This year there will be no Europe. The Sturridge gamble didn’t pay off as we were thwarted in the European playoff by derby rivals sc Heerenveen for the second time in our four seasons here. Therefore, we’re back to the basics of concentrating on domestic competitions.
That said, I’m as positive as ever. The squad’s average age is still just 23 but even those younger members of the squad are now starting to mature thanks to their early introductions to senior football. Added to that, we’ve made some tasty signings in preparation for our fifth season – is this the start of The Wonderkid Years at Groningen?
I’ve decided to switch up my approach to recording the seasons from here, dividing the season in two rather than three along with some more depth to our transfer moves. Enjoy…
The first point of business before the season began was the long rumoured boardroom takeover. For a number of months before Season Four ended the chairman’s status had hinted at a possible high level change in the club. Before the start of the new season the change was confirmed. No major sugar daddy investment but, instead, a promotion from within as Director Hans Nijland took over as Chairman. Very much business as usual – a little disappointing but at least my position as Groningen manager is safe!
Patrick Mijnheer (20 years old/AMR), Rene den Otter (19 years old/AMLR) and Ali Meulenberg (19 years old/AMC) were all allowed to leave having agreed pre-contract deals with Preston NE, SC Cambuur and Sparta Rotterdam respectively. All three arrived in Season One’s Youth Intake but never really threatened to become long term members of the first team. Mijnheer managed 10 senior appearances, largely as a last resort following injuries to other wingers, while den Otter made a solitary appearance for the senior team. Meulenberg was the most promising of the three but never managed to make a senior appearance, firstly because he never really developed in any meaningful way and secondly because of the emergence of other players in midfield (Suslov, Oliveira and Acevedo).
Pascal Stenzel‘s (DR) time at Groningen was short but sweet. Signed for £1.9m at the beginning of last season, he made 39 appearances over the year before Sporting CP (Portugal) activated his release clause of £3.2m. A healthy £1.3m transfer profit made after just a season at the club but the 26 year old German’s departure leaves a significant gap in defence to be covered.
Claus Lenting (19 years old/STC) and Sjoerd van der Lei (19 years old/STC) have joined SC Cambuur and NAC Breda on loan respectively for the season. Both were again part of our Season One Youth Intake and are developing nicely but just short of the ability to take a first team spot. With Cambuur in the Eredivisie and Breda playing in the second tier Keuken Kampioen Divisie this should give both a good opportunity to develop with senior team appearances.
Some  called it the shock transfer story of summer 2022. When Barcelona came calling for former England U21 goalkeeper Freddie Woodman (GK), we rejected their advances at first. The fallout from this was soon clear to see and a potential revolt began to bubble under the surface at the Hitachi Capital Mobility Stadion. Taking the possible ramifications into account we were obliged to accept the follow up offer of a measly £1.3m – Woodman duly accepted the contract offer and travels to the famous Camp Nou to be an understudy to German stopper Marc-André Ter Stegen. Woodman becomes the first Englishman to don the famous Blaugrana jersey since legendary potato crisp icon Gary Lineker.
Juan Foyth’s four seasons at Groningen comes to an end as his Tottenham contract expired and he agreed a free transfer to Hannover 96 (Germany). It was a similar story with Taiwo Awoniyi who joined OGC Nice (France) at the conclusion of his contract with Liverpool. No deal could be reached with AZ Alkmaar to retain the services of Albert Guðmundsson on loan for another year! (Goodbye Alt+0240 keyboard shortcut).
Maximus Tainio (DM/Tottenham Hotspur) was brought back for a third season on loan with us, although he will continue to operate as a back up to our first choice players. We have reduced our loan numbers but it still remains relatively high at five! Goalkeeper Matteo Soncin (GK/AC Milan) is an option to replace the outgoing Woodman. Ki-Jana Hoever (DR/Liverpool) comes in as a stop-gap solution at right back following Stenzel’s departure. Jeong Woo-Yeong (AMRL/FC Bayern) is brought in with a view to a possible permanent move in the future, although no future fee has been agreed, the same can be said for Damian Michalak (DC/Legia Warszawa) who is a young defender with lots of potential.
The free transfer market has been somewhere that I have used to good effect in the previous four seasons. Éver Banega (34 years old/AMC) and Carlos Bacca (35 years old/STC) come in to add some experience and depth to the side. Paulo Gazzaniga (30 year old/GK) completes the South American tricenarian signings.
The final signing is perhaps the most significant. Ali Şen (STC/FC Bayern) decided that at 17 years old he was ready for more first team football. When that wasn’t forthcoming at Bayern he put in a transfer request. I was only to glad to swoop for the Germany U21 international for a modest £2.8m! A solid investment that I expect to pay off, both on and off the pitch, in no time at all.
I experimented with an Iranian tour for pre-season, unfortuantely only one club was showing as profitable to us so I decided to play Persepolis three times! We played 8 matches over pre-season with 6 wins, a draw and a disappointing loss – althought it should be noted that the loss was with my second string XI due to the proximity of this fixture to our opening league game (just four days between them).
A glorious start to our domestic season as we put away 9 goals and kept clean sheets in our fixtures against newly promoted RKC and ADO Den Haag. Our 3-2 victory over Sparta was perhaps more comfortable than it seemed as Freddie Woodman shipped 3 goals before his departure for FC Barcelona. Vitesse made us work to maintain our 100% record and it took a last gasp winner from substitute Isaac Mbenza to seal the deal.
PSV brought us back down to earth with a humbling 3-0 defeat – the first, a cruel own goal courtesy of a deflection off Michalak. We bounced back to see off Fortuna with a Ganchas double before a rotated side made easy work of Quick Boys. Our 4-1 victory over Feyenoord was so impressive and we were good quality for that result.
October was a bumper month with 7 fixtures. Willem II were blown away in a fantastic 4-0 victory before we laboured to a single goal win over FC Den Bosch. AZ Alkmaar’s late consolation wasn’t enough to worry us as the game finished 2-1 in our favour. Another comfortable win in the KNVB Beker with a partly rotated side came before a well fought win over FC Twente thanks to Carlos Bacca’s late winner – his first goal for the club. We were unlucky against Heracles, undone by a debatable 76th minute decision to award them a penalty. There can be, however, no defence for the sc Heerenveen result which was a total disappointment.
Owing to the 2022 Winter World Cup in Qatar, we had a total footballing break in November before returning to non-competitive action in December. Three consecutive friendly losses made it 5 games lost in a row despite scoring 6 goals in those 3 games. We travelled to Preston to take part in a Friendly Cup – gladly taking home the trophy after a penalties win in a final we dominated from start to finish.
Despite our two losses before the winter break we sit proudly at the top of the tree. However, even though we hold a 3 point lead over Ajax and PSV in 3rd and 4th, we know how strongly they tend to come back in the second half of the season. Their two games in hand are dangerous ammunition for them in their fight for the league title.
The Wonderkid Years
I made reference to this at the top of this update and the reason being that we currently have four players described as a ‘wonderkid’ on the books. Obviously, the wonderkid tag is not necessarily an indicator that this player will go on to become world class – it is simply an indication of their high ability at a tender age. However, I believe these four players will play a significant part in the next leg of this adventure.
Two of these players have already been mentioned above as they were signed at the beginning of this season – defender Damian Michalak and striker Ali Şen. The other two to fit the bill are attacking midfielder Didier Acevedo and winger João Ganchas.
Damian Michalak – he has already grown into a start this season, replacing the experienced Mike te Wierik. At 19 years old he has made 13 appearances this season so far with a goal and an assist to his name. He also made his international debut for Poland in September, grabbing an assist in that game after making an appearance from the bench.
Didier Acevedo – The Colombian midfielder has shown a keen eye for goal with 8 goals in his 54 Groningen appearances to date. He made his senior international debut in March 2022 (earlier this year) and has earned a further 2 caps thus far. He has truly tied down that spot as an Enganche for us at the age of 20 years old.
João Ganchas – The Portuguese winger has settled into life at Groningen very quickly and found the net 7 times in his 40 appearances so far along with laying on a further 6 assists. He has not yet progressed beyond Portugal’s U20 squad but at 19 years old he has plenty of time to push on!
Ali Şen – The German striker is the youngest of the quartet at 18 years old. With 5 goals in his 6 U21 national appearances he has shown potential early on, he’s added to that by nabbing 6 goals in his 15 Groningen appearances this season. He’s quick, strong, and adept with the ball at his feet or in the air – the complete forward in its essence!
These four players fit perfectly into a largely youthful squad with a few old heads for experience. Their journey over the next few seasons will be exciting to watch.
January and February currently both have a minimum of 6 games scheduled in each thanks to the World Cup forcing an extended winter break. The post-winter break begins with us hosting 11th place PEC Zwolle before a double header against newly promoted RKC Waalwijk – firstly away in the league and then at home in the KNVB Beker. February will be the make or break month with trips to Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord and then Ajax visiting Groningen before the month ends.
February’s packed schedule against PSV, Ajax and Feyenoord is what killed off our chances last season, therefore, the litmus test this year is how we deal with this obstacle!