“If got had wanted us to play football in the clouds, he’d have put grass up there” – Brian Clough
As statements go about footballing style, the one above is one I will always remember. A man, recalled by many as one of the finest managers ever to have lived, Brian Clough had a way with words, and inspiring a team.
It was those words of inspiration that I was desperately looking for, just 3 games into the season.
However, before all that, a quick look at some player moves before the season begins.
Following the preseason signings of Lucas Tousart and Martin Odegaard, as well as Italian wonderkid centreback, Raffaele Laterza, our business incoming for the window was just about done.
I felt we were one player short, and that was someone who could fulfil the distributor role alongside the other, more mobile midfielders, in the system we were looking to play.
This would mean looking for a more experienced professional, and one was found, in 33 year old Joe Allen.
The Welsh midfielder had been released by Stoke City at the end of the previous season, and although he wasn’t the quickest, or the strongest, he fitted into what we wanted, in being a hard working (both individually and part of a team), more experienced, distribution minded midfielder. He would be playing in a role where he would stick to the same area of the pitch, and just drop back towards the defence, collect the ball, then pass it on towards his more mobile teammates. In other words, he would be more of a Carrilero than a proper playmaker.
Signing a 1 year deal, with the possibility of an extension, its a good deal for everyone.
A few outgoing transfers were also completed, with, a large amount of loans, which will pick us up some money through loan fees and the like.
Ruben Vinagre departed, back to the French Ligue 1, and Bordeaux. He hadn’t been greatly involved since our promotion to the Premier League, and it was better for both parties to depart, although, the £1.5m fee dictates we made a loss on the deal, this would be offset by other dealings.
Also sold, after a couple of seasons with us, was Croatian midfielder Lovro Majer.
A player who was brought in for just over £2m to be an attacking midfielder, who then saw himself dropped several times through poor form, to be offered £15m for him was a bonus, especially when there were £5m of addons depending on appearances and other things. Its the sort of profit making I like doing on Football Manager, and especially, when its a player for whom, most of his 58 appearances came from the bench.
Essential business done, it was time for friendlies, and the season itself.
The Season – Results
Preseason saw a training camp in Hong Kong, complete with a couple of friendlies, including one vs Real Madrid, which was us run out 3-2 winners.
The other thing, was due to the expansion work at the Keepmoat, we would be spending a season 18 miles up the road, at Barnsley FCs Oakwell.
The first match against Wolves was a perfect demonstration of what happens when you make numerous mistakes, with defenders clearing to opposing strikers, and just all round poor play. Being honest, the 5-1 defeat flattered us.
The poor form continued for most of the first month of the season, interrupted only by a 2-1 cup victory against Preston, which went to extra time.
If anything, the international break at the beginning of September came at the right time, and allowed a change in atmosphere to begin at the club.
I think I underestimated the desire within the side to improve, as a West Ham side who had spent heavily once more over the summer (£230m this past summer), were demolished in the first half hour at London Stadium. Right winger Joao Filipe contributing 4 assists and ripping the opposing defence apart.
After another poor performance at Anfield, a trip to Molineux to exorcise the demons of the first game.
Again, finding yourselves in the ascendancy in the first half hour, is a great way to start, so following Monday Paul poking home a corner, Carlos Ardiles lived up to his potential, scoring a hat-trick and destroying the Wolves back 4. The current European Golden Boy following up his excellent pre season with this performance. The game wound its way down, with a 5-0 victory being seen by the travelling fans.
One thing the team had got into the habit of, was coming out of the blocks firing, which was summed up at Oakwell against Watford, where Joe Allen, normally in a defensive role, broke forward through the centre to score his first for the club.
Victories against Arsenal and Tottenham in consecutive weeks were somewhat knocked off, when Carlos Ardiles twisted his ankle in the game against Everton, where 25 shots on goal, with 12 on target were not enough to breach the hosts defence, and the broke clear to win.
With Martin Odegaard and Joe Allen prowling the middle, we were more solid, and although, draws against Swansea and Southampton came through general errors, the fact we managed to go toe to toe with Manchester City, losing to a last minute Paulo Dybala volley, was impressive.
Defeats to Forest and Stoke in the league, and a 3-0 defeat at home to Arsenal in the cup saw us end the year on a bit of a damp squib, especially when we also came away from Leicester with a draw, after dominating possession, then losing focus and conceding, although, a highlight of that match was young Colombian striker Jorge Lopez brutalising Harry Maguire on the way to score the equaliser.
9th place at the turn of the year is better than I wanted to be, and it gives us the perfect opportunity to step off and go for possible European Qualification at the end of the season.
At the turn of the year 14 of the 24 players to make appearances for the club have scored goals, with top scorer being Carlos Ardiles with 13 goals from his 18 appearances.
Other notable players are Diogo Goncalves, who has 7 assists this season, Jon Walters, who, despite being 20, has passed 100 appearances for the club, is playing regularly at right back, and enjoying learning from Jordi Alba, who has announced his retirement at the end of the season.
The usual comings and goings of younger players for development will occur.
However, a few of outgoings, starting with Afonso Taira, who goes to Everton, Tomas Azevedo to Leeds and Matteo Guendouzi to Koln see us get rid of fringe players, with a few more possibly going.
There are two big incoming signings, to tie up our midfield, and provide a bit more strength. Both are Brazilian youngsters, coming from Flamengo, and for a combined £34m,
Luis Henrique and Laniyan de Assis both come highly rated, and the scouts say they’ll be the best midfielders in the team.
This will probably be all of our dealings this winter. However, if a big potential deal comes in, I may move. Players to replace outgoings are sat out on loan, and if needed, will get brought back from the loans to fit in.
All being well, we’ll head into the second half of the season, and push for Europe.