Journeyman – 30 – Bayern Munich – Part of the journey is the end

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

Man sells his soul to the devil. It all ends in tears. These arrangements usually do.

“Not every man knows what he shall sing at the end,

watching the pier as the ship sails away, or what it will seem like,

when he’s held by the sea’s roar, motionless, there at the end,

or what he shall hope for once it is clear that he’ll never go back.”

Mark Strand

It’s been quite a journey.

At the end of the last update, I had driven away from Bayern Munich’s incredible training facility, Säbener Strasse, after watching my team work like a tightly knit and efficient unit. It was a joy to watch.

There were nine games remaining of the Bundesliga season. We also had the DFB-Pokal Semi Final against Stuttgart to look forward to, not to mention the small matter of a UEFA Champions League Quarter Final double header against Inter.

Could this season really be it? Could I hit the apex of my 8 year managerial career by delivering Europe’s biggest club trophy, coupled with domestic league and cup glory?

I vowed that one day I’d make it so, before returning to Scotland. To leave this football business behind. To experience the frenzied highs, but to leave the game with my faith in it intact.

Let’s get to it.

A 2-2 league draw with Wolfsburg puts a slight dent in our aspirations, giving Gallardo’s Leipzig (last year’s champions) hope of catching us in the title race. Wolfsburg (above) are clearly pleased with what could be a crucial point gained in their quest for European qualification.

A 4-0 battering of Hertha Berlin follows.

Then a tight 1-0 away victory at Mainz, courtesy of a rare Lucas Hernández strike.

The young and in demand Mainz manager, Julian Nagelsmann, expressing what could be absolute delight or incandescent fury.

Next up were Diego Simeone’s Inter. Hardworking and physical, Inter’s men in blue and black are typical of a Simeone side, every player embodying their manager’s Cholismo. Both teams look confident as they take to the pitch at the Giuseppe Meazza, in the first leg of this Champions League quarter final.

The final result, a 1-1 draw, was to be expected. My team were hanging on towards the end, as the Italians’ brute force almost broke down our Bayern side’s stubborn defence. Knowing how Simeone’s sides tend to play, I felt it necessary to repeat the same tactical trick I had employed against Real Madrid in the round before, dropping Marco Kana from a defensive midfielder to a Libero, further protecting our backline. An away goal in this draw gives us something to hold onto in the second leg.

Inter manager Diego Simeone congratulating me on the genius of deploying a Libero to nullify his team’s attacking threat…probably.

We are in April now, and two days before my 41st birthday, our talismanic Argentinian striker José Luis Garavano gives me the best present I can imagine, by adding to his incredible first season with the opening goal in a 2-0 victory over rivals Dortmund, now managed by Antonio Conte.

The talismanic JLG9.

The second leg against Inter rolled around, and a 6th minute Joshua Kimmich penalty allowed us to squeeze past 1-0, or 2-1 on aggregate. An exhausting experience. My beloved old team Lille mirror the 2-1 aggregate scoreline we achieved, and dump out our domestic rivals, RB Leipzig.

This is destiny.

You couldn’t write this! (writer’s note – you literally are, mate)

Before we face Lille, a three point cushion in the Bundesliga with only 5 games to go, gives me hope that something incredible could be unfolding this year. We just cannot afford to take our laser focus away from any of our remaining fixtures for even a second.

A disappointing 0-0 draw against high-flying Leverkusen threatens to destroy progress, but a straightforward 2-0 win against Stuttgart in the DFB-Pokal Semi Final brings us back on course. At least we’ll have one cup final to look forward to, even if it’s potentially not one with ‘UEFA’ written on it.

We calmly dispatch Hannover 3-1 in the league, and move on to the business end of the campaign.

It’s my semi final showdown against Pep Guardiola’s Lille. My treasured former side, who I still hold dear.

We emerge onto the Allianz pitch for the first leg of the Champions League Semi Final. I give a thankful wave to the Lille fans who sing my name, but today there is no room for romantic nostalgia, there’s serious work to be done.

Although Guardiola has made the Lille lineup his own, it’s great to see that the midfield three of Yazic, Vera and Vázquez are my players, along with Regeer at RB, Dahlberg between the sticks and Silvinho up front. I arranged for the capture of Silvinho, but unfortunately I left Lille for Bayern before he could arrive.

So how did it go?

A JLG9 masterclass against his former club gives Lille very little chance of coming back into the tie. But never say never. We must remain focused.

It’s May 2027, and we are about to play in the third last game of the Bundesliga season. We are away at Hamburg, and the stadium is rocking. Hamburg have amongst the most passionate fans in Europe, and if we finished this 90 minutes with a victory, the Bundesliga crown for 2026/27 would be back where it belongs, in Bayern hands.

We did it!

A routine 2-1 win means that Bayern Munich are the 2026/27 Bundesliga champions!

My second top flight title in as many years, I am proud that we have managed to see this through. We would go on to finish the league season 7 points clear of Leipzig.

But this was only one trophy of the three available.

Ahead of the second leg of the Champions League Semi Final against Lille, Guardiola had some nice words for the man who previously sat in the manager’s chair at his current club. What a gentleman.

Thanks!

João Sousa bags a tap-in, in a straightforward 1-0 victory in France, seeing us through to Bayern’s first UEFA Champions League final in a number of years. Sorry Pep. Sorry Lille. But I can’t stop now.

Before the incredible pair of finals we need to face to close off the season, I receive some good news, could there be another trophy on the cards for Bayern Munich next season?

So here it is. The DFB-Pokal final against Schalke 04.

With a decent mid-table season under their belt, Simone Inzaghi’s team had a strong campaign leading to the domestic cup final. They also enjoyed a decent Europa Leage run to the 2nd Knockout Round. The Italian was building a sturdy side, built around a pragmatic approach in a 4-2-3-1 shape.

Could we get the better of Schalke?

João Sousa was seeing out the season in style, as the striker really started to hit his stride in the final third of the campaign. 1-0.
João Sousa proves my point by adding a second strike in the cup final. 2-0.
Bayern celebrate a famous domestic double!
Yes!

In what is already a monumental season here in Munich, my Bayern side lift their second trophy in as many weeks.

Now onto the match we were waiting for. The UEFA Champions League final.

Our opponents? Only our old foe Thomas Tuchel, who managed PSG, the thorn in my side for the entire time I managed in France.

Only this time, he is in his first full campaign managing English giants Manchester City. Lukas Almsick took over the City role when Guardiola departed, but Almsick only lasted 18 months. He returned to Germany to take the national team hotseat when offered. Maybe he felt alm-sick, so had to go back alm (writer’s note – stop it.)

An attacking 4-5-1 with the solid Florentino Luis protecting the back four, while Englishmen Phil Foden and Jaden Sancho look to support veteran Bernando Silva, the deadly Lautaro Martinez and the amazingly named, formed Dortmund striker, Marcus Pain.

The incredible London Stadium is home for this UEFA Champions League final, as Manchester City look to win a trophy that they have thrown away more than once before. They were runners up to Klopp’s rampant Liverpool side in both the 2021 and 2022 finals.

London, England. Is this the night?

It’s the 29th of May 2027. Germany’s Bayern Munich take on England’s Manchester City. The prize at stake? The UEFA Champions League trophy.

In the 6th minute, City’s French left back Jean-Jacques Dumas picks up a booking, followed by his defensive teammate Greg Chalmers in the 28th.

Italian referee Massimiliano Irrati shows an early yellow.

It’s a cagey affair, and apart from Marcus Pain going close with a scooped shot from just outside the post and Garavano drawing a great reflex save from Ederson at the other end, there were no real chances of note.

The second half kicked off and the nerves continued, but Bayern dominated possession in the early part, applying pressure to City’s defence. A series of pinball-esque deflections led to a corner for Bayern Munich. Up stepped Italian playmaker Sandro Tonali.

GOOOAALLLL

In inarguably the most important moment of João Sousa’s 23 years on this Earth (he doesn’t have kids), the Portuguese forward shows great composure with 46 minutes on the clock, smashing the ball past Ederson into the City net, setting up a nerve-jangling final 40 minutes. Bayern 1-0.

It’s the 52nd minute and City are building a typical short passing attack, when Emre Can has a brief moment of madness. Lunging in two footed on Lautaro Martinez. Marco van Basten and I are baffled on the sidelines, trying to calm down our players. Bayern down to 10 men after a straight red card.

Can Emre get sent off? Yes he Can.

The 65 minute mark comes and goes.

The 71st minute arrives.

Jaden Sancho cuts inside Joshua Kimmich’s flank, feigns a cross, and chops back outside of Marco Kana. A delightful dink across the face of goal is met by the forehead of 32-year old playmaker Bernardo Silva, but it grazes the top of the bar from point blank range, and the score remains 1-0.

Silva can’t quite believe it.

Thomas Tuchel seems a frustrated figure on the touchline as he roars instructions at his players. The booming hoarseness of his voice cutting through London’s night sky.

A matter of minutes later, Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson angrily berates his back four, as a loose pass from £129million man William Saliba almost lets Yaya Rosenthal in for 2-0. If it hadn’t been for the experienced goalkeeper’s shot-stopping heroics at his near post, it would have been.

An angry South American man in gloves.

As the final 15 minutes approaches, captain for tonight, Benjamin Pavard, calmly directs his Bayern teammates, as the inevitable City attacks continue to pour towards Alexander Nübel in the Munich goal.

The captain, pointing.

The 85th minute passes by without further incident. Bayern are resolute and calm. Could we really see this out?

YES WE CAN!

Irrati blows his whistle, and I drop to the London Stadium turf at the side of the pitch, my hands over my face, covering tears of joy. Marco van Basten lifts me to my feet as the squad run and cry in celebration, the fans hugging and cheering in the stands.

Bayern Munich are the 2026-27 UEFA Champions League winners.

A historic treble.

I can’t quite take it in.

BT Sport’s Des Kelly wants a word, but I am too emotional to say very much at all.

I thank the Bayern players and fans for their continued commitment and the wonderful achievement, but use the platform to announce that this would be my final match.

I had achieved it all.

It was over.

BREAKING NEWS

Treble-winning manager Adam Lockhart has announced his decision to resign from Bayern Munich and take a break from management.

Before expanding a little on a successful career with humble beginnings, let’s look at the final statistics of his last squad at Bayern Munich. It’s the end of the 2026/27 campaign, where Bayern lifted the UEFA Champions League, the DFB-Pokal and the Bundesliga title.

Lockhart, now 41, has helped his teams Varbergs BoIS, Lillestrøm, Bordeaux, Lille and Bayern Munich lift seven trophies in eight years.

The trophy haul.
A career in numbers.

When pressed for a reason behind his sudden departure, Lockhart simply stated he wished to spend some more time with his family, and did not want to burn out.

In fact, he then went on to quote Daniel Craig’s character in his pre-Bond classic, Layer Cake.

“The King is dead. Long live the King.

I am honoured, but for me this is all over. I’m getting out.

What was true then, is true now.

Have a plan.

Stick to it.

So I’m sure you must have lots to discuss…

…but I have no business being here.”

Daniel Craig, Layer Cake, 2004.
Also: Adam Lockhart, London Stadium, 2027.

Des Kelly stopped him before he pivoted movies to give Endgame spoilers away by quoting Iron Man.

I can’t wait to go home.

In this case it is both the journey and the destination that matter.

It’s been tough, but I wouldn’t change a thing about it.

Thanks for reading.

Goodbye.

FM Stag

Journeyman – 29 – Bayern Munich – Ain’t no stopping us now

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

Disclaimer: Not my actual car.

I park the G63 outside Säbener Strasse and consider everything I’ve been through so far. Being penniless in Sweden. Relegation, then promotion and domestic cup success in Norway. Unemployment. Stability in the South of France, then UEFA Europa Conference League and Ligue Un glory in the north of it. Then onto Germany.

The money and quality of football is incredible here in Munich, but so is the demand for immediate success.

It’s March 2027, and things are heating up. It’s only been four months since we last caught up, but it’s been eventful.

It all culminated in a special European night under the lights at the Allianz last night, but more on that later.

Save for a tight 1-0 away defeat in Gladbach, and a bore 0-0 draw away at Freiburg, we have won every single league and cup match in the 14 weeks or so since our last update. The only other blip we had was away at Real Madrid, where a Milan Skriniar header sent us home disappointed, with a 1-0 loss.

JLG9 has been on fire, and we might have an exciting new signing who was slotted in perfectly. (Spoiler alert – We do.)

What a time to be alive.

First of all, four more of our fringe players left for pastures new. Two in particular went for extraordinary figures.

Surplus to requirements.

Left-back Gian-Luca Itter headed to Watford for £40million.

An incredible athlete, but not creative enough.

Attacking midfielder Samuel Chukwueze moved to Celtic for an eyebrow-raising £40million too.

The other two first team players to leave were Benjamin Heinrichs to Inter (£4m) and Corentin Tolisso to Arsenal (free). Tolisso wanted to go as his contract was due to expire in the summer, and the London club were happy to take him off of our wage bill six months earlier than initially agreed.

Rummenigge called me into his office not long before Christmas. I thought it was to congratulate me for our fine form so far.

I was wrong.

KHR had been given feedback by his fellow board members that they were collectively “devastated” about something in paricular. Although I’d spent money, and spent it well in their view; I had not signed German players, and the players I had signed were not from direct rivals, whom they would prefer to weaken.

I was all set for marching towards the boardroom full of fury at the ungrateful swines…but then my assistant manager Marco Van Basten (who had attended the meeting in the Chairman’s office with me) slowly shook his head and nodded towards the door, as if to say “hey, you gotta see this.” Much like Chihiro’s father in the animated Studio Ghibli classic Spirited Away, when they first find the abandoned theme park. (writer’s note – might’ve went a bit niche with that one, mate).

Van Basten’s knowing “look.”

I followed Marco out into the corridor after begrudgingly smiling at Rummenigge through gritted teeth, telling him that I’ll try and do better.

Marco forces a document into my hands, which are shaking with anger. It’s a dossier on a player belonging to one of our competitors, Pochettino’s Hoffenheim. This scout report had originally come from our analysis team, but had also been through the hands of two of Marco’s fellow Dutchmen, our coaches, Johnny Heitinga and Dirk Kuyt. Their handwritten notes are scribbled all over the statistics logged in the recommendation papers. Suddenly my anger turned to intrigue. Then intrigue to excitement.

We’d have to pay his release clause, a whopping £84million. This would smash a number of records in German football, but I had to get the deal done.

Welcome to Bayern Munich, Markus Eidelloth.

What. A. Player.

Markus Eidelloth, Hoffenheim, £84million. Der FCB’s great new hope.

Eidelloth’s arrival coincided with a further tactical tweak, as I am still looking to truly find my favourite system to employ with this group of players. It has to remain true to my strategic principles, but only a fool would refuse to mould to facilitate changing circumstances.

Getting the best out of them is not as simple as picking a formation and sending them out there, as the majority of opponents play tentatively, fearful of being too offensively ambitious against the mighty Bayern. It makes even the most winnable (on paper) league games, an energy-sapping game of positional chess.

Still deploying those dual Mezzalas (instead of my beloved Segundo Volantes) behind an Enganche, the system looks to counterpress quickly, but leverages the creative and technical strength of my forward players.

I’ve now managed Bayern on 36 competitive occasions, winning 27, drawing 7 and losing 2.

I’d like to call out a few key performers so far.

José Luis Garavano, 23.

Garavano, or JLG9 as I love to call him (as do his brand sponsors), has been my player of this series so far (writer’s note – Viktor Gyökeres would like a word). He was an absolute superstar at Lille, and the £70m I gave my old club for him to join me in Munich now seems like a bargain. 14 goals in 29 games doesn’t fully recount his contribution, as he drifts effortlessly somewhere between being a natural shadow striker and an ideal number 9. His lightning quick pace and all round ability is a fearsome weapon. José dribbles succesfully over 2.2 times per 90 minutes, coupling his goalscoring heroics with an 84% passing success rate. He also has 5 goals in 10 appearances for his country.

Sandro Tonali, 26.

As ubiquitous as the media’s coverage of the Italian midfielder Sandro Tonali has been, he has proved to be worth every penny of the £50million Bayern paid for him in the summer. Fitting seamlessly into the Munich midfield, Tonali has been deployed as deeply as an anchorman shielding the back four on occasion, and as offensively as a number 10 behind the strikeforce when required. Generally, he operates in either a deep playmaking role, or with a shuttling Mezzala responsibility in that central midfield line. 9 Man of the Match awards in 33 games, 7 goals and 8 assists give you a picture of his importance. 90% passing success and over 4.2 successful tackles per game gifts you a closer look at the nuance.

Kana and Tonali play some keep-ball, before Sandro Tonali lifts a beautifully deft pass through onto João Sousa’s toe for a perfectly executed volley.

Now for a few honourable mentions, without detailed commentary. The first of which has an incredibly memorable name.

Yaya Rosenthal, 21. 1.86 key passes and 2.39 successful dribbles per 90. A creative spark.
João Sousa, 23. 9 goals and 6 assists in 28 appearances. 5.84 headers won and 5.89 shots on target per 90, more than any other player for both statistics. Powerful.
Nehuén Pérez, 26. 2.61 interceptions and 1.73 successful tackles per game. Great defensive movement.
My view of the performance statistics of the squad. A wonderful thing to look at, if you are a nerd for numbers. Which I am. You should be too.

I’m now inside the training ground. Before doing anything else, I had to rebuke Emre Can for upsetting Jonathan Asamoah. Emre had told Asamoah that he was certain he was more handsome than him. Bloody primadonna footballers. With that nonsense dealt with, I’m now watching Marco, Dirk and the boys lead some sessions on the pitch.

Emre might’ve been right, but it does not excuse his behaviour.

I’m sipping a cup of tea which was handed to me by one of our staff as I arrived. The mug inexplicably has Alan Partridge’s face on it, but I’m not complaining. I can see the way the lads are starting to really work together in the way I like to see on the pitch. This direct, back-to-front system is winning football matches, and that’s what we like to see.

I watch the steam rise from the cup and think back to just 12 or so hours ago. Last night was an incredible evening at the Allianz.

After a tight 1-0 defeat at the Bernabeu, we welcomed Real Madrid to Munich for the second leg of the 1st Knockout Round of the UEFA Champions League. As tough a draw as we could’ve faced, if we make it through this, surely on our day we can beat anyone.

A tight first half is defined only by a Garavano goal for us, and a Skriniar booking for them. At this point we were heading for extra time. If they got a goal though, it would really put them back in the driving seat. Prolific forwards Moise Kean and Leon Bailey pepper our goal with increasing regularity, but the back three system I deployed especially for this match, just about retains its structural integrity. Libero Marco Kana is caught out of possession a couple of times, but his role as the ‘lever’ or ‘palanca’ of the tactic is vital to exploit any rare chances to counter.

The 65th minute arrives and substitute Erling Haaland has only been on the pitch for 8 minutes. He didn’t need asked twice, as he buries the ball in the back of Courtois’ net (yep, he’s still there in 2027) with a powerful smash, as we go through on aggregate to the Quarter Final of the Champions League! 2-0 winners!

The key turning point.

I forgive the Norwegian for his 69th minute penalty miss, as I am too busy celebrating the incredible turnaround which dumps Real out of the competition. This keeps the dream of a double, or even an ambitious treble, alive.

What a result.

If you looked at the earlier schedule screenshot, the above won’t have been a surprise, but what you may not have noticed is that we also dispatched of Wolfsburg and Bochum in the domestic cup (DFB-Pokal) and charge merrily towards a cup semi final against Stuttgart.

Could an incredible trophy-laden campaign actually happen, fulfilling every ambition I’ve had since first getting on that plane to take the Varbergs job? Even winning two out of the three pieces of available silverware may do so.

There’s not too many games left, and the table is looking impressive, but our position is not impenetrable. I realise there is a lot of work still to be done, as we also wave goodbye to a club legend.

Three opportunities for glory.
This could be it. Only success in those knockout fixtures could add another four matches across two competitions onto this schedule.
After 19 years at Bayern Munich, David Alaba moves on to a fresh challenge at Flamengo. We wish him the best of luck.

BREAKING NEWS

The live draw for the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final and Semi Final draw has just taken place.

In an incredible twist of fate, one semi final is guaranteed to be an all-English affair, as all four teams in the quarter final before it are Premier League Sides.

On the other side of the draw, if Bayern Munich can squeeze past Inter Milan, they will face either their tough domestic rivals in Marcelo Gallardo’s Leipzig side, or Lockhart’s former club Lille, now with Pep Guardiola at the helm. What a draw that would be.

Fate has a funny way of working out.

Wow.

Much later, I get back in the car and lean back in the driver’s seat with a smile and a sigh. The 256 days I’ve been in Munich have flown by, but the biggest challenges are still to come.

The engine’s purr turns into a roar as I exit the car park.

I think back to Marco Van Basten’s Markus Eidelloth suggestion in KHR’s office earlier, and I get the inexplicable urge to watch some Japanese movies tonight. Who knows how the brain works?…

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag.

Journeyman – 28 – Bayern Munich – We are who we are

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

Joshua Kimmich with some of the things I might see in Germany.

So I understand you’ve heard (and read) the news?

I was settled at Lille. I was comfortable. Ready to go again in the UEFA Champions League. Ready to go and retain Lille’s Ligue Un crown.

Ready to permanently dethrone Paris Saint-Germain.

But then everything changed. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge called me, out of the blue.

I think I was still drunk from the league celebrations. I answered, at first convinced it was ‘Gordo’ Young or even Freddy Danielsson (two of our former assistant managers) calling on the wind-up. I expected the thick German accent to drop at any second, and the laughs to begin.

But the laughs didn’t begin.

It really was Rummenigge.

The new gaffer.

Bayern Munich have found themselves in a bit of a slump recently, and evidently Der FCB needed a Scotsman equipped with a laptop, Microsoft Excel and a smile.

Charismatic Italian coach Roberto Mancini had just been sacked after six years in charge, and well, you can figure the rest out.

An unemployed Italian man.

In a worldwind couple of days, my apartment was packed, the car handed back, and I was on a plane to Munich. My 5th club had put out a distress signal, and I had responded.

I took a moment to reflect, as I heard the wheels of the plane clunk down sturdily on German soil over the music in my headphones. ‘Hip to be Square’ by Huey Lewis and the News, if you’re wondering.

Toto, we’re not in Kansas Varberg anymore.

The facilities here at Bayern are mind-blowing. I’ve inherited an incredible squad, and I am reliably informed there is a kitty of £220million ready and waiting for me to use as I see fit. We must turn this team into an invincible unit.

Wow.

Let’s talk about the expectations for my new role. First on the list is to win back our Bundesliga. After being champions 12 years in a row from 2012 to 2024, Marcelo Gallardo’s Leipzig and Mauricio Pochettino’s Hoffenheim have beaten Bayern to the punch in these last two seasons.

It’s 2026, and also 14 years since we last lifted a UEFA Champions League trophy. This has to change.

I am showed around my new home by none other than Marco Van Basten, my new assistant manager. If the imposter syndrome was high in France, Jesus…

The humble abode.
It’s an honour to even meet the man who did this.

Incredibly, David Alaba, now 34, is still at the club, in his 19th year! Many other familiar faces greet me at training too; Benjamin Pavard, Corentin Tolisso, Serge Gnabry, Joshua Kimmich, Kingsley Coman and Lucas Hernandez, among others.

Commitment to the Bayern cause!

There’s also a mean-looking strikeforce.

Sousa can give my former frontmen a run for their money with quality like that.
Haaland has 36 goals in 95 league appearances so far. He’s still only 26!

That being said, it was time to work some transfer market magic and bring in some fresh talent, while exiting some players who may not fit in with our tactical approach.

£243m spent (mostly to my old club!) and £171m recouped. Good business?

Ahem.

I might have went back for more than a couple of Lille old boys.

José Luis Garavano, 23, Lille, £70million. JLG9 is back!
Robert Marin, 21, Lille, £27.5million. I still have faith that Marin can become one of the deadliest strikers on the planet.

JLG9, Robert Marin and Nehuén Pérez had to come with me from France. I’ve got eyes on Enzo Romano too, but new Lille manager Pep Guardiola (seriously!) isn’t too keen on letting go of either him or Uriel Vázquez, who frustratingly never got to play for me.

Tonali and Kana were must-buys to improve our ageing midfield.

Not to jump on THAT bandwagon, but did we just sign the next Pirlo? He’s 26 now so he might be Pirlo-esque already. I’ve never managed him before, so I guess I’ll find out.

I get to work with the boys on the training pitch, as my signature 4-3-3 starts to take shape. Pre-season goes well, as do my first 15 or 20 competitive games in charge.

We are unbeaten, so you’d think everything would be rosy. For some reason though, my Bayern boys are just not lighting up the pitch the way the Lille lads did (writer’s note – alliteration is awful).

Unbeaten, but unremarkable?

A string of frustrating draws recently leaves me a little deflated, so I decide to move things around a little bit, tactically. Could a slightly tweaked system deliver the more entertaining football I’d like to see?

We are fast approaching the middle part of the season (already) so I guess only time will tell.

Some slight differences from my usual style, as I ask Kana and Yaya Rosenthal (GREAT name) to push higher up than I would normally like them to.
The Bayern Munich squad for 2026/27.

Last thing. When KHR (yep, I’m allowed to call Rummenigge that) took me out for dinner to the incredible ‘Tantris’ restaurant, I realised it has more Michelin stars than I’ve won titles, two.

He also threw me my new car keys (that’s how it works, right?) and arranged that I could be driven home in it, after way too many drinks.

Delicious.
I DID say they made the best cars.

Welcome to Germany. This should be fun!

Thanks for reading

FM Stag.

Journeyman – 27 – Lille – This is breaking news!

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

Lockhart swaps France for Germany by joining the Munich giants.

Former Lille manager Adam Lockhart has reportedly turned down the opportunity to manage Juventus and a lucrative contract extension to remain in France; to replace Roberto Mancini as the manager of Bayern Munich.

Mancini had been at the helm of the German giants for almost six years, but now moves on to fresh challenges at Sevilla.

Early rumours are suggesting that Pep Guardiola is waiting in the wings to replace the Scotsman at Lille.

In a break from blog tradition, the following article was written by football journalist and columnist for theangrylinesmen, Carl Hagedorn.


By Carl Hagedorn. 29 June 2026.

Football news is a fast-moving business. Following 40-year old Adam Lockhart’s move from Lille in Ligue Un to Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich early this morning, interest has been globally and immediately piqued in the Scotsman’s managerial credentials.

the early years

Growing up in the working-class east end of Glasgow in the shadow of Celtic Park, but reportedly favouring their blue-clad rivals from the other side of the city, saw Lockhart’s fascination with football rooted at an early age.

Not content with just kicking a ball around his parent’s garden, a young Lockhart would also tear out the fantasy football and results sections from his father’s newspapers, spending countless hours writing out team sheets, fictional transfer targets and tactical diagrams, as he pretended to manage these teams in real life.

This proved to be a nice foreshadowing to his vocation, later in life.

A non-descript playing career in semi-professional football followed, turning out for sides such as his local junior team Vale of Clyde, and Reebok Central League rivals Pollock. Trials took place at larger clubs in Scotland, but a combination of knee and back issues, alongside a deeper interest in the coaching side of the beautiful game led him down a different path.

Lockhart’s developing sporting education was fostered working under a variety of lower league managers in Scotland as an analyst and occasionally as a part-time scout. A keen traveller, he was often abroad, taking in matches from Scandanavia, every corner of Europe and even on occasion, South America.

Lockhart is said to be a keen student of the game, and a fanatic who closely analyses and is influenced by the contrasting styles of Marcelo Gallardo, Pep Guardiola, Quique Setién and Roberto de Zerbi, among others.

in managerial infancy

It wasn’t until the age of 33 in 2019, that a first full time managerial opportunity became available. Surprisingly, it was in Sweden’s Superettan (the second tier), and the team was Varbergs BoIS.

Lockhart’s enthusiasm and two hour Bielsa-esque presentation of a dossier on the Swedish team’s competitors in the division, led to the minnows said to be from the “least appealing place in Sweden” to take a huge chance in appointing the Scotsman, in spite of his lack of coaching qualifications, or managerial experience.

The Superettan season was already in full flow, and Lockhart’s first job was to steady the ship and avoid Varbergs being relegated to the third tier. Adopting a tiki taka-esque 4-5-1 in his early days, his time in Sweden was moderately successful. Varbergs stabilised and survived, the local press remarking on how quickly Lockhart had learned the Swedish language. Also noted was how regularly he communicated with captain Albert Ejupi, his “manager on the pitch.”

Although the tactical strategy would later evolve into what we would consider his signature style, these formative years in management allowed Lockhart to capture a handful of his national and continental coaching licences, and work in challenging circumstances where strict financial management was not only advantageous, it was a necessity.

It would be this financial pressure that would cause Lockhart to eventually look outside of Varbergs for his next role. Somewhere he could have some sort of budget to make alterations to the playing staff.

Midway through the 2021 campaign, Lillestrøm were in the top tier of Norwegian football, but struggling badly under the stewardship of defensively-minded coach Dag-Eilev Fagermo. Veteran defender and sporting adviser Frode Kippe had heard about Lockhart’s analytical sensibilities and ability to work under pressure, from friends in common with the then Glasgow-based Rangers manager Steven Gerrard, whom he knew from his four year stint at Liverpool at the turn of the millennium. The local press in Scotland had run a handful of articles about their countryman working out in Scandanavia.

After 23 months in Sweden, Lockhart eventually left Varbergs to take the role at Lillestrøm, but initially they continued to struggle. Try as he may, the Scotsman could not get the Norwegians performing cohesively. The inevitable relegation ensued, and the Norwegian press were not as kind as their Swedish, or indeed their west of Scotland counterparts.

© Simon Bratseth, ‘The Norwegian Football Insider’ archive, October 2021.

“Glaswegian Lockhart is living proof that many young British coaches are limiting their footballing education by refusing to embrace the challenges of some of Europe’s smaller, arguably less glamorous footballing environments. The on-pitch results may not be great at the moment, but the multi-cultural experience gained may prove crucial to any future success Lockhart has.”

© Chris Burns, ‘The Daily Record’ archive, September 2021.
Tempers flared as the Norwegians struggled to handle the pressure of a campaign featuring only three league wins, where relegation seemed inevitable from early on.

Given the opportunity to keep his job (only just, if sources are to be believed) by then chairman Christian Johansen, this was definitely a pivotal moment in the young manager’s career.

The following Lillestrøm season in Norway’s second tier, proved to be Lockhart’s making.

Bringing in his former captain from Varbergs, Albert Ejupi, was a masterstroke, and indicative of the strong bond he shares with some of his key players. Players following Lockhart to new clubs is a trend we talk about again, later in this article. Some other key signings were made, namely Englishman Perry Ng and the highly-rated Viktor Gyökeres, a Swedish international.

25 goals from the latter, and the emergence of young homegrown winger-turned target man Lasse Nordås helped ensure that Lillestrøm were back where they belonged, in the top division of Norwegian football. That season, Lockhart’s Lillestrøm also unexpectedly lifted the Norwegian cup against the giants of Rosenborg.

This is when interest in the Scotsman started to rise.

Lockhart was faced with the choice of leading Lillestrøm in Norway’s Eliteserien the following year, or leaving to pursue new challenges at the end of his contract.

The Scotsman departed with a heavy heart at the end of 2022, when his stock was at a career high. He had one Norwegian Division 1 Manager of the Year award, and two trophies in his suitcase.*

*Metaphorically. I’m sure he physically left them in the Lillestrøm trophy cabinet.

The tactical dna

It was as much the captured silverware in the 2022 season which caught the rest of the footballing world’s eye, as the new tactical system Lockhart had devised and put in place.

A deep 4-3-3 on paper, Lockhart has almost religiously stuck to this strategy for four years and counting, not only in the bulk of his time at Lillestrøm, but later in France too.

The concept in the defensive phase, is that the back four tighten enough to create a low block, covered by the central defensive midfielder, flanked by two Segundo Volantes, a role which originated in Argentina, but popularised in Brasil.

It’s interesting to note that Carlos Volante (who the role was named after) once played for Olympique Lillois. Lockhart would later regularly deploy his midfielders in this role while managing the rebranded Lille. These all-action midfielders in the heart of the pitch need to be as equally tough in defence as they are at pushing high up and dynamically attacking space. More on this in a moment.

The player in the classic number 10 role (most effectively performed by Yusuf Yazici at Lille) also takes on a somewhat unusual responsibility in this setup, as Lockhart tends to have him drop deep on the pitch and operate more like a classic central midfielder, shepherding in and around the centre circle, in the defensive phase.

This creates a specific profile of player that tends to fit well with his system. The tactical principles require hard-working but quick-thinking players, who can adapt to a tactic which fluidly changes in the different phases of play.

In the attacking phase, Lockhart requires his players to be quick and decisive, pushing forward to create overloads. As his teams move forward with possession, they stretch the opposition by pushing wider as they travel higher up the pitch. Centre backs who are comfortable on the ball, the classic number 6 and the wing-backs, work together to move the ball up the pitch quickly, with relatively short passing. This ideally creates an overload in numbers, where the three most attacking players are supported by the Segundo Volantes around the edge of the opposition box.

The alternative option Lockhart asks his players to seek where appropriate, is to beat the offside trap with an early longer ball to the three waiting forwards. This constant switch between the play-out-of-defence, urgent shorter passing approach and the longer ball for pacey strikers springing a counter, keeps opponents guessing. The moment they lose the ball, Lockhart’s teams revert to the deep and narrow block, to frustrate opponents in numbers.

In the first goal highlight of the above video, you can see a brief example of the quick ‘fanning out’ of players as soon as the defensive header is won, and immediate quick pass to the frontman to create a goalscoring opportunity. Before the centre back wins the header, you can witness the players chasing back and starting to narrow as they planned to transition to the low block. Winning back possession resulted in an immediate alteration.

The system has had it’s critics, however. None more so than the hosts of popular football podcast Grass n Gear. Rumour has it that their refusal to comment on the tactical setup Lockhart employs is actually not a criticism at all, but instead reflective of the hosts’ firm anti-Scottish bias.*

*I’m joking, of course.

Lockhart’s next role landed him in France, and was considered by most to be a massive step up in his career. His first order of business? Bring Perry Ng, Viktor Gyökeres and Lasse Nordås to the south of France, joining him from Norway.

Other players flourished under Lockhart in his short spell in Bordeaux. Namely Kévin N’Doram, the hard-working yet forgotten man at Monaco (now plying his trade for Swansea) and the Algerian midfielder Haris Belkebla, who although still at Bordeaux now, has never been utilised in the same way or displayed the same confidence, since.

A single 6th place finish in Ligue Un will be the only permanent record in Lockhart’s name in the Bordeaux history books, apart from 21 wins and only 9 losses in just over a year. Reportedly his relationship with the board broke down very quickly after that first season in charge, and rumours surfaced about a disagreement with the club’s board about the long-term ambition of the club, domestically and in Europe.

That was when word started to spread that Lockhart had been approached about the vacant Lille hotseat. Long term manager Christophe Galtier had been sacked, and Lille chairman Gérard Lopez wanted someone in with an analytical and data-centric approach. Lockhart fit the bill.

When questioned around how he felt about Bordeaux replacing him with iconic managerial-influencer Marcelo Bielsa, Lockhart said he was humbled first and foremost, and delighted that the club would be in safe hands.

Lockhart took on the Lille job and finished 5th after the handful of games that were left of that campaign. He had a tough summer of work ahead to do in the transfer market and on the training pitch. Fan favourite wingers Diego Laínez and Ivan Petryak left the club quickly after the Scotsman’s arrival, evidently not fitting in with either his tactical or work ethos.

The sentiment that Lockhart bonded well with his important players was further cemented when Bordeaux’s star striker Efe Koulouris, along with teammates Otávio and Silvan Hefti left the south of France to join him further north at Lille.

Lille already had two wonderful young prospects on their books, talismatic Argentinian number 9, José Luis Garavano, and homegrown French wonderkid Robert Marin. A relentless obsession with detailed scouting globally, led to the acquisition of another two Argentinians. Iván Gómez from Estudiantes (£4m), and Boca Juniors striker, Enzo Romano (£8m). Romano has since become a star striker for Lille, while Gómez earned a £73million move to Guangzhuo Evergrande in China, netting Lille an incredible profit, after just 18 months at the club.

Iván Gómez. A Lille star, who ended up netting the club £69million profit.

The following season (2024/25) was eventful, as Lille pushed PSG harder than they had been pushed in recent years in the Ligue Un title race. The odd negative result meant that Lockhart’s Lille fell short by 9 points to finish second in the end, but with a points tally that may have conquered Ligue Un in other years (91 points). Lille also won the UEFA Europa Conference League in that campaign, to add some European silverware to the honours list.

This brings us to last season.

In short, Lille destroyed all before them in Ligue Un, with the exception of one single league loss to Marseille, to lift the title, breaking PSG’s eight year grip of the trophy.

The young, yet hard-working side gelled exceptionally, and with Lockhart at the helm, armed with ever-evolving statistical data and an arm round the players when needed, it was a deserved reward to a long and challenging campaign.

Lockhart’s Lille. 2025/26 Ligue Un champions. P38, W31, D6, L1, 99pts.
The Future

Given the news this morning, details are flooding in as we speak. We know that Lockhart has signed an initial two year deal at the Allianz, and the German giants have released the following statement.

“We are delighted to announce the appointment of new head coach, Adam Lockhart, until the end of the 2027/28 season. Lockhart’s achievements in Ligue Un last season, speak for themself. His experience will bring energy and belief to the dressing room.”

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Bayern Munich chairman.

Lockhart himself has yet to make an official comment, but was seen arriving in Munich in the early hours of this morning.

Furnished with considerably higher financial firepower than he has had access to before, but facing much higher expectations, this presents both a bold and surprising move from Bayern Munich, and a great opportunity for Lockhart.

Fans hope of course that the Scotsman steps up and delivers a Bundesliga trophy, as well as improved progress in the UEFA Champions League. Tangible success has been missing for Bayern lately.

For all of Roberto Mancini’s style and substance, his final two years cannot be considered successful for the Munich club. Finishing 2nd then 3rd in the Bundesliga is just not good enough. Champions League performances resulted in a Quarter Final exit two years in a row, to Juventus and Barcelona respectively. Coupled with early exits from the domestic German Cup, the patience of Bayern’s passionate fan base could last no longer, hence the change of direction.

It is rumoured (as you’d expect) that Lockhart will look to bring some of his Lille stars with him to Munich. Not least of which the attacking trio of Garavano, Romano and Marin.

Existing Bayern midfielders Corentin Tolisso and Leon Goretzka had already made it clear that they would be seeking new challenges this season or next, but many wonder if Mancini’s exit and Lockhart’s appointment may change their feelings.

Additionally, there is a debate already ongoing around how Bayern’s existing wide players may or may not fit into the signature 4-3-3 system Lockhart likes his teams to play. That would include long-serving fan favourites Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry.

It was rumoured that Antonio Conte was the prime target for the Bayern vacancy, so it is unclear if Lockhart was the backup option (Antonio Conte has just been announced as the manager of rivals Dortmund), or if Conte was simply a distraction, while Bayern’s board aimed to capture the Scotsman from title-winning Lille.

Lockhart may not be everyone’s preferred candidate for the job, but after a couple of miserable years for Bayern Munich and the Scotsman’s commitment to solid yet engaging football, it represents at least the promise of some kind of spectacle at the Allianz this season. What kind of spectacle, remains to be seen.

By Carl Hagedorn.


Thanks for reading.

FM Stag

Journeyman – 26 – Lille – You’re not the only one

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

You’re not the only one with mixed emotions. You’re not the only ship adrift on this ocean.

I am outside the apartment, with my back leaned up against the side of the car. It’s approaching midnight and I’m exhausted. I take a deep breath in, then slowly exhale my cigarette smoke into the darkened Lille sky, watching as the silvery clouds dissipate.

It’s been quite a journey so far.

I swore I’d give these things up, but I also swore I would never destroy water bottles in the technical area like Arsène Wenger, when we fail to convert almost 30 chances in a match.

I have headphones in. I am listening to Mick Jagger’s dulcet tones at half volume. I can still hear the hum of passing traffic as I stub out my cigarette with a precisely swivelled toe. I am enjoying the underrated Stones classic ‘Mixed Emotions.’ It’s June 2026, and Mick, the sentiment is as true for me now as it was for you in 1989, pal.

The 2025/2026 campaign is over, and it’s time for a review. When we last spoke, we were alive and kicking in the Coup de France, the UEFA Champions League and Ligue Un. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Before we do, I had said we would have a closer look at our tactical DNA in this episode. I lied, but only because so much has happened that I couldn’t possibly bring you that much excitement in one dose. (writer’s note – he means keep you interested across more than 5 or 6 paragraphs).

It’s perhaps something to look forward to another time I guess. No?

Coup de France

After the incredible late win over PSG in the Quarter Finals, we were up against a tough Marseille side in the Semis. A 106th minute extra time goal by JLG9 saw us narrowly through 1-0.

So who would we face in the final? It was Angers. A team we regularly and routinely dispatch of. Angers perpetually hover in or around 10th in the league table.

So did we dominate possession against them? Yep.

Did we have 27 attempts on goal vs their 8? Yep.

Did we complete almost 100 more passes than them to control the entire pitch? Yep.

Did we lose 1-0 and not win a trophy? Yep.

FFS. If I see another looping wayward header from a lofted cross, despite all my instructions to do otherwise, I’ll scream. It was definitely one of those days.

Awful.

A desperate disappointment to fall at the last hurdle, to lose in the final. But how would the other competitions go?

UEFA Champions League

The understatement of the year could be that I was doubtful about our chances in the 1st Knockout Round when we drew Barcelona, after a brilliant turnaround in the group stage that saw off Inter.

The first leg approached and I told the boys to go out and enjoy it. They deserved to be playing on this stage, and anything could happen. On the inside, I wasn’t feeling as confident as my words suggested. But then…

Wow!

Another JLG9 goal at a crucial moment gave us a fantastic advantage to take to the Nou Camp. What was considered an impossible dream could now be a reality!

Nope, it couldn’t.

Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. Allegri’s Blaugrana were big favourites even with the one goal deficit, and they proved to be too strong for us on their patch, as we tumbled out of the Champions League, but with our heads held high.

Barcelona went on to be eventual winners, beating Paris Saint-Germain (haha) in the final at the Santiago Bernabéu. Goals from Fabinho and Gabriel Jesus drove them to glory, in a stadium where Barcelona always love a victory.

So that’s two competitions out the window, leaving us with just the league.

Ligue Un

At our last update, we had played 25 matches in the league, and were yet to lose. We had created a massive gulf of points between ourselves and 3rd, but PSG were hot on our heels in 2nd.

Effectively it all came down to three key matches. I mirrored PSG’s slip up defeat at Nimes by losing to Marseille, so all that really mattered were the results of three crucial games; namely against Monaco, against PSG in what was dubbed the title decider on gameday 37, and on the final day against Lyon.

The Monaco game gave me waves of anxiety. We were the dominant force throughout and just could not break down their wall of a defence. Monaco have been terrible this season, but try as we might, nothing would go in.

That was until one of my Argentine hitmen stepped up to save the day, twice within a minute.

Annnnnnd breathe.

At 89:57, just before Enzo Romano smashed the ball home, a quick glance at the league table gave me reason to panic. They do say it’s always darkest before the dawn, however, and Romano’s quick-fire double right at the death, was one of the moments of the season.

What a breathtaking title race.

Next up, the ultimate showdown against PSG.

If we could get a result against our rivals, it would go to the final day with us in pole position. If they beat us, barring a 34 goal swing in the last match, PSG would be champions. Again.

It was do or die.

Who says French football is a one-horse race?

So how was PSG’s home record this season going into this must-win game?

F***.

The big day was here. My rousing speech completed. Assistant manager Craig Shakespeare on emergency oxygen pretty much guaranteed.

Seven minutes in, and something incredible happened.

J. L. G. 9.

I fall to my knees on the touchline. It’s the 8th minute and I can barely breathe. I can’t believe we are 1-0 up in Paris. I panic as I think of the famous story where David Narey put Scotland 1-0 up early against Brazil in 1978, only serving to anger them, the Brazilians subsequently smashing four goals in to make it 4-1.

We were holding on for dear life as the second half tumbled on.

In the final minutes, the moment came where my heart wasn’t just in my mouth, it felt like it had left my body completely.

PSG’s midfield orchestrator, Spaniard Miguel Baeza, caught one of the sweetest volleys I’ve ever seen in a football match, from just outside the box. It felt like slow motion as it whistled past Pontus Dahlberg’s left-hand post by a matter of inches. Could this be it? 88 minutes played and I’ve aged considerably since kick off.

Luckily there was just too much spin on Baeza’s piledriver, and the ball flew wide.

The travelling Lille fans let out a collective sigh, and many hug each other in the stands. This is football at its breathtaking finest.

Despite being under extreme pressure all game, we made it!

Our players collapse on the pitch as the final whistle blows. It’s over.

In a nice touch, recently departed Dalian Yifang defender Christian Luyindama has tears in his eyes in the stands, as he applauds the boys enthusiastically. He is taking in the game sat alongside chairman Gérard Lopez and the injured Thiago Maia. I forgot to tell you that our 32-year old captain of six years moved to China for £9.5million in the last few weeks. It was an out of the blue transfer that made sense for both parties.

To spare you from any further suspense, a Fausto Vera wonderstrike from 30 yards sealed a 1-0 win against Lyon on the final day to spark the biggest celebrations I’ve seen in my career so far.

Lille are crowned Ligue Un champions to put a halt to PSG’s EIGHT titles in a row. Champions of France for the first time since 2010/11.

Champions!
What a performance. Only one single league loss all season, and a massive 99 points.

What an absolutely exhilirating season I will aim to summarise for you, with the help of some graphics.

Here’s the Lille boys that made this season happen.

I have to mention the departed captain Luyindama, £73m man Iván Gómez and probable Manchester United return loanee Hannibal Mejbri, for their contribution.
Click for detail.
The squad after the final day, before any further departures or new arrivals.

So what of next season? Mr Lopez very kindly doubled my salary and renewed my deal until 2029 relatively recently and things are looking rosy. In terms of the playing staff, I don’t think sweeping changes are required.

Promising right back Lucien Ayuk, wonderkids Rachid Santiago and Uriel Vázquez, aggressive young midfielders Kenin Dzafic and Augusto Caneca and solid striker Tomás Badaloni all return soon from loan any day now, and I’ve spent a little bit on a long term target, a solid defensive midfielder from relegated Amiens.

Alex Blin, 29, Amiens SC, £5million.

I’ve also arranged to bring in a Brazilian flair player to complement our attacking options. With Hannibal Mejbri unlikely to renew his loan spell with us this season, I need an exciting player in that role, and I think I’ve found one. Silvinho arrives on the 1st of July.

Silvinho, 23, Vasco da Gama, £8.5million.

I know the goal in this journeyman is to win a top league and Champions League double and I really think I’ve got a great chance of delivering that here.

I’ve now been in Lille longer than in any other job, I’m really settled and I don’t plan on going anywhe…

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag.

Journeyman – 25 – Lille – Money can’t buy me love. Or can it?

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

“Dad, what is that shadowy place?” “It’s Belgium. We can definitely see it from here, Simba.”

So it’s February 2026. We’ve completed 25 league games so far this season, a bunch of cup games and the group stage of the UEFA Champions League has concluded.

I look out from the balcony of my incredible apartment and have a coffee. Can I see Belgium from here? I’ve never thought about it before, but maybe I can. (writer’s note – No mate. It’s 73 miles, you don’t have go-go-gadget eyes.)

It turns out I can’t see Belgium from an apartment in Lille.

There is lots to tell you since we last got together in October 2025 for the last update.

The Porsche needed a service. I bet you didn’t think I’d lead with that, but man, it was a sore one for the wallet. No wonder regular people don’t drive these things.

Between this apartment, the 911 and all the other toys, imposter syndrome is alive and well and living in me. I consider how far we’ve come since that economy flight into Gothenburg ahead of signing on as Varbergs manager back in 2019.

Do I deserve anything like the success I’ve been granted? No, I don’t.

I think sometimes we all feel a bit like that. Even, in fact especially, outside of football.

I shake it off and finish the coffee which was hand-made by my butler Joe (that one was a joke, I don’t have a butl his name is Sam) and head down to the car to drive to the stadium for training.

I recently remembered that I got a Porsche Design jacket as a free gift when I bought this car. I sometimes wear it in the house and pretend I’m Jose Mourinho. He’s the England manager now. From Spurs to Roma to England. Not many would have predicted that. His replacement at Roma when he took the England job? Pep Guardiola!

Nice jacket, you grumpy yet inspirational man.
Surprising?

In this episode, I’ll cover off the three competitions (Ligue Un, Coup de France and Champions League), our January transfer window activity (spoiler alert – £££!), then finish on a bit of an analysis into some of our key, or high-potential players.

Firstly, the Coup de France.

José Luis “the next Batistuta” Garavano, or “JLG9” to you and me, is slowly rediscovering his form after a lengthy layoff with a hernia. He has completed roughly half of the minutes on the park as his prolific and fellow Argentine strike partner Enzo Romano this season. The cup seems to be where he feels most at home as his recovery slowly gathers pace.

Pleased!

A surprising and slim 1-0 victory with a late, late goal from veteran captain Christian Luyundama, grabs us an incredible victory against PSG at the Quarter Final stage. We are currently looking ahead to a tough semi final tie against Marseille. This meets our set board expectations, but could we go further?

Our captain fantastic, Christian Luyundama, 32, has made 181 league appearances in his six years at the club, since his move from Galatasaray in 2020.

In the UEFA Champions League, there was quite a turnaround! At the time of our last update, after three games, we were third in our group (won one and lost two) and it was looking grim. Hoffenheim were on equal points with us in the bottom spot, and it needed some kind of shift in fortune for things to change. Would it? Could it?

It did!
Yeeeessssss!

With Enzo Romano in hot goal-scoring form, we managed three wins from the other three games to move through to the 1st Knockout Phase of the Champions League. An incredible 2-1 win over eventual group winners Liverpool at Anfield really was the cherry on top of the cake, to see us through at Inter’s expense!

Could we really push further on in Europe? Remember we won the UEFA Europa Conference League last season, so we have UEFA trophy pedigree. All we need is a kind draw in the next round and maybe something incredib…

Forget it.

It was fun while it lasted!

Not to sound defeatist, but Barcelona are the last team I wanted to be drawn against. Allegri’s Blaugrana are rampant in La Liga this season, inspired by the sensational form of a now 26-year old João Félix. This is not what we wanted at all!

So on to Ligue Un. We pushed PSG hard last year but eventually finished second by a sizeable gap of 9 points. Back in October, we had kicked off the season unbeaten, with 10 wins in 10. Now, four months later in February 2026, how had we fared since?

WHAT?

In one of the most incredible seasons of my entire life, we have kept up the form, and are 25 league games in, sit 1st in Ligue Un ahead of PSG, and unbelievably have yet to lose a league game.

Never one to get ahead of myself, because anything can happen in these last 13 games, but I can’t help but dream. No matter what does happen, I am so pwoud of each and every one of my pwayers. (writer’s note – mate, they’ll think that’s a typo and not a Sir Alex Ferguson joke. Clown. You, I mean; not Sir Alex.)

I still have PSG to play in Paris (on the second last game-day of the season no less), having managed a 2-2 draw with them at home. So that’s not great news, but a lot can happen between now and then.

The margins are so fine, but if the boys keep their heads down and just keep winning (or at least not losing) we could be on the verge of something historic.

The January window has not long closed. I had a settled squad going into the window, and apart from planning to loan out a couple of fringe players or youngsters who would benefit from some more football, I didn’t have anything big planned.

That was until THIS happened.

How much?!?!
P R O F I T

Yep, if you clicked on those two images, you read it correctly. Iván Gómez is off to China, and we are £73million richer.

Gómez, now 28, is a midfielder I brought in from Estudiantes in Argentina, where he had spent his entire career up until then. A £4m investment resulted in 56 solid league appearances (7.13 average rating), 4 league goals, 8 assists and an incredible £69million profit in roughly 18 months. I wanted to keep him, but he said China would be a good financial move for his family. Given that Evergrande are paying him £155,000 a week, which I never could, I guess he’s right!

So what would I do with the profit? Spend big to replace?

No. I kept it sensible and continued to look for value in potential (like Bilal Krieger) or in undervalued players at other teams (like Nehuén Pérez).

I already had Uriel Vázquez set to come in from Independiente at DM, remember? So it looked like I had a ready made replacement in a similar Argentinian mould?

Wrong!

Unfortunately the bid for Gómez did not come right at the 1st of January, so by the time it did, I had already signed Vázquez and loaned him out to Marseille for the rest of the season, as there was no non-EU registration spot available for him. Of course, a non-EU registration spot freed up the moment Gómez left! How frustrating! I can’t recall him until February, by which time the Ligue Un squad registration window will be closed, and he would be ineligible to play.

Knowing that Vázquez would return in the summer, I opted for youth.

16-year old Madjid Belhadji caught my eye, and my scouts agreed. Bags of potential, plays in one of the recently-vacated DM roles, and already has impressive bravery, balance, work rate and decision-making. Rennes only wanted £6m for Madjid, and I was happy to pay it.

A promising replacement? Let me know in the comments. I think he is the Real Madjid (writer’s note – STOP IT.)
A more ready-made replacement, but not until summer, sadly.

So this is the squad that will see us through to the end of the 2025/2026 campaign, for better or worse.

The Lille boys of 2026.

You may notice that 37-year old shot stopper Rui Patrício is retiring in the summer. I did ask him to continue for another year, but his heart it set on hanging up his gloves. He goes at the end of our season with our blessing, with any luck as a decent goalkeeping coach!

I’ve just noticed that his staff attributes have become available, despite him still playing at this point, so let’s take a look. Would Rui join our coaching staff to teach the youngsters about the life and times of a first class goalkeeper?

Nope. It turns out he knows less about coaching goalkeeping than I do.

Below is a quick analysis of some of the team in not too much detail. I’m sure you don’t have all day, and I’ve got the home leg of the 1st Knockout Round of the Champions League against Barcelona to prepare for!

I like that people seem to enjoy my statistics most of the time, especially when it’s coupled with some Excel graphs or player comparisons.

Please let me know in the comments or via Twitter if there is any analysis you would like to see in more detail.

Some of the big Lille names from years gone by.

Goalkeepers (highlighted 2 of the available 4)

Pontus Dahlberg, 27. Sweden’s “goalkeeper of the year” in 2025, the 44 times capped shot stopper has the second highest number of clean sheets in Ligue Un this season with 15, just one behind PSG’s Alex Meret. Solid.

Ivaylo Pavlov, 21. The Bulgarian is currently on loan at Botev Plovdiv where he has improved steadily. Highly rated by my coaching staff, he has been man of the match twice in 23 matches for the team where he started his career. Our future first choice keeper? Promising.

Defenders (highlighted 2 of the available 11)

Nehuén Pérez, 25. £14m well spent, the defensive all rounder has slotted in immediately to our first choice backline since his arrival. He has scored more than any other Lille defender this year, notching 3 goals, alongside a 94% successful tackle completion ratio. Crucial.

Youri Regeer, 22. Still my most expensive signing so far at £19.75million, The Dutchman has proved a versatile and solid investment. Still young, he has already played in 38 league games for Lille, and has the highest successful tackles per 90 minutes in the squad this season, with 5.83. Athletic.

Midfielders (highlighted 3 of the available 13)

Fausto Vera, 25. Arguably our most important player, and inarguably our player rated most valuably by the transfer market at a perceived £54million. Vera is truly a world-class midfielder. An average rating in Ligue Un of 7.32 from 24 appearances so far this season ranks him 6th in the whole division, higher than any of his Lille teammates. Elegant.

Romain Delecroix, 20. A homegrown talent from the Lille academy, Delecroix already has incredible attributes for bravery, decisions, determination, vision and workrate. This makes him a fantastic midfield prospect, both going forward, and back. Roman covers the most distance on the pitch of any Lille player who has played more than 5 matches (13.4km per 90 minutes) and has a 90% pass completion ratio. Committed.

Yusuf Yazici, 29. Our first choice number 10 has created the highest number of chances by any player in Ligue Un this season, with 20 in 24 matches. His creative genius is also supported by his defensive game. An 86% successful tackle ratio and 2.91 key passes per game make him integral to how we play. Inventive.

Forwards (highlighted 3 of the available 7)

José Luis Garavano, 22. Despite being hampered by injury this campaign, José is still a contant menace to opposition defences. JLG9 has bagged 55 goals in 76 league games and has attempted a squad-high average of 4.9 shots per 90 minutes this season. Dangerous.

Enzo Romano, 24. Romano is a left-footed powerhouse. An almost superhuman physical athlete, Enzo actually excels in most areas. Alongside notching 31 goals in 51 league games, he has the second highest assist rate per 90 minutes (0.37), highest shots on target per 90 minutes (2.51) and goals scored per 90 minutes (0.67) of anyone in the Lille squad. Deadly.

Robert Marin, 21. The French wonderkid has completed 3.05 successful dribbles per 90 minutes for Lille. The ex-PSG youngster has 28 league goals in 78 appearances, and is equally adept at dropping into the number 10 role as he is as an instinctive, goalscoring, leader of the line. Dynamic.

Next time, there will be an end of season 2025/26 review (we are currently still in all three competitions, but how would they end?), some more detailed analysis (player comparisons via Excel graphics if you would like to see that?) and possibly a closer look at our tactical DNA.

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag.

Journeyman – 24 – Lille – Walking on sunshine

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

…and don’t it feel good!?

With the excitement of the UEFA Europa Conference League win behind us, Charli XCX waved off on a plane back to England and the dust settled on the 24/25 season; it was time to roll our sleeves up and look ahead to the 2025/26 campaign. It will be Lille’s first venture back into the Champions League since I’ve become manager. Would the European campaign be memorable? Domestically, could we go one step further and finally knock PSG off of their perch?

The financial gulf is beyond a joke. I finished 2nd in Ligue Un, and my sponsorship income is 7.3% of PSG’s. 7.3%!

With a financial chasm of nearly £250million a year in sponsorship revenue difference alone, the gap between PSG and the rest of us has never been more evident.

The only way for us to get any closer to them than we did last year (we were second by 9 points) is not to slip up, ever. We must hope that PSG do (slip up) somewhere, and we perform admirably head to head. That’s forgetting how Lyon, Marseille and Monaco feel about fighting for second or third!

Let’s have a look at summer 2025 transfer business. We may not have the same clout as our rivals in Paris when the cheque book comes out, but we did have a bit of cash to spend, so what happened?

Firstly, let’s look at transfers away from the Stade Pierre Mauroy.

Christoph Baumgartner, 26, sold to Benevento, £5million.

Playing only 5 times in total (1 start), the Austrian attacking midfielder was always going to be a backup option for us, third in line for that number 10 spot after Yusuf Yazici and Hannibal Mejri. Had I thought that he was going to be required on so few occassions, I would not have brought him to Lille. Still, £5million for a player we didn’t need, who cost us £2.4million just twelve months earlier? I’ll take it.

Abdelhamid Aïssaoui, 20, sold to Rochdale, £11million.

Despite Aïssaoui’s clear potential, the fact is we do not play with wingers. Although it looks like he will become a fairly good player, he can’t really play anywhere in our 4-3-3. To get £11million from Championship side Rochdale was quite a fee to rake in for a player who came through the youth system and who’s only competitive football came in the form of two loan spells away from the club. Yes, Abdelhamid may go on to become a star elsewhere, but he would not have fitted in with how we like to play (and I have no idea how to pronounce his surname), so it was better to let him go permanently than delay his career development.

Based on the advice of legendary Caen manager FM Heathen I loaned out some fringe players for more than £800,000 a month in income.

Dzafic and Santiago have bright futures ahead of them here in Lille, but could benefit from playing more often. Badaloni had a superb season with Rangers last year, but would bring my non-EU contingent over the registration limit. Brossard looks like a promsing attacker and Caneca needs first team football, after the now 22-year old hasn’t yet broke through at either Bordeaux or Lille where I have managed him.

Rachid Santiago, 19, loaned out to Rennes for a fee of £1.5million for one season. He has a very bright future.

We brought in just five players. One of which won’t arrive til January and creates a non-EU registration slot dilemma, but that’s future Adam’s problem.

Nehuén Pérez, 25, signed from Anderlecht, £14million.

In order to let Santiago away from the club again for more regular football at this crucial stage of his development, I needed a fourth centre back for the squad. The well travelled Pérez will hopefully find a more stable home here than he has done previously, as I went big, spending £14million on the 25-year old.

Since turning 20, just five years ago, Pérez has featured for Atlético Madrid in Spain, Köln and Freiburg in Germany and then Anderlecht in Belgium, before joining me here in France. Something of a journeyman himself, I hope he settles down into a my first choice backline, alongside our long-serving captain, Christian Luyindama.

Bilal Krieger, 18, signed from Sochaux, £3.1million.

I had my eye on Krieger for the best part of a year, watching his development at under-performing Sochaux. A versatile central midfielder, the 19-year old has great balance, fitness and stamina, coupled with a brave and determined mentality, great vision and decision-making. I had previously enquired about Krieger’s availability last season and was quoted in excess of £30million. When Sochaux were confirmed as relegated from Ligue Un, I swooped very quickly to capture him for his active relegation release clause of £3.1million. A shrewd investment who I think has lots to give, as he improves towards his 5-star potential.

Patrice Mallet, 17, signed from Caen, £2.5million.

I am assured that 17-year old Patrice is no relation to Timmy Mallett. The lack of an extra ‘t’ at the end of his name is apparently the proof but I have my doubts.

The young midfielder has great technique, workrate and lightning-quick acceleration. Couple those with some all-round promising attributes and the fact that he has three years of development to experience before I’d consider him for the first team; I think that Patrice was a handy signing for just £2.5million. High potential (5 stars), low risk (£2.5m).

Timmy Mallet(t).
Lucien Ayuk, 19, signed from Montpellier, £3million.

19-year old right back Lucien Ayuk is a signing I am excited about. Although the young right-back has some work to do on the technical side of his game, he is already a decent tackler, marker and crosser of the ball. It’s the rest of his game where he looks ready to slot into the first time almost instantly. Mentally and physically incredible, we could have the next Lilian Thuram or Willy Sagnol on our hands. Part of the bargain deal of capturing Lucien’s signature for just £3m was to loan him back to Montpellier, now in L2, for the season to play first team football. That suits us, just fine.

Uriel Vázquez, 19, signing from Independiente in January 2026, £7million.

Last, but certainly not least is the future-dated signing of Argentinian midfield phenomenon Uriel Vázquez. Already capped at u20 level and chased by Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United and Juventus among others, I was delighted when Uriel decided to swap his homeland to join my Argentine contingent here in Lille, for just £7million.

Looking at his incredible tackling, marking, teamwork, vision, workrate, determination, bravery, agility and stamina, but lack of height; if I didn’t know better I’d say this was the reincarnation of Javier Mascherano.

The only challenge this brings me is that my four non-EU slots for Ligue Un registration are already filled by my two star midfielders Fausto Vera and Iván Gómez, and wonderkid striking duo JLG9 and Enzo Romano. Does this mean that Vázquez will need to be loaned out until one of the other four move on? I think it has to.

Despite that complication, I couldn’t pass up the chance to sign one of the most promising looking young defensive players I’ve seen in a long time.

A future Lille and Argentina superstar? A genuine photograph.
The settled 2025 squad, ready for the season ahead.

It’s October 2025 and we are a wee bit into the campaign. The Coupe de France hasn’t kicked off yet (and won’t until the new year), so we are fighting on two fronts at the moment, Ligue Un and the UEFA Champions League.

First up. Who was in our Champions League group as we return to the hottest stage in club football?

Liverpool, Inter and Hoffenheim. THIS will be a challenge.

We draw Hoffenheim (currently 1st in the Bundesliga under the leadership of Mauricio Pochettino), Inter Milan (currently 1st in Serie A and managed by Diego Simeone) and Liverpool (Champions League winners in 19, 21, 22 and 2023. Currently 1st in the Premier League, still under Klopp).

Thanks fate, for dealing us such a kind card. (writer’s note – Guys, I think that’s sarcasm he’s going for there.)

I motivate the boys before the first game against Inter, over in Milan by playing a selection of Bob Dylan songs and performing star jumps. I have a look at the scout report ahead of the big game. The Italians usually have older squads, maybe we can surprise them with our youthful pace and aggression?

Oh no. They have two of the best young players I’ve ever seen on the flanks. Incredible.

I take a deep breath and walk out at the Giuseppe Meazza, praying that if we lost, it would only be by one goal, and the boys could take positives from it.

3-0. Not the end of the world, but not a great start.

The final whistle blows and our 3-0 opening defeat is confirmed. The performance didn’t merit the three-goal deficit, but we were just taken apart on the break too many times, with Justin Kluivert the main man bagging a brace.

We get back to the hotel to sleep off the negative result, fit to face another day. Before we do though, Captain Christian Luyindama cheers the guys up by organising darts, snooker, burgers and pints of beer for those that drink. I let them off with it, it’s been a tough day.

Eek. To be fair I am only responsible for loss number 18, not the 17 before it.
Motivators.

The second Champions League match of the campaign is at home to Liverpool. Again, another tough 90 minutes with some decent performances, but nothing to show for it, other than an Enzo Romano consolation goal.

A tough, but expected result. Midfield duo Maia and Gómez played blinders, but it just wasn’t enough.

The third group match was again at home, this time against the Germans in our group, who had more than one quality-looking player in their ranks. None more so than striking phenomenon Andrew Baur.

Frighteningly good.

Incredibly, we completely outplay Poch’s Hoffenheim, and we come away straightforward 2-0 winners, with goals from Robert Marin and Enzo Romano.

Easy!

After the thumping defeats in the opening two games I really feared the worst; but after the Hoffenheim win, things aren’t as bad as they seemed.

Yep, the board’s expectations are unfair, but I’m proud of our performance so far.

That leaves us with the league. How was Ligue Un going this year so far, 10 games in?

Wait a minute…10 wins from 10!

We are smashing it! 10 wins in our first 10 games means that our start to the season could not have been any better. Surely we must be ahead of PSG with a 100% record at this stage of the season?

Yes! We are!

Incredibly we are top of Ligue Un, pigs CAN fly!

PSG have slipped up just once, when they drew 0-0 away at St Etienne. So there is only two points between us, but I am 11 points clear of Lyon in third. We have made such an incredible start to the season, surely we can’t throw this good start away and we will at least finish second again this year.

As long as nothing horrendous happens to our compact and hard-working squad.

Nobody panic!

So captain Luyindama is out for 3 months with torn knee ligaments. This I did not need. If you look at the bottom of the snapshot, you’ll notice that talismanic striker JLG9 is also out for over a month, while key tactical pivot, deep lying playmaker Thiago Maia cannot add to his 242 league appearances for Lille, until he recovers from his twisted ankle.

Could this be our first rocky patch this season? Some key injuries will be a real test for our small squad, but we are all pulling in the same direction, and who knows, maybe anything is possible? I am excited to find out!

If fictional poor role model Barbie says it, then it must be true.*

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag.

*this is what happens when you Google “anything is possible” for image ideas and end up with Barbie. Listen, it was the best of a bad bunch, it was either this or a Will Young CD single cover, give me peace.

Journeyman – 23 – Lille – I wanna win. I want that trophy

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

“Throw it up! I want that trophy.” Even Charli XCX is keen for us to do well in France.

At the end of the last episode, there were 8 Ligue Un games to go, as well as the latter stages of the Europa Conference League.

Let’s jump straight to it.

It ended very, very well. Unfortunately not the dream finish of PSG going on a losing streak for the first time in 200 years and Lille winning the league, but the next best thing.

91 points!

We finished 2nd with an incredible 91 points! If it wasn’t for the frustratingly permanently ridiculous PSG, that would generally be enough to win any other 38 game league.

José Luis ‘the next Batistuta’ Garavano, or JLG9 as we know him, bagged an incredible 40 goals, 34 of which were in the league. He’s a rarely seen goalscoring phenomenon.

An incredible season for JLG9 in L1. Yazici didn’t do too badly either.

It will be such a tough challenge to repeat this again next season, but the exciting news is that we will be in the Champions League group stage! This is the first time in my managerial career, 5 and a bit years in, that I will lead a team into the Champions League!

The other remaining piece of business is the small matter of the Europa Conference League latter stages. So how did we do?

In a campaign that started with the Best Placed 3rd Qualifying Round against FC Flora of Estonia, to end with a handful of high profile European fixtures is such a fantastic surprise.

After we dispatched of Russia’s Ural, Utrecht were beaten 5-3 on aggregate in the Quarter Final. Next up? Spartak Moscow in the Semi Final. A tense 2-2 draw in Moscow set up a nervy affair in the second leg back home in France. Lille comfortably won 3-1 and on we marched to only my second cup final (after the Norwegian Cup) in my five or so years in management so far. It was against Ligue Un rivals Marseille (who had beaten surprise package Sheffield United in the semis), and the build up was a nightmare.

Destiny’s confirmation.
Our star midfielder will be watching from the stands.
One of our top defenders will face a fitness challenge to make the squad.
Preparing the way you should when every missed chance, is an opportunity to destroy a European dream.

It’s the morning of cup final day, and I can tell the players are nervous. Despite Craig Shakespeare’s “It’s Marseille, lads” sketch which impresses absolutely no one, the lads are still showing signs of fear. Robert Marin gets snappy with Hannibal Mejbri when Mejbri pokes fun at the French sensation for being linked with Steve Bruce’s Bristol City in the back pages of the newspaper.

Never going to happen.

Rui Patrício has to be held back from slapping Romain Delecroix when he calls the 37-year old “Grandad” on the team bus, mocking his wired headphones. Footballers these days, eh?

We arrive at the Benito Villamarín in Seville and it’s an impressive 60,720 seater stadium and home to Real Betis.

Two French clubs, battling it out in a Spanish city for a UEFA trophy. What could be more European? (writer’s note – one of the clubs being German, Italian, English, Portuguese…the list could go on.)

Estadio Benito Villamarín

The boys get their final preparation work completed in the sunshine, and we take a moment to reflect on what a fantastic season it has been. No ‘Any Given Sunday’ moments today. Just a group of Lille lads, giving it their all.

The lineups. One of my Bordeaux buddies, Otávio, replaces the injured Vera in central midfield. Marseille field the Brazilian wonderkid Lincoln in an impressive attack line alongside returning hero Thauvin, who was a free transfer four years after leaving Marseille for Liverpool in exchange for £52million. Great business!
30 minutes in and everything is going fine. Tidy passing and 53% possession along with a more or less identical attempts record suggests a very even game.

Something had to change. The team needed the impetus to do something incredible. It was fast approaching half time and Craig and I are almost hoarse from screaming our constant instructions from the sidelines. But then it happened.

Incredible. 1-0 to Lille.

In an unpredictable twist of fate, it’s the last minute replacement, 31 year old defensive midfielder Otávio who edges us in front with a header from a dinked in Yusuf Yazici crossed free kick which was headed back across goal by Iván Gómez, a few minutes before half time. It’s his first goal in a Lille shirt, and therefore his first goal of the season. What a time to get it.

The players come in for the break exhausted. Physio Filip Lundgårdh is in the dressing room with us, checking on some niggling pains some of the players are suffering from. I pace nervously around, near a whiteboard covered in magnets and drawn arrows. Filip has seen this before; back when we won the Norwegian cup together for Lillestrøm, and even before that at Varbergs when I was chasing promotion back in Sweden. He knows how I work.

We go out for the second half, and the players are continuing to work hard, pressing in defence and chasing in attack. We have a corner.

What?! 2-0.

Somehow Otávio is the man again! He doubles his entire Lille tally with a second cup final goal, again assisted by Gómez on 63 minutes to send us 2-0 up. Could we hold on for glory?!

Yes!
Confetti and a trophy, that’s why we do this job!
We did it!

The final whistle blows and Lille are the UEFA Europa Conference League winners of the 2024/2025 campaign!

Couple this with the 2nd place finish in Ligue Un and Champions League qualification, and it has been an incredible season. The move from Bordeaux definitely feels worth it now.

I let the boys go and enjoy the night in whichever way they see fit. I’d even brought a cool bag with 24 of these in it, to kick the celebrations off on the way to the airport for the flight home.

It’s a celebration.

To bring the curtain down on this wonderful season, here is the review, mostly in pictures.

Personal progress.
Adding to those career milestones and improving that win percentage has been a lot of fun here in Lille. 55% now!
Our team of the year. We changed our right back from Almamy Touré halfway through the season. The Malian has since made a decent start to his stint with Torino, featuring 15 times. We wish him good luck.
JLG9 with a massive breakthrough season. 40 goals in one campaign will do that for you.
Despite missing the final, our number 8, Fausto Vera, remains a highly popular figure with fans.
Mr Lopez is pleased. It must have been those radar charts that did it!
The final performance figures of an incredible group of players in 24/25. And Christophe Baumgartner. I feel bad for the criminally underused Austrian playmaker, to be fair.

With the unhappy Baumgartner set to leave us in the summer, he will need replaced. A few others may leave, and a few targets may arrive. I do have the Champions League to contend with now, you know.

Domagoj Bradaric should return from loan at Eibar, Tomás Badaloni from Rangers (20 goals in 44 starts) along with promising young defender Rachid Santiago who has been playing out in Portugual. Will they all fit in?

Who will stay? Who will leave? Who will join?

Lots of questions that will all be answered in time.

One question that I can answer immediately is, “will you upgrade your car, now you are a Champions League manager?” The answer is of course, “You are damn right I will!”

Somebody call 911, shawty fire burnin’ on the dancefloor.

Here’s to a good few nights of celebration, new Porsches, and a bright, bright, Lille future.

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag.

Journeyman – 22 – Lille – Banging on the door again

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

Banging on the door that’s locked forever.

After episode 21’s novel retrospective, it’s back down to business. It’s the 2024/25 Ligue Un season with Lille, and we are desperately trying to knock PSG off of their almighty perch at the pinnacle of French football.

Change takes time. At the time of writing I have been Lille manager for exactly one year to the day. I’ve brought in 21 first team staff (exiting 7), signed 15 players (selling, loaning or releasing 40!) and have managed Lille in exactly 50 competitive matches, winning 32 and losing 10.

In terms of change, Kotter’s model above really can apply in a sporting scenario as it does in business, especially when analysing the (re)building of a football club. I won’t break down each step, but if change management interests you at all, I’d recommend the practitioner course by APMG. Anyway, that was a bit of a tangent!

Just when I think the heights of our managerial success have elevated us to a new level of intellectual conversation, I realise that I’ve somehow locked the Audi key inside the car, and have to call Craig (Shakespeare), my short-tempered assistant manager to help me get to training.

CS, not impressed.

In the car on the way to ‘work,’ Craig and I discuss how new goalkeeper Pontus Dahlberg (13 apps, 19 conceded, 3 clean sheets, 6.90) and record-signing right back Youri Regeer (11 apps, 1 goal, 1 assist, 7.04) have fit in with our club culture and the existing players so far. We agree that they were good moves, and we congratulate each other enthusiastically while drinking terrible coffee Craig bought us from a petrol station. Something about the flat taste of powdered coffee in a paper cup is quite sobering, making me realise that conceding 19 in 13 games maybe isn’t actually that good from our new keeper, but Pontus is still working hard.

Dahlberg. Things can only get better. See? In this picture taken at training he can save two shots with one hand at the same time.

In the last episode, I thought all of the January transfer window was sewn up and reported on. But one more thing did occur. The curious case of Domagoj Bradaric. The Dom-inator is one of those off players who isn’t quite first choice in his position (that’s Borna Sosa’s gig at left-back), but is too good to be the casual understudy. As such, Bradaric’s patience around first team football was wearing thin and he wanted to move on. Given his quality, I don’t want to lose him permanently.

The Dom-inator in action for Lille.

So off Domagoj popped, to Eibar in Spain on loan til the end of the season. I didn’t want this to happen, but it was either that or he was definitely pushing for a permanent transfer request.

This left me in a pickle. The final hours of the transfer window closing in and only one official left-back in the squad.

So I had to do it. In came another Bordeaux old boy, cast aside by Marcelo Bielsa and available on a short-term loan. Ideal.

Welcome to Lille, Olivier “Backup” Boscagli.

Olivier Boscagli, 27, was always reliable for me in Bordeaux (as understudy to then club captain Loris Benito), and will capably play backup to Sosa for the rest of the campaign here. I have built in a £1.8million buy clause, so if Bradaric decides he would like to continue playing his football away from the club permanently, Olly may be a good replacement option.

Talking about managerial icon Bielsa, how was that all going?

Oh no, the timing!
Oops!

A 6-2 win from my rampant Lille side over Bielsa’s Bordeaux IN Bordeaux, was enough for our old pal Joe DaGrosa to dispense of the grumpy tactician. We wish him well, wherever he goes next. Bordeaux have since mounted a small recovery and sit in 11th, under the watchful eye of new (and ex-Guingamp) boss, Nicolas Usaï.

In terms of Ligue Un form, man this division is unforgiving.

We currently sit 3rd, equal on points with 2nd-placed Lyon, only 6 points behind the ever-present league leaders PSG, and a whopping 14 points ahead of Marseille in 4th, with only 8 league games left to play. It’s been a fantastic year.

That being said, it’s hard to tell how much more you can give, before realising that in France, “insurmountable” isn’t a challenge, it’s a resignation of defeat.

What more can you do?! (writer’s note – well not losing 1-0 to Strasbourg would be a start…)
All things considered, I’m happy with that.

So yes, we were chucked out of the Coupe de France at the 9th round stage, and yes, none of us are happy about it; but we were drawn against PSG, and it was a very narrow 3-2 defeat, where I actually think we played the better football.

In the UEFA Europa Conference League (writer’s note – we are all still getting used to that!) we endured a real scare after losing 2-1 in Russia to Ural, but a 1-0 home win ensured we went through to the Quarter Final on away goals. FC Utrecht next. A team in Holland you may remember I almost joined once, a good couple of years ago now.

The UEFA Europa Conference League Quarter Final draw in full. We might have a chance at a trophy here! (writer’s note – well not now you’ve mentioned it, idiot.)

So how are our beloved Lille lads performing, outside of the obvious strong results?

The squad.

Particular mention has to go to JLG9, for his incredible 25 (22 in the league) goals so far this season. “The next Batistuta” is the top scorer in Ligue Un so far, and yes, that means he’s beating a certain Kylian Mbappe.

Slick.

Another mention has to go to Yusuf Yazici. His 10 goals and 13 assists have made him by far our most creative force in the side.

Yazici does it again!

I’ve always used numerous spreadsheets to analyse my team’s attributes and statistics, as well as those available in the transfer market. I do also love a radar chart.

That being said, a brilliant recent post by Oliver Jensen, inspired me to spruce up my player comparison sheets, and get them in use again.

Who are our best-performing defensive midfield options?
How do our strikers compare?

I may write a wider piece on this at a later date, but I think there’s been a lot of analysis recently, and I’ll stick to the narrative for the time being. (writer’s note – watch him change his mind in two paragraph’s time, just wait and see!)

In the meantime, there’s 8 league games left and at least one more double-header in the Europa Conference League to contend with.

The next time we meet, will it be to discuss delirium or disappointment?

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag.

Journeyman – 21 – Lille – A pause for thought

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

Looking back, over my shoulder, I can see, that look in your eye.

Given that we are now in 2025, more than five years into the journey, and things are going relatively well in Lille, I thought I’d pause for a minute and take an episode to look at how far we’ve come, analyse my tactical approach in a wee bit more detail (since I’ve been asked about it), alongside a sort of ‘where are they now?’ type look at my teams and notable players of the last five years, before going much further.

Before we kick that off, however, I had said it was January and I needed a goalkeeper and a first-choice right back. Did we go to market and capture the right candidates?

Of course we did! (hopefully).

We signed the first-choice Sweden goalkeeper for £13million, Pontus Dahlberg. Yes, that’s a lot of money, and yes, he looks like the lovechild of Stephen Merchant and Darren Boyd, but his quality is unrivalled in terms of what was available. At only 25 years old, the 35 time capped Swede was Watford’s number one choice in the Premier League for the past six years! Once he displaces the veteran Rui Patrício, I reckon Dahlberg will be our first choice keeper for years to come.

Pontus frightens the opposition strikers into missing chances.
Pontus Dahlberg, 25, Watford, £13million.

What about at right-back? This one is an expensive risk, but a calculated one.

In not only the most expensive transfer of my managerial career so far, but also Lille’s new record signing, I brought in 21 year old Dutch international Youri Regeer for a whopping £19.7million. Having been capped 13 times already by Holland, effectively muscling Inter Milan’s Denzel Dumfries out of the national team picture, this full back (who is equally capable in the centre of midfield) looks like the total package. Physically powerful, as well as determined, hardworking and very technical, I think we have won a watch here in identifying the ex-Ajax youngster performing well at Genk, and bringing him over the Belgian/French border. (I am aware that Genk is away over at the other side of Belgium and not near France at all, but it sounded nice when I wrote it down, haha)

Youri in his (even) younger days.
Youri Regeer, 21, Genk, £19.7million.

Headed out of the club were two good players, just no longer required. With offers of a good value being put on the table (especially for Gabriel), I couldn’t refuse, especially when we now have adequate cover in both positions, and neither player was first choice at Lille.

Almamy Touré, 28, sold to Torino, £4.5million. 38 appearances, 1 goal and a loan spell out at Sampdoria in 3.5 years. Decent.
Gabriel, 27, sold to Guangzhou Evergrande, £24million. 167 appearances and 7 goals in just short of 7 years as a regular. Good value.
Being financially responsible has stuck with me since the “deathly skint” days back in the Swedish second tier with Varbergs. More on that, later.
The 23-man first team Lille squad, towards the end of the January 2025 transfer window.

Next let’s take a look at our overall status and performance in our career so far, before dipping into the tactical approach.

The only disappointments here are that managing four clubs in as many years has led to the footballing world believing that I don’t have player loyalty (tell that to the boys who moved to France from Norway, or from Bordeaux to Lille with me!) and the fact that the media inexplicably label my tactical style as “route one.” More on that later, too.

*position at time of departure. One promotion and one cup win to my name so far, both in Norway.
A 4-3-3, 2-5-1-2 or 3-4-3, depending on how you look at it. (writer’s note – we get it, it’s fluid. Despite the word “structured” being written on it in bold white letters)

So let’s look at the tactic. I covered some of this in episode 15, but here’s a bit more analysis on it now. As echoed by popular tacticians of the day like Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp, formations are a fairly fluid concept, as in the three phases of play (defending, transition and attacking) a number of players can vacate their starting positions and at different times have completely different roles and responsibilities, depending on the situation.

That being said, on paper, my favoured setup is a fairly narrow 4-3-3. It has been tweaked over the years, but only in small ways, like currently where I don’t have a natural Target Man so have opted for two Advanced Forwards, and changing my DM from an Anchorman to a DLP as I have someone equi-capable offensively as defensively in the form of Thiago Maia for that job.

The key hallmarks are playing out of defence, defending narrowly but widening as we attack, regularly looking for that angled ball over the top to set the strikers off beyond the last defender and always looking to outnumber the opponent in any given moment, anywhere on the pitch. The two Segundo Volantes have to be all-round footballers with a high level of fitness, and the number 10 has to be able to defend from the front and be the team’s most technical visionary.

The image above is almost a snapshot from the ‘transition’ phase of the tactic. The next would be what I would consider the general expected movement in a defending phase.

When defending. Black arrows are expected movement, pink dotted lines are players who must work closely together in this phase.

In the simplest sense, a narrow crowd of players looking to outnumber, press and drown out the opponents. Both centre backs hold a fairly deep line due to their ‘cover’ duty (despite a ‘standard’ line overall) to prevent those nasty balls over the top, while the wingbacks mainly hold their position, narrowing slightly to make the pitch smaller. Furthermore, the DM drops a little deeper to provide defensive cover in front of the back four. Further up the pitch, our number 10 drops into a midfield three with the two Segundo Volantes, compressing the middle of the park and looking for short passing opportunities to break when we win back possession. The two strikers may drop slightly deeper as the team does as a whole, but will mainly stay focused on looking for gaps to run into should we launch a counter attack. We regoup when we lose the ball, however, not over-committing to an immediate press, instead looking to ensure any gaps in our defensive third are covered, and we have a solid base to patiently work from, when we win the ball back again.

When attacking. Black arrows are expected movement, pink dotted lines are players who must work closely together in this phase. As is noted, the DM is pivotal in two groups in this phase, both the “CBs group” and the “midfield four group,” comprising of the two Segundo Volantes and the Wing Backs pushing forward.

The attacking phase is where my team are at their most dynamic. The GK will distribute low and short to a defensive player. The centre backs may calmly pass between themselves and the DM with patience as the middle of the park becomes a zone occupied by both of my wingbacks and the two Segundo Volantes. If the short pass is on to build through the middle then push out to the maurading wing backs for a cross or cut inside, then great, but if not, one of those defensive three should have the vision and technical ability to lift a long ball right over the top, towards the two strikers and the roaming playmaker in behind them at 10. We counter immediately when we win back possession.

Hopefully as the black arrows and pink dotted lines suggest, most players either have a different direction or distance to travel in both key phases, as well as different partners to work closely with on the pitch at these times. This mostly affects the DM, AMC and the WBs, but is a hallmark of this fluid tactical concept.

That all sounded great in my head, so I hope it translated well into the blog format. If not, please @ aajlockhart on Twitter and help me do it better! I’d love to hear your views on both the strategy and the explanation.

The story so far.

Ah! The section you’ve all been waiting for. Last but definitely not least, let’s have a quick look at the teams, and some of the players that have featured in the series so far. One day in the distant future when the journey is over, I’ll do a retrospective episode covering the whole story, but for now, let’s have a quick peek.

Varbergs BoIS – Swedish Superettan (second tier)

The Varbergs BoIS are a team I’ll always be thankful to, for giving me my start in management. We had our ups (leaving the team in a strong position, having a laugh with our creepy assistant manager Freddy Danielsson who has since retired and vanished) and our downs (oh my God the debt). It was ultimately time to move on when we had made a solid profit in every conceivable way and there was still zero chance of any funds being made available to sign any more players, even on loan. When I left the club in a strong position, I am delighted to say that the next manager continued on that good work, got them promoted, but then immediately relegated again. They have sat mid table in the Swedish second tier with an “insecure” financial tag on them, since.

The main players to call out here were:

Astrit Seljmani, now 27. Scored 18 across his first two seasons with me before leaving for Nancy in France. Has scored 3 goals in 24 league games in the five years since, and is still at Nancy. Hasn’t scored a single league goal in four years. A shame, really, Seljmani looked bright at the time and still should have something to offer.

Albert Ejupi, now 32. Captained my Varbergs side from that crucial DM role for the whole time I managed the team. Followed me to Lillestrøm, and although didn’t captain the side, clocked up 43 appearances in a couple of years and earned a move to follow me again to Bordeaux. Unfortunately I moved on to Lille before he could even arrive in France when the window opened. As soon as he did, Bielsa sat him in the ‘Bordeaux 2’ team. Ejupi has clocked up 12 appearances and 1 goal in the 24/25 season so far. Available for £40k but definitely not Lille quality anymore, do I owe it to him to bring him north, regardless? He’s the only player who could follow me from club to club since the very beginning, as he has done so far.

Lucas Gafarot, now 30. Former La Masia graduate Gafarot caused quite a stir when he first arrived as my first choice left-back from Barcelona, although he did break an ankle early in his Varbergs career. Went on to only feature 39 times in total for the BoIS in four years and is currently playing for Ängelholms in the Swedish third tier, and to be honest, looks absolutely dreadful.

Lillestrøm – Norwegian Eliteserien (top tier)

Lillestrøm was where I felt I really made a mark on world football. I took over the side in absolute dire straits in the relegation zone of the Norwegian top tier, and try as I might, I could not drag them out of trouble. After we were relegated, there was a real possibility of me losing my job, but the board stuck with me and gave me another year. Thank God they did. We smashed the Norwegian second tier, bouncing back promoted, as well as beating top tier champions Rosenborg 3-2 to lift the Norwegian Cup, qualifying Lillestrøm for the very early stages of qualification for the following year’s Europa League. It has been my only substantial piece of silverware achieved so far. Despite the team’s promotion, I left to pursue other opportunities at the end of my contract. The Canaries have since remained a top flight side, haven’t added to their trophy cabinet, but did just finish 3rd, to their incredible credit.

The main players to call out here were:

Viktor Gyökeres, now 26. Undoubtedly the star of the story so far. Viktor spawned a social media sensation with #InViktorWeTrust after he joined me for just £850,000 after a short yet impressive loan spell. 30 goals in 33 starts the following season fired Lillestrøm to the Swedish tier two title, before I took him to Bordeaux with me for just £1.2m. Currently he is still in the Bordeaux first team, valued at £4.4m, and has bagged a modest 11 goals in 47 league games. Do we owe it to the storyline to trust in Viktor again, or has that chapter closed? Regardless, his performances in 2022 carried an absolutely pivotal spell in my managerial career, and I can’t thank him enough for it.

Lasse Nordås, now 22. The affectionally-dubbed “Will Poulter as a child,” due to his profile picture in game (have a look at my earlier episodes) started off as a lanky teenage left winger. The same 2022 season that sparked Viktor into life also tranformed Lasse’s career. He reimagined himself as a mentally-strong target man (he’s 6′ 1″ and good in the air) who can also dribble. Nordås was another player I took to Bordeaux. Currently (like Gyökeres) he is also in Bielsa’s first team, but tends to play more from the bench than starting. He has made 34 league appearances and scored 2 goals for Bordeaux so far. At only 22, he still has a long way to go. Perhaps a candidate to move on with us again?

Perry Ng, now 28. Ng was always the joker at Lillestrøm. Despite the laughs, however, Perry was a hard-working and determined right-back who was always good for an assist or two. His only drawback was that he collected yellow cards like Panini stickers. Another star of that 2022 campaign, he is the third of the three players I took to Bordeaux with me when I moved on. As soon as I left for Lille, my replacement loaned Ng out to Hull City almost immediately. He is still at Hull until the end of the current campaign where has received five yellows in 11 starts. A warrior.

Bordeaux – French Ligue Un (top tier)

Making the step up to French football wasn’t easy, and there were spells in the early days where it looked like I was beyond my level. I was only with Bordeaux for one year, but managed a 6th place finish, narrowly missing out on Europe, with a small, but hardworking group of players. Some of whom (no surprise here) have carried on with me to Lille. A team that I enjoyed managing, and do believe have the capacity to get better. I wish them all the best under my replacement Marcelo Bielsa, but worry that they do not have the club infrastructure required to truly compete at a Champions League level at this time. They are currently 13th, and although they may improve, they haven’t built on what I started last season. Admittedly I have signed four of their staff and five of their players since then.

The main players to call out here were:

Haris Belkebla, now 30. It would have been easy to call out one of Belkebla’s midfield partners Otávio, who has joined me in Lille, but I need to give Haris his due. A player I plucked from Gent for just £1.3m after a failed season in Belgium after many successful ones with Brest here in France, Belkebla was a sensation. Perhaps a little injury prone (hence choosing to purchase Otávio instead for Lille) but his performances were excellent. 5 goals, 5 assists and 4 MOTM awards from 24 appearances from a deep lying midfield role really secured his place in my memory. Unfortunately for the Algerian, he has been asked to pull on his boots for Bordeaux for just 104 competitive minutes since I left, now 290 days ago. A shame for the combative midfielder who deserves to play.

Kevin N’Doram, now 28. After many, many years with Monaco. I spent (at that time) a personal record amount of £2.1million on the French defensive midfielder. He slotted straight into my 3-man midfield alongside Belkebla and Otávio, and peformed solidly. Great success ratios for passes, dribbles and tackles, N’Doram even popped up with the odd important goal. If I hadn’t been gifted with inheriting two arguably better players in his position at Lille (Maia and Vera), I would have looked to bring Kevin with me. Another unfortunate Bielsa victim, as although no longer transfer-listed (he was for a month or so), he has only started one game for Bordeaux so far this season.

Efe Koulouris, now 28. The Greek international was my star man at Bordaux. Playing off Artem Dovbyk or Viktor Gyökeres as the perfect second striker, Efe scored an incredible 38 goals across two seasons in Bordeaux. It was that form that earned him his move to Lille to follow me. Although rotational cover for me now, I had to spend the £8.5million required to bring him with me. A wonderful goal scorer, team player and tireless athlete, Koulouris is a credit to Greek and French football, and arguably the most consistenly strong-performing player on the pitch I’ve managed so far.

So now you know a little more about my experiences at the last three clubs, everything about who I’ve just signed in January 2025 for Lille, and hopefully a slight bit more about the tactical approach that I adopt.

I know this was an odd episode, but given the five year milestone, and the breaking of a new year (in real life), it felt right.

As a reward for any or all of the time you’ve invested in reading my writing for the site so far, here’s a potential new favourite of the blog, Léa Seydoux. She has appeared once or twice already, and she’s French!

For anyone who thinks its sexist, it’s not. Here’s a picture of my wife’s favourite French person, Olivier Giroud. You know, for balance.

P.S. I still haven’t got a dog yet…in case you’re wondering.

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag.