Football Manager 2010 – 2
Birds with arms. Always hilarious. Always.
As I said before, the January window for us is almost entirely about building for next year. That means poaching as many players on expiring contracts as possible. I am experiencing a minor dilemma, thanks to Cheik M’Bengué’s fragile achilles tendon. He damaged it in training during our winter break, and was lost for 3 months. You already know how hard it is to find a decent fullback in this game. In the end, I decided to let Dodô give it his best shot and if that doesn’t work Bassong or Sakho can fill in for (hopefully short) stretches. Since the injury, Dodô’s actually performed rather well, so I’m very hopeful for his future.
This is the second serious injury we’ve had in training this year, which is weird because I never even messed with the training program at all since the end of last season. Normally, I turn up the intensity during the summer and (maybe) during long breaks, but this year the players returned to training so close to the start of our friendly schedule that I decided against it. Last summer, with an intense training regimen, they were constantly tired and I actually had to give them a few days off. But now Sessegnon and M’Bengué have been lost for a while during normal training activity. I know it’s bad luck but I’m still pissed that I’m doing things the right way and still paying a penalty.
Anyway, a pro tip: set prices for your players! Seriously, folks, if you don’t want to lose them or upset them you’re much better off making sure other clubs know how much it’s going to cost to get their signature. Manchester United came calling for Vukcevic (who, you might recall, didn’t even cost me €2m) and offered €3.5m. Ha! I countered with €40m, they backed off, and now he’s upset with me just like Chantôme was, because I wouldn’t let him discuss terms with Man. U! Fergie then came back and decided to unsettle Anyukov, although he has yet to make a concrete offer. Chelsea also sniffed around and expressed interest in Kléber, but only to see if he might be available. I told them no, and I haven’t heard from them since. I’m glad my players are being noticed, because it means we’re doing something right.
I’m getting noticed too! I was considered a legitimate candidate for every opening in Serie A (and it’s Serie A, so there were a lot). Let’s see: Lazio, Cagliari, Catania, Sampdoria, and Roma have all changed managers and every time the press felt I was a likely choice. I said no to every one (although Roma made me pause for half a second). Also, hilariously, Chivas tried to entice me away with a contract worth half of what I’m currently making, a wage budget 1/3… who cares about the details!? I laughed and rejected them.
I’m also considering selling Blanco.
And by “considering” I mean, “offered him to clubs and accepted two offers.” He hasn’t been terrible for us when he’s played, but we have one too many non-EU players and he refused to go out on loan. We have 3 younger and more promising players who can play his position, and it’s just a matter of time before he becomes a royal pain. Fiorentina offered a €9.5m and Spartak Moscow proposed an €11.5m deal. I’ve accepted both and it’s just up to him now to decide if he’d like to go somewhere else. Apoula Edel is also most likely on the chopping block. He’s been clamoring for playing time despite being a) the third-best keeper on the squad and b) not very good. I’ll try to loan him out first, but his contract runs out at the end of the year anyway.
Two of our long-ago signings, Jano Ananidze and Armando Contreras, have finally turned 18 and joined us. Both project as future starters, which means I have two more potential club-trained first teamers (always critical for Champions League play). Contreras has the brighter future and better stats, but I have a special place in my heart for Ananidze. Why? Because the kid learned French before he came here! I have never had anyone be so dedicated. Armando did not learn French. I’m very disappointed in him.
Other than those two, and even if we get a fair amount of money for Blanco, I don’t see us adding anyone else for this season. We’re far from thin in the midfield now with Feghouli emerging and those two youngsters. Kléber and Erdinç probably aren’t getting the minutes they deserve, so adding another forward seems like a waste. At the back, as worried as I am about missing M’Bengué I think we have the players to fill in, and Dodô needs to develop at some point. Ligue 1 teams don’t play enough meaningless games against poor opposition for me to take a Wengerish approach very often. And so, planning for next year, I have signed on free transfers the following players, who will be joining the squad on the first of July.
Tafer is little more than promise and some younger legs. He may very well get loaned out at the first opportunity, but the allure of signing a promising youngster for free (and keeping away from Lyon) was too much to resist. Our next accepted offer is the one I’m happiest about, as Blaise Matuidi decided to sign on for next year. He’s better than Clément (who I think I’m going to sell next summer anyway), and he has enough talent to fill in in either role in the midfield. Finally, Rémy Riou will most likely be our backup keeper next season. Coupet is in decline and Akinfeev has put a stranglehold on the first team place. Our #3 next year will be Alphonse Aréola, who has attracted the attention of every big club in Europe, and my plan for his progression is to have him take over #2 when Riou’s contract is up (or when I sell Riou because he doesn’t understand that I signed him as a backup and thinks he should be playing over Akinfeev. Seriously, what’s the deal with keepers?) and eventually he will be good enough that I can sell Akinfeev and use that money elsewhere.
I’ve also put in an offer for Loïc Perrin, which, if accepted, probably signals the end of Daeseleire’s time he. Daeseleire hasn’t been bad at all, really, but he isn’t really developing at this point and is most likely gone even if Perrin chooses to go somewhere else.
It’s also worth remembering that at the end of the season €162,500 will be coming off of our weekly wage budget, and the players I’ve signed for next year don’t even cost half that.
Stay tuned for the next update, when we get back to the matches.
2010 is over, and I couldn’t be happier. The wheels haven’t come off, but like any new car eventually there are going to be problems or some inconsiderate jerk is going to scratch your door and not leave a note.
We’re becoming a team without a concrete identity. In league play we are consistent favorites and it’s starting to breed a sense of overconfidence among the squad. In Europe thus far we’ve almost always been the underdog. It’s getting difficult to manage expectations and egos and consistently get the best out of the team. To prove my point, take our first two games after routing Inter, home against Bastia and Nantes. Both are newly promoted and both are begging to get relegated at the end of this season. We beat Bastia 5-2 and Nantes 4-1, but in each game it was as if everyone thought we’d win just by showing up. Richarlyson (Best name ever? Best name ever.) bagged two goals against us because no one could be bothered to defend. Monsef Zerka got his goal for Nantes after we’d already put up our 4, out-jumping Bassong to bury a header. There is a fine line between “playing with confidence” and “looking complacent” and we’re walking it. Also problematic is that telling the team I expect a win isn’t conveying my belief that we should beat our opponent, but rather that I will be furious if we don’t. I don’t know how to change their interpretation of that.
We traveled to Saint Étienne next. For the entirety of the first half things were even, until right before the whistle when Sorbon tackled Hoarau from behind in the box, earning us a penalty which Artem buried. The story was much the same for the second half, as we bent but refused to break under their pressure. In the fifth minute of injury time, Feghouli chased down a clearance from our box and found Kléber ahead of his man. He took it forward into the box and hit a screamer into the net to put the result beyond all doubt. I threw my hands into the air when I saw it go in, because that is the PSG I want. Deadly on the counter and taking advantage of our chances. I would prefer that we not demonstrate it only once a match, though.
During the international break, Sessegnon focused too much on the word “break” and broke his ankle in training. He should be back by the middle of February. Wonderful.
We had Craiova at home after that in a match that we could use to guarantee a group win (!). We’d beaten Craiova 3-0 in Romania with a decidedly B squad, so to ensure victory we used a full-strength lineup and I told everyone before the game that I expected a win. They delivered, taking control of the match before 30 minutes had passed with 2 quick goals, and then doubling our lead in the second half to erase all doubt. With the win we had 15 points in the group, and a guaranteed home match for the second leg of the first knockout round. Barcelona beat a still very depleted Inter to take over second place.
I feel like we perform better when people doubt us, or when our backs are against the wall, because after this came a severe dip in form and our worst and most embarrassing 5-match stretch of the season. The Craiova match was followed by Lens at home. Lens, in 18th at the time of the match, gave up an early penalty, successfully converted by Artem. They managed to withstand all of our pressure and despite my exhortations, we never put another past Vedran Runje, who earned himself MOTM for his impression of a brick wall.
A trip to Sochaux, the team that handed us our first loss last year, was not what I wanted. And, in much the same fashion, a stupid foul gave them a dangerous free kick that Dalmat hit into the top corner. Down one at the half, I lit into the team. They weren’t playing with any heart or desire and I would not suffer a repeat of last season. Hoarau took a breakaway on the counter and poked it past the keeper in the first minute of the second half, and it was a new game. Feghouli, on for an ineffective Chantôme, played a 1-2 with Milevskyi on another breakaway and, displaying a level of composure beyond his years, buried the winning goal. He’s really turning into quite a useful player for us. He seems to have a nose for the ball, always hustles, and is more than capable of scoring when necessary. We won, but MOTM went to Dalmat.
I treated our final group match, away to Barcelona, as a friendly, giving me a chance to rest everyone. While I knew another win would be a massive confidence boost, I didn’t think that outweighed the injury risks or the chance of anyone picking up a card when the result was meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Akinfeev served as captain and I told everyone they had nothing to lose. Given the way the match went, we might be better than even I had thought. It was very much a back and forth affair, until the 38th minute when a Messi cross went just past Papastathopoulos and found Milner unmarked at the far post. He poked in what would end up being the only goal of the match, earning himself MOTM in the process. On the whole, though, we acquitted ourselves quite well and despite the loss I told everyone it was a good result and that we had not embarrassed ourselves. The only real sour note was Kléber picking up an ankle injury that would keep him out of all of our remaining matches for 2010.
In other Champions League News, Lyon and Bordeaux failed to make it past the group stage and Marseille (last year’s winners) won their group. Here’s how everything finished up:
We drew Juve in the first knockout round, with our first match at the Stadio Olimpico on February 23rd. Juve were last year’s runner-up, and are currently in 5th place in Serie A. They play a 4-1-2-1-2 narrow diamond, which we haven’t seen yet. I’m not thrilled with the draw, as I would have preferred either of the Dutch teams, or Celtic, or Benfica, but we handled Inter and I think we can give Juve a run for their money.
With a rested squad we faced Bordeaux at home. Bassong had to sit out because he’d picked up enough yellows to earn a suspension, and his absence was noticeable. Milevskyi put us ahead early with a curling shot from the top of the box, but in the 26th minute Otamendi, filling in for Bassong, elbowed Niculae in the face as they were both chasing down a cross. This happened in the box, and Wendel stepped up for Bordeaux and converted the spot kick. Despite more of the ball and more shots on goal, nothing we did changed the scoreline and it ended in a draw. On the plus side, Bordeaux beat us in both of our matches last season, so this is a step forward.
Our last match of the year was away at Monaco. All I wanted to do was make it to the winter break. I think the team felt the same way, as it was another flat performance. Hoarau put us ahead in the fifteenth minute, collecting the ball with his back to the net before turning and putting some curve on the ball to put it past Ruffier. Milevskyi had an atrocious game and came off with the yellow-carded Vukcevic and Chantôme in the 58th minute. Fortunately for us, Diego Pérez picked up his second yellow in the 69th minute and 1 goal would be all we needed.
We made it to the winter break at the top of the table, relatively healthy, but in the midst of a poor run of form. In the interest of keeping everyone healthy, I neglected to schedule a friendly to fill the gap in our schedule. I could have scheduled one against our new affiliate, the Philadelphia Union (a new MLS expansion team). I chose them over other commercial options in Asia for a few reasons. I’m originally from the Philadelphia area and am always partial to it. Also, I’m currently reading a book about the history of the Revolutionary War, and I’ve just reached the time when France began to earnestly assist the American war effort, so I thought the link to be very fitting.
Our next match is a Coupe de la Ligue 4th round fixture at home against Monaco, followed closely by another home match in the 9th round of the French Cup against Nancy. I’ll let you know in my next post about the moves we have made and will make in the coming January transfer window.
I’m loathe to say that things are breaking our way. I think the team is too good to give most of the credit for a run like this to luck. And maybe I lack the experience with French football to be saying something like this, but a French team that is competitive in Europe should be dominant in domestic competition, shouldn’t it?
Before I get to the matches, some other things of note. I didn’t mention this in the recap, but in our victory against Barcelona, we also hit the woodwork three times. Sessegnon grabbed two of them himself. I like to think that we were a matter of inches away from a 6-2 victory, but I also realize that had any of those gone in, the entire character of the match would have changed. Still, it’s a nice thought. We also lost out on the Edin Dzeko sweepstakes. He went to Man City. At least he’s not lying about wanting to play European Football. Man City are currently in second place in their group after 4 matches, with 7 points (5 points ahead of Bordeaux in third), so he should have a chance to play this season. Maybe we’ll be able to grab Adebayor (ha!), as someone’s not going to play enough for their liking.
I decided to use the funds I was so willing to spend on Dzeko to grab us another player for right now, which meant a Joker Window player from another French team. If I wanted him to play in Champions League matches, he had to be 21 or younger, as I’d already registered 25 players for the group stages (and actually had to leave out Makélélé and Apoula Edel, but neither one is playing at all anyway). After the Montpellier match, Sessegnon strained his back in the weight room and had to sit on the sidelines for at least 4 weeks, leaving us thin in midfield for a stretch of 6 matches in 17 days. Initially I considered Blaise Matuidi, who was affordable and highly recommended, but he’s 23 and another defensive-minded midfielder. I preferred more of an attacking threat (I might still be able to add Matuidi on a free for next season). Meet Sofiane Feghouli, who joined us after he played against us for Grenoble. He’s eligible for the Champions League, technically skilled, and an emerging threat on set pieces (maybe not a threat, but we’re still really deficient in that area, which is about the only thing I feel I still need to address).
I knew playing Montpellier away so soon after the high of beating Barcelona was going to be dangerous. And it was. I gave Sandro and Sessegnon a rest, putting Capoue and Chantôme on in their places. The match began at an almost intolerable pace. Montpellier was content to keep all 11 men in front of the ball and play for a point. Unfortunately for them, in the 38th minute they got away from their gameplan and attempted an attack. Bassong cut the ball away from Montaño and passed it forward to Chantôme. He knocked it up to Chamakh, who hit an easy ball to put Artem through at the edge of the center circle. Artem took the ball into the box, dribbling to his right. He took his shot just as the last defender was catching to him and hit a shot across the keeper and into the far corner. I thought that would be the end of my worries, but at the end of the half, from a throw-in down the left touchline, Montpellier knocked the ball around to Alberto Costa at the top of the box and he hit a rocket to even the score. We were brought back to reality and I let the boys know at halftime that this wouldn’t do. At 55 minutes I brought in Sandro, Sessegnon and Kleber, for Capoue, Chantôme, and Chamakh. Still nothing. Montpellier wanted that point. I changed our tactics to an even more attacking style. There was some progress, and they started to break down. As the fourth official held up the board for injury time, we won a corner. And Sakho saved our asses again, heading in a pure laser right over the head of the keeper, earning himself MOTM and giving us the three points.
We had two weeks off for more international fixtures after that match. This was when Sessegnon had to go and get injured, making him a certain scratch for our away match at Inter, and a doubt for the return leg at Parc des Princes. Great. We had to go away to Valenciennes first (in fact, in this report, which covers 7 games, we only had 2 at home) before dealing with Inter, and I was scared the team would look ahead. Fortunately, they didn’t. Milevskyi grabbed a goal in the tenth minute, and then Sandro grabbed 2 in quick succession on similar plays before 30 minutes had gone by. Twice the went into the left corner, twice the crossing opportunity was closed down, and twice the ball was swung back up to the top of the box where Sandro had all the space in the world to run onto it. He has quite the shot. Remi Gomis pulled on back for Valenciennes in the 61st minute, but in injury time Milevskyi grabbed his second. Off an offsides call, Akinfeev kicked it all the way into the opposition’s penalty area, and poor communication between keeper and defender let Artem latch onto it, round the keeper, and put it away. The whistle blew, Sandro got MOTM, and we were off to Milan.
Inter. The Chaaaaaaaaaaaaaaampions! I’ve never liked The Special One (does anyone? I certainly respect what he’s done, but that doesn’t mean I have to like the man). For whatever reason, their preferred formation is a very un-Mourinho 4-3-1-2, essentially the formation I use with a player in the trequartista/AMC role rather than our more attacking playmaker/striker. A 10 to our 9 1/2, I guess. Working in our favor for this match: Júlio César was coming off an injury and wasn’t fully fit, and Mourinho had left Córdoba entirely out of the Champions League squad. He left Materazzi (retiring at the end of the season) off the bench for this match, giving him no flexibility in the center of his defense, with Chivu also unavailable because of a broken foot. Oh, and Sneijder was out, too. Torn calf muscle. Maybe they’re training too hard?
I also like that I can manage the way I really want to in these matches. My pre-match instructions are typically to show everyone to their weaker foot and tackle everyone hard (with a formation that can be stretched thin it’s important to try to win the ball at the first opportunity). In domestic play, where the refs love to call fouls and 3 yellows gets you a suspension, I can’t do that. It works here, though, and as a bonus we’ve been getting English officials. When they’re officiating, I wish there were a “kick him in the shins” instruction available.
Before we walked out into the drizzle, I looked at my players. They looked nervous. Not “guy pissing himself in the tunnel in Gladiator” nervous, but nervous. I told them the pressure was off. This was never a must-win in my plan to advance, but beating Barcelona made this not even a must-draw. That got the response I needed. We held a majority (54%) of possession in the match, although Inter threatened more often, with 9 shots in the match to our 4, and 4 shots on target to our 2.
We defended valiantly throughout the first half, and Akinfeev played out of his mind, making a number of one-on-one saves. We attacked when we could, but were mostly content to keep the ball out of our net. I started the Giant Line (Artem, Hoarau, and Chamakh) and it paid dividends in the 42nd minute. On a corner, Sakho was left with only one man marking him, and poked Vukcevic’s corner in past a nearly immobile Júlio César. Well… that’s interesting, I thought. I certainly wasn’t expecting that. Funny how having 3 guys 6′2″ or taller attacking the ball on corners makes defenders forget about the guy I actually want getting the ball (and why having someone who can actually deliver corners to him is so important). The half ended with us up 1-0. I told everyone that we were a good team, and now that we had the lead, we shouldn’t squander it. In the back of my mind I was sure that Inter, a team that had scored 9 goals through 2 matches thus far, would have no problem answering (and then some) in the second half.
And right off the kickoff, Lucio took the ball away from Artem and passed it to Stankovic. He knocked it back to Cambiasso who had the angle to play Eto’o through on goal. Akinfeev came out in an attempt to make him make a move, and he flubbed a lob attempt, hitting a soft line drive directly into Igor’s chest. I exhaled. Igor threw it out to M’Bengué on the left, who, on the volley hit a loooooooong ball in the air down the wing towards Hoarau. Another advantage of having tall, strong forwards: we win those balls. They’re not just clearances for us. Hoarau knocked it forward and centered it, where it landed just inside the penalty box. Had Júlio César been healthy, I’m sure he would have come out to collect it. But he didn’t. And Artem outraced Samuel for it. And then he put it into the back of the net!? What the hell was going on!?
After that, Sakho picked up an injury, and Sandro and Vukcevic grew tired, so they all came out for Otamendi, Capoue, and Sebastián Blanco (making his debut). I wanted fresh legs on the pitch. Blanco made a nice pass to put Milevskyi through again, but he was judged offsides. Other than that, the boys just naturally dropped back and played keepaway when we managed to get the ball. Inter tried to play more offensively, bringing Tranquilo Barnetta on for Motta (dropping Stankovic back into the midfield and putting Barnetta in the linkup role). Mourinho brought Zanetti on for Muntari in a bid to get more leadership onto the field. In the 90th minute, he brought Balotelli on for Milito. Nothing worked for him though, and we flat-out stole this one from Inter. In my post-game speech I told everyone how much of fantastic result this was, and how proud I was of all of them. Despite having to come out, Sakho still got himself the MOTM award, and we were somehow on top of the group.
After Inter we went away to Grenoble, who had already agreed to sell us Feghouli. He still started against us, though. I rested Artem for the first time… well, possibly for the first time since he signed with us. He was still on the bench, but he’d taken a knock against Inter from muscling up with Samuel, and I’d prefer that he not suddenly breakdown against a team I thought we could beat without him. Chantôme and Vukcevic also began the match on the bench, with Capoue and Abou Diaby in their places. Daeseleire and Dodô got the nod at the fullback postitions, and Otamendi and Papastathopoulos were in the center. Hoarau got most of the match off, making my forwards Kleber and Erdinç on the outside and Chamakh in the middle. Chamakh put one in in the 19th minute, heading in a Kléber cross on a breakaway. 3 minutes later, Kléber ran onto a loose ball rattling around the edge of the area and hit a perfectly placed shot just inside the near post, netting him his first goal since our Trophée es Champions win in July. That was all we needed, and that was fine by me. Chantôme and Vukcevic came on late to get a bit of light running in and stay fresh, and Hoarau came in as well to work himself back towards fitness, but Grenoble never even threatened. Kléber got himself the MOTM, and in the locker room I thanked everyone for the two-part birthday present. The early gift of the win over Inter, and then the followup gift on my actual birthday with this comprehensive victory.
Feghouli came back to Paris with the team for our first home match in nearly a month, against Nice. For the first time in what seemed like forever we actually played in decent weather, too. In the 23rd minute, the ball went back and forth off a goal kick until Auriac inexplicably turned his back on the ball, letting Quartey’s pass bounce off of him. Kléber snatched the loose ball and found Artem in acres of space. Artem got onto the pass without any trouble and put a low shot past the keeper to make it 1-0. Simple, really. We had a full-strength midfield, and 2/3 of the Giant Line (Hoarau resting in favor of Kléber), and we kept the ball when we had it (they finished with a 16% tackle success rate), despite not dominating possession. Late in the second half, once I’d rested Sandro and Vukcevic in favor of Capoue and Feghouli in his debut, and then Chamakh in favor of Hoarau, Kléber got behind the last defender in our own half and started making his way towards goal. He had Hoarau trailing unmarked off to his left, and rather than be selfish crossed it to Hoarau, who put it into the wide-open net for his first goal of the season. That’s how the match finished, and Kléber earned his second MOTM in a row with his two-assist performance, continuing to display signs that he’s understanding our system.
We went away to face our partner team Boulogne 3 days later, with our home match against Inter looming. Sessegnon had almost returned to full training, giving me confidence he’d be ready for Inter. That meant I didn’t feel the need to rest Chantôme, as I expected he’d be back on the bench for Inter thanks to Sessegnon’s recovery. With a midfield of Chantôme, Capoue, and Feghouli, and a front line of Erdinç and Kléber on the wings anchored by Hoarau, we began the match in a lovely downpour. Just before the end of the first half, Kléber took the ball into the box on the left side, drawing the entire defense to him. That left Hoarau wide open, and he tapped the ball in after Kléber found him with a quick pass. In the second half, Hoarau gathered the ball at the top of the box, turned, and found a streaking Feghouli running into the penalty area. With only the keeper to beat, he put the ball smartly into the corner. Then, in injury time, Erdinç ran loose with the ball down the righthand channel before sending a low cross at the last possible moment to Hoarau, who knows how to make a sitter. 3-0 to us, and a MOTM to Hoarau. I also got to see Tolói and Adrien play. Tolói didn’t have the best of games but Adrien came on as a sub and held his own. I’m confident at least one will be a contributor next year, with Adrien being the more likely simply because of his citizenship status. Tolói has 3 years to go before he’s a French citizen.
We returned to Paris to face Inter again, and, proving that I can acknowledge when things break my way, Walter Samuel tore his calf muscle in the time between our two matches, leaving Mourinho with a central defence of Lucio and Materazzi. Here’s what Materazzi looks like:
He’s got all he needs mentally, but his body just can’t do it anymore. That’s why I use Makélélé as a tutor and tell him all the time that he should be a coach. It’s not their fault. But with Materazzi forced to play, I actually went into this game expecting to win. How was he going to handle Artem “Mini-Ibra” Milevskyi? Or Chamakh, or Hoarau? He couldn’t out-muscle them, and they could run right by him. The solution would be to use superior positioning and stay in front of the ball, but he’s too aggressive and prideful and I knew he’d get caught out.
I gave Sessegnon the start with Sandro and Vukcevic, kept the Giants up front, and our strongest 4 defenders at the back. 5 minutes into the game, Vukcevic tapped a ball forward to Chamakh on a freekick, and with all the time in the world Chamakh hit a screamer that curled in for a goal, one of those where the ball hits the underside of the bar and rockets straight down, but has just enough momentum to carry forward across the line. I looked at it as a huge statement goal, one that said, “We can do this, too. Deal with it.” And then 10 minutes later, as if to prove that my feeling about this game was right, Materazzi picked up a yellow card. With no possible substitute on the bench, he was going to have to be extra careful. Artem started running right by him, just to prove how ineffective Materazzi had become. In the 32nd minute, Artem ran right by him again, getting onto the end of a through ball but deciding to take it towards the byline to the right of the goal. Materazzi and Lucio followed, and Artem turned around and found Vukcevic running into approximately 3.7 acres of space in the penalty area, and Simon slotted under a diving Júlio César to make it 2-0. Lúcio picked up his own yellow card before the end of the first half, and I knew, barring some catastrophe, that it was over. I told everyone not to let up in the second half. Sessegnon had to come out for Chantôme after 57 minutes, and in the 65th I brought Capoue on for Vukcevic to give us a much more physical and defensive-minded presence across the midfield. I also brought out Anyukov, who’d picked up a knock, replacing him with Papastathopoulos. I patted Anyukov on the back for his last-ditch sliding tackle on Eto’o in the box, saving a sure goal and completely throwing poor Samuel off of his game for the rest of the match (Ed.: I’ve never seen a player argue for a penalty, have play continue, and then the player argue some more, and he didn’t even get a card). Two minutes later, Chantôme hit a long lob over the defense to Hoarau who cut in from the right wing and put the ball low and across Júlio César for our third goal of the match. And that’s how it ended. Our coming-out party was a 3-0 domination of a highly-favored, internationally-recognizable team in European play. I have to be honest, I’m going to be upset if I don’t have offers to refuse when January comes around. Not for me, but for my players. I’m sticking to my promise of staying in Paris until we win the Champions League (and never searching out a new club to manage. Having said that, maybe I’ll get the chance yet to manage Stevie G.).
So here we are. Meaningful stats thus far: We’ve only allowed 7 goals in league play, and 10 total all season through 17 matches. We’ve only been held to one goal all season, our draw at Toulouse. Everyone’s healthy. Our next two matches are at home against Bastia and Nantes, two of the newly-promoted teams. We play Craivoa at home next in group play, and 13 points clinches the group. Not just a spot in the knockout rounds, but a group win. Unbelievable. My next update will be once we hit the Christmas break, and I’ll follow that up with a transfer window post. Barring a massive string of injuries expect those to mostly be free transfer targets for next season. I will share that, again barring injuries or a club coming to me with an offer I can’t refuse for anyone currently in the squad, my plan for next season is to put as much of the transfer funds as possible into the wage budget and lock everyone down for the long term at wages they deserve. I already gave an extension to Sakho (€56k a week through 2015, and I’ll probably increase that, too) and I will do everything in my power to keep this nucleus intact.
What made me even happier after the second Inter match was learning that it was our 12th win in a row, a club record. I wasn’t happy about setting the record, but rather that I hadn’t even noticed. I don’t think the boys had either. We are focusing on every match as if it decides our season.
Our upcoming fixtures:
Ed.: I had a job interview this past Monday, and I think it went rather well. I’ll know soon if I actually got the job, and if that happens I have no idea what that will do to my playing/posting abilities. We shall see, but even if you like this (all 2 of you) please think happy thoughts. Thanks. Oh, and Emmanuelle Chriqui has nothing to do with this post, in case you hadn’t figured that out. She is rather attractive, though.
Four consecutive clean sheets. Ten goals in four matches. Never fewer than two goals in match. Granted, that’s a small sample size and, granted, three of those opponents were Craiova, Lille, and Nancy.
Every match is a must-win for us now.
After we drew with Toulouse, we had two weeks off for the international break, which reminded me that I haven’t mentioned what’s taken place on the international stage. The eight teams to make it to the quarterfinals in South Africa were Italy, England, Brazil, Germany, the Ivory Coast, Spain, Argentina, and… Australia!? They beat Saudi Arabia in the second round to get there. In the quarters, Italy took care of Drogba’s boys, Spain beat England, Argentina needed extra time to handle Germany, and Brazil obviously thrashed the Aussies. Oh, wait. Australia won 2-1. That sentence should have ended “…and Brazil obviously fired Dunga after suffering defeat at the hands of Australia.” They lost their magic in the semis, though, losing to Spain 2-0. Italy beat Argentina with the same scoreline, setting up a rematch of what looked to be the Gigi and Iker Show, Part 2. Argentina handled Australia to take third, and in the final Iniesta and Torres scored in the first 20 minutes, Rossi missed a penalty to give Italy a chance, and the match ended 2-0. Spain is your new World Cup Champion.
After the tournament, Dunga and Domenech both got the boot. I applied for both positions, knowing I had an outside shot if you wanted to be really generous about it. Only France had the dignity to acknowledge that I’d applied, but in the end I was left without a second job to occupy my summers and those two week stretches of dead time. France hired Arsene Wenger, promoting him from his former position in charge of their youth program. Tony Mowbray is now managing Arsenal, and Muricy Ramalho is in charge of Brazil.
Our present at the end of the international break was a visit from Lyon, two points ahead of us and top of the table. The first half was a very back and forth affair, and neither team appeared able to assert any sort of control over the match. We did appear more threatening in the final third, but it never seemed to manifest itself in an actual shot. During my team talk I told my players that I was disappointed by what I’d seen. Were they rusty? Scared? I reminded them that we always play well against Lyon, and that if we wanted to make a statement this season, there was no better way to do so than with early wins against Marseille and Lyon, especially a win against Lyon that gave us possession of first place.
They seemed to heed my words but couldn’t translate whatever inspiration was there into goals. At least not within the flow of the match. Fortunately for us, first Bodmer and then Makoun decided to be especially generous and gift us penalties. The commentators weren’t sure about the second one, first saying it had to be a penalty and then later saying the penalty call seemed harsh (ed.: wtf?), but Artem Milevskyi coolly converted both and Lyon left with a loss and second place in the league. Milevskyi finished as Man of the Match.
Following that victory, we took a lovely trip to Craiova, Romania. We got in a lot of sightseeing, as it is the sixth-largest city in Romania, but our focus was on beating FC Universitatea Craiova. I know I’d said I’d play the strongest lineup possible, but it’s Craiova, right? What could go wrong? Anyukov and M’Bengue got the match off, although Anyukov was available on the bench. Daeseleire had the right and I gave Dodô his senior debut on the left. Capoue and Chantôme took over for Sandro and Vukcevic in the middle with Sessegnon, and Milevskyi, Chamakh, and Kléber were up front. Akinfeev remained in goal. In the 13th minute, in what is quickly becoming his signature move, Artem collected a pass in the box with his right foot and his back to goal, knocked it left and then towards goal while spinning around the defender, and buried the finish. Four minutes later Chamakh did the same move from the edge of the box and we had a two goal lead. I pulled a Robson and brought Sandro on for Chantôme, Vukcevic on for Sessegnon, and Hoarau (who still lacked match fitness) on for Artem. I moved Capoue over to one of the attacking roles and Sandro took over the defensive duties. He thought otherwise, though, and in the 69th (giggle) minute, dribbled past a few defenders and unleashed a rocket that deflected off their keeper on the way in. Chamakh grabbed MOTM and we started our Champions League campaign with a win.
From Craiova we moved on to Lille, a team I dubbed one of our “in-game” nemeses after Gervinho regularly latched on to through balls and probably cut 5 years off of Coupet’s life. I gave Hoarau the start, alongside Chamakh and Milevskyi to create our Giant Line. Unfortunately, Chamakh decided he’d take the match off. His final rating was 5.8 when I pulled him for Erdinç in the 59th minute, and I brought Kleber on for Hoarau at that point, too. The match was 0-0 at the half, because despite dominating possession up to that point, most of our shots were well off-target. Two minutes after I brought the new attackers on, Bassong cut out a lobbed through ball and headed it forward to Vukcevic. Vukcevic swung it left it M’Bengué, who hit it forward to Sessegnon. Then, in a moment of sheer brilliance, Sessegnon half-lobbed a ball from the left wing that landed just to the right of the penalty spot, where Milevskyi met it with his feet after running past the last defender. Landreau never even had a chance to move before Artem knocked it in. Nine minutes later, Erdinç collected an Anyukov cross with his feet at the far post, and had all the time in the world to put it away. Then at the end of the game Erdinç, running in the same direction as Anyukov’s cross, timed his jump perfectly and redirected it into the net with what I like to think was an over-the-shoulder header. His late brace gave Erdinç MOTM.
The next week we met Nancy at Parc des Princes on a rainy Saturday. I decided, with our home advantage and our next match against Barcelona, to rest Sessegnon and Vukcevic. As a result, our midfield had Chantôme and Capoue in the attacking roles, and Sandro in the defensive. The conditions were sloppy and both sides misfired and generally looked out of sync. For the third match in our last four, we went into the half scoreless. Fortunately, so were they. I tried to keep the guys from getting down, playing up the weather as the main reason for our subdued performance, and not my decision to keep our creativity on the bench. Chantôme cracked the left upright with a free kick in the 48th minute. Immediately after that, in an effort to inject some flair into the midfield, Capoue came off for Vukcevic and Erdinç came on for Kléber. Kléber hadn’t seemed especially into the match, and I felt that Erdinç, hot off the heels of his two-goal cameo, might be our super-sub. At least one of the moves paid off, when Vukcevic dribbled down the left flank in the 62nd minute. He passed it to Chamakh in the box, who started a Milevskyi before passing it to Artem at the penalty spot, who then did his own Milevskyi before firing a shot that deflected past Bracigliano and in. Late in the match, we earned two corners in the span of three minutes, and on the second one, Sakho’s header was deflected back to Vukcevic, who had taken the corner. He dribbled into the box and took a low shot that crossed Barcigliano before hitting the far corner of the net. A 2-0 win on an ugly, ugly day. MOTM went to Vukcevic.
Four days later, Barcelona came to town. Barcelona, favorites to win the Champions League for the second time in three years. Working in our favor was Zlatan Ibracadabra’s torn calf muscle, which will be keeping him out of action until December at the earliest. Also in our favor was the 4-0 slaughter inflected on Barcelona by Inter in Barcelona in their first group stage game. Hurray for that. Messi, Xavi, and Iniesta were still healthy, and Bojan isn’t exactly a slouch. The weather was even worse than it was over the weekend, with a terrible downpour that wouldn’t let up for a second. I paced. We weren’t favored to win, but there had been talk in the papers that maybe we had a chance. As far as I know it didn’t come from one of the players, who to a man appeared to have swallowed a net full of butterflies. Big ones.
I took a risk.
“I don’t know if you know this, gentlemen, but every single one of you could start for a team like Barcelona. You’re all world-class, and I don’t care what anyone else says, you can win today! Don’t let anyone tell you something different. Everyone out there in the stands is there to see Barcelona put on a show. They don’t know it yet, but that show’s been canceled! Let’s put on our own show, and let everyone know that we are not to be discounted, that we are not a second class team.”
For the first five minutes we controlled the ball, beating Barça at their own game. We earned a corner in the 4th minute, and a combination of marking Sakho with one man and their man on the near post leaving his position, gave Mamadou an easy ball to get to and a wide-open goal to put it in. He did. Not only had we finally scored an early goal, we’d done it against Barcelona. I resisted the urge to slide on my stomach across the touchline in celebration.
They started to assert themselves a little more, and an excellent move by Bojan in the box gave them an equalizer. He shielded himself from Bassong’s challenge, took a through ball from Xavi, and managed to put it past Sakho and then Akinfeev. Crap. I prayed we wouldn’t lose all of our momentum. For the next fifteen minutes it was push-pull, as we each threatened without following up on the threat.
Then, in the 37th minute, in what is becoming his standard move, Vukcevic took the ball down the left channel before crossing across the mouth of the goal. It deflected off Alves, and Piqué and Puyol were far too nonchalant about getting to it. Artem rushed in, and before Valdes realized what was happening he’d blasted the ball into the back of the net. 2-1! We had the lead again! We went into the half like that. Thrilled as I was, I wanted them to remember we still had 45 minutes to play. I told them not to let up, but I made them a promise. If they won, and they had proven that they had every ability to, I’d take off my coat and slide with them, in my suit, in front of the Kop of Boulogne. They all grinned.
In the second half, we continued to threaten. Piqué earned a yellow for holding back Artem, then ten minutes later Xavi should have earned a straight red after hacking Vukcevic down from behind with both feet. The ref let him off with a yellow, and if we hadn’t been ahead I would have really let him have it. As it is I just suggested that perhaps he should be more worried about the events on the pitch than the condition of his digestive tract (he was English, so I did it in French). Hoarau came on for Kléber in the 59th minute to give us a more physical presence up front as they seemed to be getting much pushier. We survived a corner in the 65th minute and then a loose ball that Akinfeev just beat Bojan to. He threw the ball to Anyukov, who knocked it up to Sandro. Sandro hit a lob forward to Chamakh running down the left channel. Chamakh crossed to Milevskyi and it looked like Artem had a chance. He tried to do too much with the ball and let Piqué get in front of him, and his shot was deflected back for a corner. Vukcevic floated it in, and Valdes started to come off his line to collect it at the penalty line. Sakho changed his position to get to the ball earlier in his flight and knocked in his second goal of the match. 3-1! Against Barcelona! I looked just as surprised as the Barça players did, but a little bit happier. I just hoped we could hold out. In the 72nd minute I took out Sandro and Sessegnon, as they were showing signs of tiring, and brought in Capoue and Chantôme.
They earned a corner three minutes later, and in an a weird reminder of how luck seems to be related to skill, Xavi’s corner seemed to be floating harmlessly to no one in the middle of the box, until Messi rushed in at the last possible second, perfectly controlled the ball with his feet, took one touch that got him around a diving Akinfeev, and basically just ran into the net with the ball. 3-2. Crap again. 15 (closer to 20 counting injury time) minutes to go. We can do this! I learned my lesson from the Toulouse match, though, and told them to keep getting forward with the ball.
For the last 10 minutes we dominated possession, earning corners after dribbling the ball down towards the flag. It was a beautiful endgame to a completely surreal match. When the whistle blew, I shook Pep’s hand, asked him where he got his suit, then rushed out onto the pitch. I found Sakho under the rest of the team and gave him a big hug. We all lined up, applauded our fans, and then took a quick run before diving forwards. Best feeling in the world.
Three days later, our good fortune continued, as Wolfsburg decided to offer Edin Dzeko for €12.75m.
I took them up on the offer. Now, I know I’ve maybe bad-mouthed him a little, but part of that had to do with the fact that he was priced at over €30m. I can find two or three valuable players at that price. There are some problems with this deal. He’s not an EU national, and we already have 4 non-EU players, with at least one more (Contreras) coming in January. If Dzeko picks us I’ll probably loan out Blanco and Contreras to Boulogne. Also, we are still PSG. If a team with a higher reputation makes an offer we’ll probably lose out. And this will make it difficult to grab a player who can make an impact in the Joker Window (for those who don’t know, in France clubs can buy one player from any French club between September 1st and December 31st). Oh, and our offer hasn’t even been accepted yet.
Here’s our upcoming fixture list:
Inter beat Craiova 5-0 in Milan, giving them first place in the group with 6 points and a +9 goal differential after two matches. No idea how we’ll do, but I think we’re fortunate in that other than the boys from Milan, we’re not facing any real threat besides complacency. Montpellier, away, after a win over Barcelona feels like a trap. So, if in my next post you see this guy…
…it means we messed up.
So I’m back. It’s been awhile, so I should catch you up on the last 4 seasons.
But my laptop works again (thank god), the holidays are over (America! Fuck yeah!), and I made sure I had this file saved in a few places just in case.
When last I left you, I was lining up targets for my first big, big, big spending spree as a newly minted League Champion. And for a time, it was good. Bassong, Akinfeev, and Anyukov all joined up without any hiccups (well, I guess Anyukov being my second choice after Srna was a hiccup, but we got realistically priced out of Srna. Anyukov came at 2/3 the cost and 1/2 the wages). And then it all started to go poorly. I wanted Milito on loan again (he was the basis for my “can I offer loaned players a contract?” question), but he chose the riches of Man City and the end of their bench. Best of luck to him. van der Vaart left Madrid for HSV on another loan before I thought to throw my hat in. Diego Renan had to choose between us and Inter, and, much to my surprise, didn’t choose Paris. Who knew? And now he’s their starting LB, with Santon coming off the bench as the first option on either side. The window wasn’t closing anytime soon, but our first meaningful game, Le Trophée des Champions, was fast approaching and all of my targets were getting poached. It got to be so bad I actually had Yves take over a few of our friendlies as I struggled to find viable targets. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find a decent fullback!? There’s a list of maybe 10.
In the end, I was able to grab what I hope is a significant increase in depth while cutting away a lot of the deadweight. The only problem I still forsee is Clément Chantôme. Sevilla made an inquiry, and I set his price at €25m. I don’t really want to lose him, he’s one of my first options off the bench, he always seems to play well for me, so I named a value that I couldn’t refuse and left it set to negotiable. Well, Sevilla backed off and he thought I’d refused the inquiry (or knew that I’d intentionally overvalued him) and is now unhappy with me. I even offered him an almost 300% raise and he wouldn’t take it. It doesn’t appear to be affecting his performances, so he’ll stay in the rotation and hopefully realize he has a future here.
Here are the Ins and Outs for the 2010 Summer Transfer Window (most player names are screenshots)
-Sebastián Blanco (Free)
-Marouane Chamakh (Free)
-John Pantsil (Loan to buy)
-Abou Diaby (Loan to buy)
|-Mateja Kezman (Loan, Le Mans)
-Ceará (Lens, €9.5m)
-Peguy Luyindula (Loan, Havre)
-Mateus (Loan, Nancy)
-Christophe Jallet (Sporting CP, €10m)
-Sammy Traoré (Free)
-Willy Grondin (Free)
-Bafodé Diakhaby (Free)
-Stéphane Véron (Free)
-Abdelaziz Barrada (Free)
-Lucien Owona (Free)
-Rafael Tolói (Loan, Boulogne)
-Everton Santos (Loan, Nantes)
-Zoumana Camara (Fulham, €2m)
-Mota (Sporting CP, €3.7m) [I signed him last season for €110k to train him to play LB but he never took to it and he didn't fit in my long term midfield plans]
-Loris Arnaud (Valenciennes, €4m)
-Jérôme Rothen (Loan, Havre)
-Bassirou Dembelé (Loan, Paris FC)
-Sylvain Armand (Valenciennes, €4.6m)
-Younousse Sankhare (Loan, La Berrichonne)
-Alfred N’Diaye (Loan, Guingamp)
-Kyriakos Papadopoulos (Loan, Evian)
-Tripy Makonda (Loan, ESTAC)
-Arouna Koné (Feyenoord, €5.75m)
-Adrien (Loan, Boulogne)
Positives from that group: our strikers are now much stronger, and when Hoarau recovers from his strained knee ligaments we can put out three forwards 6′2″ or taller. I don’t profess to know that much about the history of the sport but that seems like an unusual thing. Also, the nicknames, oh the nicknames! Mr. Mustache (Musacchio), Sokrates (Papastathopoulos, if anyone has seen Bill and Ted), Papa Dop (Papadopoulos), etc.
I have yet to settle on a lineup, especially with Hoarau out. He was playing well with Chamakh and Milevskyi in the friendlies before he went down, and I’d like to bring Kléber off the bench for now. Kléber doesn’t seem to grasp my tactics quite yet, which will hurt us if he plays for longer stretches. But being able to bring him or Erdinç off the bench is much more preferable than my options last season of Giuly/Koné/Luyindula. As for tactics, I’ve changed the fullbacks to a “support” role in an attempt to reduce our goals allowed. I’m sure I’ve tweaked other things between now and when I last posted the file, though at this hour (it’s 3 a.m.) I’m not sure I remember what else I did. Anyway, here’s the file: http://drop.io/10pufks
Some other things of note. We are now the parent club of Boulogne, which is actually a bit of a coup for us as it means I can send prospects to a Ligue 1 team for game experience, and also loan out non-EU players I wouldn’t otherwise be able to register. We are also linked to Cordoba, who were relegated from the Liga Adelante to the Segunda Division for this season, but maybe they’ll give us a foothold in Spain. I don’t have a dedicated scout for Spain yet, simply because it seems unrealistic to expect La Liga players to want to drop down a (perceived, in our case) level or to poach promising youngsters. We will soon though, and I do have a scout for Central Europe, so we get information regularly about Spain and Italy. The rest of my scouts are focused on: Greece, Turkey, Eastern Europe, Holland, Portugal, Brazil, Argentina, France, and Belgium. When I can hire a few more I’ll get a scout or two for African (although I’ve never found one to be useful in previous saves), and hopefully in a few years PSG won’t be a ridiculous destination for the top players in Europe.
Speaking of ridiculous, in the world of the big clubs, some moves that have left me scratching my head:
-Santi Cazorla to Real Madrid for €32m
-James Milner to Barcelona for €26m
-Jonas Olsson to Manchester United for €19m (and he’s currently playing for their reserve team. Really, Fergie?)
-Christopher Samba to Wolves for €14m (not a big club but €14m on one player, Wolves, and it’s this one!?)
The best move of the window not made by me actually goes to Rafa Benitez, who grabbed Miguel Veloso for €14m.
As for the fixtures I’ve played thus far:
I think we’re going to be a truly dominant force in Ligue 1 this year. But, Brian, you won the league last year! True. We did. But that team wasn’t as driven as this one, wasn’t as seasoned, and honestly wasn’t as good. We were one or two serious injuries away from disaster (and losing vdV for even a few weeks made every match a struggle). This season I think we could legitimately go undefeated in the league. Which is what I strive for. It’s what I told the board when they hired me, it’s what I tell the press when they ask me who I think will win the league or who will win our upcoming match, and it’s what I tell the team before each match. I just hope I’m not buying into a mirage.
Despite the fact that Marseille had managed to convince the powers that be that, rather than a semi-exhibition in Montreal, the Champion’s Trophy should be played in Marseille, we grabbed a 3-1 win and another trophy for our hopefully growing collection. An early goal from Sessegnon gave us a 1-0 lead at the half. Capoue built on that by pouncing on a rebound and jabbing it into a wide open net, and despite a 62nd minute goal by Lucho Gonzalez (who I think is on a mission after I bad-mouthed him), Kléber came on as a sub for Erdinç and was able to put victory beyond doubt with a late tap-in. Hurray for our side.
We opened the season at home to Auxerre. Chamakh absolutely blasted in a header for his first goal in a PSG shirt, but a silly foul just before the half gave Christian Grindheim (great name) a free kick just outside the box and he buried it. In the second half, Sakho scored a header from a corner to put us back in front, but Auxerre was able to equalize 20 minutes later through Kamel Chafni. Fortunately, Sakho is finally starting to get a hang of his role during corners and he headed another home in the 84th minute and we held on.
Away to Dijon, in what is a must-win for a team as good as ours, we started off in a fashion I thought was too slow. Despite threatening around the box, we didn’t convert one of numerous chances until Artem decided to hell with the box and buried a line drive on the bounce into the net from 20 yards away. It was a beautiful display of ball movement, started and finished by Artem. Chamakh poked another in from an Anyukov cross, and Artem converted a penalty in the second half for a convincing and expected 3-0 win.
We then traveled back home for a second match with Marseille before summer ended. It started off anything but well for us, as M’Bengué was whistled for jumping unfairly with Niang at the very top left extreme of the penalty area, gifting Marseille the softest penalty in the history of penalties. I was prepared to earn a touchline ban and tear the ref a new asshole or four if that cost us the game. Cheik never recovered from the incident, and eventually I had to take him off and put Bassong in his place. Hopefully it was a learning experience for all involved (and I learned that, in a pinch, Bassong is more than capable of playing LB in a pinch). Anyway, the Luchador converted that penalty. Their lead was short-lived as Mamadou Sakho grabbed another goal off of a corner. In the 37th minute, Milevskyi made a fool out of Bougherra and blasted a rocket past Mandanda from 10 yards to give us a 2-1 lead. I told the team not to get careless, but apparently they weren’t listening, as Nicklas Bendtner (seriously, wtf!?) connected with a Romaric cross to draw them level. The play started when Romaric intercepted a lazy Bassong pass and dribbled unopposed down the left wing. This lead was even more short-lived as we kept the ball from kickoff, and MIlevskyi made Adil Rami this time look absolutely rooted to the ground before hitting a shot so hard that Mandanda was able to get a significant piece of it and it still had enough momentum to trickle under and past him to give us a lead we would not relinquish. We’ve won our last 3 matches with Marseille, but this was my first league win against them and it produced the best feeling of any of our victories thus far.
We then traveled to Toulouse, and after such a high-tension effort the previous week, a letdown was almost inevitable. Despite the outcome, and how it arose, I am still choosing to view this as a positive moment. Sessegnon, taking over the playmaker role this year, got free in the box and had enough time to collect Anyukov’s cross with his right foot and switch the ball to his left before placing a shot across Yohann Pelé and into the corner of the net. Our defense held strong until Bassong knocked the ball out for a corner. The incoming corner was kicked around for a good 10 seconds before Dindane rushed towards it and poked it home with Akinfeev already sprawled out. I was incensed at the time, because we were so close, but upon reflection realized that last year’s team probably would have found a way to let in another at the death. I’m also realizing that our best defense is still our strong offense and controlling the ball. Aside from the first match at Marseille, we have had at least 57% of possession in every match (and over 60 against Auxerre and Dijon), but on this day we only managed 49%. Coincidentally, in this match I played the second half to protect our lead, rather than to extend it. Fortune favors the brave, and I was not.
Our next match is against league leaders Lyon, who have won all 4 matches thus far and are 2 points above us on the table. We’ve owned Lyon throughout my brief tenure and hopefully this will be a statement game for us. After that, we take a midweek trip to Romania and the beautiful metropolis of Craiova as we begin our European adventure. Remember how I was gloating over the results of the other major leagues and predicted we’d still get group of death-ed? Well. Joining Craiova and ourselves in Group B will be FC Barcelona and F.C. Internazionale, more commonly known as Inter or Inter Milan. Perhaps you’ve heard of them? Barcelona are 3-1 favorites to win the whole thing, and Inter are 5-1. Real Madrid is at 4-1, and everyone else is pretty much an afterthought. Getting out of this group will be a miracle. When it comes to points for advancing, pundits always say the magic number is 10. Realistically, we have to beat Craiova twice and then manage to steal a win from one of the giants and/or fight them to draws to get to double digits. We can’t drop a single point to Craiova. Can’t. Cannot. Can not. I can’t decide what I want Barca and Inter to do when they play each other. Hope for one team to win both and short the other team 1-4 points? Hope they split and each earn 3 from two matches, or even better draw both times? I have no idea how we’re going to do this. Meanwhile, Marseille are grouped with Rubin Kazan, Everton, and AZ while Lyon gets Leverkeusen, Galatasaray, and Ajax and Bordeaux have Roma, Madrid, and Man City to battle.
My plan for Europe then is to throw out our strongest squad possible for every match, hope that Barcelona and Inter don’t or are also visited by the injury fairy and can’t, and hope for the best. Another mild concern: players like Milevskyi and Sakho getting big-time exposure and gaining suitors. Right now no one is interested in either one and I’m totally fine with that.
Wish us luck. My next update will be after the Barcelona match. Hopefully they forget Paris, or we can make them wish they had.
Depending on how you want to look at it, either we’re Andre the Giant and the little guy represents the rest of Ligue 1, or we’re the little guy and Andre the Giant represents the top clubs of Europe. Deep, man.
What do you think? Which are we?
Since I’m trying to delay diving right into season 2 (I can be patient! I swear!), I thought I should give you a few more notes about how the 2009-2010 season went, in France and around the world.
Here’s the official French season wrap-up:
Artem Milevskyi won the Golden Boot:
The rest of Europe went pretty much as expected, save for one league:
That’s right, Spurs fans. You won the Premier League! Enjoy it while you can because this is probably the only way it’s going to happen anytime soon. Also: Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester United finishing 5-6-7? Really? Thank God we made it into the Champions League. We can beat Everton (assuming they win their playoff). I would also like to thank Getafe and Espanyol for ridiculously over-performing. We really might have a shot at this thing.
We’ll probably get Group of Death-ed now that I’ve said that.
I should also add that Real Madrid spent €61.5m on 4 players in the January window, and it still bought them second place. Who’d they buy, you ask? Why, the all-star quartet of Brede Hangeland (€20.5m), Nani (€19m), Aaron Lennon (€17.5m), and Bruno Alves (a reasonable €14.5m). I’m as shocked as you are that they couldn’t dominate La Liga with additions like that.
Hot off the heels of our Ligue 1 title, it’s time for us to rebuild and reload. We’re going to need a stronger and deeper team to withstand challenges to our title and make a strong showing in Europe. After Marseille won the Champions League, I decided then and there that we could and should win it the next year. Realistic? No, not really. Possible? Certainly. It will take a little luck (ok, a lot of luck) and some shrewd signings on my part to do it. The board asked me what I expected of the team, and since we won the league last year I told them I expected us to win it again. Cha-ching. My transfer budget, before player sales, is €41m and I have €140,000 in wages to award.
First up was an extraordinarily cheap, probable replacement for vdV.
Sporting put Vukcevic up for sale for €1.3m and I snatched him up. Now, depending on how our other signings and sales go, he may end up out on loan. He’s not an EU player, which hurts, and realistically I have spots for 2 or 3 non-European players. But, aside from his teamwork and determination, he has a chance to be a really special player for us. But if he falters in the pre-season or can’t fit, he’s off to somewhere to learn how to play by the rules and maybe pass a citizenship test (or however it’s done in Europe).
I haven’t added anyone else, although I did try to sign David Luiz after Ajax put in a bid. Bordeaux made an offer as well, but in the end he chose Amsterdam. Damn kids, with their drugs and their rock ‘n roll. I have, however, found some more possibilities at goalkeeper and CB and am in the process of maybe unsettling them or at least befriending their manager, to see if I can get a discount (or, in the case of Akinfeev and Srna, an actual price). I have no idea who else to look at at RB. Speak up if you have any suggestions.
Memo Ochoa would cost me less than half of Akinfeev, but he’d want more in wages and is lacking European/African/exempt citizenship likeAkinfeev. They’re both rated 4 stars (by the same scout), and Akinfeev is also a little more than 6 months younger, for what that’s worth. Rubinho has Italian citizenship, and would cost roughly the same as Ochoa. Victor is the cheapest option, but, again, would be one of my foreign-born players.
At CB, I think my best option is Sébastien Bassong. He’s fast, he speaks French already, and PSG is one of his favorite clubs, which will give me an advantage. I have no idea why he’s interested in coming here, even if we are a favorite of his, but I won’t complain. I think he’s a definite buy. Gonzalo Rodriguez is another option at roughly the same price. I would only get one of the two, as I still want to regularly play Sakho and watch him develop into one of the best defenders in the world. A cheaper 3rd/4th option (by cheaper I mean €5m tops, rather than €16-20m) would be Ezequiel Garay, but he may be lacking the… juevos, let’s say, to feature regularly and survive in my system. He spent part of last season on loan at Celtic. For a little less than Rodriguez or Bassong I could get Breno, but he would want a high wage and, unlike the others, he would be a foreign player.
For friendlies, I’ve scheduled tours of the United States and Japan. Obviously I’m hoping to get a financial partner out of one of these trips, but if we are to somehow become one of the world’s biggest teams, we need that sort of exposure. We’ll also be visiting Porto, and I may add one more against a higher-profile team. The Bastille Day Cup is on hold until next year, as the Parc des Princes is needed for the 2010 U-19 Euros. So we’ll wait. If I’m lucky, our choices will be similar or lower reputation teams. I’m a dreamer.
I’ll definitely keep you updated on the World Cup. I’m also considering taking an international job, depending on who gets the boot after a poor showing in South Africa (I’m looking at you, Domenech).
Suggestions, as always, are welcome.
With a sporadic (at best) internet connection, I went sort of balls out and wrapped up my first season. Let’s get to it, shall we?
Where to begin? Nice bounced us from the Coupe de la Ligue in the quarter finals. That disappointed the fans and the board. Pity.
Our in-game arch-nemesis is going to end up being Lille or Bordeaux. Lille has Gervinho, who has an incredible knack for using his speed to split our defense and latch onto through-balls. In fact, that seems to be Lille’s entire gameplan. Bordeaux? Bordeaux is just a ridiculously strong team, and beat us home and away 3-2 on post-80th minute goals.
We did finally manage to put one over our real-life rivals, but in an unexpected fashion. Both of our league matches with Marseille ended in 1-1 draws. But ten days after our second match at the Parc des Princes, we traveled back to Marseille for the 11th round of the French Cup. Niang scored late in the first half, but Milevskyi hit a hat trick in the first 30 minutes of the second half and we took the match 3-1.
Overall we lost 6 matches on the season. The two to Bordeaux were the only two matches where we were beaten at our best. We gave Socaux their win, and we came out completely flat in losses to Nancy, Auxerre, and Saint-Etienne. I wasn’t happy at all with our performances in those matches, and I let the players know it, but I know full well that those matches happen. Having said that, unless we win more games next year, 6 or more league losses will be considered a failure.
We also won the Coupe de France, beating Lyon at home in the semifinal and Lille 2-1 in the final. From a managerial standpoint, we would have been better off getting knocked out in the quarters or semis, though. Or at least not playing Lyon. Because of their Europa League commitments, Lyon had our match moved to 3 days before the final, and our match away to Lens was pushed to 2 days after the final, our last two matches at home to Valenciennes and Montpellier at 3 day intervals after that. From May 2nd to our last match on May 15th, we had 6 games, including the semifinals and finals of a cup.
BUT IT WAS ALL WORTH IT BECAUSE WE WON THE LEAGUE. With 3 matches to go, we were 6 points ahead of Marseille. Marseille, at that time, was in the midst of a 14-match all-competition unbeaten streak, and all of their league matches were victories. We held up our end of the bargain, though, and clinched with a match remaining. And then our reserves thrashed Montpellier 3-0 (and Koné FINALLY scored).
Marseille got the last laugh, though, in case that unbeaten streak didn’t tip you off.
Somehow, Marseille, a team that couldn’t even beat us once, won the Champions League. They beat Bayern Munich in the first knockout round, lucked into Anderlecht (!?) in the quarter final, got past Arsenal in the semi final, and beat Juventus in the final. Unbelievable. Now we have a goal and the motivation to achieve it.
As for the players, van der Vaart and Milito refused to stay and ran back to their seats on the sidelines (or, more likely, the stands) in Spain. vdV did manage to have the most assists in Ligue 1, just beating out Yoann Gourcuff.
Gourcuff is my unicorn, I think. He is perfect for how I manage, and I’m pretty sure I will pay any sum to have him on my squad. I doubt I’ll ever have the budget or the stature to get him.
Makélélé performed more than admirably for us, and he was probably one of the 3 most valuable players on the team. He managed 2 goals, but really he was the engine Zizou always knew he was. We performed better with him in the lineup, but his age and deteriorating stamina and physical skills made substitutes more necessary. From February to the end of the season, he only played the entirety of a match twice. I’m going to keep him around, and he’ll still be captain next season, but I really don’t expect him to see the pitch often. Hopefully I’ll convince him to join the coaching staff at the end of the year.
Our MVP was undoubtedly Artem Milevskyi. He was Ligue 1’s leading goalscorer, with 32, and bagged a ridiculous 38 in 40 appearances. His best performance came in a rainy 6-3 home win againts Saint Etienne, when he scored 5 goals. I don’t know how much longer I can keep him before a larger club comes calling. Hoarau was next on our scoring chart with 21, and then Erdinç with 14.
Our defense still needs work. Milito never really seemed to care, and at times Bertucci told me he was having trouble motivating himself to play for me. In the rare matches where he did try, his skill was quite evident, but on the whole he wasn’t what I’d hoped for. Otamendi and Tolói are still too untested to be paired confidently with Sakho. And so I’m still looking for a center back. I’ll list transfer targets in a bit, but my preference is for someone with some pace. Sakho isn’t the fastest, and at least one of the two has to be able to track down attackers racing through the line. And I have a problem at full back, only this time it’s on the right side. Ceará put in some great performances, and won Ligue 1 player of the month for May. But he doesn’t offer enough in the attacking third to make up for his shortcomings at the defensive end, where wingers and full backs were all too often able to run by an early and foolish challenge and cross into the box. As a direct result of that, most of the goals we allowed came on crosses. Jallet’s performances were worse, even though he probably has a better delivery when it comes to crosses. We also need someone to replace Coupet, preferably starting this season. He might have another good year left in the tank, but I think his performances would peak at “good.” I’d like “great.”
Before I get to targets, I mostly kept my word about not using those funds the board gave me for anyone new. Until it became pretty clear that vdV and Milito wouldn’t be willing to stick around, anyway. But once I saw him, I couldn’t resist. Meet “the next Riquelme,” Armando Contreras:
If he’s not a regular by the time he’s 20 I’ll eat my hat. The rest of my purchases weren’t purchases, per se, but rather free transfers. We’ll be adding Sebastián Blanco:
We also will be adding Marouane Chamakh, who chose us over Lyon. Lyon made an offer to buy him in January, and, after doing my best Will Smith “aw hell nah” I offered him a large contract and key role. I never thought we’d even get him, since his agent said he wasn’t interested. But he picked us (and still scored a winner against us after the deal was agreed). I’m not sure what that says about his character, but if he puts in a decent half or full season and gets sold, so be it. Money’s money.
I’m still trying desperately to get rid of Giuly, Luyindula, and Kezman, who make over €150,000 a week combined. Kezman will never play for me, Luyindula will fill in only in a dire emergency, and Blanco is basically a carbon copy of Giuly (but 10 years younger). I’m thinking of selling Ceará and Jallet, too. They’re both 29, clearly not the long-term answers, and neither was able to do enough to make me think that they will hold the position down until Daeseleire is ready (which may be an “if” and not an “until”). I refuse to accept that Ceará’s player of the month award was anything other than a fluke.
As for possible targets, Hart is available for €3m, but his eccentricity worries me. I really don’t want to futilely yell “for the love of God don’t do that!” over and over again. I don’t have prices on Akinfeev or Muslera. At right back, Anyukov and Srna seem like my best bets at the moment, but it’s still early. I might consider a younger guy like Diego Renan and let him fight it out with Daeseleire. And in the middle of my defense, the best two options right now are both Brazilians. Miranda will cost €10-12m, Luiz half that. The issue right now is that I don’t have any non-EU spots available. I can sell Ceará to free up one, loan out Mateus for another, but Otamendi and Tolói are holding onto the other two. If I can find enough acceptable EU defenders I might be willing to loan out Tolói.
Any other players to search out or squad recommendations would be greatly appreciated. Also, re: the format of all of this, I’m pretty sure my match recaps read like “you should have been there” stories, and I’m currently lacking the skills and the bandwidth to regularly upload video. I’ll try to learn how to do that, but in the meantime: should I do a post per in-game week (not including friendlies)? That’ll be difficult if only because I’m too involved in the managerial aspect of the game to take good notes in game, and pausing it every minute or two to make sure I record what just happened. Pre-season, pre-January window, post-January window, end of season? That seems like every post would be some tl;dr thing like this. Something else? I want you guys to enjoy this, if that’s at all possible, so I’m trying to gather how you’d like me to get to that point.
(ed. note: Is anyone else experiencing a great deal of automatic quitting as the game tries to load a match or the inbox immediately after a match? I’ve had that happen a bunch now, and it’s extraordinarily frustrating. I’m running this on an older MacBook Pro with OS 10.5.8. I’ve eliminated the crowds and sky from the match engine, and turned the graphics quality down to medium. We’ll see if that helps. Anyway, on with the show.)
I have the best board ever. When I asked for a larger wage budget, they gave it to me. When I asked for more transfer funds, they gave me those, too. And then on the 1st of October, they just handed me another €9m, because the club’s finances had improved. I decided to take advantage of the joker transfer window and for €4.5m grab Cheik M’Bengue as my longer-term solution (maybe? finally? hopefully?) at left back. Toulouse’s finances are allegedly secure, but they’ve now knocked down the prices on two of their promising youngsters by almost €10m. Gabriel Milito joined on a season-long loan at the end of the full transfer window, and so with the rest of the funds I wanted to make his loan and vdV’s loan permanent. Neither was willing to discuss a contract. I’ll be holding onto the remaining funds to try again later in the season, unless I’m offered someone irresistible.
How are we doing?
I’m tired. This entire season has felt like a gambling streak that I’m not allowed to end. We’ve been tempting fate for far too long. Heading towards Marseille, we hadn’t tasted defeat once in a game since our friendlies, and only two matches had ended in draws. We’d scored the most goals in Ligue 1 (22), while conceding 9 in our nine league matches. Our goal difference was +13, tops in the league. But after demolishing Montpellier in the opener, there hasn’t been a single match where it seemed like we were in control for 90 minutes. We won four matches in a row 2-1. No opponent’s lead has seemed surmountable, and no lead of ours has seemed safe. In our last match before Marseille, away at Toulouse, we conceded a late goal and settled for a 1-1 draw. Now, in that match I kept Sakho and Milito on the bench, to keep them from getting a yellow and thus a suspension for Le Classique. So that goal is probably on me. I’m hopeful that these are just the growing pains of what could be a really, really good team (and considering what I’ve spent it had better be), but it always feels like a dip in form is just around the corner.
Larger problems are lurking below the surface. Milevskyi? 7 goals in 8 matches. However, Erdinç and Koné are both goalless thus far. Hoarau, who scored our only goal against Toulouse, hadn’t scored since he picked up a brace in his full debut against Lille on August 30th. (ed.: one of those unexpected quits? Immediately after the Toulouse match, which we had won 3-1, on a Hoarau hat trick. But he was playing in Milevskyi’s position). I want to attribute this to poor finishing because I’ve watched the matches, and I have never seen strikers so seemingly inept when it counts. From point-blank range, by head or by foot, they shoot directly at the keeper. Firing wide or high when one on one brings a little variety to the comedy of errors. It’s painful to watch. But I’m forced to admit that maybe it’s my tactics. Before Toulouse, I changed the two wing-forwards to “Advanced Forwards” in the hopes that they’ll more actively seek out scoring opportunities rather than playing others on. They’d developed a nasty habit of dribbling into the corner and then passing back to the advancing fullback. Their “wide play” instructions are now to move into channels rather than cut inside. Koné managed a MoM award against Toulouse, but didn’t score. So there’s hope, but I don’t know if I’ve hit on the right instructions yet. They’ve refused all my suggestions to focus on rounding the keeper or placing their shots, and they’re upset enough as it is. Fragile little bunch, my forwards.
Physically fragile, too. During the October international break, Erdinç broke his nose, and Milevskyi strained his groin. Both missed the match at Toulouse (hence Hoarau taking over for Milevskyi), and Erdinç wasn’t fully fit for Marseille. Artem missed it. In addition to the strikers, Armand is still recovering from broken ribs and tires quickly, Chantome strained his wrist in training and was unavailable, and Mateus was out with a sprained ankle.
I kept all of my concerns to myself as we traveled to Marseille. The huge press conference was an excellent time to make extended use of my new French skills (Peon’s been fired. I think he’s in Delaware now), and I tried to be a picture of confidence. I said I wasn’t nervous. I said that any pressure would be used as motivation, and I hoped the players would do the same. I even engaged in a little war of words with Didier Deschamps.
They would be without Kaladze (on loan from Milan), Cheyrou, and Koné, but that information wouldn’t change my preparations. Without many real options for my lineup I picked a bench of Edel, Jallet, M’Bengué, Otamendi, Clément, Capoue, and Erdinç, we started out like this:
We hit the woodwork twice in the first twenty-five minutes of the match. No one seemed nervous. Maybe I’ve been overreacting? We had a few corners, but nothing came of them. And then with the half almost at an end, Ben Arfa sprinted down the left side and sent in a cross. Armand completely misjudged the flight of the ball and let it reach Niang. Niang headed it directly into Brandão and the ball ricocheted back to Lucho Gonzalez at the top of the box. He fired in a low shot across Coupet and Marseille had a 1-0 lead. In the dressing room I told my players I wanted to see more from them. I pulled Armand for M’Bengué to see how he would do in such a pressure-filled situation, and I brought Erdinç in for Koné, as Arouna had picked up an injury.
My players charged out of the tunnel like they thought we could win. I was glad someone felt that way. I spent my time trying to figure out what I would tell them after the match, maybe something about how we couldn’t possibly have expected to keep that run going, but that we had 28 games left and it certainly wasn’t the end of the world. And then, while I was thinking that, Ceará crossed a ball to Hoarau, who headed it so hard that Mandanda could only deflect it as it went past him. We’d equalized! And… well, that was that, really. No one ever threatened again. Marseille had conceded 5 goals all season before the match, and they were content to sit back and defend the fort. I finally pulled Sessegnon, who’d picked up a yellow in the first 10 minutes, and replaced him with Clément. I thought about pushing them as the game drew to a close, to try to steal the full 3 points, but in the end decided against it. Maybe I’ve gotten gun-shy, but with a depleted squad away from home, I felt we shouldn’t press our luck and end up caught on a counter.
Final Match Stats:
I was happy to get out of there with that result, as I would prefer for the other shoe to drop when Marseille isn’t wearing it. But I couldn’t resist one last jab. After the match, I told the press I’d expected more out of Lucho Gonzalez, because aside from being in the right place at the right time, he was pretty much a non-factor for the other 89 minutes of the match. That pissed him off. Round 2 should be even better.
Some other fun things… the most expensive signing in the summer transfer window was Mirko Vucinic’s €20.5m transfer from Roma (sorry dhaw) to Man City. Second was Alan Dzagoev moving from CSKA Moscow to Barcelona for €15.5m. Man City also bought: Giovani dos Santos (€14.75m), Lucas (€13m), Hernanes (€10.75m), and Giorginio Wijnaldum (€4.4m).
Here are our upcoming fixtures, the league table, and the team/player stats thus far:
‘Twas the night before the season began, and I had visions of trophies dancing in my head. OK, so that’s not exactly how it goes, but I don’t claim to be a poet. And if you looked at our friendly results, you might think I was crazy.
First, you’ll notice I have established the Bastille Day Cup, held on July 13th and 14th. Each year I’ll invite 3 of the world’s top teams and we’ll square off at the Parc des Princes. I think it’s important to challenge the team during friendlies, and I’m also not dumb enough to turn down the chance at a €2m payout for two days of ultimately meaningless work. We will win one eventually.
In each friendly, I played the first eleven in the first half, and replaced everyone for the second. Even doing that, I think we acquitted ourselves quite well. Our only real embarrassment of a showing was against Valencia, where Villa had a hat trick and Makélélé got himself sent off with a straight red. We took Liverpool to penalties, lost on a one in a million goal away to Atletico Madrid, scored two goals with ten men and only one CB against Deinze, and held leads against Hoffenheim and Sporting with our second team. The results don’t show it, but I felt hopeful after all of those matches. More importantly, they gave the team time to get acclimated to each other and to my tactics.
Here’s the formation I’ve settled on, and my tactical file
With the extra €6m infusion the board so generously gave me, I began a search for a decent attacking left back and backup for Makélélé. I haven’t found the left back yet, thwarted at various times by injury, role/wage demands, and Marek Jankulovski’s refusal to join up on loan. My brilliant scouting network did bring back some excellent news, though. Etienne Capoue, one of Toulouse’s two excellent young defensive midfielders and the captain of France’s U-21 side, had his valuation dropped from €15m to about €6m. I snapped him up for €5.75. Won’t you welcome him?
I also couldn’t resist Dimitri Daeseleire at €1.1m
My final one or two transfer plans are these. Christian Fuchs, Bochum’s left back, is recovering from a broken rib, and if he can start light training again, I’ll snap him up. OR, and this is a big OR and the coup I mentioned previously, roughly the same scenario applies to Gabriel Milito, who would immediately become the best defender in the squad. But he might be too far away from training for me to have an opportunity. We’ll see.
In my season opener press conference, I predicted that we would win the league this season. I was upset to find out that my players didn’t take this well, because someone has to believe, right? I also promised attacking football, refused to discuss transfer matters in a press conference (something I will always do), and also had no comment about Souleymane Camara’s potential as a threat in our opening match away to Montpellier. I only talk about my players, I never criticize the opposition’s players, and I always keep internal business internal.
How did that match go? BEAUTIFULLY. We started out with this lineup, with Grondin, Ceará, Ngoyi (Tolói wasn’t fit), Clement, Sessegnon, Adrien, and Giuly on the bench:
van der Vaart got his head on Jallet cross in the seventh minute to make it 1-0 in our favor. Milevskyi did the same 10 minutes later, and I was practically giddy on the sideline. In the 27th minute, Koné took the ball into the box, but had his shot blocked. The ball fell to vdV, who had his shot blocked, and the ball was kicked around until Artem got it on his foot and put it away for his second. 3-0. I looked over at René Girard and gave him a Jordan shoulder shrug®. Just before the end of the half, they knocked the ball out of their area, where it fell to Armand. Armand passed it forward to Chantome, no one closed him down, and his “why not?” rocket ricocheted off Jourden and in. 4-0. In the dressing room I told them not to let up, but shortly after the second half began I yelled from the touchline for them to drop deeper and keep possession, and the game ended 4-0. But a 4-0 away victory in my managerial debut with 7 starters making their debuts. That’s either monumental or karma is going to turn around and slap me soon.
Our second match of the season was at home against Le Mans, and I was worried that the pimp hand of karma, strong as it is, might see fit to embarrass me at the Parc des Princes. I wanted to go with a more attacking lineup, so I brought in Sessegnon for Chantome, and Giuly for Erdinç. Giuly volleyed in an Armand cross in the 16th minute, Milevskyi bagged another goal in the 20th on a Giuly assist, and vdV converted another header in the 37th, for a first half score of 3-0. The second half went much the same as it had against Montpellier, until a freak incident. Didier Ovono, their keeper, took a freekick after an offsides and booted all the way down the pitch, where Olivier Giroud met it with his head and caught Coupet off his line, netting Le Mans their only consolation with a 20 yard header.
So far this season, Giroud’s goal has been the one blemish on an otherwise perfect start. I guess I’m mildly concerned at our failure to score a second half goal thus far, but with scores of 4-0 and 3-0 at halftime, I’m hoping the team is more concerned with keeping the ball out of our net than they are with putting it in the opposition’s again.
Upcoming Fixtures: Valenciennes (Away), Lille (Home), Monaco (Away).
Injury Report: Jallet picked up a groin strain against Le Mans, and is out of training for 11-14 days; Edel is out with a twisted ankle, also for 11-14 days; Mateus is back in training after a back strain picked up in training, and should be fully fit in 1-3 days; Zoumana Camara’s torn calf muscle will have him out for 3-7 weeks; and Guillaume Hoarau and Younousse Sankharé returned to full training just before the Le Mans match, and I plan on having Hoarau available against Valenciennes, but probably not starting.
My questions to you: how am I doing? I’m thinking my midfield should be vdV-Makélélé-Chantome whenever possible, as Sessegnon is almost a copy of vdV and I would prefer to have at least two players in midfield interested in playing defense. If that’s the case, I’ll hang onto Sessegnon as injury insurance until at least January, and then based on how things stand I might cash in on him. Any other thoughts/recommendations? Re: players, I can’t sign another non-EU player without selling Ceará, as he was the only one in the squad before Otamendi, Tolói, and Mateus.
Peon Update: He told me he was planning a trip to visit America and wanted to know where to visit. I told him Delaware was nice.
I kicked out most of the existing staff, handing them their (very generous) buyouts and assuring them that there were no hard feelings. I’m not sure how the French press works, but they hadn’t caught wind of what had happened before my first press conference.
The press conference went fine. But that ubiquitous first question, the “how do you feel about the opportunity to manage here?” question, should be addressed now. My favorite team is Liverpool (rub it in), and if they come calling I don’t know if I can resist. So I’ll make a deal with you: I won’t leave PSG unless I’m fired or we’ve won the Champions League, and even then I won’t actively search for a new job. Cool?
Anyway, I’ve rebuilt the scouting and coaching staff, and it was a bit difficult because I had to rely entirely on the unemployed or those employed by national teams. I couldn’t afford to pay exorbitant fees for staff members and have enough left for players.
As for the players… oh my. I sold Bourillon to Le Mans for €3.5m, Baning to Nantes for €1.6m, and Jean-Eudes Maurice has gone to the greener pastures of Derby for a whopping €650k, making my total haul €5.75m.
But the players I’ve signed are the real news. Yell at me all you want for being cavalier with the finances, but PSG has no loan debt, so I spread most of these transfer fees out over 4 years. I know, I know! But even after adjusting the wage/transfer budgets to give me a €5m kitty, and with the player sales, I didn’t have enough to make any impact signings that might end our historical inconsistencies. Things could bite me in the ass if we don’t qualify for Europe this season, but I think these new signings can lead us there. I did miss out on a left-back, as Cristian Ansaldi (the one cost-effective option), chose Bayern Munich and Champions league games over us, but otherwise I’m very pleased with our additions thus far.
I added some youth and depth at the back with Vasco’s Mateus for €1m, Rafael Tolói for €6.75m, and Nicolás Otamendi for €5.75m. Armand will still partner at the back with Sakho for now, although Camara will eventually challenge Armand once he’s healthy.
Keko and Koke (I don’t care what you tell me, I’ve decided they’re twins) were brought over from Atletico Madrid (for free). I plan on giving them their own kids’ show. Jano Ananidze will be joining us at the start of the January window in 2011. He’ll be receiving some quality first team experience with Spartak Moscow until then.
The big two signings are the critical ones, though. Remember how I said I wanted a skilled dead-ball guy? Rafael van der Vaart has joined PSG on loan. It took a €1.5m initial fee and half of his wages to get him, but he will be well worth it. There’s an €8m purchase clause, but I don’t plan on exercising that until I’m sure we’re going to be competing in Europe. I also made a €10m purchase, and I believe he is easily our best player right now. I am VERY proud to welcome Artem Milevskyi from Dinamo Kiev, and I agreed with the journalist who called this signing a major coup. Look at him! He’s like a poor man’s Ibrahimovic, but with heart. I expect big, big things from Artem.
And He (capitalization intentional) delivered in our first friendly, away to Club Brugge. He headed in a beautiful Jallet cross in the first minute, and 9 minutes later burst through the defense to get on the end of vdV’s through ball and fire past their hapless keeper. The rest of the friendly was less than stellar though. I need to sort out the defensive tactics, as they scored twice against the first team, both times on plays where the CB was too eager to close down the man with the ball, leaving a Brugge player onside and with a clear path towards the goal. They gave us another goal after a freak ricochet rocketed back into the net, and the first half ended with us up one. Since it’s a friendly, and I wanted to see our new signings in action, I subbed out the entire squad at the half. Mateus scored from the penalty spot to make it 4-2, and that’s how it ended. I was very pleased with the way Tolói and Otamendi did their jobs. I know it’s one game, but Armand might have to supplant Ceará at left-back or move to the bench sooner than I thought.
I’m still waiting to see if Sporting CP’s Adrien and Sevilla’s Arouna Kone wish to join us on this glorious adventure. If I’ve calculated our finances correctly, I should have enough funds left to complete my last two “win now” moves: Ruud van Nistelrooy and Patrick Viera on season-long loans. Not good moves for our short-term wage budget, but I have no intention of purchasing them.
Peon Update: He wore a light blue tie to work today. I taught him many new English curses and insults.