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[FM22] A Journeywoman Tale

Alma Mater

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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.

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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.



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...


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.


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.


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


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!

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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?


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... 



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.


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.


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.


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.


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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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.


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.


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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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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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.




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...




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.



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




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

Personal progression:



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.


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:


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.


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.


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:


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.


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.



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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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...




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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On 08/08/2022 at 08:25, SinlessCity said:

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!

The poor form in pre-season I put down to morale and the team getting used to a new tactic. The slump later is probably mostly due to having a new keeper and striker come into the team just as they were learning to work together. The tactic itself is fine, as you'll see in the next post. Admittedly I am still posting what I played in May, so I'm basing this off slightly faded memories and looking at match stats.

The Romanian teams are a mixed lot. There isn't a complete dominance by one or a few teams as in many other countries - in the 80s and 90s it was Steua Bucuresti, but that team no longer exists in the way that it used to. In the past several years IRL it has been Cluj and FCSB (one half of old Steua) in the top two, but in my save at least they are not dominant in the way the Old Firm or Portuguese top three are.

On 08/08/2022 at 09:45, oche balboa said:

Good work so far....Enjoying it as well 

Thank you!

Edited by Alma Mater
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Botosani 22-23 - early spring.

We had one game left before the league split, and it was against Academica Clinceni, who were fighting to avoid relegation. Surely now that our new keeper and forward had a couple of games behind them to settle in, we should win this? Actually, with a game that should be this easy, I put our veteran striker Roman in again, to give Latte Lath some more training with the team before he had to step up.

Despite my confidence, our opponents scored the first goal of the match 10 minutes in when their forward got a clear view of the goal between our CBs and sent it high into the far corner, out of reach of the keeper. Still, it didn't take us long to retaliate - midfielder Daniel Toma ran through their defense, Roman found him with a perfect pass, and we had equalised. Two minutes later, Florescu took a corner, CB Dican put his head to it, and we were in the lead. Once they were the ones who had to attack, the match was ours. We dominated possession, we had the good chances, and all they could seem to do was collect yellow cards. Shortly after half time, we scored two more - one for winger Balan, assisted by Toma, and another for Toma himself (who had a very good day on the pitch) assisted by Roman again - and that was that.

Well, we may be in the relegation group, but if we kept playing like this, we should have a chance of winning it. And of course, our coming nine games would all be against other teams who were weaker than or fairly equal to us so far this season - no more matches against teams who were in the title fight. Our next games were against Craiova (relegation battle), Academica Clinceni again, and then Dinamo Bucuresti, who had been just below the line for the split. In the Craiova game, I let Roman start as forward again, and used Latte Lath's versatility to bring him on as a winger at half time when Tisdell wasn't having a good game. Perhaps they realised this was their chance to step up and show they deserved a place in the first eleven, because Roman scored a goal, then Latte Lath did, then Roman scored another. (Balan and Toma provided assists.) The battle was on, and the team stood to benefit. We went on to crush Clinceni 5-1, with five different players making it ontothe scoreboard - CMs Tircoveanu and Tavares, wingers Jajá and Mateus Santos, and Roman again. He had now produced more goals in two games than he had in the five he'd started before that since I took over. Latte Lath, meanwhile, had been brought on in the AMC role, and while he didn't get credit for any assists he was definitely involved in all three of the goals which came after he was subbed in.

The game against Dinamo Bucuresti we expected to be trickier. It wasn't.


2-0, with Jajá and Latte Lath (now playing striker) scoring the goals and Toma providing both assists. (He's becoming a stand-out, consistently performing well. Poor finishing but great long-shots, knows how to pass and dribble, and solid mentals. The CM/A role suits him perfectly, and he could pitch in as playmaker if I needed him to.)


We were now clearly leading the relegation group, with a healthy goal diff as well. On top of that, we had our youth intake and it provided it was some interesting prospects. I kept five of them: Costin Satco, a CB with decent potential (19 bravery, 14 determination, fairly ambitious); Ionut Mitu and Cristian Andrei, two wingers with good potential but low determination; and the best of all, striker Mihai Maftei and left-back Doru Filipas.



Yes, Filipas also needs his determination raised, but he's an actual left-back! And Maftei could almost come on as a sub as he is. Considering we already had some very promising midfielders in our youth team, things are looking good for the future. I can easily make a promise for next season to give the young players a chance, and not have to buy many new players at all...

Edited by Alma Mater
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Botosani 22-23 - end of season.

Six matches left in the relegation group, and a good reason to give it our all. The complicated structure of the Casa Liga held a surprise for me in how the European spots are distributed. The Champion's League spot goes to the winner of the league, of course. One Conference League spot goes to the second in the champions playoff group, another to the winner of the cup - unless one of the top two have won it, and then that spot goes to the third-placed. But the last Conference League spot is decided by a playoff between the third (or fourth) placed team in the champions group, and the top two of the relegation group. So if we continue to do well we still have a chance at getting European play next season!

Early April is, of course, also the time for the NxGn list. I wasn't expecting anyone on it to be within our reach, but while most players on it were already contracted to big clubs and earning far more than we could offer, there was one... Sitting in second(!) place on the list was a 16-year-old Spanish winger who was playing for a minor Spanish youth club, with no apparent interest in him yet. As I suspected that would change now that he had a spotlight on him, I quickly put in an offer sight unseen. You have to take some risks! And to my delight, he accepted. So as soon as the transfer window opens, Airam - one name only, like he thinks he's Brazilian or something - will be joining Botosani.


But back to the ongoing season. We have four games scheduled in April - Hermannstadt, Arad, Csikszereda and Voluntari. Voluntari were just ahead of us before the split, and Hermannstadt just behind us, with the other two near the bottom of the table. None of them had started the relegation group very well, so we went in with confidence.

Hermannstadt challenged us. We were the better team in terms of possession and chances, and took the lead 2-0 (Latte Lath 35, Toma 52) but they didn't give up. 60 minutes in one of the CBs got his head on a corner, and in the 72nd minute they were awarded a penalty, and that was all it took for them to walk away with a point. The next three games, though...



We are unstoppable! Let's take this form into May as well, against Farul Constanta and Mioveni.



Well, we dropped points against Farul Constanta, but they're in second place in the group so I'll take it. Especially considering that we have now officially won the relegation group! Which means we first play against Farul Constanta again, and if we win that we are up against CFR Cluj for that European spot. (And we beat Cluj in January...) 

We meet Farul Constanta on a cold, wet, windy day in late May. While we dominate the play, we're struggling to score - their keeper is having a good day - and the only success we have is when Tircoveanu takes a corner kick and CB Joyskim Dawa pops up at the far post to head it in. Twice, once in the first half and once in the second. Go Dawa! Unfortunately, Latte Lath, who has really laid claim to that striker spot, limps off the pitch with a pulled calf muscle and won't be available for the last match of the season. Can Mihai Roman step up and show me he's worth keeping around? Aside from that flash of competitiveness when Latte Lath first joined, he hasn't really impressed me at all, but if he can win us the Conference League spot...Cluj are not going to roll over and let us take it. While we keep possession as usual, we're once again not doing well at finishing our chances. The game is still 0-0 at full time, and goes into extended time. The players are all getting tired. And then, 113 minutes into the game, Florescu takes a throw-in, Toma passes it back to him in a quick one-two, Florescu spots left-back Andrei Dragu all alone right at the edge of the D and passes it to him - and it's a real screamer. We take the lead, and Cluj can't pull it back in the few minutes left. We have secured European play for next season - and it wasn't one of our strikers or creative midfielders who did it, but rather our promising but troublingly inconsistent left-back who stepped up and scored his first and only goal of the season when it mattered the most.




Now to see how many of our best players we can hold on to, and what offers too good to refuse we may receive... We are still in financial difficulties, after all.

Edited by Alma Mater
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Botosani - summer transfers 2023.

The next season kicks off in late July, two months after our last game. The transfer window goes from June 20th to Septermber 11th, but of course we hope to have most of our business done in time for the season to begin. Who are we about to lose, and who are we willing to let go? Where do we need to bring someone in? I'm mostly happy with the team we have, given our success once everyone settled in, but the new season will bring both European games and the cup, so we will need enough depth to rotate far more than we have so far.

The big outgoing transfer question revolves around creative midfielder Tircoveanu, who is wanted by Levante. It would be a big loss, since he's one of our best players, but can I stand in his way when it comes to an opportunity like that? We would still have Florescu, and the two of them are strikingly similar in terms of attributes:



Obviously, having both of them has worked very well for us, but when Levante offers us 2.5 million euros for him, we're not turning that down. On top of that, we sell off veteran striker Mihai Roman to Red Star - no, not the Serbian team, one in France's second league - and Petkovski, who hasn't lived up to his potential, to our competitor Sepsi (6th place last season). With those three sales, we have solved the financial issues of the club well ahead of schedule, which makes the board happy enough that they're willing to overlook the fact that by their definition, I did not finish in the top half of the league.


As for new arrivals, there's Airam, of course, who turns out to be quite technically good for 16, and with lots of potential to improve:


I also bring in two new defenders for depth: veteran Samuel Yohou (CB, RB in a crisis), and youngster Madalin Sturzu (RB, possible CB, goes out on loan), both as free transfers.

This leaves us with a team which has enough players to rotate, but will need to dip into the pool of talented youngsters if injuries cause issues or if the schedule gets very crowded. More details behind the spoiler cut:



Blazevic has been a solid, dependable keeper, Contra is a backup who looks good but hasn't been tested much, and Purice goes out on loan to get playtime.


We have some depth now  for our central defenders! Dawa and Dican are the first pick, and work very well together. Yohou is intended to be the main back-up; Opara is primarily back-up for the right-back position, but can come in as CB as well. And we have no shortage of talented youngsters, so two of them go out on loan while Moescu is fifth choice. (Andriesei is better as a midfielder.)


For the right-back spot we have Pirvulescu as top choice, and Opara as back-up. Yohou is reasonably competent in the role but only defensively, since he's not very quick and terrible at dribbling and crossing. Sturzu goes out on loan, but can be called back if disaster should strike. Pop stays in the youth team for at least another year.


Our primary left-back is Dragu, but as mentioned in the previous post he has not been very consistent. Neciu is primary back-up, but the hope is that Solonariu will be ready to step up soon, so he goes out on loan to get playtime, while Filipas sits in the youth team. Burlacu also goes out on loan, mostly to see if he improves enough to be worth hanging on to.




We have a good supply of midfielders, even with Tircoveanu gone. Florescu is first choice for playmaker now, and Toma has claimed the CM/A spot. Veteran Tavares is typically brought in when we want a BWM, while Remacle has just returned from loan and will try to break into the team; he's the well-rounded type, rather than standing out in any specific area, which makes him a good rotation option. Behind them, we have several very promising young teenagers, who will get a game now and then - Andriesei more defensively inclined, Lupu more attacking, while Tudor is a playmaker in the making and Fratica is a jack of all trades. (Unfortunately, all the youngsters except Tudor have poor personalities, but hopefully we can work on that.) Ion we'll hang onto for now, but he's unlikely to stay long-term.


We have a wealth of wingers, despite Jajá's loan coming to an end. Mateus Santos, Tisdell and Balan have all proved themselves, while Airam will be rotated in. (This is taken in November, when he'd already been at the club for a few months and improved a bit - when he arrived he was 16 and rated at two stars.) Cristian Andrei is another talented youngster with a poor personality, while Caia is the emergency solution.


And finally the strikers. Latte Lath is the uncontested first choice, young Maftei the rotation, and Lupu the third-choice back-up. Winger Balan can also strictly speaking play in the position, but has a lower finishing than I'd like - still, it can be useful to be able to let him and Latte Lath unexpectedly switch places mid-game to throw the opposition off. Caia is again the emergency solution.

And that's our summer break transfer action concluded. The transfer window is still open, in case any position needs strengthening, but it's time to kick off the pre-season friendlies and see how this squad works.




Edited by Alma Mater
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I'm glad you explained that qualification process, sounds awfully complicated!  Congrats on qualifying - I love it when someone you wouldn't expect pops up with a crucial goal!

Airam looks a talent.  At 16 he should be getting ready for first team action and hopefully will be able to drop in and do a job at that level - what will you do with him?

There's a lot of potential in your squad and a good age mix.  Octavian Lupu looks interesting with his versatility.   It's good to see you've managed to keep the side largely Romanian as well.  Are there any rules in the league about overseas players in registration/match day squads?

Enjoying this one - keep it up (and good luck!)

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5 hours ago, SinlessCity said:

I'm glad you explained that qualification process, sounds awfully complicated!  Congrats on qualifying - I love it when someone you wouldn't expect pops up with a crucial goal!

Airam looks a talent.  At 16 he should be getting ready for first team action and hopefully will be able to drop in and do a job at that level - what will you do with him?

There's a lot of potential in your squad and a good age mix.  Octavian Lupu looks interesting with his versatility.   It's good to see you've managed to keep the side largely Romanian as well.  Are there any rules in the league about overseas players in registration/match day squads?

Enjoying this one - keep it up (and good luck!)

Airam is very promising indeed! Lupu has the talent, but low determination so I'm not sure he'll ever live up to his potential - but he'll get some games.

The Casa Liga allows 25 registered players, and a max of four can be non-EU, but Africa is included in EU. (Romanian U21s don't need to be registered to play.) We have the typical eight players trained in the nation, four trained in the club requirement. The match squad must contain six players trained in the nation, and one Romanian U21 player must be on the pitch. With my team, there's not much trouble fulfilling those requirements, especially since my first-choice RB Pirvulescu is only 20. I usually try to keep two youngsters on the bench just in case, if I'm not starting two of them.

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Botosani 23/24 - pre-season and start of season.

I scheduled quite a few friendly games during the pre-season, both to let the new arrivals get acclimated and to test out some of my youngsters. They were mainly against lower-rated teams in the hope of building up morale, since Conference League qualifiers were looming on the horizon. We would come into the second round, and had been drawn against Israeli team Maccabi Haifa, who had a slightly higher reputation than us but shouldn't be unbeatable.

I had also convinced the board that a senior affiliate would help keep our finances steady, and at the very end of June we finalized a deal with Braga. Not bad! We already had an affiliate in the Romanian third league, Progresul Spartak, which I had sent a few young players to on loan.

Our friendlies went very well.



My youngsters were doing everything they could to show themselves worthy of first team playtime. Against Politehnica Iasi, Airam was brought on at the end for his very first minutes for the team, and scored the 3-1 goal - with a header, of all things. (He's tiny!) Against Petrolul Ploiesti, a team which had just won promotion to the first league, I subbed on no less than five teenagers - Fratica, Andrei, Airam, Tudor and Maftei - and Maftei assisted Airam in scoring the winning goal in the 88th minute. Against Unirea Dej, Fratica and Maftei provided the goals. For the final friendly, though, I was back to playing mainly my first eleven, to make sure they were ready for the season to begin. Mateus Santos was missing, as he'd picked up an injury at the end of June which kept him out of the pre-season.

Our first league game of the season was against UTA Arad, who had finished just the above relegation line last semester. We controlled the game from start to finish, despite Latte Lath not having his best day on the pitch. First goal came from a cooperation between the wingers, as Tisdell provided a cross for Balan to put his head to. The second was an amazing free-kick by Florescu that curled straight into the net. The third came when Florescu sent a long through-pass up to Airam (subbed on), who took a cross from the byline intended for Balan, which resulted in an own goal by one of their defenders. Not a bad start to the season.

Next was the away game against Maccabi Haifa, which should be considerably more difficult. It was played in 32 degree heat, in front of nearly 20,000 Maccabi fans, and one devoted Botosani fan who had taken the long journey all alone. Since Latte Lath hadn't been at his best in the previous game, I tried shifting him to shadow striker, moved Balan up front, and put Airam in in Balan's place. Toma was still recovering from a minor knock, so Florescu and Tavares held the midfield. The first half was a tight affair, where they held possession but didn't provide much of anything forward, while we had a few chances but nothing came of it. It took nearly an hour's play, and them getting a man sent off, before we broke through their defense: Latte Lath to Airam to Balan to Tavares, who placed a shot between their CBs and right past the keeper, who was moving in the wrong direction. Once they had to attack, the match opened up more, and in injury time Balan came free alone with the keeper after a bit of lovely passing between Latte Lath and Tisdell. 2-0 in the away game looked promising for advancement.

But first, another league game, against another just promoted team, FC Rapid. I wanted to give several of my first eleven a rest so they'd be fresh for the next Maccabi game in a few days, so in came some youngsters on the wings - Lupu and Caia up front, Sturzu (not yet out on loan) and Neciu as fullbacks. That made the match a lot more even than it probably would have been otherwise. It took until the 73rd minute for something to happen, when Octavian Lupu took a free-kick which the keeper stood no chance against; but within a minute they had equalised, and that result stood until the end.


Now we had to defend our lead over Maccabi Haifa in a home game, which drew about 1,100 people as oppsed to the nearly 20,000 their home game had. Oh well. I brought Latte Lath back up top, since Balan had played against Rapid and needed a rest, put Florescu in the attacking mid position with Tavares and Toma in the midfield and Airam and Tisdell on the wings. Only a few minutes in, Airam got the ball to Florescu, who crossed it in to Latte Lath, who managed to score from a very narrow angle despite having two defenders on him. Then at the very end of the first half, the play came from the other side - Tisdell to Latte Lath, who sent it forward for Airam to come cutting in from the side while the whole defense was clustered around Latte Lath, and our little Spanish prospect scored his first (non-friendly) goal for us. Technically, they had an higher xG than us in the match, but the result was never in question. We were on to the third round of qualifiers.

Where we were drawn against Genk. Dammit. The board wanted me to reach the fourth round, but that was not going to be easy. I was having flashbacks to facing Utrecht with Valmiera. Botosani was undoubtedly a better team than Valmiera had been, but were we good enough?

First a league game against Mioveni, who we had one draw and one win against last season under my management. Again, I had to rotate a fair bit to keep my best players for the Genk match. I brought Moescu and Opara in to be CBs, while Dican stepped up into the midfield alongside Remacle. Maftei started up front, with Latte Lath as shadow striker again. It... was not a success. We had the game in terms of possession, passes, tackles, shots and xG, but could not seem to score. Their striker was in fantastic form and scored twice in the first 25 minutes, after which they backed home to defend, and pulled it off. Our first loss of the season. Not the best lead-up to our away game against Genk. On top of that, Tavares twisted his ankle during training, leaving us one midfielder short for the next month, just when we needed our rotation options the most.

We did our best against Genk, we really did. We held up relatively well against them in the midfield, and even had a higher xG, but they took advantage of their chances much better. It ended 3-1, with our consolation goal coming after a cross from Dragu reached Toma, who fooled the defense with a sideways nudge to Florescu. Disappointed, we returned home with out heads hanging low.

That, combined with starting four teenagers due to the packed schedule, made for a difficult match against Universitatea Craoiva, last year's league winners. It was a very hot Sunday evening, 34 degrees, and while they had just lost 4-1 to Legia in the Champion's Path, they had apparently channeled that better into wanting to prove themselves than we had. Perhaps their much more experienced starting eleven helped. The fact that they were awarded a penalty when they were already leading 1-0 certainly did. Lupu managed to pull one back for us in overtime, but a 2-1 loss it was. After 4 league games, we were sitting in 11th place.

I did everything I could to get the players to go into the return leg against Genk with their motivation high. We needed to break this run of losses, and there was always a chance of an upset - we were only two goals behind. We had most of our best players on the pitch, only shifting Dican up to midfield and bringing Opara into the CB position. Airam was our only teenager to start. It was a scrappy game, with plenty of yellows handed out to both teams. Florescu scored a goal seven minutes in, and after that the chase was on. We were the better team on the day - but not good enough to find that second goal to bring us up even. We won the game, but lost the aggregate. We were out of the Conference League.


Well, at least the board were understanding.

Next we were up against CFR Cluj, who had finished in fourth place last season, and who we had defeated to earn that Conference League spot in the first place. This would be a real test of what we might accomplish this season. I once again put Maftei in as striker with Latte Lath as shadow striker, Airam and Tisdell as wingers, and paired young Fratica with the more experienced Remacle in the midfield. They were fired up to come back from the slump we'd been in. 26 minutes in, we were given a penalty, and Latte Lath did not miss. Some fifteen minutes later, Airam provided a perfect cross to Maftei, who came free with the keeper and took the shot from the outer edge of the box. They managed to pull one back in the 63rd minute, but in the 68th Remacle curled a free-kick from near the sideline into the box, Airam headed it forward, and Moescu toed it into the net. One goal for the fifth-choice CB, one each for the strikers, and two assists from Airam. Oh, and this:


A record for the club! Nicely symmetrical age, as well.

We now had a whole week before the next game, for once, so we could field our first eleven without any concerns for fatigue. We were up against Farul Constanta, the team we had battled for first place in the relegation group last season. Let's just say they did not have a good day.


Fratica was playing because Pirvulescu had picked up a minor injury, and I needed to keep a Romanian U21 player on the pitch. (Sturzu was 20, but if I'd had to take him off his replacement wouldn't be, so I wanted to start two of them.) This result brought us up to sixth place in the league, a drastic improvement from 11th two games ago - and now that our European adventure was over, we could focus more completely on the league. Oh, and in late September we would enter the Cupa Romaniei.

But that'll be in the next post!


Edited by Alma Mater
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Botosani 23/24 - autumn.

The autumn months were a much easier matchload than the late summer. September began with a game against Dinamo Bucuresti, who had been the opponents in my very first league game with Botosani. That had ended with a draw, but later in the season we had defeated them. This time we fought each other to a stand still, with each team managing to hit the woodwork but not the back of the net. After that, we had two weeks until the next fixture. That period saw the end of the transfer window, so we did our final business for 2023: Madalin Sturzu went out on loan, and we brought in a young midfielder on loan from our new senior affiliate Braga, named Dinis Gama, to add some more depth since we had suffered earlier when Tavares was injured. He'd be a good DLP if we used one, but could do decently in any of our midfield roles.

The next game was against Chindia Targoviste, who had surprised everyone by finishing third last season. Ten minutes in, Mateus Santos lost the ball to a tackle while on the attack, Balan snapped up the loose ball, rounded the defense, and shot from a narrow angle. 1-0 for us. Fifteen minutes later, Chindia Targoviste had a disastrous minute: first one of their players was given a second yellow and sent off, then Balan picked up the ball out on the left again and sent in a low cross to Toma, who struck true. They did pull one back a few minutes later, but in the second half Mateus Santo passed it back to Pirvulescu, had it smartly returned to him, and crossed it into the box where Balan was waiting. No debate about Balan being PotM, with two goals and one assist.

After that, Hermannstadt, who had finished in tenth place last season but who had held us to a draw in the only game under my management. It turned out to be the kind of match you want to forget ever happened. Ten minutes in, the otherwise so reliable Blazevic let a shot slip between his fingers, resulting in an own goal. After that, we kept attacking and missing, while they bided their time and counter attacked when the opportunity arose. Two more goals from then near the end of the second half rounded off a very bad day at the office for us.

Four days later, we had our first cup game for the season, against third league team Odorheiu Secuiesc; a perfect chance to both restore morale and give some other players a start. This one was never in question. Less than two minutes had passed when Remacle scored the first goal. A few minutes after that, we were awarded a penalty which Lupu tidily put away. Another half hour, and Tisdell crossed the ball in for Maftei to head into the goal. After that, the tempo slowed down. Towards the end of the seond half, they had two players sent off to boot, one from a straight red and another due to two yellows - the only two yellow cards of the match.


Our first fixture in October was against Petrolul Ploiesti, the newly promoted team we had defeated in a pre-season friendly. They had been doing very well so far and were currently sitting in the spot right above us (fifth to our sixth). But against us they stood no chance - Toma scored the first goal before a minute had passed, and then Balan (20) and Dawa (39) each added one. They managed a consolation goal from a long shot towards the end, but that was all.

Arges was another of those days when nothing went our way. We dominated possession, we had the better chances, but they scored the only goal, and with ten minutes left Andrei Dragu was sent off when he received his second yellow. Then again, Arges were outstripping all expectations: the media had predicted them to end up in 9th place, the bookies had put them in shared 7th with us, but they had been sitting in second and their win over us brought them up to first place.

Next we faced Voluntari, who had surprisingly been leading the league, and only recently slipped down to second place, while we had been bouncing between fourth and sixth since late August. Here, too, we scored before a minute had passed, when a corner kick by Florescu was followed by headers from first Opara, then Latte Lath. Towards the end of the first half, Latte Lath passed up to Daniel Toma, who coolly lobbed it over the keeper. In the 69th minute, a quick one-two between Latte Lath and Mateus Santo gave our striker his second goal of the day. The clock said 88 minutes when they put the ball in the net, and that gave them hope. They managed one more in injury time, but that was it. 3-2 for us, in a game the statistics say we dominated but which had a dramatic finish.

The last match of the month was against FCSB, last season's runner-up. They had made it all the way to the Conference League group stage, where they had lost to Shamrock Rovers at home only a few days before facing us. And while this meant they rested some players against us, their wealth of good players meant that the squad they fielded was high quality. Their 4-4-1-1 proved very difficult for us to break through, which resulted in us dominating possession but not producing many good chances. They for their part had even fewer chances, and only one on target. Inthe end both teams walked away with a point but no goals.


Now we had dipped down to seventh place. The board might consider that good enough, but I did not. I knew we could do better.


Three of the teams above us were big surprises; only Cluj, FCSB and maybe Voluntari had been predicted to be in the top positions. Of course, we were not even halfway to the league split, and only seven points separated first place from tenth. Anything could still happen.

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Botosani 23/24 - end of 23.

November began with a cup game. Now, normally I accept defeat where it comes, because it makes things more interesting, but not when said defeat comes from a player's mistake. I accidentally spacebar-ed too far so the game began before I had rotated out tired players, and we promptly lost 1-0. So I save scummed, rotated, and we went on to trounce Petrolul Ploiesti 2-0, all produced by the players I'd rotated in. First goal was by teenaged striker Maftei after an assist by third-choice winger Tisdell, and the second by Tisdell in a beautiful free-kick from just outside the box. Inbetween the two, Latte Lath - playing shadow striker again - had missed a penalty. It wasn't as if we were the far better team, in fact, were it not for the penalty our xGs would've been almost the same - but this time we were the ones who converted our chances and the opposition did not.

A few days later, we faced Concordia Chiajna (who had been down in the relegation battle for the whole season) in what was probably the most boring match of the season. We had 65% possession, they didn't have a single shot on target, the rain was pouring down, and it all ended 0-0. The best that can be said about that day is that nobody was injured, and at least we didn't lose due to a stray ball or keeper's fumble.

Next we faced Sepsi, the team we had sold Petkovski to. Expected by both media and bookies to finish in fifth place, they had started the season well but had suffered bad form though most of the autumn months. We outplayed them quite thoroghly. I gave Fratica a start in the midfield, hoping to stir something in the unambitious teenager that would spur him to live up to his potential, and towards the end of the first half he did score our first goal. Latte Lath secured the result near the end of the second half after an assist by Airam.



Two weeks later, we faced another team from the very bottom of the table in Arad, and once again failed to produce any goals. Having nearly 70% possession was nice and all, but against teams that backed home to defend we seemed to find it very difficult to score.


Two wins and two draws in November, sixth in the league, and six games in a row without losing was enough for the journalists and fans to start talking about a streak.

In our first December match, we faced FC Rapid, yet another team in the relegation battle. This one we had drawn 1-1 against with a team full of teenagers at the very beginning of the season, but surely we could do better now? And we did, although it took over 80 minutes before the first goal, scored by Neciu who had come in as a substitute, recently recovered from a minor injury, and Latte Lath finalised the score in injury time. Both were assisted by PotM Airam.

The quarter final of the cup was against CFR Cluj, who had recovered after a truly horrible beginning of the season to have stellar form during the autumn, but had been a little more uneven recently. We were awarded a penalty early on in the match, and then defended our lead in an almost Italian style. Semi-final, here we come.

Yet another game against a team fighting to avoid relegation, CS Mioveni. While we were by far the better team, and did take the lead early on, they did manage to counter in an equaliser at the sixty-minute mark. It took a late penalty to secure the win for us, but win we did.

Last year's winners Universitatea Craiova has been pouring their energy into European play, and perhaps as a result were only sitting mid-table in the league. (They'd been knocked out of the Champion's League by Legia Warszawa, then out of the Europa League by Midtjylland, and had just secured a win in the group stage of the Conference League, where they'd been drawn against Luzern, Hapoel Be'er-Sheva, and Helsingin Jalkapalloklubi.) They rotated heavily against us, but despite this it was a close game, with several good chances by both teams but only one goal, scored by Latte Lath after a brilliant pass from Balan left him alone with the keeper. A narrow win, but it was enough to push us up into second place in the table!

We then faced Cluj again, in the league this time, and again we settled the outcome early on in the match - Maftei scored the first after only 40 seconds, and Tisdell the second fifteen minutes in. They never really came back from that double blow.

In the final game before the winter break, we came up against Dinamo Bucuresti, in another one of those matches where we played well but no goals were scored.




And so we end 2023 with a very positive trend: second in the league, 12 games in a row without losing, and qualified for the semi-final of the Cupa Romaniei.


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Crikey, it's tight at the top!  12 in a row is a great achievement, especially as there was a good sequence of wins in there too.

Well on course to exceed board expectations and judging from where you are now, I'd fancy your chances of finishing top, or at the very least, second.

Good luck in the cup semi!  Keep it up, great save so far.

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On 24/08/2022 at 08:10, SinlessCity said:

Crikey, it's tight at the top!  12 in a row is a great achievement, especially as there was a good sequence of wins in there too.

Well on course to exceed board expectations and judging from where you are now, I'd fancy your chances of finishing top, or at the very least, second.

Good luck in the cup semi!  Keep it up, great save so far.

It's very even! Seven points between second and ninth, and I'd say only the bottom six are completely out of it. No comment on how things will go, of course, wouldn't want to spoil anything... ;)

On 24/08/2022 at 14:33, deltablue said:

Good luck to you your title push.

Thank you! I find journeyman style suits me, I can swoop in to be a hero then move on before it gets to be too much of the same year after year.

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22 hours ago, Alma Mater said:

It's very even! Seven points between second and ninth, and I'd say only the bottom six are completely out of it. No comment on how things will go, of course, wouldn't want to spoil anything... ;)

Thank you! I find journeyman style suits me, I can swoop in to be a hero then move on before it gets to be too much of the same year after year.

I agree. I have had a couple of one club careers but they have lasted under 20 seasons. It's nice to have the freedom to move on when you need to.

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Botosani 23/24 - winter.

There's a four week winter break from Christmas onwards, and a transfer window from mid-January to mid-February, so I pause to take stock of what, if anything could be improved in the team. We're doing really well, so I certainly don't want to change much, but tweaking or bringing in young players for the future could be an option. We have 8or 9 of our first eleven pretty much nailed down right now - striker, wingers, CBs, right-back, and two out of three spots in the midfield.

As for keeper, I like Blazevic a lot and he's been solid, but he's not a star quality player, and (at least on paper) we probably could upgrade. I don't think messing with a good thing is the best idea right now, though. I bring in some keepers on trial, to see if any of them look interesting for the future, but the ones I like all demand either higher wages or more play-time than I'm willing to offer them at this point, so nothing comes of it.

In the midfield, Florescu and Toma are super-stars, and the only question is who takes the third spot centrally. We have several teenagers with high potential (although not improving as much as I'd like, at least not yet), two first team players with less potential but more experience, and a loanee from Braga who wants more play-time than he's been getting. The issue in midfield is not a lack of options, more like the opposite, so I'm not looking to buy here.

Finally, there's the left-back spot which has been an issue for a while now. Our first choice there, Dragu, has decent attributes and is only 24, so there's room for improvement. The problem is his lack of consistency. He'll get ratings at about 7.3 for several games in a row, then suddenly pull a 6.2 and a 6.4, then back to 7.6. He's unpredictable, which makes me a little uneasy, He also tends to get a lot of yellow cards. His back-up, Neciu, is dependable but will never be more than a back-up. Among the youngsters, there's Solonariu (1,5 stars, 18yo, unambitious), Burlacu (1 star, 17yo, casual) and maybe Satco (1 star, 16yo, fairly ambitious but perhaps better as a CB). So if I went for anything, it would be a new LB - but I can't seem to find someone good.

In the end, nothing changes in my first team during the winter window. Some young players go out on loans or are released, but otherwise it's a fairly quiet time off-pitch.

On-pitch, late January is, well, drab is probably a good word for it.



Three away games, three games with poor weather, three games where we miss the target a lot, three draws. Farul Constanta and Chindia Targoviste are both far below us in the table, while Petrolul Ploiesti have been this seasons unexpected success - newly promoted, predicted to be in a relegation struggle, but currently in the running for a top spot. We've dropped down to third place, although the top of the table is still very tight. We're now up to 15 undefeated games in a row, although I'd prefer if they weren't half draws.


Our first February game, against Hermannstadt, sees us back in form again. Several of our best players perform at the top of their ability, more than half our shots are on target, we're up 3-0 early in the second half - and then they get a man sent off.

Naturally, this is followed by another goalless draw, because that's just how it goes. At least with Arges it's against one of our main competitors.

Next we come up against another top team, Voluntari. This feels like it should be a dramatic match, but it's really not. We score two goals early on without impressing, several of their players have a really bad day, and while they do manage to pull one back, it happens when there's only a few minutes left to play, and the game ends 2-1 for us. That brings us up to second in the table and drops Voluntari down to sixth, but there's still only a few points difference.

And then, the big one, against FCSB who have been at the top of the table since December.




The absolute star of the game is, unfortunately for us, their keeper Andrei Vlad. We keep shooting and he keeps saving. Nothing gets past him. And then, one of the few times their team ventures up past the midline, one of their wingers sends a cross to the far post where the other one is waiting to head it in. Our undefeated streak stops at 18 games in a row.

This one stings. We were by far the better team in every aspect except goalkeeping - and, well, actually scoring goals. We played just as well against the team leading the league as we do against much lower level teams, we simply didn't score. Ugh.


We drop one place in the table, but that doesn't feel very important at this point. It's only two more games until the league splits, and it would take a disastrous two match days for us to not get into the Champion's Playoff group. After the split, only half the points gained up to that point will be counted. Right now, FCSB at the top are sitting on 61 points and we're in third on 49 points, so if the split happened at this point we'd be six points behind with ten matches left to play. We're far from out of this race.



Let me just wrap this up with a glimpse of FCSB's keeper, Andrei Vlad:


He's 24, has been with FCSB since he was 18 and has been their first-choice keeper since he was 20 or 21, and has nine caps (and eleven U21 caps) for Romania. I'm having a bad case of keeper envy.


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I can relate to your keeper struggles - sometimes keeping with what you have (and know) outweighs the risk of someone untested.  However...  What is Andrei Vlad valued at?  And when does his contract expire? haha

Hard lines with the run of games, but it's better to have drawn than lost... Hopefully when the league splits you can hit another winning run and push them all the way for top spot!  Fingers crossed, good luck!

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Botosani 23/24 - spring.

We start March off with the last two pre-split matches. One is against Concordia Chiajna, who we should beat fairly easily, and the other against Sepsi, who are dancing on the line of the split. All we need from these two games to make it into the Champions Playoff group is one point, but of course we want to do better than that.



As usual, we control possession and take far more shots. In these two games, we also score goals while keeping clean sheets - 1-0 against Concordia Chiajna (Florescu, assisted by Toma) and 2-0 against Sepsi (Latte Lath with a chip over the keeper, and an injury time free kick by Dican headed in by Dawa). Unfortunately Toma picks up an injury which will keep him out for a few weeks. Good thing we have all those young midfielders eager for a chance. These two wins bring us up into second place in the final result for the first part of the league.



Now we just have to play two games against each of these top teams!

We start with Arges at home, and dispatch them easily, with Latte Lath scoring both goals. Away against Petrolul Ploiesti, though, we're the ones being dispatched - they score two goals from overloading the area right in front of the goal. That means they pass us in the table nad we drop down to third place.


We also get our youth intake for the year, and while it's termed a golden generation, I consider it to be more "many potentially good players, but no real superstars."



I sign eleven youngsters for the future. Out of the top four, Alexandru Dobre brings me yet another left-back with lots of potential but a poor personality; Marcel Posirca is a fairly professional and well-rounded midfielder; Sebastian Siminiciuc is a winger who isn't quite as fast as I'd wish, but what he does have is 18 determination, 16 bravery and 15 flair. Finally, Florin Ciubotariu is a quick, dribbley, flair-y striker who I hope will grow a little more so he can be a threat in the air as well.

In April, we take on Cluj away. in the third minute, Airam scores off a corner from Florescu, and that result stands all the way through. Once again we control the play without scoring many goals. The match also sees the return of Toma, who starts but is subbed off early to give him an easy first day back. I bring on Fratica instead, as I often do - but that kid is starting to frustrate me. He's played quite a bit this season, but shows no sign of improving. Maybe it's unfair to compare him to Airam, but... Meanwhile FCSB have lost two games in a row, which means Petrolul Ploiesti pass them to take the lead, and we are a single point behind FCSB.

Our match against Voluntari is fairly even for the entire first half, but early in the second half Latte Lath and Toma score goals a few minutes apart, both assisted by Florescu. Blazevic chalks up another clean sheet, his fifth in the last six games. This win, combined with FCSB and Ploiesti both only managing draws, means we and Ploiesti are on the same number of points with FCSB one point behind us. I expected goal difference to decide who was in front, but a closer study of the rules tells me it's where we were placed at the time of the league split - which means Botosani holds first place!

And now, we face FCSB. I fire up the team with talk of revenge for that painful loss the last time we played them, and off we go. FCSB get the first goal, after a corner 15 minutes into the game. A few minutes afterwards, Airam sends the ball into the box, where Toma passes it forward to Latte Lath, who just nudges it past the keeper into the far corner of the goal. Then, just before halftime, a brilliant pass from their playmaker sets their striker free with Blazevic, and it's 2-1 to them. The second half is scrappy, with my players picking up a number of yellows - including four in the space of five minutes - until shortly before the end, Airam sends a cross to Mateus Santos, who scores his third goal for the season. Despite being the far better team according to the stats, we're relieved to come away with a point.

Only a few days later, we have a cup semi-final against FC Rapid, who are in the relegation group - where they've produced one win and four draws. Neither team plays well. Perhaps I shouldn't have rotated as much as I did, but I wanted to give the youngsters another game, and I thought we'd win fairly easily. Instead, it's a 0-0 affair, and we get to do the whole thing over again in three weeks.

We're back to facing Arges again in the league, with most of my best players back on the pitch - Pirvulescu is recovering from pulled knee ligaments, so Opara comes in for him, and I need a Romanian U21 player so Fratica get one more chance in the midfield. Latte Lath opens the game by scoring before two minutes have passed, so Arges are forced on the offensive. With our usual overwhelming possession, this means they spend a lot of time chasing the ball and wearing themselves out. As time goes on, we get more and more openings, and towards the end we get two more goals, first by Doru Tudor (who was subbed in for Fratica) and then Florescu.


And that win, while Ploiesti lose their game and FCSB draw theirs, means we now have a three-point lead ahead of both of them, with only four league games left in the season. On top of those games, we also have the semi-final rematch and, hopefully, a cup final, all in the next four weeks.

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Botosani 23/24 - end of season.

The schedule for May is packed with important games. First up is Petrolul Ploiesti, one of our main competitors for the title. Win this, and we'll only need three more points from tha last three points to be sure of beating them; lose, and both teams will be on the same number of points. It's a cool and overcast evening when the players come out onto the field. 18 minutes in, Mateus Santos on the right crosses the ball to Airam who's cutting in from the left. The teen stops, turns around, passes back to Toma who's coming up from the midfield. Their defenders are split between covering Latte Lath up front and converging on Toma - so he sends the ball back to Mateus Santos, who blazes it in right under the cross bar. 25 minutes later, another lovely bit of tiki-takaing back and forth gets Latte Lath the opening he needs for another hard ball from just inside the box into the back of the net. They spend the second half trying to catch up, but when one of their CDs gets a straight red in the 51st minute, the writing is on the wall. We're so close now... And the news from Bucharest is also good - FCSB only managed a draw against Arges, so we're now five points ahead of them and six points ahead of Ploiesti.

A week later we're up against Cluj, who have been struggling since the league split, with two wins, one draw, and four losses. It's hardly the most entertaining match ever. As usual by now, we dominate possession, but spend a lot of time passing back and forth between defenders and midfield without much happening. At half time, I try to fire them up, and it works. Almost right away, we get a free-kick just outside their box, and Dican curves it into the net while their keeper watches helplessly. 20 minutes later, Florescu produces a real screamer from even further away, and we have our third win in a row. What's more, FCSB lost against Petrolul Ploiesti, which means they cannot possibly catch up to us. We've done it! We've won the league! We lift the trophy right then and there, in front of a home crowd of about 2,000 people.

Only three days later, we need to re-focus for the second leg of the cup semi-final. This time, I don't rotate as much; after all, the remaining league matches are irrelevant now, but the cup... Could it be possible? I do still bring on some players who have been slightly unhappy with their playtime, like Remacle and Balan. They reward me by scoring a goal each, which leads to our fifth clean sheet and third 2-0 result in a row. We've reached the cup final, and with it, the possibility of a double. Considering Botosani has never won either league or cup before, that would be absolutely amazing.

First, a league game against Voluntari, which my players are clearly struggling to marshal any interest in. I give my best players a rest, hoping the benchwarmers will want to prove themselves, but it's no use. Voluntari score the only goal when their winger comes free with Blazevic, and all in all it's a thoroughly dull affair. Everybody's holding their breath for the next game.

Cup final! And it's against Sepsi, who didn't make the Champions Playoff group, who we've defeated handily the two games we've played against them this season. Of course, that's no guarantee of anything. They start out cautiously, while we push them back, keeping possession not only in our own half but theirs too. Half an hour in, it pays off. Florescu sends a beautiful cross up to Mateus Santos, who gets pushed out wide by their defense, so he turns around and passes it diagonally backwards to where Daniel Toma comes up to neatly and tidily put it away. A few minutes later, Airam has the ball out on the left, knoocks it back to Dragu coming up behind him, who crosses it to Latte Lath, who curls it in behind the keeper. 2-0 at half time, and it's out top two goalscorers who have done it. They press harder in the second half, and after they bring on a second striker they managed to pull one back in the 89th minute, but we manage to hang on to our lead. And it's official - Botosani has won the double.

(There's one last league game against FCSB, but my players have mentally checked out on their summer break already. We lose 2-0 and pick up seven yellow cards.)




It's a brilliant end to a brilliant season, and I'm very proud of my team. I'm also packing my bags, if with a bit of a lump in my throat, because the only way I could take this team higher than this would be to invest several more years in it, and I'm ready to move on. After several applications are turned down due to my lack of experience in gaining promotion / avoiding relegation, I make the strategic decision to take a bit of a sideways step, to a team in a second-tier league that I can work to get promoted, and possibly stay to keep them up. But first, a retrospective!

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Botosani - accomplishments.

In a year and a half, I fixed their finances and won the double.

Oh, you want more than that? Look under the cut.






Not fantastic, but out of the red, and income is up. The big bumps have come from player sales and European play, but given that Botosani will get Champions League qualifiers next season, that should keep them going for a while.




We've sold a few good players as well as cleared out some deadwood, but also acquired several good players, and we've started to really use some promising teenagers. Some of our lower ranked players have contracts that are about to end, but that decision will not be mine to make. Blazevic has kept 30 clean sheets, Latte Lath has scored 20 goals, and young Airam has produced 10 assists, so I'm quite happy with my recruiting. (Also, if less glamorously, Opara and Yohou have provided much needed depth in the defense with no complaints about being second choice.) The only one who's unhappy - aside from our loanee Dinis Gama, who was brought in in an injury crisis and wasn't really needed once the crisis passed - is our 34-year-old veteran Tavares. His attributes have been declining, and with them his playtime, so now he wants to go out on loan to help secure a permanent move. Believe me, if I could've found someone to loan him out to, I would've done it. He deserves a better end to his career than to sit stewing on my bench. But his contract is up, so maybe some team will want to pick him up on a free.





Some improvement, but the financial problems didn't leave room for much, and this is after they were downgraded due to technical advances. But hey, reputation increase!


Look at that, I'm favoured!




Perhaps the biggest improvement area.




Reputation and attributes going up. Working on Continental A. Wow, that discipline stands out. Just because you fine a few players when they perform poorly...

And so I bid farewell to Botosani, and head west.


Edited by Alma Mater
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From Botosani I travel almost straight west, through Hungary and into Austria, to the city of Graz in Styria. But not to manage the best-known team from there, Sturm Graz - no, I'm taking on their local rival, Grazer Athletiksport Klub, or GAK. They've had an interesting time of it over the past 20 or so years:


In the early 200s, they were doing really well in the Austrian Premier League, even winning a double in 2004. Only a couple of years afterwards, financial troubles struck them hard. They went into bankruptcy twice, and in 2012 the club was dissolved. A phoenix club was started by supporters, which eventually took on the old name, and the reborn GAK won a new promotion every year until they reached the First Division, where they've been sitting since 2019. The board's vision is fairly modest - they want to remain in the top half of the First Division for the next five years. I have my own ambitions, which involve a promotion to the Premier League either this year or next, so I can add that to my CV. Last season they finished 9th out of 16. Only one team gets promoted each season, so it's not going to be easy.

The squad is on holiday when I arrive, so I start in on hiring staff, organizing friendlies, and looking at what kind of tactic would suit the players we have. There's next to no transfer budget to work with, so any new additions would have to be free transfers or bargains. On the plus side, the rules are very generous - 99 players can be registered, and there are no restrictions regarding nationality or age.

Current squad situation:




Meierhofer's contract is up, and he already has a transfer arranged, so I have two good options to work with. Durakovic is better with the ball and has great aerial reach, but Kreidl has better mentals and typical keeper attributes, so he looks like a better first choice. There's not much in the way of keepers in the B team or youth team.

Central defense:


Grujcic and Gantschnig are my top choices here. Steiner is good, but seems a little... special. He complains that he wants a new contract, but when I try to offer him one, the agent says his client has decided to retire. I'll keep him around and see how it goes. Huber has great mentals, but his physicals are starting to decline due to age. Fritz is leaving, Hauer is more of a right back, and Schmitt needs another year or two to grow into his potential.

Right back: 


Köchl is good defensively, and has good speed, but his dribbling and crossing need work. Hauer has better mentals (and dribbling), but his technique is generally poor. Between them and Schwarzinger in the youth team, we have no lack of right-backs. None of them are very good on the attack, but that could improve over time since they're all young.

Left back: 


Wild and Vrandecic. Wild is far better physically, but Vrandecic has better mentals and technicals. I'll probably use Vrandecic on attack and Wild when I need defense. We also seem to have an abundance of young LBs with potential, which is nice.



Rusek is another one who has a transfer lined up. von Haacke is a fantastic playmaker, Nutz is a jack-of-all-trades, as is Ostermann, Filip is a creative attacking type who could be a great mezzala but is perhaps even better as a winger. If I want more than two midfielders, I'll need to strengthen this part of the squad to be able to rotate.



Lots of options here, although some of them are more needed in other places. A couple of the youngsters are leaving, and Krizman is about to retire. Wild, Nutz and von Haacke have already been mentioned. So we're looking at Kalajdzic, Peham, Asemota, maybe Filip, with Ogar and Jessenitschnig as future prospects in the B team. Kalajdzic is right-footed but wants to play on the left side of the pitch, and seems more likely to provide assists than score goals himself. Peham is good at crosses but not at passing, while Filip prefers short passing to long crosses. Asemota is quick with good technique, but his mentals still have room for improvement. Peham is the only one of them with finishing, and he can fill in as striker if needed.



Ablinger is our star up front. He's not very good at dribbling or passing, but makes for an excellent poacher or AF. Peham is our best option as back-up. There are some youngsters who may be good one day, but are not there yet.

What it all boils down to is that I have eight players ranging from decent to really good in the defense line, and the same amount for midfield/attack. Unless I want to rely on teenagers for rotation, I need to boost our numbers a bit, particularly in the midfield.

As a team, we seem to be quick, good with the ball, and with generally high determination and decisions. I'm leaning towards a 4-3-3 with a DLP and twin mezzalas, using underlaps since we're unlikely to see much forward contribution from our FBs/WBs, although I will set up their training to try to work up to at least a supportive role. Something like this:



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Grazer - preseason and transfers.

While the scouts are working hard to identify recruitment targets for our limited budget, I set up an intense pre-season. The matches are a mix between lower level Austrian teams to boost morale, and a few from Bundesliga 2 to give us more of a challenge. Once the first friendlies are close, I bring in a few players on trial - specifically ones who would be available on free transfers or for very little money. I'm looking primarily for mezzalas, a back-up DLP and a back-up striker, although if I find a good cheap winger I'll consider it.

In the very first game, against a Regional League team from Vienna, two of our trial midfielders show that they can produce goals. It's David Philip from Germany, who could play as either mezzala or winger, who scores in the 7th minute, and Alem Pasic, potential back-up for DLP or mezzala, who scores in the 86th. Between the two of them comes a goal from our own striker Philipp Ablinger. First Vienna only manage one goal. Two goals come from a header following a cross, and the first from Philipp's wrist finding the ball after a header following a cross. Too early to talke about a pattern, of course, but it's interesting.

In the next game, David Philipp once again performs well, although our two goals come from Ablinger and an injury time header by Gantschnig. I start to think about twin mezzalas played by Filip and Philipp, despite knowing that Filip would prefer to be a winger. But I have other wingers, and those matching names are hard to resist. Just think what the fans could do with a set-up like that!

Next, we test ourselves against Bochum from Bundesliga 2, and we're completely trounced. Their team was simply much better in every way, while I was trying out teenagers and trialists.


After these first three matches, we reach the opening of the transfer window, and I make several hires right away.


Aside from Philipp and Pasic, I pick up a potential DLP/mezzala, one mezzala/winger, and one winger/striker. All three are fairly young with good potential, but more back-ups than first eleven players at this point.


(Photos are taken several months later, in April the following year.)


Philipp is the one I consider ready for first eleven. The mez role seems to suit him well.


Pasic looks like a good player to have on the bench, providing cover for all three midfielders. He's never going to be a star for us, but he seems content with a secondary role in the team.


Mujkanovic can also cover the three midfield spots, and has more potential to improve than Pasic.


Keiblinger is a classic winger. He may be comfortable in the striker position, but he's not really suited for it - strength, jumping reach, finishing... Lots of potential to develop, though! It may be useful to train him up as an inverted winger on the right, to give him more versatility, and some shooting practice wouldn't hurt. But that speed, technique and flair is nice.


Another winger in Marte. He goes down to the B team, so he won't be competing with Keiblinger for playtime.

In our first July game, we meet another Bundesliga 2 team, Magdeburg. I start my double Philips as mezzalas, and my two new wingers Keiblinger and Marte, mostly because everybody else is tired. We somehow manage to come away with a 1-0 win without playing well.


Next is a lower-ranked Austrian team, so I rotate quite a bit. Among other things I move Huber into the DLP slot and bring in Fritz as a CD, while Mujkanovic and Ostermann take on the mez roles. Goals come from veteran midfielder Nutz and young striker Kiedl as we dispatch our opposition easily. Then we take on Shalke 04, and they're definitely not what they used to be. We dominate the game throughout, although it's not until the last few minutes that Kalajdzic snaps up a sloppy pass between their defenders and chips the ball into the top far corner, out of reach of their keeper. The final two matches of the pre-season are against Regional League teams, and we have no trouble with either.


So we end the pre-season with a team that's won five matches in a row without conceding a single goal. Everybody's match sharpness is high, and there's no doubting our form. The only player I'm still looking to recruit is a back-up striker, and I have my eyes on someone there. We're ready for the season to begin! 

Edited by Alma Mater
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