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[FM22] A Journeywoman Tale


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Hello there!

I have enjoyed reading stories here of other people's FM careers, and felt an urge to share my own. I should note that a) I'm fairly new to FM (as in a few months), and b) I'm currently four years into this save, so the story of the early days may lack some detail in places. This is a career in journeyman style more than strictly by the challenge rules, mainly because I haven't yet figured out how to make a amateur or semi-professional club work well, so I decided to start with a National C license and a past as a regional player. I've set some guidelines for myself, but at least some of them could be flexible in the right circumstances - time will tell.

The guidelines:

* Build for the future. Always try to do right by the club I'm currently employed by, even if I may not be around long enough to see the benefits. This means things like improving youth recruitment and facilities, securing long-term contracts whenever possible, etc. No shenanigans like giving a good player a shorter contract because I want to steal him away for my next club!

* See the season out. This may change if a perfect offer comes along at a bad time, but I myself won't go looking for new jobs until a season is coming to its end, and won't leave until everything is wrapped up.

* Work with what's there. I don't want to make too much of a change in the team as soon as I arrive; instead, I want to work with the players I have. Obviously, some selling and buying will typically need to be done, especially since I expect to be arriving in or just before a transfer window, but I'm not looking to change everything to suit my system. I'm the new one, I'll have to adjust to what's in place. By the next transfer window, I'll have a better idea of what's working and what isn't.

* Integrity. I won't badmouth other managers or teams, blame the referees, or hang my own players out to dry with the press. (Unless they do something to really deserve it.) I will try to keep my players happy or at least content with their contracts and playing time, and I will embrace the club culture to the best of my ability.

* Accomplish something. I won't leave a club until I can point to something I've accomplished with them. The obvious thing would be a trophy or promotion, but depending on the situation it could also be something like reaching a certain stage of Champions/Europa/Conference League, establishing feeder clubs on every continent, or improving all facilities to the max. I'll evaluate this as I go.

 

I loaded at least the top two leagues of most European countries, started in the summer of 2021, and applied for all available manager jobs. It took a few months to get one.

Edited by Alma Mater
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Posted (edited)

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Valmiera is a club in Optibet Virsliga, the top league of Latvia, which they got promoted back into as recently as 2017. The season runs from March to October, and when I came in at the very end of September they had two games left to play before the winter break. They'd finished 4th in 2019, 3rd in 2020, and were currently sitting in 4th out of seven teams. (Seven? No idea why - in 2022 it was up to ten.) The board weren't judging based on this season, for obvious reasons, but if we could keep 4th place we'd reach Conference League qualifiers.

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Which might not be the easiest thing to pull off, as the team in fifth place are only three points behind us with a game in hand, and the two games we have left are against two of the teams above us...

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Annoyingly, three of our better players are out on loans they can't be recalled from. Why would you do that? I take stock of the players available to me, and the board's desire for high-tempo pressing football, and set up a 4-4-2, direct counter attack system. (Here's where being far away from this point in the save means I don't have specifics to offer.) We've got pretty good players for the level in most positions, but the centrebacks are an obvious weak spot. Some players are on amateur contracts, and three are well into their thirties. The board wants me to sign players under 22 for the first team, and develop players through the youth system, but only a few of the current youngsters will ever be good enough and none are really ready to step up now, so signing new, preferably young, players during the winter transfer window goes on the list of things to do.

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Also, staff. Seriously. I'm not a good coach, I need others to do that job. Three physios but no sports scientist? I need my match previews and reviews!

But before any new staff can be hired, I have two league games to deal with.

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Of course, it helps if the other teams get players sent off. Lucky for us, since we weren't exactly playing well.

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In the end, we stayed ahead of Spartaks by the narrowest margin - one goal better in goal difference. Well, it gets the job done, and now I have nearly five months before the next season starts. Time to start planning!

Edited by Alma Mater
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Valmiera 2022 - pre-season.

 

I have plenty to do, so I don't mind the long gap between seasons as much as I might have under different circumstances. I recruit coaches and scouts, and set up tasks for them. I ask the board for more coaches and scouts, and for them to let me start working towards my National B license. I take stock of the finances (not terrrible, but the wage budget is limited), how many of my players are being pursued by other clubs (a few of the best ones and a few youngsters in the B team), and start drawing up plans for the new season. First of all, what does the season schedule look like?

Oh.

Well, it starts off easy enough, with a nice and easy one game a week. But we do have a short season, and 36 games to get through, so by April we start getting mid-week matches, and then in May... 

Spoiler

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Seven games in eighteen days. What is this, an international tournament? And that is only the spring. By July the Conference League qualifiers begin, and in the fall there will be cup games as well. Conclusion: I definitely need to be able to fully rotate, and throw in a few back-ups for the inevitable injuries. On the plus side, I'll probably be better at rotating than the AI, so I may be able to field relatively fresh players against exhausted ones. Still, I do need to look at squad depth.

But then the transfer window opens, and other clubs come a-calling for my best players. And I can't compete with offers from Bundesliga 2, the Serbian First League, or the Czech First Division.

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Yokota and Krollis are my best CMs, with Krollis able to double as a striker. Silagadze is a very good winger, and was one of the few who played well in the game against Riga. And then our competitors RFS, who just won the league, make an offer for Jaunzems, my talented right back. He really wants to go, would cause trouble if I said no, and we could use the money - so I accept. But it does put a dent in that squad depth.

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My GK Matrevics is good. He's played well in the two games after I took over, he's over 2 meters tall, and he's only 22 with potential to get even better. The back-up is also quite young with room to develop, and seems happy to be a back-up.

We have a pair of very good strikers from Senegal; Guèye, who's been at the club for a few years, and Sow, who's newer and younger but was the main goal scorer the past season. They're both fairly determined, and very similar in attributes - both physically good, mentally solid, and with decent technique (13 and 12 finishing respectively). There's also a teenaged Ugandan, Kakooza, with oodles of potential and 3 caps for Uganda. He's getting a little frustrated with his lack of playing time, which I can't really blame him for - in the one game where he came in off the bench last season, he managed one goal, one assist, a 7,90 rating, and was named PotM. Clearly, he needs to play much more this year.

The best wingers we have are teenaged Colombian Camilo Mena on the right, and Eriks Punculs who can play on either side (and with both feet) or fill in as a striker. Mena is quick, technical, and knows how to dribble, cross and finish. Punculs at 27 is a veteran in this group, and while not as talented as Mena he's got good leadership, determination and teamwork, and is our first choice for penalties. A good option for captain or vice captain now that the previous ones (Jaunzems and Krollis) have both left. Our back-ups here are Lukjanovs, a 34yo amateur who can play almost anywhere and anything in the midfield, and on the right Tonisevs, who'll probably never be more than a back-up given his middling mental and technical attributes, but who can fill in as either RB or RW.

In the central midfield we have some options but a couple of them are also needed elsewhere; Fertovs is our best RB, Lukjanovs is our back-up LW. Zhelisko is a 20yo Ukrainian with decent physicals, good mentals, and good passing - he's another possibility for captain despite his young age, given his 16 determination and 14 leadership. He has the potential to be the creative force in our midfield. Stuglis is more defensively minded, with stamina, workrate and aggression as his strongest attributes. And then there's young Krusatins who's the only one in the B team who could reasonably be brought up to the first team. (There are also a couple of Senegalese youngsters, a striker and a DM, but we don't really need those roles right now.) Krusatins is physically good, with high determination and fairly good vision and decisions. At 25 he's running out of time to improve, so it's essentially now or never.

That defense line is looking a little shaky, isn't it? To add to the problem, my best LB is 33, and my best remaining RB is a 34-year-old amateur who is also one of my best CMs. There's an interesting young Senegalese LB as backup (did Valmiera raid the Senegal U21 team or something?), Pape Fall, but he's still technically raw although his physicals and mentals look promising. Otherwise it's just Tonisevs, who's also a backup for RW. CB is also looking thin, with Ukrainian Yakuba as the best of the bunch. Of the other three, Kolesovs is the tallest and with really good jumping reach, Balodis is the best tackler and has the best teamwork and workrate but the lowest potential, and Veips is the youngest with the best determination, highest potential, and nearly as high jumping reach as Kolesovs. There's a distinct lack of depth in the whole defense line and on the left wing, with no room for injuries in any of the positions. It's time to go shopping.

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Now, my memory's a little shaky on the details here, but I'm certain some of these were the result of relying too much on the abilities of my scouts. The Finnish RB/RW Pöysä is the only one I remember specifically as not being nearly as good as they said he was, although I'm certain there was at least one more. He does, however, have good physicals and room to improve at 19, so he gets to play for the B team and be ready in case of injuries. Kramens and Krautmanis are both CDs, with Krautmanis able to double as LB/LW, but neither of them are any better than the two-star ones I already have. Krautmanis's veratility is useful, while Kramens has the potential to improve. Again, some of them will be made available for the B team and rotated into the first team as needed. Skrinda is one for the future - he came in and went right out on loan to our affiliate. Sorokins is a left back who can pitch in as right back if necessary, and he's likely to make the starting 11 - strong, quick, defensively solid and with decent crossing. The real catch is Marasovic, a creative midfielder able to play as either CM or LW - well rounded, with good teamwork, vision, composure, and technique.

As for tactics, I stuck with the counter-attacking 4-4-2. Because of the central defense being the most vulnerable part of the team, I kept the fullbacks defensive, with one being switched up to support when playing against weaker teams. In central midfield I used one BWM(S) and one CM(A) against strong teams, and changed the BWM to a mez against weaker teams. On the right I had a winger and on the left an inverted winger, and one would be on attack and the other on support, switching up which was which depending on who was playing, as well as swapping between overlaps and underlaps. The striker roles also varied depending on who was playing, but would include two out of pressing forward, trequartista, and poacher. The idea was to stay low, mark tightly, counter, and play for set pieces.

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So. Transfer window closed, staff recruited, tactics set, training set, friendlies arranged... We were (hopefully) ready for the season to begin.

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I have similar pain with my own story, having got totally engrossed in it and not decided to do a write up until the end of season 4.

Getting historical player data for signings is a nightmare 🤣

Good luck with your journey, it sounds like you've been very thorough in your preparations which can only bode well for the season(s) ahead.

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On 19/07/2022 at 18:07, SinlessCity said:

I have similar pain with my own story, having got totally engrossed in it and not decided to do a write up until the end of season 4.

Getting historical player data for signings is a nightmare 🤣

Good luck with your journey, it sounds like you've been very thorough in your preparations which can only bode well for the season(s) ahead.

It is quite interesting, and challenging, trying to piece things together. I have a save just after I took the job, and another right before I left, so I can go back to see what changed between those two points, and for some things when it happened - it's the how and why of it I have to rely on my memory for.

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Posted (edited)

Valmiera 2022 - beginning of the season.

Let's have some background first, since I for one didn't know much about Latvian football before accepting this job...

The Virsliga rules are not very restrictive as league rules go. 30 players can be registered, and at most 15 can be foreign, while 14 must be trained in the nation and there must be one U22 trained in the nation. Three players trained in the nation must be in the playing 11.

The town of Valmiera (historically also known as Wolmar) is a medieval fortified town which at one point was a member of the Hanseatic Leauge, despite being some distance from the coast. Today, it boasts a population of a bit over 20,000 inhabitants, and is the home of Valmiera FC. The club was founded in 1995, has 1,5 star rating in FM, and plays at the Jana Dalins stadium. At their recent home games they've drawn an audience of about 200-500 for the league, and nearly 1000 in the last cup game in 2021. IRL, they currently unexpectedly lead the league, after a record 15 wins in a row during the spring.

My 2022 with them began with four friendlies in February, two against Estonian teams and two from the Latvian Lower Leagues.

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We won them all quite comfortably, with several of my forward players and two centrebacks scoring goals. And in case anyone was wondering about the long winter break: 202179708_WeatherFebr12.PNG.f9f1ac9c38342c807a44e794c4a94794.PNG1818690970_WeatherFebr19-2.PNG.c6401b2ff9aa6ca0e99d04dcffc82440.PNG1733722959_WeatherFebr23.PNG.52eba81c1ff8d970cf9b5e534b1d3412.PNG793970975_WeatherFebr26.PNG.28834e2b88ced49642a7146704effa69.PNG It's simply easier on everyone if we wait as long as we reasonably can. (Not that March was much better weather-wise.)

In March, we had our first three real matches, first one against Spartaks, the team we only barely kept behind us last season, and then against two of the new teams added to the Virsliga when the number of teams went up from seven to ten. The Spartaks game I was quite nervous about, since it would be a first test of my work over the winter. It was an away game, so we traveled down to Jurmala, a seaside resort town of about 50,000 near the capital Riga. 8 loyal fans also made the journey. Spartaks fielded a 4-3-2-1, and if Valmiera is full of players from Senegal, Spartaks seem to recruit theirs from Nigeria - no less than four in the match squad of the day, three of them starting.

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It was a fairly even match, although our numbers for crosses, tackles and headers are not where I'd like them to be given the tactic we are supposed to be playing. We did get the win with 2-1, which is what really matters, but it was not in any way a match we dominated.

The next two were a different matter. In both cases, we secured the result fairly quickly and then simply saw the second half out. These newly-promoted teams were clearly not at our level, and after three games, we were sitting at the top of the league table as the international break arrived. Only one other team, Liepaja, who finished in third place last season, shared our nine points but had a lower goal difference. Not a bad start!

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Edited by Alma Mater
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Valmiera 2022 - spring.

Time for some more closely packed schedules! Seven games in April and another seven in May. The latter half of April sees us coming up against the tougher opponents in matches close together, so that will be a crucial period for us. Unfortunately, two of our centrebacks have injured themselves in training only two days apart, and will both be out for a few weeks. It's our first real injury problem, aside from some virus infections in pre-season (and our winger Mena who somehow managed to injure himself "in training" a week after last season ended). Not ideal timing, especially as one of them is Yakuba, the best CB we have. I'm very glad I recruited backups!

In the first half of the month, we have only one match per week and against weaker teams, so we dispatch Jelgava 2-0 and Daugavpils 2-1, the second without playing especially well. Our form is fantastic: 14 goals scored and two conceded in the first five games. But, again, the tougher opposition remains. Our first taste of that is a home game against Riga, who were runners-up last season and won three years in a row before that. It's a tight, even match, with neither side clearly in control.

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It's the 72nd minute when they take the lead, after a throw-in from their left where they overload enough to have my right back Sorokins trying to mark two players at once and failing. Six minutes later a corner from us reaches young CB Veips, who heads it into the crossbar, and the ball lands right in front of our striker Ibrahima Sow, who can just put his foot to it. It's a draw - and we drop down to third place in the table.

Four days later we have our first mid-week game, against Liepaja, who are sitting in second, just ahead of us. We really want to win this.

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It's not a good game from us. 15 minutes in, their forward easily snags the ball from where our centrebacks are passing it back and forth, and scores what will be the only goal of the match. We keep attacking but nothing comes of it, and they're content to keep passing the ball amongst themselves. We have our first loss since I took over.

Next comes Metta three days later, and this is a game we should win - they finished sixth out of seven last season, and that was a record high for them. But we struggle to get through their 5-3-2, and after one early goal each, nothing else is added to the scoreboard. Another draw, and we've lost seven points from one Saturday to the next. We're facing last season's winner RFS away next, who are leading the league after five wins in a row. They also have our old rightback Jaunzems, who was one of our stars last season. I'm just a little bit nervous.

Our young Ugandan striker, Kakooza, has been coming off the bench a lot, but due to the tighter schedule he got to start against Metta, and he was the one who scored our only goal and saved a point for us, so he gets to start this one, too. Our veteran Fertovs has been doing well in the midfield lately, so he gets to play there while Marasovic gets moved out to the left wing.

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You could call that a success. First Marasovic finds Kakooza with the perfect pass, and he easily chips it past the keeper. Then a long ball from our CB finds Fertovs, who knocks it down to Kakooza, who returns it to him, and he sees Marasovic coming in free and clear from the left side, and we have 2-0. In the second half, Riga's box is full of people after a corner when our other winger Punculs passes it to Fertovs who scores our third goal of the day. They get a goal in after 60 minutes, but at the very end Sow, who has come in off the bench, is played free by Fertovs and makes it 4-1. It's a good performance by our young prospect and our new recruit, and a fantastic one by Fertovs - who used to play for RFS. In this game you could really see why he has 50 caps for Latvia.

Now we've faced every team in the league once, and we're back to facing Spartaks again. It's another even match, I've had to reshuffle a little due to players being tired, and it ends up a 1-1 draw. It's a bit of a letdown after the high of defeating RFS, and there's some mumbling about how many free kicks the ref gave Spartaks (21 to our 8), but it's a fair result. April was never going to be as easy as March, so we have to keep our focus rather than dwelling on things we can't change.

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And we still have May to deal with, so we need to focus on the games ahead. We start off with another match against RFS, who are hopefully still shaken by the last one, followed by three games in a week, thankfully all against weaker teams. The league has by now clearly sorted itself into the top four (RFS, Riga, Liepaja and Valmiera), one alone in the middle (Spartaks), and five at the bottom (Auda, Metta, Daugavpils, Jelgava and Tukums). With seven games in less than three weeks coming up, I'm relieved that we're free of injuries.

RFS are clearly better prepared for us this time. It's aneven match, with them slightly better than us in the midfield, while more of our shots hit the target. It's looking like a draw, until Yakuba, coming off the bench in his first game since recovering from his strained groin, gets his head on a corner kick andsends it into the net. We've done it again. After that, we play Tukums (Sat), Auda (Tues) and Jelgava (Thur), rotating heavily, and trounce them all fairly easily. We fully expect the Daugavpils game (Sun) to be more of the same, but they put up unexpected resistance - or maybe my players are just too tired. I was resting my two best strikers, the goalkeeper had a bad day, and one of their wingers had a fantastic one. The games ends 2-3, all three of their goals coming from free kicks - two real screamers going straight in - and we've had our second loss.

Next comes Riga, who are even with us on points but with a goal diff of 17 compared to our 23. And they're not playing well. Honestly, it's a bit of a let-down that we only beat them 1-0.

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Liepaja comes next, to round out the spring schedule before we have another international break. We lost to them in April, and they're just behind us in the table, so we don't want to lose again.

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We get a goal in the 24th minute, a long shot by our Japanese midfielder Murata, and after that it's all about defending. They get an equaliser at the half hour mark, and for the rest of the match they're slightly better than us at just about everything, but we cling on.

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17 games played, 11 won, 4 drawn, and 2 lost, with our goal difference looking very nice. We're in second, with only RFS ahead of us by four points. Liepaja and Riga are not far behind, one and four points respectively. We now have a four week international break, and in mid-June we'll find out who we will face in the first Conference League qualifying round. The summer is going to be interesting.

Edited by Alma Mater
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Valmiera 2022 - summer.

Due to the long winter break, there's no summer break in Latvia, aside from the international one. During the four weeks in May-June with no league matches, I schedule a friendly with an Estonian team right in the middle to keep the players still at home sharp. Once the break's over, we'll be in for five games in twelve days, so some downtime is also required. Fortunately, none of those games are against our primary competitors - that comes in the middle of July, right as we're slated to face our Conference League qualifiers.

Speaking of which, the draw happens in mid-June, and we find out we'll be facing Tre Penne, a semi-professional team from San Marino. Sounds doable. Our good fortune continues, with easy, comfortable victories against the lower-tiered teams in June, except for Spartaks, who manage to hold us to a 0-0 draw. That sends us briefly down to third place in the league, but by the time we beat Auda we're back up in second. Meanwhile, RFS have crashed bad - a 5-0 loss to Liepaja, a 4-1 loss to Riga, and a draw against 8th-ranked Tukums - which means Liepaja are now in the lead. It's a very close race between the three of us, while Riga are constantly one step behind in fourth.

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We also have a transfer window here, although not as much happens here as in the winter. Only one player leaves, our midfielder Stuglis who hasn't been getting as much game time as he'd like and who gets a better offer from Podbeskidzie in the Polish First Division. Three new recruits arrive - two midfielders, Mitrovic to replace Stuglis, and a youngster named Glebs Zaleiko more for the future, although he can be subbed in now if needed. We also add a new leftback, Kavcic, since our current first choice Solovjovs is starting to decline in skills due to age, Sorokins can't play every match given our schedule, and young Pape Fall still isn't quite ready for the big games. On top of this, two of the players we had out on loan return to us, Tunisian midfielder Mootez Zaddem - who the game ranks the highest of all our players - and Portuguese winger Jorge Teixeira.

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The Sunday before our first CLq game, we secure another comfortable league win. Then we head down to San Marino.

It's a warm evening, and my players are confident. We should win this easily - they're only semi-professional! Perhaps there's even a little bit of arrogance going on... until the 13th minute, when our captain Ivan Zhelizko gets a straight red card and has to leave the pitch. Okay, maybe we won't win this so easily - but we're still going for the win. We pepper them with shots, constantly, but have a really hard time getting anywhere. Towards the end of the first half, we get a goal by Teixeira, but despite all our efforts, it stays there.

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And then, well into extra time, they get a penalty. It goes in. It's a draw.

It's safe to say the mood is not the best as we prepare to return home. Still, a draw away is not that bad a result. There's still a home game to play next week. But first, a Sunday match against league leader Liepaja. (They've just won their CLq away game against Una Strassen in Luxembourg 2-0.) Winning this match would put us ahead of them, so there's no time for sulking about San Marino.

Except it starts to look like the same thing all over again. Several of my players pick up yellow cards, and just before halftime, our newly returned star Mootez Zaddem gets his second. We're down to ten men again. Liepaja go on the attack in the second half, trying to capitalise. But we still manage to take the lead when Ibrahima Sow gets the ball in the mid circle, weaves his way right through their defense, and takes a shot from just outside the box. They keep attacking, but this time we're the ones to get a goal well into overtime, when Punculs fires off another long shot. 2-0, and we're leading the league for the first time since we lost to Daugavpils in May. There's bad news as well, though, as Sow had to be taken off the pitch with a twisted ankle which will keep him out of circulation for several weeks.

There's no break between important games, as we welcome Tre Penne to Valmiera. No more red cards, I tell the players. We're better than them, we don't need to bring them down that way. Just play as well as I know you can.

It's Marasovic on the left wing and Kakooza up top again, a combination that's worked well before. It does now, too.

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Tre Penne manage all of four shots, two of them on target. Matrevics barely has to work up a sweat in goal. We've progressed to the second qualifying round!

And our next opponent is... Utrecht.

Well then. We'll give it our all, that's all we can do.

There's no league game that weekend, so at least all our players are rested for the big one, when we take on FC Utrecht at home. It's a big crowd for Valmiera, over 1400 people compared to the more usual 400 or so - although almost half of them are Utrecht fans. It doesn't start well for us - they dominate the game, and score three goals before the half hour mark, two of them by Henk Veerman who's having a really good day. The players come into the dressing room looking dejected at half time, and I do my best to fire them up. And then, in the 50th minute, Zhelizko takes a free kick and Yakuba gets his head on it. It's 3-1. Something changes about the game then, the intensity goes up on both sides. There hasn't been a single yellow card up to that point, and suddenly they're coming hard and fast for both sides, four for Utrecht in just the fifteen minutes after our goal. But while they're giving it their best, my players can't get another ball in the net until extra time, and in the end we lose by one goal. It's much better than anybody expected us to do, but the loss still stings.

We face Riga that weekend, and clearly our fans are fired up by us leading the league and putting up a brave fight against Utrecht, because over 700 of them show up. Unfortunately, it's not a great match. Perhaps both teams are worn down from their European adventures earlier in the week, (Riga defeated Albanian team KF Teuta) because nobody's really playing well. It ends in a draw, which means Liepaja overtake us again since they won their match.

But we're heading out again, to Utrecht. The game is televised, and there are 16,000 fans in the stadium, something many of my players have never experienced. In one corner, there's a tiny knot of 20 Valmiera fans waving their scarves. Let's do this for them, I tell they players. Let's show them we don't give up.

The first half goes by without anything of real interest taking place. My team seem a little intimidated by the setting, while the Dutch team are content to bide their time. But shortly after halftime, it happens. Kolesovs kicks it long, one of their defenders misses the header, and the ball lands at the feet of Eriks Punculs, who doesn't miss a chance like that when it's handed to him. The crowd goes silent - except for those 20 fans, who are going wild. We're leading against Utrecht in Utrecht. It's an aggregate draw. Nothing seems impossible anymore.

Three minutes later, van de Streek rounds our keeper and easily chips the ball in. And now their blood is up, with shot following shot. My players fight bravely, and only one more goal slips in behind them. It's 2-1 to Utrecht, which means they've only managed to beat us by one goal in each match. Nevertheless, our Conference League adventure is over for this season.

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Edited by Alma Mater
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A narrow defeat against tough opposition, you did well to keep it to a 1 goal game in each of the Utrecht fixtures.

League form is looking solid as well, keep it up!

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Thank you! Yeah, I was proud of the Utrecht games. We had bad luck drawing them, the other Latvian teams all had easier opponents. The league is very close at this point; three teams on 57 points, within six points of goal diff, and eleven games still to go.

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Valmiera 2022 - autumn.

So. We're out of the Conference League, but the Virsliga is looking interesting. The current leader  is Liepaja, on 57 points and +38 goal difference. Second, Valmiera with 57 and 37, third is RFS with 57 and 32. We have all to play for or all to lose, depending on how you look at it. Worth noting here is that RFS is still in the Conference League, after defeating a team from Finland and one from San Marino. Next up they're meeting a team from Gibraltar, so assuming nothing truly strange happens, they'll be playing twice as many games as we do for at least all of August. Our schedule is looking much more managable now.

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And while not included here, the cup games are on the horizon. We get our first one the 20th of August.

The game against Metta is one we should win easily on paper, but the previous two times we've faced them this year have resulted in an away draw and a 2-1 win at home, and this is another away game. Their 5-3-2 is apparently not easy for us to get through. While we dominate possession (64%) they have about as many chances as we do, without playing especially well. It takes 65 minutes before we score our one and only goal. Maybe the players are still a little down from the Utrecht games and the draw against Riga. But we have RFS next, we have to do better there.

And we do.

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The absolute star of the match is Sacha Marasovic, with one goal and two assists, but most of the team is playing well. RFS must've been very tired from those CL games - they've now lost two league games in a row, against Liepaja and us, and are losing ground fast in the title fight. Bizarrely enough, Liepaja have mirrored our results exactly in these two games, winning first 2-1 then 4-0, so they're still one goal ahead of us.

Next comes a cup game (fourth round) against Ventspils, and we crush them in another 4-0 win. My Midfield of M -  from left to right Marasovic, Murata, Mitrovic and Mena - all perform well, with Marasovic and Murata scoring once each, while Murata and Mitrovic each get an assist. Young Derrick Kakooza scores  the other two goals.

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However, in overtime disaster strikes - Mena damages his cruciate ligaments. 8-12 months. Not only will we miss him on the pitch, but at 20, that's going to hamper his development. Not good. At least it didn't happen in our busiest period of the year, and since Ibrahima Sow is back from his own recent injury, he, Guéye and Kakooza can rotate the striker positions between them, while Eriks Punculs gets to play winger. And we do have youngsters with potential who can fill in if necessary - Tonisevs and Pöysä on the right wing, and our next young Senegalese striker Alioune Ndoye up front. Still, damn. I like Mena.

But life goes on. We handily defeat Tukums 3-0, which put us ahead of Liepaja because they draw against Riga. Then we suffer another draw against Spartaks - our third in the last three games against them - while Liepaja win their game, and they're back on top. Then we win against Auda while Liepaja draw, and we're in the lead again. It's like a see-saw.

The cup quarter finals are up next, and we're facing Spartaks, the team we cannot seem to win against in the league. Drawing is not an option in the cup, so this has to end differently.

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It does. 3-0. See, boys, they can be defeated! Why can't you play like that against them in the league?

Jelgava don't stand a chance against us, and so we've held the top position for more than one matchday at a time for the first time since April.

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Our form is looking very good. We're two points ahead in the league, with five games to go, and we have a cup semi-final against Riga coming up. In fact, we're facing Riga twice in a row - league, then cup four days later. And while Riga have been fourth in the league for a good long time now, due to their bad form in May-June, they're not to be dismissed. Since that bad spell, the only games they've lost were in the Conference League qualifiers, where they made it all the way to the 4th round before finally losing to Malmö FF. (They knocked out Lokomotiv Plovdiv 3-0 agg in the third round.)

So we go into the league game against them prepared for a battle, and that's exactly what we get. Not a highly dramatic one with tons of back and forth, but one of attrition. It's very even, the xG leaning in our favor mostly because of a penalty.

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It ends in a 1-1 draw, our penalty in the first half against their more tiki-taka style goal in the second. I can't say it isn't a fair result. Of course, Liepaja won their match so they're leading the league again. This back-and-forth is killing me.

Next, the cup semi-final, another battle against Riga.

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This time, luck is not on our side. They get a goal in early on, then a second one in on the counter when we're pushing for an equalizer. We do make it 2-1 from a free kick with ten minutes left to go, but they get their own free kick goal in overtime, and we're out of the cup. Unfortunate, but not shameful in any way. , This is our first loss since May to any team besides Utrecht, who are on a different level. Now we just have to make sure the team don't lose too much morale over it, because we still have a very close title race with four games to go, and two of those are against Liepaja and RFS.

But first, Daugavpils. Let's use this match to make it clear that we're not on a downward turn in form. Still, it is the third game out of five in a 15 day period, so we have to rotate a little. Among other things, our youth team striker Ndoye gets his debut, and summer window recruit Glebs Zaleiko gets his third start. They both repay me by playing well. The whole team plays well - the lowest score is from our 35-year-old on the wing, Lukjanovs, and he still gets a 6.7.

We start the scoring in the 14th minute - Ndoye to Mitrovic to Ibrahima Sow, who runs straight through the defence (as he likes to do) and gives us the lead. Then nothing else happens for the rest of the first half. After 50 minutes, Solovjevs throws it long from the sideline and finds Ndoye, who passes it to Teixeira, who turns around and fires it into the net from just outside the box. Nine minutes later, Tonisevs passes it to Mitrovic, who finds Ndoye, who passes it to Teixiera, who scores his second and our third. Twenty minutes later, we've made some subs - Guéye coming in for Sow up front, and Punculs for Lukjanovs on the wing. Guéye gets the ball in the middle of the pitch, passes it to Zaleiko and starts his run, Zaleiko set it up perfectly for him and he rounds the keeper. 4-0. 85 minutes, and our CB Balodis sends it up to Teixeira on the left, to Mitrovic, who sets up Guéye for another one-on-one with the keeper. A minute later, Solovjovs takes another throw-in to Ndoye, who once again gets it to Teixeira, who finds Guéye near the byline, who rather that trying for a hat trick passes it back to Punculs so he can get on the score board as well. It's 6-0. I feel like this combination of Mitrovic, Teixeira and Ndoye could be something for the future...

Liepaja won their fixture as well, but only by a measly 2-0, so now we're leading on goal diff. It all comes to a head with this upcoming match between us; whoever wins this puts themselves in a really good position for the last two games of the season, and both teams are very aware of it.

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They get a penalty 5 minutes in, and don't miss. My team rally, though, and get two quick goals to turn the game around - our new leftback Kavcic sending a long cross up the pitch through to Zhelizko that left him alone with the keeper for the first, a quick passing game between Zaddem, Zhelizko, Sow and Guéye leading to the second. Then Kavcic produces another perfect cross that Sow gets his head on, and we go into half time with a 3-1 lead. Less than ten minutes into the second half, they score from a free kick, reducing it to 3-2, and things get tense again. It takes 20 minutes before we get a free kick goal of our own, Punculs from the middle of the D. They have to push forward even more after that, which leads to a counter attack from us with Punculs passing it to Guéye in the box, and while everyone's expecting him to shoot, he passes it to Lukjanovs who comes in from the left to find the open goal. At age 35, our veteranhas put the nail in the coffin for Liepaja and all but secured our league win - two games left, three points and several goals ahead. And while we have RFS as our opponent for one of those remaining games, so do they.

(I start applying for new jobs. As much as I have enjoyed what I've built with Valmiera, if we win the league, it will be time for me to move up in the world. In another timeline, maybe I'd stay and try to build something in Latvia, but this is a journeyman save.)

Our next game is against Metta. We've had one draw and two narrow wins against them so far, so we can't take anything for granted, especially given that they just managed a draw against Riga. But maybe they're still tired from that match, because in this one, they're simply not up to the task.

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We only score one goal - centre back Klavs Kramens on a header from a corner - but that's all it takes. News comes that Liepaja lost against RFS. We've done it. For the first time ever, Valmiera has won the Virsliga. And this brings with it something compltely unexpected for me.

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What? I mean... what?

Okay, the league is only 30 years old, and a little research tells me that for the first 13 of those years the league was won by the same team, Skonto (now defunct). So... I guess there are a lot of managers who have only won the league once? Maybe there's something like ten people sharing the ninth place? Still. But hey, I will happily take it. I'm a Hall of Famer after being a manager for a year!

Needless to say, the match against RFS is an afterthought. It's a 1-1 draw, which means we've played 21 league matches in a row without losing, which is a Virsliga record.

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Only two league matches lost in the whole season. I'd say that makes us worthy winners. Go Valmiera! But they'll have to do without me from now on, because I'll be moving south for my next adventure. But first, a recap post.

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Posted (edited)

Valmiera -accomplishments.

So what have I accomplished in my season in Latvia, besides winning the title? Let's take a look at some before-and-afters.

Finances:

Spoiler

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Well, we have less money on hand. But that money has been spent on things I consider to be worth spending on. And I leave them with more players than they need, especially now that the players I sent out on loan have returned, so they could easily get some more money from a good sale or three. Speaking of...

Squad: 

Spoiler

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We've lost a little bit of top potential, but instead we have a wider base of good players, and there's still plenty of potential to go around, especially since this doesn't even include the youth team. By the way, the youth intake was  pretty well useless, as can be expected with Valmiera's facilities. Which just happens to be the next item on our list.

Facilities:

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As much of an improvement as can be expected in one year, I think.

Staff:

Spoiler

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This was another area where I kept asking the board for more as often as I could.

Personal progression:

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I arrived with a National C license, I leave working on my Continental C. My attributes have increased accordingly - apparently I'm a disciplinarian? - and my reputation is on the rise, although still fairly low. The players love me, the media loves me, the board would like for me to stay... I think I've made an impression in Latvia!

Well, I am a Hall of Famer, after all. :D

Edited by Alma Mater
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Goodbye Latvia, hello Romania!

 

Botosani is a city of a bit over 100,000 inhabitants, in Romanian Moldavia/Moldova in the north-eastern corner of Romania, not far from the border with Ukraine in the north and with Moldova in the east. It began as a market city town on the junction of several different trade routes. It has given its name to the Uman-Botosani offensive in WWII, but is also the birthplace of a number of famous Romanian cultural and scientific figures.

FC Botosani was founded in 2001, reached the Romanian First Division in 2013, and has stayed there since. They've reached fourth place in the league as the highest, in the season of 19-20.

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The "top half" part is a little unclear, more on that later. They'd also like me to fix their economy within a few years (actually after my contract ends) which is due to this:

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Not the worst I've seen, but I'll do my best to get us out of the red.

I come in on October 30th, 21 matches into the season, and the whole team is on holiday. It's Qatar time. They'll be back at the beginning of December, and we have our first game under my management on New Year's Eve, so I should be able to get a few friendlies in. In the meantime, I'll figure out the staff, how best to use the squad - and if I need to do anything in the upcoming transfer window - and, of course, check on the rules of the league.

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Max 25 registered is fine, especially given that U21s don't need to be registered. The max four non-EU players is mitigated by the fact that African countries count as EU. (Which is slightly bizarre, but I'll take it.) The match squad rules are an interesting factor, but after a look at the squad I don't think we'll have a problem there.

The league structure is a little more complicated to wrap my head around.

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16 teams in the league. First everyone plays each other twice, which takes us to early March. Then there's a split - top six into the Champions playoff, who play each other twice, and the bottom ten into the Relegation group, who play each other once. In both cases they keep half of their points from the matches played until that point. Then there are various play-offs based on those results. Here's where the lack of clarity about the definition of top half comes in. Does it mean top half before the split? Does it mean getting into the Champions playoff group, which is then actually top six out of sixteen? Is it top half after the split groups have finished, and if so, is it based on the halved points from the first part, or full points? I'm confused. Well, all I can do is try to finish as high up as possible.

Now, the squad:

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Right away I see five or six who aren't going to make the cut, and a 35-year-old out on loan who's not likely to come back into the squad when he returns - unless I desperately need him to mentor somebody, because his mentals are good. As a group, they're definitely a cut (or two) above what I had at Valmiera, especially mentally and technically. At first glance, I'm leaning towards a possession-based playstyle.

Very good keeper, and a back-up who has potential but is not ready yet. One good player for each spot in a back four, but a lack of depth. Four good midfielders, which may be enough if I only use two, but if I want three or four I'd like to bring in more. Several good wingers, including two Brazilians taking up half of our non-EU spots, although one of them is a loaner due to leave at the end of the season. Strikers, though - we have three, but none of them are stand-outs. Mihai Roman is our captain, but also a fringe player in terms of time, which seems like a strange combination. (He also has the trait "plays with back to goal" which may not be ideal.) Grubac would make a good back-up, but if I want a star striker, I'll have to go looking for one.

Unlike Valmiera, which had a youth team and a B team, Botosani only has a youth team. (Which probably explains those underwhelming 20-year-olds in the first team.) But on the other hand, this youth team holds some real potential.

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I especially like Doru Tudor, who may have playmaker potential - 16 flair and 13 vision at age 16. We do have some future prospect for the defense line here, so maybe what we need short term is a veteran or two, but the only cover we have for right-back at the moment is Iulian Pop, who is not ready, so we need at least a RB, preferrably a CB as well. But the next transfer window doesn't open until mid-January, so I have at least three games before someone else can come in. Let's hope Pirvulescu stays whole.

With this rather front-heavy squad that's technically good, I settle on a vertical tiki-taka 4-2-3-1, with a slightly more defensive 4-3-3 as a back-up tactic.

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After that, I set about hiring scouts, recruiment analysts, performance analysts, sports scientists... and wait for the players to return.

Botosani - info screen II.PNG

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Botosani 22-23 - winter.

Coming to Botosani mid-season was challenging. For one thing, they were not in the best position in the league, and had already been knocked out of the cup - against a team from the league below. And the form was... not the greatest.

Spoiler

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And for another, the team didn't respect me. Several of them had a higher reputation than I did, and winning in Latvia didn't exactly impress them. It didn't help that I - as I realised later - forgot to hold a team meeting to introduce myself. (Oof! They weren't there when I arrived, and when they returned I was already settled in, but... not a good thing to miss.) It was not helped by the fact that of the four friendlies I arranged before the season picked back up, we lost the first three. The fourth was a narrow win, and then the first league match, against Dinamo Bucuresti, was a goalless draw. I had recalled two of our players out on loan, hoping that veteran Alin Seroni would help stabilize the defense, and that Lupeta would help us score goals, but it didn't seem to be enough.

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Somewhere around here, the players began to listen to me. I'll be honest, I don'tentirely remember what happened. Perhaps I reached my Continental C and gained some reputation, perhaps this was when I finally remembered to hold a team meeting, or perhaps they simply decided they had nothing to lose from giving me a chance. But things began to turn around; my team talks and sideline shouts had some effect, our form improved and consequently so did morale, and we began to climb up the league table.

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Unfortunately, Petar Petkovski sprained his knee ligaments in the match against Csikszereda, and was out for five weeks. Fortunately, it didn't seem to hamper us too much, since the midfield was one of the few areas where we had good players to rotate in. I moved Florescu up to attacking mid, and brought Daniel Toma in as CM(A). Sepsi and Cluj were both in the running for the top spots in the league, so taking points off them was big for us.

However, January also brought with it the opening of the transfer window, and some of those players who were unhappy with me as the manager wanted to leave. The first, and biggest, was our goalkeeper Eduard Pap, one of our stars and someone we could not easily replace. But he was a source of discontent, we were offered quite a bit of money for him, and the club was in financial trouble. Off to Sweden he went. Another who left was Sergej Grubac, our young promising back-up striker.

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Obviously, we needed a replacement goalkeeper as soon as possible. But for our next match, back-up keeper Mario Contra had to come in - for a game against a team at the very top of the league, Universitatea Craiova. It did not begin well. In the fourth minute, they had a shot on goal which Contra punched out - right onto the leg of our midfielder Tircoveanu. Own goal. They went on to score twice more in the first half, and while we pushed hard in the second half, we didn't quite manage to catch up, losing by 2-3 in the end.

But my scouts had been hard at work, and by mid-February we had our new goalkeeper, as well as a new striker and some extra depth in the defense. Since a Swedish team had taken Pap, we took Blazevic from a Swedish team. I also went back to Latvia to recruit, although not from Valmiera. Opara was one of the many Nigerians Spartaks had on their team, and was happy to move to Romania. He can play as either centreback or rightback, providing cover for two positions where we badly needed it. Latte Lath was a promising young Ivorian with the ability to play anywhere in the final third, and with 14 finishing the hope was that he would boost our ability to score goals.

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The next two games, against Voluntari and Mioveni, we really should have won. We dominated the game in every way, but only managed draws. It was still better than the team had been doing before I arrived, but we could do so much better! Only one game left before the league split. We were clearly going to be in the relegation group, although in no real risk of being relegated. But the board did want us to finish in the top half, and at the moment we were sitting in 10th place out of 16...

Spoiler

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266017874_Botosanifeb23.PNG.4b280fec12deafb37099489be357f2b5.PNG

We needed to start winning again.

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That's a rough pre-season, but sometimes the defeats are more valuable than the wins as you learn so much more.

Lots of draws in amongst the defeats after a promising set of wins... What do you think it's down to?  Personnel?  Tactics?  Much better opposition?

I don't know much about the Romanian league, so I couldn't tell how good any of the teams are! :D

You'll get there... I have faith after your first season with Valmiera!

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