It sounds arsey to say, but I’ve gotten pretty good at Football Manager over the years. In FM12 I lead numerous teams to glory perfecting a narrow 4231 formation. Which produced some spectacular goals, lead by my midfield maestro Marco Verratti. In FM13 I went for over 250 league games unbeaten with Stoke, losing only an FA Cup tie to Arsenal and a Champions League semi-final second leg to Real Madrid – winning on aggregate. In FM14 I won the league in my first season with Stoke and never picked up the game again. I felt tired, I felt worn down with victory. My staggered 4231 formation with an inverted wingback just worked too well. So I did what any good Football Manager player should do, I regen’d.
Despite purchasing FM15 I struggled to get into the game once again, but on July 22nd I was struck by inspiration. I’ve long been a fan of Dutch football and have played a number of saves with both Feyenoord (whom I follow regularly) and ADO Den Haag. The appeal of Dutch football over the years is obvious, responsible for some of the most scintillating attacking football that the world has ever seen. I set myself a challenge, recreate the original totaalvoetbal in football manager. After a number of erm… Interesting problems encountered – such as how the hell to get someone to close down wingers – it was a fairly successful piece of work.
Despite a lack of total success on a European level, two consecutive quarter final losses to eventual double winners Chelsea were nothing to be sniffed at. So FM16 rolled around and I didn’t fancy starting all over again. I did however continue my new ‘difficulty setting’ by taking on Thomas Tuchel’s post-rock Dortmund style with only German signings allowed. But all things return to totaalvoetbal. So we renew the challenge with an additional target, youth development. Those signings that are made will focus on the less exposed markets in the game which are often used by Ajax in real life. Mainly Scandinavia and Eastern Europe but also the Asian markets. This has been a work in progress for about a month now, but it fits nicely into Chris’ recent article about youth development and nation growing.
Meet new Amsterdam born Ajax manager Oswald Hatfelt – this is not an authentic Dutch name – authentic is one word that could be used for the fashion sense though.
The intro the team went fairly well, there were some movements in the backroom staff as I brought in Carlos Lalín (fitness coach), Silvino Louro (goalkeeping coach), Maurice Graef (shooting coach) and Nick Hofs (attacking coach). This took the team to the best Eredivisie coach ratings in every category. However problems started almost immediately, bids came in for my young superstar Richairo Zivkovic. He scored 30 goals in a season for me in my previous run, so I was desperate to keep him. The changes in player power to FM16 meant that there was no chance and the 18 year old was off to Manchester United for €6m. A tough loss for a player with such potential, but a good amount for a guy who wouldn’t be ready for at least 12 months anyway. Talented fullback Leeroy Owusu also left the club to go to Atletico Madrid, as the team has no use for fullbacks.
The friendlies started off well, with a 4-1 win over Jong Ajax, and a 2-0 win over a tough Bundesliga side in Augsburg offering a good challenge and a nice win. The major lacking area of the side is defensive midfielders with only Riechedly Bazoer of a first team standard so in came a youngster with great potential in the form of 17 year old Norwegian Kristoffer Ajer from Start for €1.5m. Alongside him came Nicolaj Thomsen from Danish club Aalborg to add a bit more quality depth to the playmaker role alongside Nemanja Gudelj and Daley Sinkgraven. A thumping win over French 4th division team Monts d’Or Azergues Foot followed to give some boosters to the confidence for the players on the fringe of the squad. Lasse Schone having the best of the game, with three goals to his name. A good win over another strong team followed with a 1-0 victory against DC United as we struggled to work with the more fiddly parts of the new tactics. Like how in the hell to make sure that wingers get closed down and don’t get free runs into the box.
These problems were realised as the only defeat of the warm ups came against Portuguese side Belenese. Their devastating combination of Bentancur and Sturgeon on the wings combined for three goals and an assist as they picked the back post apart. This did however lead to my third signing of the summer though, as Bentancur came in for a large fee of €3.8m to fill a weak spot in the team on the right of midfield. The team bounced back in their first competitive game, in the early Champions League qualifiers due to Holland’s plunging coefficient.The first competitive game ending with a 3-0 over Sparta Prague, despite a comfortable scoreline the team continued to have issues defending crosses and it was a close game with Sparta having a number of chances. The final friendly came against AEK Athens and with a few tweaks the defence tightened up admirably and defended much better limited AEK to just 2 shots on target. Unfortunately in this last game Kristoffer Ajer injured his achilles tendon and is out for four to five months, so that’s another midfielder that we need.
We end up getting two. Talented 21 year old Marvelous Nakamba comes in first. Needing to shore up the defence with Ricardo van Rhijn having forced a move to the Bundesliga we also bring in the athletic Kenny Otigba from Heerenveen., the second leg against Sparta Prague comes next. With a 3-0 lead there’s some complacency and the game ends 4-4, meaning a 7-4 win on aggregate and through to the next round where we’ll face tough opposition in Lazio. There are two Eredivisie games first though. An opening day 3-1 win over AZ gets us feeling good, before a disappointing 1-1 draw with Willem II. Off to Rome we go, honestly expecting a thumping. We don’t get thumped but we do lose 2-1. Probably a better chance that we deserve in the home leg. But we can’t make it at end up draw 2-2 thanks to a heartbreaking last minute Keita goal. Back in Eredivisie and we’ve beaten NEC and ADO Den Haag. The last in a thrilling 5-2 win where my defenders can’t defend but Milik can score 4 goals. Deadline day comes around and Kamohelo Mokotjo’s agent is offering him around. When you’re playing a system with 4 central midfielders you can never have too many right? Especially at a bargain price of €1.5m. The only major weakness in the squad is a lack of backup for Milik, with Sam Hendriks the next man up. But at this stage it’s a risk we’ll have to take. In the dying seconds of the window talented youngster Carl Eiting leaves for Bayern Munich. At least we got a decent fee for him.