Towards the end of last year guest author @Chalkontheboots wrote this wonderful piece http://sisportscentre.com/five-seasons-in-vallecas/ and promised to follow it up at some point. It’s took him around 8 months but he’s finally back with the next installment that follows on from part one and it’s well worth the wait! So if you haven’t read the first article linked above yet, then give it a read before this one.
Firstly, confession time. There is no five-year plan now. It’s been abandoned, to be replaced by a single goal. My aim is now quite simple: –
To challenge and win La Liga on a regular basis whilst upgrading the infrastructure of the club at as high a level as possible.
As far as mission statements go, it’s not the most grandiose but it’s certainly ambitious and unambiguous. There aren’t any hiding places.
I now have an official continental football sponsorship deal worth £1.5m per season. It’s a sign of the times but all I can immediately think of is how I can increase it for next season. And why is it only £1.5million?
The obligatory squad changes occur in pre-season as I bring in four players on free transfers. Nardl, Tariq, Descamps and Leiva arrive on Bosmans whilst Diego Araujo signs for £6m. It’s a massive outlay for Rayo but he’s only 21 and appears to have the quality I need to elevate me to the next level. Remember, I did say this would be a pivotal season for Rayo so spending cash seems to be appropriate. It’s also a pre-season tinged with sadness as Isl, Milla and Akieme all depart. The youngsters who initially added depth to the squad back at the start of this adventure, then became members of the first team squad, move on. It was fairly easy to shunt Milla and Akieme out of the door but Isl still had enough quality for a squad role but £2m was simply too good an offer for him.
I also offload my captain, Vincent Pajot for £4.9m solely due to his age. At 29 and with only one season left on his contract, I cash in. Pajot made 143 appearances for Rayo over four seasons but it’s now time for him to gain one last inflated payday in the Premier League. Joining him on the way out is Ajer who has consistently flattered to deceive. Barcelona pay me £6m for him. They are happy, he is happy and I’m ecstatic.
The season starts really well as I comfortably beat Mlada Boleslav in the Champions League play off and the league campaign is going well. I lose narrowly to Athletic and Valencia but I’m challenging near the top albeit it is early days.
I’ve reverted back to a back four again but I’m pushing my full backs on with an attacking mentality now as I look for increased options in the final third. With my team improving, opponents will continue to adopt more defensive approaches against me. The quality of player that I now have through the spine of the team has made me that little bit more adventurous. With Patric, Kosnic, Embarba, Salifu, Oyarzun and Yuste, I have solid foundations to build upon. It’s been working well, but of course this is Rayo.
I’m joint top of my Champions League group with two wins and two draws but then comes the inevitable crash. And it’s a chunky one at that. I lose 6-1 to Barcelona at home and 5-1 to Madrid away whilst losing my final two Champions League group games. I still manage to scrape through the Champions League in second place and I’m rewarded with a last 16 tie against Liverpool. It’s an awful four week period for me but things settle down as we reach the turn of the year. With my squad stretched and with money available, I know it needs to be strengthened. I’m too weak to compete properly on all fronts at the moment.
Guido Vadala departs for Atletico for £16.5 in January. He’s made 142 appearances for me and scored 37 goals. He was good but never quite that good and Atleti activate his release clause. I don’t make any effort to keep him with an improved contract. I accept that I cannot compete financially with Atleti and take the money. I always expected more from him especially in key games. It leaves me needing someone to play behind the striker or even as a striker in emergencies.
My old pal Edwin Cardona returns to Vallecas for the knock down price of £5.25m from Dortmund. He barely featured for Dortmund and is happy to return. He is joined by Ryan Gauld as I splash the cash from the sale of Vadala. Other follow with Mere, Lemoine, Galeano and Cariola all arriving for relatively small fees as I also look to reshape and develop the squad for the seasons ahead.
The new additions fail to re-ignite my league challenge and it disintegrates as I draw five of the next six league games. This includes games against Racing, Espanyol and Granada. Games that I need to win and games that I should be winning at this stage of Rayo’s development. It’s six huge points dropped. I’ve lost too much ground to realistically challenge for the title now and it’s all about maintaining a top four position. The importance of the league campaign is magnified when I depart the Spanish Cup after an aggregate defeat by Real Madrid and Liverpool extinguish my European hopes, both ties finishing 5-3 against me. I can play well, dominate possession and create chances but I’m not clinical enough. And I need to create a greater number of clear-cut chances than opponents as my forwards are quite frivolous at times.
With the season moving on and as we enter March, it’s time to enter survival mode with Rayo again. Obtain results and worry about performances later. I’m disgusted with myself for adopting such an attitude but I need to get over the 4th place finishing line and get me them Champions League riches. Rayo has had a taste of money and it tasted good.
Valencia, Atletico, Sevilla, Levante and Rayo are all competing for the final two Champions League spaces.
Question. How can Levante be challenging for a Champions League spot? And also, you’ll hear more about my disgust for Levante later.
Yet again, the big two turn me over although it’s tighter as I lose 2-1 to Barcelona and 4-2 to Real Madrid in April. It’s heading towards a final day showdown to secure the 4th place and my form is still ropey. On paper, my run in is relatively straightforward against lower placed teams but you know, Rayo.
It is straightforward after all. I take 15 points from 18 including my final league game away to Eibar who have mustered just 12 points all season. I finish in 4th place again, just nudging Sevilla into 5th place. I lose out on 3rd place due to my poor head to head record against Valencia. I managed to draw 0-0 away at the Mestalla but I lost out 1-0 at home early in the season. Only 6 points separates 3rd place and 7th place highlighting the slim margin of error. Although somewhat haphazard as the season wore on, I record nine wins and four defeats in my final 13 games. It’s enough but it still shows how I tail off as the season wears on as fatigue, suspension and injuries kick in. It’s been a decent season when I’ve consolidated my position with Rayo. Progress may have been incremental but at no stage have we ever slipped backwards. We keep moving forward.
It’s been a breakthrough season too for Enrique Yuste. True, he’s been with Rayo for a few seasons now and I pushed him into the team from an early age but 28 goals and 11 assists from his 42 appearances this season is excellent and establishes him as a top striker in the league as the age of just 21. It will also be the highlight of his time with Rayo as he’ll struggle to recapture the highs of this season again.
I conceded far too many goals during the season and unless I rectify that problem, I’m not going to challenge. It’s been a constant for me during my tenure at the club. My central defence has been the weakest area of my team. I have a number of potentially great players for central defence and whilst their regular playing may aid their own development, it’s hindering my team. I may need to change my approach on signings when it comes to defenders in the short-term at least.
The bank balance remains very healthy. UEFA’s great cash cow, the Champions League is now being milked and providing Rayo with a substantial boost. The income from gate receipts, prize money and TV money forms a huge part of my overall income and enables me to keep investing in the facilities to push the club forward.
My domestic TV deal is renewed and it’s good news. I’ll now receive £19.5m per season, an increase of just over 100%. My presence in the Champions League also sees increase commercial activity and sponsorship’s starting to emerge with new deals and increased finances from deals being renewed. I’m starting to build up a rather healthy bank balance.
I’m on a relatively sound financial footing and the tentative steps I’ve taken over the past few years towards forward planning can now be improved substantially. With training ground improvements completed and further enhancements likely over the next couple of years, I begin to scout further afield in an effort to uncover better quality young players to train. I now have the structures in position to acquire players with high potential and enable them to fulfill that potential. The majority of players around the ages of 18-21 that are not in my first team squad, are offered for loan now to help aid their development. If they develop sufficiently and come back ready to compete for a place in the first team squad, great. If not then I can offload them for a fee and reinvest elsewhere in the club.
It’s relatively quiet in the arrivals lounge at Rayo with Zied Jouini and Sergio Diaz coming in on Bosmans. The capture of Diaz looks significant and a bit of a steal for me. Unwanted at PSG, I grab him. He’s averaging a goal every two games albeit he’s had a pretty nomadic existence. That’s really an issue I should have paid closer attention to. True, he wants chunky wages and a hefty signing on fee but the quality is apparent and he quickly begins repaying me. Minambres brings in Salcedo from Deportivo and he joins the U19 team. It’s in January that I will really begin bringing players in and spending money.
Amidst the assortment of fringe players who leave in the summer, Adrian Embarba slips out of the door after 176 appearances over the last 6 seasons. A first pick for a while as well, with him goes the last player who was on the books of Rayo when I took over. Embarba developed with the club but in the last few seasons, his opportunities have lessened as the step up in quality that I was seeking was simply too great for him. That’s it. He’s gone.
I draw St Mirren in the Champions League qualifiers. It’s the easiest draw I could get and one that I win with relative ease. I smell more cash for Rayo in the Champions League particularly when I’m drawn with Chelsea, Basel and AC Milan.
Almeria and Gimnastic both manage to secure draws against me and my league campaign gets off to a faltering start. Form returns to Vallecas however and I’m propelled up the table with 6 wins on the bounce and then I lose away to bloody Levante. I’d happily see Levante relegated. I’ve struggled against them a fair bit and even when I win, it’s seldom comfortable. A couple of draws later and form picks back up again as I near the halfway stage in December before Barcelona arrive in Vallecas and once more give me a hefty beating.
I lose home and away to Chelsea in the Champions League and it’s another second place finish for me in the group stage. I’m sort of caught in a no mans land with the Champions League right now. I can comfortably see off the 3rd and 4th seeds in the group but the top seeds are cuffing me. I’ll need to increase the quality of my team and get a little bit of luck to overcome this.
I have continued to alternate between a 4-1-4-1 and a 4-4-1-1 depending upon opposition and have also made further changes to individual player instructions now than previously. I continue to tinker with my midfield set up to offer me enough defensive cover but also support my forwards. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with my tactics or my squad, its little changes that will now take me further on than previously. If I’m struggling in games I move to a 4-2-3-1 formation as I do tend to hog possession at times but do little with it. I’ve moved away from an attacking mentality and frequently start games with a balance approached until I get an idea of how the game is developing.
It’s the January transfer window where all the action happens this season. Diego Araujo departs netting me a tidy £21.5m profit after playing just 58 games for Rayo over two seasons. He weighed in with 10 goals and 14 assists. His direct replacement is Jose Pedro from France. Again, this is one of those pivotal signings that becomes synonymous with a club. A player who will develop and drive the team forward.
Gauld and Mere both head to Juventus after just two seasons with me. Gauld in particular was a disappointment producing just one goal and seven assists from his 24 appearances for me. He never really got going. I’ll admit to being initially reluctant to sell Gauld simply due to him being a Scotland international. It’s my firm belief that every top European team should have at least one Scottish Internationalist in their side…
Their replacements are Krajacic, Renault and Chauvet with Leon and Jimenez bought with the future in mind. Only Renault and Chauvet will fail to develop as envisaged although both will still perform well. I’ve spent a small fortune in the window, almost £34m. All that money was burning a hole in my pocket and it does feel good to have spent millions in just one month.
January starts with my customary Spanish Cup exit. I lose out in the 5th round to Valencia on penalties. It’s disappointing to lose out so early, not surprising, but I’m still not convinced about the ability to challenge on three fronts with my squad. Add to this a home loss to Malaga in the league and January is looking as bleak as the weather normally does but then I hit form again with seven-league wins in a row.
This is the pattern of the season. Runs of successive wins are punctured by periods of poor form lasting two or three weeks across all competitions. The only issue is when the run of bad form commences and which competition it hinders. At the moment, my winning streaks in the league are keeping me up near the top.
The gulf in class between Rayo and the European elite remains firmly in place and it appears substantial. PSG demolish me 8-3 on aggregate in the last 16 of the Champions League. I have the majority of possession and more shots on target but the French side are clinical and repeatedly cut me open on the counter attack. The four-one home loss in the first leg was incredibly demoralising and left me with a meaningless second leg. It did provide the opportunity to rotate slightly although this was tempered by the probability of a real thrashing if I went for an inexperienced side.
It’s another collapse as the season draws to a conclusion with five defeats in my final 12 league games costing me a higher place finish. Levante beat me again. Has there ever been such an infuriating team? I check the records to find I’ve only lost to Levante three times in 14 meetings. unfortunately, I’ve lost to them twice this season and they have incurred my illogical wrath as a consequence. I repeatedly bemoan this decline in form every season and yet every season I fail to tackle it sufficiently. It’s a combination of factors to be addressed but the most important one for me is having greater depth in quality in the squad allowing me to rotate more heavily from January onwards. I’ve made tentative steps towards this by playing more or less a reserve side in the 4th round of the Spanish Cup provided I’m drawn against lower league sides.
A 4th place finish in the league and the last 16 of the Champions League which leaves me questioning whether or not I should continue with this. I could go elsewhere but the prospect of building another club up doesn’t appeal to me. I’ve moved from enjoying this game to it becoming a slog. I just keep plodding away but can’t bridge the gap. Having dragged Rayo up to the top four, a breakthrough to genuinely challenge for the title still seems so far away.
And Levante finished above me in 3rd place.
Remember last season I said I conceded far too many goals? That is still an issue for me. It’s fine saying that my central defence is too weak but it’s equally an issue for my whole team if I continue to attack too often. The balance isn’t quite right in central midfield either. I’ll still continue to say that it’s minor tweaks needed and not an overhaul but I’m starting to get annoyed.
The previous two seasons seem transitional as if I’ve been searching for the next big step. Yet this season begins in much the same fashion with the revolving door at Rayo in full swing. Or full revolve. Whatever the correct term is.
Bazoer arrives from Ajax on a free and proves to be largely average when I play him. Admittedly that is infrequently. I sign a young German by the name of Alexander Ehrmann. Some signings define a club. This is that signing for me. He arrives from Stuttgart for nothing but he will prove to be priceless for me. Cornacchia comes in to offer competition at left back and Minambres signs Camacho for the attack.
Diaz departs to Leverkusen for £20m after scoring 22 goals in 39 games for me. Again, it’s a healthy profit. His head is easily turned by a bigger club and I consider him expendable, making no effort to retain him. As I said last season, he has led a nomadic existence and he is off on his travels once more. Cardona moves onto Levante for £10m. I’ve really squeezed every last drop of profit from this guy so I can’t complain about him. I retain him on the shortlist, you know, just in case. Cuevas, Salifu, Quintilla and Gary Johns all go as well raising around £37m for me in total.
A number of fringe players leave on loan for hefty monthly fees to boost my cash flow further. It’s not a market I’ve really attempted to break into before but with the quality I have down the ranks, it’s an obvious area to exploit now. It does need careful planning though to avoid sending players out on loan who cannot then be recalled during an injury crisis.
The new season always brings renewed vigour and after the struggles of last season it’s worth remembering this is what we wanted. This is what we are. This is who we are.
For Rayo to punch above their weight means to avoid relegation and move into a mid-table area. We’re above that. We have a tiny budget and the top clubs all have better quality players than us and more of them.
And after that moment of self-indulgence and self-esteem boosting pontification, it’s time to play some games.
Following the usual plethora of friendly games against absolute dross which enables me to rack up wins such as 11-0, I move onto the traditional Champions League qualifier game. This season’s victims are Braga who offer pitiful resistance as I trounce them 7-0 on aggregate. It’s a big victory for me and far more comfortable than anything previously achieved in the qualifying round and against a better team than normal (no disrespect to Mlada Boleslav or St Mirren).
After beating Real Sociedad on the opening day, I suffer a dispiriting 3-0 reverse at Barcelona though followed by what is best described as a 5-0 capitulation away to Roma. That early season hope has quickly evaporated. Both games saw strong teams sent out but I clearly got the tactics wrong in the home game vs Roma, being too aggressive against a top-level team and was subsequently punished for it.
My Champions League group stage campaign is all over the place again when Besiktas turn up in Vallecas and depart with a point. Two games into the campaign and one point. It’s time to summon up the old Rayo magic and manage to dig myself out of another hole. Back to back wins over CSKA, the home victory via an inspired Oyarzun hat trick gets me back on track. I’ve began moving between formations again with the 3-4-1-2 being favoured at home against weaker opponents. Roma beat me again but I sneak through the group stage when I win 4-0 away to Besiktas. I struggle to understand how they left Vallecas with a point earlier in the campaign.
One of the quirks of the Spanish Cup is the draw being made in advance so you can plot your route to the final. It’s not something I’ve ever bothered with as aside from one semi final appearance when Madrid thrashed me 6-0 on aggregate, I’ve been quite hopeless in the Cup but the draw is kind to me this season. Extremely kind in fact. Barcelona and Madrid are due to meet in the quarter-final and I’d play the victor in the semi final. It’s a long way off but still, it’s good to dream a little every 8 seasons or so. The big problem with progress in the Copa is the constant stream of football from December onwards if you progress as I’ve repeatedly said and moaned about. Combine it with European football and you’re looking at a game every midweek into late February. It places a huge strain on the squad to cope with the demands.
Wait. I’ve moaned about this before too, have I not?
It’s a problem I’ll face after narrow victories over Celta and Athletic in the cup. And it’s Madrid we’ll face. That’s a double problem as we have a horrendous record against them in all competitions. Actually, horrendous would be a decent record. I’ve lost 16 of my previous 21 meetings with them. I’ve savoured the sweet taste of victory against them on just two occasions.
Make that three times. A 2-0 aggregate victory is mine.
After the disaster at home to Roma, it’s worth stating that against Madrid, to quote Alan Shearer, I got my tactics spot on. I’ve absolutely no idea what that cliché is supposed to mean but never mind, just keep throwing the plaudits in the direction of Rayo. We’ll happily accept them, meaningless or otherwise.
After defeating Madrid on aggregate and with a real title challenge on the horizon, the type of challenge that lasts until at least late March, I come over all Arsenal again and chuck it as I draw five of my next seven-league games and Barcelona disappear into the distance. Honestly, this game is so bloody frustrating at times.
I record eight wins and three draws in my final 11 games of the season. That’s the sort of form I’ve been trying to achieve for so long and it comes in a season when I reach the quarter finals of the Champions League and the final of the Copa del Rey (ignore the mini collapse in late February and early March). I eventually seem to be getting the balance correct between rotation and the depth of the squad is greater. It’s also worth considering if the fewer arrivals this season had any sort of impact too. Of the five players I signed, only one was a regular in the side. Only one player arrived in January and Fernandez immediately went back out on loan. Nobody left in January. I had arguably the most settled squad that I’ve ever had.
And so the opportunity to claim silverware is upon us.
I’ve played Valladolid on 16 previous occasions and won every time yet I draw 1-1 in the Copa Final and head into extra time. I’m dominating but I can’t make the breakthrough. With penalties on the horizon, up pops Ehrmann to score the winning goal. After 8 seasons, 8 long seasons, there is a trophy in Vallecas.
RAYO VALLECANO HAVE JUST WON THE COPA DEL REY.
Buoyed by this success, I ask the board to invest in the facilities. I’m increasingly frustrated by their lack of cooperation when it comes to expanding the stadium. More and more games are selling out every season and I’d easily fill a stadium of 20,000 for a good dozen of so games per season which would provide me with much-needed increased revenue. I’ve tried various approached but the Board won’t back me. I change tack this time and ask for a new stadium instead. And the Board agree. In 2025 Rayo Vallecano will move to their new stadium. I have no idea on the size etc but I suspect I’ll increase revenue through increased crowds and also hospitality given the very basic service on offer at present.
Rayo finish 2nd in the league. It’s our highest ever position but I’m still far away from a Barcelona side who are dominating everything before them. Barcelona have the league wrapped up with 6 games of the season left then ease off enabling me to get slightly closer in the final standings. There is still a gap in the level of quality that the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid can offer compared to Rayo. This is the gap I have to bridge this close season if I’m to continue progressing and not stand still or move backwards. This is it. I’m on the threshold with Rayo now. We are almost there.
The final table displays the improvement I’ve made. Or does it? I’m still conceding 40+ goals a season. The big difference now is that I scrape a few extra points over the course of the season and I avoid the traditional bun fight for 4th place as I’m sitting above it.
It also feels as if I’ve had a revolving door policy for a few seasons. As I sign better players, I’m achieving more leading to bigger clubs chasing my players so I sell them and replace them. I need to break this chain to a certain degree and retain a core of my best players around which I can build a team. In that respect, this season has sown the seeds towards that as I have began to reject bids for my players and renew contracts at far higher salary levels than before.
Just before the group break for their holidays, Jose Pedro and Ehrmann moan about the lack of quality in the squad and threaten to leave. I like that ambition they are showing. I soothe them by telling them not to worry, it’s all part of my grand plan and new players of outstanding quality will be arriving. I don’t have anyone in mind just now. It’s the close season. And I’m off on holiday.
Before I go though, lets laugh at Levante finishing in 5th place. Europa League for you.
I’m approached by both Real Madrid and Arsenal during pre-season to attend interviews for their vacant manager positions. My Spanish Cup triumph has obviously not gone unnoticed. I reject Arsenal but decide to speak to Real Madrid and I’m promptly offered the job which I consider briefly before rejecting. Me? Managing Real Madrid? Do they not know who I am? I’m the manager of Rayo Vallecano. I’m not a Madridista. So why did I consider the position? The thought of running Madrid into the ground did hold some appeal to me. I don’t care if it’s only a game. Running a club you dislike into financial oblivion is a highly attractive proposition. I did, however, show considerable restraint. And after that brief moment of twisted logic and enjoyment, I shift focus onto the season ahead.
I’m a busy bee in the transfer market and I splash the cash once more. I’m forced to. I need to add quality but I simply can’t afford to have the likes of Jose Pedro and Ehrmann leave the club. With three players arriving in Andersson, Henrique and Nirvana (be honest, how good a name is that?) I’m confident that the moans of Jose Pedro and Ehrmann will be quelled. All three were highlighted as sign at all costs. I’ve tried to structure the deals based around payments for appearances, goals and international caps given the overall outlay. Again though, all of my better players are in the forward area of the team. I’m still lacking at the back and my scouting hasn’t really identified any quality central defenders. I have a number of guys with excellent potential but the step up in quality is now that much greater. And then, just as Matias Cahias arrived via an agent, Antonio Rudiger is offered to me by an agent. The player is transfer listed at Chelsea and although 29 and priced at £5m, he could be what I need in the short-term. I scout him quickly and although the report isn’t 100% complete, I buy him anyway. For me, the signing is more about what it represents than what he will deliver on the pitch. An experienced defender with international caps for Germany leaving Chelsea to join Rayo Vallecano.
New season, same old problem for some as Jordan Descamps has his head turned by a bigger club, Chelsea this time, who are following him. When he asks for a transfer, I remind him that only Rayo and I have his best interests at heart and he needs to stay in Vallecas. He does. I like this guy. He’s a future Rayo captain when Oyarzun leaves.
Jouini leaves for £6m which I find quite incredible given he only played 21 times for me over three seasons. After Rayo, I might sell snow to eskimos for a change. I strip back my squad further and release a number of players and send more out on loan. In the last few seasons I dabbled in sending players out on loan for a small fee but this season witnesses a significant effort in this field. The result is I’ll gain about £700k per month in loan fees whilst not paying out wages to a substantial number of players. The youth system is shifting focus from solely aiming to provide players for Rayo to providing players for Rayo and also generating a profit by selling players to help club costs.
That’s right. It’s still all about the money.
Pedro and Ehrmann accept the new signings have significantly strengthened the squad and are content to remain at Rayo. I’m pleased for them both. I immediately sign them on new contracts with substantially increased minimum fee release clauses. This comes at a price though. A substantial price as I’m forced to start paying wages of up to £80k per week. My wage bill has rocketed and I’m now paying out about £750k per week on wages. I’m already forecast to make a huge loss this season mainly due to a large deficit in the transfer market as I buy but don’t sell. The plus side is I have no excuses if I can’t deliver now (I should note that I’m extremely worried about a Leeds Utd scenario developing. I’m hugely reliant upon getting into the Champions League every season now). I have a squad of 24 players with no gaps in quality. Trapaga was previously one of my strongest players yet is now considered the weakest player in my starting eleven. I now need to sustain a title challenge. If I don’t win the league, fine, but I can’t be finishing second with the league already sewn up with six games remaining. I have to get closer to Barcelona. And maybe I will as Luis Enrique leaves to manage Spain.
The season begins and after a couple of league games, it’s the first big showdown of the season. I take on Barcelona managed by Temuri Ketsbia in the Spanish Supercup and I win both home and away legs for a comprehensive 4-1 aggregate victory. A win. And a dominant win at that with greater possession and more chances created over both legs. This is the marker I’ve been looking for.
I went with a more defensive approach at home with a 4-1-4-1 formation yet switched to a 4-4-1-1 when away from home. And it’s away from home that I dominate completely.
Madrid arrives in Vallecas as league leaders, two points ahead of me. The game finishes 0-0 but the loss of two points is significant for other reasons. I dominate the game with 60% and 17 shots at goal compared to just three from Madrid. A Madrid side that set up to defend for the entire game with a back five and three in central midfield. It’s highly significant that Madrid is defending when they play me. Rayo are setting the agenda now.
I now overhaul how I use my scouts to maximise their effectiveness. I’ll now only search for players with a minimum potential of 4.5 stars. And I won’t scout players until all of my assignments have been completed. That gives me 21 scouts out at the same time bringing me back reports which I sift through, adding potential signings to my shortlist. When all assignments are finished, I’ll then send my scouts out to review players individually. I need to refocus on getting free transfers in and eliminating my transfer expenditure as far as possible.
Dino Krajacic moans about Jose Pedro having a good contract and how he wants one too. A sort of Primary School complaint with a hefty price as I end up paying him £77k per week however the improvement in his form once the matter is resolved is significant. From being mainly a sub, he becomes a first pick.
My Champions League campaign is proving to be quite awful. A terrible 1-0 away to defeat to 4th seeds Basel (I’ve decided that Basel are in fact, the Swiss version of Levante. I despise them) followed by a 1-3 home defeat to Bayern Munich leave me with little flexibility. I need to beat Monaco home and away then beat Basel whilst hoping results go in my favour elsewhere as I doubt I’ll depart Munich with anything. Monaco at home is a fraught affair. 0-0 at half time and then Descamps gets sent off. I need the win and switch to a 4-2-2-1 with two high wingers to support Henrique in attack. Two quick goals follow before I revert to a 4-4-1 formation to see the game out. Monaco gets one goal back but its mission accomplished in the first stage of my attempt to get out of this group.
I face an awkward run of four successive away fixtures heading into November. Atletico and Valencia are followed by Monaco and Real Betis. Things start well with a 2-1 win over Atleti and a good performance but despite a similar scoreline and win over Valencia, I struggle throughout. My European ambitions are dealt a blow when I twice surrender the lead away to Monaco and emerge with a 2-2 draw. The hopeless performances continue with an insipid 0-0 draw at Betis. I shuffle things around and opt to face Sporting at home with a 4-3-3 to field all my strikers in the one game. I start the game in an aggressive, attacking outlook (assuming that Sporting Gijon are no Roma) and it works. I win 5-0 with Lemoine scoring a hat trick and Henrique and Yuste also scoring. It’s a good boost ahead of the do or die European game vs Basel. I shuffle things once more and go with a 3-4-2-1 as I need to win. Henrique drops out and Lemoine and Yuste score again as I win comfortably win 5-1 however Monaco defeat Bayern. Players are performing and I’ve secured important results but it all feels a little bit lucky. Tinkering this much and getting results? This leaves me needing to travel to Munich and win to ensure qualification. A draw could be enough though.
My league form continues to be excellent. Malaga are dispatched 5-1 and I win 2-0 away to Alaves who fail to register a single attempt on target. I’ve hit 23 goals in my last five competitive games. Now it’s the big one. Bayern away. A game that will encapsulate the varied emotions you encounter playing Football Manager. Bayern are clear favourites and I need the win. Do I start off cautiously or just go for it? I maintain the 4-4-1-1 formation that has been producing for me although I temper this with players asked to maintain their positions more often to retain my shape. I trail 1-0 and I’m getting overrun midway through the first half. I change one thing. I drop the tempo from much higher too much lower. And I start to claw my way back into the game. I score two quick goals to take the lead and immediately drop deeper to protect what I have with 20minutes remaining. Almost immediately, Bayern equalise. And as they do that, the deadlock is broken in Basel where the home side take the lead. I need to score or it’s the Europa League for me. I move back to playing high tempo passing football and the result is a goal from a long punt down the pitch by Pacheco over the heads of the Bayern defence and Nirvana slotting home. This isn’t just qualification now. This is winning the group. Everyone drops back to a defensive mentality with slow tempo and time-wasting. I see out the final 15 minutes without any problems. A great performance and the reward is a tie vs Ajax. A very winnable tie and the opportunity to get to the quarter finals once more.
After the high comes the low. Away to Villarreal is next. It’s a yellow submarine that is sinking. Fast. From their 15 league games, they have 0 wins, five draws and 10 defeats. Only Barcelona has defeated me this season so, of course, you know what is coming. I make several changes but it’s still a strong team that takes to the field. A drab game becomes a problem game when Descamps gets himself sent off in the 46th minute for a ridiculous tackle. I drop back to a 4-4-1 formation with my two central midfielders sitting deeper. I want to win but I’ll accept a point now. Then Villarreal score.
It’s difficult to clearly articulate my anger at this point. A great run of wins and performances comes to an end with a quite insipid display. It’s incredibly infuriating. I’ve had bad defeats before but I’ve always had weaker teams at my disposal. Quite simply, I shouldn’t be losing to a Villarreal side that have become nothing more than cannon fodder in the division. Once I calm down I reflect and look at the bigger picture. I’ve played 16 league games now and I have 36 points. Yes, I should have won that game but I’m also still going well.
Somebody has to pay for this defeat though and I decide its Descamps. He has a history of making stupid tackles and getting sent off. The last player to annoy me like this was club captain Nacho who I sold. I know I said Descamps was a future captain at one point but I try to sell him but when nobody meets my valuation, my anger begins to subside and I remove him from the transfer list. He accepts his fine of one weeks wages. He’s a good kid really.
Sociedad, Tenerife, Sevilla and my own nemesis Levante are swatted aside by a combined score of 16-5 in the next four games. Rayo are flying.
I sit three points behind leaders Real Madrid. Yes, them. The side I toyed with in the summer and who I laughed at as they finished in 7th place last season under Unai Emery. They were not supposed to be this good. On the positive side, it’s very tight at the top now. Barcelona is third but nobody is running away with the league. This is the chance I’ve been waiting for. A season when everyone is capable of cutting each other’s throats and nobody can run away with the title.
My finances don’t look that good in January. I’ve spent £27m more than I’ve recouped in transfer fees this season and combined with my huge wage bill of £850k per week, I’m projected to make a considerable loss. I’ve not been playing Descamps since his red card and I’ve coped very well. So I try to sell him again and Chelsea offer me £35m which I gladly accept. I’m back on an even financial keel now.
I don’t want to hear you say “But you said he would be your captain one day…” I say a lot of things but the one thing that is above anything else is that everything is for the benefit of the club.
Progress in the Copa means Wednesday – Saturday – Wednesday football for the next few weeks. I’m conscious that with a few players still injured, I’m limited for options so I recall Salcido, Galeano and Carmona from their loan deals. None of them have ever played for Rayo but they all make their debuts as subs in the next game, away to Valladolid. None of them appear to have good potential now compared to when I signed them but then again, Humam Tariq is only a back up player now and rated lowly yet he performs every time I’ve picked him this season and he’s becoming an important part of the squad. Players with relatively low ratings can still perform well on a good run of form.
Madrid are eight points ahead of me as we enter March and it already looks like my challenge is over until Madrid pull a Rayo only much earlier. Madrid implode picking up just two wins in their next nine league games. It’s a disastrous run of form which leaves Barcelona and Rayo to fight it out for the title. It’s always sad to see a great club like Madrid, a club that deserves success falling away so badly, isn’t it? Of course not. It’s fantastic.
I’m operating a two team system making six or seven changes per game as I keep my key players fit for the bigger games and use the squad players in lesser games. That’s if you can call any sort of must win game as a lesser fixture. It’s not really rotation, more a partial overhaul system I’m operating now but it’s working. I’m on an unbelievable run of form right now. I keep defeating everyone in the league. In Europe, I comfortable beat Ajax before Napoli are swept aside as I win both legs setting up the semi final tie against Man City. Before that arrives though, I have the opportunity to win the title.
I’m eight points clear with three games remaining. Sevilla away. Win and I achieve the impossible and win the title. Lose, and I get the opportunity to clinch the title the following week against Villarreal. Conscious that I have the Champions League semi final on the horizon and a decent margin for error, I make a few changes.
It’s a fairly even game apart from one issue. I take every chance that chance that comes my way and we’re 3-0 up after 30minutes. Sevilla pull a goal back before half time but immediately after half time I go 4-1 up. And Sevilla hit back again, reducing my lead to 4-2 after 50minutes. And theta’s how it stays.
RAYO VALLECANO. LA LIGA CHAMPIONS
From January onwards we play 20 league games and record 16 wins, three draws and one solitary defeat.
We deserve this title.
Now the big one. The Champions League semi final.
How often do you click on “continue” impatiently to hurry up and get through to the team selection screen? Especially when you have a key game approaching and you’re really not interested in who had won player of the month in the Belgian first division. I have Man City in the Champions League semi final and I need to hurry up. Click, click, click, click, click. All the way trough to submit team which I click too. I didn’t mean to but I was having such clicking fun. It’s not a problem though because I always have at least one player injured, suspended or ineligible for the game except this time. The game starts. I’m fielding what is essentially a second string eleven away at the Etihad in one of the most important games I’ve faced in nine seasons. And I take the lead via an own goal. I get battered but I secure a 3-2 defeat and live to fight in the second leg. And I’ve given the majority of my key players an extra rest.
Rejuvenated and fresh, my players are ready with a full strength team in the home leg. And Man City score straight from kick off to lead 4-2 on aggregate. Nirvana hits a double and we’re 2-1 up by half tie and leading on away goals. I can’t sit back and defend so I keep things the same with a 4-4-1-1 giving me enough attacking threat against a side that needs to score but doesn’t have enough of the ball to really do so. I squeeze through on away goals following and the treble is on.
The Copa del Rey final arrives and I thrash Valencia 5-0 to retain the trophy and secure a league and cup double. The side produce another fantastic performance, dominating opponents who continue to pose problems for me in the league.
And the biggest prize of all is just a few weeks away.
I remember watching Champions League Finals that were quite awful. Drab, unexciting games with teams more content to avoid defeat than to actually win. And now I’ve experienced one of these finals with Rayo. I dominate possession against Arsenal but I can’t create anything and Arsenal score with their only shot on target. With the scores level at one-one, both sides have a man sent off. Extra time looms. I lose Flavio Henrique to injury at the start of extra time and see the game out with nine men at one-one. I’ll take my chances on penalties. I have one chance now. No chance. I lose five-three but can console myself with a hefty cheque for prize money and TV appearances. It’s a financial victory as I resign myself to becoming what I once behove. That’s right. I look at the balance sheet rather than the trophy cabinet and content myself with money in the bank and an empty trophy cabinet. Only for a fleeting moment though. I need to refocus on what I want to achieve next season, my final season with Rayo (for the purposes of this article at least).
Another active transfer window beckons as I make plans for season 10 and, of course, the future at Rayo. It’s quite possibly the busiest and best transfer window of my time with Rayo.
Rudiger is attracting considerable interest. He’s 30 years old and on £65k per week. He was my best central defender last season but with Jimenez fully fit, Leon progressing well and Mothwa just signed, I have three good options plus Chauvet as back up. I offer up Rudiger at £10m and receive plenty of bids. It’s a tidy £4m profit on him. Renault likewise is attracting interest and wants to go to Man Utd. He’s not really developed as envisaged so I let him go to for £10.5m which is £1m more than I paid for him.
Dortmund activates the release clause of Pedro Rosa at £5m. I enter discussions with him over a new contract but his demand of £44k per week is way over his present £8k per week deal. I walk away. I did want Rosa to stay. He’d come through the ranks at Rayo and was proof of the success of the youth team but I’m a seriously tight penny-pinching manager at times and I simply can’t justify paying out the sort of wages he wants given what he offers the team. With Cornacchia and Neri, I have two able deputies at left back. Erik Andersson never fully convinced me and when Spurs coming knocking on the door, I gladly welcome them into the Rayo offices to discuss business. It’s a productive deal as the Swede departs for £15m, a £5m profit with Andersson failing to activate any of the clauses I had inserted when he was bought last season.
Again, a number of players leave on season long loans that bring me in a decent amount of cash. I should make about £6m from loaning players again this season. And my wage bill is down to £750k per week. I should note, I’m permitted £2m per week as I reduced my transfer budget down to £30m. I don’t know why I’m still fixated with my wage bill. I have a quick look at last years finances and I realise why. I appreciate in the modern game that income from gate receipts represents a decreasing portion of a clubs income at the top-tier of European football but in the case of Rayo, it’s completely bizarre. I sold 11,500 season tickets last season and I took in around £13m from season ticket sales and gate receipts. My wage bill was over £50m. I still need to sell each year to break even despite all that I’ve achieved. I’ve won the Spanish Cup twice in succession, and whilst I’m not deriding the prize money on offer, it’s a bit odd that I only gain £95k for winning the cup. Likewise winning La Liga nets me about £3.5m. Sponsorship is becoming increasingly important to the progression of Rayo. It’s also why I refocus my attention on sourcing younger players to develop or players nearing the end of their contracts. I only want to pay for payers who will offer me quality that I lack in the team.
Gerin, Vanbrabant, NGombo, Gallego, Manuel Jesus, Boyer and Miltinho will all make contributions to Rayo in the coming seasons but for now, the majority of them arrive and then depart out on loan to gain experience and develop.
Leiva and Nardl move on and it’s got the feeling of a very successful window for Rayo.
The league campaign goes incredibly well from the outset. This title defence is moving along rather easily, possibly too easily with a 17 game unbeaten run in the league. This includes a victory over Barcelona and a draw with Madrid. I’m moving increasingly towards a variation of the 3-5-2. Sometimes I push my wingers higher up the pitch and drop a striker into an attacking midfield role. Or alternatively, I drop a player between defence and midfield to gai greater match control via possession. I suffer the traditional home loss to a diddy team though, this time 1-0 against Las Palmas, but I’m turning in some excellent performances albeit my European campaign is a little more fraught.
I lose my opening two fixtures in the Champions League which puts me under real pressure for the remaining games. Man Utd I can accept losing too but Anderlecht have beaten me and again I’m under pressure to qualify. I win the remaining four games but finish up second once more and will face Man City in the last 16.
PSG have been mooching around Ehrmann for some time now but finally decide to make a bid. It’s pitifully low, around the £20m mark which includes numerous add ons. I tell them where to go but they continually return and keep increasing their bid.
Its one of those pivotal decision moments for me again. Do I sell the boy wonder that I snagged for free from Stuttgart just over two seasons ago and if I do, for how much? On the other hand, can I afford to sell someone who is one of the best, if not the best, player at my club? Ehrmann has a £60m release clause and if PSG want him, that’s how much they will need to pay. And they do. Ehrmann departs in the January transfer window for £60m. The stats for a 18-year-old right-winger are quite outrageous. During his time with me, Ehrmann made 119 appearances, scored 54 goals and provided 39 assists.
Why did I sell? Remember what I said at the end of season five? I’m a selling club. Always have been, always will be. Buy low and sell high. That’s what has turned the club around and that’s what will continue to be our overall guiding aim. Tomaselli and Paul Simon join as replacements for Ehrmann. I opt for both in the hope that one of them can contribute significantly. It turns out, both can.
My central defence has been causing me concern for some time. Jimenez has been a regular this season alongside Mothwa but both are just 18 and 19 respectively. I need a more experienced player with higher quality in there. I need to find a Rudiger Mk2. And I find one and as usual, it’s always in the last place you look. In this instance, he’s been hiding way up there in the north of Spain in San Sebastian. Carlos Bermudez is a Peruvian wonderkid with Real Sociedad but they won’t sell him to me. I’m quite annoyed at their failure to recognise my superiority and so set in motion a maniacal and calculating plan to unsettle him. It works and I snag him for a hefty fee. Or £16.5m to be exact. With further clauses attached
Oyarzun is now 31 years old and despite being my captain and a mainstay of the team, I look at his declining value and the fact that if he gets one more Spanish cap, his wages will treble and decide to offload him. He’ll go to West Ham for £11m at the end of the season. It’s worth recalling that Oyarzun was another free transfer I picked up way back in my 5th season with Rayo. He’s off down the apples and pears to West Ham, me old son. Trapaga joins him for £5m, another very tasty profit and on a player who was only being used intermittently in the last season or so and who I signed for a few hundred thousand. Another of the old guard move on as Pachecho leaves for CSKA Moscow. His agent wanted his salary trebled and a new four-year contract. I don’t mind the salary but Pachecho will be 32 in the summer and I have Gallego waiting in the wings so I’m not going for a four-year contract. I’ve always been very Wenger-esque when it comes to contracts for players in their 30’s. Despite being out of contract at the end of the season, I manage to get £500k for him. Another free transfer who nets me a profit. The fans and the Board are not too happy though…
My European adventures end prematurely this season as Man City dispatch me 5-3 on aggregate. I never recover properly from a 2-1 home defeat in the first leg. I then suffer an early exit from the Copa del Rey leaving me to focus solely on the league. And this is proving more awkward now as a run of dodgy form sees my lead reduced significantly with Barcelona tucked in behind me.
Alaves, Gimnastic and Malaga are seen off with comprehensive 1-0 victories before I lose three games on the bounce. I don’t have any problems with injuries or suspensions or fitness. I simply can’t get the players to perform at the level shown early in the season.
I win one, draw one. Then win one and draw one. I’m still leading Barcelona but Atleti hammer me 4-1 and my lead is down to one point. Mallorca and Racing stand between me and another title. And just like that, I’ve got 6 points in the bag along with another league title. All the struggles evaporate as I record 3-0 and 4-0 wins.
As the season draws to a close, Arsenal launch a bid for Jose Pedro and activate his minimum release clause. Another £48m into the bank which more or less pays for my new stadium. That’s right, my new stadium. The Board announce it will cost £59m and be completed by 2026. The new Rayo-Dome (my words not theirs) will seat 22,000 fans. This should increase my gate receipts by about 50% assuming I continue to get near capacity crowds. It means I could earn around £20m from gate receipts over the course of a season. Woo hoo.
I’ve now sold my entire first choice midfield in the last few months. The oldest player in my first team squad is now a crinkly 24 years old. Unless I strengthen central midfield, I’m concerned about how the new season will develop. That’s a future problem though. I’ll deal with that later.
I’ve finished the season with a decent profit and over £120m in the bank. I think I can relax a little now and stop fretting about cashflow. As if to prove this point, Nirvana renews his contract with a basic salary of £120k per week. This is a total extravagance and an example of just how far Rayo have progressed in 10 seasons under my control. My weekly salary budget during that first season was £247k for my entire squad.
It’s worth listing all the key statistics from my 10 seasons with Rayo
Two things stand out among the various statistics for me.
Firstly, 238 players sold / released over 10 seasons. I’ve been quite ruthless with players especially those in my youth team. With poor facilities and youth coaching early on, I tended to release the bulk of my U19 team each season. If you’re not good enough then you’re out the door otherwise you’re taking up a space and costing me money.
Secondly, the profit I’ve made from selling playing is huge at over £200m and could be increased even further if I opt to sell the likes of Nirvana from my team right now. It also shows how I need to sell to survive. That without Champions League football, I was only a season or two away from financial disaster also shows how precarious a position the club remains in as a consequence of the poor money from TV in Spain and the incredibly small fan base which I have.
As an update, I’m now in season 12 and I’m still projected to make a loss without selling players but the gap has been narrowed to around £15m per season. My new stadium opens in a few months time and this should see that gap decline to around £10m per season. I’m almost, almost sustainable without selling albeit that comes with the caveat of Champions League football.
Odd to think when I arrived, the main concern of the Board was avoiding relegation and the financial implications of that. Now, the main problem is still around finance but at the complete opposite end of the spectrum.
Here’s to the next ten seasons.