Welcome back to the 5th installment of this Football Manager 2023 save in the Netherlands as we commence our third season at the helm of the newly restored HFC Haarlem in the second tier of Dutch football.
In Phase 1 we finished our first season in 15th place, having had to rebuild an entirely new squad and backroom staff with a focus on sexy football and attributes heavily favoured towards the more attacking, creative and technical elements of the game. The following season we continued our rebuild and completed Phase 2 in a very respectable 6th place in the Dutch Keuken Kampion Divisie, setting us up nicely for what we hope will be a highly competitive third season in which we might give ourselves an outside chance at promotion (most likely through the playoffs where we were disappointingly eliminated in the first round last season). Before we do that however, we again need to do some rebuilding as we continue to deal with player attrition, turnover of retiring players and navigating the financial challenges we face at this level. Let’s roll 🚀.
Not so sexy finances…
Money makes people do silly things…a lack of money ain’t much better though..
Despite finishing 6th, prize money in this league is virtually non-existent meaning we need to devise a recovery plan. Nothing revolutionary needed however we need cash. Fast. With a new season on the horizon, we formulate a 4-point plan to raise as much funds as possible:
Cuts, Cuts, Cuts
Friendlies for Cash
Profitable Player Sales
1. Cuts, Cuts, Cuts
Looking at our expenses – obviously Player Wages are the biggest contributor to our overheads, accounting for 30% – 40% of our monthly outgoings. The Average Player Salary in this league (excluding the “Jong” teams of Ajax, PSV, Utrecht and AZ) is approx. €1.7k per week, with each team spending around €140k per month on player salaries. We are spending over €200k per month on salaries averaging around €2.4k per week, so on the face of it we have room to improve here – we will look to offload a few of our highest earners for the greater good in order to bring this number down (more on that below).
Our Staff Wages are also a lot higher than we thought having filled the quotas for both our Senior and U18 team – instant cuts needed, we lay off 6 Staff Members which will in turn save us ~€3.7k per week.
Having built up a reasonably extensive shortlist of creative technical players with high passing, vision, technique, first touch etc, we will instantly cut our Scouting Budget to zero.
From now on – all Bonuses (reward bonuses, loyalty bonuses etc) will be kept to a minimum.
💰 Estimated overall savings: €65k per month
2. Friendlies for Cash
Setting up multiple friendlies away from home are the best way to drive some additional income, even if it comes at a cost to things like morale and dynamics etc. We can’t travel far but games against some of the big teams in the Netherlands always draw in a crowd.
💰 Estimated Overall Earnings: €160k
3. Television Revenue
💰 Estimated Overall Earnings: €220k per month
4. Profitable Player Sales
I hadn’t thought much about it back when we signed Gerardo Martinez, but he takes up a considerable portion of our budget and will have to be offloaded this summer. Che Nunnely is our best player but equally he is also highly paid not to mention our highest value player with the most potential to flip for a profit. Caspar Jandar was a new signing but is arguably only a squad player, while Bookjans barely plays and will also likely leave.
💰 Estimated Overall Earnings: €2m
Time to make some transfer moves, stat.
> Departures ✈️
10 players from last season’s registered squad depart the club with notable players such as Cuco Martina, Erik Falkenburg and Jakob Bookjans all leaving at the end of their deals, while the likes of Charlie Setford (Ajax), Alex Murphy (Newcastle), András Németh (Genk) and Ilyas El Moussaoui (Feyenoord) all returning to their parent clubs.
While we struggle to offload Martinez (eventually letting him return to Argentina on a free transfer before the window closed), our biggest departure is of course the aforementioned Che Nunnely whom we originally signed on a free transfer from Willem II at the start of the save and whom has been our best player so far to date. Between financial reasons as well as the player himself demanding a move, our hand is forced as we sell eventually move him on to NEC Nijmegen for a cool €1.5m – not a bad profit at all, will go a long way towards our financial recovery however that leaves a huge gap in terms of pace and creativity on that right-hand side. Rayan El Azrak also leaves to help our financial woes, moving to Almere City for €175k.
All of this effort brings us back from the red for the first time in this save, and suffice to say Ruud Gullit is a happy boy once more:
Very excited about some of our incoming signings. VERY excited. The easiest thing to do here is divide these into three groups as follows:
1. Fee-Paying Transfers
Having finished as our Top Scorer in the league last season with 20 goals while on a season long loan, we decide to make a permanent move for German Striker Marten Winkler who signs from Hertha Berlin’s second team for €275k – looking forward to seeing him continue his good form as an AF in the lone striker role.
Winkler is just one man however, and with both our strikers from last season returning to their parent clubs we send our scouts out and about in search for a forward who can either play alongside Winkler in a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3, or alternatively cover and provide competition when needed throughout the season. Suffice to say – our scouting team came up trumps as they unearthed this man lingering in the 4th tier of Germany…WHAT A F*CKING PLAYER.
It takes €400k plus a bunch of add-ons to lure Maurice Krattenmacher to Haarlem and it’s instantly clear he is already a cut above the rest at this level even at just 18-years-old. FM logic dictates we will probably lose him to a bigger club in the near future but if we can get even one good season out of him then it will be money well spent – it looks like we aren’t the only ones who have become aware of Krattenmacher in FM23 either 👀:
Fair to say we might be onto a winner with this lad but more on that later. We make one final addition in terms of spending which was actually one of our overall save objectives back when we started in November…it’s an emotional one as our Chairman Ruud Gullit is reunited with his son Maxim Gullit at HFC Haarlem…we spend €220k plus a few add-ons to bring him in, likely as a squad player but FAMILY IS MORE IMPORTANT RIGHT 😄.
2. Free Transfers
If you thought we were buzzing after those three, wait until you see what’s coming. I mean who doesn’t like a free transfer right? Our main priority was to sign a goalkeeper after Charlie Setford returned to Ajax who were reluctant to let him extend for a second season (chiefs), so we again took to scouring the free agent market to see if any bargains would be available after a second year of contracts expiring in this save. Initially it looked to be slim pickings – that was until a Basque gem appeared in the form of 20-yr-old Alex Padilla:
Before his contract ended he was wanted by both Dortmund and Everton, however we swooped in early and managed to lock in a deal which saw him join us when his contracted ended at Athletic Club de Bilbao..somewhat surprising they let him go when you consider how hard they tend to cling on to Basque players (let’s not forget the last keeper to leave Bilbao was Kepa Arrizabalaga and that only cost Chelsea €80m 😳) but we don’t mind at all.
Our Free Agent luck continues and this time it’s luck of the Irish – naturally while searching to see what Irish players would be interested in a move to Haarlem, we stumble across not one but TWO Irish boys who both had their contracts expire in Summer 2024, both of whom are very technically capable and will add depth and competition to our first-team squad instantly; Jack Byrne arrives after leaving Shamrock Rovers at the end of his contract, and he is followed by Conor Noß who was released by Borussia Monchengladbach after failing to have his deal renewed.
You’ll notice we still haven’t technically replaced the pace and flair offered by Che Nunnelly on that right hand side, and in the absence of any clear first-team quality we decide to bring in two players to compete for this spot. Our affiliation with Feyenoord enables us to bring in Jaden Slory on loan without having to pay any wages, while another player familiar to us from my Bologna save last year arrives in the form of ex-Man City graduate Jayden Braaf who joins on a season-long loan from Dortmund. Finally and possibly one of the biggest signings of the window – we manage to extend the loan deal of Luciano Valente from FC Groningen for a second season after he notched up 13 goals and 6 assists from Central Midfield last season..THIS IS NICE.
I think we are ready for a third season of Sexy Football..🔥.
Despite the bookies tipping us to finish around mid-table this season, we open with a 4-2 win away to TOP Oss in a game which sees debut goals for Krattenmacher and Slory as well as another goal from Valente in the CM (Attack) role and by the end of September we find ourselves top of the league after picking up 7 wins, 1 draw and 1 defeat in our opening 9 games in the Eerste divisie.
What’s interesting here is that the way this league is set up – the season is divided into four “periods”, with the teams who top each 9-game section guaranteeing themselves a place in the playoffs at the end of the season. I guess this is like continuous assessment in university right? That means that with 9 games played we have guaranteed ourselves at least a playoff spot and a shot at promotion already at this early stage of the season.
What makes things even better is that not only are we getting results – we are doing it in style….
A few blips follow including a 5-game winless run, however we find our form again as the end of 2024 approaches and with 20 games played we sit top of the league, level on points with VVV Venlo and dreams of Eredivise clashes with Ajax and PSV are slowly becoming more and more a reality..
Things are clicking well. The likes of Slory, Valente, Krattenmacher and Winkler are all performing well individually and it’s a reasonable argument to say we probably have one of the best sides in the league right now. But it’s more than that. We have set ourselves up to play a specific type of football that is fast paced, high octane, quick passing and promotes attractive creative football and after three seasons we are clearly starting to see the results of our efforts:
It’s not just on screen and in the match engine that we are seeing the fruits of our labour – if we take a closer look under the hood via the Data Hub, we can see clear evidence of our tactical approach and clear statistical success in terms of Movement, Passing, Attacking, Creativity and most importantly Clinicality and we are out on our own across these core areas in comparison to our rivals.
We are methodical, purposeful, controlled. Deploying a Tiki-Taka style that favours short, quick passing and possession combined with good technical players across the park means that we are able to reverse play instantly and move the ball quickly up the pitch before the opposition are able to get in shape and defend accordingly – Exhibit A:
In this passage of play – you can see how we pick up the ball in and around our own box, and 7 passes later we are scoring a tap-in at the other end. The pace and quality of our passing combined with our off-the-ball movement allows us to make Sexy Football a reality, and we are LOVING IT.
We win 2/3 in January before a top of the table clash with VVV-Venlo and this was a landmark point in our season – but not the way we would have wanted..
Despite being 2-0 up at half-time, they overturned us to win 3-2 (thanks to that chief Nick Venema) and leapfrog us to take pole position at a crucial part of the season – crucial because we lose 4 games during that 12-game period which sees us drop to 3rd position with just 6 games remaining.
This is interesting for all kinds of reasons. We are 3rd but have already locked in a Playoff spot due to finishing top of the first period of the season. We are 3rd but Jong PSV cannot get promoted (due to their Senior side’s existence in the league above) – therefore the 2nd automatic qualification spot would go to us as things stand, especially with Jong Ajax the nearest team to us (also can’t get promoted) and De Graafschap now 5 points behind us.
That means that as we enter the last 6 games of the season – we have an outside chance of winning the league (if Venlo crash and burn), but more importantly are favourites to go up automatically if we can see out our last remaining fixtures.
Of course there was only one thing to do…
Our first stream of this save and of FM23, and to be honest…it couldn’t have gone better,,
We pick up 5 wins on the bounce live on stream (where we were joined by my mate Boyle for this momentous occasion) to seal promotion with one game to spare. Unfortunately Venlo held up their end and went on to win the league in the same gameweek, but we care not, for HAARLEM ARE PROMOTED TO THE EREDIVISIE AND WE ARE GOING UP!!!
Well well well. That was enjoyable! Somewhat unexpected as we weren’t really sure how long it would take to gain promotion, but looking at the football we play and some of the players we have managed to obtain, we are ready to take this save up a notch and raise our game to the next level. Some outstanding individual performances saw Marten Winkler finish joint top scorer in the league with 24 goals, while Maurice Krattenmacher and Jaden Slory topped the assists charts in 1st and 2nd respectively. Luciano Valente was our best performer with a 7.22 Average Rating and we narrowly miss out on Manager of the Year finishing 2nd to Venlo boss Andreas Herzog…all in all, I would say it’s been a successful season!!
The big question now is – can we do it in the big time where a Luca Pellegrini-led Ajax have just pipped Cody Gakpo’s PSV to the title? There’s only one way to find out – see you soon for Phase 4 of the HFC Haarlem universe 🚀.
Thanks for reading,
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