This is Part II of Phase 8 at HFC Haarlem – if you haven’t already you can read Part I here which gives an overview of our current squad, summer transfers and our progress in the European Champions League qualification rounds.
Alright alright alright – if you are here it means you are ready to hear all about our 8th season at HFC Haarlem and the chaos that ensued! Thankfully we put our disappointment at losing the final Champions League Knockout Round against Porto behind us and started off the 2029/2030 season with back-to-back home wins over NEC Nimhegen and Excelsior, with new signing Zhuang Hui picking up two goals in two games to give us a real selection dilemma in terms of whether to go with him or Dion Drena Beljo as our first choice in the lone striker role. This must be what Eddie Howe feels like when it comes to choosing Alexander Isak or Callum Wilson to play up front, although Isak’s ability to play on the left-hand side offers a bit more flexibility to get both in the side if Eddie so desires.
Quite a lot going on here – not much between them, with the standout differences correlating with the fact that we have a 27-year-old Beljo competing with 20-year-old Zhuang Hui and there are clearly pros and cons to each. Both are going to be a goal threat regardless, however with the amount of games we will need to play this season (minimum 43 across all competitions) it will be important to keep both players fresh and ready to fire on all cylinders at all times. The easiest way I can do this (at least for the first half of the season) is to simply rotate between the Eredivisie and Europa League so we decide that Hui will largely be first choice for league games, while Beljo can take centre stage in Europe with the additional experience and mental attributes he possesses (something something adaptability something).
Defeat to Ajax in Gameweek 3 spurred on a 3 game winning streak including a Europa League opening win over Strasbourg courtesy of a brace from Beljo which he followed up with another brace in our revenge mission over Qarabag (if you know you know). By the time we reached our 3rd Europa League game against Roma at the end of October, we found ourselves 3rd in the league after 8 games played with Zhuang Hui leading the goalscoring charts on 7 goals – so far so good ✔️.
HFC Haarlem vs Roma
UEFA Europa League, Thurs 25th October 2029
We face a strong Roma side who are still led by that man José Mourinho along with Tammy Abraham up front, Lorenzo Pellegrini in midfield, Kumbulla and Ibanez at the back and for some reason Kepa in goals. Beljo starts up front having scored 8 goals in Europe so far (including 4 CL qualifiers) while the in-form Hui is a great option from the bench – there are also starts for new signings Mohammed Diomandé and Marc Soury ahead of Theo and Lahteenmaki respectively.
Despite newboy Marc Soury opening the scoring on 7 minutes, the quality of Tammy and Pellegrini proves to be too much and we suffer our first Europa League defeat of the season, and the hangover effect spills over to our next game as we suffer a 2-1 home defeat to Willem II. We need a big couple of months to get ourselves back up the table now..
November and December go quite well as we pick up 8 wins in 11 games (however that Europa League defeat to Villareal sees us finish 10th in the league stage to set up a knockout playoff against Sparta Prague – more on that in a bit). January proves to be challenging though as our squad again struggles to cope with the quantity and proximity of games played, so to combat this we make two January signings to hopefully add some depth and quality to our squad. Irishman Frank Bolger arrives from Shamrock Rovers for €500k to offer cover at both Centre Back and in our DM role, and he is followed by 20-year-old attacking midfielder Rogier Smit who is signed from FC Volendam for €3.7m.
Incidentally as we are talking about Volendam – I’ve noticed they seem to churn out quite a few high quality young players through their academy, in particular one Turkish Striker who has emerged to be one of the best newgens in this save universe after moves to RB Salzburg and then Inter Milan.
Seeing as our own Youth Development has been nothing short of appalling (despite all our work improving our youth recruitment and facilities etc) – we decide to piggyback on Volendam’s success as we establish an official affiliation with them in the hope that we can steal some of their best talent when the time comes.
Back to on-field matters and we are entering the business end of the season which is a fantastic time to go on a winning streak especially considering we lost Zhuang Hui to an injury for 4-6 weeks. 7 wins in 8 league games rockets us up to 3rd in the league, while we also ease past Sparta Prague and Stuttgart to set up a Europa League Quarter Final against French side Monaco – lot’s going on!!
HFC Haarlem vs Monaco
UEFA Europa League Quarter Final, April 2030
The Europa League Quarter Final – the furthest our little club from Northwest Holland have ever ventured in European competition, facing 2004 Champions League finalists Monaco who have a far richer pedigree in Europe and still boast the likes of Alexandr Golovin, Axel Disasi, Benoit Badiashile and Myron Boadu in their ranks. We will have our work cut out for us over two legs if we aspire to become semi-finalists where the likes of Tottenham, Roma, Villareal and Fiorentina potentially await..
It just wasn’t to be. Despite a spirited 1-1 draw away in France, we collapsed in the return leg at home losing 2-0 and again say goodbye to European football for another few months at least. That means we now turn our focus back to the league once more where we have just 7 games to lock in a Champions League place…or even win the league outright??
Two Zhuang Hui inspired wins later…
Somehow we manage to find ourselves in a title race albeit 6 points behind leaders Ajax – what’s equally as important (if not more) is that after 29 games we are just 3 points behind PSV who occupy that all essential-automatic Champions League Group Stage spot, and wouldn’t you know it, Gameweek 30 sees 2nd against 3rd as we welcome the Eindhoven club to Haarlem in what is now the biggest 6-pointer of this save so far 🔥. PSV are led by Ruud van Nistelrooy with the likes of Marcos Leonardo, Mohammed Kudus, Ibrahim Sangaré, Patrick Schick and Cody Gakpo all leading their charge to snatch the title from Ajax and finish ahead of us once more. GAME ON!!
Wouldn’t you know it – Zhuang Hui is the hero of Haarlem scoring in his 4th consecutive game to give us all three points – that means with just four games left we are level on points with PSV and six points off league leaders Ajax (whom we still have to play at home 👀); this season is fire in Haarlem and we are on the brink of automatic qualification to the Champions League for the first time in our history…
We manage to rescue a point away to ADO Den Haag after going 2-0 down in the first half, before Hui inspired a 2-1 win at home to Ajax to narrow the gap back to 5 points – unfortunately PSV won both their games at the same time to give them a 2-point advantage; both of us then drew our penultimate fixtures which meant that any hopes of a surprise league win for Haarlem were over (despite the fact that Heracles shocked Ajax with a 3-1 win..sigh). That meant we went into the final day of the season in third place, two points behind PSV knowing that we need to win and hope PSV drop points at home against our old friends RKC Waalwijk…is there one more stroke of luck left on the FM wheel of fortune this season?
Close but not close enough. Despite a world-beating 10.0 performance from Zhuang Hui to put him on 18 goals for the season, a Cody Gakpo-led PSV run out 3-1 winners to seal 2nd place and leave us in 3rd for the second season running. Not bad at all for where we are after 8 seasons, with the gap most certainly closing as we finish on 72 points compared to last year’s 62 point tally. What we do know is that we will again have to contest the Champions League qualifiers which as we know is trickier that one might hope – that said, our squad continues to improve each season and our signings are most definitely contributing to our upward trajectory, hoping to see more of that in the summer if the board can find it in their hearts to drop us a nice transfer budget…
That’s that then – at least we have something positive to look forward to next season..IF YOU BUILD IT THEY WILL COME.
Thanks for reading, see you again soon for more Haarlem Globetrotting and hopefully, some Champions League football to talk about.
Over and out.
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