The least that anyone can expect and the absolute minimum aim for any Football Manager is to make progress year-on-year. Progress can take many forms – a higher league position, a minor trophy for a small club or even simply strengthening the squad on a budget whilst maintaining the status quo during a transition year.
For Den Haag, last season was the first of those and I’m hoping this season will be one of the latter two options.
After the forced sales of two big stars at the start of last year, the aim is to keep this developing squad together and build on what has certainly been a positive, if ultimately frustrating, campaign.
Incidentally, there was no new sponsorship deal announced – hence why I’ve stuck with the same kits as last year.
Read on for more details of how we fared last year, some important transfer news and a fair bit of detail on the developing Germanic Total Voetbal tactic…
So we’ll start by quickly summarising last year’s results. The less said about the KNVB Cup the better as we lost out to feeder club Dordrecht but that disappointment was quickly put behind us as we embarked on a successful league campaign:
That represents an improvement of 4 league places and 7 goals against from last year, with 10 more points accrued despite scoring a goal less. And yes, the defence is still clearly an issue but damnit if we aren’t entertaining!!
The frustration comes because there is a slightly strange set-up for European qualification in Holland. Under the current set-up, the top 2 qualify the Champions League whilst 3rd enters the Europa League groups. 4th place and the cup winners enter various qualification rounds of the Europa with 5th-8th playing off for the final qualification spot.
So, as you can see, we missed out on an automatic Europa League spot on goal difference although, if I’m being honest, this would have been an unjustified reward for a campaign which stuttered badly in spring.
We were a side on form, though, and I was confident that we were at least the equal of our 3 playoff opponents – Vitesse, Groningen and Twente.
Vitesse proved to be little problem as we absolutely dominated them, the 5-2 aggregate scoreline not a true reflection of our superiority. With Groningen beating Twente in the other semi, my confidence grew. We’d beaten them with embarrassing ease (3-0) on the final day of the season. Just carry on that form and…
Bugger. A stinking home performance from the defence in the home leg really cost us and Groningen simply killed the game in the return game and we never got going.
So in the end we missed out on a European place by virtue of both goal difference and away goals. Not fun.
Nevertheless, a successful season with progress made both on and off the pitch, the board investing another £2m to improve the training and youth facilities. Unfortunately, that focus on infrastructure has left the bank balance, and therefore transfer kitty, a little short. Until we start getting into Europe, we’ll continue to be a selling club:
£6.25m of player sales and yet we only make a profit of £3.9m. Taking the £2m investment in the facilities into account, we’re almost breaking even without player sales. Which probably gives me one year, this season, to make a dash for European qualification in a bid to improve the finances. With that in mind…
8 players left the club on free transfers as their contracts expired and I replaced them with players that will improve the club in one way or another. The only money I’ve spent this summer is a £10k a month loan fee for a covering left wing-back / defensive winger – offset by the sale of Constantin Nica to Vaslui for £250k; whilst we are still £15k a week under our wage budget of £82kpw.
You might be wondering how 2 38 year-olds like Semak and Landzaat are going to improve a squad trying to break into Europe. Purely and simply they are here to tutor the Den Haag youth – in a very specific manner. Both have good personalities for tutoring but, more crucially, Semak has the ‘arrives late in opponent’s area’ PPM, whilst Landzaat has ‘comes deep to get the ball’.
The former is something that you can’t train into a player and the latter is something I’m desperate for my development project striker to learn whilst not detracting from his positional retraining.
More important for the first team are the signings of Koolwijk and Lagendijk.
The former gives me flexibility in midfield or defence.
My initial intent when signing Koolwijk was to use him in central midfield, playing alongside the deep-lying playmaker as a bit of all-rounder – albeit holding his deep position to utilise his passing ability and mitigate against his awful finishing.
However, I always had the potential for him to play centre back in reserve and, as is often the case, circumstances have changed to the extent that he’s now my first choice ball-playing centre back – playing on the left of my 2 DC’s.
The change came about partly because of Koolwijk’s combination of defensive competence and assurance on the ball; but mostly it came about because of Tschauner’s shortcomings:
With both his passing and jumping worryingly low, I couldn’t decide whether to push him into midfield or use him at the back. A quick look at my defensive stats for last season, though, showed that our centre backs average over 8.5 headers a game each. Tschauner’s 62% win ratio in the air represents too much of a risk.
Meanwhile he is developing into an excellent ball-winner in the middle – work rate, teamwork, bravery and tackling ability as well as stamina to run all day. With his passing more likely to increase significantly from heavy training (it’s already improved by 2 points), it just makes sense to use him in midfield. I’m undecided on whether to teach him the ‘plays short simple passes’ PPM – it would obviously be handy but the inherent detriment to training time might be counter-productive.
Our other key signing, and probably the most important of the lot, comes up front. With such an attacking tactic, strikers are obviously vital and our front three are almost solely responsible for the goals until we get better wide players.
Schipplock was a big part of that but, as you can see, he was only on loan. I couldn’t afford to pay his £2.1m asking price nor would he accept the wages I could offer him for a Bosman move. I had hoped that his demands would drop when he was released by Hoffenheim but, unfortunately, the opposite occurred and he eventually signed for Nurnberg on £24k a week. A little more than I could offer.
I wasn’t overly concerned, though, as I had a replacement already sorted.
The targetman position is absolutely crucial to the way I play. Everyone else plays off him, primarily the AMC who is the main playmaker for the side and looks to exploit the space created by the targetman’s movement – dropping off the line and offering a short option; whilst the other striker looks to get in behind the targetman, looking for through balls and knock-downs.
Lagendijk is particularly suited to my team due to his exceptional work rate and good mental attributes. With the high closing down that we implement, his ability to harry from the front is invaluable. His excellent teamwork, meanwhile, has taken our fluid attacking style to a new level.
Still only 20, he’s a real prospect and I’m delighted that we managed to sign him at all, nevermind on a free and paid just £725 a week.
Lagendijk joins an ever-growing list of highly promising youngsters that I hope we can keep at the club and develop. My ‘future roster’ now looks something like this:
The problem, or rather the current gaps, lie in defence with my future libero and a second future centre back missing from the development scheme. If I wasn’t so short in these areas then I would have already sold Phillip Foose, the highly promising American I brought in last January. Why?
Well he is one of the ‘faceinthegame’ mob, a developer / researcher that has a newgen named after him created within the game by a pre-determined program that I can’t delete. It’s something I find very irritating and wish I could disable but SI, in their ultimate wisdom, have hard-coded it. If I can find another option then Foose will be on his way.
The personnel may change but the system is likely to remain. It’s great fun for a start and we tend to play some lovely football from front to back:
Slow, patient build up from the back with players that are reasonably comfortable on the ball throughout defence, drawing the opposition forward to allow room for the two sitting midfielders and the AMC to create space with some quick passing. The wingbacks / wingers always offer width and look to hit the byline and get crosses in. The front two offer complimentary movement and develop space for each other and midfield runners.
All sounds plausible enough, right?
Well we score shedloads of goals so we must be doing something right! But, if I’m honest, I’m not completely happy with it. Some reasons why:
Some positives – the defence is looking solid as the back 3 are covering the majority of the pitch and are screened by the two holding midfielders who can quickly change the angle of attack should the ball be played back to them.
But we’re keeping 5 players back in ostensibly defensive positions. With just 3 AZ players goalside of the ball then why are we wasting 5? It seems like we might be able to release one of the defenders forward and still have adequate cover.
The wingers aren’t stretching the defence enough either and AZ are able to play reasonably compact. Particularly on our right, I would prefer the winger to be in the shaded area, drawing at least one defender out of the red rectangle where our runners are being crowded out.
More space in here and we might be able to exploit the movement of the targetman dropping off the line and enticing his marker out of position.
Our defence is also a continuing problem although we now seem to have somewhat solved the glaring issue with crosses. Now our problem appears to be the gap in front of the defence where 20 assists have been made against us.
The lack of a DM obviously doesn’t help but I also believe this is in part down to personnel – with Beugelsdijk and Wormgoor not the most mobile of central defenders. We employ a high-risk attacking tactic but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to accept conceding two goals a game.
Could it just be a case of waiting for the team to develop? Maybe but I’ll also be trying a few tactical tweaks over this season to try and alleviate the issue.
So some clear tactical issues and, if I’m being perfectly honest, I’m sorely tempted to revert to the 4-1-2-3-0 shape that I loved so much at Feralpi. In fact, I’m seriously tempted by a new game. The international games over the past few days have made me yearn for my Club and Country game and I’m considering a new Rapid / Austria game or perhaps even an Aberdeen / Scotland save in a re-vamped Scottish structure…
Perhaps this is a consequence of the relatively slow progress that is being made with ADO. Perhaps it’s frustration at the raft of injuries I’m suffering this season. Perhaps it’s frustration at our complete inability to keep a clean sheet. Perhaps it’s because we’ve just had a new chairman take over and he’s pumped a modest amount of money into the club and it feels a bit… different. Perhaps I just miss managing Rapid…
Given that I blogged about my first Rapid / Austria save before taking over at Feralpi Salò, would people be interested in reading about a restart – but with Austria and Germany merged into one league? This is probably just some short term apathy about my save but worth gauging opinion I think.
In the meantime, I hope you have enjoyed this update and any suggestions / thoughts on a new save or not are welcome.
Thanks for reading!