The long slog of the promotion play-offs in Spain left us with little time to prepare before our heroes from Osasuna set about their next mission – surviving in La Liga. Would they be able to pull it off?…
Before I start, I would like to make a point. I don’t know how well I can convey this in writing or if you will be able to tell but this has been one of the most ridiculous seasons of Football Manager I have ever played. It’s had everything – frustration, drama, intrigue, surprise and a colossal heap of struggle. I’ve found this save to be one of my favourites I’ve ever had in a Football Manager title and I’m only through three seasons. It’s felt like thirteen at times though. Anyway, I should stop rambling and start spilling the details eh?
I shall begin not with results but rather a look at the club as a whole. To really appreciate the difficulty we faced coming up to the top tier of Spanish football, you have to understand that not only did we possess a squad full of fairly average players that had not exactly set the world alight in the second tier and I had just about £1 million to change that and add depth all while being restricted to a second tier wage structure by the board. We were around 2000-1 to win the title which, if you’re interested, meant we were predicted to finish 19th. 2000-1 were coincedentally the same odds as the bottom side so we were practically dead in the water according to the bookies. We had a strike force that consisted of a young loanee from Malaga who scored a hefty chunk of our goals and our defence consisted of a back four. For all intents and purposes this should have been impossible.
But it wasn’t. How? Well I set about looking for what I would term filler players: short-term signings that cost little, don’t do much and are happy to sit on your bench most of the time but have enough quality to do a job if need be. As mentioned in the previous part, I had already snagged Luis Fernandez from Deportivo on a free to add some firepower to our front line before I went and spent all my transfer budget on NK Zagreb’s young centre back Drazen Begic. A cool £1.1 million before add-ons wasn’t cheap for Osasuna but he is certainly a hugely talented defender and, at 6’6″, he’s a physical monstrosity as well. Much better than the 5’10” Miguel Flano anyway. I then realised my terrible mistake when I saw the gaps in the squad and set about finding my filler players. Menno Koch was signed on loan from Dutch side Heracles as cover at centre and left back while Ajax’s Dejan Meleg could cover the front four positions very capably for the season. We lost a number of familiar faces as well though. As previously mentioned, out went the Flano brothers (Miguel and Javi) on frees along with Alex Sanchez, Maikel Mesa, Tano and Inigo De Frutos. They were joined by Adrian Cruz who joined Gimnastic on a free while Juan Carlos Menudo attracted interest from Adelante champions Elche and they got him for £205,000 before add-ons. I was delighted with that deal. There were also the usual smattering of loanees as well with notable ones being Bobley Anderson and Alexis Larriere. I also made the choice to promote right back Aitor Bunuel from the B team to add depth at right back. January saw the departure of Luis Fernandez on loan to Sporting Gijon (we’ll get to that later on) with Boca Juniors striker Jonathan Chmea arriving at El Sadar as Fernandez’s replacement for the rest of the season.
To sum up our Copa Del Rey campaign – Real Betis. Mugged off. Again. Got it? Moving on.
And moving on with a purpose as we arrive at the main event of this entire post – my maiden La Liga campaign. With a simple goal of not embarrassing myself, I prayed to the FM gods that Malaga at home would not be a horrid joke of a game. And it wasn’t. In fact, for much of the game we were on top. Matej Pucko scored after 2 minutes to start my dreaming before a late Malaga equaliser shattered all of them (including making Messi cry as Kuki pulls his pants down and scores at the Nou Camp). Fortunately, Miguel Olavide decided that he’d score in the 92nd minute and win us the game! Scenes in my bedroom! Right up until we were sent crashing back to earth with three straight, albeit competitive, defeats. Things were looking promising, even more so after we beat Espanyol and Granada and took Valencia to the limit. We weren’t in the relegation zone and began to dream of mid-table. Then it all started going as expected. 12 games without a win followed and, although we never dropped into the bottom three once, I was not a happy man. We might have got a point against Barcelona but tactics were being altered a lot. In came a possession based system, completely ripped off from Cleon, but goals were drying up and injuries were totting up. Florian Trinks and Mario especially took the piss with consecutive injuries beginning to bug me no end. Yet, we kept on staying out of that bottom three by hook or by crook.
The New Year finally brought about a win as we comfortably swept aside Malaga before Real Madrid basically molested my poor backline at the Bernabeu. Some say Aitor Bunuel still has nightmares about Memphis Depay. We were teetering on the brink of dropping into the danger zone but kept our heads above water with a fantastic win at Granada before eventually succumbing and slipping in for the first time after a horrendous 4-0 home defeat to Sevilla. That was the start of March which I thought was an impressive accomplishment. A draw with rock bottom Elche annoyed me no end and when Betis put four past us in half an hour, I called the season there and then. Game over. Good try. But the team did not give up, smashing Tenerife away from home before clawing our way out of the bottom three with a win over the team above us – Rayo Vallecano. A 0-0 at home with 19th Levante saw us drop below Rayo with four games to go and I saw the writing on the wall especially with Barcelona, Villarreal, Almeria and Athletic still to go. We had three points to make up on Rayo and we naturally lost at the Nou Camp. Amazingly though, Rayo began to stutter and stutter hard. They were comfortably beaten in their next two games while we managed to beat Almeria and get a massive point against Villarreal setting up a final day where Rayo had to win to have a chance of staying up. They had Atletico at home while I traveled to Bilbao. We were beaten comfortably 3-0 but Atletico brushed Rayo aside and secured our La Liga status for another season. We’ve done it! We managed to stay up in the end! With a threadbare squad and finances, we will be playing La Liga football next season. You’ve got to love it.
Player performance has been pretty much what you’d expect from a team near the bottom of the league – mostly average with a few stand-outs but more disappointments. Positively, Keko was once again the man with the highest average rating for us. Deployed in a number of different roles throughout the season, his goal tally suffered (4 in total) but he laid on ten goals and was a difference maker when we needed him to be. Roberto Torres had a massive season and finally made himself into a key man in my eyes. Averaging over 7, his two goals were massive ones and he ended up walking away with Player of the Year for the club. Kuki’s 15 goals were crucial as he matured into a wonderful player but it’s the end of the road for him with Osasuna sadly. Malaga are going to play him next year so I can’t wait until he scores against me. Aitor Bunuel made a really top notch impression through the season at right back and ended up playing more than now club captain Oier while Drazen Begic has a wonderful debut season at the club and looked comfortable in La Liga at just 19. Sadly though, it’s not all good. Elton Martins’ heroics of last season were great but he was miles out of his depth in the top flight while Menno Koch only played five games for a very good reason. Dejan Meleg was OK at best while Luis Fernandez scored a mighty once before being shipped off while my love for Florian Trinks evaporated pretty quickly this season. Special mention to Jonathan Parr who had more bad games than he did good and only played so much because Menno Koch was worse. And Jonathan Chmea? He was just born to miss chances.
My late season pick-up in form actually came about because of a new system I threw together in annoyance at my other two not working and a rise in 4-3-3’s with three strikers. A 4-3-1-2 a la Max Allegri at AC Milan, it was made using no fancy thought process but just pure common sense. I asked myself how would I want this shape to work for the way I want to play. I wanted my full backs to be more conservative, offering some width but not bombing on because we get killed on the counter if that happens so they became full backs on defend which changed to automatic to add some attacking threat. My midfield three saw me wanting a deep playmaker anchoring the three, providing cover as the other two surge forward but never needing to work overly hard. Imagine the way Marchisio/Vidal/Pogba worked with Pirlo at Juventus and you’ll get the idea. Two BBMs and a DLP on defend will do the trick. My front three saw my want for an orthodox striker as a sort of all round, in behind threat so I went with an AF but it’s the other two that I went a bit fancy with. See, I wanted my 10 to really be my 9 and vice versa so I went with a SS and a false 9 which should drag defences out and let my SS and BBMs to surge into the spaces in behind.
So that’s about it really. I have made some decisions on departures already with Trinks and Martins the big names leaving while there are two confirmed ins already. Who? You’ll have to wait and see next time. The Osasuna Adventure lives on in La Liga for one more season but can we improve? Stay tuned to find out