Derrubando Os Três Grandes: Santa Clara, an FM 23 Story, Part 6

Our 5th Season at Santa Clara is proving to be what I think is the first big step we needed to take in order to stay at the top of the Portuguese Premier League. Qualifying for European football last season was part of that first step, this seasons transfer window was the other, in my opinion anyways.

First though, I had to fend off the other suitors. Taking a financially struggling down on it’s luck club back to the top flight and into European football in four seasons will undoubtedly raise a lot of eyebrows, and clubs have started enquiring about my services. The offer from Borussia M’gladbach I rejected rights away, as I have no desire to jump from one league where I am fighting the giants to another. A week later Atheletic Bilbao came calling, and although they have the financial support and ability to compete, fighting Barca and Real for the top spots isn’t any easier than where am I at now, especially when you are limited to signing only Basque players, so I turned down both offers and got back to scouting.

The Transfer Window

This window went like most of my transfers window do: According to plan, until the bottom drops out and you are scrambling. The first unexpected out was Joaquin Jara. The M(C)/DM had a solid season with us last year, but Eupen cam calling and he really wanted to leave, so I let him leave. Kılıç Arslan Kuruçelik leaving was unexpected to say the least. One of the two Turkish youngsters I picked up on a free after Trabzonspor let both go, I was expecting him to get a lot of first team playing time. With us, and not AS Roma. But the Serie A Italian club came calling, and out the door he went, because I didn’t have a minimum release fee on him.

What I was not expecting was Gabriel Batista leaving for Brentford with about three hours left in the transfer window. I am not sure why he was so eager to leave, he was a solid player for us, a team leader, but I suppose when a team that has trhe potential to finish in the top 5 of the ECL comes calling, you leave…to be honest it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me either, but it just meant I had to play someone a bit earlier than I wanted to.

The January transfer windows went as expected, Augsburg had wanted Dmitirovic in the fall, but could not meet his minimum release clause, and to his credit, Bojan was OK when I said “This is what you agreed to, I am not letting you go for a Euro less.” And so when Augsburg came calling again in January, I had no issues letting him leave. Cymbron was a young striker who didn’t have Premier League potential, and Malmo was willing to pay more for him than anyone else.

I did a ton of offseason scouting, and it paid off in numerous ways. I signed 10 players, spent 10.75M total, and got at least two very good/great superstars out of my efforts:

I realize scouting doesn’t appeal to as lot of players out there, and that’s fine, there are saves where I don’t invest as much into it as I am doing with this save, but when it pays off, it really pays off.

Manu Bueno could never break into the Sevilla B team. He had several very good seasons on their C and B squads, but did not resign with the club, leaving on a free. The former Spanish Youth International had a few offers, but he chose to come here.

I had a plan for Ibrahim Machorro. I saw his name pop up on a Screenflow result. A 19 year old keeper starting for his countries senior squad can mean different things depending on the country. If he was from a smaller nation, you might took a glance and thats it. But when that nation is Mexico, currently ranked 13th in the world, and he’s keeping a healthy Raul Gudinio and Carlos Acevedo on the bench? That warrants a closer look, and when the midtable team he is on isn’t asking for a Kings Ransom in transfer fees, if you have it you pay it. And I did, setting a record for fee’s paid. He’s maybe at best a year or two away from being better than Batista, so I was going to play him in the cup games and maybe a few spot starts. Instead he became the teams first team keeper four weeks into the season. How did he do? Read on to find out. 🙂

Kaine Kessler Hayden is a former Aston Villa youth player who has bounced around League One and the Championship. Is he first team all the time playing ability? No. Is he a solid player of the bench and occasional spot starter? Yes, and his position versatility makes him even better value in my book.

Alessandro Fontarossa comes to us from Fiorentina on loan, a very dependable D(C) that I am looking to get a lot of playing time out of.

Former Vfl Wolfsburg left back Kevin Paredes signed on a free. The American International isn’t the tallest or heaviest, and he’s not a fan of big games, but for the formation we play in, his skillset and Playing Style really suit us. I doubt he will get a lot of goals, but I can see double digit assists in his future.

Stefano Della Riva comes to us from Verona on loan. A very solid M(C)/DM midfielder whose skillset fits our team very well, I would love to pick up his option, but I doubt I will see that sort of money (20.5 Million) anytime soon.

Žiga Laci is a depth purpose signing more than anything else. AEK wanted very little for him in terms of salary and playing time, he agreed to be a fringe player, and I plan on using him as a substitute more often than not, but we be comfortable if he were to start more than a few games at D(C).

I could talk about Gašper Lukač for ages. How I just happened to glance up at a screenflow result from an U19 international comp and saw his pass % completion was head and shoulders above everyone else, how my first look at him showed me a 19 year old player whose minimum number in six attribute categories was 13, how when I fully scouted him I about fell out of my chair, and how when Gorica said they only wanted 1M for him I did fall out of my chair, and kept saving the game every five minutes until he was actually here. I don’t know how long I can keep him, but while he’s here I am expecting great things from the kid. And those of you who have read https://fmjellico.com/2022/12/06/verjemi-mi-brat-to-imam/ will know those expectations have been met.

Nelson Delossa comes to us on loan from Borussia Mönchengladbach, with injuries and scheduling issues, my midfield was getting a bit, and needed some help. Delossa was a very solid pickup, doing as well as I expected him too.

The same issues I was having in my midfield also happened at the AM position, and Đorđe Petrović came in on loan to help provide some cover. A very good youth player, the Serbian had several flashes of potential, but his clause was too much for us to pick him up at the end of the season. He strikes me as one of those players who is going to have a very long and respectful career.

The Season

Preseason started the 1st of July. European Qualification started the 23rd of July, when the squad was still in flux, I was making moves while trying to prepare the squad for the possibility of playing a lot of games at the beginning of the season. My fears were realized when we played 11 (!) games from the 23rd of July to the 30th of August across all competitions. My expectations were exceeded when we won 10 of those games:

Stjarnan, or Ungmennafélagið Stjarnan as it is known in Iceland, was a squad I did not want to take lightly, hell none of the squads we faced in the Qualifying Rounds were teams I wanted to take lightly. FC Twente beat a very good AZ and SC Cambur teams to take a Qualifying Spot, and Vojvodina is one of the better squads in Serbia not named Red Star, and none of those teams should or could be taken lightly. I found a squad balance early, I have more than enough depth at lot of positions that the drop off between starter and substitute was not the great (which can be a bad thing in some cases), and it allowed me to set up a rotation that was pretty effective. Sure, some players had off games, but I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that after we lost our first game of the season away at Braga, we had a 14 day vacation due to international games, and when we picked up our seasons again, we went on one heck of a winning streak.

My main goal in the League phase was to not lose a game. Draws were nice, wins were preferable, but losing…we were going to do our best to avoid it. And we did a very good job. The change from last season to this season was one of familiarity I think. Players familiarity with each other, with the tactic, with their role within the tactic, and the fact that despite the outs we had, there were still a lot of starters left meant we had a solid foundation in place, it was building something on top of that foundation that was going to be the challenge. The previous season, by the end of December, in just League and Cup games we had drawn 7 games and lost 3. This season those numbers were 3 draws and 3 losses, and only one of the losses was a blowout. And to be honest, the loss against Sporting could have been a draw, because they were a man down for 60 minutes of the game, we just could not capitalize.

We went into the New Year on a high note, in 3rd place, with only Benfica and Porto ahead of us. And we kept the momentum going, beating Leiria to go into the Cup Semi Final, and a sneakily good Hapopl Be-er Sheva team in the League First Knock Out Round.

March was when it started to fall apart. A 3-0 loss to Sporting was no unexpected, and while our 1st Leg victory against Club Brugge in the Round of 16 was nice, Brugge had an off game, 10 of their starters were rated 6.6 or less. We had a chance in the second leg, being a goal down until the 61st minute, when Magnus Bech Riisnæs went off with a second Yellow. Brugge scored in the 71st minute, knocking us out.

By all accounts, it was a great run in the Conference League. It enhanced our reputation quite a bit, enhanced my reputation quite a bit, and showed the footballing world that Santa Clara had some very good players playing in the Azores.

Then the wheels fell off.

We stopped scoring. We stopped defending. We went from 3rd place to 6th place, and it looked like we were going to miss out on European Football again, when we pulled out a 4-2 victory against Maritomo and ended the season in 3rd place.

3rd Place is Europa League Football, and given that Benfica ran away with the league in an “Invincible” season, and Braga was 10 point’s behind them, that it took a last day victory for us to even finish 3rd is galling. Not that we ever had a shot at second place, but still, had we lost, yes we would have been in 6th place and been in the Conference because Benfica won the Cup, but it still feels like we threw something away.

Financially we were doing a lot better. Our competition Prize money was way up due to ue European Run, but for some reason our broadcast revenue was down?

And to give you an idea of what we are facing when it comes to beating Benfica:

So yeah, it could be awhile…

Budget wise, despite our decent season the numbers are still pretty low: 12.12 p/a in salary, and 7.24M in transfer budget. Annoyingly, I still only get 10% of the transfer revenue…I’ve asked to have it increased and have been rebuffed each time.

There’s talks of a takeover, which the current chairman keeps trashing, and while the offseason news seems to be swinging back and forth between ok and bleh, there was this:

Trabzonspor has to be kicking themselves right about now…

There was also these instances of good news:

And while I can’t prove our run to the Round of 16 was responsible for all the points gained, I know we played a role in this:

Squad wise, I am quite happy with most everyone. I mean honestly, if you aren’t mad at at least one player, you aren’t doing your job right in my opinion.

For a young keeper who was supposed to get just some spot starts, Machorro had a very good season. Angel Bazan did what was expected, and I was pleasantly surprised by both Alessandro Fontanarosa and Stefano Dalla Riva, who had very good stints for us. Miguel Terceros was the best all around player, his 16 goals and 10 assists put him on everybody’s radar it seems. The tactic I play requires a very good DM, and Şirahman Kudaş was perfect for it. At the end of the season he was really starting to get noticed, so I was able to resign him to a new contract that had a 20.5M release clause. I wanted to go higher but his agent said no. Blas Armoa also had a very good season, and as you can see from the number of games players had off the bench, I did a decent job of rotating everyone in and out for the most part.

Against the Big Three this season, were we horrible. 0-4 against Benfica, with a – 8 goal differential.; against Sporting we went 1-2, beating them in the League Cup Group Stage once; and against Porto we went 0-2 with a -5 goal difference.

You will notice I didn’t mention the Youth Intake. It was nothing special, although during the year we did convince the board to improve the training and Youth Facilities.

All in all, a very good season, European Football awaits us again, but I fear this offseason is going to be a lot busier than I want it to be, and because of the financial restrictions we have, I am not sure we are going to come out even, let alone ahead of where we are now.

But that’ s a worry for tomorrow, today it’s the beach:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.