So apologies if you have been eagerly awaiting the latest Den Haag update… an unlikely possibility. I have been on holiday in the ar$e end of nowhere and had no internet connection – a refreshing break from normality but meaning that I have now progressed well into the 5th season at the Kyocera without an update.
In fact, I have progressed so far that, as my Bowie-esque title suggests, there have been major changes at the club since I last updated. One of the most significant changes being the tactic that we now use on a regular basis, a major deviation from the original intent of this save.
Those changes have brought success to South Holland, though, as we have secured the first piece of silverware during my tenure. With that success has come some unwanted attention, however – thereby enforcing even further changes… but you’ll have to read on to find out more.
Those of you who have been reading the previous updates should know that I wanted to force a hyper-attacking philosophy on my team at all times. Not only that but I also wanted to force them into a 3-4-1-2 shape that I would try and implement in a free-flowing ‘Total Football’ style. Whilst this worked to an extent, the defence was consistently awful and, if I’m honest, holding us back.
I was determined to see my plan through but eventually I had to relent. The straw that broke the camel’s back came in Arnhem – as we were thumped 4-1 by a Vitesse that created 5 clear cut opportunities from the 9 shots they had in the game.
We’d already conceded 30 goals by this point (mid November) and, quite frankly, I was sick of it. So I’ve eventually changed and this is the new system upon which I have settled:
Having not kept a single clean sheet before the change, we ended up with 9 by season’s end – second highest in the Eredivisie.
There is an obvious similarity there to my strikerless formation with Feralpi but, having the excellent Bond and Lagendijk at the club, I needed to play with at least one up top. The concession (playing a staggered DM/MC line) was partially inspired by Eds’ Crooked 4-2-3-1 post on The Coffeehouse (strongly recommend you read that).
Unlike Eds’ system, though, my DM is the mobile one with the MC the sitting deep-lying playmaker. On FM12, you may remember the deep 4-3-3 that I implemented – a very important part of that was the mobility of Sissoko and Capoue from the DM positions. I’m hoping to use a similar system here with the opposition MC’s drawn forward to close down the DLP, our DM should be able to find space in behind them. This is space that Eds’ system tries to exploit with his inverted wingback (another article you should read).
Anyway, like I said, the change brought us success and, crucially, silverware. Whilst our league position was actually worse than last year, slipping to 5th, this was largely down to a very poor start. Once we got going, we threatened to make automatic qualification for the Europa Leauge.
In the end, we had to rely on a KNVB Beker win to do just that.
Groningen did us a massive favour in knocking out the imperious Ajax – a side who are really beginning to get on my wick having won the title 4 years in a row. However, we had our own challenges with PSV and Twente both strong sides that we had to play away in the quarters and semis.
That win meant two things – we’d play Ajax in the John Cruijff Schaal (Super Cup) and we’d go into a playoff (unseeded) for the Europa League groups. Both would end badly.
Being unseeded we would face a big side in the playoff and ended up getting the worst possible draw in Arsenal. 8-4 on aggregate, I never even hoped we would get anywhere. This left us trying to concentrate on domestic football where…
Ajax are just too good. In 11 games, they’ve won 7 and we’ve drawn 4. This includes the JC Schaal where we were incredibly fortunate to end 1-1 after regulation time and then lost on penalties. They also have an incredibly irritating habit of scoring late in games – such as our most recent encounter when two of my defenders made individual mistakes to allow Vierinha to score a 95th minute winner.
The most annoying part is that, as with PSV, Twente and even Heerenveen, they just keep strengthening their side and getting better and better. Eriksen, Denswil, Blind, Siem de Jong etc are all still there whilst the likes of Thorgan Hazard, Nigel de Jong and Oskar Hiljemark have all joined.
All this whilst I have to sell my best players… which leads me on to:
As in real life, a trophy or any form of success brings the big boys sniffing around – trying to nick the players that have brought you success. In this case, the big boy in question was AC Milan as Allegri decided to pay Derix’s £14m minimum release clause.
Having signed Derix for £500k in my first year at the club, £14m represents an enormous profit but I was still gutted. He was intended to be a vital cog in the team I was building and, as you can see, is an incredibly talented player.
Another effect of our success is the higher wages that players want when it comes to signing new deals. Both Koolwijk (DC) and Matieu (MC) were key members of the first team last season with 44 and 35 games respectively. However, I wasn’t willing to double their wages and with both deals expiring at the end of this year, I decided to cash in.
Neither made the money that I’d hoped but £3.5m is a large profit on the £900k I paid for the Romanian whilst Koolwijk joined on a free and I don’t expect to get much more than £1.6m for a player turning 31.
Good money but 3 players with over 100 appearances between them last season have left. That’s 3 massive holes that would take some filling. Thankfully, I had a plan and much of it starts with this young lad:
Having played from the left last year, van den Berg was our top assist maker with 19 and was developing into a superb player. With Derix’s enforced sale, I decided to move the ADO youth product into the vital AMC position and he has excelled. So far this season he’s played 12 games, scored 6, assisted 6 and has an average rating of 8.16.
This left a gap at van den Berg’s previous left inside-forward position. I was tempted to invest in a new player here but baulked at the £4.2m asking price for my chosen replacement (relegated Breda’s Alex Schalk). Instead, I’ve opted to use Bob Schepers – a two-footed player that I intended to use as a back-up striker, no longer needed as we just use one up front.
Similarly, I thought about spending big to bring in a DLP to replace Matieu but again turned to the youth system. With the libero position no longer needed, Tonny Jansen was released to play back in his more natural midfield role and should develop into another star.
I did, however, feel that we were a little short of experienced cover in this area with Kevin Jansen also leaving the club. Therefore, I spent £475k bringing Danny Holla back to Den Haag – a player who did a bit of a ‘Scott Parker / Steve Sidwell’ and joined a big club then did the sum total of bugger all. In 3 weeks back in Den Haag, he has played more games than two seasons at PSV after his £3.1m move. He did ok in Belgium with Anderlecht in the intervening period and should provide solid back-up and a valid tutoring option (‘Very Ambitious’ personality).
That just left the defence where the switch to a back 4 and Koolwijk’s departure left 3 gaps that needed filling.
Obviously, I now needed full-backs where none were needed before although loan signing Martschinko and squad rotation stalwart Beugelsdijk performed adequate cover last season before I brought in Jiri Cap in January:
£1.5m from Viktoria Plzeñ would seem to be a good deal for a player who has gone on to become the Czech Republic’s first choice left back. He does not, however, lay on as many assists as his Austrian predecessor and I hope that this is purely down to settling in time.
On the opposite flank, I’ve Milic (Croatian signing last summer) deputise a few times but I just couldn’t find a Dutch alternative with the combination of defensive solidity and crossing ability that I wanted. Therefore, I’ve brought in a young Dane on a free transfer with the aim of retraining him to play right-back:
Very much a ‘work in progress’ but the Dutch players I wanted for this position either aren’t interested in a move or want exorbitant wages / transfer fees. Even with our new-found wealth (thank you Mr Berlusconi), I’m not willing to pay that.
Which is why I’ve invested in young bargains such as Jallow and, particularly, Croatian centre-half Bosec. With a £900k minimum fee clause, he was an absolute bargain:
Whilst I have Poell and van Veen coming through the youth system at centre back, Koolwijk’s departure left me short of experience at the back. Noticing that our defence was also short on pace, I decided to invest a little money in killing two birds with one stone. Bosec’s pace is excellent and his all round defensive ability will be a huge boost for a couple of seasons.
In that time, van Veen in particular will get more game time (already started 12 games this season) and I can sell Bosec for what I hope will be Derix level’s of profit.
In the meantime, the Croat can also play at DM or MC if needed. With fellow Croat Antonio Milic already at the club, it should also mean that Bosec’s settling in period is reduced. Good news all round.
So the change of shape seems to have taken hold and the squad has been moulded to suit but the transition isn’t quite complete. There are still a few areas of contention.
One I have already mentioned with a bit of uncertainty about the AML inside-forward position. Schepers is ok but isn’t really the consistent goal-scoring threat I would hope for. Of course, he occasionally does something like this and I decide to give him a bit more time to prove himself!
Remember to select high resolution
The second dilemma is in goal where I’m still giving young ten Kroode the benefit of the doubt.
‘Anticipation’ aside, he should be good but he’s prone to the odd brainfart and although our defensive record has improved with the move to 4-2-3-1, I really feel that he costs us on occasion. Should I invest in a better ‘keeper? We have a couple of prospects coming through the academy and I couple spent £2m-ish on a 30-33 year old to tide us over and help tutor ten Kroode’s replacements… decisions, decisions.
And talking of decisions – the final dilemma is up front. Bond and Lagendijk formed a superb partnership during the 3-4-1-2 days – banging in goals left, right and centre. But with the move to a single-striker formation, there just isn’t room to play both at the same time.
My current plan is simply rotating the two. Bond plays against slow defences, Lagendijk against aerially weak ones. If either has a particularly good game, they play until they don’t score. Then they’re dropped and the other comes in.
What would you do? Do you have a preference for either?
So I guess the only things left to cover are off-field events. With the Kyocera build in 2007 (this is worth a read on the new systems in place to remove the previous hooligan element at home games), it’ll be a long time before a new stadium can be built. I could ask for it to be expanded but we’re only averaging around 14 of it’s 17.5k capacity so there’s little point and I’ve concentrated on improving the facilities – successfully I might add.
Using just £90k a week of our £176k wage budget, I’m trying to ensure the board don’t feel like they have to sell any prospects from under me. If an enormous offer similar to that for Derix came in, then I’d have to consider selling but we now have over £19m in the bank and I have a £15m transfer budget should I require it.
Our single largest expenditure is the youth setup (£4.29m as opposed to the £4.26m spent on wages last year) and I’m hoping that it will again pay dividends with the youth intake saving me millions on transfer fees.
To that end, I brought in a new Head of Youth Development, paying Birmingham almost £200k for Kristjaan Speakman.
High attributes for ‘Judging Player Potential’ and ‘Working with Youngsters’ are good but it was his personality which swayed it for me. Your HoYD’s personality influences the personality of the newgens which are created at your club and with Speakman’s ‘Professional’ personality and ‘Evasive, Reserved’ media handling style, I can be assured that my newgens have a reasonably high chance of being spawned with a high Professionalism attribute – key for their development.
So we’re now into my 5th season with the club and progress, if I’m honest, has been slower than I had anticipated or hoped. A trophy is nice but we haven’t broken into the top spots in the league. Hopefully the new tactic will help – whilst it is still attacking, it’s a lot more defensively sound than it’s predecessor.
Apart from that, what now? Keep building I guess. The club is on a sound financial footing now. We still have the youngest squad in the league at 20.88 and plenty of development to come. Enough development to overtake Ajax? Maybe not. Perhaps I have to hope that the likes of Eriksen and Sigþórsson are signed by big European clubs and not adequately replaced.
Or maybe I just need to get better!
Once again, thanks for reading. The blog has now reached a ludicrous 150,000 views and I’m delighted so thank you to everyone for reading, plugging my articles, telling their friends, etc etc. All appreciated.
Please let me know if you have any questions or comments; particularly on the dilemmas I listed above.