Football Manager – The Wee Rovers Champions.

After last season Albion Rovers are the current Scottish Premiership Champions and this season we need to try and retain the title and progress past the first Champions League knock out round.

For that we again look to improve the squad during the summer, so far we have signed a 21 year old Argentinian at left back for his £9.5m release clause and a 18 year old Scottish keeper as back up.

Ahead of the new season Celtic who had sacked their manager after only finishing 3rd offered me an interview, although I had no intention I attended it and gave the worst answers I could think of just to see if they offered me the job.

However it never got that far as my board wanted to discuss me staying and after they agreed to increase my transfer and wage budgets I agreed to stay, even though I was always staying regardless it’s nice to get something extra.

The increases give me £18.1m for transfers and £350k for wages which can be adjusted to either £25m and £216k or £0 and 700k. I’m only spending £187k on wages so more likely I will adjust up the transfers if I find someone I need extra money for, unless I’ve sold other before that to increase the budgets further.

By the time the squad was back from holiday and friendlies started we had only brought in 1 player, a young Scottish defender for £325k that will add cover but we were also in the process of agreeing a £2.5m deal for a 17 year old Belgium left back that will sign in January and a 21 year old Brazilian right back for £11.5m, however we are competing with other teams so he might not sign.

I’ve been looking for other players to sign but can’t find any that improve the team and we can afford, I did bring back a midfielder on loan from Bayern that we had in the second half of last season, reloaned the left back we had a last year and loaned a right winger, all 3 are squad players but provide good cover.

Outgoing players has been lucrative so far as we have sold a 25 year old defender that we signed 3 seasons ago for £100k and got £10m for him, a young midfielder we got for free but never broke into the team was sold for £4.8m, a right winger we got for free and tried to sell in January was eventually sold for £2.8m and one of our first Columbians we signed when we got to the Prem for £250k was sold for £6.25m.

The players we sold were still good players and would have done as squad players but we have got better first team players and they would have been unhappy not playing so I decided to cash in on them, I’ve got loans and younger promising players as back up players.

I’m also trying to sell a young Portuguese player for around £1m, he got potential but as he signed for free I couldn’t get a work permit for him and it’s now time to sell him if I can.

Coming to the end of July the pre-season odds came out and we are second favourites behind Celtic at 4/1, we should really be favourites as we won last year and have a stronger team this year whereas so far Celtic have sold their best striker and the replacement they have got doesn’t look as good and despite spending £31m none of the players signed would get anywhere near my team.

Pre-season friendlies went ok, we lost one, drew one but won the rest, performances were good in all games regardless of the results.

When the first league game came about we had managed to beat the opposition to the Brazilian right back we were after and we got a young Serbian midfielder for £1m release clause, all the top teams were interested in him but never bid, we got a bargain at that price.

We were only now lacking a 4th striker as I thought I was getting one for free but he went elsewhere while I loaned out my young strikers, I’ve found a 18 year old Venezuelan who is coming for £250k release clause who is happy to be a hot prospect even though he’s already got 5 internation caps.

The league games started off well with 3 league wins against poor teams and a 2-2 draw away to Rangers before the first international break putting us 2nd to Celtic early on only on goal difference, we also won our Betfred second round game.

Before the international break we also had the champions league group draw and were given a hard group with Juventus who knocked us out last year, Benfica and Ajax despite us being amongst the first seeds we’ve got a very difficult group.

The international break didn’t affect our form as we continued winning in the league and went top after 5 games, by the time we played our 10th game we had won 8 and drew 2 putting us 3 points ahead of Celtic and we had a game in hand.

We also made it to the final of the Betfred Cup which will be our first final in that competition. I didn’t expect getting to the final as I’ve played my back up players in every round as they have came before European games but they’ve pulled off some good wins and the only game we struggled in was an extra time win away to Hibs.

In Europe I thought we were going to find it hard but we actually qualified from the group after our 4th game, we started with a 4-1 home win against Benfica, then drew 2-2 away to Juventus before back to back wins against Ajax, 5-2 away and 4-0 at home.

Juventus who knocked us out last year only have the 1 point they got against us in their 4 games while Ajax only have 3 which means our 10 points is enough to qualify, Benfica have 9 so top place isn’t a guarantee.

After qualifying for the knockout stages we had another league win then another 2-2 draw with Rangers before drawing our away game against Benfica.

Next up was our first Betfred Cup final, I decided to stick with the back up players that got us to the final where injuries allowed and while the performance wasn’t the best we did win 3-2 following an extra time penalty winner to record our first cup of the season and Albions first ever Betfred Cup trophy.

Our last Champions League group game ended in another win this time beating Juventus 2-0 at home to finish top of our group.

The draw for the next round gave us Dortmund who have a good team, we had them last year in our group and beat them at home but lost away so the tie could go either way, Juventus knocked us out at the knock out stage last year but we are better this year as shown by getting 4 points against Juve in the group’s.

In the league our form until the new year continued to be good, we had a few poor draws including at home to Celtic but otherwise won most of our games, the team I’ve put together is too good for most Scottish clubs so it’s not surprising we are winning most games.

As the new year rolled around we were top of the league, 6 points ahead of Celtic with a game in hand and 9 ahead of 3rd with 2 games in hand and were still unbeaten.

When the world awards game out on New Year’s eve, our young Columbian striker we got last year won the World U21 footballer of the year and the Golden Boy award after getting 29 goals in 38 games over the calender year.

We also had our new South African defender we got in the summer get into the African team of the year and was named African defender of the year.

As the transfer window opened we strengthened our squad bringing in 2 young players we agreed to signed in earlier months, we brought in an 18 year old Belgium left back for £2.5m and a 20 year old Serbian left winger for £1.9m, both provide better cover in those positions.

We still have £27m transfer budget and plenty of wage budget to play with but the rest of the transfer window was quiet as I didn’t find anyone I wanted to sign.

The new year continued as before, the league games didn’t cause any problems winning 4 and drawing 2 while also winning a couple of Scottish Cup games ahead of our first Champions League game away to Dortmund in mid February.

The Dortmund game didn’t start very good and the first half we conceded through a penalty and were lucky to be only 1 down at half time.

The second half was much better, we equalized in the 63rd minute then took the lead in the 73rd with goals coming from both our strikers, unfortunately our best striker then got injured, we replaced him with a midfielder who went on to get a third goal.

The game finished 3-1 which is a fantastic result to take back home for the second leg but it did come at a price as our star striker that got injured is now out for 7 weeks which may cause us problems as he’s currently got 19 goals in 24 league games and 29 in 34 overall so his goals will be missed.

After that game we won and drew our next league games but the win was a big win as it was 2-0 at home to Celtic which at this point in the season put us 8 points ahead of them and we have a game in hand.

We followed that up by beating Rangers in the Scottish Cup quarter final 2-1 and we avoided Celtic in the semis which is good.

Afterwards we got our newest batch of youth players, I was hoping for someone good this year as we have had our youth facilities upgraded to good, our junior coaching to excellent and our youth recruitment to established.

I wasn’t disappointed in the best player as we got a goalkeeper that looks good and already at a premiership 2 star ability with 5 star potential which is better potential than my current Columbian international keeper.

I was however disappointed with the rest as none of them were worth giving a contract too, I rarely get really good players but if I do I never get more than 1, most are poor.

With the team I’ve got, getting 1 that could be better than I have is still good to get.

Our next game was the second leg of the Champions League against Dortmund where were were 3-1 up, despite being the better team we lost 1-0, it was our first defeat of the season in all competitions, we still went through to the next round but I wasn’t happy with losing the game.

We have been drawn against another German team in the quarter final, this one being the best German team Bayern which is going to be tough.

Our next league game went a similar way to the Dortmund game as we had back to back losses, a second loss straight after our first.

We got beat to Hearts away who are currently 7th in the table, we took the lead then conceded shortly after before they got a penalty before half time. No matter what I tried in the second half my team couldn’t create a chance, it was one of those games that FM just decides to shut down the game and let the AI team defend their lead.

We are still 9 points ahead of Celtic and have played the same number of games so 1 defeat won’t matter, I just hope that we are not at the start of a bad run with only 9 games left to play.

We have an international break so hopefully when the players get back, we won’t have any injuries and the break will help stop our poor run of 2 defeats.

Unfortunately for some reason our next game at home against 8th placed Hibs is played when everyone is still away on international duty and show as returning on the same day of our game, if that’s the case they should be back as our game is being played at 19:30. Hibs don’t have that same problem, looking at their team they only have 1 player missing.

As none are back it means that 8 of my first 11 are unavailable along with 7 of my back up players, the biggest issue being I have no strikers available. I’ll need to play mostly back up and youth players which may not help to get back to winning games.

Due to the players available I ended up playing 5 defenders 4 midfielders and 1 striker with the striker being a midfielder out of position, some players I was forced to play when unfit too, I usually don’t play anyone less than 90% fitness but had no choice but to play some in their low 80s.

We started the game well and took an early lead then dominated the first half until they equalized just before half time.

Hibs then got a 46th minute penalty in the second half which they scored before my makeshift striker got a straight red card. A 3rd goal shortly after following a mistake by our keeper finished the game and we lost 3-1.

Despite having a new formation, unfit players, players out of position we actually had more possession, more shots, more on target, more clear cut chances but we’re denied the win due to a penalty, going down to 10 men and a mistake from our young keeper.

That’s 3 defeats in a row after going 43 games without a loss which is a concern, it hasn’t helped that our best striker got injured for 7 weeks and the last game shouldn’t have gone a head when players were away on international duty but whatever the reasons we need to sort it out before Celtic catch up to us.

Our next game was away to bottom club Falkirk which was perfect to help get over our losing run, I thought the worst was going to happen when we had an early goal disallowed then had a man sent off in the 38th minute but we managed to get 2 goals close together in the 42nd and 44th minutes and went on to win 2-0 to get back to winning ways.

Those 3 defeats in a row looked to be a blip as once we got a win we won our next 2 league games ahead of the first leg against Bayern Munich, the last game I also rested players as it was against second bottom so I took a chance to make sure players were fit for Europe.

Our best striker was also back ahead of the Bayern game but despite having a fully fit team we only managed a 0-0 home draw, at least we didn’t concede an away goal and 0-0 isn’t a bad result against a good team.

The return leg was better however as we scored 2 first half goals from our Columbian striker who has got 30 goals in 36 games this year. They pulled one back early in the second half but we got a third with 20 minutes to go, they pulled another one back but we ended 3-2 winners to progress into the semi final.

Speaking of semi finals, in between those European games our reserve players got a 1-0 win against Championship side Dundee in the Scottish Cup semi final to put us into the final of that cup for the 3rd time, we were runners up 5 years ago and won it 2 years ago. We have Celtic in the final so it could go either way.

At this point of the season we had played 33 league games which meant the season split in half, we have already guaranteed Champions League again as we can’t finish lower than 3rd but unless something drastic happens in the last 5 games we should retain the league as we are 10 points ahead of Celtic and 17 ahead of 3rd placed Rangers.

The semi final draw for the Champions League drew us against yet another German team, this one arguably weaker than the previous 2 as we got Bayer 04 who finished 3rd in their league last season and have never won their league dominated by Bayern during this save.

It could have been worse as the other 2 teams were Tottenham who are probably similar to Bayer or my old team Frome who have been dominating in England since I left them winning their last 3 league seasons and 5 of the last 8.

After that a good 3-0 win away to Rangers left us needing 2 point to clinch the title at home to Hearts. I rested my best players for the upcoming champions league game and it looked like we were going to lose to Hearts only shot on target resulting in a goal but we managed to salvage the draw we needed via a late penalty to retain the league title with 3 games to go.

We’ve easily been the best team this year and with 3 games to play we have only 1 point less than we finished with last year as we have the same number of wins but 1 less draw and 2 less losses, it would be nice to win the last 3 games but as long as we are in the champions league I’ll be resting my best players for the remaining games so we probably won’t win them all.

The champions league semi final was next and we were away for the first leg and we took the lead after 17 minutes before doubling it from a 34th minute penalty. No more goals and not much else happened after that which I was happy with, 2-0 away is a great result.

Our reserve team then beat Celtic 2-1 away after which I was informed that I was only runner up for players manager of the year despite winning the league at a canter. The winner was the Aberdeen manager who managed to get Aberdeen into 5th place when predicted to only finish 6th so that’s a wonderful achievement getting a place more than predicted.

Interestingly we were only predicted to finish second so have also finished 1 place better, not sure how it works but I didn’t win it last season either despite winning the league when predicted about 5th.

Next up was the second champions league leg and by resting my best 11 they were all 100% fit ready for the game but that didn’t help us win the game as we only managed a good 1-1 draw.

We ended the tie with a 6th minute goal then controlled the game without getting a second, they equalized from a 87th minute free kick but it was too late for a comeback.

That means we have managed to get ourselves into the Champions League final where were will play Frome after they beat Tottenham 2-0 at home and when they lost 3-1 away they went through on away goals.

It’ll be nice to play my old team in the final but I would have preferred Tottenham as the Frome team is better than any other team I’ve played so far.

The last 2 league games were a draw and a win to finish the season with 88 points after 26 wins, 10 draws and 2 losses which is 6 points more than last year but that still only enough to win maybe half of the previous seasons played, despite only losing twice, Celtic have had some extraordinary seasons at times.

We scored 79 which was only 3 more than last year and conceded 30, 2 less than last year which over all shows our season wasn’t to dissimilar to when we won last season.

The stats show we won with yet again the highest possession stats averaging 55% possession. They also show we had 100% attendance by capacity with an average attendanceof 5000 which is all our stadium can hold, the sooner we get a new stadium the better.

We also had the top 2 goal scorers in the league, our best striker over the years finished top for the 4th year running with 22 goals and our young Columbian was second with 20 goals.

After the league finished we had the Scottish Cup final where we beat Celtic 1-0 to claim our 2nd in 3 years, although it was only 1-0, Celtic didn’t have a half decent chance.

Next up, our last game of the season and the biggest in my Albion career and the biggest for the club as we take on the world’s best team Frome, fresh from winning their 4th consecutive English Premiership.

We have a good team with half the team wanted by clubs like PSG, Frome, Juventus, Real Madrid etc so we should have a chance but their team is full of experienced world class players whereas ours is full of wonderkids.

Incidentally, while checking how Frome have done in their league ahead of the game I noticed than Man City have been relegated! Usually Man City dominate domestically but looking at them they only won the league in the first season on the save and since then finished in top 6 usually and no lower than 9th until this season when they finished 3rd bottom despite most of their team on £150k+ a week and worth over £50m each.

After the cup final I was awarded the writers manager of the year for the third year running making up for losing out on the players manager of the year.

In the player awards, our star striker got players player of the year and writers player of the year, our young Brazilian wonderkid playmaker got players young player of the year, our star Argentinan defender that got all awards last year got writers young player of the year and we had 5 players in the team of the year.

The champions league final got off to a poor start and Frome took the lead in the 13th minute and were the better team for most of the half without getting a second.

Then out of nowhere we won a penalty in the 37th minute and equalised against the run of play, then on the stroke of half time we took the lead.

2-1 up at half time I went with a more defensive mentality to try and defend the lead which was restricting them to long range efforts without really threatening then with about 10 minutes to go I went into my ultra defensive formation which saw the game run out without another highlight for us to win the game 2-1.

I thought we would have lost it, especially after going behind but once we equalized Frome never looked like getting a second, even in the second half when we were winning I’d have expected them to have a few clear cut chances at least but they did nothing.

After the game the news came in that our star striker over the last few years won the champions cup golden boot, our other striker came 3rd, we had 8 players in the champions cup dream team, our keeper got keeper of the season, our best defender got defender of the season, one of our midfielders was runner up for midfielder of the season and our star striker also got forward of the season.

The club have also announced they are building a new stadium, it’ll hold 19,625 people at a cost of £32.5m and they have named it after a club legend, just not this club legend as yet again for the 3rd club on this save they haven’t named it after me, this time it’s named after Victor Kasule whoever he is.

After that season winning a domestic treble and the Champions league I think I might have taken Albion as far as want to, it would be nice to play at the new stadium but that’s going to take 2 years to build and I’m getting the itch to move on.

When I took over Albion I thought it was going to be hard, in England it’s easy once you start getting money but I thought that wouldn’t happen in Scotland but it did.

As soon as I got a bit of money to spend and starting bringing in cheap wonderkids, selling on players for big money and bringing in better wonderkids it’s turned out that it’s just as easy in Scotland as it is England.

If anything it was probably easier in Scotland as the work permit rules to get my foreign wonderkids was that as long as I spend at least £400k on a player and they were in the top 50% of my wages then I can win any appeal.

I don’t even have a 17 foreigner limit or home grown player quota in Scotland to worry about like I did in England, the only limits were in Europe but I could put all my foreigners in the squad and fill it out with youth players or leave spaces free as u21 players didn’t count.

I’ve also done all this with Albion playing the possession football I wanted to play right through all the divisions which was different to the more direct style I played with during my time in England.

I’ll have to have a think as to whether I continue this long save by staying with Albion, moving elsewhere or retiring it all together. If I move I’d have to challenge myself to something harder like limiting myself to stop myself filling the team with cheap wonderkids.

The only thing stopping me moving on is that I know as soon as I leave the AI manager or board will sell the teams best players, I’ve been rejecting offers for my best players every transfer window but the money they could get for them will be massive so with me not there they will sell.

That shouldn’t be a reason to stay though but I’ve seen it happen with my old Carlisle team who are now a mid table English Premiership team and although my old Frome team is still doing well, so did Carlisle for a while, it takes the AI several seasons to ruin the club usually but Albion may be quicker than that if they sell then buy old rubbish players.

I’ll post an update soon once I’ve decided where to go from here.

– Sparko Marco

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