.
We had a youth intake that was described as a potential ‘golden generation’, a tagline I take with a large dose of salt. Out of this group we agreed provisional professional terms with: goalkeeper Noureddine Ayyouch; defenders Mohamed Lahrouche and Tom van Riel; midfielders Ali Meulenberg, Rene den Otter and Patrick Mijnheer; and forwards Claus Lenting and Sjoerd van der Lei.
End of season stats and awards
The in-game awards decided upon the below for our 2018/19 Best XI. I think this is a fair reflection of our first choice selection for the most part of the season. Plizzari shades Padt just slightly as despite his lower clean sheets and more goals conceded as he actually did play remarkably well and kept us in a number of games! Cassierra’s inclusion up top, a player who found the net just 4 times, is indicative of our goalscoring struggles.
Here is a brief outline of some of the key stats for the season. A telling story of both our strengths and weaknesses (discussed further in this post). While te Wierik and Altintop tied for appearances, te Wierik just beat Altintop in terms of minutes played by 3,321 to 3,099. Ludovit Reis was our top goalscorer despite his role as a central midfielder – a failing in other areas rather than a success story in itself.
I was voted to 2nd place in the Manager Of The Year award category despite our struggles in the back end of the season, number 1 was taken by Ajax’s Erik ten Hag.
I’m finishing this post off with a light SWOT analysis – assessing the Strengths and Weaknesses from the season just gone and looking to the Opportunities and Threats in the season to come.
I guess you could say our Strength and Weakness were diametrically opposed in that we excelled in keeping the ball out but we just couldn’t get it in at the other end!
The same goes for our Opportunity and Threat for the season ahead, the door has opened for (relatively) big moves to be made to bring players in but we must make sure that open door doesn’t allow our best players to depart.