Football Manager Stories #2 – “Rangers” (2014)

Welcome to Football Manager Stories where we look back at the saves that made us love Sports Interactive’s management sim. We have another from Eion Smith as he details his Rangers save from the previous FM…

Rangers Football Club are a hateful club. I despise everything about them yet for some reason they are an enjoyable team to use on recent editions of Football Manager. My first experience of them was my favourite save of FM12 when they were on the brink of financial meltdown but still had the squad to compete. A couple of seasons and some inspired tranfers (Nigel Hasselbaink was a goalscoring machine for just £800,000) saw me get them back to the top of Scottish football. So, what harm would their be if I started one in FM14? Climbing through the leagues with a squad of overpaid and slightly average players to clear out has never been so much fun.

League One – 2013/14 – Finding Our Feet

I began the save with the cruel realisation that Rangers were under a transfer embargo for the summer window and – to make matters worse – at least half of my squad were ineligible until after deadline day meaning that 3 of my 4 key men I’d identified (Nicky Law, Cammy Bell and Jon Daly). This left me down to the bare bones and with little choice but to play youngsters in the opening games of the season; perhaps softened by the fact they were around Championship quality in League One. The early signs were promising too. August was almost perfect (a League Cup Second Round 1-0 reverse against Dundee United the only blip) as many of the young players performed well above expectations. Callum Gallagher and Junior Ogen scored while Kyle McAusland and Luca Gasparotto proved to be reliable at the back. Further forward there was better news as Andy Little began the season red hot with a hat trick at Stranraer. There was some bad news as young midfielder Lewis McLeod forced a move to Ipswich Town for £150,000 while Liam Kelly joined Clyde on loan for the season as everybody else remained at the club.

September saw the introduction of the big names and immediately they were humiliated 1-0 at East Fife. The next three games were comfortable wins including a 2-0 defeat of Championship side Livingston at Ibrox in the Challenge Cup as the new faces settled in. The turn of the month saw the side hit a rough patch as a 0-0 home draw with Stenhousemuir was followed up by a 4-0 humiliation by Dunfermline to leave us third at the start of October. One thorough dressing down later, we made it to the Challenge Cup final and started to string league wins together (6 in a row following the East End Park debacle) before our first cup final.

In what will go down as the most embarrassing moment in Rangers history, they were stunned 2-0 by Airdrie at Hampden Park despite dominating the game. The League One side defended stoutly then hit us on the break to devastating effect in one of the most beautifully effective game plans ever produced on FM. It was a tough one to swallow especially considering the mismatch between both sides. Yet again though, defeat prompted an immediate response – wins were coming easily with an Andy Little goal an almost certainty in each game and Nicky Law and Fraser Aird coming into their own while young Irishman Eoin Wearen joined on a free to add some depth in the midfield.

As was the way with the season, every two steps forward saw one step back. A 2-0 half time lead was lost at Stenhousemuir for our third defeat of the season and yet another disappointment while there were rumblings of discontent as one of the players of the season, Fraser Aird, was looking for a way out. Still, we recovered and rolled into January with Aird unhappy but grabbing a hat trick in the first game of 2014 (in what would be his last game for Rangers) and we moved into transfer dealings.

January saw continued success with little transfer movement. Aird left for Manchester City in a swap deal for Alex Nimely who was the answer to my striking problems. Jon Daly had only grabbed one goal all season (he would add a brace against Arbroath in February) while Nicky Clark got some goals but had a tendency not to show up on occasions. Nimely was young and determined and gave us something new.

The turn of the year also flipped some kind of switch as the team suddenly began to perform. Young players were the main men with Gasparotto, McAusland and Robbie Crawford all playing starring roles in the side led by Bell, Law, Lee Wallace and top scorer Little as we won 16 of our final 18 games (the other two were defeats to Dunfermline near the end of the season and Dundee United in the Scottish Cup Fifth Round) as we strolled to the League One title and promotion to the Championship.

Andy Little was the League One Player of the Year and Top Scorer with 21 in 29 games as well as making the League One Team of the Year alongside Nicky Law who got 14 goals and 12 assists from midfield. Lee Wallace won Fans Player of the Year with 7.50 rating in 35 appearances while the Best XI read as follows:

Best XI 2013-14

Special mentions go to my three favourite players from the season – Luca Gasparotto, Robbie Crawford and Kyle McAusland. Gasparotto looked like a legend in the making, Crawford was the unstoppable force in midfield while McAusland looked like my right back for years to come.

Championship – 2014/15 – Domination

Wary of second season syndrome, I headed into the Championship campaign expecting tougher tasks ahead. I was happy with the squad overall but needed to remove some deadwood while Barrie McKay returned from an OK loan spell at Morton to much excitement from me. The youth intake had been relatively kind throwing up a couple of interesting prospects such as winger Sandy Weatherston and the two David’s – Martin and Harris – in the centre of the park.

The transfer window opened with the pre-contract arrival of Jermaine Grandison from Shrewsbury who was in to provide over for McAusland while there a number of releases including backup keepers Scott Gallacher and Steve Simonsen youngsters Callum Gallagher and Kristian Gibson and experienced pair Dean Shiels and Richard Foster. A bunch of young player left on loan including Martin to Stranraer as well as a number of our exciting strikers such as Ben Craig and Derek Wilson and last season’s signing Eoin Wearen (whom had not performed at all) shipped out to Burton. The major news came after just one game of the season when Gasparotto announced that he wanted to leave the club. A £1,100,000 bid was accepted from Ligue 1 side Stade Lavallois and the Canadian centre back was gone. Jon Daly was sold on for £100,000 to Sheffield United, Bilel Mohsni went to Danish side Odense for £50,000 while Honduras midfielder Arnold Peralta moved to the Middle East and Saudi side Al-Fateh for £150,000. It was a busy window with many leaving the club but we had a good squad for the season ahead.

The season opened with two cup wins including a revenge win over Airdrie in the Challenge Cup before the first Championship game against relegated Partick Thistle. Anticipating a tough game, I picked a strong team and was surprised to see a 3-0 saunter be the result. The team continued on with this ease – a 7-0 win away at Livingston including David Templeton’s coming out hat trick (a player who has been very, very average throughout) and a 4-1 win at Falkirk the big results. Progress was found in the cups too as we cruised through to the later stages of the Challenge Cup again and progressed to the Fourth Round of the League Cup with a win over Kilmarnock.

Things were going well with an unbeaten start heading into to October and the likes of McKay, Law, Little and Templeton playing superbly and Grandison settling in superbly. Young winger Darren Ramsay had also found himself on the pitch more with each impressive performance while Nimely was threatening to explode. However, Nimely’s promise would be cut short as a broken foot picked up just minutes into the Kilmarnock win ruled him out until after Christmas. It was a huge blow but gave opportunities to youngsters Jamie Burrows and Ben Reilly.

The Rangers train kept on rolling though and kept on winning too. Only four points were dropped in the league until mid-November when we had what would be our last chance to win the Challenge Cup. We faced old foes Dunfermline but were way too strong for the side who had missed out on promotion last season and ran out 4-0 winners for the first silverware of the season. And the run kept going after hitting 2015 undefeated with only three league draws all season.

The undeafeated streak had gathered pace as teams were being steamrolled with ease. The first game of 2015 saw another demolition trip to Livingston as they were destroyed 6-0 and we progressed through the cups with ease too. After a transfer window of nothingness, we’d reached the League Cup final against Celtic after a 3-1 semis win our first season foe Dundee United but before we faced Celtic at Hampden, we had to travel to Parkhead for the Scottish Cup quarter finals. Missing Bell through injury, we succumbed 5-2 in the end but still gave Celtic enough of a fright to be encouraged.

Two weeks later though, all would change. A tight League Cup final saw the Old Firm clash with Rangers holding firm until the 86th minute when Ian Black’s penalty put us a goal up. Emilio Izaguirre equalised almost immediately and the game went to penalties where everyone apart from Celtic’s Raul Meireles scored to crown Rangers the League Cup winners of 2015. It was an incredible win and, for the first time that season, totally undeserved.

The title had been secured by that point too which made the 3-2 defeat to Raith that much more disappointing as it proved to be our only defeat of the season as we finished top of the Championship by a whole 35 points. We had 93 in total with only 15 goals conceded in the league. It was a remarkable season and one which we might not repeat again but we had done what we needed to do.

Lee Wallace was again Fans Player of the Year while Nicky Law was the Championship Player of the Year with 10 goals and 14 assists in his 31 games. There was still no Manager of the Year though as the other promoted side’s boss got the award again while Team of the Year only contained Law, Little and Barrie McKay. Our Best XI looked like this:

Best XI 2014-15

The star men from last season were not as prominent with McAusland now usurped by the superb Grandison who had proved to be a revelation at right back. Ian Black began running the show in midfield while Faure, Law and Little were superb as always. The best player for me was Barrie McKay who returned from a loan spell and really kept David Templeton out of the side and improved drastically too.

Premiership – 2015/16 – Glory

The step up in class saw a lot of players and especially young players shifted on and better quality lined up to replace them. Winger Wellington Silva was brought in on a pre-contract from Arsenal and he was quickly followed by Belgian centre back Christian Kabasele from Genk for the first fee I’d splashed out (only £86,000).  The youth intake did not contain as high a quality with only striker Ian Lumsden really piquing my interest. Many were shifted out on loan including exciting prospects such as defender George Lindsay, Steven Bonar and Tom Walsh while Eoin Wearen was sent on loan to Dundee and Darren Ramsay to Cowdenbeath. Squad players Ross Perry, Stevie Smith and Alan Smith were the only permanent departures as their contracts ended.

Our return to the top tier began with a 3-0 win away at St. Mirren and we remained undefeated through the first few games but drew too many. Nicky Law had been superb while young midfielder Andy Murdoch began to break into the side and Wellington Silva was showing promise. One man who was on the way out was Alex Nimely who now could barely put together a decent performance while Kyle McAusland had begun to show the ill discipline that would make him a liability.

The concerns grew deeper after losing at Celtic 3-1 then crashing out of the League Cup on penalties in the Third Round to Hibernian. The step up was showing and after Ross County outplayed us at Ibrox, words were needed and another dressing down was needed. The players responded magnificently, winning 8 in a row (7 in the league) before another defeat to Celtic on Boxing Day. The midfield was covering for our strikers as the goals were spread around as Nimely and Nicky Clark struggled to score consistently (or at all in Nimely’s case). Little, Law, McKay, Templeton and Silva were our main goal threats while Kabasele had proven lethal from the penalty spot.

The good form was also in part to the personnel changes made in the team. The squad was energized by the promotion of young players – Jordan Hamill (an all action English midfielder); Andy Murdoch (the deep playmaker); Danny Stoney (free scoring attacking midfielder); Jamie Mills (younger Lee Wallace) and Greg Pascazio (Scottish centre back) – and the freedom and confidence with which they played. We got to the turn of the year near the top and looked to strengthen the squad in January making the free tranfer signings of Portugese playmaker Marcos Lopes and English striker Matt Smith while losing the incredibly talented young midfielder Jamie Moore to Chelsea for £5,000,000.

Both played only bit parts in the run-in from January as we began winning games apart from the odd slips here and there (third defeat to Celtic included) but we benefited from better consistency than Celtic as we battled at the top. Matt Smith proved to be more useless than Nimely up front while Lopes’ signing angered Danny Stoney who had been an impact player campaigning for more time. A 7 game winning streak from the beginning of March won us the title and was culminated by a 3-1 Old Firm win at Ibrox to secure the title – avenging the penalties defeat in the Scottish Cup semi finals. It was a glorious end to the season ruined by the two defeats in the last two games thanks to youngsters playing including a 7-2 hammering at St. Mirren.

Lee Wallace was Fans Player of the Year for the third year running while Nicky Law picked up Football Writer’s Player of the Year and left back Jamie Mills was named Under 19 Player of the Year. I was named Premiership and Writer’s Manager of the Year too while David Templeton (who had his only good season), Law and Sebastian Faure were in Team of the Year. Here is our Best XI for the season:

231670_2014-11-19_00003

Special mentions for this season go to Andy Murdoch, Jordan Hamill and Jermaine Grandison. Murdoch and Hamill came in a third of the way through the season and completely took over from Crawford and Black, an upgrade in just their formative senior careers. They were incredible in high pressure situations and helped us win the title while Grandison was out of this world at right back especially as McAusland struggled at Premiership level.

2016/17 – Second Season Syndrome

Champions. Still without huge piles of cash though and a huge wage bill thanks to a grand total of nearly 90 players across all teams. Ruthlessness was the order of business as people were shunted out the door to make way for better players. Youngster Bob Pearce had been released for being rubbish and complaining about first team football so there was no sentimentality going into the season. Exciting prospects Jamie Burrows, Ben Reilly and Charlie Telfer had not progressed so were released. Eoin Wearen and Alex Nimely were let go too along with squad player Kyle Hutton. Ian Black – the man who was key to many successes – was released as well. Young players with OK potential were let go – Craig Halkett, David Brownlie, Jamie Wilson. Danny Stoney joined Motherwell on a free while Junior Ogen (of first season fame) was loaned out for being not good enough. Matt Smith was loaned out to Crystal Palace because nobody would buy him as was Kyle McAusland to Dunfermline (even despite his first season heroics). Scot Whiteside wasn’t good enough and brought in £5,500 from Inverness while Hearts paid £115,000 for Christian Kabasele as he was fifth choice despite a brilliant season. The saddest departure was Jermaine Grandison’s however who joined Verona for £1,500,000 while Wellington Silva joined Wigan on deadline day for £210,000.

The title win did ensure that we could bring a lot more quality thanks to Champions League football. Danish striker Yussuf Poulsen cost us £1,100,000 from RB Leipzig in Germany while young striker Roy Evans cost £31,000 from non-league Canvey Island. James Tomkins and young Liam Donnelly were brought on free transfers while Dutch striker Guyon Philips was brought in on loan from Go Ahead Eagles as cover.  Hopes were high then for the Champions League after a qualifying win over Slovan Bratislava (7-1 aggregate) but they were crushed in the play-offs as we were done on away goals by Rapid Vienna. The defence of the title also began with a defeat at Hearts and a home draw with St. Mirren.

Euro Cup qualification was easily completed against Sturm Graz and a win against Celtic gave hope but three defeats in a row to Hibs, Dundee United and Monaco left us struggling again. It was a tough start but we again righted ourselves and got back on track in the league and in Europe with a home draw against Hannover before doing the double over Stoke and beating Monaco at Ibrox to send us through with a game to spare.

A weakened team won in Hannover to win the group but goals were hard to come by in the league as we continued to eek out results without playing incredibly. This was not the team of the last three years with confidence and freedom and another defeat to Celtic showed that. We were out of the League Cup in the quarter finals to St. Mirren but were still near the top of the league although Hearts had become our bogey team beating us three times by January. January also saw the arrivals of Geoffrey Mujangi Bia for £600,000 from Standard Liege and Algerian defender Ismail Bouzar from French side Le Puy Foot on a free while youngster Ian Lumsden joined Stoke for £245,000.

After the third defeat to Hearts we embarked on a 13 game unbeaten run, knocking out AZ and Legia Warsaw in Europe but drawing too many to get top of the league. Then came the self destruct moment. A routine trip to newly promoted Queen of the South saw the Dumfries side win 2-0 and shatter our confidence. We lost in the Euro Cup quarter finals by the odd goal in 9 to Monaco before a defeat and a draw gave Celtic the chance to win the title in the derby like we did the previous season. They proceeded to spank us 5-0 with Jordan Hamill getting a 4.4 match rating and everyone being truly embarrassed. It was a shambles. The only positive of the season was the European run and the Scottish Cup win (beat Celtic in the semis then St. Mirren 3-0 in the final).

Nicky Law’s unbelievable season earned him Fans Player of the Season while Barrie McKay won Football Writer’s Player of the Season. McKay and Law were joined in Team of the Year by Lee Wallace while Marcos Lopes earned himself Young Player of the Year. Here is our Best XI:

231670_2014-11-19_00004

Special mentions this season go to Nicky Law and Nicky Law only. Everyone else had OK to good seasons but Law stood out for so many reasons. 23 goals in 51 games from midfield is a phenomenal record and, at points, single handedly won us games. Some changes were needed…

2017/18 – Who Knows?

So, we’re up to the current point. 2017/18. A big season with some big changes. The ruthlessness of last summer was doubled as five were released at the end of their deals including Kyle McAusland, Junior Ogen and Steven Chatterton (a centre back who performed well but wasn’t quite good enough). Young Ismail Bouzar went on loan to Omonia in Cyprus to get game time while the youth squad got a huge clear out seeing 19 players released from the club in the space of 3 weeks. Matt Smith’s loan at Crystal Palace was made permanent for no fee while Nicky Clark joined him in the Championship with Blackpool for £100,000. Darren Ramsay was the biggest name amongst the loanees as he looks set to leave the club next summer at the latest.

The arrivals at Ibrox showed real promise and ambition from the club. Guyon Philips had a solid season as a squad player on loan and was brought in on a pre-contract along with young Scottish midfielder Bobby Smith who had been ignored and neglected by Hibernian despite his clear talent. Former Manchester United right back Saidy Janko was brought in for nothing too allowing James Tomkins to play in the centre of the defence. The marquee singing though came from Premier League side Huddersfield as their star man Jose Baxter wanted out. £4,500,000 later and he was in Glasgow signing a deal to become a Rangers player.

Our second place last season got us Euro Cup playoff action which saw Stromsgodset destroyed 10-1 over two legs while only newly promoted Aberdeen have beaten us in the league and AC Milan have won at Ibrox in Europe while Kilmarnock ended our League Cup run at the quarter finals thanks to penalties. We’re top of the league by mid November and almost certainly going to qualify from our Euro Cup group with two games to go thanks to wins in our opening three games – a hammering of Heerenveen at Ibrox, a late 2-1 win at Sporting Lisbon and a superb 3-1 win over Milan in the San Siro. We’ve also won the Old Firm Derby as the side is playing superbly. Marcos Lopes is having a breakout season while Saidy Janko has been imperious at full back and James Tomkins outstanding in the heart of the defence. There is some concern over the future of Jordan Hamill who was looking to leave for bigger and better things (obviously aware of Nottingham Forest’s interest) but he has been convinced to stay for the rest of the season while Fulham have been sniffing around Yussuf Poulsen.

So, the save rolls on into the middle of what is now the fifth season and it’s been some ride along the way. If this save has shown me anything about Football Manager, it’s that the game has this strangely incredible way of making unknown, unheard of or unheralded players heroes in your eyes thanks to little moments every now and again when you needed a goal or a clean sheet. The likes of Nicky Law, Guyon Philips, Andy Little, Jermaine Grandison, Luca Gasparotto, Jordan Hammil and Andy Murdoch are all players that I have an affinity for thanks to this save. The power of FM is incredible isn’t it?

If you have your own Football Manager Story to share then get in touch on Twitter by tweeting @LongBallFoot or sending an email to longballfootball@yahoo.co.uk with the subject ‘FM Story’. Stay tuned for more on The Long Ball very soon.

Thanks!

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