Well it hasn’t quite worked out like that. Despite having such a small squad, we’ve just got stronger and stronger. There was one rocky spell where injuries and suspensions meant that I had to name two ‘keepers on the bench – and unlike Harry Redknapp and QPR this was actually forced upon me not an attempt to hoodwink the press into giving me an easy time despite having a better squad than any team around me in the league.
Our team is certainly not better than those around us. We were predicted to finish 13th by the media before a ball had been kicked, a finish I would probably have been happy with. As it was, we never got that low at any point during the season.
But how far could we go? Top half? Certainly. Playoffs? Maybe. Promotion? Perhaps. Champions? Surely not…
As I’d posted in my last update, we got off to a very decent start in the league with 3 straight wins and the defence looking a lot more solid than it had last campaign. We were also very unlucky in a 2-1 defeat against Serie A Cagliari to deny us progression in the Coppa Italia.
It was a promising start that we would build on over the course of the season with a wonderful run from mid-October until February seeing us lose just once and propelling us up the table into a position that made me think we might actually have a chance of going up this season.
Through the obligatory February slump and into early March it looked like we might just be able to hold onto a playoff position – with the extra games and prize money that would be a great return for a season that was all about securing the bank balance.
The team had other ideas…
Why bother with the playoffs when you can just go straight up?
After an awful 2-1 defeat at Ascoli at the end of March we embarked on a season-defining 9 game unbeaten run, scoring 13 in the first 4 games of that run and then relying on our excellent defence to concede just 3 in the remaining games and see us through despite clear nerves.
At the end of the day, only one thing matters – we’ll be playing Serie A football next season. And we’re going to get mullered.
To be perfectly honest, I’m still not quite sure how it happened. A settled formation helped but we’ve operated with a squad of less than 25 all season. We had a massive chunk of luck, to be fair, managing to avoid injuries and suspensions for the most part. On the one occasion that we did run into problems I ended up running out of midfielders, could only name 6 on the bench (including 2 ‘keepers) and took just 5 points from 5 games – the obligatory February slump.
I kept faith in the counter attacking tactic, though, and it really paid dividends against sides that expected to simply roll over the top of us. There were a few issues against teams that were more conservative against us but I’ve really come to terms with how to overcome this recently – something I probably won’t need to exercise at all next season.
Incidentally, if you want to try the tactic, you can download it here and I’ve included a nice picture of it for you in case you’ve forgotten what it looked like.
It also helped that my squad was well-rounded enough to deal with unexpected issues that arose during the season. For example, Nuccutelli, my first choice AMR, is incredibly inconsistent and it helped that during his dry spells I could replace him with Gramaccia or Garcia, two players that are more comfortable through the middle but saved me £1,000 a week in a back-up winger.
Of course, there’s no possible way that I could save enough to completely wipe out our debt. At the start of the season we’d just managed to return to a positive bank balance. This didn’t last long and by the end of our successful campaign we were back in the red – to the tune of £1.5m.
I’d budgeted for this, though, and expected our prize money, sponsorship and season tickets to bring that balance back up and prompt the board to release some funds. Serie B level funds. Only we weren’t going to be in Serie B anymore and our £20k per week wage budget wouldn’t pay for a bench warmer at any other Serie A club. Nevermind, I figured a couple of yo-yo seasons to build up the finances wouldn’t be too bad. Until…
A first proposed takeover collapsed at the back-end of last year but after our promotion a local consortium lead by Perugia based businessman Michael Caruso became interested and suddenly gave me a shedload of cash. £2m in prize money for finishing second, an expected rise in season tickets sales, gate receipts and match day income and then this…
All of this has meant that the initial budgets awarded to me have far exceeded what I had expected to receive – £110k wage budget per week and £11m in transfer budgets. ELEVEN MILLION POUNDS!!!
My entire spending to date has totaled a measly £65,000. I have no idea what I’m going to do with this cash. Except, of course, that it is desperately needed.
We have a young, decent Serie B quality squad but it is a long way off being good enough for Serie A. There are a couple of players that I think can cut it, at least for the first season or two, but, once again, I need to prioritise some areas for investment.
The easiest way I find to do that is to break down the statistics that made us successful this season, starting with the defence:
I’ve ringed a few of the standout stats in red.
The first thing that stood out for me is the superior performances of Aboubacar Kaba, just 18. He’s made 299 interceptions and 124 key headers, 50 more than anyone else in either stat. I was really pleased with the partnership between him and Omic, something which our success was based on for much of the season.
I don’t think either Kaba or Omic are good Serie A class defenders but I think they’re good enough. Plebani, on the other hand, isn’t – as evidenced by his record of 2.1 goals conceded per game, significantly worse than the other centre backs. As such, I’ve allowed Plebani’s contract to expire and will be seeking a 3rd centre back to rotate with Kaba and Omic, preferably an experienced one.
At fullback, Mattia Desole was once again Mr Reliable if unspectacular. Meanwhile Bandini on the opposite flank lived up to my pre-season expectations – fairly good going forward but becoming a liability at the back. 80 defensive mistakes (even if none of them cost me a goal) is really not acceptable. If he continues that sort of “form” in the top-tier then we’ll be punished. He’s also asking for stupid money, completely disproportionate to his ability. So he’s another who will be leaving when his contract expires and right back will be an absolute priority.
Now that we have funds, I may well be able to afford a fullback of the quality I require, solid in defence but also a threat in getting forward. There is an outside chance that I may employ a fullback that cuts inside rather than hits the byline and overlaps the inside forward but more on that in the next update… perhaps.
Moving forward, there’s clear strengthening needed in our 6 man midfield.
Firstly, the traditional midfield statistics, again with key stats highlighted.
Perhaps the most telling statistics are the goal and assist columns, more in how diverse our attack is than looking at any standout player. We produced goals and assists from across the spectrum, our entire “front five” getting into double figures for either goals or assists, if not both.
There were some real positives with Magliano, Piacenza and van Duren absolutely outstanding. Piacenza was moved back to become our deep-lying playmaker at DMC for the last 10 games, performing so well that I may well employ him here again next season. Gramaccia, now touted as the next Demetrio Albertini, showed some great versatility by performing well at AMC, AMR and MC – although you’ll notice his frustratingly high “shots per game” statistic highlighted above.
The real surprise of the season was Giorgio Pinna:
He really doesn’t look like he’d be good enough to be the focal point of my attacks, bagging 14 goals and laying on 14 more but that’s exactly what happened as the youngster played every single game this season, including 8 on the flanks.
Dilemma – do I trust his continued ability to exceed expectations or invest in some ready-made talent for Serie A? This will depend how much cash I have left as there are bigger priorities and I can pull Gramaccia back into AMC if needs be.
The biggest priority for me is AMR. van Duren has been exceptional from the left whilst Nuccetelli was brilliant in fits and starts on the opposite flank. The latter managed to bag 12 assists and 7 goals in 25 starts but disappear for 5-6 game spells – something I cannot afford to happen against better opposition. He completed fewer dribbles per game than his Dutch counterpart, attempted fewer crosses, fewer tackles, hit the target with a lower percentage of shots, etc etc. In other words – I need a van Duren for the right flank.
I’ll probably keep Nuccetelli as back-up, not least because he’s club captain and I don’t want to piss too many people off.
However, using van Duren as a template, a pacy right-winger with a good first touch and a bit of flair will be high on my shopping list.
I’ve included these stats to highlight a couple of things – aerial ability. One of the advantages of having the 6’4” Pinna playing at AMC is that we tend to win the vast majority of aerial clearances from our ‘keeper (81%). Conversely, 6’2” Piacenza at DMC wins most of the headers from similar clearances by the opposition goalie (91%). Of course you have to win the second ball but it’s a small item that could be worth noting if you try this tactic and never seem to retain possession from potential turnovers.
Similar to AMC, I’ll also be considering investing at DMC depending on the money that is left after the right flank is recruited.
Piacenza started the season at MC, fulfilling one of the box-to-box positions and was excellent – scoring 11 times. However, when Zappacosta decided to sign a pre-contract agreement with Pro Vercelli (bet he’s regretting that now), I dropped the latter and moved Piacenza back to DMC, allowing me to utilise Gramaccia at MC where he did very well.
There’s no doubt that I need strength in-depth, though, as I only have promising 17-year-old Alessandro Metelli as back-up to Piacenza. I’m inclined to give Piacenza his chance in Serie A whilst bringing in a covering back-up who can also play either DC or MC. There have already been some moves in this area as I moved to bring in a veteran with Serie A experience…
The rest of the moves will have to wait until the next update, however. Largely because I haven’t made them yet. I can foresee this taking quite some time to be honest and I may well have to enforce some real self-discipline to ensure I don’t go overboard with the transfers. A massive turnover in players could be more detrimental than simply strengthening in key areas as I can’t afford a bad start to the new season.
I also don’t know how ambitious the new chairman is. If he has unrealistically high expectations then I could find myself really up against it after a few months of getting walloped in Milan or Turin. I’ve already taken steps to continue the game should I be sacked as I’ve loaded the Portuguese top-tier, adding it to my current set up of Austria, England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. If I’m sacked then I should be able to get a job somewhere there… surely?
But enough pessimism. I’ve got an exciting pre-season of scouting and signing ahead of me as we try to build a squad capable of surviving in Serie A.
As always, thanks for reading and I look forward to your comments.