It didn’t take me as long as I thought it would to take Albion Rovers to the Scottish Premiership, I expected the lower leagues to be harder but actually the quality of some of those squads was really poor.
However now I’m in the Premiership I’ve been looking into the teams there and it’s not going to be as easy.
To start the league has been dominated by Celtic who have won all but 2 seasons since I started the save a long time ago, they finished second to Rangers a long time ago then more recently a couple of seasons ago to St Johnstone but usually they win with plenty of games to spare.
Then there is Hearts who usually finish top 3, Rangers who always finish top 4, St Johnstone are also usually top 4. You then have Hibernian and Aberdeen that make up the top 6.
That top 6 is going to be hard to get into as those teams also have high wage budgets.
At the lower end there are a few that struggle each year. There’s Ross County and Hamilton who yoyo between the top 2 divisions, Motherwell usually struggle as do Dundee then there’s Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Kilmarnock who seem to be mid table teams who sometimes have better or worse seasons.
St.Mirren who are in the Championship have often yoyo’d between the divisions too.
There are some teams at the bottom who yoyo that I could compete with and the team that finishes second bottom has a playoff with a Championship playoff team so my aim would be to not finish bottom to have a chance of staying up.
Looking over my team I’ve decided to keep most of the players that got us promoted unless my board sells them.
Defensively my GK last year was on loan, he’s out of contract but currently wants too much to join, I’ll try when he gets released, if he still wants too much I’ll have to look for a new keeper.
My back 4 can all stay, maybe a better left back will do but I’m happy to keep the one I’ve got.
In midfielder my 2 central mids and right winger are all Prem ability so can stay but my left winger is on loan, if I can get him on loan again I will but I don’t think I could afford to sign him.
Up front my main striker stays as he got 42 in 42 games last year, I may replace my second striker as although he got 18 in 33 last year there were too many games he went missing.
Saying all that, currently my main striker, my best centre back, my right winger, my best central midfielder and the on loan keeper are all wanted by big Scottish or English clubs which isn’t good as generally each year I’ve lost my best players to big clubs.
Going into the friendlies I had brought a couple of players in, notably I managed to get the goal keeper I had on loan sign permanently and I got the left winger on loan again.
I then signed a new left back from Celtic and 2 midfielders and a centre back from Man Utd all who were out of contract.
I’ve signed a striker on loan from Carlisle who could be a first team starter if my current strikers struggle but for now he’s just a back up.
I’ve also spent some actual money, the first time since wasting £1k on someone in my first season. This time I’ve spent £25k which is a new club record on a 17 year old striker from Hearts. He looks to be worth every penny as my scouts show him as 5 star potential, he has 17 finishing, 20 determination, good physical stats and decent technical mental stats and already my 4th best striker. If he can develop he could be awesome although possibly not for me as if he does develop a big club might take him off me, he should at least provide a good profit if I do have to eventually sell him.
Other than those players, despite now being in the Premiership it’s been my quietest transfer window as I don’t have the club reputation to bring in much better than I have unless I give them massive wages which I can’t afford.
I did find several players who are good and willing to come but they’re foreign so I can’t get work permits for them. I’ve looked into the work permit rules and it does look fairly easy to win an appeal as long as I spend more than £500k on them and they are in the top 50% of my club wages, the problem is I can’t really afford to spend that kind of money yet as the club is over £1m in debt and I want the board to start upgrading the stadium and facilities so we need money for that.
Also the players I’ve found aren’t worth that much, for example I’m not spending £500k on a striker when their club accepted £35k for him.
If I can’t secure my place in the league with mostly the team that got me promoted then maybe next year I’ll be happy spending more money.
Some seasons in Scotland seem to come around quick but this year I’ve got quite a few friendlies before the Betfred Cup starts and for the first time I won all my friendly games which included Spartak Moscow and Sparta Prague which impressed me.
The Betfred Cup then got off to a good start winning my first 2 games both 1-0, performances weren’t great as players weren’t fully match fit but I never looked like conceding which was good.
The odds for the season then came out ahead of my 3rd cup game and we were given odds of 1000/1 for the title which seems about right given the quality of the top teams.
The odds did give me some hope though because despite having the biggest odds, Falkirk and Dundee are also 1000/1 which means on paper the bookies think there are 2 other teams that should struggle alongside me and I only need 2 teams to do worse than me to guarantee survival.
The other 2 Betfred games went similar to the first 2 as we won 2-0 and 1-0 to qualify top of our group. It’s only the second time we’ve got out of the group stages but this year we were the only Premiership side in our group so it’s not surprising we won all our group games.
Our first Premiership game got us our first Premiership point as we got a good 1-1 draw away to Hibernian, I’d have taken a draw at the start but we might have deserved a win too as we were the better team.
It only took us 3 games for our first win as we followed up our opening draw with another 1-1 draw at home to fellow promotion team Falkirk before beating Dundee 3-0 away from home.
Before that league win we also beat Celtic at home in the Betfred Cup second round which I didn’t expect, Celtic didn’t do much all game. Looking at their team though it looks like they rested a lot of their big players as I assume the cup isn’t important to them similar to how the big English clubs rest players in the league cup.
After my first Premiership league win I had my first loss too as Celtic got revenge for the cup game beating me at home 3-1, this time they had their beat team out and the difference in class showed.
When the transfer window deadline day came about I didn’t think I needed anyone but there was a couple of players my scouts has found that I wanted so I put bids in and managed to pick up a 19 year old promising Brazilian right back for £350k and a promising 18 year old 6ft 7in Columbian centre back for £300k.
I wasn’t planning on spending the available money but those 2 are loads better than what I have at the club and if they improve as much as my scout say they will then I’ll either have great players for years to come or more likely I’ll get some nice profit on them.
I also picked up a right winger on loan from Man Utd as back up to my main winger.
Going out of the club was just several players on loan and I sold a back up defender for £100k. I did try selling a few other back ups I no longer needed but my players kept turning down contracts by other clubs.
After the Celtic defeat we bounced back with a nice 3-0 win away to Hamilton who has lost all their previous games and then we beat Inverness Caledonian Thistle 4-2 at home to put us in a nice position early on.
After that however we got knocked out of the Betfred Cup away to Hearts 3-2 who then also beat us away in the league 2-1 after they scored a 95th minute winner.
That loss started a run where we didn’t win, losing 2-1 at home to Aberdeen after another late goal as they scored their winner in the 89th minute. Both games we didn’t deserve to lose so late in the matches.
3 draws followed those defeats but they were good draws as it was away to St Johnstone 2-2 who were top, at home to Rangers 3-3 who although were below me still have a much better team and then away to Kilmarnock 1-1 after going down within 5 minutes.
11 games in and on Halloween we were 6th in the league after 3 wins, 5 draws and 3 defeats. Celtic are starting to run away with the title already.
At the bottom Hamilton have lost 11 out of 11 and are 9 points adrift which is good for me as if they continue to lose I should be good enough to not get automatically relegated. I’m only 5 points ahead of second bottom so unless I can turn my form around I could still be fighting to survive from the relegation playoff.
On a positive note, my top striker from last year is currently top scorer in the league after he has scored 10 goals in 10 games which included a hattrick in the 3-3 draw with Rangers. Unfortunately my other striker only has 1 and although he’s been one of my favourites over the last few seasons I may have to drop him if he doesn’t start scoring.
My winless run ended after 4 without a win as I hammered Hibernian 4-1 with my top striker getting another hattrick, I also dropped my other striker for the 17 year I signed for £25k and he opened the scoring.
10 games later and after we played our last game of the calender year before the mid season break we were 6th in the league and very confident we wouldn’t finish bottom, and would be disappointed even finishing second bottom now.
We had played 22 games, won 8, drew 6 and lost 8 giving us 30 points and putting us 25 points off the bottom and 15 off second bottom, the highest points total of any team finishing in the bottom 2 has been 37 but usually 30 points has been enough to stay up so from those stats I should be safe.
There’s only 7 points between us and 3rd but only 5 between us and 9th so a mid table position looks likely, if we can get 6th and finish top half that would be nice.
To stay 6th or do better we need to sort out the number of goals we are conceding and cut out silly mistakes that keep costing us goals. We’ve conceded 34 in 22 games, there’s only 3 teams conceded more.
I’d like to bring in some new players in the new year as some players aren’t performing, my second best striker over the last few years has been dropped as he’s had enough chances to impress so my 17 year old signing has been playing and doing ok but another striker might be good.
I also want a central midfielder as my best only has 7 natural fitness so struggled to play 2 games in a week, I could also do with a better left back and left winger if possible.
The problem is I only have £350k transfer budget left so I’d have to sell some players first, it might have to wait until the summer before I can improve my squad.
January started off well with a 5-0 friendly win over Werder Bremen which kicked off an unbeaten month with some good wins and some poor draws.
I drew against Hearts in the Scottish Cup 1-1 which then followed 2 0-0 draws in the league. I wasn’t surprised with the lack of goals as my star striker who has scored most of my goals got injured following the friendly and was out for 3 weeks.
After the draws I somehow managed a 1-0 win away to Hearts in the cup replay despite resting my entire team. I wasn’t bothered about winning the game as I had Celtic in the league at home a few days later and the league takes priority so I rested everyone and got a lucky win.
Resting the players worked as we got a 1-0 win against Celtic in a game where they also missed a penalty and my keeper made several top quality saves. We still deserved the win as we had more shots, more on target, more possession and could have scored more had we had a decent striker on the field.
We only conceded 1 goal throughout January which could be down to some of the new signings I brought in.
I signed our second Columbian at the start of the transfer window for £250k, he’s a 22 year old central midfielder with great overall stats which lean more towards a defensive physical midfielder. I played him as central midfielder with a defend mentality to try and toughen up the midfield and stop the long range goals.
I also brought in a new centre back for £100k to partner my summer Columbian signing, this new one is a Barbados international but came through at Charlton so is also English. At only 23 years old he has better current ability than all my other defenders as well as being strong, fast, good in the air and good positioning, all those key stats are 15 or above though he could be better at tackling.
Those 2 signings took all my transfer budget up but I also managed go bring in 2 players on loan a left back from Arsenal and a left winger from Bournemouth, both provide better back up quality in my squad.
Overall a good transfer window as I also kept my best players and brought my total spend to £1m for the season, it also brought my bank balance down to -£2.2m which isn’t good.
Unless I sell some players later on for big money or get into Europe we may have some problems financially going forward as our stadium is too small to get any money from games and there is very little income coming in from elsewhere other than player sales over the last few years.
League prize money might help too but I’d need to finish top 6 for it to clear the debts as by the end of the season it could be over £3m in debt, a good cup run might help too if we get to the semi or the final.
At the start of March we had played 30 games and our form in the new year had been really good in the league as we hadn’t lost a league game in the new calendar year, we had drew a few though.
Our good form also came about from a change in tactics, after not getting a new striker in the transfer window and only having 1 striker regularly scoring goals I decided to change to just 1 up top. I added in an extra midfielder and pushed my wingers forward while keeping the same instructions so we kept our possession football.
The new formation so far was working, we dominated possession and got some good wins, in fact we were top of the possession stats with 55%, we were also 3rd top scorers only scoring 1 less that top team Celtic and defensively we seemed to be doing better too.
Our form had put us up to 5th place with 3 games to go before the league splits in half and a top 6 place was looking good as we were 8 points ahead of 7th place, we weren’t safe mathematically but realistically we should get a top 6 finish in our first Premiership season.
Top 6 could also mean Europe next season as top 5 get Europe and 6th gets it depending on the Scottish Cup winners.
We got knocked out of the Cup by Rangers in the Quarter Final so we wouldn’t be winning it, the remaining 4 teams consist of the top 3 in the league plus a Championship team, if the final is 2 of the top 3 teams that should mean 6th place gets Europe.
We also got our new youth players at the start of March but like last year there’s no one that stands out, I did offer a contract to a striker and a central midfielder that were the best of a bad bunch but the rest aren’t even worth a basic youth contract.
The last 3 games before the split didn’t go as well as the games so far this year as drew the first then lost the last 2. We were still playing well, creating clear cut chances and having more possession but just couldn’t score, my best striker had gone off form since coming back from the injury that kept him out for a few weeks and no one else was picking up the goals he should have been getting.
Despite not winning the last 3 games we still finished 6th so we’re included in the top half of the split and even if we lose the last 5 games we can’t finish any lower so regardless now it’s been a good season, overachieving again. Ideally I want top 5 to guarantee Europa qualifying but as long as one of the top 3 win the cup even 6th place should get into qualifying too.
After a draw and a loss in the next 2 games and with 3 to play we got notified that we had qualified for the Europa league, probably because Rangers play Aberdeen in the cup final and Rangers secured a top 2 place so are in the champions league and Aberdeen are 3rd so guaranteed Europa too so 6th place gets the cup final Europa place.
Next year will be our first European campaign, we could do with finishing higher than 6th to join in the later qualifying rounds.
After securing the Europa place, our board set the initial budget as £65k wages and £0 transfer budget, we would have to sell to get some money but that wouldn’t work for bringing in players as they have also changed the % we get from sales to 0%.
Maybe once the league place is decided and we get prize money I’ll be able to negotiate something better.
One thing I have noticed however is that the Europa league requires a minimum stadium capacity of 4,500 seats so our 1,572 seater stadium isn’t big enough so I wonder if we will get a new stadium or get the current one upgraded, either way we are currently £3.1m in debt so couldn’t afford anything. Maybe we could ground share for Europe, is that a feature in FM? Or maybe they will have to take a loan out and cripple the club even more financially.
With 3 games to go they also announced the manager of the year which was won by the Aberdeen manager while I was runner up. This seemed strange to award it with 3 games to go especially as although I’m 6th and they’re 3rd there’s only 9 points separating us and we have to play each other so I could theoretically finish ahead of them however unlikely that is.
The last 3 games started bad with a defeat away to Aberdeen following a 91st minute goal to justify their manager being ahead of me for manager of the year.
I did however win the last 2 games which gave me a 5th place finish. In 38 games we won 15, drew 11 and lost 12 scoring 65 goals but conceding 51.
Overall a very good season, top half finish, Europa league qualifying and our striker finished top scorer with 22 in 31 league games.
My star striker was named in the leagues team of the year, won players player of the year, writers player of the year, writers young player of the year and young player of the year getting a clean sweep of all available awards. I don’t think I’ve ever had a striker that’s performed as well as he’s done over the last 2 season’s, I think he is way too good for Scottish football.
After finishing 5th we also got over £3m prize money which just about cleared the debt. Being cheeky I asked the board for a new stadium and when that was turned down I asked then to expand which was also turned down as we have no money. However a couple of days later the board announced they are expanding the stadium to 2,863 which isn’t a lot and won’t even meet the Europa league minimum, the expansion is costing £1.5m so not too much however the club have taken a loan out to cover it so that’s more expenditure. While it’s going on we are moving to Falkirks stadium which holds 18.5k so at least that will be fit for Europe even if ours won’t be. It’ll be interesting to see if how many fans we get in that stadium, if we sell out then it’ll make it worse going back to such a small ground.
I think it was definitely our attack that got us the points, defensively we started getting better in the second half after our January signings but there’s still work to do.
Looking at our squad there are a few areas for improvement however we have no money so I’ll need to ship out some back up players to free up wage budget and try and bring some free transfers in.
Ideally the board will either find some money for me or give me some money from sales, if I can get them to give money from sales I may see if I can sell one of my better players if the right offer comes in. I’d like to keep my star striker but PSG are interested, if they want to give me £20m+ then I could be tempted but not if the board is going to keep it all.
Other than signings I need to make a decision on which tactic to favour next year, I’ve played 4-4-2 each season with Albion but changed to only 1 up top, 3 central midfielders and attacking wingers.
If I keep 4-4-2 I need a second good striker and a left winger as mines on loan and if I change to 1 up top I could do with a left and right attacking winger and another central midfielder for cover.
Another issue I’ll have next season is playing in Europe will add extra games if I get though the qualify rounds and I don’t think my overall will cope with the extra games.
It could be a busy summer or a very quiet one depending on if I get any money or not.
I’ll be back after next season with an update.
– Sparko Marco