Football Manager Journeys: FM22 S3. Mafra S3
I was debating whether to stay or go. Mafra have decided they’ll double our wage budget and build a new stadium, so I guess we’re still here.
Last season we finished way above our expected relegation struggle. I want to kick on this season but despite an increase in funds I still can’t attract players of any great quality. The idea is to keep a bunch of money back and try for loans late in the window to really strengthen.
After spending the summer strengthening across the board, and being happy with some lovely youth players, we hit the opening round of the Allianz Cup. And for fuck’s sake it’s the SAME DAY as the youth team play. Why? Why would you do this? You know I must play two Portuguese youth players in this fucking competition. God damn it. Opening day and I’m already mad as hell at this stupid fucking rule. We lose 2-1 to Vizela and that’s how our season gets underway. Fucking fantastic. Fuming.
To give you an idea of how tinpot we are…I had to request a second scout. We had one scout. In the topflight of Portuguese football. One. That’s it. You’ll notice it says hire “some extra scouts”. Some = one.
Opening day, we lose 3-0 at Porto. Weren’t really in the game. I was worried by our opening three games: Porto, Braga and Benfica. Luckily, we bounce back and smack Braga 5-0. Next is Benfica away and if there’s a game you can basically write off it’s Benfica away. I change tactics somewhat here and opt for longer balls over their defence and going narrower. It works well and we’re unlucky to lose 2-1 having a higher xG. I may have stumbled onto something.
The lack of depth was painful last season. I’ve had to bring a lot of players in but also with a mind to the future, so I’ve signed four youth players as well as first teamers. It’s a major overhaul but we need it. I’m pretty sure we’ll need one every year as we keep making huge jumps forward.
The start of the season threw some tough fixtures our way but we swiftly got into a winning routine. This is all about how we play and how aggressively attacking we are. It doesn’t always work. We should have creamed Portimonense but somehow lost 3-2. I’m thrilled about beating Belenenses though. They’re one of those top six teams (Benfica, Porto, Sporting, Braga, Vitoria, Belenenses + the likes of Boavista and Maritimo) that we need to get in amongst. Beating them, and indeed deserving to beat them, showed how far we’ve come since last year. I think we’re good enough to come seventh, which would be a great achievement. However, if we finish fifth and get European football we can properly overhaul this squad and move on up.
As the season starts to progress it becomes abundantly clear there are only three teams better than us in this division. Portugal is basically this; Porto/Benfica + sometimes Sporting….HUGE GAP…Braga, Boavista, a few others…ANOTHER HUGE GAP…the scrub teams Porto and Benfica regularly rinse in the league. Well, we’ve jumped from being just above the bottom group to being just above the middle group.
I’m getting déjà vu here. Fulham came in for me in April and I went to the interview and thought long and hard about it. They hired some chump (Paul Warne – Rotherham boss) instead who has now been fired. Last time they came in for me they were in ninth. They are now P21. So, no. I mean it’s doubly no because my team is now good and their team is desperately shit.
Offside is an issue in FM22. The above was given as offside. We have VAR in this league. That’s clearly on. I’ve seen several examples of poor decisions and I think Sports Interactive have put it in to replicate real life bad officiating, but these are clear errors with VAR. You can see it’s wrong with the naked eye, let alone with drawing lines on your wanky little computer.
Things are going great. We’re third in the league as we roll into December and then it hits. The dreaded injury crisis. My centre backs have been taking it in turns to get injured all season but December sees a new challenge after both my strikers get injured. Stevy Okitokandjo is out until new year with a twisted ankle. His strike partner, Nic Servetto, does his thigh in training the next day and I only have one other striker. Pedro Lucas comes in. His strike partner? I don’t have a player. All my kids aren’t registered so that’s not an option. I end up leaving the position blank and seeing what the coaches suggest. They come up with an unlikely choice; Joao Pedro, our starting right back.
At first I’m a little dubious but look at his attributes. Finishing 7 is obviously a concern but his physicals are good and the mentals are ok. Dribbling and first touch are both there. This might work. First game in Pedro Lucas snatches a goal and he’s off with a thigh strain. Four weeks. Fucking hell. That’s all three first team strikers out for a month.
It’s come at a time when we’re doing bits as well. Sitting P3 at the halfway point of the season and mixing it up with all the big boys. I’m attracting interest with Fulham coming back in again, followed by Blackburn and Braga. I’ve never found it easier to reject a job interview than fucking Braga. I beat this lot 5-0 earlier in the season.
We only lost 2-0 away to Porto but we finished the game looking like this. The tricky spell lasts four games then the injuries ease up and we get past Porto (x2), Braga, Benfica phase. Then we win four on the spin versus Tondela, Moreirense, Santa Clara and Portimonense. Things are looking up and I have one eye on our points tally and one eye on last season’s points for European qualification. But what’s this…
Part of my desire behind this save is to keep it realistic. If I was at Mafra and Villa offered me a job in real life, would I go? I’m pretty sure I would. Whereas Fulham, Stoke, Blackburn etc that have offered me jobs already. I wouldn’t go. I’d rather stay in Portugal. Villa have even said I can finish the season in Portugal.
At least Mafra will be well looked after. Considering the Fulham compensation was agreed at £40k. After accepting that I’ll be leaving I want to take care of Mafra, and I try to bring in a great technical director, so their staff won’t atrophy, and I’m not allowed to sign anyone! They don’t trust me. This is ridiculous. They also sign Alyson, my on loan left back, permanently and loan out Viveros, my back up left winger. Interesting. Do I get no say in anything now?
Back to Mafra’s league season and we pay out our ‘avoiding relegation’ bonuses on February 9. I’m happy with what I achieved with Mafra. Turning a poor second division team with no fans into a team that should sit pretty in the top half of Liga NOS for a few years at least. First game after accepting the Villa job we lose 5-3 to Maritimo. Is that how it’s going to be? This is pettiness lads.
After 26 games played we sit P4. The three horse title race is playing out way ahead of our position but we have enough in the tank to secure European football for next season. An excellent parting gift to a team we took over 2.5 years ago in P16 in the second division. It gets better. We beat our two closest rivals for P4 (Belenenses SAD and Vitoria de Guimaraes) at their grounds in back to back away games. These were not games I was expecting to get anything from and to see us win both makes me very proud of the lads. We’re well behind Benfica, Sporting and Porto but we’re five points ahead of everybody else.
We can’t beat any of the big three. We come close against Sporting, leading twice, before getting lucky and seeing them score a 90+1’ winner only for it to be incorrectly ruled out for offside. Do they just not understand the offside rule? It doesn’t matter. We qualify for Europe with two games left. A 3-1 win at already relegated Estrela da Amadora SAD seals it.
I took Mafra from almost relegated to tier three in Portugal to Europe in 2.5 seasons. Part of me wishes I had decided to stay and try to bust up that Big Three in Portugal.
My final thoughts on Mafra is that I leave a job I enjoyed for the most part and I’m a little sad about it. I’m trying to play this save as if it’s a managerial career and I feel like I would leave given the interest in me from a higher level at this point. Leaving Mafra as the fourth best team in Portugal feels like one hell of an achievement and it would have taken a few more seasons before I could crack into the Big Three. Attendances over the course of the season were under 4,000 on average and that’s just not enough fans to sustain a title challenge. They need to build a new stadium and I don’t know where the money for that comes from. Staying at Mafra until the league is won would be a far longer term stay here than I want to do. It would basically be the entire of my FM22 journey. Or almost all of it. It’s time to move on. As with most of my saves I’ve become overly invested in Mafra in the real world. They just got to the quarters of the cup in Portugal and Andrezinho scored as they won a game with ten men. I’ll be keeping my eye on them.
Just before I’m due to depart I get an email. Mafra have broken ground on their new stadium. They’re going home. The loan is quite big and the capacity is too small but that’s the level of ambition I was dealing with.
NEXT: Aston Villa. Awaking a sleeping giant.