R24Shirt1I’m sorry, I really am.

I’ll just say this quickly, and we’ll move on. The AC Milan save hasn’t stuck, and I’m not enjoying playing it. So, it’s been abandoned, but I’m back, back with a new save that I think is going to be a real challenge, and one that I think you’re really going to enjoy reading about. For a while I’ve been looking for a big challenge on FM16, something that I really feel is going to test me in terms of how I build a club. I wanted a team that was in real difficulty, with no money to buy players to get out of a hole. I wanted a project that I could build slowly, one that was similar to the situation David Moyes found himself in when he took over at Everton.

I also wanted the team to be English, because for some reason on FM16, I’ve garnered far more enjoyment out of playing in England than I ever have on Football Manager. I don’t know if it’s the increased familiarity because of my decreasing playing time nowadays, with inconveniences such as a career and a life, but England is now one of my favourite places to manage on FM, when it used to be a country I avoided like the plague.

So, I want a badly run club in dire need of transformation, and ripe for a long term project. I’d like there not to be a lot of money available (at least in the early going), and I’d like it to be English, ideally in the Premier League. 

If Aston Villa isn’t jumping out at you from that description, I’m stunned.

603Since Martin O’Neill left in 2010, Aston Villa have been in a steep decline, a decline that has culminated in their relegation this season, arguably the worst season to go down, with the new TV deal coming in from the start of next season, providing clubs with an injection of cash. The last time Villa won the league was in 1981, and they won the European Cup in 1982, defeating Bayern Munich in the final. Villa are a long, long way away from that at the moment, but the project is to return them to the top table in Europe though a slow process of progression every season, and a steady build up of the playing squad. In game, Randy Lerner is looking for a way out, and will ‘listen to offers’. As a result, there’s barely any money available, and the squad is mediocre at best. There are bright spots for sure, like a young Jack Grealish and striker Jordan Ayew, but really, that’s about it. Some players are on unbelievably inflated contracts, and sorting these out will be half the battle in the first season or so.

Two of those players are Charles N’Zogbia and Gabby Agbonlahor, who are both on a staggering £55k per week, combining to take up £110k of my wage budget, a quite frankly ridiculous sum for players of their quality (or lack therof). My first thought was to try and quickly get rid of both of their contracts, but, well….

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 10.28.34Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 10.29.21

Looks like I’m stuck with them. They’re happy to sit on the bench and take their £55k a week. Fortunately N’Zogbia’s contract only lasts until June of 2016, so if I can’t sell him it is at least short term pain. However as you can see, Agbonlahor’s contract runs until June 2018, and at this point in his career, Agbonlahor is basically just fast and strong. 9 for finishing is just not good enough for Premier League football. At some point I’m going to have to either negotiate that contract down, or better yet find a way to sell him. I’m not hopeful.

So, unable to gain extra funds for transfers through the market – or at least the freeing up of wage room – I adjusted the wage budget to give me £1.2M, and after assessing the squad, I decided the area we most desperately needed to spend was upfront, where I wanted a partner for Jordan Ayew. I’m intending to play a counter attacking 4-4-2 system with Grealish floating in from the left as a WP-A, and a classic DLF-S/AF-A front two partnership. With Ayew pencilled in to play the AF role, I went out into the market looking for a £1.2M bargain.

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 23.15.45

After much scouting, in came Diego Falcinelli from Sassuolo for £1.2M – plus an extra £100k in dribs and drabs over the next few years. He’s an all rounder, and looks like he should do a fantastic job for us at DLF-S. According to his scout report, he’s a professional player, and should adapt well to football in the Premier League. My scouts – some of whom don’t have the greatest stats for judging players –  rate him as a Championship player, but I really disagree with this. He should work very well next to Ayew, and with Rudy Gestede as our backup option, this was a badly needed transfer. I have no problem using Gestede as a backup or a Plan B, but that’s it.

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 09.49.26

Results through pre-season have been good, if not spectacular, but it has been quite clear that we’re going to rely heavily on the talent of young Jack Grealish throughout the season. A shocking 1-1 draw with Vasco CT was quickly followed up with a comfortable 3-0 win over Ajax CT, who helpfully played a possession focused game like their Dutch namesakes, allowing us to practice our counter attacking, scoring with goals from Falcinelli, N’Zogbia and Scott Sinclair. Next up was Partick Thistle, and another 3 goal performance, with two from Jordan Ayew, and another from Agbonlahor. Following that was Girona and again a 3 goal performance, with Ciaran Clark, Falcinelli and Agbonlahor getting the goals. Agbonlahor’s goal was a fantastic counter attacking goal, with Agbonlahor playing it inside to Gestede, who laid it off to Sinclair – playing the W-A role on the right flank – who hit the byline and crossed for Agbonlahor to tap in. It was exactly the kind of football I want to see when we hit the season proper, and what was pleasing to see was we had enough men back to not be exposed ourselves on the counter attack. Of course, it’s going to be less easy to carve open Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea, but still, the barebones are there.

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 10.37.56

Agbonlahor tapping in from Sinclair’s cross.

Our last Friendly was a 4-1 win over Milano Utd, where I largely started with backup players, and it really showed as we were 1-1 for some time, before I brought on Jack Grealish, who changed the game with his movement and passing from the WP-A role on the left side. The four goals came from Carles Gil, Agbonlahor, and Grealish bagged two himself, in what eventualy looked like a very easy win, but it just proves that we don’t have anywhere near the strength in depth that we need, and I fear we may struggle if Grealish picks up an injury. After all, N’Zogbia is my backup on his £55k per week. Falcinelli hasn’t exactly set the world on fire through pre-season either, and I’m really hoping he hits the ground running when we get to the season proper. We’re going to need goals wherever we can get them this season, and it’s probably going to be a struggle.

So for now, that’s all I can update you on. The in game season starts ‘tomorrow’ with an away trip to Man City, followed by Arsenal at home and Chelsea away. Yikes. If we can even get a couple of points out of those first few fixtures, I’ll be chuffed. I’ve also received word that FC Twente want Agbonlahor, so hopefully they make a bid. However, even if I manage to make a deal, I still doubt he accepts a wage cut. So until the next update, thank you very much for reading, and if you have any questions about this save, FM16, or why I simply can’t stick with a save this year, please feel free to ask either in the comments section or on Twitter (@JLAspey). Thank you for reading.

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