Welcome back to the first post in this series, with the first half of the 2021/22 season to be covered. If you missed the introduction, you can read it here.
Sky Bet Championship
The league started fantastically by going through August without conceding a single goal. Combine that with scoring eleven and winning four of five games, and I couldn’t get a better start to life at Craven Cottage.
In September, we came close to losing in the first two games. Still, the team’s fantastic team spirit and attitude came to show when Onomah scored the winner against Blackpool five minutes into overtime and Mitrovic scored two goals in two minutes to get us back from trailing 1-3 against Birmingham. Winning two and drawing one in the last three games gave a good foundation for further success in October.
We went through a full month this season without conceding for the second time this season. We drew two of the five games this time, but it’s still more than decent results. This month, a massive boost to the project with Tyrese Francois and Jay Stansfield scoring their first league goals for the first team.
In November, we came close to losing again in the first two matches. However, we came from behind to equalise late in the game. After that, the three next games we won and the form we got is insane, even for a top side in the division. Our fans are going crazy on social media, and the bar is set pretty high by the looks of it.
December started with a bang when we beat second-placed Bournemouth 4-2 to cement our place at the top of the table. Then, however, we got our feet placed firmly on the ground against Blackpool when we lost our first game of the season after conceding a late penalty. This time that’s it for our record, with the unbeaten run stopping at 23 games in all competitions. Still, it’s great to break records so early on in my time at the club.
We got back up immediately and won the next three games in December. However, it will be a massive test for the players from January on, with senior players starting to leave the club.
Still, we won the first four games this month, and especially the matches against Bristol City and Middlesbrough are extra cool for us, with Francis and Stansfield scoring the winners in overtime. However, in the last game, we lost after an early send-off on Idris Odutayo, and it started to show that we lacked the needed quality in decisive situations.
I always use the EFL Cup to give playing time to the most promising players at the club, and with a project like this, this will be no exception. Adrion Pajaziti, Ollie O’Neill and Stefan Parkes all got their debut from the bench against Cheltenham, and O’Neill also grabbed a goal in his debut. He had a great start to his career with the first team. Stansfield got his first start of the season and responded by scoring two goals.
Against Huddersfield, the graduates didn’t stand out in the same way, but there were seven of them involved. Luciano D’Auria-Henry got his debut at the right wing-back after Neco Williams broke his leg, and Kenny Tete was the only right-back left. Ibane Bowat also got his debut with a late substitution after playing well for the U23s this season.
Against Liverpool, I thought we would get beaten badly, but we were actually closest to winning the game. Wilson missed a penalty in the first half, and Liverpool equalised in the 94th minute. In the penalty shootout, we were unlucky when Carvalho missed our 5th penalty and lost us the game. Still, I think he will learn from it.
We won comfortably against Millwall to progress to the fourth round. Odutayo got his first start for the first team and did a great job at the left wing-back until he got replaced by fellow graduate Parkes. Six graduates are involved in the game this time, and they continue to add experience and good performances to their names.
January Transfer Window
The first opportunity was to sell the players, not from the academy, and I took it with both hands.
In retrospect, I should probably have kept some of them to keep a competitive squad throughout the season. At the same time, this may force the debut of some new faces. 11 first team players out will, without a doubt, bring more opportunities to the academy lads.
- Paulo Gazzaniga – CF Montreal – £1.2M
- Tim Ream – LA Galaxy – £140K
- Ivan Cavaleiro – Burnley – £1.9M
- Joe Bryan – Celtic – £1.9M
- Michael Hector – Stade Reims – £1.5M
- Neeskens Kebano – Bordeaux – £1.6M
- Anthony Knockaert – Toulouse – £300K
- Harrison Reed – Norwich – £7M
- Aleksandar Mitrovic – Brentford – £9.25M
- Fabricio – Krasnodar – £300K
- Terence Kongolo – Rostov – £800K
- Total: £25.89M
- Engwau Oduka – Birmingham – £300K
After a brief spell at Birmingham, one player was brought back to the academy. The scouts were optimistic about him, so I decided to get him back. We lack defenders at all three teams, so it can’t hurt to bring back a former academy member and give him playing time. He is far away from the needed quality in the first team, but he will be a good player one day if the scouts are right.
So far, we have five players involved with the first team, which wasn’t presented in the intro post. With Ollie O’Neill, that is six debutants and ten graduates playing for the first team so far this season.
Ibane Bowat got his debut against Huddersfield in the EFL Cup in September and has after that also made his league debut. He’s a great ball-playing defender who positions himself well and is also a strong tackler. I have really high hopes for this guy, and I hope his potential is high enough to further develop his mental stats.
Luciano D’Auria-Henry made his debut after Neco Williams got hurt and has been involved as a backup for Kenny Tete this far. With Steven Sessegnon and Marlon Fossey being out on loan, I had no other option than to throw the English-Italian into deep water. After all, he did manage to swim and has done a decent job on right wing-back so far, with 9 starts by the end of January. I doubt he ever will be the first choice here in the future, but for now, he’s one of the pioneers in this project.
Idris Odutayo got his debut in the Championship against Swansea after Joe Bryan was sold to Celtic and Antonee Robinson needed a break. He played really well in the FA Cup, but he’s been struggling in the league so far with a send-off in his last cameo against Blackpool. He’s lacking a lot going forward, but he has the potential to grow into a better player.
Adrion Pajaziti made his debut in the EFL Cup along with several others and did well. He also played in the next round against Huddersfield. We still have a strong midfield in the first team, so I decided to loan him out in January so he can get some first-team experience in League One with Accrington. Pajaziti’s got balanced and all-around stats and is really good on the ball. I’m not sure he will ever be good enough defensively to be a DPL, but there’s definitely a place in the squad for him. A league debut when he returns from the loan is a guarantee.
Stefan Parkes has always played above his age in the academy and made his debut for U18s as a 15-year-old. At 17, he made his debut in the EFL Cup and continued to make progress at a young age. He’s also made his league debut since and continues to develop as a footballer. Will probably be a way better wing-back than Odutayo, but Parkes will also have to train hard to improve going forward.
In addition to the significant progress on the pitch, the board has also agreed to invest in both training facilities and youth facilities. Both will be completed in April. If that wasn’t enough, the youth coaching budget has been increased, and our youth recruitment has been improved. All four are huge for us going forward with this project.
Thanks for reading this blog.
/ FM Veteran