Inspired by Iain Macintosh’s journey with Everton on CM01/02, I’ve decided to boot up Football Manager 2017 and take Aston Villa back to the glory days of the 1980s.
One week and two days. Nine days. 216 hours. That’s how long I’ve got to teach a new style of play to my players before we travel to Sheffield Wednesday on the opening day of the season.
The pressure is well and truly on. The fans expect. The country expects. Aston Villa are too big a club to be in the second tier and it’s not only the Villa faithful expecting us to go up. The bookies are offering favourable odds and even our biggest rivals will be expecting us to be successful. Now is not the time to be rubbish, but that’s pretty much what we were throughout pre-season.
We didn’t lose, which is gratifying, but we weren’t exactly impressive against a host of part-timers in rural France. Something needed to change before the season began, so that’s what I’ve done…
My decision to play two defensive midfielders at the beginning of the summer was a flawed idea, especially when I realised I only had two defensive midfielders available to me. So I’ve now opted for three central midfielders. Two will be supporting ball winning midfielders, the other a deep-lying playmaker.
I’ve also gone for an advanced playmaker to play behind a poacher and a target man. I have a squad full of midfielders and strikers, so this was an obvious choice.
Albert Adomah was my best player in the summer, so I’m giving him extra training as an advanced playmaker to give me additional options through the middle – I expect big things from him. He is naturally a wide player but, as you may have guessed, I tend not to go with the grain: I like to try new things.
Two days before the game I’m handed a small confidence boost. Newcastle, the favourites to come straight back up as Champions, are trounced 3-1 by Fulham at Craven Cottage on Friday night. Then, on the Saturday, second favourites Norwich are comfortably beaten 2-0 by Blackburn at Ewood Park. It’s a long season but both Newcastle and Norwich dropping points so early does a lot for my morale. First up for us is Sheffield Wednesday. Don’t wipe the smile off my face now, Villa…
Jordan Ayew is passed fit by my medical team and I’m told he can play around 60 minutes, but I’m not risking him so early. I’ll leave him at home and call on him later.
I’m fielding what I consider to be the closest to my strongest XI as possible. Ross McCormack, who was absolutely dreadful in pre-season, gets one last shot at redemption. Jonathan Kodjia partners him up top, with Jack Grealish playing just behind.
My midfield three is solid. Aaron Tshibola, Ashley Westwood and Mile Jedinak are prepared to battle to the death in the middle of the park for me, I can see it on their faces.
Jordan Amavi, James Chester, captain Tommy Elphick and Leandro Bacuna make up my back four. Nothing – nothing – is getting past that lot.
Ok, so maybe allowing my players only nine days to learn a new tactic and style of play wasn’t long enough. I’ll hold my hands up there, but I cannot accept losing 4-1 to Sheffield Wednesday.
Barry Bannan scored a hat-trick. A HAT-TRICK. Three goals! We made Barry Bannan look like Lionel Messi and I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry. Laugh uncontrollably and my players will think I’ve already lost the plot, cry and they’ll think I’m mentally weak. I simply cannot win here.
There were a few positives, though. We created chances, we just couldn’t finish them. Ross McCormack couldn’t finish them. Leandro Bacuna can finish, though. His tidy left footed curler in to the top corner giving 1,819 travelling fans faint hope of a revival at 3-0 down. I won’t let hope fool me again. At least we’ve got time to improve on this horror show.
The fans aren’t convinced. Words can hurt, you know….
Next up is Barnet in the first round of the EFL Cup. The perfect opportunity to bounce back and what better way to do it than in front of the Villa faithful, in my very first game at Villa Park…
Only one change to the starting XI, and that’s Jordan Ayew coming in for the woeful Ross McCormack.
The same tactics apply – surely we should make easy work of Barnet…
And we do. A comfortable 3-0 victory in front of just under 14,000 fans at Villa Park is just what I needed. All the goals came in the first half, with the players clearly playing out the second without a care in the world. They knew they had the game in the bag and were showing some sympathy for their north London opposition. I like that. Classy bunch.
My only concern is that we had 17 attempts on goal but could only convert three of them. I really wish I could sign a decent striker but I’ll have to wait until January for one of those. D’oh.
In the meantime, we’ve drawn League One Chesterfield away in the EFL Cup second round. I’ll take that.
Back to the league now, and Rotherham are in town. It’s our chance to build on that win over Barnet by getting our first points on the board. I’m expecting a similar performance at Villa Park and I’m going to go with an unchanged starting XI.
Mile Jedinak will never, ever take another penalty for Aston Villa for as long as I sign off on his wage packet. Well, not until we get another one. He’s by far my best spot-kick taker, but he’s pissed me off today.
It wasn’t the best of games. We dominated it with 66% possession and had 17 attempts on goal, but it’s the scoreline that people will remember. No one will remember the stats in years to come, but the board will if my players continue to be so rubbish.
We drew 1-1 to a team with 10 men and Jedinak missed an 88th minute penalty. I don’t know what to do or say, really. Other than that I’m already considering a different tactic. Remember in Episode One when I admitted I was tactically inept? Well now you’re seeing it in action. The whole country is seeing it in action.
To make matters worse, the injury Bacuna picked up against Rotherham turns out to be a broken ankle. I’m spending just over £8k to send him to a specialist – he’ll be back in three months. I’m starting to wonder if I’ll still be here when he gets back.
Next up is Huddersfield at home. They thrashed Brentford 5-0 on the opening day of the season but followed that up by getting smashed by the same scoreline against Newcastle. So they have a dodgy defence but their attack is pretty good. I have no idea how my players are going to react to this.
A new day. A new opponent. A new approach. I had a sneaky feeling ignoring my wide players, especially Albert Adomah, would come back and bite me, and the opening two league games of the season proved it.
So I’ve listened to the fans (kind of) and gone with two wingers, one striker and a No.10. Two central midfielders and then a back four with wing backs. Ultra wide. It’s a flexible formation with control mentality. Balance is key, after all.
Will it work? God, I hope so…
My knee jerk tactical switch may have led to this chastening, but there is only so much a manager can do. The rest is down to the players, it’s just a shame my players clearly aren’t capable of doing anything other than being a complete embarrassment.
Losing 7-0 at home to Huddersfield is as bad it can ever get for me in this job, which is just as well because I’ve only just started. At this rate, I won’t be here for much longer though. Not a single player resembled even the most hungover of pub team players, let alone a group of professionals playing for one of the biggest clubs in the country.
I’m expecting the fans to annihilate me but it seems some of them are just as clueless as my players…
Next up is Derby County away and I genuinely have no idea how to approach this game. I’ve started questioning my breakfast decisions. I need to win, that much is certain, but how am I going to orchestrate success when both myself and my players are absolutely useless at Football Manager. I am better than this, but at the moment I’m doubting my own ability to succeed at anything other than failure.
I need time to reflect before Derby. How do I fix this mess? Answers on a beermat, please. And leave the bottle.