This is a fictional piece written by guest author @footyanchor and is the third in the series.
Previously, van Hooijdonk passed his first season back in premier league with flying colors after finishing 6th behind the big five. The Dutch coach also managed to outwit arguably the best manager in the game by winning both the Europa League and FA Cup finals at the season end. How would he do in his first season back in Europe’s elite competition?
The Diary of Pierre van Hooijdonk – Part Three
The board is beginning to trust me more after last season’s cup adventures. I was handed a massive transfer budget of 53.42 million pounds with a wage budget of 1 million pounds per week to put together a squad capable of competing at the highest level. 19.5 million pounds were raised from the departures and a total of six players were lured to Nottinghamshire for a total of 75 million pounds. Unlike past two seasons where overhauls were needed, we brought in quality rather than quantity this time round. Italian striker Andrea Belotti had been unsettled throughout the season by an interest from Southampton and I wondered why. They finished 5 places and 15 points behind us in the league and we had the champions league football. Nevertheless, a bid of 16 million pounds was too attractive to turn down as he only arrived for a mere 4 million pounds last summer. That made up a profit of 12 million pounds after just one season. I would be doing the club a disfavor if I turned down Southampton’s bid.
I moved quickly to replace him with Wissam Ben Yedder, a technically gifted French false nine from Toulouse for 9 million pounds. Riechedly Bazoer was also brought in to replace the outgoing Alexander Juel Andersen in the midfield anchor role. Francesco Migliore failed to establish himself as a premier league left-back and physical monster Vasco Regini was purchased for 2 million pounds from Sampdoria as his successor. Muhamed Besic impressed so much in the ball-winning role that I was more than happy to fork out 12.5 million pounds to make his loan deal permanent. My fellow countryman, Tonny Trindade de Vilhena, joined me at the City Ground after Newcastle refused to loan us Mehdi Abeid for a third season. Barcelona was kinder as they agreed to extend Adama Traore’s loan deal for a further season. The last move of the summer was by far the largest risk I had to take so far. Having filled up most of the squad positions and with a huge chunk of transfer budget yet to be spent, I had trouble deciding on the areas to strengthen until this name came up.
The scouting department was quick to inform that the talented Brazilian striker was available for 31 million pounds and that he was perfect for our false nine role. 31 million pounds is a huge sum and the most I had spent on a player was the 12.5 million pounds splashed on Besic in the same window. Eventually, I decided to break the club’s transfer record twice in the same window and I was ready to build my team around Gabriel for the next ten years. He could potentially be one of the top strikers in the league and at a tender age of 20, there would be resale value if he decides to leave for pastures new in future. With this crazy transfer, I wrapped up our businesses for the summer.
We opened our league campaign with two wins against West Ham and Stoke City before visiting the irritatingly strong Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Despite beating them in two cup finals last season, everyone could see that our squad pales in comparison with Mourinho’s and Willian sent us on our way to a 1-2 defeat after scoring in the opening two minutes. The boys always seem to respond well after a defeat and we went on an unbelievable run following the Chelsea defeat, winning ten and drawing two in our next twelve fixtures before the fixtures pile up in December. Man United A, Newcastle H, Arsenal A and Liverpool H were our next hurdles and we were brought back down to earth after picking up only 1 point in those four games.
2016 had been a great year and 2017 began in similar fashion as the lads managed to outdo their good run in the first half of the season by going on a 17-game unbeaten run. The boys were showing championship form as we picked up an impressive 45 points out of a possible 51. We entered the last two games of the season only two points behind Chelsea and despite facing the tougher fixtures, I harbored hopes of overtaking the defending champions. We had to play both Newcastle and Liverpool away while Chelsea faced Sunderland and Everton at Stamford Bridge. Disappointingly, we lost both games and Mourinho went on to lift his third consecutive premier league title.
Chelsea’s impressive points total of 90 proved to be too much for us in the end as we finished 6 points behind Mourinho’s unstoppable unit. Boasting the league’s best defensive record, the Blues lost only two games all season and led the chasing pack for most of the season. On a more positive note, we managed to beat them in terms of goals scored and the lads finished as the league’s most potent team in our second season back in top flight. We were also the league’s second best defensive team together with Liverpool, conceding 9 goals more than Chelsea.
We were often written by the media to be ‘cup specialists’ after last campaign’s special cup runs and the lads managed to live up to the tag by lifting the Capital One Cup this time round. The squad players showed how much they want the first team places by knocking out the likes of Aston Villa, Huddersfield, Southampton and Everton along the way to face Martin Jol’s Swansea in the final. Our record transfer, Gabriel Barbosa, showed he is a big game player by bagging the opener just eight minutes into the game and that helped us add another piece of silverware to our Community Shield and UEFA Super Cup wins at the start of the season.
In our first season back in the Champions League, we were drawn into a tough group with the likes of Atletico Madrid, Zenit and Monaco. The great resilience displayed by the lads in our first game against Atletico enabled us to bag all three points in a narrow 1-0 victory. The long trip to Russia was up next and the boys did not perform to the best of their abilities as we were held to an eventful 2-2 draw at the Zenit-Arena. We got back to winning ways in France when Zaza followed up his two goals haul in Russia with one of the fastest goals scored in the competition within the opening minute of the game. Monaco never recovered and we ended up 2-1 victors. Seven points from three games put us in a good position in the group but we failed to win our next two games, drawing 1-1 at home against Monaco before the 0-1 away loss against Atletico. We needed to secure a result against Zenit in the last fixture to qualify from the group stages and the boys chose the right time to peak, thrashing the Russian outfit 5-1 via the help of an impressive Gabriel Barbosa hat-trick. Bayer Leverkusen were our opponents in the first knock out round and the boys kept up the momentum with a 5-0 aggregate win. Dutch technician Tonny Trindade de Vilhena was the hero with two goals in as many games. Agonizingly, we were drawn against Chelsea in the quarter-finals and Mourinho’s side halted our progress with a 2-0 aggregate win. The 0-2 away loss at Stamford Bridge proved costly as we struggled to find the net against the brilliant Thibaut Courtois.
We faced Chelsea so many times this campaign that I felt sick at the sight of Jose Mourinho in the dugout. We drew them once again in the FA Cup semi-finals having overcome the likes of Millwall, Birmingham, Blackburn and Tottenham in the earlier rounds. The Portuguese obviously did not think too highly of us as he chose to field two youngsters in the heart of their defense. We took full advantage and came back from a goal down to beat the rich boys 2-1 in extra time. Southampton were our cup final opponents and once again, Gabriel Barbosa repaid another portion of his huge fee by slamming home the rebound from his own shot in a tight final. We were the FA Cup winners again!
Pione Sisto was our star performer this campaign, scoring 16 and creating 20 for his team-mates in only 29 starts. Unsurprisingly, the Dane topped our ‘Player of The Match’ chart with 9 and loanee Adama Traore followed closely behind with 8. We were the league’s top scorers and it was largely due to the many goal-scorers we had in the squad. Seven players ended up on double figures and we had five players with ten assists and above. Star signing Gabriel Barbosa took his time to settle in England and when he did, he ended up as our top scorer with 18 goals, including the two valuable cup winners. He excites me so much and I can’t wait to see how he does in the next campaign.
In a nutshell, it has been another terrific season for us. We got closer to the top of the league, progressed to the quarter-finals in our first season back in the champions league, and managed to add more silverware to our growing trophy cabinet. However, I hate Chelsea. I hate facing them and I hate how strong they are all over the pitch. Can we get closer to them next season?