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The FM17 Aston Villa Project – Episode 9

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, Episode Two, Episode Three, Episode Four, Episode Five, Episode Six, Episode Seven, Episode Eight

I gave myself a couple of weeks off just because I can. This isn’t an easy business, it’s tiring.

The news of Tom Ince’s arrival at the end of episode 8 only added to my belief that we can get promoted, despite our severe inconsistencies.

It’s a new year but I intend it to be a new Villa. A Villa that has waved good buy to the past few years of pain, disappointment and underachievement and is now ready to begin competing properly.

I have a month to make some changes to my squad and I intend to use that wisely.

First up, though, is Cardiff away. Ryan Giggs is in charge there and he has them in 18th position, six points off the relegation zone. We’re unbeaten in three games and just six points adrift of the automatic promotion spots.

Here’s a look at my new man. He doesn’t look it but he’s delighted to be here.

Before I can even get down to properly organising for Cardiff I’m asked to confirm Aly Cissokho’s transfer to Burnley for £925k. I completely forgot that was happening. With pleasure.

Now on to more important matters.

Tom Ince will make his debut while Ross McCormack gets a start because, despite his inability to jump over a three foot wall, he doesn’t have such excuses in this world.

If ever there was an award of the worst players in the history of the game, my boys would win it hands down.

He may have scored but at one point Jordan Ayew was capping off an incredible solo run from his own half with a shot from 40 yards that hits the corner flag. Tom Ince did something similar and I’m already considering transfer listing him.

We were 2-0 up after 30 minutes, for heaven’s sake! Then some bloke I’ve never heard gets Giggs’ boys back in it before Rickie Lambert pings in the equaliser from about 25 yards. I’m done.

Ok, so I’m not quite done. Bristol City have just offered me £18.5k to take Alan Hutton off my hands. I’d like a bit of whatever is in the water in Bristol because that’s a lot money for someone who isn’t very good. Accepted.

I’m in a better mood now I know Alan Hutton’s moving on. He’s on £30k-a-week, which I could do a lot with. Hang on, I was paying him more a week in wages than I sold him for. Football.

Regardless of all that, it’s my second Second City Derby and it has even more magic around it. It’s the FA Cup 3rd Round and Birmingham arrive at Villa Park hell bent on revenge after the way I beat them earlier in the season.

I’m making a few changes for this one; Gary Gardner, Tommy Elphick and Felipe Mattioni are replaced by Mile Jedinak, Nathan Baker and Leandro Bacuna.

Win this and it probably won’t matter if I don’t get the club promoted come the end of the season, but I’m not going to take that risk. I fully expect my players to bounce back from dropping two valuable points against Cardiff by dumping the enemy out of the cup.

This was the most one-sided game of football in the history of the game – yet it was goalless. How on earth does that even happen? We had 19 shots and eight corners in the first 45 minutes alone but had absolutely nothing to show for it.

We were huffing and puffing but couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net. I’m pretty sure I could hear sniggers and giggling from the away end, that’s how pathetic we were in front of goal.

Mile Jedinak didn’t help, either. Just thirty seconds in to the second half and he thinks it’d be a wonderful idea to use his fist to win an aerial duel instead of his head. He’s already been booked, early bath.

Thankfully we held on and managed to secure a replay, though Birmingham being in worse than us in front of goal helped too.

I really need to strengthen my squad, that much is clear. Having blown most of my January transfer budget on Tom Ince I now need to be a bit shrewd. I’ve scoured the Premier League U23 sides for some bargains and immediately place a bid for Arsenal’s Rob Holding and ask to loan Chuba Akpom.

Conor Hourihane is also a main target, just like in real life. Realistic, huh!?

Some will say I’m a bit of a wheeler dealer in the transfer market, and they would be right. It is brought to my attention that Diego Poyet is STILL a free agent. Not being able to sign him in the summer because of my own stupidity still keeps me awake at night, so I’ve offered him another contract.

Suddenly I’m on the verge of several January transfers and I need to sell one or two to balance the books. If i could I’d sell each and every one of them.

Akpom joins on loan until the end of the season and Conor Hourihane arrives in a £2.2m deal from Barnsley. Rob Holding also arrives on a permanent deal – £4.5m!

All I need now is Diego Poyet to arrive and my January business will be complete.

A trip to 5th placed Wolves awaits and I couldn’t be more confident. All three of my new signings are thrown straight in to the starting XI.

Three points here will consolidate our position in top six at the very least as we’re three points safe of 7th placed Sheffield Wednesday.

Conor Hourihane, signing of the season? Bit early to make such a bold claim but it took him just 30 seconds to announce himself as a Villa player by scoring this screamer…

But while one new signing made the headlines for all the right reasons, another didn’t. Rob Holding was the defender who was dispossessed in the build up to Wolves’ equaliser but, overall, he did have a decent game so I’ll let him off.

That’s our third consecutive draw but we are five games unbeaten. I feel as though we should have won each of them but with the new signings I’ve made, this is now a good platform to build on.

It’s over a month since we last felt the wrath of defeat and confidence among the squad is high. Despite my constant criticism towards my players, I know I’ve got a good bunch of lads, it’s just a shame they only pick and chose when to turn it on.

It’s time for the replay with Birmingham and as always, losing is not an option. Either Liverpool or Derby await in the 4th round. I’m hoping it’s Derby but pitting my wits against Liverpool is a challenge I relish; I’m desperate to have that opportunity.

In the build up to this huge game, Ross McCormack hands in a transfer request because he’s had his head turned by Hull City. His lack of ambition is infuriating so I agree to let him go if they come in for him, which they haven’t.

As a result I decide I’m going to leave him out of this game but I’m reminded that all three of my new signings are cup tied and I’ve lost Jordan Ayew and Albert Adomah to AFCON, so I have no choice but to play him.

Well, it may have taken extra time but we’ve finally won a game and we’ll welcome Liverpool to Villa Park in the fourth round.

Bringing on Rudy Gestede for the woefully bad Jonathan Kodjia worked wonders. Gestede, who hasn’t exactly been in my plans so far this season, levelled the game 10 minutes after coming on and then nabbed the winner in extra time.

The Villa fans are understandably happy. The enemy have been beaten and it gives them even more satisfaction that the goals were scored by someone as bad as Rudy Gestede.

Preston North End are up next and, as always, I expect victory. They may be in the bottom three but Justin Edinburgh’s men tanked mid-table Brighton 7-0 in their last game, so I’m naturally wary of what they can do to me. After all, I did get smashed 7-0 by Huddersfield earlier in the season, proving my players are not immune to being completely useless.

I can welcome back Akpom, Holding and new hero Hourihane for this and despite him being a complete diva, McCormack starts again. He’s got me by the short and curlys here and it’s getting embarrassing.

Ah, so Tom Ince does still exist. He has been incredibly underwhelming since I signed him but here he finally decided to show his real ability. His first goal was a simple tap in, but his second was out of this world…

We’re now 5th in the league and four points off the top two. Promotion is well and truly in my sights with still a long way to go in the season.

First, though, my biggest test as Aston Villa manager awaits. Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are in town and I don’t have my strongest squad available.

This could go one of two ways. I pull off a huge FA Cup upset or Liverpool make an example of my tactical ineptness. I can’t help but expect the latter.

Thankfully Ayew and Adomah are back from AFCON, so my top scorer returns to the starting XI without a second thought.

Notice I’ve changed my formation again? I couldn’t risk pushing so many players forward against Liverpool and them punishing me. I want to win this, but will have to do it on the counter, so I’ve gone defensive.

This is where my reputation as the worst tactician in the game is either confirmed or consigned to the history books. This is my moment to prove the world wrong…

Tactically inept, I hear you say? No chance. This guy knows what he’s doing. James Jones has an answer to everything. James Jones knows how to handle the attacking might of Liverpool.

We enjoyed 62% of the possession against a strong Liverpool outfit and have earned a credible draw, forcing a replay at Anfield.

Jurgen Klopp ran out of answers to his own questions. Not even super subs Danny Ings and Sheyi Ojo couldn’t help him. There were confused faces everywhere, even my own admittedly. Did I just do that?

We didn’t win, but we had the chances to do so and no one would’ve denied us the respect had we managed to find a winner. Still, this is an early sign that no only can we compete at Liverpool’s level, I’m actually not a bad tactician. Who’d have thought it after the mess I experienced at the beginning of the season?

The final game of what has been an extremely long January sees us travel to 11th placed Brentford.

It’s a been a good month, particularly when it comes to recruitment. I’m hoping to get rid of a few players to lighten the wage bill before the window slams shut. Hull still haven’t come in for Ross McCormack (lol) and I still can’t believe someone actually paid real money for Alan Hutton.

Diego Poyet hasn’t signed yet. Why is it taking so long?

The moment I reach deadline day, everything happens at once. Crystal Palace make an attractive £9.75m offer for Ayew, rising to £13.25m with add-ons. He’s my top scorer and I don’t have time to replace him so I reject it, and he’s absolutely fuming with me.

He’s so annoyed that he demands I sell him immediately. I tell him to do one, he’s not going anywhere. The team then pipe up and ask why I’m not granting Ayew’s wish of joining Crystal Palace but they’re happy again when I tell him them we’ll be weaker without him. I wanted to tell them that I was actually doing him a favour by not letting him sign for Palace because they’re not very good, but the game doesn’t offer such high banter levels.

Jordan Amavi follows suit because he wants to join Celta Vigo. The same scenario plays out, minus the other team being rubbish banter.

Fulham ask to loan Micah Richards and have asked to buy him for £475k after he plays 20 games. He has no future at Villa Park. Accepted

And Rudy Gestede, who I completely forgot asked to leave the club earlier in the season, will go to Reading on loan until the end of the season. They’re paying 60% of his wages, which is a boost financially.

Deadline Day has been busier than expected and I have a game to prepare for. Playings demanding to be sold, others demanding answers for why their team mates aren’t being sold. What next?

Where the hell is Diego Poyet!?

I’m so overwhelmed by how well my tactics worked against Liverpool I’m using them again here at Griffin Park. It’s dawned on me that all good tacticians have one tactic for home games and teams they should expect to beat, and another for when playing away from home and against tougher opposition. I’m adopting that approach now.

Jordan Ayew’s little episode means he’s benched. He’s sulking. Instead of being in south London to discuss terms with Crystal Palace, he’s sitting on the bench on a freezing cold, hail-ridden night at Griffin Park. Love it.

Another draw, but the performance was very good. I like this new set up. We had 26 attempts on goal, 12 on target and had more of the ball, it’s just we couldn’t score. Again.

I can only image the wry smile on Ayew’s face when we continued to fail in front of goal. All 26 times we tried and failed to hit the back of the net, each one giving Ayew some weird, sick sense of achievement.

Anyway, while one love affair ends, another begins…

After months of trying to make him a Villa player, Poyet thought it’d be funny to leave it until the very last minute of the window to let me know he’s happy to sign on the dotted line. Rubbish banter.

He’s finally a Villa player, though, and his arrival effectively ends Mile Jedinak’s Villa Park career as he moves to Bursaspor on loan until the end of the season.

So January is over and so is the transfer window. I’m the busiest team in England, bringing in five new players. I also sent a bunch of youngsters out on loan, sold two players for more money than I should’ve and loaned out two others.

Here are my arrivals…

And my departures…

In terms of results, it was an unbeaten January. Way too many draws for my liking but as I said before, this is a good platform to build on.

February will be a difficult month. We have an FA Cup replay at Liverpool to look forward to, as well as important Championship clashes against Nottingham Forest and Newcastle.

And as you can see by the way top half of the Championship table looks at the end of January, beating those two will be vital if I’m to get this club back to where it belongs…

January can be a cruel mistress for clubs, but we’ve dealt with her well. Jordan Ayew didn’t, though, which strangely makes me want to laugh hysterically to myself like one of those cheesy movie villains who has a cunning plan up his sleeve.

But I don’t have a cunning plan. I’ll probably give in and start him against Forest next week…

<< Click here for Episode Eight 

Article title: The FM17 Aston Villa Project – Episode 9

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