Episode 4 – From Can to Riech’s
Building on success is not easy. You become the hunted. With this in mind, and our clear lack of class in European football, I sought to strengthen the team further.
As I mentioned in my last post, Man City decided to plunder their oil reserves and splash out on Dybala (£86m) and Emre Can to the tune of £54m (£78m). I hunted for the best possible replacement who held the both the attributes for the role and for my team. Riechedly Bazoer fitted the bill. Remarkably, two years into the save, he was still at Ajax and they were willing to accept a bid of £26m (£29.5), nearly a third of the price of Can and when I compared his attributes against Can, he was better in many areas, most notably Vision. His ability to pick out a pass in the DLP(D) role, alongside providing a high level support to my defence, was going to be a welcome addition to my side. He had clearly benefited from first team football at Ajax given his technical and mental improvements over the two years.
I also look to solidify the defence. Both Lovren and Matip had done well, clearly leading the statistics in key headers, tackles and interceptions within my team. However, Sergi Gomes has also come to realise that physically, he’s just not up to playing regular football, so he departs for the second time from Liverpool, for £7.5m to the Bundesliga and Dortmund, who always like a ball-playing defender in their team.
I noted that Spurs put in a bid for de Vrij and jump on it, matching their bid, just as Arsenal place a minimum fee release bid for Giménez, which I also match. Both de Vrij and Giménez come, separately, to my office at Mellwood to discuss terms. De Vrij and his agent are given the full guided tour and seem interested in the move, knowing that the signing of Bazoer is already announced, and Gigi Wijnaldum has been saying how much he’s enjoying playing for the ‘Pool whilst away on Netherlands duty. He is yet to stop telling everyone about his goal in the title deciding match last year, but we let him gloat for the time being. We have other plans for him…
De Vrij asks for £140k/week and sizeable, but not gargantuan, bonuses. I whittle him and his agent down to £115k/week and more reasonable bonus payments to my liking and they agree. I delay accepting the transfer, citing some technical issue with the fax. What’s works for United….
Giménez, three years younger and with more scope to develop as a result, takes less of an interest in the tour, instead asking to go straight up to the boardroom, following his agent in through my door. This is never a good sign. His head has been turned by London living and wants compensation for having to play in the cold, wet North. Telling him the fact he’d have to play here regardless of where he signs crosses my mind, but I decide not to bother. He wants £300k/week and a £9m singing on fee, not to mention considerable bonus. Oh, and his agent wants £7m. For driving him here from John Lennon Airport. I give him the taxi fare back and tell him to sling his hook to Arsenal after it becomes clear he is not interested in fitting into the wage structure we currently hold. I show him the Premier League trophy on the way out in the glistening trophy cabinet alongside the Champions League trophy from 2005 and tell the translator to instruct Giménez’s agent to ask when Arsenal last won these when negotiating with them. I immediately get on the phone to de Vrij and tell him we’ve been down to PC World and upgraded out fax so the problem is solved and he can join us the very next day.
Vaclav Cerny had not developed as I’d hoped out on loan, so I let him go to QPR for a fee nearly £5m above what I paid for him. Junior van der Velden falls into the same category. Decent core defending attributes, but not cut out for Premier League football so is sold on for a profit of £4.5m. Brannagan’s contract actually ran out, but I managed to offer him to clubs after he didn’t leave on the turn of July and compensation was agreed with Burnley at £6.25m (£8.25m).
This left me with some cash to spend and my scouts turned up a report on Kovalenko. He is naturally an AMC, but looking at his attribtes, it’s immediately clear he could be the solution to the lack of back up to Goretzka in the CM(A) role. He looks an absolute snip at £14.5m, with bonuses to Shaktar which would take it up to £19m. He comes in and instantly is on paper worth £32m. Already looking like good business.
(Kovalenko post re-training to be a natural CM)
Having tried both Danny Ward and Karius in goal across some games over the past season, it’s clear they are not of the quality that I desire. Not even as back-up. Though Karius would want to disagree with you on that one. He thinks he should be starting ahead of Simon. His stats in goal tell you otherwise. My scout in Belgium has for some time been putting forward the prospect of Mile Svilar so I indulge him and buy the Belgian youth international from Anderlecht for £10.75m (£18.25m). Quite whether he was going to sit on the bench or go out on loan, I hadn’t made my mind up at the start of the season. With Karius going out on loan, it was likely that Svilar was going to stay, but I’d like him to play some games in order to develop. He was certainly going to play EFL Cup games, but I wanted more playing time for him than that.
You’ll note that I mentioned Leicester were relegated in my last episode. Both Vardy and Drinkwater were there and both were unhappy at the prospect of Championship football next season. Given the floodgates I’d opened of the British (so-called) ‘talent’ out of the gates of Mellwood, this left me with registration difficulties. I no longer had sufficient numbers of players who were qualified as English-trained squad members who were older than 21. My scouts told me I could pick them up for £21m. Vardy breaks many rules within my traditional transfer methods. But he does have outstanding attributes within his teamwork and his work rate and I think he’ll offer something different to Origi. His high determination also makes him an ideal tutor for my U19s. Drinkwater also possesses good attributes and is a worthy tutor. Both are brought in and make up my English-trained contingent to six out of a possible eight.
The fact I’m not able to register all my foreign contingent means that Gigi, the wonderful lovely Gorgeous Gigi, doesn’t stack up any more. How fickle a beast I am. My wife asks me how I can do that to Gorgeous Gigi but trying to explain that I can only register a certain amount of non-British trained players doesn’t wash and I’m cast a stern eye. Simple truth is, his attributes aren’t as high as Goretzka’s, Kovalenko’s nor Henderson’s, so I need to move him on. I try my best to sell him but with a bid of £8m being the highest offered for a playing supposedly worth £31m, I look to loan him out for a fee instead. Gigi reluctantly packs his locker up and heads to Roma. I don’t think we’ll hear about his exploits in the last game of the season again too soon as he drops out of the WhatsApp group.
Before the close of the window I always get an itchy trigger finger. I always like to look for any talent that searches and scout reports might have turned up. This time around is no exception. My own talent searching turns up Biro. In truth, how could you not write about a player named Biro!? With five star potential and already some good attributes to play RWB he joins for a flat £2m with an extra £2.2m in add-ons. These include an immediate loan back to Gaz Metan, which I’m happy to accept with Alexander-Armstrong popping up in every training report as making excellent progress and acting as back-up to Clyne.
Then another scout report pops up, this time from my scouts in Argentina. I’m aghast. How’s this guy not already picked up? Both Barcelona and Real Madrid are showing an interest in Martin Dahul, but neither have bid yet. I put a half blind bid in for him of £2.5m with a further £7m to follow in add-ons. Racing Club accept. £9.5m for a talent such as this looks an absolute bargain and he will, I really hope, have a long-term future at the club alongside Isik, introduced to you in the last post. The ‘slight’ problem? Dahul can’t get a work permit. I decide to sign him anyway and take the risk. He looks too good not to get called up for the Argentinian national squad going forwards. I immediately offer him out on loan and a plethora of European, Brazilian and Argentinian clubs come in for him. Boca Juniors offered the more attractive deal, promising to offer Dahul first team football in order to develop and they have excellent facilities for him to train at and a manager who looks to play youngsters.
All of a sudden, whilst I’ve got vast sums of money still left in transfer budget, FFP is looking distinctly dodgy on wage growth, so I loan out a number of players for both a fee and the club taking them on loan paying their wages to get the wages under our cap. Ascacibar still didn’t have a work permit at the start of the season, so jets out to PSV, me praying this time he gets recognised by the Argentinian scouting network and picked for their national side. Ings, van de Beek, Upamecano and Joe Gomes aren’t likely to feature in the First Team, so are shipped out to other teams around Europe too for a reasonable fee to someone who at least promised to offer them footballing chances in their playing XIs. This helps to balance the wages and the transfer fees. I’ve added more depth in quality, so I’m relatively happy going into the season.
Normally I wouldn’t bother mentioning these but we had the most incredible start to our first game against Rennes. We were ridiculously going forwards. Our attack was ruthless, pinging crosses around, one-touch glorious scintillating football that I was so pleased and proud to see. Five goals in the first half and I passionately tell them that that was incredible stuff. Is this it? Have things clicked? Our defence certainly didn’t think so, conceding goals from set pieces and some sloppy play, but we score another to secure a brilliant victory. Yes, I know, it’s only pre-season… but you weren’t there man!!
The rest of the friendly games pass without us conceding a goal… maybe we’ve solved our defensive issues too?
We add another trophy to the cabinet. Smoke on that Giménez. We look good for our victory, though in truth, Guardiola’s Man City treat this as nothing more than a glorified friendly, playing kids for the most part with the odd bit player thrown in. Still, a win is a win.
After being left high and dry against Watford last year and Newcastle the year before that, I was keen to restore pride in this competition, even if the board didn’t care for it. Another congested fixture list meant that I was forced to rotate the squad, giving opportunities to Tobias Svendsen down the left, who performs magnificently with a record of 2 goals and 3 assists in 4 games. Belotti also gets some game time scoring 4 in 4 but that’s flattered by a hat-trick at home against Burnley in the Semi-Final. Alexander-Arnold continues his development, as does Florentino Luis. Svilar is given the game time I was looking for when I signed him back in July. In the Final, we meet our title rivals and old player Can. We go a goal down courtesy of a strike from Agüero but take the lead thanks to Origi and Berardi, only for the little Argentinian maestro (no, not Maradona!) to equalise before half-time. Danny Drinkwater proves to me he was worth every penny of his transfer to break the EFL hoodoo by scoring the winner on the 72nd minute. We manage to hold out the onslaught that Pep unleashes to secure the Cup with a 3-2 win.
Following last year’s drubbing from Juventus, I was keen to avoid a repeat. I had, I believe, strengthened the squad through the middle spine of the team and hoped to progress further than just the First Round Knock-out stage.
We get mixed group, battering BATE 5-0 both home and away, but struggle against Bazoer’s old team Ajax in the Amsterdam Arena. A pleasing 1-1 draw over Barcelona at Anfield gave us hope going into the away leg against Barcelona. I decide to play Vardy upfront as a DF(S), thinking that his constant harrying of the Barça defence would serve as a great chance to restrict their possession and perhaps provide opportunities to counter them. I was right. At least in the 4th minute I was. Vardy poked home from the edge of the six-yard box, having set up a goal scramble in a completely disorganised Barcelona defence. Sadly, this only served to rear the ugly teeth of Suárez and co, with Luis scoring against his old club, along with Rafinha and Umtiti. Sadly, it’s de Vrij who looks like a bit of a tit at the end of the game with a rating of 6.4. Vardy though decides to have a bit of a do in the Camp Nou and scores a second for himself. It’s not enough, but we come close to achieving another point against MSN et al.
We qualify second from our group and get the draw I feared probably the most. Real Madrid. Big Slick Ron and his mates. Great. Goodbye Champions League football for another year I think to myself whilst watching the draw. We’re ‘awarded’ the home tie first, since Real have the advantage of the second leg of the tie at home for winning their group. The crowd decide to make a proper Anfield night of it. Banners and flags flying, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” blasting on the PA and throughout the crowd, a high number of whom are recording it for posterity on their phones. Me? I’m stood in the dugout praying we don’t get ripped apart and can take a glimmer of hope into the Santiago Bernabéu. We’ve worked hard in training for the game though. I even say such a thing to any reporter who will listen.
Boy what a night we had in store for us…
To find out how far we go in the Champions League and how Liverpool respond to defending their first Premier League, you can read it here in Episode 5.
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