This is the sixth post in this “We Are United” series with Newcastle United – click here to read from the beginning if you’ve not already done so 👌.
1st April 2021 – In Game 💻
If the Football Manager end-of-season run-in was a gif, it would look something like this:
After showing vast improvements both defensively and offensively and starting to display a much improved solidity and familiarity with our new Vertical Tiki-Taka system, it all pretty much unravelled as we entered the last 8 games of the season. When we last left off we were in 14th place in the league with an outside chance of reaching the Top 10 if we could somehow manage to pick up 5 or 6 wins in our final 8 games. What actually transpired was this:
This writer is usually quite adept at finding blame for our misfortunes, however at this point I will have to accept that perhaps we could have done more particularly in terms of individual training, tactical instructions and in hindsight signing a bit more quality at the beginning of the season which we may have sacrificed in our efforts to recreate history/nostalgia on Tyneside by signing players based on some previous Newcastle icons from the last 25 years. Needless to say we won’t overly be changing this (I am that stubborn) and will continue to recreate history based on former Toon heroes (more to come!) – however we should probably ensure we are bringing in additional quality as we definitely lacked in depth as the season progressed.
By the end of the 2020/2021 season (our first as Newcastle Manager), the table looks like this:
Overall thoughts? Not great. 10 games won, only 44 goals scored and one of the worst defensive records in the division – I would like to say we are playing like the entertainers with the old “score more than you” philosophy however the reality is we haven’t been been that impressive on the attacking front either and this will be our main focus for next season. Liverpool defended their title, while it was a disappointing season for both Man City and Spurs who were pipped by Everton and Bournemouth respectively.
On a positive note – by and large our signings have been decent. Benavente and Qazaishvili have proved to be useful squad players just like their ex-Newcastle counterparts (Solano and Ketsbaia), while Vanheusden (the next Philippe Albert) continued to improve all season. Alfredo “I wish he was Asprilla” Morelos finished Top Scorer with a measly 12 goals in the league, while even 18 year old Gavin Bazunu who was signed to become the next Shay Given featured in 5 games while Dubravka was injured. Outside of those – Dominik Szoboszlai has cemented his place in the Mezzala role, still only 19 and while not shining has plenty of room to improve this season. Kristoffer Ajer has shown glimpses of quality featuring at both Centre Back and Centre Midfield (including that peach of a winner vs Leeds which was our Goal of the Season), while Jay Stansfield got a run towards the end of the season due to injuries scoring after scoring his first goal for the club against Aston Villa in the league. A bit too soon to decide whether he can be the next Alan Shearer – to be decided later.
Overall our quest to recreate history has been enjoyable and somewhat successful, time to make it official:
In my first post I mentioned that one of our main objectives is to do what Newcastle haven’t done well since the days of Peter Beardsley and Paul Gascoigne – produce some top quality local talent and bring them up through the ranks at St. James Park. Upon arrival at St. James Park you may remember us being presented with the news that Newcastle’s Youth Category had been dropped from a 1 to a 3 leaving a lot to be desired, however we put a big focus on this by pressuring the board to improve both our rating and facilities, as well as by recruiting a whole new Management team for our underage setup. The result?
Initial advice on our Youth Intake was promising – the words “Golden Generation” are indeed mentioned by our HoYD Jon Goodman, however the very mention of this usually leads to hopes getting up and subsequently smashed to pieces – we take with a pinch of salt and in the end while it is not actually a Golden Generation, our first intake produces a couple of really promising Youth Prospects. Regrettably our best candidate Steve Coulson (can I call him “Agent”?) is from Hartlepool and not Newcastle, however he has bags of potential and within a few weeks is already drumming up outside interest from the likes of Arsenal, Man Utd, Leicester and Wolves – not on this writer’s watch! Kevin Bolton and the wonderfully named Jerondy Howell don’t look half bad either.
2021 Youth Intake
New Season, New Us
As the saying goes – “Make hay while the sun shines” – what follows next is exactly that.
We mentioned I am not the most patient when it comes to underperformers as illustrated by the offloading of Joelinton for a measly £12m (i.e. at a loss of £22m). We decide that it’s time to give a few others similar treatment as we undertake a major squad overhaul while the lads are away on holiday….let’s begin.
I had tried to sell Miguel Almiron to Club América in Mexico back in January after accepting a £15m bid, he has been shite all year with the exception of the last game of the season where he scored both goals in a 2-0 win over Southampton. In hindsight I am thankful that Chairman Mark Blower vetoed the transfer on the grounds that it wasn’t enough for him – this time around, no sooner do we offer him out that Leicester submit a £26m bid which needless to say is more than acceptable for all involved. Sorry Miggy but you just haven’t cut the cheese this season.
Isaac Hayden departs for Leeds in a remarkabe £18m deal, clearly they have plenty of cash after surviving their first year back in the Premier League. He is followed out the door by Emil Krafth who joins newly promoted Birmingham for £6m, as well as Matty Longstaff (Norwich £3.7m – turns out he’s not that good in FM) and Matt Ritchie who for some reason is wanted by Ukranian side Zorya Luhansk (£3.1m) – he won’t be alone at least, as Zorya also sign Britt Assombalonga because why wouldn’t they.
With 100% of that Transfer Revenue put towards our Transfer Budget, we are able to add the bones of £50m to our already generous transfer budget of £55m handed over by Chairman Blower (has a nice ring to it right? :D). What would you do with over £100m to spend?
Patrick Schick arrives from Roma for £16m as we look to solve our goalscoring issues – echoes of Michael Owen and Patrick Kluivert here in terms of falling from grace to the North East of England however at just 25 we are hopeful his best years are ahead of him. If not, then we will look to Italian Wonderkid Sebastian Esposito who we’ve somehow managed to land for £18m from Inter – perhaps the Italian clubs are a bit strapped for cash following Coronavirus but we are happy to give it to them!
In midfield – with the departure of Almiron and Hayden we need to bring in both a Defensive and an Attacking Midfield option; enter Ismael Bennacer from Milan (£30m) who I hadn’t realised was at Arsenal as a youth player (his attributes are outrageous), and the highly rated Giovanni Reyna from Dortmund who is a steal for just £10m with his contract up at the end of the season. I knew this kid was the son of former Rangers, Sunderland and Man City player Claudio Reyna however I hadn’t realised that he was actually born in England until I spotted he has declared for them in FM – based on this our new side-mission will be to get him in the England team in time for the next World Cup in 2022 (writer’s note: ambitious given he is still only 18).
Of course, none of these signings are part of our recreating history project so let’s see what we can do there. We need Full-Backs; Pedro Porro returns to Man City after a decent loan spell, Ritchie and Krafth have left permanently and Dummett is average at the best of times. I start pondering previous Newcastle full-backs that have succeeded on Tyneside in the past (it didn’t take too long), with names like Beresford, Hughes, Carr, Janmaat, Santon, Debuchy and Domi all popping through my head – none of those really left much of a legacy at St. James Park, however two others do come to mind that were fan favourites and it’s decided that these are the two we need to replicate:
Barton (CM9798) and Enrique (FM10)
Warren Barton became the most expensive defender in English football when Newcastle signed him for £4m from Wimbledon in 1995 and although his career never flourished apart from a few England caps, he is arguably one of the best Right-Backs to have worn the black & white jersey; on the other side, not many will disagree that Jose Enrique was our strongest Left-Back in modern times and Newcastle fans were devastated when he left to join Liverpool despite the £7m transfer fee. So, we need an English Right-Back and a Spanish Left-Back – shouldn’t be too difficult?
We had already tried to sign Max Aarons at the start of the save, with the deal falling through at the last minute as Norwich went through a board takeover – back we went and agreed an even better deal this time around (£30m – 50% up front) and he arrives to fill the right back slot. Finding a decent Spanish Left-Back was a bit trickier – we toyed with the idea of signing the likes of Ruben Duarte (Alaves) and Javier Montero (Atletico Madrid) but once Aaron Martín showed he was interested, it was no contest and thus completes the left and right back positions in our Icons/Replicas First XI.
So – we’ve spent over £120m and brought in over £50m in player sales – let’s do a drive by some of the other clubs to see how this compares.
Dembele, Icardi, Belotti, Bentancur, Aouar – did I mention we already had defensive issues? 😨
Onwards and Upwards
Squad overhaul – complete! Just as we are preparing for the league opener in which we have managed to draw Liverpool away from home, we receive a timely piece of advice from the In-Game tips that show as we progress from day to day:
If this is the case then we have most certainly upset the balance and rhythm of the team, our squad looks a lot different but in this writer’s opinion a lot healthier and stronger than last season – of course our first test would have to be against the reigning champions on their own turf 🤦♂️.
Liverpool vs Newcastle United – Anfield, 7th August 2021
The day is upon us – our first league game in Season 2 at Newcastle, after spending £125m during the summer transfer window. We conceded 7 goals against the PL Champions last season losing 4-0 at home and 3-0 away – surely it can’t get any worse. Liverpool have a much of the same squad as in real life, with the additions of Lorenzo Pellegrini and Sandro Tonali so this writer feels like we might have an uphill battle on our hands. We revert to a 5-3-2 formation with high line in the hope that we can play the offside to upset Firmino, Salah and Mane as well as try to break on the counter – ensuring that Aarons and Martín are pressing less to prevent too many balls over the top, and man marking the hell out of Firmino and Pellegrini via Messrs. Vanheusden and Bennacer.
The result? Well, to summarise – we got absolutely hammered everywhere apart from the scoreline. Aside from what happened between the 14th and 16th minutes during which we managed to concede and have a man sent off, it actually went extremely well! Defensively we were solid as a rock and managed to absorb and contain everything they through at us, with the exception of Alex Oxlade Chamberlain’s tap-in on 14 minutes. Alfredo Morelos took this one hard, and decided a two-footed lunge was an appropriate response which earned him a straight red just minutes after Liverpool’s celebrations – but aside from that, our mission to try and neutralise the best team in the league pretty much worked.
Granted we only managed 1 shot at goal however considering we spent 85 minutes with 10 men, I’ll take it and run! 41 shots at goal and only 1 conceded – a tactical masterclass if I may say so myself, Steve Bruce ain’t got nothing on me 😎.