Welcome back to the first half of the 2028/29 season. Our first in the Premier League!
As always, with a promotion to a higher division, this time may be the highest level. Some players no longer have the needed quality to contribute effectively. That made for seven transfers out this summer.
- Daniel Gore – Portsmouth – £92K
- David Ozoh – Lorient – Free
- Jeff Oakes – Toulouse – Free
- Aaron Maguire – Chelsea – £59K
- Khephren Plumain – Derby – £750K
- Ellis Fowler – QPR – £200K
- Harvey Vale – Barnsley – £6.75M
- Christon Stephen – Derby – £575K
- Jude Soonsup-Bell – Chelsea – £4.6M
- Tom Weston – Birmingham – £8.5M
- Giacomo Riccio – Rennes – £17M
For the first time in this save so far, I bought players for a significant sum, spending £30.1M this summer. One of the targets I’ve set is to make a profit in the transfer market each season. Luckily our former player Kobbie Mainoo secured us £10M with his transfer from Nottingham Forest to Fulham. We hit the jackpot with the clauses in that transfer.
During the summer, some profound changes found a place at the club, with Marc White stepping down as chairman at the club he founded 29 years ago. Reaching the Premier League must’ve been the ultimate time to step down, I guess. In comes a Bulgarian with no experience in English football. He doesn’t come with any new money, and I just hope he’s as easygoing as White has been for the last seven seasons.
With all newly promoted teams to the Premier League, a squad introduction is necessary to get to know all the new players. It’s one of my favourite reads in pre-season each year.
First is, of course, the goalkeepers. Mikki van Sas is going into his third season at Dorking and comes from a strong season in the Championship. As a graduate of the academy at Man City, he’s a modern goalkeeper who is good with his feet and a strong shot-stopper.
His backup, Jared Mncube, is a product of the academy at Dorking and made his debut at 16 four seasons ago. After two years out on loan, he has developed nicely and is ready to take up a place in the first team. He will probably get his chance in the Carabao Cup and with the U23’s this year.
The fullbacks got good coverage and a lot of talent. The newcomer Tom Weston comes in with a hefty price tag and high hopes to his name. He hasn’t played more than two games in the Championship so far in his career, but he’s shown significant promise in League Two at a young age and is also an England U-21 International. He’s still young and needs to work on every aspect of his game. With no significant weaknesses, he’s got an excellent skill set to build on. He can also play on both sides like every modern fullback should be able to do. He will be the first choice on the right back.
On the left, we find Josh Wilson-Esbrand, another Man City academy graduate who’s going into his third season with the club. He’s a consistent performer but hasn’t impressed very much yet. His physical stats will come in handy in the Premier League, but questions are also asked about his quality.
Tomas Galvez arrived on a free from Man City before last season and is the leading contender on the left-back. He’s not at Wilson-Esbrands level yet, but the potential is there.
Richard Olise and Denzel Hopkins will be the top contender to Weston on the right, but they both can play on the left. Olise is somewhat of a veteran now, with 121 league games and this being his fifth season here. He may have reached his potential now and is only here until Hopkins is good enough to be the primary backup. Hopkins is an academy graduate that made his debut at 16 three seasons ago and established himself in the first team last season.
In the heart of the defence, the solid duo from last season will play a big part this year. Reece Welch is a good defender but lacks quality with the ball at his feet. With his well rounded defensive and physical stats, I still trust him, and he brings much-needed pace to our defence. He will be the first choice, together with Luke Badley-Morgan, who I took a chance on in League One and took a chance on in the Championship due to injuries. He never looked back after that and has improved every month since then. He’s a little better on the ball than Welch and weaker in the defensive area. He’s still the best performer of the two, and he’s also a significant threat on set-pieces with nine goals last season.
Behind the two starters, we really lack the needed quality. Sadok Salhi came from Arsenal three years ago and hasn’t improved that much. He played 15 games last season and did ok when called upon. The Premier League, however, is a different story. He has great potential, but he needs to improve fast.
Rory Parkes is an academy graduate who made his debut last season. He has captained the club at both U18 and U23 levels so far, and hopefully, he can take the next step and become a leader in the first team. He will get both time and games to develop.
I have been working with a new defender, and I have found the perfect player. However, he’s not old enough to join before January, so we will have to do with what we got until then. Nohan Kenneh can also play here if needed.
At the central midfield, we have four of our best players that all stood out in a way last season.
Nohan Kenneh is holding the team together and balancing play like no other. He’s a good ball winner and a physical beast. Don’t let that fool you, though. He also contributes in offence and had 11 assists in the league last season. I wish he had a little higher leadership skills as he’d been a perfect captain. Leo Castledine was voted Player of the Season in the Championship last season, and I’ve been dodging bids left and right through the summer. With 11 goals and 18 assists in 40 games, he was class and took his game to the next level. Hopefully, he can follow up at a higher level this year.
Isak Hansen-Aaroen came on a free from Man Utd last summer and had an impressive start to life at the club. However, with over three months out due to injuries, his season halted a bit.
Nevertheless, he was a key performer when fit, with 13 goals and nine assists in 24 games—even more impressive numbers than Castledine. Isak also got his much deserved debut for Norway and scored in the same game. Our only full international.
Sean McGurk arrived last summer from Leeds did well at his first season here, played a lot on the wing as well. 16 goal contributions in 35 games is good for a midfielder and he’s one of the creative players we have to relay on again this year.
On the wings, we got good coverage with several players that can play on both sides. The club’s all-time record signing, Giacomo Riccio arrived this summer from Rennes. He’s got decent stats for a 21-year-old, but the potential is sky-high. If he can develop and build on the skills he got now, we could have a world-class player on our hands. Considering he’s new at the club and the country, he will get time to settle. Don’t expect too much in the first season, I guess.
Our talisman for many years, Edwin Andersson, nicknamed “Cantona” after a chip a couple of seasons ago, is still a starter for us.
Going into his sixth season at the club, he’s already played 186 league games and scored 78 goals. If he can keep his place and perform in the Premier League, he could break the record for most apps and goals in a couple of years. Kaide Gordon, the former super talent, came from Liverpool two seasons ago and had his breakthrough last year with 32 games in the league. A great dribbler with a good pace that can’t turn games around for us.
Bryan Fiabema was our top scorer two seasons ago as a striker. However, last season he flourished as a winger with 25 g/a in 40 games. He will probably be back up on the wings and up front this season, but he will get the chance to impress.
Tom Henry is another academy graduate that earned his debut last season and is now a member of the first team. Won’t play much this year, but training with the first team and playing for the U23s for a season is the plan for him. The same goes for Palmi Por Karlsson. He’s rated higher than Henry and is one of the most considerable talents to ever come through the academy.
We have some great players to work with after Jude Soonsup-Bell arrived from Chelsea to compete with Louie Barry. Barry was our top scorer last season after arriving on a free transfer. That he’s now valued at £36M-£44M is an excellent business and proof of what ability he possesses. He can score all types of goals, headers, free-kicks, and penalties, and he does it.
Soonsup-Bell is a similar type of striker, but with his height, I was surprised that Barry is so much better in the air.
Nevertheless, picking up Soonsup-Bell for £4.6M is a steal, in my opinion, and I have to try to find a formation where I can play both of them upfront.
Eric Vogel is an academy graduate that made his debut almost four years ago. Unfortunately, he does not look like Premier League material and will be an emergency backup this season. His potential is limited to becoming EFL Championship standard, so this is probably his last season here.
We had a tough start to Leeds. However, we did bounce back in the next game like we always do and go on a five-game winning run. None of our strikers scored in the first month, but when they found the net, they never looked back. At one point, we were top of the league, and who would’ve thought that when this started seven years ago?!
In September, I was voted Manager of the Month, and I’ve now won the award at every level of the Football League. That’s got to be somewhat of a record, I reckon!
We had a good month again in October and 6/9 possible points before going on a bad run of form. However, no one expects us to compete with the big clubs, so a 0-1 loss to both Arsenal and City and a 2-2 draw at Anfield is something we can live fine with. In December we finally started to collect points again and got our first win in almost two months when we won at home against Crystal Palace. An injury to Soonsup-Bell made room for Fiabema, who responded with four goals in four starts at the end of the year. The last two games are our two most impressive ones this month, with drawing against another one of the giants and coming from 0-3 at halftime and drawing 3-3 away to Brighton. Even if we didn’t win more than one game, we would finish the year on a high. So far, we have exceeded all expectations and are fighting for a place in Europe. It sure will be an exciting second half of the season!
In the EFL Cup, I decided to play our up and coming youngsters and first-team players that need minutes.
It went well in the second round against Watford with a comfortable 2-0 win.
In the third round, however, nothing went as planned. Playing a team, we won against twice last season and is struggling in the league below us now. I sent a very young squad on the field. We created enough chances to win the game, but when we’re not converting any of them, we can’t complain about going out.
Finally, our U23s are playing competitive football after seven seasons of friendlies. I feel that it’s been the missing part of our academy. I’m excited that we can offer our graduates another stepping stone to first-team football now. Playing in the U23 Professional Development League against teams like Crystal Palace and Bournemouth will do them good. In addition to the new league, they will also compete in the Papa John’s Trophy, which will give our talents valuable experience when playing against senior sides.
The U18s are also finding themselves in a new league this year, and it’s the U18 Professional Development League is no doubt a step up from the Youth Alliance that they’ve won four years in a row. The aim must be to establish and be competitive here, but the main target is development. Results at this level are secondary.
So far this season, two new academy members have been handed their first-team debuts. Karlsson, as you saw at the presentation, got his debut against Watford in the EFL Cup and 16-year-old Matty Gould got his debut against Bristol City after impressing with the U18s. He needs to work on his finishing and composure to make it here, but the potential he’s got is fantastic. One to watch!
Thanks for reading the blog and following this journey all the way to the Premier League.
/ FM Veteran