So…yeah. I’ll be totally honest, I’m not overly happy about promotion to the Premier League. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the amazement of what we achieved, its the rebuilding job I’d have to do to the team that seemed daunting. Our first XI were great, but barely top players for the championship, and built on loanees. Sam Morsy, Saidy Janko, Ryan Kent, Tom Davies and Farrend Rawson were all crucial last season, but would be gone after their loan deals were done. Instantly therefore, I would be on the back foot, having to replace these players before even contemplating improving the squad.
First things first
My first thoughts were towards those who had been on loan. Morsy was an easy option, having had a £500k clause in his loan agreement, making him the first and easiest signing. I had no doubt he would need to improve significantly in the premier league, but I liked him as a simple defensive midfielder, and for his effort in the previous season, he deserved a chance in the top flight.
I sought after Davies and Kent, but their Merseyside parent clubs wanted millions of pounds, and with a budget of £20m and wages of £200k a week to play with, I would have to be stringent. I couldn’t afford vast sums on one player, and so unfortunately, I sat by as Kent recovered from injury, and Davies went out to Birmingham. I’d have more luck with Farrend Rawson, who had initially turned down an offer to the Tykes, before the game “updated” into a new season, and magically an offer from Barnsley was now considered a step up for the player. I can’t complain. Rawson had been crucial in our promotion push. I considered him our Ryan Shawcross, who had initially joined Stoke on loan as a youngster, before joining them later to help push for promotion, and has been a stalwart ever since.
Rawson is ace, but he isn’t experienced, and so I looked for further help in our back four.A left back had been needed for most of the second half of the first season, and it had been noticeable when we’d lost our first choice Aiden White. Saidy Janko on the right was now also gone, so our fullback position was a must. A few options were tabled, but once again, finding that right deal took time. Watford however had Brice Dja Djédjé listed, and the fullback, who had had a successful season at St Etienne would soon be a Barnsley player. His pace ou wide would no doubt be crucial for us. Left back would be increasingly difficult, and we’d not fill the position until we were back in training and playing friendlies.
The final signing before the friendlies began was in the winger role. Again, we’d look for a deal that could work for us, and whilst the move wasn’t “inspiring”, it would give us that little bit of quality out wide. James McClean would be the man. The “controversial” Irish international would boost our team, and to be honest, I wanted to see if FM17’s social media function would be realistic come November when McClean would refuse a poppy on the shirt…(it’s not by the way).
Back to work…
8 preseason friendlies were arranged to prepare ourselves for our first season back in the top flight. A mixture of difficulties would see us play a varying style of teams, and hopefully ready us for the tough job ahead. Our first friendly would fall on the 1st of August, which would incidentally be the day when 3 more signings would be confirmed. Cristian Battocchio, the Italian national, and Vincent Koziello, the French U21 from Nice would arrive on a free and for a huge fee respectively. The latter however would be a prize asset, and one with a lot of talent and promise. It’s all about value, and a deal which equates to £9m would be a steal for the youngster. Battocchio’s deal would be less risky, and would provide backup for Koziello in the advanced playmaker role.
Finally, Iranian striker Sardar Azmoun would make the £5m move from FC Rostov. The striker came with a huge thumbs up from my scouts, and had been identified as someone who could lead our line for years to come…
We started our friendlies away to Frickley Athletic, our local affiliate club. It would be a non-event, finishing 1-1. Not the start I had in mind. We’d follow this up with a tour of Austria, starting with a game against Red Bull Salzburg. Another draw, this time 0-0 would see us play extremely poorly, creating little. It was clear that training wise, I’d have to move quickly from fitness to team cohesion asap. The left back situation would however finally be resolved whilst in Austria, as former United man, Fabio (da Silva) switched from Middlesbrough to Barnsley for just short of £700k. A solid wing back option for us!
Our second game in Austria saw us face up against Sturm Graz, in a dramatic 3-3…another draw! Conor Hourihane would get on the scoresheet twice, and Azmoun to make the game 3-3, in a game where defending was considered secondary. It was great to score so freely, and create chances, but our lapse of concentration at the back was terrifying…a lot needed to improve if we were to do well in the league. Our final game in Austria, against SV Reid, would finally see us grab a win, albiet a 1-0 win, the goal from Hourihane, and Brice Dja Djédjé being sent off…let’s hope he doesn’t do that often.
We returned to South Yorkshire to meet French oligarchs AS Monaco, in a glamour fixture testing our resolve against Champions League opposition. Despite a positive showing, we’d be on the end of a 4-3 loss. A difficult match, Falcao being the player he once was, and Moutinho ruining everything in midfield. It sucks, as we had been 2-0 up through McClean and Bradshaw, but alas, Monaco were by far the better team. What I was being taught is that we could play, but desperately needed more players…one problem…we’d ran out of money.
See, we still had funds in the transfer kitty, but were hugely overspending on wages. Several players had seen huge wage increases and new contracts upon promotion, and our allocated £200k a week wouldn’t cover it. I had no idea what to do…we would effectively have to shut up shop…but with so many places still desperately in need of being filled…it was now time to panic.
Three games remained before the start of the season, and it seemed like I had to make so with what I had. Despite my reservations, the team played well, with a 1-0 win away to Birmingham (Hourihane again!), a 4-0 against Shaw Lane (formally Shaw Lane Aqua Force), an a 2-1 win at home to Eintract Frankfurt!!! We seemed to be ok…sort of…
The season was about to begin, and all I could think of was one of my favourite lines from the cult TV series, Twin Peaks.
“I have no idea where this will lead us. But I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange.”