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.
Previous episodes: Episode One
Starting a new job is supposed to be exciting but for some reason, I’m not excited about the prospects ahead.
Having realised I can’t sign players until January because of accidentally deactivating the summer transfer window on start up, I can already feel the eyes of the Villa Park faithful staring at me with discontent. How could I be so stupidly complacent?
Anyway, my squad is strong enough to cope without any new additions for now so I move on. No point dwelling on my first failure.
One positive is that the players do actually like me. Upon arriving at the club and dealing with the initial frustration of losing both Jordan Ayew and Micah Richards to injury, I call the squad in for a chat. I introduce myself and tell them I think we can be promoted as Champions.
Alan Hutton is the only one who disagrees with me. He says I’m being way too ambitious and expecting too much, too soon. The sheer cheek of his attitude prompts me to transfer list him. Harsh? Probably, but I’m here to instil confidence and success into a fallen giant and that won’t happen with unambitious has-beens telling me it can’t be done. You’re finished Alan, this was your last chance of glory but you ruined it, mate.
It’s time for my first real test, though, and my 4-4-2 tactic – complete with two defensive midfielders – goes up against A.S Beziers. It’s only a friendly so I tell the players it’s their chance to impress me, which they seem quite happy about.
I’m immediately regretting this choice of tactic. It may be early days but I’ve always been rubbish with tactics and within 20 minutes of using this one, I’m 2-0 down to a club that was only founded in 2007 and currently playing in the third tier of French football.
The football itself wasn’t bad and the players generally did what was asked of them. Some nice play out from the back, and the use of the flanks was encouraging, it’s just a shame Ross McCormack couldn’t score in a brothel.
Thankfully, Albert Adomah saves my blushes with a quick-fire brace before half-time. The second half is dull and all the players, apart from Adomah who looks buzzing with his goals, leave the field with poor or very poor morale.
I’ll stick with this formation for now but if the players can’t make it work by the time we return from our tour of France, I’ll consider a change of approach.
Next up in France are US Albigeoise, who are technically an amateur side playing in a regional division four or five tiers below Ligue 1. No disrespect to this lot but if we don’t win comfortably I’ll be kicking cups of tea all over the changing room afterwards.
A far better performance followed. I made a handful of changes to the starting XI that stuttered to a draw in our last outing and the reaction was exactly what I was looking for.
Jordan Amavi was immense down the left hand side, notching a goal, while both Libor Kozak and Gabby Agbonlahor were rewarded for their hard work up top with a goal each. All before half-time.
Fresh legs were introduced at the break, including Albert Adomah, who rounded off a 4-1 win with a neat finish in the 64th minute. The opposition may have been amateur, but I’m already feeling more positive about what’s to come.
Our last match on our pre-season tour sees us take on Pau FC. As a kid my Dad used to drive the family to Spain for a summer holiday (he always claimed it was cheaper than flying) and we used to drive through Pau, so this fixture has a bit of sentiment about it, even if I didn’t realise they had a football team until now.
But something tells me Adomah is going to be my most important player this season. He nets his fourth goal in three games before Jack Grealish pings one in from about 25 yards.
We win 2-1 and I’m generally pleased with the performance, it’s just the finishing I’m not happy with. Rudy Gestede missed a number of open goals and McCormack goes another game without scoring.
If only I could sign some players!
I’ve seen progress, which is keeping my sprits up, but I’m quickly brought back down to earth when I’m informed Nathan Baker has been sidelined for 5-6 weeks with a hernia – identical to Ayew’s injury. Luckily I have enough cover at the back.
Anyway, upon returning from France, I’m quickly informed that our next friendly is an away fixture in… France. Whoever sorted out the pre-season schedule needs a quiet talking to.
US Creteil-Lusitanos are in the third tier of French football and shouldn’t give us too much of a problem.
I’m seething. What on earth are they doing? Is it my tactics? Are the players not bothered? Do they even want to play for this great club? I’m struggling to put my finger on it at the moment but we only just managed to draw, despite being 2-0 up. Creteil managed a ridiculous 19 shots on our goal. God help us if we go in to the Championship season being this awful at the back.
We have one game to get this right before our first league game. Our final pre-season game takes us to, you guessed it, France, this time to play Paris FC. If we don’t win this, or even win it comfortably, I will rip up the tactics and start again before the league starts. Yes, I am that worried.
McCormack is not starting after playing like a donkey in the last game. I wish I could sell him before January, but I can’t. He has been the most unimpressive player so far and I’m even considering giving him a spell with the U21s, but I’ll hold off for now.
Consider my tactics well and truly ripped up. A 1-1 draw was probably a fair result, but it’s another friendly without a clean sheet. Albert Adomah scores again but I’m not seeing enough to convince me that we’re going to be promoted this season.
I’m going to rethink the tactics in time for our first game of the seas on – away at Sheffield Wednesday. The players clearly haven’t taken to it in the way I hoped. Back to the drawing board.
We didn’t lose over pre-season but, equally, we didn’t exactly play well throughout, which is why I’m talking drastic action so early on.
Meanwhile, the SkyBet Championship title odds have been released and we’re 3rd favourites to go up at 11-2. Generous, I think. Did they see us concede eight goals in five games to a bunch of amateurs in France!?
I’m now told Gary Gardner has an abdominal strain and will be out for 3-4 weeks. Kill me now.
I’m off to buy some books on tactics. Might even give Iain Macintosh a call, he’d know what to do when the tactics aren’t working, right?