To read more about my managerial journey, check out #FM17: Jesjua Angoy-Cruyff
Today is the day. I finally take charge of my first professional match with Wigan! We’re playing away at Bristol City, who have been rated quite highly by some media outlets, so it should be a tough match. Honestly, after the limited pre-season we’ve had, I’m not sure if we’re ready for such a big match.
Only when I turned up at the office on my first day did I realise the depth of the problems at hand. While our training facilities and stadium are quite good – remnants from Wigan’s recent run in the top flight – there are a lot of structural problems.
Our youth program is stagnant, and we just don’t have a good enough scouting and coaching setup. I’ve managed scrounge together enough money to hire a couple of youth coaches and a chief scout (there hadn’t been one!), but it really hasn’t been a good summer on that front.
Another major problem is playing personnel. Despite a decent amount of talent – Stephen Warnock, Adam Bogdan, Jordi Gomez, Adam LeFondre and Will Grigg would walk into most Championship sides – there isn’t enough experienced depth in midfield and defence. Thus, against the recommendations of my coaches, I decided to try out a 4-2-3-1 in the hope of packing the midfield and safely stretching the wings.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t bring in any new players because of the absolute lack of money. The board were not even willing to stump up $50,000 for Diego Poyet – as a signing on fee for one of the best free agents out there! Bringing on the extra coaches and scouts has actually put me almost $10,000 dollars a year over budget.
Once I had done my best with the current backroom problems, including having to drastically reorder the coaches’ training schedules – they were willing to provide lower quality training just to reduce their own workload! – it was time to get down to friendlies.
First up was a basic get-to-know-your-squad match between the first team and the under-23s. In reality, it was mostly a first team squad workout, with a few youth players thrown in to make up the numbers. It was devastatingly poor. They struggled to maintain any semblance of smart possession, and completely failed to create meaningful attacks. In the end, the first team sneaked passed the under-23s through a cheeky LeFondre goal.
However, despite this abject performance, I was optimistic for our training camp in France. I was sure that after a couple of weeks of intense training sessions, they would come up with better performances away to AJ Auxerre and FC Chambley-Oise. The latter in particular was supposed to be a moral booster before our final matches against Feyenoord and Barrow at the end of the month.
In the end, the pre-season friendlies churned out some surprising, but dare I say heartening, performances and results. We managed a phenomenal come-from-behind 1-1 draw against Auxerre, with second half substitute Nick Powell competently finishing a great counter attack. We actually outplayed the Ligue 2 side for the majority of the match.
Of course, we then promptly went and squandered every chance we had against Chambley-Oise to come back with a frustrating 0-0 draw against the French minnows. I was beginning to think that our finishing and shot accuracy were going to be a large problem.
More worryingly, the team were struggling to adapt to the tactics and fitness levels I had demanded. That meant that I had to cancel our final friendly against Barrow to crowbar in some extra training sessions. The Feyenoord match suddenly took on an unprecedented level of importance.
The match turned out to be an absolute stormer for the neutrals, as the KNVB Cup champions raced into an early 2-0 lead, only to be pegged back to 2-2 by halftime. We were eventually overcome 4-2 by the final whistle, but I was incredibly heartened by the real resilience that ran through my side. We may have lost, but we also proved that we have the ability to take on the Championship. On another day, we might have come away with at least a draw.
In the end, the fans agreed with me. Our projected season ticket sales of 6500 were comprehensively beaten before the last week of July, when 7000 had already been sold. Unfortunately, the media felt that our summer had been ominous. During pre-season both the BBC and Mail Online predicted that we would survive by the skin of our teeth – something my board would not be happy about – but by opening day, we were tipped for relegation. I’m assuming my board would definitely not be happy about that.
Today, I have some pretty big decisions to make. We have a fairly decent defence (Bogdan, Burke and Daniels have really stood out) and an increasingly creative midfield (Wildschut in particular seems to be improving rapidly), but our strike force has been extremely disappointing. Grigg and LeFondre have been missing absolute sitters all summer, while my Plan B to use target man Craig Davies is in shambles after he was declared injured for at least three months.
My coaches have been pressuring me to switch to a 4-1-2-3 DM wide formation, and pull back from some of the expansive play I was hoping to implement. I agree with the need for parking the bus against Bristol City, but I am on the fence about the formation change. Tactically, it would not make much of a difference to the players who have been practicing both formations all summer, but I don’t want to back off from my ideas before a ball has even been kicked.
However, despite all the problems I have had to deal with, this has been an exhilarating 35 days. It’s time to move forward, and finally create a new, glorious chapter in the Cruyff family history!
Check out the previous article in the series, ‘A New Dawn‘