Welcome back to my Glory Hunter series. If you missed the last chapter you can find it here.
As I mentioned in the previous post, significant changes were coming in January. The players did very well at the start of my tenure, and some of them may also have overachieved till now. Nevertheless, a lot of them are way behind their peak. At the same time, the squad lacks depth in several positions.
I found that all the players that left the club lacked the quality to stay. Except for Rafa Mir, who is very much a good striker, but for that amount of money and the transfers that contributed to, I had no option but to sell. Papu Gómez is another exception. He’s still a class act, especially since the technical side of his game is exceptional. However, he turns 36 in February and is on a high wage. £3.4M is decent money for a soon to be 36-year-old, and there are many good options in the market.
The first transfer was a transfer I’ve could only dream about in the first two seasons. When Anthony Elanga was available for £16M, plus another five in instalments, it was a no brainer for me. He hasn’t developed as much as I’ve seen him do in other saves, but the potential is there. He brings electric pace to the team, and that’s an area our attack was lacking.
Abdoulaye Kamara was brought in from Dortmund for £2M, and he’s not a real starting option yet. So I took a little bit of a gamble on him. It’s a gamble I can afford to take at that price, so hopefully, the risk will pay off.
Every great Spanish team needs a tricky and skilful Brazilian in their ranks, don’t they? Ângelo is a fantastic talent, and with him and Elanga, the club should have class wingers for the next ten years – at least. He comes in for a high price, with £19M upfront and another nine in various clauses.
The club also wants me to bring in Spanish players as part of the philosophy, so I tried to have that in mind when looking for potential reinforcements. Riqui Puig was transfer listed at Barcelona and comes in for just £4.7M, a great piece of business if you ask me. Christian Mosquera is another Spaniard that was available for a fair price. Having failed to establish himself at Valencia, he’s a good prospect I can work with and at the same time provide backup immediately. At just 19, it may be harsh to say he has failed at Valencia.
I also found room in the budget to bring in two exciting Norwegian talents. Peder Hoel Lervik is a good prospect between the posts and can be a decent goalkeeper in the future. Antonio Nusa is a very exciting talent that, been given time, can compete with Elanga and Ângelo on the wings. I see it as my responsibility to help develop Norwegian football, so I’ll have to contribute where I can.
With minimal left to play within the budget, I still managed to find two good transfers at Man Utd on deadline day. Donny van de Beek comes in on loan for the rest of the season, with an optional fee of £27.5M. Hopefully, he can be the player at Ajax and have a similar renaissance as Eriksen had for me at Fiorentina. The last window transfer was Marc Jurado, another young Spanish talent. He’s not good enough now, and it’s fair to say it’s another gamble. However, for £250K, I can afford to gamble on a promising Spaniard.
In La Liga, we continued our great form into the new year, and the football we played was inspiring to watch. As you can see from the overview below, we scored many goals, and we only had one game where we didn’t manage to score. The two games that bug me is against Real Madrid and Barcelona. We lost both games 1-4, which paints a picture of how far we still are from the league elite. At Camp Nou, we were borderline slaughtered by their fluent attack and the front three (Diaz, Griezmann and Salah). Against Real Madrid, we had more of the ball and created more chances. However, they have a front three of the same calibre in Mbappé, Benzema and Vini Jr. Our attack doesn’t have the same ring to it yet.
We lost En-Nesyri to an injury for six weeks in late March and were forced to play Elanga and Traorè as the focal point of our attack. Elanga did ok with three goals in the first two games upfront. However, in my opinion, April was a particular month in terms of goalscorers. We scored ten goals, and all of them were scored by central midfielders. Donny did an excellent job for us on loan, contributing hugely along the way. Deciding the Sevillano Derby with two goals and an assist is possibly the best application for a permanent transfer you can have at this club, and I will do all that I can to make it happen.
Going into May, the league was decided, and all we could play for was finishing 3rd or 4th in the league. Either way, a place in the Champions League was secure and considering where the club was when I took the job, it is a fantastic way to turn the season around. As a matter of fact, we set a new club record for wins in the league and points in the league.
Copa del Rey was a massive success for us, going all the way. The first round was accessible and allowed us to rotate the squad a bit. Our super talent, Ousmane Traoré, got a lot of game time in the first rounds and played a part up to the Semi-Final. Five goals and one assist in 4(2) games is extreme numbers for a 17-year-old.
We almost slipped up against Celta after a late equaliser. Late in the first half of the extra time, Augustinsson scored with a beautiful free-kick. What a way to send us through to the next round.
Donny grabbed us a late win against Villarreal and broke their 20 games unbeaten run.
The Semi-Final Socidedad gives us no match. The outcome was decided in nine minutes, and we killed the game in 27 minutes. Superb!
In the final against Real Madrid, I was so sure about losing to them again that I didn’t even bother with taking screenshots along the way. However, I was proven wrong – by all means.
The game started with Real Madrid taking control and forcing us back. However, we managed to steer clear of the pressure, and after 21 minutes, we hit them on the counter, with Ocampos scoring an easy goal after Delaney played him through on goal.
Real continued the pressure for the rest of the first half, but when Mbappé got injured early in the second half, the game changed character. Donny got hurt, and the substitution only waited for the ball to go out of play. He took the matter into his own hands and sent away a screamer from 30 meters out. Courtois had no chance to save it!
Then he walked off the pitch and gave his teammates the best possible chances to win a trophy. That’s what makes a legend in my eyes.
Real reduced and caught a glimpse of hope in the 82nd minute, just to see it being taken away when Ocampos was fouled inside the box two minutes later. 3-1 and game over!
A trophy at the first shot and after just five months in charge!
My first season in charge went far better than I could’ve expected, and I find myself ahead of schedule for yet another country in the challenge. I’m hopeful that we can compete for the title next season with the right signings in the summer.
Thank you for reading this blog. I hope you enjoyed it.
/ FM Veteran