FINALLY I have won the Premier League in Football League save, Blackpool have won the 2028/29 season! This was massive for me, have always done a save with a League 1 team and never have I come this far. I know nobody probably cares enough to read the whole story - but I don't care here so it is from start to finish!
I put the regens in italics to make it easier to follow for anyone that can be bothered?
The save begins with us in League 1, not expected for anything more than a lower mid table finish. We are banned from making signings during the window due to financial constraints, but manage to bring in two new free transfers in with Remie Streete (who turned out to be amazing) and Niko Kranjcar (who was a flop). After a dodgy start and Christmas period, we storm the second part of the year thanks to our sublime front three of Liam Feeney, Chris Taylor and Nathan Delfouneso to sneak into 6th and earn a play off spot. A come from behind win over Shrewsbury gets us a date with Portsmouth in the play off final, however a late red card to our Player of the Season Nya Kirby means we go in as underdogs. We upset the odds though, a Chris Taylor brace and Delfouneso goal giving us a dominant 3-0 win and sending us up to the Championship.
We were amongst the lowest wage budget in League 1, so in the Championship we are financially getting into fights outside of our weight class. We had to be shrewd in the transfer market - Joel Pereira, Josh Onomah and Eddie Nketiah all come in on loans as well as last season's starlet Nya Kirby returning on loan. Free transfers are needed with Callum McManaman, Peter Crouch, Adam Bodzek and Micah Richards being aided by the biggest signing of all, the return of club legend Charlie Adam on a free transfer. Despite being predicted to go straight back down, we fly out the gates and never look back. We look like we could push for an automatic promotion spot but thanks to two consecutive losses to round out the season we have finished 6th again, one point behind arch rivals Preston. Nketiah continues his scintillating form by scoring in both legs against Derby as we win 6-3 on aggregrate, meaning we play Preston North End for a chance to get back to the promised land. And in front of 87,000 at Wembley, Charlie Adam's 32nd minute free kick is enough to give us the win against our biggest rivals and send us back to the Premier League.
If we were up against it in the Championship, now it is mission impossible. I had never been relegated in a FM save before but knew it was a very real possibility with our squad that was barely up to Championship standard on paper. We bring in Onomah and Pereira on permanent deals this time, with Nketiah returning on loan. Jon Stankovic and Aaron Mooy are stolen from relegated Huddersfield, with Ryan Babel coming in on a free after a great season in the Championship at Fulham. Iban Salvador (free), Sergi Palencia (1.2m), Ben Osborn (6m) and inevitable flop Samir Nasri make up the rest of the summer dealings. Our squad is very weak, Curtis Tilt and Remie Streete are starting in central defence, the same pairing that started in the Championship. Despite dreams that moneyball would pay off, we just aren't good enough and are sent packing to the Championship with just 5 league wins all season and finishing dead last. A few notable things happen towards the end of the season though, as we miraculously sign Brazilian wonderkid regen Gustavo Elias for just 63k after meeting his minimum release clause in January and he looks decent in a poor side. Marc-Oliver Kempf also joins in January, and we see the emergence of academy prospect and 18 year old Ryan Bolger, who made his debut in the Championship last season but is now looking to compete for a starting spot already.
With a humbling experience up in the Prem, we now head into this Championship season with a need to change philosophies. With Gustavo Elias and Ryan Bolger emerging it is time to look for the future and stop signing the likes of Nasri and Kranjcar. Another Brazilian wonderkid joins, Jose Eduardo for a massive 9m. Craig Higgins is a Scottish regen brought in to fit the new philosophy with central midfielders Sean Longstaff and Youseff Ait Bennasser providing more class in a weak area. We storm the Championship, for the first time our possession style is taking over and we are playing teams off the park. The front three with Jose Eduardo on the left, Gustavo Elias down the middle and Ryan Bolger on the right is a sight to behold as we finish top of the league by 6 points. In January we sign our 3rd Brazilian wonderkid, Manolo Turra to offer Gustavo Elias some back up instead of the aging Nathan Delfouneso.
This time I feel properly ready for the Premier League. Survival is essential, I only kept my job by the skin of my teeth are being relegated last time so it is vital we get off to a good start. Again youth is the philosophy, Joe Willock and Timothy Weah will be world beaters for this club. And young American left full back Marshall Hancock signed from Fulham looks like he could be a world beater. All this youth can't do it on their own though and if a world class player becomes available you have to seize the opportunity, so Ivan Rakitic joins on a free transfer with days before the deadline. Despite going in feeling good, we get off to a poor start with just one league win until December. The sack looms but the calendar year 2023 brings in a fresh change as we finally string together wins in January and go on a run of brilliant performances. Our only 3 losses from January to April are at Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and St James' Park. We even go on a brilliant FA Cup run - beating Chelsea on the way - only to lose in the Semi Final against Newcastle on Penalties. We have achieved our goal though, Safety. 39 points enough to earn us 15th position.
With survival secured, it is time to look up and start climbing the table. Youth are what will do it for us, so we bring in three huge acquisitions. The first is literally huge as we bring in 6 foot 4 midfield monster Mario Lozano in from Colombian side Deportivo Cali for just 725k, the guy looks the full package and his release clause gets us a bargain. Next up is another Brazilian, but this time 20 year old Rodolpho from RB Leipzig for a pretty pricey 20m. Daniel Patrick (most boring Brazilian name ever) rounds out our summer spree, the right back joins from Flamengo for a fairly sizable 19.25m. With Gustavo Elias, Hancock, Bolger, Lozano, Jose Eduardo, Rodolpho and Daniel Patrick our Starting XI is filled with young prospects and our average age is ridiculously young. Timothy Weah is one who shines though, 13 goals in just 24 league games from left wing. This allows us to move Jose Eduardo to his more favoured number 10 role where he truly shines. Unbelievably thanks to a spree of giant killings (Man United, Liverpool, Man City all beaten at Bloomfield Road) we qualify for the Europa League for the first time by finishing in 7th. I feel this young team is capable of even more, and the future looks bright at Blackpool. The only down spot is club captain Marshall Hancock forcing through a move to Real Madrid in January, but that does allow us to go on another purge of young talent - Djordje Stevanovic (young Serbian CM) comes in for 2.1m, Edvan (strong Brazilian DM) comes in for 8m and Kjell Rohme (talented norweigan CM) comes in for 2.4m. It wouldn't be Blackpool though if it didn't feature an old out of date signing, Sergio Aguero signs on a 6 month contract purely to mentor young talent, not sure he can teach them much about scoring goals though considering he scored 0 in 7 games.
Now it is getting real, European football in the offing and a team capable of beating anyone on their day. We have a decent transfer kitty to spend, especially after selling off a few of our long term players such as Onomah, Guruzeta and Longstaff. In comes more youth, being an Australian I regularly check the A-League for talent and I stumble across to youngsters who look promising Perth Glory goalkeeper Peter Thomas and Melbourne City AM David Webster are signed for a combined 3m. Asia also holds promising youth further North, with CB Moon Ki Seok coming in from Ulsan Hyundai for just 2m. It's not just prospects though, Portuguese CB Guilherme Cunha and Leicester's English AM Jake West may be young but they are ready made starters. Jay Dasilva also finally replaces Marshall Hancock. Despite doing my business early in preperation for what will be a long season with Europa League commitments, I notice in the expiring contracts there is amazingly somebody interested in signing, he is due to retire at the end of next season but can have one last year... it's Lionel Messi. We now have a sensational squad and are a force to be reckoned with, even with Manolo Turra forcing a move to Man United on deadline day and forcing us to panic buy for Mexican youngster Carlos Ochoa as back up. Despite our amazing team though, our season is shattered early on, with Atalanta knocking us out in the last round of qualifying for the Europa League, meaning our large squad was all for nothing. We get off to a good start in the league though, and getting knocked out of the League cup early as well is allowing us to focus everything into the Prem, and we can't stop winning. Our attack has options everywhere, with the usual front line of Jose Eduardo, Gustavo Elias and Ryan Bolger with Leo Messi playing as the number 10 pulling the strings. Cunha and Rodolpho have formed a strong partnership in central defence, with Lozano and Willock a brilliant base in the middle - Pereira has continued to establish himself in goal and Dasilva and Daniel Patrick are becoming quality full backs. It is all coming together and an early FA Cup knockout only strengthens an unlikely title challenge. Chelsea and Blackpool are fighting punch for punch going into the last days of the season, but Chelsea have an advantage due to goal difference. Simultaneous kick offs on Matchday 37, Blackpool host Watford and Chelsea travel to Newcastle. Chelsea go 2 goals down, with half an hour remaining but fight back to be 3-2 up in a 15 minute spell. Newcastle pull a shock goal back though meaning it is 3-3 going into the closing stages. Meanwhile at Bloomfield Road it is still 0-0 in injury time and then... JOSE EDUARDO SCORES FOR BLACKPOOL! In the 91st minute it looks like Blackpool have clawed in front on the second to last day of reckoning when the referee blows his whistle, but then in heartbreaking fashion Ethan Ampadu converts a 93rd minute winner for Chelsea to earn a 4-3 win there and ensure the Blues have the advantage going into the final day. Chelsea coast past West Ham to a 5-1 win to win the league, and even a last minute goal from Ryan Bolger to win 1-0 couldn't raise my spirits. Blackpool lose the league on Goal Difference, only a differential of 5 separating the two teams.
Well... that was a long one. After the heartbreak of last season it is difficult to know where to rebuild. Particularly when Rodolpho's 54m release clause is met by Manchester City. We have to spend big to replace him, parting with 74m to sign Uruguayan Jorge Rodriguez. A back up right back is needed to compete on all fronts and we sign French international Jamal Bertrand to fill the void. Middlesbrough's Mark Thirlwell is signed with the small responsibility of replacing Leo Messi as a right winger, with Lewis Gibson offering depth at left back. I was happy with my transfer business but the vultures are still circling for our young talent, when the transfer window closes I think we are safe. However Barcelona come in before the European window shuts with 76m bid for Mario Lozano - last season's player of the year - to really mess things up. We never really recover from this loss and slump back down to a 7th place finish. Our first attempt in the Champions League doesn't go well, failing to progress from a relatively easy group with Marseille and Porto finishing above us. We finally sign a Lozano replacement in January with Spaniard David Mariscal coming in for a steal at 21m after being transfer listed at Barcelona. We also look to sign a long term replacement for Joel Pereira with Colombian youngster Jaime Garcia coming in for 750k. The Europa League becomes our biggest chance to get a CL spot. Timothy Weah lights up the knockout rounds and helps us to beat CSKA Moskow, Shakhtar and Napoli. Our semi final opponents are a tougher test, Manchester City with former Blackpool sensation money-hungry Rodolpho warming their bench. We lose 3-1 at the Etihad with Jose Eduardo scoring the solitary goal, but amazingly goals from Jake West and Gustavo Elias are enough to give us a memorable 2-0 win at Bloomfield Road and send us to a Europa League Final in Hrazdan, Armenia. The unlikely scoring pair of Mark Thirlwell and Moon Ki-Seok provide the goals to give us an early advantage and despite an attempted fight back we hold on for a massive 2-1 win to earn our first piece of major silverware.
There is a lot of work to do with and with a massive transfer kitty it is time to spend big. Issuf Soares is signed from Benfica for 38m as a left sided CB, Richard Hughton's 6 ft 8 frame makes him an ideal partner for the creative David Mariscal but he doesn't come cheap at 85m. Marshall Hancock is a familiar face returning for a cut price after a failed stint at Real Madrid. Sizable fees from Lewis Gibson and Joe Willock provide us with just enough cash to complete the spree. We also have a decision to make, Jose Eduardo is refusing to sign a new contract at the moment and his contract expires at the end of the 2027 season, I decide to risk it though and hope he will agree to a new deal before January. Our Premier League form is patchy but we advance to the Champions League Round of 16 for the first time, finishing on top of the group above Marseille, Ajax and Genk. Disappointing results against Watford and Brighton leave us miles off the top 4 going into January, and Jose Eduardo still hasn't put pen to paper so it is time to cut our losses in order to not lose him on a free, he departs for a cut price 30m for Manchester United. The FA Cup provides a welcome distraction knocking off Watford and Barnsley to progress to the 5th Round. Jose Eduardo requires a replacement and we muster up the funds to bring in Dutch wonderkid left winger Mustapha El Khatib in from Feyenoord for 38.5m. We also finally welcome Belgian full back Evan Barbier from Standard after he turns 18, we signed him when he was 16 and to my surprise he is already looking good enough for a starting role. We drew a difficult tie against Bayern in the Round of 16 but a 0-0 draw away gave us confidence, and a last minute goal from makeshift starter David Webster in the 93rd minute sends us to the Quarter Finals to face Mario Lozano's Barcelona. Meanwhile in the FA Cup, narrow victories over Leeds and Bournemouth set up a Semi Final with Manchester City which we win in dramatic fashion beating City 4-3, Webster again coming up with a massive goal. Once again we secure a draw away in the Champions League, this time away at the Nou Camp. And back at Bloomfield Road an 86th minute penalty from the returning Jake West sends us to the last four of Europe's biggest competition. Our league form has fallen by the wayside, we go on to finish a pathetic 8th meaning we have to win silverware again to secure European football. We travel to the Bernabau first and come out with a narrow 1-0 loss, our hopes to turn it around at home go by the wayside thanks to an early red card to Richard Hughton, losing 4-0 on aggregate. We then have an FA Cup final. More heartbreak. Arsenal defeat us 1-0 and there is a severe risk of the sack.
Oh, I didn't get sacked? Amazing. But now with no European football just like the 'nearly' year in 2024/25 this might be time we can take out the crown. I say to myself, I am going to win either the Premier League and that will COMPLETE the save. We rid ourselves of deadwood with no need for as much squad depth this year. 100m for squad players meaning we can spend big again. Raphael Fliessener is the biggest signing, a classy number 10 who has been on my radar for years that cost 58m to pry from Wolfsburg. Then there is Francisco Paulo, who prefers to play as a striker but will be my right winger. He cost 45m from Porto and stats look incredible, it is time to upgrade from Mark Thirlwell and Ryan Bolger no matter how much I love them. And finally to give a bit of experience, Neymar is in as a 36 year old rotation option on a free. Gustavo Elias, now club captain, is causing issues by handing in transfer requests. I hold firm though, this time I am not letting another one slip away. We are knocked out early doors in the League Cup, perfect. We are on fire in the league, Fliessener, Paulo and El Khatib as a 3 behind Elias is working phenomenally and all 3 need no time at all to settle in. We are top at Christmas, this could be it. Chelsea look like our main competitor with Tottenham in close pursuit, Elias won't stop with the transfer requests as Manchester City swirl he 'wants to leave to play Champions League football' despite the fact that City probably won't be in the CL next season seeing they're in 7th. As January draws to a close, we play Tottenham - a huge game in the context of the title race. We are 1-0 up with 10 left away from home... Tottenham score in the 81st. And again in the 85th, Harry Kane does it. I decide to give in, I grant Gustavo Elias his move considering he hasn't scored in 5, he is off to City for 85m. Who do I bring in to replace him? Harry Kane. He may be 33 and only cost 10m but his attributes are still good and I am hoping to finish the save in this season by winning the league. Just as deadline day draws to a close though, I notice something. An Italian wonderkid by the name of Patrizio Tarana who has been banging them in for Fiorentina has been transfer listed by request. I had noticed him previously but thought there was no point with Gustavo Elias around, should I go with youth or experience? Tarana or Kane? F*ck it I decide, I am getting both. Tarana signs for a whopping 73m, but he will be worth it I hope despite him being injured til March. His first game off the bench is March 4th, City away - Gustavo Elias against his former club to try and stop us winning the league. And of course he scores, Raphael Fliessener makes it level though and just as I am thinking I will take a draw Laporte scores in the 93rd minute to sink Tangerine hearts. After Chelsea slip up though, we are still in the driving seat despite a 0-0 draw with Everton. We collect wins over Southampton and Norwich but Arsenal are next away from home and just as it looks like we have won it through an 86th minute goal from Mustapha El Khatib, Castro scores for Arsenal to snatch a point in the 93rd minute. But we will win the league, as long as we get maximum points from our games against Stoke, Blackburn, Reading and West Brom. But... we draw with Blackburn, 1-1 with Tarana needing a late equaliser which isn't enough, Tarana is banging in goals (finished with 7 in 6 starts for the season) but it won't be enough. We win on the final day against West Brom, but Chelsea and Tottenham both do what is needed of them. We finish 3rd on 82 points equal with 2nd placed Chelsea as Tottenham come from nowhere to lift the League title for the second year running.
Okay, this is it. I swear. No matter if I win the league or not the save will finish after this season. Let's go out with a bang. Looking at my squad as long as I retained everyone I don't think much else is needed, with Neymar retiring maybe some extra depth on the wings, so I bring in 33 year old Raheem Sterling from Man City for 25m. We are set to face familiar foes in our UCL group, with Marseille, Bayern and Spartak our opponents. But before then we face a tricky opening few fixtures, with United, Liverpool, Wolves and Chelsea our first four games. We collect draws against the big sides and beat Wolves as you'd expect. Tarana looks like he will be the main man with 4 in 4. With the exception of a draw in the UCL with Bayern, we win our other 12 games from September to the end of November. Tarana is scoring for fun, and we have a proper first XI that is keeping fit - squad rotation isn't required. Garcia in goal, Bertrand, Rodriguez, Soares and Barbier making up the defence, Hughton and captain Mariscal in the middle with Paulo, Fliessener and El Khatib in support of Tarana. What a team. Our first loss in any competition all season comes to Man City in the league cup on penalties in the middle of December. But we bounce back with a huge victory over Tottenham. As we tick over into the new year Manchester United are emerging as our title rival, and are doing well to keep up with us considering our blistering start to the season. January sees our first proper loss, but it isn't in the league, City beat us 4-2 in a FA Cup 4th Round Replay but it is all irrelevant if we keep our league form up. A tricky run of fixtures commences through February, starting with a trip to the San Siro to face Milan in the Champions League. We collect a 1-1 draw there, before facing our main title rivals Manchester United away at Old Trafford. And we wipe the floor with them, a 2-0 scoreline courtesy of Fliessener and Kane only reflecting portion of our dominance. Suddenly it is no longer dreaming of the title, but of an invincible season. But we are brought back down to earth straight away, Stoke destroying us 3-0 at their ground for our first league loss of the season, it took until February. A win is essential to ensure heads don't drop against Reading, but we sacrifice a lead to lose 3-2 at home, before faltering with a draw against Arsenal. Is it all slipping away? We play Milan next and advance with a 4-3 win, we were 3-0 up at one stage and almost let it slip on away goals but it doesn't matter because we are Champions League Quarter Finalists once more. We eek a win out of Leeds to get us back on track, before getting back to business with a resounding 5-1 win at home to Man City, hopefully Gustavo Elias and Rodolpho enjoyed watching Tarana bang in another brace from the bench. Next it is Liverpool at Anfield in the first leg of the Champions League and unbelievably we win 7-0. Francisco Paulo turned in a performance to savour with 2 goals and an astounding 5 assists. Even Tarana's hat-trick couldn't compare. In the league meanwhile, United and ourselves are still slugging it out game for game. Somehow United still in the race and they take the drivers seat after we draw 0-0 with Southampton. Our opponents in the Champions League Semi Finals? Manchester United. A warfare of tactical mindgames commences as we both embark on rigorous scheduling issues. The first leg at Old Trafford is disappointing to say the least, 4-2 away from home leaving it all to do at Bloomfield Road. It is all beginning to slip away with United now top of the league, but while we are sweeping Brighton aside 4 goals to Nil they falter at Blackburn with a 0-0 draw to spring the title race back to life with two games to play. Our fixtures are complex to poor scheduling from the FA, the semi final is on Wednesday, United play Tottenham on the Friday and then close out their season at home to Chelsea. We meanwhile play Blackburn at home on the 'final day' before having to have our 38th game of the season at home to Tottenham a week later. Our schedule gets less confusing as we are finally knocked out of the Champions League in the Semi Finals for the second time in three years, leaving United to advance to a Champions League final in Madrid. However their scheduling is too much, they lose 3-2 at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium meaning that as long as we win against Blackburn we win the league. We get off to a perfect start with early goals from Francisco Paulo and Raphael Fliessener as United are still level against Chelsea. But a goal for Blackburn throws a spanner in the works, Angelo scores for United (a player who I previously tried desperately to sign) and Blackburn are piling on attack after attack. But we hold firm, we hold firm at 2-1 to become CHAMPIONS OF ENGLAND! Our last game next week against Tottenham is essentially a celebration. I give some game time to some old favourites of mine such as boyhood Blackpool fan Ryan Bolger and Timothy Weah and we run out 4-1 winners, the final goal of the save coming as Ryan Bolger squares the ball for Timothy Weah as if it was 2022 again.
The End. A final chapter closing on the most memorable story in my Football Manager experience.