Den Haag – A watershed season?

den_haag_home_2015It may seem odd to describe a season in which we didn’t win any silverware as a ‘watershed’, however it feels like significant steps have been made over the course of the campaign and that we are now somewhat closer to the team that I envisaged when I started the save.

Of course, there’s still a long way to go. A looooooooong way. Particularly defensively where we are still so pitifully weak that I have considered altering my course on occasion.

Not yet, though, and I’m going to continue with the clearly-ill-advised gung-ho attacking style that has got us this far. I’ve now padded the top of my desk so it no longer hurts so much when my forehead smacks off it 3 or 4 times a game.

So… a watershed season then. Why? Results? Signings? Youth development? Off the field activities? A little bit of everything really. Read on to find out more…

den_haag_away_2015In the first piece of completely irrelevant news, we have a new sponsor and so I’ve created some new kits with the Den Haag based company Aegon replacing KPN with two very simplistic designs.

Splendid.

So why was last season a watershed season? Well, first of all, we qualified for European competition for the first time – going one better than last year with a 4th placed finish.

League table

We conceded just one fewer than the previous campaign but scored 12 more – turning 3 losses from 2014 into 3 wins in 2015. That left us more-or-less in a mini-league of our own with the current ‘big three’ of Ajax, Twente and PSV clear at the top (Ajax walking the league) and us some way clear of the chasing playoff pack.

This success was almost primarily thanks to a 19-game unbeaten run from mid-November to late-February where we were even flirting with the Champions League spots. However, when you concede 2 or more goals 9 times during that run then you know it’s going to end soon and we went through something of a dry spell at the end of the season – eventually limping into 4th place by virtue of a significant head-start of the ‘best of the rest’.

Note – Feyenoord once again having a shocker. They’ve sacked Ronald Koeman and Laurent Blanc so far with Marco van Basten now in charge after his own sacking from Heerenveen.

KNVB

The KNVB Beker (Dutch Cup) also went rather well with an exceedingly generous draw allowing us an easy path to the final. It couldn’t have got much harder in the final, though, as Ajax are streets ahead of the other Dutch clubs. Although we ended up losing the game 2-1, it was a very even game and gave me some confidence that we are at least making up ground on the big guns.

Sadly, not enough to bring us any silverware.

Not only have we really kicked on this year but it’s also proven a watershed for several members of the squad – for some of them an unwelcome one as I ran out of patience with their sub-standard performances.

If anyone hasn’t read the previous updates, it’s worth remembering that I’m following a certain philosophy in this game: to develop primarily Dutch youth players through our system and introduce them into a team that plays attractive, fluid, attacking football. So far, we’ve managed to progress whilst doing just that:

Board promises

A rather handy little side effect of the board’s request to develop youth is that they seem to be more amenable to requests for facility improvements. Hence the latest investment:

Training facilties

Unfortunately, a similar request to improve the youth facilities (set to cost £4m) was cancelled due to lack of funds.

Speaking of funds, the financial situation at the club has relaxed somewhat this year too. Not only does the prospect of continental football bring promises of additional funding, even the moderate funding of the Europa League, we were also the subject of a board takeover with a local consortium putting just over £6m into the club and giving me £3m to spend on transfers.

Initially this lead to me doubting whether I could continue the save as some of the challenge was based in the financial struggle. However, I decided to maintain my previous frugality in the transfer market and use the additional funding to improve those facilities.

That isn’t to say that I haven’t made any signings, quite the opposite. In January, we made two potentially vital transfers.

Mastrantonis

Mastrantonis is one one I plan to sell on for profit in future and I foresee recouping a large profit from the £450k outlay we gave Olympiacos for is services. With Derix – Bond – Lagendijk very much my front 3 of choice for years to come, I need back-up players more than anyone who is going to demand game time week-in-week-out.

Mastrantonis is great for me because he offers options to cover both Lagendijk (the targetman) and Derix (the playmaker). At just 18 and with an ambitious personality, he should develop nicely and I really think I should be able to claim £5m+ for him in 3 or 4 years.

Heimerback

Magnus Heimerback, on the other hand, should be a vital member of my team until I give up on this save. Just look at him. At 16!!

As with Mastrantonis (and the majority of my signings), I have deliberately prioritised certain attributes – teamwork and work rate being two of them as I had mentioned in the first Den Haag update. That prioritisation has transformed the squad into this:

key attributes

A hard working, fit, technically proficient squad. Decisions and technique are expensive attributes to procure, hence why they are slightly behind the others but there’s a clear trend developing and it isn’t accidental.

Heimerback personifies that prioritisation perfectly. And did I mention he’s a ‘model professional’? With just a little game time and his professional approach to training, he’s already starting to develop at a frightening pace:

Heimerback 2

My only problem was – where do I play him?

When I first signed him, I had anticipated him challenging for one of the striker roles. Frank Bond was going through a dry spell and I figured Heimerback could be trained into our main goalscorer. Only Bond went and scored 15 in the run-in, taking his total for the season to a nation-best 26. With the Norwegian quite clearly too good to sit on the bench, what now?

Well I procrastinated massively. Then I asked Twitter and, as you can see, the responses there weren’t exactly decisive either! So I did what I should have in the first place – looked for a combination of where he was needed most and what he was capable of becoming.

Frankly, he’s capable of becoming just about anything but his work rate, teamwork and stamina are obvious standouts. A few had suggested using him as a box-to-box midfielder, a role that I only use sporadically in this formation – however, our wide men essentially perform the same role on the flanks – getting up and down the pitch and supporting both defence and attack.

Fecunda

Fecunda, supported by Kevin Tano, performed that role last season and whilst he contributed a handy 8 assists, his defensive attributes never  improved like I hoped. This left us vulnerable down the right flank.

Looking back at Heimerback’s attributes, he’s got a solid defensive base with only marking worryingly low for a 17 year-old. With impressive offensive attributes to go with it, my mind was made up. Heimerback will be my new right flank – all by himself.

Meanwhile I performed a similar trick on the other flank with ADO youth product Jan van den Berg in the middle of a position retraining program to become the left winger:

van den Berg

As per the ‘future XI’ shown in the last update, I had expected Brazilian Édio Jacinto to step up to the ML vacancy but, frankly, he’s been a massive disappointment and his ‘watershed’ for the season was being sold to KV Kortrijk for £250k and 40% of his next transfer fee.

A similar future percentage was put in Phillip Foose’s £500k move to Standard Liege – the ‘faceinthegame’ newgen finally rendering me a profit. In fact, there were a few out-goings this summer.

Transfers out

The most significant of these (Foose, Jacinto, Wormgoor) were all defensive sales. I also tried to sell the other two members of my regular back three from last season – Paulo Miranda and Tom Beugelsdijk. Why?

Defenders

Frankly, I’m sick of them being that useless.

An inability to deal with crosses and a propensity for making mistakes is not a combination conducive to a solid defensive record, as evidenced by our record of 48 goals conceded in the league last year. Then there was the fact that Wormgoor’s contract was up this year whilst Paulo Miranda’s wages (£7.25k a week) are massively disproportionate to his ability.

Then, of course, there was the impact of our youth intake:

Youth intake

With just over £3.2m a year spent on our youth system, I would expect to produce at least one player a year but that is just fantastic. At least 6 players who should be good enough for first team football  and 2 of them centre halves! Superb.

van Veen

Maarten van Veen is my favourite of the lot and I think that he and Poell should come through into the first team together in 2 or 3 years. Therefore, I decided to base my transfer policy on the 2 youngsters being ‘the future’. Wormgoor was sold for a fraction of his value rather than renew his contract or lose him for nothing next summer; Paulo Miranda has just agreed to join Panathanaikos in January for £3m and Beugelsdijk was convinced to sign a new contract with a heavy ‘pay as you play’ bias.

Meanwhile, Ryan Koolwijk, at 30, remains first choice and I signed van de Pavert on a free to play alongside him.

van de Pavert

The key factor here was their personalities. With Koolwijk’s ‘evasive’ media handling style and van de Pavert’s ‘reserved’; their high professionalism levels (both 15-20) make them ideal tutors for the two youngsters.

The second of two free transfers (the last being back up ‘keeper Bulters), I also brought in young Croat Antonio Milic from Hadjuk.

Milic

Capable of playing in any number of positions, I see Milic as another cash-cow. Sign on a free, develop for two or three seasons, sell for £5m+. Job done.

The final signing, and the only one to cost me any money, is a player I’ve been watching for a while:

Schepers

For just £300k (transfer listed at Utrecht), he represents a fairly low risk investment which allows me to gauge how important having a two-footed striker is. I do occasionally get the feeling that Bond, primarily left-footed, is hampered a little when defences force him onto his right – and with the success that I had with two-footed Tretyak at Feralpi, I wanted to give it a try before taking a gamble on a more expensive option.

That isn’t to say that Bond has been completely hampered by his one-footedness. Indeed, he top scored in the Eredivisie last season with 23 in the league and has 8 in 6 league games so far this year. The club captain (at just 20) has come a long way since his £575k move from Heracles.

Bond

Coupled with last season’s ‘Eredivisie Signing of the Year’ Giovanni Lagendijk we have an awesome strikerforce. Lagendijk himself scored 20 league goals in his debut season at the club and looks like going on to be a star.

Lagendijk

If I can keep the pair of them then we should continue to bang in the goals. It’s just a case of ensuring that we cut down on the stupid goals at the other end. Which is where, once again, I’ve taken a long term view.

Selling Miranda for his defensive lapses and to reduce the wage bill left a gap at sweeper that needed to be filled. I had contemplated retraining Norwegian Heimerback to play that role but decided that I would go all out to develop another Den Haag youth product – Tonny Hansen having ‘spawned’ in 2013.

Jansen

He’s another cracking prospect which justifies the high annual outlay in our youth system. He might be a long way off being the perfect libero but he’s got decent base attributes and a lot of potential with which to develop them. Key for me is his current balance between defensive and offensive attributes whilst being reasonably strong in the air and still maintaining decent pace.

I already like him more than Miranda!

All of that now leaves my ‘future XI’ like this:

Futures team

Ages shown next to each player with an asterisk indicating players that have come through ADO Den Haag’s youth system. With two considerations:

1. The DLP role is currently looking for Palle Rathe to step up to the mark. Signed from Denmark in the best traditions of Dutch football, I’m not convinced that Rathe is going to ‘make it’. His development has stalled somewhat in the last 12 months and I’m on the lookout for a better option, preferably a Dutch one.

2. The overall shape has been set in stone for quite some time as part of the challenge of the game – try to force a team into a shape and approach that doesn’t really suit them. Playing a gung-ho attacking tactic with a relatively small side causes problems – see our defensive record for evidence. Whilst it’s been fun in terms of goal-scoring, losing so many goals really irritates me and I’m sorely tempted to return to my old 4-1-2-3-0 shape.

In fact, this game is still a bit ‘meh’ for me. Although there’s a lot of things to look forward to with the development of the young players at the club, at the start of every season I get a bit bored and I don’t think I’ve ever really ‘got into it’. I’m going to power on to the end of this season, see where we’re at and then decide whether I want to continue the game then.

Until then, thanks for reading and if you have any comments or questions please let me know if the comments box below.

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