Close and pre-season 2016

The club: I request a new stadium from the board because we’re selling out each week, but the board reject the request. Our final position of 4th is the highest we’ve ever finished and extra income from a larger stadium would have been welcome and help us kick on. However, they do accept my request for a new feeder club and ask for my input – I suggest Swindon, but no deal can be struck. I also request that we improve the youth facilities at the club and the board agree. Bradley Johnson requests a move to a bigger club and I reluctantly accept his request to be placed on the transfer list and he then requests to be removed days later. It could be a bit of a summer saga! We receive £85,000 after Nottingham Forest sell Mate Simao to Blackpool. Petar Zlatinov hangs his boots up after 96 games and 17 goals for us. Michel is voted Player of the Year (again!) by the fans, with Jonathan Bond, Sean Morrison, Jagos Vukovic, Bradley Johnson, Jonny Hayes and Michele Marconi all making it to our overall best XI. Aiman Mustafa returns to Derby County and our link with them is terminated following their relegation to the Championship. The media give their predictions for the upcoming season and they predict we’ll finish 7th, whilst the bookies have us at 33/1 to get promoted. I persuade Federico Cenci to sign a new contract and he’ll be with us until June 2020 unless anyone matches his £5,000,000 release fee. The League Cup draw is made and the first round will see us travel to League 2 Newport County. Bertin Matip joins up with Cameroon Under 23s for the Olympic Games. Craig Hinchcliffe joins us a goalkeeping coach, whilst Ian Catchpole is named as a new physio. I appoint Gennaro Riccardi as captain and Dacian Varga remains as vice-captain, which isn’t the most popular move that I’ve ever made, but I believe it’s the right one and hope he’ll want to stay.

Transfers: Nice and busy in the transfer market as always and I sign (deep breath): Norweigian DR Gaute Nymark, French GK Emmanuel Dufour, English M/AM(R)/ST Ricky Ralph, Danish D/WB/M(L) Jesper Mikkelsen, English D(RC) Abraham Leggett, Welsh DC Kirk Roberts, Italian D/DM/M(C) Nicolas Soro, English DM/M(C) Gareth Shaw, English D/M(C) Ollie Childs, English DM/M(C) Ryan Smith, Croatian (AML/ST) Stjepan Godinic, Scottish DC Callum Marsden, English DC/ST Elihu Belay Berhane, Reunionese ST Valery Tamitu, French AM(LC)/ST Bruno Pierrat, Turkish ST Samed Aydin, Kazakh D/WB(R) Bolat Paviz, German WBL Volker Witt, Danish DC Lasse Karlsen, French DM/M(C) Loic Fournier, French AM(LC) Alain Besse, German AM(RL)/ST Florian Koch, Danish AM(RL)/ST Raif Boric, Danish AMR Nicolai Henriksen, Danish DM/M(C) Nikola Zivanovic, German MC Steffan Ritter, Austrian DC Herbert Haudum, German AMR/ST Dennis Lorenz, Danish GK Alexander Olsen, German GK Hasan Sari, Spanish AM(RC)/ST Alfonso Pereira, Danish AMR/ST Bo Sorensen, Austrian DM/MC Roman Reiter, English DC Jeremy Beadle, English AM(RC)/ST Jason McGowan, German M/AM(LC) Claus Duhnke, Spanish AM(LC) Jose Garcia, Slovakian D(RC) Lubomir Zapotoka, English AM(L)/ST Geoff Heslop, Italian AMR/ST Adriano Gazzoli and Italian ST Riccardo Greppi (player profiles are available on Instagram).

Fortuna Sittard offer £10,000 and £24,000 over 18 months and 20% of the profit of the next sale for Kyle Ebecilio and I accept; MVV then offer £18,000 and £24.000 over 12 months and 10% of the next sale for him and I accept this offer as well (he joins them). Bristol City enquire about Scott Malone and I quote them £100,000 and 10% of the profit of the next sale, but they decline to take their interest any further. Fulham enquire about Sean Morrison and I tell them he’s not for sale. Everton enquire and I quote £400,000 and 20% of profit from the next sale, which they decline. Wigan Athletic offer £400,000 for him and it’s automatically accepted as his higher-division-club release fee is met (and exceeded by £75,000!) and Morrison leaves us to join them. QPR offer £140,000 and 25% of the profit of a future sale for Vaclav Kostka – I ask for £250,000 up front and they decline; his agent asks for a new contract, but nothing is agreed. Brescia offer £9,000, £40,000 over 30 months and 20% of any profit from the next sale for Nicholas Carbrini and I ask for £1,000 more up front, which they agree to; Torino offer £55,000 for him which is also accepted and he moved to Torino. Chesterfield offer £6,000, £24,000 over 30 monhts and 20% of any profit from the next sale for Pedro Mendes, whilst Ipswich Town, Ponferradina and Wycombe Wanderers all offer £30,000 for him and I accept all offers and he decides to join Ponferradina. Hereford offer nothing for Magnus Olesen and as he has not future at the club, I accept to reduce the wage bill and he decides to join them. Verona offer £190,000 and 30% of the profit from the next sale for Niccolo Marchi and I ask for £10,000 more up front, which they agree to; Empoli come up with a bigger offer of £240,000 and 30% of profit from the next sale and I accept this, but he chooses to sign for Verona. Pescara offer £120,000 and 25% of the profit of the next sale for Tomas Hostalek and I accept and he agrees to join them. Nacional da Madeira offer £525,000, £1,600,000 over 24 months and 25% of the profit from the next sale for Catalin Rentea, which I decline. Lazio check our resolve and Federico Cenci’s new contract with an offer of £1,000,000, £2,300,000 over 18 months and 10% of the profit of the next sale and I reject it. Aston Villa, Barnsley, Derby County, Swansea City and Swindon Town all offer £40,000 for Iain Turner and I accept all offers, with Swansea being the club he chooses to join – as he leaves, he tells the media he’s sorry to no longer be working with me. Padova enquire about Eugenio Bertolucci and I quote £100,000, £10,000 after 30 games, £20,000 after promotion and 10% of the next sale and they agree, but only offer £70.000 instead of £100,000 so I reject it.

Sheffield Wednesday offer £24,000 to loan Dariusz Lenartowski for the season and all parties agree, so he’s off there for the season. Crawley offer to loan Bartosz Lukasik and I accept, but he declines to make the move. Vecindario want to loan David Goikoetxea on loan for the season and I accept, but he doesn’t want to join them. Notts County offer £10,000 to loan Paupol Mayila for the season and I accept and he moves to them for the season. Regensburg offer to loan Jens Fickert for the season and I accept, but he declines. Sheffield Wednesday offer £12,000 to loan Vaclav Kostka and £240,000 at any point during the loan to make the deal permanent for Vaclav Kostka – I suggest no money, but that he can be recalled and all parties agree and Kostka joins Lenartowski at Sheffield Wednesday. Scunthorpe United offer £8,000 to loan Konstantin Manov for the season and I accept and he decides to join them. Crawley offer to loan Torben Christiansen for the season and I negotiate to include a recall option and all parties agree, so he joins them. Southend United offer to loan Martin Koci for 6 months, Stevenage offer to loan Declan Warburton for 6 months and MK Dons offer to loan Aaron Walker for 6 months and I agree to all offers; Koci and Warburton agree to the loans, but Walker rejects. Muamar Tankovic joins Crewe on loan for the season and I’m £8,000 richer as a result. Busao moves to Bristol Rovers on a 6 month loan.

Pre-season fixtures: Our pre-season fixtures kick off in the traditional manner as we travel to our feeder club, Tiverton Town and we record an 8-0 victory. Our first home friendly is against CSKA Moscow Reserves and we record a 3-0 victory thanks to three late goals. However, Michel picks up a gashed leg and will be out for a couple of weeks. Our friendly against Arsenal is televised, but it’s a 0-0 bore-draw. We then travel to TNS and record a 3-0 victory there. Liverpool visit for a friendly, which is televised, and we lose 3-1, a reverse from the previous season’s friendly. We then travel to Barnet and find ourselves two-down in 20 minutes, but fightback to record a 3-2 victory. We find ourselves 1-0 down at Old Trafford, but can’t fight back and Manchester United hold on to win. Our final pre-season game is against Brondby at St. James Park and following a suggestion from @AshTheNeon after he notes how many young Danish players I’ve signed. My matchday 21 contains 20 Danes (I only have 1 Danish goalkeeper and select a German goalkeeper as sub) and they beat arguably Denmark’s most famous team 2-1.

The wider football world: Swindon appoint Keith Millen as their new manager following their relegation. The Premier League is won by Chelsea and Newcastle United will be the third team joining them from the Championship after they beat Norwich City 2-1 in the play-off final. Peterborough’s Michael Kucharczyk is the top league goalscorer with 32 goals, Luis Bolanos of West Bromwich Albion is Player of the Year, with Souleymane Coulibaly winning Young Player of the Year and Derek McInnes is Manager of the Year as West Brom get even more silverware; I finish in third place for Manager of the Year. The Championship Team of the Year is named and Federico Cenci and Michel are named in the side. On the same day our pre-season fixtures begin, it’s the final of Euro 2016 and Spain lose 1-0 to a James Milner goal as England win the tournament. Paul McGuinness decides that following England’s victory, it’s time for him to step down and is one of many international managers who step down following the tournament. I don’t apply for the England job because: a) I want to get Exeter into the Premier League and b) the FA aren’t going to appoint someone with 5 years of experience in League 1 and the Championship. It turns out that I’m spot on about the FA’s appointment as they go for Peter Meller, who has absolutely no previous managerial experience. Northern Ireland do offer me the job and although the temptation to pick Will Grigg (and chant his song throughout the games!) is strong, I decline.

Pre-season complete

Another new face joins the squad, with goalkeeper Aaron McCarey joining us after having been released by Wolves. It’s the third goalkeeper I’ve signed, but I like to have strength in depth just in case. Jan Sebek will remain first choice and McCarey is likely to take the place of Andrew McNeil as the keeper on the bench.

McCarey

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We welcome League 2 Shrewsbury Town to Park Hall Stadium in our penultimate pre-season game (and final pre-season game at home). We’re 11/5 underdogs for the game. The 11th minute see McCrae pick up a yellow card for pulling back David Mooney. Disaster strikes in the 19th minute as Paudie Quinn goes off injured; he’s suffering from a hip injury and I’ve sent him to see a specialist, so he won’t be making his debut for three months. The 30th minute sees Richie Partridge break down the right and feed Mooney. The keeper starts to come out and Mooney squares for Matty Williams, who is 25 yards out and lifts the ball over the stranded keeper and into the net. A delightful goal and I’m sure the majority of the 817 fans in attendance love what they’ve just seen. Williams nearly doubles our lead 6 minutes later after a cross from the right, but he heads just over. Williams has a further chance in the 61st minute as Jeff Whitley plays him in, but he can only fire wide. Five minutes later, Bradshaw shoots from distance, but it poses little danger to our goal. Phil Rayner tries his luck from 20 yards in the 78th minute, but his shot goes just wide. Bagsan Graham tries his luck from 5 yards further out 3 minutes later with the same result. We claim a 1-0 victory and out-shoot Shrewsbury 8-3, but only 1 shot (for both teams!) is on target – an area we need to work on if we’re to be winning the league. Matty Williams claims Man of the Match with a rating of 8.3 and the game winning goal.

There’s another new face in the squad, as veteran right midfielder Wayne Carlisle joins the club. A lot of the signings I’ve made have been younger players, so Carlisle will bring a bit of experience to the squad. Carlisle had been at Mansfield, but has played at several other clubs through his career.

Carlisle

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Our final match of pre-season sees us travel to Luigi Razza, home of my former employers, Vibonese. We’re 6/4 favourites, but Vibonese start the better as Bernardo has a 1 on 1 chance saved in the 3rd minute. We soon create a chance of our own, with Joseph Oastler picking out Jeff Whitley on the edge of the area with a pull back from the right, but Whitley’s effort is wild and no threat to the goal. In the 12th minute, Bernardo races clear of our defence, but shoots wide. Bernardo remains a goal threat, but the final product is lacking, something that I was frustratingly familiar with. A 32nd minute cross from Wayne Carlisle is met by David Mooney sliding in on the 6 yard box line, but his effort agonisingly hits the post and it’s cleared for a corner. Eleven minutes later, it’s the turn of Vibonese to threaten with a cross from the right as Legrenzi finds a sliding Malafronte; his shot hits Jan Sebek. I berate left back Marco Pelosi until I realise it was the linesman who wasn’t closing Legrenzi down; the officials are all in white, which makes distinguishing them from my players in white and green close to impossible. Vibonese take an adventurous start to the second half as Bernardo runs forward from kick off and shoots from 30 yards, forcing Sebek to tip the ball over. A couple of yellow cards follow as De Martino trips Darren Otten in the 63rd minute and Joe Jones fouls Malafronte on the halfway line 2 minutes later. Kofi Poyser picks up a rib injury that will keep him out for 2 weeks – not as big a loss as Quinn, as he was not going to be starting any games and even the bench was unlikely. Lucas Akins, his replacement, shoots wide in the 75th minute. Grimaldi collects the third yellow card of the game in the 77th minute by fouling Richie Partridge. Paul Robson collects the fourth yellow card of the game in the 89th minute; Petrucci take the resulting free kick and Perna rises highest and heads home from 12 yards. Perna’s goal is enough to give Vibonese the win and him the Man of the Match award with a rating of 7.4.

Pre-season is now over and I receive the final total for season ticket sales; 83 have been sold, down by 3 from the previous season. We’re set to begin our league campaign away at Port Talbot and hopefully it will be a winning start.

A mixed bag in pre-season

Two days after losing to Kilmarnock, we welcome Scottish Division 1 side Hamilton Academical. With it being two days after our first game, I elect to field a team of triallists (with the exception of goalkeepers Andrew McNeil and Jan Sebek because I have no goalkeepers on trial). I promised the fans that they would see teams being put to the sword by incisive attacking football and I deliver in my first match as we fully live up to our 9/2 underdog status. The first chance falls our way in the 4th minute as some good passing play gives Louis Almond a chance that he is unable to take. Two minutes later, Hamilton cross from the right and McDonald puts them into the lead from 4 yards out. In the 20th minute, a cross from the left finds Hasselbaink who doubles Hamilton’s advantage with a header from 4 yards. Louis Almond heads over for us in the 23rd minute and a minute later, Hasselbaink grabs his second and Hamilton’s third after a cross from the left finds him a yard out at the far post. 3 down from a total of 8 yards; I can’t help but think that Gary Lineker would be so proud. The distance of Hamilton’s goals increases by a large amount with their fourth in the 34th minute. The ball stopped on the right hand touchline and Andrew McNeil ran out from goal and cleared the ball up the field. His clearance succeeded in finding Skelton, who shoots from at least 40 yards (probably closer to 50 with the angle) and McNeil gets to watch the ball go into the net as he makes his way back to the goal. McNeil goes some way to atoning in the 45th minute with a fine save from Hasselbaink.

4 down at home by half time and pre-season or not, triallists or not, I let the team know I’m angry. A few players get hauled off just to emphasise that I mean business. In the 59th minute, McDonald unleashes a fierce shot and gets Hamilton’s fifth. In the 72nd minute, some of the fans start to leave, having seen enough. We started out with an attendance of 160 and it’s difficult to blame them. They don’t miss much; Lee Beevers gets booked in the 77th minute and in the 84th minute, he heads across the goal after a deep corner finds him at the far post. Deep in stoppage time, McNeil makes a good save to keep the score to five. The fans who leave early also get to avoid the rain, which worsens from a steady drizzle to a strong downpour. On the plus side, no-one got sent off…

A 5-0 loss at home is not what I wanted or needed. I gave the triallists a chance to show me what they could do and it’s safe to say I’m not in a rush to be making any of them permanent fixtures of the squad. Earlier in the day, the Welsh triallists match had taken place, so it’s a chance to take a look through the players in that match in the aftermath of our heavy loss.

Six days after our 5-0 mauling, we welcome Bury of League 2 to Park Hall Stadium. We go into the match as 3/1 underdogs. In the 19th minute, we struggle to clear a corner and Richie Partridge brings a Bury player down after diving into a tackle. Carlton steps up for Bury and makes no mistake, shooting down low to Jan Sebek’s right and just beyond his reach. Carlton is a real menace to our defence throughout the half; in the 26th minute he takes the ball well and shoots wide from 10 yards out and 11 minutes later he gets played in, but shoots wide. The second half starts with a red card. David Mooney and Malin, the Bury keeper both go for a loose ball outside the area; Mooney gets there first and nicks it past Malin, who brings down our striker and earns himself a straight red card. In the 79th minute, Jay Young crosses from the left and Matty Williams slides in to level the scores from 5 yards out. Right at the end of stoppage time, Phil Rayner blasts as the Bury goalkeeper, but is only rewarded with a corner.

A much better performance as we claim a draw, although our opponents were down to 10 men for the final 40 minutes. The 345 who attended are happier with the result and Matty Williams, a 62nd minute substitute claims man of the match after his goal and a rating of 7.3.

Another new face (not involved in the 5-0 demolition by Hamilton I hasten to add!) joins the club. Defensive midfielder Darren Otten joins the club after having been released by Swansea City. He’s one that I see for the future and I’m contemplating sending him out to Chirk for a season.

Otten

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Chirk are our feeder club and our next pre-season game is against them at Holyhead Road. It’s an annual fixture in which they get to keep all gate receipts. We go into the match as 1/14 favourites, so I tell the team I expect a win. In the 16th minute, David Mooney takes a corner from the left that finds its way to the 6 yard box – Conor Hourihane slides in to open the scoring. We get a scare 3 minutes later as a cross by Chirk from the right finds Thomas unmarked at the far post, but he inexplicably heads back across goal when he has the goal at his mercy. In the 24th minute, Hourihane slices open the Chirk defence plays in Scott McBride, who slots past the keeper to double our lead. In the 31st minute, Bagsan Graham plays in David Mooney, but the keeper saves well. Two minutes later, Mooney returns the favour and can only watch as Graham fires wide when he only has the keeper to beat. In the 45th minute, Scott McBride crosses from the left and finds Mooney 8 yards out and he makes no mistake with a first time effort.

A pleasing first half, but I feel that the performance drops off slightly in the second half. In the 50th minute, Hughes looks offside, but the linesman keeps his flag down and Jan Sebek makes a good save and concedes a corner. Eight minutes later and Bevan mis-hits a cross from the right, but thankfully Sebek is alert and makes a save low down at the near post for another corner. In the 72nd minute, substitute Matty Williams blasts into the roof of the net, but the linesman has his flag up for offisde. In the 81st minute, the fans start to leave – it’s difficult to believe it’s to avoid congestion because there’s only 20 of them. The game finishes 3-0 and Scott McBride claims man of the match with a rating of 9.1 following his goal and assist.

My first taste of victory with TNS is away from home with less than 20 spectators, but it tastes so sweet. We only have 2 more friendlies (Shrewsbury Town at home and Vibonese away) before the serious stuff begins.

Start of pre-season

Pre-season is upon us! Before the action begins, there is still time for me to complete a couple of signings. First in is central midfielder Conor Hourihane. I’ve brought him in to partner Quinn in midfield. Hourihane had been at Ipswich and had a trial at Shrewsbury before I signed him.

CM #FM

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The midfield is further strengthened by bringing left winger Scott McBride to Park Hall Stadium.

ML #FM

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McBride joins us from Raith. He is another signing that has generated interest, with TNS favourite Ken McKenna being amongst those looking forward to seeing him in action.

Spur us on #FM

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Both go into the team for our opening pre-season fixture against Scottish Premiership outfit Kilmarnock. We are 10/1 underdogs, but start well. David Mooney has an effort tipped around the post in the 4th minute and three minutes later fires wide after being played in. We continue to defy the bookies as the next good effort comes our way as well, Paudie Quinn firing wide this time. A minute later and Kilmarnock have their first chance, but Jan Sebek stands strong and pushes away a 1 on 1. Kilmarnock have another 1 on 1 chance in the 32nd minute as Joseph Oastler is down awaiting medical attention, but Sebek saves again and thankfully it’s nothing serious for Oastler, who is starting at right back following the strengthening in other areas. Kilmarnock go close again a minute later as Sebek parries and we scramble it out for a corner, which is headed wide when it comes in. Sebek makes his third 1 on 1 save in the 35th minute as Kilmarnock launch a long ball from the back that catches our defensive line out.

The second half starts at a slower pace, although bursts into life in the 54th minute as David Nixon tackles McKay from behind, conceding a penalty and earning a straight red card in the process; not the first time in my Football Manager careers that a centre back has managed this in his first game for me. Thomson steps up for Kilmarnock and hits a low effort into the bottom left corner – Sebek goes the correct way, but is unable to reach it. Little more happens (beyond substitutions) until the 75th minute, when a 20 yarder from Dayton hits the back of the net, with Andrew McNeil able to get a hand to it but only push it further into the corner. Despite being a man down and two goals down, we still continue to look to score; Bagsan Graham has a great effort in the 76th minute that finds the side netting; it looks as though the keeper had it covered, but a reminder to them that a 2 goal lead can be dangerous. In the 84th minute, Danny Holmes picks up a yellow card for pulling back a Kilmarnock player and the last chance of the game goes our way as some good work between Ibrahim Farah and Graham sees the latter have a 1 on 1 effort pushed away by the Kilmarnock keeper.

A 2-0 defeat, but quite a pleasing start as Kilmarnock were expected to put a few past us and win comfortably. I thought we looked quite good, especially as there were a number of new faces pulling on the TNS shirt for the first time. However, our finishing let us down and will need to improve, but thankfully there are still pre-season games for us to iron the finishing issues out. Our next pre-season game in two days time will see us welcome Hamilton to Park Hall Stadium and will be a chance for triallists to persuade me I should sign them.

The opening fixture is…

… Port Talbot Town, away from home. The media are predicting they will finish 9th, so hopefully a chance to get a victory in my opening match Our first home game is a week later against the defending champions, Neath; they’re predicted to finish 3rd and have Player of the Year, Lee Trundle, among their ranks, so my debut in front of our fans looks like being a tricky one. It gets no easier for my next home game (the following week) as Llanelli visit Park Hall Stadium. Llanelli are predicted to finish 2nd and are joint favourites with ourselves, the odds being evens. To be a success, I’m going to need to hit the ground running, especially with board having given their minimum expectations:

High expectations! #FM

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Before the serious action begins, there’s pre-season and games are lined up: Monday 16th July sees Kilmarnock visit Park Hall Stadium and two days later, Hamilton are the visitors; the second game I’m going to give triallists a chance to strut their stuff and persuade me that they should join us. Also, Clifford Mulenga (who favoured Hamilton over us) may find himself a marked man and some hard tackles coming his way… Tuesday 24th July brings the visit of Bury and on Saturday 28th July, we head over to Chirk; we are affiliated with them, so have to play a friendly there in which they keep all gate receipts. Must remember to loan them some players after that because I don’t want anyone proving a point against me! We welcome Shrewsbury Town on Saturday 4th August and our final pre-season game takes place on Saturday 11th August (a week before the season kicks off) when we travel to my former employers, Vibonese of Italian Serie C2/C.

Signings have continued and I’ve strengthened at the back by signing Joe Jones, an eighteen year-old centre back released by Leicester City.

Centre back #FM

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He’s up there with the best of my defenders and I’m not the only one excited to see him pulling on the green and white of TNS:

Looks a good signing… #FM

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With a couple of my goalkeepers nearing the end of their contract, I decide to upgrade further and bring in Jan Sebek, who was released by Chelsea. He has 6 youth caps for the Czech Republic and looks likely to start the season as my Number 1, although I’m sure McNeil will put pressure on him during pre-season.

Keeper #FM

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Central midfield also receives a boost with the signing of young Irish midefielder, Paudie Quinn. Raith Rovers deemed him surplus to requirements, so I’ve snapped him up.

CM #FM

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