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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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January 1, 2024 - Stuck In the Middle

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It's a tight battle at the top for the automatic and promotion places.  If we can get on a hot streak, we can move out the top half of the table more into the promotion/playoff mix.  But it's been tough to gain any sort of form this season.

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The best word to describe our form is choppy.  We play well at home but we are just dreadful on the road as we just can't score.  It's been a tough watch.  We are 4-5-5 on the road with 15 goals scored in 14 matches.  At home, we are 8-3-1 with 25 goals scored in 12 matches.  We just need to play better on the road.  Improve there and we will move up the table.

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A very top heavy intake which my HoYD thinks will be a golden generation but it just doesn't look like from what I see here.

 

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Playoff Final

Sorry for the cliffhanger but I had a week-long break thanks to one of my real life jobs, field hockey umpire.  I had to work the Disney Sunshine Showcase in Orlando, Florida.  While it was cold and windy (by Florida standards), it was still warmer than my home in upstate New York.  It was -7F when I left my house on Thursday morning.  Half of my body made it into the USA Field Hockey press release.

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But enough about my weekend and more about Middlesbrough and the playoff final.

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We don't make things easy for ourselves....EVER.  After 120 minutes of 0-0 football, we went to penalty kicks.  We shot first and it was easily saved.  Forest had the chance to take an early 1-0 lead but their shot was saved as well.  The second shots were both made.  Middlesbrough took a 2-1 lead after the third round of kicks and Matt Crooks had a chance to give us a commanding 3-1 lead but he promptly missed, Forest made their kick and we were back to level terms at two.  Jorge Felix makes his kick.  Forest missed their kick and we win the playoff final, 3-2 on penalty kicks, to earn promotion to the Premier League.

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Forest thrashed Sheffield United to advance to the final while we grinded out a 4-2 victory over the Tractor Boys of Ipswich Town.

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Brentford and Reading earned the automatic promotion slots while we earned the top seed in the playoff.

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We finally became the team that I envisioned.  In the past, we would be the team that would end up on the losing side of the one-goal game.  This season, we were the team that was on the winning side of the one-goal game and those wins had us slowly move up the table to our third place finish.

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We were led by a strike tandem of Dane Scarlett, on loan from Tottenham, and Chub Akpom.  Scarlett was the primary starter and if we needed a goal and/or wanted to attack a tired backline with pace, I would bring on Chuba Akpom, who run by defenders and scored 13 goals.  Right Winger Tahith Chong, who joined us from Manchester United, led the team with 10 assists on the right wing.  We again lacked creativity from the central midfield.  Youth academy product Kadeem Proctor spent the entire team with the senior team and got a lot of minutes on the left wing while scoring five goals with one assist.  Left back Emmanuel Harris also came through the academy and got a good amount of playing time.  He made a good contribution as a rotational option on the back line mainly in the left back position.

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Absolutely nothing to write home about in the youth intake.

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I won the manager of the year.

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We, finally, have a new chairman.  He wiped the gift loan from Steve Gibson off the books and provided a loan to cover the club's losses in the 2023-24 season.

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He wants to build the new stadium for the club.

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And is willing to give a good transfer kitty to spend in order to make us competitive in the Premier League.

  

 

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January 1, 2025 Update

We had a bevy of transfer activity as we moved up from the Championship to the Premier League.  Lots of players in and lots of players getting shown the door.

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The biggest purchase, in terms of impact, has to be wing forward Ben Woodburn.  I tried to get a couple of seasons ago when Liverpool let his contract wind down but was out-bid by Sheffield United.  Now, Sheffield are in the Championship and needed to offload players and salary.  Now, Middlesbrough are in the Premier League and Ben wants to continue play in the Premier League so we purchased him away from Sheffield.  We tried to upgrade our wingback positions with the purchases of Oli Aina from Southampton and Ryan Nyambe from Blackburn.  The two sold players were both backups who wanted out of the club so they could continue to play first-team football.

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The board did not expect from us this season.  Just try not to get relegated and have a decent showing in both cups.

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We had a good showing in the Carabao Cup as we reached the fourth round before getting knocked out by Southampton.  In the league, I switched the formation to more of a low block 4-1-4-1 formation since we are going to be outgunned in just about every match.  But as the season wore on, it was too defensive to use in home matches so I brought back 4-2-3-1 wide with two defensive midfielders at home against teams who are around us in the table and the switch has proven to be very successful.  You can see this in our December fixtures as we claimed victories against West Ham, Reading and Burnley.  I was also very proud of our 2-1 home victory against Liverpool.  It was the lone bright spot in a tough stretch of five games.

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We proudly sit in 11th place with a 8-3-9 record.  The goal difference isn't the greatest at -7 but the 27 points in 20 matches (1.35 per game) as us on a pace to 51 points for the season which would keep us well away from the relegation zone.

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Aaron Connolly, an Irish center forward brought in from Sporting, leads the team in both goals (6) and assists (4).  Ben Woodburn has provided some offense on the wing with four goals while his counterpart, Tahith Chong, on the right side has scored three goals.  All in all not a bad first half of the season effort.  We are still looking to improve the spine of our team.  Both center backs are decent for this level and we are need of an upgrade there as well in the central midfield.

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However, those players won't be coming from the youth academy.  It looks like a bad intake in coming through this spring.

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2025 Youth Intake

Youth Intake time, it's time to sift through the crap!

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Well... the good news is the intake get upgraded from "below average 2* intake" on preview day to "good 3.5* intake" on graduation day.  The intake is very top heavy but with crap personalities.  The bottom end has great personalities attached to crap players.  One maybe two players from this group will likely see time with the senior team.

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Warren Stevens 25A is the most likely candidate to see time with the senior team.  Good at both the center forward and left forward positions.  Lacks a bit of pace to be a true winger but is very smart on the ball and is willing to play defense as well as offense.  The "runs with ball through centre" trait screams a player to convert to a central location in the formation.  A very good all-around player.

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Scott Purcell 25B is more of a true winger.  Has the pace to run by you.  Good off the ball.  Good dribbler.  Won't be ready for the senior team for a couple of seasons which is fine because I'm looking for him to contribute right away.

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Ben Evans 25C is an interesting winger.  He wants to put in the work on the pitch and has good pace.  But he isn't fit, not a good passer or decision maker.  At 16 years old, he's really only two years away from senior team consideration.  I don't think he has the high ceiling needed to be a senior team player even as a reserve.  Could be a good candidate to sell to a Championship/League One club with a next sale clause.

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Razvan Staicu 25D is a defender who isn't good at defending.  He's got potential to be a good tackler so he could slide up to the wing as a stay-at-home fullback but with his personality, I'm not sure he wants to put in the work to switch to a new position or develop as a player.

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A tiny winger at only 5'1".  He's quick and good on the ball once he gets it under control which is a problem for him.  Too small to slide back to wingback and play defense.  Really just a player, given his size, has a lot of limitations to his game.  Another good sellable player with a next sale clause.

 

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2024-25 Season

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In terms of points, we had a very successful season.  46 points.  11th place finish.  All of that would make you think that our season was a good one especially for our first season in the Premier League.  But you don't have dive very deep into the statistics to see that it was not a great season.  We allowed 61 goals (1.61 per game) and only scored 39 goals (1.03 per game).  The 39 goals scored ranked 15th in the Premier League and the 61 goals allowed ranked tied for 15th.  We should have finished much lower in the table than we did.  We had only seven clean sheets on the season compared to league leader Liverpool's 21 clean sheets.  

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We had a very difficult stretch of games from mid-January through the end of March.  It was a struggle.  Don't score in games where the defense played well.  Score a bunch of goals and defense plays poorly.  The offense completely dried up for a five-game run after the 3-3 draw against Leicester.  We got a much needed victory against Leeds and then followed it up with a surprise 1-1 draw at Old Trafford.  From there, our form steadied and we were able to move up the very tight bottom half of the table and finish 11th.  

The FA Cup was tough.  We just didn't play well against Championship side West Brom and we got bounced in the 3rd round.

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Only right back Ryan Nyambe had a season-long average rating above 7.00.  Everyone else was varying degrees of average which makes sense.  A lot of them are cut out for the Premier League standard of play and those that are had their performance dragged down by the players around them.  Center forward Aaron Connolly was the best of the average bunch as he led the team with 13 goals but the second leading goal scorer, Tahith Chong, only scored five goals while leading the team with five assists.

The defense was particularly bad.

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We didn't have a single central defender who was 80%+ in both tackles won and headers won.  Dael Fry was strong in the air (90% headers won) but weak in the tackle (75% tackles won).  Daniel Ballard was stronger in the tackle (81% tackles won) but weak in the air (78% headers won).  Ashley Phillips is showing promise as a central defender but he has a very small sample size to read into the data presented.  We need to upgrade this position as our top priority in the off season.  The second priority is going to be upgrading the midfield and then work on finding a second scorer to take some of the work load off of Aaron Connelly.

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On the whole, the new signings were good but not spectacular. 

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The owner will no longer cover our losses that we incur for the season.

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The good news is the new stadium is getting built without any loans used to pay for the stadium.  Not sure what the expansion capacity is but this is a little over 50% capacity increase from our current stadium.

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June 2025 Signings

Middlesbrough had a VERY busy June 2025 transfer window.  Lots of new faces coming in:

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The board gave me 50.5 million to play with and I fully intended to play with all of the cash.  We have upgrades to make!

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John Carlisle is a player to boost our youth team so I won't go into his signing in depth here.  I'm going to focus on the other three signings here.

David Martinez and Tom Holmes - A new center back pairing

The top priority was boosting the center of the defense.  We were very soft here and in the second half of the season teams starting to take advantage of this soft underbelly in our team.

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David Martinez is more of an all-around center back.  He can defend better than any of our defenders from last season.  He can move the ball from the back to midfield or even skip the midfield and go long to center forward.

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Tom Holmes is a true stay-at-home center back who is willing to contest and win balls in the air.  

Ricardo Pepi

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Ricardo Pepi had outgrown the MLS and FC Dallas and was looking for a bigger team to play for.  Enter Middlesbrough.  We need a second scorer and a fast player who can stretch the back line.  The only knock against him is his unwillingness to pass the ball to his teammates.  I'll need to train that out of him.  He can't dribble through Premier League defenses like he did in MLS.

Dragoljub Lekic

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We out-maneuvered Arsenal and Newcastle to bring Lekic over from Red Star.  He's an attack-minded midfielder and I'm going to try to bring that attack-mindedness into our central midfield and rotate him into the attacking midfield as needed.  He could be an interesting candidate as a wide playmaker or mezzala.

Gal Gorenak

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Another attacking winger than we could convert in a more central midfielder as he lacks the pace to be a true winger.  Gorenak comes over from Maribor and is a great passer of the ball.  He just needs to learn how to use his passing to his advantage and be a creative force in the midfield.

Santiago Simon

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Another wide central midfielder who can play on the wing in a 4-1-4-1 or move inside in a 4-3-3.  A great passes of the ball and can see the whole field.  Can run for days.  A nice acquisition from River Plate.

Lucas Tousart

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Tousart was brought in to play the base in the 4-1-4-1 and 4-3-3.  He's a meat grinder of a midfielder.  Can shield the two center backs or even drop deep into as a defacto third center back and let the two wingbacks get forward.  A player who wants to do everything to win and do the things that don't show up on the scoresheet.  My kind of player.

Summary

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I've raised another 20 million pounds that could be used to shore up depth at the wingback, wing forward and goalkeeping positions should my scouts uncover the right player.

Priorities

1) Center backs: CHECK

2) Center Midfield: CHECK

3) Center Forward: CHECK

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1 hour ago, keeper#1 said:

June 2025 Signings

Middlesbrough had a VERY busy June 2025 transfer window.  Lots of new faces coming in:

212862894_2025-26Budgets.png.8a6ef78cc4f0d189f5387aa5ccd0d7d0.png

The board gave me 50.5 million to play with and I fully intended to play with all of the cash.  We have upgrades to make!

834786064_June2025Signings1.png.d1df3fc4cd56d3858fdc16b262b16d31.png234601876_June2025Signings2.png.6107e18855bccf3d995ea00c5802defb.png

John Carlisle is a player to boost our youth team so I won't go into his signing in depth here.  I'm going to focus on the other three signings here.

David Martinez and Tom Holmes - A new center back pairing

The top priority was boosting the center of the defense.  We were very soft here and in the second half of the season teams starting to take advantage of this soft underbelly in our team.

846054864_DavidMartinez.thumb.png.1d2e32a7ad24275fd29ba25e6a4ae4ce.png

David Martinez is more of an all-around center back.  He can defend better than any of our defenders from last season.  He can move the ball from the back to midfield or even skip the midfield and go long to center forward.

441477410_TomHolmes.thumb.png.748d6ab1ac6f8783df80b8f403e741b7.png

Tom Holmes is a true stay-at-home center back who is willing to contest and win balls in the air.  

Ricardo Pepi

142672596_RicardoPepi.thumb.png.2c34f79b726677fd10a720e5ad5d8417.png

Ricardo Pepi had outgrown the MLS and FC Dallas and was looking for a bigger team to play for.  Enter Middlesbrough.  We need a second scorer and a fast player who can stretch the back line.  The only knock against him is his unwillingness to pass the ball to his teammates.  I'll need to train that out of him.  He can't dribble through Premier League defenses like he did in MLS.

Dragoljub Lekic

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We out-maneuvered Arsenal and Newcastle to bring Lekic over from Red Star.  He's an attack-minded midfielder and I'm going to try to bring that attack-mindedness into our central midfield and rotate him into the attacking midfield as needed.  He could be an interesting candidate as a wide playmaker or mezzala.

Gal Gorenak

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Another attacking winger than we could convert in a more central midfielder as he lacks the pace to be a true winger.  Gorenak comes over from Maribor and is a great passer of the ball.  He just needs to learn how to use his passing to his advantage and be a creative force in the midfield.

Santiago Simon

157976245_SantiagoSimonSigned.png.a7b3d838ad8ff4342ae89b144e222c96.png

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Another wide central midfielder who can play on the wing in a 4-1-4-1 or move inside in a 4-3-3.  A great passes of the ball and can see the whole field.  Can run for days.  A nice acquisition from River Plate.

Lucas Tousart

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Tousart was brought in to play the base in the 4-1-4-1 and 4-3-3.  He's a meat grinder of a midfielder.  Can shield the two center backs or even drop deep into as a defacto third center back and let the two wingbacks get forward.  A player who wants to do everything to win and do the things that don't show up on the scoresheet.  My kind of player.

Summary

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2056624000_July2025TransfersOut.png.76193fa3927e0304514fab7b300457e9.png

I've raised another 20 million pounds that could be used to shore up depth at the wingback, wing forward and goalkeeping positions should my scouts uncover the right player.

Priorities

1) Center backs: CHECK

2) Center Midfield: CHECK

3) Center Forward: CHECK

Nice overhaul

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January 1, 2026 Update

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A combination of tactical changes and an upgraded team have led to good performances on the field.  Our goal difference is vastly improved from last season.  Our goals scored per game has improved (25 goals in 19 games = 1.32 per game) as has our goals allowed per game (28 goals in 19 games = 1.47 per game).  I'd like to see the defense improve some more but more on that later.

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The number of clean sheets is nowhere near what I hoped it would be but our goalkeeper Daniel Iversen has been in a shooting gallery some nights due to our tactical shift to more offense and less playing a lower block to earn a draw.  We want to win games not draw them.  That has led to some high goal counts when Iversen has a bad night against teams at the top of the league.  Our best stretch of games was in November when we went undefeated and carried that momentum into early December before Arsenal crushed us 4-2.

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We are overperforming slightly in both xG for and xG allowed which has outperforming our expected place in the table.  We should be a lot closer to the relegation fight than we currently stand.

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On the offense side, the new signings have been pretty good.  Santiago Simon is quickly becoming a creative force in the center of the pitch with a team-high seven assists while making almost three key passes per games.  He's also added three goals as well.  Gal Gorenak has played in the middle but it looks like his home might on the wings.  He's not the passer that Simon is with just 1.20 key passes per 90.  Dragoljub Lekic looks be the better midfield partner for Simon.  The key passes per 90 are very similar even though those passes have not led to goals since he only has three assists to Simon's seven.  Ricardo Pepi has become the starting center forward and leads the team with seven goals.  Connolly is decent second option and has four goals thus far in the season.

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As of January 1, I'm batting .500 with the center back signings.  Tom Holmes has been everything that I had hoped for from him.  He's a beast in the air winning 92% of his headers and winning close 14 headers per game.  His tackling is above average at 88% which is a vast improvement over my pair from last season.  David Martinez has proved to be a bust so far.  He's terrible in the air winning only 70 % of his headers and his tackling is even worse at only 67%.  He makes more interceptions but not enough to cover up the holes in his tackling and aerial game.  Marcelo Weigandt was an August signing to provide some right back depth.  He's proofing to be a slight improvement over Ryan Nyambe in terms of defense and an even better offensive option.  Ola Aina is a solid left back option especially for someone is more of natural left winger.

1957955438_January12026PossessionLost.png.612c83f76548d5d84fd7ee5444eb5246.png

Another problem that we are facing as a defense is we are poor passers out of the back.  Losing possession 16% of the time inside our own 16-yard area is not a recipe for success.  It leads to quick transitions with players out of position or transitioning from defense to offense and can't get back in time.  This leads to opposition having a numerical advantage and easy goals.  Once we get it out of zone, we have a problem turning the ball over just inside the opposition's half of the field which again didn't leave us a lot of time to set up on defense since we were a couple phases deeper into the transition from defense to offense.  We would get caught in an offensive formation and not have enough recovery time to set up our defensive shape.

709467871_FormationAnalysis.png.73d21dcae2e491f568572031bd4a1916.png

Our best offensive formations are the 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 deep formations as we create more chances than our opponents.  We don't have the success rate in converting these chances.  Our 4-1-4-1 formation is more defensive and doesn't create the chances compared to our opponents but that's usually used to close up shop when we have a lead late in the game.  It's not a chance creating formation.

1403204957_2026YouthIntakePreview.thumb.png.db1d98268eecc28c7d0819078dfe7cab.png

Looks like another top heavy intake coming in the spring.

2042004941_ExtraTransferFundsAvailable.png.ad9927774060e8329808936ff7abef50.png

I'll have some money to spend in the January window to hopefully shore up some of the defensive shortcomings. 

Youth Recruitment Improvement.png

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Winter 2026 Transfer Window

I made a couple of deadline day purchases to shore up our defense and improve our midfield (though we will have to wait until next season for that improvement)

1630293405_RodrigoFajardoSigning.png.9c98c7bd70ebacb2e9d1dd0822ef3e81.png

76254670_RodrigoFajardo.thumb.png.cc24b6f7f26a63034e24c7ed8892d7a5.png

Rodrigo Fajardo was not a deadline deal signing.  I signed Fajardo, on a free, back in September from Uruguay and because of the expiry dates not lining up with the European calendar, I had to wait until January 1 for Fajardo to join us.  He will provide goalkeeping depth for a year or two before moving into the backup role when Sluga's contract expires or he wants to move into the coaches offices.

1924278859_NehuenPerezSigned.png.cdd22a66e96eb112653eeefdf42da189.png

1668906599_NehuenPerez.thumb.png.3b09a0ea1413a8d4c1bbb817b54f3eab.png

Nehuen Perez was going to be an expensive buy IF I bought him at the beginning of the winter transfer window.  However, on deadline day, the New York Red Bulls transfer listed him only 3.5 million pounds.  I quickly moved in to bring him into the club.  He instantly becomes a solid third center back option which will move David Martinez down to the fourth center back option as we send Ashley Williams out on loan to Bristol City to see if they can help him improve his passing game.  

1838466715_DaniloSigned.png.81c2fd2a123dc80d93653e4b3f36f45f.png

Danilo was someone I missed out on the summer transfer window as he went to Leverkusen.  Also on deadline day, Leverkusen listed him for three million pounds.  I moved in because I really like the player.  The only downside is he left Brazil when his contract expired on August 31st which means he played for his club during the European registration window.  Then, he played for Leverkusen in the fall.  As a result, he's been registered for two clubs this European season so I can't register him.  As a result, he will play with the U23s and get ready to join us for the 2026-27 season.  I won't post his attributes so @Shrewnaldodoesn't see them if he reads this post.  Got keep those numerical attributes blind to him. :)

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43 minutes ago, keeper#1 said:

Winter 2026 Transfer Window

I made a couple of deadline day purchases to shore up our defense and improve our midfield (though we will have to wait until next season for that improvement)

1630293405_RodrigoFajardoSigning.png.9c98c7bd70ebacb2e9d1dd0822ef3e81.png

76254670_RodrigoFajardo.thumb.png.cc24b6f7f26a63034e24c7ed8892d7a5.png

Rodrigo Fajardo was not a deadline deal signing.  I signed Fajardo, on a free, back in September from Uruguay and because of the expiry dates not lining up with the European calendar, I had to wait until January 1 for Fajardo to join us.  He will provide goalkeeping depth for a year or two before moving into the backup role when Sluga's contract expires or he wants to move into the coaches offices.

1924278859_NehuenPerezSigned.png.cdd22a66e96eb112653eeefdf42da189.png

1668906599_NehuenPerez.thumb.png.3b09a0ea1413a8d4c1bbb817b54f3eab.png

Nehuen Perez was going to be an expensive buy IF I bought him at the beginning of the winter transfer window.  However, on deadline day, the New York Red Bulls transfer listed him only 3.5 million pounds.  I quickly moved in to bring him into the club.  He instantly becomes a solid third center back option which will move David Martinez down to the fourth center back option as we send Ashley Williams out on loan to Bristol City to see if they can help him improve his passing game.  

1838466715_DaniloSigned.png.81c2fd2a123dc80d93653e4b3f36f45f.png

Danilo was someone I missed out on the summer transfer window as he went to Leverkusen.  Also on deadline day, Leverkusen listed him for three million pounds.  I moved in because I really like the player.  The only downside is he left Brazil when his contract expired on August 31st which means he played for his club during the European registration window.  Then, he played for Leverkusen in the fall.  As a result, he's been registered for two clubs this European season so I can't register him.  As a result, he will play with the U23s and get ready to join us for the 2026-27 season.  I won't post his attributes so @Shrewnaldodoesn't see them if he reads this post.  Got keep those numerical attributes blind to him. :)

Haha, much appreciated.

I'll be keen to see how he does for you, so I'll keep an eye out. Still very much on my radar. Perez looks like a cracking signing too - 17 aggression makes for a lovely Argentinian defender.

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2026 Youth Intake

Intakes at the Premier League level are hard because the player has to be really good to be considered 4* or 5*.  As a result, you end up with a lot of squad players and hope that the two or three 4* or 5* talents pan out.  It's a lot like college football recruiting.  The clubs/teams below the top tier have a hard time getting a lot of 4* or 5* talent into the squad and they can't miss on the ones that they do get.  They need to look at the 3* players and work with them hoping they can improve their star rating and be a contributing player with the senior team.

1962464376_2026YouthIntakeRecap1.thumb.png.21f2ff83511439c5a5a32685fb8877f1.png

1075678157_2026YouthIntakeRecap2.thumb.png.ed2a09852a66948ab67aa212a405b07e.png

Our intake got downgraded from a "golden generation" to an average intake.  It's very top heavy with two elite talents but no top talents.

Two 5-star talents

Four 3-star talents

Four 2.5-star talents

Five 2-star talents

One 1.5-star talents

289864647_2026Youthintake.thumb.png.32aba3d051ba5ef8486440d45192c2b0.png

The nice thing about the players below the elite talents is they have good personalities which should be good for development.  I need to turn those "good talents" into "top talents" to make the Class of 2026 something to remember.

615331864_JordanMcCormack26A.thumb.png.3b8ce1405f7607749bd4458b39dfafaf.png

Jordan McCormack 26A is a Scottish left-winger who already has a lot of good mentals and physical attributes.  He needs to work on the technical side of his game before he can make a push for a spot on the senior team.

766797500_AnthonyBalfour26B.thumb.png.6eaa2c7cf7e07179baed50485e5ed400.png

My HoYD went to Scotland again and brought over Anthony Balfour 26B, a pure score who is strong in the air but a bit on the slow side.  Another smart player.  Needs to work on his left foot to be a better scoring threat.  He will be a nice bench option going forward and may push for a starting slot.

604860557_BrandonSwinton26C.thumb.png.9e0dcfc3e1fe615724fc526401e9e5bb.png

We dive into Scotland for a third player in this intake.  Brandon Swinton 26C is a lightning fast right winger who is not very bright on the ball.  He's a "million-dollar talent with a five-cent head" type of player.  If we increase the price of his head, we've got a good player who can help us on our hands.

616264270_VictorWilletts26D.thumb.png.4692ade369474b9aded5bf9cc964c971.png

Victor Willetts 26D is someone who can push Swinton to become a smart player.  Not as skilled or as fast Swinton but smarter on and off ball.  He could also become a contributing player just in a different way than Swinton.

416509536_FinlayWilson26E.thumb.png.30a2c6a1597863a79905c46ddd01bbde.png

Finlay Wilson 26E is a defender who is strong and brave in the air.  Not the fastest player or able to concentrate for 90 minutes.  He will have a tougher time to push for playing time because you really don't have an "impact sub" on the defensive line.  He may be a develop and sell for profit type of player.

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4 minutes ago, Shrewnaldo said:

Have you explained the code you've given each player? Obviously it's the year of their intake and a unique letter identifier, but is the letter your judgement of them from best to worst potential?

You nailed it.  Class year and then ranking of the player.  A = player with best potential to P = player with worst potential

Edited by keeper#1
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2025-26 Season Review

259525918_2025-26FinalTable.thumb.png.439040e1aa8e81e03beea6c3da5632a2.png

We have two similarities to our first season back in the Premier League: we finished in 11th place and we allowed 61 goals.  That's where the similarities end.  I made an effort to playing a more offensive tactics and less sitting back with a lower block and let the opposition dictate the play.  I feel we were improved defensively but it does not so up in the gross numbers.  More importantly, we are vastly improved offensively as our goals scored improved from 39 goals last season to 56 goals this season.  I feel like we are more complete team in our second season.  I never feared relegation this season.  I feared relegation last season.

1968923729_2025-26Fixtures3.png.33cc0dc42ee9a0172d9e7d8fd6c4e034.png975585566_2025-26Fixtures4.png.cce7d426d9376741bdd4d620b349e703.png

We constantly allowed one goal per game.  However, we could match that output this season.  That said, we did put up some defensive clunkers especially on the road.  We probably would have come in with fewer than 61 goals allowed had it not been for the nine goals allowed at Arsenal and Manchester City to close the season.

264744429_2025-26FinalStats1.thumb.png.73654c273a9defbfc3ac2d83cf3603e1.png1542010936_2025-26FinalStats2.thumb.png.a192915cfc4488846cce42c38078d197.png

We had two 10+ goal scorers this season: new center forward Ricardo Pepi led the team with 14 goals while central midfielder/right winger Dragoljub Lekic was just one goal behind with 13 goals.  Santiago Simon had 13 helpers for the season.

1393619836_2025-26FinalDefenseStats.thumb.png.0c9dfba30c58f4e96084a24e5935057f.png

On the defensive side of the ball, Tom Holmes proved to be a great signing.  He was an absolute beast in the air winning 91% of his headers while winning 84% of the tackles.  Dael Fay proved to be the best center back partner for Holmes.  He was above 85% in both headers and tackles while getting almost three interceptions per game.  I feel comfortable on the right side with the tandem of Weigandt and Nyambe.  The left side is weaker Ola Aina who a more natural left winger who can play defense as the starter and backed up by academy product Emmanuel Harris 22A.  Both are pretty much the same player.  I need an upgrade at starter here while keeping Harris as the rotational option.

601430176_2025-26DefenseStats.png.b8936feb3cc70ebeed67b95961fd2a34.png2064454857_PossessionLost.png.ea06db8a741fdb20e8f1ed3d57cc373c.png

 

Clearances above the league average is not a good thing because it means we are playing in our end too much.  We are also losing possession too frequently in our defensive zone.  This could be from blind clearances instead of taking a shorter option and bringing the ball up the field.  But clearing just for the sake clearing did not help us this season.  I like being one of the league leaders in interceptions because we are in the right position to slow down attacks once they start and blunt attacks.  The key problem, though, is the clearing for the sake of clearing.

287146916_2025-26xGTable.png.53118cad2cf1a7da83f4a2c55d1da904.png

Overperforming in terms of xG scored but underperforming in terms of xG allows leads to a team who is performs just about where they should on the table.  The xG points was 49 and we scored 49 points this season but relegation was never an option this season.  We were clearly safe.

795647913_2026Top50Wonderkids.png.c4b7b92e622691550bd38ab22d1fbc3f.png1879681743_LekicYoungPlayeroftheYear.png.cd983d46040712e0a55bd34eb92aa654.png798166714_DragoljubLekic.png.0a53760e1709395fb342502450419d13.png

Dragoljub Lekic was selected as one of the top 50 wonderkids in all of football and then won the English Premier League Young Player of the Year on top of that.  I'd say he should move up in the rankings next season but he ages out of the rankings. Definitely, a player who I can build around going forward.

1515345658_YouthFacilitiesImprovement.png.10f7b00157f4ee3ba371736abb112965.png

Time to invest into the youth academy to make it even better than it currently is.  Need to get more elite talents that can move into the first team instead constantly scouting for the elite talents to bring in from the outside.  English talent is very expensive to buy every year.

673146343_2026-27Budgets.png.a35bd73d88a7a8ac84ce95beb3ffff84.png

Board is willing to continue to let us spend money to bring in better talent so we can stay in the top flight and not fall back down into the Championship.

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Solid season and not really outplayed unless it was one of the big boys of the league. Got to hope can build on that and push those teams above to be closer to fighting for Europe next season. Do you think you can keep Lekic long term if he is winning Prem player of the year and attracting interest from bigger clubs?

English players are soooo expensive, even those who are not good enough still command silly money!

Edited by theBlackPrince
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10 hours ago, keeper#1 said:

2025-26 Season Review

259525918_2025-26FinalTable.thumb.png.439040e1aa8e81e03beea6c3da5632a2.png

We have two similarities to our first season back in the Premier League: we finished in 11th place and we allowed 61 goals.  That's where the similarities end.  I made an effort to playing a more offensive tactics and less sitting back with a lower block and let the opposition dictate the play.  I feel we were improved defensively but it does not so up in the gross numbers.  More importantly, we are vastly improved offensively as our goals scored improved from 39 goals last season to 56 goals this season.  I feel like we are more complete team in our second season.  I never feared relegation this season.  I feared relegation last season.

1968923729_2025-26Fixtures3.png.33cc0dc42ee9a0172d9e7d8fd6c4e034.png975585566_2025-26Fixtures4.png.cce7d426d9376741bdd4d620b349e703.png

We constantly allowed one goal per game.  However, we could match that output this season.  That said, we did put up some defensive clunkers especially on the road.  We probably would have come in with fewer than 61 goals allowed had it not been for the nine goals allowed at Arsenal and Manchester City to close the season.

264744429_2025-26FinalStats1.thumb.png.73654c273a9defbfc3ac2d83cf3603e1.png1542010936_2025-26FinalStats2.thumb.png.a192915cfc4488846cce42c38078d197.png

We had two 10+ goal scorers this season: new center forward Ricardo Pepi led the team with 14 goals while central midfielder/right winger Dragoljub Lekic was just one goal behind with 13 goals.  Santiago Simon had 13 helpers for the season.

1393619836_2025-26FinalDefenseStats.thumb.png.0c9dfba30c58f4e96084a24e5935057f.png

On the defensive side of the ball, Tom Holmes proved to be a great signing.  He was an absolute beast in the air winning 91% of his headers while winning 84% of the tackles.  Dael Fay proved to be the best center back partner for Holmes.  He was above 85% in both headers and tackles while getting almost three interceptions per game.  I feel comfortable on the right side with the tandem of Weigandt and Nyambe.  The left side is weaker Ola Aina who a more natural left winger who can play defense as the starter and backed up by academy product Emmanuel Harris 22A.  Both are pretty much the same player.  I need an upgrade at starter here while keeping Harris as the rotational option.

601430176_2025-26DefenseStats.png.b8936feb3cc70ebeed67b95961fd2a34.png2064454857_PossessionLost.png.ea06db8a741fdb20e8f1ed3d57cc373c.png

 

Clearances above the league average is not a good thing because it means we are playing in our end too much.  We are also losing possession too frequently in our defensive zone.  This could be from blind clearances instead of taking a shorter option and bringing the ball up the field.  But clearing just for the sake clearing did not help us this season.  I like being one of the league leaders in interceptions because we are in the right position to slow down attacks once they start and blunt attacks.  The key problem, though, is the clearing for the sake of clearing.

287146916_2025-26xGTable.png.53118cad2cf1a7da83f4a2c55d1da904.png

Overperforming in terms of xG scored but underperforming in terms of xG allows leads to a team who is performs just about where they should on the table.  The xG points was 49 and we scored 49 points this season but relegation was never an option this season.  We were clearly safe.

795647913_2026Top50Wonderkids.png.c4b7b92e622691550bd38ab22d1fbc3f.png1879681743_LekicYoungPlayeroftheYear.png.cd983d46040712e0a55bd34eb92aa654.png798166714_DragoljubLekic.png.0a53760e1709395fb342502450419d13.png

Dragoljub Lekic was selected as one of the top 50 wonderkids in all of football and then won the English Premier League Young Player of the Year on top of that.  I'd say he should move up in the rankings next season but he ages out of the rankings. Definitely, a player who I can build around going forward.

1515345658_YouthFacilitiesImprovement.png.10f7b00157f4ee3ba371736abb112965.png

Time to invest into the youth academy to make it even better than it currently is.  Need to get more elite talents that can move into the first team instead constantly scouting for the elite talents to bring in from the outside.  English talent is very expensive to buy every year.

673146343_2026-27Budgets.png.a35bd73d88a7a8ac84ce95beb3ffff84.png

Board is willing to continue to let us spend money to bring in better talent so we can stay in the top flight and not fall back down into the Championship.

Here's to hoping you can hold on to Lekic.  The board allowing you to spend money is good.  Shows they are believing in the process. 

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13 hours ago, keeper#1 said:

2025-26 Season Review

259525918_2025-26FinalTable.thumb.png.439040e1aa8e81e03beea6c3da5632a2.png

We have two similarities to our first season back in the Premier League: we finished in 11th place and we allowed 61 goals.  That's where the similarities end.  I made an effort to playing a more offensive tactics and less sitting back with a lower block and let the opposition dictate the play.  I feel we were improved defensively but it does not so up in the gross numbers.  More importantly, we are vastly improved offensively as our goals scored improved from 39 goals last season to 56 goals this season.  I feel like we are more complete team in our second season.  I never feared relegation this season.  I feared relegation last season.

1968923729_2025-26Fixtures3.png.33cc0dc42ee9a0172d9e7d8fd6c4e034.png975585566_2025-26Fixtures4.png.cce7d426d9376741bdd4d620b349e703.png

We constantly allowed one goal per game.  However, we could match that output this season.  That said, we did put up some defensive clunkers especially on the road.  We probably would have come in with fewer than 61 goals allowed had it not been for the nine goals allowed at Arsenal and Manchester City to close the season.

264744429_2025-26FinalStats1.thumb.png.73654c273a9defbfc3ac2d83cf3603e1.png1542010936_2025-26FinalStats2.thumb.png.a192915cfc4488846cce42c38078d197.png

We had two 10+ goal scorers this season: new center forward Ricardo Pepi led the team with 14 goals while central midfielder/right winger Dragoljub Lekic was just one goal behind with 13 goals.  Santiago Simon had 13 helpers for the season.

1393619836_2025-26FinalDefenseStats.thumb.png.0c9dfba30c58f4e96084a24e5935057f.png

On the defensive side of the ball, Tom Holmes proved to be a great signing.  He was an absolute beast in the air winning 91% of his headers while winning 84% of the tackles.  Dael Fay proved to be the best center back partner for Holmes.  He was above 85% in both headers and tackles while getting almost three interceptions per game.  I feel comfortable on the right side with the tandem of Weigandt and Nyambe.  The left side is weaker Ola Aina who a more natural left winger who can play defense as the starter and backed up by academy product Emmanuel Harris 22A.  Both are pretty much the same player.  I need an upgrade at starter here while keeping Harris as the rotational option.

601430176_2025-26DefenseStats.png.b8936feb3cc70ebeed67b95961fd2a34.png2064454857_PossessionLost.png.ea06db8a741fdb20e8f1ed3d57cc373c.png

 

Clearances above the league average is not a good thing because it means we are playing in our end too much.  We are also losing possession too frequently in our defensive zone.  This could be from blind clearances instead of taking a shorter option and bringing the ball up the field.  But clearing just for the sake clearing did not help us this season.  I like being one of the league leaders in interceptions because we are in the right position to slow down attacks once they start and blunt attacks.  The key problem, though, is the clearing for the sake of clearing.

287146916_2025-26xGTable.png.53118cad2cf1a7da83f4a2c55d1da904.png

Overperforming in terms of xG scored but underperforming in terms of xG allows leads to a team who is performs just about where they should on the table.  The xG points was 49 and we scored 49 points this season but relegation was never an option this season.  We were clearly safe.

795647913_2026Top50Wonderkids.png.c4b7b92e622691550bd38ab22d1fbc3f.png1879681743_LekicYoungPlayeroftheYear.png.cd983d46040712e0a55bd34eb92aa654.png798166714_DragoljubLekic.png.0a53760e1709395fb342502450419d13.png

Dragoljub Lekic was selected as one of the top 50 wonderkids in all of football and then won the English Premier League Young Player of the Year on top of that.  I'd say he should move up in the rankings next season but he ages out of the rankings. Definitely, a player who I can build around going forward.

1515345658_YouthFacilitiesImprovement.png.10f7b00157f4ee3ba371736abb112965.png

Time to invest into the youth academy to make it even better than it currently is.  Need to get more elite talents that can move into the first team instead constantly scouting for the elite talents to bring in from the outside.  English talent is very expensive to buy every year.

673146343_2026-27Budgets.png.a35bd73d88a7a8ac84ce95beb3ffff84.png

Board is willing to continue to let us spend money to bring in better talent so we can stay in the top flight and not fall back down into the Championship.

I've been looking at Tom Holmes myself but something keeps putting me off - I think maybe lack of agility? And one of his stats is off in my game, maybe interceptions per game? Great to see that he's smashing it for you

Really solid second season 

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19 hours ago, theBlackPrince said:

Solid season and not really outplayed unless it was one of the big boys of the league. Got to hope can build on that and push those teams above to be closer to fighting for Europe next season. Do you think you can keep Lekic long term if he is winning Prem player of the year and attracting interest from bigger clubs?

English players are soooo expensive, even those who are not good enough still command silly money!

I've squashed any potential interest in Lekic with a new contract.

1232701372_NewLekicContract.png.0e0d4818b9621f94cb5d00dbbf4dcc23.png45977617_NewLekicContract2.thumb.png.8e150021ea691abb58cb6e0fd624fbd7.png

Signed through 2031 and I got rid of his very low release fee.

8 hours ago, Blarney said:

Here's to hoping you can hold on to Lekic.  The board allowing you to spend money is good.  Shows they are believing in the process. 

The board want me to spend the original transfer budget they give me so they want to see the squad improved.  I'm making sure I sell as well and try to stay as close to transer revenue neutral as possible.

5 hours ago, Shrewnaldo said:

I've been looking at Tom Holmes myself but something keeps putting me off - I think maybe lack of agility? And one of his stats is off in my game, maybe interceptions per game? Great to see that he's smashing it for you

Really solid second season 

During the first season in the Premier League, I was getting beat a lot with long balls over the top from the goalkeeper or defensive line - true Route One football.  Holmes is a beast in the air and he has helped blunt some of that Route One football.  He's not a great interceptor of the ball but he wasn't brought in for those skills.

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20 hours ago, Shrewnaldo said:

I'm after another centre back who will be happy with a rotation position, seems like Holmes could do the job. How much did he cost you?

A little over 10 million from Reading on a relegation release clause.

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Summer 2026 Transfers - Here come the kids

After a few intakes which had good Championship talent but not Premier League talent, I had to invest heavily into young players that could become a core of a team going forward and wait for my academy to start producing Premier League talent consistently.  So the summer of 2026 was focused on the kids.

1935367275_June2026Signings1.png.32c9f5b6024238ad49c83cb297669160.png

385164257_AngelSosa.thumb.png.9aa63e2005832670755a1149cb4399b3.png

A right forward from Mexico with great speed and what could become elite crossing ability.  A smart player who is only beginning to tap into his full potential.

800353599_OmarCampos.thumb.png.dbf8831f2bbd86ec7223c103d7e4d8eb.png

Our replacement of Ole Aina at left back.  Another player with elite speed and should develop into an elite crosser of the ball.  A huge all-around improvement over Aina.

1421362586_AlexisSaucedo.thumb.png.1034dc082a1afaf8d3111556fbf82fb9.png

Saucedo is a dual-threat type of player.  He can step into the midfield or he can drop into the right back position and give us a player who can move the ball from the defense to the forwards.  A nice option to have on the roster.

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Lopez is a versatile forward.  He can play in the center of the formation and be a viable scoring option or he can be moved out wide and become a creator out on the wing.  Another dual threat type of player from Argentina.

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Leite will be one of the two starters at center back both this season and in the future.  He has an all-around defensive game.  He can tackle.  He can reach the high ball.  He can pass.  He pays attention for the whole 90 minutes.  A great signing for us.

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Going into Eastern Europe, we bring in Mykola Shaparenko is stylish passer of the ball who improves us in the midfield.  Willing to try the pass that others won't should help unlock defenses and provide some level of unpredictably to our play.

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Shaikhtdinov is a signing for the future should we lose a player like Lekic in the coming seasons. 

 

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January 1, 2027 - Starting to Come Together

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It's been a good first half of the season for Middlesbrough.  We enter 2027 with more league wins (9) than league losses (8) and sit in 10th place.  It's a long way down to the teams battling against relegation.  It looks like Norwich, Everton, Watford and Brentford will be battling for the three relegation slots for the rest of the season.  Leeds may get drawn into the battle as well but everyone else barring a massive drop in form should be safe.  Liverpool are just wrecking everyone in their path with a nine-point lead over Manchester City and allowing only eight goals in 20 matches.  We are starting to see our defense gel.  We've allowed 27 goals in 20 matches (1.35 per game) and scored 28 goals (1.40 per game).

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I tried a tactical switch to a diamond midfield before moving back to the 4-3-3 that I ran all of last season.  The biggest thing is we still allow a lot of goals to the clubs above us in the table while our defensive efforts against the bottom teams is improving.  We seem to score more consistently in a 4-3-3 than we do in the diamond midfield.

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Slowly, I'm seeing an attacking trio starting to form in my starting lineup.  2026 Premier League Young Player of the Year Dragoljib Lekic leads the team with eight goals.  He is followed by new signing Gabriel Lopez with five goals and his midfield partner Santiago Simon who has four goals.  Simon and Lopez also lead the team with four assists.  We have a few players who are tied on two goals per player.  It's nice to have this scoring depth spread out but it would be nice to have an impact sub lurking on the bench that I could count on to score in goal when we are trailing.

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The defense remains a mystery to me.  We are getting closer to the league average when it comes to goals but we are way above the league average in the a lot of the defensive action categories (tackles, interceptions, blocks, clearances).  This means we are spending too much time in our defensive half of the field and even worse we are turning the ball over too much in our defensive half of the field even more than we have in the past.  I'd like to see what the possession lost chart looks like for other teams in the league to see how we compare.

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This might be the last season for my HoYd.  He continues to produce crappy previews and potentially intakes even though he is a highly-rated HoYD.  I'm thinking the problem could be that he's not from England and doesn't have a network of English sources to funnel him the top talent.  But that's just a theory I have.  Who knows if it's a valid theory?

Goal for the second half of the season is to continue to sit the middle of the table and maybe, if the right results go our way, make a push for the final European place.

2026-27 Midseason xG Table.png

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A question for the youth development experts here: my current HoYD continues to churn out crappy intakes for his entire three-year tenure.  But when I click on the individual player's milestones/entire career, they have all have "discovery dates" BEFORE my current HoYD was hired which makes them players discovered by the old HoYD.  Do I give my current HoYD a new contract or no? See what type of intake he brings in next year which should have players that he discovered.

1813210942_CurrentHoYD.thumb.png.24dd97bd2ca79f391172b015c6a4f14b.png

 

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7 hours ago, keeper#1 said:

A question for the youth development experts here: my current HoYD continues to churn out crappy intakes for his entire three-year tenure.  But when I click on the individual player's milestones/entire career, they have all have "discovery dates" BEFORE my current HoYD was hired which makes them players discovered by the old HoYD.  Do I give my current HoYD a new contract or no? See what type of intake he brings in next year which should have players that he discovered.

1813210942_CurrentHoYD.thumb.png.24dd97bd2ca79f391172b015c6a4f14b.png

 

Interesting, I hadn't really looked at those "arrival" dates - but perhaps that's intended to be those who come through the youth system before the HoYD picks out the best ones? It would be a bit odd if the game didn't tell you that there's an enormous lead time on these intakes. In that case, what governs the season 1 intake?

It looks like he should be a good HoYD so it could just be luck. Also, his scouting knowledge of England is still increasing and I do wonder whether this has an impact. I reckon give him another year.

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3 hours ago, Shrewnaldo said:

Interesting, I hadn't really looked at those "arrival" dates - but perhaps that's intended to be those who come through the youth system before the HoYD picks out the best ones? It would be a bit odd if the game didn't tell you that there's an enormous lead time on these intakes. In that case, what governs the season 1 intake?

It looks like he should be a good HoYD so it could just be luck. Also, his scouting knowledge of England is still increasing and I do wonder whether this has an impact. I reckon give him another year.

That's the way I was leaning.  I think I picked up the info about HoYD and discovery dates from one of @_Ben_ older threads or from the Youth Challenge Thread.  Can't remember which one.

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2027 Youth Intake - The Kids are, well, here

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Best thing I can say about this group is they have nice personalities.

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We were only able to grab one potential 5* talent and one potential 3.5* talent.  The rest of the group is 3* or below and there are a lot that are below 3*.  My HoYD is right that this is a below average intake.  You need to do better or your job will be the one on the line, HoYD.

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Nathan Jolley 27A is my potential 5* talent.  He's a big center forward who isn't very quick but wants the ball and is smooth and smart on the ball once he gets t.  He's a good player to have on the roster as he is a different type of center forward than want I currently have on the team.

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Warren Goulding 27B is a solid stay-at-home left back.  He's good on the ball and could become an elite tackler.  However, he's not very fast and that could hurt him against quick wingers.  He's not strong either so he can't muscle them off the ball.  Looks like a develop and sell type of player....not what I want from 2nd best talent in the class.

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Mallon 27C has a promising tag in his description but that's the best thing I can say about him.  He doesn't do any one thing well.  Another candidate for development and hope he can make onto the senior team.

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511790897_RhysStephens27E.thumb.png.9e1cb34e0facab0d45d3947814158b60.png 

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2026-27 Season Recap: Europe was this close

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One point is what stood between ourselves and European football once again.  We had a great second half of the season (thanks to some tactical tweaks) and established ourselves as one of the better teams in the league this year.  An 8th place finish is a great achievement for us and something that we can build upon as we push for a top seven finish next season.  Liverpool were the clear winners of the league as they just ran away and hid from everyone.  Scoring 96 goals.  Allowing just 14 goals on their way to a 100-point season.  Brentford and Watford were down before the last match day of the season.  We sent Everton down the Championship as we beat them 2-1 on the final match day giving them a worse goal difference than Norwich after the two teams were tied on 33 points.

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A rough patch in January and February where we took only three points out of a possible fifteen was likely the difference between 8th place and European football.  But one of those three points was huge: a 1-1 draw against Manchester City.  That gave our confidence a boost heading into a match against Fulham.  Liverpool was waiting for us after that and beat us, like they did to everybody this season, but the only beat us 1-0.  After a cup loss to Arsenal, we responded with three clean sheets in four matches.  The defense became rock solid throughout the final quarter of the season as we allowed just six goals in our last 10 league matches.  That's a defense that I can get behind.

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Dragoljub Lekic led the team in scoring for the second season in a row with 12 goals.  Center forward Gabriel Lopez was right behind him with 11 goals followed by right winger Angel Sosa who had nine goals.  The offense is starting to take shape.  Lekic and Sebastian Simon were tied for the team lead with eight assists.  We are lacking a little bit in the depth department as some of the academy products/youth signings are not quite panning out as I would hoped that they would.  But we've got the building blocks of a good team here.

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For once, I'm not moaning about our defense.  Yeah, we foul a lot but every other category is finally above average.  I've got a solid back-line of Omar Campos at left back, Gil Leite and Dael Fry as the starting center backs with Marcelo Weigandt on the right side.  It's a good defense with Daniel Iversen behind that line in goal.  Iversen put out the occasional clunker of a match but those are getting few and further in between now that he has a solid defense in front of them.

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The biggest improvement, in my mind, is where we are losing possession.  At the midway point, 28% of our lost possession was occurring from passes inside our own penalty box.  By the end of the season, we cut that percentage to 23%.  We still lose the ball too much in the midfield for my liking but hopefully with some more tactical tweaks, I can bring that number down too.  

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The only positions that stayed same when I tweaked the tactics were along the back line.  I stuck with a sweeper keeper playing behind a high defensive line.  The defense line has two CB (d) and two IWB (s).  The defensive midfielder was the biggest change.  Before he was a Regista.  Now I made him a bit more defensive as a DM (d) to help the defensive line out.  As a result, the two midfielders in front of him had to change.  Before I had a pair of Mezzala (a).  I switched Simon's role to an AP (a) and the other role, usually filled by Lekic, into a CM (a) with some of the player instructions for a Mezzala (a).  The wingers only had a slight tweak.  Both were winger (s) now the right side is winger (a).  The central forward moved from a CF (a) to a DLF (a).  In the first half of the season, we had anywhere from six to eight players, depending on how high the IWBs had pushed up in the offensive phase of attack.  The opposition could easily counter this with one or two well-played passes and they were on the counter-attack.  Now, we've got a shield in front of the CBs which give the IWBs some more time to track back into position and set up our defensive shape.  The offense is still there.  It's just not an all-out assault on the goal.

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Dortmund let Jude Bellingham go on a free (WTF?!?!?!).  He signed with Liverpool and was easily the signing of the season.  Middlesbrough's signing of Leite proved to be the runner-up.

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Back-to-back Young Player of the Year awards for Middlesbrough.

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Transfer budget stays the same.  Wage budget gets a boost.

2026-27 Final xG Table.png

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On 16/02/2022 at 13:44, keeper#1 said:

That's the way I was leaning.  I think I picked up the info about HoYD and discovery dates from one of @_Ben_ older threads or from the Youth Challenge Thread.  Can't remember which one.

Yes. If you look at their arrival date on their bio - it’s often 2/3 years before ‘generation.’  I have no firm evidence but believe, for no other reasons than realism and ‘why it’s in the game’ that it wouldn’t be some kind of legacy of the old HoYD. 

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42 minutes ago, _Ben_ said:

Yes. If you look at their arrival date on their bio - it’s often 2/3 years before ‘generation.’  I have no firm evidence but believe, for no other reasons than realism and ‘why it’s in the game’ that it wouldn’t be some kind of legacy of the old HoYD. 

That's what I think as well.  I re-signed the current HoYD screen-capped above for another two years.  He wanted three years but I wanted to hedge in case he gave me more crap classes.

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  • 2 weeks later...

2027-28 Season Review

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It was a great season for Middlesbrough and I've achieve the goal of returning the club to Europe as we will be playing in the Europa League for the 2028-29 season.  It was a season where nobody was dominant and some of the top clubs struggled so there will be some new faces playing in Europe.  The Champions League will see some of the established teams in Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea.  Middlesbrough and Norwich will play in the Europa League and West Ham will go to the Europa Conference.  London clubs Arsenal and Tottenham will stay home this season.  Newcastle and Sheffield United were relegated long before the last day of the season.  Aston Villa will bounce back down to the Championship after a slip up on the final day.

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We had our own struggles at the end of the season which were probably the difference between the Champions League and the Europa League.  We took just six points from the last six matches.  Spirits were high after beating Manchester City 2-0 at home but we just couldn't recapture the magic from that game to close out the year.

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For a change, our struggles were on offense.  We had no one in double figures for goals.  Lopez missed stretches with injuries.  The nice thing is most of our front three is interchangeable.  The bad thing is none of them are a true goal-scoring center forward.  Santiago Simon is still the creative force on the squad with a team leading 10 assists.  The defense is rock solid led by Gil Leite.  We had to change goalkeepers mid-season as Daniel Iversen forced a move out of the club and Paul Fyte, a Scottish international, came in and kept us in the Champions League fight until the final day.  Still an upgrade at this position is needed.  Fyte is only 21 years old and isn't quite ready to shoulder a full load of Premier League and continental cup matches right now.

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Not a terrible intake with one elite talent and two top talents.  As always, the development of the good talents will decide if this class is a profitable class or not.

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Owners continue to loosen the purse strings on the wage and transfer budgets.

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Summer 2028 Transfer Window

We had a decent amount of transfer activity while attempting to use the academy to fill in the backup roles with the senior team.  We needed to do some sell and replace with a position or two but nothing exciting.

Duncan Corrigan

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A top-flight Scottish talent from Dundee who was unwilling to sign a senior contract with his hometown club.  We jumped in and convinced him to join us.  Only 16 years old and already has seven U21 caps to his name.  Will likely spend time with the senior team playing in cup matches while staying fit playing in U23 matches.

Alvaro Fernandez

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I needed to upgrade the goalkeeping position and Alvard Fernandez was not the reason that Newcastle went down last season.  The defense playing in front of him was terrible and he still put up six clean sheets for a relegated club.  The price was steep to get him.  Fernandez will play the majority of the Premier League matches while Scottish netminder Paul Fyte will play the cup matches and English U21 Eddie Kent will train with the senior side and stay match fit playing with the U23 team.

Bruno Acosta

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Bruno Acosta had outgrown River Plate and wanted to challenge himself in Europe.  He's the type of forward that fits what I'm trying to do tactically.  He's not a pure goalscorer but someone who likes to bring everyone into the play with his sharp passing.  Plus he is a much better second forward option than Ricardo Pepi.  Pepi was unwilling to play defense-splitting passes to his teammates and preferred to everything himself.  Acosta is the exact opposite of that.

Juan Pablo Orozco

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Gil Leite is starting to outgrow the club.  It's only a matter of time before some huge club makes a bid for him.  Orozco has been brought in to soften the blow when Leite leaves our backline.  He's not the center back that Leite is...yet. Leite is one of the top young defenders in the game.  Orozco will have time to grow into one of the top defenders in the game.

Voldoymyr Chernov

958791314_VolodymyrChernovSigning.png.c1586f3e370090bfeb898a3969a0f753.png582096225_VolodymyrChernov.thumb.png.1def0e3e4fa242a44f889f8449155e06.png

Chernov is a Ukrainian left-back brought in to replace the departing Omar Campos who left us to join PSG.  Chernov is a great passer of the ball, can read the play well, and make good decisions on the ball.  A great addition to our backline.

The Roster

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Four academy products dot the first team.  

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The board let me bring on Jagiellonia, one of the top academies in Poland, on board as an affiliate.  They have the ability to send some of their academy products to our academy.

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Both Italy and Holland wanted me as their national team manager.  I turned them both down because I hate international management on FM. 

2028-29 Summer Transfers.png

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