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Stuck In The Middle with Middlesbrough


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I'm creating this thread for two reasons:

1) I have been struggling in getting into a save during FM22 - not sure why but I seem to restart every two or three days.

2) Middlesbrough is a club that I think has a lot of potential but for, whatever reason, the club has not been able to tap into that potential and keep the club in the Premier League.

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Robbie Hopper is a fictional creation who, like Middlesbrough, was a successful player but not quite at the highest levels of the game.  This makes him the perfect manager to either lead Middlesbrough into the Premier League or keep them mired in the Championship.

What drew me to Middlesbrough?

Middlesbrough are a club who should have a better standing in the game than they currently have.  They have one of the top youth academies in England and churn out talent but they never seem to put together a team that is able to harness that talent into a Premiership side.  They have had brief glimmers of glory.  A successful run in the Premier League.  Back-to-back trip to the UEFA Cup including an appearance in the finals where they were spanked by Sevilla.  They do have some financial problems with an 86 million pound loan awaiting repayment when/if they reach the Premier League.  

What are my goals for this save?

  • Actively Promote Youth From the Academy - Keeps with the build from within philosophy of the club
  • Get the club on a solid financial footing - I want the club in position to easily pay off the loan when/if the club returns to the Premiership
  • Get the club back into the Premier League - It's where I think the club belongs
  • Create a Solid Youth Solid Network - Supplement our youth intakes with top youth from around the UK & Ireland region and then expand into Continental Europe
  • Win A European Trophy - Doesn't matter which one Champions League, Europa League, or Europa Conference - The club deserves European success

Middlesbrough Finances

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The finances, in a snapshot, look like they are decent shape.  However on a dive into the numbers, you see a different story.  The club is projected to just bleed cash as long as they remain in the Championship.  The club needs to raise money by either selling it's top players to more financially stable clubs or get promoted into the Premier League and cash in on the buckets of TV money that the Premier League provides.

Board Vision

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The board and I are on the same page.  We want to build from within and we want to do it slowly.  We want to build the youth academy to be the best in the Championship and use that academy as a springboard for a return to the Premier League.

January 1, 2022 Table

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We are sitting in a solid 4th place.  In the playoff mix which is right where the board wants us to be.  I waited until I reached the new year before I posted anything about this save because I wanted to make sure I was into the save and it was not another "two days and done" save.

Youth Intake

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Youth Intake looks very top heavy with a quality goalkeeper and some good fullbacks coming in but not a whole lot else.

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Dipping my toes into the transfer market

I've made a couple moves in the transfer market.  The first is a short-term move while the second is a move that I think helps us in the longer term.

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Yan Valery joins us on loan from Southampton.  He will provide us with some right back depth and some pace in the position.  Our backups, Jonny Howson (a more natural defensive midfielder) and Lee Pelliter (primary backup at both left and right back positions) are both on the older side and not very quick.  Valery allows us to bring in a rotational player who does not have a significant drop off in pace.

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Back in November, I sent one of my scouts to attend Ireland's U21 match against the Czech Republic.  The hope was to find a younger Irish player who could play in a backup role for a year or two or even with the U23s before a senior side call up.  The scout did not find any suitable Irish talent but he did find a player from the Czech Republic who can move into a rotational role starting next season.  I give you Martin Vitik, a center back from Sparta Prague.

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I asked Sparta Prague if Vitik could come to Middlesbrough for a month-long trial and they obliged.  I wanted to see, firsthand, if the scout had truly discovered a talent that could join our team.  I was impressed with what I saw and quickly moved to sign him before other Championship and lower table Premier League sides found out he was at our training facility.  He will join us in June on a two-year contract with a one-year extension should we get promoted.  A good player to take over one of the rotational spots occupied by Sol Bamba who needs to transition to a coaching role instead of taking up a rotational center back slot.

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2022 Youth Intake

Youth Intake Day should be a big day for the club.  We have one of the best academies in the England so we should bring in some of the top talents in the country and for sure some of the top talents at the Championship level.

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The HoYD says we should have a great goalkeeper coming in along with some good wide players but not much through the spine of the team.

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The HoYD was spot on for 90% of his preview.  We are weak up the middle.  Strong down the flanks but he completely missed on the goalkeeper.  A great goalkeeper should not listed as just a top talent.  I was expected him to be an elite talent.  Oh well, we will adapt and move on.

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Emmanuel Harris is a player that I can get behind in the absence of a great goalkeeper.  Harris looks like he could become a great lung busting wing player who is equally adept in attack and defending.  Smart on the ball and willing to put in the work to help the team.

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Andy Williams is a straight-forward attacking option on the right side.  Not great in defense means he will be training exclusively as an attacking option.  Great pace down the right wing.  Could be a good senior team option in a couple of seasons.

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Andy Williams will face competition on the right side from Kadeem Proctor, who could become the best player St. Kitts and Nevis ever produced should he play for their national team.  Proctor is a more all-around winger whereas Williams is an attacking winger.  Proctor will get some defensive training and could be a decent wing-back pair with Harris in the future.

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Delano White continues the log jam on the right side.  White is not the player that Harris or Proctor are.  No interest in defense and attacking prowess is not as good as Williams. Might try to convert him into a deep central attacking option (false nine or plain central attacking midfielder).

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Mohamed Samura has the potential to be a great attacking option running down the left side.  Not as good as Harris but could become a good super sub/reserve type option down the left side or as a replacement for Harris if/when Harris moves on to a Premier League club.

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Injury and Second Half Swoon

At the end of January, we lost our starting goalkeeper Joe Lumley to a month-long injury.  This was right before our 4th round FA Cup match against Manchester United.  We had to go with our backups.  While we only lost 3-0, it sent us into a tailspin which we could not get out of how matter how hard we tried.  Once every couple weeks, we would have a glimpse of playing better but it was just false hope and the losses piled up.  We ended January pushing Fulham and Bournemouth for automatic promotion.  By the end of the season, we needed a win against Preston on the last match day to ensure the last spot in the playoffs.  We got that win and then had to face West Brom in the playoff semis.  A 1-1 draw at Middlesbrough followed by a 2-0 loss at West Brom ended our season in the semifinals.  Not bad for an aging and injury-riddled club.

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We became the masters of the 1-0 loss as our goalscoring dried up when Andraz Sporar forgot where the goal was located and we really didn't have a second option to bring in with his form on the decline.  This caused us to push the midfielders into more aggressive attacking positions which exposed our backline.  Once we allowed that one goal, the opposition packed their box and we could never break through.  A tough second half of the season.

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The offseason will give us a chance to rebuild and reshape the squad into something that can better handle the rigors of a 46-game Championship season combined with FA and League Cup matches.  Even though we made the playoffs, we were not a side that was ready for promotion let alone the Championship Playoff Final.

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Summer 2022 Transfers - Rebuilding

It was a massive summer of transition for Middlesbrough.  A lot of deadwood on expiring contracts were shown the door and new younger signings were brought in.

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Just about all of the players on the released list were players who were over 30.  Pelltier and Bamba were both over 35.  I wanted to bring Sol Bamba back as a youth team coach but he thought he still had something left to offer a club on the field so I had no choice but to let him go (as of September 20, 2022, Bamba is still a free agent).

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I made my biggest moves in the free transfer market.  Grabbing a couple of players from the Premier League: Ben Elliott, an attack-minded midfielder from Chelsea, and Jamie Alvarado, a more defense-minded midfielder from Watford.  Alvarado will be part of the senior team this season while Elliott still has some seasoning and development to do with both Middlesbrough and out on the loan to get some playing time.  Simon Sluga was brought in from Luton to help solidify our goalkeeping situation as Joe Lumley was good but not great.  Alen Halilovic comes over from Reading to provide depth on the wings.  Jorge Felix is a winger that my scouts from over in Turkey and was looking for a way to play closer to his home in Portugal.

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We raised a lot of funds by selling off a lot of players but only three of those players listed are players who made a significant contribution to the senior team.  Marc Bola was our starting left back and Anfernee Dijksteel was a right-back who saw a lot of playing time.  Joe Lumley was our starting goalkeeper.  The other players where players who either spent last season out on loan, gotten very little playing time or players on the U23 team who did not have the talent to make the senior team.  Two of my purchases are not listed in the 2022/23 season purchases because they signed on June 9, 2022 which, according to FM, is part of the 2021-22 season.

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The other signing was Martin Vitik, who was talked about in an earlier post.

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We filled out the roster with three loans.  Maartsen and Matheson provide us some cover at the full/wing back positions.  I promoted a couple of players from the U23 team who I think are ready for senior side football but these two players provide me some cover in case they are not or they get injured.  Will Smallbone is a creative attack-minded midfielder who gives me a second attacking option in the midfield as most of the midfielders are more defensive-minded than willing to join the attack.

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The board is willing to take a step back and only expect us to finish in the top half and not push for a playoff spot.  That is fine with me as I expect us to take a step back as the new faces get used to playing as a team.  The cup expectation remains the same.

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2022 World Cup Break

Even the Championship has a month off for the 2022 World Cup....so we played a lot of fixtures in a short period of time even by Championship standards.

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18 matches between July 23 and November 5.  A couple of three matches in seven days.  A lot of squad rotation while changing formation and figuring out what players worked best in what roles.  All told, I think we think are doing pretty well.  The defense seems to be ahead of the offense.  The offense struggles at times to get the forwards the ball in the proper place to score and when they get the chance to be in the right place, they miss the net.  Very frustrating to watch.  But the defense is leading the way for now.

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Like I said, goals have been hard to come by.  Rodrigo Muniz is our leading goalscorer with just six goals.  Getting assists are even more of a struggle.  They usually come from our wide players and not from our central creative midfield options.  Definitely a concern going forward.

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The league cup was a bright spot as we beat Premier League side Sheffield United in the second round before falling to Everton at their place in the 3rd round.

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We could be seeing some creative options coming through the youth academy along with a goalkeeper prospect or two.  But that's it in what should be another top heavy academy class.

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The board agreed to improve the Junior Coaching but did not want to improve the Youth Recruitment.

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January 2023 Transfer Dealings

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It was a very quiet window for us, with one minor exception.  Darrell Fisher and Hayden Coulson were backup players who were sucking up big salaries compared to their stature at the club.  Those were easy sales to make.  I had a lot of pause over moving Martin Payero to Wolfsburg even when they met my 7.5 million pound price tag.  I stalled on a decision to their 7.5 million pound offer and then delayed the acceptance of the offer for a week.  This bought me enough time to find and mostly full scout a potential replacement for him.  Payero is my most creative central midfielder on the roster and would leave a big hole in the roster if I did not have a replacement in mind and lined up to come in to replace him.

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Payero had eight goals and nine assists in his 57 appearances for Middlesbrough.  Not lights out numbers but he provided a stability in the midfield with his ability to see the field and first touch.  His decision making was good.  His work rate was just okay.  His left foot was just okay.  He has some holes in his game which could be glossed over at the Championship level.  It will be interesting to see if those holes get exploited in the Bundesliga.

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I went to the Bundesliga to bring his Payero's potential replacement in Romano Schmid.  He's a couple years younger than Payero so his game as some room to grow and become just as a good Payero.  I'm not 100% sold on Schmid as Payero's replacement which is why he was brought in on a loan with a option to buy instead of a straight purchase.  I want to see him play before I decide if spending 2.1 million pounds for his services is worth it.

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2023 Youth Intake Day

Best day of the year at Middlesbrough, the day where I can see what the Class of 2023 looks like and who gets to stay with the U18 team and who heads out into the football wilderness to find another club.

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The spine of the team is greatly improved with this intake.  The top five players are all players who work in the middle of the field and then two goalkeepers who will battle for the U18 starting job in the summer.  The rest of the intake is not much to write home about but in two intakes, it looks like my HoYD has put a good team together.

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Really liking the look of this class.  They fit with what I want out of my players and it appears to be a very deep class.  The bottom end does not look like they will stay at the club but will venture into that footballing wilderness.

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Adrian Osmond 23A is the valedictorian for the Class of 2023.  He wants to dominate the center of the field.  His only weaknesses are his speed and his work rate which, I believe, at this point go hand in hand.  Other than that, he is a top player.  Probably my passing midfielder right now and just need game action to develop his decision-making.

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Trevor Holliday 23B wants to play higher up the field than Osmond.  Another good passer of the ball and even smarter on the field than Osmond.  He could use some more speed and get a little bit stronger.  Really like what I see out of the midfield combination of Holliday and Osmond in the future.

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Ashley Wright 23C continues the onslaught of attacking players who are good on the ball from this class.  If he gets faster, he could become a solid passing winger who specializes in low crosses which can deflect off body parts and into the goal.  Needs some help with his first touch and willingness to play defense.  He needs some game stamina as well so he can play a full 90 minutes.

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My HoYD went to Italy and found Valerio DiPaola 23D.  He did enough to convince him to come to Middlesbrough.  He's a center forward who wants to bring others into the play.  Not an out and out goal scorer but someone who will definitely help the team once he gains some game knowledge and experience.

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Midfielder Andy Taylor 23E is the consummate teammate.  He wants to help the team at all costs.  If that means getting back in defense and preventing a goal, he will do that.  If it means unlocking a defense with a pass, he will do that.  If it means scoring a goal, he will try the best that he can.  A player who the fans can rally around because he does all the dirty work on the field that others don't want to.   

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11 hours ago, karanhsingh said:

Nice intake there, the first one looks like he will be on the fringes of the first team before long. 

Hopefully Osmond 23A develops as quickly as left-back Emmanuel Harris 22A.  Harris got some run with the first team at the end of the season thanks to an injury crisis.

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More Playoff Heartbreak

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Like last year, we finished the season in 5th place but unlike last season, we entered the playoffs on decent form.  Last year, we couldn't stop losing in the second half of the season.  This year, we couldn't stop tying matches.

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We lost only two matches from February to the end of the season but look at all those ties!  We had a stretch where we tied nine matches out of 12.  We turn some of those ties into wins and we are battling for automatic promotion not lurking in the playoffs again.  This year, we drew Reading in the playoffs.

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As you can see, we suffered heartbreak in the semifinals yet again.  This time, we were very hard luck losers.  We dominated possession in both matches.  We had more shots in both matches.  We won the xG in both matches.  But our goalkeeper let us down in both matches.  He allowed six goals on an xG of 1.98.  Do I expect this to happen if faced with the same situation next season?  I don't.  Do I want to be in the same situation next season?  I don't.  I want to be in an automatic promotion spot next season.  Though, the board is making that difficult.

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I raised almost 20 million pounds in outgoing transfers and had built a transfer kitty of close to 7.5 million.  I hoped to get some of that money to spend in the summer transfer window.  Mr. Gibson has taken all that money away and I'm back diving into the free transfer and loan markets.

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6th place Preston upset 3rd place Nottingham Forest in the other semifinal and then defeated Reading, 1-0, in the final.  I expect to see Preston bouncing back down to the Championship for the 2024-25 season after a one-year trip to the Premiership.

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We just were not creative enough this season.  Our midfield lacked a player who could unlock a defense with a single pass.  Romano Schmid did not pan out like I had hoped and if he did, the board had taken away the transfer budget to buy him anyway.  Loanee Rodrigo Muniz led the team with 21 goals.  I tried to bring him back for a second season but can't because no transfer funds to cover the monthly fee that Fulham want for him.  I wanted to bring back attacking midfielder Will Smallbone who did a good job in the attacking midfielder role but again no transfer budget to cover the monthly fees that Southampton want for him.  I was able to bring back wing backs Ian Maartsen and Luke Matheson for a second season on loan so that will help with some consistency and stability along the back line.

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Center back Martin Vitik, who joined us from Sparta Prague for only 675k, was named the Championship Young Player of the Year.  His performances also earned him Championship Signing of the Season honors.

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Goalkeeper Simon Sluga also joined him on this list.  Way to go scouting department!

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The board still want us to push for the playoffs and promotion to the Premier League.  I'm starting to see why the board is pocketing all my transfer money...they want a new stadium but there are no plans in the works to build that stadium.  They just "want to build" it. 

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Summer 2023 Transfer Window - Frees and Transfers

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I had some brief hope that I could have so money to spend in the 2023 Summer Transfer window.  But those hopes were snuffed out two days later when the takeover collapsed and Steve Gibson continues the run the club in a very tight-fisted manner.

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Five players saw their outright release.  None of these five players saw playing time with the first team.

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Yep, into the free transfer market we go to patch the holes on the team.  Dennis Geiger will add midfield depth.  Daniel Ballard will be a depth option at center back while Tahith Chong joins from Manchester United and into the starting right forward/wing position.

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A lot of the better players from the U23 team head out on loan to a variety of clubs to gain some playing time with a first team as opposed to playing in the U23 team.

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With Chong coming in for free and the emergence of Kadeem Proctor 22C as a solid back-up option at right forward/wing, this allowed me to move a pair of players in that position off to other clubs.  First to go with Alen Halilovic who did not really gel with the team last season.  He came in, during the summer 2022 transfer window, on a free so the 2.3 million is pure profit.  Marcus Tavernier came up through the youth academy so the 6.5 million fee is more pure profit.  Stephen Walker is a reserve center forward who wasn't good enough for the first team.

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I mentioned that Mattsen and Matheson had their 2022 loan agreements renewed for the 2023-24 season season.  We added two more loan deals: Isak Harsen-Aaroen an attacking midfielder from Manchester United and center forward Dane Scarlett from Tottenham.  Best players that I could bring in without paying a monthly loan fee.

I've raised a transfer kitty of 5.3 million pounds.  I plan to use that kitty in the winter transfer window unlike last season when I stood pat in the winter window only to watch all that raised money go into the chairman's pockets.

 

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