Season 2020/2021 is my first season with Burnley after leaving Livingston at the end of last season.
Burnley had been relegated from the Premiership so its my job now to try to get them promoted which may be hard to do straight away. It’ll all depend on whether the relegated team has any good players or if I can sign some good players.
The first thing I done after taking over at Burnley was to evaluate the staff and the playing squad to see who to keep and who to sell and I wasn’t too impressed with the quality of the players. The team was full of old players of poor quality which explains why they got relegated. The average age of the squad was 32 which I’d need to lower.
Any decent players I did have were either unhappy at being relegated and wanted to leave or they had relegation release clauses active which would make it difficult to keep them at the club.
The staff at the club weren’t too bad so I kept most of those and only replaced a couple. I tried getting my assistant from Livingston but he’s just signed a new contract so didn’t want to leave. I might try again next season.
After selling players I didn’t want to keep along with losing players I wanted to keep but sold as relegation release clauses were met and unhappy players who wanted to leave I got £95 Million in transfer fees which gave me a very nice budget to play with. In the process of selling I also reduced the wage bill from £1.2 Million a week to just under £500 Thousand a week so I had a good transfer and wage budget, I just needed to find some good players to sign.
When looking at new players I decided to focus on young players with a current ability for the Championship but also good potential for the Premiership so they can be used in the Premiership if I get promoted.
I scouted some of my good Livingston players but even though they were good in the Scottish Premiership my scouts only rated them as league 1 or Championship ability/potential so I didn’t try signing any of them.
By the end of the transfer window I brought in 27 players either signed permanently or on loan spending a total of £54 Million with a lot of that over 48 months so not to deplete my budgets too much.
With Brexit happening in the game I was limited to having 17 non-British players in my squad of 25 but I was also not hindered by work permits so I could sign any nationality player which meant getting some good players from South America who’d previously have had work permits rejected.
With the focus on youth their wages were also low so financially I kept the wages well below my budget which will allow me to invest in the January transfer window if needed or.
My transfers included me breaking Burnley’s transfer record spending £18.5m on an 18-year-old dutch midfielder regen and most of the others were also regen players signed for between 2 and 8 million. A lot I had identified by scouting them with Livingston and putting them on a shortlist to keep an eye on them.
I did get a few non-regen players who would have started the game as youth players. One of which is a player called Riu Pedro who starts at Porto as a 15-year-old striker which I’ve seen become world-class on previous Football Manager games. His stats look good, my scouts gave a really good report and he only cost £650k so could turn out to be a bargain.
With the players I signed being young and the players I sold mostly being old my average age of the squad dropped to 22 and that was with having Tom Heaton still as the main goalkeeper at 34 years old. That was 4 years younger than the leagues average of 26.
In amongst signing players my pre-season games went well winning 4 friendlies, drawing 1 and losing 1 scoring quite a few goals (14) and keeping 4 clean sheets. I used the same tactics I finished my previous season with at Livingston which was working well.
Going into the start of the season the boards expectations were to reach the league play-offs, reach the 4th round in the FA cup and the third round in the EFL cup. All reasonable expectations despite having a young team I had signed players with current ability as good or excellent Championship players so they should do well. I also only signed those with good mental stats like determination, bravery, big game players, consistency etc where possible.
If the scouts gave negative reports on those I didn’t even consider signing them regardless of their playing stats. I’ve come to value those mental stats higher that others as I feel a determined, consistent player who performs in big games can do better with worse stats than someone with world-class stats but poor mental abilities. You see it in real life too, players like Depay and Nani at Man Utd had loads of quality but mentally couldn’t perform under pressure, didn’t work hard enough and went missing in games ultimately getting sold whereas Ronaldo trained and worked hard improving himself at Utd to become arguably the world’s best player.
My form from the friendlies continued into the season and I got off to a good start winning 3 and drawing 1 in the league before my first cup game.
I decided to rotate my squad for the EFL cup game as I was away to a league 1 club but it almost back fired as I only got through winning on penalties after a 3-3 draw. I conceded in the last min of the second half taking it to extra time but then I needed a last min goal to equalize and take it to penalties.
Back to the league I had 4 games before my next cup game and I remained unbeaten winning 2 and drawing 2 with the wins being at home. My team has gelled well considering almost all had only been bought in the summer.
At this time I reached a managerial landmark reaching 200 games in management. The game wasn’t one to remember as it was a 0-0 bore draw away from home, a good point but a win would have been nice for my 200th game.
The next cup game was at home to Man Utd so I decided to play my strongest team however it didn’t matter too much as Utd played their youngsters and I won 2-1. Utd didn’t look like winning as I dominated possession and kept them to long shots off target most of the game. They did get better late in the game scoring their goal in the 76th min so I got a bit nervous but the team held out.
After the Utd game my unbeaten run continued with 5 league wins, 3 league draws and another EFL cup win. The cup win was an easy win against another league 1 team putting me into a quarter-final.
I suffered my first defeat of the season in November losing 3-2 away to Ipswich who were only mid table. It wasn’t a bad performance but I conceded a late goal to lose the game which annoyed me.
Luckily the team didn’t let the defeat affect them winning the next league game and then winning in the EFL quarter-final against yet another league 1 team. So far its been an easy run to the semis with 3 lower division teams and Man Utd youngsters.
During November my news feed showed that the Livingston manager had been sacked so I decided to have a look a how they were doing and I was surprised to see them second bottom of the league considering how well I had done with them. Looking at their team I could see the problem in that the manager who took over them had bought some rubbish players and wasn’t even playing what were my best players. I played Ashley Fletcher up front who scored 14 in 16 games and he wasn’t getting picked, they had signed some old Croatian striker and playing him instead. It was the same for some of my other best players who weren’t getting picked or played in different positions, no wonder they were doing bad.
I continued dominating in the league going on another unbeaten run not losing another game in 2020. I was drawing more games that I’d have liked to but I keeping the team on too of the league and creating a growing gap ahead of the teams below.
Just before the end of the year, I played my first FA cup game going straight into the third round. It was against Bournemouth in the Premiership so would be tough but I was at home and after conceding early on I equalised before half time and scored early in the second half to win 2-1. I was a bit surprised the game was before the new year as usually the third round takes place the first week of January.
January was a mixed bag of results, it started well with 2 wins but then I lost the first leg of the EFL semi final away to Derby who were challenging for promotion in the Championship and were just behind me in second. I only lost 2-1 so the tie wasn’t over, it could have been worse but I scored a 92nd minute penalty. I’m not sure if away goals count, I think they do after extra time so it could be an important goal.
Following the cup game I set a new EFL record! Although as you can see below it’s not a record to be proud of as it’s for conceding the most goals in the competition.
After that I lost my second league game of the season, this time it was at home to Wolves who were another team challenging for promotion. It was a 2-1 defeat where my team were poor all game, the goal I got was an own goal too and the defeat was deserved.
During those January games I invested more in my team buying a further 9 players for a total of around £30 Million. Half of that went on a 20-year-old right winger from one of my rival clubs who was a current England u21 player. He had been playing well in the league so far and I had been scouting him for a while and my scouts rated very highly and he could go straight into my first team.
Another player signed that could also go into my first team is a 21-year-old Argentinian midfielder who I had been scouting. I wasn’t planning on signing him as I was happy with my current midfielder but then I seen that Man City, Man Utd and PSG were interested so I put a bid in and signed him, luckily no one else put a bid in.
My other signings were mainly youth players with potential to be good, none have a current ability to play in the first team but I can loan them for a few seasons and see if they get better. I’ve also signed some promising regen players who are between 15 and 17 who can’t join the club until they’re 18.
As always I’ll end my update after the transfer window. My team is in a good position and looking good for promotion, unless something drastically goes wrong I should win the league. I’m in the semi final of the EFL cup needing to overturn a first leg defeat and I’m through to the FA cup fourth round. Overall a very good first half of the season.
– Sparko Marco