Fiorentina / Belgium – 2046/47 Open Thread
July 2046 – Odds & Ends.
Before we dive back into the 2046/47 campaign and narrative, let’s pause for a moment to take stock of where things after. After all, the Nearly Men have been on hiatus.
On the club side of the shop, our managerial menage a trois (Nicolaj Bur, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Jesse Sorenson) is at the helm of Fiorentina, who are owned by the Class of ’92.
On the pitch, La Viola finished 4th place in the 2045/46 Serie A campaign, securing a long-awaited return to Europe. (Fiorentina have only reached Europe twice in the save thus far, playing in the 2034/35 and 2040/41 Europa Conference League.)
This followed the bitter disappointment of the 2044/45 campaign, which saw La Viola finish 7th only for Sampdoria to win the Europa Conference League and thus claim Fiorentina’s Europa League spot for the 2045/46 campaign. No, I’m not bitter. You’re bitter. Stop looking at me like that…
On the eve of their glorious return to the Champions League, however, Nicolaj returns to Italy shrouded in failure after his all-conquering Belgian side rode a 39-match win streak into the 2046 World Cup…only to crash out spectacularly in the semifinals, losing to Portugal after 10 rounds of penalties.
Tactically, Nicolaj has been playing PM Haaientand, the 3610 strikerless tactic detailed in The Dirty Half Dozen. But change is in the air.
One final housekeeping note before we dive into the Fiorentina squad: I will be following the “one campaign, one post” format seen in The Fourth Glass, instead of breaking each season into two separate posts (an ‘open thread’ followed by a ‘season review’). Major tournaments may still be broken off into their own post.
July/August 2046 – Fiorentina Squad Review.
As I began to dive back into the save, I realized that a full-blown Fiorentina squad review was necessary to re-orient myself.
The last squad review was in July 2044, at the time of Nicolaj’s arrival in Florence, so it is also timely.
We begin the campaign with a 26-man squad, having signed 4 players when the transfer window opened on July 1st. Consistent with the Class of 92’s mandate, our youth revolution is in full swing, with: (1) 16 players under the age of twenty; and (2) only 2 players over the age of 23.
Going forward, we will transition from PM Haaientand to more recent versions of my Nagelsmann-inspired tactics: PM Haaienmes as our primary tactic, with its “inverted-strikerless” variant, PM Haaienkanon, as the backup. Both tactics were used at Duruji Kvareli in my Georgian save, The Fourth Glass. They are also detailed (and available for download) in Those Who Do Not Move, Do Not Notice Their Chains.
Without further ado, let’s dive in… Between a boatload of wonderkids and bad nicknames, what could possibly go wrong?
We’ve got a two-way competition between the sticks, as Drameh “Big Papa” Jargu and Gudmundur Magnusson battle it out for the No. 1 jersey. For now, they look relatively on par. However, it is clear to me that Magnusson has bags of potential and should take over in due course. They’ll likely split time this year, with Jargu in the 1st XI and Magnusson with the 2nd XI.
Massimiliano Marangon is also a solid player with solid potential, but he just isn’t on the level of Jargu and Gudmunder. He was on loan at Ascoli last year in Serie B, but didn’t see any minutes. My plan is to loan him out for another year and see how he develops.
If things go according to plan, the 2047/48 campaign will see Magnusson as our undisputed No. 1, with Marangon as his deputy and Jargu off for a decent fee. Worst case, Jargu simply continues on as Magnusson’s deputy.
At libero, we have the brilliant Luxembourger Carlo “The Jackal” Ruppert. He’s already a national legend, with 40 caps to his name at the age of 19. The backup is Duccio Laniyonu, more of a defender than I’d typically like to deploy at libero, but he’s very capable.
Two of our new signings will feature in the 2nd XI — Ilari Nygard and Raymond Lammers, youth internationals who have been brought in to replace Ionay and Daniele Casu. Ionay and Casu are perfectly serviceable players, and arguably “better” than our new signings, but neither will take us where we want to go.
On the flanks, Mattia Balzano and Giovanni Cappelli will continue on as the wingbacks in our 1st XI. The footsteps in their ears are Ryad Mihoubi and Oussama Ben Belgacem, brilliant young players who in time could lead the charge in Europe.
Our midfield is also stacked with young prospects. At roaming playmaker, we have both Nunzio Bonato and Pacome “Bono” Bayo. Bonato gets the nod for now, but Bayo is a very promising backup. (If Bayo would put half as much effort into football as he does staying abreast of the latest developments on the “Bonocore” scene in Dublin, I have no doubt he’d be a world-beater.)
Transitioning from a 6-man midfield has meant that decisions needs to be made about who gets pushed forward to play as a shadow striker (and pressing forward), and who stays. I’m going to start the season with Zdravko “The Edge” Domjan and Renato Eremija as the mezzalas in our 1st XI.
Mattia Rizzi and Marco Donnari will play from the bench in our 2nd XI. For those keeping score at home, Donnari is the player I decided to sacrifice from our starting central midfield trio last year; he is going to see substantial minutes going forward. There just isn’t room for him in the XI right now.
Attacking Midfielders / Forwards.
Up top, our 1st XI will pair Davide Borrello (who played for us on loan last year, but has now joined us on a permanent deal) with Colombian Jorge “El Cafetero” Hernandez, a $3.9M signing from Santa Fe. I have high hopes for this pairing, Hernandez in particular.
But if they should falter, we also have Joseph “Il Padrino” Abdullahi and Alan “Tiki” Bytyqi in our 2nd XI, either one of which could push their way into the 1st XI over time. Abdullahi was training as a central midfielder last year when we played with only one shadow striker, but I think he is best served playing up top in a 2-man system. (Truth be told, I have considered retraining him to play as a libero.)
Simone Ferrieri rounds out our attackers — a solid player who had a great year on loan at Pro Vercelli last year (scoring 17 goals in Serie B). I just don’t see him getting enough playing time with this group, and will thus plan on loaning him out.
There is no question that we benefited from the absence of European football in 2045/46. What felt like a curse (missing out on the Europa League) turned out to be a blessing, as we were able to focus solely on the domestic campaign and secure a 4th place finish.
We are seeded into the Champions League Group Stage, but our coefficient is a paltry 20.257, which means we are sitting beneath the likes of Basel, Sion, Astana, Qarabag and Celtic. It also ensures that we will face a tough draw.
Our goal for the year has to be two-fold: (1) securing a top-four finish in Serie A, to ensure Champions League football in 2047/48; and (2) not embarrassing ourselves in the imminent European campaign. Anything less than that will be a disappointment to Nicolaj (not to mention the Board, who have the highest expectations.)
The Nearly Men are back. Let’s do this thing.
Every morning, it’s the same thing. The stench of failure. I can’t shake it.
Zlatan suggested a bath in mayonnaise, but that just means he’s been playing Fortnite with Berbatov again. That guy’s always talking about mayo. Berbatov is worse than Zlatan was when he got really into the Dave Matthews Band a few summers ago, leading to a ban order being entered on anyone playing Ants Marching in the dressing room.
Phil tried to lift my spirits after training the other day with a few jaunty stepovers, looking over at me afterwards like a sugar-filled toddler, his eyes full of hope that I’d noticed him cavorting across the pitch. I gave him a thumbs up and a smile. But the smile never reached my eyes, Phil. It was hollow. Just like my heart.
Getting back on the pitch has helped. Our first competitive matches of the campaign are in the books, the Champions League Groups have been drawn, and the Belgians will host Portugal in the Nations League in a few days’ time.
Revenge. Revenge is the sexy man’s justice. Avenging our loss to Portugal may not cure what ails me, but it can’t hurt.
That, and Jesse has invited the new neighbors over for drinks when we get back. He has yet to meet a problem that can’t be solved by women and alcohol.
In the Champions League, we’ve drawn Thomas Tuchel’s Sevilla, Matthias Kaltenbach’s Stade de Reims, and Edson Seidou’s Cercle Brugge.
Los Nervionenses are not only the 2028 Champions League winners, they’ve won 9 straight La Liga titles. Stade de Reims are only 3 years removed from our Champions League-winning run. In short, we’re playing for 3rd and a berth in the Europa League knockout rounds. Edson’s career has gone downhill sharply since his years at Manchester United; Cercle Brugge should be well-within our capacity.
We do need a good run to kick the enthusiasm around the Artemio Franchi into high gear. We’ve sold a respectable 31,317 season tickets, a slight uptick from last year. In terms of the Serie A, we’re miles off the likes of Juventus, who have claimed 23 Serie A titles since the save began (finishing as runners-up 4 times, and third once).
In terms of transfer activity, Marangon and Ferrieri left on loan to Venezia and Empoli in Serie B, respectively. Ionay was sold to Parma for an initial $1.3M. These moves leave us with a 23-man squad at the close of the transfer window.
In the end, our $21.5M (gross) transfer spend pales in comparison to that of Juventus, Sevilla, Schalke, Stade de Reims and Newcastle, the “top spenders” of the summer transfer window.
This moment is ours. We may have fallen at the World Cup through the lottery of a penalty shootout, but we will not break. Lest there be any question as to who is the better side, a 4-nil annihilation of the World Cup champions should erase any doubt. A command performance.
The most shocking thing about the result? It should have been worse. We hit the post 4 times and failed to convert various other chances, while rendering the Portuguese toothless in possession.
This result should stand as a testament to our resolve. We will not go quietly into the night. We will be back for Brazil 2050, stronger than ever, with a chip on our shoulders.
But after the Norwegians manage to weather the storm in Oslo, I’d be lying if I said the doubts were not creeping back in, after watching so many chances go missing.
The neighbors turned out to be a group of former nuns-in-training who renounced their vows. With vigor.
I have to give Jesse credit. This is usually the sort of situation Zlatan would find himself in. I didn’t think Jesse had it in him.
Our brilliant start to the campaign was never going to last. After smashing 10 goals in our first 2 matches, we’ve come back to reality, in both Serie A and the Champions League.
The good news is that, despite dropping points, there are many bright spots. You can see the beginnings of a strong team. We simply need time to develop. To find some consistency. (Inconsistency is, of course, the predictable hallmark of such a young team.)
As good as I feel about where we are and the signs we’re showing, Thomas Tuchel’s Sevilla showed us just how far we have to go at the Hu Tao Arena. The 1-nil scoreline flatters us, if I’m being honest.
As much as I would enjoy making an early trip to the Champions League knockout rounds, it is beyond us at the moment. Our goal is to reach the Europa League knockout rounds. That meant that the visit of Cercle Brugge was a big night at the Artemio Franchi. We made it count, smashing them 4-nil. A big result, coupled with a new gate receipts record.
That’ll do as we head into the October international break.
We made it hard on ourselves in Poland, but managed a late win to keep us on track to progress to the Nations League semifinals. A hard-fought draw in Lisbon — our 3rd match against Portugal in 4 months’ time — saw us claim a vital point thanks to Hans De Boeck.
Conventional wisdom would tell you that at 5’4″ Hans would be unable to effectively play as a pressing forward.
But conventional wisdom would also tell you that nuns are not well versed in the pleasures of the secular flesh.
So… Yeah. I’m really not sure where to go with that. Is there any chance we could just…rewind, and start this conversation all over again?
The biggest night at the Artemio Franchi thus far. The visit of Stade de Reims, my former club. The 2043 Champions League winners. A side that on paper should roll right over us.
But they do not account for the strength of our will. The desire to prove ourselves.
The result? The best performance of our tenure in Florence. We are scintillating. An early near-post header from Ruppert gives us the advantage off of a corner, before Hernandez sneaks in to head home at the near post from open play, catching Sembolo flat-footed. We can only rest easy when Bonato smashes home an unstoppable thunderbastard from 15 yards in the 71st.
Three-nil. The high water mark of our time at Fiorentina, in front of a near-capacity crowd. A promise of what the future might hold. If we maintain our focus. And nerve.
The return fixture at the Raymond Kopa on matchday 4 was always going to be laden with emotion.
The first time I’ve been at the stadium I helped “build,” as we rose from Ligue 2 to European Champions, although a stadium that was not finished until 1 year after my departure. Kaltenbach and his XI hungry for revenge, with a point to prove. The supporters of both teams, compulsively checking their phones for team news in advance of the lineups being announced.
First blood to La Viola as we strike in the 10th minute through a Hernandez volley, a thing of sublime beauty. When Borrello made it two in first-half stoppage time, the singing of our traveling supporters was epic. The home support, stunned into silence for the duration of the halftime break.
But when the sides re-emerged, Stade de Reims did so with both fury and purpose. A chance deflection saw Godoy pull one back in the 49th minute. And Marcos Vinicius secured a much-deserved point for the home side in the 80th minute.
If someone had offered a draw before the match, I’d have bitten their hand off to take it. On the balance, we could have secured all 3 points with a bit more luck. A little less luck, however, and we’d have been heading home with our hats in hand.
We have our hosts profligacy to thank, though. We will be playing European football in the new year.
We now hold the tiebreaker against Stade de Reims for passage through to the knockout rounds.
The only real cause for concern? Jesse learned (the hard way) that the former “nuns” next door are not all they seemed, as they hail from the infamous St. Benjamin’s in Ghana. Suffice to say that they’re “enthusiastic” football supporters.
Zlatan claims to have known all along.
On one hand, I want to believe him. On the other…I really, really don’t.
Suffice to say that I’m pleased with how the campaign has started. We still lack the consistency that we need, but when the pieces come together…this side is capable of great things.
While our 8-match unbeaten run came to an end with the 2nd XI’s loss away to Sassuolo (after they also dropped points against Virtus Entella), we have every reason to be optimistic.
France, England and the Netherlands join us in the semifinal after winning their respective Groups.
Our unbeaten run now stretches to 54 games, dating back 4 years to a 2-1 loss to England we suffered in November 2042, shortly after my appointment as Belgian manager.
Let’s just ignore the loss to Portugal on penalties, shall we?
Our confidence is growing. The 1st XI manage to hold the mighty Sevilla at bay for more than 80 minutes…before a direct, vertical attacking move in the 85th minute sees Abdullahi loose behind the Spanish lines, centering for Hernandez to fire home from 13 yards out.
The Spanish champions push forward, but we hold firm. Another scalp claimed. We will enter the final matchday with a chance to win the Group, if we can get a little help from Stade de Reims.
Matchday 6. Away to Cercle Brugge. It’s a fairy-tale city, innit?!
Zlatan and Jesse maintain a running commentary, quoting the movie, but there’s no time for sightseeing. We need a result. Reims are away to Sevilla, and if they can get a result in Andalucia we could claim the Group.
We do our part, taking the Belgians down 7-1 behind the momentum of 2 early goals. But the Spaniards are even more ruthless, smashing 3 past Stade de Reims in the first 15 minutes, en route to an 8-nil win. Utter and complete humiliation for the French.
While my heart aches for them, I’m elated at our progression. An unexpected, early Festivus present from the Football Gods…
…who apparently have a sense of humor, as our success is rewarded with a draw against Frank Lampard’s Wolves, the defending Premier League champions.
But that’s a problem for another day. We are locked in a domestic battle for the top four as we head into the holidays, holding our own even as the margins are thin.
We hit the holiday break sitting 4th, having progressed to the Champions League knockout rounds. We have every right to be pleased.
Domestically, we have no real complaints other than points that should not have been dropped. Nevertheless, we’re the joint-top scoring side in Serie A (level with Atalanta on 37 goals), and well-positioned for the 5-team race for the top four (as Genoa have started to fall off the pace).
(I typically find that my young teams have a strong second half to the campaign, due to: (1) their progression/improvement; and (2) my typical squad rotation policy, which swaps between 2 well-defined XIs to ensure that exhaustion rarely becomes a significant concern. )
On the Belgian front, the Euro Qualifiers draw was kind, so if we can navigate the Nations League finals, we should be able to extend that run a fair amount further. We will face France in the semifinals.
The post-holiday period has been utterly brilliant. We’re not perfect, as demonstrated by dropping points in our last 2 Serie A matches, but we’re playing out of our heads.
(Other than in the Coppa Italia. The less said about that, the better. A moment of silence, please.)
The fight at the top of the Serie A is getting fierce. Juventus keeps dropping points, but I have to think that they’ll turn it around sooner rather than later. We’re only 3 points off the top. But we’re 4th. With Atalanta breathing down our necks.
As we all know, fate is fickle. The Class of ’92’s commitment to the club appears to be wavering. Right when we’re on the verge, seemingly, of breaking through.
Up next? The Champions League tie with Wolves.
The first leg is a testy affair. Low key. We’re unable to gain any real traction in transition or possession, but manage to keep the Wolves at bay with one exception — a brilliant counterattack that saw Rui Cravo put the visitors ahead in the 10th minute, allowing Wolves to claim a 1-nil win in Italy.
We have it all to do in the second leg. A dark night at Molineaux. Zlatan thinks I’m losing my mind, but the night before the match I swear I can see red eyes watching the hotel. Waiting. For… Something.
A heavy air hangs over the stadium the following night. The sounds of distant thunder echoing endlessly. A dull, funereal dirge sung by the home crowd in the impenetrable Black County dialect. Ominous.
The roar of the crowd only grows as we draw level (on aggregate) in the 42nd minute through an Eremija penalty, after Hegedus is floored while rising to meet a corner from Hernandez. All to play for.
The game opens up as Wolves press forward, on the hunt. The crowd responds in kind, vulgarity spewing from every orifice. They strike the post in the 43rd, but we mount an immediate counter through Hernandez, threatening down the right. The second half opens with the same thrust-and-parry, with Wolves again hitting the post in the 51st, and we immediately launch a counterattack that nearly finds a crucial, second away goal. Something has to give.
Frank is rabid on the sideline. Pacing. His usual composure gone. Zlatan taunts him mercilessly from the safety of our technical area.
English legend James Taylor gives Wolves the aggregate lead in the 56th, finding the back of the net after a savvy cutback from Cravo. The crowd bursts into a raucous version of “Fire and Rain” in his honor. I don’t remember such colorful, creative use of the word “c****” in the original, though.
We fight valiantly, but Wolves’ experience shows. We cannot find any purchase. In the post-match press conference, Jesse spontaneously offers the insight that this is a “moral victory” for La Viola, earning a sharp look from Zlatan — ominous, against the backdrop of distant, rolling thunder.
We offer no excuses, for none are needed. We simply need to come back stronger. And, lest there be any confusion, we will be back. To avenge this loss, one way or another.
As much as I feel like these matches were there for the taking, the reality is that the better side prevailed and will advance to the quarterfinals.
Our performance in the Champions League this year tells me that we’re on course, in the broader arc of Nicolaj Bur’s tenure at Fiorentina. But we’re stumbling domestically. We’ve been dropping points far too casually over the last few weeks.
We’re still sitting 4th with 10 matches to play, but a month ago we were in the mix at the top of the table. We’ve fallen off the pace. And Cristian Zapata’s Atalanta are looking to close the gap.
Meanwhile, takeover rumors keep popping up. Are the Class of ’92 moving on from Fiorentina?
De Boeck was not done, as he also gets on the scoresheet in a 2-nil win over Ukraine.
Meanwhile, our youth intake was decidedly “meh,” with Erik van Loon the most promising prospect. Erminio Iaquinto and Punisa Drca are the only other youth academy graduates worth considering, but neither looks particularly impressive.
With the international break now behind us, we can focus on the Serie A. With 9 matches to play, we sit 7 points clear of Atalanta, whose current form is actually worse than ours.
May 2047 — Season Review.
In the end, we curb-stomped Atalanta on Matchday 34 to all-but ensure a top four finish. While missteps along the way prevent a true title challenge, we finish strong and even play the role of spoiler with a 1-nil win over Roma on Matchday 36.
This allows Juventus to claim yet another title. Which is existentially painful. On multiple levels.
But one thing is clear — we are not as far off the pace as I thought, domestically or in Europe. As this squad continues to develop and mature, we can go far. The pieces are here. We just need time. And a bit of luck.
Speaking of luck, the Belgians are in dire need of some after losing in the Nations League semifinal to Nianzou Kouassi’s France on penalties. France parked a bus and while we were able to break them down, we snatched at our chances. Not good enough. We were then shockingly poor against Rick van Drongelen’s Netherlands but somehow managed a 2-nil win, with Sebastian Reynaud marking his 172nd cap with a 93rd minute goal.
A meaningless friendly against Australia followed, a 3-nil win, to bring this immense 2046/47 campaign to an end.
Goals for 2047/48: Reach the Champions League knockout rounds. Mount a challenge for the Serie A title.
In the Champions League, Frank Lampard’s Wolves won their 3rd Champions League title, defeating Marcelo Gallardo’s tycoon-fueled OH Leuven, 3-1. Which means that the Belgians are eligible! Lovely, lovely stuff.
In the Europa League, Ivan Peresic’s Club Brugge claimed another European title for Belgium with a penalty-shootout win over Samuel Yepie-Yepie’s Lyon.
In the Europa Conference League, Jamie Steel’s Borussia Dortmund beat Remy Riou’s Inter Milan, 4-2. This wasn’t enough to convince ze Germans, though, who promptly sacked Steel for finishing 7th in the Bundesliga.
One of the things I love the most in FM is how, with the passage of time, some of the giants of modern-day football fall by the wayside as others emerge from mediocrity (or obscurity). Nothing makes me happier.
Marcelo Gallardo’s OH Leuven is a great example of this, and I’m really hoping that they remain eligible — the tycoon actually scaled down his funding in 2046, so their trajectory will be interesting to track. I also love managing in Belgium. (In the FM 17 version of the Nearly Men, the Belgian league became an absolute powerhouse later in the save, with the likes of Oostende, Zulte Waregem and Royal Antwerp joining the European elite.)
So I was delighted to return to this save, to be reminded of how off-kilter the football world has become.
In 2046/47, the active leagues saw Florian Martin’s Everton claim their first Premier League title since 1987, 2 points clear of Gallardo’s Wolves and Marco Rose’s West Ham. Ognjen Vranjes’ Gladbach successfully defended their Bundesliga title, 19 points clear of Miguel Beaza’s Schalke, 26 points clear of Cristiano Ronaldo’s Stuttgart and Leandro Bacuna’s Bayern. Thomas Tuchel’s Sevilla won their 10th straight La Liga title, after the retirement of Paulo Fonseca. For the second year in a row, Thierry Henry’s Monaco won the Ligue 1 title by beating Matthias Kaltenbach’s Stade de Reims on Matchday 38…utterly brutal. Marcelo Gallardo’s OH Leuven won their third straight Belgian title. Joris Chotard’s Panathinaikos won their 23nd straight SuperLeague title. Thitiphan Puangjan’s Partizan won their 15th straight title. Finally, Mikel Arteta’s IFK Norrkoping won the 2046 Allsvenskan title.
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?