And the reason that it could be “going out with a bang”? Well that should be fairly obvious as we made up for the last minute despicability of last season and secured the Serie A title I’ve been working towards for 9 long seasons in Salò.
There really wasn’t much that we did this season that we haven’t done in any of the preceding campaigns, it’s just that we did it better and more consistently this year. Therefore, there isn’t any “guide” on squad building or even much on tactics within this post. It’s simply a celebration of the title winning squad and a little bit of history on how and when they arrived at the club and how they contributed this season.
Then there’s the dilemma of what’s next…
First of all, apologies for how long it has been since my last update. I’ve been travelling a lot with work and finding the time for FM has been difficult. It’s one of the reasons I decided to run a blog rather than continue as staff on The Dugout – there are just going to be too many times where I cannot contribute to have other people relying on me.
Whilst that all looks fairly easy in the end, it really didn’t seem that way for the majority of the season. Juve suffered a capitulation of epic proportions, Pep Guardiola doing his very best Kevin Keegan impression and handing me the title despite leading the table for long periods of the season.
In what was a catastrophic end to the campaign, Juve not only let the league title slip, the also lost in the Europa League final to Lille and the Coppa Italia final to Roma. Not the way that Pep is used to spending May.
Looking at the table, we really did deserve the title – conceding the fewest goals by 13 from Juve and less than half everyone else whilst scoring 12 more than our nearest challengers. All on a wage budget lower than 7 other clubs, less than half of Juventus’ and making a transfer profit of a cool £45m.
I may have sacrificed the cup competitions to ensure league success, with Napoli knocking us out of the Coppa and our reserves finishing 3rd in the Champions League group and defeating Man City in the Europa before going out to Sporting Portugal on penlties, but it was worth it to achieve such a dominant performance.
So why did we dominate?
That’s one simple reason – our first choice centre half pairing and primary scorer were the league’s best players. Not rocket science.
But for me, it’s all about the tactic. If you want to try it out then you can download it here but I plan to incorporate some more details on it’s success within a planned article for an exciting new FM project. If you haven’t already, then you should follow The 13th Step on Twitter and keep an eye out for what it’s going to have to offer.
Essentially, though, the strikerless 4-1-2-3-0 has everything I want in a tactic and, most importantly, compliments the players that I’ve brought in perfectly.
So what about those players? Well here is a history of the title winning Feralpi Salò side and some notes on the behind the scenes changes that have occurred since I’ve been at the helm.
Sadly Prest, who held the record as Feralpi’s top scorer in a single season when he netted 20 times in his debut campaign, left us late in the January transfer window as the giants of Real Madrid activated a £36m minimum fee release clause in his contract.
You may remember that I signed him for £8.75m as an attacking midfielder from River at the start of last year. For me, though, his attributes suited a left wing role and he flourished following the positional retraining.
Flourished to the extent that he’s now a regular for one of the biggest teams in the world and an Argentine regular. In the 13 games he played before his move, he scored 4 times and laid on 5 for others. Special player and it was shame to lose him but, as you’ll see later, I’d already adequately prepared his successor and the team didn’t lose much momentum.
Other than that, the team was fairly consistent for the league campaign with many of the players having developed in Salò for years. The first thing that should be noted about the team is that not everyone rates them as potential winners:
So two of my first choice team are rated 2 stars. That’s two players who formed part of the stingiest defence Serie A has ever seen (in FM since 2012). The reason I include this screenshot is just to highlight that you should always make up your own mind on a player. Sometimes the game gets it wrong.
Starting from the back then, here’s the squad I’ve built:
Bought for £7.5m from Stuttgart two seasons ago, Kameni was a bit of a gamble but one that has been repaid many times over. 21 clean sheets this season (from 40 games) tells its own story but his exemplary concentration and positioning were key for me as he didn’t make a single mistake that cost us a goal. If you’re a dominant team then don’t underestimate the importance of concentration.
Now Germany’s number 1, Kameni will be number 1 at Feralpi for as long as he wants to stay.
From the highest rated player in my side to the lowest, Codreanu joined us 5 seasons ago for £1.1m from Romanian side Ceahlãul, making 141 appearances since. His attacking attributes have been key as I always look to get my right-back over-lapping and providing width outside the inside forward but he’s also been defensively solid with his positioning and work rate of particular importance.
I’ve considered replacing him a few times but can never find someone who has better all round attributes. I think he’s excellent.
Club captain and all-round legend Okoye joined Feralpi for a paltry £1.2m from Rosenborg in the same window as Codreanu. He’s made 162 appearances for the club since with an absolutely ludicrous average rating of 7.71.
He made just the 418 interceptions this season, averaging over 10 a game, and won 92% of his 8.26 headers per game. Just unbelievable stats. Most importantly, we conceded just 0.64 goals per game when he was in the side. He may not be the quickest of my defenders but I use him in the covering role due to his intelligence – anticipation, decisions and positioning are all good.
Now worth £13m, he never seems to attract any big club interest. Well that’s just fine by me.
An absolute steal at just £4.5m from Inter two seasons ago, at 6’8” it’ll come as no surprise that Lupi absolutely dominates in the air. Physically, he’s a beast with excellent agility and decent speed so is perfectly capable of reverting to the cover position in Okoye’s absence.
He’s also deadly at set pieces having scored 7 goals this season, some vital, and topped the league’s average ratings this season with a symmetrical 7.77.
Slightly controversial in choosing Zini over the more dynamic Orlando but when you sign “the next Paolo Maldini” on a free transfer then you really need to shout about it. Besides, Zini’s defensive performances were much better than his Brazilian team-mates with a squad-best 0.58 goals conceded per appearance versus Orlando’s 0.85.
His incredible pace certainly helps cover from wide and it should be noted that we have only conceded 4 goals from the left flank in the last 50 games. Not a bad return.
Another “two-star” player, Dolk signed from Djurgården for an embarrassingly low fee of £500k. 125 games at a 7+ average rating isn’t a fluke, though, and he massively out-performs my assistant’s report. An 86% pass completion is excellent for someone who makes 65+ passes a game whilst still trying to play offensively.
It’s the balance with defensive solidity that does it for me though – high teamwork, marking, tackling and acceleration attributes being key. Yes, ideally I would probably like higher decisions and creativity but Dolk did a fine job of protecting the back four and still provide an offensive contribution this season.
Selling our Japanese midfielder Shô Haryû was not on the agenda in my last update but when Fulham offered me £18m for him, I convinced Eintracht Frankfurt to sell me Turkish wonderkid Yildiz for just £500k than I received for his predecessor.
Frankly, he’s outstanding – adding exemplary teamwork , pace and workrate to creativity in the midfield. Whilst just 2 assists may be disappointing for a creative midfielder, he’s scored 10 bursting from deep and has made 48 key passes (the 2nd highest in the league) laying on the through ball for the wide players to claim the assist.
With 1.5 stars of progression supposedly still in him, he could easily be the best midfielder in the world before long.
Gramaccia was a massively unexpected academy product in my first season at Feralpi and has gone on to become a club icon – holding the record for club league appearances at just 24 (234 games), is the youngest player ever to play or score for the club (scoring with his first two touches at 15 years and 321 days) and will shortly become the club’s record goal-scorer (Christian Quarenghi currently 2 ahead on 76).
And yet playing him as the box-to-box midfielder is something of a compromise. He started out at AMC and has played at AML and AMR plus the advanced playmaker role now fulfilled by Yildiz… he has been replaced by better options in every role. But wherever he plays, he does a decent job without being outstanding. 13 goals and 10 assists this season is a valuable return and makes him the most creative member of my squad – not bad for a local lad.
You may remember that I had a bit of a ‘mare with González, spending £6.5m on him without realising that the transfer wouldn’t go through for another 14 months. He’s now completed his 3rd season in Salò and is very much a first team regular, primarily cutting inside from the AMR position but also occasionally the two MC roles.
As with most of the players I sign, his technique and decisions are good but the combination of pace and creativity won be over when I originally signed him whilst he is probably the most consistent attacking player in the side – hence finishing with the 4th highest average rating in the league despite relatively modest goals and assists totals.
It’s difficult to come up with a proper description of Schembari’s role in the team. He’s identified as an IF(A) from AMC on the tactics map but he’s really a deep striker as evidenced by his 21 goals this season (from 29 games).
I like having him play at AMC rather than ST so that he still gets involved in the build up (averaging 38 passes per game) and completes the central diamond for defensive stability (making 3.6 tackles per game) but he’s the main finisher in the side, getting on the end of the winger’s crosses or playmaker’s throughballs.
At just £4.2m from Pescara, he could well be one of the best signings I’ve made and, provided he can avoid serious injury, will just keep getting better.
I’ve mentioned above about Prest’s untimely departure but, thanks to Gutiérrez, we were able to carry on regardless. I signed Gutiérrez for £3.6m from Boca in the summer just past with a view to developing his finishing and strength, anticipating that Prest would move on in 18-24 months.
With his fellow Argentine leaving somewhat sooner than expected, I decided to throw Gutiérrez in at the deep end. He’d actually played a number of games before Prest’s departure due to injuries and done well – albeit clearly hampered by his terrible finishing.
He’s still got some way to go but his incredible pace, dribbling and agility make him a fun player to watch. He’s not far off being incredibly dangerous.
And the back up…
Another giant centre-half, Ciobotariu is an outstanding back-up and another bargain having been secured on a Bosman from Milan 4 seasons ago.
He rotated with Lupi up until this season when it became clear the latter was the superior option but is still an Italian regular alongside his team-mate.
Orlando is a bit of a player really. He cost me just £3.2m from Santos and marauds up and down that left wing when given the chance. He’s also incredibly dangerous cutting inside despite his left-footedness and has scored some spectacular goals.
He suffers from injury proneness meaning that he often loses his place to Zini who then plays well enough to keep the shirt. May well benefit from retraining to AML soon…
I’ve been trying to retrain Negro as a right-back since he joined us on a free from Roma 3 years ago. Turns out he’s a slow learner but it doesn’t affect his performances too much although I only tend to play him in easier games due to his relatively poor defensive capabilities.
I had anticipated that the Romanian would have been first team material by now, having joined from Otelul for £4.5m 4 years ago. However, he continually flatters to deceive.
He hasn’t really progressed very much in the last couple of seasons and doesn’t dominate the pitch the way that Dolk does – averaging 20 fewer passes per game. He played more often than the Swede this season due to injury but I would always pick Dolk for the big games, given the choice.
Antonio Gallo is another free transfer bargain, having joined from Milan in 2021. He is your archetypal utility man – someone I can call upon when suspensions, injuries and fatigue kick-in with the knowledge that he’ll “do a job” without being spectacular.
My personal feeling is that he should be better than a utility man and I’ve been retraining him this season with a view to performing the deep-lying playmaker role now that Dolk is nearly 30… he should step in soon.
He’s Gramaccia’s main competition for the box-to-box role as well as adequate back-up to Yildiz for the advanced playmaker position. I’ve also, on occasion, experimented with him as an attacking libero – something which proved a qualified, if not fully tested, success.
Technically, he’s brilliant. Mentally, he’s excellent. He’s just got no physicality whatsoever but I figured Lukas Holub was worth a £1.6m gamble last season and he’s done ok when brought in. Very much a back-up player, he scored an absolute screamer which precipitated the comeback against Sporting that eventually ended in penalty heartache.
I love a giant winger and, at 6’5”, you won’t find many taller or more aerially proficient than De Angelis. Unfortunately, he’s not really proving adept on the flank and I’m beginning to see him as more of a striker… perhaps a deep striker… perhaps competition for Schembari through the middle.
And last, and probably least, there’s Valerio Lorenzo Rosseti – a last minute £2.4m signing from Paganese at the start of the season. Rosseti was something of an experiment – left-footed with good / excellent creative attribute, I wanted to see how much more creative a player like this would be from the right inside forward role than González – with the latter tending to go outside the fullback rather than cutting in and sliding passes between fullback and centre half.
The answer was “pretty damn effective” with 7 assists in 18 starts.
He also brought me some additional experience which I saw as necessary in a very young squad.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the squad wot won it!!
Not the best squad I’ve ever had on FM but one which I feel really suits the strikerless tactic and which I struggled to improve on the transfer market – even with a £70m ‘WAR CHEST!!’ burning holes in my pocket.
At this point, it’s probably a good idea to compare the club off-the-field from when I took over 9 seasons ago.
We now play in the 20002 capacity Leonarduzzi Arena, an improvement on the 2364 seater Lina Turina – although long-etrm readers of this blog may remember that the timing of the stadium could have been better. We now have a £65m bank balance and run a regular profit despite spending over half a million on wages every week. The club’s facilities are now approaching state of the art with top training facilities and good youth training.
The club is now valued at a remarkable £191m, has two Coppa Italia trophies to its name as well as being Serie A champions, and counts established clubs such as Crewe, Bochum, Vallodolid and DC United as feeder clubs.
In other words, the entire club has been redeveloped from top to bottom.
So why do I want to leave? Well it’s been 9 seasons and I fancy a change. I want to try a new country and start again with a new club that needs built up. Or do I? I can’t decide. The procrastination begins…
… so there’s a fairly basic poll at the bottom of this article. Should I stay or should I go (now)? Have your say, if you will.
As always thanks for reading. If this is my last Feralpi Salò update then I hope you’ve enjoyed the story of our rise through the ranks. Please place your vote and let me know what you think I should do. If you have a more detailed opinion or simply want to ask a question then please feel free to use the comments section below.
Perhaps for the last time… Forza Feralpi!