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S07 – 1 | Groningen schaal go to the ball!

Let’s recap – I won the league with FC Groningen! For the second time in the club’s history De Trots van het Noorden will compete in the Dutch Super Cup – now named The Johan Cruijff Schaal (Or Johan Cruyff Shield).

I should be delighted right now but the board have just told me their expectations for the season ahead: win the league. Crazy! Last season we won the league for the first time in the club’s history and now they expect us to retain it straight away? Add to that the fact they demand a KNVB Beker final, thankfully they don’t care about the JC Schaal and by virtue of winning the league we automatically met their expectation of reaching the group stage of the Champions League. I’m thankful for small mercies right now…


Transfer Business

Departures

This was the moment we feared. The moment when the sharks of European football made their move for the kill. There was interest in all the big hitters within the squad but strangely top scoring German Wonderkid Ali Sen was one player that we did not receive a single transfer offer for! Hold the celebrations though; remember when I mentioned his contract was due for expiry at the end of this season? We’re still fighting to rectify that situation with a player who believes knows he is destined for bigger and better things.

Let’s get the small business out of the way first. Long serving defender Mike te Wierik (DC) makes his exit in a £400k deal with Sporting Kansas City in the MLS, retirement home of the stars. Isaac Mbenza (AML/STC) agrees to join FC Twente for £800k – a loss on his arrival fee but he’s served us well so I won’t complain. Youth Graduate Noureddine Ayyouch (GK) also moves domestically, signing for Heracles Almelo in a deal worth a measly £35k, having never really threatened to break into the senior squad.

We continue to loan out some of our prospects who need some senior football experience to prove themselves. Bram de Vries (DC) joins De Graafschap, Sjoerd van der Lei (STC) goes to FC Twente, Thomas van der Steen (STC) is at FC Utrecht while Levy Smith (STC) travels furthest in a move to Italian club Pescara.

West Ham came in for Stefan Patru (GK) with a £8.5m bid which I was happy to accept as it is a £6.3m transfer profit for us but I also didn’t feel like he was irreplaceable. Everton triggered the £13m release clause of Damian Michalak (DC) – that’s £8.8 profit to us. The one that stung the most was the move of Joao Ganchas (AML) to Bayer 04 Leverkusen who activated his £20m release clause – he arrived for £3.3m and scored 26 goals, assisting a further 24 in his time at the club.

Arrivals

It just wouldn’t feel right without a few loans to talk about! Ki-Jana Hoever (DR/Liverpool) joins for his third season on loan at the club, Sjaak ter Avest (AMC/AS Monaco) makes this his second season on loan with us. Jonás Starópoli (DRL/Chelsea) is another loanee who gives us options defensively on both flanks and Tobias Riess (AML/FC Bayern) will provide back up on wing as Adama Yao steps up to replace Ganchas.

On a permanent front I made one signing and it was an essential one. Paul Bernardoni (GK/Marseille) comes in for a club record fee of £7.25m to replace the outgoing Stefan Patru. An honest assessment would be to say that Bernardoni was not my first choice as I don’t feel he is that top level of ‘keeper available around Europe but with the right defence in front of him, that I feel we currently have, he can do a very good job for us between the sticks.


Results

Johan Cruijff Schaal

The Dutch Super Cup was an opportunity to show that last season’s league win was not just an exploitation of the opportunity of chance. We needed to show that we can compete with the big clubs on an ongoing basis and in matches where it really matters. This is exactly what we did in a 2-0 victory over PSV. Yassin Ayoub’s early red card gave us a great base to build on and goals from ter Avest and Woo-yeong propelled us to victory from there. You wait so long for a trophy then nab two in two consecutive matches… both against PSV!

August

A fantastic start to the league campaign with Sen on form as usual. Two wins over PSV in a month sets down our challenge for the season ahead. Joao Ganchas scored on his final appearance for the club against AZ at home.

September

A laboured draw against MVV along with tightening wins over NAC Breda and FC Den Bosch kept up our unbeaten start to the league. Littered amongst that was a 13-0 victory in the KNVB Beker and an opening night Champions League victory at home to an Italian side – shades of last season?

October

With the Ali Sen contract saga weighing heavily on my mind, I decided to restrict him to mostly European and Cup appearances to allow Moussaoui the first team experience. Three wins in the league and another double figure KNVB Beker victory this month. In two consecutive Champions League games we gave up a 2 goal lead and managed only a solitary point from those matches.

November

Through November we extended our winning run in the league to eight matches. We gave up another 2 goal lead to Bayer before reversing our fortunes to overcome an early 2 goal deficit to Roma thanks to our Colombian duo!

December

ADO Den Haag was the first time we’d drawn a blank in front of goal so far this season but we recovered well and won three of the next four league matches, scoring 12 goals in the process. A scintillating 4-0 victory over Lyon had us finish 2nd in our group – qualifying for the Knockout Stages, incredible! Sittard were sent packing to set us up with a Quarter Final in the KNVB Beker.

The Tables

It was a difficult group, so to finish in 2nd place is a fantastic achievement. We’ve been drawn with Manchester City in the next round so we’ll have to make do with the experience of that!

We’re in a great position ahead of the second half of the season. Having opened a 6 point gap over PSV we just need to maintain our form to have a hope of doing the unthinkable and retaining the league title. As we know by now, post-winter break is when PSV tend to come strong so we need to be at our very best from here in.


Up Next…

As mentioned we have Manchester City in the first knockout round of the Champions League, we also have Vitesse in the Quarter Final of the KNVB Beker. Our first league fixture back after the winter break is a big one – PSV away. A win opens up a massive 9 point gap, a loss puts them right on our heels with 3 points separating us. We’ve got another Ajax/Feyenoord double to contend with in March which will be very interesting.

We’re competing on three fronts with the Ali Sen contract drama making it a fourth battleground. An exciting climax to come!

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