2044/45 Open Thread
Euro 2044 Review.
We brought a strong, 23-man squad to the tournament, with only 1-2 players who would theoretically age-out before the World Cup in two years’ time. We played PM Haaienhamer, detailed in the Those Who Don’t Move, Do Not Notice Their Chains post, as our default tactic throughout the tournament.
We began the Group Stage against Scotland, and had to settle for a 2-2 draw. We have only ourselves to blame — an early goal against the run of play, followed by a late lapse of concentration after it looked like we had finally dragged ourselves across the line. A much improved display against Serbia led to a 2-nil win, all but ensuring passage to the knockout rounds. Accordingly, we tasked the 2nd XI with the final match against Hungary, and they delivered a comfortable 1-nil win. Unfortunately, Wilfried Williams suffered a groin strain and is expected to miss 2-4 weeks…which left us with one left wingback, in a system where wingbacks must carry a heavy load.
In the Second Round, we faced Russia — a side that set out in a defensive 442 from the first moment, barely looking to push forward. A double from Dany Maes set the tone in a 2-nil win, a scoreline which was quite charitable to the Russians, given the balance of the match. We need to be more ruthless in front of goal, though, if we are going to progress much further.
We faced France in the Quarterfinals, a rematch of the 2043 Nations League semifinal. I decided to employ a tweak I’ve been playing with, and dropped our passing one notch, to standard from the 1st minute, to try and be a bit more deliberate in the build-up against such a strong opponent. We were immense. A 2-1 win sees us through to the semifinals.
To face Croatia. The neutrals will have been pleased, at both the draw and the brilliant football that was on display in Basel. We continued with passing directness set to standard, and put in arguably the best performance of my tenure with the Belgians, a brilliant 6-2 annihilation. The Croatians were not to be denied, however and smashed two utter golazos to keep things interesting.
We face ze Germans in the final, captained by Gladbach legend, Pierre Krucken. Ze Germans take the lead in the 11th minute, through a lucky deflection. Turco draws us level in the 19th, off a long throw from Bekaert. Within moments, Olive gives us the lead, heading home at the near post off of a corner. Dany Maes finds our third in the 51st minute, finishing off a brilliant counterattack. A lazer-guided missile into the top corner gives ze Germans hope in the 68th minute. 3-2. All to play for. We hold firm.
A massive victory. Champions of Europe.
But there is no rest for the weary. We’re off to a final interview with the owners of what will hopefully be our next club. We’ve been told that it is a mere formality, a need to indulge the eccentricities of the owners. We’ll see.
Now that the madness of the Euros is over, our thoughts can turn to the future.
Rumors have been swirling for weeks, given the sheer number of vacancies in club football. The media have been grasping at straws, trying to read the tea leaves.
Zlatan and Jesse have a wealth of free time, unexpectedly, after a scandal involving scaffolding permits forced the cancellation of ZlatanFest. They’re desperate to avoid Nickelback’s lawyers, who are chasing them for unpaid booking fees, and have thus taken to traveling around Europe, appearing briefly in various cities before moving on to the next. One day, Munich. Barcelona, the next. Milan. Amsterdam. The media are gleefully lapping it up, using each stop in their journey as an excuse to write a new, “exclusive” story claiming to have the inside scoop on our plans.
None of them have figured out the truth. That Jesse and Zlatan’s madcap journey around the continent is a convenient, purposeful distraction. That the real meetings are taking place here, in the back room of a small cafe in Bruges. That we’re only considering 2 possible destinations.
Valencia would be a natural fit. A side sitting just outside the elite in Spain, needing a push to get over the hump. A side brimming with potential, and ambition. There’s no question that we’re tempted.
But we are also intrigued. By the second option. A less obvious option, at first glance.
A club with a coherent vision that appeals to our appreciation for the last vestiges of tradition, in a modern world which all-too-often looks down its nose on tradition. A club under new ownership. Owners who stand as a living embodiment of the philosophies we’ve embraced throughout our managerial career. Philosophies we believe in, to our core.
Invest in developing players within your own academy structure, instead of splashing obscene amounts of money in the transfer market. Trust in youth.
While few would doubt the merits of these philosophies in a vacuum, few are willing to put their money where their mouths are, and fully implement them at a club. None of the “Zidanes y Pavones” nonsense. It’s Pavones, all the way down.
Some in the media have laughed at their plan, calling it foolish in the extreme. But these owners are immune to such criticisms. They’ve heard it all before, having put paid to Alan Hansen in the 90s, with his dismissive “you can’t win anything with kids” comments. And the owners took notice back in May, when an intrepid reporter asked us whether we would be interested in taking over, if their acquisition of the club went through.
Still, it was surreal to see Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes ushered into the back room of our local cafe.
Ryan and Paul sit down at the table, handshakes all around. Gary takes a seat at a nearby table, nodding generally in my direction before taking out a cigarette lighter, which he compulsively begins to fidget with.
Pleasantries are exchanged. Explanations given for the absence of Phil, Butt and Beckham. The formalities have all but been agreed, the details negotiated, back during the Euros. The announcement was delayed, however, pending this final meeting.
One final discussion to ensure that we were all on the same page.
Ryan has a stern look on his face. “Let’s talk plainly, Nico. We’ve been busy this summer. The squad is ready. Gary went through with a metaphorical hatchet, culling anyone and everyone who isn’t homegrown, and who couldn’t be sold.”
Gary cackles wildly, although it is unclear whether he’s celebrating the removal of so many players from the squad or the fact that he’s set the tablecloth alight. Both, perhaps.
I nod. This has been discussed. Anyone who did not come up through the Academy, will be shown the door.
“Phil has been named Technical Director.”
Gary cackles again, jumping up to demonstrate a double-stepover, followed by an awkward left-footed cross to someone who, presumably scores, as Gary begins to run around the small room, celebrating a goal that only he has seen.
“Paul is in charge of media relations.”
I glance over at Paul, who shrugs dismissively, the first glimpse of a smile touching his lips, but not reaching his eyes. Cold, black eyes. Judging eyes.
“Butty, Head of Youth Development.”
Again, I nod. Nothing out of the ordinary, here.
“I’m your jack-of-all-trades, Director of Football. Whatever you need, your Giggsy has got your back. What’s mine is yours. What’s yours is mine, yeah?!”
“What about Gary and Becks? Where do they fit in?”
“Think of them as ambassadors for our little project — ministers without portfolio, so to speak.”
“Project Archer…right? Wasn’t that the–“
Paul interrupts, a look of anger flashing across his face.
“Arcturus. Project Arcturus. But we never use that name in public. Ever. We shouldn’t have even told you.”
Paul and Giggs share a look, neither blinking. Paul begins to reach for his inner jacket pocket, but Giggs motions for calm.
“No, Paul. That isn’t the answer. Not this… Not this time, anyways.”
Paul just looks at me. No, he looks through me, before mumbling a half-hearted apology.
I try to move the discussion along. “Alright, just so we’re all on the same page. This isn’t going to happen overnight. We’re going to need time. To assess and build up the squad. To knock the established clubs off their game. Especially when they’ll have the luxuries that we won’t have, to go into the transfer market as necessary. Don’t expect any miracles, yeah?!”
Gary stops fidgeting with the lighter.
Paul and Giggs share another look, before Giggs turns to me, slowly, locking eyes.
“At this point, we’re not asking for much. A mid-table finish. This year. Pushing into the top half in the years to come. Most of all, entertain us. It isn’t enough to win. The manner in which we achieve victory is as important as victory itself. Win, with style.”
Gary pipes up, trying to be helpful. “Not just with style, Giggsy-lad. Need to win with those Academy kids, too.”
Giggs nods, sagely, his eyes never leaving mine. “Exactly. Don’t come asking when things get tough, Nico. There isn’t a dime in the budget for transfers. Or for loans. All of those funds are already allocated…elsewhere.”
I nod and reach out to shake hands with the Welsh legend. I appreciate the clarity, but we’ve discussed this.
“This calls for a celebratory drink,” I suggest. Gary offers a flask, but I demure. I have something more elegant in mind.
We make plans to meet up for dinner in 2 days’ time, when the rest of my managerial trio can sit down with the entire Class of 92 to toast to our future success after our unveiling.
As we go to leave, Giggs leans in, a rogue-ish look on his face.
“One last thing, Nico.”
“Whatever you need, Ryan.”
“You got a girlfriend?”
Reluctantly, I nod. He laughs, before giving me a subtle wink.
“There’s a good lad. She’ll love Florence this time of year.”
You’ve read that correctly.
We’re off to Fiorentina, where we’ll be going youth academy only under the supervision of the Class of ’92. All players that were not homegrown at the club have had their contracts terminated.
At the start of the summer, the Valencia position opened up. I was tempted. They had finished 4th in La Liga, with a strong squad that was arguably underperforming. They were probably good enough to make an assault on the Champions League already. In other words, it wasn’t quite right for the youth only approach I wanted to take. But it was worth going there if nothing else was available.
But, Fiorentina were insecure. Not available, insecure. So, I expressed my interest…which led to the immediate sacking of poor Ferro.
I proceeded to interview with both Valencia and Fiorentina during the Euros. When Fiorentina agreed to a club vision that would allow for a youth only approach (with formal appointment deferred until after the Euros), though, there was only one option. It is long past time for disruption in the Serie A, where the traditional sides have continued to dominate.
I accepted, and here we are.
I feel like I need to point out that the Class of ’92 taking over Fiorentina is a narrative device, nothing more. I also used the editor to terminate the contracts of all players who did not currently count as homegrown at Fiorentina. Homegrown at another Italian club was not good enough. I did not terminate the contracts of players who were signed as youth and have already attained “homegrown at club” status. Going forward, however, there will be no signings whatsoever.
While I love signing and developing youth, I’ve haven’t gone full youth academy only in years. So, this should prove interesting.
Tactically, I intend to play my Nagelsmann-inspired PM Haaienhamer and the next iteration of my tactics, codenamed PM Haaienkanon. Details to follow in due course.
Coming up next: a full-blown squad review, with an assist from the FFM’s Attribute Analysis Spreadsheet (with DNA).
July 2044 – Fiorentina Squad Review.
We have yet to hit continue, as I examine the remaining squad and make decisions about who is going to fit in where — both based on my own thoughts/impressions and insights from the Female Football Manager’s Attribute Analysis Spreadsheet.
Shameless plug: Quite frankly, I love the spreadsheet and how easy it was to use. The level of detail is crazy. Do yourself a favor, and spread the gospel of @TheFFM_!
Maybe you just need to figure out where a particular player should retrain, because he is a natural in a position you don’t use? Should your winger be retrained as a shadow striker or a mezzala?
The spreadsheet doesn’t make the ultimate decision for me, about who plays where, because you also have to factor in reports from coaches/scouts regarding hidden abilities, potential versus current ability, etc.
But the spreadsheet was invaluable when diving headfirst into a new squad, in order to quickly sorting out who “fits” where and pinpoint strengths/weaknesses.
Sure, I’d done some of this while trying to decide between Fiorentina and Valencia, but on a superficial, gut-feeling level. This is much more granular, and it is laid out in a really helpful, intuitive fashion.
It also helped me decide to run with PM Haaientand as my primary tactic, with PM Haaienhamer as the backup, due to: (1) concerns about the strength/depth of our back line; and (2) the balance in the squad between central midfielders and shadow strikers. It is a close call, though. Ultimately, it boiled down to the 3331 structure giving us a bit more defensive stability. And, while I could manufacture depth at shadow striker by retraining certain players, overall we will be better served by having those players retrain as mezzalas and/or roaming playmakers. (I will still work on developing PM Haaienkanon, but in an offline, tactic-testing save. We just don’t have the squad to play the system.)
We’re going to run with a 23-man squad, to take full advantage of the 12-man substitutes bench in Serie A. (Normally, in the absence of European football I would be tempted to run with an 18-20-man squad. But, when in Florence…)
Some of these players have been promoted from within, and were not in the squad for our pre-season training camp…which had been gleefully culled by Gary.
In terms of the summer transfer business, several players had already been moved on prior to my arrival, with one transfer in. Consistent with the narrative, I terminated the contracts of the incoming transfer and two outbound fee-generating loans, such that all 3 players are now available on a free transfer (e.g., Fabian Perez).
We have three goalkeepers in the squad worth mentioning. Jan Dobias will be my presumptive starter, with Drameh Jarju as the backup. This was a very close call. I eventually see Jarju taking over as our number one. That being said, Massimiliano Marangon looks the business if he can develop.
(Frankly, the comparison between these three illustrates how helpful the spreadsheet is, as well as the need for more granular information in-game to make some selection decisions. The goalkeeper overview for Fiorentina shows a relatively clear hierarchy, with Marangon on the bottom. But it doesn’t reflect the potential my coaches see in Marangon. And it doesn’t show why Dobias is preferred in the goalkeeper role, whereas Jarju is preferred as a sweeper keeper. If we dive into the in-game comparisons, though, we can see the differences in their polygon and attributes.)
This is a frustrating part of the squad, one that worries me. One that I would be looking to strengthen in the transfer market, if I could.
Andras Hegedus will be our starting libero, with Fabrizio Bencivenni Stufi and Federico Spagnoli as the centerbacks. Duccio Laniyonu will be the libero in our 2nd XI, with Ionay and Daniele Casu joining him at the heart of our defense.
We also have Gianmarco Fioravanti for depth at right wingback, but he’s going to go out on loan. He’s just not good enough.
Andreas Pedersen is our most versatile player, as he could do a job anywhere in our midfield. If he were younger, I’d also consider retraining him to be our libero (even if I’d like him to be a little taller, for that). But for now, he will play as the regista in our 1st XI. His backup will be Nunzio Bonato, who the coaches seem to rate as our biggest prospect. I’d considered playing Nunzio as a right wingback, but like him being more central.
At mezzala, the 1st XI will feature converted wingers Francesco Bellei and Hernani Camara. Should either of them fail to make the transition, Renato Eremija and Mattia Rizzi will be right on their heels as they seem to have a fair amount of potential.
We also have Ikechukwu Eze and Saimir Sakaj. Neither looks to be a 1st XI player, but they could provide depth if they develop a bit. Eze is already out on loan through December; Sakaj will be listed for loan.
This looks pretty much like what I expected, after the departure of several key players and Gary culling all non-homegrown players from the squad. We’re a strong squad, short on obvious superstars.
We shouldn’t find ourselves in a relegation battle. But we also won’t be challenging for the Serie A title.
Our finances are healthy, so I’m going to start asking the Board to upgrade our facilities as soon as possible. We’re not in bad shape, mind you. But, like with any youth academy only approach, the sooner we can invest, the better.
A decent enough start, with a big win over Milan at the San Siro setting the tone. We don’t need to blow the doors off, just keep the ball rolling.
Unbeaten after 7 match in Serie A. We didn’t see this coming. Not in our wildest dreams.
The press are already talking us up. We do not doubt for a moment that they’ll be ready to tear us down, the moment we slip.
As far as Belgium goes, the English could not handle our counterpress. While the Dutch came to Brussels in search of revenge, they were forced to leave with their tail tucked between their legs. Two 1-nil wins. Maybe not our finest nights. But nothing to complain about.
2044 ends with us getting our heads kicked in against Roma, but we’re sitting 8th and have all kinds of reasons for optimism. My goal is to push for a spot in Europe, although that might be a bridge too far.
Crisis talks with Gary. On Christmas Eve. What a life, eh?
Crisis, but only in the existential sense.
“Listen, Gary. It isn’t you. It’s me. Well, it’s us.”
Gary just looks at me, blankly. Perhaps its the Sizzurp eggnog he’s been drinking all night. Perhaps it’s the concussion and open head wound he appears to have suffered on the way over here. But he’s not quite tracking.
“Gary…are you with me, Gary? Focus, man.”
Gary’s eyes focus, and he nods amiably. “Hey there, Nico-lad! Where…oh, ok, then. Right.”
Gary looks around, pleasantly befuddled but not in a state of distress. A drop of blood runs from his forehead, down the side of his face. Gary doesn’t notice. He’s all glassy-eyed smiles.
I defer to Zlatan. We’ve agreed that he should do the talking. He and Gary are simpatico.
“Mister Gary. Is the simples. When you sign the Nico, Mister Gary is buying a Ferrari. If Mister Gary drive a Ferrari, Mister Gary put premium petrol in the tank, Mister Gary hit the motorway, and Mister Gary step on the gas. But with this ‘you can’t sign anyone’ silliness, Mister Gary is filling up the Nico with diesel and taking the Nico for spin in the countryside. Mister Gary should have signed the Rodgers if Mister Gary just want to go for ride in the countryside.”
Gary nods slowly, as he opens his mouth to speak, I notice that his teeth are stained with blood. This isn’t good. He needs medical attention.
But I think we’re getting through to him, even if his words come out in a mumbled, staccato fashion. Almost incoherent.
“Zlatan, my old son… Nico, the brother I never had, from a mother I never knew. I have always said it. Your friendship to me, like that of a porcupine withholding its authority, was always the friendship of a star. Aloof. With no more intimacy than was called for. With no exaggerations.”
Zlatan and I exchange a worried glance. But before either of us can interject, Gary continues, growing more adamant. The light in his eyes returning.
“I guess we are who we are. Headlights shining in the dark night. I drive on. Maybe we took this too far…”
Gary falls silent. Morose. His head bowed, shaking slowly from side to side.
“Gary,” Zlatan interjects. “Gary, can we…you know, loosen the restrictions a little? Put some premium gas in the tank, brother?”
Gary is quiet. Non-responsive.
Zlatan and I exchange another look. Zlatan shrugs, and gestures for patience.
So, we wait.
As the minutes stretch on, I see tears falling from Gary’s eyes.
Somehow, Zlatan knows the moment is right. That our patience has paid off.
“Can we hug it out, Mister Gary? Can you forgive the Zlatan and your Nico, just for wanting to sign some players. Kids. Just a few kids. Think of the children…they’re…they’re our future, Mister Gary.”
Gary rises to embrace Zlatan, nodding.
“You’re still beautiful to me, ’cause you’re my Zlatan. You score the goals no one else could see coming… You saved all those orphan children from drowning… You are the immaculate conception made flesh, immune from the effects of cocaine, with the coy, smug sexuality of a young Zach Braff…”
As beautiful a sentiment as that is, and as many questions as Gary’s comments leave me with, I sense a strong potential for misunderstanding. Miscommunication. We need some certainty here.
“You’ll talk to your partners, right, Gary? Get them on board with this new direction. Still focused on youth, just a few U19s you know…just enough to wet my beak.”
Gary and Zlatan are locked in a full embrace, both in tears. But Gary nods.
“Leave it to your Gar-bear, lads. Just…leave it to me. I’ll make them see sense. Giggsy was always a bit of a ****, anyways.”
I can finally relax. That’s that, sorted. A welcome Christmas present.
Confession time, folks. Youth only was rapidly killing my mojo and love for the save.
These saves thrive on being able to move between clubs, build something and move on. Disrupt the major, established clubs. Which, in turns, gives rise to newly-eligible clubs. (In the 2017 version, the Belgian league eventually became a dominant force with the likes of Zulte, Oostende and Antwerp becoming eligible.)
As I sat here this afternoon, I had no motivation. No desire to play, whatsoever. No interest in a youth-only approach.
I felt an overwhelming urge to bin the whole thing. Kill it with fire. Salt the Earth.
Continuing down this path would put the entire save in jeopardy.
We aren’t going to do that.
So, I’ve simply hit the metaphorical reset button on the narrative in my head. Youth academy only is off the table. We’ll sign players going forward, but it will continue in the same vein as always — heavily focused on youth.
Once the shackles were removed, we decided to dive right into the transfer market. 6 signings are confirmed, 2 of which will arrive in the summer.
Carlo “The Jackal” Ruppert is a $375k signing from Luxembourg giants, Jeunesse Esch. He’s a full international, with a number of continental appearances under his belt on the club side of the shop. He will immediately take over as our starting libero, pushing Hegedus to a centerback spot.
Pacome “Bono” Bayo will arrive in the summer on a free from the Ivoire Academie, and will compete with Nunzio Bonato for the starting regista role, as Andreas Pedersen is on his way out the door (31 years old, on 88k/week with his contract expiring in 6 months…time to move him on).
Joseph “Il Padrino” Abdullahi will arrive in the summer for $2.1M. He will feature as a roaming playmaker, competing with Donnari (with Costagliola leaving on loan or a transfer). I’ve got high hopes for this one.
Alan “Tiki” Bytyqi arrives for $3.8M from KF Tirana. He’ll fight for the shadow striker role with Bianchetti and Ferrieri.
Zdravko “The Edge” Domjan joins the side as a mezzala, and will compete with fellow Croatian midfielder Renato Eremija for a spot in the starting XI. Signed for $7M from Slaven Belupo, he could be a contributing member of the side for years to come.
Finally, our biggest acquisition — Tomas “Two Times” Langer, who is essentially a Czech Nemanja Vidic…with the touch of Rio Ferdinand. It cost us a solid $8.5M, but I don’t regret it. He’s an instant upgrade at centerback and will step into the 1st XI alongside Ruppert and Hegedus.
While qualifying for South Korea 2046 should not be an issue for this Belgian side, it nevertheless is nice to get two wins under our belts. Estonia put up a fight, but our 2nd XI finally managed to break them down in a 3-win. A return to Athens was much smoother, as the 1st XI smashed our hosts, 3-nil. Well on our way, on a 30-match unbeaten streak.
Scholes was in Athens to meet with us after the match, discuss summer transfer plans. Things have been frosty with Scholes, as he dislikes our interpretation of a youth-only approach. Many bitter words have been spoken in anger between he and Zlatan, in particular. So this was a positive meeting, ending on a good note. Until Zlatan tried to engage Paul in a hug, and was rebuffed.
“I’ve done told you, Zlatan. No hugs. Never trust a man who wants to give you a hug. Hugs hide faces, if you think about it. Anything can hide behind a hug.”
“Mister Scholes, the Zlatan assures you. The only thing Paul Scholes has to fear when hugging the Zlatan is the sensation of the Zlatan’s giant, throbbing erec–“
Jesse interjects, seeing that this is going to go downhill fast, distracting Paul with a heartfelt fist bump and magnum of Chianti.
Zlatan glances over at me, looking like someone has just kicked his favorite puppy. “What can the Zlatan say, Boss?! The Zlatan loves gingers.” I just shrug. I have no words.
Crisis averted. Not that the ownership group should have any complaints.
2045 has been kind to La Viola thus far, although the year started with consecutive losses to Juven****, Lazio and Milan.
A kick in the gut. But we can be proud, as we were in all 3 matches. We’ve since righted the ship, and find ourselves in the mix for a spot in Europe next year. 8 matches to play after a big win over Inter, which gives some breathing room as they and Napoli look to make up ground.
To be continued…
If you’ve stumbled upon this post and are finding yourself a bit confused… Don’t worry. The basic concept behind the Nearly Men save is explained here. Just need to catch up? Each installment in Nicolaj Bur’s story can be accessed through the Nearly Men Archive.
And if you just can’t get enough…join us for The Ballad of Toothless Bob, a series that explores the world of Nicolaj Bur, away from the pitch. What is Project Arcturus? What lies beyond the twisted redstone door, deep in the bowels of the Santiago Bernabéu?