As you should now know, I decided to stay in Salò with the sole aim of securing a Champions League trophy. This is the one remaining (meaningful) goal for the club which I have yet to achieve and without which I do not feel my time at Feralpi would be complete. We’ve won both Serie A and the Coppa Italia twice and have secured a solid future for the club with the construction of new stadium, state of the art facilities, a healthy bank balance and a youth squad full of bright young talents.
So the pertinent question should be: is this a plausible target or have we hit one of these —> a glass ceiling?
Almost certainly, the answer should be the former. We play in a big league and whilst a relatively small stadium may be a limiting factor, it’s simply not the case that we are so short of money as to preclude any continental success.
So… what do we do about it?
Well before I get there, let’s see what happened this season. For those looking for something other than a simple story of our results this update also includes a case study of trouble shooting our tactic to overcome second season syndrome and a continuing look at the development of Eric Little.
Whilst Paul Cook will be happy that we had fewer draws this year, all we did was turn one draw into a defeat by virtue of conceding exactly the same number of goals as last year but score 8 fewer.
Around November it looked like we’d struggle to get half of our goals from last season as, in the good games, we missed chance after chance or, in the bad games, simply failed to create chances at all. I had kind of expected an impact from our title win but our away form was becoming a real issue.
After the opening league game of the season, we had 6 away games and whilst we only conceded twice, we also only scored twice. Really not good enough. Considering that it was our away form (W12, D7, L0) that won us the title in 2025, we had to sort out the reason for our lack of goals.
Looking at that, I wasn’t convinced that there really was a tactical issue. We’ve dominated possession, we’ve created 2 clear opportunities, 2 half chances and limited the opposition to just 1 clear chance – a defensive mistake from which they scored.
This was a recurring theme throughout both the away games and home matches – we were incredibly inefficient in finishing our chances despite dominating most games.
Continuing with my assumption that there was nothing wrong with the tactics, I was left with two potential root causes – personnel and motivation.
A quick review of our statistics identified an obvious culprit for the former:
Gutiérrez came into the side last season to replace the magnificent Prest and whilst he is a brilliant dribbler and great fun to watch, he couldn’t finish a fun size mars bar (other sugary snacks are available).
Consider that the stats shown above actually make him look better than he was after 9 starts with 2 on target from 12 (16.7% accuracy) and you’ll can appreciate the problem. Prest, in his single full season with us, scored 20 – the winger is a major outlet for us and if he isn’t scoring then it’s an issue. The solution?
Well yes, that’s part one but I had to change a few more things.
For one, I asked Gutiérrez to learn the “looks for pass rather than shot” PPM whilst intensively training his finishing. In the meantime, I was running out of options. I didn’t bring in a pure left winger over the summer with the intention of using Gutiérrez covered by a re-trained Orlando (DL) for this season. However, looking back at the squad, I had a brighter idea.
Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best – I flipped the tactic. A right winger instead of a left winger with the additional twist of making the inside forward on the left more attacking (to suit De Angelis’ striker-like attributes) and making the right-winger more passer and less runner (to suit Holub’s fantastic creativity and limited athleticism).
This also suited me in allowing me to bring the best out of Orlando who is developing into a simply fantastic attacking left back in the very best Brazilian traditions and coincided with an injury to my attacking right-back Zorlu. Happy times all round.
But that was only half of the equation with motivation still to be dealt with. In a break from my normal approach, I started using the pre-match media function to cast doubts on my team’s chances, state that it was a more difficult game that many thought or that we’d have to play to our best to win. What I was trying to do was keep my players focused and remove any danger of becoming complacent.
Did it work?
Other than the .triple blanks in February (which essentially put us out of the Champions League) and the embarrassment of the reserves going out of the Coppa to Serie B Catania, then we did just fine.
Except that the Champions League was our main priority for the season and going out in the First Knockouts after drawing Man City for the third season in a row is a mighty disappointment.
We’d done fantastically well in the group, brushing aside Slovan Bratislava and beating a very strong Saint-Etienne side home and away. Even our games against eventual winners Real Madrid were promising as I made the mistake of playing on the counter at the Bernabéu and deserved to win the home game – Real equalising in the 90th minute with a blockbuster freekick to deny us top spot.
Unfortunately, we just couldn’t take our chances and it was a similar story at Al Mubarak Park as City scored from 3 set pieces including this one which, if you look very closely, you’ll see was scored with Cleison’s arse.
I guess the one positive is that, in 4 games against the Real and Man City, we were never embarrassed and were bloody unlucky not to come out on top. We’re really not far off challenging these teams. Not far at all.
With the board giving me another £57m in the transfer budget this summer, I was quite tempted to go out and spend big again but I really don’t think it’s necessary. Our squad is young and developing well. Instead, I transferred much of the money into the wage budget and renewed deals for key players like Okoye, Lupi, Gallo and Gramaccia.
The only (first team) player coming into the club so far this summer is young Italian centre half Mattias Rungg who is a direct replacement for Ciobotariu who leaves for £3,5m having been unhappy simply being back-up to Lupi and Okoye.
Other than that, another year of development and another season of me learning how best to use these players should see enough improvement to take us an extra step. The form of the likes of Schembari and De Angelis, both of whom scored 18 goals last year; Gallo, who was a qualified success at DLP; Orlando and Gramaccia gives me plenty of belief that they are good enough for a side challenging for major European honours.
The biggest plus point of last season was the performance of Lukas Holub from right wing.
Heading into his third season with Feralpi, Holub signed for just £1.6m from Slavia Prague and, until signing a new contract over the summer, was being paid just £3600 a week. Initially I had some concerns with his poor physical attributes so his training has almost exclusively focused on pace, agility and strength.
The improvements haven’t turned him into Yaya Touré but it’s been enough and he knows how to pull the strings from that right flank, knocking out 15 assists last season. I was a little tempted to sign a proper flying winger but Holub’s shown me that it’s not required. When 6’5” De Angelis is attacking the back post, an early cross is sometimes the best option anyway.
The only other signing so far is that of Mauro Icardi but the Argentine, now 33, is simply here to tutor a cracking prospect that came through our academy – Pietro Saggiomo.
Saggiomo adds to our now burgeoning list of promising youngsters and my current intention is to develop him into an inside forward for the AML position. Which should mean that he’s playing outside our development case study, Eric Little.
In the last update, the 15 year old Little was being tutored by Graziosi who has successfully influenced the Scotman’s personality to ‘Resolute’ and corresponding increase in his Professionalism attribute.
Thanks to the tutoring and 25 games for the youth side, Little has shown some solid progression with increases across the board but most noticeably in his acceleration and pace thanks to some targetted training. If you want to compare Little’s original screenshot, you can find it here.
I’ve now decided that Little will be tailored for the AMC inside forward role, breaking forward to use his finishing ability. I’m not happy to leave his physicals to progress naturally and will train his technical attributes this year. alternating between passing, technique and finishing. Depending on how well he’s progressed by Christmas I may consider a loan move in the second half of the year.
So the talent’s coming through and I reckon we’ve enough talent in the squad. So what’s stopping us? Nothing, hopefully. Our defence continues to prove itself amongst the best in Europe and I’m convinced that the only thing that will stop us is another goal-scoring drought. In which case, we’re relying on these finishing attributes:
Will it be enough? They have one more season to prove to me it is.
Once again, thanks for reading and I look forward to any questions or comments you may have.
Incidentally, I’d like to take this opportunity to once again thank Aditya Asawa who is an absolute legend for fixing my save and removing the Italian tax bug. For games that were started using the release (pre-patches) game then tax becomes financially crippling (unrealistically) at some point and he was good enough to download my save, use FMRTE to fix the problem and re-upload it for me. Otherwise I think this save would be dead. Hero.