Well, I’ve reached the end of January in the new Bayer Leverkusen save, so it’s time to update you all on how things have been going. Reading the last update, you’d expect the same rosy outlook in this update. Looking back, I’d cleared out the majority of the deadwood, made some fantastic signings in Cyril Bodin and Youri Tielemans, and created a 4-3-1-2 tactic that looked like it could take us to the league title. I apologise, but you won’t be getting that ‘rosy outlook’, and there’s a reason that I’ve had to play up until February before updating. Things have been crazy in Leverkusen so far this season, and it’s been a real challenge.
On the pitch, we’ve been nothing short of fantastic. We currently sit top of the Bundesliga after 20 games, having now played Simeone’s Bayern twice. Bayern sit 2 points behind us, but they really seem to be unable to beat us. We beat them in the Super Cup, and we’ve now drawn twice in the league, 1-1, and 0-0. Obviously, I’d like to be beating Bayern to extent our gap at the top, but I’m more than happy to maintain it, and considering Bayern won the league last season and recently won the Champions League, I’ll take being on a similar level at this early stage.
Like all my sides, you can see what it’s built on – defence first. We’re level with Bayern in only conceding 15 goals in 20 games, a concession rate of 0.75 goals per game. However, what’s also pleasing to see is the side is incredibly good in attack, leading the league with 52 goals scored.
Despite that, I’m not happy. It should be much, much more. We’re nowhere near prolific enough upfront. Playing as a pseudo-striker in the AP-A role, Hakan’s been absolutely peerless (scoring 16 goals and making 11 assists), but it’s the rest that are letting the side down. It’s not that they don’t score (52 goals suggests they do), but they’re inconsistent with their scoring, and it’s a major reason I’m making a new striker a priority in the Summer. Josip Drmic has scored 15 goals in 19 appearances, but this stat does not suggest how inconsistent he’s been. Julian Brandt has been fantastic in the Trequartista role upfront, and has provided 13 goals and 10 assists in 24 appearances, contributing to a goal in almost every game. However, it’s behind the starting trio that we’ve really struggled. The backup Advanced Forward Mehmet Sahinoglu hasn’t scored in ages, going through ‘one of those’ FM scoring droughts. He’s clearly got the talent (18 for Finishing), but he’s just stopped scoring, making things difficult when Drmic needs a rest. Before his drought, Mehmet had actually been a fantastic backup to Drmic, and I was debating starting him. Karim Ansarifard was the backup to Brandt, and he only scored 1 goal in the league. Heung-Min Son has barely played, and I’ve been desperately trying to get rid of him and his £120,000 a week wages. So we’ve scored 52 goals, but it’s certainly not as perfect as it would seem. Only Hakan and Brandt have been consistent throughout in the attacking corps, and Hakan isn’t really a striker. On top of that, as a Trequartista, Brandt also has to be creative, and can’t shoulder all the scoring load.
In terms of results though, we’ve been absolutely brilliant. Draws in both games we’ve played against Bayern, and dominant wins over former Bundesliga champions in Schalke and Dortmund. Stuttgart were also much more involved in the title race when we swept them aside 4-2 away. When we’re in sync and on form, we’re amazing to watch, and the 4-3-1-2 provides some of the best football I’ve seen on FM15. In a way, it’s ridiculous that we’ve been so good in the league, and we’re only two points clear of Simeone’s Bayern. Bayern’s only really scary player is Memphis Depay, who seems to cause my defence trouble every time we play them.
We haven’t played many games in the DFB Pokal, but we’ve quietly made our way through the draw. We were quite unlucky to draw Bundesliga side Koln in the second round, but fortunately beat them (before ironically, they beat us in the league a few days later to end our unbeaten run). A win against Karlsruhe has set up a lovely quarter final with Dortmund. We beat them 4-1 in the league, so I should be confident going into this game, but this is Football Manager, and it’s rarely that simple. Either way, I’m looking for trophies this season, so there’s no way I’m tanking the cups like I did with Bradford. We’re going all out for victory.
We’ve also been in action in the Europa League, a reward for the club’s performances last season. We drew a fairly easy group of Newcastle, Steau Bucharest and Anderlecht, and eased through the group, only losing to Newcastle 2-0 at St. James’ Park in one of those FM games where you dominate, but can’t finish, and the opposition gets two chances, and sticks them both away. Despite that, we finished off the group with two more wins, to draw Dnipro in the 1st Knockout round. Usually, I wouldn’t be too fussed about the Europa League, but for reasons I’m about to reveal, I would really, really like a good cup run.
As you can see, on the pitch, everything looks rosy. We’re actually challenging for a treble, and we’re sweeping away all the big teams not named Bayern, and coping with them well when we play them. So everything’s good right?
‘Financially, the club is in a good position’.
I could not have been more wrong. Have a look to the right, and see the utter nightmare that I’ve inherited from the morons in charge before me. I started the save with nearly £50M in the bank, and it’s whittled down to nothing as the season has gone on. We are predicted to still make £70M profit from the season, but this worries me. A lot.
As the season went on and it slowly declined, I presumed that it was a natural decline, before rising up again later (I don’t profess to be good at the financial side of Football Manager). However, it was when I decided to have a quick look at the contracts of all the players (most of whom have long contracts) that I realised why we were haemorrhaging cash. ALL of the players not only had their normal weekly wage, but also had massive appearance fees. This meant that on top of the normal wage, we were paying a couple of hundred thousand extra every week solely on appearance fees, a fact that is made even worse when you consider we’re in contention for three trophies!
When you look at the wage budget, you can see I’m doing my job properly. We’re £151K per week under budget, and that’s still with £12M still available to spend on transfers. I’ve done my job, but the utter financial idiots before me have really put this club in trouble. On top of the appearance fees, we were also paying off a bank loan at £313k every month, something which will continue until 2029! I still can’t figure out what on Earth this is even for, because there’s nothing in the plans that requires a loan, like facilities, or a new stadium. Nothing. We’ve just got a bank loan.
So, with this new information, I went to town and tried to solve these issues. Firstly, Kostas Stafylidis started talking about leaving the club. He’d been fantastic all season for us, but I am very much a proponent of the fact that on FM, you can always get better for cheaper elsewhere. Real Madrid and PSG were interested, and I negotiated a £20.5M sale with PSG. I have an irritating feeling I could have got more for Stafylidis (and the fans don’t like the sale), but it gave me the influx of cash that I needed to start looking at a few contracts. The vast majority have been renegotiated now to not include any appearance fees, and only players like Tielemans and Murillo still have them, who I simply can’t afford to renegotiate right now. Of course, Tielemans is fine. He’s our best player along with Hakan and I’m more than willing to spend to keep him here. I’m just not willing to spend ridiculous amounts to keep Joe Bloggs sitting on our bench and wasting money every time he comes on for a few minutes.
After that, it was time to make some transfers to sort out the rest of the mess. Firstly, Christoph Kramer was sold to Manchester United for £16M. He’d just been a backup to Lars Bender in the CM-D role all season, and had a massive appearance fee (Bender also had a £20,000 appearance fee, which was renegotiated). He’s also 28, and reaching the point where his value and ability will decline, so I’m happy to move him on. He’s played well this season, but the CM-D role is Lars Bender’s. Plus, I’d also signed the replacement for Bender earlier in the season, before I’d even noticed the financial issues.
Which is just as well, because I brought in Argentinian Daniel Vener on a free from Lanus. A good passer and tackler, with fantastic reading of the game. He’s not strong, but the CM-D role doesn’t require physical strength, but good pressing, good reading of the game, and a decent passing range out to the flanks. Vener has all of these things and at 22, still has time to develop. I still can’t believe I got him for nothing, and he’s also on a tiny wage. All in all good business. I’ve traded backups, made £16M, and much, much more in lower wages and less appearance fees.
Next up, goal shy striker Karim Ansarifard was shipped out to Spartak Moscow for what will eventually be £4M. It’s left us a little bare in the striker department, but I’m not willing to just splash cash on anyone just to give us backup, and I’ll take the risk with injuries. He was another with a big appearance fee, so I was happy to see him gone. Heung Min-Son and his £120,000 a week wages was also shipped off to Everton on loan, with them paying 50% of those wages. He also had £20k’s worth of appearance fees, so again, I’m happy to have him out of the club, at least for now.
With that, it was time to go shopping, albeit for one player. With the sale of Stafylidis, we were very low on quality at left back, and I was left with just utility man Gonzalo Castro.
Jose Luis Gaya was signed from Juventus for an eventual £19.25M, with £17.5M of it upfront. Much like Tielemans, Gaya was wasting away at Juventus as a rotational option, and was more than happy to come to Leverkusen. In an attempt to keep his wage down as low as possible and keep the club going, I’ve offered him half of any future fee, but that will be negotiated out as soon as I get the club back in shape. I really think I’ve upgraded here (the game doesn’t think so). Gaya is a better crosser, tackler, and reads the game well. The only area where he is significantly weaker is his aggression, which really doesn’t bother me. He’s started off well in his first couple of games, and looks to be a fantastic signing. He also looks more than capable of playing as a wing back, should I decide to move to 3 at the back down the line. I’m absolutely chuffed with this signing.
I’ll cover more tactical information in the next update, and show what is making the 4-3-1-2 so ridiculously effective, but for now the financial aspect of this save is far more pressing. Usually, I’d start to wander tactically now and think of next year’s plans, but I can’t afford to this time, and I have to put everything into making sure that the club recovers financially from the near sabotage that existed before I joined. A treble will go a long way towards recouping some of that lost money, but the most basic need is Champions League football next season. Even if I don’t win the Bundesliga, DFB Pokal, or Europa League, regular Champions League football will see us make that money back. That’s absolutely vital now.
I’ll update the save again at the end of the season, hopefully with everything recovered, and Leverkusen having at least qualified for the Champions League. Until then, thank you for reading, and as always, feel free to ask questions either in the comments section or on Twitter (@JLAspey).