The year is 2023. Brazil have just won their sixth World Cup title following a 4-0 victory over Austria in the final of the controversial 2022 World Cup held in Qatar. Yet the biggest talking point in European football is a small team in the north of the Netherlands.
They key to how this season panned out lies in how we dealt with the extended winter break cause by the World Cup. For this, I credit myself as a genius.
With a totally empty November on the schedule and 5 friendly fixtures played in December (as mentioned in the previous post), I decided to take a chance and treat this as a second pre-season. Using the preset ‘Heavy’ pre-season schedule I mapped out two months of intensive training to set my squad up for the final few months of the season. Did it work? Well…
January was a busy month on the transfer front with player sales totalling almost £19m. Only one permanent signing was made but four players arrived in total this month.
Promising 18 year old Thomas van der Steen (STC), from Season Three’s youth intake, was allowed to join Waasland-Beveren (Belgium) on loan for the rest of season to get some first team experience. Back up goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga (GK) was allowed to join IFK Norrköping on loan for a profit making £100k per month until the beginning of next season.
Tomas Suslov (CM) had long been courted by bigger clubs and it was VfB Stuttgart who finally took advantage of his £6.25m release clause to lure the Slovakian maestro. I had expected this to happen at some point so necessary precautions had already been taken to ensure our next youth player was ready to step into the senior team.
Deadline Day came and two further release clauses were met. Sevilla swooped to seal the transfer of Iago Oliveira (CM) for the sickeningly low price of £3.9m – 100% transfer profit given he was a free signing just 18 months earlier. Finally, Leeds United completed an £8.75m move for Season One academy product Mohamed Lahrache (LB). Lahrache’s transfer represents the first Groningen academy graduate from my time as manager to leave for anything worth noting.
I felt the squad was a bit light on the fullback front so made a move for Giuseppe D’Addario, a right back from parent club Milan. A loan for the remainder of the season at no cost to us.
Following our departures, we were active on Deadline Day ourselves. First up was Ştefan Pātru (GK/Steaua Bucuresti), a £2.2m signing we had been looking at for a while. We then brought in midfielders Samuele Mulattieri (AM/Inter) and Nico Aerts (CM/Napoli) as sort of panic loans to give us depth in the midfield area.
We went into the post-winter break schedule firing, winning 5 of our next 6 league fixtures, scoring 19 goals in the prcess and conceding just twice! In the KNVB Beker we made short work of RKC before just pushing it over the line in an epic battle with PSV!
That KNVB QF match deserves further explanation! Having taken a two goal lead into the second half, we looked very comfortable and probably should have extended our lead further. Sander Berge’s two late, late goals sent shivers down my spine and I fully expected the worst as we entered extra time… step up Carlos Bacca!
I had already earmarked February as a potential season killer but we made it through! We only picked up one point from those four danger matches but 6 points from the other two matches ensured we didn’t fall way behind in the league.
Our cup hopes were brought to an end in a hard fought loss to Feyenoord – disappointingly the only goal of the game came from a defensive error from veteran Mike te Wierik. That aside, March was an amazing month as we sealed four consecutive wins thanks to 16 goals and only allowing one past us.
The run continued as we rounded off our season to complete a 9 game winning streak and a total of 10 unbeaten. A derby victory over Heerenveen particularly pleased the fans.
This incredible run left us in the unthinkable position of 2nd! I’m as shocked as anyone that I have somehow managed to end up semi-successful in FM…
2nd place gives us entry to the Champions League Best Placed 3rd Qualifying Round – 4 legs away from a place in the CL group stage or a loss away from the Europa League.
End of season squad update
Carlos Bacca’s one season stint at the club comes to an end as the 36 year old retires from professional football. That goal against PSV will always be remembered fondly. Bacca was the only permanent player to leave the club at the end of this season.
After some discussions on FMSlack and in line with what I said in my previous post, I decided to sign up all my youth intake to youth contracts. No pre-contract deals have been agreed at this point and I will assess each player as and when it becomes an option (i.e. when they turn 17 years old).
End of season stats and awards
An incredible season from this squad with honourable mentions for Demetri Mitchell, Jeong Woo-yeong, Frank van den Berg and Tomas Suslov who were the substitutes for this Best XI.
A simply amazing debut season for Ali Sen, leading the line with 29 goals in his 34 appearances at the age of 18! Loanee goalkeeper Matteo Soncin also managed an incredible stint with us as he earned 14 clean sheets. Erik Majetschak played 3,191 minutes across his 39 appearances – an average of almost 82 mins/game.
The awards gained were so numerous that I’ll simply list them below!
Eredivisie Voetballer van het jaar: Ali Sen – 1st, Neven Blazevic – 3rd
Eredvisie Topscorer: Ali Sen – 1st (27 goals), Neven Blazevic – 3rd (14 goals)
Eredivisie Talent van het jaar: Ali Sen – 1st, Joao Ganchas – 2nd, Neven Blazevic – 3rd
Manager’s Manager van het jaar: Me – 1st!
Eredivsie Keeper van het jaar: Matteo Soncin – 3rd
Five years of progress…
It seems like an appropriate time to asses how the past 5 seasons have gone for us at Groningen.
We have made the European playoffs on 3 occasions but qualified directly for Europe via the league in the other two seasons. We are now beginning to make progress on the domestic cup front but have generally performed quite poorly over the past 5 seasons.
The CL qualification money will most definitely provide us with the means to take the next step for this club, if we do the unthinkable and actually make the group stage then we will have to ensure we have the depth in our squad to cope with an extra six fixtures! Best download that Champions League anthem from iTunes now…