First of all, apologies for the incredibly tardy nature of this article. As any of you who follow me on Twitter will know, I haven’t exactly been enamoured with the game of late and I haven’t really had the motivation to write much about it – even though I am still, more or less, enjoying the network game with Petr.
Unfortunately, I haven’t had much enjoyment on the pitch as, for the first time in my long, long history of playing CM/FM, I have been relegated.
Into the league below the one we were in previously. It’s a confusing concept and I don’t like it.
So here’s how it happened and what we’re doing next.
So yeah, we went down. And not in the good way.
It really wasn’t too much of a surprise, to be honest. We’d done ridiculously well to secure back-to-back promotions from the Championnat and our team wasn’t even close to being Ligue 1 quality so we did fairly well just to avoid finishing bottom.
Quite how ‘well’ we did is debatable. You can’t really say that any team getting relegated covered themselves in glory but there were some fairly extensive extenuating circumstances. Let’s start with this:
PSG generated over 400 times the amount of sponsorship money that we did, a measly £500k which was 34 times lower than the AVERAGE for the league. (obviously that average is hugely distorted by PSG’s fortunes). Consequently:
By the end of the season we were spending less than half the next lowest outlay on salaries… I won’t even mention PSG or Monaco here. And that’s after I made some serious investment in January which added at least £30k a week (£1.5m-ish a year) to that total.
So you get the picture. We were the paupers of the party. With little to spend we were left scrimping and scrounging at the start of the season, desperately trying to find signings from somewhere that would keep us up.
This wasn’t helped by an inappropriately timed board takeover which imposed the usual transfer embargo in July, although we did eventually get into the swing of things and signed some key players… almost an entire new team, in fact.
Yes, I know this probably didn’t help our squad harmony and there would have been issues with gelling but we desperately needed some new personnel as our existing squad was still largely of Championnat ‘quality’. Players such as Simao, Alvarez, Ludovic Sylvestre and Yaya Sanogo (loan) could only be of benefit.
Things started magnificently. Employing the same 3-1-4-1-1 that had got us this far, we raced into a 2-0 lead at Lorient within 13 minutes of our Ligue 1 debut – cheat player Hamady Tamboura providing the goals that had become so familiar… and that was to be the high point of our season.
Lorient managed to peg us back for a 2-2 draw and we went on to “claim” 3 points from our first 10 games before wins over Stade Rennais and Nancy, the latter courtesy of a 5-goal haul from Julio Tavares, gave us a glimmer of hope.
By the time January came around, I had more or less written off any hope of survival but finally had the chance to bring in some alternative personnel to change the system. When in doubt, return to what you know best and so we introduced one of my favourites – a strikerless 4-1-2-3-0:
And yes, that is Clint Dempsey. What a hero he almost proved to be. Alongside Brazilian box-to-box midfielder Bruno, Clint provided the impetus for some counter-attacking master pieces. A jammy draw at home to Nice was followed up by a quite remarkable run – a win over Stade Rennais at home was out-done by victories at Lyon, Lille, Guingamp and Nancy and a home draw with Monaco.
By this point we had climbed out of the relegation zone and it was starting to look like we might do the implausible, if not quite the impossible…. and then we imploded.
The counter-attacking didn’t work quite so well against fellow strugglers Nantes or Stade de Reims but the real killer came with a morale sapping, if inevitable, defeat at PSG, and an abject loss at Sochaux-Montbé. This allowed the latter to leapfrog us into 17th. With two home games remaining I still had a chance… but a chance that we never took as Matthias Jouan, a favourite of mine, proved the worst culprit – not scoring this:
And so we were relegated. Thankfully, the board allowed me to keep my job, no doubt recognising the near impossible job that I was faced with. Silver linings though, our single season in Ligue 1 has had a hugely beneficial impact on our finances.
The club is now solidly in the black and making a clear profit over the course of the season. Average attendances have increased from 867 in our first Championnat season, to 8716 in our Ligue 1 campaign and now 7810 on our return to Ligue 2. That, coupled with the transfer profits that we’ve been raking in, has provided me with solid budgets for both transfers and wages.
We also managed to keep the majority of our squad from Ligue 1 intact. I jettisoned unwanted players like Mauricio Alves, Gael Vena and Julio Tavares (he of the 5-goal-game and 6 game drought); while a seed-change in tactic saw me sell Dutch winger Jaap Verhaar. The only player I was forced to sell was powerhouse midfielder Dialo Guidileye (wouldn’t sign a new contract) but he was adequately replaced by Massire Kanté from Bastia.
One unexpected sale was that of Ivorian newgen Abdoulaye Niangbo. I’d signed him on a free the previous January and he’d made just 1 league start in that time; yet Liverpool swooped in with a £4.4m plus clauses bid. I can tell you that no-one has accepted a bid as quick since Seth Johnson’s agent had a wee meeting with Peter Risdale.
But, more interesting, are the few signings that I made. First of all, our new striker:
Tamboura scored 22 last time we were in Ligue 2 but I was getting a little bored of the same tactic and it had clearly not worked in the big league so I needed to prepare a new approach. Brazilian Cesar cost me just £105k and was intended to act as the targetman in our new 4-2-3-1 formation. However, the targetman proved to restrict our attacking endeavours as we became too one-dimensional.
Pre-patch he was used as an advanced forward but post-patch has now been altered to what you see above. The reason? I felt that the roles were best suited to the particular idiosyncrasies of each patch. I don’t, as you may know, subscribe to the frankly ludicrous concept that all ‘logical’ tactics work in each and every variant of the match engine, nor that only exploitative tactics are broken by each wisely constructed patch.
You have to, inevitably, work out how to ‘play the patch’.
So the idea is fairly simple. Wingbacks create the width. Central midfielders generally hold position, although I’ve allowed Bruno to provide additional vertical movement to break up stubborn defensive midfields, and the 4-some up front tippy-tappy it around and score lovely goals… like this 20 pass beaut.
(select HD on the resolution dropdown)
Without Tamboura’s pace up front, we instead introduced it through the wider attacking midfielders – Simao, youngster Vergnaud and Jamaican starlet Toby Davy.
Davy can be a hero as far as I’m concerned. He’s our second top scorer so far this season with 14 (Cesar being top) and I see him as developing into our main goalscoring threat once his finishing improves.
Our emerging (relative) wealth has meant we’ve been able to improve the facilities to make such attribute improvement possible and I’ve increasingly been introducing youth players into the first team, something which Petr and I have both been doing in fact. 3 or 4 of those have come from our own academy whilst signings such as the aforementioned Niangbo help swell the coffers even further when they are moved on.
We won’t go back up this season, an abysmal run through October and November (prompted by some quite un-necessary tactical tinkering on my part) has put an end to that idea, although we probably won’t end up more than 5 or 6 points away from 3rd. Next season we’ll make a real fist of it and with our squad now full of promising young players yet to reach their prime we can only get stronger.
I’ve already identified some areas of weakness, primarily at centre half, and have made the requisite Bosman arrangements to strengthen the back line. With quicker and more agile defenders to mitigate the constant thread of counter-attacks, we should start to tighten up what’s been an occasionally errant goals-against column. With the offensive players creating so many chances, it’s a formula that should see us back in the big league before long.
And that, I reckon, is that. Thankfully, the competitive element of the network save is keeping me interested in FM14 because, to be quite frank, I find the game, and specifically the match engine, to be quite awful. And on that note…