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S07 – 2 | Good teams win the league, Champions retain it

We’re in an unprecedented position going into the second half post-winter schedule with a 6 point lead over PSV as we hold on to the top spot in the league. We also have a Champions League knockout tie and a KNVB Beker Quarter Final to look forward to.

The league is my priority, a second consecutive league title convinces me that last season wasn’t a fluke. It convinces me that we’re now deserving of the description as one of the top Dutch teams. It convinces me that I’m one step closer to my own Dr. Sam Beckett moment and finishing my job with FC Groningen before I Quantum Leap to my next challenge…


Transfer Business

Unprecedented continues to be the theme. This squad is good enough and so I’m happy to say that no January transfers were required. That is, there were no arrivals or departures from the squad.

The Ali Sen contract saga remains an issue. Ali refused to discuss terms on a contract extension and no offers were received with clubs knowing he would be a free transfer come July. Like an elderly relative, it’s time just to enjoy the time we have left together.


Results

January

The winter friendlies came and went before an all important fixture against PSV – the draw preserved our 6 point lead but we had to come from behind to claim the point. Feyenoord were seen off in a great show of intent for the title run-in before De Graafschap were blown out of the water in a triumphant 6-2 victory. Sjaak ter Avest lead the way in a great comeback from 1-0 down to push us through to the KNVB Beker semi-final.

February

The Breda result was a dagger to the heart but we bounced back with two good victories over MVV and Heracles. We picked up an unexpected scoreless draw against Manchester City in the first leg of our European tie, truth be told we actually had enough chances to win the game! Heerenveen sank us with a 90+3 minute winner but, again, we bounced back by securing the win over FC Den Bosch.

March

This time we only managed to take a draw from Feyenoord but it was one which was well fought by both sides. Ali Sen’s hattrick sealed a first KNVB Beker final appearance of my Groningen tenure. Man City’s 6-2 victory gives the impression of a rather one sided game however this could not be further from the truth, it was a fairly evenly contested game and the inflated scoreline is only due to 3 goals in the final 15 minutes as we pushed forward to try and grab vital away goals. We provided the best response to the CL exit by trouncing FC Twente 4-0 at home.

April

Neven Blazevic earned us a point in two consecutive games before the game that mattered most – a win against Utrecht would seal the league title for us. We went out and completed a thoroughly emphatic victory thanks to a quintuple from superstar wonderkid Ali Sen. A compregensive victory over Den Haag followed before a creditable draw with Ajax.

May

Such a fantastic way to see out the season. A comfortable win sealing the KNVB Beker for the first time during my Groningen reign with the victory finished by local boy Frank van den Berg (FvdB) scoring a screamer from range. We lifted the league trophy at home on our final match of the season following a 2-1 win over Vitesse.

Competitions Review

We reached the First Knockout Round of the Champions League, a stage we were delighted to get to. Domestically, we swept up – a Domestic treble of the Johan Cruijff Schaal, KNVB Beker and Eredivisie. This also means we have now won two consecutive Eredivisie titles!


End of season squad update

This is the moment the season had been leading up to – the future of 20 year old goalscoring supremo Ali Sen.

Having waved off notions of a contract renewal, Ali Sen will leave the club at the end of his contract on 31st June 2025 to join Bayer 04 Leverkusen on a free transfer. In doing so, Sen will re-establish his on pitch link with former Groningen winger Joao Ganchas who joined Bayer at the beginning of this season.

Ali Sen cost me £2.8m from Bayern Munich as a 17 year old in 2022 and leaves with a record of 80 league goals in 82 league matches.


End of season stats and awards

Our Best XI for the season contains 3 academy graduates (En Nesyri, Tol and van den Berg). Didier Acevedo was slightly unlucky to be pushed from the AMC spot by Sjaak ter Avest who had a great season on loan despite being limited to 25 appearances (12 goals scored).

Ali Sen’s goal tally was, once again, incredible. Even despite his limited appearances. Having played just 35 games, Sen recorded 39 goals in comparison to his 44 goals in 45 appearances last season! Bernardoni broke our record for clean sheets and Jeong showed his ability int he final third with 15 assists.

Time for the awards:

Eredivisie Keeper van het jaar: 1st – Paul Bernardoni
Eredivisie Voetballer van het jaar: 1st – Adama Yao, 3rd – Stan Tol
Eredivisie Topscorer: 1st – Ali Sen (18 goals/20 games)
Eredivisie Talent van het jaar: 1st – Adam Yao, 2nd – Ali Sen, 3rd – Anouar En Nesyri
Eredivisie Manager’s Manager van het jaar: 1st – ME!

UEFA Champions League Golden Boot: 1st – Ali Sen (9 goals/8 games)
UEFA Champions League Forward of the Season: 1st – Ali Sen
Ali Sen named in the UEFA Champions League Dream Team

Impressed? Of course you are…


How on earth do you top that?

Well, the truth is, I don’t really know. FC Groningen had the 2nd lowest Net Spend in the league, having actually made £33.48m on transfers! At £11.45m/year we had the 5th highest Salary Spend in the league – this is just 1/3 of what the highest spenders, PSV, spend!

Winning the league once was amazing. Retaining the league was almost unthinkable. Is a third even possible? The league aside, can we do much more in Europe with the relatively meagre means we operate on?

There are difficult choices to be made in the course of this save. Nothing is certain… and that’s before we remember that I’ve just lost one of the best players I’ve possible ever managed in FM – Ali Sen, FC Groningen Legend at only 20 years old.

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