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[December 2016] FM Bolton - A Trotters Manager Story

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FM Bolton – A Trotters Manager Story


This story highlights the development of Bolton Wanderers Football Club under my management, for which I take on the role of former England international Owen Hargreaves. You can follow my manager story on my Wordpress Blog, on Twitter @BoltonFM16 and with some delay here on the forum. I appreciate all comments, likes and followers. I will keep this first post as an overview with my goals and direct links to my biggest achievements.


short-term goals

avoid relegation

keep talents


long-term goals

become free of debt

improve training and youth facilities

develop youth players into internationals



Edited by Maple Leaf
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Cold Opening: 2015/2016 Review

This story will shed light on my activity as manager of the Trotters beginning in July 2016 for hopefully many years to come, but my work in the hot seat actually started one year earlier in summer 2015. After a frustrating season 2014/2015 at the end of which Bolton finished on the 18th place in the Championship, Chairman Eddie Davies convinced the board to sack the underachieving Neil Lennon and appoint a new manager. While the local media favored managers such as Phil Brown or Phil Parkinson, the board took a risk to put the future of the club into the hands of Owen Hargreaves, a famous footballer but completely inexperienced manager.


Few people knew that Hargreaves even had any ambition to become a manager, but the former FC Bayern, Manchester United and Manchester City midfielder secretly received his coaching license while he was working as a pundit for BT Sports and Sky Deutschland.


The board expected a mid-table finish in the Championship (real-life Bolton finished 24th at the bottom of the table) and some good performances in the national cup competitions. Despite a lot of excitement for the new challenges on the training ground and on the pitch, my biggest concern in the first season was a transfer embargo, which was put on the club as a consequence of economic mistakes and general mismanagement in the past. Therefore, I was not allowed to strengthen the squad with new players, but had to work with the existing talent at the club. However, since I anyway prefer to work with ambitious and talented youngsters, I turned the given limitations into an opportunity to develop our young players.


In the cups, we played close to our expected performance level against clubs from the Football League and progressed in the competitions until we faced teams from the Premier League. In the 2nd round of the EFL Cup, Norwich City was an equal opposition. My players fought sacrificially and earned a draw after 90 minutes, but they had to pay the price for their additional efforts in extra time when the Canaries scored two goals for the 3:1 victory. In the 6th round of the FA Cup, we kept a clean sheet against Southampton at home and forced the Saints into a replay at St. Mary's, where we lost 3:2, again in extra time.

Our cup performances were okay but what was the reason for Bolton legend Kevin Davies to state that I had done wonders with the players and the board should be extremely grateful to have such a talented manager in charge of the club? We started with some good and bad performances in the Championship, but lacked constistency and suffered from a couple of long-term injuries. Young players, such as Rob Holding, Tom Walker, Max Clayton and Zach Clough, were thrown into cold water and, unsurprisingly, were taught a couple of lessons from more experienced opponents, but they developed with every single game. After 23 games played, we had already established ourselves as a contenter for promotion, finishing the first half of the season on the 3rd place behind Middlesbrough and Reading.


In the second half of the season, my squad went beyond the most daring expectations of fans and pundits because we kept our form, got even stronger and fought for the title. Dreams came true on Matchday 45 when we beat Hull City at home to win the Championship and gain direct promotion to the Premier League. What a day!


After two Championship Manager of the Month awards in February and April, I was deeply honored to also win the Championship Manager of the Year accolade. I settled in pretty fast and mastered a couple of challenges, but I wouldn't have been able to achieve this milestone in my very first season without my players.


With eight goals and nine assists, our boy Tom Walker was named as Championship Young Player of the Year. A well-deserved valuation of his incredible performances in his first professional season!


All in all, we played an extremely satisfying first season and find ourselves at the beginning of an adventure called Premier League. This marks the starting actual point of my story. Welcome to FM Bolton - A Trotters Manager Story!

Edited by Maple Leaf
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We're Going on an Adventure!

It's summer 2016. I spent some quiet weeks with my family in Canada and Germany, but I have finally returned to Euxton Lane for the beginning of pre-season. Our parking lot attendant and the cleaning ladies have welcomed me cordially with a lot of enthusiasm and a bit too much acknowledgment for my taste. I appreciate to see so much happiness in the eyes of the staff, but my players deserve the chorus of praise more than I do. In fact, everyone at Bolton Wanderers contributed to an amazing last season, at the end of which we found ourselves at the top of the table getting promoted to the Premier League. However, the time of celebration and recreation is over. The real adventure starts now.


Barclays Premier League. Spectacle, stars, money, ... and Bolton Wanderers. After four years in the Championship, we are back to feature in the biggest league in the world. At least we got admitted because not many people believe we will stay any longer than for 38 games. Most interview questions during pre-season have been about relegation. The bookies see us in the top spot for direct relegation back to the Championship and even some of my players were skeptical when I told them that we will not only have a chance to avoid relegation but to shine in the competition of the big clubs.



Bolton is still debt-ridden and I have promised to stick to the consolidation course of the club, but Premier League means many sponsors and big money. The board supports my vision and provided a dramatically bigger wage budget and finally some transfer budget to prepare ourselves for life in the first division.


How I have used the budget to strengthen the squad, I will show you in my next blog post.

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Departures and Arrivals

The board gave me a 30M € transfer budget to go shopping for survival in the Premier League. With still 145M € of debts I wanted to approach the market in a cautious way and look for quality players to strengthen the squad without spending too much money on fees and wages. I further constrainted myself to look for players not older than 25 years and with at least some basic English skills. Unfortunately, we neglected our scouting in the last season due to the transfer embargo so that I didn't have access to a comprehensive database.

With one more week to go in the transfer window, let's have a look at the departures and arrivals so far.



Liam Feeney was one of the best players last year, but quite early in 2016 I made the difficult decision to not renew the contract due to his exorbitant wage demands. Maybe his agent doesn't make the best moves for Liam because at the end of August he is still without a new club.

Dean Moxey was a solid left back in the Championship, but he is already 30 years old and in the last year of his contract, which I didn't plan to renew anyway. The decision to use the last chance to cash in on him and sell him to Hearts was made after two new left backs had arrived.

I expect 2-3 more players to leave before the end of the transfer window because I don't have any plans for Francesco Pisano and can't guarantee Oscar Threlkeld the minutes he wants and needs. I promised Derik Osede to let him go to another club for an appropriate transfer fee because he played only a few matches last season, but despite interest from some sides from the Football League and Italy, so far he hasn't found anybody to meet his wage demands. The agent of our prima donna, Zach Clough, made it clear to me that his client won't sign a new contract with Bolton Wanderers and wants to leave to a bigger club as soon as possible, but it seems that other managers don't see what I see in him because I haven't received any offer for the young lad.


Despite promotion, my attempts to bring real quality to Bolton have been frustrating in most cases. Our best player of the last season, Wellington Silva, didn't receive a new contract from his parent club Arsenal, but instead of rejoining us, he prefers to insist on outrageous wage demands and enjoys his time as a free agend like Liam Feeney. I publicly declared my interest to sign Bournemouth striker Benik Afobe, who would love to join our side, but the relegated Cherries don't want to negotiate a transfer. Arsenal accepted my loan offer for Jack Wilshere, but it was beneath his dignity to play for Bolton again. Fulham striker Cauley Woodrow snubbed my offer and joined West Bromwich Albion. Hull City accepted my offer for Uruguayan striker Abel Hernandez and we even agreed on reasonable contract terms, but then he didn't receive a work permit!

However, I was still able to negotiate some good transfers.


24-year-old Paul Dummett joined us for a fee of 1.1M € from Newcastle United, where he was only a backup and therefore happy to hear from my interest in his services. Paul was one of my favourite choices to strengthen our defence because he is a versatile defender, who can play as a left back but also as a central defender.


Since the squad depth on the left back position was one of my major worries during last season, I wanted to not only sign one new player but two to have more options and ignite competition for the starting formation. Dummett's competitor for the first team will be 25-year-old Scott Malone, who arrived from freshly relegated Cardiff City for 1.4M €. In comparison to the Welsh international, Malone is slightly more attack-minded.


The young Scotsman Ray Grant was released by Norwich City on a free transfer and turned out to be a real bargain. I originally planned to include him directly into the first team and use him as a backup on the left back position, but with our new arrivals Dummett and Malone and lots of quality options in midfield, I decided to loan him to St. Johnstone in the Scottish Premiership.


Our vice-captain Jay Spearing had to play almost all matches last season due to a lack in good alternatives in the defensive midfield. Tom Thorpe is supposed to fill this gap. We had to transfer 1.5M € to relegated Rotherham United, but Tom is worth it because he can take almost every role from central defender to central midfielder.


Serbian whizkid Jovan Nisic is an investment into the future or our club. The highly-talented 18-year-old midfielder joined Bolton for 750,000 € from Partizan and was directly loaned to sc Heerenveen in the Dutch Eredivisie because he didn't receive a work permit. I am a big fan of his and once he is allowed to play for Bolton, he will be a central part of our midfield in the years to come.


Johann Berg Gudmundsson is the only player for which I decided to splash out (successfully). Charlton demanded 5M € for a transfer but in comparison to many other players his wage demands were more than acceptable. The 25-year-old Icelander, who can play on both wings and in the center is meant to become the successor of Wellington Silva.


How do you rate my transfers and what do you think will happen during the last week of the transfer window? Will Clough stay or force his way out? Will I manage to sign one more quality player?

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  • 3 months later...

Pre-Season and August 2016

Our pre-season went pretty smoothly with a goal ratio of 25:3 and only one defeat in eight games. We actually played well even against Valencia, but in the last 15 minutes they put too much pressure on our defense and managed to score two goals for a late 2:1 victory. The highlight of the pre-season was a solid 2:0 victory over German side VfB Stuttgart. Our best goal scorer was Tom Walker with four goals, followed by Zach Clough and Rob Hall with three goals each. Hall justified my faith in his abilities with great performances and has secured his place in the starting lineup for the start of the season. The biggest surprise was Wales U21 international Jamie Thomas, who played some highly promising games in attack and has pushed Conor Wilkinson aside as our second option as central striker after Gary Madine.




Bolton Wanderers' first game in the Premier League in more than four years brought us to London, where West Ham United was waiting for easy three points to start with. Despite the significantly better opposition, I decided to play with the counter tactics that was so successful last season. An early goal from Gary Madine helped us to develop our style efficiently and forced the Hammers to open up even more. Thanks to a solid defense we held the 1:0 lead and managed so score a second goal by Rob Hall ten minutes before the end. West Ham put us under some heavy pressure but only got one goal after a silly mistake from Ben Amos. Our first three points! What a comeback to the Premier League!



Norwich kicked us out of the League Cup last season. With a lot of confidence after our victory over West Ham, I told my team that it was the right time for some retaliation and the second three points in front of our home crowd. Any plan that we had made was destroyed after just three minutes when we conceded a penalty, which Steven Naismith turned into an early lead for Norwich. My team didn't necessarily play bad, but they never found into the game and conceded two additional goals in the second half.



For the EFL Cup Second Round against Leyton Orient, I decided to give our bench players a chance to fight for places in the starting lineup. Unfortunately, the game turned into a long and embarrassing evening for Bolton. Jamie Thomas scored his first professional goal for the Trotters, but with the lead on our side we treated the opposition too lightly, which allowed Amodio to score a lucky equalizer. Orient got tired and it was time to show our qualities, which we did with two goals by Trotter and Wilkinson for a 3:1 lead in extra time. However, we still underestimated the other team, who managed to equalize again and beat us on penalties. Was it my fault or did my players let me down? Were we too cocky or just not good enough?



Mike Ashley opened his wallet for Newcastle United's new attacking duo Andrej Kramaric and Arkadiusz Milik, who brought additional quality into an already strong team that didn't give us much of a real chance. Both Kramaric and Milik scored after Ruben Garcia's sensational 1:0. We tried hard and played hard but Madine's consolation goal in injury time came too late.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Transfer Deadline and September 2016

I expected a lot of activity before the transfer deadline, but it turned out to be a rather quiet day at the office. I failed to sign a new striker, but Bolton didn't receive any offers for <strong>Zach Clough</strong> so that the diva will spend at least the first half of the season with us and provide a quality option for our attacking plans.

Dorian Dervite and Jay Spearing signed new contracts, which will bind them to Bolton Wanderers until June 2019. Jordan Grant signed his first professional contract. Francesco Pisano agreed to join Barnsley for 250K € as he was not a part of my plans for the future. Oscar Threlkeld had asked for a loan to get more game time and I granted him this wish. He will spent the season with Swindon Town in the Championship.


Just a few days after the transfer deadline, Mark Davies tore his cruciate ligaments in a training session. He will be out for 8-9 months and therefore miss the whole season. The poor boy has a long history of injuries and despite being an important part of our midfield, I'm afraid this injury will be his last one in a Bolton shirt because his contract ends at the end of the season. It's a pity Jovan Nisic didn't get a work permit because Mavies' injury would have been his perfect opportunity.




When you want to stand a chance against a team like Manchester United, every aspect of your game has to be more than perfect for the whole 90 minutes. Unfortunately, almost nothing worked out for us. The Red Devils played well and we didn't. Spearing's red card shortly after the half-time break took the last bit of hope from my team, if we had any real hope before. Additionally, Johann Berg Gudmundsson will be out for three weeks due to a dislocated shoulder.



Before the season, it was clear that we would go into almost every game as the underdog. Therefore, it is of highest importance to win the few remaining games against teams on a level playing field. I told my time how important it was to win against Sheffield Wednesday, especially at the Macron. The Owls were promoted as runner-ups and we had two close encounters last season - 2:0 at home and 2:1 away. This time, it was another hard-fought game but both teams failed to score. The one point felt more like a defeat than a deserved draw.



The Spurs didn't play their best football against us but it was still enough to take away 3 points away the Macron. Our defending was okay but my team was not able to create any significant chances.


Two months into the season, we find ourselves almost where everybody expected us to be. We haven't hit rock bottom but I have to find solutions for better performances and I have to find them very soon.

Edited by Maple Leaf
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October 2016

The last couple of games have shown that we definitely lack quality to be a serious danger to most Premier League clubs, but I am far from giving up and simply accepting our fate. The board still remembers our performances last season, but their confidence in me is decreasing with every defeat. The biggest problem so far is that we don't create enough chances. The defense and offense are not well connected so that our wingers and strikers are on their own most of the time.

On a positive note, newgen goalkeeper Callum Mellor has signed his first professional contract.




With Davies and Gudmundsson being injured and Spearing suspended after his 5th yellow card, we didn't expect to take much home from our trip to Goodison Park.  After devastating 45 minutes, we realized that it doesn't take a whole team but only one single player of the quality of a Romelu Lukaku to destroy us with three goals. In the second half of the game, Everton didn't do more than necessary to control our lack of attacking power.  The 3:1 by Liam Trotter, a lucky rebound after a corner, was our first goal in more than a month.



I told my players that we had to show a much better performance and simply had to win the game against West Bromwich Albion if we didn't want to lose the fans. It was a boring game because the Baggies didn't come to the Macron Stadium to play football on that day and we were not able to create enough pressure to get them into real trouble. The fans were just about to accept another bitter goalless draw when Jamie Thomas secured the win in the 89th minute with his first Premier League goal. What a moment for the young lad and all Trotters!



When you welcome an opposition from the bottom of the league, you usually are confident to win the game and satisfy your fans with three points. When the opposition is Southampton, maybe not so much. I really don't know how they ended down there in the first place. Last season, we forced Southampton into an FA Cup Round 6 replay, which we lost in extra time. Therefore, I told my players to take revenge and go for at least one point. The Saints were the better team, no doubt about that, but with a bit of luck we got into the lead by an own goal. Unfortunately, we were not able to resist their increasing pressure so that they scored two goals for the win.



Swansea started exceptionally well into the season. They have a good defense and an event better offense with Sigurdsson, Poulsen and Paloschi, who made it difficult for us to find a healthy balance between avoiding goals and creating chances. For 45 minutes, we defended quite well and kept the clean sheet, but just a couple of seconds into the second half, Sigurdsson finally turned one of his many chances into the first goal. Afterwards, our situation didn't get much better. The 2:0 by Deeney after 64 minutes was the final hit to decide the game.


We still struggle but we have our chances to win some points and, most importantly, we are not alone down there at the bottom of the table. At the end of October 2016, it looks like nine clubs will have to spend their season with the fight against relegation.

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November 2016

Before we get right into it, some updates on player contracts. Will Jääskeläinen, Alex Finney and England U19 international Matthew Marsh have signed new contracts until June 2020. Finney and Marsh were additionally promoted into the first team. Newgen midfielder Martin Harper has signed his first professional contract, which runs until 2019.




The match against Stoke City was another one of the few we just had to win in order to avoid relegation. I told my players that I expected a solid defense and a nice movement of the ball. It was their opportunity to demonstrate hidden qualities and they delivered. The stats don't indicate an outstanding performance but it was clearly the best result of the season so far. Hall was a constant threat on the left wing and scored an early goal. Stoke got better, but Clough used the spaces and finally showed everyone why he thinks he is good enough for a much better team.



With a lot of confidence after the good performance and victory against Stoke, we went into the away game at King Power Stadium in Leicester. They have a strong squad and naturally we should be more than happy with one point, especially away from home, but after conceding two equalizers, the 3:3 felt more like a defeat to some of our players.



Manchester City showed us how big the gap between a top team and Bolton Wanderers really is, and the Citizens didn't even play with their best players. Under constant pressure, we could almost call ourselves lucky that it took ManCity 40 minutes to score the first goal. Felipe Anderson made Josh Vela look like a schoolboy. Back to the drawing board.


Bolton is still in the game. We have slightly improved our situation but the fight against relegation is going to last until the end of the season, which is more than most pundits expected.

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December 2016

Five youngsters were awarded with their first professional contracts. I am not sure if any of the boys has a future in the first team, but we have to strengthen our reserves and establish a functioning development system.








When you are expected to finish 20th, there are not many games in the season for which you can demand your players to secure a victory. The clash against bottom-of-the-league Crystal Palace was one of these few games because the Eagles had been playing a disastrous first half of the season. The first 45 minutes of this game were truly spectacular and even though both teams continued the open encounter in the second half, the 2:2 felt more like a defeat.



Arsenal is probably the only team of the Top 6 against which we have some kind of chance if every player performs at his best. It was an ugly game because we parked the bus and Arsenal somehow didn't want to play football. Higuain's own goal didn't help to change anything about this, but due to increasing pressure, we conceded the deserved equalizer after 70 minutes.  Tom Walker had to be substituted because of an injury in the second half and will again be out for four weeks.



There is not much to say about matchday 16. Liverpool is no Manchester United or Manchester City but they were extremely clinical in front of our goal so that the game turned out to be Bolton's highest defeat in this season so far. Poor performance. Poor result.



Games like the one against Aston Villa make everyone at the club believe that we actually belong in the Premier League and certainly have the quality and the heart to stay in the league. It was a close game but our players were ice-cold in front of Guzan's goal and won three well-deserved points.



Bolton fans got to spend Boxing Day in London, but for my players it was a tough fight at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea's players didn't play to their full potential - probably underestimated us - and allowed my team to create a couple of half-chances, but nothing to become a game changer. With a bit of more luck, we might have taken a point away from London, but Santa didn't grant us that wish.



I wanted my team to conclude the year with a solid win against Brighton, who finished 6th last season and fought their way to promotion heroically through the playoffs. In the Championship, we parted 1:1 at home and 1:2 in Brighton, but this season no club has more draws than the Seagulls and unfortunately we helped them to add another one to that record. We tried to control the game but were not able to score a goal, which is going to have a strong influence on my plans for the January transfer window.


We are halfway through the season and celebrate the start of 2017 one place above the relegation zone. We haven't won anything at this point, but the first half of the season could have been worse. Apart from Swansea City, who find themselves in the title race, and last year's Championship runner-up Sheffield Wednesday doing exceptionally well, the table looks pretty realistic and reflects how we performed against the other clubs.

Edited by Maple Leaf
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I was extremely busy at the end of last year and at the beginning of this year. Then I kinda lost my motivation, but I'm glad to say that now it's back. I still got some old content (1/3 of January 2017) and currently I am working myself back into the game.

Edited by Maple Leaf
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