I had originally planned on following my usual routine of a half-season update rather than waiting until the campaign had finished, however several things in my personal life have lead to a lack of time and/or a lack of wireless facilities to provide an update. Therefore, I’ve managed to complete our first season with the club side and things have been going relatively well.
As is the general approach with club and country games, the success or otherwise of the club side is secondary. Therefore, I will only provide quick details on the results over the course of the season.
Instead, much of this post will concentrate on the players with a particular focus on the youngsters that might one day progress into Austrian internationals. I’ll also take a look at the first mid-season batch of newgens whilst updating you on the off-the-pitch changes that I’ve made since the last update.
First things first, then. How did we get on over the season? For those of you reading for the first time, I have created an edited Austrian database because I find the default 10-team league boring beyond measure. To maintain a level of interest in the domestic game, I have merged the existing Bundesliga and Eerste Liga into one 20-team top-tier playing each team twice. The lower leagues – Regionalliga and Landesligen, have been activated whilst I’ve added a Youth Cup to the existing Austrian FA Cup.
The league win looks routine but that table flatters us, to be honest. There were games where we struggled to break teams down and we had a couple of bad runs but the extra quality we have in the final third dragged us through those periods. We had a few embarrassing losses such as losing 2-1 to bottom club FC Lustenau. We saved the really embarrassing stuff for the cups though.
It was good to see a few surprises in the league with Wiener Neustadt going down and WAC beating the more fancied Red Bull Salzburg and Austria Wien to the second Champions League spot. FAK had an horrific campaign and I expect to see them and Sturm Graz much higher up the league next term. All-in-all it is a fairly competitive league which gives me hope for future seasons.
On to the cups where, as I alluded to earlier, we didn’t really do ourselves any favours. The newly created Youth Cup was an ideal opportunity for me to blood the youngsters and I had real hope of doing well. The players had other ideas though as we struggled past one Landesligen side in the 2nd Round before going down 2-1 to another, SV Feldkirchen, in the 3rd – albeit with a man sent off in each game.
Disappointed by that performance, I was more pleased with our progression in the main cup. We despatched a number of lower league sides leading up to an epic semi-final against our arch-rivals Austria Wien. Going behind early, we fought our way back into the game before dominating proceedings from half-time onwards. Hit on the break by an FAK equaliser I feared an undeserved defeat only for Deni Alar, a stalwart all season, to pop up with a winner.
The final against SV Horn was supposed to be a formality but the minnows, who just avoided relegation from the Bundesliga, played a masterful counter attacking game and scored with 1 of just 4 shots they had, 2 of those being clear cut chances though.
The Europa League campaign was a strange one. The media seemed to think that we were humiliated in our group but, for me, finishing above Inter Milan was an achievement all in itself.
Of course, we still went out without winning a game – finishing 3rd by virtue of 4 draws and 2 losses but I was immensely proud of our efforts, a 0-0 draw at the Giuseppe Meazza being the standout performance. AZ and Levante progressed into the knockouts whilst Inter stumbled to a 7th placed finish in Serie A, with Andrea Stramaccioni sacked by new chairman Francesco Toldo (yes, that one) and replaced by Carlo Regno (no, me neither).
Despite being denied the double, I’m relatively happy with that performance. As you’ll read further on, we used a lot of youth throughout the year with the accompanying inconsistency to be expected. Next year should prove a little more difficult if / when we lose some of our better players to foreign clubs and I try to develop even more youth.
A brief note on tactics as I have abandoned the assymetrical Whirl in favour of a more orthodox 4-5-1 variant. We switch up between a defensive version utilising a DMC and two MC’s; and the more attacking version with the DMC pushed forward into the AMC position. As always, I tweak in game to (attempt to) take advantage of opposition weaknesses but the basic formations – zonal marking with a fluid, direct game – tend to remain similar.
As I’ve skipped the mid-season update, I should include the January transfer window moves in this review.
The most significant move was the £1.8m sale of Guido Burgstaller to Vitesse. Whilst Burgstaller is a handy player, the game rates him higher than I do and I was more than happy to accept such a large sum of money. I think we’re fairly well covered in the wide areas and wanted to strengthen the centre of midfield – something which this transfer allowed me to do.
Of equal significance perhaps was the fact that Steffen Hofmann signed a 1-year extension on his contract. The club captain is horribly injury prone and only managed to compete in 15 games this season. However, you can see how effective he was in those 15 games – scoring 7 and assisting 4.
I was also conscious that our young squad needs some experience around to balance out the inconsistency and Hofmann is an excellent tutor, a role he is currently performing with the promising Dominik Wydra.
I fought with Hofmann for months but eventually managed to tie him down to a contract at £7250 per week, a drop of nearly £10kpw on his previous deal. I gave him a relatively large appearance fee to tempt him into signing but I’m happy with that given his injury proneness – if he plays then he’s definitely worth the extra money. Besides, I have plans to bring him onto the staff when he retires and I really didn’t want the fan backlash if I let a club legend leave.
With the money from the Burgstaller deal, I managed to bring in a couple of loans in key positions. Both from Stuttgart and both being promising Austrian youth players, I was delighted to get Raphael Holzhauser and Kevin Stoger on 18 month loans covering their wages alone.
Holzhauser is clearly the more promising of the two and I hope that the 6’4” midfielder will develop enough to slot into the centre of the national team’s midfield – allowing me to eventually move David Alaba to his preferred wide role.
I also brought in Jari Litmanen and Lee Chun-Soo on free transfers with the sole intention of using them as tutors. Unfortunately, both the young players refused to work with the experienced pair and they have so far been sitting un-used, simply draining money from me. Irritating.
Having said that, I brought in £2.1m from transfers this season and spent just £750, that’s seven hundred and fifty pounds – no thousands. The second player I spent money on was a whopping £350 outlay to SV Gaflenz for newgen Oliver Otto.
Both my club and national scouts seem to think he’s the real deal but he’s clearly got a long way to go. He’s likely to spend next season out on loan to one of our feeder clubs in an effort to realise the potential that the scouts see.
Newgen intake and planned transfers
Our first newgen intake was fairly average, in all honesty. There was a good spread of half-decent players with a centre half, a central midfielder and striker Manuel Schutte all looking fairly promising.
Schutte is the best of the lot, though, and I’m struggling to get excited about him. I’d much rather have got one excellent player than 3 or 4 average players who aren’t going to get near the national side.
That isn’t to say there weren’t future internationals spawned at other clubs. Indeed, a potential star has arrived at Gladbach in the shape of centre half Johann Hartl. Unfortunately, he also holds a German passport and convincing him to switch allegiances is going to be difficult… perhaps impossible.
My favourite, though, is the potentially excellent Nico Glass – a striker-cum-winger who appeared at Austria Wien. Due to the rivalry between our clubs, there’s very little chance of bringing him to Rapid in the short term. However with FAK having such a poor season they are likely to be forced into selling some of their better players which may mean Glass gets some much-needed game time. It’s a situation I’ll be following closely.
Frustrated in my attempts to sign the newgens that I wanted, I turned instead to the batch of youth players that are in the original database. Having loaded “all Austrian players”, I’ve found a couple of promising options at the Austrian academy clubs AKA Tirol and KFV Akademie (two of a host of academy clubs in-game). As such Christoph Habith and Michael Agustin will join for nominal fees in the summer.
Coming straight into the first team, though, will be Bosman signing Patrick Farkas (£500 under tribunal) and a massive outlay on one of the most promising Austrian strikers in the game.
I’ve mentioned Farkas previously as the main contender for the attacking right-back role and whilst he’s had an uninspiring season for mid-table Mattersburg, I still see him as a potential future international.
His arrival means that he and Schimpelsberger will compete for the right back slot and I can move on Christopher Trimmel – a player who, just as in real-life, is a one-trick pony relying on his pace to make up for questionable talent.
He’ll be joined on the transfer list by American Terrence Boyd. I feel that Boyd is slightly under-rated by the game but he’s still promising and scored 8 goals this season. However, he’s not Austrian and is a sellable asset. Besides, I’ve decided to splash a serious amount of cash on this gentleman:
Gregoritsch will join from Hoffenheim for £800k up front and the same amount over 4 years. I would usually be happy for such a promising youngster to be at a relatively big club, however with Derdiyok, Joselu and Schipplock all ahead of him in the pecking order for a one-striker tactic I felt I had to make the move.
My one worry with him is consistency which has been noted by both national and club scouts. However, I’m hoping that this will come with experience so the earlier he gets played the better.
Those transfers will be joining a successful squad that has performed fairly well over the course of the season. There have been a few standout players and a few disappointments such as Muhammed Ildiz who can’t seem to decide what sort of player he is. He has the odd excellent game but with four clubs interested in him and his decision to play for Turkey rather than Austria (for the moment), I would consider serious bids for him.
These are the players that the game considers were my top performers for the year, however I think that it is being kind to Mario Sonnleitner. The centre half started the season wonderfully but the stats there mask the fact that he averaged over a mistake a game and it was only the opposition’s failure to capitalise on these mistakes that maintained his high rating.
For me, the most pleasing performances were from Michael Schimpelsbeger at right-back who chipped in with an excellent 11 assists and my two players of the season, Drazan and Alar.
I simply can’t separate the two which is fitting as they played in tandem all season long.
Alar ended the season as our top scorer by some distance and really polished off the move to 4-2-3-1 when he was utilised in the poacher role up top. His record of 28 goals in 50 games is even more impressive when you consider that 11 of those games came from the creative, non-scoring AMC position.
Undoubtedly, the crucial factor in his success was his excellent shots on target ratio of 63%. His finishing and composure attributes obviously help here as well as his reasonable pace which helps him get clear of the defenders. He’s one player that I expect to receive bids for over the summer despite a current lack of interest and I’d have to consider anything over £2.5m from the right club.
Similarly, any attractive bids for Drazan would be difficult to turn down.
With 17 assists, Drazan was our primary creative outlet early in the season but suffered badly towards the end of the year with just one goal and no assists since February.
He’s a player I really like though and if we hold onto him over the summer then there’s no doubt that he’ll be the main supply line yet again. With his pace and exceptional crossing ability, he makes for an outstanding out-and-out winger – although he does have a slight issue with his aggression and 18 yellow cards over the course of a season is just a few too many.
Honourable mentions should also go to some of the younger players who played their part. Wydra (age 19 – 38 appearances), Schaub (age 18 – 38 appearances), Spendlhofer (age 19 – 43 appearances) and Hoeneß (age 17 – 18 appearances) all contributed admirably and have shown excellent progression over the year.
Off the pitch
There have been a few moves off the pitch as I’ve managed to convince my board to invest £2.8 in improving both the training and youth facilities, due to be completed in November 2013.
How can we afford this sort of investment, you ask? Well maybe you didn’t but I’ll tell you anyway. Alongside our excellent transfer profit of £2.1m, the wage cuts that I’ve implemented for both the players and the staff have contributed to a profit in every month I’ve been in charge thus far.
That consistent profit now means that we have £9.3m in the bank – a sum which will drop shortly with the facilities investment, Gregoritsch’s transfer fee and the lack of gate receipts over the summer but which represents a £10.7m profit for the season.
I’m expecting a decent sized transfer kitty and wage budget for next season as we look towards my first Champions League campaign. Which leads me into…
EDIT – after typing this the board have in fact given me £5.2m to spend and increased the wage budget by £20k to £90kpw.
Firstly, our title qualifies us for the Champions League Third Qualifying Round so we are by no means guaranteed to find the riches that comes with the group stages. Therefore, massive investment in the playing squad would be silly even were it in my nature to do so.
Instead, I’ll be planning some careful transfers. There will be a lot of players leaving Rapid this summer with around 20 out of contract whom I have no intention of keeping. These will primarily come from the Amateur side who were disappointing in the Regional Division East this season.
Having said that, I do think that we have a core of good young players in the squad and my first search will be for experienced tutors to help the youth’s development.
Investment in first team players will be dependent on my tactical decision. I’m fairly happy with the 4-2-3-1 / 4-5-1 variants but I still think that we’re missing something both creatively and defensively. Much of the latter could be down to glaring flaws in the match engine but I have been toying with the idea of going 3 at the back and using wingbacks. Much of my procrastination over this is whether I could use Drazan as a left wingback as I would be wasting his obvious talents otherwise.
Of course, much of this could be decided for me if the board decide to sell some of the players from under our feet. With our large bank balance I think this isn’t a huge risk, certainly not as much as a player becoming unsettled by the attentions of a big club. Interesting times ahead over the summer no doubt…
A brief look around Europe
Just for a bit of fun, here’s the headlines from the other leagues I have loaded:
- Austria – Pasching, Gratkorn and Amstetten will join the Bundesliga next season meaning that LASK Linz, the biggest club in the Regionalliga, will have to spend another season toughing it out in the regionals which is a shame because they won their league by 4 points and finished 27 points clear of 4th. However, they failed at the playoff stage so thems the breaks.
- England – Man Utd won the league with Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool completing the top 4. Stoke, Southampton and Wigan were relegated with Villa surviving on goal difference. Man City beat Sunderland in the FA Cup final with Man Utd beating Wigan on pens in the League Cup final.
- France – PSG romped the title while Stade de Reims, Valenciennes and Troyes all went down. Lyon won the Coupe de la Ligue and the Coupe de France final still to be played.
- Germany – Bayern won a very competitive league with Wolfsburg, Hannover and Dortmund completing the top 4. Nurnberg, Eintracht and Furth went down.
- Italy – Juve won the league by 21 points (!!), Bologna coming second (!!) and Milan nicking third from Parma (!!). Udinese (!!), Siena and Pescara went down. Crazy season in Italy with Roma surviving by a point and Atalanta winning the Italian Cup.
- Spain – Real won the league with Barca second and everyone else 30 points behind. Deportivo, Valladolid and Betis went down with the Spanish Cup final still to be played.
- Europe – Schalke beat Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League final, second final defeat in a row for Bilbao. Man Utd beat Juventus in the Champions League final.
The next update will be on the national side – more than likely after the summer break.