After Season 7 I mentioned that there were difficult choices to be made. Over the last two seasons we had continually lost our bigger fish as they swam up river to bigger ponds, yet we continued to succeed. Last season we completed a previously unthinkable domestic treble – this left us with little more to achieve in the Netherlands but without the monster budget required to make big waves in Continental football.
Having taken the time to consider my options, I chose to play out the remaining year of my current contract with Groningen in search of “drie op een rij” – three in a row (if google translate continues to serve me well). A third consecutive league title would see me mark this save as my most successful for some time! Without any further delays, I present you with a one post epic – Season 8.
Note: I definitely stayed at Groningen out of choice and not because I couldn’t get a bigger job elsewhere…
I have already announced Ali Sen’s sad departure on a free transfer to Bayer 04. Second-choice goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga followed Sen out to the door, himself heading for Newell’s Old Boys in his home country. Then the vultures began to circle!
Stefan Cvetkovic (DC) had his £10.5m release clause met by Atlético Madrid, Anouar En Nesyri (DC) had his £13.5m release clause met by Bournemouth and Amine Moussaoui (STC) had his £19.5m release clause met by Napoli! This meant we had lost our first choice defensive pairing along with the man I held hopes on replacing Ali Sen’s goals – we were in crisis.
Working from my priority list, I snapped up the £15m signing of Kristoffer Ajer (DC/Barcelona) alongside a season loan move for Michael Adämmer (DC/FC Bayern) giving us options defensively. To try and quell our striking problems I made moves for two young Brazillians: José Olimpio (STC/Corinthians) for £11.25m and Celso Fernando Jung (STC/Flamengo) for £10.75m – Brazillians are often known to be the solution for hairy problems. The last priority move was a back up goalkeeper, Lillo Guarneri (GK/AC Milan) on a season’s loan free of charge.
Having addressed the crucial replacements required I made a few signings to give us options elsewhere. 32 year old Marco Verrati (MC) signs as a free agent because I love an experienced cultured midfielder. Johan Nino (MC/Millionaros) is a steal at £925k and I just couldn’t resist bringing in a 36 year old Gareth Bale on a free transfer, even though he has already confirmed he will retire in November.
My main concern going into this season was the loss of goalscoring sensation Ali Sen, so as a litmus test I started off pre-season against Ajax before the usual fixtures against teams I expected to blow away with ease.
For the second year running we opened our domestic season with the Dutch Supercup showpiece against PSV. New boy Ajer was the hero of the day as his brace secured a second consecutive JC Schaal win for Groningen.
We started our league campaign off with five consecutive wins including a nine goal thrashing of MVV before Spurs brought us back down to earth in European competition – our early lead only lasting 4 minutes before the North London side equalised. We played Ajax off the park and destroyed amateur side GOES before ADO Den Haag inflicted our first domestic failure of the season.
Dortmund came and took all three points and we travelled to PSG who did the same – such a difficult Champions League grouping. October was another great month domestically as we won all four fixtures in the league and KNVB Beker, one of which being a comprehensive 4-1 win over PSV.
Feyenoord gave us a difficult start to November coupled with a loss at home to PSG. Undeterred, we bounced back to win 3 of our next 4 fixtures, also drawing at home with Spurs.
We needed to beat Borussia Dortmund to lift ourselves to finishing 3rd in our Champions League group but the German side were far too strong. We more than made up for that result by scoring 19 goals in our other 6 games in December. Celso Fernando Jung began to show himself as having the potential to be an adequate replacement for Ali Sen!
As part of our mid-season break we conquered France, a task that I am reliably informed is mighty difficult. Domestic football kicked off again with a confident victory over Breda before we were undone by Heracles away despite taking an early lead. Kristoffer Ajer was the golden boy in our KNVB Beker fixture with PEC Zwolle that would give us a semi-final to look forward to.
On our travels to Ajax, we performed well but were seen off by a Donyell Malen hattrick – a wonderful performance from the Dutch Inside Forward. We stumbled against Cambuur, reliant on a late Jung equaliser to steal us a point before roaring back to claim a derby victory over rivals Heerenveen thanks to goals two of our Colombian midfield triangle. Breda sought revenge and had it thanks to a 3 minute spell just before half time where they scored twice and we rounded off February with a laboured victory over ADO Den Haag, having to come back from a goal down to seal it.
As we season headed towards it climactic final two months we were locked in a ferocious battle for the league title. Feyenoord were our main rivals but PSV were not to be discounted despite having a sizeable points deficit to overcome.
AZ Alkmaar took a point from us at home, striking back within 4 minutes of us taking the lead through Jung. It was KNVB Beker heartbreak as NEC took their berth in the final – we had to fight back from behind twice before ultimately losing it on the lottery of penalties. The season threatened to unravel totally with a trip to Eindhoven where PSV were relentless in front of goal. A routine win against bottom club RKC set us up for a crucial face off with Feyenoord, a match which had us confidently sweep the would be challengers aside and give us the advantage.
Our penchant for drama seemed to have no end as we had to fight back from a goal down to seal victory with the last kick of the game away to Excelsior before a limp loss to Zwolle lumped the ball firmly back into Feyenoord’s court. As it happened, we were the ones with the confidence to seal the title, winning our final two games as Feyenoord dropped points in their penultimate match against Excelsior before an ultimately meaningless victory over PSV on the final day.
Another title sealed for Groningen! A third consecutive one at that – “drie op een rij”
“Sunsets are proof that endings can be beautiful too”
The above quote is taken from Beau Taplin – who I am informed by google is an internationally aclaimed author.
I feel that this point, 8 seasons, is a good point to finish my regular updates. I’m not the sort of person who is good enough at FM to take on any team and ride them to continental glory, three titles in a row is a nice place to end this – our sunset, if you will. I aim to carry on my save in the background and before I lay the game to rest in the coming months I will summarise the save as a whole.
We’ve had highs, lows and a congratulatory video from X-Factor sensation Wagner. FM19 has pursued the adventure.