Everywhere Else – 3 – U Craiova 1948 SA

“We love to kick people and charge around angrily, collecting yellow cards like Panini stickers.”

Season two and the failed escape plan

Casa Liga 1
Romanian Supercup.

The 21/22 campaign was a memorable year. The second season of our German manager Robert Vonsen‘s career was quite the Romanian ride.

If you like M. Night Shyamalan movies; 1) I am sorry to hear that, 2) you are in for a treat as there is a twist at the end. Sort of.

The Good

After promotion to the Casa Liga 1 in season one, Romania’s top domestic division provided a tougher challenge, but somehow not much tougher.

Interestingly in Romania after the 30 match first phase, you only take 50% of your first phase points into the second. So our 10 point lead at the top of the table at the time immediately halved to 5! Despite our best attempts at self-sabotage by only winning 2 of the final 10 games of the season (otherwise known as the Championship Group phase), we won the league by 2 points while playing our now signature counter-attacking 4-4-2.

Jurassic Park.

Not Robert Vonsen.

We also won the Romanian Supercup by beating Astra Giurgiu 2-1. We had a man sent off on 16 minutes, but it served only to galvanise our remaining 10 players (and other applicable clichés) as we managed to score twice despite only managing 39% possession. We saw out the tie and lifted the cup. I’ll take it. Three trophies in the first two years.

This year we exited the Romanian domestic cup at the 4th round (last year we reached the 5th), but wild league overperformance in our first ever campaign in the top tier (the club were only established in 2017, remember?) ensured that the directors of the board burst into the manager’s office throwing bottles of Lidl Cava around instead of being disappointed at our premature cup exit.

How did you do it?

Interestingly, it’s not particularly straightforward to explain why or how it went so well.

Statistically speaking, we weren’t particularly good at anything.

Here’s a Twitter thread I created that was devoted solely to exploring that exact line of thinking. Click on it so what I’m on about makes sense, and give my life true purpose.

If you clicked the above and read the series of related Tweets, enjoying all of the lovely tables filled with numbers, thank you for your committed support to the blog. I won’t forget you. (I will).

If you couldn’t be arsed clicking and want a TL:DR instead, that is entirely fair. The summary is as follows:

Statistically we are great at intercepting the ball and winning back possession, but not blocking shots. We don’t win headers, control the ball or dictate the tempo of games. We also lose possession a lot. Though we love to kick people and charge around angrily, collecting yellow cards like Panini stickers.

That said, we do create a comparatively high number of chances and generally convert a higher percentage of them than our rivals.

VERDICT – Individual players are winning possession and covering more ground than the average opposition player. The quality of the goal opportunities we create is high, as is our conversion rate. We may lose the ball often, but we are conceding low quality chances. Never stop running and be clinical is my advice! This seems to work, even if you are managing a team who are otherwise garbage at playing football.

Tell me more

Going into this season as a promoted side, we were minnows in every way that it is usually implied when people involved in football compare a club to various species of tiny fish. Finances, reputation, player quality, manager stature – we were dwarfed by not only our giant rivals/cousins (and previous year’s league champions) CS Craiova, but by every other side in the division, except fellow promoted side CS Mioveni.

We signed up Villarreal as an affiliate, which delivered no value beyond the £45k they gave us for signing the agreement.

Our U Craiova 1948 side scored some lovely goals. I saved a few here for you to see for yourself, since everything I do is centred around thinking about your wants and needs.

Don’t ask me why there are large white gaps above and below the embedded videos. I’m a (pretend) football manager mate, not a WordPress expert.

“Albuuuuuu! The keeper didn’t even move!” – a generic commentator.

Here’s another great goal inexplicably bookended by vast expanses of blank screen space.

Elder statesman Williams Peralta “rolls back the years” (yeurch)

Money makes the world go round

The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that the first heading in this post made reference to a ‘failed escape plan.’ You may have even noticed in the salary table for Casa Liga 1 a bit further up that the finances of our club said ‘Insecure.’

This is an understatement. Until I eventually managed to beg some truly average football players (and a couple of decent ones) to renew their contracts for another year for the monetary equivalent of a sarcastic slap in the face, we were in a terrible position heading into season 3. U Craiova 1948 would genuinely have had 12 senior players, zero bodies in the Reserve team and only a handful of useless teenagers from the latest shambolic youth intake on our books, had it not been for my persistent attempts for renewals.

In the end, Cristian Bud retired and the rest finally agreed to extensions.

No money means there are no funds to bring in talent. Simple. It also means there are no funds to invest in our facilities, youth, training or any other essential part of a football club’s infrastructure.

When the board said they had taken out a £1.7million loan to help build the new 4,500 seater stadium, I threw my laptop out of the window and took up smoking again.

Why?

On the topic of our youth facilities, the latest intake was no better than the last one. Only a couple of players were able to tie their boot laces and make it onto the field in time for the exciting spectacle that is the under 19s playing against the youth candidates. You’ll see what I mean below.

“This is a very poor crop of players.” Surprise surprise.
The best player in season two’s intake. So good* they named him twice.
*Not good, but I do love Aggression – 20.

The final challenge of managing a team who have to print their matchday tickets on old Tesco receipts due to budget cuts, is that they very very rarely budge on allowing you funding for coaching badges. They either say that you are one of the only human beings on the coaching staff and are therefore required to attend training every day, the board worry that you will leave for another job if you have any theoretically provable competence as a manager, or they simply print off a bank statement, draw a sad face on it with crayon and slide it under your office door to show you how little money there is.

Winning the league and Supercup double finally allowed me to study for one of the very basic coaching badges, but it took until almost 30 months of in-game time for the board to stretch to the £600 required.

Finally.

I’m not getting any younger

The plan was always to move on. To bigger clubs and brighter things. Spending more than two years at a small Romanian club wasn’t ever on the agenda but neither was winning three trophies, so I’ll happily accept it. It has been a fun experience.

I applied to a number of clubs. Panathinaikos in Greece looked the most likely (I even got an interview!) but in the end they said no. There were so many others, most of which I cannot remember. From Colombia to Belarus, the answer was always no.

Our manager’s stock is high due to the evidenced ability to operate on a shoestring budget while delivering wins, but Vonsen’s lack of coaching badges is proving a real obstacle to progress.

I filtered out unplayable leagues on these competition screens and had a look. The Romanian top tier is the subjectively 32nd “biggest” in European football. A move to Poland or Bulgaria’s top tier would be nice. We couldn’t stretch to Norway or Croatia without further badges, could we?

The leagues of the save.
Actually decent.

Season 3 in charge of U Craiova 1948 kicks off with only one new signing able to come in. Nomadic free agent Valentin Alexandru arrives with decent pedigree for our level. With Cristian Bud retiring and the iconic Williams Peralta (41 goals in 79 appearances) upsettingly finally starting to rapidly decline, a new striker was definitely required.

My reaction to Williams Peralta’s inevitable mid 30s decline.

Overperforming in the first two seasons led to a couple of positives. The club has multiplied in value (by more than 100x!), even if their facilities are still found to be less than desirable.

The numbers also led to the manager having a nice looking CV, lacking only in qualifications and coaching attributes. Those two go hand-in-hand, and will come in time.

For the time being, we soldier on in the role. U Craiova 1948 made their debut in the UEFA Champions League on the 6th of June 2022 away to the champions of Belarus, BATE Borisov. The thrilling encounter ended 1-1, and we went on to sneak the home leg 2-1 to progress. A huge result.

The next round saw us flatten KF Shkëndija of Macedonia 7-1 on aggregate, before sadly exiting the Champions League 3-0 on aggregate against Croatian giants Dinamo Zagreb in the Third Qualifying Round.

Through some bizarre continental competition structuring, we dropped into the UEFA Europa League qualifiers, but unfortunately fell to FK Partizan 3-2 over the 180 minutes. The European dream was over.

Or was it?

It seems like the routes into European competition are more complicated and lenient than ever before. As a result of falling out of both of UEFA’s prestigious continental cups, U Craiova 1948 drop into the UEFA Europa Conference League group stage. A competition I’ve previously enjoyed in FM20 (winning it with Lille).

Nice challenge.

With six wins from the opening eight Casa Liga 1 games and this Europa Conference League group to look forward to, I guess it’s time to buckle up and settle in for another year in Romania.

But wait, the Tromsø job in Norway has just come up…

Tromsø are12th of the 16 teams in Norway’s top tier with seven league games remaining, so their top flight status should be safe. The Norwegian top division is the 23rd most reputable in Europe (vs 32nd for the Romanian), the facilities are night and day in comparison to U Craiova 48 and they actually have some money!

I pasted together the below to compare the teams side-by-side before making any big decisions.

I then made the decision pretty quickly.

A new chapter begins!

I managed Lillestrøm of Norway in FM20 and had a great old time. Hopefully I can do so again.

In FM21 writing terms, there have been a few others who have managed in Norway already that I need to give a shout out to. If I can replicate half the success of Ed’s Bodø/Glimt side or the incredible development of FMSamo’s Vålerenga, I’ll be pleased. Fingers crossed!

In the next post I’ll dive into Tromsø a bit more as a club, figure out the lay of the land, and see what work needs to be prioritised. With only 7 league games remaining, it’s a bit of a free hit as long as we don’t fall into the relegation spots. I like that it gives me some time to experiment with player selection, tactical ideas and generally get used to the place, before the fresh start of the 2023 campaign.

Very (very) early impression is that the side is a little imbalanced. Some players who look decent at first glance have a few glaring attribute gaps for the roles it seems the previous manager was playing them in.

Let’s see out the season, take stock, and soldier on. Goodbye to Romania, hello to Norway!

End of season (2) review

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag

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