Thanks for finding your way to my tiny slice of the FM world.
With 80 games down in a season and two pieces of silverware for Palmeiras and a Brazilian manager of the year title, I was slumped back in the chair – in a virtual sense. It was an exhausting campaign and the prospect of going around again was not feeling that attractive.
I’d noticed my manager reputation had increased in the game and a return to the comparatively more relaxed schedule of Europe sounded like the right option to me.
So my agent started sending me the available jobs list and two opportunities jumped out Las Palmas and Valencia. 16th and 15th respectively in La Liga. The feet got itchy and not long after the end of the season I was in Spain for talks.
By the 17th of December, I was picking out apartments in Valencia as the replacement for Jurgen Klopp just five days after completing the season with Palmeiras. The board had requested a top half finish which seemed entirely reasonable based on the history of the club and its available talent.
Of course the timing meant I was thrust into the role with the transfer window almost on top of us. This meant we had to hit the ground running with identifying our needs and managing the outs. With a transfer budget of 30m and a healthy wage budget of 1.6m per week, there was plenty to work with.
Jose Gaya’s transfer was arranged before I had arrived so I merely joined his farewell tour. Nani and Diego Alves were earning significant wages that were not justifiable. We moved them on whilst contributing a portion of their wage for the next year. Dani Parejo went based on his age and payment well over value but was ultimately unplanned. Cancelo was a frustrating and unplanned move, money talks though. Aderllan Santos was an aging centre back that we were able to get value for.
We certainly paid the price for buying in January, although with 30m to spend plus the large part of our sales we nailed our targets. Figgy (or Afonso Figueiredo as he is actually known in the game) cam in as Gaya’s replacement at left back with Mattiello on the other side replacing Cancelo. Luigi Sepe looked a solid back up to replace Alves but ended up playing quite a bit after a Mat Ryan injury.
Michy Batshuayi was on the transfer list at Chelsea and was able to add to our depth up front for a reasonable price. Ergys Kace is a nasty little bugger to play in midfield and came across after triggering his minimum release clause.
The final two – cliche bingo time – are for the future and for now. A late check of the transfer list revealed Dembele was out of favour at Dortmund and with quality lacking on the right we pulled the trigger. Fingers were crossed that he could be a key man in our future drive up the table. Kalaica looked a promising young centre half and with some aging options at the position we were able to shake him loose.
At the time it sounded all very positive. We hadn’t quite replaced the quality at the full back spots but there were options throughout the squad.
What transpired was a very tricky half of a season and one which almost saw me light my career on fire.
The team was completely devoid of confidence and familiarity with any system. The only type of momentum we had was losing momentum. We juggled and tried a number of different looks, 4-2-3-1 Narrow to begin with. A 4-2-3-1 with the central midfield dropped back to the DM strata, a 4-3-1-2 attacking formattion and finally we lobbed on something roughly like a 4-4-2 but with a midfielder dropped back and a shadow striker sitting off. The aim back to just being hard to beat.
This system made its debut against Las Palmas.
We were still in a relegation dogfight through but we had enough about us in the last 7-8 games to stay up. The two wins against Levante and Villareal were the difference makers. Roman Eremenko scored three of the four goals in these games playing as the shadow striker. We were safe going into the last match.
So after coming from such a high in Brazil, the first six months of Spain was humbling. The major lesson I took was that tactical familiarity was vital. Just plugging in what appeared to be solid players was not going to be enough here.Preseason was to be vital in this regard. We were going to work very hard on learning two formations. The 4-4-2 variant that seemed to work and the old 4-1-2-3 faithful from Penafiel days.
We’d also invest in coaching and scouting to make sure we took advantage of the resources the club had to offer. There couldn’t be any hint of a repeat, I knew what these owners were like!