Well, the first full season in the Red Star Belgrade save has been completed, so once again it’s time to update you all on how we’ve been doing, and whether we managed to complete the work we’d started in the first half of the season, and win the first Yugoslavian Premier Liga of this save. At the very least, qualification for European football is paramount, in order to bring in the money that European football provides, in order to help improve the club, and continue to be able to sign (and hold onto) the best Yugoslavian players in world football. With the 8 point lead we had at the midpoint of the season, that should have been the very least we achieved, and quite frankly, to not win the league from that position would have been ridiculous.
So, did we finish the job? Was the first season of this save a success?
Of course we did, and yes it was. I’d have been disgusted had we not won the league from the position we were in. Not only did we win the league, but we increased our lead at the top to a massive 15 points, meaning that we won the league with weeks to spare. The natural order of things in Yugoslavia did recover itself towards the end of the season, and the top 5 includes the historical top 4 of Yugoslavia, Red Star, Partizan, Hadjuk and Dinamo. It must be said that Hadjuk and Dinamo have made fantastic recoveries over the second half of the season, with Hadjuk managing to achieve European qualification, and Dinamo finishing 5th (after having their squad decimated by transfers).
We continued our fantastic scoring prowess from the first half of the season, and ended the season scoring 69 goals in 38 games. However, it was our defensive record that massively improved – as I felt it would when all the games evened themselves out – and we ended the season with the best defensive record in the league, with only 25 goals conceded in those 38 games. I’d worried that we were leaking goals in the first half of the season, but we certainly improved – along with the statistical imbalance righting itself – throughout the second half, with my standard back 4 of Stojkovic, Jovanovic, Kosnic and Ibanez performing fantastically. I still think it can be improved next season though (Kosnic particularly), but I’ll discuss this later in the update.
It hasn’t been an easy second half of the season though. It began with the January transfer window, and I faced a battle to retain my best players, particularly Marko Grujic and Luka Jovic. Grujic remained loyal despite bids of over £3M (I might have sold were there a decent Yugoslav alternative at the moment) and never once wanted to leave, but Jovic’s head was turned by approaches from PSG, Juventus, Napoli, Real Madrid and Barcelona. Again, I would have sold him, however Jovic was owned 70% by his agent, meaning that I was receiving bids of only £90k for our 30% stake. Considering how good Jovic is, and how important he had been for Red Star until this point, there was no way I was going to sell him.
I then made these transfers, allowing players who weren’t getting game time, and weren’t part of my plans for next season, to leave. None of these transfers are for particularly big fees, but they free up wage room, give us a little bit of transfer budget, and more importantly provide space for the youth prospects I’m going to be bringing into the first team next season. With these funds, I was able to make the massive step of acquiring all of Luka Jovic for £1.4M (although most of that was taken out of the club’s funds, to my surprise). It’s a big outlay for one player at this point in the save, but considering what I could make for Jovic down the line (or how good he could be if I can keep him at Red Star), I see it as more than worth it.
I also almost lost star midfielder Mihailo Ristic, when our Chairman decided to accept a bid of £2.1M from Dinamo Moscow, a fee far below his value. He dominates our midfield play, and is undoubtedly a £5M pound player. He’s crucial to my plans moving forward, and after protesting the transfer and telling the Chairman that squad morale would decline, and the quality of the team would be massively affected by the loss of Ristic, he fortunately cancelled the transfer, and I managed to hold onto him.
These transfers (I also have a future transfer arranged for Mamadou Mbodj for £875k which doesn’t show up in the above graphic) meant that the squad was a little light towards the end of the season, especially with injuries and suspensions (I was extremely delighted with my decision to sign Filip Stojkovic when the club’s only other right back Marko Petkovic went down with damaged cruciate ligaments, and would be out for several months). However, we managed to battle our way through it, keeping the core 11, whilst rotating in squad players, who all did well within our system.
When I last updated, we were still in the Yugoslavian Liga Cup (although we’d gone of out of the Yugoslav Cup) and I had every intention of winning the competition. So did we manage it?
Yes, we went all the way and won the Liga Cup. I saw reaching the final as a minimum requirement after we went out of the Yugoslav Cup, and fortunately I didn’t have to rotate the side too much in order to progress in this competition. Our run to the final wasn’t overly difficult, although I was disappointed to draw Hadjuk in the Quarter Finals, we easily dealt with them 3-1. We stumbled through in the Semis, defeating Sutkeska Niksic 2-1 after extra time, before facing our biggest competition so far in Rijeka. I needn’t have worried though as two first half goals from Luka Jovic gave us a 2-0 lead, and although Rijeka pulled one back in the second half, we were never really threatened, winning the final and giving us a double in our first season. Considering we’ll have Europe as the next challenge next season, I’m extremely happy with this as the return for our first season in Yugoslavia.
Around this time, I usually do a top 3 players of the season, and this season will be no different. It must be said that there’s several players that played fantastically all season that haven’t made it into this top 3. So, honourable mentions go to Vukasin Jovanovic, Luis Ibanez, Mihailo Ristic and Srdjan Plavsic.
3. Luka Jovic
First up is Luka Jovic. At 17, and just turned 18, Jovic was our joint top scorer this season, a fantastic return for someone of his age. He led the line superbly in the Advanced Forward role, and tore the league up in the early stages. He then attracted massive attention from the big clubs in Europe, as I’ve mentioned above. After this, his goalscoring really slowed down, presumably as he became distracted by the attention he was receiving. He recovered towards the end of the season after I’d managed to sign 100% of his contract and found his goalscoring boots again, but he could have scored so much more than the 24 goals he ended up with. He was still undoubtedly an important player for us this season, but halfway through, he would have been Number 1 in this list. Nevertheless, he still ended the season with 24 goals, and a 7.44 match average.
2. Filip Stojkovic
Our second best player this season was our right back Filip Stojkovic. Signed at the start of the season from Čukarički for £400k, he’s absolutely dominated games from right back, and was a real difference maker. He ended the season with our highest average rating, scoring a 7.91 across the entire season, a fantastic return for a full back. He chipped in with 3 goals, and supplied 14 assists for our strikers from his fantastic crossing. His value currently stands at £750k, showing the 400k I signed him for to be an absolute bargain. Fortunately there’s been no interest as of yet for his services, and he will be a key player as I plan for next season.
1. Slavoljub Srnic
Very much under the radar, our best player this season has been Slavoljub Srnic. Playing in our important Trequartista role upfront, he proved to be the creative force I wanted him to be. Not only was he our top assister with 18 assists for the season, but he was also our joint top goalscorer with Luka Jovic, scoring 24 for the season. Directly contributing to 42 of our goals show how essential he is for us, and he was indirectly involved in many more than that. Again, he’s managed to go under the radar, and I’ve not had any of Europe’s clubs after him, but I fear that may chance in the Summer, like many of my top players (my entire first team is now ‘wanted’). However, he will be a key part of my plans moving forward, and hopefully I can hold onto him, like the majority of my young stars. He finished the season with a 7.57 average rating.
These ‘might’ change for next season.
But now, it’s time to look forward to next season, and I have plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Firstly, I made it through this season without having to give away any of my talented young Yugoslavians, and secondly, the board has given me a lovely £2M budget with which to build next season (although I’ll have to pump some of this into wages). I also plan to bring some talented young players through into the first team such as Daniel Avramovski, and sign more young Yugoslavs from around the league.
I also intend to evolve tactically. I’m very happy with the 4-3-1-2, but I think I can be a bit more experimental, especially in the league. At the time of writing, the footballing legend Johan Cruyff has just recently passed away, and I’d love to create something heavily inspired by his footballing vision. Perhaps I should go all out and attempt to recreate his 3-4-3 system that he used with Barca’s fabled ‘Dream Team’? I do think I have the players to attempt this system in some form. Either way, we’ve qualified for the Champions League qualifying phases as a result of our league finish, and I’d love to return Red Star to the competition, but I’m aware it may be a little too soon at this point. The key is to keep building the squad, develop tactically, and retain the key young players that are going to take this team back to the top of Europe, players like Ristic, Grujic, Stojkovic, Srnic and Jovic.
So, that’s all I can update on at his point, so until the update at the beginning of Season 2, thank you very much for reading, and as always should you have any questions about Red Star, Yugoslavia, or anything else in general, please don’t hesitate to contact me in the comments section, or on Twitter (@JLAspey). Again, thank you for reading, and I’ll be back soon!