AF Diary #17
PORTO WRAP UP
A little bookkeeping before saying goodbye to Porto. Firstly they’ve been taken over and have an enormous wage and transfer budget for next season. They’ve decided to expand the stadium as well. Also the awards dropped after I posted so player of the season is Peter Jackson. Not a surprise. He had 13 assists in all competitions but if you were watching the games you’d know his involvement led to a huge number of goals. Almost every important play seemed to start with him galloping forward from right back. Amazing player. £1.4M from Crystal Palace and I only signed him because he had the same name as the film director. The other full back, Riccardo Di Giovanni, gets signing of the season. I paid zero pounds for him. Bargain. Young player of the season is Filipe Areias although it could have been him or Rui Vieira. Two terrific young central defenders. Killian Mbappe has decided to retire this summer “in his prime”. He’s 37 years old.
Man City win their seventh straight Premier League. Zidane has now won three in a row. Real Madrid retain La Liga. PSG won Ligue 1 by a mile. Probably their most convincing win, ever. Bundesliga was a shock as Bayern’s 23 year run of title wins was broken by Leipzig’s first ever. Juventus got back into winning ways in Italy. It’s their first league title since 2025. Ajax calmly won the Eredivisie on the last day, away at Vitesse who were top. Spartak Moscow win their first Russian title in four years. The likes of Ural, Orenburg and Arsenal Tula have picked up titles in this wacky league. Hibs win the Scottish league. Back to back league titles for them. Since I made Scotland playable Celtic have won one title. Hibs have won two and Dundee have won two. Atletico Madrid won Europa League, defeating West Brom! Liverpool lost in the Play Off final down in League 1 and will remain in England’s third division for at least one more year. Man City win the Champion’s League. That’s three in four years for them. Five in total since the save started. They’re the team to beat.
Initial available jobs; Celta Vigo, a bunch of Chinese teams and Bologna. I may wait to see what happens over the summer. I check in a day later and Arturo Vidal has left Southampton, after seven years, and joined Man Utd! I have applied for Southampton. I keep saying I’d only go to England if it was Man City but opportunities like this come up fairly infrequently. We’ll see what the offer is like, if one comes our way.
EURO HISTORY, OF THE FUTURE!
This is a world without COVID-19 where the Euros went ahead in 2020. They were won by Spain. The following three tournaments were won by Germany, Holland and Holland again!
France. Les Bleus are the highest rated European side right now. They have an assortment of tricky attacking players. Willys Gamiette from Bayern scares everyone. William Camara, a striker, is at Man City but never plays. Benoit Charpentier is at Arsenal. Seydou Doumouya has quit Man City and is now at Valencia. He’s an AMC and very effective. Yohann Evenno, from PSG, is a right winger who ended my European dreams this season.
Germany. They’re more creative than usual. Emmanuel Mustafa of Man City is the best winger in the world. Bilal Gursoy plays on the other side of the Man City attack so they’re familiar with each other. Adrian Pero, of PSG, is perhaps the best young central defender in the world.
Holland. The defending champs tend to show up for this tournament, but nothing else. Jan van Leeuwen is at PSG and is their play-maker. Cees van Binsbergen is a holding midfielder who I’ve tried to sign several times. They’re an aging team but they have some explosive players.
England. They’ve got the best keeper, one Lyall Claydon of Man City, and are a generally solid team but it’s not a golden generation and no one expects much. Since the save started they’ve been runners up in two European Championships and one World Cup. They didn’t qualify for the last World Cup.
Portugal. Dark horses. Manuel Santos, winger/striker from PSG, is completely unpredictable. Duarte Godinho of Arsenal is a livewire assassin and they’ve got a fantastic right back called Ibrahim Frimpong. They’re very strong without being spectacular.
Italy. The lowest ranked among the favourites. I am most scared of them. In Claudio Scaroni they have a player who can win games by himself. He won’t need to. Paolo Milazzo is banging them in for PSG and Guiseppe Gritti recently moved to Man Utd. Giulio Ippolitti at Bayern is great. So is Fabio Cosentino of Napoli. If someone else could knock them out, that would be great.
GOALKEEPERS: I’ve got three, because I have to take three. That makes no sense. I’m only ever going to use two at the most. Hector (Juventus) is my number one but I’ve taken a shine to #3 keeper Ramon Garcia (Torino) because he naturally plays as an attacking sweeper keeper.
RIGHT BACKS: Jorge Lazaro (Bayern) is first choice here by a distance. Way ahead of Sergio Marce (Amiens) who isn’t even first choice for his team but somehow is still, at 32, the second best right back in Spain.
LEFT BACKS: Chema Garcia (Real) has been first choice for four years. I’m desperate for him to get a goal because he’s never scored for Spain. Solid, dependable. Easy selection. Second choice had been Jose Luis (Villa) but I’ve finally found a better left back; Jairo Rubio (Bournemouth).
CENTRE BACKS: Maikel Garcia (Celta Vigo) has been here the whole time, as has Salvador Simarro (Barcelona). Isaac Gonzalez (Lyon) has surpassed both of them and is first choice. Pedro Luis (A. Madrid) is also very good. Simarro was on the bubble, as he’s declined and almost lost out to Kike Palacios (Real). Kike was not best pleased at being left out.
DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDERS: Gus Leon (Southampton) has owned this position in recent years. He took over from Dani (Barcelona) but I’ve taken both, at the expense of attacking talent. You need two players in this position, based on past experience.
CENTRAL MIDFIELDERS: Guillermo Bravo (Porto). He’s my boy! He’s deteriorated and will get dropped if I get fired but as long as I’m charge he plays. Jamie Pena (Monaco) and Leonardo Hernandez (Arsenal) will probably start if we make it into serious games. Dani and Leon can both play here too.
ATTACKING MIDFIELDER: Juan Perez (Man Utd). He’s the only one. He’s better than everyone else and we can’t really play him against the better teams. He’s a luxury player and one hell of an impact sub.
LEFT WING: Nebai Hernandez (A Madrid) has taken this spot over and Moises (tiny Barcelona winger) almost missed out he’s so far behind Nebai.
RIGHT WING: Ale Rioja (Southampton) has this spot now ahead of Angel Botia (Real).
STRIKERS: Spain & Barca legend Aniol Barbera leads the line. I’ve taken Javier Pascual (A Madrid) as well and Perez can play here. Based on previous tournaments I won’t need too many forwards. Two should do it. Asier Lopez, another very exciting striker, was last to be left out.
Two friendlies. Greece was 0-0. Simarro got sent off and we did not play well. We only had three shots. Greece only had two. Second friendly was against Portugal. That was completely different. Simarro didn’t get sent off. It was Dani. Then we lost 2-0. So, this went well!
Southampton have given me an interview. Chelsea is also available. Apparently the interview process has closed on that one. They have more money. I am sad. Porto have asked me to stay. Aww. That’s nice but Portugal is completed. Celtic has also come up, with their manager moving to Newcastle. You’ll regret that.
Italy 1 France 0
I did mention how scared I was of Italy and this proves it. The good news is they played quite badly. The bad news is they still beat the highest ranked team in the tournament. England beat Belgium in the opening round of fixtures. Maybe I have underestimated them. In an upset Russia beat Germany 1-0.
Spain vs. Czech Republic
Opening game then. I opt for Garcia in goal for that natural attacking sweeper keeper role. I’ve paired up Simarro and Isaac Gonzalez at the back. Gus Leon anchors midfield. Pena and Hernandez start ahead of him. Rioja and Nebai in wide positions and the main man; Babs up top.
The Czechs aren’t great. They’ve opted for a back five and two holding midfielders. They’ve only got one attacking player on the entire pitch. I’m pretty sure they’re playing for a 0-0. The central midfield two pay off as Pena passes to Hernandez and he drives home the opener. Ale Rioja adds a second and the Czechs have no answer. They set up for 0-0 and it hasn’t happened. Nebai caps off a great team move to smash in number three. The Czechs never change. They just sit back and hope it doesn’t get worse. 3-0.
The Southampton job offer arrives and it’s good. I’m taking it. Man City will be tough to get past but the Porto journey has taught me that the second/third side in a league can get the job done with patience and hard work.
Spain vs. Kosovo
This should be pretty easy. Kosovo are rank outsiders. Babs has a rough day at the office, missing two one-on-one chances. That’s not like him at all. Bravo heads a corner in for 1-0. See! He is good! Early in the second half Babs has the ball in the net but he’s offside. Kosovo hit the post. I’m not worried. You’re worried, why would I be worried? Angel Botia adds a second but it’s super late (90+1). Two wins so far. Can’t complain. Only Poland to play and it would take a Poland win to stop us getting through.
Italy, France, Austria and Greece in action here. France stumble through the group, losing to Italy and drawing with Greece but do enough to get through in second. Italy win all their games, culminating in a 4-0 demolition of Austria. I’m scared.
Croatia, Belgium, England and Northern Ireland here. England stun me by convincingly winning all three games, leaving Belgium in third. This is the same Belgium side that knocked me out of the European Nation’s League.
Speaking of stumbling; Germany lost to Russia and found this group hard going. It consisted of Germany, Russia, Ireland and Bosnia & Herzegovina. Russia won all three games, Germany through in second.
Spain vs. Poland
Strongest eleven here, after players were rested against Kosovo. Poland play a Christmas Tree so I’m hoping to exploit their lack of width. Nebai earns an early pen but Bravo’s shot is saved. We make amends minutes later by forcing an own goal. Nebai again involved as his cross comes off a defender’s head for the OG. A few minutes after that Babs rounds the keeper and makes it 2-0. Less than 15 minutes played and we’ve scored twice and missed a pen. Nebai with another assist as Babs heads in the third. Poland get one on the break, thus ruining my “no goals conceded in the group stage’ narrative. We immediately hit back with a Nebai free kick headed in by Simarro (his first goal for Spain, he’s 30 and has had 60 caps). Nebai Hernandez is rapidly becoming the star of this tournament. 4-1 Spain. We win the group. Czechs second, by virtue of being the least worst of the rest.
Did I mention Scotland beat Holland? Despite losing to Switzerland in the final game they still finish top. Holland through in second.
Portugal, Turkey, Denmark and Serbia. Portugal nearly made a bollocks of this, drawing against Denmark and Serbia before a rousting 5-0 win against Turkey sent them through as group winners. Denmark through in second.
Best third placed teams is a complete nonsense here as Belgium, Poland, Switzerland and Turkey are all through as well. Switzerland, who came level on points with their group winners, are the only ones who I felt were hard done by. The rest were all shite.
Second Round Draw:
Germany vs. Italy
France vs. Croatia
England vs. Switzerland
Russia vs. Turkey
Czech Republic vs. Holland
Belgium vs. Portugal
Poland vs. Scotland
Denmark vs. Spain
Last team out of the hat! Germany vs. Italy is pretty huge. I’ll take Denmark but feel bad for Mort when we win. A potential quarter final with Russia or Turkey awaits.
Denmark vs. Spain
One of their centre backs starts the game on 70% fitness. Madness. 20 minutes in he’s so fucked that he needs substituting. He’s supposed to keeping an eye on Ale Rioja when the winger drifts in and makes it 1-0. Simarro makes it two, scoring his second International goal. He’s a fucking goal machine now lads. Only one issue today; Chema Garcia manages to get sent off. Who gets sent off when you’re winning 2-0 in a major tournament? I’d even told him to ease up after getting booked. Footballers, a bunch of thickos. 2-0 finish.
Germany 1 Italy 0
I have to tell you; this made me say “ooooh” out loud. Italy are the team that scared me the most and to have them out already is a boost. It looks like they didn’t click as a team. Germany are among the favourites, of course.
France 2 Croatia 1
France needed extra time to get by the Croats.
England 1 Switzerland 0
Southampton lad Simon Ash with the winner!
Turkey 2 Russia 1
Turkey with the upset. Russia miss a penalty and wouldn’t you know it, that’s a Southampton player too! Islam Abakarov. It’ll be Spain vs. Turkey in the QFs.
Czech Republic 2 Holland 3
While Holland are a good side, them shipping two goals against a decidedly lacklustre Czech team gives me considerable hope.
Belgium 2 Portugal 1
Portugal, who’ve been rocky all tournament, go out. Belgium even missed a penalty, from my old Barca & Porto mate Cedric Kinsombi.
Poland 0 Scotland 1
Scotland’s improbable run continues.
Turkey vs. Spain
I’m not convinced Turkey are good enough to be here but here we are. It takes us 17 minutes to get off the mark. Rubio, in for the suspended Chema Garcia, crosses and Botia fires home. Botia doubles the tally with a free kick. He’s having a cracking game considering he’s second choice on the right wing. We coast through the second half, knowing the job is done, and it’s another comfortable 2-0 win.
Germany vs. England
I spend this match mocking the German subs as they’re just terrible. Every player ends up out of position. It goes to extra time with Claydon’s saves keeping England in it. Germany net in ET with Bayiha, who I had at Bayern, scoring. Thus ends the Ballad of Lyall Claydon. 1-0.
France vs. Belgium
Belgium are better than I expected but they’re up against it here after Malambo is sent off after 18 minutes. It takes France time to break down the ten men but Batassome fires in around the hour mark. It then fizzles out in the drizzle of the NRW. 1-0 France. Germany vs. France in the semis.
Holland vs. Scotland
Scotland are ridiculously overpowered in FM. They have two good players; the keeper and Canning, who’s a striker but plays left wing. The match is all Holland but they can’t seem to find a goal. It takes Holland 83 minutes but Holtkamp finally scores. Holland are very good value for it and score another but it’s chalked off by VAR for offside. 1-0 Holland. All 1-0’s apart from Spain-Turkey.
Incidentally Copa America is happening at the same time as this and I’m thrilled to announce Argentina won. In the final all the players that scored were blooded in the Argentina team by BHL. A lovely moment.
European Championship Semi-Finals
Spain vs. Holland
I’ve switched from one suspended left back to another. So Chema is back in but Rubio misses out. I like to think Spain’s squad is very solid and we don’t need to necessarily play the strongest eleven here, which stems from playing as a team for four years. The back four are all first choices but the second choices are close anyway. Moises ahead of Nebai is perhaps a gamble but I can always bring Hernandez on. Botia plays ahead of Ale Rioja and Dani ahead of Leon. I bet my club players are thrilled I dropped them both for the semi. Holland, by comparison, are weakened and have left out some top players due to fitness like van Leeuwen and Bjelanovic.
Babs is a great out ball for us and he holds it up, battling three defenders, before feeding Pena who squares to Botia for 1-0. Botia provides the cross for Moises just before half time and it’s 2-0. We’re coasting so much that I can take Babs off before an hour is up. Botia adds a third, campaigning for a starting role in the final no doubt, from a Moises cross. The two wingers were my ‘risk’ here and they’ve both played fantastically well. Moises lifts one over the top and Pascual, fresh from the bench, makes it 4-0. Sensational stuff from the lads.
Germany vs. France
Either of these sides would be a testing final. France make some ballsy calls here, leaving out Willys Gamiette and Doumouya. Like I was doing they’re resting attacking players for the final and hoping their defence can win them the semi. Germany leave out Stefan Hermann (my left back from Dortmund) and Chawki (right back from Bayern) along with Fuchs (Real Madrid striker). There’s a lot of tactical resting of players in this tournament.
French defender Bastian Bellec opens the scoring with a free kick. He’s a centre back who takes corners. Strange man. Germany’s wingers combine to equalize; Mustafa crossing for Gursoy. The Man City duo bringing Germany level. Tactically Germany’s 4-4-2 seems to be trumping France’s 4-2-3-1 gegenpress. They go ahead when Gursoy crosses and Bayiha (who I had at Bayern and loaned out) heads in for 2-1. France bring on the big guns and Charpentier crosses for Doumouya to cap a break on 81 minutes.
My main hope for this game was extra time and we get it. 2-2 at full time and Germany should have won this but Leon Beck getting a red card in ET killed any chance of it finishing early. It goes to pens.
Gursoy scores. 1-0 Germany.
Charpentier misses! 1-0
Bayiha saved. 1-0
Doumouya MISSES 1-0
Lauro scores 2-0
Gerard saved. 2-0
Gorski scores. 3-0 Germany, France missed every penalty.
European Championship Final
Spain vs. Germany
Fitness levels are a concern. Both my full backs are not at their peak. My fittest central midfield player, Bravo, is on 92%. Effectively the back line is the second string. The good news is that most of the starting eleven are 95%+ on the fitness levels. Germany on the other hand field their strongest team. Which means Mustafa plays at 73% fitness and Gursoy at 76%. Why can AI pick these players when I know if I did they’d be fucked after 30 minutes and have to be subbed?
Knackered Mustafa adds injury to insult by scoring. Fuchs adds a second, heading in a corner. Was I wrong to bring in my fitter, slightly less talented back four? Bringing on Perez, the AMC, at half-time is my best move. He chips one over the defence and Rioja is on it for 2-1. Nebai scores a free kick from 30 yards and it’s top hand corner all the way. A beauty. Then calamity. This is where the tournament was lost…Pedro Luis passes back to Ramon Garcia, who I’ve persisted with despite his aggressive attacking tendencies, and the keeper isn’t looking. The ball just rolls hopelessly into the net. I have to throw caution to the wind and Germany hit me on the counter for 4-2. I don’t lose many major finals. Gold Cup was one. I usually go out earlier. Here’s one for the record books then. Cocky, overconfident. Hadn’t had a team come close to Spain all tournament and I underestimate what a tired Germany could do.
I’m annoyed because this game was there to be won and as with the World Cup there’s a frustration with Spain because they can only play one way. In hindsight could I have switched things around defensively here? Was it wrong to start players who wouldn’t be fit come the end? Germany didn’t give a fuck. Gursoy played the whole match.
So yeah, no happy ending this time. Were you expecting me to win everything? In Spain I’ve got an excellent team and I’m going to stick around to try and pick up the Nation’s League then who knows. Obviously the World Cup is already done. Maybe I’ll just coast through with Spain until the next Euros. Maybe I’ll leave International management alone for a bit. I’m undecided. Also quite irritated that Spain, who were literally perfect in every game in qualifying and during the tournament, came up short in a match they should have won. Unlike with Argentina at the World Cup, where I was fire-fighting at every turn, Spain was a fine-tuned machine designed to win. And we didn’t quite get the job done. Spain have asked me to carry on as manager so at least there’s that. Who knows what the future holds?
I’m going to take a wee break from this #FM grind. It’s been pretty intense lately and a way to escape the horrors of COVID-19 and whatever happened to wrestling. So the next diary entry could be me talking about Moto GP or Agatha Christie or something. Until next time – AF