Ajax Mid Season 2018/19

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Apologies for the delay in producing any content whatsoever but with the football season upon us again my writing commitments have become more varied.

We are now at the half way point of the 2018/19 season with Ajax and my overall vision for the team and the club as a whole is starting to take shape. The campaign so far though has been a mixed one as we’ve had to adjust to playing without our Portuguese talisman Goncalo Guedes who moved of course to Schalke. Continue reading “Ajax Mid Season 2018/19”

Ajax Pre Season 2018/19

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I don’t think that I have ever experienced a save on Football Manager where I fear transfer windows quite as much as this one. We have been raided consistently and without mercy by the AI and after reaching the Champions League final in our last season I feared a repeat scenario.

I also have a series of plans and development pathways that I am looking to build upon so our recruitment in to the club would have to be handled sensitively. The last thing that I want to do going in to our fourth season is bring in a player without thinking it through fully simply because I think it is a good deal.

Transfers out

So, here we go again. Last years player of the season and top scorer Goncalo Guedes is off to Gelsenkirchen for a not unreasonable £40M. Considering he was signed for a relatively low £10.75M and he performed admirably in his one season with us I consider this deal a success.

Finding a comparable replacement for Guedes however proved quite difficult. I originally turned to the club that I signed Guedes from in the first place, Benfica. In a long running save that I had with Rayo Vallecano a little while back I had seen the Portuguese winger Joao Felipe from Benfica B turn in to a world beater. We had a £10M deal agreed and I had offered generous personal terms only for the dafty to turn me down in order to sign a new contract.

Benfica were still willing to negotiate but the price had shot up and I wasn’t willing to match it. Instead I decided to turn to our own club for a replacement player. A few options were considered and experimented with before I settled on promoting the Ivorian winger Ahmed Soro and converting him to a left midfielder.

Andres Cubas was our other big signing from the season before. He was signed for £6.5M so when Milan came in for him and he started to agitate for a move I negotiated a £21.5M deal with generous clauses. His immediate replacement is more straightforward since he rotated with Ayoub last season anyway. Ayoub will get more playing time with one of our plethora of young talents in the DM position filling in as needed.

Hidde Ter Avest also left us for Spurs. In truth he hadn’t quite developed as I had expected and the bid came at a time when I was looking to free up some space in our defensive unit for a potential new signing.

All of the other outgoing transfers went through with 50% of next transfer and buy back clauses inserted in them just to safeguard us from a Man Utd/Paul Pogba situation.

Transfers In

Two deals from that list really stand out. I was delighted to be able to sign Mateo Kovacic for under £10M. Unfortunately I fully expect this to be another Guedes scenario when I am selling him for a considerable profit shortly. The signing of Anthonio Rudiger is also a considerable upgrade on Ter Avest at a great price.

Mateo Kovacic

(Screenshots have been captured at an advanced point of the game and may give an idea of performance and development)

Kovacic is one of my favourite players and comes in with the attributes to fill any one of a number of advanced roles in the midfield. Normally I would designate him as an advanced playmaker but we already have Abdelhak Nouri in that role. Instead Kovacic will play as a CM-a with the hope that he will move in to advanced positions and break the oppositions defensive lines either with his passing or dribbling.

Antonio Rudiger

The German international is a physically prodigious defensive player who should be perfect for me on the right side of my back three.

17 pace and 18 strength should allow him to defend from the central areas or from the touchline on the right as needed and he will rarely get caught out of position. For £5.5M from Dortmund I couldn’t turn him down.

How long can we keep him at the club though?

Masahiro Miyakawa

The Japanese midfielder arrived at the club along with a message from our commercial director stating that his signing would greatly improve our stature on the Far East. Whether this would lead to any commercial based tours in the upcoming seasons remains to be seen.

His base attributes and personality are promising and in the next twelve months I hope to have taught him the PPM’s ‘dictates tempo’ and ‘tries killer balls often’ to add to his profile as a progressive midfielder from the deep areas.

Bartlomiej Dymek

The £3M fee that I ended up paying for Dymek is certainly at the high end of what I am comfortable paying for a newgen from another club.

His technical and mental attributes need work but like Rudiger he is a superb physical talent. 14 agility, 15 pace and 17 strength should make him a force to be reckoned with should he develop the other core aspects of his game. He is also already a Polish international.

Fabian Cabezas

The Colombian striker first came to my notice when I was monitoring the South American U-20 Championship. He shone at the tournament with seven goals in eight games and despite my scouts not being overly enamoured and the old Moneyball stipulation of not buying players on the basis of tournament performance I still decided that there is something there.

He will start off in the second division with my B side (Jong Ajax) to see how he adapts to Dutch football. He has also already started learning the PPM ‘Places shots’ which is my preference for all of my strikers.

Oh, and for those of you that may have been wondering;

Toulon

Holland managed to win the now infamous Toulon tournament with our players shining. I best they would still have preferred a Champions League winners medal though.

Just saying.

Thanks for reading.

Ajax 2017/18 Review

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I am on a bit of a roll at the moment and my third season with Ajax has now come to an end. I’ve found that my own personal expectations of the save have shifted since the beginning as I’ve adapted to the route that the save it taking me. It would have been easy to just quit when my best players were constantly getting picked off by the AI clubs – and in all honesty I nearly did – but sticking with the save and looking inwards for replacements has given this save a real longevity.

As a reminder I started out with a series of short, medium and long term goals for the save. These are;

Three Years

  • Win consecutive league titles
  • Reach the semi final of the Champions League
  • Maintain a core of Ajax graduates coming through to replace any players that are sold

Five Years

  • Consecutive League and Cup wins
  • Reach the final of the Champions League
  • Have at least 10 of the 22 man first team squad come through from the Ajax academy

Ten Years

  • Minimum of 8 league titles and 8 cup wins
  • Win the Champions League at least twice
  • Have at least 16 of the 22 man first team squad come through the Ajax academy

These goals have changes slightly since I first set them, or at least those for five and ten years have. I’ll expand on that in a full structure of the club piece in the near future. Now that we have come to the end of the first three seasons though we can reflect on our progress using these goals.

Win consecutive league titles

Those of you that have read all of the posts up to this point will know that we have been relatively dominant domestically. We won the first two Eredivisie titles fairly comfortably and the third season wasn’t all that different.

double

I actually forgot to capture the image of the final league table this time but you get the message from the above graphic.

We actually made things more difficult than they really needed to be as we dropped quite a few points towards the end of the season before edging over the line just ahead of a resurgent PSV side. I’m still struggling to find an effective balance between promoting young players and keeping an experienced core of the side to see out tight games.

As our young team gains more experience though I am fully expecting them to become consistent.

Reach the Semi Final of the Champions League

We have been close to reaching this goal already during this save having got through to the quarter final stage in our first season before succumbing to Barcelona. Last season we had only reached the first knockout round before again coming undone against Barcelona.

This time around however the narrative was slightly different.

Final

As my esteemed co blogger Shrewnaldo said this was possible the worst Champions League final since 2004 when Porto beat Monaco 3-0. I doubt that anybody would have predicted this final at the start of the season.

In all honesty we scraped through to this stage having won on away goals in the quarter finals and via a penalty shoot out. On the other hand Leverkusen demolished Bayern in the semi finals 6-0. Not exactly making me feel confident.

That said the final is a one off match and I believed that if the likes of Guedes and Nunnely were on form then we would have a chance at the trophy. That was until the day of the match….

I discovered that the Dutch squad for the Toulon tournament had been announced and from my first team squad, Konings, Schilder, Nunnely, Anderson Lopez and Kluivert had all been called up. Unfortunately what I did not realise that this rendered them unavailable for the Champions League final as they were travelling to the tournament. Four of the five players would have definitely started including Konings – my first choice goalkeeper. Thanks SI, thanks a lot.

match

Well, that went well. We were three down by the 43rd minute before we threatened to mount an improbable comeback with goals from Klaassen and Guedes. Unfortunately we weren’t able to sustain this and with no real quality on the bench Leverkusen scored another two goals in the second half to secure their first Champions League trophy. Neverkusen no more.

Stupid Toulon Tournament!!!

Maintain a core of Ajax youth graduates coming through to replace any players that are sold.

Look a few paragraphs up. Konings, Schilder, Nunnely, Anderson Lopez and Kluivert are all graduates of the De Toekomst academy and they are regular members of our first team squad now. There is also plenty of talent still in the pipeline too.

One of the biggest things that I have learnt from this save is that it is incredibly important to maintain pathways for players to move from the youth team or the B team through to the first team squad. It’s easy to buy players from outwith the club but every time you do so you are blocking the path for a youth player to progress and develop.

I keep a plan in my head of the positions that I am short in throughout the youth and B team and I will tend to recruit to fill those roles, either in the first team squad or with players that can slot in to the youth sides.

So far though our player development is going extremely well.

Talent of the year

This is the award for talent of the year and as you can see we have swept the boards with Guedes, Nunnely and Antonucci giving us all three spots in the voting. As I said we have a lot of talent going forwards.

Soro award

It didn’t stop there though and our young Ivorian winger Ahmed Soro winning the player of the year awards for the second division thanks to his performances for Jong Ajax. Soro is quite frankly trying to kick the door to the first team squad off of its hinges.

keeper

Another award. This time for our newgen goalkeeper Marciano Konings. He was voted the goalkeeper of the year having replaced Cillessen who had transferred before the season started to Benfica in Portugal. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened in the Champions League final had Konings been in the side.

youth

To top it all off our youth team were victorious in the Uefa Youth League defeating Porto in the final. They reached the semi finals of the tournament last season before going out to Wolfsburg and were extremely impressive throughout the tournament this time. We have a lot of talent at youth level.

I think that when I consider all of the above then our three year goals are complete. We’ve done all that we have set out to do and perhaps a little more in some aspects. For clarity I plan to complete ten seasons and then step away from the save to reflect. Will we manage to hit all of our targets over the next seven seasons?

Who knows.

Ajax Prospects Report III

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This is the third instalment in out ‘meet the prospects’ series and it is proving to very much be a fluid process with some of our original prospects (Van De Beek and Cerny) have already moved on for a significant profit.

From our original list of five players I will now be running through some of our better prospects with a brief outline on my plan to develop them further. Once you’ve finished reading these posts please drop me a tweet or a comment below and let me know whether you’re enjoying these prospect reports and whether you would like to see them continue.

Abdelhak Nouri

This will be the last time that Nouri appears on one of these lists. Not because I am planning to sell him or because he isn’t developing but purely because he has now established himself as a key component of our first team.

Since first appearing on the prospects list Nouri has improved on nearly every attribute and certainly every attribute that is necessary for his role. He has become a full Dutch international and he has attracted interest from some of Europe’s top sides. My hope is that I can actually keep hold of Nouri and make him the club captain at some point.

Che Nunnely

Che has been something of an enigma up until the start of this season. He has all the potential in the world and a physical profile (18 acc, 16 agi and 16 pace) that makes it very difficult for the opposition to stop him when he’s running in space.

The rest of his attributes however have not been developing along the same lines. The core attributes for his position are there but these make him very one dimensional.

It’s this season however that has seen his performances start to match his potential and he has been a match winner on several occasions. I have started PPM training now including ‘knocks ball past opponents’ and hopefully this will add to his profile as a winger.

The next step is to see his technical profile start to improve although he is under real pressure from the Ivorian winger Ahmed Soro.

Francesco Antonucci

The Italian midfielder is one of our greatest success stories to this point. He has now gained a fairly determined personality after starting out as balanced and his attributes are rising across the board. Since the sale of Donny Van De Beek he has become an integral part of the first team squad.

He’s still only 18 and has at least another three key development years left. Ideally I would see him becoming the replacement for Nouri when I inevitably have to sell him. Unfortunately at the time of writing there are eight sides interested in Antonucci all of whom are considerably bigger in stature than we are.

In terms of his development he will continue as he is at the moment given the favourable attribute changes.

Anderson Lopez

Lopez is a strange case study. He’s had significant exposure to first team football now and his performances have been encouraging. He’s just not developing at the rate that I would expect.

I’m also less than enamoured that he seems to be holding on to his ‘sporting’ personality. For those that don’t know a sporting personality for a non newgen player dictates that his determination will be between 1-9. At least Lopez is at 9 which is the top of the spectrum.

I need to see a significant increase in key attributes by the time he hits his 21st birthday for him to remain a part of my plans.

He also suffers from the fact that to this point I have had two strikers come through the youth intakes that have huge potential.

Marciano Konings

I generally have a complete blind spot when it comes to finding and developing newgen goalkeepers. Konings appears to be the exception. He was generated in the first youth intake of the save and immediately stood out.

I have a slight bias towards taller goalkeepers (even though I know that physical height has no bearing) but his performances and development have superseded that bias. For some reason he appears to be completely incapable of passing a ball (1!!) but everything else is going up nicely.

At the time of writing Konings has also been capped a couple of times at senior level. Unfortunately the likes of Juventus, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Arsenal are continually linked with him.

Ahmed Soro

The Ivorian winger is the jewel in my crown. His output with Jong Ajax (B team) and the U-19 side has been simply sensational as he fulfils the role of Che Nunnely in each side.

I can however foresee a time when there is an overlap between Nunnely and Soro needing gametime in the same position for the first team. My plan in the first instance is to start training Soro to be comfortable playing on the left side. I have an absence of real talent throughout the squad on the left of midfield and we could have Nunnely and Soro in the same team.

My plan is for Soro to be slowly introduced to the first team squad towards the end of this season before he becomes a regular first team player next season.

Robbert Schilder

Schilder is the best defensive newgen at the club. He’s still only eighteen so there is room to develop further. He already has a template of defensive attributes that suggest he may become a world class defender when he is fully developed.

Schilder has become a member of the first team squad already having come through the same youth intake as Konings. He’s generally played as the left sided defender in my back three and this role does require him to use the ball intelligently when we recycle the ball.

He’ll shortly move on to a training schedule as a ball playing defender to get his more technical skill up to a level where I am comfortable. I’m also considering tweaking his PPM’s to get forward if his passing becomes acceptable.

Matthijs De Ligt

De LIgt actually starts at the club and has been slowly developing in the background. His performances in real life this pre season actually prompted me to take a longer look at him. De Ligt actually has an interesting template given his mental attributes and the fact that his passing is already set at 15.

He is currently learning how to ‘get forward whenever possible’ as I look to tweak my tactical system. He is also next in line on my mental depth chart to slot in to the first team should I lose another defensive player.

John Wijnhoven

Wijnhoven is the first of the two strikers that I consider to have serious potential that I’m including in these lists. His talent is there for all to see and I am currently implementing training to teach him a series of PPM’s that I think will compliment the advanced forward role. The first of these will be places shots simply because it’s my favourite PPM for striker.

As with Ahmed Soro he will be slowly introduced in to the first team towards the end of the season before getting more exposure next year.

I am hopeful that he develops in to at least an international class striker.

I’ll update on the progress of these players again shortly but for now the next update will be the 2016/17 end of season review

Ajax 2017/18 Half Season Report

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I seem to be going through phases of being able to produce posts for a few days at a time and then nothing for a week or so. That’s partly because I am still effectively playing ahead of myself so I have all the information that I need to write these posts. In ‘real time’ I am two one game away from the end of Season 3.

So you find me here at the half way point of the third season facing another dreaded transfer window. Surely though my squad wouldn’t be picked apart this time. Would it?

First of all let’s get the boring competition bit out of the way.

League

Right, so I’m top of the league at this point. Why then am I so unhappy with the overall level of performance from my team this season? Well for a start we have managed to lose three games already at this point of the season. That’s not to say that we aren’t dominating the vast majority of games because we are but the AI is still finding ways to shut us down too easily.

This realisation actually led to some tactical tweaking that I will expand on in a later series of blog posts.

We’ve also managed to concede 18 goals over the course of 19 games. Not happy at all.

That said we are still four points clear of PSV Eindhoven in second place. Having already won the first two titles in this save I have to be favourites to go on and make it three in a row. I also have to take in to account the level of squad turnover that we’ve seen over the course of two seasons. Our first team now has an extremely low average age and they should mature nicely as a unit.

Cup

We’re actually still in the domestic cup post Christmas for the first time this save. This is despite the fact that I’m still pursuing the policy of playing a team of youth products in cup matches.

Cup Team

As you can see the cup side mirrors the tactical setup that we are using with the first team. A total of six of the players are from the clubs youth academy with another five having been picked up from other academies cheaply. Only Erkan Kaya represents any significant outlay costing £2M.

These outings with genuine first team football seem to be having a genuine effect on their developments.

Champions League

Having managed to qualify from a difficult group with a second place finish we have been ‘rewarded’ with a tie with Italian champions Juventus. Unfortunately for me Juventus tend to be my nemesis on this game and it’s not a tie that I’m looking forward to.

new

A trio of new signings have joined the club with the only significant outlay coming on Benoit Lemmens who arrived from Anderlecht. As you can see all three are highly rated and two of them will go straight in to the youth team.

Benoit Lemmens

The Belgian midfielder cost me far more than I was originally willing to pay but given his potential and attributes I judged that it would be worth the significant outlay.

For an eighteen year old his attributes are already well developed and he will get game time immediately in the first team as a rotation option for either of the three central midfielders (DM, MCL, MCR) with the hope that these competitive minutes will aid his development.

In the long term I can see me looking to implement a Regista in the DM slot and Lemmens could go on to fit that role perfectly.

Motoo Mihara

The Japanese youth product was more expensive that I would have liked and he is definitely a development project rather than someone that can slot in to the first team.

Mihara will eventually play either as the MCL (advanced playmaker) or the AMC (shadow striker/attacking midfielder) and his training regime will be tailored appropriately.

His mental and physical attributes are already really good for a player of his age.

Ayanda Tshangbangu

Part of me almost hopes that Tshangbangu doesn’t make it. Purely because I can’t face spelling out his name over and over.

Again physical and mental attributes are excellent but his technical attributes need improvement. Tshangbangu is natural suited to playing on the right but I plan on having him more often on the left. Our overall squad depth is actually really poor in that area with only Guedes and Gino Dekker really suitable.

Another short, sharp update for you. I’ll be back shortly with a new prospects update – with the list growing to ten players – and then the end of season review.

Thanks for reading

Ajax 2017/18 Pre Season

exodus

We have reached beginning of my third season with Ajax (in truth I’m actually far beyond that point but I’m a little slow in updating the blog) and I wanted to update you all on the transfer business that has seen my reshape the club yet again, for good and for bad.

When I started this save my intention was to use a very specific transfer policy. I was told once whilst at university to never quote myself in this case however I will quote myself “This time though things are going to be slightly different, I am only going to recruit from within Holland, madness!”

Well as it turns out it was madness. Maybe not quite madness actually because you could certainly have a save where you only recruited from the domestic market and you could even enjoy it. I wasn’t enjoying it though and as much as I am sharing this save will all of you it is still my save and I’m the one that has to want to play it. I’ve relaxed the restrictions although this doesn’t mean that I will be extravagantly spending. I’ll still be handling my finances and transfers responsibly.

First though let’s look at those that have left the club this offseason and at one who left last season with my forgetting to actually tell you.

Bazoer

So, yeah. My star player and one of the main reasons for me wanting to start this save is gone. Bazoer was the driving force for us in midfield and was on his way to becoming the best young player in the World. Now though he is off to become just another cog in the Juventus machine. At least though it will allow more game time for Donny Van De Beek, right?

Transfers Out

Bastards. Well now I’ve lost Van De Beek as well although for £22M I would have driven him to Merseyside myself. It’s difficult to continually lose promising young players as they are still developing but I guess this is what it means to manage a team like Ajax. This sale means that Francesco Antenucci who has accepted an invitation to represent Italy at international level will now get an opportunity to play more first team minutes. He isn’t ideally suited to the box to box midfielder role but he should still receive a bump in his development.

My first choice goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen has also left the club. Benfica had made a few enquiries and each time I rebuffed their interest although it did turn Cillessen’s head. When the Portuguese side came back in though with a firm offer I let him leave via the back door. Thankfully we already have a ready made replacement that I think is going to go on to become World Class. Our homegrown newgen Marciano Konings will become first choice at just 17 years old. I freely admit that this is taking a risk.

The last significant outgoing in this window is the Czech winger and erstwhile member of my ‘prospects list’ Vaclav Cerny. He was one of the real successes of my development focus and had just been labelled a wonderkid when those shady Neopolitans came waving their ill gotten cash in his direction. He agitated for a move and therefore was allowed to leave. His direct replacement though would be one of our key pre season signings.

Transfers in

Goncalo Guedes

As an aside I am at an advanced point in the save and the screenshots give a sense of development and performance.

The Portuguese winger was the catalyst behind my decision to change the recruitment strategy for the club when I was alerted to his availability at a very reasonable price. I hadn’t managed Guedes on this version so far but I have seen his development on other saves and other blogs and he will be a great replacement for Cerny on the left.

I fully expect to be selling him for a profit a couple of seasons down the line.

Andres Cubas

Another player that I have admired from a far but not managed on this version of the game. The Argentinian midfielder has a great personality and the scope to develop further from his current level. His signing gives me flexibility in terms of role and position with Ayoub and Cambiasso also able to play in the DM slot one can step forward In to the MC positions where needed.

I’m hoping to be able to keep Cubas at the club long term as he should become a fantastic tutor for my younger players.

Alexis Messidoro

Alexis was signed after he lit up a couple of International youth tournaments and he became available at a bargain £950K.

He was very much an impulse signing although he has the skillset to fill in either the playmaker role in midfield or the advanced attacking midfielder role. I’ve been using him sparingly so far but he has been excellent.

The rest of the signings are all newgens that have been signed with one eye on the future or even to develop and sell on but I’ve picked out a couple to expand upon further.

Ahmed Soro

The Ivorian winger was a cheap signing from ASEC and he is already banging on the door of the first team. He has to this point in the season played an astonishing 45 games this season with 13 goals and 17 assists from the right of midfield. It’s the four first team games that have most caught the eye though. He has played twice in the Eredivisie and twice in the cup scoring four goals and two assists. An outrageous return.

I plan on giving him more first team action towards the end of the season before introducing him full time in to the first team next season.

Nicholas Motaung

The South African midfielder is already part of our first team rotation having joined for £575K from Kaiser Chiefs. He’s only 18 but performances to this point have been excellent and he has already generated interest from Italy and Germany.

I’m not sure if I see Motaung becoming a first choice midfield player but he definitely deserves a slot in the midfield rotation.

That’s it for this update. The squad has been pillaged again bit not quite as savagely as in our last pre season. I’ll be back shortly with a mid season update to give you an insight in to our progress.

Thanks for reading.

Ajax Season Review 2016/17

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I have now reached the end of my second season with Ajax and everything appears to be going as expected. We are still in the first phase of our ten year plan. It’s probably best to revisit the aims that I had set out for my first three years in charge.

  • Win consecutive league titles
  • Reach the semi final of the champions league
  • Maintain a core of Ajax graduates coming through to replace any that are sold on.

I have decided to alter the format of this update slightly and we will look at each of these three aims in turn.

Win consecutive League Titles

The first and perhaps most straightforward of our aims. In all honesty domestic dominance with Ajax in the Eredivisie is never all that difficult. The AI tends to mismanage the likes of PSV and Feyenoord and the others never quite have the quality or the squad depth to mount any significant challenge. There should never really be any doubt that we will be there or thereabouts at the end of each season.

League

So, this time the AI did actually manage to come somewhere close. We left it late to finally tie up the league title and PSV only finished four points behind us. More surprising perhaps is the fact that we finished on an identical goal difference with us scoring two more than they did and PSV conceding two less than we did.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I was concerned at any point during the run in as we were in front for a long period. I would however say that I definitely wasn’t happy with our attacking output as the season progressed. We need to find a way to stretch our leads in games with too many matches being settled by the odd goal.

Part of this lack of attacking efficiency is a result of our squad turnover with experienced players leaving and young players coming in to the first team picture. This is part of the reason that I have decided to relax my recruitment policy to allow for the signing of players from outside of Holland. To clarify this I will still have some restrictions in place and I will exercise self control where needed.

Feyenoord somehow managed to miss our on European football completely and despite winning the Dutch Cup and therefore qualifying for the Europa League Twente parted company with Jaap Stam after finishing in 14th place.

Reach the semi final of the Champions League

Image Two

Just a quick reminder from the mid season update that we managed to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League by squeezing in to second place in a tight group. Despite finishing with a negative goal difference after being hammered by Manchester City we still finished level with City on 10 points.

Unfortunately the draw for the next round was not kind and we would have to face Barcelona, our conquerors in the quarter final stage last season.

If we are being realistic we have no chance of standing up to Barcelona at this point in my tenure but at least it should aid the development of some of our younger players.

In the first leg at home we were at our best tactically with all of the players doing what I expected of them. French forward Sebastien Haller in particular terrorised the Barcelona defence in the advanced forward role and he scored both of our goals in a remarkable 2-0 win.

In the away leg however we were FM’d. We dominated large periods of possession in the Nou Camp but couldn’t find a way past their suddenly superhuman defence. Three goals for the home side – with the third coming in the 93rd minute – put an end to our European hopes for another season.

It’s a painful way to lose but if nothing else it reinforced in my mind that we had to find a way to improve the quality of our squad in two or three key positions before next season.

On the plus side our youth team made it all the way to the semi finals of their version of the competition before eventually succumbing to Wolfsburg. I can count that as a completed goal, right?

Maintain a core of Ajax graduates coming through to replace any that are sold on

As with the domestic campaign this is an aim that should prove relatively easy to fulfil. Our youth team are filling up nicely with two sets of youth products having been generated – the best of which will be included in the next prospect report – and the media are constantly praising me for ‘giving youth a chance’ little did they know that I really had no choice.

youth

This is one of my favourite images from the save so far. I don’t think I have ever had so many players called up to a single international squad.

Of the fourteen players that were called up for the Dutch U-19 squad we have six that have already been involved with the first team on more than one occasion (Anderson Lopez, Robbert Schilder, Zian Flemming, Justin Kluivert, Che Nunnely and Carel Eiting) and another two are on the verges of getting playing time at that level (Marciano Konings and John Wijnhoven).

For me this is a clear sign that we are moving in the right direction with the players that are coming through the youth academy.

Players of the Season

1.) Davy Klaassen43 games 15 goals 15 assists 7.63 

Mr versatile and Mr dependable all rolled in to one. Klaassen has the ability to play in a variety of roles from the centre of midfield to the lone striker position but I have been using him predominantly as a shadow striker in the AM strata. I have so far rejected at least three persistent bidders for his services and apart from wanting a new contract with a slight increase in wages he has yet to throw a tantrum. He is and will remain the club captain.

player stats

Player of the year

2.) Donny Van De Beek33 games 0 goals 3 assists 7.31 

His immediate stat line may not seem all that impressive but I love the role that Van De Beek plays for the team. He makes the runs in the opposition half that open space for his teammates and he is solid in the defensive phase. Van De Beek is one of the most quietly effective players that I have ever seen in the game. I have a feeling though that I may struggle to keep him at the club for much longer.

3.) Vaclav Cerny27 games 9 goals 3 assists 7.10 

Cerny is the first of my ‘prospects’ to make it on to this list and he is there in no small part due to his performances in the final stretch of the season. Seven goals in five games as we tied up the league title were a huge contribution and he finally seems to have developed to a point where he is able to make a significant contribution to the game.

Another league title coupled with failure in the cup and in Europe. It’s difficult to see that as a successful season but I guess that all depends on where my expectations were when I came in to the season. Barcelona will continue to be a huge test for me in Europe with our younger players really needing to step up quickly and my own rotation and selection policy will always make it hard for us to progress in the cup.

I’ll be back shortly with a pre season roundup to show all the comings and goings from the club.

Thanks for reading.

Tactical case study

sliding tileIn the last update, I briefly alluded to a tactical issue I’ve been having with an amendment to my latest tactic.

Rather than just report back once I’d figured this issue out (assuming I ever do), I thought it would be both helpful to me and interesting to the reader to record how I go about trying to get the picture in my head reflected in the tactic on the pitch.

This post, therefore, will be a case study into working out a tactical idea and hopefully, in contrast to the inverted wingbacks, one which is actually possible in the game.

Continue reading “Tactical case study”

Ajax 2016/17 Mid Season Review

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We are now at the end of January 2017 and the good news is that I haven’t been sacked yet!! Equally promising is the fact that I have no lost any more of my players to the clutching hands of the AI elite. I did however suffer another transfer soap opera with Chelsea desperate to tempt me to part with my club captain Davy Klaassen. Despite the final transfer offer breaching the £20M mark I still refused, luckily Klaassen was not that upset by this and despite originally wanting to join the London club a new contract was enough to placate him.

Domestic Competitions

While our first season was somewhat straightforward domestically the start to the second season has been more complicated, perhaps not surprisingly given the exodus of talent that we suffered during the pre season. We struggled at first with a new look first team and even though there were only two significant additions there were still issues with team cohesion.

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Ok, so I know that it doesn’t look as though we struggled that much with only one defeat and three draws over eighteen games it was more the perception from my side that the games were tighter than I would perhaps have liked.

Whenever you have to introduce a number of young players in to your first team before a season there tends to be a period of bedding in whilst they get used to first team football. This was definitely the case with us although as the season progressed we are looking more comfortable.

When I appeared recently alongside @shrewnaldo on the excellent @deeplyingpod the question of squad rotation was raised and I revealed that I routinely devalued domestic cup competitions and chose to field a very inexperienced side.

Often this can have real benefits in terms of developing younger or fringe players but unfortunately on this occasion it backfired and we were eliminated in the early rounds by FC Utrecht. The board held the expectation that we win the competition so it remains to be seen whether there will be repercussions.

The Quest for European Success

 If you’ve been following these updates from the start (congratulations) then you’ll know that we reached the quarter finals of the Champions League before succumbing in a close tie to Barcelona. European success is one of my prime objectives but I know it won’t come easy.

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I really can’t be upset at that outcome. The group itself was really tricky with even fourth seed Palermo capable of springing a surprise and an early hammering at the hands of Manchester City did not bode well for us. In the end though we were able to sneak through by a single point despite our terrible goal difference.

There was a part of me however that saw the benefit in us finishing third and perhaps having a sustained challenge for the Europa League.

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There we have it. Our rather dubious award for getting through that group is a two legged tie against last seasons nemesis Barcelona. Uh-oh.

The Club

 Obviously this will be touched upon in more depth in a later update but I thought it best to mention a couple of items here.

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Firstly our requested improvements have finally been completed. When you’re looking to build your club from within with an emphasis on youth development then keeping your facilities updated is essential. Incidentally at the moment @merryguido is running an excellent series on developing your youth system that you can find here.

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So while our senior team was sneaking through the Champions League group stages at the last second our youth team were crushing all challengers. We have a really promising set of young players at the club at the moment and to give you a slight spoiler the draw for the semi final has just been made and we are one of the four participants left.

Recruitment

 Our slow and patchy start to the season made me re evaluate the depth in certain roles within our club. Up front in particular there was too much of a drop off between the sadly departed Milik (he moved to Portugal, he didn’t die) and the raw youngster Anderson Lopez. We have another two or three promising young strikers but none that were ready for an immediate step up. I felt compelled to move in the transfer market.

Sebastien Haller

Once again we exhibit stereotypical super club behaviour and move to weaken a direct rival. Haller represents the standout striking option on the domestic market and gives us the presence in the advanced forward role that I felt we were lacking over the first half of the season.

The fee was prohibitive and the negotiations were extensive. The presumptive lack of a significant sell on value in two or three seasons when my youngsters are ready was a concern but our immediate need was greater.

The second addition to the first team squad actually breaks my own self imposed rules. I bought an older player from a non domestic side.

Esteban Cambiasso

He’s one of my favourite players for a start and even at 36 I felt as though he could do a good job for us as a rotation option. The real reason that I couldn’t pass up the chance to sign him is that his personality is listed as leader. This is rare within the game and makes him an ideal tutor for our younger players.

I also plan on keeping him around post retirement as a coach.

As I mentioned in the last update I also plan on signing a series of young players that I can insert in to our youth system and develop alongside our homegrown talent. Over the course of the first half of the season our scouts were busy and I have transfers arranged for a further five young players.

Jacob Borjesson

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Borjesson represents a significant outlay for this type of player costing us £1M but there was enough to like in his profile to make it worthwhile.

His Mental stats are already well developed meaning I can concentrate on the technical side of the game to further boost his first team chances.

Ahmed Soro

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Soro is a young Ivorian winger with a great template of attributes to start from. He will join us at the end of the season where we will start the process of building his technical qualities and having him tutored by an appropriate experienced player – if we have any left.

Western Africa represents a real area of value should you choose to expand your recruitment network.

Moussa Ouattara

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Outtara is a little more raw and could potentially be an option to develop and sell at a profit rather than making it to our first team.

Masahiro Miyakawa

Japan is another favourite for me to recruit from although as with Ouattara this was more of a signing with a view to making a profit when I sold him on.

He has reasonable attributes and personality which interested me in the first place. Whether I can then justify giving him first team minutes remains to be seen.

Motoo Mihara

Mihara is the more interesting of my two Japanese prospects. He has a number of excellent attributes for playing in the centre of the pitch and I can see him becoming a playmaker either deep or advanced.

I’ll be making sure that his training regime is updated regularly to give him a well rounded set of attributes and he will get a chance to play in the first team early on.

That’s it for this mid season update. I’ll be back shortly with a post detailing the development to this point of our young prospects with updated training and development plans for each.

 

Ajax 2016/17 Preseason and Transfers

exodus

 

In keeping with my new blogging style that is in no way directly inspired by the excellent @IlmedianoFM who you can find here. This is the latest in a series of smaller, sharper blogs aimed at keeping you up to date with my save. This time we’ll look at our transfers prior to the start of my second season with Ajax.

So here we are. Still celebrating what I consider to be a successful first season in charge at Ajax. I thought I would get a chance to build upon the squad that I had developed any perhaps add one or two pieces that would enable us to make the step to European contenders.

Unfortunately the AI and the Football Manager gods had other ideas.

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Well, that escalated quickly. I had resigned myself early to allowing both Anwar El Ghazi and Viktor Fischer to leave the club. El Ghazi had been excellent in my first season but as I alluded to in my end of season round up I just don’t like the player. I still managed to drive a competitive price though and eventually Dortmund agreed to pay £16.25M upfront. On looking back now his value has regressed to a more realistic £11M. I think that this represents a good deal for us.

Viktor Fischer was the subject or several derisory bids as soon as the window opened with the likes of European champions Juventus chasing him. In the end though Napoli stumped up the £10.25M that it took to trigger a release clause in his contract and the Danish international was off to Southern Italy.

Neither of those sales really concerned me. Although both were effective in the wide midfield positions their sales allow me to concentrate on the likes of Nunnely, Dekker and Cerny all receiving more playing minutes to aid their development.

Next up was our consistent halfback Nemanja Gudelj who joined Fischer in making the long trek to Southern Italy eventually joining Lazio for a cool £16M. I had no plans whatsoever to allow the Serbian international to leave but a fee that high that would be paid up front was too good to turn down. I have absolutely no idea why these Italian teams suddenly have money to burn.

As with the first two though at least the transfer of Gudelj will allow Van De Beek to play more often.

Once again though we were not finished there.

Another player that I had no intention of selling was Dutch wonderkid Jairo Riedewald. Atletico Madrid started the bidding at £5M and despite the player starting to agitate for a move I was determined to keep him until they met his valuation. Luckily the Spanish giants capitulated first and off he wandered to the Spanish capital for £13.75M plus some fairly hefty add on clauses.

Next came the sale of European golden boot winner Arkadiusz Milik for a frankly disgraceful £7M. This was the problem with my interest dropping half way through the first season. I failed to check player contracts properly and Milik was left with a £7M release clause. I attempted to negotiate a new deal with him but he refused to even consider a contract without a clause allowing him to leave Amsterdam. I can replace 40 goals a season though, right?

The last major transfer was possibly the one that stung the most. I had signed Hakim Ziyech from FC Twente and he had developed a great partnership with those around him. The usual suspects of Dortmund and Atletico were involved in the discussion but eventually they were blown out of the water by English side Liverpool who paid £17.5M with add ons.

That is one of the most painful summers that I’ve ever had on football manager but at least it all left us in a good position financially.

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Our balance is now extremely healthy and has breached the £100M mark. Considering the fact that we will not be paying exorbitant transfer fees for foreign players this means that we should be well set up for years to come.

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Here are out incoming players, all of whom have been signed from domestic rivals. Vlaar, ter Avest and Ayoub all join the first team squad with the others joining at the behest of our new head of youth development (more on that in a later post).

Ron Vlaar

Ron Vlaar left Az Alkmaar on a free transfer at the end of the season. I saw the opportunity to sign an experienced squad player who would also double as an effective tutor for the younget players in the squad.

As you can see Vlaar has seen his valuation shoot back up to £2.8M which suggests he still has some life left in him.

We’re obviously not going to see Vlaar develop but he should be a steady influence for the next couple of seasons.

Hidde ter Avest

My most expensive signing of the season having joined from FC Twente for £7.5M. Twente were unwilling to lose their vice captain given that he was a product of their own academy hence the inflated price tag.

I know that ter Avest can develop very well within the game though and I’m hoping that exposure to first team football will hasten that development. He will start on a simple ball playing defender training plan to see how his attributes develop in the first instance.

Yassin Ayoub

Ayoub is a player that I was chasing for the second half of the first season. He has the potential to develop in to a star player and he fits my system like a glove.

In true domestic superclub style his signing also weakens the FC Utrecht side that were a thorn in my side last season.

Ayoub will in the first instance slot in to the halfback position that was vacated by Gudelj moving to Lazio. He has the capacity to play in one of the more advanced roles as well and should provide some interesting tactical flexibility.

Alex Setiawan

The oldest looking 16 year old I’ve even seen. I’m sure that our legal department thoroughly scrutinised the youngsters passport before confirming the deal.

Alex moves in to the youth team as a slightly undersized centre back with interesting development potential. He has a good base to build on and his acceleration should enable him to develop in to one of our wide defenders.

His personality is already favourable so I can concentrate immediately on developing his attributes through training.

Nazario De Fretes

Signed at the behest of my head of youth development from Sparta Rotterdam for a very reasonable £450k. Ideally I can see De Fretes developing in to a Bazoer lite that can run all day and perform the box to box midfield role for me.

His balanced personality gives me the option to have him tutored to better fit with the profile of my squad. For now though he will enjoy a box to box midfield training schedule and his development will be closely monitored.

All of those deals leave my first team squad looking something like this;

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As you can see we have an extremely young first team squad with Cillessen and Viergever the only players that are 27 or older. The former is not a concern as goalkeepers can continue to perform well in to their thirties.

I’m also happy with the range of personalities in the squad. I don’t have any players who will rock the boat and cause unnecessary grief.

Whether we can repeat the success of our first season after such a mass exodus remains to be seen. My next post will be a run down of the first half of the coming season, assuming I’m not sacked yet.

Thanks for reading.