To read more about my managerial journey, check out #FM17: Jesjua Angoy-Cruyff
October 6 was supposed to be a day of remembrance; a day to meet old friends and celebrate old joys; a day to look forward with some positivity. After all, today was the day granddad’s book – My Turn – was being unveiled by Pep Guardiola and Uncle Jordi in London. I was supposed to be there too. Not on stage, obviously, but a part of the entourage. Instead, I was stuck in Wigan, trying to cheer up my charges.
It has actually been a promising start to the campaign. We are not pulling up any trees, but we are doing fine. My monthly job reviews at the end of August and September had gone swimmingly, but there are still some problems to sort out.
Our opening day fixture away at Bristol City had gone as I’d hoped. We managed to hold off the big dog and return with a hardly deserved point, courtesy of the most one-sided 0-0 draw you will see. Then, disaster struck. We somehow managed to lose, at home, to League One Hartlepool in the EFL Cup. Despite taking the lead, they managed to strike back with two goals in three minutes in the second half. Believe me, that was a dark day at the DW Stadium.
Soon after the Hartlepool humbling, we played Blackburn at home. They were the perfect antidote, as we raced into an early 4-0 lead, eventually finishing the match at 4-2. We repeated the trick a couple of weeks ago, when an early 4-0 lead against Wolves eventually finished at 4-3. Neither game was particularly close, but it did point to a troubling problem; our complete inability to keep a clean sheet.
Our disjointed defence meant that we threw away valuable points at home to Birmingham City, away at Nottingham Forest, at home against the terribly disorganized QPR, and away to Sheffield Wednesday. We only managed to pick up two points from that run, when I had planned for at least six. Unfortunately, our performances barely merited even those two points. In addition to our stumbling defence, even our attack had started to fail.
While Will Grigg had managed to pick up the slack (aided by the spectacularly named Max Power), Adam LeFondre was struggling and Craig Davies was still injured. Then, right before our toughest match so far against promotion favourites Norwich City, Grigg got himself injured. I finally caved to my coaches suggestions and switched to a 4-1-2-3 DM Wide, but it didn’t exactly work. We got trounced 3-0, and it could’ve been a lot more.
Luckily, Grigg’s injury was not serious, and he was back in contention for our next match against fallen giants Fulham. The Londoners themselves had been going through their own crisis, and it was a relief to finally meet a manager who was under more pressure than I was.
However, I still had problems to fix. Morale was at an all time low, and my tactics were clearly not working. We were on the brink of a rut, and we needed a drastic change. My coaches were at a loss, and kept promoting patience. They weren’t panicking, because their jobs weren’t on the line. Mine was.
In a moment of blinding, and slightly reckless, inspiration, I sent the boys out in an untested and untrained 4-4-2 with both LeFondre and Grigg sharing the scoring duties. Despite the rustiness that comes with playing an unfamiliar formation, we still managed to eke out a 3-2 victory, after falling behind twice. Both LeFondre and Grigg scored, and even Jordi Gomez finally got going with a sumptuous 30-yard free kick. Life was looking good, until Grigg limped out of the match. The only senior striker at my disposal was the stuttering LeFondre.
My coaches, as usual, advocated a shift back to the completely ineffective 4-1-2-3 DM Wide formation. I was beginning to get really frustrated with their lack of ability, but there just wasn’t any money in the budget to make any structural staff changes. With no new players, one striker, and an outdated staff, I was left with an impossible choice: stick to the new, dominant 4-4-2, or revert to the old, stumbling tactics.
In the end, I stuck with the new formation for our trip to Preston North End. I chose Power as our second striker because he seemed to be the only other player who could finish, as attested to by his team-high 3 strikes. It turned out to be a masterstroke, as we dominated the match and Power was our best player. But, as any fan on the street could tell you, domination doesn’t get you points. Goals do, and the only goal of the game went to our Preston.
It was a bittersweet vindication, as the result had created a sense of mutiny among my coaches. I was only able to quell the discontent by appealing to David Sharpe, who quickly pointed out that he would rather be rid of the entire coaching staff then let go of me. That shut them up quick, but I still had to find a compromise as long as Davies and Grigg were still injured.
In the end, I plumped for another new formation – a 4-4-1-1 with Power and Gomez popping in and out of the hole behind the striker. While results were mixed – it led to the aforementioned 4-3 victory over Wolves, plus a 2-1 defeat at Brentford – it was clear that performances were getting better. Our defence was finally gelling, as loanee keeper Adam Bogdan’s consistency is being replicated by young, upstart right back Donervon Daniels. Our midfield trio of Power, Gomez and Alex Gilbey are creative and solid, while LeFondre seems to be fulfilling the promise he undoubtedly possesses.
I suppose I could have gone to London for the unveiling of the book. After all, it is an international weekend and no one would have begrudged me the nostalgic trip. However, my players and staff had agreed to train overtime to master the 4-4-1-1, and it would have been a betrayal of their hard work.
So here I am, dripping wet because of a torrential Thursday evening shower, watching my mutinous coaches attempt to teach my depleted squad a new formation. I had to hold a team meeting yesterday to boost the morale of a team who are used to winning rather than staving off relegation, and I’ve just been informed that some of my squad midfielders are grumbling about a lack of opportunities.
I couldn’t be happier.