Episode 2: Hopes and expectations…
Having met the expectations of Coutinho and Lovren of Champions League football for the forthcoming season, I was keen to strengthen the side and bring in more squad players to all for greater rotation to cope with the extra fixtures. I also realised that there was a need to move on some of the players whose attributes just didn’t fit within what I was trying to achieve.
Bayern Munich came in for Daniel Sturridge. Daniel, much like real life, just simply wasn’t able to keep fit during the season and when he was fit, he wasn’t contributing in the same way as he has in a Liverpool shirt because he was lacking in match sharpness. It took a bit of wrangling because Sturridge was wanting to go (big pay day after all) but I wasn’t willing to accept anything less than £30m for him given he was valued around £35m at the time. Eventually, a deal was struck with me playing hardball and I was happy to let him go. Immediately, whilst negotiations were going on actually, I dialled up Torino and spoke to them about the availability of Belotti. I’ve seen him score a bundle of goals across various FM17 saves across the community and wanted a piece of the action and saw him as a potential replacement for Origi, if he could prove to be more consistent.
Lallana going might look for some as a bit of strange one, but given his age, to have an offer at that level from West Ham was something of a no brainer given his pace of 10 (one of the attributes I feel is slightly undervalued in FM) and the fact that I had other targets in mind with the money on offer. Milner, in FM17, just simply doesn’t have the ratings to justify £140k/week. So to remove him from the wage budget as one of, if not the highest earner in the team was an easy decision too. Andre Wisdom just simply wasn’t going to cut it at Liverpool, so he left to Hull. Flanagan I would have liked to have kept, but he was complaining about the lack of first-team football after experiencing it away on loan during the 16-17 season and decided that he’d like some more of it and clearly worked out that he wasn’t going to get in ahead of Clyne. Clever boy. He really wasn’t. He would have been the kind of squad player I’d like to have kept had I been aiming to keep a predominantly British playing XI, in line with the 1980s dominance I’m seeking to achieve. However, times they have a changed. Given the different rules and better/wider scouting networks that exist in modern football, I’m convinced that they would have had a number of players beyond the British Isles (and Scandinavia!).
You’ll note a transfer ‘tactic’ of mine too. I look to loan out players that I’m either hoping to develop or aren’t good enough to make my first-team and do so for a fee. I don’t think it’s the case any more, but in previous editions, the AI seemed to only offer a maximum of £200k/month. Given the new dealings with loan, I’ve also made sure that where possible, the team loaning the player is paying the same fee regardless of whether they’re playing him or not to maximise my revenue. I use this to increase my transfer budget. If I loan out a player for £200k/month then that generates £2m for my transfer budget. Do this a number of times and it soon boosts the transfer budget, whilst also lowering the wages I’m paying assuming that they are paying the wages.
Whilst analysing match after match of the 16-17 season I was getting frustrated by the lack of quality finishing from my CM(A), who predominantly was Lallana. This led me to searching for a quality player who was able to put the ball in the back of the net on a regular basis and one that was realistic. Delle Alli isn’t going to leave Spurs to join Liverpool except for silly money, which I was not prepared to offer both Spurs and him. In my search, which focussed on work rate, stamina and teamwork, up popped Leon Goretzka. Leon and I have a history together in FM. I’ve signed him for the last two editions of FM and he’s never let me down. A solid player up and down the pitch and a great team player who is willing to chip in with goals and is rarely out of position. Nor does he make many mistakes given his composure and technique. A bid was placed with Schalke, who accepted a negotiated offer, Leon flew over with his agent and we agreed a perfectly reasonable contract for £120k/week over five years. Remember that’s a £20k/week saving on Milner and quite an upgrade by attributes! Leon is given the number 8 shirt and a place in the starting squad. Bargain. Yes, the deal is costing me £48.5m plus his agent fee and signing on fee, but if you divide that by the five year contract, it works out pretty well.
The next player brought in on the list is, to me, what looks like an absolute wonderkid. Meet Thibaut Isik (aged 17 when signed). I will admit to the fact that, yes, I probably have overpaid for this player. I was extremely keen to get him on my books as all of the major Premier League teams have been hoovering up quality regens. With his 16s for bravery, decisions, balance, natural fitness and passing, he was simply too good to pass up, with his professional personality and 17 determination. Given the right coaching and some first team experience, I was firmly of the opinion that he could become a very good player and was touted as the future Didier Deschamps. That’s not a bad player to be compared to. His natural position is CM(S) but I think that he may be better off as a DLP(D)/(S). I’m yet to decide. Expect him to play in every cup game possible and be on the bench for a few first team games where possible. I really expect him to play a big part in the future of Liverpool FC and winning the Champions League to follow in the footsteps of Deschamps.
In other areas, Pitzalis comes in as cover for left full back and looks a reasonable and very cheap prospect given his attributes. Jehanno is another regen who may/may not develop into a decent striker but certainly someone who I could potentially generate some return on in future seasons. The other notable ins come from Scandinavia (yes, yes, I know… much like the 1980s!). I would imagine that Svendsen and Isak will be familiar to many of you in FM17. I felt as though Svendsen could offer genuine back up to Coutinho as an AP(S) despite him naturally being a winger down the left flank and Isak had some great attributes for an 18 year old. Both rejected offers from other bigger clubs, so I’m delighted to have them on board. Isak went out on loan for the season to the Championship and did very well for himself scoring a hatful of goals for Ipswich. The remaining players were players that looked like they may have some talent from their scouting reports and were worth a calculated gamble that profit could be made on most through loans/coaching within my U23s/U18s going forwards. All had good attributes for teamwork and work rate, bar Boudraa who is a French youth goalkeeper.
So to the season:
Given this is the aim, it only makes sense to start here. Finishing second last season put us straight through into the League proper. However, because of our lack of European participation and therefore poor coefficient, we found ourselves in Pot 3. Eugh. We drew Shakhtar, Benfica and Milan. Talk about a group of death! Trips to the Ukraine, Portugal and the San Siro were afoot.
We kicked off with a magnificent victory away against Benfica before a very drab performance against a well organised Milan side. Imagine that… a well organised Italian defence… with 10 men. The air was blue in the Anfield Home changing rooms, let me tell you. We then drubbed Shakhtar both home and away before smashing Benfica at home 5-1. An incredibly pleasing performance with goals from five different players. The 0-0 draw v Milan at the San Siro meant that we did qualify for the next round of the competition but the draw wasn’t kind to us. Juventus. Brilliant(!) A trip to see the Old Lady, 33 years after Heysel, who were still in possession of Dybala and a slimmer than real-life but still goal hungry, Higuaín. They demolished us at their place. Smashed us out of sight. It was incredible football to watch as they played all around us and ran through my defensive line like a young male Italian in a rush getting through traffic on busy Turin streets on a supped up moped. I tried to take the gung-ho approach and get the Anfield crowd roaring, hoping for another infamous midweek European match back home, but to no avail. Juve saw through this and knew it was coming. They soaked up the pressure (there’s yet another organised Italian defence!) and hit us on the counter. Disappointing performance across the two legs and my objective of European dominance looks a long way off. I didn’t say that this was going to be easy though.
Last season’s second place was incredibly encouraging, especially to see us mount a title charge as those around us were dropping points. Whilst I’d improved the side in places, I was still not confident the title would be in our reach and even less confident when I saw the players that the teams around us were bringing in. Laporte and Griezmann for Man City; Ruben Neves, Biglia and Danilo for Man Utd; Almamy Toure joins the returning Romelu Lukaku at Stamford Bridge and Icardi joins the hustle and bustle of the capital city, by joining Arsenal. The BT TV deal really is showing its power in the transfer market, with Neves and Griezmann and Laporte costing around £200m combined.
With that in mind, my expectation was to consolidate our Champions League position and perhaps look to pick up a cup trophy along the way. The board were happy to go along with Champions League qualification, so we set about our task.
And what happened… well, the phrase “squeaky bum time” doesn’t quite cut it!
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