Football Manager 2016 is here! And to celebrate the release of the beta, I’m starting a save with West Ham. In real life, they have rocketed up to the upper echelons of the Premier League, and I felt it would be an interesting challenge to see if I can match the abilities of Bilic and co. in what is the last season at Upton Park…
So, where do we start? First day activities included removing Slaven Bilic’s men from the staff ranks. Nicola Jurcevic lost his spot as Assistant Manager, and a fellow Croatian was handed his P45 and told to leave my scouting department. I’ve decided to bring a real British and Irish feel to my backroom staff. If we’re going to play in the Olympic Stadium, we need to grasp hold of that British Olympic spirit. All for one, one for all, that sort of thing.
Tim Flowers and Peter Farrell come in as fitness and goalkeeping coaches, Mark Kelly and Gary Brazil as your run of the mill coaches, and finally Moyesey’s trusted right-hand man and the scourge of West Bromwich Alan Irvine is hand-picked to be my no. 2. The scouting department is given a much-needed facelift, and three British scouts are added to find some young gems throughout these green and pleasant isles.
What about that squad, then eh? West Ham’s great form thus far has been largely founded on the French magic of Dmitri Payet and he immediately jumps out as the key man. If we’re to take residence in the European spots once again, he’ll have to play well and everything will have to go through him. We start slightly handicapped with two potential game-makers already suffering from long-term injuries, Andy Carroll and Alex Song. Diafra Sakho and Cheikhou Kouyate will deputise for now and hopefully they’ll be as impressive as their real-life counterparts. I’m largely happy with the rest of the squad for now, which is lucky, since I’ve got absolutely nothing to spend. Zilch. Shut the doors, no-one comes, no-one leaves.
In terms of the youth teams, two names jump out, or should I say one. Reece. Messrs Burke and Oxford look like some mighty fine prospects in central defence, and we may just have our partnership for a long time to come. For now, they’ll probably end up on loan at our newly minted affiliate, Doncaster.
I usually organise around a dozen friendlies for pre-season but of course since we’re on a BIG EUROPEAN TOUR™, there’s not much need. Four friendlies against middling and inferior teams in Scotland and Wales are squeezed in amongst three rounds of Europa League qualifiers. These go largely to plan with victories in all except for the under-21s against Bolton, and a significantly rotated squad all having a go.
We serenely progress to the Playoff Qualifying Round of the Europa League (Are we really not in the main competition yet?) with two-legged wins over Europa FC, Linfield and Basaksehir of Turkey. There is one vital, important casualty from these games. Dmitri, the man who was supposed to lead us to glory, is out. A twisted ankle keeps him out for a month from 19th July, so he’ll miss the start of the season. If I try to be optimistic, I can get a good look at Manuel Lanzini, but Payet will definitely miss our opening games against Everton and Liverpool.
The board have been pretty reasonable, expecting a mid-table finish, the fifth and fourth rounds of the FA Cup and Capital One Cup respectively and “don’t get smashed” in the Europa League. Hopefully I can achieve all of those and lead the Hammers out at Wembley next year.
NEXT TIME: THE SEASON BEGINS, CAN WE REACH THE EUROPA LEAGUE PROPER?, AND PAYET’S RETURN.