Well, I’m back, finally.
I apologise I’ve been inactive throughout the first couple of months of FM17. I’ve recently begun a training course in order to become a fully fledged History Teacher, and it has taken up so much of my time that I’ve been unable to play FM very often. However, I’m back now – thank you Christmas holidays – and I’ve got a new save to write about, the save that for some reason seems to be one of the more difficult saves you can take on in FM17. Many have tried and failed – and according to SI’s figures, many have been sacked – so it’s my turn to take on the challenge. As I’m sure you have guessed by the subtle title of this post, I’m taking on the Everton Project… and for the first time, you all get to see my lovely face in these updates – complete with odd ‘Scarface’ mark on ‘my’ left side, and weird face matching. It’s close enough.
These updates will be monthly, much like the Aston Villa updates (I’m beyond annoyed I never finished that season) on FM16. The main reason for this is I feel I can really delve into the story with monthly updates, and you as the reader get a better feel for the story and the ups and down of a season. If I just update every half-season, I often find myself forgetting the ‘downs’, and for me, that’s what makes the story. I’ve had so many comments that one of the best articles I’ve posted on this blog was the first Napoli update, where I basically outlined all the cock ups I’d made with the team, before laying out my plan to fix them.
So why Everton? Well, largely because I’m a show off, and I want the challenge. The challenge of managing Villa was the only reason I chose to manage them last year, and I loved it. According to SI’s figures, more human managers are sacked from Everton than any other British club in the game. This makes sense when you think about it. They’ve just had a new owner come in with high expectations, but they’ve just had a distinctly average season under Roberto Martinez. They’ve also lost John Stones, and the squad has some massive holes, which I will need to fix quickly. This isn’t just a human manager issue either, and many managers have reported Everton being relegated in the first season. No pressure then, eh?
I’ll quickly mention that I haven’t done the same as Iain Macintosh and Alex Stewart in disabling transfers. I appreciate the challenge, but I’m not suicidal!
My first steps were to review the playing squad, and get an idea of how I want to play. There’s very talented players in the squad like Romelu Lukaku, Gerard Deulofeu, Kevin Mirallas, Yannick Bolasie – who tore my Villa side to shreds last year – Leighton Baines, Sheamus Coleman and Ross Barkley. However, there’s also gaping holes, and a lot of sheer averageness. Very clearly though, the building blocks are there – even if they can be very inconsistent.
Other steps are made, particularly replacing a couple of fitness coaches and physiotherapists. I also negotiated a new contract for Ross Barkley, tying him up until 2020. I find Barkley to be too much of a headless chicken at times, and very similar to Steven Gerrard – I don’t mean that in a good way – but he’s undoubtedly a talented player, and I see him as a key member of the midfield moving forward…
…Just not the controller of the midfield. That role will go to new signing Daniele Baselli who joins from Torino for a cut price £9.25M, a bargain shown by his in game value of £14.25M. He has the vision and passing ability I’m looking for, and has the lovely PPM of ‘tries killer balls often’, which should make him a real creative threat in midfield. Taking the creative reigns away from Barkley should allow him to really flourish and get forward. In that sense, I’m looking for him to be Lampard-esque, being the goalscoring threat from midfield, and supporting Lukaku upfront.
Another glaring weakness was at right back. Ingeniously, with Seamus Coleman out injured, Ronald Koeman decided it was a good idea to loan out all promising young right backs. Great idea, but this meant I had no-one to play right back going into the first game of the season against Stoke. Therefore, I returned to Italy and signed Andrea Conti from Atalanta for £3.8M. He’s intended to be just a backup to Coleman, and to fill in for the Irishman until he returns in 3-6 weeks, but his early performances have been absolutely outstanding.
The last obvious weakness was centre back, with Ashley Williams the only option I really trusted there, along with the ageing Jagielka and Funes Mori. Therefore, as an early insurance policy, I returned to Italy – I promise you I’m not just signing Italians – and signed Edoardo Goldaniga from Palermo for £11M, taking my Summer spending to a hefty £24.somethingM (although this was offset by the £7M and £2.5M sale of Tom Cleverley and Baye Niasse respectively). All three are young and Italian and should fit nicely into the system that I want to play. I’ll cover the system itself when I’m sure that it’s going to be the system moving forward, rather than spending a long time describing it, before having it go to pieces once we start the competitive league games. So, how has pre-season gone?
Well, results and performances through pre-season have been promising. A – eventually – comfortable 5-0 win over Warriors FC from Singapore was followed by a 3-1 victory over former European giants Stade de Reims, with goals from Oviedo and Bolasie. We then effortlessly beat Bremen 4-1 at Goodison Park, with Lukaku opening the scoring, and Barkley scoring two from midfield, really looking suited to his new role, before Mirallas made it four before half time. This was then followed up by another four goal performance against De Graafschap of Holland, with pacey winger Aaron Lennon giving us the lead in the 9th minute, before two from Bolasie and another from Funes Mori gave us a fourth straight comfortable win.
Next up was Wayne Rooney’s Testimony, and to say thanks to the former Everton player, I put out our strongest current lineup of (in a 4-3-3 system):
Stekelenburg; Conti, Williams, Goldaniga, Baines; Gueye, Barkley, Baselli; Deulofeu, Bolasie, Lukaku.
Yeah, I was there to spoil Wayne’s party. That’ll teach him to leave Merseyside. Traitor. We actually took the lead through Bolasie in the 55th minute, but United had to go and ruin my spoiling party by equalising through Lingard, and then taking the lead through Fellaini to win 2-1, and send the Old Trafford faithful – and Rooney – home happy. However, I was more than happy with the performance, and we had several chances that on another day we could have finished to win the game. If we can perform like that in the league, we’ll have absolutely no issues this season.
Barkley tucks in his second against Werder Bremen to make it 3-0 to the Toffees.
Speaking of this season, all I’m really looking for is a comfortable top half finish. I don’t expect us to be pushing for Europe at this point, but somewhere from 10th upwards would do me nicely, and give me a good foundation with which to build for the coming seasons. Fingers crossed, that should be enough to keep my job. However, I know not to take anything for granted with Everton. I’ve seen how quickly things can turn. My only slight concern is Lukaku hasn’t exactly been banging them in throughout pre-season, but then I’ve been careful with how I’ve used him, aware we’re going to rely on him this season. The goalscoring output from the wingers and from midfield has been promising, and tactically, we’re looking good so far.
So that’s all I can update you on at this point. I will update again at the end of August, and we open our campaign with three games against Stoke, Bournemouth and Crystal Palace – with only the Bournemouth game being at Goodison – most of which I would expect positive results from. There’s also a League Cup – I refuse to call it anything else – game to navigate in there, and the transfer window to see out. As long as we hold on to key players – Lukaku in particular – I’m very happy with the squad for this season. Only injuries or tactical issues would force me to make any further signings. So until then, thank you very much for reading, and it’s good to be back! If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments section of this blog, or contact me on Twitter (@JLAspey).