Coming to decide upon a Football Manager save is typically never an easy process, especially given the amount of teams that are available to manage straight ‘out of the box’. Though, I guess that should really be straight from download these days…. However, for me, this year wasn’t that much of a challenge at all. I had been missing the calcio life I’d had in my AC Milan save back in Football Manager 2020, and so I took a quick look around Serie A and B and soon realised that it was Genoa CFC that was the standout option for me.
Why? Well during the Summer months, I can be found on Saturdays playing cricket for my local team, so the cricketing history of the club appealed to me. Equally, the club was relegated last season to Serie B, so there’s something of a rebuild to be done. It also has an impending financial disaster coming its way – Serie B prize money is only available for those that are promoted to Serie A, and even then it’s only £2.15m. The TV prize money is also similarly meagre. Combine this with still paying some players Serie A-level wages (and Serie A wages towards the top of the league at that), there’s a need to carefully monitor finances throughout this save even if I do achieve a swift promotion back to Serie A. For the record, the media make us 1/10 on, so no pressure there then. The club also have £45.5m of debt to repay, up until 2039, at the rate of £215k/month, some £2.58m/year. There goes that prize money and more for achieving any promotion.
To help me track the financial progress, I’ll be utilising the same Football Manager Finance Spreadsheet (FMFS™), I created and wrote about for Football Manager 2022 (see the below graphic (click the image for an enlarged view)). Fingers crossed, using this to determine whether I should be looking to move players on using their amortisation values based upon their remaining book values against any incoming transfer bids, and spotting those players who are not earning their keep with exorbitant contracts, I’ll be able to first minimalise the damage, and then seek to use it to inform my decision-making over how much I can actually afford to spend, irrespective of the transfer budget I’m given by the club board.
Speaking of the club board, the owners of Genoa CFC are 777 Partners, a US investment firm. This has a strong echo of the reason I chose to take up the aforementioned AC Milan save, who until fairly recently were owned by Elliott Management, before bought by RedBird. 777 Partners, alongside full ownership of Genoa, have a minor stake in Sevilla, have full control over Paris-based Red Star FC (a Championnat National side), Standard Liège in Belgium, and a 70% stake in Vasco de Gama in Brazil. Genoa were the latest club to be added to the ranks, bought in September 2021, but given its relegation last season, it’s fair to say that things hadn’t gone as planned for 777 Partners. I’ll be looking to utilise the connections between the clubs – Standard Liège are already affiliated, with the ability for Genoa’s players to head out on loan there. The other clubs aren’t currently directly linked through affiliation, so I’ll look to agree deals with these teams if at all possible during the ownership of 777 Partners. If 777 Partners leave and there’s a takeover that isn’t a board takeover, I’ll likely look to terminate these agreements. However, being able to agree any more affiliations could be a little tricky as the club already has more than forty affiliates (yes, you did read that right).
The club board also expects a swift return to Serie A, though they only expect promotion rather than winning Serie B. The other board objectives include signing players to sell for a profit, signing young players to develop and sell for a profit, and to work within the wage budget. All excellent objectives. For the fans, they demand high-pressing and defensively solid football. Again, a good fit for my management style, though I may look to dial up the possession a little more given our supposed dominance in Serie B. Having only won four games and scored only twenty-seven goals all season in their relegation year, there will need to be a change in mentality and approach.
The final cherry on the metaphorical cake was that one of Genoa CFC’s managers in their early existence was a fellow North-West Englishman – William Garbutt. He immigrated to Genoa in search of work as a dockworker, after being forced to retire from his playing career due to injury. He brought about revolutionary training schemes, worked on player fitness, and concentrated on tactics, resulting in Genoa transitioning from a semi-amateur side into an all-conquering side, winning three championships in fifteen years. The clincher is that Garbutt is died in Warwick, not too far away from where I live, to not much heraldry. He was the original Mister for the Genoese, the father of football to Italy, and a man who believed that training with the ball was a necessity to improve players, according to the book “Mister: The Men Who Gave the World the Game”, by Rory Smith. I hope to become the latest Mister and join the pantheon of these figures by applying my own style, whilst staying true to past masters, including in modern methods of training.
I would like to be able to do justice to this history and put the side back into Serie A, before establishing them as a top-ten side. This could be a little different to more recent saves, despite the parallels, thanks in part to the new recruitment model within Football Manager 2023. For the most part, my intention is to set up/adjust the recruitment strategies/foci, and then leave my scouts alone. There’s an expectation to sign players from the lower leagues, which tends not to fit with my model of player acquisitions because, well, they’re normally rubbish. What I expect is the reality here is that they want to continue with the ludicrous number of players that are in the youth teams. Equally, there’s an expectation to sign high profile players – a clash of objectives if ever I heard one. So much for working inside the wage budget.
The additional benefit of choosing Genoa is that my good Football Manager amico, FM Stag, has chosen Sampdoria as his team for his main save. As such, at the end of each in-game year, we’ll be playing our own Derby della Lanterna against one another to build an extra bit of interest into our saves. It’s certainly made me think carefully about how to go about player recruitment and retention. Given the quality in our respective squads, I expect to lose heavily until I am able to make Genoa a force in Serie A. That said, I’ll be giving up some ground to Stag if he’s able to work his magic and achieve European football early on into his save with the financial power that this will unlock. I just hope that Stag doesn’t go the same way that Sampdoria are going in real life.
I trust that you enjoyed this introduction to my return to calcio – and until next time, arrivederci!
Having completed a season in which Southampton FC won (almost) everything, missing out only on the European Super Cup, I thought it worth a blog post to see how this affected the finances of the club, and what this could enable the club to achieve with regard to infrastructure, player recruitment and improvements within the backroom staff with these funds.
Prize money unsurprisingly saw the largest growth by nominal value – a jump of £71.4m on the previous year, when we’d won the UEFA Europa League. Winning the Champions League and Premier League had a significant positive impact across just about all areas – including a boost to sponsorship revenues, as success on the pitch enabled the marketing team to bargain for more cash-generative deals.
The growth in revenue across match days can be best seen in the graph below – significant jumps in gate receipts thanks to the additional revenues from Champions League fixtures and the increased ticket prices, coupled with a big jump in merchandising as shirt sales rose dramatically with fans seeking to purchase their own piece of memorabilia of the momentous season.
Understandably, the increase in games combined with the success on the field meant that there were negative impacts upon cash outflows.
Bonuses rose by more than 50% on the back of contractual player performance targets being met, including team of the year, goals/assists, trophies, and general squad objectives. Player wages also rose as they met triggers for appearances, and due to general wage increases as player/agent demands grew as a direct result of the string of wins the side were able to put together. Given a broad view amongst club officials that there could be little if any improvement made by selling these players for viable alternative incomings, the decision was made to reward these players.
The large profits made over the financial year meant that HMRC took over £45m in tax, significantly higher than in any other year, taking away a large proportion of the additional revenues generated from the various trophies that were accumulated over the season.
That said, net cash flow for the financial year remained strongly positive, with a growth of over £62.8m.
This saw the closing balance, i.e. cash held on account, rise to just shy of £228.6m.
The above cash inflows also highlight the sharp drop in player sales compared to the previous financial year. Whilst some fees were still being paid in instalments for deals agreed in previous years, there was a marked drop-off in sales completed in this financial year, in both financial value and in volume. A fall of just less than £122m in cash received from player sales meant cash inflows actually fell despite the club’s trophy haul.
This was balanced out by a reduction in transfer expenditure, as seen in the cash outflows. At the start of the season, there was a determination to keep a settled side. Accordingly, the only transfer that was sanctioned for the first team was that of Nicolò Rovella from Borussia Dortmund for his minimum release fee of £32m, and this took place in the January transfer window when an incoming bid for Nicolás Domínguez was accepted. Other incoming deals were for youth team players, with the remainder of the expenditure accounted for by instalments on prior purchases in previous financial years.
The lower level of player acquisition costs compared to transfer outgoings receipts meant that the net transfer spending for the club kept at a healthy -£60.87m after last year’s bonanza year of £134.77m.
As of the end of the financial year the following prior transfer deals still had payments yet to be received (debtors to Southampton FC) or paid by the club (creditors to Southampton FC).
With a net £44.9m in transfer debt still owed to the club, and a very healthy cash balance, the club finds itself in rude health both on and off the field. Time to make hay whilst the sun shines with some prudent investments.
During the season, I approached the board of directors to request an increase in capacity as Saint Mary’s. They agreed, and so set about agreeing plans with the local council to extend the size of the ground. A total of 16,000 seats are to be added with a completion date of June 2028, though it will mean a move to the 40,600 all-seater Southampton Community Arena at the start of next season whilst building work is completed.
All other aspects of the club are already maximised when it comes to facilities and the board have been rejecting requests for further affiliates, so it’s a case of waiting for the stadium to be expanded before any other plans are put into place. These plans would also be reliant upon continued qualification to European, and realistically, Champions League, football and the cash inflows that come with this achievement.
With a number of staff contracts up for renewal in key positions, the opportunity was taken to review all areas.
Out went assistant manager, the technical director, director of football, and head of youth development who had been in place since the start of my contract with Southampton. All were deemed to be good but there was potential for improvement across the board in these roles. There were also changes in more minor staffing roles at youth levels too with fresh analysts and coaches brought in to replace those whose contracts were to expire.
It might sound strange to speak of prudence when the club has won an unprecedented (in real life) quadruple and when the club is going from strength in its books too, but there’s a good reason for saying this. One look at the club’s combined expenditure on the squad, and you’ll see that this side was not put together by splashing significant piles of money on transfer fees, agent fees, loyalty bonuses, and player wages. The apple cart needs not to be rocked – but the orchard might need a bit of pruning here and there and some new trees planted.
The below shows the players in the first team squad at the start of the quadruple season, and any player in red was sold at some point during that season. Equally, any player that was added to the playing squad was included in the spreadsheet and then indicated as a new purchase to help calculate the total cost of player acquisitions in that financial year according to accounting laws, i.e. amortisation. The current record transfer is that of Alexis Mac Allister from South coast rivals, Brighton & Hove Albion for £73m. Whilst we are in a position to match such a fee again, with more proof of this below, do we need to?
To further prove that there is a sufficient transfer war chest, here, you can see that Nicolás Domínguez and Omar Alderete were both sold and that five players were signed, including the aforementioned Nicolò Rovella. The remaining signings were all (newgen) youth team players.
To calculate the profit for the financial year from player trading, then the difference in accounting terms between player sales (regardless of when actual payment is received) and player purchases (again, regardless of when actual payment is made) needs to be worked out. The below graphic shows how the remaining book value of the two players sold (literally how much of their transfer fee was still to be amortised across the rest of their contract) has to be deducted from the agreed transfer fee. Once this is done, this needs to be summed, and then the first year of the amortised value of the newly acquired players is taken away to reveal a profit of £34.9m in player trading for the year.
Now to the ‘should we?’ part of the question. The below graphic lays out the entire first team squad, their age relative to that of the peak age for that position in the Premier League as calculated by The Athletic’s (former) writer Tom Worville, and next to it their respective minutes played across all competitions.
GK – An ageing goalkeeper in Çakir, though not old for a goalkeeper by any means, and a young replacement in (newgen) Antonio López, tells me we’re relatively well stocked in net, and there is another (newgen) goalkeeper playing for the U23s, so no cover is needed here, but something to think on in a year or twos time.
CD – both Pérez and Struijk are at the absolute prime age for centre-backs, and newgen’s Morgan and Bentancourt have seen good minutes to aid their development. Morgan is already an England international despite being a 21-year-old centre-back, but does lack in natural fitness to be able to play back-to-back games, with cup and continental fixtures regularly falling into midweek. Here is a position where another player could be brought in to act as a backup to avoid any possible availability crisis in a crucial position. To maintain potential future sale value and maximize any future player trading profits, a young player is preferred, but age doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker given the current age profile in this position.
FBs – Livramento is the only player in this position to be at peak age according to minutes played by Premier League players in this position in real life. The rest are all older. This is clearly a concern given that Malacia has made it clear he wishes to leave, threatening to run down his contract if he’s unsold and demanding a replacement is signed to enable his departure. Livramento is also unsettled at the club, believing he’s deserving of a bigger club – clearly our trophy cabinet isn’t resplendent enough for him after this year’s haul(!). Here, my scouts will need to do some work and investigate if any wide defensive players of a suitable age are capable of playing as the sole wide player in my 4312 tactic. I suspect their work may be hard graft from previous reports.
CMs – After adding Rovella into the central midfield pack, there looks to be a nice balance across players available for the midfield three. Two players for each player role, and Morten Thorsby, a model citizen, to provide versatility across all three roles, as well as (newgen) Ricardo who received a handful of minutes across cup games. We could add more depth here to replace Thorsby, but this isn’t a priority – Thorsby is a valuable mentor to players given his personality.
AMs – A nice blend of youthfulness in Schjelderup and the more experienced Mac Allister means there’s nothing to be done here, with both Satriano, Lomelí and Esposito able to drop into this role if necessary. Equally, three of the five players acquired for the youth team over the course of the season specialise in the advanced midfield position. Already well-stocked and good to go for the future here.
STs – Similar story in the forward line – all players are below the prime age for Premier League minutes according to the number of minutes played by players. Only Satriano and Lucca are entering their peak years. This makes their 98 goals and 44 assists all the more impressive for a group so relatively young. I do have my doubts that (newgen) Ben Wilson is of the required standard for the Premier League, I could seek to loan him out, but he’s a home-grown player, albeit through being at Southampton for more than three years prior to the age of 21 rather than coming through our youth system, so he’s useful for qualification.
So to surmise, a new centre back to add more depth given the number of games the team could potentially play this season, and anything else isn’t a priority barring any sales, though again none of these are necessary given the balance of the team.
First target was to land the centre back happy enough to be a squad option at best, and when Burnley were relegated, a bit matching Kaiky’s relegation release clause was submitted for £34m. This was after first checking with his agent that he would be happy to come in on the aforementioned playing terms. Other options were clear that they would want more substantial minutes, which I was not prepared to offer after being relatively happy with both Morgan’s, Pérez’s and Struijk’s numbers last year. Getting in before Manchester City bid on Kaiky meant that signing number one was in the bag before the Summer transfer window had even opened.
The next transfer was the sale of Lomelí to Borussia Dortmund for £29m, netting a booked profit of £25.4m on the player. Never likely to be a first choice option for us, and with two years left on his contract, I decided to cash in on the player now but know that Dortmund were very likely to put in place a very reasonable minimum fee release clause should I decide to buy him back again. As it happened, Dortmund signed another forward shortly after Lomelí, who then immediately took a dislike to this and asked to leave. Wolfsburg came in for the Mexican international, but he must have rejected their terms and remained unhappy at Dortmund. No forward option was considered given the lack of players that were of satisfactory quality and happy to be back up.
There were attempts to resolve Malacia’s desire to leave by trying to sign Vasilis Zagaritis from Parma for a ridiculous release fee of £4.5m. Zagaritis and his agent stated that he was happy to come in as a back-up option to Mykolenko during contract negotiations, but he ultimately chose to sign a new deal with Parma. There was a new £9.6m minimum fee release clause, which I tried to trigger, but he had no interest in speaking to the club.
Livramento also remains at the club despite handing in a transfer request. No bid was forthcoming, despite rumoured loan interest from Man UFC, Real Madrid and potentially Barcelona. Clearly though, no club had the transfer funds to meet his minimum release clause of £120m.
Instead, the only other incoming was a wonderkid midfielder, Kevin Mensink, signed from AZ Alkmaar for his £71m release fee. Liverpool were rumoured to be interested in him, and I realised after intense scrutiny in his attributes, stats for the previous season, and consideration of what he could bring to our side in the present and the future – I couldn’t see him go to Premier League rival. I chose note to sell any other midfielders, despite my own concerns about how this might impact upon playing time and happiness. I was keen for Thorsby to mentor Mensink, but both he and Kaiky had already played too much first team football for any mentoring to have any impact upon them. This is something I need to consider – for top-level wonderkids, it’s a short window when they can be mentored.
Beyond that, the only other signature was that of Netherlands U21 central defender René Udenhout (a newgen) from Sparta Rotterdam for an initial £7m, rising to £10.5m depending upon various targets with a loan back to Sparta also contained within the deal.
Sales of two homegrown youth prospects were also sanctioned, along with that of Francisco Conceição, and new deals were agreed with a number of first-team players, leaving the contract situation looking like this:
I hope this blog post gave you an idea as to how the funds were generated from the tremendous success in the 2026-27 season, and how, hopefully, I’ve used it to build the club for further future success. Time will only tell on that one.
If you liked the above post, then please leave a like and feel free to share on Twitter too, and if you aren’t already following me on there, you can do so here.
Those readers who follow me on Twitter (@afmoldtimer) will possibly already know that I’ve been keeping a record of the finances in my Southampton save. As someone with a background in finance and a degree in Economics, it’s probably no surprise to anyone that I have focussed on and enjoyed writing about player/team data within Football Manager, and now finances.
The Twitter threads that I posted for 2022-23, 2023-24, 2024-25, 2025-26 are here on the excellent Thread Reader app site. The latter thread is particularly detailed, as evidenced by some of the charts below, where I went into a deeper dive across a five-year timeframe to compare, essentially how it started and how it’s going. If you are interested in how to collate this data, keep reading:
You might be wondering why I’ve gone to this level of trouble taking note of all this data. Well, have you ever wondered just how much your club is spending on its youth academy to generate its (so-called) talent? If each and every one of the youth intake for a number of years isn’t good enough for your first team, using a data-driven approach to support this might be indicative that you may need to encourage the board to spend more on youth coaching or youth facilities to improve the quality of youngsters you can attract and their current/potential abilities. Or, more likely, you need to sack your Head of Youth Development and replace them with a better candidate.
Perhaps you’re curious as to just how much cash you’ve generated in net transfer spend by signing wonderkids and selling them for a profit? Many of us take this approach when playing the game, taking on a smaller team to sign talents before developing them and selling them on. Just how good at this are you? And how much extra are you able to generate in gate receipts, season ticket sales, merchandising, and match day income as the crowds flock to see your side play?
Convinced? I thought so.
Cash is king…
I made a decision at the end of the first year of my save to record the cash inflows and outflows of the club on a spreadsheet so I could track the impacts of the player trading and the side effects of any improvements in onfield developments. I then played ahead for another year and did the same at the end of the next season. I purposefully recorded this at the end of the season, when the finance period ended, so that I had a direct comparison between full financial years, comparing like-for-like. This happens in Football Manager when the inbox comes up with the new sponsorship deals, best shirt sales, etc.
At this point, should you wish to do the same, you need to record the cash inflows and outflows of the now previous season as the game will have ticked over into the new financial year.
This is rather simple – if you use a dual-screen setup, simply type across the inflows/outflows into the cash inflow/outflow list under the relevant title/year. Should you, like me, use a laptop, you’ll need to tab in and out of Football Manager to your spreadsheet.
To make this easier for you, I’ve created a base template using Google Sheets that is free to use. Click here for the Google Sheet, click ‘File’, ‘Download’ and then select the option to download it as a ‘Microsoft Excel’ file, where you will be able to edit it (once enabling this option in Excel). Should you prefer to work in Google Sheets, you’ll need to download as per the above and then re-upload the Excel sheet into Google Sheets.
The first thing you will need to do at the very start of your save (or if you so choose, at the end of a financial year in a save you’ve already started) is to record the opening bank balance that you find in the Finances tab. Put this into the Opening Balance. It’s imperative that you do this to record the amount of the cash that your club started with at the end of the season. Miss this – everything else won’t work. If you do choose to use this part way through your save, only record the Opening Balance at the start of the new financial year and wait another twelve months to record all the inflows and outflows that have happened over that time in the same column in the relevant constituent part.
It’s worth noting that the various different elements of cash inflows and outflows vary across league systems. I know for a fact that Germany’s finance page differs from that of the Premier League. Therefore, you will need to adjust the titles of the various elements of the cash flow to reflect what’s relevant to your team/league. For reference, the provided Google Sheet is set up for the Premier League.
The spreadsheet is set up to automatically calculate the percentage change for the first two years and the changes in the actual sums for the first two years. However, you’ll need to adjust those formulae in those columns as the years progress to show the change year on year.
The same isn’t true of the far end of this tab – this section calculates the percentage of the specific cash inflow/outflow relative to that of the total cash inflows/outflows. This is a good tool to see how reliant your club is on player sales for cash generation, or how much you’re spending on player acquisitions relative to your other inflows.
Another automated part of the spreadsheet is the net transfer spend for each of the first five years, along with cumulate net transfer spend for the first five years too. This is set up to read the relevant information from the right cells, so there should be nothing to do here but enter the raw data into the cash inflow and outflows. I’ve also popped in another automated calculation for player spending as a proportion of total income – I’ve taken player wages, bonuses, and loyalty bonuses. This is useful to track to ensure that you have a balance between wage expenditure and income to ensure that you don’t end up like Bournemouth, Leicester, and QPR who have all been clubs with wage expenditure greater than income. To give you some idea of what to look out for, UEFA recommends a ratio of no more than 70% wages/income.
If you do decide to download the Google Sheet and use it as an Excel spreadsheet, after at least two years of data collection, you could create a PivotChart (Inset, PivotChart, Enter) (note that a PivotTable option isn’t available in Google Sheets, although PivotCharts are). The set-up you’d need to have to make the PivotChart work is shown below:
You can use the provided filter to select the area that you want to directly highlight, as shown by the graphs I provided above to show the youth setup and merchandising.
You’ll also notice that there’s an additional set of tabs available for you, one of which says ‘Amortisation’.
This tab enables you to calculate the player amortisation for any player acquisitions you make on your save, or indeed of the squad you’ve inherited. If you want to stick to a realistic approach as to how football finance actually works, then this is the tab for you.
Amortisation is an accounting term that is how assets are written down over time, similar to depreciation. In the case of player acquisitions (i.e. buying a player), the cost is (typically) broken down over the duration of a player’s contract.
For example, Liverpool signed Kostas Tsimikas from Olympiakos for a reported £11m. That £11m fee will have been amortised over his five-year contract – effectively, the cost of the transfer fee will be divided by five since that’s how many years he could be expected to be at Liverpool. Liverpool will book the amortisation charge of £2.2m each year in their accounts either until his contract expires (at which point his book value would be £0), he’s sold (where they will take the value of the sale and minus this from his remaining book value (literally the accounting value to the club that’s left)), or when he signs a new deal (more on how this works below).
If at any stage, a new contract were to be agreed upon, the amortisation charge needs to be adjusted to reflect the length of the new deal. This is taken care of by some calculations in some hidden columns, and by entering in the details of the year in which the new contract was agreed and the number of years that the new contract is to span over. Thanks to Ben Philip on Twitter for helping me solve an issue I had with this.
To give you an idea of what a completed Amortisation tab should look like, I’ve provided a completed version below for my Southampton save:
Profit is prince…
In the next part, working out the remaining book value of the squad is also taken care of for you in the next tab ‘Squad Book Value’. This takes the data you’ve entered into the Amortisation tab and brings across the player’s name and remaining book value. The reason this is important is that this helps you to calculate the true accounting profit/loss of your player trading. This is what team clubs really care about, not net transfer spending. The reason they care about this is that this helps drive the available transfer funds that a club can offer its manager to spend in the market, helping to explain why Everton could only afford to bring in one player on a fee last year in real life (Demarai Gray – ~£1.8m) – they had to take huge player amortisation charges, and also write-downs (where an asset is declared less valuable than it was previously recorded as, usually because of an issue with that asset, which in Everton’s case was that their players weren’t as good as they had originally thought they were).
When a club amortises, this is reflected in its balance sheet. At this point, I’d love to be able to show you how balance sheets work in Football Manager, but I’m afraid there are huge gaps of knowledge, e.g. in terms of values of fixed assets and equity to be able to put one together, so this is not possible to replicate.
However, tracking the remaining squad book value is useful, especially when considering who to sell to help balance the books with regard to FFP (or Profit and Sustainability rules in real life). This is because if you sell a player for more than his remaining book value, that will be the profit that will go into the club’s accounts. Sell a player for less than their remaining book value and you’ll be recording a loss on your profit and loss account (again, not possible to show in Football Manager).
If your club is set to fail FFP, it’s important to know which player could be sold to tip the balance to avoid fines/being banned from European football. This is why I’ve created this final tab. You will need to have the remaining book value of each of the players in your squad (including any youth players). Any players that have come through your youth intake will have a book value of £0 (or equivalent currency) as they have directly cost your club nothing in player transfer fees. This is why for ‘Man UFC’, both Marcus Rashford and Scott McTominay have a £0 book value – not because they’re worthless to the club, but because they have a £0 acquisition value.
Once you’ve inputted the players in your squad into the Amortisation tab, it will then automatically populate the remaining book values into the second column. To calculate the potential profit for the club, you will need to input the bid that’s been made for your player into the third column which will then see the fourth column automatically populate the book profit for your club. The bottom of this column will then self-populate the total profit from player sales. Note – this is not the profit from player trading – after all, it does not take into account the player acquisition costs.
Instead, I’ve added an extra column in the Amortisation tab for you to identify the new signings you have made for your club within the financial year. A simple Y in that column will suffice, which triggers a sum of all base transfer fees that you have spent on players in that year and then deducts the booked profit that you have made from selling players. This is the true reflection of profits from player trading.
Again, to give you an idea of what this will look like once you’ve inputted your player data, here is my Southampton save again:
After that financial year has ended, record the profit/loss from player trading (by all means create another tab for this), and then go back to the Amortisation tab to delete any players that you’ve since sold, so that you can reset your spreadsheet, and update any new contracts as you go along. This will have the spreadsheet ready to go for the next financial year when you can start adding in new players that you’ve acquired.
If you have any questions about any of the above – and I suspect quite a few will – feel free to contact me on Twitter – @afmoldtimer – or leave a comment on this post.
I made an early decision to take a break from the Football Manager blogging scene, besides my guest blogging piece for FM Grasshopperwhere I took a deep dive into his trequartista using the available data to show just how well he had played. I’ve chosen not to diarise my save largely down to time commitments at work, so this way I could at least play when time allowed between a heavy workload.
Previous blogs I’ve written have typically focussed on looking at the save I was playing through from a data perspective too – using data analysis to back up scout reports and an overview of the player attributes to outline my reasonings for signing players. This was true of both my AC Milan save in FM20 and in my (much-missed from my perspective) Le Havre save in FM21.
My work, and my over-ambition with the number of players I’ve loaded up into my save, has meant I’m only four and a half seasons into my save with Southampton in FM22. Curiously, despite my penchant for data, I’ve rarely used the data analysis information that’s available to managers in the game, and I’ve not created a single spreadsheet/extracted any of the data from the game itself (though I did for the write up for FM Grasshopper). So it should therefore be of no surprise for you to read that this blog is not about data (if you’ll excuse one pie chart), but a tactical write-up of the recent transition to a 4-3-1-2 that I have made with Southampton, and the third-man runs that this has enabled within the tactical setup.
I decided to transition to a two-striker system, away from the typical 4-3-3DM system I tend to favour for a couple of reasons. The European giants were placing bids on my players – Karim Adeyemi was picked up by Man UFC for an unrefusable £90m; Yusuf Demir was sold to PSG for £70m; Arthur Theate went to Arsenal for £65m; Benjamin Šeško left for Borussia Dortmund in a £54m deal; Kiril Despardov joined Serie A’s Atalanta for £38m, and Keane Lewis-Potter headed to Premier League rivals Leicester for £36m. Four of these were the main wide plays that I’d been playing as inside forwards/inverted wingers, so there was something of a necessity to make a switch. However, I was also conscious that I often felt that the lone striker was too isolated when opposition teams sat deep.
This led to me going for a 4312 system, with a ‘flat’ central midfield in terms of their starting positions in the tactical line-up. My original thought was to have Šeško as one of those forwards, but as Southampton, I’m not in a position to turn down big deals for my players when a Champions League club comes calling, so off he went.
Many before me have written about this already, but it’s important to think about a tactical set-up not in isolation of the roles but as part of a larger picture, a jigsaw. Pieces have to fit and work together. For a balanced tactic, and for overloads to be created without being completely wide open at the back, it’s necessary to find harmony between different tactical player roles. With a central midfield trio, there is always room for a runner, a playmaker, and a more defensively minded player. This is precisely the method I typically favour, regardless of whether they are in a line, or whether the player in the defensive hole is a playmaker, like a Pirlo, or a play-stopper, such as Fabinho.
As such, I have taken to using Ivan Ilić as a left-footed mezzalla on the left of the trio, with Monchu typically playing the deep-lying midfield role in the centre (swapping out with Nicolás Domínguez), and then a carrilero on the right-hand side, with Pobega often taking up this starting berth. The mezzalla is the runner, with the wing-back on his side set to support, joining the attack when it is pertinent to do so, but not at too greater risk. Conversely, the carrilero is the shuttler, acting as a defensive cover for Livramento bombing down the right-hand flank as a wing-back on attack, who is told via player instructions to stick to the touchline given his pace and crossing ability. This leaves my formation and player roles looking like this:
The front line trio consists of an attacking midfielder, who is just that – set to attack – with Schjelderup typically playing in this position, although I have just signed Alexi Mac Allister from Brighton to come in as a specialist attacking midfielder. The idea is that this player can drive into the space between the two forwards as they look to drag opposing defenders out of position via their movement either with or without the ball. Alternatively, he can drift into space toward either flank, in between defensive lines to over an overload, before making a forward run.
The two strikers in this system are designed to stretch defenders both vertically and laterally. The left-sided striker is an advanced forward, who looks to move into channels – this is filled by the frankly magnificent Lorenzo Lucca, a genuine man mountain. The right-sided striker is a deep-lying forward on attack (Sebastiano Esposito) looks to drop into space between the defensive and midfield lines of the opponents, trying to bring a defender out with him, but failing that, to turn and offer a pass either behind the lines to the onrushing attacking midfielder, mezzalla, or the advanced forward who is playing more on the shoulder of the defenders, or out wide to Livramento who can then whip in a cross to the aforementioned teammates. This is the art of what I look to establish within build-up play, and a hypothetical example is shown below:
Here, the ball starts with the carrielo, who has drifted out wide as the right-wing back has bombed on ahead of him. This is something that the carrielo is designed to do, although at times they too can be quite vertical/progressive in their runs depending upon the play at the time. The carrielo plays the pass into the deep-lying forward who has his back to goal and can immediately lay off the pass to the attacking midfielder, who, in turn, can then play a pass behind the lines of the opponents for the advanced forward to run on to meet to have a one-on-one against the goalkeeper if not tracked by his marker.
If you look more closely at the hypothetical example, you can see how this tactical style has its advantages in the build-up. The carrielo has an option to play a pass in behind the opposition left winger to his right-back teammate who could also hit the advanced forward with an immediate pass as the opposition left-back is too tied up with supporting the left-sided centre back with the deep-lying forward who has drifted towards the left-flank to open up the passing lane for the attacking midfielder. There is also the option to go back to the deep-lying midfielder who is in space and unmarked, who could spread the ball out to the left where there is a potential overload on the opposing right-back. All these approaches could be used to unpick what, on the face of it, could have been seen as a good defensive set-up from the opposition. Yet the carrielo most likely could not have played a successful pass into the advanced forward because in all likelihood it would have either been over hit and collected by the goalkeeper or intercepted by a defender who had time to adjust their body position given the distance that the ball has to travel.
Whilst Southampton score a number of goals from this tactic, including quite a few from set-pieces thanks to the height and strength of Lucca, what I have chosen to isolate within this approach though is the third-man run. The art of a player running off the ball into space, but found after an interchange of passes between two (or more) players. The above hypothetical example would technically be a fourth-man run, but it still is seen as a third-man run. The deep-lying forward cannot make the pass behind the defensive line as it is blocked by the defender behind him. However, the attacking midfielder can – one swift touch of leather on leather (or whatever boots and balls are made of these days) unlocks the central defence through a quick exchange of passes and an off-the-ball movement of a third player not involved in the initial set of passes.
This type of movement has been seen time and time again within my save since switching to the 4312.
As you can see from the below graphic, through balls have been the predominant method of assists for the team over the last forty games. Some fifty-five goals have been scored as a result of this method of assist, with a further forty coming in crosses.
This highlights how often penetrative runs have been found by our players. Not all of these fifty-five assists will have been from third-man runs, but a good number have. To achieve this, the players collectively need a combination of good anticipation, off-the-ball movement, vision, passing, technique, and ideally some player traits, such as ‘arrives late in the box’, ‘gets into opposition area’ and ‘tries killer balls often’.
The below examples are both taken from the same game in the Carabao Cup Semi-Final Second Leg against Everton (in an 8-2 victory).
Starting with the less obvious third-man run, partly because on first inspection it looks like a hopeful long ball from midfield, we see a goal kick from Pickford, which is played down by Nehuén Pérez to Schjelderup who has dropped in to support the midfield.
He plays a quick pass to Pobega, who almost without any thought, hits a first touch pass over the top of the Everton defence who pushed out too far. This is because Ilić has already set off on a run in the space between the right-sided centre back and the right back.
Ilić has timed his run perfectly to spring their offside trap, leaving him with a one-on-one against Pickford, which he duly slots home.
Ilić’s movement off the ball is a third-man run. Schjelderup has his back to the Everton goal after receiving the pass from Nehuén Pérez, and so he could not have played the ball through to Ilić. However, Pobega did have that line of view, vision and ability to play the ball through for the assist to the goal. Several things had to come together for this goal to occur, not just the timing and accuracy of the pass and the off-the-ball run. Everton’s defence had to have pushed up too far too fast, and Pickford had to be slow off his line. Pérez also had to have the composure to knock the ball down to a teammate rather than give away possession.
Take a look at those two images again in more detail and you’ll notice some other subtleties that make this goal possible. With two strikes up front, both of Everton’s central defenders have no option but to go man for man. Both are touch tight when the ball is played through to Ilić, but this in itself causes them a problem. None of the Everton players have seen Ilić’s run off the ball, at least not until it’s too late, and the deep-lying forward has made it impossible for the left-sided centre back to track back because of his movement towards the midfield, drawing him out of position.
The second example also involves Schjelderup, but this time as the goalscorer. Pascal Struijk (23) has won a loose ball and played it into Tommy Doyle (substituted on for Ilić), who lays off a pass to Tyrell Malacia, the left wing-back. Malacia then whips in a deep pass/cross to the on-rushing Schjelderup, who is running through the open gap that is the Everton centre backs who aren’t marking any of the three forward players for Southampton.
Lucca is in effect looking to cheat the Everton defence here by standing in what is just an off-side position, but this may have served to distract the Everton defence, and they have ignored Schjelderup. He bursts through on goal and duly scores by shooting past Pickford. The Everton defending is in general lacklustre, to be polite, with no real pressing, no marking and too much space in which to play the pass and to run into.
Just to prove that it’s not just Everton’s defence that were, in part, exploited by this player movement, here’s Tommy Doyle scoring against Watford courtesy of a third-man run. The play has developed to the point where Pobega has just delivered a pass infield to Monchu. Here you can see the roles of the respective players – Pobega, as the carrielo drifting out wide, dragging the Watford midfielder with him, and Monchu offering himself as the playmaker. Monchu plays the ball forward to substitute attacking midfielder (and stand-in deep-lying forward) Martín Satriano who then plays the ball into the box to meet Doyle’s run through the open gap after the Watford right-back has switched off.
The play requires further inspection again – both of Watford’s central defenders are preoccupied with the two strikers, Esposito (9) and Lucca (19). Doyle is alive enough, despite this being the 87th minute, to make the run into the box past the wide midfielder who doesn’t track him. Monchu is also right to hold back on playing the pass into the box himself – Doyle isn’t yet in a position to receive the pass, so the ball would have been turned over – despite his player traits of ‘tries killer balls often’ and ‘tries long-range passes’. The space that Doyle has is a direct result of the fact that we have dragged Watford towards the ball. Both of their centre backs have been pulled across the field beyond their goalposts, creating the space for Doyle to run into. Space has been created by the distraction of the positioning of the ball itself, and by our strikers coming towards the ball.
For everything a reason
Goals are typically made from a congruence of moments, rarely from individual moments of genius. The number of players who are beyond systems is few and far between these days as coaches have improved their tactical understanding and coaching of these approaches to players. Things are no different in the examples above.
It’s important at this point to dig deeper into the underlying fundamentals behind goals being made by a facet of different inputs. Listening to the excellent “The Football Manager Show” podcast by Iain Macintosh, specifically the episode here on team cohesion where Iain discusses with Russell Hammant how team cohesion plays an important part in players understanding with regards to where their teammates are on the pitch and the runs they’re likely to be making. In order to boost team cohesion and thus maximise performances, within the training schedule, after each game I place both a recovery session, to allow the players to reduce their fatigue and injury risk, and also a match review. This match review sees the players get together and go over the previous day’s game with the backroom staff so that they can see what went well and what could be improved upon. This also has the effect of boosting team cohesion amongst the playing staff, presumably because they’re better able to predict/learn what runs/passes/shapes to utilise both with and without the ball after watching the tape back with analysts.
Equally, before a game, I will make sure that there is a session on match tactics, one for the pre-set match preview and, if it’s a home game and we don’t have the travel issue, then I’ll also schedule attacking movement into the program. Whilst the match preview has no impact on team cohesion, it does boost tactical familiarity. The other two blocks on the other hand give a lift to team cohesion. As such, the team understand their roles and they understand how to perform together as a team. Providing I’ve set them up in a sensible fashion that is relatively balanced across attack and defence, along with a high-quality coaching team and world-class facilities, I’ve maxed out the input I can have towards the players being cognitively able to interpret what is expected of them when they go out to play.
During a week in which there is only one game, which are few and far between given the number of “Englische woches” that occur with European and domestic cup football, I also try to place attacking and defensive shadow play sessions so that players understand their roles, responsibilities and how to move around to provide options for the player on the ball or to close down/mark a player in the defensive phase of the game. These both have a slightly positive impact on team cohesion.
Download link and wider reading
If you are interested in this tactic, one that has scored forty goals in six games in the UEFA Europa League, and wish to download it, you can find it here on Steam. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me on Twitter at @afmoldtimer.
If you want to read further into this area, I can thoroughly recommend this piece from Coaches Voices.
After last year’s highest ever Ligue 1 finish for Le Havre and a Champions League Final against Chelsea, it was time to see how far this side that I have put together could go. It feels like most of the pieces of the puzzle are there now, we just need to overcome the behemoth that is PSG to make that final step in French football and deliver our coastal side to its first ever top division title.
Given that I did indeed feel like the squad was pretty complete, at least as far as we could reasonably afford with our given wage and transfer budgets, I wasn’t looking to do anything in the transfer window unless my hand was forced, bar two first team players. One who was set to leave on a free and another that wanted first team football.
Summer player sales
Mathieu Goncalves was the latter, seeking to move somewhere were he could be the outright number one left back. He’d not let us down in being a rotational option, and the offer from Toulouse was perfectly reasonable for someone who was good if not outstanding and now behind Augustinsson and Thiago in the left wing back berth. He was allowed to move on with my blessing.
Abdoulaye Touré’s contract was set to expire and, given his age (32) and a recent injury, he was starting to decline physically. As such, it was decided against offering a contract extension and he was allowed to leave on a free transfer, eventually signed by Montpellier. This will leave us with a lack of depth in the central midfielder on defend role, so someone will need to be brought in to fulfil this role alongside Dvunjak.
This was only heightened after another departure in central midfield. Chelsea and Liverpool had been hovering around both Depoorter and Zwane. It was Chelsea that finally pulled the trigger on Zwane. He hadn’t made himself first choice, despite contributing ten goal contributions (two goals and eight assists) in twelve starts and twelve appearances off the bench. Once Chelsea bid for the player, he made it clear that he wasn’t prepared to stay and so a deal for £45m, potentially rising to £50m based upon international appearances, was agreed. The £44.7m booked profit will enable us to recruit for this position and strengthen in other areas too.
Various youth team products also left after they were clearly not going to make the level required to achieve first-team status – Gilles Herbert (Monpellier), Nassim Agounon (Montpellier), Matheo Leroux (Châteauroux), Meddy Reiver (Guingamp). The fact that they have all gone to lesser clubs is a good sign that these were the right sales at the right time for both player and club alike.
We also lost two youth team products thanks to my oversight in not offering them full professional terms in advance of them turning 17 – Junior Yuma left for Monaco whilst Steve Niyonkuru was recruited by Nantes.
After the Summer sales were complete, our squad churn looked like this:
Henrik Bang was the number one target for our Summer transfer window after Zwane had left. Take one look at his attributes as a 17-year old and it’s not hard to see why. He’s an incredible player at a very early stage in his professional career and with the right place to nurture his talents, he could be world leading player. Able to play in pretty much any role throughout the central midfield positions, he offers versatility which guarantees him first team minutes. Already capped four times by Denmark, he is a blank slate when it comes to player traits, but is a natural leader even at a young age. He will be lined up for future captaincy duty, and with a high level of determination and a bit of work on his already strong driven personality, he could be a perfect tutor after a few years of senior football. With only a year left on his deal, and Bang making it plain he wasn’t going to sign a new one at FC Midtjylland, this deal is a bargain.
In order to replace the outgoing Abdoulaye Touré, Elisha Owusu was identified through searching for players with suitable attributes for the defensive roles in central midfield. Seeking someone with a bit of steel about them, but equally not a complete mad man, Owusu’s high level of anticipation marked him out as a good candidate for the role, as well as his work rate and positioning. The fact he’s a good passer, albeit one that prefers to play it short and simple, should mean that he has a calm head on the ball as we look to dominate possession, allowing the more creative players around him to pull strings, but winning the ball back to break up opposition counters using his superior tackling and ability to be in the right place at the right time for interceptions. Initially unwilling to sign for us at the turn of January with six months left on his contract, he eventually agreed to a deal after his release from Club Brugge. With an already very youthful Le Havre side, this signing marked a notable step away from a typical desire to sign players aged 23. With a keenness to add someone to the squad with more game time and experience to lead the way, matched with strong levels of decision-making and leadership, Owusu fills that role well.
However, there was a very busy January transfer window, with plenty of players leaving us, which led to more signatures too.
Thiago Cavaleiro had long been rumoured the top-target of Real Madrid, and so it proved. Their initial offer was negotiated up to £87m, with the potential to rise up to £102m following league appearances. His head turned, this deal was accepted and the player became the latest galáctico. This was financially a deal that we couldn’t turn down, seeing us book a £74m profit, which could go rise further. He’d been a good player for us and had the promise of more, but we’re not in a position to refuse the player a move such as this.
Determined to land a new, lucrative contract, Jens Petter Hauge was beginning to kick up a fuss and trying to unsettle the squad. He wasn’t first choice, behind Núñez on the left-wing and so he was offered out. RB Salzburg came in with an acceptable £19.5m bid which was immediately accepted. Having only made four first team appearances between August and the start of January, this was a great deal for someone seeking to earn well above his perceived value with us.
Having said that Chema Núñez was first-choice, his sale for £40m might come as something of a surprise. Beijing Guo’an tabled a low-ball bid for Núñez, who had recently signed a new deal at the start of the season, so when I bluffed by countering with a price of £40m for Núñez, they called it. Núñez has twenty-three goal contributions last year, and whilst that had dipped this season to only four (including missing three penalties), I couldn’t overlook the ability to lock in a fantastic monetary gain for a player who had turned 30. This could give Yasser Kchouk chances of more first-team action that could bolster his development, but we would need another player in now that we’d let Núñez and Hauge go.
After all sales were complete following the closing of the January transfer window, our annual player sales and profits from those player sales looked like this:
Itzak Bar-On is someone for whom we have had a signature agreed for for over a year now. Identified as one of the hottest talents in Israel at the tender age of 15, we snapped him up on a cheap deal that saw him join the club after his 18th birthday. The left-footed centre-back is comfortable with the ball at his feet already, and looks to have a strong all round set of physical attributes despite his young age. If he can time his tackles, his aggression and bravery should make him a tough opponent for any Ligue 1 striker. At 6’4″, he isn’t just strong aerially at the back, he’s also a threat on attacking set pieces, much like Badiane (6’6″). It’s early signs for him yet, but he’ll stick around as fourth choice centre back despite the fact that he will take up the fourth non-EU player slot.
The following players were all picked up to add to the youth ranks at Le Havre after years of poor quality youth intakes: Mamdou Sylla (Lille), Marek Zielonka (Lech), Patrick Kameni (Atlético), Albertine Baldé (Amiens), Miroslav Radic (Partizan), Jakub Vizek (Victora Plzeň), Frederico Capela (Sporting Clube de Braga), and Willem Mkhwanazi (Sundowns). Anyone aged below 18 will slot into either the B or U19s sides. The ability to sign European players who are 16 and have them arrive straight into our training centre is something I’m keen to exploit, especially given the paucity of talent on our youth books currently. Those aged 18 or older (with some exceptions made to those just about to turn 18 within a matter of months) will head out on loan to continue their development. As you can see from the sides that we’ve signed them from, we’ve really stepped up our pull from other clubs internationally now that we’re achieving a more than notable status in European club competitions.
Once U-20 capped, Mahazou Doukouré was picked up from ASEC Mimosas. His off-the-ball movement, matched with his excellent technicals for his young age and his desire to run with the ball should make him an exciting player into the future if he can match his potential. Naturally right-footed, he’ll be trained as an inside forward in the more advanced position than he is currently accustomed to. He’ll need to work on his natural fitness to improve his recovery between games, but fingers crossed with more time in the gym and game time, he’ll be able to improve both this and his stamina.
Aydemir Balikçi was on our radar before Tiago Cavaleiro left, with my South European scout identifying him in a scout report. Whilst not my first choice of attacking central midfielder (and in truth not my second either with both of those going to players at Rennes, neither of whom were affordable), he offers some attacking flair with room to grow. He comes in as our record signing at Le Havre, but adds to the Turkish link that I’ve managed to maintain thanks to Ali Akman. He’ll need to accept being second fiddle to Lema, but he should see enough minutes as we fight for trophies on all fronts from January onwards.
Our South American – East scout had highlighted Brazilian wonderkid Leandro Teófilo around six months ago and he’d been on our shortlist ever since, with regular tabs being kept on his progress and development. When the sale of Núñez and Hauge went through, triggering Teófilo’s minimum fee release clause seemed the sensible thing to do. He’ll be given time to bed in if at all possible, but with both Hauge and Núñez sold, he will almost certainly have some first team action. The two-footed speedster cuts in from both wings, and whilst his decision-making needs improving, along with his stamina and work rate, with his fairly professional personality, I would hope that they can improve.
The final transfer was something of a whim. It wasn’t a player that was needed, nor one that was for the future. Hannibal returns to Le Havre. I saw that he had requested to go onto the transfer list after being made a fringe player at Manchester United. Over the last two seasons, he’d barely seen a minute of action. Given his prior stint with us, he was qualified as home-grown at Le Havre and so could add squad depth in our Champions League squad without taking anyone’s place. Whether he’ll be first choice with our tweak in player roles to a deep-lying playmaker on the left-side and a central midfield defend on the right is an issue, but I couldn’t pass this up to bring a club icon back to France. Signing for £16m on a five-year deal with a base £16m, he’s finally ours on a permanent contract.
This meant that our player acquisitions for the seaon look like this:
After all the player trading was done, including/removing the moves made in January, our player amortisation is represented in the below graphic, leaving me with some decisions to make with regards to contract renewals of Juan Soriano, Lucas Gomes, Camilo Moreno and Héctor Amaral.
You can see from the below graphic on minutes played by player age how influential Henrik Bang became over his first season with us. Whilst Slobodan Lucic had firmly taken over the No. 1 jersey from Soriano, Bang leapt passed Depoorter to be first choice deep-lying playmaker. Whilst he didn’t score a single goal, he did create sixteen assists in 28 starts across all competitions. That’s one assist per 0.52/90 minutes. The next best player in our squad in terms of per 90 metric that had more than 1,000 minutes registered over the season was Kchouk and he was down at 0.26 A/90 and he only had four assists. Bang was literally twice as creative as any other player in our team per 90. Only Saranic beat his nominal assists in Ligue 1 with fourteen.
Albian Hajdari continued to assert his dominance as our number one centre back, with Daouda Badiane taking over the reins from Ariel Mosór as the right-sided centre back as Badiane continued to develop his attributes.
Our Champions League journey was far briefer than previous European adventures. We qualified second out of our group, which was no mean feat having been seeded third. However, we met Manchester United in the first round knock out and after two defeats, we were sent packing. No jaunt to a European final this year. Disappointing, yes, of course, it’s never nice to lose. More realistic to our expectations at this stage? Definitely.
On French (and Monégasque) soil, we faired rather better, as the below graphic tells you:
To win our first ever Ligue 1 title ever for the Club is a major triumph and is a credit to the players and the support staff alike.
It’s not often that goalkeepers get praise in title winning performances, they usually get lost in exuberance about the team. However, Slobodan Lucic’s performances over the season were stellar. His 16 goals conceded was second only to Dominik Livakovic’s 14 at PSG. Yet compare this to the xGA of 24.53, and its clear to see the value that he added to the side over the campaign. His goals conceded minus xGA differential was second only to Nice’s Stefan Bajic. His performances were enough to win him the goalkeeping jersey in the team of the year. He was joined by central defensive pairing Hajdari and Badiane, Henrik Bang (in his debut season no less), Ivan Saranic and Emiliano Suárez.
By other measures, our success is in part, perhaps, down to PSGs decline in spending. Nasser Al-Khelaifi had scaled down funding the Parisian club in June 2025. This is somewhat represented by their reduction in spending and change in their net spend, although perhaps not initially.
To put their net spending into perspective, take a look at the net spend under my management at Le Havre. In only one year did I spend more on transfers than I recouped and that was the Summer transfer window after we’d won promotion to Ligue 1. Improving the quality of the squad was probably the single best thing that I did to the club during my tenure. It ensured our safety in Ligue 1 for that campaign and allowed for the subsequent future to have a chance to blossom, as it has now.
For an idea as to how our two clubs have differed in spending and recouping of transfer fees, see the below image. Under Tuchel, PSG’s spending on transfers alone was 753% more than mine at Le Havre (£1.1458bn to £0.1935bn), and whilst they received £770m to my £359.75m, this is only 214% more. This yields a total net spend of £688m by PSG to -£166.25m from us.
If Nasser Al-Khelaifi wants PSG to balance their books, I’m all for that if within three seasons I’m already winning the league, especially as our own infrastructure, transfer budget and reputation amongst the top European sides started to grow almost exponentially.
Stand out Le Havre players
I couldn’t end (blogging) this save without paying a homage to three of the stand out players – Ali Akman and Ivan Saranic and Tomislav Dvunjak. Since their arrivals, they have been fantastic, developing along with our side as we improved the squad season by season. Below you can see their minutes across the seasons that they have been with us. Ali Akman joined first during the 2021-22 season, with Saranic and Dvunjak arriving at Stade Oceane in the Summer window of 2022-23. Together they’ve racked up 48,847 minutes, scored 173 goals, 93 assists, all in a grand total of 668 appearances.
The below graphic shows the goals/90 and xG/90 for both Ali Akman and Ivan Saranic (because Dvunjak is a central defensive midfield plays and his stats look underwhelming in any light), and their goal contributions and shot conversion. Ali Akman’s match time might perhaps have dropped as a result of the recruitment of Emiliano Suárez, but his contributions when he did play were fantastic. To consistently and persistently outperform his xG is outstanding. He even responded to Suárez arriving by lifting his efforts and benefiting from the switch in tactical systems to playing as an advanced forward in a 4-2-3-1. Ali’s shot conversion is nothing short of elite over his time on the field. Anything in and around 25% is considered elite with shot conversion, so for him to have five of the seven seasons above that is remarkable.
With Ivan Saranic, his all round play for us has been stand out from when he joined us. It’s a testament to his ability and continued improvements that I’ve not replaced him and anyone that has come in to act as a potential back up has fallen by the way side. His goal contributions have risen almost every year from year to year, with a notable spike in 2024-25.
It has been an absolute pleasure to blog this save and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it. I’m still contemplating my next save in the latest iteration of the game and even whether I’ll blog it. The data hub definitely looks to show promise for more statistical analysis, so as long as the data is right that feeds into it, it could cut a lot of time down that it takes to produce these blogs. It’s not a chore by any means and my PowerPoint and Excel skills have improved immensely (as I’m hoping you can see by flicking through my musings). There is though an opportunity cost to all this, so I’ll need to weigh that all up. I hope, at the moment, to see you on the other side of Football Manager 2022. Until then, adieu!
After a tremendous season in Europe last year with lifting the Europa League, albeit with one to forget in Ligue 1, I was keen to continue the 4-2-3-1 formation. As a team, we are full of more skilled, technical players with pace and stamina to play a pressing style of football that we simply didn’t possess when we first achieved promotion. With this in mind, the squad needed some alterations to it.
Player Trading & Amortisation
These were largely funded by the sale of relative youngster Erik Willems to Bayern Munich. After buying Willems for a paltry £11,750, his remaining book value was just shy of £4,500. With a negotiated, structured offer on the table of £25m for a player yet to make his senior debut for us, and with Willems wishing to go to the Bundesliga giants, it was a relatively easy decision to pocket nearly all of this cash (at least in accounting terms). Utilising the funds, along with top ups from other player sales on a smaller scale will help pay player wages of those still at the club and those of the new recruits, alongside the annual amortisation of their transfer fees/agent fees, etc. made relative financial sense given the lack of significant lucrative sponsorship, gate receipts or TV money from Ligue 1. We still have to be realistic that we are a selling club at this point – just look at Sevilla in real life – in the same way, we sell to have success.
Other sanctioned deals were for notable players, Godswill Ekpolo and Boulaye Dia. Both players had been stalwarts over the transition into Ligue 1, making themselves first choice on the right flank in their respective positions in the years we were establishing ourselves as a Ligue 1 outfit. However, last year both went out on loan, unsatisfied at the lack of first team opportunities as we had improved in depth and injuries had taken their toll upon them and their physical abilities. A ~£5.8m profit improvement on the sale of these two players is a good return, especially after the quality of service that they had supplied to the club over that time.
Juan Cruz, as mentioned in the previous review, was someone who was signed for free last year with the sole intention of flipping him for a profit. After a season largely out on loan at Montpellier, where he barely played, he was picked up by Guingamp. With the initial transfer costing nothing, we book a £1.5m in profit, with a £2.2m profit improvement after adding back in his remaining wage payments. Of course this overlooks his loyalty fee and agent fees, but these were less than £1.5m, therefore boosting our profit and loss account.
The three remaining sales were youth team/B team players who did not play a single minute of first team football and never look destined to do so.
To book a profit of over £31m on these players is fantastic, even if most of it comes from the sale of Willems. If we can try to stick to one big sale per year, this should help balance the requirement to bring in cash whilst maintaining league and European success, assuming players still wish to stay of course. Champions League football this season should help with that, especially given we go straight into the group stages. In facing high quality opposition, we’ll need strong squad harmony and chemistry within the team to pull us through tough games. Therefore, taking into account those players that racked up first team minutes over the 2027-28, to have a squad churn of less than 1%, or more accurately 5.47% taking into account those that went out on loan in the forthcoming season, means we’ve clearly met that objective.
Much in the same way that Juan Cruz was signed to be sold, Mihael Zaper signed a pre-contract agreement from Inter. The talented midfielder had been short of match time in Milan, and was willing to come to the North West of France to try to kick-start his career again as a squad player. I’m unconvinced that he has sufficient quality to make it past Depoorter and Zwane in midfield, so he will be loaned out to assess his abilities further, and if I’m proved right that he doesn’t have the playmaking and defensive abilities, I’ll look to sell him on.
Thato Manuelon the other hand was signed for the intention of loaning him but with every chance that he could be in with a real shot at first team action in the future. The promising playmaker signed from Orlando Pirates, the same South African side that Sifiso Zwane came through at. Thato will go back on loan there to develop his game further before reassessing his player pathway, with further a loan to a European side likely, just at what level will depend upon his growth.
The Portuguese central midfielder, Ronaldo Camará was someone I had tried to sign prior to his joining Juventus. Having kept tabs on him whilst at The Old Lady, I’d notice his contact was being run down and with no sign of a new deal in the offing, I leapt at the chance of signing him on a free. Initially, he was not willing to talk to even discuss a contract but as the end of June came closer, he was eventually willing to negotiate and arrive at a deal that sees the 23-year old sign a 5-year contract worth over £6m. Offering versatility in the central midfield areas, his ability on the ball, as well as his runs into the box should add depth and attacking prowess.
It’s likely that Camará won’t find himself first choice in the attacking central midfield slot though asMatías Lema’s arrival from Racing Club in Argentina will see him taking the starting spot. The diminutive Argentine has a strong eye for a pass and likes to run into the box late, unnerving unwitting defenders as he bursts into incoming crosses or one-twos with the striker. Signed for his minimum release fee of £7m, he comes in on a five-year deal to take up one of the four foreign player registrations. Our scouts had been raving about the former national U19, so to bring the wonderkid in for a relative bargain can be taken a sign of the boost in reputation that the Europa League victory has granted us.
A further player on my shortlist whom I’d been tracking for a while with my scouts, Reidar Lervigwas also running his contract down at FC Midtjylland. The Faroese wonderkid already has nineteen caps for his country and looks to be a very versatile defender. A little raw in his aggression and bravery, rather than his natural centre back, he’ll be another option to Giulian Biancone at right fullback in the wing back role replacing the outgoing Ekpolo (though Marc Juardo was also signed on loan in January after an injury to Biancone from Manchester United). His fantastic pace should help to stretch defences whilst Saranic is cutting inside taking the opponents left-back with him. His stamina should mark him out as someone who can run up and down the flank throughout the ninety minutes. He was able to be signed for a cut price deal as he had informed the Danish side that he was unwilling to sign a new deal, landing him on the transfer market and attracting the likes of Inter and Dortmund. To pick him up for only £975,000 ahead of these European giants who failed to press the trigger is a testament to our scouts in Scandinavia being on the ball in identifying him as a standout talent.
The final transfer during the Summer window was that of Emiliano Suárez. His transfer was also one that I deliberated on the longest out of all the deals. This was partly due to loyalty over Ali Akman and Lucas Gomes, with the latter impressing over the second half of the season, in particular during the drubbing of Napoli in the sensational victory in the Europa League Final. The other reason was because it would leave me with no wiggle room in the transfer budget, taking up everything that was left due to Boca’s reluctance to accept anything less than his minimum fee release clause – some £6.75m. Now this on the face of it would seem a small price to pay for someone of his clear talent but it would leave the squad unbalanced, lacking a true back up to Saranic on the inside right. Hauge was demanding to play on the left side, Núñez had made the left wing role his and fellow left side youngster Kchouk had no familiarity in this position. It’s true Suárez has some experience in the wide right position but not as an inside forward and this would require a tactical switch which could unpick the tactical blueprint that has seen us progress in Europe, if not yet in the league. Nonetheless something inside me was going to regret not signing him – and boy that gut feeling was right…
After all player trading was complete, this is how our contract lengths, amortisation, wage bill, remaining book value/wage costs look:
Come the end of the season, Suárez was second only to Hajdari in terms of minutes played over the season, causing a significant reduction in the number of minutes for Ali Akman. Akman, for his dues, recognised the superior abilities of Suárez and was happy to step down to bring a squad player, without any upset at all – a sign of a true professional. I again prioritised minutes for younger players with the aim of developing these players, but also largely because this crop that gave been meticulously recruited for my system are what fit best at Le Havre.
Their hard work and endeavours paid off in Ligue 1 with the squad achieving the highest ever finish in French top flight football for the club, along with a record points haul. Still some 16 points shy of PSG, we were conformably inside Champions League qualification proper rather than relying upon our European form to access continental football once more. Our goals scored soared to 90, 32 came from Suárez. As you can see from the graphic below – he was well worth the £6.75m. To be in the top 5% of non-penalty goals, xG, shots and shots on target per 90, as well as the top 10% for key passes per 90 as a forward and successful dribbles per game. He converted our 55% possessions into shots thanks to the creativity of the likes of Depoorter, Zwane, Saranic, Huage and Núñez. With his shots, 19% of them went in – putting him in the top 20% of strikers with more than 1,000 minutes in Ligue 1.
Being a first seed for the Group Stage was a big boost for us given our relatively new status in European football, with our coefficient score yet to rise significantly on average across the last five years. A hammering of Olympiacos in the first round, before a draw in a tricky away fixture to Slavia Praha in the cauldron that is the Sinobo Stadium. Two expected defeats to Chelsea saw us needing results in the reverse fixtures in our remaining two games. That was exactly what we achieved – battering the Greek outfit in their own yard before seeing off Slavia Praha for the last round.
Here’s how the table finished:
To be rewarded, if that’s what you can call it, with a tie against Manchester United I was fully expecting our European adventure to come to an end. Yet to win the first leg at home 2-1, and then go to Old Trafford and win there too was beyond my wildest dreams. Our former loanee player Hannibal looking on from the stands after not even being named on the bench for either game. At least it was nice for him to see his former teammates, if not be able to swap shirts with them.
The draw for the Quarters wasn’t kind to us either, but then this is now the last eight of the teams that are supposedly the elite of Europe. A creditable 1-1 draw at home, after 6’5″ central defender Badiane leapt at the front post to head home from a Saranic corner. To concede the away goal was disappointing and I assumed would lead to floodgates opening with a Liverpool side boasting Camavinga, Ansu Faiti, Musiala, Van Dijk, Bellingham, Salah and Hakimi among notable others. Instead, we came out flying, almost as you would have expected Liverpool to do. Mosór scored from a corner before Suárez put the tie out of in their reach with just over twenty minutes gone. Anfield was stunned into silence with one of the competition favourites bowing out to a relative European minnow. We’d lost 2-0 to them in the Super Cup, so to knock the defending champions out was remarkable.
When it comes to European giants, facing Real Madrid in the semis is about as big as it gets. This didn’t stop Saranic – he ran show in the home leg. He was as clinical as he was dominating. Taking the tie by the scruff of the neck from beginning to end, he made a mockery of his opposite number throughout the night under the lights of Stade Oceane. The second leg was a tense affair but the two away goals saw us safe, with our key players Cavaleiro and Suárez – the latters seventh in all Champions League games.
So to the Final and our opponents – Chelsea. The very same team that topped our respective group and beat us comfortably in both match days when we faced off. They’d cantered through the league, as you can see from the demolishing they dished out on a pretty regular bases:
After a first leg defeat to PSG, they came roaring back at the Bridge to overhaul their deficit proving that PSG were yet to overcome their hoodoo in the competition. Holding onto a draw away at Barcelona in the last eight following Havertz’s dismissal was as impressive as Adeyemi’s hat-trick was against them in the return fixture. With Dortmund in the semis, it had to be former BVB-man Sancho to stick the knife in to seal their fate, and that of Chelsea’s return to the Champions League Final.
The Final itself was a hard-fought game, with both sides creating chances, but of limited quality. The high frequency of chances went to Chelsea, and it was Mount’s finish in the second half that ended the wildest dreams of Le Havre fans and players alike. Despite throwing everything that we had at Lampard’s Chelsea well-drilled defence, we were unable to find enough creativity to make anything clear cut enough for Suárez or any of the other attackers to pounce on for an equaliser to force extra time.
A defeat to a Premier League side at any stage of a Champions League competition is nothing to be disgraced over given the sheer inequality between the two national leagues and our respective wage bills, but to beat two sides and then the might of Los Blancos is an incredible feat and one I suspect we might find hard to match going forward without an unsustainable amount of investment into the playing squad. This pretty much sums up what I told the players in the end of season meeting shortly after the defeat – we’ll look to achieve Champions League qualification through the league and try to achieve first round knock outs in the Champions League, which happily they concurred with.
With a number of players wanted across the squad, no doubt partly due to our overachievement in three successive European club competitions, detailed planning with need to be put into place. This, along with careful assessment of the scouting already performed and reviewing those players out on loan, will help form the backbone of any recruitment or internal promotion which needs to be enacted in the Summer transfer window. With the need to still sell one big star to fund the club and find liquidity to reinvest into players, we won’t be in a position to turn down offers for at at minimum one of those players that have taken us this far.
To find out how the 2027-28 season went, you’ll need to check back for the next post coming soon. Until then, adieu.
Knowing full well that Manchester United were not going to continually agree to the renewal of Hannibal’s loan, I’d already sought out his replacement in Cüneyt Gür last year. However, when Borussia Dortmund came in for the midfield orchestrator, he was understandably keen to leave to a club playing Champions League football. After a little negotiation, the Bundesliga club agreed to pay an initial £25.5m with further payments to be made of 30% of any future profits on a transfer. Given our initial outlay of just £6,750, after one year, his book value was a measly £5,063, allowing a booked profit of £25,494,938 and a profit improvement (taking into consideration his remaining book value, wage cost for the rest of his contract and the booked profit) of £27,567,000. This transfer in itself will pay for the entirety of our basic wage expenditure for the squad over the course of the forthcoming season – a shrewd piece of business, especially when taking into consideration who I’ve brought in to replace Cüneyt Gür and Hannibal (more on this later).
When he was at Le Havre, and not out on loan, Mathieu Cafaro was nothing more than a bit part player. He’s play well during pre-season but then I wouldn’t give him a look in besides odd Coupe de France games, where invariably he would under perform because he lacked match sharpness. To recoup the transfer fee on him was seen as a good deal with only a year left on his contract.
It’s a somewhat similar story to Pité. We’d long since outgrown his abilities and he’d been out on loan at Clermont last season after only making four appearances off the bench in the season prior to that. Given he was a free signing, selling him on was something of a no-brainer before his contract expired.
Alan Navarro, Anthony Louis-Bonnet (both youth academy players) and Javi Ortega were players in the U19s who were deemed not good enough to make it and were sold off, with Javi Ortega being sold on at a not unreasonable profit. Transfers like these help to fund the spending that goes towards the youth team and makes offering contracts to players that I know aren’t going to play a minute of first team football but who can be developed and sold on worthwhile.
Tilen Ribic was a sale that I mulled over for a while. I’d previously sent him out on loan to Clermont alongside Pit, but his season with them in Ligue 2 was underwhelming (nine goals in thirty five appearances) and I wasn’t convinced that he was going to kick on in Ligue 1. His potential clearly is high, I just had doubts that he could match that potential. When Juventus offered us the chance to pretty much have our money back on the initial transfer fee, with a potential to rise to £9.75m, I took them up on the deal.
The final player sale actually took place during the January transfer window. You may remember from an earlier blog post that I had signed Elias Mesonero based upon his metrics whilst playing for Grasshopper Club Zürich. Elias had been a solid player for us whenever he has put on the Oxbridge colours. Yet, over time, he had seen his playing minutes diminish as Ariel Mosór was brought in and became the first-choice right-sided centre back. Guangzhou Evergrande were able to offer him wages we couldn’t dream of (yet), and so a deal was struck for an initial £20m with a further £5m in potential add-ons.
All in, player sales generated a booked profit of £51m and a profit improvement of £69m. Not bad for players that had a total initial transfer cost of nearly £9.2m. A more than useful set of sums to help progress the club both on and off the field. Player acquisitions will be addressed below, but improvements to the training ground/facilities were made for the senior sides and also for youth teams.
Taken at the start of the season after the Summer transfer outgoings were completed (and therefore not including the Elias Mesonero transfer), and not including those players that left on loan, our squad churn was pretty low. The 81.60% represents the percentage of minutes that were played last season by players still with a permanent contract at Le Havre (though may be heading out on loan for the 2025-26 season). Three loan expiries (along with Hannibal going back to Manchester United, Sassuolo and Porto both wished to give first team opportunities to Christian Dalle Mura and Augusto Rocha respectively) and the sale of Cüneyt Gür accounted for the players no longer with the team and in possession of a Le Havre contract (a nod to Ben Mayhew on Twitter for the ‘inspiration’ for the donut chart). As such, we have a relatively settled squad but are lacking at left-back, depth and quality first choice creative centre midfield and another player to slot in as second choice right-sided centre back as of January when Mesonero left.
The deal to loan Albian Hajdari from Juventus last season included a £4m optional future fee which, given this was below his market value and he’d played 3,204 minutes for us last season, was triggered well before the end of the season. Hajdari had played very well over the course of the season, displacing the aforementioned Dalle Mura as the left-sided centre back. To give you some idea how much we dominated the ball, and to an extent Hajdari’s reading of the game, he completed less than one tackle/90, even allowing for possession adjustment. He also completed 97% of all his passes – impressive when this also includes clearances within the metrics. With our tactical style set up to recycle possession at every opportunity, seeking to patiently pick apart our opponents, it’s an important cog in our wheel to have a defender who is as comfortable in possession of the ball as he is without it.
The standout signing, and a club record fee, is Tiago Cavaleiro. The Portuguese arrives to replace Hannibal as the conductor in our midfield. His almost natural passing abilities, with his tremendous vision, technique and passing, make him ideal for such a role. He had long since been identified by my scouts as a talent, but his price tag was beyond the means allowed by the Board’s set transfer budget – at least until the sale of Cüneyt Gür. That transfer alone provided sufficient additional transfer funds to be able to offer Tondela a deal with structured payments so that they would agree to his sale. £17.25m is a considerable fee for a club like Le Havre to pay, but I’ve every confidence that if Cavaleiro is as good as the appears to be, we could have a superstar on our hands and the outgoing transfer fee will be much greater. His sixty-eight appearances for Tondela yielded twenty-nine goals and eight assists (so thirty-seven goal involvements) and fifteen player of the matches. This all before his nineteenth birthday – this boy should be some player.
Slobodan Jucic is a fantastic prospect – the Serbian goalkeeper is already well developed in terms of his attributes, bar one or two mental areas to focus in on with specific training, which should be easily achieved given his young age. To sign him on a free transfer after his contract with FK Voždovac expired, initially be a back-up to Soriano, should leave us in a good place to have a first-choice goalkeeper already integrated into the Club going forward. This deal also enables me to allow Alfred Gomis to leave as he was rapidly deteriorating in terms of his attributes and isn’t worthy of a place as a back up. Jucic’s forty-three appearances in the Super liga saw him concede forty eight goals and keep twelve clean sheets, including a player of the match performance on his first-team debut for Voždovac. For a young goalkeeper, these are, at least on the face of it, relatively impressive without having access to the xGA he faced.
To address the issue of depth at left back, Frenchman Mathieu Goncalves was picked up from Rennes where he was on the transfer list. He had only picked up one appearance in two years at fellow Ligue 1 competitors before spending a year out on loan at Bordeaux, where he made 4.32 tackles/p90 in twenty four appearances, with a passing success rate of 87%. Happy to come in as a fringe player, and on a relatively low wage, this deal pleased me greatly as he is a genuine back-up option for the side with his energy and pace to push on down the left flank. He filled the gap left by Augusto Rocha.
In looking to add depth to wide attacking options, and in all likelihood looking sell him on for a ‘free’ profit, Juan Cruz arrived on a the year deal from Malaga. The Spaniard comes in as a rotation option but will almost certainly be loaned out to maintain his value before his eventual sale. This is a player trading tactic that I often look to implement when trying to build up a club so that funds can be enhanced through signing plays on pre-contract deals, loaning them out to them sell them on before their contract expires.
Dylan San Juan, besides being excellently named, is a bright prospect to be a long-term successor to Mosór in central defence. He had played thirty-four games for River Plate, making 2.04 tackles/90 and a remarkably low fourteen fouls against across the season (almost bizarre given the reputation for Argentinian defending). At £3.9m, he will be back-up at first, and I will look to integrate him where allowing given Mosór’s and Hajdari’s blossoming defensive partnership. His personality type isn’t one that I would normally seek to recruit, but I’m hopeful that with some mentoring and time spent in our professional squad, this should adjust.
Vamouti Kouao (ASEC Mimosas) and Bryan Joubert (Brest) were signed as low cost youth players who may or may not develop into first team players, but expectations were low and little risk was attached to the deals. They will be loaned out to see how they fair with first-team football elsewhere.
There were four further signings during the January transfer window.
Hécto Amaral falls into the same category as San Juan. The once-capped Mexican central defender, picked up for £1.1m from Liga MX side Pachuca, made forty-eight appearances in his four years there. After San Juan had spat his dummy out when I was unable to register him for the Europa League because of the restrictions in terms of homegrown/national, San Juan refused to back down and tried to kick up a fuss. Consequently, he was first sent to train with the U19s before later being promoted to Le Havre 2. Amaral will be put out on loan to hopefully hone his defending skills and benefit from first-team football which he is a little away from being ready for at Le Havre as yet.
Federico López was a player whom I had actually signed as a 15-year old. Pucker up from Peñarol, the Uruguayan had already reached the feat of earning five caps for the national U20s-side. He comes to us a much more developed and well-rounded 18-year old. He too will be sent out on loan to continue his development as the midfield ranks are well stocked for the moment. His mental abilities at such a young age were an incredible appeal, and so too were his player traits. He’s already set up to be a top-level player if he can kick on with his growth.
Gonçalo Esteves came in on loan as a second choice right back from Porto – I seem to have established a reliable source of full-backs from them over the years on loan. A pacey player, and more than able to handle himself offensively and defensively, his stamina and abilities off the ball make him a useful emergency back up to Biancone.
Lastly, along with the earlier transfer of Cavaleiro, the signing of Brazilian Thiago from Atlético Mineiro demonstrates how far we’ve come as a Club in a very short space of time. He’s the second Brazilian to grace Stade Oceane behind fellow countrymen Lucas Gomes and could prove that the tide has turned seven it comes to Brazilian’s showing an interest in joining us. Thiago doubles a wing back and a left-sided centre back, offering fantastic flexibility to go alongside his physicality. We triggered his minimum release fee of £13.25m and signed him up on a five-year deal.
After the transfers have been completed (* note Elias Mesonero is included to demonstrate positional places for prior to his January transfer) our squad depth looks something like the below.
Ligue 1 Finish
After the season was completed, our squad profile ended up looking like the below graphic. In terms of minutes late, Tiago Cavaleiro took to French football well, playing the fifth most minutes out of our squad. Lucic didn’t manage to displace Juan Soriano, in part down to errors from Lucic in games that he did play, but there’s time for him to make yet.
At an average squad age of 23.06 (thanks @FM_Stag for helping me crack how to calculate that), weighted by the minutes the players played and their age, our squad as a whole still has further potential development left to go, and it’s pleasing to be able to bring so many of these ‘youth’ players, if not homegrown players through.
That being said, Kchouk gained yet more minutes over the season and I was able to give a debut to another promising youngest in Dumont (as you’ll see later). If Dumont can kick on with his technical, mental and physical abilities, we could have a heck of a player on our hands straight out of the academy.
The Ligue 1 season was actually something of a drab disappointment. An eighth place finish saw us fall out of the European places and my job was on the line with the final game of the season for failing to meet the Board’s objective of continental football. A 1-0 victory at home to Strasbourg was enough for a stay of execution. At least up to and including the following game but more on that below.
I’ve written previously about the tactic I’ve implemented at Le Havre, setting out our desire to control the ball and nullify opposition chances. Yet this was the season that changes had to be made. Our football and become something of a taupur, slow mechanical football that simply wasn’t creative enough and not positive enough (no points for spotting the song reference there but it was definitely true. We had a net goal difference of eleven and an net expected goal difference of exactly the same football – we weren’t worthy of a place in Europe. When your lead striker scores only nine goals in a season and even that out performed his xG of just over six, you know that something is awry. As as you can tot up from the graphic below, on fifteen occasions we had an xG of less than one. We’d become stultifying to watch and perhaps we were missing Hannibal more than we had realised.
As a result, or rather because of a lack of positive results, I needed to make changes to our tactical set up. In moving a way from the 4-3-3DM to a 4-2-3-1, Tiago Cavaleiro gave us the perfect player to slot in behind either Ali Akman or Lucas Gomes, the latter of whom had found form at one of our affiliates, IFK Göteborg and came back to us in the January transfer window. With both forwards preferring the advanced forward role, the false nine was ditched too. The deep-lying defensive midfielder moved up a strata to form a double pivot, changing to a central midfielder on defend and the mezzala shifted to a deep-lying playmaker on support since this is Depoorter’s natural player role and suits his left-footedness. The other change was to move the right-sided full back to a wing-back on support.
The shift was made prior to the Lyon home game towards the end of the season when after only winning two games in twelve matches in Ligue 1, it became clear something had to be done. That Lyon game did see us have an xG of less than one but it did also yield a positive result and from there the points flowed and we began to be more creative, despite having had very little time to implement the tactical changes on the training field, in part due to our commitments in the Europa League.
Given we finished out of the automatic places in Ligue 1, some of you might be questioning how is it that the final league table graphic shows Champions League qualification against our name. Well, after missing out on UEFA Europa Conference League glory last year after AZ’s dramatic (and worthy) fightback, we won the UEFA Europa League at our first attempt.
Our route to the final saw us top our group despite stiff opposition in RB Salzburg, who were the only side to beat us. We then played the not at all related side RB Leipzig in the second round, scraped past Porto and beat off fellow Ligue 1 side, Lyon in the semi final.
Our opponents in the final, Napoli, had crashed out of their Champions League group, in spite of Celtic achieving a negative goal difference and only scoring four goals. If that isn’t a record, it can’t be too far from one… Once in the Europa League, they overcame Ajax, narrowly beat last year’s Europa Conference League winners, AZ, dismissed Slavia Praha comfortably before vanquishing FC Midtjylland in the semi.
Whilst the final saw the team in some reasonable form after the improvement in league results, player form and squad morale was some way of desirable levels. This made selection to start the Final tricky at best, so as to ensure that those on best form started the game to give us the best possible hope of victory. As you can see by comparing the team graphic below against the squad depth graphic and the squad profile of minutes played/player age, there were one of two big decisions that I made when it came to who to start.
Saranic had been in very mixed form prior to the final, and had picked up an injury in the Montpellier fixture which resulted in him missing the final two league games of the season. As a result, I made the decision to switch Chema Núñez across to the right hand side away from his usual left wing role, and bringing in Hauge.
In the six Ligue 1 games that he had played prior to the Final, Lucas Gomes had scored five goals in contrast to Ali Akman who had one goal in six. Whilst on the face of it, this might seem like an easy decision, I had a strong loyalty towards Akman that had to be overcome by looking the data and putting trust in Gomes.
The other difficult decision was whether to start Depoorter or Zwane. Neither had been on exhilarating form and thus making them a must pick, but I went with Depoorter for his leadership and prior three assists in the Europa League.
To help improve morale, I also spoke to each individual player when deciding upon the first eleven to praise their conduct just to eke out that little marginal gain. Boy how it worked. Depoorter ran the show, making 105 passes from 118 attempts, creating a clear cut chance which Gomes tucked away as part of his four goals from an xG of 1.5 – some return for a final to land him with a perfect 10.0 score. Núñez returned a goal and an assist, running rings around Di Marzio.
Going into UEFA Europa League Final v Napoli still facing the sack to win 6-1 was a magnificent achievement from the side and seemingly vindicated my selection choices. Gattuso was actually the manager to be sacked following the final. Now we’re in the Champions League, the Board are far happier with me – having more faith in my managerial abilities.
How will we get on in Ligue 1 next season and our debut in the Champions League? Check back again next time to see which players are signed/sold and a review of the 2026-27 season. I hope you enjoyed an admittedly longer read that normal – please hit the ‘like’ button to let me know you did.
The 2024-25 season was a very successful one, relatively speaking. After achieving European football through league finish last season, we managed the same feat again with the latest campaign, improving our finish from 6th to 4th – as a result going through to the Europa League in 2025-26. With only PSG attaining more possession than us, we again dominated the ball against our opponents, though we did score notably fewer goals than our fellow European qualifying teams. Yet we pretty matched out expected goal difference – evidence that our formation does a good job in looking after the ball, but perhaps isn’t that cutting edge. Given our advance up the Ligue 1 table, perhaps a change in tactic might be required to have more thrust to goal scoring to hopefully match our dominance with the ball.
Once again we gave our younger players considerable minutes, with the majority achieving well over 50% of potential minutes. This analysis also helps to identify players who aren’t playing sufficient minutes and are likely surplus to requirements. Boulaye Dia falls into that category and will be earmarked for a move away from the club. Giulian Biancone has also usurped Godswill Ekpolo in the right back role, so consideration will go into whether he is the right man to be a back up. It’s worth noting that Jens Petter Hauge only joined the club in the January window, so as such, actually played a considerable number of minutes in relation to how many he was eligible for.
New central midfield signings, Depoorter, Zwane and Cüneyt Gür all played a good number of minutes without any of them standing out. The mainstay in the central midfield was on loan Hannibal (signified by the purple dot). This was to be his last season at Le Havre as Manchester United had decided that he was now suitably developed for a place in their squad and would not renew his loan agreement. His time at Le Havre has been instrumental to our achievements in not only retaining our status as a Ligue 1 club following our promotion from Ligue 2, but also to then progress up the league and into Europe. His chance creation has been exemplary – as pointed out in a previous blog with a player focus on him – but I feel it’s worth highlighting just how good Hannibal has been for us. Whilst his goal contributions have waned, his assists have been club-leading for us. Never falling below 0.30 goal contributions per 90 in his four seasons with us, he’s provided numerous open play chances for Ali Akman, our main striker, and our other forwards, and also from set piece situations.
In terms of goal scoring contribution across the entirety of the season (and not just Ligue 1), we relied heavily upon both Ali Akman and Ivan Saranic. The two contributed 37% (helpfully 37) of all goals, on a combined xG of 29.48. Ariel Mosór, our Polish right-sided centre back, signed for £6m from Legia last season but crucially (read stupidly) after the closing of the registration window, was the next highest – showing that our set pieces routines, in particular corners, worked well. This pleased the board as they’d mandated this a club focus. In total, seventeen goals were scored from set pieces (eight from corners and nine from free kicks).
Europa Conference League Review
Achieving European football well ahead of the expectations of the Club leadership, gave us a good chance to see where we were at. As it turned out, we were a lot further ahead than I had thought we were with our development.
Winning our group against relatively weaker opponents (Slovenia’s Maribor and Serbia’s Čukarički) and Bundesliga side Köln, resulted in us achieving a bye in the first round knockout as those sides who finished third in the Europa League and second in their Europa Conference League played off against one another. Two further victories over Czechia’s Slavia Praha and North Macedonia’s KF Shkëndija followed – with us brushing them both aside with reasonable ease, so much so in the case of KF Shkëndija that we were able to fully rotate our side for the second leg after a 5-0 victory in the first match.
It was the semi final result against Everton that really shocked me. A 2-0 win at home was surprising, but to then go to Goodison Park and win 2-1 away from home was a fantastic feeling. Ali Akman was the star of the tie with three goals across the two games and eight in the competition as a whole. Achieving a final in our first outing is brilliant and something I really wanted to win to make our mark on Europe.
Our opponents were to be Dutch side AZ Alkmaar. AZ had qualified for the Europa League proper, but a third place finish in their Group saw them drop into the Europa League Conference. Their path to the final was represented by a demolition of Parma, close ties against FC Midtjylland and Rapid Wien, before a semi final victory against our Group opponents Köln.
Europa Conference League Final Line Ups
Setting up in a 4-2-3-1, AZ were plainly set to play very wide by Arne Slot after watching some initial attacking play. Their full backs, with Beukers likely playing as a complete wing back on the right, spread wide and rapidly once they’d won back possession of the ball. This left their central defenders with a lot of space to cover should a swift turnover occur with a Le Havre counterattack. We were already set to press them high up the field, so recognising their weakness in the centre of the pitch, I added a further instruction to the team to play through the centre. The below graphic shows with AZ’s average positioning with the ball. Our pressing helps to explain why they’re so deep when in possession of the ball – but also note the advanced position of Beukers, this will be integral to the first real action below and also the space for us to exploit with a quick counter.
After I adjusted our team instructions to focus play down the middle it worked a treat. The long kick from AZ’s Owusu-Oduro fell straight to Dvunjak who, untroubled by any opponent, has time to lay it off to Hannibal. He in turn spots Zwane, our Mezzala in space not being pressed by the deeper AZ central midfield players who haven’t advanced up the pitch. When they do come into press Zwane, Ali Akman in the false nine role drops back into this space and drags his defender with him. Chema Núñez runs into the huge gap between the right back, Beukers, who has initially advanced too far up the pitch and the other centre back, Van den Berg. All through the play from the moment we win the ball back to the first touch of Chema Núñez, the ball barely travels outside the width of the centre circle and we have a one-on-one which is finished emphatically.
We had to wait until the second half for our next goal. This time the goal came from an initial build up from our own half. We win the ball back and then look to spring an attack, spreading the play across to the right hand side. By the time it reaches Biancone on the flank, he lays it across to Hannibal who uses some of his flair to beat his man, playing it into Ali Akman who holds off his run into the six-yard area, with AZ’s defenders concentrating on the run of Saranic. With Chema Núñez occupying the mind of Beukers, Zwane finds himself unmarked and he finishes with aplomb into the bottom corner.
Our second goal seemed to free AZ’s shackles. They took the game by the scruff of the neck from their kick off following the Zwane strike. Their first response was in the 64th minute. We lost concentration following an AZ thrown in and it culminates in our offside trap being sprung by a Koopmeiners through ball over the top to Yusuf Barasi, who calmly finished past the on-rushing Sorano – 3-1. Biancone had been to distracted by the offside Karlsson, giving Barasi the perfect opportunity to rush past Mosór who was overloaded with Barasi and Taabouni to look after because Dvunjak had been dragged over towards the ball rather than sitting on Taabouni.
It only takes another minute for AZ to find the equalising goal. We switch off yet again from another throw in, with the AZ players running rings around our defenders, leading to Fedde de Jong popping a cross up for Taabouni to nod in. A poor couple of minutes have cost us a game that we had a stranglehold on and the players’ morale drops markedly. I try to encourage them, but to no avail…
We try to reassert our dominance on the ball and remove team instructions to time waste now that AZ are level. Yet this just leads to AZ exploiting us on the 85th minute as our players tire from our pressing. After yet another thrown in from AZ down their right flank, play eventually develops down their left flank. Saranic lets Esajas run past him and with Biancone and Dvunjak confused as to who is picking him up, as Reijnders off the ball run has them confused, neither of them pick up the run nor the player on the ball. Mosór was unlucky not to cut the pass out with his attempted sliding interception, but this just leads to Yusuf Barasi being free to slot home at the second attempt after Soriano blocks his first effort. Hearts sink and we look to go ‘very attacking’ but the game plays out with AZ sitting deep and keeping out any of our efforts.
You might think I would be disappointed by the result, and I was, but I was equally as pleased because we had made it this far – proud in fact. We shouldn’t be this far ahead of our plan and our overall play is generally encouraging – we are playing good football, if not full bore attacking chance creation on steroids. Quite how much we will miss Hannibal and his creativity, we will have to wait and see next season, but we have now earned the revenues from European football to help us solidify our finances and have some funds to reinvest. If we continue to be cautious with our spending on player transfers and wages, then Le Havre should at least have a strong platform to build upon going forwards. This should then help us progress our tactic and shape in the fullness of time once we have better players amongst our ranks to properly fulfil them.
As a break from the norm, I’ll be looking at player acquisitions and sales in the next blog, along with the usual amortisation in the season review for 2025-26. I hope you return for that soon.
The previous post, released some time ago now thanks to the impact of workload in real life, hinted at the prospect of European football for Le Havre. In the very next season, so it came to pass – we qualified for the UEFA Europa Conference League. The clubs first foray into continental competition. With an actual goal difference of 18 and an expected goal difference (xG Diff) of 17.05, we performed broadly in line with where we were anticipated to have done according to the data. Marseille on the other hand were ridiculously lucky to have a goal difference of 29 given they should have had a goal difference of just 3.37 by taking xG-xGA – a massive over performance.
Whilst twelve draws weren’t ideal, we were comfortably ahead of 7th placed Stade Reims, who were even luckier to be placed just outside the qualification places with their xG differential. Equally, we weren’t close to LOSC Lille. What was most pleasing was the percentage of possession we averaged across the season – a Ligue 1 topping 60%. Our tactical style of patient build up, opting to work the ball into the box and play out from the back, saw us dominate the ball.
The 61 goals scored (by a Le Havre player – 62 including an own goal) came predominantly from our forward line – with Ali Akman leading the way, scoring 16 goals from an xG of 13.25 (including three penalty goals). Leon Bosnjak’s frankly statistic breaking 11 goals from an xG of 4.43 came from him either deputising for Akman or playing on either attacking flank. 46 of the 61 goals (or 75.41%) were scored from a player in one of the three forward positions – whilst the spread amongst them isn’t necessarily a bad thing, perhaps over-relying upon them might be and it’s something to review.
Nonetheless, it is nice to see the acquisitions that were made last year settle in – with Leon Bosnjak, Chema Núñez and Cüneyt Gür (a 19-year old Turkish U21 international who was signed for £6.75k (yes, you did read that right) from Bursaspor with just 6 months of his contract left in January 2024) all being signed within the previous twelve months. It’s hoped that Gür will develop sufficiently to replace Hannibal in the long-term one his on-going loan inevitably ended from Manchester United, and continues the club’s ties to Turkey.
Another one of the new names on the goalscorers list is that of Yasser Kchouk. A youth team product, he has made his break into the first team at the tender age of 17. The left winger can play anywhere down the flank, and has been selected to play for Switzerland U21s. His development has been somewhat rapid and his breakthrough into the first team wasn’t the one that was anticipated from prior youth intakes given a previous youth team prospect, Sébastien Briand.
In truth, Briand’s development has stalled badly. He simply hasn’t kicked on at all, as can be seen by his attribute analysis below. Key role attributes are denoted in the Oxford blue (darker), non-key role attributes are in the Cambridge blue (lighter).
This as disappointing as it is frustrating. Quite why this is the case is probably down to a number of factors.
First of all is ultimately probably down to me – I probably promoted him too quickly into the first team at just 16. He could have benefited from staying down in the youth team and training, just concentrating on honing his attributes rather than being with the senior side. This could have aided his confidence levels, boosting his morale and thus his training levels. By lifting him above perhaps where belonged by being over excited about a youth team player that could actually kick in into the side, as per part of the goal of this save, has perhaps set him back.
To try to overcome this, he was sent out on loan for the second half of the season at Ligue 2 side, Troyes. Yet this might be another cause of his lack of development. I didn’t check what position he was likely to be playing him, not in the loan agreement, but by agreeing a loan with a manager that didn’t play with a defensive midfielder in his preferred tactical set up. Consequently, he ended up playing as an attacking midfielder, something that he’s completely ill-suited to. His attributes naturally lend himself to being a ball-winning midfielder, so by playing him as an attacking midfielder, his attribute development is completely antagonist to what I would want him to have been working on.
The third reason – luck. Player development isn’t a given. We’ve all seen real life players make their debuts very early in their professional careers before slipping down the pecking order and eventually being released/sold after not achieving their suspected potential. That may well be what’s going on here – it’s simply unlucky that Sébastien Briand, the best youth prospect I’ve had in a save where I wanted to promote youth players is actually… rubbish. Well, not rubbish perhaps, he did turn out regularly for Troyes, but definitely not capable of the high potential ability he had. He is only 18 so perhaps it will finally click, but I doubt it somehow.
On the other hand, Yasser Kchouk has developed nicely. Looking like he wasn’t all that amazing upon first inspection, yes, the only five star prospect to come through in his ‘class’, but his technical attributes are not at all something to remark at. Therefore, he remained in the U19s. There, he racked up 60 appearances, with a very credible twenty goals (including six penalties) and an incredible thirty-two assists since his promotion as a youth candidate.
His technical, mental and physical improvement is clear to see, especially the latter. His teamwork and work rate are already exemplary for someone so young, but it’s his physical progression which to me shows that there’s more to come in his quest towards first team football.
He has received just a handful of minutes so far, coming on for either Chema Nuñez or Arnaud Nordin. To ensure his player pathway isn’t blocked, Nordin, the weaker of the two left wingers in the first team already, will need to be moved on. This may seem harsh given his help to push Le Havre this far, but this is the nasty part of club management – you have to be brutal to achieve. Hopefully Kchouk can continue to progress to make this decision and easy on in hindsight and not something to regret.
Before the transfer window even opened, loan renewals for Hannibal and Dalle Mura were negotiated and agreed with their respective clubs, Manchester United and Fiorentina. They’d been mainstays in the first team throughout the previous season and were terrific value for money given their quality.
As with previous seasons, players had started to attract interest from bigger clubs. Given the financial situation, with the lack of significant funds being generated from prize money, no European football income (though that its to come), and no big TV deal, we have to sell to fund ourselves. This time it was Diogo Nascimento who was sold to AC Milan for £20.5m, including various installments and a 20% profit on next transfer fee. The 21-year-old wanted to leave, understandably, and we weren’t in a position to stand in his way. The fee isn’t unreasonable, especially when taking into consideration that this deal represents pure profit when it comes to our accounts (bar his wages/signing on fees/etc.), as he was signed on a free transfer from SL Benfica two seasons ago.
This left us with a hole to fill in the mezzala slot in our midfield triumvirate. Our scouts had already identified a possible replacement – two in fact. The first is Belgian U20 international, Jef Depoorter. Signed from Mouscron for £7.25m, including installments a clause which pays out £500k if he plays five internationals for Belgium, the player comes with as much hype as he does promise. Despite his tender age of 19, he’s already made forty-one first team appearances in Eerste klasse B, contributing nineteen goal involvements and eight player of the matches. Being naturally left footed, he should fit in nicely into the mezzala role. His player trait of tries long-range passes should help to spread play and help start quick counter attacks, and with a degree of accuracy given his already top-level vision, technique, decisions and passing. His finishing is also a stand-out attribute. He has a real eye for goal and can offer a rotation option up front should we need him to. The only sticking point with him is that in his contract negotiations he demanded to be played in his preferred role of deep-lying playmaker in central midfield. Given that this isn’t a role we adopt in our system, he’s going to have to put up with being played out of position and hopefully come around to the idea of starting regularly in a higher league system than he was previously playing in.
The second option was Sifiso Zwane, a 6-times capped South African international despite being only 18-years old. Signed for his release fee of £825k, I’m sure you’ll agree that he looks to be something of a long-term bargain. Already well rounded when it comes to attributes for someone so young. He possess similar play-making abilities to Depoorter, and has that much sought after ‘wonderkid’ media description before even signing for us. He’s not naturally left footed, and his concentration is a little concerning, but he looks to be a star in the making given his technical abilities on the ball. This meant that I’ve brought in two replacements for one player and still have over £12m remaining. As a Club, this is how we have to operate to strengthen and improve depth.
With that in mind, Daouda Badiane was signed as youth prospect. Coming in for just £140,000 from Generation Foot, he’s been capped nine times by Sengal U20s, contributing one goal. At 6’6″, he should be a great threat, not just in defending set pieces but also in attack too. He’ll go out on loan to maximise his playing time, but I am excited about his potential.
Tilen Ribic falls into a similar category – a player signed for the future who isn’t likely to achieve first team minutes from the get-go and will go out on loan. Signed from Young Boys in Switzerland, he’s been capped seven times and scored two goals for the Swiss U21s. He has good player traits for a false nine, though I’m unconvinced by the shoots from distance given his relatively poor finishing, but there’s time to improve that. At £5m, he’s not cheap, but he should represent another good investment for the future if he can develop, hopefully a loan will help him to achieve that.
Camilo Moreno was signed on a pre-contract agreement. Yet to sign a professional contract with Independiente Santa Fe, the three times capped Colombian U20 international 18-year-old looks to have further potential to tap into. His passing, technique and teamwork should make him into a good deep lying forward or false nine. The £1.3m compensation fee will hopefully prove to be a shrewd investment. Unlike Ribic, Moreno will stay around the first team and pick up minutes in cup games and off the bench to replace Ali Akman.
Two other loanees arrived in the form of Albian Hajdari and Augusto Rocha. Hajdari was someone that I had been scouting for some time, and his existing club Juventus were keen to continue loaning him out for first team experience. It was his loan spell at Nice, where he played 15 games and scored one goal, that proved that he could hold his own at Ligue 1 level as a centre back. When his loan ended at Nice following the finish of the 2023-24 season, I approached Juventus with a loan offer of my own. Within that loan offer included an optional future fee of £4m. With only two years left on his current contract, and therefore just one year left at the conclusion of the loan should it go through, I was relatively confident that Juventus would accept such an offer. Along with a loan fee – they did. If he performs well, and we have sufficient budget, it’s likely that we’ll activate the option to buy. Augsto Rocha was signed as a rotational option at left back from FC Porto. Yet another 18-year-old, he’s not as developed as I’d have liked for a rotational option, but there was a paucity of available options within our price range and wage budget. Possibly a little better in defense then he is in attack, he should hopefully be a reasonable back up once he adjusts to life on the North West coast of France.
The name that probably catches the eye the most is Jens Petter Hauge. Unhappy at lack of playing time at AC Milan midway through the 2024-25 season, the Norwegian international was transfer listed for £6.25m with just a few months left on his contract. Rather than try to sign him on a pre-contract agreement, I took the decision to bring him in early. The attacking winger offers quality on both flanks. I will need to ensure that he doesn’t block the player development pathway for Kchouk, Naturally an inverted winger on the left, he will also slot in on the right when Saranic isn’t available as Boulaye Dia has failed to consistently step up to Ligue 1 level. To add a player of his reputation really shows how quickly we’ve come in from our initial promotion our of Ligue 2 and I hope that he can add to our chances in Ligue 1 and in Europe. He has demanded that we play him as an inverted winger on the left as part of his contractual negotiations, but as with Depoorter, I’m hoping that playing frequently and in a successful team will help him realise who holds the power in this side.
Other additions – Stefan Petrus, Emeric Schultz are punts on youth players who may/may not make it, but will go out on loan to see if they develop. Schultz was also signed on the basis of a requirement from the board to sign players from the lower leagues in France in order to develop them. Our scouts liked him – I’m not so sure. At £500k, I’ve almost certainly overpaid.
With the £20.5m recouped from Nascimento and £3m from other sales, including Nordin who left for Guingamp for £1.2m, saw a net transfer spend of -£4.5m, i.e. another profit in the transfer window(s). This resulted in an amortisation charge of just over £6.8m for these transfers (not including previous transfers).
The next blog will review our first foray into European football, along with the regular season review.
The 2022-33 season saw us fall into an initial slump, with poor results against our opponents in the opening fixtures, seeing four defeats in the first seven games and only two wins. This form saw us sat in 15th. Only after around nine games did we find our rhythm. Reducing the number of goals conceded by minimising the quality of chances presented to the opposition helped significantly, and as confidence and morale improved, so too did our goal scoring. Working on our defensive set up in training, as well as dropping Václav Jemelka after doing some metric analysis into our performances in favour of Dalle Mura, on loan from Fiorentina, helped to solidify our back line, dramatically bringing down our xGA.
This is reflected in our eventual finish of 6th, one place outside of European qualification (due to the winner of the Coupe de France), and in the amount of points we gained above that of those that my self-calculated model said we should have attained come the end of the season. The dip in form after the crazy run of fixtures following the Winter World Cup is mostly due to the need to rotate our small squad (more on this later). A strong finish to the last third of games saw our league position soar.
If we look at the cumulative net points (points minus expected points using xG differentials), then we were largely outperforming the number of points we should have had, with a big dip after the 4-1 battering at the hands of Lille. Earning three more points by the end of the campaign than we were predicted to using xG differentials helped us to overachieve by way of our expected league position finish.
I alluded to the heavy rotation that we had to adopt due to the fixture congestion thanks to the Winter World Cup. This can be plainly seen in our squad profile – taking minutes played and player ages. In trying to protect our plethora of young players against burn out, only goalkeeper and captain Juan Soriano played more than 80% of potential minutes in Ligue 1 (in fact he played every minute). With the minutes shared out, you’d think that the development of player attributes would have been evenly shared, but because of the number of midweek games and a near month long holiday in December, player development largely stagnated because they weren’t on the training field as often as they would have been during a normal season.
This leads me onto a player I want to hone in on and almost pay homage to as a result of his performances.
Player Focus – Hannibal
Hannibal Mejbri, known simply as Hannibal, has been on loan with us at Le Havre for the last two seasons. Over that time he’s made 58 appearances and 27 goal contributions, one every 160.22 minutes, or roughly 0.56 per 90. He has therefore understandably come to make the 8 position his own on the right-hand side of midfield.
Despite his young age, he already has an eye for a pass, with fantastic vision and technical ability. His underlying technique, flair and first touch enable him to make defence splitting passes for players running through on goal.
This is reflected in his third place finish in the Ligue 1 Meilleurs Passeurs for 2022-23, after racking up ten assists, behind Neymar (20) and Marseille’s Maxime Lopez (12).
His attributes naturally lend themselves to playing as an advanced playmaker, and to an extent, the team has somewhat been moulded around him in this role.
With a false nine ahead of him (Ali Akman), a winger on the left to flank (typically either Nordin or Pité), an inside forward cutting in from his right flank (either Dia or Šaranić) and a mezalla acting as another 8 to his left (normally Nascimento), he’s not short of passing options. Combine this with the right sided full back going forward on a supporting duty, and he has a gamut of choices.
With the adopted tactic set to play at a slow tempo with shorter passing, this does act as something of a constraint on his creative abilities. However, it does mean that the team can build possession together to look for an opening rather than have to continually press in exhaustive fashion when the ball has been lost in an effort to recycle possession. Equally, if the ball is turned over, because the team have progressed up the field together, it is then easier to enact a meaningful press by blocking multiple passing lanes rather than a solo press.
This helps to hide Hannibal’s main weakness – he’s a poor defender. He can shirk his defensive responsibilities, with 2.96 defensive actions per 90 (tackles and interceptions adjusted for possession) over the last season, a metric which puts him in the bottom 24th percentile for Ligue 1 central midfielders. This is part of the reasoning for opting to play a defensive midfielder in behind him and the other 8, as Nascimento is similarly uninspired by having to defend (with 1.82 defensive actions per 90 – in the bottom 2%).
With this cover, Hannibal is able to play the creative role, and was amongst the league leaders in all manner of passes (attempted, completed, key and assists per 90), dribbles and in being fouled (leading to the potential for attacking free kicks, which he himself takes). His pass completion is poor, but I think in part this is because he takes set pieces, but also because he’s looking for the through ball which will often be cut out by opposition defenders.
The below shot you can see Hannibal’s ability to deliver a cross to pin point perfection. Following an interchange with right back, Godswill Ekpolo, which created separation for Hannibal away from the opposition defender. Hannibal then swung in a cross, picking out Pité who has eluded his marker at the far post for an easy finish. This is only made easy because of the quality of the delivery itself from Hannibal.
It’s at this point that I wanted to delve into Hannibal’s fantastic passing ability and vision further, but sadly I’ve come across (yet) another bug in the game with a divergence between recorded assists outside the ME to what is shown inside the ME when going back to old fixtures, so instances in some matches are wrong, including passing maps, times of goals, goal scorers, assist makers… I’m hoping it was the update that threw this all out, but who knows.
After receiving the prize money for our league finish, I immediately request that the board reinvest the proceeds into the recruitment of youth prospects, and improve our training facilities for both the senior and youth sides. This should aid player development amongst the senior side who have stagnated as previously mentioned thanks to the lack of time on the training ground. Fingers crossed it will also help develop our own youth players as this is a key part of the club focus and as you can see by the squad profile, I’ve not done a great job of bringing any through, instead favouring external recruits.
The problem of this long term strategy was that it left us without much immediate cash with which to extend contracts of key staff, and a tiny budget to initially spend on transfers. As a result, early incomings on the playing staff were nil – we simply didn’t have the funds to bring anyone in. This was fine, as I felt that bar left back, with Carole departing following the expiry of his contact, I had two players of adequate or good quality in every position.
This though, didn’t solve the issue with staff. I was unable to negotiate contact extensions with a number of staff because their weekly wage expectations had risen following the club’s success on the field. Yet this wasn’t matched with the wages I was in a position to offer them. As such, a number left and were replaced with unemployed coaches, analysts, physios and scouts who were willing to join for lower compensation for their gainful employment.
My thoughts regarding squad depth held until I had an offer for Guilherme Montóia from Arsenal. I knew as soon as Arsenal bid for him that I was not going to be in a position to reasonably stand in his way. Whilst the Club is just about washing its face when it comes to finances, player sales were going to be required to pay for the growth and development of the Club as a whole. The initial £7m bid was negotiated up to £12.25m, including £5m in £1m payments staggered over semi-annual payments for the next three years, which should help with our cash flow. The big bonus though was the fact that Arsenal were happy to loan Montóia straight back to us to continue his development. Montóia could remain first choice whilst his eventual successor bedded in.
Looking into the finances of this deal in more depth, because we can book the proceeds of the sale of Montóia straight away, i.e. record the receipt of funds immediately and not when actual payment is received. This results in us making an instant paper profit of the £12.25m that Arsenal agreed to pay because Montóia was signed on a free transfer – his book value to us was nil, so the transfer fee represents pure profit.
The other transfer that I couldn’t possibly refuse was that of Brahima Ouattara. Juventus were negotiated up to an offer of £11.5m, including three guaranteed payments of £1.33m over the next three years to further bolster future cash inflows. The Ivory Coast international made twenty three appearances but never really shone in the mezalla role. Given the depth we have in central midfield, I was more than happy to let Ouattara go to Turin and try to break through into i Bianconeri’s first team.
The fee we had paid RC Abidjan for Ouattara was a meagre £275k and he had signed on a four-year deal. Given that there were still two-years left on his contract, this meant that the booked profit on this transfer amounted to a whopping £11,362,000 (whopping relative to our club size at least).
In booking this £23,612,500 profit, this provided the Club with funds to reinvest back into the transfer market where we could find more ‘wrinkles’.
With Carole leaving, I went searching for a left back. After much deliberation, largely because no one was as good at the soon-to-be outgoing Montóia, we brought in Jonathan Augustinsson from Djurgården in Sweden for £1.4m, rising to £1.8m after 50 league appearances. His appearances for Sweden and his relatively older age compared to those around him in the squad I’ve assembled at Le Havre (note the number youngsters in the earlier squad graphic above), should add experience to the side. His personality of a model professional certainly made my mind up when deliberating over his transfer – hopefully he can climb up the player hierarchy to become a team leader so that he’ll make a perfect mentor for any defender in the side.
We also looked to invest into a back up for Ali Akman and brought in Leon Bosnjak, a young Croat from NK Varaždin, for his £2.6m release fee. Looking at his attributes, he looks well developed for an 18-year old. Whilst his finishing is below what I’d normally look for, I realise I can’t have everything at this level, especially not for an initial back up player. His composure and off the ball movement, along with his excellent with rate and flair should mean that the can bamboozle defenders to increase the quality of chances he creates for himself/find himself free in pockets of space to be find by the likes of Hannibal.
Chema Núñez signed on a free transfer from Albacete to improve the quality of our attacking output down the left hand flank. The pacey Spaniard likes to dribble down the left flank, yet also moves into channels, so should confuse the opponents he finds himself up against when coupled with his flair, technique and dribbling ability. His vision and passing is also excellent, with his trait of playing one-twos and killer balls, he should offer a fantastic threat going forward.
Dual national, Giulian Biancone came into to offer a challenge to Godswill Ekpolo. Ekpolo will remain the first-choice, but at £750k following his transfer-listing at Monaco, this looked a good deal for the former French U21. He’s attacking in his nature as a full back, looking to bomb on down the right flank, so will help to add width given the inside forward that is played ahead of him. His decisions, technique and composure could be better, but there won’t be many, if any, better players at this price in his position.
Just prior to the start of the season, Juan Soriano picked up an injury which meant that he was set to miss the opening three games of the forthcoming season. With only the under-developed Yahia Fofana as a back-up option, I brought in Alfred Gomis from Rennes as a reserve goalkeeper. This is quite some come down for the player chosen by his previous club Rennes to replace Edouardo Mendy after the latter signed for Chelsea. The 6’5″ Senegalese international joined for just £1m, after his transfer listing. Having played just four games in 2021-22 and zero in the 2022-23 season, Gomis was more than happy to cut the cord from Rennes and be the second choice behind Soriano when he returned to fitness.
Hannibal and Dalle Mura both had their loans renewed, so will be with us for the 2023-24 season. All deals saw us spend £5,750,000 in total on first team players, with a further £1,855,550 spent on U19 potential prospects. This was in part trying to becalm the directors who were ‘devastated’ at my inability to purchase players from lower leagues in France, develop them to the first team before selling them on for a profit. In total, five such players were brought in but they will not be expected to feature in the first-team and anyone older than 18 will be loan listed to encourage their development.
Will this addition of depth to the squad help our onward march to European places? Find out in the next blog post.