La Sombra – 8 – Can I just shock you?

This is post eight of a wider series. To instead start at post one, please click here.

“A bit like focusing on the final boss’s armour in a classic video game; keep your distance, frustrate and weaken.”

Los Vallecanos

19 May 2024

It has only been a little over four months since theangrylinesmen last published a significant update on Fernando Teixidó‘s “over-performing” Rayo Vallecano side, but the Madrid club are a hot topic in European football well worth revisiting.

My colleague Jonathan Simpson covered the first half of the 23/24 campaign in his great article back in January, where Rayo sat 5th in LaLiga after 19 games, heading towards the 2nd round of the Copa del Rey and the knockout stages of the UEFA Europa Conference League. Jonathan looked at some of the reasons Madrid‘s “third team” were managing to stay on their feet and keep throwing punches when all the bigger sides around them started breaking sweat. Successful tackle volume, tactical fouling, chance conversion success, attacking dogmatism and triumph in the ultimate David vs Goliath league matchup were all covered in there. It is well worth a read.

Tom Phillips has another Rayo Vallecano piece in the works for theangrylinesmen around the Vallecas club’s approach to youth development. He highlights some potentially promising players to keep an eye on over the next few years, as well as reviewing Rayo’s club infrastructure in detail. The article isn’t quite ready to be published, but watch this space!

In the meantime, let us take a look at Rayo’s 2023/2024 season now that the curtains have closed on another thrilling Spanish football campaign. How did it end?

Copa del Rey

Let’s start in the domestic cup.

In short, Rayo Vallecano ultimately tasted glorious failure after reaching their first cup final in their 100-year history. Unfortunately outclassed on the day by a rampant Barcelona side who picked up their 31st Copa del Rey and their first under Marcelo Gallardo. The Blaugrana smelled blood when the cracks of an exhausting campaign started to show in Rayo’s usually solid backline in extra time. Ansu Fati fired the Catalan giants 1-0 up in the 104th minute after a 0-0 stalemate in the first 90 minutes. Lautaro Martinéz added a second three minutes later and the franjirojo simply couldn’t recover.

If you rewind back to their Third Round victory over city rivals Real Madrid however, something special happened that damp evening. I don’t just mean El Rayo upsetting the bookmarkers by dumping Zidane’s giants out of the cup via a slim 1-0 win after extra time, although that is of course newsworthy. It’s how they did it that made it really worth writing about.

Known for his dogmatic attacking approach, Teixidó surprised everyone with this shift in strategy against Real Madrid that night. Not least of which Real’s experienced superstars; including Raphaël Varane, Toni Kroos and Eden Hazard.

Belgian superstar Eden Hazard questions why lowly Rayo Vallecano are giving his side the run-around. Literally.

While it would be inaccurate to say that the Peruvian has finally turned pragmatist, there was evidently a conscious change in tactic for this match. Something that Teixidó has since went on to deploy more than a few times in the final part of the season, mainly to nullify technically superior attacking sides (even tangentially) and prevent some of the heavy losses El Rayo suffered in the 22/23 campaign. Lesson learned, I guess.

Rayo Vallecano average 316 completed passes in a usual game of football under Teixidó. This is just under the LaLiga average. By the 90 minute mark in this cup tie, El Rayo had completed almost 600. By the referee’s whistle at 120 minutes, this number had hit a frankly ridiculous 767. Then-captain Óscar Valentín completed a record 150 passes himself. Where the wing backs Hernán De La Fuente and Iván Martos would normally look to arc aerial ‘passes’ to the forehead of target man Felix Platte while creative number 10 Diogo Nascimento would usually take the ball on the turn and look to feed through balls to the on-running Asrtit Selmani, instead possession would be won back, recycled and kept in tight triangles of short passing.

This proved to ultimately frustrate Real Madrid, forcing them to break their shape to chase down the ball. Not that Rayo looked to profit from these temporary opportunities. Only one shot on target was registered during the match by Rayo, and the underdogs’ winning goal was a 98th minute penalty from the seemingly tireless Israeli international midfielder Eden Kartsev. The ploy was to antagonise their technically superior opponent, wearing them down until they were truly vulnerable. A bit like focusing on the final boss’s armour in a classic video game; keep your distance, frustrate and weaken, before looking for the kill-shot to take the victory.

That night at the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez, it worked.

The record books will show a series of Rayo wins before a predictable defeat to Barcelona in the final. “History doesn’t remember runners up,” as they say. Though this Copa del Rey campaign held more revealing tactical details, if you looked a little more closely.

UEFA Europa Conference League

The UEFA Conference League is the Marmite of European club competition. Critics at times lambast it as another needless “distraction” from top level league football, while for some clubs (and certainly for the majority of fans) it provides a stage and opportunity to play under the lights against varied opposition you may never normally encounter, and another chance at silverware. Any ambitious and dedicated footballer will tell you that if there is a trophy that can be lifted and a medal to be added to the collection, they will always jump at the opportunity to win it.

Rayo Vallecano were drawn against AZ, Dnipro-1 and Randers in a group stage that was a competitive affair, highlighted by an absurd 6-4 victory against the Danes. Powerful striker Felix Platte had a productive continental campaign, notching 7 goals in 8 games. Although Rayo eventually tumbled out against Belgium’s Genk on penalties in the Second Knockout Round, it was a worthwhile adventure for Fernando Teixidó‘s men. Another notable statistic was Portuguese wing-back Tiago Araújo creating three chances with an xG of over 0.3 per chance in just three starts. If you are aware of (or interested in) the data put together by SciSports, this statistic makes the 23-year old Portuguese a definite outlier. Normally a left-sided defender, Teixidó experimented with fielding him on the opposite flank, cutting in on to his preferred foot, before curling dangerous crosses with regularity. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the ex-Portugal under-21 international deployed like this more regularly going forward.

La Liga

Incredible.

A breathless campaign led to Rayo Vallecano emerging from la sombra (the shadow) of their giant Madrid rivals and unbelievably finishing ahead of both Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid in LaLiga.

For a team to finish 2nd in LaLiga where their average first team player is paid £13,920 a week in comparison to the league average of £40,858 is something special. Title-winning Barcelona‘s superstar Antoine Griezmann commands a basic salary of £600,000 per week, before bonuses. Rayo Vallecano in their entirety (including all of the players in their B and U19 teams) spend £469,859 on wages a week in total.

On the field, Astrit Selmani bagged the top goalscorer award with 24 strikes in LaLiga, while midfield pair Mauro Arambarri (162) and Eden Kartsev (142) were first and second in the table for successfully completed tackles. Goalkeeper Stole Dimitrievski topped the table of successful saves, getting something in the way of an impressive 82% of shots aimed at his goal this season.

The graphic below visualises the performance of Rayo’s first team squad this season.

  • Includes only first team players who played a minimum of 1,000 minutes across all competitions
  • Dot size correlates with minutes played. The larger the dot, the more minutes on the field.
  • Attacking Contribution considers key passes, chances created, assists, shots on target, goals and xG per 90, plus xG per shot.
  • Defensive Performance includes interceptions, tackles and headers won per 90, plus adjusted figures for heading and tackling win ratio.

Turkish playmaker Ömer Beyaz continues to be a notable thorn in opposition sides, while defenders Hernán De La Fuente and Tiago Araújo continue to post impressive numbers at both ends of the pitch.

These are the most fielded players by minutes across the 23/24 campaign in Rayo Vallecano‘s typical 4-3-1-2 formation.

What’s next?

There were rumours that the LaLiga Manager of the Year, 48-year old Rayo manager Fernando Teixidó may look to move on at the end of the campaign, due to fulfilling exactly what he set out to do when he took the job on the 10th of August 2020, finish ahead of Real and Atlético Madrid in the table. Four seasons is a fairly significant spell with a single club in modern football. Teixidó is now the second longest-serving manager in the top flight after Zinedine Zidane. At the time of writing, the average LaLiga manager tenure is 2 years and 78 days.

There is also a question of where the ceiling is for Rayo Vallecano. They couldn’t conceivably win a European trophy or go one better in the league and actually lift LaLiga, could they?

With Diego Simeone‘s eventual departure from Atlético Madrid after 12 years in charge coinciding with Mikhail Korchagin‘s astonishing financial takeover of the club, many quarters of sports media predicted that Teixidó may be in the frame to make a short move across the city to succeed him. When Atléti opted for 51-year old Rogério Ceni, fresh from four exceptionally successful years at the Flamengo helm, many were disappointed. They wished to see what the Rayo boss may have been capable of building with considerable resources at his disposal.

Similarly when Sergey Semak was relieved of his duties at Valencia after just 318 days in charge, Teixidó’s name was certainly discussed. Ultimately, the Ajax manager Erik ten Hag was convinced to leave the Dutch champions after six successful years to take the job instead.

For now, the Peruvian continues in the Rayo Vallecano hot seat. Given the performances they have delivered and progress they have made together in four short years, I hope we get to see just how far Fernando Teixidó can really take El Rayo while the match between club and coach is still a productive and entertaining one. Especially given that the 2024/25 campaign will see the underdogs make their debut on club football’s finest stage, the UEFA Champions League.

COMING SOON: Tom Phillips‘ piece on Rayo’s youth development position and current infrastructure.

Alex Mellan for theangrylinesmen


Thanks for reading.

FM Stag

La Sombra – 7 – The glorious nosebleed

This is post seven of a wider series. To instead start at post one, please click here.

“It’s something of a miracle that Teixidó has Rayo pushing anywhere near in the right direction.”

Our favourite fictional publication theangrylinesmen is back, but this time it’s not recently converted Rayista Carl Hagedorn with the pen in hand. It’s his colleague Jonathan Simpson, a stats-driven writer from the Spanish football desk.


7 January 2024

It’s not often we pause mid-season for an analytical article, but a trio of recent headlines early in the 23/24 campaign for Rayo Vallecano have forced our hand here at theangrylinesmen. It seems something special is brewing in the ‘poor but proud’ outskirts of Madrid.

Since 48-year old Fernando Teixidó took the Rayo reins in the August of 2020 after a couple of seasons in Bolivia in charge of The Strongest, the wider media paid little notice. The relatively unknown manager’s unveiling did cause a few ripples as he spelled out his philosophy, “humility, integrity and nobility,” which had the typically divisive Bukaneros rocking and applauding at the press conference; but the excitement was mostly confined to that evening, and only for those who were there in the flesh, caught up in the moment.

Often football managers are the protagonists of their own dreamland, and it would have been entirely fair to dismiss the Peruvian’s words as hyperbole.

Then came the substance.

A tight promotion as champions of LaLiga 2 in his first season in charge, followed by a 6th then 7th place finish in LaLiga suddenly propelled Rayo Vallecano into the same bracket as the Real Sociedad, Real Betis and Athletic Clubs of Spanish football. Nowhere near the magnitude (or financial power!) of Barcelona and Rayo’s city rivals Real and Atléti of course, but rather not miles behind Sevilla and Valencia. Around those lower continental qualification places. Certainly top half material, on the pitch at least.

Today is the 7th of January 2024 and currently Rayo Vallecano sit 5th in LaLiga, incredibly having lost only two of their opening nineteen fixtures so far this season. They have amassed 33 points against an ‘expected points’ tally of 28 based on performances so far, but don’t let that be the fly in the ointment. Draws have been a curse as they have tied nine games and won eight, but it has been an incredible start to the season for the team with the 16th highest salary commitment of the 20 teams in the division.

Throw in that Rayo have been groundsharing with neighbours Getafe all year, and will continue to do so until their new 25,000 seater stadium is ready in 2026, and it’s something of a miracle that Teixidó has Rayo pushing anywhere near in the right direction.

Add in a 9-0 (yes, nine-nil) destruction of poor Panadería Pulido in the first round of the Copa del Ray, plus progression to the knockout stages of the UEFA Europa Conference League after finishing top of a group featuring AZ and Dnipro-1, and you’ll find all the elements of a memorable campaign.

While we at theangrylinesmen are the first to recognise how fickle football can be, progression at the Vallecas club feels worth writing about.

Fellow 2021 promotion buddies Almería have arguably performed even better since also moving to the top tier three years ago, but being considerably backed by wealthy foreign owners (Rayo pay a wage bill 38% of their size), Almería are a different story for a different day.

Texidó’s commitment to attacking play, even in the face of far superior opposition, is brave verging on reckless. His signature 4312 is almost as certain to be witnessed in each Rayo match as hearing his roaring voice from the technical area joined by his equally passionate assistant John Metgod.

The Rayo players with the most minutes played in each position so far this season.

As always, I love to get my hands on the statistical data to complement a good story, and there are a few standout numbers about Rayo’s LaLiga campaign so far. Data courtesy of SciSports.

  • 550 successful tackles made – Rayo Vallecano have completed 33 more successful tackles this season than any other team in LaLiga. This is only 35 shy of the combined total of successful tackles by their two nearest competitors in 6th and 7th in the table, Sevilla (347) and Valencia (238).
  • 333 fouls committed – Rayo Vallecano have committed the 2nd highest number of fouls in LaLiga. While on the surface this may read like a negative, when you consider that they are yet to have a man sent off in this campaign, Teixidó’s aggressive and combative approach is regularly disrupting the opposition, but not to his own team’s detriment.
  • 13.3% of chances converted – This is the 3rd highest conversion rate in the division. Only Castellón (14.4%) and Real Sociedad (16.4%) have a better shot conversion rate this season. Consider that Rayo have taken 210 shots as a team, while the other two have attempted only 118 and 146 respectively, and it’s clear that not only are Rayo peppering the goal with attacks regularly, but putting a comparatively good number of those chances away too.

Looking within the Rayo Vallecano ranks themselves, some individual performances merit particular praise. ‘Attacking Contribution’ considers key passes, chances created, assists, shots on target, goals and xG per 90 plus xG per shot. ‘Defensive Performance’ includes interceptions, tackles, and headers won per 90 plus adjusted numbers for tackling and heading success rate. The larger the dot size, the more minutes played.

Hernán De La Fuente has shown incredible prowess at both ends of the pitch as the best performer overall, while midfielder Eden Kartsev, probably best known for his progressive passing, has surprisingly delivered the highest defensive numbers across the team.

Creative midfielder Ömer Beyaz has proved crucial in the final third (3.64 key passes per 90). Striker Felix Platte (11 goals from 8.14 xG) has shown that his tireless work rate is as hugely important as his offensive play, as his defensive statistics largely match the numbers delivered by first-choice centre back Emiliano Velázquez.

Now we’ve hit the exact halfway point of Teixidó’s fourth season in charge of Rayo Vallecano, the key question is if Rayo can keep it up for the rest of the campaign.

The below are three short snippets of recent theangrylinesmen articles relating to those who don la franja. If they don’t convince you why many are choosing the Madrid underdogs to be their ‘second team’, I’m not sure what will.

Enjoy!

Jonathan Simpson for theangrylinesmen


“Homeless” Rayo Vallecano slay Barcelona in shock giant-killing

25 November 2023

Rayo Vallecano have defeated Barcelona 2-1 tonight for their first victory over the Catalan side in over twenty years. The Madrid side took all three points on a breezy November evening at the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez, Rayo’s temporary home while they build their new stadium.

You have to go back to December 2002 to see a plucky Rayo Vallecano side buoyed by a single Jorge Azkoitia goal hang on to defeat Louis van Gaal‘s Blaugrana in a tight 1-0 affair. The Barcelona teamsheet that night included Patrick Kluivert, Javier Saviola and Juan Román Riquelme, and tonight the names were every bit as impressive.

£78million man Jaden Sancho, World Cup winner Antoine Griezmann and Argentine pair Lautaro Martínez and Lionel Messi looked crestfallen as the final whistle blew tonight. The reigning LaLiga champions huffed and puffed to 2.46 xG from 18 attempts at goal, picking up five bookings along the way; while Fernando Teixidó‘s Rayo Vallecano notched on either side of Lautaro Martínez’ penalty to capture the three points.

Although Barcelona shaded possession with 56% of the ball, their 313 completed passes was only 3 more than Rayo’s 310. The key differences tonight were in decision-making and sheer effort. Teixidó’s side were patient, hitting the target with 6 of their 7 attempts on goal (86% accuracy), whereas Barcelona only managed 8 shots on target from their 18 attempts (45%). When Barcelona heads went down in the final minutes, collectively and visibly exasperated as Ansu Fati‘s volley whistled past the stoic Dimitrievski‘s left hand post in the Rayo goal, the Madrid upstarts pushed forward again. When Felix Platte‘s late header hit the back of the net on 94 minutes as Marc-André ter Stegen lay in a crumpled heap, the result was fully deserved.

Barcelona manager Marcelo Gallardo graciously admitted his fellow South American tactician had got the better of him on the day. The ex-River Plate man congratulated Teixidó’s Rayo on the result, but you could see he was seething at his own players’ inability to put Rayo to the sword when they had been on the front foot for most of the game. The Argentine said his Barca players “let the opponents slow the pace and dictate the game in the key moments while we watched.”

What is surely a blip for the mighty Barcelona will go down in history as a heroic milestone for Rayo Vallecano and the vast majority of the sold out 17,393 crowd who were there to witness it.

Alex Mellan for theangrylinesman


La Liga underdogs set to break transfer record for the second time in twelve months

4 January 2024

Exactly one year ago today, the 4th of January 2023, Rayo Vallecano shocked football’s financial analysts by eschewing their shrewd and reportedly “under-invested” label by handing Maccabi Tel Aviv a reported sum of £3.3million for Israeli midfielder Eden Kartsev. Time has proved that smashing their twenty year transfer record (Elvir Bolic cost Rayo £1.8m back in 2003) was a wise choice. The all-action Kartsev is a key cog in the Rayo machine, playing 47 times for the club in the last twelve months, consistently completing over 90% of passes and over 5 successful tackles per game.

Fast forward to this year and Fernando Teixidó is hoping his next significant investment is as impactful as the first. With Hungarian playmaker Zsolt Kalmár moving on to Eibar after a little over two seasons (a £1.6m sale after signing him for just £120k), there was a gap opening up in the squad to compete with the Turkish phenomenon Ömer Beyaz for that ‘number 10’ position in the hole behind the striking pair.

Cast aside as a teenager by boyhood club Benfica, relative minnows Académica Coimbra picked up the then lightweight and nimble left footer Diogo Nascimento on a free transfer. A tough campaign that resulted in relegation to Portugal’s second tier was lit up by the performances of one young man who often took games (and at times his teammates!) by the scruff of the neck single-handedly. 12 months near the foot of the Liga NOS table and 6 months near the top of the tier below, and potential suitors across Europe began to take notice.

A creative technician whose strength defies his 5 foot 6 frame, Diogo is more than just a playmaker. Nascimento is a determined yet composed battler, known as much for his leadership qualities, constantly shouting and directing team mates when not in possession of the ball, as he is for his deft touches and intricate trickery. Rayo Vallecano were more than happy to give Coimbra the £4million required to free him via his release clause.

Another wise (big) investment for the Vallecas club? Only time will tell, but all of the elements are there to suggest so.

Anna Campbell for theangrylinesmen


Rayo beat Real Madrid, Juventus and PSG to “the next Alvaro Morata”

10 January 2024

Alvaro Morata is a striker who divides opinion. In my view, he is never given the credit he deserves. Now 31 years old and still plying his trade at Atlético Madrid, being the selfless striker is often a thankless task. Yet clubs have parted with a combined £157million for Morata’s signature over his career, he has bagged 41 goals in 77 caps for Spain and continues to be a key component of Diego Simeone‘s side.

A striker interested in pulling defenders out of position, wrestling with fullbacks to create space for gifted technicians while still managing to sometimes score himself might not be fashionable, but it is sure as hell effective.

When footage of 16-year old Gaoussou Traoré‘s performances for Huesca‘s youth and then B team surfaced on YouTube, scouts across Europe started to take notice of a striker cut from a similar mould. PSG‘s scout Luca Cattani reportedly demanded that the French giants look at the young Spaniard immediately. Ultimately his muddy boots and combative style was considered too primitive for the bourgeois Parisians. Real Madrid reportedly made an offer for the young prospect via email while Juventus manager Mauricio Pochettino mentioned Traoré by name in a press conference during the summer. He said he liked what he saw.

It wasn’t until “GT,” as he has quickly been dubbed by his teammates, met personally with Fernando Teixidó that a match was made in heaven.

Teixidó is known to be a magnetic figure. All impassioned zeal in the technical area and when facing the media, but quietly sensitive privately, always keen to meet the families and parents of his young players to explain that joining Rayo Vallecano is more than a footballing commitment, it’s a social and moral one too.

A 16-year old Spanish striker of north-west African descent draws immediate and understandable comparisons to be drawn with Barcelona superstar Ansu Fati. The level of potential, playing position and heritage aside however, Gaoussou Traoré is a completely different player.

The Alvaro Morata comparison is more accurate in a footballing sense. Real Madrid veteran Karim Benzema is another.

Can Traoré live up to his early promise? As a £1million capture he certainly represents a low risk move for Rayo.

Personally, I think they’ve unearthed an incredible gem.

Gaoussou Traoré. Remember the name!

Tom Phillips for theangrylinesmen


Thanks for reading.

FM Stag

La Sombra – 6 – You can never go too far

This is post six of a wider series. To instead start at post one, please click here.

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

Carl Hagedorn for theangrylinesmen reviews another nail-biting season at Madrid’s perpetual underdogs Rayo Vallecano for your reading fmpleasure.


Another year has passed if you can believe it. It’s July 2023 and just over two years since I was last tasked by my employer to cover Madrid’s “poor but proud” Rayo Vallecano.

In May 2021, I sat (and eventually stood and applauded) in Mirandes stadium, witnessing the heart-stopping end to Fernando Teixidó‘s first season in charge of Rayo, resulting in the most unlikely of promotions from LaLiga 2.

Suffice it to say, although not following Rayo’s maiden campaign of the Teixidó era in LaLiga in any official capacity as a journalist last year, I’d caught the bug. There is something about the passionate Bukaneros, all the political gusto and outlandish displays of anti-establishment. Also the golden thread of humility that runs through the core of the team and the Vallecas community which stops just short of the club ownership regime. It got me.

Although, despite that final observation, now that times have changed and the club is currently massively profitable (more on this later), the tension between fans and majority owner Raúl Martín Presa has certainly mellowed over the last 36 months.

With El Rayo ending last year with an incredible 6th place finish, Teixidó and co had certainly set the bar high moving into his third year in charge.

How did the team perform when juggling a hectic LaLiga calendar alongside the usual domestic cup obligations and the challenge of the UEFA Europa League?

Let’s find out.

The players

Heading into the 22/23 season, Teixidó had strengthened the team, namely with four first team players.

Nemanja Radoja slotted elegantly into the defensive midfield three (free transfer from Levante) and provided experience and maturity to a team lacking in LaLiga minutes. Tiago Araújo, an exciting young wing back (free transfer from Benfica) showed glimpses of exciting attacking flair in his 15 appearances (11 from the bench) and is definitely one to watch in future. Thijme Verheijen (£650,000 from VVV-Venlo) is a tricky number 9 with a keen eye for goal, but mainly played understudy to last year’s FIFA U21 World Player of the Year Antoñín, who unfortunately didn’t live up to his own high expectations. He had bagged 42 goals in the previous two campaigns but only managed 7 strikes in this his third and final season on loan from Granada.

A steady influence, two promising youngsters and a powerful forward set to alter Teixidó’s tactical identity.

It was the fourth and final signing Felix Platte (£550,000 from Darmstadt) who proved the most tactically impactful for Rayo Vallecano in the 22/23 campaign.

The deeper of the two striking roles in Teixidó’s signature 4-3-1-2 had previously most often been filled by a robust and industrious forward, such as Swede Astrit Selmani or nomadic Argentinian Jonathan Calleri. Calleri actually left Vallecas during the current campaign for Guangzhou in the Chinese Super League for a club record fee rising to £8million, and I can’t help but think it was a bit of a masterstroke from Rayo’s Peruvian manager. With Felix Platte‘s height and power a new weapon in the Rayo arsenal, it signalled a shift in system.

January 2023 saw the arrival of club record signing Eden Kartsev (£3.3million from Maccabi Tel Aviv) and the Israeli’s unveiling was a true symbol that times have really changed (financially) at Rayo. The club’s previous record signing had been Elvis Bolic from Fenerbahce, costing £1.8million some twenty years earlier in 2003.

Rayo’s record £3.3m signing sandwiched between two promising youngsters.

The January 2023 window also saw the arrival of Slack’s Scandinavian favourite Albert Braut Tjåland and Brazil’s teenage defender Sammuel. Ultimately both were loaned out for development game time, but looked promising in their brief appearances in Madrid before their temporary moves.

Below was the system and line-up deployed most often by Fernando Teixidó this year:

Special credit must go to Santi Comesaña, a career-long central midfielder who has successfully and impressively adapted to his new role as first choice right-back.

Performance-wise, the plot below tells it’s own story of the 22/23 campaign. Dot size is minutes played. Attacking Contribution considers xG per 90 and per shot, goals, assists, key passes and chances created per 90 minutes. Defensive Performance looks at interceptions, tackles and headers won per 90 minutes and their success ratio.

Young playmaker Ömer Beyaz is starting to show his creative prowess and may very well be used more regularly moving into the 23/24 campaign. Fran García shows his consistent efficiency at both ends of the pitch, while captain Óscar Valentín‘s tough tackling in midfield is evident from his location on the graph.

The source.

The tactics

As per above, the arrival of German striker Felix Platte signalled a change in Fernando Teixidó‘s strategy. Not his shape, as the Peruvian sticks almost religiously to his narrow 4-3-1-2 formation; with the wing backs crucial to both attacking and defensive phases, while a creative number 10 looks to deploy ‘la pausa’ to unlock defences with critically timed through passes. But instead how the team looks to attack.

The difference maker?

With a six foot three powerhouse now in the ranks, however, Teixidó now was asking his team to regularly look for his aerial prowess as part of quick counter attacks, whether either via early ‘crosses’ from deeper on the pitch, in what can be best described as in a Kevin de Bruyne-esque fashion, or from lofted balls through the middle for the big German to nod on for a more diminutive and fleet-footed strike partner.

I could go on, but the timely release of this wonderful video by Tifo Football covers the foundations of these tactical concepts perfectly.

Career-long central midfielder Santi Comesaña‘s retraining as a right-back provided further composure and creativity in a narrow system, while more so than in previous years, Emiliano Velázquez was asked to push forward slightly as a ball-playing centre back, which allowed the central midfield three to push into slightly higher positions to support the regularly deployed pivot into a quick counter attack, in an otherwise low-tempo, patient, short-passing side.

Example:

The system in action.

Unfortunately for Teixidó, the rewards of these brave new tactical choices had their risks. They usually do.

In the 21/22 campaign, Rayo scored 71 goals, conceding 54. In the 22/23 campaign this was reduced to 65 scored and increased to 64 conceded. With the talismanic Antoñín‘s goal tally dropping from 20 to 7 vs the year before, key central midfielder Eden Kartsev only arriving in January, ultimately disrupting a settled lineup, coupled with the addition of continental football; it was only natural that performances couldn’t meet the heady heights of the year before. Or could they?

The performances

Cut to the chase, Rayo Vallecano finished 7th in LaLiga. Although missing out on Europa League football for the following year, El Rayo will make their debut in the UEFA Europa Conference League in 23/24.

Although 6th looked a certainty at one point, a resurgent Valencia sneaked into the final Europa League spot on the final day. Final day drama is a hallmark of Rayo Vallecano, it seems.

The difference this year for Rayo was although they managed some memorable wins (5-1 against an abject Alavés, 5-1 vs Villarreal and 5-2 against an incredibly overperforming Almería side), when Teixidó’s side were outgunned by a bigger rival, they were routinely destroyed, rather than simply outscored. A 4-1 loss to Valencia, a 5-0 defeat against Madrid rivals Atléti, 4-1 away to Sevilla, 4-0 away to Real Madrid, the list goes on.

This should provide food for thought for Fernando Teixidó, as although dogmatic and principled football can at times be a joy to behold (see Marcelo Bielsa‘s Leeds for the best example), the lack of a plan B can come back to humiliate teams with massively painful defeats (see Marcelo Bielsa‘s Leeds for the best example).

The UEFA Europa League journey was a welcome distraction for Rayo this year. An incredibly tight Group D resulted in a table-topping performance.

The unlikely group winners.
Famous victories against Dynamo Kyiv and Glasgow Rangers will live long in the memory.

Unfortunately the Second Knockout Round proved a bridge too far, and Ajax dispatched of the plucky Rayistas in a 2-0 victory that seems routine on paper, but in reality was anything but. Although Ajax had the lion’s share of possession (61%), Rayo actually managed 10 attempts on goal, generating 1.37 xG, where the Amsterdam giants only generated 0.92 xG from their 13 efforts. A closer run thing than the scoreline suggests.

The Bukaneros and their beloved community club left Estadio Vallecas with their heads held high that drizzly evening in March.

A fifth round (effectively the quarter finals) exit to Real Madrid in the domestic cup held no shame and overall I think Fernando Teixidó can again be proud of his team’s season, all things considered.

What’s next?

Looking ahead to the 23/24 campaign, Rayo Vallecano fans will be hoping for more of the same. If a little pragmatism can find it’s way into Teixidó’s tactical decision-making when facing a team that are clearly cut from a finer cloth, and any new additions can hit the ground running, it could yield another memorable campaign.

Building work starts soon on the Rayo Vallecano Stadium. Imaginatively titled, I know. This is a long overdue new home for Rayo, complete with 25,000 seats. It is scheduled to be ready some time in 2026, so ground-sharing with Getafe is the awkward solution in the interim.

Success in Teixidó’s first three years at the helm has created a level of expectation far beyond how high Rayo Vallecano should on paper be aiming, but don’t we all love an underdog who upsets the odds?

LaLiga salary expenditure 22/23.

With (free) pre-contract deals already signed with Getafe‘s dependable Uruguayan midfielder Mauro Arambarri and ex-Arsenal ‘wonderkid’ defender Konstantinos Mavropanos, things are looking brighter than ever. Antoñín sadly finally returns to parent club Granada, but we always knew that his permanent capture would be out of Rayo’s financial reach.

The Uruguayan looks set to be a sensible and steady addition, but can the ex Arsenal defender finally realise his potential at 25 in Madrid?

Two promising youngsters have arrived too, so may be names to remember, but only time will tell.

“It has to be a hard life in Iceland when you are looking like this at the age of 18” – Ondřej Rensie.

I now count myself as a bona fide Rayista. If I could offer one piece of advice to fellow Rayo fans; it would be to echo the words of another small anti-establishment representative, and to enjoy it while it lasts. No, not a comparable football team, instead it’s 1986’s Ferris Bueller. Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Carl Hagedorn for theangrylinesmen.

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag

La Sombra – 5 – Unquestioned answers

This is post five of a wider series. To instead start at post one, please click here.

“If you thought season one’s final day promotion drama was edge-of-your-seat stuff, the end of season two was every bit as chaotic.”

It’s Sunday the 15th of May 2022, approaching midnight.

The Vallecas sky may be dark, but the stars are shining brightly.

The Rayo Vallecano bus has not long parked outside the stadium after the lengthy return journey from the final league match of the season. An unfortunate 2-0 defeat away at Sevilla.

As ever, representatives of the Bukaneros join these large end of season meetings between the board, management team and supporters groups. All flags, songs and political gusto in full attendance. Tonight’s get together feels a little different, however.

The corridors of Estadio de Vallecas are trembling.

In a scene that evokes memories of the powerful opening of 2005’s Walk the Line where impatient Folsom Prison inmates clap and stomp awaiting the arrival of Joaquin Phoenix’s incredible Johnny Cash, the large gathering of club officials and associates restlessly anticipate Fernando Teixidó. He has not yet emerged from the manager’s office since arriving back in Madrid.

The music may be booming and the inhabitants dressed in their finest attire, but the champagne bottles remain unpopped. But not for long…

Not Fernando Teixidó. Or Vallecas.

The room erupts into applause as Fernando Teixidó and club captain Óscar Valentín join the swell of Rayo staff and most passionate followers, taking their seats at the front of the room alongside club owner Raúl Martín Presa. Presa looks content, giddy. Could the last twelve months be a turning point in the relationship between he and the club? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

“I want to begin with thanking you all for your loyal support.” Teixido’s booming voice cuts through the music as the room quietens a little.

“A lot has changed in the near two years I have been in Vallecas. But the most important things have stayed exactly the same. Humility. Integrity. Nobility. Somos pobres con orgullo!”

The room erupts again as those in attendance rise to their feet.

The excitement has reached fever pitch at Rayo Vallecano. It’s to be expected.

The LaLiga new boys have only just gone and finished in their highest league position in their 98-year history and qualified for Europe!


Season two (21/22) is over. Rayo Vallecano’s first campaign back in LaLiga is finished, and if you thought season one’s final day promotion drama was edge-of-your-seat stuff, the end of season two was every bit as chaotic.

Before we get there though, let’s rewind a bit.

Season review

Heading into the 21/22 campaign, only 26-year old attacking midfielder Zsolt Kalmár joined in addition to those discussed at the end of post four. The Hungarian cost a measly £120,000, and paid that back immediately with an exceptional volleyed goal from outside the box on his LaLiga debut, a pace-setting 3-1 victory against Athletic Club.

Despite his lack of pace and power, Zsolt has some incredible attributes in all the key places to be a solid number 10 in a hard working and compact team.

This was Teixido’s most regularly chosen 11 in his second season. Fran García and Iván Martos made their loan deals permanent from Real Madrid and Almería respectively, alongside the new additions. Garcíá would have been first choice left back, but missed a decent chunk of the season due to injury.

In a key switch from season one, I did indeed sacrifice the Poacher in favour of a Pressing Forward. It worked!
Chicco flexed between the Regista and Half Back roles depending on the circumstances. He was equally capable in both.

The squad and system were set. This year should of course have been a real battle against relegation, partly due to the overwhelming financial gulf between Rayo Vallecano and our competition.

Just a 23rd of our Madrid rivals’ financial power.

It wasn’t though. Results were a lot better than expected.

A dull September can’t take away from an incredible first half of the campaign.

In some of the most entertaining games I’ve seen on FM21 so far, we defeated Atlético Madrid (a tight 1-0), Real Betis (a thrilling 6-3) and even managed a nail-biting comeback against Barcelona to gain a point (3-3 draw in the dying seconds).

When we hit the halfway point of 19 league games played, we actually sat 5th in the table, and had only lost three games (the joint lowest in LaLiga, tied with Barcelona). All three of the losses were within the opening five fixtures.

I completed some squad analysis half way through the season, just to check that my logic for player selection from the in-game eye test was being backed up by the numbers. Midfielder Javi Muñoz (remember him from his last day penalty miss against us that had a major hand in us going up last year?) stood out as someone who in his fleeting appearances, seemed to be much more creative than I had given him credit for. In the second half of the season he eventually ousted Santi Comesaña to take the spot at the left side of the midfield three, as a segundo volante. Although his numbers naturally dipped as his minutes ramped up, he still ended the season as our highest key passer per 90 (6.62) and provider of assists per 90 (1.14). A great return from a free transfer who started the season on the bench.

Our chief creative force.
Click to have a closer look. Scatter plots seem to be the current thing.

2022 kicked off with a bang. January and February were the months that made me sit up and realise that we were really not in a relegation battle, and in fact, were pushing up towards the other end of the table.

A horrible March threatened to de-rail our great start, but in the end, it all came down to the final day.

Again.

Not as strong as the first half, but a brilliant campaign for a newly promoted side.

The final day

The last day of the season was another nerve-wracking conclusion to a campaign. Almost like El Rayo don’t know how to do it any other way.

Three clubs all capable of capturing 6th on the final day.

To remain in the continental qualification places; absurdly with one game to go, all Rayo had to do (haha) was hope that Athletic Club didn’t beat Real Betis, Almeríá didn’t beat Real Sociedad or if either or both of them did, to better their results away to Sevilla, which was a titanic ask. Especially when victory for Sevilla would keep Valencia out of the top four and secure UEFA Champions League football for the 22/23 campaign.

With 70 minutes gone, unfortunately Sevilla led Rayo by one goal to nil, courtesy of an incredible (deliberate or otherwise) goal direct from a corner by the tricky Rony Lopes.

Unbelievable.

Unimaginably, both Athletic Club and Almería were also 1-0 down, meaning that we were clinging to 6th place by a single point.

In the end, it was even closer. Both of those teams managed to equalise, to pull back to 1-1. Munir rounded off a great Sevilla performance for 2-0, to secure Champions League football for Los Palanganas. Rayo hearts were in mouths patiently waiting for the final whistle in all three games. A single goal from Athletic or Almería and the European dream was over.

When it eventually came, Fernando Teixidó collapsed on the turf again, all emotion left out there on the pitch. Many of the players did too, as it ended in the most unlikely glory.

Rayo Vallecano finish 6th in LaLiga and secure UEFA Europa League football next season. I cannot believe it.

What does this mean?

An outrageous first season in Spain’s top tier.
Rayo’s best ever league position in their near 100 year history.

Paco Jémez took Rayo Vallecano to eighth in 2013, but the club were not allowed to compete in Europe due to pending bankruptcy. Typical.

Rayo haven’t played continental football in some 20+ years. The 2000-2001 campaign under Juande Ramos ended in finishing 9th in the league, but Rayo won the Fair Play award and qualified for the UEFA Cup. They actually managed to get to the Quarter Finals, where they met Spanish rivals Alavés, only to lose to the eventual finalists.

Liverpool defeated Alavés in the final that year, with a memorable 5-4 victory due to a golden (own) goal. Those were the days of true drama.

On a separate note, Raúl Martín Presa must be feeling the warmth of success, as the below will require considerable investment.

Massive news for our tiny club.

Best Player

The best player of 21/22 has to be on-loan Granada striker Antoñín. A lot of players are built for the second tier of a league. How many times have we seen players in the English Championship look like world beaters only to struggle when they step up to the Premier League? The same applies in Spain, and certainly does to Antoñín’s 23-goal strike partner from last year, Álvaro García. García currently sits in Rayo’s B squad, begging for the Vallecas exit, but is proving tough to shift.

Not Antoñín. His 20 LaLiga strikes after his exceptional campaign last season made him the second highest scorer in the entire division in this one (behind Celta Vigo’s 21-goal Santi Mina). He also followed in the illustrious footsteps of Matthijs de Ligt and Kylian Mbappé to win the FIFA Best U21 Men’s Player of the Year award. Somehow Granada have allowed me to loan him for a third season, so thankfully our star striker will remain with us for at least one more year.

Great achievement.
The star man.

Looking to the future

34 and 35 year old midfield duo Oscar Trejo and Mario Suárez are both leaving in the summer at the expiry of their contracts, with the latter being replaced by experienced Levante midfielder Nemanja Radoja on a free. A youthful striking option, Thijme Verheijen, joins from VVV Venlo for £650k. Despite Teixidó’s previous faith in Darío Poveda, a hip injury and only 363 minutes of first team action has left fans underwhelmed.

With the addition of a continental campaign to consider, more reinforcements may yet be needed.

I have high hopes for both. Although the striker needs Thijme to develop. (You can blame CJ for that one).

Nothing exciting happened in this year’s youth intake, but Presa finally agreed to invest a little in the facilities, so perhaps we’ll be third time lucky and get some decent prospects in next year.

Muñoz still ended the season with a brilliant number of attacking contributions per 90, while it was good to see my wingbacks contributing at both ends of the pitch (the four players in the top right quadrant). First choice CB pairing (Velazquez and Ely) clearly the best performing central defensive pair. Ideal.

Like in the last post, I’ll leave you with the end of season review screenshots, and we can pick up in season 3, and see how we go about managing a European campaign and trying to repeat our league performance all at the same time.

Click on the first image below and you can flick through it, if you so desire.

See you in season three!

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag

La Sombra – 4 – The segunda conspiracy

This is post four of a wider series. To instead start at post one, please click here.

“Fernando Teixidó crouches sternly in his technical area like Marcelo Bielsa has possessed both his legs and facial expression.”

Sunday the 30th of May 2021.

The incredible events of this day will be written into Rayo Vallecano folklore.

Very rarely can glory occur without controversy, however. Especially whenever Rayo are involved.

The exceptional occasion was captured first hand by seasoned football journalist Carl Hagedorn for popular website theangrylinesmen, who was there on the day.


“The Segunda Conspiracy,” by Carl Hagedorn.

I arrived at Mirandes’ stadium Municipal Anduva very early in the morning of the last Sunday of May 2021, when the streets tracking the Ebro river were still fairly quiet. I wanted to get set up ahead of time, ideally including grabbing another famously rich coffee from Cafeteria Anduva. To truly soak up the atmosphere on what would be a day of celebration for the home team’s loyal support, regardless of the result. It was the final day of a mercurial and exhausting LaLiga Smartbank campaign for both clubs who were currently preparing for today’s contest. As I sunk my teeth into the delicious pastisset I had managed to pick up on the journey to the 5,000 seater ground, I had no idea what would later unfold in front of my eyes on this so far fairly unremarkable Sunday.

Mirandes had flirted with relegation all season, but very recently were confirmed as just mathematically clear of the risk of relegation, largely thanks to a pivotal Erik Jirka hat trick in a 4-1 away win at Real Oviedo at the beginning of May. Rayo Vallecano on the other hand were the unlikely current residents of the division’s top spot on 82 points. El Rayo sat ahead of Mallorca by a single goal, who were set to play Albacete in 5th in a home tie in this final round of fixtures. Espanyol sat 3rd, just three points off the second automatic promotion slot. The city of Barcelona’s second team were going away to face already relegated Logroñés, but needed at least a three goal swing and the other results involving the teams above them in the table to go their way, in order to avoid the pain of the playoffs.

It was all to play for.

With the exception of three losses in the fives games played in a disappointing April, Rayo Vallecano’s form in 2021 has been sensational. There is good reason that the Peruvian tactician in the Rayo hotseat, Fernando Teixidó, has won two of the four Manager of the Month awards presented so far this year. His tightly disciplined narrow counter-attacking Rayistas have been frustrating opponents in both boxes. The deadly striking duo of Antoñín and Álvaro García have been notching up the goals (22 and 23 strikes respectively). 21 year old Fran García has been continuing to deliver both key passes and timely assists during his impressive loan spell from Real Madrid, whether he plays in a ball-winning midfield role or in his more familiar left back berth. The veteran Mario Suárez has been metronomic as Rayo’s palanca (‘lever’), averaging almost 70 completed passes per 90 minutes played.

A reminder of the financial gulf in Spain’s second tier.

Rayo Vallecano’s development in Teixidó’s short spell in charge has been impressive, especially in the face of their £6.8m annual salary commitment. Although economically dwarfed by the spending reach of division rivals like Girona (£11.5m), Leganés (£12.9m) and the bookies’ choice for promotion, Espanyol (£21.8m salary bill per annum, if you can believe it), money has never been a key driver in Vallecas, though arguably, neither has competitive success.

The first 87 minutes of the final matchday passed largely without notable event. My mind started wandering back to the delicious pastisset I had eaten earlier while unpacking my bags at the functional, yet no frills Ibis Hotel I was checked into nearby. I found myself checking my watch as often as I was checking the other scores across the country. Anything to avoid the relatively drab affair unfolding in front of me.

Meanwhile…

Elsewhere in Spanish football, Zinedine Zidane’s inspired Real Madrid team had already been crowned LaLiga champions before the final day, 14 points clear of an over-performing Valencia, who were sat comfortably in second place with ex-Watford boss Javi Gracia at the helm. The soon to be unemployed Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona were destined to finish third, their 3-0 final day demolition of Real Sociedad ultimately meaningless in the final table.

Little did I realise that the real drama would take place at the top of the second tier in Spain, right here at the Municipal Anduva, and still to come in these final few minutes.

Mallorca are being held 0-0 by Albacete, but that’s how that tie would finish. Espanyol are holding up their end of the automatic promotion bargain, striker Javi Puado applauded off the pitch, being replaced after smashing a lovely volley past the hapless Roberto Santamaría in the Logroñés goal to fire his side 3-0 ahead in their match.

Incredibly yet somehow predictably, Rayo Vallecano are falling at the final hurdle. Currently 1-0 down to Mirandes with minutes to go (an Erik Jirka placed shot in the 63rd minute), the usually reliable Peru international Luis Advíncula hauls down Mirandes‘ tricky French winger Näis Djouahra yards away from the referee, right on the edge of his own box. Furious players from both sides surround referee Rubén Barrera as he reviews the incident for what feels like a lifetime via VAR.

The result? A penalty kick to Mirandes, and a straight red card for Rayo Vallecano’s seething right-back. It is all going wrong for El Rayo.

The most heartbreaking possible scenario for Rayo and their travelling Bukaneros with only minutes to play.

Fans around the stadium hold their breath. Rayo boss Fernando Teixidó crouches sternly in his technical area like Marcelo Bielsa has possessed both his legs and facial expression. With a team so stretched by limited resources and with very few players, getting hit this hard so late in the plot would surely be impossible to psychologically recover from, especially in time to go again for the playoffs in a couple of days. It is now or never.

Mirandes’ on-loan attacking midfielder Javi Muñoz, 26, looks terrified as he is instructed to take the spot kick by his manager José Alberto. With the result of the kick being pretty much meaningless for Mirandes, why does the playmaker look so besieged by terror and confused by this decision?

Oh Javi!

His shot is fired down to Rayo’s goalkeeper Stole Dimitrievski’s left, but saved by the stretched limbs of the Macedonian stopper! Muñoz stares down at the turf in horror, yet he must know that the fault is all his own.

Teixidó’s legs and lungs suddenly find power again, as he springs to his feet in the technical area, roaring at his players that there is simply no time for congratulation, and a 1-0 defeat is not enough to go up. His Dutch assistant manager John Metgod’s waving arms and screaming instructions mirror that of his passionate gaffer.

Ninety seconds later and there is a Rayo free kick to be taken, right by the sideline on the opposite side from where I am perched on the edge of my seat, high in the stands, not too far into the Mirandes half.

With every attack-minded Rayo player pushing forward, it is industrial centre-back Emiliano Velázquez’s job to hoof the ball towards the six yard box and pray. The 27 year old Uruguay cap hasn’t yet registered a single assist to his name this season.

Antoñín rises above Pablo Trigueros (a centre-back who genuinely has ‘4’ for jumping reach) and nods home to make it 1-1 and seal the LaLiga Smartbank title for not just the players of Rayo Vallecano but all the people of Vallecas!

Unbelievable drama in the match’s final moments.
The final table.

In the most incredible final 90 seconds of a season I have witnessed since the ‘Aguero 93:20’ moment, Rayo Vallecano will compete in the top tier of Spanish football next season. Automatic promotion by a single point. Champions by a single goal!

I rise to my feet and start to applaud completely involuntarily as the travelling Bukaneros go wild and Teixidó slumps to his knees in his technical area. This wasn’t just a victory for a football team, but a memorable milestone for an entire hard-working community.

I shake my head in disbelief, grinning from ear too ear as I start scribbling down notes that later formed the beginning of this article.

How could I forget?

Oh. I almost forgot the most shocking part of the story.

The reason Javi Muñoz was so perplexed as to why he was chosen to take the 90th minute penalty for Mirandes that ultimately led to the team dropping two points while seeing Rayo Vallecano promoted?

The reason why the events of today are as controversial as they are memorable?

It’s because around two months ago, Muñoz signed a pre-contract deal to leave Mirandes and his parent club Alavés to sign for a new club ahead of next season, when his contract expires just 30 days from today.

Who had he already agreed to join in the summer?

Rayo Vallecano, of course.

Coincidence?

Let the segunda division conspiracy theories begin.

Carl Hagedorn for theangrylinesmen.


Wow. What a first season.

If you are wondering, Carl Hagedorn is another fictional character I dreamt up while writing previous blog series, and he always seems to come sniffing around, whenever footballing scandal occurs.

I am of course ultimately delighted that we managed to seal promotion in the first season, but although the financial situation at the club will of course get better as a result, I have a sneaking suspicion that the economic gulf between Rayo and our league rivals will be a monumental chasm instead of an annoying gap next year. Clever recruitment and key tactical tweaks will be required if there is to be any chance of survival.

The Rayo Vallecano team of 2020-2021.
The manager’s record so far.

On the topic of recruitment, you already know about the controversial Javi Muñoz free transfer and the hunt for Atléti B striker Darió Poveda, but with promotion secured and the exit of 19 (yes, nineteen) players at the end of June, I was able to go to market and sign up a whole host of players. I ordinarily hate signing a high number of players in a single window, but as I’ve touched on before, it’s absolutely necessary to initially boost this threadbare Rayo squad, especially ahead of a massive step up to LaLiga.

I will look to maintain our tactical identity as much as I possibly can, sticking with the narrow 4-3-1-2 system that got us promoted. I need to sensibly change a few things though. Namely:

  1. Sacrifice the poacher in favour of a pressing forward, ideally a nasty Diego Costa-esque bastard who will chase every ball and kick defenders. I think I’ve recruited one. More on that in a minute.
  2. Sacrifice the creativity of a central regista in favour of a half-back who drops much deeper to help alongside the two centre backs. With my rigid commitment to fielding an inventive number 10, which I will continue to do, I think it would be daft to play two playmakers when we are bound to be up against a potential battering, week in-week out.
The new ‘palanca’ tactical variation.

As well as Leonardo Ulloa and Bebé already having left in January and those 19 players exiting at the end of their contracts in June, I also moved on inconsistent attacking midfielder Isi Palazón to Real Zaragoza for £1.1million. This breathing room allowed me to sign 11 new players in total, not including the crucial renewal of striker Antoñín’s loan deal for another year.

This is a number of incoming bodies wildly higher than I have ever really signed in one window before for any club, and I definitely won’t be looking to repeat it in future. A necessary evil, in this case.

The opposite of Rayo Vallecano.

Only three of the incoming players cost actual money.

High-performing Rayo loanees Iván Martos (Almería) and Fran Garcíá (Real Madrid) make their moves permanent for £850k and £350k respectively. A Swedish striker Astrit Selmani joins from Varbergs BoIS in Sweden for £240k. He is going to be my “nasty bastard” striker, and the exceptionally eagle-eyed among you may recognise him from the very early days of my European Journeyman save last year, where he was a talismanic forward for my Varbergs side back in FM20. Click to open any of the images up fullscreen, then click ‘back’ to return to the article.

Two impressive loanees and a familiar face.

The other eight players arrive on free transfers and are pictured below. Key to highlight are Bulgarian midfielder Yanis Karabelyov, who was recommended to me by fellow angry Scotsman, FM Pressure, 27 year old Argentinian striker Jonathan Calleri, experienced Brazilian defender Rodrigo Ely and 23 year old defensive midfielder Julián Chicco, all the way from my beloved Boca Juniors.

I wanted to improve our squad depth, specifically with players with some bite and guile . I think I have managed that.
The final four new joiners, including controversial penalty miss hero Javi Muñoz, and longtime Teixidó target Darió Poveda.

Please let me know on Twitter any thoughts you have on the absurd end to the season, Rayo’s prospects in LaLiga next year, or any feedback or predictions about the host of new faces who have joined this summer.

It’s time for me to go, meet and integrate the new look squad, play some friendlies and instil some tactical familiarity with our new, more cautious approach ahead of season two. I’ll leave you with FM21’s neat new end of season review feature and a few extra screenshots. Click on the first image below and you can flick through it, if you so desire.

See you in season two!

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag

La Sombra – 3 – My kind of blues

This is post three of a wider series. To instead start at post one, please click here.

“I see a lot of promise in him. Promise that I can shape. Not just as a footballer, but also as a good man.”

Rayo Vallecano manager Fernando Teixidó is sat at a beautifully dressed table in El Club Allard, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Madrid.

Two men in suits, open collar shirts and leather loafers join Teixidó, Rayo owner Raúl Martín Presa and club Director of Football Albert Puigdollers in the fine dining experience. Dinner is over, but the conversation certainly isn’t. Not quite yet.

El Club Allard

One of the two unfamiliar faces belongs to Luis Bravo, the agent for such footballing luminaries as Toni Kroos, Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic, hence the ostentatious location. Teixidó squirms uncomfortably as Bravo loudly finishes a phone call while picking the small pieces of steak from between his teeth with a toothpick. Empty bottles of Las Umbrias Comando G are strewn across the otherwise impeccably neat table. The murmur of conversation in such an establishment is just loud enough to register above the Sam Cooke record that complements the atmosphere.

Throughout dinner, despite his constant talking, Fernando could not quite figure out who the second man was. He was clearly an associate of Luis Bravo in some capacity, but the Peruvian had less of “who?” in his mind, and more of a “why?” in terms of understanding why a football agent would require an entourage of sorts.

El vino did flow.

Martín Presa gestures to the waiter to bring another bottle of wine or two, but Teixidó has had quite enough. Quite enough wine and quite enough of the Emperor’s New Clothes routine.

“Is the boy signing or is he not?

For a moment, all sound in the restaurant seems to halt. Even Sam Cooke seems to pause for breath, right at the crescendo of You Send Me.

It was the first time in the meeting that Fernando had explicitly spoken his mind. Fed up with the insidious negotiating peppered between mindless chatter between the other men at the table, Teixidó needed an answer. Living with the hypocrisy of having to conduct business deals over meals costing thousands of Euros while representing a working class barrio was one thing; but wasting the man’s time was another.

Fernando abruptly stands up, his chair almost tipping behind him.

“Listen. He’s a bright young man. If he leaves Atléti for El Rayo, he knows what he will lose economically. But he also knows what he will gain. I see a lot of promise in him. Promise that I can shape. Not just as a footballer, but also as a good man. Martin, Albert. I cannot say anything more. I cannot stomach the sanctimony any longer. I feel this has been a mistake. Thank you for the dinner and goodnight.”

Presa’s expression is the perfect blend of disappointed and angry, but the Rayo majority owner doesn’t utter a word in response.

His exasperated manager turns his back on the table and heads for the door leading to the brisk January climate of the capital’s busy streets.

The potential apple of Teixidó’s eye.

The young man in question is not one of Bravo’s multi-millionaire superstars, instead it is Atlético Madrid B’s 23-year old forward Darió Poveda. The pacey six foot two striker is someone Teixidó would like to make a Rayista, and the purpose of this get together was to thrash out the terms of transferring the player’s registration to Vallecas probably in the summer of 2021. This is where the move could occur when Poveda’s contract with Los Rojiblanco is set to end, avoiding stumping up a sizeable transfer fee and the associated mandatory heartburn for Rayo’s perpetually under pressure accountants.

Teixidó makes his way outside the restaurant and wipes his brow with a napkin from his inside pocket. As he breathes out sharply, his adrenaline fades as his telephone rings. The Rayo manager answers as he flags down a taxi. A tormented voice opens the dialogue.

“Boss, it’s Bebé. We need to talk.”


It is the 17th of January 2021, and true to Rayo’s equipo ascensor archetype, form has been mercurial, but ultimately impressive. The club are second in LaLiga Smartbank after 21 games, but have exited the Copa del Rey in the third round, thanks to Manuel Pellegrini’s superior Real Betis side from the division above.

Unfortunate.

The match finished with a 5-2 scoreline which suggests something of a demolition, until you notice that Betis’ final three goals all came in extra time. Top tier talents such as William Carvalho, Sergio Canales and the evergreen Joaquín had to huff and puff their way past a typically plucky but underpowered group of red-stripe-sporting underdogs.

It is now exactly halfway through the domestic season. Form may have been hot and cold, but promotion to the top division could be a real possibility this year. As always with El Rayo, it is a gargantuan “could.”

I knew in advance that economic stability would be hard to come by at Rayo, but even I was surprised at the state of the facilities.

Not ideal.

We went through a horrible patch of form lasting throughout November 2020. 4 losses, 1 draw and only 1 win. In response, I decided to tweak the roles of key wing backs Luis Advíncula and Iván Martos (changed to attacking mentality from support), coupled with altering the attacking remit of beloved number 10 Oscar Trejo (if crowded out during a match against a team sitting deep, ask him to move into the channels and dribble instead of pause and hold up the ball). It really did the trick! I think small tweaks can drastically shift events in your favour without having to abandon your fundamental tactical principles, or change your shape entirely.

December and January were incredible, with only that Real Betis cup exit spoiling the nice run of green.

What a turnaround!

The league table is looking promising. Although at one point we were as low as 7th and a social media fan poll even had Teixido’s chances of staying in the job as 50/50.

Not what you want to see in season one. Or at any time, really.

A great end to the year has really turned fortunes around and made those challenges a distant memory, thankfully.

Could promotion really be on the cards in this first season?

In a perfect parallel with real life, Rayo Vallecano suffer from the effects of having a regularly large turnover in players. The financial challenges provided by keeping a core of well paid, stable professionals is often too much to ask, and the team is often a mixture of no hopers, jokers and rogues (free agents and loan players).

I am hoping to change this in time, but there has to be a period of transition where some of the fat is trimmed while I try and keep some of our key players and add to the group. This is critical, whether we get promoted or not.

Our wage bill is less than a third of Espanyol’s in our division, yet we are expected to compete. I believe that we can.

To kick off the initial purge, when the January 2021 window opened, Leonardo Ulloa, 34, was moved on to Olimpia for £2,200 (yes two thousand two hundred pounds), as it crucially cleared nearly £12k a week from the wage bill. Bebé looks soon to follow, with a move to MLS side Montreal Impact looking likely. This may generate £150-£250k.

This very small amount of money will be reinvested (if available) in attempting to extend the loan deals for another year for Antoñín, the 20 year old striker who has bagged 10 goals in 19 league games for me so far, and Fran García, a 21 year old from Real Madrid who has been a revelation at both left back and as a ball-winning midfielder, averaging over 6 key passes per 90 minutes. García has been by far our most creative weapon this season.

Two of Rayo Vallecano’s driving forces.

With fringe players like Mario and Yacine Qasmi unlikely to sign new deals when their contracts expire in the summer; there has to be fresh talent join us in Vallecas. If we are able to spend any money on a transfer fee, however, I’ll be astonished. Time to get creative and look to get some important additions on pre contract arrangements ahead of the summer break!

Last but not least, what do you when you are managing a financially challenged club from a working class socialist area? Try and sign Mario Balotelli of course!

Maybe not.

Not my finest hour. Saved by our bank manager.

Unfortunately the move for Super Mario couldn’t be completed as we simply couldn’t afford him, but it just shows you how tough November was. In a desperate bid to change our fortunes, I was willing to throw money at a player who couldn’t be further removed from the values of the club and our manager, Fernando Teixidó.

Thankfully we move on to the second half of the season without him! Fingers crossed I’m not left disappointed at the end of the season, thinking “why always me?”

Thanks for reading. Especially that last sentence which made me cringe as I typed it.

FM Stag

P.S. If you like the look of my FM21 screenshots, the skin is by FM Rensie. A gentleman who not only works his magic every year creating a slick, updated interface for Football Manager for us to enjoy, but also blogs regularly too. Please check out his website, if you aren’t already in the know.

La Sombra – 2 – The illusion of safety

This is post two of a wider series. To instead start at post one, please click here.

“This is all I ask of you.”

“Humility! Nobility! Integrity!”

Fernando Teixidó, typically passionate in his words and gestures, slams his hand down on the table in front of him. The table’s surface is littered with paper maps of football pitches scribbled all over with arrows and annotations of every colour. Someone has been busy. A seriously outdated iPad sits beside some bottled water, covered in scratches and significant dents from many years of use. The iPad, not the Evian.

Teixidó is sat alongside Rayo’s new Head of Analysis, Perico Campos, at the front of the recently dubbed ‘Performance Analysis suite’ at Ciudad Deportiva, where Rayo Vallecano train each day. The air is dry and the sun is low in the sky. If not for the Peruvian’s booming voice, you could hear a pin drop.

It’s only a few more days until Fernando and Rayo’s first LaLiga Smartbank match of the season, a 2,500 mile round trip away to Tenerife.

“Excuse me Bob, is this the Performance Analysis suite?”

The players are alert and gathered, sat upright in an arc of plastic chairs around their manager in what more closely resembles one of the group therapy scenes from Fight Club than a professional sporting facility. Three of the party in attendance have unfortunately been injured for the entirety of the time that has passed since Teixidó’s arrival: ex Premier League players Bébé and Leo Ulloa, plus veteran shot stopper Alberto Garcíá. Although their on-field absence makes sporting matters more challenging for Fernando and Rayo, the trio’s attention matches that of any of their teammates at this meeting. This room is no elite facility with touchscreen whiteboards and servers perpetually pouring out useful data from the training session earlier this morning. Far from it. Instead it’s the old boot-room down at the pitch-side.

There’s something special in the atmosphere though, you can feel it.

This is Rayo Vallecano.

Bukenaros.

“The Bukaneros took me around Vallecas the day I arrived.” Teixidó paces, his heavy footsteps echoing like that of a PE teacher in a giant gym hall. “I know they took each and every one of you around the neighbourhood too.”

This is a Rayo Vallecano tradition. Members of the Bukaneros, Rayo’s ultra left-wing supporters group always meet new additions to the squad of their beloved club, giving them a real taste of the last barrio and it’s ‘poor yet proud’ inhabitants. It’s a two-way value exchange, however. An opportunity for the players to find out in no uncertain terms the standards that they must meet. The implied signing of a social contract with the community, days after signing an economic and footballing one with the club.

“You’ve met the people of our district. You are the spirit of this neighbourhood. And I have faith in every one of you that each time you don la franja roja, you remember that you are.”

Vallecas.

It’s an impassioned speech, but Teixidó has other weapons in his arsenal.

“What we lack in resources, we compensate for with our hearts, but also with our heads.”

The players share some confused glances as their manager starts to grin.

We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won’t. We’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.

Teixidó laughs at his own reference. New Rayo assistant manager, John Metgod lets out a chuckle.

“We cannot win football matches with spreadsheets and graphs, I know this. But I tell you here and now, feel empowered that Perico and I see everything. We will be both winning and losing right beside you.”

“So let’s be pissed off together.”

The players relax a little, as a few relieved gasps escape from some of the player not in the direct eyeline of management.

“If Perico can see from the data that you are doing what I ask of you with your head up and your mind open. If I can see in your effort and application how much wearing la franja roja means to you, I cannot ask for anything more.”

Regardless of the final score of any match or any final league position, you can live with professional and personal dignity and not shame. You can face the people of our barrio with honesty and pride. This is all I ask of you.”

“We are not Real Madrid. We are El Rayo. Our new chapter begins today. It’s time.”


Welcome back to Madrid!

So we are finally ready to kick a competitive ball in anger having set up appropriately for the season ahead.

First of all, the aims for this save are simple. Remain competitive, with a hugely optimistic dream of eventually usurping Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid in the LaLiga table at least once. ‘Rules’-wise, attribute masking is on, and although I can set targets and decide who is transfer listed, our new Director of Football Albert Puigdollers (ex Barcelona and Cowdenbeath, naturally) will handle all bids, negotiations for and with players moving in both directions, including setting release clauses when renewing contracts. The first window is closed, and I’ll focus on performance statistics over player attributes as much as I can when considering recruitment.

The way I choose to see it, a player’s attributes are like the training pitch eye-test. How does the player move? Does he play with his head up, observe events around him and adapt quickly? Is he a powerful athlete? Does he work well with others? How hard does he work when under pressure? Etc. A player’s performance statistics are instead an actual measure of how he translates these inputs into outputs and actually delivers performances on the football pitch.

At the end of the day, I know it’s Football Manager, and not an exact science. There are even fundamental challenges with the data in FM21 that I have reported to SI myself. Let me suspend my disbelief a little, however. For me, it’s more fun this way.

Tactically, I will focus on a development of Teixidó’s signature ‘Ancelotti’s Milan’-influenced 4-3-1-2 La Palanca system, which will shift considerably in the attacking phases, like the following formation screenshots suggest.

A defensive and offensive variation of ‘La Palanca’ in action.

I’ll no doubt write more about Teixidó’s system as the series develops, but for starters it is a short passing counter-attacking strategy based on a pivoting cinco in the centre of defensive midfield coupled with dynamic wing backs who provide all of the width, and a fantasista number 10 behind a pair of strikers.

I’ve been using variations of this system quite religiously for nearly a year, and the developments and improvements in the area of through balls from central playmakers in the FM21 match engine is delicious to see in action.

Taylor has seen a few #gifgoals from timed through balls, and can’t get enough.
Pre season form was a solid start, but of course nothing can compare you for competitive football.

I’ve written about leveraging Excel in some basic ways to help with team selection or recruiting to a specific tactical DNA based on attribute combinations before here. So I couldn’t help myself and drew up a quick attacking and defensive philosophy, plugging in Rayo’s current first team to help me select my starting eleven in these early days (injury and condition permitting), before the performance statistics start assisting my decision making after 10 games or so.

Staff wise, the aforementioned new Head Performance Analyst Perico Campos, Assistant Manager John Metgod and Director of Football Albert Puigdollers join me in Vallecas, as do a new scouting team. The new scouts notably include ex Valencia and Brighton playmaker Vicente, ex Barcelona player and Manchester United scout Patrik Andersson (for some Scandinavian gem-hunting) and Juan Gómez, who has a strong knowledge of South American talent, most notably in Argentina. These will be key appointments for Rayo Vallecano. A club who start with less than £500k in the bank, but carry a wage bill of £175k a week. Splashing the cash is not an option, and won’t be for quite a while, if ever. Strategic thinking and practical decision making is an absolute necessity.

Matchday one is finally here. I best go and get on with it. Vamos El Rayo!

I love this new visual touch in the FM21 matchday experience.

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag

La Sombra – 1 – Fútbol del pueblo

This is post one of a wider series.

“The combination of a passionate community-driven anti-fascist club in the face of the money-driven capitalist giant of modern football was too tempting to ignore.”

Raúl Martín Presa, majority owner of Rayo Vallecano, stands on the media platform at Estadio de Vallecas with the same expression Rayistas have seen many times before. They have watched him introduce a new manager six or seven times since he “saved” the club from the villainous Ruiz-Mateos family back in 2011. The club was bankrupt then, on its knees and the victim of horrendous mismanagement by a greedy fraud for almost twenty years.

Unfortunately for the small, poor community on the outskirts of Madrid, and in the opinion of El Rayo’s fans, if Ruiz-Mateos was the hunter, Presa was the scavenger; there to pick the bones clean for the last nine years.

Viewed through the eyes of an avid Rayo follower, Presa’s expression is one of glee. A sinister look, where he cannot hide his pompous confidence that his latest plan will further line his pockets, against the strongly opposing will of Rayo’s passionate, heavily left-leaning, community-oriented fanbase. The relationship here can be best compared to if Mike Ashley chose to give Newcastle fans a lecture on why Michael Owen is actually a lovely guy, while burning a photograph of Nobby Solano.

José María Ruiz-Mateos and Raúl Martín Presa.

Rayo Vallecano are widely considered to be the last of the barrio teams. Vallecas is a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Madrid with a population of around 300,000. The heavily socialist area can be summed up by a banner regularly unfurled at matches by the Bukaneros which reads “somos pobres con orgullo” or “we are poor but proud.” The Bukaneros are Rayo’s often vilified ultra left wing supporter’s group. They are emblematic of the socialist cause in this oft-forgotten region near Spain’s capital.

“We are poor but proud.”

The Bukaneros maintain that their perpetual pursuit of justice and protest against the establishment is both peaceful and necessary, despite media coverage and outsider opinion often suggesting otherwise.

Their most famous exploits include banding together with the Rayo players in 2014 to raise enough money to cover the unjust debts of one of their own residents in Vallecas, 85-year old Carmen Martínez Ayuso, meaning she was saved from homelessness. Notable also was the absolute moral rejection to the signing of Roman Zozulya in 2017. The Ukrainian striker had many well-documented links to the far-right, and with the club existing to coalesce the anti-fascist, anti-racist and anti-homophobic sentiments of their passionate local fanbase, the Bukaneros could not and would not accept the presence of someone inside their beloved club with alleged ties to the opposite ideology. Zozulya never donned ‘la franja’ and left Vallecas soon after.

The Bukaneros make their feelings clear.

The reason Presa looks so smug standing in front of the assembled Spanish journalists is that today he is putting a new man in the Rayo Vallecano hotseat. Andoni Iraola’s spell was short but unsuccessful, which is typical of the Presa era. The Iraola project was always destined to be a struggle, as he followed in the footsteps of Paco Jémez in his second spell. Jémez was often a divisive and confrontational figure, but ever since delivering Rayo’s best ever league finish, 8th in La Liga in 2013, coupled with his extreme attention to detail and commitment to his ‘juego de posición’ philosophy, he has a special place in El Rayo’s history.

The dissonant chatting voices in the room stop and the camera flashes spark into life as the door creaks open and in walks Rayo Vallecano’s new manager.

It is 45-year old Peruvian Fernando Teixidó.

Fernando Teixidó.

The ex-Club The Strongest manager cut his teeth winning back-to-back league and cup doubles in the high altitude of Bolivia in the only managerial role of his career so far. The Peruvian was said to desire a move to Spain to live closer to his elderly father, Carlos Alberto Teixidó, who still resides in Catalonia.

The confusion on the faces of the journalists is only marginally less noticeable than the representatives of the Bukaneros in attendance, who are eagerly waiting to resist and revolt at a moment’s notice. In keeping with their signature open mindedness, however, they shush the room in order to allow their new manager to speak.

Teixidó shakes Presa’s hand, smiling warmly, before clearing his throat and turning to the congregated press and fan representatives.

Teixidó faces the footballing press.

“I am honoured to be taking this role, as manager of Rayo Vallecano. Not many of you may know me, but I am thankful to Mr Presa for giving me this opportunity.”

The very mention of the club president’s name in this cookie cutter opening statement strikes an immediate discord with those in attendance. The owner licks his lips nervously, shifting his weight from foot to foot. Teixidó pauses, briefly looking down at his shoes. This isn’t a great start.

“The important things about this club are our community and our stability. We must pursue realistic and obtainable goals with a careful approach. We are in the shadow of our Madrid rivals. We are in the shadow of our many rivals in this division, let alone the riches of La Liga.”

This sounds like a concession of defeat from the beginning.

Under promise, over deliver? No. It sounded more like dangerous pessimism signalling further disaster at this sinking ship of an organisation, just with a different captain at the helm.

This is awkward.

Fernando Teixidó looks down at his notes in silence for a good ten seconds, before pushing the pages aside, puffing out his chest, standing tall and making eye contact with those football journalists in the front row.

Presa looks worried, like he could sense the atmosphere in the room was about to change.

Not Teixidó.

In a development only comparable to Jordan Belfort’s “I’m not fucking leaving!” scene in The Wolf of Wall Street, the Peruvian shifts his tone.

“Too long this club has been an ‘equipo ascensor’ (yo-yo club).”

Too long it has been shackled by the men in suits.”

Teixidó has burst into life.

“The spirit of the Matagigantes has been forgotten in Vallecas, and through the three pillars of humility, integrity and nobility, we will rise again!”

If Raúl Martin Presa looked worried before, now he was positively terrified.

The atmosphere in the room is electric. Like rayo had struck the building mid-sentence.

“No, no, no pasaran!” chants start booming from the back of the room, as the Bukaneros chant“they will not pass,” a powerful message originally aimed at Franco’s dictatorship, but now firmly pointed at the capitalist powers at the top of their club.

The Teixidó era at Rayo Vallecano has begun.

Could the Ancelotti-worshipping Dylanista replicate the success he had in South America here in Spain?

Would Presa let him? This is a battle of wills, and it is just getting started.


Welcome to Madrid!

I will continue my plan of splitting posts into 50% narrative, 50% ‘save update’ or informal writing of my thoughts, strategy and results. The approach worked last year, and hopefully it makes for a good read again.

I was inspired to manage Madrid’s third club after reading the incredible book Working Class Heroes by Robbie Dunne. I wholeheartedly recommend giving it a read, even if you have no previous interest or connection to El Rayo.

The combination of a passionate community-driven anti-fascist club in the face of the money-driven capitalist giant of modern football was too tempting to ignore.

Throw in a manager with a dogmatic tactical approach, willing and able to fearlessly express his opinions, and it makes for an interesting dichotomy that I hope translates well into this written FM series.

If you are new to my blog, and Fernando Teixidó is a stranger to you, he is my fictional manager who first appeared managing Club The Strongest last year in FM20. That series is linked here, and while you may not wish to read all seven posts of that short series (I hope that you do though), I’d advise looking at the first post, which outlines just who Teixidó is, a formerly aggressive anchoring midfielder with a strong interest and reliance on statistics.

In the next post, we’ll take a look at Rayo Vallecano as a whole. From the finances and facilities (spoiler alert – Rayo are often considered a ‘beg and borrow’ club, nevermind a ‘selling’ one) to the playing squad and Teixidó’s initial setup at training and in pre-season. I’ll also go over some of the ‘rules’ of the save, like allowing the board to handle contract negotiations, and therefore mandatory release clauses and the purchasing negotiation process of player acquisition.

Hopefully Teixidó can stick around in Vallecas for a number of years and we can see him build his iteration of Rayo Vallecano into something memorable. Fingers crossed his confrontational approach to the club’s hierarchy, and the results his team delivers, don’t make him a well-liked martyr, an idealist cast aside in the cut-throat reality of modern football.

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag

The Lever of La Paz – 7 – El fin

This is episode seven of a wider series. To start at episode one, please click here.

Son, you have your reasons.

“Dad?”

It was that time again, as Fernando stared out the apartment window, phone pressed against his temple.

Teixidó Snr was snacking. Teixidó Jnr was struggling with the humidity and altitude. Nothing ever really changes. Or does it?

“Fancy a visitor?”

To the relief of any misophonics within earshot, Teixidó Snr stopped chewing, immediately.

“Really, son?” The Catalonian knew the implication.

“Yeah, it’s time. La Paz is a beautiful place, and this club…” Fernando pauses with a lump in his throat “…this club has been great to me. But it’s time.”

A long silence defines the next ten seconds, both father and son trying to fathom if this was good or bad news.

“It was, well, you know the Copa Liber…”

“Son, you have your reasons. Call me when you get off the plane.”

The receiver lands back on the base with a conclusive click.

El Tigre has roared for the last time.


Oscar Wilde famously said “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.”

If this is the case, Fernando Teixidó will look back at his experience in Bolivia with a critical eye. The reality is that his record was incredible.

In two and a half seasons, the Peruvian guided Club The Strongest in back to back league and cup doubles. One Copa Libertadores second round and two group stage exits.

Seven defeats in 99 games overall couldn’t provide enough solace for Teixidó to get over a failure to get any further in the Libertadores at the third time of asking.

Despite a historic home victory against Flamengo, three defeats were enough to send the Bolivian champions out, and the manager to seek a new challenge; signalling the end of this journey.

Happier times.

The final game of Teixidó’s reign was quite the send-off. A celebration of domestic dominance embodied in the final match, an emphatic 14-0 destruction of Municipalidad in the Copa Aerosur.

The league was a walk in the park, but the Libertadores was a bridge(stone, whoosh) too far.

Teixidó leaves El Tigre in a strong position. Pun intended.

Offers from Colombia couldn’t keep the save alive, but I’m glad to have spent the best part of three years managing in Bolivia.

In terms of ‘players of the save,’ I have to mention the iconic strikeforce that led the line, Rolando (Blackburn) and Ronaldo (Sánchez). Although Sánchez didn’t truly live up to his early promise, the early impact of this strikeforce was pivotal.

If this save has taught me anything, it’s that the divide between the smaller leagues in South America (like the Boliviano) and the big boys in Argentina and Brazil is a massive chasm, even more so than I already thought, and more so than in Europe.

I would recommend South America to any FMer, but if you pick a small nation, be prepared for a long journey of domestic joy but continental pain.

I reckon if I had stuck with The Strongest I could’ve built a side in time that could’ve won the Libertadores; but given that the league reputation doesn’t rise dynamically in a custom-added league, it would only serve to increase the domestic divide between my side and our competition, namely Bolívar and Jorge Wilstermann.

Given that I was 62 league games into this save and hadn’t lost a single match, this told me that the domestic walkover couldn’t hold my attention forever.

The story of Teixidó may continue, but where? FM21 of course.

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag

The Lever of La Paz – 6 – Fútbol Boliviano

This is episode six of a wider series. To start at episode one, please click here.

I don’t have a crystal ball. I am not in the witches market of La Paz with my tarot cards.

HM: Welcome back to another episode of Fútbol Boliviano, everyone’s favourite English language podcast about Bolivian football. I’m Hugo Montes, and with me today, as ever, is my esteemed co-host; writer for The Athletic and theangrylinesman, Mark Garner. Mark, how are you?

MG: I am great, Hugo. “Everyone’s favourite?” Really?

HM: Well, maybe I should have said the only English language Bolivian football podcast, but let’s not sell ourselves short!

Tonight we have with us a special guest. It’s only the current manager of La Paz’s own The Strongest, Fernando Teixidó!

MG: Fernando, how are you? We at Fútbol Boliviano were so relieved to hear you have recovered from your car crash. That must been a living nightmare!

FT: Thank you guys, I am happy to be here. Both here, on your show, and still here after the crash. I was shaken up and spent a few days in hospital. I had a little surgery. That is all behind me now though, family and football is what matters.

HM: Your Club The Strongest side had another incredible campaign this season. That’s two league titles in two league campaigns where you didn’t lose a single fixture, coupled with two Copa Aerosur wins. I mean, you’ve lost four games in total in your two years here. How has your experience in Bolivia been?

FT: Thank you kindly. I have had great fun here. Altitude and car crash aside [laughs]. Credit has to go to the boys in that team though. Their commitment to my tactical philosophy and commitment to each other is like something I’ve never seen. They are a wonderful group.

HM: It’s funny you should say that, Fernando. How would you respond to those who have said you have ‘ruined’ the Boliviano with your dominance? Or more specifically, by buying up the best talent from your domestic competitors?

FT: Listen. My recruitment team do a wonderful job of identifying key talent and recommending them to Roberto (Sensini, The Strongest director of football) and I. As you know well, the homegrown registration rules here in Bolivia make purchasing the right talent who do not already play in this country an incredibly tough challenge. You will also know that it is a challenge I have not taken lightly. Yes, there have been many players come in from other Bolivian teams, but think of Andile (Jali, South African), Jairo (Concha, Peruvian). Think of Alexis (Aris, Peruvian). Think of Maktom! (Brazilian). Each player at my club fits like a jigsaw piece. If a high number of them need purchased from other sides in our division, then that’s the way it has to be. I will not apologise for this.

HM: You’ve earned a lot of praise for your narrow 4-3-1-2 tactic this season. Something I noticed is that your wingbacks seems to be everywhere. Can you tell us a little bit about your thinking there?

FT: To me, my wide defenders are crucial. I play a narrow system with three deep central midfielders. One stays, one goes, one pivots. I like my two central defenders to do exactly that, defend. I like my number 10 (currently the aforementioned Jairo Concha) to roam and pick holes. With a two striker system, we are always a goal threat, but what I have described so far is relatively static. Our fullbacks are our mobility from back to front. You see?

MG: It is very ‘Carlo Ancelotti in his Milan days’. Is Carlo an inspiration for you?

FT: I take inspiration from everywhere, but I would be lying if I didn’t say his system with Pirlo, Kaka, Cafu and Maldini excited and inspired me. But I think I don’t speak only for me. I think all football fans could and should say this.

HM: You’ve had a challenging time in the Copa Libertadores, Bolivian sides usually do, although reaching the second round matches the furthest The Strongest have ever been in the competition historically. How do you go one step further?

FT: I think a lot about this. Last year we played all six group games and did not lose one. Yes we drew five of six, but we did not lose a game. This year we won five of six and drew the other. This is what I want. No one is more disappointed than my staff, players and I when we are put out from the competition. Our dream is to compete with the best teams in South America, but that is a serious challenge.

MG: Surely Fernando, it’s a challenge due to the massive contrast in the money available in other leagues in the CONMEBOL region. Argentinian and Brazilian clubs have the biggest budgets. I mean, looking at industry papers, your most valuable player is considered to be worth around £200,000. Bahia (second tier club in Brazil who defeated Teixidó’s Strongest to eject them from this year’s competition) have teenage substitutes valued by football’s financial experts at upwards of £5million. How can you possibly compete?

FT: I will not deny that economic factors make our position more difficult, but you will not find me blaming this. I have one more chance to go further, and this year we plan to.

HM: Thanks Fernando. I wanted to ask you abo…

MG: Wait, Hugo. Fernando, you said you have “one more chance.” Is your time at The Strongest drawing to a close?!

FT: I have always said it’s my job to push and help this club achieve the next level of their development. I have a contract which runs until the end of 2021. My targets were to win the Boliviano and Aerosur. I have done this, twice. My current plan is not only to do this for a third time for this club, but to push forward in continental football. This means getting beyond that Libertadores second round. That is my dream. After this, I don’t have a crystal ball. I am not in the witches market of La Paz with my tarot cards. I am a football coach and I want to win. Sometimes it is better to stay and sometimes it is better to leave. Thank you.

HM: Thank you Fernando, that’s quite a headline, and a good place to end our podcast tonight.

MG: Thank you for listening. Tonight we found out that The Lever of La Paz may very well become The Leaver of La Paz!

HM: Sometimes I hate you, Mark.


What a turn of events!

So Teixidó may very well be in his final campaign at The Strongest. Will he make it three titles and three cups from three seasons? What about those Libertadores ambitions? Can The Strongest go further, or is there a ceiling for Bolivian clubs that no amount of climbing will smash?

I’ll keep this short, given that the transcript of the podcast was lengthy. This may read like a series of bullet points, but I don’t want to take up your whole morning / afternoon / night! (delete as appropriate).

26 games. 23 wins. 3 draws. A domestic cup victory and a 2nd round Libertadores exit to a wealthy Bahia side. It was another strong campaign (pun intended).

Oh and only the most insane cup match against our biggest (and stadium-sharing) rivals Bolívar. What a night!

I am proud that the Bolivia national team features mainly players from my club. With Diego Bejarano on that list also joining the club in the downtime between seasons, that is 16 of the current squad currently in our team. Domestic domination is a minimum expectation.

Happily I received notifications of improvements to our data, youth and training facilities, as well as the pitch being relaid. Sadly, our intake again this year seems poor, although a forward and a defensive midfielder with promise? That’s definitely an improvement.

The next section will cover our mammoth recruitment drive over the past year. I’ll drop a gallery of screenshots of our captures and let you be the judge. Who is the best signing of the below? Who could be a mistake? Answers on a postcard on Twitter via @FM_Stag please. First to comment wins a prize.

I know that’s a lot of new players in a single season, but I am determined to coast the league and cup, and really focus on the Libertadores this year. When I received a notification that our budget had been increased to £4.3million, I knew I had to break from my usual approach and become transfer happy. Fingers crossed this is the group to push us to the next level.

More of this please!

Moving into what could be Teixidó’s final year in Bolivia, it’s continental progress or bust.

Oh, lastly, I have a channel on FM Slack now. Get involved! #fmstag is the channel name. Ping me a message on Twitter if you have any issues joining!

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag