HFC Haarlem Globetrotters: Phase 1

 

 

The scene is set. We have restored the previously extinct HFC Haarlem (dissolved in 2010) to professional football under the guise of new owner Ruud Gullit who started his career at the club all the way back in 1979, and has now revived the club to take a place in the Keuken Kampion Divisie in the Netherlands (aka the Eerste Divisie, the second tier of the Dutch football league) with one main footballing philosophy: Sexy Football.

 

 

In my previous post, I brought you through our efforts to rebuild an entirely new squad and backroom staff from scratch wherein our primary focus has been to bring in players and staff who favour and have higher attributes across the more attacking and technical attributes in Football Manager – using our trusty Sexy Football Spreadsheet to illustrate how we look and set up overall in terms of these attributes. The result is that we built ourselves a 25-man squad for less than €190k, bringing in a mix of free transfers, loan deals and a couple of key players where we spent our minimal budget, the highlight being Luca Stellwagen for whom we handed over €70k up front with a further €70k in installments to SC Verl in the German 3rd tier. While quite a few players are on the slightly more aged side of the spectrum than one would have liked, I am confident that this is the side that can help us survive our first season back in professional football and commence building our new regime of Sexy Football in North-West Holland.

 

HFC Haarlem Playing Squad 2022/2023

Goalkeepers: Piet Velhuuizen, Indy Groothuizen

Defenders: Cuco Martina, Pele van Anholt, Luca Stellwagen, David Herold, Thomas Heurtaux, Steven Edwards, Magnus Troest

Midfielders: Ilay Elmkies, Mehmet Sahin, Thomas van Bommel, John Goosens, Lee Hyun-Ju, Jacob Bookjans, Paco van Moorsel, Thijme Verheijen, Che Nunnely, Dico Jap Tjong, Rayan El Azrak, Mitchell Schet, Sylvain Marveaux

Forwards: András Németh, Keke Topp, Erik Falkenburg

 

The Tactic

 

The all important question. It’s all well and good recruiting and building a team of technicians and creative/attacking players, but what really matters is how are we going to deploy a system that favours Sexy Football? Here’s what we know:

 

✅ We want a high-energy high-octane brand of football

✅ We want to favour quick-passing, free-flowing football

✅ We want a big focus on vision and off-the-ball movement, facilitating lots of through-balls and defence-splitting passes

✅ We want to have a lot of possession

✅ We want to make full use of the various specialist roles available in-game

 

 

After much soul-searching and pondering on the various tactical set-ups out there, I couldn’t help but be drawn back to my FM20 save at Greuther Fürth wherein we devised a 4-1-2-2-1 Assymetric tactic that saw us take the Kleeblätter all the way to 4th in the Bundesliga. This system favoured the use of multiple specialist roles, allowed for excellent off the ball movement and in particular gave us a lot of flexibility to deploy players in their strongest roles on-field. Let’s see if it translates to modern day FM and to Dutch football shall we?

 

 

Training

 

Sexy Football isn’t just on the pitch. We want to truly embed a culture and philosophy of creative, attractive and entertaining football wherein we are confident on the ball and creating plenty of goal-scoring opportunities and well constructed moves to somewhat portray an highly aesthetic style of football in an effort to make this match engine purr in-game. To do this we have built two main training schedules on which we will focus throughout the season:

 

Games on a Thursday = Mindf*ck

 

Sexy Money

 

Having set our budgets to reflect those of a fairly mid-table Eerste Divisie team, one concern we have is a lack of income throughout the season having maxed out our transfer and wage budgets. The ever useful friendies-for-cash technique always comes in handy as we raise ~€166k through friendlies against Crystal Palace, Club Brugge, Nottingham Forest and FC Twente (and losing them all but such is life), and I also like to think that this helps us flog ~1500 season tickets which is almost half our 3,500 capacity.

 

The Ruud empire begins

 

Season 1

 

 

We open our league campaign away to Da Graafschap who are expected to finish 8th this season – the experts predict that we will finish in 16th place which hopefully means we have recruited fairly well considering we are the newbies in this division, it’s time to put our money where our mouth is and see if our Sexy Football philosophy can be brought to life in-game..

 

Wesley gets it ❤️

 

How we lined out for our opening league fixture

 

As mentioned before we have high hopes for Che Nunnelly, the 23-year-old Dutch speedster released by Willem II who are expected to win our division this year. With 15 Pace and 18 Acceleration he should be a handful for opposition defenders this year, as too (we hope) should Hungarian youngster Andras Németh who is on loan from KRC Genk in Belgium. Needless to say, in our excitement to kick-off some sexy football it was the home side who scored first on the brink of half-time resulting in a boll*cking from yours truly, which thankfully seemed to resonate with young Németh who equalised early in the second half, and 20 mins later we found ourselves in the lead thanks to a lovely finish from John Goosens (@FridayNightFM likes this). That lead was short lived as we conceded a penalty with 10 minutes to go, and with 92 minutes played and the game all set to finish in a draw, the boys of Haarlem put together a lovely phase of passing for 36-year-old substitute and former Newcastle legend (lol) Sylvain Marveaux to do this:

 

#SexyFootball

 

Final Score

Victory is ours in our first game back in football!!! A 92nd minute winner sends all 142 (🤷‍♂️) travelling fans into raptures to give HFC Haarlem all 3 points in our opening game of the season. It wasn’t hugely sexy by any standards but some promising signs overall and most importantly a fantastic platform to build on as we get ready for our next game against ADO Den Haag..here we go!

 

 

LET THE SEXY FOOTBALL BEGIN!! 👇👇

 

Two wins from two and the signs are promising so far..as you can see above, the players are starting to get it – sexy football is about working the ball, spreading the play, moving for each other and progressing the ball forward at pace and so far we have shown signs of doing exactly that. If we can keep this up then Ruud will be a very happy boy at the very least.

 

Fast forward to the end of September…..

 

Oh..

 

Winless ain’t sexy at all. If you were thinking that we had somehow set all of this up to be too easy and/or unrealistic, you were wrong. Any doubts or concerns are quickly quashed as we go on to pick up just 3 points from a possible 21 and fail to pick up a win at all in the next 7 games. We went three games without scoring before again finding our scoring boots, however a general lack of ability to keep possession of the ball has culminated in chances being gifted to the opposition as well as a general lack of control over games and a tendency to score late on rather than start as we mean to – putting us at the unwanted end of the league possession stats with a grim narrative of our ability to win back and hold on to the ball as well as our ability to create goal-scoring chances 🤦‍♂️.

 

“Intriguing..”

 

 

Time to tweak. Defensively we aren’t great, but in a tactic built around attacking play and creative freedom, conceding goals is but to be expected. Instead our focus is on tweaking some of our midfield roles in the hope that we can better win back, retain and recycle possession more effectively, spread the ball a bit better and ultimately create more clear cut chances (sexy football = SCORE MORE THAN THE OPPOSITION). To do this, we make a couple of tactical changes to our midfield roles as follows:

 

✅ Ball-Winning Midfielder ➡️ Deep Lying Playmaker (Defend) to hopefully get on the ball more often and dictate play

✅ Box-to-Box Midfielder ➡️ Mezzala to encourage more movement and energy in the middle

✅ Trequartista ➡️ Advanced Playmaker to have our AMC look for the ball to feet more often and distribute more through balls and passes to our forwards in space

✅ Inverted Winger ➡️ Wide Playmaker – similarly to get our more technical players on the ball more often and contribute to attacking phases and building up possession

 

Old to New

 

The results weren’t instantaneous, but we definitely felt an improvement – finally winning a game not to mention scoring 7 goals in 4 games during October, before picking up 7 points from 12 in November and one more win in December to put us in 14th place by the end of 2022 with 6 wins from 19 games.

 

 

 

14th is pretty good overall all things considered, while we simultaneously focus on rebuilding this club across all fronts in particular looking at our facilities and financial situation wherein we are presented with two pieces of good news.

 

 

 

The injection of sponsorship combined with the cash raised earlier through friendlies mean we have some additional flexibility in our Transfer/Wage Budgets so we again take to the transfer market to see if we can bring in some additional depth and quality to our Sexy Football mission. First in the door is Ball Playing Defender Iñaki León who arrives from Fuenlabrada in the 3rd Tier of Spain, and he is followed by Gerardo Martinéz who arrives on a Free Transfer from Midland who play in the 4th tier of Argentina – yes we are pushing the boat out in terms of identifying and scouting players but needs must! Really happy with these two signings both of whom are good enough to challenge for first team football.

Onwards and upwards as we enter January 2023 in a world where the entire country is still hungover following the Netherlands’ World Cup Final win over England after an 18-penalty shootout that saw Raheem Sterling miss to hand the Dutch their first ever World Cup trophy..it’s all coming up Oranje this year 🟠.

 

 

Positives – we stopped losing which is always nice. Also our supposed main man Che Nunnely finally found his scoring boots after we switched him from an Inside Forward to an Attacking Winger, picking up his first goal of the season away to PEC Zwolle and helping us to a fine 2-1 against Jong Utrecht. Although not a bad run at all I felt this was a good time to capitalise on his resurgence as well as freshen things up tactically – focusing the ball down his side of the pitch and dropping back our AMC into a 3-man midfield to give a bit more spine down the middle and foster a shorter passing game.

 

New Tactic, who dis

I know it’s not always advisable to keep changing tactics within a season, however as we continue to search for our sweet spot in terms of playing style and possession based football (as well as have three familiar tactical setups in place), here’s hoping this can help bump our form as we enter the latter stages of the season.

 

 

Definitely better even if a little consistent! Munnelly is a different player in the second half of the season picking up 4 goals and 4 assists during a run which saw us win 4 games in 5 with our biggest win of the season against Roda JC. Much improved style of play which saw us performing well above average in our Passing and Pass Completion stats (see below) as well as our XG wherein we outperformed our Expected Goals (+2) and Expected Points Tally (+2).

 

 

Not bad

 

We close out our first season at the helm of HFC Haarlem in 15th place in the league. Not overly impressive but a solid start to life back in Dutch football with a lot of promise and potential evident in both our tactical style and in some of the more technical players that we recruited since kicking off the save – András Németh finishes as top scorer with 10 goals having picked up a 6-8 week injury in December (one ahead of John Goosens with an impressive 9 goals from midfield); Che Nunnelly (7 goals 6 assists) and Erik Falkenberg (7 goals 5 assists) are our most effective creators while defensively David Herold and Ilay Elmkies both finish just above a 7.0 average rating. With both on loan in addition to Nemeth – it’s safe to say we have more work to do this summer in terms of continuing our smart recruitment, but thankfully with a more impactful transfer budget courtesy of our esteemed owner – perhaps we should be alarmed considering our overall balance stands at -€1.3m but Ruud surely has a plan right?

 

 

As always – thanks for reading!! Season 1 in the bag, a lot done and a hell of a lot more to do (including looking at our Youth Intake which just came through as the season ended)…one thing is sure, while the football may not yet be fully sexy, our dancing certainly is..😄

 

See you soon for Phase 2 👍.

Paul.

 

Thanks for reading, be sure to hit the follow button below to get instant updates when a new post is live, as well as following me on Twitter and Twitch where we will have as many occasional streams as possible! I have also set up a fictional Twitter account for HFC Haarlem so you can stay in touch with the main events of this save – it’s not like they can stop us right? You can also catch me every Monday on 5 Star Potential, the longest running weekly Football Manager podcast.

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