The Fixer: Bottom at Christmas pt. 1

Sunderland

 

Having been thrust into the limelight at the Stadium of Light, our hero finds himself planning how to take down a disgraced former England manager. Merry Christmas, one and all.

 

Most people hope to spend their Christmas Day with their family, opening presents, sharing turkey and stuffing and watching the Queen give her speech. Unfortunately, the only speech I can focus on is the pre-match team talk I am giving on Boxing Day, away to Crystal Palace.

The formalities with the press, the chairman and the assistant out of the way, I go scouting for information to see just how much of a mess we are in. In terms of league position, it could be worse. We sit two points from safety, with our next opponents Palace hovering in 17th. I can just imagine Sam Allardyce smugly chuckling away at us from above, a thought I’m sure we’re all uncomfortable with.

When I open the team report, things become less encouraging. We’re 20th in goals conceded, 16th in goals scored, and bottom on goal difference. We lack strength, leadership and jumping ability, which may go some way to explaining our defensive woes. Oh, and we don’t work hard at all, which is encouraging for a manager staring down the barrel of relegation…

So Palace away, then. There are just two names who automatically take their place in the starting eleven based largely on their real-life performances, Jordan Pickford and Jermain Defoe. Close behind them is the one-man yellow card machine Lee Cattermole, to whom I give the captain’s armband, hoping he can lead us to the paradise of safety.

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We set up with a counter-attacking mindset in a 4-1-4-1 approach, with Cattermole looking to break the legs of anyone that comes near the defensive line. There’s no room for fancy tricks or positive gameplans here. We are point-based mercenaries, this is Fixer Football. We are one. We are Sunderland.

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Except for Jessica. She can do one.

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I knew it would be hard, don’t get me wrong. We started without a fit first-team left back. In comes the man, the myth, the legend, Tom Robson. I certainly never thought this would be a cakewalk. That’s why we took the largest bus we could find to Selhurst Park, that’s why when we took an early lead through a Jack Rodwell worldie, I didn’t flinch, not even a single muscle flickered in response. This hope wouldn’t stick around for long. It was fleeting, a glimpse of happiness.

It took ten minutes for it all to unwind, and all they had to do was find Christian Benteke. They found him again just before half-time and we were deflated. With Jermain Defoe playing his own personal game of Where’s Wally in the Palace half, we had no chance of scoring again. Life grew ever tougher, with the dismissal of our debutant left-back Tom Robson. Eleven men weren’t good enough, ten men gave up. This wasn’t to be our day. Andros Townsend added a late third, and I had to put up with the obnoxious chuckle of the disgraced ex-England manager as he waddled down the tunnel. Palace 3-1 Sunderland.

Maybe next week.

Games remaining: 19

Position: 20th (13 points)

Points from safety: 4

 

 

 

 

 

The Fixer: Introduction

Sunderland

We all have a different way of playing Football Manager. Perhaps you follow the ways of Moneyball and statistics, maybe you spend hours and hours poring through youth academies looking for the next Cherno Samba or Mark Kerr, or perhaps you enjoy turning Barcelona into tough-tackling, hoofball merchants. However you play Football Manager, it is a game that drags you in, and provokes you into long-term plans, sowing seeds for the future. You find yourself muttering in the shower about your ‘Five-year plan’ for Fleetwood, or analysing the French Invitational youth tournament.

Likewise, I like a long-term plan when it comes to my virtual management careers. Those days are over.

Welcome to The Fixer, a Football Manager career based on short-term targets. The timeframe for these targets may be as short as a month, or perhaps a season or two long. But there will be almost zero long-term planning. In this career, I will be given very specific jobs to do. The first opportunity arrives on the 25th December 2016, Christmas Day.

Almost exactly five months after handing David Moyes a four-year contract and espousing the need for stability at the Stadium of Light, Ellis Short remembers his record for chopping and changing his managers and pulls the trigger on Moyes, with Sunderland bottom at Christmas. He ignores his book of managerial contacts, ringing the first name he thinks of, his absolute top target. Unfortunately Ryan Giggs informs Short that he has recently taken over at Ipswich.

He picks up his battered contact book, and spends an entire evening exhausting each option. No-one wants the job. Not even Paulo. Short, weary of this nonsense, rings the League Manager’s Association and asks if there’s anyone, literally anyone, that needs a job.

Which brings us to me. Nathan Lewis, the 34-year old Welshman with little to no experience, a whiteboard and a whole heap of optimism.

So then, here we go. One target, plain and simple. Keep Sunderland in the Premier League, by hook or by crook. This won’t be easy.

Francesco Guidolin – How to Save a Job

Francesco Guidolin is undoubtedly a man under pressure. Player fallouts, tactical tinkering and subpar performances have left the Italian with vital questions to answer. With a nasty run of fixtures approaching, how can Guidolin save his job?

Guidolin

Any manager under pressure will look to their fixture list hoping to see a run of easier games in which to build confidence, experiment and secure results. Guidolin, on the other hand, will google “Swansea fixtures” and see pictures of Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Arsene Wenger pop up, a reminder of the fierce challenge that confronts Swansea in the coming weeks.

To remove the pressure on his position, Guidolin needs to provide Swans fans with glimmers of hope. Wednesday’s League Cup sparring match with Guardiola’s Man City provided the first crack of light in the darkness. For forty-five minutes, Swansea matched an admittedly stripped-back Man City side, and will need to learn the lessons of that encounter when the big boys come to play today.

Swansea look more secure and confident with club legend Leon Britton at the base of midfield. Dictating tempo and pulling the strings, the diminutive midfielder brings a poise and passion to the Liberty Stadium that will appease expectant fans. If Guidolin can surround Britton with plenty of willing runners and creative players, Swansea will go a long way towards restoring their reputation for playing “the Swansea Way”.

No Swansea fan will look at the next few fixtures and declare that Guidolin requires three historic wins to save his job. Instead, a positive approach, committed performances and the odd point or two will begin to appease a recently frustrated fanbase.

In the coming weeks, Guidolin must show a clear, consistent tactical approach, avoid shuffling the deckchairs around and motivate his players to show the passion expected by fans. The next few weeks will shape Guidolin’s reign as Swansea manager, positively or negatively. It’s up to Guidolin to ensure the perspective is positive.

 

Who should Guidolin pick to start against Man City? Have your say in the comments.

 

NEW YEAR, NEW SAVE:  Welcome to the Memorial

It’s time for a fresh save, to see if I can re-ignite my desire to play Football Manager. It’s been a hard slog with first West Ham and then struggling to settle at Roma, so I’ve decided to start again. This time, to the West Country!

 

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We rock up at The Memorial Stadium, and the challenges are evident. Bristol Rovers are predicted to finish 24th in League Two and the finances are creaking. On day one, the balance sits on £373k, but there is a £6.1 million debt hanging over the club, which will leave the account at £60k/month. Financial prudence is clearly going to be a focus.

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In terms of players, the stand-out man is central midfielder Chris Lines, who looks very very decent for this level. I’ll need to make the most out of his creativity if we’re going to stand a chance. A new centre-back will be a priority, be they on loan or a free agent, since captain Mark McChrystal sits out the first 3 months or so.

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This is certainly going to be a challenge, both on and off the pitch, so a good pre-season is going to be vital. There’s no way we can afford to meander into the season if we’re going to make a fist of this.

So, how will it all turn out? Will The Gas be able to survive their first season back in the Football League, or is this all a pipe dream? Come back for the next update to find how we kick off…

Roma wasn’t built in a day…

As I announced in my previous post, I no longer hold the keys to the Olympic Stadium but rather will lead my side out at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. At the time of my appointment, Roma sat in 8th place with what seems to be an insanely talented squad. The likes of Daniele De Rossi, Miralem Pjanic and Kevin Strootman are surrounded by equally impressive names such as Edin Dzeko, Juan Iturbe and Mohamed Salah. This is not a team that should be 8th in Serie A.

The difficulty with such a talented team is that I’m struggling to pick the strongest eleven, and therefore develop a philosophy. Luckily the board only want a top-half finish, so we’ll be using the three months left in the season to evaluate the squad, develop a tactic that works and see where we need strengthening. If I’m to have a hope of sorting things out, I’ll have to do an in-depth review of the squad. Here goes:

Goalkeepers

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The stand-out name here is Sergio Romero. He seems to be the automatic first-choice, and certainly was under Laurent Blanc. On loan from Man Utd – along with Milinkovic Savic – Romero will be my starter for now, unless Skorupski can prove he is worth a start.

Defenders

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Ability-wise, Alessandro Florenzi looks to be the star of our defence. He has the highest average rating of them all, and is very good going forward. My only worry is that his poor marking attribute will leave us exposed. I’ll probably start him against weaker teams, and use the more solid Jesus Gamez in the big games.

Kostas Manolas and Leandro Castan are likely the starting centre-backs, while Ezequiel Munoz will provide some back-up. Eduardo Goldaniga also looks half-decent, and should perform if required.

The problem comes at left-back. The club currently has no specialist left-backs, so I’m left wondering which of my right-backs will be able to cover. Sime Vrsaljko and Jesus Gamez appear to be my options, but they are just stop-gaps until I can bring someone else in.

Midfielders

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Miralem Pjanic, Kevin Strootman, Daniele De Rossi, Radja Nainggolan. Four names, two, naybe three central midfield positions. I’m spoilt for choice here, but the question is which combination of roles is going to get the best out of them. If you have any ideas, comment below or tweet me suggestions.

Wingers

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Again, an abundance of talent. Gervinho, Juan Iturbe, Mohamed Salah, Adem Ljajic and on-loan Marco Asensio are the options. Salah seems to be the stand-out player and the debate is who else would start alongside him. I’m struggling.

Strikers

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Now then, strikers. There are two very clear choices here. Target-man Edin Dzeko, or rapid Advanced Forward Seydou Doumbia? My head says Dzeko is more able than Doumbia, but I have never been able to use a target man to full effect (See Andy Carroll at West Ham…).

While this is a very talented squad, I’m struggling to develop a tactic that will get the best out of them. In the games played so far, I have drawn two league games, and lost over two legs to Athletic Bilbao. A reasonable start, but a win would do us a world of good.

Like I said previously, if you’ve got any maverick tactical ideas, or tips on how to best utilise this squad, comment below, or tweet me @nathdavidlewis

Goodbye Olympic Stadium

It’s been a while since I updated you on my save. That’s mostly because I haven’t played anywhere near as much as I would have liked recently. My frustration with the game has largely stemmed from struggling to push on with West Ham in our second season. So…

 I resigned. We were slowly slipping down towards the relegation places, we couldn’t really score goals, and the squad were increasingly unhappy. Eddie Niedzwiecki followed me out, but I’m not that attached to him, so he won’t be joining my next club.

I debated quitting the save entirely, but thought instead I would apply for a range of jobs, and see what happens.

What happened?

Well, three jobs came up. The first was Huddersfield in League One. While this felt like a massive step down, I was keen to get back into management quickly. Applied and interviewed.

Secondly, Nottingham Forest were languishing near the bottom of the Championship. Certainly an improvement on Huddersfield, so I applied and was interviewed.

While I was weighing up these two jobs, Roma sacked Laurent Blanc. Ever the optimist, in went the application. To my surprise, I was interviewed.

And oh my goodness, I got the job. Having left bottom half of the Premiership West Ham, I am now the new manager of A.S. Roma.

 

From the Olympic Stadium, to the Stadio Olimpico.

How fitting.

Now that you’re updated, regular updates should follow soon…

WEST HAM – To the Olympic Stadium!

Last year was a middling first season for me and West Ham. A half-decent Europa League run and a solid run to the League Cup Semi-finals brightened something of a damp squib in the league. Therefore, this year is vital. With no Europe to worry about, hopefully we can push on domestically. But first, let’s recap the summer of 2016!

Transfers In/Out

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First things first, all four of last year’s loanees will not be returning to play in the famous claret and blue. Alex Song was pretty good in midfield, but was earning £140,000(!!) a week, so he goes back to Barcelona. I was keen to have Carl Jenkinson back, but Arsenal refused to give me a figure at which they would negotiate. Shame, a new right-back would be a key target for the summer. Manuel Lanzini, a key figure in our first season, was keen to come back and of course we had an agreed fee to sign him of £5m, but unfortunately the Home Office didn’t fancy him and we couldn’t sort a work permit. Right, that’s all of them… What? Victor Moses? Sorry, forgot we even had him in the first place. Waste of space.

As we said, a new right-back would be key this summer, so I snapped up young Sam Byram for around £7.5 million. Pricey perhaps, but he’s young and already at a similar level to Jenkinson. With Joey O’Brien aging and already rubbish, I needed a back-up right back, so we dipped into the loan market to bring in Jon Flanagan. He provides cover on both flanks, so he should come in handy.

Next on the priority list was a replacement for Alex Song. A quick look at the transfer list showed young prospect Julian Weigl from Dortmund. For just £4.4m, he will come straight into the defensive midfield spot and at just 20, there is plenty of potential yet to be realised. With Lanzini not returning, we needed an attacking midfielder to compete with Dimitri Payet. Thanks to our scouting department, we brought in the 19-year old Croatian Andrija Balic from Hajduk. Who? No, me neither, but he looks tasty…

Another loan signing needed to boost our wing department, and Gokhan Tore comes in from Bayern. I really, really like this guy, and he seems to have the right wing all sewn up. He gives us a potential opportunity to sell Enner Valencia, should the big boys come calling.

Finally, I traditionally try to avoid the sort of names that everyone talks about in the FM Community, but with Geronimo Rulli available on a free, I just had to. He will come in to compete with Adrian for the place between the sticks.

In terms of transfers out, we lost four members of the squad. Mauro Zarate had failed to be involved at all in the first season, so he’s off to Derby for £1.8m. Darren Randolph wasn’t happy with being number two, despite him being awful, so he went for a cut-price £250k to Nottm Forest. For the same price, Canadian centre-back Doneil Henry went to Las Palmas in Spain. With Reece Burke and Reece Oxford coming through the youth ranks, we had no need for him clogging up squad spaces.

The biggest transfer out of the summer was Pedro Obiang. He failed to set the world alight in the first season, so I was happy to send him off to Juventus for £17.5m. Farewell Pedro.

Pre-season

Of course, we have moved into our brand spanking new stadium, the Olympic Stadium. To celebrate, I hosted German champions Bayern Munich. I wondered whether they might send a youth team out, but no such luck. Look at this eleven…!

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Elsewhere in Pre-season we took a trip out to Australia for a training camp before a succession of friendlies against smaller opposition. Strangely, I was unable to arrange friendlies while we were down under, so I imagine the lads just trained full on for 10 days in baking heat. Lovely.

Now, here’s where I need your help. With Andy Carroll and Diafra Sakho hardly banging in the goals, I’m searching for a new striker. I have £15m~ to spend, so I am welcoming any suggestions for second season wonders to sign. Comment below, or tweet me @nathdavidlewis if you’ve got any offers.

 

NEXT UP: SECOND SEASON SYNDROME?

WEST HAM – End of Season Review 2015/16

I originally wanted to update you on a two-monthly basis, as I had done for the first half of the season, but the second half of the season ran away with me, and I’ve now finished my first season with West Ham.

How did we do? Well, as mentioned before, we got to the 1st Knockout Round of the Europa League, and it was here that we met Trabzonspor. An uncharacteristically calm 2-0 win in Turkey set us up quite nicely, and we finished the job back in London with a nervy 3-2 win. This round was the story of two inconsistent strikers finding some ability from somewhere. Andy Carroll scored twice in Turkey, while Diafra Sakho secured us progress with an impressive hat-trick.

The next round saw us face another Turkish side, Fenerbahce. Led by ex-Man U stars van Persie and Nani, they were way, way too good for us and pulled us apart in Turkey, winning 4-1. With a biting injury crisis and a lack of belief in overturning the deficit, I sent out a very young side in London, including members of my first youth intake. Impressively, we drew 1-1. The board’s expectations were not to get smashed around in the Europa League, so a 2nd knockout round was more than good enough.

As is so often the case, progress in Europe saw our league form take a huge hit. While we were never in danger of relegation, a run of six defeats and seven draws in fifteen games saw us drop into midtable obscurity. Again, that was all the board wanted, so I’m happy, if not delighted.

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Players, Plans and Intakes

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The two main stars of my side this season were undoubtedly Michail Antonio and Manuel Lanzini. I didn’t expect either player to be a first-teamer at the start, but with Payet shifting out to the left wing, and Enner Valencia struggling to impress, Michail Antonio took on the burden with fifteen goals and 12 assists in all competitions.

I struggled to find and stick with a main striker, with Andy Carroll and Diafra Sakho scoring 10 goals each. Neither of them made me feel comfortable with them being the main man, so I’ll be looking to bring in a key striker to push us on.

At the back, our defenders played decently, if not amazingly. Each of their average ratings is above 7, while we conceded the fifth most goals in the league. Clearly, this is something we need to look at in the summer.

Youth intakes are not usually my favourite time of the year, and I rarely receive talented youth prospects that make me excited. This time, however, is different. Everyone, meet Scott Owen.

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He’s rapid, great at crossing and dribbling, and is already showing significant improvement. He has been a member of the squad since coming in, and has even managed to grab an assist and a goal in the league. If he can push on and develop into a great star, he may give me reason to play this West Ham game for a long time to come.

Summer is likely to be a time of overhaul. Having reviewed the squad, I’m looking at bringing in a full-back, a centre-back, two midfielders and a striker. Hopefully I can get the job done quickly, so they can be settled in easily in pre-season.

 

NEXT TIME: Summer, Transfers in and out, and West Ham at the Olympic Stadium. Excited.

WEST HAM SAVE – HAPPY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE (December/January)

So,you left me and my Olympic Stadium-bound men in 8th position in the league, through to the Capital One Cup Quarter Final and facing a crunch match against Ajax in the Europa League. And it’s in the cup competitions that we started December.

The Canaries came to town for the League Cup, and we continued our happy form and disposition from November into December. 2-0, both goals for Andy Carroll, and we were through to the Semi-finals. To face…

Chelsea. Balls.

Southampton were dispatched with equal panache before we faced up to Ajax in the Netherlands, and the stakes were extremely high. A win would secure our qualification, no questions asked, a draw would leave things a little more uncertain. And it was a win we secured with our best performance of the season thus far. Hello Knockout Rounds, goodbye decent scheduling.

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Chelsea next, for a taste of what we would face in the league cup, and frankly I panicked. I went for it and lost 5-2. Devastated. Another win over Norwich gave me a big boost in confidence before we faced three games against Manchester sides in 8 days. Happy Christmas, everyone.

Busses were parked, and shapes were held, securing two 0-0 home draws before an exhausted West Ham side gave up and were shellacked 3-0 by Man Utd. We made them angry, and felt the force. Never mind.

January was just as action-packed. One win over Everton, a creditable draw at home to Liverpool and a draw with Sunderland were the positive league results, while we also lost to Newcastle. This month is of course essentially the month of cups, so we had a 3rd Round FA Cup draw with Eastleigh, which we won, happy days.

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Most important was the Capital One Cup Semi-final double header with Chelsea of course. I aimed for my bus-parking tactics that were so successful in December, and we were unlucky to lose 1-0 to Mourinho’s men in the home tie. Heading to Stamford Bridge a goal down felt like an all or nothing sort of moment, so I just decided to go for a ‘chuck everything at them’ approach. And my word, did it nearly work. Michail Antonio lobbed a ball into the box which John Terry helpfully guided into the top corner to level the aggregate. This took us to extra time, and we went in bouncing, but sadly we just couldn’t keep it up. Oscar scored a screamer, and we had nothing left to chuck. Never mind.
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Transfers? None. No-one of note left, so essentially I just didn’t have money to play with. I temporarily flirted with Patrice Evra for £350k, but his £45,000 wages turned me off big time. Never mind. Maybe we’ll get some money in September.

WEST HAM SAVE- NOBODY MOVE, WE MIGHT BE ON TO SOMETHING (October/November 2015)

Right, hands up? Who was thinking my West Ham side were in trouble after September? You, you, and you, out. Now that those wasters are gone, let’s recap October and November.

Actually, first: I hadn’t saved before the Aston Villa league cup game, and encountered a crash dump (honest!), so I had to go back and play that and the league game that followed. Happily, I won them both. Onwards…

I can cheerily report that we have finally gelled, and it’s all clicking into place (ish). Three wins, two draws and two losses from seven games is a large improvement on the previous two months and I no longer fear beatings every time I play a match. Happiness.

West Brom, Palace and Leicester were dispatched with ease, while Swansea and Stoke caught us cold after respective European trips. Bournemouth? 3-3? Well that one was just absolutely mental. James Tomkins put us one up after four minutes, before we dissolved and conceded three in twenty minutes. The solution? Andy Carroll on and lump it. The big man inspired absolute chaos in the Bournemouth back four and eventually scored a penalty to rescue us a point. He has a use.

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Of course, the Europa League was all looking a little doomed when we last spoke wasn’t it? We’d gone to the Czech Republic and shown absolutely nothing in losing to Viktoria Plzen, and up next were Ajax at home before Monaco home and away.

We adopted a safety-first approach in all three games, and frankly, it went rather nicely indeed. Three successive draws, three excellent performances, and three opportunities to win before we spurned them. Of course, these impressive efforts would mean nothing without securing the victory at home to Plzen. The boys knew that, and they went out to destroy them. That they did, and we cruised to a 3-0 win.

How does that leave us, I hear you ask? Well…

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We head to Amsterdam to take on Ajax, while Plzen host Monaco. If we win, we’re guaranteed progress. If we draw, and Monaco win, we go through due to our results over Plzen. If we draw, and Plzen win, it will go down to goal difference with Monaco. If both matches end as a draw, we’re out. I’m stressed just thinking about it.

Elsewhere, we beat Swansea to continue our Capital One Cup run, and now face Norwich in the Quarter Final. Nikica Jelavic wasn’t enjoying being our third-choice striker and kicked up a fuss so he’ll be off to Bournemouth in January for £1.8m. Yes, it’s a two million loss on signing him, but frankly he’s a waste of space.

NEXT UP: December, Capital One Cup Quarter Final, the Europa League showdown, and a set of fixtures including Chelsea, Man City and Man Utd home and away. Ah.