Osasuna’s third season back in the top flight is upon our red shirted heroes but can they improve on 16th place in La Liga or will their ability to shoot themselves in the foot right until the last finally cost them…
I took time away from Osasuna right before the season started and went to a new save with Heerenveen. It was a save that opened my eyes to a lot of things – tactics, how to get the best from the players at your disposal and the necessity to always be thinking about how you can improve. So, after a moderately successful debut season in the Netherlands, I decided to travel forward three or four seasons and back to sunny Spain to see if my lessons at Heerenveen would help me to lead my rag tag bunch of misfits and young players to some kind of moderate success.
First though, I had to take a look at the frankly poor job I’d done building a capable squad to achieve anything. This season we were finally losing Kuki back to Malaga after three mostly successful seasons on loan as well as club captain Oier. After that the squad needed massive upgrades in pretty important areas – a leaky defence all round plus a pretty blunt forward line is hardly a recipe for success. So who do I bring in to improve the side? Well, up first was the permanent signing of loanee Carlos Vigaray from Udinese for a pretty expensive £2.2 million. Vigaray’s at a good age and is a supremely versatile player so I was happy with that signing even if the fee was a massive one for our limited budget. I wasn’t finished there though with Stoke’s Paddy McNair available on loan and he was the next through the door for the season. A very good ball playing defender with the ability to play further forward and with a good amount of top level experience, I was delighted with that signing. Joining him at the back was transfer listed Spaniard Israel Puerto from FC Basel for £325,000. He looked to be a decent option for a good fee so it was a no brainer for me. In the forward areas I managed to complete the signing of Colombian Felipe Pardo from Olympiakos on a free. Comfortable out wide or up front, his pace and technical ability was a crucial injection of quality. Also joining was 16 year old Pedro Jose Miguel from Racing Santander for £110,000 thanks to my Head of Youth Development. A small fee for a pretty good young striker that actually turned out to be decent cover.
Outgoing was not a lot unfortunately. The vast majority of departures were dross youth players from our first intakes as releases and my own personal culls saw our bloated B and U19 sides slim down drastically. Major departures saw promising youngsters Igor Lopez and Gorka Perez leave on loan to get much needed first team minutes while David Garcia, one of the original players, joined Granada on loan to ease the pressure on the wage bill.
I also decided to change my tactic to the one I had developed at Heerenveen – a patient, passing 4-3-3 that was solid without being spectacular. It had brought me a decent level of success and some fine results so naturally it would work for Osasuna right? Wrong. One point from four games left me scratching my head but I stayed strong and positive and sure enough the results started coming. Wins against Levante, Cordoba, Sporting and Espanyol plus a draw with Althletic were promising but once again we became wonderfully inconsistent. A 3-0 mauling by Celta was followed by a thumping 5-1 over Las Palmas as we ended November comfortably mid-table. Sounds familiar right?
Well, the next slightly angry paragraph will also be painfully familiar for people following the save – our form fell off a cliff. Goals, while not exactly flowing in the first place, just dried up altogether. We scored no more goals as we crashed out of the cup to Granada immediately and gained only 1 more point (admittedly a good one at the Mestalla) before the New Year. Injuries were now beginning to pile up forcing an already fragile squad into near meltdown. Youth players were making the bench that had no right to even dream of it. We were lining up with only one keeper in the match day squad and sometimes not even a full bench. What was worse was that by the time the New Year rolled in, we had literally no money to spend on new players and I lost three players by the time the window ended. Israel Puerto played a miserable four times and was possibly the worst performing player I’ve ever had in FM. Dusseldorf actually gave me £525,000 for him and I was delighted at the profit on a player that was just awful. Jurgen Mossmer left as well, despite doing a wonderful job filling in at right back due to injuries, joining Offenbach on a free while Marcus Berg’s disappointing time in Spain ended with his £125,000 switch to LA Galaxy. To make things worse, he agreed to the move the day after the window ended and didn’t move until mid-February meaning I had no chance of signing anyone before that. What a cu…
Still, we were faltering and faltering hard irrespective of our lack of money. Antonio Otegui had also decided to have his own personal red card contest as he proceeded to get himself sent off at every opportunity. I don’t know how this suddenly happened but he’s on the cusp of being sold because of it. His indiscipline cost us a win at Mallorca while early February saw our winless run extend into double figures. It was at this point I made a switch that would benefit us massively – I changed to a more direct 4-2-4 style system. We needed men in the box and with William Burgos having scored a grand total of 3 to that point, I decided to give him a partner to ease the load. The switch paid some dividends as we banged four goals in two games but conceding eight in those games was hardly helpful. We tightened up at the back but three winless games followed before something magical happened.
That magical happening was a little known Guinean striker called Mohamed Yattara – unattached for over six months after 4 league goals in four season for Standard Liege. He needed a club, I needed a striker that was cheap. He was signed for six months with an option two year extension clause for us to take up if he succeeded. It was low risk, potentially high reward. And the rewards proved to be very high indeed. He Titi Camara’d his way into my heart banging eight goals in 13 games as six wins from said games (including a 3-1 home win over Valencia) pushed us up to safety with two games to go. We’d done it once again, finishing 16th, and it was all down to a random Guinea striker nobody wanted. How did I describe my Osasuna side before? A rag-tag bunch of misfits? Mohamed Yattara is the biggest misfit of them all.
So, we are safe and safe quite comfortably but this has been quite possibly the worst of our top flight seasons so far. The loss of form mid-season was the worst I’ve ever seen – 3 points from a possible 36 with SEVEN goals scored and 23 conceded – and it has ended the careers of a couple of players here as well. Fortunately we recovered, with a system that has some promise going forward. It’s effective and while we no longer control possession we create far more chances than we ever have and feel more solid at the back than we ever have before. There’s some positives but there are barely any positives to take from this.
It’s been a hit and miss year for player performance so I thought I would group the hits and the misses together into as well as rating all of the signings that we brought into the club. So, without further ado…
The Ghanaian midfielder had scarcely appeared at first team level since his arrival in the summer of 2016 but after a good loan spell towards the tail end of last season at Numancia, I was determined to play him far more. And he did not let me down. Now one of the first names on the team sheet, he’s a wonderfully all-round midfielder and played with a bravery and energy that really made our midfield even better than it already was. My player of the season by far.
The giant Croat was ever present at the back this season and was absolutely superb in almost every single one of those games. International recognition has somehow eluded him as well as interest from bigger sides with more cash than Osasuna but for now he is my leader and probably going to be given the armband sooner rather than later.
Injuries were again the bane of Mario’s season at times but, at 32, Mario had the best season of his career by a long way. We would have undoubtedly conceded far more than we did without him and the captain has proven his worth to us once again.
Pushing 150 league games for the club, Keko was one of many beneficiaries from the change in system but even before that he was having another solid season on the wing. Nine assists doesn’t sound a lot but it could have been so many more but for the misfiring Burgos and Berg.
Jesus Maria Martinez
The 19 year old keeper was once again back up and had a breakout season when Mario was injured. Made impressive saves and stood tall in the face of world class strikers like Griezmann, Martinez, Suarez and Messi. Our number one of the future.
How can the Fans Player of the Season be a miss? Well, mainly because he’s now become a walking bomb scare every time I play him. For someone with one red card in three seasons playing for me, he got three in a few months and cost us crucial points. Lost his place to Yaw Yeboah in the run-in and will most likely be offered out and sold this summer.
It’s been a bit of a drop for Bunuel who for much of the season struggled at right back. He was not terrible but after his superb first two seasons, this was a harsh come down for Bunuel but one that he should come back from.
Early season promise followed by complete uselessness – Pucko is the perfect embodiment of my Osasuna sides. Consistently inconsistent and almost unreliable to the point the he could have become dispensible were we not so thin on the ground.
Carlos Vigaray – 6/10
A disrupted season for Carlos once again as he got shifted about the back four and picked up a couple of minor knocks. Solid for the most part but the end of the season saw some pretty dodgy performances from the usually reliable utility man.
Pedro Jose Miguel – 6/10
A kind six this with Miguel being just 16 when he made his debut. Play 18 games this season at first team level out of necessity and while he only scored once, he did grow into the team as the season wore on. One for the future.
Paddy McNair – 4/10
A 6.83 average rating does not indicate terrible but I honestly thought that McNair was a massive disappointment. Found wanting in many games, I actually hooked him at least three or four times for having a bad game. Unreliable, inconsistent and prone to losing his man at set pieces.
Israel Puerto – 1/10
Only because I don’t rate anything zero Puerto gets a 1. Appalling, incompetent, incapable, not a defender, actually averaged 6.33 in his three league games. The worst player I’ve ever used or signed on FM. Only positive was the we made money on him in the end.
Felipe Pardo – 7/10
A free transfer, Pardo started on fire and was the only positive of a shoddy start. Like the rest of the team, his form suffered mid-season but overall, he was a good signing and a definite upgrade on Pucko.
Mohamed Yattara – 9/10
Not perfect but once he got going, Yattara was a goalscoring machine. Tap-ins, thunderbolts and everything in between, Yattara was near unstoppable. Saved our season and wormed his way into my heart. What a man.
So, what are the plans for next season? Well, I’ve been ambitious in my pre-contract attempts but sadly Alen Halilovic joined Hannover instead and Youri Tielemans isn’t interested. Fortunately, I have a couple of players already signed up and will be getting rid of a couple of our fringe players (*cough* Miguel Olavide). I’ve also enacted Mohamed Yattara’s contract extension clause so we’ve got him for two more years which probably means he’ll score about three goals in total before being released.
Anyway, thanks for reading and come back next time for more tactical changing and angry rants at mid-season slumps.