Hello and welcome back 👋. It’s been nearly a month since my last update, largely as I was away twice in the last 4 weeks between a nice one-week holiday in Fuerteventura and also a brief work trip to Berlin – no complaints of course apart from a lack of access to Football Manager but hey, first world problems and all that.
When we last left off the mighty HFC Haarlem had just completed our 6th season following our resurrection from obscurity and our third since our return to the Eredivisie to compete in top flight football alongside giants Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord. It’s safe to say that was a highly successful season; we finished 6th in the league to ensure a European place however our victory in the 2028 KNVB Beker (Dutch Cup) Final means we guarantee Europa League Group Stage football next season – but more on that shortly, let’s talk squad and transfers as there has been a lot happening during pre-season.
Transfers Out 💰
I spoke recently on the 5 Star Potential Podcast about how well we have been doing in terms of revenue generation, namely through our ability to bring in players either cheap or on free transfers and then flip them a few seasons later for a handsome profit (very nice considering we now receive 100% of all Transfer Revenue 🤤). Last season I told you about 5 players who had cost a total of €1.3m and who we went on to sell for a combined €30m, and this season the good times keep rolling as we manage to sell Jens Jacobs (Free → €8.25m) and Filip Panovic (€1.2m → €8.5m) to Feyenoord and Malmo respectively.
That basically brings our overall profit through player sales & acquisitions to around €51m give or take additional fees & clauses etc – if you think we track this on a spreadsheet..you’d be right 👌.
Transfers In 💸
If you haven’t read or can’t remember my last post then it’s alone worth a look to hear all about Toni Majić, our Croatian Wonderkid signed on loan from Dinamo Zagreb with a €2.9m optional fee. After 21 goals and 11 assists as an Inside Forward (Left) last season – I am pleased to say we absolutely activated the option and he is now a permanent HFC Haarlem player..and a hell of a player at that 🔥.
Surprise surprise we tend to concede a lot of goals in our efforts to play Sexy Football, and while we have no intention of changing our philosophy (which is basically to just outscore our opponents), we do need to place more focus on our back line and after deploying our scouts to find us a top centre-half, we weren’t disappointed as we unearthed an absolute gem in Vicente Martinez who was playing for FC Vilafranca in the Spanish 4th tier; we originally signed him on a free transfer in January but he didn’t play at all last season due to an injury – suffice to say this guy will be like a new signing and should expect to be starting come the opening game of the season.
Following the sale of Jens Jacobs we were in urgent need of an upgrade at Right-Back and once again our scouts came up trumps. Having deployed FM favourite (and club scout) Kim Källström to Portugal, he returned with one hell of a recommendation in Danilo Veiga who arrives from Gil Vicente for a club record €12m – a huge fee for what will hopefully be our right-back for years to come, this chap is a top top player if you want to look him up 🔎.
Speaking of FM favourites – we found another one languishing in the Championship with his contract on the verge of expiring, and for no particular reason other than the name/song association, we pick up Sebastiano Esposito on a free transfer from none other than Ipswich Town whatever the hell he has been doing there – classic case of the AI mismanaging players I guess 🤷♂️.
From there it was a case of bolstering our midfield having had a couple of loan signings return to their parent clubs. After impressing against us for Fortuna Sittard in the cup last season, versatile midfielder Famana Quizera arrives for €3.4m with a view of retraining him into a Box-to-Box Midfielder. Our shopping locally continues as we pick up Gjivai Zechiel from FC Twente for €5m to play in our DMC role, while Jamie Bynoe-Gittens arrives on a season-long loan from Dortmund to give us additional depth on either wing.
That takes our spending to around €23m versus the €16.75m earned – a pretty good window all round and we are ready to kick off Season 7 in Haarlem with European Football to contend with for the first time since 1983 🔥.
HFC Haarlem Playing Squad 2028/2029
Goalkeepers: Alex Padilla, Gabi Garrido.
Defenders: Danilo Veiga, Sepp Van Den Berg, Vicente Martinez, Mads Orbe, Dennis Cirkin, Martin Frese, Giovanni Haag.
Midfielders: Theo (c), Brais Ruiz, Fabio Markelic, Juho Lähteenmäki, Mauro Basoski, Famana Quizera, Gjivai Zechiel, Jamie-Bynoe Gittens, Isak Hansen-Aarøen.
Forwards: Dion Drena Beljo, Eldor Shomurodov, Toni Majić.
We kicked off our season with defeats to Feyenoord in the JC Schaal (Dutch Community Shield equivalent) and in our opening league game against Ajax, before starting to find some form with 3 back-to-back wins and a draw which put us in 5th place after 6 games played. Unfortunately this coincided with Dion Drena Beljo getting sidelined for 2-3 months and our form very much dipping/fluctuating in his absence – INCONSISTENCY being the key word as we dropped points against inferior opposition, in particular at home against the likes of Heerenveen, Heracles and Excelsior and by the end of November we found ourselves in 11th place already 12 points off league leaders Ajax, but only 3 points from the European places such is the nature of how tight this league is outside of the big guns.
Consistency ↔ Europe
We spoke a lot about consistency on the pod, particularly around Dynamics, Tactics, Player Traits, Coach Reports etc all of which I spent some time trying to tweak and improve – particularly after a summer of overhaul and a relatively large influx of new arrivals coming in. While things started to pick up in December – a key challenge to this has been the Europa League, which in 2028 comes in a completely new format with 36 teams competing in one overall league and each team playing 8 games in the hope of finishing in the Top 8 to qualify automatically to the last 16, with teams finishing between 9th and 24th entering a playoff round. A bit f*cking mad or what? 😅
We started with 4 wins from 4 including an impressive victory over Athletic Club at home in Haarlem, before going on to tank and lose our next 4 which included an embarassing 2-0 defeat away to Qarabag in Azerbaijan. That meant that with our eight Group Stage games played we found ourselves in 14th which set us up for a playoff against Swiss side St. Gallen who finished in 19th below us.
Thankfully we battered St. Gallen by an 11-1 aggregate score which set us up for a Last 16 tie with Lille, and what was also very enjoyable is the new Europa League artwork and music as well as seeing the name of lowly HFC Haarlem in bright lights alongside some of the big European names and elite clubs. WE ARE OFFICIALLY GLOBETROTTING PEOPLE.
Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. We went 2-0 up at home in the 1st leg only to concede a 95th minute equaliser, and by the time we travelled to France a mix of exhaustion and inexperience led to a 5-3 defeat and sadly our Europa League run comes to an end for another season at least.
A League of Our Own
Back to the league and I had mentioned things starting to pick up around December time…we got over an unplanned exit from our attempt to defend the Dutch Cup by going on a 6-game unbeaten streak, and then dusted ourselves off from a shambolic 3-0 defeat at Heracles by again going 6 games unbeaten, this time picking up 5 wins which meant by the end of March we had climbed to 4th place and all of a sudden we were firing on all cylinders and all guns blazing. Dion Drena Beljo‘s return was the catalyst as he scored 15 goals from December to March and with just 6 games to go, we suddenly found ourselves talking about Champions League dreams and the prospect of our highest-ever league finish for HFC Haarlem (greatly aided by the downfalls of PSV and AZ Alkmaar who are in freefall in this universe according to Football Manager).
Naturally two of those next 6 games were against PSV and AZ Alkmaar…I shouldn’t have said anything 🤦♂️.
Both take points off us in the run-in, but wins either side of a draw with Feyenoord mean that with just one game to go and 33 league games played, we go into our final league game (away to FC Groningen) in 3rd place, two points clear of high-flying Heracles who welcome RKC Waalwijk.
With a superior goal difference, we enter our last game of the season knowing that at least a point should secure us Champions League football (or a chance at qualification at least) for the first time in the club’s history…
It had to be – that man Dion Drena Beljo, whose 64th minute penalty was enough to give us all 3 points in Groningen and crucially seal us 3rd place in the league and most importantly, a path into the UEFA Champions League via the 3rd Round Playoffs as well as a “tasty” €8m in prize money (I keep forgetting how much lower prize money is here..). An incredible end to an incredible (if not chaotic) 7th season at the helm of HFC Haarlem with some big performances from the likes of Brais Ruiz (15 goals & 8 assists), Juho Lähteenmäki (10 goals & 18 assists) and of course Toni Majić who missed 2-3 months due to injury and still managed 8 goals & 7 assists.
Overall though our main man again was that man Dion Drena Beljo – 23 goals in 33 games across all competitions left him as our top scorer (2nd in the Eredivisie) and if you had any doubts before about whether you should be looking at him for your own save, I will leave you with this to put all doubts to rest..
Thanks for reading – next stop, the UEFA Champions League and we will also bring you an update on what’s been going on behind the scenes with our facilities and our new stadium build, not to mention a wonderkid who we may just have convinced to join us on a free transfer next season 👀.
Check out 5StarPotential.com to find more of my written Football Manager content, you can also catch me every Monday on 5 Star Potential, the longest running weekly Football Manager podcast.