This is a fictional piece written by guest author @footyanchor and is the second part.
I want to start part two of my series by thanking Cleon for allowing me to guest blog on his awesome website. I have been a great fan of his ever since he began writing on the SI forums so you can’t imagine how elated I was when I found out that he has allowed my piece to be featured here. The series I am working on is based on my very own FM15 save with a tinge of ‘reality’ and it is presented in the form of a manager’s football diary. I know I am going to enjoy writing this a lot and I hope that readers of sisportscentre.com will find some joy in reading them as well. You can also follow me on twitter @footyanchor for more football chats!
In Part One, former Nottingham Forest striker Pierre van Hooijdonk (you may remember his free-kicks) took over the reins at his old club, got them promoted after signing 14 players in one transfer window, and surprisingly qualified for the Europa League as beaten finalists of the FA Cup. How will he do in the world’s biggest football league?
The Diary of Pierre van Hooijdonk – Part Two
Summer was ten times busier for me as a manager than when I was a player. Qualification for Europa League meant we had to strengthen significantly if we want to be competitive in the upcoming campaign. A grand total of 42 players were released/sold and twelve players went the other way in a very busy summer. Notable sales include last season’s top scorer Britt Assombalonga (he moaned for a move to Bayer Leverkusen), center-back Kevin Wilson, ball-winner Walid Atta and third choice striker Matty Fryatt. 16.9 million pounds were raised from the departures to add to our transfer war chest of 25.15 million pounds and 500,000 pounds per week for wages.
With our number one keeper Darlow returning to Newcastle, Dutch shot stopper Simone Zoet was brought in for 3.8 million pounds from PSV to fill the void. Ben Amos was also signed permanently on a free transfer after he was released by Man United and the Englishman would continue as our backup keeper. The Scandinavian region was again scouted heavily and a young Swedish right-back, Emil Krafth, was spotted in Helsingborg and was subsequently brought in for 1.8 million pounds to challenge Mancienne for the right-back spot. Another promising Scandinavian, Patrick Banggaard, was brought in for 3 million pounds from FC Midtjylland to strengthen our central defense. Huge money was then splashed on Massadio Haidara (8 million pounds) to solve the problematic left-back position and he would go straight into our first 11.
We needed a better ball winner to push us to the next level and I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Everton were willing to loan us the excellent Muhamed Besic. The Bosnian always shows great determination and aggression in his tackles and he would challenge the dependable Fenger for the first-choice ball winner role. Like Mehdi Abeid, Adama Traore agreed to stay with us on loan for a further season and we would again be able to enjoy his pace and trickery without having to pay a single penny. Gael Kakuta was also brought in on a free transfer to add another dimension to our collection of wingers and I am hoping that he would prove Mourinho wrong for letting him go after spending numerous years in Chelsea’s academy. Last but certainly not least, young Danish winger Pione Sisto was purchased for a mere 4.9 million pounds and he could be our most important signing if he could settle quickly into life in Nottinghamshire.
Following Assombalonga’s departure, we needed a new set of strikers and two Italian forwards were brought in for a combined total of 8 million pounds. Both Simone Zaza and Andrea Belotti have the required attributes to play in the lone striker role and they will share game time evenly in the upcoming campaign. Khouma Babacar was brought in on loan from Fiorentina to provide extra cover in the forward positions and with that, our 23-man squad was all set and ready to go.
Our first top flight game since 1999 ended on a positive note as loanee Muhamed Besic grabbed a double in a pleasing 4-1 home win against the Magpies. Following the opening victory, I had to rotate the squad early as two Europa League Play Off ties against FC Twente sandwiched a tough trip to Goodison Park. The boys did well to overcome the Dutch outfit 3-2 on aggregate win but fell to Ross Barkley’s screamer in a narrow 0-1 defeat. That disappointing loss kicked us into an impressive run of six consecutive victories (Stoke H, West Brom A, Standard H, Swansea A, Q.P.R. A, Palace H) and I was most pleased with our solid defensive form, keeping five clean sheets in six. The run came to an end in Florence where Mario Gomez was unstoppable in a 1-2 defeat against Fiorentina. Following the defeat, the fixtures were kind to us as we returned to Nottinghamshire to face our fellow promoted side Cardiff. Henri Lansbury arrived in the penalty area in a ‘Frank Lampard’ manner to slam home the winner in a narrow 1-0 victory.
We faced a tough Man United side after the international break and despite giving our all, the boys came away with nothing after Andrea Belotti disappointingly missed a penalty at Old Trafford in a 1-2 loss. The lads bounced back impressively in Spain with a superb 3-0 win against Villarreal and that put us in a good position in Europe with six points from three group games. I challenged the players to keep the level of performances up despite the midweek Europa League game and they responded in the right manner with a hard-fought 2-1 away win at Sunderland. Loanee Mehdi Abeid would have pleased his parent club Newcastle a lot after grabbing a double against their local rivals. I was then able to give the young players some valuable game time against Brentford in the Capital One Cup and they did not disappoint in an emphatic 4-1 win against the championship outfit. A horrendous run of results followed as we failed to register a win in the next seven leagues games (Spurs H, Liverpool H, West Ham A, Chelsea A, Hull H, Bournemouth A, Man City H). Thankfully, we had European football and three straight Europa league wins against Villarreal H, Standard A and Fiorentina H kept the mood in the dressing room positive. Who says Europa League is a bad distraction? The boys kept up their good cup form in the Capital One Cup and goals from Zaza, Kakuta and Besic secured a 3-0 quarter-final win against Newcastle at the St. James’ Park.
Back in the league, we finally returned to winning ways on our eighth try to the three points came at the electric St. Mary’s Stadium where Zaza helped us on our way to a 2-0 victory with an early goal. That winning goal sparked a fantastic run of form for the Italian striker and he managed to find the net seven times in the next eight games. With a proven goal-scorer in the side, we were able to kick back into form in the league with six wins in the next eight to push us into the European places. The boys also made further progress in the FA Cup after knocking out Brentford away (yes them again!), a weakened Man United side plus championship outfit Bolton both at home to set us up against Huddersfield in the quarter-finals. However, our Capital One Cup run was brought to a halt in the Semi Finals as we failed to beat Chelsea once again in a 1-3 aggregate defeat.
The Europa League restarted in February and we were drawn against Norwegian side Molde in the First Knockout Round. The lads produced the best display of the season thus far in the second leg at The City Ground, beating the opposition 6-1 to go through 7-2 on aggregate. To my dismay, it went a bit anti-climactic in the next game as we were held to a goal-less draw at home against championship side Huddersfield in the FA Cup. We certainly did not need that extra game but the boys made full use of the second chance to beat them 3-0 to earn a trip to Wembley against another championship outfit Aston Villa. Sandwiched between the two FA Cup ties, we kept up our good form in Europe by beating Ajax twice in identical 4-0 wins to reach the quarter-finals of the Europa League. I wasn’t too optimistic when we drew PSG in the quarter finals but the lads showed that they can compete with the likes of Edinson Cavani, Memphis Depay and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to reach another semi-final after a pulsating 4-2 aggregate win.
Our league form was inconsistent towards the end of the campaign due to the obscene number of games we had to play in a short period of time. The boys still managed four wins, six draws and three defeats in our last thirteen fixtures to finish 6th in the table behind a very predictable top 5. I couldn’t be more pleased with the squad’s achievement as our Salary Per Year was the third lowest in the league. Considering that this was our first season back in big time, we had over-achieved by a great deal and performed admirably against teams with considerably higher budgets. With more money coming in from the TV deals, we could look forward to another summer of strengthening and hopefully close the gap on the richer clubs. Things are looking really rosy at the moment.
The lads proved last season that they enjoy playing in the cup competitions by reaching both domestic cup finals and they were exactly the same this time round. Turkish outfit Galatasaray were our opponents in the Europa League Semi Finals and despite losing 0-1 away in the first leg, the boys showed tremendous resilience once again and bounced back with a convincing 4-0 home win to set up another final with the irritating Chelsea side. It would be our second cup final with the dominant English side this campaign as we had earlier overcome Aston Villa to reach our second consecutive FA Cup Final in as many years. The task was made even tougher due to the crazy fixture pile up towards the end of the season. We had to play 6 games in just 12 days and I had no choice but to rotate the squad heavily while praying for no unnecessary injuries/suspensions.
Regardless of the results I told the squad I would be happy if they performed to the best of their abilities in the two finals, and that anything else would be a bonus. The Europa League Final was up first and Henri Lansbury got us off to a really good start by volleying the ball with his weaker left past Thibaut Courtois from a Pione Sisto free-kick. From then on, the boys threw in last-ditch tackles and blocked with absolutely every part of their bodies to hang on to the narrow lead. The task was made easier towards the end of the game when Kurt Zouma got himself sent off for a second bookable offence. The heroes from Nottinghamshire defended terrifically till the final whistle and we were the Europa League Champions! Unbelievable stuff!
Mourinho only plays his mind games when he feels threatened by the opposition and right on the eve of the FA Cup Final, he said that I was overrated and clearly didn’t rate us after our Europa League win. I refused to respond and the players did exactly what I wanted them to do – to shut the Special One up. Things did not get off to a good start as Chelsea’s monster upfront, Vincent Aboubakar, powered past our entire defense to finish past Jeroen Zoet. We were one down. Mourinho celebrated wildly. The boys continued to compete bravely with the rich boys and were finally rewarded with the equalizer on the 52nd minute. Italian striker Andrea Belotti latched onto a Henri Lansbury through ball before placing the ball past the Chelsea keeper with minimal fuss. I was unmoved.
Both sides continued to cancel each other out and the score remained one each after ninety minutes. We entered extra-time and Mourinho couldn’t believe that he had to cope with another sending off in their second cup final this season when Filipe Luis was awarded a second yellow. With three minutes left on the clock, arguably our biggest signing this summer, Pione Sisto, stepped up and smashed the free-kick past Courtois from twenty-five yards out. Mourinho couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it either. My heroes managed to see out the game with an extra man on the pitch and we won our second cup final in my second year with the club. We won the double! Tell me I’m not dreaming!
The squad was fully utilized throughout the 68 game long season and I forgot to mention that I was able to add two players to the squad in the January transfer window. Argentinian center-back Ezequiel Munoz and French winger Florian Thauvian were signed for a combined total of 10.6 million pounds and they made 24 appearances between them in the second half of the season. Goals were once again well spread out throughout the team. Adama Traore, Henri Lansbury, Pione Sisto, Simone Zaza and Andrea Belotti were all on double figures and ball-winner Muhamed Besic added a further eight. Sisto and Zaza were the joint top players with the most number of ‘Player Of The Match’ awards (6). Besic and Belotti followed close behind with 5. I had doubts about Henri Lansbury’s quality at the start of the season but he proved me wrong and ended up being our top assists maker in a very good season.
The season has now ended and I am still buzzing about the fantastic season we had. We won two cups, finished 6th in the premier league, and qualified for the Champions League group stages after winning the Europa League. There was no time to waste though as the squad would require a lot of strengthening if we want to compete at the highest level. Numerous names are on my shortlist and there are a lot of important decisions to be made in the summer. How would we do in the Champions League?