So after the long process of finding the right tactic and getting to grips with the squad at my disposal, we’ve finished our first season at Le Stadium Municipal and I have to say that I’ve really enjoyed the save thus far – not least due to the level of success that we’ve achieved, albeit trophy-less success.
However, for a side that was predicted to finish 8th we’ve really had an excellent season and out-performed some clubs with transfer budgets that outstrip ours exponentially, i.e. PSG. In the meantime, I’ve been forced to sell so I could invest in the squad and even then only being granted a fraction of the money that I took in but that suits me down to the ground – I’m a thrifty manager and like to run my clubs at a profit anyway.
So this update will try to provide a brief review of the season without regurgitating any of the detail from the previous updates. I’ll then do a brief review of the squad with the positives and negatives before laying out some plans for the summer and the projected investment in the playing squad.
So I guess the most important thing is the league table, so here it is:
Pretty pleased with that. I’d have been a lot more pleased if we hadn’t been so close to much more. Around about the start of April we were in with a real shout of a title challenge and it was gearing up to be a hugely exciting run-in. Just one point separated ourselves, Lyon and Marseille at the top but two of us would bottle it in the final month and OM would go on to lift the title.
What disappointed me even more was that our own run of form was instigated by a huge mistake on my part. The poor form all started with a 1-1 draw away at Lille. Not a disgraceful result in itself but a game where we were the better side and gave away a stupid goal that was mostly my fault. This is the goal:
It’s the only goal of it’s kind that I can remember giving away all season. We were traditionally strong in protecting the pocket all season and rarely, if ever, allowed a player a free run at our defence like that. The reason for it came because Lille were playing a 4-1-2-2-1 with a DM sitting in front of the back four. To put pressure on this player and stop him from having free reign of the pitch I used our central DMC to man-mark him. This obviously removes him from his traditional slot just in front of our defence and pushes him much higher up the park. Usually I would push my defensive line up to compensate for the gap but I forgot and that was the outcome. Stupid mistake and it lead to this run of form which crushed our title chances:
7 points from the last 6 games is shocking. All of a sudden we were missing simple chances, making stupid mistakes in defence, giving away penalties, scoring own goals. In other words, usual FM slump in form. So disappointing after beating both Marseille and Lyon in the second half of the season that we couldn’t put away the weaker sides.
Anyway, with a defeat to Lille in the Coupe de France and Caen in the Coupe de la Ligue, that was the sum of our season. 3rd place does, however, bring with it a place in the qualifiers for next season’s Champions League. Sealing 2nd and a guaranteed place in the groups would have been nice but we have to hope for a decent draw and then see where we can take it from there.
As usual, let’s go back to front:
Having sold Riou, we’re left with Ahamada as our only first choice ‘keeper which I’m fairly comfortable with. He’s got loads of potential and has performed well so far with 17 clean sheets in 32 games. He’s still prone to the odd error but that’s to be expected with such a young ‘keeper. He will be first choice next season.
Having said that, I’m still looking to sign one or two ‘keepers. If I spot any cracking cheap prospects then I’ll snap them up but I’ll mostly be looking for an experienced back-up, someone at least 30 years of age with a suitable personality for tutoring – i.e. high determination and something like model professional or very ambitious.
He’ll have to be cheap though, ideally a free transfer, as I’ll be prioritising investment elsewhere and I don’t think I’m going to have masses of cash as it is.
My first choice defence still conceded less than a goal a game and the end of season slump coincided with injuries and suspensions limiting my selections. I’m mostly happy with the players at my disposal. Aurier has deposed Ninkov at right back and is getting better
and better, whilst Congre (a beast from set pieces) and Abdennour have been excellent.
The only main transfer consideration I may have is at left back. Tabanou was excellent for the majority of the season but inexplicably had a massive drop in morale half way through March and after that was poor. I have no idea why it dropped or refused to increase even when we were winning, he had a good game or I had a positive chat with him.
As an attacking left back I think he’s very good, although he could improve on his 3 assists next season, but his tackling and positioning are poor. Not a huge problem in domestic football due to the defensive coverage we have but Champions League might be a different story.
Besides, as you can see to the left, we only conceded one goal all season from an assist down his flank. This may have more to do with Abdennour and Sissoko being the corresponding players in the DC and DMC slots on that side but he’s obviously been doing something right.
Other potential moves surround the back-up players. Fofana has had his chance and isn’t matching up for me so I will be more than willing to sell him. Boly has been okay without being great so I won’t be utilising the £2m future fee in his loan. There are a couple of youth players coming through but I’m not sure if they’re ready yet so, similar to in goal, I’ll be keeping an eye out for older, cheap centre halves I can pick up who can still do a job whilst being able to tutor out promising youth.
The strongest area of the squad without a doubt.
Capoue and Sissoko, if I can keep a hold of them, will be first team players for years to come. Didot has done very well in the holding playmaking role and Akpa-Akpro has definite potential.
However, Firmin and Sireix aren’t good enough and will be let go when their contracts expire in a month. Riviere has had it with me too. I’ve given him plenty of chances and he’s proved to be exactly what I thought he was – tosh. A complete waste of £5.25m by the previous régime, money I could really do with now. I’ll be looking to recoup some of that. Regattin and Ben Yedder will get another season to prove to me that their worth it.
With the deal for Schneiderlin already arranged, I’m sorted for the “runner” roles in centre mid. Didot’s holding role could be improved upon and I’d previously said that I fancied bringing in N’Zonzi. It’s still a possibility but I’m coming round to the idea that the player here does need a wider passing range than N’Zonzi would offer so I may look elsewhere.
In the wide areas, I’ve been absolutely delighted with my only two permanent signings of the season. Cardozo has been awesome, more on him later, and Lazovic was doing a brilliant job before our end of season slump. He offers a much bigger goal threat than Braaten before him and can also go outside the fullback to swing in a cross. I really like him although his fondness for taking low percentage potshots can be irritating.
It is an area that I need back-up for, though. Behind Lazovic and Cardozo there isn’t anything in the squad that fills me with confidence. Hopefully Riviere will be gone and although I’m going to give Regattin and Ben Yedder a chance I don’t have a huge amount of faith in them and I think they’re more suited to filling in during cup games and gimmes so I can rest the first choice players. I’ve made an offer for Isaac Cuenca from Barca but the Catalans are holding out for £1.1m, a fee I don’t want to pay. The player I really want is Gerard Deulofeu but he isn’t keen on a loan move yet. Definitely scope for a signing here though.
Bulut has ended up doing pretty well. 17 goals isn’t a bad return at all and he tended to step up in the big games which is a quality I like in a striker. His work rate, aggression and stamina were key in the excessive closing down I was asking him to carry out and were a key reason for his success. That will see him stay in the squad although I will definitely be looking for a new first choice striker.
As I said in the last update, a player that I’d really like to bring in would be Denis Stracqualursi. He’s like Bulut but much better. If I had the funds, I’d really like to get Steven Fletcher but I think he’ll be out of our price range but you get the idea. A similar bustling striker who is strong in the air, can hold it up and is more of a natural finisher than Bulut.
I will also be on the lookout for the complete opposite – a striker who is all pace. I like to give myself options and we all know how susceptible the AI is to extreme pace. The basic premise of the tactic is numbers and power through the middle with pace and dribbling out wide. By providing a third pacey outlet up top, I’d have an alternative counter-attacking system to employ. Not only that but it’s also something I can implement late in a game – bringing on less adventurous DM’s and my pacey striker then looking to send him clear over the top when the opposition is pressing to equalise.
There is, however, one player that I am tempted to sign at all costs – Dussaut. He’s a 15 year old newgen at Lens that is everything my tactic is crying out for. 6’5” with fantastic attributes across the board and potential to be absolutely world class. As soon as I saw him, I wanted to sign him but Lens managed to get him on a youth contract and his asking price just keeps going up. What started at £4.5m is now £8.75m and rising. For a 15 year old?!
I am considering making a big money offer for him, spread over 48 months, as he’s going to be the future of my team if I get him but I’m balking at that price and wondering whether I might get him cheaper if I wait for a season or so… dilemma.
Players of the season
3. Aymen Abdennour – centre half
He’s utterly fantastic and if anyone managing a big club is ever in need of a centre half then I can absolutely, completely recommend that you sign him.
He has pace to burn but is also massively strong, an aerial presence at 6’2”, great anticipation, marking and positioning. He has no weaknesses defensively and can even do a job at left back if required.
His passing improved over the season too as I reduced his creative freedom and he only made 29 mistakes over the course of the year, just one being punished by a goal.
Frankly, he’s brilliant.
2. Moussa Sissoko – defensive midfielder with an engine
Obviously a well known player to the majority of FM players, Sissoko has been a beast this season. His stamina has been key as he covered an average of 12.2km per game but he managed to combine that with a consistent goal-scoring threat and defensive solidity – pretty much an all round midfielder, he’s the perfect candidate for a box-to-box role.
He could do with improving his decision making when shooting from distance (thanks to the PPM) but 8 goals is a decent return for a DM and an 83% pass percentage is very good. I’ve tied him down to a long-term contract and placed a high asking price on him to scare off suitors as I am desperate to keep a hold of both him and Capoue.
1. Neri Cardozo – inside left forward
What a player, I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of him before.
8 goals and 19 assists from 35 games in your debut season at a club is absolutely fantastic. He was vital to our offensive threat and was conspicuous by his absence whenever he was unavailable. Again, his drop in form at the end of the season was critical in our poor form.
He’s reasonably two-footed and has the handy “gets into opposition area” PPM but it’s his dribbling that has pleased me most. He can go either side of the defender and has a decent cross and an eye for a pass. 56 “key passes” is more than double that of the next highest in the squad. It’s this sort of stuff that gives me most joy though…
Pre-arranged transfer business
Other than the Schniederlin deal, I’ve arranged three other transfers for the close season. An Austrian left back, a Bulgarian central midfielder and, most promisingly, the Czech midfielder to the left will all join for a grand total of £100k over the summer.
The midfielders will both be trained as DM’s and are part of my plan to create a conveyor belt of youth talent. At the very least, I will be able to sell them for profit and that will be key with our limited finances. Finances which are further limited at the moment as I’ve asked the board to improve the training facilities – costing us £1.8m but I think it’s money well spent.
Further transfer plans
So I’ve identified the key targets during the squad analysis above – a striker being prime amongst them.
I did state at the start of this game that I’d be leaning towards a domestic bias in my signings but it’s proving difficult due to the shear cost of securing the talent. However, both St Etienne and Auxerre were relegated this season so there’s bound to be some scope in there for picking up some bargains – even if they aren’t French (Alain Traore).
Trimming the squad will be another key activity for the summer as I feel we have 8-10 players that aren’t good enough and are just drains on the wage budget. Replacing these with either promising youth players or experienced tutors would be of huge benefit.
I think it’ll have to be “moneyball” type signings for just now though. We simply won’t be able to make the £15-20m signings that would see top class well rounded players join the club, unless we can find a real bargain from somewhere. But that suits me, I’ve never been a big fan of just signing the same old players all the time or going with the same tactic in every game. I don’t really see the fun in just choosing a different club but playing the same game over and over again. Exploitative tactics are something I avoid and I never use any set piece exploits that are discovered. I’m not saying that any of the above is a “bad” way to play the game, it’s just that this style of game suits me.
And it’s why I’ve enjoyed this season so much despite not winning anything. Discovering some new players and experimenting with the new tactic has rekindled my enjoyment in the game even at this late stage of FM12. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the first season, I’ll be back after the long summer break with an update on what transfer business I’ve been able to do, any new tactical amendments I’ve dreamed up and a preview of the season to come.