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 Manuel on 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 as Matías 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 Lervig was 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.