Football Manager 2016 is now out and, here on The Long Ball, that means it’s time for another career. This time we’re not in rainy Glasgow with Rangers however, as we travel to sunny Spain to meet our new heroes – Osasuna…
It was about a decade ago that Osasuna shocked Spain and Europe. Their fourth place finish in La Liga gave them entry into the UEFA Cup where they battled their way through to a final, beaten only by a Sevilla side containing Dani Alves, Luis Fabiano and Fredi Kanoute. That proved to be their real high point as an alarming slump took place with Osasuna floating between being relegation candidates and mid-table every season before succumbing to relegation in 2013/14. Worse was to follow as the club floundered in the Liga Adelante and successive relegations were only avoided by very narrow margins.
What makes this surprising is the fact that Osasuna are a club with a top-tier infrastructure. Average attendance in 14/15 was fifth or sixth highest in the league and only one of a few that hit five figures despite the dismal fare on offer. The club had retained a fair portion of the side that had went down and had plenty of experienced campaigners in the side as well which makes their slump all the more confusing. Thus, they are a team with lowered expectations, dreaming of a fairly swift return to the promised land of top flight football.
Perfect for me.
So, Osasuna had a new boss and hopefully one that could lead them to glory. The first thing to do though was to decipher how I wanted to play. There wasn’t a lot of money but the finances were in pretty steady nick (despite the £17 million loan they’re still repaying for the next 8 years). The playing squad and backroom team weren’t terrible either so there is plenty to work with here. Almost immediately though, I discovered I had one winger in the first team and about 7 or 8 central midfielders. So immediately I decided that I’m going to play a narrow diamond with two up top, looking to press high and play quick, passing stuff. A lot of what I chose tactically is based on things that worked in FM15 and then tweak and adapt where necessary.
Now before if I tell you how we’ve done, there were a couple of deals done in the window. Out went young attacking midfielder Jose Garcia to lower league side Marino for the season while another young midfielder, Antonio Otegui, attracted attention from a number of La Liga sides and eventually left on loan to Athletic Bilbao who immediately strengthened their B team with him who also happen to be in my league. Sick. There was only the one in and, after Otegui’s departure, I decided I needed cheap experience in there and found it in the form of Nurnberg’s Jurgen Mossmer for £200,000. At 25, he has experience with room to improve, didn’t cost me much and can play centre back as well if needed. So everything was set for the season right? Nope. Arsenal decided on deadline day they wanted another young midfielder Mikel Merino. I managed to work them up to £3.5 million initially with another £1.5 million dependant on clauses and I get to loan him back for the season. A handy little financial boost and it saved me scrambling for a free agent or someone worse to replace Merino.
Pre-season went OK, considering we mostly won against garbage lower league sides and we carried our form into the opening games of the season – a 1-0 win at Llagostera and a 2-1 win at El Sadar over Mirandes. This looks great on paper but when you consider we were not exactly dominant against two sides tipped for the drop, I wasn’t jumping for joy. And I was right. Almeria outclassed us but only got a 1-0 win before we were dumped out of the Copa del Rey by everyone’s favourite Real Oviedo. We had keeper Mario to thank for our 0-0 home draw with Leganes, another bottom side at which point I went back to the drawing board. We hadn’t scored for five games, couldn’t keep the ball and couldn’t create. Out went the narrow diamond, in came a 4-3-3 with a holding midfielder.
And along came some better performances. A 0-0 draw with recently relegated Cordoba should have been a win before Maikel Mesa’s late winner against Lugo gave us our first win and goal in five games. A good win in Alaves followed as we found ourselves in the dizzying heights of third place. Two draw with sides near the top – Albacete and Tenerife – should have been wins and confidence was building. But, as is seemingly the way with these two recent FMs, you can’t have more than five games of glory before the game decides to put a stop to it. Girona arrived at El Sadar and mugged us off royally, stealing a 1-0 win and knocking the wind right from our sails. We managed to recover with a draw at Elche (another relegated La Liga side) and a home win over Mallorca. We were outclassed in Valladolid as I began to realise that all three of my strikers might as well have not been there. It was mid-November and not a solitary goal had been mustered by any of them. Even my right back Javier Flano had one.
That changed at Alcorcon when Kenan Kodro scored a first half brace before the game decided that my keeper and defenders would suddenly become incompetent and we just about got a 2-2 draw. By the way, Alcorcon had three shots on target and two goals. Not a rare occurrence in this game either. By this point, frustration was setting in hard and two more defeats to Ponferradina and Bilbao Athletic (Athletic Bilbao’s B team) set up another tactical switch.
In came my trusty 4-2-3-1, a tactic that has served me well with Rangers and at times in FM15. And it has done a job so far as we got a last second win at Numancia and a home draw with Gimnastic. So we’re currently sitting in 13th place just under halfway through the season which is a little disappoint honestly as we spent much of September/October in and around the play-offs. We are only three or four points off the play-offs and an actual sustained run of form could see us right up there but I don’t hold much faith at the moment of that happening.
However, there is a little glimmer of hope. The sale of Merino to Arsenal left me with some actual money to play around with and I managed to bring in four new players. First up was Adrian Colunga on a free in late September when my strikers were rubbish. At 31, with some experience and quality he was perfect. Until I fond out he was suspended until the New Year. Great. Uruguayan attacking midfielder Guillermo Mendez has all the tools to be a really good player for us very soon but will play in the B team while I managed to sign up loanee Matej Pucko permanently. My final signing is a versatile winger/striker in Juan Carlos Menudo from Cartagena for £300,000. He has solid attributes and was doing well for Cartagena in the tier below so hopefully he can make the step up.
Player performance has not been outrageous. My star men have been my full backs – Javier Flano and Luis Martins – and Roberto Torres who is also my top scorer with three goals. Outrageous stuff. Jurgen Mossmer has done a very good job and even managed a goal at Elche while out wide, Pucko and Alex Sanchez have done solid jobs trying to provide for the donkeys up front. Unsurprisingly I’m going to be selling at least one of them.
So, can we actually improve Osasuna between now and May? Will a striker score regularly? Will I even settle on tactic? Probably not is the answer to all of those questions but stay tuned because it’s gonna be one hell of a ride anyway.