Everywhere Else – 7 – Panathinaikos

“I love him. I hope he never leaves.”

Season 2024 / 2025

I’m going to dive straight in.

Robert Vonsen‘s first full season in charge of Panathinaikos was a success. We won the league, albeit by a single point on the final day, our travelling manager finally nabbed the Continental Pro Licence, and one signing in particular became an instant FM21 favourite. More on him, later.

That’s 4 league titles in as many full seasons in management for our beloved German. Romanian 2nd tier, Romanian 1st tier, Norwegian 1st tier and now Greek 1st tier.

For reasons I could not fathom, there was no trophy lift animation at the final whistle on the last day, so you’ll have to make do with a boring league table screenshot instead, I’m afraid.

The usually all-conquering Olympiakos pushed us to the final day.
Breaking the rule of Olympiakos over Greek football.

Turkish giants Fenerbahce ejected us from the UEFA Europa Conference League knockout stage (4-2 on aggregate) but they went on to win it; and if you believe football pundits, for some reason that always somehow completely justifies being put out by them.

“No shame” in losing to the eventual winners. Or so they say.

The ‘ECL’ group stage was an interesting one, pitting Panathinaikos against Braga, Gent and CSKA-Sofia.

Braga beat us twice and topped the group, but we finished 2nd. Our opener at home against Gent was an outrageous match, as we came back to beat the Belgians 9-1 after initially going a goal down after just 3 and a half minutes.

A memorable group opener.

We were also put out of the domestic cup at the 6th round stage over a ridiculous two legs resulting in an 8-1 aggregate defeat to PAOK.

From one extreme to the other, I guess.

How did you win things etc?

Through hard work and determination. Nah, just kidding. We pivoted between the wide 4-4-2 diamond I waxed lyrical about in the last post, and a more functional flat 4-4-2. A few of the players were outrageous. Let’s talk about a few of them now.

Playmaker Giannis Bouzoukis casually made more than double the number of key passes of any other player in the Greek top division. That’s substantially more than Olympiakos‘ £17m-rated “second coming of Christ” Esteban Sánchez (below), who after the league season ended was immediately linked with moves to Barcelona and Milan. Bouzoukis played as an Advanced Playmaker when deployed in the 10 role, also tasked with holding up the ball. In the flat system, he was a Deep-Lying Playmaker, but unusually (and beautifully) much more keen to play precise through-passes to create goal-scoring opportunities than he was to recycle possession and look for diagonals out to the wingers.

Our player is better than him. Statistically.

When I signed Tomas Chory from Viktoria Plzeň I thought I knew what I was getting. A big target man who had a decent strike in him. When FM Rensie told me how vilified he was in the Czech league for his flying elbows and vicious attitude that frankly makes Diego Costa seem like a more affable Stephen Fry, it made me like him even more.

He only cost us £55k, but what happened next surprised even me. <- Nice Buzzfeed headline, that.

What?

It’s true. Tomas Chory is the single most lethal finisher in European football. For £55k.

37 goals in 36 league games. 47 goals in 52 appearances overall. I love him. I hope he never leaves. I played him as an Advanced Forward with Antony Alonso alongside him, mainly as a Pressing Forward on Attack. Alonso didn’t do too badly either, bagging 34 goals in 49 games overall, but Chory’s record is obscene this season.

Quite simply, he got into good positions with an alarming regularity (high xG), took an incredible number of attempts at goal (350 in 52 games) and converted those good quality chances at a solid rate.

Lots of shots from positions of high goal-scoring potential.
Absurd.

When you have a playmaker putting the ball into dangerous areas twice as often as anyone else in the league and a pair of strikers in hot scoring form (one even more than the other), finishing near the top is a certainty.

That being said, Olympiakos only lost out on being champions by a single point, losing one game more that we drew. Our +59 goal difference and 27 wins from 36 games on paper sound like ‘waltzing to victory’ form, but Olympiakos also won 27 times, and actually ended on +62 goals.

Lady luck was shini….you get the idea.

What about the other signings?

Ekanit Panya ended up a brilliant free signing. 14 goals and 11 assists from the right side of midfield, the Thai international was a constant danger on the flank, and often wormed his way to the byline inside the penalty area, regularly cutting the ball back for someone (usually Giannis Bouzoukis) to lay on the assist for the big strikers. A regular provider of ‘secondary assists.’ if you will. A solid 8/10 signing.

Andrade, the Brazilian teenage mountain, was a colossus at the back. 6 foot 5 tall with a tackling attribute of 18 meant that he governed the Panathinaikos box with the ease of a much more experienced stopper. Clichés aside, he was excellent. His job was made harder when his settled centre back partner Pedro had his £7.25million release clause triggered by Barcelona and exited in the January 2025 window (bastards). From January until the title was finally lifted in mid May, Andrade remained consistent (he too is an 8/10 signing), whether alongside veteran Czech defender Vaclav Jemelka (6/10. Solid but unspectacular, bit of a moaner too), ex-Tromsø centre back Markus Nakkim (5/10) or even the emergency 5-month free signing of former FM ‘wonderkid,’ Kyriakos Papadopoulos (1/10. 2 appearances, 1 red card, retiring in the summer).

Destined for bigger and better things I imagine.
Always a shame when one of your star players only drops into the ‘B’ team of the giants who tear them away from you.

Other signings included the functional winger Mathias Kristensen who made 33 sub appearances, but 0 starts, Probably 3/10 for performances but 6/10 for being utilitarian. Full back Andreas Vindheim, our solid first choice right back who slotted straight in but didn’t stand out for any notable good or bad reasons, 6/10.

Lastly, first choice goalkeeper Jacob Karlstrøm who I had to bring in from Tromsø, managed 15 clean sheets and an average rating of 7.03. Over 7, for a goalkeeper. Wild horses. An 8/10 signing.

What else?

So we won the league (just), had a decent Europa Conference League campaign and were dumped out of the cup when we should have at least got to the final like we did last year. We created a partnership between one of the most creative playmakers I’ve used this year (Bouzoukis) and a deadly striker (Chory). We achieved the final coaching badge and overall had a great campaign.

Before I forget, I made some more visual analysis about the finished campaign, to accompany all this reading. Here it is for your eyes to consume, now.

Bouzoukis and Chory out in front statistically, confirming what their performances suggested. Wingers Lee and Panya impressive both offensively and defensively.
Useful insight x3. 1) We knew Juan Ramón couldn’t defend, but he didn’t attack effectively either. 2) Nika Shelia deserves more of a chance next season. 3) Although captain Kourbelis is solid, we could probably improve in central midfield.

We were also approached for takeover, typically with the included temporary transfer embargo which threatened to derail our January 2025 plans. Luckily our own chairman couldn’t figure out how to buy the club himself (or another complicated boardroom coup situation) and things went back to normal.

I feel that a successful takeover is inevitable at some stage though. I can feel it.

The goal next year is ideally to fight our way through the painful UEFA Champions League qualification process, despite UEFA’s news item telling me that the Greek league winners will automatically qualify for the group stage going forward.

Starting next year, of course.

I’d of course love to win the league again next season, not just for guaranteed Champions League revenue.

Despite the success in Greece so far, one constant criticism of Robert Vonsen‘s tenure in the club vision has been a refusal to play possession football, opting for direct and aggressive approaches instead. Next season, I am planning to pivot to a more Cruyffian short-passing system, for the enjoyable challenge if nothing else. I’ll definitely stick with 4-4-2 to begin with (whether diamond or flat) and ‘get stuck in’ will still be selected as a strategic tenet , because although I may tactically flex; I like brave, aggressive teams with two strikers, and for Panathinaikos, I doubt that will change.

The manager has had quite a journey, from Romania to Greece via Norway. The end goal is still ideally the Red Bull Salzburg or Shakhtar job, but unfortunately their respective original managers are still in charge. Both clubs have basically been destroying all those around them domestically for 5 years and counting.

That said, with Robert Vonsen now fully qualified, the possibility of a UEFA Champions League group stage and a team hopefully strong enough to dominate domestically within the next few seasons, we may be nearing our ceiling.

Up to 65% reputation. Vonsen has matured into a solid manager.
26 losses in 203 games. A great record across three clubs.

Anything else?

Yes, there is.

Moving into the 25/26 season, a couple of players wanted out and there were targets out there I really wanted in. Some I got, some I didn’t. As we head towards kicking a competitive ball in anger (I think I hate that expression), the summer business is done and dusted and the squad is settled.

I will cover the new signings and the new-look Panathinaikos on the next post, which will be probably be written up in 2026 at the end of the forthcoming campaign.

In the meantime, here’s a graphic I put together, presenting Vonsen’s current group of players. It was fun to make.

End of season (4ish – complicated due to the Norwegian league calendar) review

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag

Everywhere Else – 6 – Panathinaikos

“Now for the sexy bit.”

We are where?

As the first member of airline staff you encounter whenever you disembark a plane at Athens International Airport is contractually obliged to say to you, “Welcome to Greece.”

Eh?

I know what you are thinking. What happened to all the Tromsø have a title to defend!” patter from the last post? I thought our ever-improving German manager Robert Vonsen was just settling in after winning the league in Norway in his first full season in charge?

This is was true. There weren’t any decent jobs available in the leagues with a higher reputation than Norway’s top division in the save (Croatia, Greece, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ukraine or Austria), so I was all set for another year in the Eliteserien. Bryan Fiabema and Markus Eiane on fire up top. Sigurd Grønli as the creative spark at 10, and the couple of Icelandic undrabörn just breaking through. Have a look at the series so far to chart our journey from Romania to Norway.

By the way, apparently ‘undrabörn‘ is Icelandic for ‘child prodigies,’ i.e. ‘wonderkids.’ If it isn’t, blame Google Translate.

That was until a massive club from one of those nations suddenly sacked their manager with 15 games of their domestic season remaining. A club who were sat in 7th in the Greek Super League Interwetten, when they’ve actually won the thing 20 times and finished 3rd and 4th each year since the save begun, prior to this one.

It’s Panathinaikos, and they are going through a rough patch.

I did have to think about it. What if we’d managed to get Tromsø into the UEFA Champions League group stage? We could potentially have gone on to be a real force in Norwegian football.

I made this handy graphic to compare the clubs side-by-side. It took tens of seconds to make, but was very worthwhile in helping me decide.

Stadium rental and green shamrock on the badge aside, it was a no-brainer to move to Panathinaikos. Tromsø’s club value is temporarily inflated by the recent title win and potential participation (on paper) in continental competition. The increase in league stature and economic potential of managing in Greece (ironic, I know) were big draws.

At Tromsø I had signed one new player before the out-of-the-blue interview invitation popped into our inbox. Solid midfielder Vajebah Sakor arrived on a free transfer, and a few fringe players from Tromsø 2 left at the end of their contracts.

When one demented Tromsø fan claimed that the entire support were upset at manager Robert Vonsen for releasing someone who “started regularly,” when in fact he only started for the reserve team and never the first, my decision was sealed.

If it was ever in doubt, FM Tahiti was on hand, as always, taking a break from channelling his inner Big Sam at Scarborough, to rubber stamp my decision-making.

Validation.

So what have we got ourselves in for?

Everyone knows Panathinaikos. The Greek giants were 1971’s UEFA Champions League runners up and they are 20-time winners of Greece’s top division.

The team I inherited though, needed a bit of a fresh start.

The chances of a decent campaign were snake’s belly low, but we had 5 games to at least salvage a ‘Championship Group’ finish in the top 6 before the split. That was an absolute must.

After the 5 games, I am pleased to say that we had snuck into 6th, and I had the remaining 10 games to give me a strong understanding of how much work needed done in the summer ahead of our first full Greek campaign.

I surpassed my own original expectations as we won 7, drew 5 and lost just 3 of the remaining 15 games, finishing 3rd in the table.

We also got to the domestic cup final, where we were unfortunately battered by the all-conquering Olympiakos. 1-0 suggests a tight game, but we never really looked like scoring.

Our new nemesis lift some silverware.

A few existing players did catch my eye as ones to build around, and there were a few others to definitely keep in the squad, surviving the much-needed squad cull and refresh.

First to be safe was Uruguayan striker Antony Alonso, who loves a fight with opposition defenders along with a penchant for a neat finish.

Stuttering gif aside, a lovely backheel flick goal.

Next its Portuguese left-back Rafael Rodrigues who also looked a must-keep.

Playmaker and Panathinaikos player since the age of 15, Giannis Bouzoukis has to be the key creative force, so he must stay.

Last but not least, former manager Dimitris Spanos had kindly left me a wonderful parting gift. A gift in the shape of an already signed pre-contract agreement for a 6 foot 5 Brazilian centre-back, with astonishing attributes for a player who is/was due to arrive on a free in the summer, just days after turning 18 years old.

So who left in the summer?

That’s a great question. Thank you for asking it.

Some players had to leave. BATE Borisov gladly paid the £1.5million I asked for to sign Adrián Colombino, a good but not great Uruguayan midfielder. He would have done a job for me, no problem, but with non-EU slots at a premium (a maximum of 5 in the match-day squad), I really need any non-EU players to be very much worthy of taking the spot.

Curiously, BATE paid the £1.5million in full, only to loan the 30-year old back to the Greek league immediately, to our rivals Aris. Strange behaviour. He’ll be pushing 32 before he gets his first appearance in a BATE shirt, if he ever does.

GONE.

Ex-Manchester United ‘wonderkid’ Kiko Macheda, now 33, left for Crotone in his native Italy for £725k, and a few other fringe players left either for free or for fees < £100k.

Now for the sexy bit

Not signing for Panathinaikos in the summer of 2024 I’m afraid.

Not Scarlett Johansson. I mean the new players we signed ahead of the 24/25 campaign. Obviously.

Alongside the aforementioned Brazilian behemoth Andrade, three other players arrived that were of my doing; already earmarked to slot straight into the starting eleven. Click the image to actually see them with your eyes.

Tomas Chory – Viktoria Plzeň – £56k
Ekanit Panya – Chiangrai United – Free
Jacob Karlstrøm – Tromsø – £500k (pot. rising to £575k)

Tomas Chory is 6 foot 6. He isn’t slow, can finish and provides more than you’d expect from a typical ‘target man.’ Chory will partner Alonso in a two-man attack.

I’ve been tracking Ekanit Panya since our days in Romania. I continued following him while in Norway, and finally managed to bring him in now we’ve arrived in Greece. A pint-sized attacking midfielder, Panya will play mainly on the right in my system, but I expect him to regularly drift inside as more of a playmaker than an out-and-out winger.

Panathinaikos already had the very serviceable all-round keeper Sokratis Dioudis on the books between the sticks; but having had previous #GIFsave hero Jacob Karlstrøm at Tromsø, I really had to bring him to Greece with me, given the opportunity. A £500k investment later, and the towering stopper arrived in Athens.

He has already proved to be worth the outlay, as the below #GIFsave suggests.

What a hero. Iwobi is raging.

Three more players arrived to fill the gaps in the squad. One player you may be familiar with (even though his face is now different, courtesy of FM Rensie‘s fantastic suggestion of pivoting to a different newgen facepack solution). Again, click below for a closeup.

Vaclav Jemelka – Dinamo Zagreb – Free
Mathias Kristensen – Esbjerg – Free
Omar Zeregaber – Tromsø – £130k (pot. rising to £140k)

Vaclav Jemelka may have an undesirable sub-10 Work Rate, but the Czech centre back is physically well-rounded, brave and determined, as well as a good tackler with strong positional sense and is a brilliant man marker. A good pickup for free as back up to the two giant first-choice CBs, Andrade and Pedro.

Mathias Kristensen, 27, had played his entire career at Esbjerg in Norway. I signed him on a free transfer mainly for his positional versatility. A determined and unselfish player with decent technique, dribbling and corner delivery, he could prove to be the ultimate utility man from the bench this year.

Omar Zeregaber you may remember as being a 17-year old prospect I signed for Tromsø last year from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s Vålerenga. I had high hopes for him, but didn’t push him too hard and let him develop over last season at his own pace. Since I left for Greece, my replacement (more on this in a minute) clearly didn’t think he was ready either, so dropped him to Tromsø 2, the reserve/development team. I had a sniff around him as I still fancy his potential as a future elite poacher, but couldn’t believe when they let him follow me to Greece for just £130k.

Initial results

The pre-season friendlies went well, and sneaking into 3rd place allowed us a chance at UEFA Europa Conference League qualification. It’s UEFA’s third most prestigious continental competition, we had to have a proper go at it!

I am pleased with that.

Getting past Zorya and Dundee United is perhaps to be expected, but drawing Everton was a sore one to be pitted against for the final qualifier.

Luckily our two away goals in the draw on Merseyside set us up for a more comfortable return leg at home than I was expecting. Although the beautiful Karlstrøm save from the gif earlier in the blog prevented what would have been a first-leg defeat.

Group stage draw time…

The above would be a relatively challenging group for the Europa League, never mind the next continental competition down from it. Braga and Gent will be no walks in the park, especially away from home. Other clichés are available.

We will shortly be kicking off the 24/25 league campaign. The system that has been working for me with the new-look line up is a 4-4-2 diamond. Ultra direct but relatively low frills, it has everything I like in a formation.

Two strikers, a creative number 10, tricky wingers, a ‘destroyer’ at 5 (or ‘8’ in this case) and full-backs who’s primary responsibility is to defend. The only thing I plan to initially switch between is the passing length and tempo, depending on the opposition.

I like it.

Oh, I almost forgot. We managed to bag the Continental A Licence (finally), and started work on the Pro. Soon, the sky will be the limit for Robert Vonsen. Well, within the confines of the leagues I have selected as playable in this save universe, which doesn’t include any of the biggest European ones. Red Bull Salzburg or Shakhtar Donetsk is still the dream end goal here.

I also made reference earlier to my replacement at Tromsø, saying I’d tell you more “in a minute,” but then lied to you as I wrote loads of other stuff first. If that upsets you, please get in touch at complaints@fmstag.com. On second thoughts, don’t do that, the email address is made up, and I don’t care.

Anyway, taking my old job was none other than the Championship Manager legend himself, Tommy Svindal Larsen.

What a man.
The nostalgia is tangible. Nostalgible? No?

In other news, our other former employers U Craiova 1948 have since collapsed. Instead of “doing a Tromsø” and hiring a Champ Manager legend to take the hotseat and carry on the momentum (maybe Marc Emmers or Kennedy Bakircioglü?), they hired some other guy and went from Romanian champions to relegated within 12 or so months.

One game to go (which they went on to lose) in the Romanian league’s final phase. Great job destroying all my previous progress, AI manager. Thanks for that.

Although I only managed Panathinaikos for the final 15 league games of last season (plus those last couple of domestic cup matches), here is the end of season review as usual anyway.

It didn’t give me huge insights into “my” Panathinaikos side, but it did give me some food for thought, going forward.

End of season (3.5ish – complicated due to the Norwegian league calendar) review

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag

Everywhere Else – 5 – Tromsø

“I started to worry that Cyberpunk 2077 was going to be bug-free before we won again.”

This a number one champion sound

Estelle, we ’bout to get down.

Remember Estelle? The London singer with the velvety voice who collaborated with Kanye West on the 2008 “banger” American Boy?

Me too. Sort of.

A quick Google (other search engines are available) tells me she later recorded some reggae and then starred in a Netflix film. Good for her. I didn’t want her to vanish like fellow one-hit wonder Gotye, who is now just somebody that I used to know (woosh).

Anyway, the only reason Estelle is on my mind is because I wanted the first headline of this blog post to contain relevant lyrics (without using Queen – We are the Champions), referencing the fact that for the first time in their 103-year history, Tromsø are the champions of Norway!

Tenuous, I know. Sorry.

Yaldi.

The business

After Robert Vonsen‘s first 7 matches in charge of Tromsø , which were the final 7 matches of last season, we barely escaped relegation, remember?

It was supposed to a bit of fun. A nice easing in to Norwegian football after conquering Romania.

It wasn’t.

After the season ended, I had signed 7 new players before we kicked another competitive ball, and during the 2023 campaign we added a further 3 you haven’t seen yet.

Welcome home, Bryan.

Einar Pétursson – Íþróttabandalag Akraness – £150k (pot. rising to £200k)
Omar Zeregaber – Vålerenga – £150k
Bryan Fiabema – Chelsea – Free

Einar is the second Icelandic newgen gem (newgem? nah?*) I’ve discovered and signed since moving to Norway, after the 16-year-old diamond that is Óliver Jónsson. ‘OJ’ has actually had his attributes drop a little since signing. I think I may have relied on him too heavily (28 appearances and 4 goals) and pushed him too hard, given that he isn’t yet old enough to drive. Sometimes he does do stuff like the below though. It was voted Tromsø‘s #gifgoal of the season…

*NO.

The screenshot of the three new players above the golazo gif will be useful if you want to look at their lovely faces and attribute profiles while I wax lyrical about them below…

Einar Pétursson is the perfect screen in front of our backline. He is physically and mentally very well-rounded for a player who is still a teenager. His defensive technical attributes aren’t bad either, and will grow in time. His average rating of 7.02 from 13 appearances shows that I bought him for his current qualities alongside his undoubted potential.

Well, one of them at least.

Omar Zeregaber is a typical poacher. At 17-years old I am excited to see how he develops. Already a great finisher, hard worker with good movement and composure, he has the makings of a prolific goal-scorer. After seeing the negative impacts of throwing a player so young into week in-week out professional football in OJ, I have used Omar a little more sparingly so far. A mentoring group with him in it is actually working well. Something I haven’t been able to say at all before now, during FM21.

Bryan Fiabema, now 20, is a Tromsø product, through and through. Born and raised in the area, Fiabema joined Chelsea (in real life) in 2020, and managed 3 league goals in 7 games across 3 years for the London giants (in-game). It was a surprise when Thomas Tuchel let his contract run down, and an even bigger surprise when I managed to convince the tricky forward to come home to Norway on a free transfer, especially when Milan were sniffing around him towards the end of his deal. He repaid my persistent scouting and press comments by smashing in 15 goals in 17 games, along with 6 assists and 7 man of the match awards.

We pivoted from the flat and extremely direct 4-4-2 I had planned to use this year to a narrow diamond with a number 10 behind a strike pairing (more on this in a minute), so at first I was torn between using Fiabema as a fantasista in the hole, or as a proper striker, perhaps in a roaming Trequartista role. I opted for the latter as despite his various qualities, his lack of passing ability and vision nudged me away from playmaker and towards proper attacker.

The new system

I have wanted an excuse to use this gif for ages.

So precisely as I said above, we pivoted to a 4-4-2 diamond. This was for a couple of reasons. The main ones were Einar Pétursson and Sigurd Grønli. Sure I could pair them as central midfielders, but to do so would rob both of them of their key abilities, asking them to do midfield donkey work they aren’t best equipped to do. Pétursson is an effective defensive screen, Grønli is a diminutive playmaker. Simple.

They therefore had to play as a 5 and a 10 (if you consider your numbers in the proper, Argentina-influenced way. Even if I’ve ruined that by giving OJ the 5 shirt and moving him up to CM after Einar joined.)

The defenders primarily defend, the 5 destroys, the 10 creates. More on the strikers, next.

As I hinted, Bryan Fiabema suits the Trequartista role. It’s not one I tend to use often, especially not in a striking berth. Fiabema’s physical prowess plus his decent dribbling and penchant for the unpredictable (flair 17) suits the role. Sure his off the ball movement (11) and vision (9) should ideally be higher, but he’s only 20, give the guy a f*cking break.

15 goals in 17 games shows my faith was well-placed. Much like most of his finishes (woosh again).

‘Big Ian’ is a solid number 9 who can only get better. 25 goals in 32 appearances.

His strike partner Markus Eiane regularly switched between Target Man on Support and the Poacher role this year. Ideally I want him on the end of chances (he is our best finisher on paper and scored 25 times). With a roaming Treq beside him, I need someone to spearhead the attack, hence Poacher.

That being said, sometimes in games where I was evidently losing the battle in midfield, switching him to the Target Man role 1) saw him drop a little deeper to support the midfield, and 2) gave me the option to look for the long ball due to his aerial strength, bypassing the congested midfield completely.

EUA has played at RM, RW, CM and AMC this season. All to productive effect.

In other news, midfield man Eirik Ulland Andersen, who I had earlier signed on a free from Molde won the Norwegian Players’ Premier Division Player of the Year. 8 goals scored and 13 assists from midfield in 25 appearances, averaging 7.59 in match ratings. Rejoice.

Goalkeeper Jacob Karlstrøm (aerial reach and jumping both 20) also pulled out this God-tier double save to prevent disaster. He did stuff like this regularly.

I (Robert Vonsen) also won manager of the year.

Indeed.

Results

Yaldi (2).
What a year. Also – Ole Gunnar Solskjær and Roy Keane took over Vålerenga, which was quite a surprise. They JUST escaped relegation via the playoff.

We won our first 16 games in a row, and it wasn’t until matchday 22 that we lost a league match, a drab 1-0 defeat against Lillestrøm. It was sandwiched among a run of painful draws that I thought would never end. I started to worry that Cyberpunk 2077 was going to be bug-free before we won again.

At least I know why it happened. Courtesy of friend and Slack colleague (not a thing), FM Grasshopper.

The other two defeats (including a 5-1 mauling from Ed’s former employers Bodø/Glimt) were immediately after we mathematically sealed the title. Players still drunk, I imagine.

He’s right. Classic FM.

Although I chopped and changed the tactic between the route one flat 4-4-2 and the narrow short-passing diamond, we ultimately won the league due to the volume of attacks we attempted, and the solid conversion rate of our forwards.

“Aggressive, clinical.” – a review of my services on Yelp.

Bodø/Glimt were also responsible for dumping us out of the Norwegian Cup at the Quarter Final stage, but I can live with that. Bloody Patrick Berg. I’d buy him if I could afford to. Just to deprive Bodø from playing the talented bastard against me.

Me, when I see Patrick Berg’s name on the teamsheet.

Second last but not least, here is an Excel table showing that attackers did attacking things, and defenders did defending. All outfield players did a combination of both. I hope you really like it.

SpreadsheetFM.

Last but possibly least, here is a visualisation of what those numbers mean in dot form. I hope you really like this one too.

TIL three things from looking at this.
1) Grønli contributed a lot less than I thought.
2) Mendy should actually have played more.
3) Ulland Andersen deserved player of the year.

What’s next?

As we know, the goal here is onwards and upwards. That being said, Robert Vonsen finally nabbed the Continental B Licence this year, and started working on the Continental A. It will be complete in July 2024, then it’s just the Pro to go.

Manager reputation has risen to 55% / ‘Fairly Good,’ and the statistics make for a nice read after a couple of titles in Romania and one in Norway.

63% win ratio, 15 games lost from 131. I am pleased with that, despite our performance wobbles.

One thing is for sure, the German is still devilishly handsome.

What a catch.

Outside of fringe striker Shuaibu Ibrahim leaving for Liberec on a free, there is no business lined up for the off-season, and no key Tromsø players out of contract.

That said, every manager likes to freshen up his squad between campaigns, and I am no different. Since the season in Norway follows the calendar year, expiring stars from other European leagues won’t be available until the summer, but I may be able to nab some Norwegian bodies from the teams around me.

Robert Vonsen in the Norwegian transfer market.

Board expectations are to finish in the top half next season. Even if our title win was a stroke of good luck, I have faith we’ll have enough in the tank to do at least that, without extensive strengthening.

If we can get to the UEFA Champions League group stage it would be mind-blowing, but I am not getting my hopes up. The qualification draw is still be made, but getting through it will be a steep mountain to climb.

As I mentioned right at the start of this journey, there are only certain leagues loaded. The most prestigious of which is the top tier in either Ukraine or Austria. Shakhtar Donetsk would be a lovely end goal to be in charge of, but Red Bull Salzburg is the job I am eyeing from afar.

Jesse Marsch has been in charge since 2019 and they’ve just won their 10th Austrian title in a row, but there’s always a chance.

The available in-game leagues.

Above Norway in the reputation table are also the top tiers in Croatia, Greece, Czech Republic and Denmark, so there is definite room for more twist and turns before I call it a day for this “journeyman” (groan).

In the meantime, Tromsø have a title to defend!

For no reason other than to reward the beautiful people who like to interact on my Slack channel, here is a tiny no-context Anne Hathaway gif, before the usual season review gallery.

You’re welcome.

End of season (3) review

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag

Everywhere Else – 4 – Tromsø

“I cannot stand the type of player who would probably have a weak handshake and close his eyes a minute and a half before heading the ball.”

Out of the frying pan, into the fire?

It almost wasn’t. Fine, I mean.

First things first, let’s take a moment to remember what I said in the last blog post as I arrived in Norway.

“With only 7 league games remaining, it’s a bit of a free hit as long as we don’t fall into the relegation spots. I like that it gives me some time to experiment with player selection, tactical ideas and generally get used to the place, before the fresh start of the 2023 campaign.

– Some FM-playing melt who was evidently too confident. Me.

Talk about tempting fate.

Although I could already sense from my initial look that the team was a little imbalanced, overall Tromsø looked in decent shape, sitting 12th of the 16 teams in the Eliteserian and well stocked in terms of playing staff. After 2.5 seasons in Romania, I was ready for the challenge of working at this level.

What I wasn’t ready for was failing to win a single game in those remaining 7 fixtures, escaping relegation by a single point.

Too close for comfort.
FFS.

The final whistle on the final day in that away match at Vålerenga couldn’t come quickly enough. I was pleased to wave the 2022 campaign goodbye. At least to the small portion of it that I ruined.

October 2022 – April 2023

Time for a complete rethink.

Out went 11 players for a combined income of £875,000. In came 7 players for £1.2million. Net spend = £325,000.

I’ve always been a big fan of ‘get stuck in’ and I do love a 4-4-2. I seem to usually strategise to one extreme or the other. If it’s short passing; it’s tiny triangles of keep-ball in a narrow system without wingers, a team full of diminutive technical players. If it’s FM Tahiti-inspired blood and guts violence – it’s route one, full-backs who solely defend and a real focus on aerial prowess, aggression and work rate. Among other brutal methods of opposition elimination of course.

Robert Vonsen at training, addressing his players.

While adopting either school of thought, I always target the most creative and prolific players in the opposition team by tracking key pass numbers, opposition striker xG and pass receipt locations, then adjusting instructions accordingly before and during matches. For Tromsø I have decided to ramp up the whole concept to the extreme.

This is the shape and system.

If Azemi played a little deeper I’d give him the number 10 shirt. Then the shirt numbering here would be perfect.*

*Not quite. I’ve just noticed that the 2 and 6 are the wrong way round. Ah well. Nearly perfect.

Our goalkeeper Jacob Karlstrøm is 6 foot 7 with aerial reach 20. The average height of our back four is just shy of 6 foot 2. I want monsters in the air. I know height doesn’t matter literally in an ME sense, but is usually indicative of high jumping reach, which is the case here. The three defenders above with a ‘defend’ duty also have an average bravery attribute of 16.67. Perfect.

All three of those are new signings. The impressively named Simen Wangberg previously spent nearly 7 years at Tromsø before moving to Rosenborg‘s bench to waste 2 years of his career before I brought him back to captain the club for just £40k.

Three quarters of our first choice back four are all new signings. I later found out that FM Rensie has had some great success with Nakkim. That is a good sign for us, I hope.

Wangberg – Rosenborg – £40k
Nakkim – Stabæk – Free
Erlien Furu – Kristiansund – £170k

I know it was only 7 games, but we seemed to lack a physical presence at the back. I don’t mind seeing my defensive players being occasionally out-paced or seeing a full-back beaten by a touch of magical mystery feet, but I cannot stand the type of player who would probably have a weak handshake and close his eyes a minute and a half before heading the ball.

Moving into the midfield…

Considerably better attributes than he has haircut.

Sigurd Grønli – HJK – £200k

Sigurd Grønli is the key pivot in the centre of the park. He is quite the contrast of the defenders behind him. Short but agile, technical and mentally very well rounded, Grønli’s passing from deep positions as well as work ethic and level headedness will be central (literally and figuratively) to our attacking play. Grønli actually starts at Tromsø in FM21 (at least in the pre winter update db), but the previous manager had let him go to Finland for free in 2021 before I brought him home for £200,000. FM Samo got a real tune out of him back in FM19. Hopefully I can do the same here.

Prosper Mendy is a classic winger (despite being in fact a natural left-back) who despite his 6 foot 1 frame, his key strengths are his pace, dribbling and crossing. Ideal. On the other flank, new signing Eirik Ulland Andersen is the polar opposite. Not quick and can’t dribble, but has great vision, long shots, crossing and should be deadly from corners and free kicks. Think James Ward-Prowse when he plays on the right flank for Southampton, but Norwegian; and on £1800 a week instead of per hour.

The other midfielder, Icelandic newgen Óliver “OJ” Jónsson, is something special. The world of Twitter seemed to agree.

16 years old!

Jónsson – Knattspyrnufélag Reykjavíkur (obviously) – £300k (pot. rising to £600k)

Jónsson is going to be an absolute monster, if at SIXTEEN YEARS OLD he isn’t already.

His attribute mix for a central midfielder provides a fantastic starting point. His main job defensively will be to close down opposition threats, winning the ball back before it reaches our back four (tackling 18, bravery 18, aggression 15). Offensively he will be required to move into the channels between opposition defenders, receiving the ball in tight areas and laying it off to more creative players (first touch 15, composure 13, balance 13). Throw in his well above average physical profile, strong free kick ability and strong crossing if and when he drifts out wide and we have the definition of a ‘wonderkid’ on our hands. I am already training him to ‘dive into tackles’ and to focus a little more closely on his passing, vision and technique. His personality will grow and change in time.

At the top of the pitch, one side of our strike force consists of Fitim Azemi who was one of the few players from the dreadful 7 game run who actually passed with flying colours. He bagged 4 goals and looked a constant menace.

The other is a new signing. 21-year-old, 6 foot 5 Markus Eiane. Eiane is another player I am excited about. Lacking in technical proficiency in a couple of ways (dribbling, first touch, technique) but a physical force in the air coupled with wonderful mental strengths for an attacker (anticipation, composure, flair, off the ball) while still being considered a good finisher from short range as well as long, his potential could be as high as his jumping reach (groan).

I know mate.
Norway’s answer to James Ward-Prowse and our new powerhouse centre forward.

Ulland Andersen – Molde – Free
Eiane – Molde – £500k (pot. rising to £600k)

With the “off season” lasting four years between campaigns in Norway, we had to play 200 friendlies to pass the time.

They went well.

Weaker opposition notwithstanding, this ridiculous series of games provided a much needed confidence boost for my new look side.
No idea hen.

Some of the direct passing was a joy to behold. The way Fitim Azemi took this down on the turn to finish made me happier than it should have. Welcome back to my WordPress formatting favourite, big white gaps above and below embedded video clips, for no reason.

A wonderful take.

It’s safe to say I do not expect us to be as tragic as we were in those 7 games when I first took over. 7 of the starting 11 are new players. New players that really do fit the requirements for what I would like Robert Vonsen‘s Tromsø to do.

Here’s an analysis of defending and attacking attribute strengths across the team. More complex analysis may come in time, depending if there are problems that plotting out the numbers will help fix. Standout has to be 16-year old OJ, as incredibly the nearest thing we have to an all-rounder both offensively and defensively. I am happy that three of my first choice back four rate well in a defensive sense, while new playmaker Grønli is clearly our best all out attacker. The relationship between those central midfielders is key, and according to their attributes, they should complement each other well.

What else?

Speaking of our German managerial alter-ego, we have finally managed to get some coaching qualifications on the go.

Ideal.

With the three National licences in the bag. Continental C was the next big one to grab. Now that we have that too, it’s Continental B time. Fingers crossed that 6 months down the line we have the funds to study for the A. Then it’s just the Pro licence and then the sky is the limit etc.

Oh and this happened.

Please let them genuinely be an “excellent group.”

We’ve got the badges (sort of), we’ve signed the right players (on paper), embedded a new tactic and prepared well. It’s Tromsø in 2023. We are 100-1 for the title.

Get the coupon on.

It’s go time.

Rosenborg at home. Come on!

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag

Everywhere Else – 3 – U Craiova 1948 SA

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

Season two and the failed escape plan

Casa Liga 1
Romanian Supercup.

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

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

The Good

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

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

Jurassic Park.

Not Robert Vonsen.

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

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

How did you do it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell me more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Money makes the world go round

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

Finally.

I’m not getting any younger

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

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

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

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

The leagues of the save.
Actually decent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or was it?

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

Nice challenge.

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

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

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

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

I then made the decision pretty quickly.

A new chapter begins!

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

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

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

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

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

End of season (2) review

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag

Everywhere Else – 2 – U Craiova 1948 SA

“We had a youth intake that didn’t produce anything worthwhile, and why would it? Our facilities are woeful.”

It’s the end of season one, so WTF happened?

Cut to the chase, Robert Vonsen‘s U Craiova 1948 were promoted as champions of Liga 2 in Romania at the end of our first season.

Unbeaten in the first phase, losing just once in the second. Finished the overall campaign as winners by 14 points. Joy.

We were tossed out of the Romanian Cup 4-0 by domestic rivals CS Mioveni in the 5th round, but the board weren’t bothered since we bagged promotion.

How did you do it?

Although we stuck to the aggressive and relatively direct 442 I had envisioned for the team, I was completely wrong about the players I would select, mainly because of the painful registration rules.

Something I posted previously but clearly didn’t properly read.

I famously said in blog post one alongside the above screenshot, “There are also some non-EU and homegrown player requirements, which I am sure I will get used to in time.” It turns out that this was an ambitious lie.

Attribute strengths and weaknesses analysis that proved ultimately meaningless, as better players aged 21 and over had to be sacrificed in favour of younger, lesser players; in order to meet the registration requirements.

I played pre-season, got my preferred team all lined up and ready to go; only to realise that you need 14 players under the age of 12 with double-barrelled names and dual Romanian-Egyptian heritage in the starting 11 in order to play in competitive matches (<- exaggeration).

To be fair, pillar of the community and Romanian football delegate FM Pressure then said to me, after the fact. “You should’ve asked, I’d have told you the pitfalls.” I guess I’ll know for next time.

As a result, predicted key man Marian Anghelina (Jolie) had to drop out of the “first choice” starting eleven, and young and aggressive but otherwise underwhelming midfielder Dragoş Albu had to play most of the time instead.

Lineup requirements meant that old and good had to be swapped for young and untested.

In a similar extension of this narrative arc, I had predicted Valentin Munteanu to be our key source of creativity down the right-hand side. Nope. He also had to be largely displaced for a younger model, the more handsome but lesser footballer, Samuel Zimţa.

Lineup requirements meant that…you know the drill.

I had previously called out that we needed a new goalkeeper, so in came Ismet Kisyo, a promising young Bulgarian. On a free of course. Unfortunately it turned out he wasn’t young enough. So to satisfy the u18 rule, I had to play our existing youth keeper, Robert ‘Big’ Popa instead. I didn’t misunderstand his age, just the league rules. I’m not a (complete) moron.

Thankfully Popa is actually a really good prospect and improved immensely across this first season. What you see below to the right is him after an entire season of small but steady attribute improvements. A happy accident.

Kisyo and Popa. Popa improved so much I may actually keep him as our first-choice stopper next season in the top tier.

I made one other signing. A wonderful Uruguayan man. His goals fired us to the title, and I hope he stays here until the end of time. I love him. Introducing Williams Peralta.

What a man. Look at him.

After 25 goals in 27 games coupled with 9 assists and an average rating of 7.54, Peralta‘s initial nine month deal signed as a free agent (obviously), turned into a no-brainer decision to offer a three year contract to a man who will be 36 years old when it expires. I hope he plays (and lives) forever.

Tactically, as I’ve mentioned, our aggressive 442 worked well for us. The deep-lying playmaker knocked timely lofted forward passes at the right time whenever the marauding wingers weren’t an attacking option. The full backs focused mainly on their defensive duties and a pressing and an advanced forward partnership complemented a generic central midfielder who regularly moved into the channels to create “pockets of space.”

I particularly liked the spread of assist types, a penchant for placed finishes exhibiting good technique, a tendency to start games on the front foot by scoring early and the team creating just under 2 clear cut chances every 90 minutes, while conceding just over 1.

These numbers are taken from the in-game analysis. They are nice and useful when thinking about what works well and what doesn’t in your tactical approach, even if the numbers can be inconsistent due to known FM issues.

Look at the analysis with your eyes, now, below. The SciSports polygon and graphical plots from the end of season review are at the end of the article. Because that’s a more logical place to put them.

Stats the way to do it.

Worth mentioning too was that U Craiova 1948 captain William Baeten also loved a long-range driver. I say loved; he only scored three goals all season, and two of them were in one game. They were both so good, however, that it was worth immortalising them below. The second goal and the Baet-man‘s player profile are in the comments of the Tweet if you use your mouse or trackpad, hover your arrow somewhere specific and do that clicking thing I’ve read about.

What else happened?

We had a youth intake that didn’t produce anything worthwhile, and why would it? Our facilities are woeful.

Mostly lies.
The best of a disappointing bunch.

The board inexplicably decided to build a new stadium despite our financial situation being what could kindly be described as “in freefall” but I did manage to bag a coaching badge before the board realised there was literally no money left.

Onwards and upwards.
One step ahead of the inevitable financial collapse.
But why? Relocation desire aside, how are we paying for this?

We hired a new Director of Football who used to play for Paris Saint Germain so therefore must be brilliant, and hired a new coach and chief scout. One I vividly remember playing for Real Madrid, Chelsea and Newcastle, and the other played for Sevilla and was capped a million times for Mexico. We pay absolute buttons to these staff members, but more fool them if they are happy to do the job.

PSG – 2003-2006.
Geremi (Kyle) and a Mexican legend.

What’s next?

Actor Mark Wahlberg acting as Robert Vonsen in a scene where he is “thinking.” A snippet from the upcoming ‘Journeyman’ biopic.

Now this is where it gets subjectively interesting.

My thinking was (because I am a realist) that when we get promoted to the top tier, there will still be absolutely no money in the bank. The guaranteed wage rises that already feature as part of the vast majority of player contracts in the squad (pretty much everyone will be paid 25% more when we move up) will kill any hope of having a transfer budget of any description. Plus, there’s the new stadium still to pay for. This in turn will destroy any chances of me being able to tell the board of any prospective new club we may move to in future that I am “good” at managing in situations with a limited budget. Merrily skipping into bankruptcy was not on the agenda, nor is it a good look.

Then something crazy happened that confirmed to me that it was definitely time to leave.

I was offered the opportunity to be interviewed for the Cluj job, arguably the biggest club job in Romania. I hadn’t applied, it was nice to be asked. My stock must have been high.

This little invite ultimately led to an absurd over-confidence in the ability of the manager to move up the career ladder and get a better job this early on.

How dare they?

Ultimately, Cluj chose to hire Cosmin Contra instead. A 72-times capped former manager of the Romanian national team who previously played for both Milan and Atlético Madrid. How that was preferable to a German with less than 30 matches on his CV along with a National B licence and not a single attribute yet near 10, I’ll never know.

With my contract expiring (and moving to a rolling one) I effectively applied for EVERYTHING. Semi-professional teams in Denmark’s lower tiers? Check. A Finnish team who are solely made up of part timers? Check. A South Korean team with 7 players in their first squad? A Colombian second tier side adrift at the bottom of their table? Check and check.

It wasn’t looking promising. I’ve never been “laughed off” so often in my life.

Effectively I chose gambling to stay at U Craiova 1948 for at least another season over unemployment and applying for roles for months. A three-year deal was signed, and we soldier on.

We do get to play against bitter (and much, much better than us) rivals CS Craiova next season, so I guess my situation this early in a journeyman save is nothing to “Crai ova” (thanks Ed, I didn’t think you’d mind if I shamelessly stole that one).

You could say that failing to find the next step on the ladder after a strong first season is a horrible failure (like my good friend Rock’s End FM suggests), or that another season in Romania might just do our job prospects the world of good.

Only time will tell.

Strong foundations, but not yet strong enough. Clearly.

End of season (1) review

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag

Everywhere Else – 1 – U Craiova 1948 SA

“Was this really a good idea?”

What is this all about?

This new series, which I’m calling Everywhere Else, is going to be a bit different for me. Since finishing the more serious (as serious as it can be when it is about a computer game) writing of my recent La Sombra Rayo Vallecano series, I wanted to take a more light-hearted approach to another batch of FM21 writing. Casually put together, I’ll stick to shorter posts tracking progress, tactics, players and results.

I’ll be thinking out loud, so I’ll pivot from scouting to player comparisons to performance statistics, and whatever else comes to mind as I work my way through the series.

This new save is a journeyman, starting unemployed (obviously), but with no set end goal(s) or conditions, other than that none of the so-called ‘big’ leagues are loaded up this time, as I wanted a break from the ordinary.

Therefore, the initially available leagues are as follows:

South Korea to Iceland via Belarus? Why not.

The manager

Meet Robert Vonsen. He’s a 39-year-old German with a decent grasp of English. Loves Augsburg, a classic 442 and likes his players to be aggressive and brave. Typical.

An undiluted display of German Cholismo. That’s a thing, right?

Unemployed, barely a coach, but on the lookout for a manager’s job. There is a handful of jobs available at the start. Interviews are coming thick and fast, but where will we take our first steps? PFK Montana of Bulgaria? FK Blansko of Czech Republic? Rapid București of Romania?

I am afraid to tell you that they all said “no.”

The team

Someone did say yes though! Robert Vonsen successfully interviews for the U Craiova 1948 job in the Romanian second division. I told myself I’d accept whichever team accepted us first, to get playing as soon as possible; ideally with the chance of managing a decent pre-season spell before the first campaign kicks off in anger.

Founded in 2017 and valued at £23.4k, don’t confuse U Craiova 1948 with their bitter rivals CS Craiova, four-time winners of Romania’s top division, Casa Liga 1.

It’s a complicated story between the two teams as to why both exist in parallel. Sort of Wimbledon / MK Dons-esque but more confusing and controversial.

Looks a lovely place, to be fair.

I landed in Romania mostly by chance, after applying for all the available jobs and seeing who said yes first; but for a more focused Romanian save (he begins there), have a look at fellow angry Scottish blogger FM Pressure and his website.

The beginning

First things first. No disrespect to Romania’s second tier, but the quality of players isn’t of the same level as the ones in the heady heights of 2026’s LaLiga that I’ve been used to seeing recently, so I choose to adjust the attribute colour thresholds accordingly, so I can better judge talent relative to our level.

Next, I review the squad’s strengths and weaknesses, build a system, then sort out team and individual training for every player and age group, because I’m a masochist who can’t bear the thought of it being automated. The 442 is going to fit in well here and with this group, I reckon. There are a few players who look capable of playing actual football, but a few glaring issues to address too. As I always like to do, I keep attribute masking on and close the first transfer window.

This way I can identify the team’s problems, but realistically can’t address them until the next transfer window. Even then, my manager has such a low experience level, I won’t be able to see 95% of any player’s attribute profiles outside of my own for the first few years anyway, until I improve. Every signing will therefore be a risk/educated guess. I imagine I won’t have much (or any) funds to build a decent scouting system.

Was this really a good idea? I guess it will be challenging if nothing else.

The board expect us to get to the fifth round of the Romanian cup. We enter at the third round, so fingers crossed that is ticked off.

We also need to be promoted to the top tier. There is an unusual system where everyone in the division plays each other once (20 matches) then the top six go into a playoff group where everyone plays each other twice (a further 10 matches) then the top two sides gain promotion.

There are also some non-EU and homegrown player requirements, which I am sure I will get used to in time.

The players and system

As I mentioned earlier, there are a few players who seem fairly decent. One in particular I like the look of is central midfielder Anghelina (Jolie, presumably).

For the second tier in Romania, these three look fairly solid.

On the other hand, some of the team’s challenges are obvious. Our goalkeeper needs replaced, our best striker is hardly clinical, and there is no strength in depth whatsoever.

It makes me deeply unhappy that our first-choice goalkeeper is so poor. Striker Bălan isn’t terrible, but we could certainly do with an upgrade.
Trusty old faithful 442.

442 is the system. Anghelina will be expected to run the midfield, while Munteanu on the right will be our main creative outlet. The full-backs will be asked mainly to defend, and while Raducano can’t finish or run, he is reasonably strong, decent in the air and can pass a bit. If he can occupy defenders, perhaps Bălan can get in behind and grab a goal or ten.

Former captain Costinel Gugu has this year passed the Baeten to William. (Sorry)

Baeten isn’t the most creative player to set as our playmaker, but he is a decent all-round midfielder and our new captain. I need Anghelina to be everywhere at once in the midfield, hence asking him to move into channels as a central midfielder on support duty, but these two partners may switch roles if it doesn’t work on the pitch as I intend it to.

The priorities

We know why we are here. It’s the first step in a journeyman. My aims are to get promotion to get that all important reputation boost that comes with silverware. Hopefully, we can complete a couple of coaching badges along the way and then a bigger team comes calling.

Before that happens however, we need reinforcements when it becomes technically (because the first window is shut) and financially (because we are poor) possible. Otherwise, I can see my laptop being fired out of a window when we inevitably ship a hell of a lot of silly goals to teams we should really be beating.

Wish me luck!

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag

La Sombra – 11 – Earned it

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

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”


18 May 2026

In last July, ahead of the 2025/26 season; the bookmakers published their pre-season odds on LaLiga winners and losers, as they always do. Looking for a fourth league title in a row, Marcelo Gallardo‘s Barcelona were logically considered evens favourites. It’s no surprise that Zinedine Zidane‘s Real Madrid were second favourites at 7-2.

Despite previous LaLiga finishes of 6th, 7th, 2nd and 4th since their promotion under Fernando Teixidó in the 20/21 season, the bookmakers tipped historically thrifty upstarts Rayo Vallecano to finish 9th. The ‘poor but proud’ Madrid club were priced at 50-1 for the title. To put things in perspective, Valencia were tipped at 20-1 to win LaLiga. The same Valencia who hadn’t finished in a Champions League qualification place for five years.

Lots happened in the 25/26 campaign to confound the critics, bookmakers and fans alike. Let’s get into it.

What happened?

Fast forward nine months to the present day and the landscape of Spanish football has been turned upside down.

Basque giants Athletic Club are competing in Spain’s second tier for the first time in their history and as it stands sit 4th in the table with three league games remaining. No guarantee of an instant return to LaLiga.

Zidane is currently unemployed after being sacked for poor performance to end a stop-start 25 years at Real Madrid as a player, coach and then manager. Interim boss Alfredo Merino will step aside at the end of the season when current Juventus manager Mauricio Pochettino will make his long-awaited move to the Bernabéu. The Argentine’s arrival can’t come quickly enough for Los Blancos. Real Madrid finished in 8th this season, missing out on UEFA competition qualification of any description and finishing in their worst league position since 1977.

Rayo Vallecano owner Raúl Martín Presa finally sold up and moved on, selling the club for an extremely healthy profit. According to economic reports, El Rayo‘s value has increased from around £15.5million in 2020 (when Fernando Teixidó took the job) to a reported £1billion in this year’s tax year-end records. The new board are made up of wealthy Spanish businessmen. Their first order of business was paying off the circa £35million loan taken out to build the new ‘Rayo Vallecano Stadium’ scheduled to open in Madrid later this year. Their second was to arrange for the incoming transfers of two sought after footballers they had mentioned in their pitch to buy the club. Those players were AZ‘s Steve Spiering and Athletic‘s Nico Serrano. Both are explosive wingers in their early 20s with huge sell-on potential and the skillset to get Rayistas off the edge of their seats to applaud, but more on them later. The combined outlay for the two transfers could rise to £112.5million. By comparison, Rayo’s previous transfer spend record was the £4.6million Teixidó parted with in July 2025 for flop winger Ştefan Baiaram, who has since moved on to Standard Liège.

Oh, and Rayo Vallecano won LaLiga.

Wait, what?

Rayo Vallecano are the LaLiga champions of the 2025/26 season. It’s true.

A two-horse race between the ‘little’ Madrid club and Barcelona ended in Rayo ‘doing a Leicester’ and lifting the title. After the just two points which separated those two (Barcelona finished second despite only losing a single league game), Atlético were some 19 points further behind, with Real Zaragoza surprisingly filling out the UEFA Champions League places.

It was quite a season.

Rayo Vallecano under Teixidó have been a mercurial phenomenon. Last season, Rayo fans had to witness a ten game losing streak which was covered in detail by my theangrylinesmen colleague Carl Hagedorn in this linked article. Luckily for Rayo, the streak was sandwiched between a first and final third of the campaign where they showed almost untouchable form, a steely work ethic defining their counter-attacking strategy. This in turn saved what could have been a dark stain on Fernando Teixidó‘s otherwise stellar CV.

This year, El Rayo continued in that positive vein. Many expected the losses to come eventually, but apart from a slim 3-2 away defeat to Sevilla on the 1st of February, they never did. Form started strongly, and so it stayed.

It seems like an easy judgement or observation to put Rayo Vallecano‘s incredible year down to fortuitous timing, but that is to discredit the spirit shown by the eventual champions.

Scoring three goals or more in 47% of their LaLiga matches, Rayo’s 95 goals scored in the 38 matches was some 31 more strikes than nearest rival Atlético Madrid if you remove the incredible outlier of Barcelona‘s 113 goal haul. Conceding 0.86 goals per game was the third least in the division too. So Rayo were as defensively sound as they were offensively clinical. This is where some of the statistical comparisons against previous seasons can prove incredibly useful.

While the ratio of tackles won, pass completion success and shots on target percentage remained largely the same as the previous campaign, the 25/26 iteration of Rayo scored an average of almost a goal more per game (2.5), while conceding 0.37 goals less per league match. Scoring 2.5 times per game against an xG of 1.93 is a marked overperformance; while conceding 0.87 against 0.94 xG conceded per match is largely par for the course in the SciSports xG model, yet no less impressive.

What many could call a “freak” season could arguably be explained by a series of serendipitous circumstances for the triumphant Rayistas, complementing those great performances.

Mid-season injuries to regular strikers Antoñín and Astrit Selmani forced Teixidó’s hand into prematurely promoting Francisco Pereira. Pereira was a 19-year-old striker who had been plucked from semi-professional Amarante in his native Portugal for just under £55,000 a couple of years earlier. Pereira spent most of his time in Rayo’s development B-team, with the exception of a loan last year at Tenerife where he caught the eye in the final third playing in a team that were ultimately relegated due to defensive frailties and lack of midfield creativity. The result was that Francisco Pereira slotted in as the furthest forward attacker on the field in Teixidó’s 4-4-2, and the young Portuguese ended up bagging 18 goals and 8 assists in just 21 matches. Incredible.

Additionally, just when the defence was looking a little tired and weary, Teixidó arranged to part with some £15million for defensive pair Abdou Diallo from Lyon and Emerson from Inter Milan. Diallo had previously lifted Ligue 1 with Paris Saint Germain a couple of times, whereas ex Barcelona right back Emerson had been in and out of Inter’s team for the past four seasons. Both went on to play in 19 and 18 games respectively since joining Rayo, forming two defensive mainstays in Teixidó’s back four. Rayo had signed some quality players previously, but usually from the lower divisions or plucked from obscurity abroad, not two mid-to-late 20s first teamers at large European clubs, paying handsome wages.

Rayo’s relative success against their own expectations in the last few years has meant that times had changed financially, but not in comparison to how they were destined to this year.

The takeover

Jorge Rodriguez had been rumoured to be putting together an all-Spanish consortium with a view to buying a LaLiga club for some time. Rodriguez owns several hydropower operations, and many of the consortium are similar “family” businessmen who have had a collective eye on purchasing a football club. In 2023, the story goes that Eibar were set to be purchased by the group of investors, only for the sale to fall through when they were unexpectedly relegated at the end of that season after a dismal drop off in form towards the end of the campaign.

As mentioned previously, Rodriguez and co made bold promises during the takeover process. Typical of these scenarios (see the ultimately ridiculous ‘Mbappe to Newcastle’ rumours in 2020) lots of big names were circulated as possible Rayo signings when the loan debt was cleared after the new owners’ arrival.

There were two names mentioned by Rodriguez and signing them turned out to be a lot more than just excitable hyperbole.

AZ‘s gifted winger Steve Spierings was taking the Eredivisie by storm. Goals, assists, mazy dribbling runs complemented by terrifying pace and a strong work ethic, Spierings had been linked with some of Europe’s top clubs over the last 12 months, and it’s easy to see why. A fee rising to £63million later however, and he was a Rayo player. The Dutchman signed in January 2026. In his half season so far at the club he has managed 25 appearances, 12 goals, 10 assists and 7 man of the match awards. Despite his late arrival, Steve Spierings won the LaLiga Player of the Year award.

Sometimes spending big can backfire spectacularly. Other times it’s a match made in heaven.

Unveiled jointly with Spierings was Nico Serrano. A similar player to the Dutchman, but the Basque winger generally plays on the opposite flank. Technically gifted and exceptionally quick and agile, Serrano also has the advantage of being 6 foot tall and good in the air. Capped twice for Spain by the time he turned 21, signing Serrano was arguably an even bigger statement of intent from Rayo’s new board. Especially given that he is a Spain international who arguably could have been on his way to Barcelona or PSG. Both of whom were said to be tracking his progress. £49.5million is the ultimate fee that will be paid for Serrano, including conditions.

The two lively wingers delivered a massive boost to Rayo, just at the right moment in mid-season. The combination of their impact plus the experienced additions in defence steadied the ship, creating a delicately balanced cocktail of stable performances; ultimately leading to the lifting of the LaLiga trophy on the final day.

Rayo Vallecano are ‘poor but proud’ no more.

The analysis

Mention must go to Diogo Nascimento and Þorsteinn Björnsson. The youthful central midfield pairing consistently displayed the right combination of technique and grit to carry entire matches for Rayo.

The first choice XI.

We at theangrylinesmen have written at length before about the divisive nature of statistical data analysis, so the below plot aims to visualise it simply.

Attacking contribution considers key passes, chances created, assists, shots on target, goals and xG per 90 and xG per shot.

Defensive performance includes interceptions, tackles, and an adjusted figure for headers won per 90.

Left-back Juan Miranda was crucial in defence, while playmaker Diogo Nascimento was key in a creative sense. There is no surprise that Steve Spierings proved to be the second most useful attacking force, while contributing more in a defensive perspective than some of Rayo’s centre-backs and defensive midfielders. Incredible.

We’ve covered Gaoussou Traoré in detail before, and the now 19 year old is making great strides towards becoming a first team regular (12 goals in 20 league appearances this year), but “GT” isn’t the only young striker catching the eye.

Eugenio Fidalgo was a £1.2million capture from Marbella when he had just turned 16 years old. Eyebrows were raised when that figure was parted with for a player so young, but now it looks like an outright bargain. Now 17, he bagged 85 goals in 60 appearances for Julio Baptista‘s Rayo under-19 side, and now looks to be the ‘next big thing.’ Look out for theangrylinesmen podcast, where self-confessed Rayo fan Carl Hagedorn is preparing to wax lyrical about this prospect’s potential. Even Rayo fans on Twitter are paying attention.

Last but certainly not least, investment continued into the future potential of the team. The £6.5million Argentinian attacker has a name which reminds me of another Argentinian footballer, I just can’t place who.

What else happened?

Rayo performed admirably in the UEFA Champions League, managing to defeat Marseille and Manchester City, but it wasn’t enough to prevent dropping into the Europa League. Torino were dispatched 6-3 on aggregate, but Leverkusen proved a bridge too far. The European dream was over.

Semi-final exits in both Spanish cups were impressive and entirely acceptable results, and even gave Teixidó the opportunity to give first team minutes to many fringe players.

It even included Rayo’s record goalscorer Astrit Selmani‘s 70th strike. It was quite a volley.

What’s next?

This is where it gets tricky. New owners, a new stadium, a glut of developing young players itching to burst into the first team. Rayo Vallecano are the dream project for any promising manager right now. The dream continues, right?

Maybe not.

What of current boss Fernando Teixidó? Six years in charge, 300 competitive matches in total, Teixidó has achieved inarguably more than anyone could have thought. More than just emerging from ‘la sombra’ or ‘the shadow’ of Real Madrid and Atlético, Teixidó’s Rayo have gone one better, finishing above both for the second time in six years, even beating Barcelona to the LaLiga title.

172 victories in 300 competitive games, two trophies and (excluding the fees paid by the board for the two new wingers which Teixidó did not instruct) a transfer spend of only £50.5m over six years.

The Peruvian’s contract runs until the summer of 2029, but rumours are building that Teixidó may step down from Rayo Vallecano to take a break from management in the next few weeks. Remember Pep Guardiola‘s exit from Barcelona when his stock was arguably at its highest, just before an inevitable burnout could occur? That could be Fernando Teixidó at this point.

Having lost just one league game all season, only an invincible campaign and further progression in Europe could really better the 25/26 campaign that has just finished. Is it even possible for Rayo Vallecano? Has Teixidó taken them to their ceiling?

Ancient Greek statesman Pericles said it best when he said, “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”

The impact of Fernando Teixidó has been incredible in Vallecas. A small working-class community are now supporters of the champions of Spain. With his legacy of humility, nobility and integrity now cemented in Rayo lore and two trophies in the cabinet, is it time to go?

If Teixidó does choose to leave Rayo Vallecano in the coming weeks to take a break or to seek a new challenge, one thing is for sure. He’s earned it.

Jonathan Simpson for theangrylinesmen


Thanks for reading.

FM Stag

La Sombra – 10 – The losing streak

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

“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”


The losing streak

26 May 2025

Back on the 28th of February 1960, Las Palmas defeated Valladolid 4-0 in a top flight Spanish football match to grab the points in a season where they were ultimately relegated. The reason this was such a memorable event was that it ended a record-breaking back-to-back losing streak for Las Palmas, stretching back to the 13th of December 1959. Shockingly, this was 11 league defeats in a row.

There is good reason that this record has stood firm for more than sixty years. Even the worst sides in the history of football can win or draw occasionally. Even accidentally.

Fernando Teixidó‘s Rayo Vallecano side of 2024/2025 will be relieved they didn’t take Las Palmas’ place in the history books, but boy did they come close. El Rayo lost 10 LaLiga games back-to-back in a period lasting nearly three months. Incredible.

The losing streak.

Prior to this run, Rayo had enjoyed promotion as champions of LaLiga 2 followed by 6th, 7th and 2nd placed finishes in the top flight under Teixidó. What’s more, they had started the 2024/25 campaign in wonderful form, winning their first nine league games in a row, collecting the maximum 27 points.

Before taking on Atlético Madrid at home on the 30th of October 2024, Rayo were sitting on top of the table, conceded only twice in eight games following their 3-2 season opener away at Real Zaragoza.

The winning streak before the losing streak.

How did it happen?

Many publications at this point will throw in spurious graphs, charts and statistics where they don’t necessarily provide actionable insight. In the case of nine straight wins followed by 10 straight defeats however, it is worthwhile to look at the numbers behind the performances.

The use of performance statistics is a divisive subject, but not if you are logical about it. If you have ever read a book written about analysis in football or any decent standard of sports journalism in recent years, you will see that the game is changing, and statistical scrutiny is not only integral to performance coaching and tactical decision-making in the modern game, but also crucial to any decent level of intelligent dissection of sporting performance. But only where it adds value. This is where there is a key disconnect in public opinion around this type of work. Dots and numbers are only worthwhile if they really tell you something beyond watching the highlights package.

The days of the ex-pro on the sofa highlighting that it was a “pinged pass and a well taken finish” are (hopefully) numbered. This ‘analysis’ serves only to narrate what your eyes have already seen.

Tangent over!

During this torrid spell, the under-fire performance analysts at Rayo Vallecano would have been frantically working around the clock in an attempt to help their beleaguered manager out of their tragic slump in form by providing some sort of context to the results. theangrylinesmen has put together some of its own.

Watching Rayo Vallecano continuing to play in their signature narrow 4-3-1-2 with wing-backs providing the width, midfield play provided by three deep-lying defensive midfielders and a classic number 10 behind a striking pair; nothing seemed off to the naked eye while watching the matches. Tactical consistency had been a hallmark of Teixidó’s Rayo for four years and counting, almost to the point of stubborn dogmatism. So there hadn’t been a sudden departure in playing style that could explain the absurd flip in results.

Playmaker Ömer Beyaz and wing-back Tiago Araújo were a few months later to leave the club in January 2025 for moves to two Chinese clubs for an eye-watering combined £50.5million. Could their heads have been turned in the months prior to their respective moves? Although, neither were first choice in either attacking midfield or at left-back, so I can’t imagine this was a key factor.

Astrit Selmani.

Star striker Astrit Selmani was still chief among the goals that Rayo did manage to score during the losing streak, so neither was it specifically a case of off-form strikers being unable to deliver the goals when the rest of the team were setting up the chances.

So what happened?

This is where the numbers start to become useful.

When comparing the winning streak to the losing one, a specific problem doesn’t emerge as the issue, instead an alarming wider negative trend does. The ratio of shots on target to shots taken in total per game remained roughly the same at approximately 50%, but the volume of shots taken per match plummeted by 30% across the losing spell.

Also, the xG (quality of goal-scoring opportunity in terms of how likely shots are to hit the back of the net) generated across the losing streak was 36% lower on average too. This shows that not only shots at goal were much less regularly occurring but the quality of those chances created dropped significantly too. Couple this with a 13.5% decrease in the number of successful tackles Rayo were managing per match, and clearly the problem was at both ends of the field.

A wise man.

Interestingly the only notable statistic that was on paper “better,” was the average possession. In what could be considered rare, Rayo had only 44% of the ball when they could not stop winning matches, but 47% when they couldn’t win a point for love nor money. Perhaps, as José Mourinho famously suggested, having more of the ball just leads to more opportunities to make mistakes, and capitalising on mistakes is what wins football matches.

So, there is a combination of factors here.

Being allowed more of the ball by the opposition suggests that after 200+ matches as Rayo Vallecano manager and three seasons inarguably over-performing with what is a decent counter-attacking side, other teams are starting to respect Rayo as opponents, thinking more pragmatically about how they can nullify the regularity of their chances.

Not Fernando Teixidó.

Harvey Dent famously and fictitiously once said “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” In this analogy, it seems like as chief cheerleader for the perpetual underdog and plucky upstarts, Fernando Teixidó was suddenly considered a tangible threat to the traditional powerhouses of Spanish football. From LaLiga’s beloved unsung hero to its biggest villain.

Win nine games in a row and sit above Barcelona and Real Madrid in the league table and the conversation around your team’s level of quality and the threat you possess will change overnight.

And it did.

What happened next?

Something had to change. Football is a fickle business. Four years of overperformance and the adulation of the Rayo Vallecano fans can only be stretched so far. Yes, it was only three months, but what if three months became six? A team in freefall is a tragic thing to witness, and conversations must have been had at board level around who would replace the Peruvian in charge, should the horrible form continue.

But then it happened.

Coliseum Alfonso Pérez.

It was the 22nd of January 2025 and Rayo’s temporary home, the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez had just played host to a long overdue narrow 1-0 victory for Rayo Vallecano over visitors Real Zaragoza, the players and fans celebrating the rot stopping like victory in a cup final. A clearly emotional Fernando Teixidó applauded the fans at full time, and it felt like it could have been a real turning point.

It turns out that it was.

Rayo Vallecano would only lose three more games before the end of the season, drawing three and winning a further twelve.

Finishing fourth in a season that was not in only in abject freefall for almost a third of it but also heading quickly towards the record books for the wrong reasons, is an astonishing end to the story.

But wait, we didn’t discuss how it was turned around.

The turnaround

The classic proverb states that “necessity is the mother of invention” and it was definitely necessary for Teixidó to alter something fundamental in order to save the sinking ship. They needed to get back to averaging almost 14 attacks per game. Back to winning tackles again. No one could predict that what was to come would be a complete change of shape.

Switching his team to a 4-4-2 formation is hardly revolutionary, but it represented such a departure from Teixidó’s famed ‘La Palanca’ system, that it shocked everyone from pundits to opposition defenders.

Retained are the strike pair with one dropping and pressing while the other plays off the shoulder, but gone is the roaming number 10. Gone too is the pivoting ‘lever’ in the defensive midfield area. The full-backs remain, but are asked to be more restrained in their attacking endeavours as there are now wide midfielders on the pitch.

Still expected to press high and counter aggressively, Rayo’s players now rely on traditional wing play; primarily via new signing José Prieto down the right flank and the former attacking midfielder turned deep lying playmaker Diogo Nascimento in the middle, who is tasked with playing Kevin De Bruyne-esque curving killer through balls with his incisive passing ability to the strikers.

Ironically moving to a much wider system has allowed more space in the middle of the park for Rayo’s most creative players to operate in. This in turn is unlocking defences with increased regularity. Nascimento’s midfield partner Eden Kartsev is functional and hard-working, but is often tasked with dragging opposition defenders into the channels, opening those gaps for deep through balls or winger’s crosses.

Given the impact that the change in system had, it seems to have turned the page into a new chapter, Fernando Teixidó: the pragmatist.

Such has been the acceptance of the new system, reports are linking Rayo Vallecano with a host of wide midfield targets for this coming summer. Everyone from Uruguayan Manchester United winger Facundo Pellestri to 32-year old Basque veteran, Iker Muniain.

How did the other competitions go?

Rayo Vallecano‘s first ever campaign in the UEFA Champions League was a mixed bag. An impressive 6-0 victory over Basel was followed by an emphatic 5-2 win over Sporting Lisbon. Despite defeating Basel again in the away fixture, unfortunately Rayo’s horrible slump in form coincided with half of the group games, and abject displays in both legs against PSG and the home leg of the Sporting tie leading to the misfortune of dropping into the UEFA Europa League, despite bagging nine points.

Drawing Liverpool was unfortunate in the second knockout round of the Europa League, and despite comfortably dispatching of Gladbach over two legs in the previous round, the English giants proved much too strong for El Rayo and they were out of Europe.

Cup performances were of a decent quality and arguably exceeded expectations, but in another case of unfortunate luck of the draw, meeting Barcelona in the 5th round of the Copa del Ray was a bridge too far.

What else?

After his £1.6million return to Rayo Vallecano last summer, Antoñín has very much looked the player he was when his three-year loan spell at the club ended a year before. The pacey striker bagged 14 goals in 28 LaLiga appearances this season and became Rayo’s all-time league goalscorer. He now has scored 63 league goals in total.

Antonin.

63 does not seem a massive number for a record goalscorer of a historic club to have, but this fact, plus the reality that their record signing is still just the £4million paid for Diogo Nascimento, reminds us not just of Rayo’s historic player churn, but also their humble roots and continuing financial caution.

There is a big summer ahead. Should Teixidó stick to the new 4-4-2 system, reinforcements are needed for the flanks. Although good form has returned and a UEFA Champions League qualification finish was secured again, Rayo’s losing streak shows just how volatile the business of football can be.

Onwards and upwards!

Carl Hagedorn for theangrylinesmen


Thanks for reading.

FM Stag

La Sombra – 9 – Transfer and youth special

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

“A fine example of when a foreign player and his new club’s ethos feel like a match made in heaven.”


Rayismo

16 July 2024

It is no secret that Rayo Vallecano traditionally operated differently to other clubs in Spain.

Journalist James Robinson once referred to the approach as Rayo’s “sustainable revolving door.” He was referring to the delicate and perilous financial balancing act of the club’s continuous recruitment cycle. The reality was that it was less of a deliberate strategy and more a perpetual clamber to have enough players of appropriate quality on the books ahead of any given football season. Players would leave El Rayo for bigger and better clubs after a strong season or two, and the gaps would be backfilled with loans and rejected journeymen. It was how the club had to be in order to compete survive.

Recent success and LaLiga stability under Fernando Teixidó over the last four years may have changed this for good.

There are many other unique aspects of how Rayo Vallecano are run. For example, we at theangrylinesmen have previously covered how the community-centred club’s new signings are met personally by their passionate yet ultimately divisive supporter group the Bukaneros, to introduce them to the neighbourhood. The concept is for the players to meet the working-class people who are pobre con orgullo (poor but proud) and whose voices will not be silenced; either on the terraces or in the nearby streets. It strengthens the connection between club and community. It shows the player that the contract they have recently signed is not just a footballing one, but simultaneously a social agreement by default.

This is one of several unique Rayisms.

Robbie Dunne is the author of ‘Working Class Heroes,’ a wonderful book about Rayo Vallecano‘s origins, ostensibly socialist values and captivating aura. He probably summed it up best when he wrote, “If soccer really is a ‘a slum sport played in slum stadiums increasingly watched by slum people’ as declared by the Sunday Times in 1985 after the Bradford fire disaster that took 56 lives, then Rayo Vallecano wear their slum affiliation like a badge of honour.”

Los pequeños franjirrojos

Rayo could have been forgiven had they overlooked their youth academy setup in the last couple of years.

Since their promotion to LaLiga at the end of the 2020/21 season, sports economists suggest that the club has risen in value from £15.5million to an eye-watering £627million, as of July 2024. Although the £20.5million spent on player recruitment by Fernando Teixidó in that time is a drop in the ocean by LaLiga standards and cancelled out by the £25.5million generated in player sales in those four years, spending of any significance is a relative novelty to the historically underfunded club. Rayo could now afford to pluck relatively expensive players from the transfer market, should they wish. To no longer rely on developing talent from within to fill future team-sheets and ultimately to generate revenue via inevitable player sales. Historically, this was the only way the club could remain sustainable.

This complacency will never be the case in Vallecas. To operate in any other way would contravene Rayo’s principles.

The club are currently building the imaginatively titled Rayo Vallecano Stadium nearby the club’s frankly dilapidated previous marching ground, Estadio de Vallecas. The modern arena will house some 25,233 seats while the old stadium held 14,708. The currently shared Getafe stadium seats just over 17,000. The build is scheduled to be complete in summer 2026.

To the shock of many Rayistas, the famously financially conservative Rayo owner Raúl Martín Presa has continued to re-invest funds into the continued development of the club. Not just in a new stadium, but crucially in the complete upheaval of youth development facilities. Let us take a closer look.

Wonderful progression over a relatively short space of time.

Despite this significant investment and incredible rise in club value, Rayo still do not spend lavishly on player salaries or bonuses. In fact, despite their three European qualification league finishes in a row (6th, 7th and 2nd respectively), the club still are in a lowly 16th in the salary spend table for LaLiga ahead of the 24/25 campaign. Rayo have football’s moneymen scratching their heads at their evident overperformance.

To have an exceptional academy bear fruit does not happen overnight. Even the best facilities and coaches cannot create first-team ready superstars in a laboratory. It is a labour of love, and patience is a crucial requirement.

Considering this reality, Rayo Vallecano have also invested around £4million in four years on incoming transfers of players who are still teenagers. Some are plying their trade in Rayo’s under 19 squad, others in their B team and a few elsewhere on loan. The truly homegrown talents will appear in time, and when I caught up briefly with new Rayo Head of Youth Development, Fernando Cinto, that is exactly what he promised.

In true theangrylinesmen fashion, here is a round-up of a hand-picked selection of young Rayo players to be aware of. There are some other more established high quality young players at Rayo, such as 21-year olds Ömer Beyaz, Diogo Nascimento and Thijme Verheijen, but our focus here is on those still in their teenage years.

Some of these young players may become household names in future. Every Rayista is certainly hoping so.

Þorsteinn Björnsson

19 year old midfielder, Valur Reykjavík, £12.5k

At a cost that may as well have been zero (literally twelve thousand five hundred pounds), Björnsson already has five caps for his native Iceland and a mental toughness that belies his tender years. This is coupled with well-rounded athleticism and wonderful technique. He is slightly short at five foot nine, but this should not hinder the all-round midfielder’s progress. Björnsson is the only player in this report who has already been named in Teixidó’s first-team squad for the upcoming campaign.

Abel Barata

19 year old midfielder, Estrela da Amadora, £100,000

Barata is a similarly hard-working midfielder in the Björnsson mould. Also 19 years old and five foot nine in height, Barata may require more development time to become as consistent and physical as his Icelandic teammate, but shades his technical profile marginally, according to club coaches. A great tackler with wonderful balance, the Portuguese is one to watch.

Gaoussou Traoré

17 year old striker, Huesca, £1million

Having already scored once for the Rayo Vallecano first team to become a record breaker, it is fair to say that “GT” looks one of the prospects most likely to be a success. Selfless and well-balanced, the young Spaniard has already been likened to a young Karim Benzema or Alvaro Morata. Most notably by me, right here in theangrylinesemen. Quite simply, Traoré looks to have all the ingredients required to be an elite striker, in time.

Francisco Pereira

19 year old striker, Amarante, £32k

Last but certainly not least is Francisco Pereira. Snapped up from Portuguese semi-professional outfit Amarante for the ridiculously low sum of £32k, Pereira will be loaned out to LaLiga newcomers Tenerife for the 24/25 season. A committed team player with a wonderful right foot he regularly uses to flick the ball, elastico-style, past defenders, the Portuguese teenager is already technically impressive while physically well-rounded. While there may be question marks about his focus and application across 90 minutes, Francisco Pereira looks like another Rayo youngster to keep tabs on.

Honourable mentions

Click on any of the images above for a closer look. Particular mention has to go to the final three mentioned – Noé Becerra, Francisco Hernando and Felipe. Two are 16 years old and the other has recently turned 17. This trio were discovered in the most recent youth intake at Rayo Vallecano. Fully home-grown and the first examples of an intake where new Head of Youth Development Fernando Cinto actively played a part in the identification and promotion of these particular players.

There are clearly bright times ahead at Rayo, and I for one am excited to see where this young crop of talent end up.

Who do you think looks most likely to succeed?

Tom Phillips for theangrylinesmen


17 July 2024

Rayo Vallecano Transfer News

Ahead of Fernando Teixidó‘s fifth season in charge of Rayo Vallecano (the 2024/2025 campaign), the Peruvian coach has completed a quintet of first-team signings in an unprecedented haul of incoming talent.

With ex-Boca Juniors midfielder Julián Chicco, 26, moving on to Alavés for £2.3million after three solid but unspectacular years at Rayo and 30-year old Croatia cap and fringe defender Mateo Barac joining Huesca in Spain’s second tier for £450,000, there were a few squad gaps needing addressed.

Algeria international goalkeeper Luca Zidane has long been a part of the squad in Vallecas but has never shown the ability required to really put pressure on first choice stopper Stole Dimitrievski for the number 1 shirt. With El Rayo‘s maiden campaign in the UEFA Champions League on the horizon, it was logical for Teixidó to go to market to capture another keeper, not least as healthy competition for the Macedonian.

Alban Lafont

25 year old goalkeeper, Fiorentina, £1.2million

For a long, long time, Alban Lafont had been mentioned in almost every discussion around the potential identity of the natural successor to Hugo Lloris as France’s first choice goalkeeper. Unfortunately for Lafont, international caps have been hard impossible to come by. He has six under 21 caps but as yet none for the senior side. Despite eventually rising to prominence as Fiorentina‘s first choice keeper last year (10 clean sheets in 37 Serie A appearances in the 23/24 campaign) after serving over five years at the Italian club, Cesare Prandelli seemingly remained unconvinced. This summer, the now 25-year old found himself on a plane to Madrid, transferred to Rayo for the lowly sum of £1.2million. While hardly having to ‘rebuild’ his career as his best years as a keeper are certainly still ahead of him, it will be interesting to see if he is the one to finally wrestle the gloves from Dimitrievski’s hands after over six years as Rayo’s first choice stopper.

Ross McCrorie

26 year old defensive midfielder, Aberdeen, free transfer

Scotland vice-captain Ross McCrorie is a fine example of when a foreign player and his new club’s ethos feel like a match made in heaven. A fearless and determined battler, the versatile Scottish midfielder covers every blade of grass and can fit in capably at both centre back and right back as well as in the heart of midfield. Such is his tenacity and work ethic, Teixidó boldly named McCrorie, 26 as Rayo Vallecano understudy to newly appointed captain Nemanja Radoja shortly after his arrival. The Scot also takes the number 6 shirt. Expect crunching tackles and a warrior spirit from the no-nonsense leader.

Juan Miranda

24 year old defender, Barcelona, £2.9million

Juan Miranda was once considered to be the only contender to Marc Cucurella in becoming the long-term successor to Jordi Alba as the permanent left back in Barcelona‘s first eleven. With Cucurella joining French giants PSG this summer from Villarreal for nearly £35million, and Barcelona eventually sticking with £45m Englishman Ben Chilwell in the left back berth, Miranda, now 24, quickly became a forgotten man at the Camp Nou. After a surprising loan spell last season in Germany’s second tier with Holsten Kiel, Miranda has returned to Spain, costing Rayo Vallecano £2.9million in the process. A strong tackler unafraid to proactively hunt for the ball (Miranda made just over 3 clean and successful tackles per 90 last season), at six foot one he is more imposing in the air than most full-backs, and his five assists in Germany will be a benchmark he will surely aim to better in a Rayo shirt at the other end of the pitch.

Harvey Griffiths

21 year old attacking midfielder, Manchester City, free transfer

Oldham-born Harvey Griffiths, 21, had been at Manchester City since the age of eight. A composed midfielder in possession of the ball, the Englishman is also capable of striking the ball cleanly and accurately with both the inside and outside of his gifted right foot. Agile and well-balanced, Griffiths was tipped to follow Phil Foden into the City and England line-up, but it unfortunately was not to be. Not yet, anyway. After bravely upping sticks for Spain after so many years so close to home, when joining Rayo Vallecano on a free transfer, Griffiths shared that he was excited to be part of “building of something special in Vallecas.” His only spell of consistent senior football was a season-long loan spell at Crewe Alexandra, where he showed a knack for incisive progressive passes from deep. I do not envisage instant fireworks from the young Englishman, but he is certainly one to keep an eye on.

Antoñín

24 year old striker, Granada, £1.6million

The last but certainly not least “new” face at Rayo this summer could arguably prove a Teixidó masterstroke. Antoñín spent three years on loan at Rayo Vallecano from 2020 to 2023, scoring 52 goals across Teixidó’s first trio of campaigns in charge. The striker even won the prestigious FIFA Best U21 Player in the world award in 2021. What unfolded next however, was odd to say the least. Antoñín‘s parent club Granada did not want to allow him to return to Rayo on loan for a fourth consecutive season, and understandably demanded a significant fee for the impressive striker’s permanent registration. When this fee was said to be in the region of £13million, Rayo of course would not, and in all probability could not, cough this up (Rayo’s record transfer is the £4million paid to Coimbra for Diogo Nascimento in summer 2023 and at the time was the £3.3m paid for Eden Kartsev). Instead, the player returned to Granada, where manager Ronald Koeman said Antoñín would be a “key part of his plans” for 2023/24.

Fast forward six months and the striker had played the sum total of zero minutes in a Granada shirt and was consequently bizarrely shipped out on loan to Real Oviedo, in Spain’s third tier. Five goals in twelve appearances followed and upon his return in the summer, Koeman made him available for a cut-price transfer. After all this pushing and pulling, the Rayo fan favourite finally made his long-awaited return to the club this month for just £1.6million. Expectations are high that the pacey and confident hitman will hit the ground running and return to his previous form. With last season’s strike pairing of Astrit Selmani and Felix Platte notching 59 goals between them in all competitions however, he has a tough job ahead of him displacing either.

Carl Hagedorn for theangrylinesmen


Thanks for reading.

FM Stag