FMREGEN: FULL CIRCLE 2 - The Amazulu Years
When I took the job at Amazulu in South Africa (see this post for intro), my first ever job in my Full Circle journey on FM17 I never expected for it to be so exciting and entertaining. I have restrained myself from blogging this save as I wanted to put my full concentration into the save and also the Live Tweeting, details of that will be at the end of this post. What I did want to do was write up a longer blog post detailing my time at a certain club but realised that if I spent a considerable amount of time at a club this may be way too long, so I've decided to put together post that cover between 4 and 5 seasons at a time, if I stay a club less than that then there will be 1 post, any longer than my time at the club will split into numerous parts.
Season 1 - 2016/17 - 16 games to save the club
As the title states I took the job with the club in 14th place, one place above the relegation zone and I had 16 games to save the club, that's just over half the season. Amazulu had just been relegated from the Premiership and were predicted to end 3rd so were way off where they should be.
The final 16 games saw us shoot up the table, ending 9th after a run of 7 wins, 3 draws and 5 defeats.
At the end of the season we had a massive clearout of players who were just wasting spaces in the squad. Finances were a clear issue here, already £800k in debt we had a loan which was expiring in July 2017 which was taking £100k a month out of our balance. Once that was cleared we would be able to turn it around but needed to remove some of the bigger earners out.
Season 2 - 2017/18 - An amazing season
With 18 players released or sold and only 7 players bought in (4 on loan) the squad had been and the balance steadied more than it had been. We were still losing money but now instead of it being -£300k a month + it was now around -£100k a month.
We needed a good season and that's exactly what we had. We stormed the league winning it by 8 points and also getting to the Semi-Final of the Nedbank Cup, the main cup in South Africa. We were back in Premiership and now finances were also looking better. We had ended the season with a balance of around £0 which was better than the projected -£3.5m as the board said it would be at this point.
Tebego Reed, a Striker on loan from Sundowns was to be our star man for the season scoring 18 goals in 27 appearances. Reed and Right Winger Mbenyane who was signed from Chippa United for £35k were smashing the league.
Season 3 - 2018/19 - Taking the Premiership by storm
The first season back in the Premiership and what a whirlwind it was, we managed to end the season in 5th place only 1 spot off the Continental positions. If it wasn't for a mid-season blip we could've actually pushed for the title. The second half of the season was amazing including a club record 6 wins in a row. We also managed to get to the semi-final of the Nedbank Cup for a second season running.
Transfer wise we got Reed on loan for a second season running and once again had more outs than ins. Finances were really getting better mainly due to increased season ticket and gate receipt revenue and we ended the season with £2m in the bank
Season 4 - 2019/20 - The mother of all turnarounds
After last season we knew we could do well and with that I went out and really improved the squad including signing Striker Reed on a full deal for nothing. Only 6 summer signings but all of good quality including 2 new centre backs (Alma and Ngcobo) and the versatile Msomi from Platinum Stars. I really felt that we could push the top 4 but never did I envisage what would happen.
After 10 games we were flopping, 14th in the League and players morale on the floor. I'm not sure how it happened but a quick talk to the players and little tweak to the tactic worked wonders and as we entered the winter break we had won 5 of our previous 6 games which had moved us from 14th all the way up to 4th.
As the second half got under way you could feel something special was happening. The tweaks tactics and the slightly more defensive tactic I employed against the bigger teams was working wonders, we beat Orlando Pirates, Kaizer Chiefs and Supersport Utd all 1-0, they are probably the best 3 teams in the League.
The second half of the season saw us lose only 2 games and we ended the season unbeaten in the final 9. Kaizer Chiefs were always ahead of us but we were closing the gap and with 3 games to go they slipped against Cape Town City and a 1-0 win over Supersport for us saw us go top. We both won our next game which means in the final game we were 2 points clear but with an inferior goal difference. Kaizer Chiefs were playing Supersport (3rd) away and knew they had win.
We played Bloem Celtic and managed to draw the game 1-1 with them scoring a 93rd minute equaliser, with the Kaizers game still 0-0 a goal for them would win the title, it was the most nervy I've ever been on FM, then the Kaizers result came in, it ended 0-0 and we had won the League. Absolutely stunning! I was literally shell-shocked and sat staring at my screen for over an hour!
An amazing achievement which also meant Champions League football for next season!
Season 5 - 2020/21 - Words cannot describe
After winning the title last year we knew it would be tougher to improve on what we had achieved, but with Champions League football it was going to be fun, the League start in August and the CL doesn't start until February with the main Group Stage being played during the pre-season of the next season.
5 new players came in, all improving the team massively.
In the League we did OK but had one big stumbling block, we had been entered into the Club World Cup, how? Well for this year it was played in South Africa and the national champs get a spot, and that's us! This was to be a game changer for Amazulu, we played a playoff against Auckland winning easily, we then beat Zamalek in the Quarter Finals before being beat 3-1 in the Semi-Final against Bayern, we ended 3rd in the Competition after a penalty shootout win over Jeonbuk. It was a great experience but the main benefit was the revenue. £2.2m in gate receipts and £1.9m in prize money! A massive boost on our finances and something that set the club up for years to come.
Back to League and we had a good second half to the season, unfortunately Kaizer Chiefs were unbeatable and ran away with the League, we ended 2nd which gave us Champions League football for the 2022 version.
In the cups we did amazingly, winning the second major trophy of my tenure in the Nedbank Cup, the premier cup in South Africa.
And finally to the 2021 African Champions, the competition has 3 playoffs round before a group stage, 2 groups of 4 with the top 2 teams in each group going through to a 2-legged semi-final and then a 2-legged final.
In the play-offs we played well against some poor teams, we beat Mundu (Zanzibar), Coton Sport (Cameroon) and Al-Hilal Omdurman (Sudan) to get through to the Group Stage
The Group Stage
We had a tricky draw, but one I knew we could get out of, we had missed what I thought were the big teams who all went into Group B. We had a decent Group stage losing only 2 games, both to the 3rd best team in Africa Tunisian side Es Sahel. We won the other 4 games to qualify for the semi-final in 2nd place.
Now it gets tough and we were drawn against Egyptian side Ismaily. After winning the 1st leg at Home 2-1 we lost the 2nd leg 2-1, the game went to penalties which we edged 4-2. It was probably the nerviest game I've ever been involved in and we had got through to the final where we would play Tunisian side Es Sahel, yes the same team that had beaten us twice in the Group Stage.
The Final 1st Leg
The 1st leg was tense, we took the lead and looked to be heading an amazing away win but Es Sahel scored in the 90th minute. An away 1-1 result was amazing and we were now in pole position for the win but still had the home leg to get through.
The Final 2nd Leg
0-0 at half time, this was as nervy as the semi-final, then within 18 minutes of the 2nd half we were 2-0 up, 3-1 on aggregate, the title was ours, we just had to defend, they nicked a goal back on the 67th min, could we hold on?
YES WE COULD!!
Amazulu are African Champions League winners! WOW, amazing, sensational, stunning! I never in my wildest dreams thought we could win it in my 1st season but we came through some tense games to claim the title.
An absolutely amazing achievement, one I never thought possible when I took over 5 years ago.
And now the 1st part of my C&C Hexagon Challenge is complete and it's time to move on. Leaving a part of my heart behind. I will never forget my time here, it's probably one of my biggest achievement on FM, I'll never forget, where will I go next? Who know!
Thanks for reading
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