When we last left off, the Kleeblätter aka Greuther Fürth had just entered the winter break (yes that’s a thing in Germany) sitting in 4th place in Bundesliga 2 after 20 games played – signings such as Aaron Connolly and Josh Sargenttaking turns in the lone Striker role to provide the goals which keep us in the hunt for promotion to the top tier of German football. We aren’t ready for it of course, our squad is thin and heavily over-reliant on loan signings (not to mention being coached and trained by a legion of Irish backroom staff 🤷♂️) however we battle on and this Irish Manager’s ego is generously bolstered by the Media’s perception of our progress so far (not that it’s needed):
Ryan Porteous has been solid at the back though, playing alongside Albananian International Mergim Mavraj and while we have leaked goals quite frequently (it’s your tactics mate) he will definitely be our First Choice Centre-Half over the next few seasons – 33 year old Mavraj will need to be replaced in the Summer but that’s for another day.
What We Do In the Shadows
I’ve long been a fan of the Shadow Striker role, having enjoyed much success with it previously through the likes of Xadas at Newcastle in FM17, Bradley Dack at Blackburn in FM18 and Mickael Cuisance at Tenerife in FM19. I find that they get into fantastic goal-scoring positions along the edge of the box, link up play between Midfield and Attack without dropping too deep and put great pressure on opposition defenders forcing them to clear the ball rather than play from the back. When I think of real-life examples of Shadow Strikers in recent times, the likes of Wayne Rooney, Tim Cahill and Kevin De Bruyne all come to mind and it’s that type of player I always aspire to deploy in this role in Football Manager.
One player who hasn’t been so solid for us is Julian Green, for whom we had high hopes in the Shadow Striker role as a former Bayern Munich Midfielder with Bundesliga pedigree. He continually (and frustratingly) loses a lot of possession when dribbling, constantly giving away stray passes to nowhere and ultimately squandering chance after chance which is highly costly at this level. I am keen and stubborn enough to want to stick with the role and formation we are using, so when Akhmat (who?!) in the Russian league came in with a pre-contract offer to sign him at the end of the season, we decided it was time to bring in a replacement sooner rather than later with a little cash in the bank after we also sold Norwegian Havard Nielsen to rivals Nurnberg for a not-too-shabby €1.9m in this January Transfer Window (even though we only get 40% of the transfer revenue since Chairman Niall tightened the strings a few months back).
Football Manager defines the Shadow Striker as “one of the team’s main goal-scoring threats. Usually coupled with another forward in support, the shadow striker pushes up into goal-scoring positions as the ball moves into the final third and looks to close down opposing defenders when out of possession“. The Shadow Striker is inclined to Take More Risks, Dribble More, Get Further Forward and Move Into Channels, and based on this the key attributes I look for in this position are as follows:
Off the Ball
Now I know what you’re thinking – how am I going to sign a decent Shadow Striker for less that €1m? I don’t expect to sign a player that ticks all of the above, however the goal is to bring in a player that could potentially develop into the Shadow Striker we need, good enough for First Team football but equally young enough and with the potential to develop into a top quality player. In the end I identified two realistic options who are interested in joining the Kleeblätter:
Needless to say, Bongiovanni is the better player on paper and has all the attributes and potential we need to make the Shadow Striker role more effective in our formation. The downside is that he is already on loan at AS Béziers therefore we can’t really make a bid for him yet. On the flip side, Alex Blesa is not only almost two years younger – he has a €1.4m release clause, which could end up being serious value for money if we can develop him effectively. Decisions!!
Unfortunately we can’t afford to activate his release clause up front therefore we agree to bring him on loan until the end of the season with the option of signing him permanently once we have the funds to do so. We put him straight on an individual training plan in the Shadow Striker role with a focus on Attacking Movement and he will be deployed in a 4-4-1-1 behind Connolly or Sargent, hopefully supplying assists and giving us a bit more of an attacking goal threat than Green has been able to do so far.
Luke, I am your Fürther
The Winter break also provides us with the outcome of our first ever youth-intake at the club. I’ve not done too much research into this but I am hoping that with such a strong Irish influence at the club in terms of ownership, management and backroom staff we might see this reflected in our youth candidates, the world needs more Irish newgens and where better to brew them than in the Bavaria region of Southern Germany.
FINNISH 🤷♂️. Bring in an Irish Head of Youth Development, Irish Scouts and fill the U19 staff roster with Irish managers and coaches and what do you get – a Central Midfielder from Finland catching our eye as our best youth prospect 😄. A quick scout through the SI forums about Youth Intake nationalities doesn’t really shed much light on this apart from trying to gain an affiliate in that country, so we put that on our priority list of things to discuss with our esteemed Chairman Niall Quinn – we had also asked to improve our youth facitilities and recruitment earlier in the season however even after a few pints in the local Irish pub, Quinn wasn’t keen on parting with the cash; we have a lot to do in this space.
After a couple of rudimentary friendlies over the Winter break, we start back strongly with 13 points from a possible 15, continuing to flirt with the promotion places and there is a real buzz about the city of Fürth that normally only comes with the arrival of the annual Burgfarrnbach fair (Bürgerfest). Greuther Furth’s Irish contingent can do no wrong in this city and never have the Kleeblätter fans been so proud of the shamrock in their emblem – the board echo these sentiments, Manager MaddFM appears untouchable at the helm of this Bavarian side looking to return to the Bundesliga for the first time in 8 years.
You know as well as I do what comes next – we proceed to draw 4 games on the trot, and despite turning around a two-goal deficit away to Holstein Kiel to savage a 2-2 draw, it almost feels like our promotion hopes are then crushed in a 4th vs 5th six-pointer against Hamburg whereby our 57th minute lead is cancelled out in the 91st minute to draw 1-1. By the end of March and with just 7 games remaining, suddenly our promotion chances are slim at best as we sit 5 points from the playoff spot.
Alex Blesa started ok and picked up 2 assists in his first few games, however he then proceeded to pick up a knee injury and is ruled out until the end of the season – Julian Green takes his place for the remainder of the season and popped up with a couple of goals so I have high hopes for the Shadow Striker role going into next season! March does bring good news though and I don’t just mean St. Patrick’s Day (writer’s note: enough of the Irishness) – our Youth Intake is announced; are all our hopes really to rest on a Finnish Youth Candidate?
Unfortunately our hopes of bringing through an Irish youth prospect fall short at the first time of asking – we will continue to embed the Irish influence on the club, pushing for an affiliate from the Irish Airtricity League and assigning our scouts to get more and more familiar with the Ireland as a nation. I haven’t seen much content out there about how to achieve this, if we can make it happen then you can be sure there will be separate post about it in the near future!
A fact about Bundesliga 2? It is easily is one of the most competitive leagues I’ve ever managed in. Despite the fact that we went on to win 4 of our next 5 games (somehow losing 4-1 to the side we beat 6-0 earlier in the season), all of our closest competitors did pretty much the same and with two games to go we found ourselves in another six-pointer with VFL Bochum knowing that only a win could keep us in contention for a playoff spot, even if we would need help from else where to seal it. All was going well after Aaron Connolly gave us the lead on 32 mins, and that’s how it stayed for 52 more minutes until this season hammered the final nail in the coffin to sum up the campaign as a whole:
That draw not only sealed our status in Bundesliga 2 for another season, but also condemned us to finish in 5th place with 4th now mathematically out of reach – our last game of the season now irrelevant, thus providing us with a somewhat anti-climactic finish to our first season at Greuther Fürth. We are disappointed not to get a crack at promotion however equally I have really enjoyed the first season and haven’t had that buzz about a save since FM20 was released – I guess finishing in 5th place isn’t bad for a team that were predicted to finish 10th at the start of the season?
Positively – three of our first XI appear in the Top 10 Goalscorers list, suggesting that we are well set up to score goals across the team rather than relying on a specific player to carry us through the league. David Raum’s 4 goals against Darmstadt give him the honour of being our top scorer, while Connolly and Sargent pretty much took turns all season and knocked out 22 goals between them, would love to bring at least one of them back next season 🤞.
The downside is that it will now be a lot harder to bring in some of our loan signings on permanent transfers without the finances and lure of the Bundesliga; even Josh Sargent’s €6m release clause may well be out of our reach. Chairman Niall Quinn seems quite pleased with the season overall however, and why wouldn’t he – think how many pints can be bought down at the Irish Cottage pub with this?