Derrubando Os Três Grandes: Santa Clara, an FM 23 Story, Part 4

Our form is…Confusing at times.

I think it is safe to say we over performed last season. A 5th Place finish was well above expectations, but part of me is left wondering what sort of form we are going to fall back to this year: Scrappy fighters clawing draws from teams we should be losing too and wins from teams we should be drawing to? Is the European Stage going to be too bright for the squad, sending us back to the beach for an early vacation? It doesn’t help that our finances are…well, odd. I still only get 10% of any transfers, and despite the fact we are in a good place financially, the board seems reticent to actually spend any of it right away. Part of that I can under stand, and while I am reasonably sure I wouldn’t put the club into penury, at the same time it’s a little more than galling to see the balance we have and the boards lack of desire in putting some of it to good use.

The Loan Market is still broken (This was pre patch, it’s less broken now), and while we had some money to spend, we either couldn’t afford the salaries of the players willing to transfer in, or we couldn’t afford their transfer fee’s. And we lost out on more than one player because our club rep isn’t good enough to beat out similar clubs in different leagues.

That meant we spent an inordinate amount of time scouting free agents, and holding out until deadline day to get a deal or three.

I, like a numpty, was so involved with the save I forgot to take screenshots as I signed them, so the screenshots here are from later in the season, and you can see how good they were/weren’t.

You spend a lot of time looking for ways to not spend a lot of money in some saves…

Raul Asencio is a versatile attacking player, capable of both wings and the striker position. The worst thing I can say about him is that he’s not a defender, but considering what and where he plays, that’s not a problem.

Andre Castro I brought in a defensive depth. Sure at 36 he’s old, but per club rules he only signed a 12 month contract. Sure, he’s not as physically gifted as he used to be, but his technical’s are good enough to make up for any shortcomings he might have, and as you can see, he did a good job for us this season before retiring.

Libasse Ngom I brought on as depth at striker. The scouts say he’s a good Premier player, and I think he can do a job off the bench for us. That said, while there isn’t anything outstandingly bad about him, part of me can’t help think that he’s one of those “looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane” sort of players. He had a great career in Senegal, 39 goals in 68 games, but Portugal is a step up.

Eddie Roper comes from the Portland Timbers Academy. There are some things to like, his teamwork, his positioning, the fact he stays back at all times, but he does have holes in his game: vision, off the ball, and apparently an injury worry as well. But he’s young enough that I think with some playing time and training, he can be a solid contributor.

Lala I brought in because he can play the backline and he has potential, but he could also be lost in the shuffle.

Justin DeGrange is one of those intriguing youth players who comes across as one of two things:

  • A youth player who with training, game time and coaching will develop into a very good player
  • A player who is already at or close to his potential.

Hope for A, prepare for B.

Joseph Kwabena I think could be a very good player in the future. I brought him on as wingback depth, but can also see him getting time up top as an attacking mid. His passing skills and quickness are already above average, and I think he could be a player who tops out in the 140 Ability range.

Mateus Ludke comes in as our new WB( R). I am hoping he can be part of a rotation, he’s the primary option this year, and while we aren’t going to be able to exercise the optional contract clause for him,

Victor Boniface comes to us on loan from Union SG. He’s an intriguing player, but I think the injury woes are new to him this year. Not sure I am a fan of the “attempt’s overhead kicks” playing style, but I believe he is good enough to stand in the box and occupy a couple of defenders. Part of me would like to purchase him, but Union is asking for close to 10M for him, and I don’t see the board giving us that sort of money anytime soon.

Lino Sousa I brought in to play WB(L). He is one of those “Solid but Unspectacular players that every teams has and needs, and as long as he does a credible job for us this season without making too many mistakes, I’ll be happy.

I needed a backup keeper, Diego Marino was willing to come in and be a backup. At the ends of the day, just another guy, but I am curious about a keeper who “Dwells On the Ball”…how exactly does that happen?

Papa Cheik Diop, the Senegalese International, had left Lyon for Aris in the Greek Superleague, but was not getting any playing time. Aris released him after two seasons, and I think he was happy to come to Santa Clara and be a full time starter. He’s another solid player, one I expect who’s may contributions on the filed will go unnoticed.

On the out’s, I think the only player of consequence was Roberto Valente. He had a good first season with us (32 Apps, 10 goals, 4 assists and a 7.11 rating, but fell off in the second season (18 Apps, 2 goals, 3 Assists and a 6.91 rating). When I went to sign him to a new contract, he wanted star player money, and a highest match clause.

No. No. Hell to the No. I listed him, and Slavia Prague snapped him up for 2.2 Million. For a guy we brought in on a free, I am OK with that.

A Very Good Start

We got the season off on the right foot. A decent preseason, followed by wins against Derry City and Zilinia was very nice. I really thought Real Hispalis had our number, but a good first game at home gave us the 2 goal buffer we needed to see things thru. In fact, our only stumble was against Leiria in the League Cup game, as we had to go to penalties to beat them.

Back to Earth

September reminded me we were still a team with faults. Nacional is not the strongest squad, but they handled us quite easily. Portimonense has a very strong squad, and Porto is of course Porto. In the Europa Conference though I was happy to beat a solid St. Gallen squad, and holding Pogon to a draw was also a good result. Our defense was stout in that match, as Pogon had 22 shots but only 3 on target.

Reverting Back to the Mean

Losing to Benfica, even 5-0, is expected these days. This season they sold 129M in players (Gouveia, Aursnes, Silva, and Enzo Fernandez), but then turned around and spent 101M on Jonathan Burkhardt, Nketiah, Maitland-Niles, Esteve and Lyanco. Holding the to 5 is probably a good job really. Losing to Rio Ave though, in extra time no less, was a gut punch. In European football, wins against Mura and St. Mirren were nice, but Bodo/Glimt (The 6-0 slayers of AS Roma in the real world) absolutely bossed us. That score could have been a lot worse. Beating Radnicki was very nice, and I was looking at going into January on a high note, losing to Porto turned that into maybe a B-Flat…

Mostly Expected Results

For the most part, we were beating the teams we were supposed to be beating, but drawing to relegation bound Ferreira and losing to relegation bound Estoril in back to back games was frustrating. Making it to the Knockout Rounds of the Conference LEague was nice, and we did what we needed to do against St. Gallen, again, but 7 games in 29 days was really starting to take it’s toll on the squad. Niggling injuries kept cropping up, keeping players from performing at their best, and it was only a matter of time before we ran out of steam.

The Seasons Injuries, at least the Major ones…
Times Up…

March and April are months I would like to forget. Making the round of 16 was great, and the money was nice too, but AA Gent showed us how far a gap there is between us and the bigger squads. The second game they played a pretty rotated side, and still had twice as many shots ands shots on target as we did. Sure it took two late goals for them to win, but more important was the fact we couldn’t stop them from scoring two late goals. Benfica crushed us 7-2, and while beating Sporting was a highlight, they played a lot of their 2nd stringers. Three losses took us out of European contention, and although we finished the season strong, and where we were supposed to finish, I will admit to being disappointed.

Mid Table woes…

Our Youth Intake, in GIF Format:

Yes, it was that bad. We didn’t sign any of them. In fact, my two best youth prospects this year were ones I found scouting…

The Good News: A Team of Solid Players. The Bad News: A Team of Solid Players

Raul Ascenio led us with 12 goals, Paulo Henrique had 9 assists. Boniface was underwhelming at best in my opinion, and the one player I had a lot of hope for, Bojan Dmitovic, spent most of the season nursing various injuries (see above). The other issue is that two of our better contributors, Luan and Oscar Barreto, are getting older, and were noticeably different players at the end of the season, while Castro announced his retirement. Oddly enough, I think he had the most well rounded season out of everyone, and when you consider Diop is the only player who had a rating above 7.0, the fact we did as well as we did speaks volumes.

The club still has issues though. FOr the moment, my share of transfers is capped at 10%. They don;t want to spend any money on an affiliate, finaces are tight enough I refused creating a B Squad, and our budget next year is not great:

Believe me, we looked in ALL the couches

The good news is we do have some up and coming youngsters, the club did improve the training and youth facilities, and the money from our European adventures has the club comfortably out of the fear of debt and into a decent semblance of financial security. Why they won’t give me more to spend, I am not sure, but until we are able to start spending money, toppling Os Três Grandes is going to be a bit harder. And I am OK with that. Next season, the aim is European Football again, and I think we have a good chance of getting there.

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