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!