Millwall Football Club - Season One + Season Two
You're not dreaming. I am actually posting an update from a save I've had with a club in the English Football League. Me and two friends have been using this quarantine period to really nail down an online save we have started in the last few weeks. We enjoyed a similar save last year with clubs in the Championship and played two full seasons, they chose the clubs they support, Birmingham and Wigan, whilst I took one of the teams closest to me geographically - Blackburn (I refused to be Preston because... bad memories, I digress). During that save, I won promotion via the play-offs and accompanied Birmingham into the Premier League before going on to record a top-half finish in my first season back in the top-flight. I was outdone as Birmingham went onto finish inside the top four and Wigan eventually joined us after winning the Championship. The save was played towards the back-end of the FM cycle so we never got to continue which was a shame.
So, we decided we would do the same thing once again. Those two took the same teams and I decided I would take a team with a similar media prediction and quality of squad. I didn't want to be Blackburn again and fancied a new challenge which eventually led me to take on Millwall and replace Gary Rowett at The Den. The squad inherited at Millwall is somewhat decent. There are areas of concern and not exactly a great budget to rectify them so the loan market became my best friend. I signed Neil Taylor (Aston Villa) and Gaizka Larrazabal (Athletic Bilbao) on loan for the season as well as completing a cheap £500,000 deal for winger Cristian Cedres from Las Palmas.
Results were extremely patchy and I looked set to be confined to a mid-table finish. If I could push for the top-half, that would have been fantastic come the start of January. Our main issue was consistency and in particular consistency when it came to home and away games. We were able to extract decent results at home but failed to do so away from home. In fact, I only managed to record two victories away from home in the entirety of the first-half of the season against struggling Stoke and Luton. However, a change in system eventually began to change our fortunes as we began to get more of a tune out of striker Tom Bradshaw who had been rather average at this point and suddenly began to pick up impressive results both home and away.
Jon Dadi Bodvarsson would leave the club in February to head to the MLS which left us rather bereft of striking options aside from Bradshaw. It didn't matter however as Matt Smith was never really called upon due to Bradshaw's blistering form which would leave him as the top goalscorer at the end of the season and a place in Wales's EURO 2020 squad in the summer. At the other end of the pitch, Bartosz Bialkowski would go on to record the most clean-sheets in the league. Consequently our improvement led us to snatching a play-off place on the last day. We looked set to concede our position on the final day as we trailed 3-0 at Blackburn, but we stormed back in the second-half to record a 3-3 draw that just about saw us over the line.
Birmingham went on to win the division and would be welcoming Premier League football next season whilst Wigan were confined to a 19th place finish after a season largely consisting of struggle and a lack of consistency which we seemed to get over whilst they failed to. Unsurprisingly, Luton and Charlton were relegated after horrific seasons and they were accompanied by Stoke who absolutely flopped.
In the play-offs we welcomed the task of Reading who finished third and narrowly missed out on automatic promotion at the expense of Brentford. We were held to a 1-1 draw at The Den before we took an early lead in the reverse game. We would be pegged back to take the game to extra-time where neither side managed to get the upper-hand and score a decisive goal to snatch the tie. Penalties were required which had my nerves jangling to say the very least. It would be Millwall who would triumph though and set-up a play-off final tie against West Brom. Could I be about to do the same thing I did last save with Blackburn? The answer... no. West Brom would beat us 2-1 after extra-time after a goalless ninety minutes. A late consolation from Aidan O'Brian wasn't enough to provoke a late fightback and the Baggies celebrated promotion back to the Premiership. Heartbreaking stuff.
Season two promised a lot for Millwall after a promising start but ultimately ended with a horrific run of games that saw us endure a run of twelve games without a win and surrender our position in the play-offs with ease. I gloss over the season because there was very little to discuss in the end. A tenth place finish saw us consigned to yet another season in the second-tier alongside Wigan who finished in eighth but never quite had enough to challenge the top six who absolutely dominated the division. Bournemouth would amass over 100 points to seal the title and they were joined by Crystal Palace. Both sides retained their star players (Wilson, Zaha and the like). Watford would do the same but failed to win promotion via the play-offs with Leeds defeating Fulham on penalties in the play-off final. Reading would once again suffer a defeat in the semi-finals. Birmingham finished fifteenth in their return to the Premier League, eleven points clear of Brentford who went down with Southampton and West Brom.
One of the biggest issues was the approach I took to the season I believe. Last season, Tom Bradshaw was left with very little competition and consequently had no decent option to replace him if he was to get injured or simply have a poor run of games. We were fortunate this didn't occur too much last campaign. I signed Eddie Nketiah on loan from Arsenal and quickly learnt that having too first-team strikers wasn't going to work.
We sold on: Cristian Cedres (Derby, £1.1M), Matt Smith (Kilmarnock, £250,000), Jiri Skalak (Caen, £210,000), Frank Fielding (Rochdale, £155,000), Alex Pearce (£1.3M, Swansea), Ryan Leonard (£400,000, Charlton)
Ladislav Krejci (signed on a free from Bologna) would be the ultimate reflection of our season. He was the man to rely on in the opening fifteen games or so and then failed to record over a 6.5 rating after that. Jed Wallace was injured for most of the season but Connor Mahoney somehow ended up recording the most assists in the entire division whilst Bialkowski once again managed to amass within the top three in the clean-sheet department. James Garner was one of the player's of the season on loan from Manchester United whilst Jayson Molumby (Brighton) was inconsistent after being brought back for another season. Jarrad Branthwaite proved to be a decent option when called upon (Everton, loan) as was Rene Krhin (free transfer from Nantes) in midfield. Harry Toffolo (on loan from Huddersfield) never really impressed after returning to the club. Francisco Sierralta (£850,000 from Udinese) a 23-year-old central defender showed great promise and was a mainstay in our defence but similarly to most in the squad showed real lapses at times. Jordan Archer returned to the club on a free as a back-up keeper but never played. Issues regarding players head's being turned like Mahlon Romeo were unable to be resolved as no decent transfer offer came in and when it did (£6,000,000 from Crystal Palace) it was rejected by the board who wanted an extra million on top of that to which the Eagles refused. These issues seemed to add-up and perhaps caused the sudden slip in results (who knows?) so the idea was to rectify this in the upcoming transfer window ahead of our third season in charge.
Except something unexpected happened... just before the final game of the season, there was a board takeover. There were three separate interested parties at one time and the one which did take over was voted as the least popular amongst the fans in a poll which I did find quite amusing. They were keen on replacing me with Alex Neil who had been sacked by Preston and were also lining up two transfer options (a defender from Spezia and a midfielder from Real Valladolid) that they would go on to sign. I would retain my job but was left with absolutely no money and the transfer revenue was stuck at 30% which wasn't enough to bring in replacements for players I looked to sell such as Romeo who departed to Brentford for £7.25M and Mattia Sprocati (a panic-buy to replace Jed Wallace who was out for four months made by the previous board for £2M and did very little) for £2.7M. They were unwilling to budge and I was questioning whether I was happy to continue in my role. I had been fairly successful and was five years ahead of the club vision... the treatment from the new board was unacceptable. I noticed the vacancy at Fulham was available after their defeat in the play-off final and I jumped at it. After over a month of waiting, I finally heard back from Shahid Khan and was offered an interview in which I promised I could deliver promotion. I owed Millwall nothing at this point, I thought. Sure enough, I was handed the job but not before realising the Millwall board had suddenly decided to inject some cash into the transfer and wage budget seemingly to keep me there. I wasn't for turning and decided to accept Khan's offer to head to Craven Cottage. A controversial move? Maybe.
I did make one notable signing before departing The Den. Dzenis Burnic was signed on a free from Borussia Dortmund after making a solitary appearance last season in the Bundesliga and impressing for second-tier side Dynamo Dresden. He came to the club valued at over £9M and subsequently became our highest valued asset. He has since been misused by Neil Harris who made a return to his old stomping ground and I'm disgusted to be honest with you. He has single-handedly undone all my work in a matter of months playing players in their wrong positions etc. they now loom towards the bottom-end of the table halfway through the season and he has just been sacked. Good. Alex Neil is still unemployed so maybe he will be next in the hot-seat after their previous interest. I'm glad to see their disloyalty/lack of support towards me has worked out.
So a new chapter awaits at Fulham for me. I will update you in a separate update as we are now partway through the season and I'll detail everything up to this point. Let me tell you though, it feels good to have money to spend!